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Health Highlights: Nov. 18, 2007

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

New Procedure Attacks Tumors Using Electromagnetic Field

A method using microscopic particles that can release drugs to attack a specific tumor has been successfully tested by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to an MIT news release, university researchers have developed the technology to use an electromagnetic field to pulse nanoparticles through the bloodstream and zero in on a tumor.

The tiny particles can be used to tether molecules of anti-cancer drugs, the MIT research team reports. When the electromagnetic field is activated after the tumor has been targeted, the heat causes the tether to melt and the drugs to be released.

"Our overall goal is to create multifunctional nanoparticles that home to a tumor, accumulate, and provide customizable remotely activated drug delivery right at the site of the disease," said Dr. research leader, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia.

The report was published in the Nov. 15 online issue of Advanced Materials


McCain Calls for Reimporting Canadian Prescription Drugs

It's not a new way to bring some health costs under control, but the issue of whether prescription drugs should be allowed to come back to the United States from Canada and be sold at cheaper prices has emerged as a presidential campaign issue.

Republican candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona told reporters Saturday that he believes the Bush administration's policy of opposing importation of Canadian prescription medicine -- often less expensive than the same drugs bought in the United States -- should end.

The administration has discouraged prescription drugs imports, particularly from Canada, claiming among other things, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no way to determine whether the dosages were the same as those approved in the U.S.

Much of the savings in Canadian drugs comes from Internet pharmacy sales, the Associated Press reports. McCain made his recommendation in New Hampshire, not far from the Canadian border.

"Drug companies and the lobbyists they pay in Washington want to keep your drug prices high," the A.P. quotes McCain as saying. "Obviously, I want them to be affordable."

McCain also said he was confident that Canadian prescription drugs met U.S. standards. "It's a strawman to say that a country like Canada could not be responsible for safe drugs to be brought into our country. Many of them are manufactured in Canada, as you know," the A.P. quotes him as saying.


FDA Orders Seizure of Eyelash Enhancer

More than 12,500 tubes of a product marketed as an eyelash growth enhancer were seized Friday, after officials from the U.S, Food and Drug Administration determined it could dangerously increase pressure inside the eye.

The FDA announced that U.S. Marshals seized 12,682 applicator tubes of Age Intervention Eyelash, which the federal agency said contained an adulterated form of bimatoprost, which has been approved to treat elevated intraocular pressure. But, said the FDA in a news release, the Age Intervention Eyelash ingredients were unregulated and illegal.

Specific problems in using Age Intervention Eyelash, the FDA said, were the patients already taking a prescription dose of bimatoprost may be in danger of optic nerve damage if they used the eyelash enhancer, too; and using the unregulated cosmetic also could cause macular edema (swelling of the retina) and uveitis (inflammation in the eye).

The value of the seized material was about $2 million, the FDA said. Age Intervention Eyelash is sold and distributed by Jan Marini Skin Research, Inc., of San Jose, Calif.


Prescription Weight Loss Drugs Work... Up to a Point

Three diet drugs, one of which still hasn't been approved for use in the United States, will assist in weight loss, Canadian researchers report, but there can be serious side effects and the weight loss isn't all that great.

According to the Associated Press, the report, published in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal, found that people who took the prescription drugs Xenical, Meridia and Acomplia (Acomplia is not sold in the United States) registered lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and reduced diabetes. For the 45 to 50-year-old study group, which had an average weight of 220 pounds, weight loss registered a little less than 11 pounds per person.

About 20 percent of those who took Meridia experienced side effects that included raised blood pressure and pulse rates, insomnia and nausea, the A.P. reported. Up to 30 percent of those who took Xenical had side effects that included unpleasant digestive and intestinal side effects.

About six percent of those who took Acomplia experienced mood disorders, a primary reason the drug didn't receive FDA approval, the wire service reported.


New Meningitis Vaccine Shows Promise

A vaccine designed to protect infants from four types of meningitis (A, C, W-135 and Y strains) produced promising results in a phase II study, according to data presented at the World Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases Congress. Current vaccines against these strains don't work in children younger than age 2, BBC News reported.

This study found that Menveo, developed by Novartis, triggered good immune responses against all four strains in 175 infants who received either two doses of the vaccine at ages six and 12 months, or a single dose at 12 months.

The vaccine is currently being tested in larger trials and may be submitted for regulatory approval next year, BBC News reported.

This type of vaccine could prove important in parts of Africa that experience large outbreaks of meningitis A and meningitis W-135, said Professor Robert Read, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Sheffield in the U.K.

"The attack rate can be upwards of one per 1,000 so your chance of getting meningitis as a baby is incredibly high," he told BBC News. "That's where the vaccine has real potential."


Mutant Cold Virus Has Killed 10: CDC

A respiratory virus that's a variant of the bug that causes the common cold has killed 10 people and made at least 140 sick in the past 18 months, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report released Thursday.

The bug is among a family of viruses called adenovirus, which usually trigger non-lethal respiratory illnesses, the Associated Press reported. The more than 50 different types of adenovirus have been known to spawn respiratory ills ranging from pneumonia to bronchitis.

The new strain has caused at least 140 respiratory infections in New York, Oregon, Washington state, and Texas, the wire service said.

It was labeled "boot camp flu" when it made scores of military personnel sick at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio earlier this year. One 19-year-old trainee died from the virus, the AP reported.

Antiviral medications aren't very effective in treating adenoviruses, the wire service said, noting that infected people are normally prescribed bed rest, liquids, and aspirin.

The CDC said the earliest case of the lethal strain was identified in a New York City infant who died last year. The baby girl initially seemed healthy but quickly stopped eating and drinking. She died 12 days after birth, the wire service said.


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Posted: November 2007