Health Highlights: Aug. 17, 2010

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

Possible Link Between Athletes’ Head Injuries and Lou Gehrig’s Disease: Study

There appears to be a connection between head injuries in athletes and Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to a new study.

Boston University neurology professor Dr. Ann McKee found toxic proteins in the spinal cords of three athletes who suffered head injuries during their careers and later died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the Associated Press reported.

The same toxic proteins have been found in the brains of athletes with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This condition is associated with head injuries and patients experience abnormal behavior, cognitive decline and dementia.

McKee launched her study after noticing that ALS appears to affect an unusually high number of football players. People with ALS lose the ability to move and speak as the disease attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

She analyzed the brains and spinal cords of former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Wally Hilgenberg, former Southern California linebacker Eric Scoggins, and an unnamed boxer, the AP reported. All of them died of ALS.

The spines of all three athletes contained the toxic proteins. But these proteins were not present in the spines of athletes who had CTE but not ALS, nor in non-athletes who died of ALS.

The study appears in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology.


Lily Halts Development of Alzheimer’s Drug

The development of an experimental Alzheimer’s drug called semagacestat has been halted because it actually worsened the condition of patients in two late-stage studies, Eli Lilly and Company said Tuesday.

The company said the drug did not slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and was associated with a decline in patients’ cognition and ability to carry out day-to-day tasks, The New York Times reported.

In addition, patients taking the drug were at increased risk for skin cancer, the newspaper said.

Semagacestat was designed to reduce the production of brain plaques believed to be involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

This failure and previous ones involving other experimental Alzheimer’s drugs could raise doubts about the leading theory that Alzheimer’s is caused by the accumulation of amyloid beta plaques in the brain, the Times reported.

Development of another experimental Alzheimer’s drug called solanezumab will continue, Lilly said. That drug, which is in late-stage testing, also targets amyloid beta but does so through a different mechanism than semagacestat.


Cancer a Major Economic Issue: Report

Cancer not only is the leading cause of death worldwide but it has a huge economic impact, according to an American Cancer Society report.

The amount of life and productivity lost due to cancer is greater than AIDS, malaria, the flu and other infectious diseases, the Associated Press reported.

In 2008, cancer’s economic toll was $895 billion – which is equal to 1.5 percent of the global gross domestic product. That figure represents the cost of disability and years of life cost, but doesn’t include treatment costs, the American Cancer Society said.

The document was to be presented this week at a global cancer conference in China, the AP reported.


Being Youngest in Class May Lead to ADHD Misdiagnosis

A new study suggests that nearly one million American children may have been misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) simply because they were the youngest ones in their school class, not because they have behavioral problems.

The Michigan State University study found that children who are the youngest in their school grades are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest children, USA Today reported.

Another study by researchers at North Carolina State University and elsewhere yielded similar findings. Both studies are scheduled for publication in the Journal of Health Economics.

Misdiagnosis of ADHD can have long-term effects, said Todd Elder, an assistant professor of economics and author of the Michigan study. It also found that the youngest children in the fifth and eighth grade were more than twice as likely as older classmates to use Ritalin, a stimulant drug commonly prescribed for ADHD, USA Today reported.