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Health Highlights: Feb. 16, 2009

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

FDA Approves New Gout Drug

The first new gout treatment in four decades has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after more than four years of review due to concerns about dosing and a potential increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The FDA approved febuxostat (brand name Uloric) to control excess uric acid in the blood that can build up in joints or soft tissues, Bloomberg news reported. About six million Americans have gout.

Japanese drug maker Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co. initially sought approval for 80-milligram and 120-milligram oral doses of the drug. However, regulators were concerned about a higher number of cardiovascular side effects in patients taking the drug and requested a new study using only 80-milligram and 40-milligram doses.

Both lower doses proved effective and weren't linked to a higher rate of heart attack or stroke in patients taking the drug, Bloomberg reported.

Febuxostat was approved by European regulators last May.


DNA Decoys Prompt Cancer Cell Suicide

A molecular "decoy" that mimics DNA damage and triggers cancer cells to kill themselves could help treat tumors that are resistant to conventional therapy, say French researchers.

They developed tiny fragments of DNA that mimic the two broken ends of the double-helix genetic code. These "Dbaits" fool cancer cells that have survived chemotherapy or radiation into believing they're more damaged than they actually are, prompting them to self-destruct, Agence France Presse reported.

When Dbaits were injected into mice a few hours before they received radiotherapy, 75 percent to 100 percent of cancer cells in the rodents were destroyed, compared with 30 percent to 50 percent using radiotherapy alone. There was no damage to healthy tissue when Dbaits were used.

The study appears in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

If further tests are successful, clinical trials on humans could begin by the end of 2010, said Marie Dutreix of the Curie Institute in Paris, AFP reported.


Bad Colonoscopy Equipment May Have Exposed Thousands of Vets to Infection

A bad connection between a hose and a valve on an instrument used for colonoscopies at a Tennessee Veteran's Administration clinic may have exposed thousands of veterans to infection.

According to the Associated Press, the problem was just recently discovered at the Alvin C. York VA clinic in Murfreesboro, but the bad connection, which could have exposed almost 6,400 colonoscopy patients to infectious bodily fluids, may have been in operation for at least five years.

The improper valve connection wasn't discovered until late in 2008, so the VA sent letters to 6,378 patients who had colonoscopies between April 23, 2003 and Dec. 1, 2008.

While saying there had been no reports of infections or illness directly related to the defective equipment, a VA spokesman told the wire service that every step was being taken to screen any veterans who might have been exposed to infection.

Additionally, the AP reported, another 1,800 patients may have been exposed to infection in Augusta, Ga., between January and November 2008 because of improper disinfecting methods on an ear, nose and throat instrument.

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Posted: February 2009