Vitamin B3 could prevent miscarriages and birth defects

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An extra dose of vitamin B3 might help prevent certain kinds of complex birth defects, according to a new study. It is thought the vitamin can help compensate for defects in the body’s ability to make a molecule, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which researchers have now linked for the first time to healthy fetal development in humans.

Every year 7.9 million babies are born with a birth defect worldwide. The discovery suggests the possibility that boosting levels of B3 in pregnant women’s diets might help lower overall rates of birth defects.

Researchers from the Victor Chang Institute in Sydney called it ‘a double breakthrough’ as they found both a cause and a preventative solution. The researchers analysed the DNA of four families where the mothers had suffered multiple miscarriages or their babies were born with multiple birth defects, such as heart, kidney, vertebrae and cleft palate problems.

They found mutations in two genes that caused the child to be deficient in a vital molecule known as Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which allows cells to generate energy and organs to develop normally. Lead researcher Prof Sally Dunwoodie replicated these mutations in mice and found they could be corrected if the pregnant mother took niacin (vitamin B3).

“You can boost your levels of NAD and completely prevent the miscarriages and birth defects. It bypasses the genetic problem,” she said. “It’s rare that you find a cause and a prevention in the same study. And the prevention is so simple, it’s a vitamin,” she said.

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Back In 2005, Dunwoodie’s team dealt with a particularly severe case, a baby who had major defects in the heart, backbone, and ribs; the rib problems being so bad that the child’s lungs couldn’t fully inflate. The team found that the family carried a mutation in a gene related to the production of NAD, a molecule crucial for energy storage and DNA synthesis in cells. Both parents carried a mutation in one of their copies of the gene, and the affected baby had inherited two defective copies.

No one had reported any role for NAD in heart or bone development, Dunwoodie says. “We didn’t know what to do with it.”

To confirm the role of the mutations in organ and bone development, the researchers knocked out the two genes in mice to see whether similar birth defects appeared. At first all the pups were normal. But then the researchers realised that standard mouse chow is rich in niacin and that cells can use either niacin or nicotinamide—both known together as vitamin B3—to make NAD by an alternate pathway.

The work opens a potentially exciting new area of research for developmental biologists: Trying to understand how cell metabolism affects development

 

 

App “as effective as the contraceptive pill”

A revolutionary form of contraception, especially available over-the-counter, has been long awaited. This year alone we have seen trials in male contraceptive injections and demands for numerous OTC contraceptive pills. Drastic change and action have long been in high demand.

What started out as a hobby project for Elina Berglund Scherwitzl has now become approved as the world’s first contraceptive app. The nuclear physicist, who had been working on the team that discovered the Higgs boson, felt finished with hormonal contraceptives and their physical and mental pitfalls, but was not yet ready to have a baby.

With a wealth of data skills, Elina was determined to find an alternative form of contraception. “Like many women I had tried many different contraception options since my teenage years and hadn’t really found a solution that fit me,” she explained. “It was in my quest for an effective natural alternative that I discovered that you can see when you’re fertile by your temperature, and for me that was really a revelation.”

Using complex mathematics and data analysis, Elina began developing an algorithm designed to be so accurate that it could identify exactly when in her cycle she would ovulate. This then enabled planning for when she would need to use protection, to a much higher degree of certainty than natural planning methods, which many women with timely periods are able to use.

These results proved to be so accurate that, together with her husband, fellow physicist, Raoul Scherwitzl, Elina set about founding her own business, Natural Cycles.

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Natural Cycles is an app designed to help women around the world with their fertility and contraception needs, allowing them to collect their own temperature datasets and closely monitor their cycle trends in the process.

Launched in 2014, the app now has some 300,000 users, who pay a monthly or annual fee for the service. Following several medical trials, the app became the first tech-based device on the planet to be formally certified for use as contraception, in February this year. It gained approval for use across the EU after getting the green light from the German inspection and certification organisation Tuv Sud.

