Health Highlights: Feb. 11, 2008
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Researchers Discover Another Way That HIV Attacks Cells
A weapon that HIV uses to invade human cells has been identified by scientists trying to figure out all the different ways the AIDS-causing virus launches its powerful attack on the immune system.
U.S. government researchers say they've identified a new HIV receptor, which helps guide the virus to a place in the gut where it can begin its assault on the body, reports The New York Times.
The discovery was reported Sunday in the journal Nature Immunology by a team led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
It's been long understood that HIV prefers to invade the gut's lymph nodes and tissues, then replicate itself. Fauci and his colleagues found that a molecule called alpha-4 beta-7, which is programmed to direct immune cells to the gut, also acts as a receptor for HIV, the newspaper said.
Several other receptors for HIV have been identified previously. Scientists have been trying for years to identify these molecules, then target them with newly devised drugs as a way to stop HIV from invading human cells and replicating itself.
Computer Program Guides Medical Students Through Complicated Hip Surgery
Using a computer program similar to the GPS navigation system, 32 medical students at four hospitals in the United Kingdom have successfully completed a complicated hip surgical procedure that usually takes years to perfect.
BBC News reports that the procedure, known as hip resurfacing, uses a chrome alloy to smooth and redefine diseased or damaged ball joints in the hips. It takes years to become proficient at doing this, the BBC reports, but the computer guidance system has allowed medical students to do the surgery almost flawlessly.
The surgical trial was used on various models of diseased or damaged hips, the BBC reports, but those who supervised the project seemed confident enough from the outcome to consider the experiment successful.
Dr. Justin Cobb, head of the Biosurgery and Surgical Technology Group at Imperial College London, told a recent scientific meeting that the computer-driven surgery augers well for other procedures. "Even students, with the right technology, can achieve expert levels straight away," the BBC quotes him as saying. "More importantly, we've also demonstrated that no patient has to be on an inexperienced surgeon's learning curve."
Breakdown of Body's Iron Transporter May Be Cause of Brain Lesions
British and Indian scientists say they have possibly found the method by which particles of iron get into the brain and cause Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease.
Researchers at the University of Warwick and the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur say that the collapse of the mechanism that carries iron safely through the body can cause worm-like fibrils of iron rust to form outside a protective cover, and this exposes iron oxide in dangerous ways to cells.
According to a news release from Warwick University, the key element in this process is a protein called transferrin, which safely carries iron through the bloodstream without exposing it to other cells until it is needed.
But when transferrin is disrupted in some way, it no longer seals the iron particles from the rest of the body, and some of the iron can find its way to the brain and cause the lesions associated with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease, the scientists found.
This discovery is only one step in helping to find causes of these neurological diseases, and more research is being planned, according to the university news release.
Aspirin Use Effective in Preventing Colon Cancer in Men, Latest Study Confirms
If you're a man and take at least two standard 325 mg. aspirin tablets weekly, you may be able to reduce your chances of getting colon cancer by more than 20 percent, The New York Times reports.
Reporting on a study in the January 2008 issue of the journal Gastroenterology, the newspaper said that the latest study, led by Harvard assistant professor of medicine Dr,. Howard T. Chan, confirmed earlier randomized studies indicating that prolonged aspirin use can act as a deterrent to colorectal cancer.
Men who took between 6 and 14 standard aspirin pills weekly decreased their colon cancer risk by 28 percent, and those who took more than 14 pills a week had a 70 percent decline in risk, the Times reported.
However, two cautions are important, the newspaper added. First, aspirin can be very difficult on some stomachs and can even cause intestinal bleeding. Second, the results were measured on a test group of 47,000 men over a very long time -- 18 years. The effectiveness of aspirin use occurs only after continuous use for five years or more, the Times reported.
"The results provide additional proof that a simple drug like aspirin can help prevent colon cancer," Chan told the newspaper.
Not 'Buckling Up' More Prevalent Among the Very Obese
The more a person weighs, the less likely he or she is to wear a car seat belt, increasing the possibility of injury or death, according to a story by the Associated Press.
Led by Vanderbilt University psychologist David Schlundt, researchers from Meharry Medical College in Nashville studied 2002 information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found a direct relationship between obesity and not buckling up when getting into the car.
"They really have a hard time getting that belt buckle over them," Schlundt told the wire service. "They have to stretch it out and then over and then some can't see the buckle."
According to the AP, deciding not to wear a seat belt because of being overweight is more than a lifestyle decision. Schlundt's group found that only 70 percent of the very obese reported always wearing a seat belt, compared to 83 percent of those who fell into normal-weight categories.
And the latest U.S. government statistic show that more than half the people killed in automobile accidents weren't wearing their seat belts, the AP reports.
The research was recently published in the journal Obesity.
Trek Recalls Girls' Bicycles
U.S. bicycle maker Trek has recalled about 49,000 MT220 girls' bicycles due to a risk of frame failure during use, which can cause riders to lose control and suffer injuries, said the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The company has received 13 reports of frames breaking, including four incidents that resulted in minor injuries. The recall covers MT220 bicycles from model years 2005 (light metallic blue), 2006 (metallic silver and metallic purple or pink and pearl white), and 2007 (pink and white pearl or metallic purple). The model name is printed on the frame of the bicycle. MT220 bicycles from model year 2008 are not included in the recall.
The recalled bikes were sold from April 2004 through June 2007 for about $300. Consumers should take these bicycles away from children immediately and return them to a Trek dealer for a free replacement bicycle or a $100 discount on a different size Trek bicycle.
For more information, contact Trek Bicycle Corp., of Waterloo, Wis., at (800) 373-4594.
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