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Checkup Medical Column for Nov 18

AAP logoAAP 18/11/2016 Tracey Ferrier

ASTHMA DEATH RISK FOR OLDER WOMEN

If you're a woman aged over 55 and you have asthma, complacency could cost you your life.

The National Asthma Council of Australia says new data, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, shows older women are most at risk of dying from the condition.

Women with asthma aged 55 to 74 are more than twice as likely to die as their male counterparts. And women aged over 75 are almost three times more likely to die.

Council chairman and respiratory doctor Jonathan Burdon says older women with asthma must take extra care in managing their condition, and most asthma deaths are preventable.

"We know that women have slightly higher prevalence rates for asthma, but we don't have conclusive evidence as to why women are dying from asthma at two to three times the rates of men," he said.

It's a trend seen throughout the world but Dr Burdon says women can safeguard their lives with proper management, including having yearly winter flu shots, and having regular asthma checks with their GPs.

Asthma deaths in Australia have dropped significantly, from a peak of 964 in 1989 to 421 last year. Of the 2015 deaths, 278 were female, well above the 143 deaths in males.

ENZYME COULD FAST-TRACK FLU RECOVERY

Aussie researchers believe an enzyme that occurs naturally in the human body could hold the key to faster flu recovery times.

Scientists from Deakin University are honing in on the effects of ADAMTS5, after studies showed mice that lack the ability to express it suffer flu symptoms for longer.

The enzyme is critical in aiding immune system responses to the flu, and help the body shed the infection more quickly.

If researchers can find a way to administer doses of the enzyme, or find a way to increase its production in the body, it could one day mean shorter bouts of the flu.

"Hopefully this will add another option to the arsenal in our fight against the flu," Deakin School of Medicine Associate Professor John Stambas says.

NEW TREATMENT HOPE FOR PANCREATIC CANCER

A new research project due to begin at Curtin University holds great promise of extending the lives of people with pancreatic cancer.

Curtin researchers recently discovered a new drug combination that achieved a three-fold increase in the lives of mice with this aggressive form of cancer.

A project due to begin next year aims to build on these findings, hopefully leading to more effective and less toxic treatments for human sufferers.

Researchers will study the molecules and pathways responsible for the progression of Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC) - the most common form of pancreatic cancer.

They hope this will make tumours more responsive to chemotherapies and ultimately block or reduce cancer growth.

Part of the research will include testing a compound found in cannabis to see if it can treat PDAC.

"This compound is already being used to treat other diseases, as far as we know it has never been tested on pancreatic cancer," lead researcher Professor Marco Falasca says.

Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease with an extremely high mortality rate, mainly because it doesn't present any symptoms in its early stages and is highly resistant to chemotherapy.

Just seven per cent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive beyond five years, and many die within three to six months.

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