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Health Headlines - May 8

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Gene Variant Increases Prostate Cancer Risk

A variant gene that greatly increases the risk of prostate cancer has been identified by a team of scientists who say their finding may lead to a test to help doctors determine which patients would be the best candidates for aggressive treatment of their cancer.

This variant is more common in black Americans, which may explain why they have a greater incidence of prostate cancer, The New York Times reported.

The researchers at DeCode Genetics, a gene-finding company in Iceland, said that men with the variant have a 60 percent increased risk of prostate cancer, compared to men without the variant. About 26 percent of black American men and 13 percent of men of European ancestry carry the variant, The Times reported.

The findings were published online Sunday in the journal Nature Genetics.

This newly identified variant was first detected in men in Iceland, then among Swedish men and in two populations of males in the United States.

U.S. Experts to Discuss Abortion Pill/Infections

Rare but deadly infections among women who took the abortion pill mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex) will be the topic of a meeting Thursday involving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Experts will discuss the origins, causes and need for future research about infections caused by the bacterium Clostridium sordellii, which resulted in the deaths of four young U.S. women who took mifepristone (also called RU-486). The drug is given in combination with another drug -- misoprostol -- in order to induce abortion in the early stages of pregnancy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Another infection -- involving a woman in Colorado -- is still being investigated.

It's expected that scientists at the meeting will analyze the five cases, along with other Clostridium sordellii infections that occurred in women who didn't take the abortion drug. They'll also discuss the bacterium Clostridium difficule, which has no link to the drug, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The meeting's agenda won't include discussion of possible regulatory actions regarding mifepristone. The FDA has already ordered that warnings to be added to the drug's label. An FDA official told the Wall Street Journal that the agency may consider further action, but first wants more scientific information.

Pfizer Drug Test on Children Violated International Law: Report

Drug company Pfizer Inc. violated international law when it tested the unapproved drug Trovan on children with meningitis during a 1996 epidemic in Nigeria, according to a Nigerian government report that was never released.

The report, obtained by the Washington Post, said Pfizer gave the unapproved oral antibiotic to nearly 100 children and infants at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Kano.

The report, written by a panel of Nigerian medical experts, concluded that Pfizer violated the International Declaration of Helsinki that governs ethical medical research and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The oral form of Trovan had never been given to children with meningitis, said the report, which also noted that there are no records to indicate that Pfizer informed the children or their parents that this was an experimental use of the drug, the Post reported.

Five children died after being treated with Trovan and others developed signs of arthritis. However, there is no evidence that the antibiotic was responsible. Six other children died after receiving a comparison drug.

Pfizer says it conducted the experiment with the full knowledge of the Nigerian government and in a way that was consistent with that country's laws.

CDC Reports More Eye Fungus Infections

U.S. health officials said the number of confirmed cases of a rare eye fungus that can cause scarring of the cornea has climbed to 102. But the source of the infection linked to contact lens cleaners remains unknown, the Associated Press reported.

Bausch & Lomb Inc. stopped U.S. sales of its ReNu with MoistureLoc contact-lens solution on April 10 when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was investigating numerous reports of Fusarium keratitis infections in Americans using the product.

The proportion of patients who said they used MoistureLoc has held steady at around 50 percent to 60 percent of the cases confirmed so far, the CDC said. Other patients have reported using other ReNu brands and six said they used cleaners made by Alcon Inc. and Advanced Medical Optics Inc., the AP reported.

"At this point, it is too early in the investigation to say whether a particular product or solution may be responsible for the outbreak," the CDC said in a statement.

U.S. Buys More Anthrax Vaccine

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it has purchased five million additional doses of Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed (AVA), a licensed anthrax vaccine, for $120 million.

This supply of AVA anthrax vaccine, from the BioPort Corporation of Lansing, Mich., is in addition to the five million doses of AVA vaccine purchased from BioPort last year. It will be kept in the nation's Strategic National Stockpile, where it will be available in the event of a bioterror anthrax attack, HHS said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

Coupled with an existing supply of antibiotics -- the nation's first line of defense against an anthrax attack -- the additional AVA vaccine should further diversify the nation's stockpile of medical treatments, the statement said.

"We are committed to protecting the nation from the consequences of an anthrax attack," said Stewart Simonson, HHS assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness.

New Guidelines for Cancer Therapy

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has developed revised guidelines for the use of white blood cell growth factors -- also known as hematopoietic colony stimulating factors, or CSFs -- to prevent a potentially dangerous side effect from cancer treatment called febrile neutropenia.

White blood cell growth factors are proteins that help the body produce the white blood cells that help fight infection. Some cancer treatments can destroy white blood cells, leading to a condition called neutropenia. Febrile neutropenia -- or neutropenia with a fever -- is a dangerous condition that often requires hospitalization.

ASCO's 2006 Update Committee agreed that reduction in febrile neutropenia is an important goal that justified the use of CSFs when the risk of febrile neutropenia is 20 percent or higher, and no other effective chemotherapy regimen with a risk of febrile neutropenia lower than 20 percent is available. The previous guideline had recommended CSF use when the risk of febrile neutropenia was 40 percent or higher, the society said in a prepared statement.

The guidelines also include new recommendations for the use of CSFs for patients receiving radiation treatment and for older patients; and updates on recommendations for patients with specific diseases, such as acute leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes, and for pediatric patients.
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