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Health Headlines - October 11

Posted Oct 10 2009 10:01pm

Ill College Students Can Keep Health Insurance

A new U.S. law that allows college students to take up to one year off school for medical reasons while remaining on their family's health insurance plan could benefit thousands of seriously ill or injured college students.

No longer will they have to choose between taking time off from their education or keeping their health coverage.

"Michelle's Law," which took effect Friday, is named for Michelle Morse, who decided to keep her full course load at Plymouth (N.H.) State University while undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer so that she wouldn't be dropped from her parents' health insurance plan. The aspiring teacher died at age 22 in 2005, six months after she graduated, the Associated Press reported.

Her mother AnnMarie Morse lobbied for changes in New Hampshire, which enacted its version of Michelle's Law in 2006. Morse then started pushing for a new national law, which Congress passed last year.

At a news conference Friday, Morse said it was "a very bittersweet day," the AP reported. "I wish I could turn back time and have the family my husband and I were given: one daughter, one son."

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Breast Cancer Cells Mutate As Disease Progresses: Study

The discovery that breast cancer cells mutate as the disease progresses is an important finding that may lead to new treatments, researchers say.

They analyzed the DNA of healthy cells and cancer cells at three different stages of breast cancer in one patient. Nine years after her initial diagnosis, the woman's cancer had spread (metastasized) to other parts of her body. There were 32 DNA mutations in the metastasized cells.

"When we looked back to see if (the mutations) were present in the primary tumor, we found only five mutations that could have been present in all cells," lead researcher Samuel Aparicio of the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Canada, told Agence France Presse.

"This is a watershed event in our ability to understand the causes of breast cancer and to develop personalized medicines for our patients," he said in a news release.

The findings "will lead to a shift in perspective" in how cancer is treated, he told AFP.

The study appears in the Oct. 8 issue of the journal Nature.

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Vitamin B Won't Prevent Heart Disease: Review

There's no evidence that taking vitamin-B supplements prevents heart disease, say researchers who reviewed the findings of eight studies that included a total of 24,210 people.

It's been suggested that vitamin-B supplements may help regulate levels of homocysteine, leading to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and death. But the review authors found no proof to support that claim, United Press International reported.

Their findings appear in the Cochrane Library.

"It is important to point out that although we may have not found a positive effect, these kinds of studies are vitally important for determining the factors that influence the risk of developing and dying from this disease, which is the No. 1 cause of death in the world today," lead researcher Arturo Marti-Carvajal, of the Iberoamerican Cochrane Network in Valencia, Venezuela, said in a news release.

"Prescription of these supplements cannot be justified, unless new evidence from large high-quality trials alters our conclusions. There are currently three ongoing trials that will help to consolidate or challenge these findings," Marti-Carvajal said, UPI reported.

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CDC Seeks To Increase Seasonal Flu Shots Among Children

Only 20.8 percent of U.S. children 5 to 17 years of age received a seasonal flu shot in the 2008-09 season and more needs to be done to boost that number, says a federal government report.

The data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 19 states will provide a benchmark for assessing implementation of new flu vaccination recommendation that all youngsters ages 5-18 receive a flu shot, say Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts.

The 2009-10 flu season is the first full season with the new recommendations in place. Successful implementation may require an expansion of vaccination programs in schools and the community, together with expanded vaccination services in health provider offices, the report said.

The article appears in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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Immune System Linked to Osteoporosis In Celiac Patients: Study

People with celiac disease may be at increased risk for osteoporosis because their immune system attacks a protein called osteoprotegerin, which plays an important role in bone health, say U.K. researchers.

It had been believed that osteoporosis in celiac patients was caused by an inability to absorb calcium or vitamin D. This study found that 20 percent of celiac patients tested had antibodies that stopped osteoprotegerin from working effectively, BBC News reported.

"This is a very exciting step forward. Not only have we discovered a new reason to explain why osteoporosis occurs in celiac disease, but we have also found that it responds very well to drugs that prevent bone tissue removal," said lead researcher Professor Stuart Ralston, of the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

"Testing for these antibodies could make a real and important difference to the lives of people with celiac disease by alerting us to the risk of osteoporosis and helping us find the correct treatment for them," he added, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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