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Health Highlights: Oct. 12, 2009

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

FDA Considers New Insulin Inhaler

An insulin inhaler that may offer a more convenient alternative to insulin injections for people with diabetes is being considered for approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The palm-sized inhaler contains an insulin powder called Afresa, which dissolves in the lungs and then travels the bloodstream, The New York Times reported. The device and powder were developed by California-based MannKind Corporation, which is asking the FDA to approve the system's use in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

"The patient's breathing action does the job," Matthew J. Pfeffer, chief financial officer at MannKind, told the Times. "The airflow through the cartridge allows the powder to be inhaled."

Patients put insulin doses -- pre-packaged in cartridges -- into the inhaler and turn the mouthpiece to release the insulin. The inhaler uses no electricity or compressed gas. "The patient's breathing action does the job," Pfeffer said. "The airflow through the cartridge allows the powder to be inhaled."

An insulin inhaler introduced by Pfizer in 2006 was taken off the market less than two years later due to poor sales. The inhaler was too large and awkward, according to some experts, the Times said.


100 Nations to Receive Donated Swine Flu Vaccine: WHO

International donations of H1N1 swine flu vaccine will be distributed to about 100 developing countries, perhaps as early as November, according to a World Health Organization official.

"The director general of WHO will approve most likely today a list of countries for the donations. The list will include about 100 countries," Marie-Paule Kieny, head of the WHO's vaccine research unit, told journalists, Agence France Presse reported.

"We are trying to have the first deliveries in November," she said.

The donated swine flu vaccine is from drug companies and a U.S.-led group of wealthy nations that promised to give 10 percent of their vaccine purchases to developing countries, AFP reported.

The vaccines will be used to protect about 2 percent of the population in the recipient nations over the next few months. Health-care workers will be given priority, followed by other vulnerable groups, Kieny said.


Juggling Benefits Brain: Study

Learning juggling or other complex new skills prompts improvements in the brain's signaling network, a finding that could lead to new ways to treat people with diseases such as multiple sclerosis, say U.K. researchers.

The researchers used MRI imaging technology to monitor the brains of healthy young adults who were given weekly juggling training sessions for six weeks and then practiced for 30 minutes a day. The jugglers showed a 5 percent increase in brain white matter compared with non-jugglers, BBC News reported.

The Oxford University study appeared in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

"MRI is an indirect way to measure brain structure and so we cannot be sure exactly what is changing when these people learn," said team leader Dr. Heidi Johansen-Berg, BBC News reported. "Future work should test whether these results reflect changes in the shape or number of nerve fibers, or growth of the insulating myelin sheath surrounding the fibers."

"Of course, this doesn't mean that everyone should go out and start juggling to improve their brains," she added. "We chose juggling purely as a complex new skill for people to learn."

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Posted: October 2009