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Health Highlights: April 15, 2011

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

FDA Should Ban Weight Loss Drugs Alli, Xenical: Public Citizen

The growing number of reported health problems associated with the prescription weight loss drugs Alli and Xenical should prompt their removal from the U.S. market, says Public Citizen.

On Thursday, the consumer watchdog group issued its second petition in five years calling for the Food and Drug Administration to ban the drugs due to side effects such as liver damage, kidney stones and pancreatitis, ABC News reported.

"These drugs have the potential to cause significant damage to multiple critical organs, yet they provide meager benefits in reducing weight loss in obese and overweight patients," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

The FDA rejected the group's first petition and it's unclear whether it will accept the new petition regarding Alli and Xenical, ABC News reported.

Also on Thursday, GlaxosmithKline announced that it is trying to sell its ownership of the two brands of weight loss drugs to other drug companies.


Workers at Japanese Nuclear Plant Advised to Store Blood Stem Cells

Workers at the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan are being advised to store blood stem cells now in case they require them later to treat radiation overdose.

Experts say the years of clean-up work needed at the plant will put workers at risk of accidental radiation exposure. High doses of radiation can destroy the blood-making cells of the bone marrow, a potentially deadly problem. But the condition can be treated with blood stem cell transplants, the Associated Press reported.

Banking blood stem cells involves receiving injections for several days to get stem cells from the bone marrow to enter the bloodstream. Blood is then drawn and processed to extract the stem cells, which are then stored. Later, workers who are accidentally exposed to a large radiation dose could receive infusions of their own stem cells, the experts explained.

They outline their idea in a letter published online Thursday in The Lancet.

Stem cell transplants would only help workers exposed to radiation does within a narrow range, Dr. Nelson Chao of Duke University told the AP. They could recover from a lower dose and would suffer untreatable damage at a higher dose, he explained.


Breast Radiation Shield Recall Most Serious Type: FDA

U.S. health officials say the recall of a radiation shield used in breast cancer patients is now the most serious type of recall.

The Food and Drug Administration recall of the Axxent FlexiShield Mini is classified Class I, which means "there is a reasonable probability that use of these products will cause serious adverse health consequences or death," The New York Times reported.

The silicone rubber and tungsten devices were used to help shield healthy tissue while women received radiation treatment for breast cancer. But the products were flawed and left hundreds of particles of tungsten in the breasts and chest muscles of 29 women in the U.S.

There's little research about the long-term health effects of tungsten, but it does show up on mammograms and may make them difficult to read. This could be a serious issue for women who have had breast cancer and worry about recurrences. On mammograms, the tungsten particles resemble calcium deposits, which can indicate cancer, The Times reported.

That's why the recall has been classified as the most serious type, an FDA spokeswoman said.


Leukemia Drug Shortage Threatens Patients' Lives

A shortage of the leukemia drug cytarabine in the United States is putting patients' lives at risk, doctors warn.

Shortages have been reported in 30 states and began last fall due to manufacturing delays, according to the Food and Drug Administration, ABC News reported.

For patients with acute lymphblastic leukemia (AML), the drug offers cure rates of 40 to 50 percent. Without the drug, patients have no chance of survival. There is no viable alternative treatment.

"If we can't get this drug, then the patients are going to die," Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, chairman of the department of leukemia, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, told ABC News.


Topamax Recalled After Odor Complaints

About 57,000 bottles of the prescription anti-seizure drug Topamax are being recalled due to customer complaints of an "uncharacteristic odor," Johnson & Johnson announced Thursday.

The recall affects two lots of Topamax 100 milligrams tablets shipped and distributed between Oct. 19, 2010 and Dec. 28, 2010 in the United States and Puerto Rico. The tablets were made by Johnson & Johnson's Ortho-McNeil Neurologics division, reported.

There were four consumer complaints about an odor believed to be caused by trace amounts of the chemical TBA (2,4,6 tribromoanisole), which is applied to wooden pallets used to transport and store packaging materials.

Similar complaints of a moldy, musty odor have led to the recalls of millions of bottles of Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl products. Last month, the U.S. government said it was taking over three Tylenol plants operated by McNeil and the Food and Drug Administration launched a criminal investigation into safety issues at the factories, reported.


Clogged Neck Veins Don't Cause MS: Study

Blockages in neck veins don't cause multiple sclerosis and may instead be a result of the disease, according to researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

They examined 289 MS patients, 21 patients who had experienced only one MS attack, 26 patients with other neurological disease, and 164 healthy people in a control group, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Blocked neck veins were found in 44 percent of the MS patients, 38.1 percent of those who had experienced one MS attack, 42.3 percent of those with other neurological conditions, and slightly more than a quarter of those in the control group.

While there appears to be a relationship between MS and blocked neck veins, these results suggest that blocked neck veins "may be a consequence rather than a cause of MS," the researchers said.

The findings will be presented at a American Academy of Neurology meeting.

Earlier research suggesting that blocked neck veins may cause MS have led many people with MS to undergo surgery to have their neck veins unclogged, the Wall Street Journal reported.


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Posted: April 2011