Health Highlights: July 30, 2007

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

U.S. Chief Justice Hospitalized After Seizure at Maine Summer Home

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. suffered a seizure Monday at his summer home on a Maine island and was hospitalized for observation, according to spokespersons for the U.S. Supreme Court and the Penobscot Bay Medical Center, where he was taken.

The New York Times reports that this was the second recorded seizure suffered by Roberts, 52; the first occurred in 1993. This one was described as a benign idiopathic seizure, the newspaper reported, which means that the cause is unknown. A U.S. Supreme Court press release said the 1993 seizure was similar to the one that occurred Monday.

According to the Associated Press, Christopher Burke, a spokesman for Penobscot Bay Medical Center, said, "It's my understanding he's fully recovered," and the court press release said that Roberts "experienced minor scrapes" when he fell after he had the seizure.

Roberts was "conscious and alert" when he was taken off the boat from his island home at Port Clyde and put in the ambulance, St. George fire chief Tim Polky told the AP

The wire service and the Times interviewed a number of medical experts who concluded that the diagnostic equipment at Penobscot Bay Medical Center was sufficient for initial testing, but that, after having gone through two seizures, the chief justice probably would need to be evaluated to determine whether further treatment was necessary.

Dr. David J. Langer, the director of cerebrovascular neurosurgery at St. Lukes-Roosevelt, Beth Israel and Long Island College Hospital in New York told the Times that if Roberts began taking medication to control future seizures, it could "have significant side effects."

And Dr. Edward Mkrdichian, a neurosurgeon at the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch, told the AP that anyone who has had two unexplained seizures was at high risk for a third. Mkrdichian said he prescribes anti-seizure medications for those patients.

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Capsules May Help Prevent Insulin Cell Transplant Rejection

Results from experiments with mice and pigs suggest that implanted capsules made from seaweed and iron may help prevent insulin cell transplant rejection in people with Type 1 diabetes, says a Johns Hopkins University study.

The capsules, which contained insulin cells, were placed in the pancreas of diabetic mice and in the liver of the pigs, the Associated Press reported. Openings in the porous capsules were large enough to allow the release of insulin into the body, but too small for immune cells to enter and attack the insulin cells.

Blood sugar levels of mice that received the capsules returned to normal within about a week. In pigs, the capsules were still releasing usable levels of insulin after three weeks. The findings were published online Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine.

These capsules may reduce the need for anti-rejection drugs in Type 1 diabetes patients who receive insulin cell transplants, study co-author Jeff Bulte, professor of radiology and chemical and biomolecular engineering, told the AP.

The team of researchers are starting a longer-term trial of the capsules in pigs and are partnering with a private company to begin the process of seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the capsules.

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Second U.S. Hospital to Offer Partial Face Transplants

Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston says it has granted permission to a surgical team to perform partial face transplants on certain patients with serious facial disfigurement, the Boston Globe reported.

The hospital said it would allow the procedure only for patients already taking immunosuppressant drugs, which reduce the risk of tissue rejection and infection.

Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, associate director of the burn unit at Brigham and Women's, said that he has seen four patients in recent years who might qualify for the procedure, the Globe reported.

Only one other U.S. hospital -- the Cleveland Clinic -- has announced that it would offer partial face transplants. So far, three such procedures have been reported worldwide, two in France and one in China.

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Major Dengue Fever Outbreak Hits Asia

An outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever in Asia could prove the worst to hit the region in nearly a decade, says the World Health Organization.

The disease is erupting in a number of countries. In Cambodia, nearly 25,000 people have been diagnosed with dengue fever (about three times the number of cases for all of 2005) and nearly 300 children have died, the Associated Press reported.

In Indonesia, more than 100,000 cases of dengue fever and 1,100 deaths have been reported this year. In Malaysia, more than 1,000 dengue fever patients have been admitted to hospitals every week for the past month. Vietnam has reported more than 33,000 cases and 32 deaths so far this year.

In 1998, there were about 350,000 cases of the disease and nearly 1,500 deaths in Southeast Asia, the AP reported. The current outbreak could reach similar levels, said John Ehrenberg, WHO's regional adviser on vector-borne diseases.

There are no vaccines or cures for the four different types of dengue fever, which causes high fever, joint pain, nausea, rashes, and severe headache.

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Alcohol Increases Bowel Cancer Risk: Study

The more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to develop bowel cancer, says a British study that found that a large glass of wine or a pint of beer a day increases the risk by about 10 percent, while those who drink more than 30 grams of alcohol a day have a 25 percent increased risk.

The study authors analyzed data on almost 480,000 people, who were asked how much alcohol they drank and then were followed for six years, BBC News reported. During that time, 1,833 of the study volunteers developed bowel cancer. The findings appear in the International Journal of Cancer.

"The research shows quite clearly that the more alcohol you drink the greater your risk of bowel cancer," said Professor Tim Key, a Cancer Research UK epidemiologist and deputy director of the cancer epidemiology unit in Oxford.

"The increase in risk is not large but it is important that people understand they can reduce their risk of a number of different cancers -- including bowel cancer -- by cutting down on alcohol," Key said.

Posted: July 2007


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