Health Buzz: Gene Mutation Linked to Severe Obesity and Other Health News

How to reduce the health hazards of the night shift; the future of prostate cancer vaccines.

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Gene Mutation Linked to Severe Obesity

A new study suggests that in rare cases, obese children may be missing a piece of their DNA, BBC News reports. Lacking one gene in particular on chromosome 16, British researchers found, contributed to participants' excessive urge to eat and gain weight. The gene SH2B1 is important for regulating weight and managing blood sugar, said Sadaf Farooqi, who helped lead the research, according to BBC News. The team compared 300 obese children with 7,000 volunteers of normal weight; of the 300, five had the mutation, according to a TimesOnline report. Results were published in the journal Nature.

[Read The Obesity Epidemic Isn't Just About Willpower and The Huge Health Toll Obesity Takes on Kids.]

6 Ways to Make Working the Night Shift Less Hazardous to Your Health

"Working 9 to 5" is a catchy song lyric, but it doesn't describe the real-life experience of about 15 million Americans. That's how many shift workers—on duty evenings, nights, or in some rotating or otherwise irregular schedule—the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates are in the workforce (or were in 2001).

On top of the sleep problems this kind of off-hours schedule produces, there is plenty of evidence that shift work can be hazardous to your health, U.S. News's Katherine Hobson writes. A review published in 2003 lists gastrointestinal problems (specifically peptic ulcers), cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Shift work has also been linked to obesity and depression.

What's going on? Well, the lack of sleep alone probably isn't helping anyone, Hobson writes. "Shift workers are among the most sleep-deprived segments of the population," says Eve Van Cauter, a professor at the University of Chicago who studies circadian rhythms and their impact on the endocrine system. But there's very likely something involved besides a sheer lack of sleep: the disruption of the circadian rhythm—the internal clock that governs eating, sleeping, body temperature, and other regular biological processes. As it turns out, messing around with that clock can have consequences; increased rates of breast cancer among shift workers, for example, may be caused by exposure to light during the night, when you should be sleeping. Read more.

[Read Light at Night: How to Counter the Health Effects and Is Your Job Killing You? How Work Influences Longevity.]

Coming: Vaccine That Fights Prostate Cancer

Women were the beneficiaries of the first cancer vaccine Gardasil, approved in 2006 to prevent cervical cancer. Several weeks ago, the same drug was made available to young males to prevent genital warts. And now it looks as if the first vaccine approved to fight cancer, by enhancing the body's immune response to cancer cells, will benefit males, writes U.S. News contributor and physician Ford Vox.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration pledged to decide the fate of the prostate cancer vaccine Provenge by May 1, 2010. Prostate cancer is an appealing target because it moves slowly (even men whose cancer comes back after prostate surgery often live for well over a decade). That wide window of opportunity gives a vaccine time to prompt the immune system into fighting the body's own cells when they've become cancerous, Vox writes.

But while Provenge is on track to enter the market first, a less sexy vaccine that hasn't caught the eye of biotech investors could work just as well at a much lower cost. Read more.

[Read Benefits of PSA Test Are Exaggerated and PSA Screening, Much Like a Seat Belt, Is a Wise Choice For Men.]

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