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Health Highlights: Dec. 10, 2010

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

Kidney Exchange Program Reports First Transplants

A U.S. pilot program that helps arrange kidney exchanges had its first success this week when two participants received new kidneys.

The United Network for Organ Sharing was launched in October to assist "kidney paired donation," where a person donates a kidney to a stranger so that their relative or friend can receive a kidney in return, the Associated Press reported.

On Monday, the project's first transplants were performed in Lebanon, N.H. and St. Louis. Kathy Niedzwiecki received a kidney from Rebecca Burkes, while Burke's fiance, Ken Crowder, received a kidney from Niedzwiecki's sister-in-law, Catherine Richard.

The new national program includes 77 transplant centers that will submit information about patients and donors to a database.

There are fewer than 17,000 kidney transplants performed in the U.S. each year, but experts believe the kidney exchange project could lead to 2,000 to 3,000 more transplants annually, AP reported.

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Trade Talks Could Cut Supply of Generic Drugs

Health activists say trade talks between Europe and India could greatly reduce the world's supply of cheap generic drugs, which could have severe consequences for people in poor nations.

While European officials dismissed such concerns, leaked passages of the draft treaty include a clause that places tighter restrictions on Indian companies trying to get their products to market, the Associated Press reported.

Currently, approval is given to a generic drug if there is proof it is equivalent to the original brand name drug. The new rules could require generic drug makers to conduct costly clinical trials to duplicate the data produced by the original drug maker.

Other causes of concern for activists include efforts to extend drug patent protection to beyond 20 years and measures to seize generic drugs as they cross borders, the AP reported.

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Clearance of Damaging Proteins Slower in Alzheimer's Patients: Study

Alzheimer's disease patients clear the damaging beta-amyloid protein from their brains 30 percent slower than people without the disease, finds a new study.

It was already known that this protein accumulated in the brains of people with Alzheimer's. This U.S. study of 12 Alzheimer's patients and 12 people without the disease suggests it is the slow clearance of beta-amyloid, not the build-up, that is the problem, BBC News reported.

It may be possible to develop a test to measure beta-amyloid clearance rates to detect Alzheimer's before symptoms appear, and to create drugs that assist the clearance process, said the researchers at the University of Medicine in St. Louis.

The study appears in the journal Science.

"This exciting study gives us an insight into the building blocks of Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society in the U.K., told BBC News. "We now need further research to find out why the system is not working properly and whether amyloid is toxic in higher concentrations."

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Congress Passes Bill Stopping Medicare Payment Cuts to Docs

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bipartisan bill that prevents a proposed 25 percent cut in 2011 to the reimbursement rates Medicare provides to doctors.

The hotly contested bill, which passed the Senate Wednesday, now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature, CNN reported.

The American Medical Association has lobbied hard against the cuts, saying that some doctors might stop seeing Medicare patients if reimbursements fell. More than 43 million older Americans now receive Medicare benefits, CNN said.

"Stopping the steep 25 percent Medicare cut for one year was vital to preserve seniors' access to physician care in 2011," Dr. Cecil Wilson, the association's president, told the news agency.

A law enacted in 1997 requires that Medicare adjust its payments to physicians each year, based on the economic situation at the time, so that the program remains solvent. But rate cuts have been thwarted 10 times over the past eight years, CNN noted.

The bill passed by Congress is estimated to cost $19.3 billion over 10 years, and will be paid for by revisions in tax credits for people purchasing health insurance -- part of the health care reform package.

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Posted: December 2010


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