Health Highlights: Aug. 1, 2007

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Senate Panel OKs FDA Authority Over Tobacco

A bill giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over tobacco products was approved Wednesday by a Senate committee, the Associated Press reported.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 13-8 to approve the bill requiring the FDA to regulate tobacco advertising, warning labels, and the ingredients used in tobacco products. The agency maintains similar authority over drugs and certain foods.

More than 50 senators from both parties have co-sponsored the bill. It's similar to one the Senate passed in 2004 that was later blocked in the House of Representatives.

The bill would allow the FDA to regulate the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, but it would take a vote from Congress to ban their sale outright, the wire service reported.

The measure approved Wednesday includes a controversial amendment to ban clove cigarettes, the AP said.

"This is an enormous step forward," said Matt Meyers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "This could end up being the signature public health action this Congress takes."

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Full Moon Doesn't Increase Accident Risk

Contrary to popular belief, there is no link between a full moon and increased risk of accidental injury, according to a study by Austrian government researchers, who analyzed data on 500,000 industrial accidents in that country between 2000 and 2004.

There were an average of 415 workplace accidents a day. When there was a full moon, the average actually decreased to 385, but the difference was not statistically significant, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers decided to study the issue because of the persistence of the theory that a full moon somehow increases accident risk. Some studies have suggested that a full moon may affect people by exerting a subtle influence on "biological tides."

This new study also found no statistically significant increase in workplace accidents on days when the moon orbited closest to the Earth, the AP reported.

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Eye Cells May Help Restore Vision

Certain cells found in the eye (Muller glial cells) have stem cell properties and it may be possible to use them to regrow damaged or diseased retinas and restore vision, notes a British study in the journal Stem Cells.

Researchers extracted Muller glial cells from deceased humans and, in the laboratory, cultured the cells into all the types of neurons found in the retina, CBC News reported. After they were injected into rats with diseased retinas, the cells migrated to the rats' retinas and adopted the characteristics of surrounding neurons.

"Muller cells with stem cell properties could potentially restore sight to someone who is losing or has lost their sight due to disease or damaged retina," said study leader Dr. Astrid Limb.

Retinal disease is one of the leading causes of blindness.

Eventually, it may be possible to extract a person's Muller glial cells, grow them in the laboratory, and inject them back into the same person's eyes in order to regrow damaged or diseased retinas, CBC News reported.

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High-Pressure Job Increases Depression Risk

The authors of a study that concluded that a high-pressure job doubles the risk of anxiety and depression in young adults said their findings show that employers need to do more to protect workers' mental health, BBC News reported.

The U.K. researchers analyzed data on people with many different types of jobs. A high-pressure job was defined as one that involved lack of control, long hours, a high volume of work, and non-negotiable deadlines.

Overall, 14 percent of women and 10 percent of men in the study experienced a first episode of anxiety or depression over one year. But the risk was double for people with the highest-pressure jobs, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

"Our study shows that work stress appears to bring on diagnosable forms of depression and anxiety in previously healthy young workers," said study lead author Dr. Maria Melchior, an epidemiologist at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London.

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Tysabri Should be OK'd for Crohn's Patients: FDA Panel

The multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri should be approved to treat patients with Crohn's disease, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel said Tuesday.

The 12-3 vote in favor of this use for the drug came during a joint meeting of the Gastrointestinal Drugs Advisory Committee and the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee, The Boston Globe reported. Two committee members abstained from the vote.

Crohn's is an inflammatory bowel disorder that affects about 600,000 people in the United States. The panel said that Tysabri helps ease the symptoms of the disease in patients who don't respond to steroids or immunosuppressants. Both MS and Crohn's are autoimmune diseases.

The advisory panel recommended that Tysabri be used only for Crohn's patients with moderate to severe symptoms, and that this use be subject to strict controls, The Globe reported. The FDA is not bound to follow the recommendations of advisory panels, but it usually does.

Six weeks ago, European regulators voted against the use of Tysabri to treat Crohn's patients, saying that clinical studies failed to show that the drug's risk outweighed its benefits.

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More Data Needed to Approve Menopause Drug: FDA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants more evidence before it considers approving the nonhormonal drug Pristiq as a treatment for menopause symptoms, but that should not delay FDA approval of the drug as a depression treatment, according to officials with drugmaker Wyeth.

In mid-July, the FDA said it wanted more long-term data on Pristiq's effects on the heart and liver, after studies showed that a small number of women taking the drug for menopause symptoms experienced serious heart or liver complications, the Associated Press reported. The FDA told Wyeth to conduct a new clinical trial of one year or longer. Company officials said Tuesday they'll work closely with the FDA to hasten Pristiq's approval as the first nonhormonal treatment for menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and sleep problems.

Wyeth officials also said the FDA told them the additional safety data required before the company can apply to have the drug approved to treat menopause symptoms will not delay approval of Pristiq as a depression treatment, the AP reported.

That approval could come early next year, according to Wyeth executives.

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U.S. Considers New Alcohol Labeling Rule

A new regulation requiring all alcohol drink packaging to provide information about alcohol content, serving sizes and nutrition is being considered by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The proposal -- which was published Tuesday for public comment -- would require all alcohol product labels to state the drink's percent of alcohol by volume, along with a "serving facts" panel outlining the number of calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein in a standard serving size, the Associated Press reported.

If they choose, companies could also list the amount of pure (ethyl) alcohol per serving.

Under current law, labels on all wine and liquor with more than 14 percent alcohol by volume must list at least the alcohol content, the AP reported. But, with the exception of some states, that information is not required on the labeling of regular beer. However, labels on "light" beer must list caloric content and the percent of alcohol by volume.

Posted: August 2007


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