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Health Highlights: Nov. 12, 2009

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

Scientists Manage to Neutralize Cancer Protein

A method of neutralizing a protein believed to play an important role in leukemia and other cancers could lead to new treatments, say U.S. researchers.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute team made their breakthrough by examining the structure of a protein called Notch and identifying a potential weak spot. They then developed a peptide that disrupts Notch, BBC News reported.

Tests in mice showed use of the peptide limited cancer growth by reducing activity of genes both directly and indirectly controlled by Notch.

The study appears in the journal Nature.

Previous attempts at neutralizing Notch had failed, leading scientists to conclude nothing could be done to disrupt the protein, BBC News reported.


Researchers Developing Method to Re-Grow Breasts

Australian researchers are testing a technique that may lead to the ability to re-grow breasts in women who've had a mastectomy, offering them an alternative to breast implants.

The procedure involves implanting a chamber beneath the skin and connecting a blood vessel to fat tissue in order to help it grow. The idea is to use a biodegradable chamber that dissolves inside the body after it fills with fat tissue, a process that would take about 24 months, CBS News reported.

So far, tests have been limited to pigs, but the team at the Bernard O'Brien Institute of Microsurgery in Melbourne plans clinical trials on women who have lost breasts to cancer.

"We are starting what is called a prototype in the next three to six months -- a proof of principle trial with about five to six women, just to demonstrate that the body can re-grow its own fat supply in the breast," Dr. Phillip Marzella told Sky News, CBS News reported.

The procedure may be ready for use within three years.


200 Million Children Have Stunted Growth: UNICEF

Stunted growth affects nearly 200 million children who don't have enough to eat, says a UNICEF report released Wednesday.

The agency said more than 90 percent of children with stunted growth are in Africa and Asia, the Associated Press reported. Last year, the rate of stunted growth in Africa was about 34 percent and 30 percent in Asia.

UNICEF also said that undernutrition is linked to more than a third of all deaths in children under 5. Without proper nutrition, children aren't able to fight off diseases and complications.

"Unless attention is paid to addressing the causes of child and maternal undernutrition today, the costs will be considerably higher tomorrow," UNICEF executive director Ann M. Veneman said in a news release, the AP reported.

UNICEF said wider use of programs to provide vitamin A supplementation and promote breast-feeding could cut the death rate in children by up to 15 percent.

"With more than 1 billion people suffering from malnutrition and hunger, international leadership and urgent action are needed," Veneman said.


FDA to Consider Rules for Online Drug Ads

Drug makers want the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make it easier for them to market their products online.

Under current regulations for traditional media, drug ads must include a detailed list of possible side effects. That rule has severely limited their ability to advertise drugs on the Web, according to pharmaceutical companies.

In response to those concerns, the FDA will hold a two-day meeting beginning Thursday to consider developing rules for online drug advertising, the Associated Press reported.

At the meeting, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America will suggest the FDA develop a logo that could be used in ads in place of lengthy statements about drug risks. Clicking on the logo would take users to a full listing of a drug's risks.

The FDA likely won't release final regulations until 2011, the AP reported.


FDA Approves Glaxo Swine Flu Vaccine

A swine flu vaccine made by British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline is now approved for use in the United States.

In a news release, the company said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved the unadjuvanted influenza A (H1N1) pandemic vaccine, Agence France Presse reported.

"The United States Department of Health and Human Services has placed an order to fill 7.6 million doses of unadjuvanted H1N1 pandemic vaccine from GSK, which will contribute to the approximately 250 million doses secured by the U.S. government," the company said.

The makeup of the GSK swine flu vaccine approved for use in the United States is different than that of Pandermix, the company's drug recently approved in Europe to treat swine flu, AFP reported.

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Posted: November 2009