Latest research news on hearing aids, breast cancer, fatty liver disease

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Diabetes drug may help combat fatty liver disease

New research published in The Lancet is showing that a drug currently used in the treatment of type-2 diabetes can be effective in clearing fatty liver disease from some patients. The researchers from the University of Birmingham in the UK believe that the findings present the possibility of new therapies for patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Currently, there are no licensed treatments.

The trial was the first of its type to look into the action of liraglutide in the treatment of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. The trial demonstrated that 48 weeks of treatment with liraglutide resulted in 4 out of 10 patients clearing evidence of NASH from their livers.

This was much higher than the effect seen in patients receiving placebo (1 in 10).

In addition, patients in the active treatment group showed a higher level of weight loss.

Liraglutide is licensed for the treatment of type-2 diabetes. It is administered in the form of an injection which the patient self-injects at home.

NAFLD describes a wide range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat within the liver cells, usually seen in people who are overweight or obese. It is the most common liver disorder in developed countries, affecting approximately 20 percent of the United States population.

Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is the more serious form of NAFLD and can ultimately increase the risk of total liver failure.

Significant advances in the battle against breast cancer

A study that included more than 20,000 women with stage IV breast cancer has found that survival has improved and is increasingly of prolonged duration, particularly for some women undergoing initial breast surgery.

Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women in the United States and the developed world. Approximately 5 percent to 10 percent of women diagnosed as having breast cancer present with stage IV disease and have an intact primary breast tumor.

Mary Schroeder, PhD, who is with the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and colleagues used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program to evaluate the patterns of receipt of initial breast surgery for female patients with stage IV breast cancer in the United States. The study included women who did not receive radiation therapy as part of the first course of treatment and were diagnosed between 1988 and 2011.

Among the study population, the median survival increased from 20 months (1988-1991) to 26 months (2007-2011). During this time, the rate of surgery declined. Receipt of surgery was associated with improved survival. For women diagnosed having cancer before 2002, survival of at least 10 years was seen in 9.6 percent who had surgery and 2.9 percent of those who did not receive surgery.

It was estimated there were 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed among U.S.women as well as an estimated 60,290 additional cases of in situ breast cancer in 2015. After lung cancer, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women in the U.S.

Hearing aid advances

Many hearing aid wearers know that it can be embarrassing when your batteries die in the middle of an important meeting or event. On top of that, removing the small batteries to change them can be a headache. Now, there is a new alternative. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved ZPower batteries, which are charged by plugging the entire hearing aid into the system’s stand and are replaced once a year by an audiologist.

With this system, there is no need for wearers to remove a battery again. Disposable hearing aid batteries often run out of power in the middle of the day and require frequent changing. The ZPower Rechargeable System offers a full day of continuous power. It also charges overnight in the hearing aids and may save a person a great deal of money. The manufacturers claim that it takes the place of an estimated 200 disposable batteries and lasts a full year.

In Scotland, researchers at the University of Strathclyde, and the MRC/CSO Institute for Hearing Research (IHR) are now testing an innovative design using a miniature directional microphone similar to the ear of an insect.

Despite remarkable advances in sound analysis in hearing aids, the actual microphone itself has remained essentially unchanged for decades. Current directional microphone technology adds cost, weight and power requirements to hearing aids, compromising their design.

However, the Scottish researchers are now creating a hearing aid system that can reduce or control unwanted noises, focusing the hearing aid on only the sound arriving from in front of the user.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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