Health Buzz: Decoding Cancer Genome and Other Health News

Sanofi-Aventis's Acomplia and Obama's plans to change the healthcare system

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A First in Decoding the Genetics of Cancer

Scientists say they've decoded the complete DNA sequence of a woman in her 50s with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a blood cancer. This marks the first time researchers have mapped the complete genome of a patient's cancer cells for comparison with the patient's healthy cells, the Wall Street Journal 's Health Blog reports. They learned that eight mutations that were previously unknown and two genetic alterations that had been identified in the past are linked to AML. The study is published today in Nature.

"That [the cancer-related mutations] seem to be fairly unique to this particular patient says on the one hand that this is a complicated disease," Richard K. Wilson, the study's senior author and director of the Washington University Genome Sequencing Center in St. Louis, told HealthDay. "But the complications validate our approach—we have to look at a number of patients to see not only what is different but what they have in common."

In September, U.S. News's Katherine Hobson explained what you need to know about mapping the cancer genome.

Drugmaker Halts Sales, Stops Research of Diet Drug Acomplia

Drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis announced yesterday that it is ending research on the diet drug Acomplia, which had been available in Europe, the Associated Press reports. The drug functions by blocking cannabinoid type 1 receptors, which appear to be involved in activating the brain's pleasure centers when, for example, marijuana smokers experience "the munchies." Sanofi-Aventis stopped selling Acomplia in Europe two weeks ago; that move came after the European Medicines Agency had suggested that the European Commission temporarily stop sales of the drug because of concern that risks of stress disorders, depression, and anxiety outweighed the drug's benefits. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel rejected Acomplia in 2007 because of concern about psychiatric problems.

In July, U.S. News's Katherine Hobson explained that a low-carb diet works if it suits your lifestyle. In April, she reported on diets that promote health and described the Mediterranean diet, Asian diet, Latin American diet, and vegetarian diets.

Changing the Healthcare System Will be Tough for Obama

While President-elect Barack Obama has called for sweeping changes to the U.S. healthcare system—including offering health insurance to millions more Americans and spending $50 billion for an electronic system of tracking health records—some experts say he will have difficulty finding the money to fund such changes, Reuters reports. Congress will likely be reluctant to spend money after approving the $700 billion economic stimulus package and while grappling with a $455 billion budget deficit. Eighty percent of Americans say they are in favor of healthcare reform, polls say. About 47 million Americans don't have health insurance.

U.S. News's Michelle Andrews lists four ways to save on your medical bills. In September, she reported that health insurance premiums are up again.

—January W. Payne