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Health Highlights: Dec. 14 2009

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

Gel Doesn't Appear to Protect Women From HIV

A vaginal gel called PRO 2000 was not significantly more effective than a placebo gel in reducing the risk of HIV infection in women, says a study that included 9,385 women in four African countries.

"The result is disheartening," said lead researcher Dr. Sheena McCormack, of the Medical Research Council in London, BBC News reported.

Promoting condom use alone has failed to control the spread of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), and it was hoped that microbicide gels would further help limit transmission of HIV.

"It is unfortunate that this microbicide is ineffective at preventing HIV infection, but it's still vital for us as scientists to continue to look for new ways of preventing HIV." added Professor Jonathan Weber of Imperial College London, who also took part in the study, BBC News reported. "Now that we know this microbicide is not the answer, we can concentrate on other treatments that might be."


Kidney Exchange Benefits 13 Recipients

A record-setting kidney swap in which 13 people received organs was accomplished over six days by surgeons at Georgetown University Hospital and Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

The exchange -- believed to be the largest of its kind -- included three donors who offered a kidney to anyone and five patients who received kidneys only because of a blood-cleansing treatment called plasmapheresis that reduced the risk of rejection, the Associated Press reported.

Another special feature of the kidney swap was that 10 of the kidney recipients are black, Asian or Hispanic. Minority patients in the United States are far less likely than whites to receive a kidney transplant from a living donor, which is superior to a kidney from a deceased donor.

In the United States, 88,000 people are on the kidney transplant waiting list, but fewer than 17,000 kidney transplants are performed each year.

The use of multiple kidney swaps and blood-cleansing could lead to 4,000 more transplants a year, said Dr. Keith Melancon, Georgetown's kidney transplant director.

"It's really almost a religious experience when we start doing this, because it's miraculous, it really is," he told the AP.


Crestor Benefits Patients With No Heart Disease History: FDA

The cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and death in patients with no history of heart disease, according to documents posted on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site.

But the review by FDA scientists also noted several safety concerns about the drug, including an increased risk of diabetes, the Associated Press reported.

The documents were posted in advance of a meeting next week by an FDA panel of outside experts. They'll make a recommendation on whether the FDA should approve drug maker AstraZeneca's application to allow broader use of Crestor.

An AstraZeneca study released last November found that patients with lower cholesterol and few heart risks could still benefit from taking Crestor, the AP reported.


Major Problems in U.S. Food Tracing Program: Report

Serious gaps exist in the U.S. government's ability to trace food through the supply chain to ensure its safety, says a report by the inspector general's office of the Department of Health and Human Services.

A survey of food manufacturers required to register with the FDA found that nearly half failed to give the agency accurate contact information, investigators found, the Associated Press reported.

The food tracing program was established to allow quick retracing of contaminated food that causes outbreaks and to keep food safe from bioterrorism. The flaws exposed in the investigation are "appalling," said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chair of the House spending panel that oversees the FDA budget.

"The weakness in our food safety system that are highlighted in the report are unacceptable," DeLauro said, the AP reported. "Congress should pass comprehensive food safety legislation to give FDA the statutory authority it needs."

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Posted: December 2009