Health Highlights: Aug. 15, 2013

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  • Magnetic Stimulation Helps Reveal Brain Injury Patients' Level of Consciousness
  • Study Offers New Insight Into Cancer Origins
  • Hospital Tech in Hepatitis C Outbreak Pleads Guilty
  • Florida Boy Infected with Brain-Eating Amoeba

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

Magnetic Stimulation Helps Reveal Brain Injury Patients' Level of Consciousness

Measuring the brain's response to magnetic stimulation offers a new way to measure consciousness and guide treatment of brain injury patients who can't respond to commands, a new study says.

Italian researchers tested a trans-cranial magnetic stimulation device on 52 brain-injured and healthy people and were able to measure the amount of information flow in the brain and determine various levels of consciousness with a numerical index, Bloomberg News reported.

The researchers also found that brain injury patients with low levels of response actually had much higher levels of consciousness than healthy people who were asleep or anesthetized.

The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"Measures that can reliably distinguish vegetative states from minimally conscious states are crucial and will have an impact on clinical practice," Nicholas Schiff, a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote in a comment accompanying the paper, Bloomberg reported. "Misdiagnosis rates are high when behavioral evidence of consciousness is limited."

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Study Offers New Insight Into Cancer Origins

Scientists who found that 21 major genetic mutations account for 97 percent of the 30 most common cancers say their achievement is a major milestone in cancer research.

Identifying the causes of these mutations could lead to new cancer treatments. Smoking, exposure to ultraviolet light and some other causes of these mutations are known, but more than half are a mystery, BBC News reported.

The scientists made their discovery after analyzing mutations in 7,042 samples taken from the 30 most common cancers. The effort was led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K.

"I'm very excited. Hidden within the cancer genome are these patterns, these signatures, which tell us what is actually causing cancer in the first place -- that's a major insight to have," Sanger Institute Director Sir Mike Stratton told BBC News.

"It is quite a significant achievement for cancer research, this is quite profound. It's taking us into areas of unknown that we didn't know existed before," Stratton said. "I think this is a major milestone."

The study was published in the journal Nature.

This is a "fascinating and important study" that identifies several new processes driving the development of cancer, Nic Jones, chief scientist at Cancer Research U.K., told BBC News.

"Understanding what's causing them could be an extremely important way to get the bottom of how cancer develops in the first place -- and this will lead to new ways to prevent and treat the disease," Jones explained.

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Hospital Tech in Hepatitis C Outbreak Pleads Guilty

A hospital technician linked to a multistate hepatitis C outbreak pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal drug charges and will be sentenced at a later date.

David Kwiatkowski, 34, worked in 18 hospitals in seven states before being hired at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire last year. Forty-six people in four states have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C carried by Kwiatkowski, the Associated Press reported.

The Michigan native was accused of stealing painkiller syringes from Exeter Hospital and replacing them with saline-filled syringes contaminated with his blood.

Under a plea deal enabling him to avoid charges in other states, Kwiatkowski pleaded guilty to 14 charges of drug theft and tampering. He faces 30 to 40 years in prison, the AP reported.

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Florida Boy Infected with Brain-Eating Amoeba

A 12-year-old Florida boy has been infected with a rare, brain-eating amoeba found in warm freshwater, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.