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Health Headlines - February 20

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Pig Islet Cells Reverse Diabetes in Monkeys

In a finding that may be an important step forward for diabetes treatment, researchers at the University of Minnesota were able to reverse diabetes in monkeys by transplanting insulin-producing cells from pigs.

This "proof of principle" study of a dozen monkeys showed that pig islet cells, which make insulin, can cure diabetes in animals closely related to humans, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

After they received the pig islet cells, the diabetic monkeys survived without insulin shots for up to six months. Some of the monkeys did reject the pig islet cells. The findings appear in the journal Nature Medicine.

The results may prove to be a breakthrough for scientists, who have been trying to determine whether islet cells from one species could be used to control diabetes in another species.

"I would say it's one of the more promising things on the horizon," Dr. Brian Flanagan of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in New York, told the Star Tribune.

The use of pig islet cells could help make up for the shortage of human islet cells.

"This overcomes the issue of source, so potentially you have an unlimited supply of islets for transplantation. That is a major hurdle to overcome," Flanagan said.

Animal Diseases a Growing Human Health Threat: Experts

Animal diseases that mutate and infect humans are a growing global health threat, scientists warn.

Over the past 25 years, there have been 38 diseases that have made the jump from animals to humans, scientists note. Each year over the past quarter century, at least one new pathogen and numerous variations of existing pathogens have infected humans for the first time, the Associated Press reported.

"Humans have always been attacked by novel pathogens. This process has been going on for millennia. But it does seem to be happening very fast in these modern times," Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said at a weekend news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Factors influencing increased animal-to-human disease transmission may include human interaction with the environment in a world that's more densely populated and growing warmer, along with faster, more extensive travel, the AP reported.

While most diseases that jump from animals to humans never cause pandemics, experts are increasingly worried that the H5N1 bird flu virus could mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans and cause a pandemic.

Chocolate Makers Target Health Food Market

Recent reports that flavanol antioxidants in dark chocolate might boost heart health are leading U.S. candy companies to produce a line of premium (and pricey) bars aimed at the health-conscious, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

Mars, Inc. -- which makes the Milky Way and Snickers bars -- plans to roll out its new CocoaVia line of flavanol-rich dark chocolate next month. The products will also be enriched with vitamins and injected with cholesterol-busting plant sterols.

Chocolate "is the number one flavor ingredient in the world," Mars' vice president of marketing, Jimmy Cass, told the AP. "Heart health is the No. 1 concern of adults over the age of 40 in every civilized nation. Putting those two together is automatically a big idea."

Not so fast, some nutrition experts say. "CocoaVia's benefits are still unproven," said researchers at University of California-Berkeley, who published their own analysis of CocoaVia in the university's Wellness Letter. "Eat it only if you like it and are willing to pay the premium price," they advised.

Mars isn't the only company jumping on the choco-health bandwagon: the Hershey Co.'s Extra Dark bar, introduced last fall, highlights its high level of flavanols on the label.

Clinton Pushes for Use of Low-Cost AIDS Drugs

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton is urging public and private groups to buy HIV-suppressing medications from low-cost manufacturers to help ensure more poor children get access to the lifesaving treatments, the Associated Press reported.

Speaking on Saturday while on a private trip to India, Clinton noted that his own HIV/AIDS-centered foundation has saved money by buying generic versions of AIDS drugs from makers in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.

The strategy has allowed the Clinton Foundation to use its resources "wisely and be more cost effective," said Clinton, who toured a production plant run by generics maker Cipla in the southwestern Indian city of Goa. "We've had a three-year partnership with Cipla," he told the AP, "and because of them an enormous number of HIV/AIDS-infected people are alive."

Clinton said his organization hopes to distribute anti-AIDS drugs to 60,000 HIV-infected children in the developing world this year.

France, India Report First Bird Flu Cases

Health officials in India and France reported their first cases of H5N1 avian flu among fowl over the weekend, with India planning to cull over a half million domestic birds in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, the Associated Press reported.

The French case occurred in a wild duck found dead in a bird reserve in the town of Joyeux, 20 miles northeast of Lyon. Officials there have ordered that all domestic fowl be kept indoors or vaccinated against the disease.

"There's a little bit of panic because we don't know what to do," Joyeux resident Madeleine Monnet, 60, told the AP. "Here everybody has a little bit of fowl -- chickens or ducks -- for their personal consumption."

In India, over 30,000 chickens have died in the area around Navapur, in the state of Maharashtra. Anees Ahmed, the state's minister for animal husbandry, told the AP that police have cordoned off the area around the affected poultry farms. Authorities plan to kill 500,000 birds to help stem the spread of disease. All poultry not killed will be vaccinated against the H5N1 strain, Ahmed said.

So far bird flu has failed to mutate to human-to-human transmission, the step needed to spark a deadly worldwide pandemic. Cases of bird-to-human transmission have so far killed 91 people in Asia and Turkey.

Food Fact:
Plum role?

America has a prune glut, so help yourself -- and help your heart. Prunes, aka dried plums, are loaded with pectin, the soluble fiber that lowers blood cholesterol. They're also rich in iron and cancer-fighting antioxidants. As a health-conscious American, do your part by having a few prunes every day -- California orchardists, as well as your family doctor, will be glad you did.

Fitness Tip of the day:
We've got your back!

Back feeling sore after exercising? Take our tip to relieve tension. If back muscles become tight and sore after exercise -- a common feeling -- a great way to relieve this stress is to lie on the floor with a tennis ball between your back and the floor and give yourself a massage.

FAQ of the day:
Is grape juice good for me?

White grape juice is mostly sugar and water, but purple grape juice, which includes the grape skins, is rich in the same heart-healthy compounds found in red wine. In a study at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, drinking a 12-oz. glass of purple grape juice a day reduced the tendency of blood clots to form by 40%. That's about the same as when people take aspirin to prevent heart attacks.
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