U.S. Chief Justice Rehnquist Dies of Thyroid Cancer
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died Saturday evening of thyroid cancer, a court spokeswoman announced.
Rehnquist, 80, had been undergoing treatment since October. According to the Associated Press, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Rehnquist "continued to perform his duties on the court until a precipitous decline in his health the last couple of days."
On July 14, Rehnquist issued a statement denying rumors of his imminent retirement, saying, "I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits," the Washington Post reported.
Rehnquist revealed that he had thyroid cancer on Oct. 22. After a 5-month absence for treatment, he returned to the court in March. Despite his illness, the Post reported, Rehnquist "appeared as alert and informed as ever, peppering lawyers with questions and smiling at the occasional wisecracks of his colleagues during the two-hour sitting."
Rehnquist was appointed to the court in 1971 by President Richard M. Nixon. President Ronald Reagan elevated him to chief justice in 1986.
Review: Lipitor No Better Than Other Anti-Cholesterol Drugs
An independent German review of previous research shows no benefit to taking Pfizer, Inc.'s Lipitor over similar cholesterol-busting drugs, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
The finding runs counter to a recent Pfizer advertising campaign in German newspapers, touting Lipitor -- the world's number one selling prescription medication -- as better than other statin drugs, especially when it comes to side effects.
The report originated with the Institut fuer Qualitaet und Wirtschaftslichkeit im Gesundheitswesen, an independent body set up by the German government to assess value-for-money issues in health care spending.
After a review of studies worldwide, the institute found life-prolonging effects for patients with chronic coronary heart disease from two other statin medications -- Merck & Co.'s Zocor and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Pravastatin -- but not for Lipitor. Only Zocor was shown to prolong the life of patients with diabetes.
The researchers say they didn't have enough data to show a clear winner among the three drugs when it came to treating acute diseases.
Representatives at Pfizer., Inc.'s New York headquarters did not return calls Sunday, the AP said. Jonathan Jones, a spokesman at Pfizer U.K.'s Cardio-Vascular Group told the wire service he needed to study the institute's analysis before commenting directly.
However, Jones said side effects from each of the drugs differ, and he added that any one study might yield a variety of answers, depending on the weight given to them.
Lipitor sales reached $12 billion in 2004, while number-two selling Zocor netted $5.9 billion in sales, according to consulting firm IMS Health.
Embryonic Stem Cells Undergo Genetic Changes
Stem cells taken from human embryos accumulate genetic changes over time, according to an international team of researchers.
While these changes aren't likely to interfere with the usefulness of these cells for research or future treatments, they do warrant monitoring, to see how they might affect cell behavior, according to a study published Sunday in the online edition of Nature Genetics.
Researchers in the U.S., Singapore, Canada and Sweden compared the genetic makeup of "early" and "late" batches of nine federally approved embryonic stem cell lines. All batches arose from the 29 human lines approved for use in research under a 2001 Bush Administration policy restricting embryonic stem cell use. The late batches were grown in the lab one to three years after the earlier batches, however.
Comparing the early and late batches, the scientists found that "the majority of the lines we tested had genetic changes over time," researcher Aravinda Chakravati of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore said in a prepared statement. Those changes included alterations in the number of copies of chromosomes or parts of chromosomes, the sequencing of DNA in the cell's mitochondria, and other changes.
The researchers say it's not known just how these changes might affect the stem cell or it's ability to develop into other human body cell types.
"Embryonic stem cells are actually far more genetically stable than other stem cells, but our work shows that even they can accumulate potentially deleterious changes over time," added Johns Hopkins researcher Anirban Maitra. "Now it will be important to figure out why these changes occur, how they affect the cells' behavior and how time affects other human embryonic stem cell lines."
Study Supports New Sequencing of Heart Failure Drugs
Heart failure patients may benefit if the order in which they receive two types of drugs -- angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta blockers -- is reversed, researchers say.
Right now, standard guidelines suggest giving patients start on an ACE inhibitor, then receive a beta-blocker later on.
But a Swedish study involving over 1,000 patients found that the reverse order (starting patients with mild- to moderate heart failure on the beta blocker bisoprolol, then adding the ACE inhibitor enalapril) was just as safe and effective.
The researchers note that many doctors already deviate from recommended guidelines, prescribing a beta blocker before they add in an ACE inhibitor. "The study supports a free choice based on the physician's individual judgment with each patient," lead researcher Ronnie Willenheimer of Malmo University Hospital, Sweden, said in a prepared statement. "Now physicians can feel confident that patient's won't do worse if treatment is started with the beta blocker bisopronol."
The study, presented Sunday at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Stockholm, is also published online in the rapid access edition of Circulation.
Toddler Returns to Japan Following Six-Organ Transplant
After receiving six new organs in the United States because there are no organs available in his own country, a 19-month-old Japanese boy is going home, the Associated Press reported Saturday.
In a lengthy operation on Christmas Eve at Miami Jackson Memorial Medical Center in Miami, Yosuke Ohashi received a new liver, pancreas, stomach, small and large intestines and spleen. The boy's family departs for Japan on Sunday, the wire service said.
In an effort to protect children's rights, a Japanese law states that those under the age of 15 are not allowed to be organ donors, according to the AP. It is not illegal to be an organ recipient, however.
The toddler's son, businessman Yukiho Ohashi, raised $1 million for his son's surgery in the United States, and he told the AP he plans to advocate for young Japanese patients upon his return to Japan.