The start-up now markets itself as being “as effective as the pill” following one of the largest clinical studies in contraception involving more than 4,000 women, published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care.

The researchers, which included the co-founding couple, found that 7% of women who used the app in a “typical” way (allowing for some human error) got pregnant, compared to 9% taking the pill and less than 1% using IUD coils. “Just like the pill we need some effort from the user on a daily basis. But we really hope to be the default alternative if you don’t want to use hormonal contraception or IUDs,” Elina commented.

While the product is only currently certified in the EU, where its users are concentrated in the UK and the Nordics, it is available worldwide and, despite its earlier controversies, has attracted users in some 160 countries.

Exploragen launches new sleep app

DNA lifestyle company Exploragen last week launched their first iOS app, which is available on Helix.com. The online marketplace of DNA-powered products offers insights on nutrition, fitness, health, ancestry, family and entertainment. The new app, which is named SlumberType, is a lifestyle app providing insights on the genetics of sleep, enabling people to understand the way sleep can be influenced by DNA.

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By analysing four key sleep measurements – Chronotype, Sleep Quality, Sleep Onset Latency and Sleep Duration – the app helps users conclude whether they are a morning or night person, how long it may take them to fall asleep, the duration and quality of their sleep, and how these factors may affect other areas of their lives. SlumberType also features tools and trackers which monitor everyday behaviour that potentially affects sleep.

“Our bodies function at their best when we get the right amount of sleep. SlumberType will allow people to understand how their unique biology, combined with their daily habits and activities, affects their sleep patterns, so they can optimise their lifestyle for better sleep”, said Exploragen co-founder and Head of Science Sara Riordan.

The app was recently launched on 24th July and is available now on Helix.com.

The future of diagnostic wearables?

 

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The University of Tokyo has recently started to develop a new generation of wearable diagnostics. The hypoallergenic electronic sensor wearables are designed to monitor health indicators without being invasive or causing any discomfort.

The electronic sensors are made up of breathable nanoscale meshes that attach directly to the skin to produce accurate and precise readings of heart rate and other health indicators. Japanese scientists believe the new wearables can be worn for up to one week, without causing any irritation. However, if devices are worn over a longer period it is thought they may be deemed unsafe, as they prevent breathability and block airflow causing irritation and inflammation.

“We learned that devices that can be worn for a week or longer for continuous monitoring were needed for practical use in medical and sports applications” says Professor Takao Someya at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering.

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The device can be applied by spraying a small amount of water, which dissolves PVA nanofibres to allow it to stick to the skin. It is designed to fit curvilinear surfaces of skin making it ideal to apply to sweat pores and index fingers.

Scientists are hopeful this is the beginning of a new chapter for wearable diagnostics and hope that it will be possible to measure health indicators without causing stress or discomfort to the user. The device is thought to not only be the future for medical diagnostics, but also have applications for sports technology.

 

 

OTC hearing aids: Awaiting US Senate vote

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Cheaply priced reading glasses have long been available to buy without prescription in supermarkets and pharmacies. While there is an available OTC product for some living with farsightedness, there is still yet to be an approved inexpensive over-the-counter equivalent for those living with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

Medicare and most private insurance plans in the US do not cover prescription hearing aids, which cost around $2,400 for one device. Owing to this, it is thought that many people with hearing loss go without hearing aids because they cannot afford the devices.

This could be changing soon, as the House of Representatives has passed legislation that would create a new class of hearing aids that could be sold OTC.

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“We get inquiries every day from people who cannot afford hearing aids,” said Nancy Macklin, a spokeswoman for the Hearing Loss Association of America. According to a 2016 study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine, just 14% of those with hearing loss use a hearing aid.

While there are several types of less expensive non-prescription personal sound amplification devices on the market, the devices are not regulated by any government entity for safety or quality standards and are used to aid people with normal hearing but wish to amplify sound.

Recent advances in technology have made the concept of less-expensive, OTC hearing aids very possible. The potential switch is part of the FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017, which the House passed Wednesday with a voice vote. The bill received widespread bipartisan support, but the Senate has yet to announce a timeline for holding a vote on the bill.

