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Health Highlights: Feb. 21, 2011

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

Scientists ID Gene Helping to Drive Breast Cancer

British researchers report they've identified a gene that may help cause an aggressive form of breast cancer. The gene, dubbed ZNF703, is the first such "oncogene" to be identified in the past five years.

The scientists said that ZNF703 becomes overactive in one in every dozen breast cancers, the BBC reported. Oncogenes typically play a role in instructing cells to divide, but if something goes awry that function goes into overdrive, causing a proliferation of cells.

Scientists at Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute and the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver, Canada, looked at gene activity in almost 1,200 breast tumor samples, as well as breast cancer cells grown in lab cultures. They gradually eliminated genes until they pinpointed ZNF703 as the culprit behind overactivity. In two patients, the gene was the cause of cancer development.

"This is exciting because it's a prime candidate for the development of new breast cancer drugs designed specifically to target tumors in which this gene is overactive," Dr. Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, told the BBC. "Hopefully, this will lead to more effective cancer treatments in the future."

The findings were published in EMBO Molecular Medicine.


Obama Administration Rescinds Bush-Era Rule on Providers of Abortions

The Obama Administration has rescinded most of a 2008 rule that gave broad protections to health care workers whose religious or moral beliefs were in conflict with the provision of abortion, sterilization and other medical procedures.

According to The New York Times, Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the rule could "negatively impact patient access to contraception and certain other medical services."

She stressed that federal laws already assert that health care providers do not have to perform or assist in abortions against their will. But the new rule -- put in place at the very end of the Bush administration -- extended beyond that, she said.

Reaction to the move on Friday was mixed.

"The administration's action today is cause for disappointment," Deirdre A. McQuade, a spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Secretariat at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Times.

But Clare M. Coleman, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, which represents family planning clinics nationwide, told the Times that the Obama administration's move was peeling back "the most harmful elements" of the Bush rule.


Health Care Law Battle Moves to Budget Debate

Republican efforts to fight the new health care law have become part of the budget debate, with a proposal to block funds to implement the measure.

The scheme was brought forward by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who said the health care law was a budget-breaking overreach by the federal government. Democrats countered by saying the law has helped families, will create health care jobs and reduce the federal deficit, the Associated Press reported.

"It's a law designed by those who wish to control every health care decision made by health care providers and patients, by every employer and employee, by every family and individual," Rehberg said.

Killing the health care law would "put insurance companies back in charge, further demonstrating the [Republican] majority's special-interest priorities and hypocrisy on job creation and deficit reduction," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the AP reported.


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Posted: February 2011