Health Highlights: Dec. 28, 2008

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

Premature Birth Can Lead to Sensory Damage

Premature birth can result in lasting sensory damage, the BBC reported Saturday.

British researchers, who published their finding in the current issue of Pain, discovered that premature babies were less sensitive to heat and cold. They suspect that the repeated painful procedures that are necessary in neonatal intensive care units may be to blame for the dulled sensory abilities of these smallest infants, according to the BBC.

Premature infants are already at increased risk for disability and illness throughout their lives, the newspaper reported, but this latest finding adds another danger that doctors need to consider when treating newborns in intensive care units.

Given that development of the nervous system is particularly delicate at birth, the researchers noted that the problem is particularly pressing because premature births around the world are on the increase.

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First Drug for Longer, Darker Lashes Unveiled

Allergan Inc., the company that makes Botox, announced on Friday that it has staked its claim in the eyelash enhancement market.

In a news release, the Irvine, Calif.-based company said it had received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's blessing to market Latisse, the first prescription medication that makes lashes grow longer, thicker and darker. Once it reaches the market in March, annual sales of Latisse are expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million.

A daily treatment, Latisse is applied to the base of the upper eyelid and the full effect is seen in 16 weeks. Once treatment is stopped, lashes will slowly return to normal, the company said in the release. The primary ingredient in Latisse, bimatoprost, is a prostaglandin analog that is present in hair and is thought to help in the development and regrowth of hair follicles. The company did warn that the medication should not be applied to the lower eyelid, and that any other part of the body that was exposed to Latisse might show hair growth. Allergan also noted that the eyelashes on each lid might not grow the exact same way.

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FDA to Re-Examine Favorable Ruling on Safety of Plastic Container Additive

It's not quite the phrase from Saturday Night Live's Emily Latella -- "Never mind!" -- but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided to reconsider its ruling on the safety of a chemical found in plastic baby bottles and food and drink containers.

The New York Times reports that there was so much criticism of its August decision that the amount of bisphenol-A (BPA) in containers and baby bottles did not pose a health risk that the FDA has decided to re-examine its ruling.

BPA is widely used to produce polycarbonate, a hard plastic. According to the Times, opposition to the FDA's decision has been overwhelming. The department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program has warned about BPA's safety, saying that research has shown an adverse effect on the brain, behavior and the prostate gland in infants. A September article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that adults with high urine levels of BPA were more prone to liver disease and diabetes, the Times reports.

In fact, the newspaper reports, more than 200 animal studies have been published the warn of BPA's possible negative effects on humans. Canada has already added the chemical to its toxic substances list.

No timetable has been given as to how the FDA will proceed with its BPA re-examination.

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Health officials Repeat Caution on Chicken Jerky Treats for Dogs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued another cautionary warning Wednesday to dog owners to be on the alert for an association between pet illnesses and consumption of chicken jerky products imported from China.

Since the agency first issued its first warning to consumers in September 2007, the FDA has continued to receive complaints from dog owners and veterinarians of sick canines who had eaten these products, which are also labeled as chicken tenders, strips, or treats, the agency said in its advisory. At least one firm in Australia, as well, has recalled their Chinese-manufactured chicken jerky products.

FDA scientists have so far been unable to determine a cause for the reported illnesses, and chemical and microbial analyses have yet to identify any contaminant.

Pet owners should be on the lookout for decreased appetite and activity, vomiting, diarrhea, sometimes with blood, or increased water drinking or increased urination in their dogs, the FDA advisory said. If signs are severe or last for more than 24 hours, the FDA urges pet owners to call their veterinarian.

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L.A. Liposuction Doc Investigated for Alleged Use of Patients' Fat to Fuel SUV

A Beverly Hills doctor specializing in liposuction is under investigation by California officials who say he converted his patients' unwanted body fat into biodiesel to power his and his girlfriend's SUVs.

Dr. Alan Bittner, who had advertised nationally for patients to travel to Beverly Hills for liposuction, faces an investigation by the state's public health department because of several lawsuits that allege he allowed his assistant and his girlfriend to perform liposuction without a medical license, removing too much fat and leaving patients disfigured, Forbes reported Wednesday.

And while it all might seem environmentally friendly, Forbes noted that it is also illegal in California to use human medical waste to power vehicles.

It's unclear when Bittner started and stopped making fat fuel or how he made it, but Forbes reported that the science was valid. Animal or vegetable fat contains triglycerides that can be extracted and turned into diesel. Some poultry companies are looking into powering their trucks on chicken schmaltz, and biofuel start-ups are mixing beef tallow and pig lard with other sources like soybean oil to brew biodiesel, Forbes reported.

For the record, a gallon of grease can be converted into about a gallon of fuel. Drivers get about the same amount of mileage from fat fuel as they do from regular diesel, Jenna Higgins, of the National Biodiesel Board, told Forbes.

Posted: December 2008


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