The arrival of OTC hearing aids can’t come soon enough for an ageing population that is continually growing. As Baby Boomers age and Generation X hits middle age, the number of people with mild to moderate hearing loss is increasing rapidly.

NHC North America Conference: Day 2

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Here’s the second and final blog review of our recent regional North American OTC Conference, which took place last week at The Westin Governor Morris hotel in Morristown, New Jersey.

Our first speaker on Day 2, Bernie Simone, Head of Rx-to-OTC Switches NA, Sanofi, discussed the growth engine for consumer healthcare and improved consumer self-care relating to Rx-to-OTC Switch, and highlighted how 43% of OTC industry sales are associated with a Switch, with almost half of proposed Switches failing. Bernie also explained the concern that Switch will no longer be possible if the medical community does not approve, and so it is imperative that we as an industry think of new initiatives to involve communities in the earlier stages of the Switch process in order to identify viable and novel Switch candidates.

Following Bernie on stage was Chuck Jolly from Baker Donelsen, who reviewed legal risk amelioration strategies that can be adopted by marketers to safeguard their practices, leading us into our first networking hour of the day.

Vidhu Dev, VP, Rx-to-OTC Switch & R&D, GSK, then gave us an informative outlook on Switch overseas and the likely future challenges and successes, before focusing back on the local US market – for example, the US OTC allergy market has continued Switch activity, is highly competitive and dominant. Vidhu also identified possible categories for OTC switch candidates, such as antifungals, anti-diabetics and cough & cold, and the evolving role of the pharmacist will be integral in making this possible.

Our panel then took to the stage, debating the establishment of collaborative relationships with payer, retail and CPG entities to put the consumer first and deliver superior outcomes.

Shannon Huneke of UHC, Colleen Lindholz of Kroger & Chris Jobes of J&J came together to discuss their collaboration in the healthcare ecosystem. Together they discussed their marriage of information on consumer insight and their segmentation of this, and how this equips them in the battle against industry challenges, and transforms the behavioural science behind consumer healthcare. The panel also mapped the patient’s journey through their condition, with each journey presenting an opportunity to translate individual patient requirements. They concluded by asserting that we can’t get where we want to be in healthcare without partnerships – and if we can create a healthier population, we all win!

Our unplugged panel session continued as Christina Speck, Head of Brand Partnerships & Sponsorships, Aetna, and Brian Doherty, Executive VP, Managing Director, Ogilvy CommonHealth, joined forces to discuss partnerships, technology and engaging healthcare consumers in the real world. Together Christina and Brian discussed consumers living in a digital age, with Christina mainly focusing on Aetna’s partnership with Apple products and apps. Christina highlighted how healthcare and well-care are not exactly fun (but they should be!), which is where the combination of technology creates a vision for this, connecting clinical and well-care, and demystifying healthcare communications.

Our panel discussions certainly gave some food for thought in time for lunch, with many delegates taking the time to discuss and debate the key learnings with industry peers. Returning from lunch, we saw Walmart executives Alex Hurd, Senior Director of Health & Wellness Transformation, and Jamie Grace, Senior Director & Merchandise Manager, explore the role of retail in providing access to high quality care at lower costs.

John Delfs from The Foundation for Health Smart Consumers shared with the audience the need to empower consumers through motivation and collaboration with HCPs, and was followed by Randy Vogenberg from the National Institute of Collaborative Healthcare, who gave us an insight into access trends for OTCs, delving into innovation, incubation and implementation.

Mary Alice Lawless, from our conference partners, EverythingHEALTH, then took to the stage to identify and analyse new strategies for unlocking the next generation of Rx-to-OTC Switch, before an esteemed panel of moderators debated the next steps in consumer healthcare transformation. Panellists included Joseph McGovern of EverythingHEALTH, Andrea Leondard-Segal, former FDA Director of the Division of Nonprescription Clinical Evaluation, Helmut Albrecht, President of H2A-Associates, and Dennis Tze, Biograph Inc. Together they asked whether we should provide case studies for the Switch industry, questioning how we can enhance changes in Switch through branding and digital.

