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Health Highlights: Nov. 22, 2010

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

Eye Disease Patients Receiving Embryonic Stem Cell Treatment

The second U.S. study using embryonic stem cells to treat humans has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The study will include 12 patients with a rare genetic disorder called Stargardt disease, which causes severe vision loss and blindness. The study's primary goal is to assess the safety of various doses of healthy scavenger cells created from human embryonic stem cells, the Associated Press reported.

The trial should begin early next year, according to California-based biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology. Stargardt disease affects only about 30,000 Americans, but company officials hope the same stem cell treatment will also prove effective in more common eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration.

Last month, biotech company Geron Corp. announced it had started preliminary testing of embryonic stem cell-derived cells to treat people with spinal cord injuries, the AP reported.


Cholesterol Drug May Benefit Kidney Disease Patients: Study

The cholesterol-lowering drug Vytorin reduced heart attacks, strokes and operations to open blocked arteries in chronic kidney disease patients, says a new study.

Compared with patients who received a placebo, those who took the drug had one-sixth fewer cardiovascular events or surgeries, The New York Times reported.

But the five-year study involving more than 9,000 patients found that Vytorin had no significant impact in slowing kidney disease progression, specifically in reducing the need to start dialysis or have a kidney transplant, said the researchers.

The study was presented on the weekend at a meeting of kidney specialists in Denver.

Merck's Vytorin combines two treatments, a statin called simvastatin and a newer drug called exetimibe (brand name Zetia), The Times reported.


Restrict or Ban Flavored Cigarettes: Public Health Officials

Depsite intense tobacco industry opposition, public health officials from 172 countries agreed on the weekend to recommend restrictions or bans on flavor additives meant to make cigarettes more appealing to new smokers.

In addition, tobacco producers should be required to reveal the ingredients of their products to health authorities, recommended the delegates from nations that have signed on to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the Associated Press reported.

The tobacco industry threatened that million of jobs would be lost and some nation's economies ruined if countries heed the recommendations.

"There was a lot of campaigning against these guidelines. It's a major achievement because countries really showed unity and showed they are putting public health policies as a priority before the interests of the industry," convention spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told the AP. "If these guidelines are implemented, this could lead to a certain decrease of new smokers -- fewer young people getting hooked."

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Posted: November 2010