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THIS WEEK IN SURPRISING MEDICINE: Hot Cocoa And Alzheimer’s, A Malaria Breakthrough, And Ovarian Can
August 11, 2013
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A cup of hot chocolate, a mosquito in the Everglades in 2002, and training a dog to sniff out cancer in Pennsylvania (Photos: Wikimedia/Getty/AP)

Irradiating malaria parasites, drinking hot cocoa to help with Alzheimer's, and training dogs to detect cancer: here's a round-up of some surprising stories that came out of the world of medical research this week.

Two Cups Of Hot Cocoa A Day May Help Alzheimer's Patients With Memory Loss

hot-chocolate-alzheimers.jpgHere's an unexpected (and sweet) finding: according to a new study, drinking two cups of hot cocoa a day may help seniors with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia sharpen their memory and thinking processes.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that seniors who drank two cups of cocoa each day for a month did better on memory and thinking tests than those who didn't, CBS News reports.

The benefits of hot cocoa were only observed in people who had impaired blood flow in the brain at the beginning of the study.

Brain scans found that people with blood flow problems experienced an eight per cent boost in their brain's blood circulation after a month of hot cocoa drinking, and they also improved their time on memory tests by an average of over 50 seconds by the end of the study.

A Breakthrough In The Search For A Malaria Vaccine

surprising-medicine-mosquito.jpgU.S. researchers say they've seen some promising results from their work on a vaccine for malaria.

Scientists with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Navy, Army and other organizations gave volunteers multiple intravenous doses of the vaccine, which was created using a weakened version of the disease, CNN reports.

They say more extensive testing is needed to figure out whether it will work in the field, but this is the first time a vaccine trial has shown a 100 per cent success rate.

The scientists created the vaccine by taking samples of the single-celled parasite that causes malaria, subjecting them to radiation to weaken them, and then freezing them.

As for the volunteers, six of them were given five doses of the vaccine. That group remained completely free of infection when exposed to malaria-infected mosquitoes. Those who received fewer doses of the vaccine were more likely to be infected.

According to Dr. William Schaffner from Vanderbilt University, the vaccine is "not ready for prime time," but the results are "a scientific advance."

Training Dogs To Sniff Out Ovarian Cancer

A group of three dogs is learning a very specific skill at the University of Pennsylvania's Working Dog Centre: how to sniff out ovarian cancer.

Researchers hope dogs' powerful sense of smell will help lead to the creation of tools to identify ovarian cancer earlier, and improve survival rates as a result.

The dogs are McBaine, a springer spaniel; Ohlin, a Labrador retriever; and Tsunami, a German shepherd.

If the animals are able to detect the specific chemical marker that indicates ovarian cancer, scientists at the nearby Monell Chemical Senses Centre will try and develop an electronic instrument that can do the same thing.

"Because if dogs can do it, then the question is, can our analytical instrumentation do it? We think we can," Monell organic chemist George Preti told the Associated Press.

Ovarian cancer affects over 20,000 Americans, and 2,600 Canadians, each year. If it's caught early, the five-year survival rate is 90 per cent. But the symptoms of the disease are generic (weight gain, bloating or constipation), making it difficult to diagnose early.

About 70 per cent of cases are caught after the cancer has spread, leading to a five-year survival rate of less than 40 per cent.


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