Pharmacology

There is a reason alternative medicine has an adjective in front of it - it can't survive double-blind clinical trials the way medicine has.

But at least it isn't harmful. In most cases. However, aconite, a class of plant that is also known as wolfsbane or devil's helmet and is in a poisonous genus of the buttercup family, recently led to facial tingling and numbness within minutes of ingesting, followed by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain 30 minutes later. 

The herbal preparation by a Chinese herbal medication practitioner in Melbourne for back pain resulted in life-threatening heart changes, lead to new calls to educated the public and warn practitioners who prescribe "complementary" treatments instead of medication.



Somewhere in this much-incinerated plant lies valuable medicine: perhaps a treatment for cancer or an antidote to obesity.Prensa 420/Flickr, CC BY-NC

By David J. Allsop, University of Sydney and Iain S. McGregor, University of Sydney

Medicinal cannabis is back in the news again after a planned trial to grow it in Norfolk Island was blocked by the federal government last week. The media is ablaze with political rumblings and tales of public woe, but what does science have to say on the subject?

Xenon gas is commonly used for diagnostic inhalation because of its anesthetic properties but more recently it has been used by the Russians to cheat in the Olympics, and the cycling community has followed suit, because of its EPO - Erythropoietin - hormone producton ability.

It may also be a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other memory-related disorders, according to a new paper in PLOS One.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the second leading cause of cancer-associated death worldwide, due to the difficulty in treating this cancer using conventional chemotherapeutic drugs such as doxorubicin, epirubicin, cisplatin, 5-fluorouracil or etoposide.


Some epidemiological papers have linked an increased risk of autism in children with women who took antidepressants during pregnancy. Suggestions have been that antidepressants or severe maternal depression cause autism.

In a Molecular Psychiatry paper, investigators from Massachusetts General Hospital report that while a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder was more common in the children of mothers prescribed antidepressants during pregnancy than in those with no prenatal exposure, when the severity of the mother's depression was accounted for, that increased risk was no longer statistically significant.


Aspirin may be a promising alternative for those who can't take long-term anticoagulant drugs that prevent clots from reoccurring in the veins, according to a new paper in Circulation.

In a combined analysis of two similar independent studies, 1,224 patients who received 100 mg of aspirin a day to treat blood clots were monitored for at least two years. In the International Collaboration of Aspirin Trials for Recurrent Venous Thromboembolism or INSPIRE analysis, researchers found that aspirin reduced the risk of recurring blood clots by up to 42 percent.


Alzheimer's disease can be slowed and some of its symptoms curbed by punicalagin, a natural compound, found in pomegranate, according to a  study in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

Alzheimer's affects up to 44.4 million people globally. 

The two-year project headed by University of Huddersfield scientist Dr. Olumayokun Olajide also found that the painful inflammation that accompanies illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson's disease could be reduced.


By Mark Lawler, Queen's University Belfast

Personalized medicine is the ability to tailor therapy to an individual patient so that, as it’s often put, the right treatment is given to the right patient at the right time. But just how personal is it?

While the phrase might conjure up images of each patient getting their own individual therapeutic cocktail – this isn’t actually the case. Designing an individually tailored package would be too labour intensive and (at least currently) too expensive. Instead, the answer lies in understanding the genetics of patients and disease.

Ruxolitinib (trade name: Jakavi) has been approved since August 2012 for the treatment of adults with myelofibrosis.

Myelofibrosis is a rare disease of the bone marrow, in which the bone marrow is replaced by connective tissue. As a consequence of this so-called fibrosis, the bone marrow is no longer able to produce enough blood cells. Sometimes the spleen or the liver takes over some of the blood production.  Then these organs enlarge and can cause abdominal discomfort and pain. The typical symptoms also include feeling of fullness, night sweats and itching. Some patients with myelofibrosis develop leukemia.

Stem cell transplantation is currently the only option to cure myelofibrosis. The drug ruxolitinib aims to relieve the symptoms of myelofibrosis.


The drug perampanel (trade name Fycompa) has been approved since July of 2012 as an adjunctive ("add-on") therapy for adults and children aged 12 years and older with seizures - colloquially also known as epileptic fits.

In a new early benefit assessment, according to the Act on the Reform of the Market for Medicinal Products (AMNOG), the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) examined whether perampanel offers an added benefit over the appropriate comparator therapy.