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04/29/2009

Vitamin B and folate fight migraine

Griffith University researchers have recently concluded a clinical trial showing inexpensive supplements help migraine sufferers.

Griffith’s Genomics Research Centre (GRC) Director Professor Lyn Griffiths said the trial had shown that folate and vitamin B helped to significantly reduce frequency, severity and disability of the disorder.

“The trial provided vitamin B supplements and folic acid to more than 50 long-term migraine sufferers for six months,” Professor Griffiths said.

“Results showed a drastic improvement in headache frequency, pain severity and associated disability for those treated.”

Previous studies by the GRC identified a gene, known as MTHFR, which makes people susceptible to migraine attacks when there is a mutation or dysfunction in the gene.

The dysfunction causes people to have higher levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which is known to cause an increased risk of stroke and other coronary diseases.

“The recent trial was founded on the theory that vitamin B supplements and folic acid will reduce the homocysteine and in turn, improve migraine symptoms.

“The success of our trial — supported by the Brain Foundation, Janssens and Blackmores — has shown that safe, inexpensive vitamin supplements can treat migraine patients.

“We are now going to undertake a more extensive trial and further studies to find out the best dosage of vitamin supplements for individuals as this may vary depending on a patient’s genetic profile.”

A migraine attack causes severe headache with associated nausea and vomiting. It is a devastating disorder that affects approximately 12 per cent of the Australian population.
Professor Griffiths said there was a real need to develop effective treatments to help those afflicted with migraine.

“Current treatments for migraine are not always effective and can be expensive and cause adverse effects,” she said.
Professor Griffiths’ work is at the forefront of personalised medicine, tailoring medical care to an individual’s genetic profile, which is a far safer and more efficient method of prescribing treatment.

Professor Griffiths’ team is a world leader in identifying genes associated with migraine disorders and was the first to show that variations in hormonal-pathway and blood-flow related genes are linked with the disorder. 

The Genomics Research Centre has established a significant bank of population genomic resources, including the world’s largest collection of DNA samples from migraine patients, multi-generational pedigrees and samples from the unique isolated founder-population from South Pacific’s Norfolk Island.


Griffith helping the homeless

A Gold Coast-based Griffith University researcher is helping a homeless program in the USA with his expertise in how people develop an interest in sport.

Griffith Business School’s Professor Dan Funk works with non-profit program Back on My Feet which encourages homeless people in Philadelphia and Baltimore to take up running.

The one year project, which started in January, promotes the self-sufficiency of homeless people by engaging them in running to build confidence, friendships and self-esteem.

Professor Funk said exercise was used to create a sense of community and stability through the regular running groups.

“My work is on how people develop their sport involvement, the internal and external factors that lead to people getting involved in sport which are personal, psychological and environmental,” Professor Funk said.

“In this case, we look at social and environmental factors.”

Professor Funk said sporting or hobby enthusiasts develop in four stages: first they become aware, then attracted, followed by attached, and finally develop an allegiance to the sport or hobby.

He will use the monthly feedback forms to gauge the success of the program and at which stage each participant is at.

“By identifying where each participant is in these four stages, the program can develop a strategy to encourage the participants to the next stage so they can tap into the full benefits of the program.
“As the program continues, the social network and comradery becomes meaningful and the running becomes secondary to social engagement.”

The project is a joint initiative among Griffith University, Temple University and Back On My Feet.
The Department of Health at Temple University have also proposed a stop smoking program to complement the running program.

Back on My Feet: http://backonmyfeet.org/main/index.html


Australians on alert as swine flu spreads

Leading Griffith University Researcher, Mark von Itzstein, has urged people to remain calm in response to news the deadly swine flu is already on Australia’s doorstep.

The new influenza strain, feared to have killed 81 people in Mexico and infected 10 in the US, has "pandemic potential", the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Sunday.

Ten New Zealand students just returned from Mexico have tested positive for influenza A and are believed "likely" to have contracted swine flu, placing it close to Australian shores.

Three teachers and 22 senior students from Auckland's Rangitoto College were kept in isolation after they returned from Mexico on Saturday after a three-week language trip with flu-like symptoms.

Professor von Itzstein said the latest virus had come out of left field and was spreading more quickly than the avian strain.

It’s now a virus that has infected and killed a significant number of people, so it’s aggressive, that’s quite clear," Professor von Itzstein said.

"Like bird flu we have to be cautious, but not overreact.

"But the fact is this virus looks as though it has developed to be able to infect humans rapidly."

