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Health Highlights: Aug. 17, 2009

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

Researchers Sequence Exomes of 12 People

Scientists who sequenced the exomes of 12 people say this new method could help efforts to identify disease-causing genes.

The new method used in the U.S. government-funded study involves isolating and sequencing all exons, which are parts of the genome that contain the information needed to produce proteins, the building blocks of the body.

The complete set of exons (the exome) accounts for only one percent of the human genome. Sequencing only the exome can reveal important genetic information about a person at a much lower cost than sequencing the entire genome.

"This focused approach will yield information that informs our understanding of the genetic basis of diseases, a prerequisite for personalized medicine," Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, said in a news release. "We have great hope that targeted sequencing, when applied to a larger number of individuals, will be used to discover the genetic underpinnings of common conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The current findings provide the fundamental groundwork for pursuing this important goal."

The research appears online in the journal Nature.


Blood Sugar Testing Strips Sometimes Wrong: FDA

Certain blood sugar testing strips could give inaccurate results in diabetes patients taking dialysis and other biologic drugs, warns the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The drugs contain non-glucose sugars that can falsely elevate blood sugar results, which can increase the risk of insulin overdose. Since 1997, the FDA has received 13 reports of deaths related to the use of the blood sugar testing strips and biologic drugs, the Associated Press reported. Six of the deaths have occurred since 2008.

The blood glucose strips covered in the FDA warning include Freestyle strips from Abbott Laboratories and Accu-Check Comfort Curve strips from Roche.

The FDA noted that many of the blood sugar testing strips that can be affected by biologic drugs are used in hospitals and nursing homes, "which should instead use a laboratory essay to measure a patient's glucose if the patient is also receiving an interfering product," the AP reported.


Cost of Medicare Drug Plan Goes Up

Most Medicare beneficiaries will see a slight increase in their drug plan premiums next year, says the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

On average, seniors will pay $30 a month for stand-alone drug plans in 2010, an increase of $2 from this year. But since premiums vary from plan to plan, seniors won't know their actual increase until more information becomes available in October, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Seniors should do comparisons when private insurers start advertising their plans, officials advised.

Beginning in mid-November, most seniors have six weeks to select a plan for the next year.


Health Inequalities Worsen: WHO

Global inequalities in health and access to medical care have increased over the past 30 years, say two World Health Organization reports released Friday.

"Inequalities in health outcomes and access to care are much greater today than they were in 1978," said Hans Troedsson, the WHO representative in China, Agence France Presse reported. "Genes do not explain any of this," he added.

"Instead, the differences between -- and within -- countries result from the social environment where people are born, live, grow, work and age. It also depends on health systems that are put in place to manage illnesses," Troedsson said.

As examples of inequalities, the WHO said a child born in a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland, could live 28 years less than a child born just 13 kilometers away. And a girl born in Japan can expect to live 42 years longer than one born in Lesotho, AFP reported.

The WHO said causes of health inequalities need to be better understood, more must be done to improve daily living conditions of the underprivileged, and more attention must be focused on prevention, AFP reported.


GlaxoSmithKline Tests Swine Flu Vaccine

Human trials of its swine flu vaccine have begun, says GlaxoSmithKline.

The company plans to conduct 16 clinical trials of the vaccine in more than 9,000 people in Europe, Canada and the United States. Early results from the first trial in Germany are expected to be available in September, the Associated Press reported.

The findings will be shown to drug regulatory agencies in order to hasten their decisions about whether to approve the vaccine. Fast-track approval systems for swine flu vaccines have been created in Europe and the United States.

Earlier this month, Novartis and Sanofi-aventis began testing their swine flu vaccines, the AP reported.

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Posted: August 2009