Feb. 6, 2003
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of The HealthScout News Service:
Bioengineered Pigs May Have Entered Food Supply, FDA Says
Pigs that may have been genetically altered appear to have been improperly given to a livestock dealer and may have entered the food supply, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.
Based on the information it now has, the incident -- if confirmed -- raises no public health hazard, the FDA says. It would, however, represent a significant breach of FDA regulations and would warrant "strong action" action those responsible from the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, the agency says. The regulations require such animals to be destroyed, the FDA adds.
Between April 2001 and January 2003, school researchers allegedly released 386 pigs from their studies to a livestock dealer. The research involved increasing mother pigs' milk production so that, presumably, their offspring would grow faster. The researchers claim that while the parents of these animals were bioengineered (transgenic), they have verified that the returned offspring did not inherit the inserted genetic material from their parents. But the FDA says the record-keeping during the experiments was insufficient to verify the researchers' claims.
The FDA says it and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are still investigating the incident and will take appropriate action as needed.
Southern U.S. Blood Supplies Run Low as Testing Goes On
Blood shortages in the Atlanta and Nashville areas continue to worsen as blood suppliers await word from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about mysterious white particles found last week in donated blood.
Initially, lab results were expected to be available yesterday, but spokespeople for the CDC and the American Red Cross now say the findings may not be released until tomorrow or later, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Meanwhile, up to 70 percent of the blood supply around Nashville and an unspecified amount in the Atlanta region has been quarantined, forcing postponement of elective surgeries and leaving some medical centers "in dire need of blood," one hospital spokeswoman tells the newspaper.
Last week, the unidentified white globs began appearing in blood samples distributed to two regional Red Cross centers covering Georgia, northern Florida and parts of South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri, the Journal-Constitution reports. Initial tests have found that the particles weren't caused by infectious agents or sabotage, the newspaper says.
New Video Technique Allows Tracking of Alzheimer's
A new video technique allows scientists to track progression of Alzheimer's disease through the brains of living patients, researchers report today in The Journal of Neuroscience.
The technique involves a computer-generated 3D video derived from single brain scans taken over time, reports The New York Times. It could help doctors and pharmaceutical companies track the progression of new anti-Alzheimer's drugs, experts say.
The technique was devised by scientists representing the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Queensland in Australia, Addenbrooke's Hospital in England, and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals.
After using the technique on 12 Alzheimer's patients, the researchers found that brain loss progressed at up to 5 percent a year in people with the disease, versus about 0.5 percent annually among people who aged normally.
FDA Approves Drug to Protect Against Nerve Gas
The Food and Drug Administration, preparing troops for a possible war in Iraq, says it's approved a drug that would protect them from deadly nerve gas.
The drug, pyridostigmine bromide, is the first approved under the agency's "animal efficacy rule." That rule states that a drug can be given to humans when it has been shown to work in animals, and that it would be immoral or impractical to test it in humans. The idea behind the rule is to make drugs available in the event of bioterrorism.
Pyridostigmine bromide would protect troops who may be exposed to nerve gas, also known as Soman, which causes muscle failure and death from respiratory failure, according to the FDA. It has worked in monkeys and guinea pigs.
Soldiers would have to take the drug every eight hours before an expected exposure to nerve gas; the FDA says the drug won't work after they're exposed.
The approval is only for combat use, the FDA announced.
-----Girls More Susceptible to Substance Abuse, Study Says
Young girls and women are drawn to drugs and alcohol more easily than boys, get hooked for different reasons, and could probably benefit from single-sex addiction treatment programs, a new American study says.
A nationwide survey of females age 8 to 22, conducted by researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, showed that about 45 percent of high school girls drink alcohol, compared with 49 percent of boys, and that more girls than boys abuse prescription drugs, the Associated Press reports.
The researchers said that while boys who experiment with cigarettes, alcohol and drugs are often seeking thrills or peer approval, girls are looking to ease stress or lighten depression. And they were more likely to abuse substances if they'd matured early, battled eating disorders or were ever physically or sexually abused.
Researcher and chairman of the center, Joseph A. Califano, said recovering female addicts may do better in women-only treatment programs, particularly those substance abusers who were victims of abuse.
ATV-Related Injuries in Canada Multiply
In recent years, all terrain vehicles (ATVs) have soared in popularity in Canada, but so have the number of ATV-related injuries, according to a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).
Between 1996 and 2001, the number of injuries serious enough to warrant a hospital stay climbed by 50 percent to 2,535 hospitalizations from 1,693 at the beginning of the period, the Canadian Press reports. And children and teenagers accounted for one-third of ATV-related injuries.
Over the same time span, sales of ATVs went from 25,000 a year to 75,000 units, CIHI says.
The report says alcohol appeared to be a contributing factor. Blood alcohol readings recorded for 92 people who were seriously injured in ATV accidents in 2000-01 showed that one-quarter had been drinking before they crashed.
Repetition is Key for Surgeons
Surgeons who perform specific surgical procedures on a frequent basis are less likely to cause harm or death during operations, according to a report in The Boston Globe.
Research gathered over the last three years suggests patients face less risk in the hands of surgeons who frequently and regularly perform certain surgeries compared with "low-volume" surgeons.
Studies found less experienced surgeons become most dangerous during AIDS treatments, carotid artery blockage surgery, pediatric heart surgery, and surgeries for cancers of the lung, pancreas, esophagus, rectum and prostate, The Globe says. All these procedures usually require precise incisions near the nerves and arteries of gravely ill patients.
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