Professor von Itzstein said swine flu could be easily spread through travel.

"There’s no doubt about that. People flying from Mexico to Australia could deliver the virus right to our shores and individuals may not know that they have the infection, that’s why it’s a concern," he said.

"But the authorities have systems in place."

Professor Mark von Itzstein’s laboratory discovered the first anti-influenza drug in the world—Relenza. 

Relenza is stockpiled throughout the world to defend against influenza outbreaks, and more importantly, it also is effective in treating the swine flu.


Vegetation holds the key to better water quality

Griffith University researchers have recently concluded a major three-year study that will help protect water quality in South East Queensland and reduce soil nutrients entering our waterways.

Dr Michele Burford from the Australian Rivers Institute said the findings identified the source of the nutrients which trigger troubling algal blooms in dams.

“When soil becomes wet, significant amounts of phosphorous is released in a dissolved form and flows into the Brisbane River and then into water reservoirs, promoting algal blooms,” Dr Burford said.

“Algal blooms deteriorate water quality in dams, reducing the level of oxygen in water and affecting the health of ecosystems including fish.”

Dr Burford said farmers, water managers and scientists needed to work together to resolve the problem.
“We need to take a holistic approach and collaborate with farmers and water managers to stabilise the soil on hill slopes and maintain good vegetation cover to slow water movement and increase infiltration.”
Dr Burford said this finding would change the way degraded catchments would be rehabilitated.

“It is not enough just to restore degraded land along the river to prevent soil movement, we need to restore the water route to the river if we are to resolve this problem effectively. 

“Trees and other vegetation along the rivers, which act as a buffer trapping soil particles, cannot effectively filter the dissolved phosphorous.

“We need to hold the phosphorous at its source, which can only be done by preventing soil erosion and absorbing more rainfall into the soil and decreasing surface runoff.

“Over-grazing, especially during drought, is a major problem as it leads to greater surface runoff and higher dissolved phosphorus entering our dams.”

This study has been funded by Australian Research Council Linkage Project grant and was undertaken in collaboration with seqwater, the Healthy Waterways Partnership and CSIRO.

Dr Burford is speaking at Griffith’s inaugural Virtual Research Week, an online event from May 5-8. See www.grifffith.edu.au/virtualresearch for details.

Griffith's Australian Rivers Institute is home to more than 120 scientists and research students, making it the largest concentration of university-based water researchers in the country.


International banking and tax laws a joke

A Griffith University researcher used Google and $10,000 to prove international banking and tax laws are a joke. And it was the banks in the US and UK who were flouting the rules, not the smaller island tax havens.

In an online experiment, Professor Jason Sharman from the Griffith Business School set up shell corporations and bank accounts without any identification - corporations which could easily be used to launder money.

In one case, a US provider offered to use their employees’ own social security numbers as the identification required to set up corporations.

Professor Sharman set out to see how difficult it was to violate recent global standards stopping anonymous participation in the international financial system.

He emailed 45 different corporate service providers across 22 countries soliciting offers to set up anonymous shell corporations. Seventeen agreed.

Of these, 13 were from OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, including seven in the UK, four in the United States, one in Spain, and one in Canada, compared with only four of 28 known tax havens.

From the 17 anonymous corporations, he solicited offers for five bank accounts (two from US, two from UK and one from Liechtenstein) without having to provide any certified identification as to the true owner of the company and account.

“It cost from only $800 to $3000 for up-front costs followed by a slightly smaller amount on an annual basis for each corporation,” Professor Sharman said.

“I found small island offshore centres traditionally thought to be loose with tax and international laws to have standards that are much higher than major OECD economies like the United States and the United Kingdom.”

He said even without direct access to the banking system, anonymous companies could be useful in financial crime by holding share portfolios in the name of a foreign shell company so as to avoid capital gains tax.

“The most flagrant breach of international standards came from a US provider based in Wyoming which offered to use their own employees’ social security numbers as the tax identification number for a corporate vehicle.”

Professor Sharman said the findings show the problems of financial opacity are for G7 countries - not palm-fringed tropical islands.

“Unlike the Cayman Islands and Panama, the United States, United Kingdom and other OECD states have simply chosen not to comply with international standards they had a large hand in creating.”

Griffith University’s online event - Virtual Research Week is from May 5-8. Professor Sharman will be one of the many researchers in chat rooms talking about their work and will also be a speaker at the event, via a video. See www.grifffith.edu.au for details.


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