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Health Highlights: Oct. 19, 2011

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

European Court Forbids Some Stem Cell Techniques

Scientists cannot patent stem cell techniques that use human embryos for research, the European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday.

The decision was delivered in a lawsuit launched against a researcher who in 1997 filed a patient on a technique to turn embryonic stem cells into nerve cells. The lawsuit was launched by the environmental group Greenpeace, the Associated Press reported.

The court said patents are permissible if they involve therapeutic or diagnostic techniques that benefit the embryo, such as correcting defects, but the law protects embryos from any use that could cause indignity.

The court also said any stem cell technique used exclusively for research "is not patentable," AP reported.

Greenpeace launched the lawsuit in order to obtain a clear, legal definition of what constitutes a living embryo, a spokesman explained. The group fears that patents on animals and plants could lead to food production monopolies.


U.S. Government Overhauls Health Facility Rules

A number of health facility regulations considered obsolete or overly burdensome will be scrapped, the Obama administration says.

The proposed changes that were announced Tuesday would apply to more than 6,000 hospitals and save health providers nearly $1.1 billion a year without creating any "consequential risks for patients," according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, The New York Times reported.

For example, the proposed changes would make it easier to use advanced practice nurse practitioners and physician assistants instead of higher-paid doctors.

Other changes would affect rules for doctors' offices, outpatient surgery centers, kidney dialysis centers, organ transplant programs and institutions that care for people with severe mental disabilities, The Times reported.

Public comments gathered over the next 60 days will be considered before the government issues final rules.


Ban on Chewing Tobacco During Baseball Games Sought

The professional baseball players union should agree to a ban on the use of chewing tobacco at games and on camera, say some U.S. senators and health officials from St. Louis and Arlington, Texas -- the cities hosting the 2011 World Series.

The requests to the union were outlined in separate letters sent by the senators and the public health officials, the Associated Press reported.

Millions of people, including children, will watch the series, wrote Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Tom Harkin of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate health committee.

"When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example," the senators said.

"Unfortunately, as these young fans root for their favorite team and players, they also will watch their on-field heroes use smokeless tobacco products," they added, the AP reported.

In their letter, the health officials from Arlington and St. Louis noted that tobacco companies can't advertise on TV, but they "literally could not buy the ads that are effectively created by celebrity ballplayers using tobacco at games."

A ban on chewing tobacco was endorsed earlier this year by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig but the players union has not committed to the idea.


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Posted: October 2011