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Health Highlights: Aug. 6, 2008

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

Combining Prevention Methods May Dramatically Reduce HIV Infections

Half of the 7 million to 16 million new HIV infections projected worldwide over the next seven years may be prevented by combining prevention methods such as condoms, circumcision and current treatment drugs, according to experts.

Preventing the spread of HIV could save $24 billion in treatment costs by 2015, says Michael Merson, a researcher at the Duke University Global Health Institute, the Bloomberg news service reported.

Merson led one of six studies published in a special issue of the The Lancet. He and his colleagues noted that no effective HIV vaccine will be available in the near future, and preventive microbicide gels designed to protect women against HIV infection have proven a disappointment.

Thomas Coates, a University of California, Los Angeles, AIDS researcher who wrote one of the studies, said the use of antiretroviral drugs and other experimental strategies to prevent the spread of HIV may change approaches for fighting the disease, Bloomberg reported.

"We may have to think about how to spend HIV prevention dollars if these trials are as effective as we all think they should be," Coates told reporters at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.


Broccoli May Benefit Diabetics

Broccoli may help reverse diabetes-related damage to heart blood vessels, according to U.K. researchers, who believe a compound called sulforaphane is responsible for this benefit. The compound encourages production of enzymes that protect blood vessels and also reduces high levels of molecules that cause major cell damage.

In their study, the University of Warwick team tested sulforaphane on blood vessels damaged by high glucose levels and found a 73 percent reduction of molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS), BBC News reported.

In addition, sulforaphane activated a protein called nrf2, which protects cells and tissues from damage by activating protective antioxidant and detoxifying enzymes.

"Our study suggests that compounds such as sulforaphane from broccoli may help counter processes linked to the development of vascular disease in diabetes," said lead researcher Professor Paul Thornalley, BBC News reported. "In future, it will be important to test if eating a diet rich in brassica vegetables (such as broccoli) has health benefits for diabetic patients. We expect that it will."

The study appears in the journal Diabetes.


High Lead Levels Prompt Recall of Candy

A worldwide recall of a Malaysian-made brand of candy was announced Wednesday after California health officials found the candy contained high levels of lead.

The Ego Hao Jin Bang candy may have been contaminated during production, according to Lina Gan, a manager at Kee Wee Hup Kee Food Manufacture in southern Johor state, the Associated Press reported. The company is investigating the source of the contamination.

On Tuesday, California's Department of Public Health said it found the candy contained up to 0.73 parts per million of lead, much higher than the state's limit of 0.10 parts per million.

As soon as California officials alerted the company about the problem, the firm recalled the candy from domestic and global markets, Gan said. She noted production of the candy was halted a few months ago due to poor sales, the AP reported.


Study Reveals New Genetic Clues About Cancer

A genetic anomaly in people with a higher-than-normal risk of developing cancer has been identified by Canadian researchers. They said the findings may lead to the development of a blood test that can detect tumors at an early stage when they're most treatable and could improve understanding of how cancers are contracted in the general population.

The study included people in families with a rare inherited disorder called Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS), which increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer in childhood and early adulthood. The researchers found that people with LFS have greater variation in their DNA than people without the condition, the Canadian Press reported.

People with LFS have more copy number variations (CNVs), the duplication or deletion of large segments of DNA, said the researchers. They also noted that most people with LFS have a mutation in a gene that normally stabilizes DNA. The study found that people with this mutation in blood cells had a much higher rate of CNVs than people without the mutation.

"So it would imply that people who have a mutation in this gene and are susceptible to cancer have inherently regions of their DNA which are duplicated or deleted and therefore are unstable. And that may have something to do with the mechanism by which they develop cancer," said study leader Dr. David Malkin of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the CP reported.


Another Malaria Vaccine To Begin Human Testing

A malaria vaccine that showed promise in tests on animals is ready for testing in people, according to an international team of scientists. Currently, there is no vaccine for malaria.

The new vaccine worked well in mice and is expected to begin small-scale human safety trials next year, BBC News reported.

The vaccine targets the "blood stage" of malaria, in which parasite numbers rapidly increase in the bloodstream after bursting out of cells. The researchers believe the vaccine can trigger a massive immune response against the malaria parasite at this stage. In mice, the vaccine reduced malaria parasite levels by 70 percent to 85 percent. The findings appear in the journal Nature.

Some experimental malaria vaccines are already being tested on people in malaria-affected countries, BBC News reported.


Medicare OK'd Fake Suppliers: Report

Medicare approved two fake companies to supply wheelchairs and other equipment, even though the phony firms had no inventory or clients, says a Government Accountability Office report released Monday.

The bogus companies in Maryland and Virginia were set up by government investigators looking into fraud problems afflicting Medicare, Bloomberg news reported.

"If real fraudsters had been in charge of the fictitious companies, they would have been clear to bill Medicare from the Virginia office for potentially millions of dollars of false supplies," the GAO said.

Billing tests for the fake Maryland company weren't completed because the investigators didn't receive the necessary passwords from Medicare, Bloomberg reported.

In the fiscal year ending March 2007, Medicare made about $1 billion in improper payments on canes, prosthetic devices, wheelchairs, and other equipment. Medicare says it's implementing new billing oversight requirements for medical suppliers, according to Bloomberg.

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Posted: August 2008