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Health Highlights: June 1, 2009

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

Bausch & Lomb Settling Contact Lens Solution Lawsuits

Contact lens maker Bausch & Lomb Inc. has so far paid out about $250 million to settle nearly 600 lawsuits related to fungal infections linked to its contact lens solution ReNu MoistureLoc, and still has to resolve dozens more claims the Associated Press reported.

The solution, used for cleaning, storing and moistening soft contact lenses, is blamed by more than 700 people in the United States and Asia for exposure to a potentially blinding infection called Fusarium keratitis, the AP said.

In the United States, there were 180 confirmed cases in 35 states between June 2005 and September 2006, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seven people in the United States had to have an eye removed due to infection and at least 60 more needed vision-saving corneal transplants, the AP reported.


Researchers ID Genetic Link to Drug-Induced Liver Injury

A genetic link associated with drug-induced liver injury in some people who take the antibiotic Flucloxacillin has been identified by the International Serious Adverse Event Consortium (SAEC). Flucloxacillin is widely used in Europe and Australia but isn't sold in the United States.

Researchers found that the HLA-B*5701 gentype was associated with Flucloxacillin-related liver injury. HLA-B is one of a number of highly variable genes on chromosome 6 that control immune function. The findings, published in the July issue of the journal Nature Genetics, may help identify patients at increased risk for drug-induced liver injury (DILI).

"These findings provide the research community with novel genomic data on DILI events and make an important contribution to the science of drug safety," Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a news release. "By making these data available, the research community will have better tools to evaluate predictive biomarkers for adverse events such as DILI. This type of collaborative research will eventually reduce a patient's likelihood of experiencing serious, and sometimes life-threatening, adverse drug events."


Scientists Turn Skin Cells Into Stem Cells

Scientists who found a safe way to transform skin cells into stem cells say their achievement is an important step forward in making grow-in-a-dish transplant tissue available to patients.

The researchers used four introduced genes to reprogram skin cells to become indistinguishable from stem cells, Agence France Presse reported. The results, published online in the journal Cell Stem Cell, are so promising that the scientists hope to begin clinical trials by the middle of 2010.

"This is the first safe method of generating patient-specific stem cells," study author Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine International, told AFP. "This technology will soon allow us to expand the range of possible stem cell therapies for the entire human body."

He added that this method "allows us to generate the raw material to solve the problem of rejection (by the immune system) so this is really going to accelerate the field of regenerative medicine."


Malaria Showing Signs of Drug Resistance

There's evidence that malaria in some parts of Cambodia is becoming resistant to front-line artemesinin drugs, a situation that needs to be contained because full-blown resistance would pose a serious worldwide health crisis, scientists warn.

Until now, these drugs cleared all the malaria parasites from a patient's blood within two or three days. But two teams of scientists conducting research in western Cambodia have found this process can now take four or five days, BBC News reported.

It's not clear why this resistance appears to be developing in this region of Cambodia, but the use of anti-malaria drugs isn't properly controlled and the local public health system is weak. Currently, malaria kills about a million people a year. About half the world's population faces exposure to malaria, BBC News reported.

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Posted: June 2009