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Health Headlines - February 6

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:22pm

DNA From 3 People Used to Create Embryos

Human embryos that contain DNA from two women and one man have been created by British scientists who used a gene-swapping technique that could potentially help prevent a number of genetic diseases, the Associated Press reported.

The preliminary research may cause some people to worry about the creation of genetically modified babies, but the researchers said the embryos are still primarily the product of one woman and one man. There's just a bit of gene tweaking involved, they explained.

"We are not trying to alter genes, we're just trying to swap a small proportion of the bad ones for some good ones," researcher Patrick Chinnery, a professor of neurogenetics at Newcastle University, told the AP.

Chinnery and his colleagues used normal embryos created by a man and a woman who had defective mitochondria (a cell's energy source) in her eggs. Mistakes in the genetic code of mitochondria can cause serious problems such as epilepsy and mental retardation in children.

The researchers transplanted the embryos from that couple into emptied eggs donated by a second woman who had healthy mitochondria. So far, the researchers have used this method to create 10 embryos, which haven't been allowed to develop for more than five days, the AP reported.

If further tests over the next few years prove successful, the process might become available to parents undergoing in-vitro fertilization, Chinnery said.

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FDA Warns of Food Poisoning From Gulf Coast Fish

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory Tuesday to seafood processors on recent foodborne illnesses linked to fish carrying the ciguatera toxin.

The toxic fish were harvested in the Gulf of Mexico, near Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary south of the Texas-Louisiana coastline, according to UPI.

Several recent illnesses of ciguatera fish poisoning, or CFP, have been confirmed in Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, Mo., the FDA said, and the illnesses were linked to fish caught near the marine sanctuary. According to the Associated Press, there have been at least 28 reported cases across the country, with the first case being reported in late November.

The FDA said it now considers CFP a food safety hazard likely to occur in grouper, snapper, and hogfish captured within 10 miles of the marine sanctuary and in amberjack, barracuda and other wide-ranging species captured within 50 miles of the sanctuary.

Ciguatera poisoning is caused by the consumption of tropical reef fish that have assimilated ciguatoxins through the marine food chain from toxic microscopic algae. The toxins that cause ciguatera cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing, and toxic fish do not look or taste differently from nontoxic fish. The only way to detect CFP is through laboratory testing, the FDA said.

Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, headache, vertigo and muscular weakness.

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Olivier Dip Recalled

Possible contamination with Clostridium botulinum has prompted a voluntary recall of Parmesan & Asiago Dip with Garlic & Basil, made by Olivier Olive Oil Products, Inc. of St. Helena, Calif.

The dip was distributed to William-Sonoma retail stores nationwide and to Olivier Napa Valley retail stores located in Truckee and St. Helena, California. The recall covers dip with the following lot codes: OPA 34171; OPA 23471; OAP 17271; OAP 17671; OAP 36061; OAP 36161; OPA 33961. The lot code information is located on the side of the glass jar where there is no label. The recalled dip is in 11.76 ounce jars.

Clostridium botulinum bacteria can cause life-threatening illness or death. Symptoms of botulism include: general weakness, dizziness, double-vision and trouble with speaking or swallowing. Difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distension and constipation may also be common symptoms. People experiencing these problems should seek immediate medical attention. There have been no reported illnesses in relation to the recalled dip.

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People With Low Folate Levels More Likely to Have Dementia

People with low blood levels of folic acid were about three times more likely to have dementia than those with higher levels of the B vitamin, says a study that tracked 518 South Korean pensioners for two years, BBC News reported.

Researchers found that 3.5% of participants were folate deficient and these people were 3.5 times more likely to have developed dementia by the end of the study.

Dementia was more common in those who were older, relatively poorly educated and inactive, said the study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

This study is "one further example of why it is so crucial for people to lead a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet rich in B vitamins and antioxidants," Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society in the U.K. told BBC News.

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Pregnancy May Impair Memory

A woman's memory can be impaired for at least a year after giving birth, says an Australian study in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology. But the impact is minimal and mainly affects new or demanding memory tasks, said the researchers, who analyzed the findings of 14 international studies that included a total of more than 1,000 women.

"The memory deficits many women experience during and after pregnancy are pretty much like the modest deficits you'd find when comparing healthy 20-year-olds with healthy 60-year-olds," said Julie Henry, a psychology researcher at the University of New South Wales.

It's unclear why a woman might experience memory problems at such a crucial time in her life, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Although we have no experimental evidence for it, our suspicion is that lifestyle factors are relevant," Henry said. "In pregnancy your normal routines are disrupted and you can suffer sleep deprivation after the birth . . . We know from other research that either of those things can affect cognitive performance."

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Herpes Drug Doesn't Reduce HIV Risk: Study

Drug treatment for genital herpes doesn't reduce the risk of HIV infection, says a study that's a disappointing setback for researchers who'd hoped to find a pill that could slow the spread of AIDS, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Previous research showed that having genital herpes nearly tripled the risk of HIV infection. This led researchers to believe that using the proven anti-herpes drug acyclovir to treat people with herpes might greatly reduce their risk of contracting HIV.

But the findings of this study -- which included gay men in San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Peru, and women in Africa -- found that those who took acyclovir contracted HIV at the same rate as those who took a placebo.

"This was a huge setback for HIV prevention," Dr. Sharon Hillier, a researcher at the Magee-Women's Research Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, told the Chronicle.

The findings were presented Monday at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.

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FDA Approves New Asthma Treatment for Children

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Asmanex Twisthaler as a new once-a-day inhaled corticosteroid treatment for preventing asthma attacks in children ages 4 to 11.

Two years ago, the FDA approved the product as a maintenance treatment to prevent asthma flare-ups in adults and children 12 and older, the Associated Press reported. The dosage for children ages 4 to 11 is 110 micrograms, which is half the adult dose.

The Twisthaler, made by Schering-Plough Corp., should be available later this year. Unlike other inhalers, the Twisthaler doesn't have a propellant. It's activated when the user puts the end of the inhaler in the mouth and takes a breath.

Compared to an inhaler with no active ingredient, the Asmanex Twisthaler reduced nighttime and daytime asthma symptoms and the number of emergency medical visits and missed school days, according to a small study of children ages 4 to 11.

Like other inhaled corticosteroids, Asmanex can cause side effects such as sore throat, respiratory infection, headaches, upset stomach, and muscle, bone or back pain. It also can slow a child's growth rate, cause fungal infections, and increase the risk of cataracts or glaucoma, the AP reported.

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Healthy People Have Higher Health Costs Than Smokers, the Obese

Because they live longer, healthy people can rack up more overall health-care expenses than obese people or smokers, according to a Dutch study published online Monday in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine.

Using a computer model, the researchers concluded that thin and healthy people (who lived an average of 84 years) cost the health system about $417,000 from age 20 until they died. The cost for obese people (who lived an average of 80 years) was $371,000, and the cost for smokers (average lifespan of 77 years) was about $326,000, the Associated Press reported.

Between ages 20 to 56, obese people had the highest health-care costs. Smokers and obese people tended to have more heart disease than healthy people. Obese people had the most diabetes and healthy people had the most strokes. Except for lung cancer, the incidence of cancer was the same for all three groups, said the study, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports.

The study didn't take into account other potential effecs of smoking and obesity, such as social or economic costs, the AP reported.

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