Saturday, April 5, 2008

Countries slow revoking laws that hurt women

Almost every country worldwide retains laws discriminating against women -- in areas including property and nationality -- despite years of pledges to revoke them, the author of a U.N.-commissioned study said on Friday.

Fareda Banda, a law professor at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, said that at least 53 countries still do not outlaw rape within marriage and that women own only 1 percent of the world's titled land.

Other discriminatory laws in effect throughout the world include statutes on divorce, maternity benefits, pensions, inheritance and crimes committed in the name of family "honour".

Weak legal protection means that violence against women and girls often goes unpunished in many places, Banda said in the report requested by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.

The 47 member states of the U.N. Human Rights Council will discuss in June whether to create a post for an independent investigator mandated to shine a light on countries' discriminatory laws against women.

There are similar U.N. rights experts -- known formally as special rapporteurs -- currently investigating associated areas including violence against women, child prostitution, torture, racism, and people trafficking.

Banda told a news conference in Geneva, where the Human Rights Council is based, that governments who pledged at a major U.N. conference on women in 1994 to abolish laws that discriminate against women may need a nudge to get the job done.

"All sorts of things get in the way of good intentions," she said, noting that having a U.N. rights investigator calling attention to countries' discriminatory laws could help them prioritise it as an issue.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fasting may reduce chemo side-effects

A few days of fasting might help protect patients from some of the unpleasant and dangerous side-effects of cancer chemotherapy, researchers reported on Tuesday.

They said mice given a high dose of chemotherapy after fasting thrived while half of a group of well-fed mice died, they reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers stressed that people should not try this on their own yet but said the findings might lead to a way to use chemotherapy to more effectively kill tumors while sparing healthy cells.

Valter Longo of the University of Southern California and colleagues first tested yeast cells, then human cells in lab dishes. They found healthy cells starved of nutrients survived the ravages of chemotherapy -- but not cancer cells.

"In theory, it opens up new treatment approaches that will allow higher doses of chemotherapy. It's a direction that's worth pursuing in clinical trials in humans," cancer researcher Pinchas Cohen of the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study, said in a statement.

Longo and colleagues said animals fed a low-calorie diet live longer, in part because their cells can resist stress better. They also noticed that starved cells go into a kind of hibernation mode, while cancer cells form tumors because they lack an "off" position, growing uncontrollably.

Longo wondered if the starvation response might be a way to differentiate healthy cells from cancer cells. One reason chemotherapy causes side-effects is that it affects all active and growing cells -- tumors, but also hair follicles, the lining of the intestines and other cells.

"Here, we tested the hypothesis that short-term starvation or low glucose/low serum can protect mammalian cells but not or to a lesser extent cancer cells, against high doses of oxidative damage or chemotherapy," they wrote.

"We administered an unusually high dose of etoposide (80 mg/kg) to ... mice that had been starved for 48 hours. In humans, one-third of this concentration of etoposide is considered to be a high dose and therefore in the maximum allowable range," they wrote.

The high dose killed 43 percent of the mice that were fed normally but just one starved mouse. The starved mice regained their lost weight within four days.

An even higher dose killed all of the well-fed mice from a different genetic strain but none of the starved mice, and again the mice that fasted regained their weight.

Other cancer experts said a few days of fasting would not harm most cancer patients.

"This could have applicability in maybe a majority of patients," said Dr. David Quinn of the University of Southern California.

"We have passed the stage where patients arrive at the clinic in an emaciated state. Not eating for two days is not the end of the world," agreed Felipe Sierra, director of the Biology of Aging Program at the National Institute on Aging.

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