Overall our first North American conference was a real success, with a fantastic turn out, excellent insights, a riveting display of speakers and plenty of industry knowledge. We certainly hope to see you next year and thank you all for joining us in this first time North American conference experience!

NHC North America Conference: Day 1

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Here we bring you a review of our first regional North American OTC Conference, which took place last week in Morristown, New Jersey, America’s central business hub for consumer healthcare.

Nicholas Hall opened proceedings with his Keynote address and annual report, reviewing recent successes in the US market, and noting a particularly successful cough and cold season. He also delved into the seven market drivers leading the current growth in OTC, the most popular being consumption by women and the ageing population.

This was followed by a gloves-off panel discussion, hosted by Mike Tarino, Principal of Tiltas Solutions. Mike was joined by Sandra Morris, former Senior Benefits Manager at Procter & Gamble, Mike Thompson, President & CEO at National Alliance of Healthcare and Dennis Marco, Managing Partner of Hamilton Public Affairs. The panel discussed and challenged what the administration of Trump meant for consumer healthcare and OTCs. Tarino highlighted drastic changes impacting US healthcare, with the costs for a family of four seeing a near US$20,000 increase in the past 16 years.

Ed Rowland provided an update on Boots UK and implications for the Walgreens Boots Alliance in the US, exploring the differences in UK and US marketing. Scott Emerson, Founder & CEO of the Emerson Group, shortly followed with a presentation on Innovation and how it isn’t quite what you think! Scott asserted that we need to think about what it is consumers are looking for in their products. Brands need to question their white space and ask ‘is it truly white space?’ when it comes to being innovative in branding. Scott also stressed that we must not be afraid to be patient when it comes to launching new products.

Finally, seeing us into our lunch hour, Geoff Betrus, Senior Director Shopper Solutions and Lynn Hall, Senior Director of Health and Wellness Solutions, both of J&J, explored consumer healthcare and retail partnerships, and how these can be integrated to deliver new consumer solutions. Geoff explored the current diabetes epidemic, emphasising the importance of Diabetes wellcare and how education for diabetic patients / carers is vital in understanding how to live with the disease. Lynn addressed the need for marketers to help people change their behaviour and attitudes towards their well being, and how this is something that can be achieved through motivation enhancement – that is to say by enhancing our abilities and creating opportunities.

After an informative morning, our delegates once again congregated for an afternoon of presentations focusing on reaching new heights in consumer healthcare. The afternoon session began with Monica Wood, VP Global Consumer Healthcare and Member Insights for Herbalife Nutrition, detailing key learnings for OTC companies in benchmarking the direct selling industry to generate sales. Monica was swiftly followed by Tine Hansen-Turton, who discussed the value proposition of convenient care and how retail-based healthcare clinics can build a culture of consumer-driven healthcare.

After a brief networking break and injection of caffeine, Thierry Garrier, Director of Marketing, Dietary Supplements NA at DSM, presented some of the new technological advances in consumer healthcare, such as bone density scanners, blood cholesterol testing and lutein vision health, an area of tremendous growth. Thierry also showed us Vitascan, a finger prick blood test which gives results in ten minutes on a smart phone! Certainly food for thought in an industry constantly searching for the latest unique selling point!

Our closing presentation from Patrick Spear, President & CEO for trade association Global Market Development Centre, analysed how health & wellness can be packaged as a retail strategy, allowing marketers to meet consumer expectations. Patrick discussed the difference between the ‘consumer’ and the ‘shopper’, emphasising that the consumer holds the ambition but the shopper holds the reality of the purchase. Patrick also analysed some of the ‘disruptive innovations’ in the OTC industry; products such as wearables, which 70% of millennials now own. Patrick insisted that we must navigate towards health & awareness in the industry, enhancing transparency by connecting, collaborating, creating and using commerce.