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Health Highlights: July 31, 2008

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

FDA Orders Aranesp and Procrit Label Changes

Labels on the anemia drugs Aranesp and Procrit must be changed in a way that could limit their use in treating cancer patients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

It's the first time the FDA has used its authority under a 2007 law that gave the agency the power to order changes in a drug's prescribing information, The New York Times reported. Before the new law, the FDA could only negotiate with drug makers to change labels.

Amgen makes both Aranesp and Procrit, but Procrit is sold under license by Johnson & Johnson.

In the past year, sales of both drugs fell after studies suggested their use to treat anemia caused by chemotherapy could actually worsen cancer and shorten patients' lives, the Times reported.


House Passes Bill Giving FDA Control Over Tobacco

Legislation that would subject the tobacco industry to regulation by U.S. health authorities was passed Wednesday by the House in a 326-102 vote.

Under the bill, the Food and Drug Administration would have the power to regulate tobacco products. The FDA couldn't ban tobacco or nicotine, but it could order the reduction or elimination of cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, the bill would: further tighten restrictions on tobacco advertising; impose new penalties for selling to minors; prohibit candy-flavored cigarettes and cigars; and give the FDA authority to ban menthol, the most common type of flavoring.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act appears to have enough support to pass this year, but it's unclear whether the Senate will have time to act, the AP reported. The White House issued a veto threat Wednesday.

A potential sticking point as the Senate considers the measure is its treatment of menthol, a favorite choice among black smokers. The National African American Tobacco Prevention Network has said it won't support the bill unless it included an outright ban on menthol. But given that menthol represents more than 25 percent of cigarettes sold, tobacco makers' support for the bill could be in jeopardy if the legislation included a menthol ban, the AP said.


FDA Approves Test to Identify Cancer Cells in Tumors

A test that helps identify the type of cancer cells present in a tumor has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Pathwork Tissue of Origin test compares the genetic material of a patient's tumor with genetic data stored in a database from evaluated cancers. The test, which is able to analyze thousands of pieces of genetic material at a time, considers 15 common cancer types, including those of the bladder, breast, and colon.

"The clearance of the Pathwork test is another step in the continued integration of molecular-based medicine into standard practice," Dr. Daniel Schultz, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in an agency news release.

The test and its technology are produced by Pathwork Diagnostics of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Affymetrix Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif.


Brown Rice Can Benefit Diabetics

A compound in brown rice can reduce diabetes-related damage in nerves and blood vessels, says a U.S. study.

The growth factor acylated steryl glucosides (ASG) -- which is released when brown rice is soaked in water overnight before cooking -- helps normalize blood sugar and enzymes that are awry in people with diabetes, United Press International reported.

The study appears in the Journal of Lipid Research.

Unlike white rice, brown rice still has some of the growth factor, which resumes activity after about 24 hours in water, said Dr. Robert K. Yu of the Medical College of Georgia, UPI reported.

"You have to let it grow, germinate a little bit. Some of the active ingredients generated as a result of the germination process are beneficial to you," he said in a news release.


Salmonella Found at 2nd Mexican Farm

The strain of salmonella that has been linked to more than 1,300 illnesses in the United States has been found on a second farm in Mexico, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

"We have a smoking gun, it appears," Lonnie King, the chief of the Centers for Disease Control's center for foodborne illnesses, told the AP.

But health officials cautioned that the investigation wasn't over and that contamination of several different types of produce was still possible.

The latest farm to have contamination, in this case tainted irrigation water and a contaminated serrano pepper, was identified in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, the AP reported. Previously, contamination of a sample of jalapeno peppers was identified at another Mexican farm in a different part of the country.

Fresh tomatoes had been the suspected source of the nationwide outbreak that began in April. But two weeks ago, U.S. health officials cleared the current crop for consumers. And at the start of last week, they found the first tainted pepper. And by the end of last week, they had narrowed the source to crops in Mexico, not the United States.

Meanwhile, in British Columbia, Canadian health officials were struggling with their own salmonella outbreak, which apparently has sickened hundreds, according to the Globe and Mail.

The bacteria strain of is Salmonella enteritidis, health officials said, which is linked to poultry and egg products.


Alzheimer's Drug Shows No Benefit in Most Patients

The experimental Alzheimer's drug bapineuzumab showed no benefit for most patients and was linked to a brain-swelling condition called vasogenic edema, says a study presented Tuesday at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago.

The drug, made by Elan Corp and Wyeth, did slow memory loss in some patients better than existing treatments, but it had no effect in people with the ApoE4 gene, which is found in about half of all Alzheimer's patients, Bloomberg news reported.

Bapineuzumab is designed to remove clumps of protein that accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

Twelve cases of vasogenic edema occurred in the trial of 234 patients, and 10 of those cases occurred in patients with the ApoE4 gene, Bloomberg reported. Both cases of vasogenic edema in patients without the gene were in the highest-dose group, as were eight of those with the gene.


Who's Happiest? Younger Women and Older Men

Young adult women tend to be happier than their male counterparts, but the roles reverse as people age, according to a new study cited by United Press International.

Later in life, it's generally men who are happier and more satisfied with their lives, U.S. and British researchers reported in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Happiness depends on factors such as family stability and financial security, according to study authors Richard Easterlin at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and Anke Plagnol at the University of Cambridge in England.

Early in life, it's women who are more likely to satisfy their aspirations for material goods and family life. But men seem to better achieve these desires as both sexes become older, the study authors said.

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Posted: July 2008