Health Highlights: April 18, 2008
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
When It Comes to Happiness, It Really Is a Shade of Gray
Oh to be young again? Not so fast, says a new study that found that older Americans tend to be happier than younger ones.
The University of Chicago study also found that baby boomers aren't as content as other generations, blacks are less happy than whites, women are happier than men, and as people age, their happiness increases.
"Understanding happiness is important to understanding quality of life. The happiness measure is a guide to how well society is meeting people's needs," study author Yang Yang, an assistant professor of sociology, said in a prepared statement.
The study was based on data from the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Yang charted happiness across age and racial groups and found that among 18-year-olds, white men are the happiest, with a 33 percent probability of being very happy, followed by white women (28 percent), black women (18 percent) and black men (15 percent).
But curiously, those differences vanish over time. Black men and black women have slightly more than a 50 percent chance of being very happy by their late 80s, while white men and white women are close behind.
The increase in happiness with age is consistent with the "age as maturity hypothesis," Yang said.
Network Offers Experimental Treatments to Dying Cancer Patients
Great Britain has opened a government-run network of cancer clinics that will provide experimental treatments to dying cancer patients and may also speed up the drug testing process, the Associated Press reported.
There are clinics in France, Italy and the Netherlands that offer experimental treatments to cancer patients, but Britain is the only European country with a national network of clinics. Currently, only a few hundred patients with late-stage cancer in Britain have access to experimental drugs, but officials hope the new network of clinics will soon benefit thousands of patients.
Expanding drug tests for terminal cancer patients preys on their desperation, according to some critics of the program, the AP reported. But the process is fair as long as patients are told about potential side effects, counter some ethicists.
In the United States, cancer patients can sign up for experimental drug treatment, but there's no official national program to help them enroll. About 80 percent of American cancer patients are treated in community hospitals, while most drug trials are conducted at academic medical centers, the AP reported.
Chemical in Plastic Changes Breast Cell Gene Activity: Study
A new U.S. study says that trace amounts of bisphenol A -- a chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins lining most tin cans -- can alter the activity of genes in normal breast cells in ways similar to what's seen in deadly breast cancers.
This link "is highly supportive of the concept that overexposure to BPA and/or similar compounds could be an underlying factor in the aggressiveness, if not in the causality" of breast cancers, study lead author Shanaz Dairkee, a senior scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco, said in an e-mail, Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper reported.
For this study, Dairkee and colleagues took small samples of normal, non-cancerous cells from the unaffected breasts of eight women who already had breast cancer. The cells were placed in test tubes and exposed to the BPA.
The findings were published in the journal Cancer Reserach, which designated the study a "priority report," the Globe and Mail reported.
Institute Seeks to Use Stem Cells to Heal Wounded Soldiers
A new U.S. research institute will try to develop methods to help wounded soldiers use their own stem cells to regenerate skin, muscle and even limbs, Agence France-Presse reported.
The $250 million Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine will fund and direct research by a number of universities and hospitals. The Pentagon will provide $85 million over five years, $80 million will come from participating universities and hospitals, and $100 million will be provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
"The new institute will work to develop techniques that will help to make our soldiers whole again," said Lieutenant General Eric Schoomaker, the army surgeon general. "We'll use the soldiers' own stem cells to repair nerve damage, to re-grow muscles and tendons, to repair burn wounds, and to help them heal without scarring."
The institute will also attempt to develop ways to salvage and reconstruct damaged limbs, hands, fingers, ears and noses, and to reconstruct damaged craniums, AFP reported.
New Food and Drug Safety Measures Proposed
New fees for drug and food companies and increased Food and Drug Administration oversight of food and drug plants are among the proposals included in draft legislation designed to improve food and drug safety in the United States.
The first hearing on the draft legislation, created in response to a number of recent food and drug scares, is scheduled for April 24, USA Today reported.
Among the proposals:
- U.S. food production facilities and those exporting food to the United States would have to pay $2,000 per facility per year to register with the FDA. That would generate about $600 million a year, more than doubling the agency's current food safety budget.
- The FDA would be required to inspect food plants -- and the plants' food safety plans -- every four years. Currently, food plants are inspected about once every 10 years, according to lawmakers.
- Drug and medical device makers, as well as companies that import those products, would also have to pay registration fees to the FDA.
- The FDA would have to inspect domestic and foreign drug manufacturing facilities every two years.
- Food and drug makers would have to list on drug labels where active ingredients are made.
- The FDA would have the power to order food and drug recalls.
Bird Flu Vaccine Shows Promise
U.S. researchers say they're developing a new bird flu vaccine that could be longer-lasting, provide broader protection, and be easier to produce than existing vaccines.
Currently, the only vaccine approved by U.S. health officials requires a very high dose, is only effective in about 60 percent of people who receive it, and doesn't protect against new strains of the H5N1 bird flu virus, Agence France-Presse reported.
The new vaccine, which uses a mutated version of a common cold virus to deliver genes from two types of the H5N1 virus, protected mice from bird flu infection for more than a year and was broad enough to protect against some mutations of the virus. The findings were published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. The vaccine hasn't been tested in humans.
"We want to have a vaccine that can be stored in advance and have the potential to provide protection for a period of time until we can change the vaccine to match the latest form of avian influenza," said study author Suresh Mittal of Purdue University, AFP reported. "The combination of flu genes that we've used to produce the vaccine, I think, will provide that capability."
Key Chains With High Lead Levels Recalled by Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart is recalling about 12,000 Chinese-made "Hip Charm" key chains that contain high levels of lead, which can cause serious health problems in children.
On April 16, the Illinois Attorney General informed Wal-Mart and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that a key chain was found in the home of a 9-month-old-child with high blood levels of lead. The child had been seen mouthing the key chain.
The recalled key chains have several charms including a button, clover, leaf, heart, and a sand dollar. The charms hang from a silver-colored chain. The words "Hip Charm" and UPC (#31568 11017) are printed on the packaging of the product, which was sold at Wal-Mart stores nationwide from April 2005 through April 2008 for about $6.
Consumers should not allow children to handle the key chains and should return them to any Wal-Mart store for a full refund, the CPSC said. For more information, phone Wal-Mart at 800-925-6278.
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