Health Highlights: Nov. 12, 2008

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

AMA Backs Action Against Trans Fats, Texting While Driving

Government moves to ban artery-clogging trans fats and text-messaging while driving have the support of the American Medical Association, the nation's largest physicians' group decided Monday at its semiannual policy meeting.

The AMA voted to back any state and federal efforts to ban the use of trans fats in restaurants and bakeries, and also voted to lobby for more state bans on text-messaging while driving or operating machinery. The AMA also wants doctors to educate patients about the risks of texting while driving, the Associated Press reported.

A number of U.S. cities and fast-food chains already have outlawed or eliminated trans fats, and there are numerous bans on text-messaging while driving.

At its meeting, the AMA also agreed to encourage more doctors to practice in underserved communities, to increase the number of primary-care doctors, and to encourage physicians to play a stronger role in promoting policies to combat climate change, the AP reported.

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Women's Mental Health Affects Stillbirth Risk

Women with a history of serious mental illness are about twice as likely as other women to have a stillborn infant or babies who die within the first month of life, according to British and Danish researchers who studied almost 1.5 million births in Denmark between 1973 and 1998.

During that time, there were 7,021 stillbirths, United Press International reported.

"The risk of stillbirth for women with schizophrenia was twice as high than healthy mothers, while women with affective disorders were also more than twice as likely to give birth to stillborn babies," said lead researcher Dr. Kathryn Abel.

Abel and colleagues also found that women with other mental health problems -- including manic depression and drug and alcohol addiction -- had a higher risk of stillbirth and newborn deaths, UPI reported.

The study appears in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood -- Fetal and Neonatal Edition.

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Obese Women More Impulsive: Study

Obese women appear to have weaker impulse control than normal-weight women, but obese men have about the same impulse control as normal-weight men, according to a study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The researchers assessed 95 volunteers for the need for immediate gratification vs. the willingness to wait for delayed but greater rewards. The participants were given the choice of receiving a hypothetical amount of money immediately or waiting for higher amounts after two weeks, one month, six months, or one, three, five or 10 years, United Press International reported.

Obese women were three to four times more likely to want the money sooner than normal-weight women, which suggests greater impulsivity, the researchers said. Obese men's levels of gratification delay were similar to normal-weight men and women.

The findings remained the same even after the researchers factored in differences in IQ and income, both of which have been shown to be related to measures of impulsivity, UPI reported.

The study was published in the journal Appetite.

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'Assassin' Immune Cells Target HIV

Scientists have created "assassin" immune cells that can lock on to HIV even after the virus has mutated in order to evade detection and destruction, one of its most effective defense mechanisms, BBC News reported.

The U.S. and U.K. researchers created "souped-up" immune system T-cells that have the ability to detect and attack more of the mutated forms of HIV. The scientists did this by adding extra versions of the T-cell receptor -- the part of the cell that scans and removes infected cells -- that are preset to recognize various HIV mutations.

Laboratory tests showed that these enhanced T-cells were able to destroy HIV cells. The research appears in the journal Nature Medicine. Tests on patients with advanced HIV may start next year, and the researchers hope the modified T-cells will be as effective in humans, BBC News reported.

"In the face of our engineered assassin cells, the virus will either die or be forced to change its disguises again, weakening itself along the way," said Prof. Andy Sewell of Cardiff University. "We'd prefer the first option but I suspect we'll see the latter. Even if we do only cripple the virus, this will still be a good outcome, as it is likely to become a much slower target and easier to pick off."

Posted: November 2008


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