Health Highlights: Aug. 5, 2011

By on August 5, 2011

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

Adult Stem Cells Used in Texas Governor’s Back Surgery

Adult stem cells were used by doctors when they performed back surgery on Texas Gov. Rick Perry last month.

The stem cells were taken from the Republican governor’s body and used in an area where doctors decompressed a nerve and fused part of Perry’s spine, the Associated Press reported.

Perry opposes embryonic stem cell research but has advocated research into adult stem cells.

Since the July 1 surgery, the governor has worn a back brace and maintained his work schedule, the AP reported.


Hepatitis C Vaccine Effective in Animals: Study

A vaccine for hepatitis C has proven successful in laboratory mice and monkeys, European scientists announced this week.

They said the vaccine protected the animals against several different variants of the hepatitis C virus, which suggests it may be effective against mutations as they occur, Agence France-Presse reported.

The “virus-like particles” used to create the vaccine trigger an immune response and help the body develop resistance to the hepatitis C virus, but the particles don’t contain any genetic material that would enable a virus to multiply.

This method had been used in other vaccines, including the human papillomavirus vaccine, AFP reported.

The study appears in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Currently, there is no human vaccine for hepatitis C.


Jerry Lewis no Longer Host of Muscular Dystrophy Telethon

Jerry Lewis will no longer host the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s annual Labor Day telethon or be its national chairman, the MDA announced Wednesday.

No explanation was given for the decision to end the 85-year-old comedian’s long tenure. Since he began his stint as host in 1966, the telethons have raised more than $1 billion and about 200 hospital-affiliated MD clinics have been opened across the United States, CBS News reported.

Lewis, who has suffered health problems in recent years, has been “instrumental” in assisting the fight against the fatal hereditary disease, according to Dr. Rabi N. Tawil, co-director of the muscular dystrophy clinic at the University of Rochester.

He also told CBS News that there “has been an explosion of information about the genetic defects that cause muscular dystrophy and tremendous advances in treatment.”


Quick Test Detects Congenital Heart Defects

A quick and cheap test that measures oxygen in the blood is more effective than current tests and could help save the lives of babies born with congenital heart defects, according to researchers.

The findings from their study of 20,055 newborns at six maternity hospitals in the U.K. appears in The Lancet. The researchers called for the oxygen test to be used in hospitals across the U.K., BBC News reported.

The test takes less than five minutes and uses a pulse oximeter, a piece of equipment that’s been around for two decades. It detected 75 percent of the most serious abnormalities when used alone, and 92 percent of cases when used with traditional methods such as ultrasound during pregnancy or listening to a baby’s heart after birth.

The test “adds value to existing screening procedures and is likely to be useful for identification of cases of critical congenital heart defects,” said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Ewer of the University of Birmingham, BBC News reported.


U.S. Hospital Pneumonia Death Rates Fall

The rate of deaths among American adults age 18 and older hospitalized for pneumonia fell 45 percent between 2000 and 2007, a federal government report says.

Over that time, the average death rate due to pneumonia decreased from 74 to 41 deaths per 1,000 hospital admissions, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

In 2007, the states with the lowest pneumonia-related death rates among hospitalized patients were Arizona (23 per 1,000) and Maryland (26 per 1,000). Eight states had rates of 50 per 1,000 or higher: Nebraska (57), Wyoming (55), Hawaii (55), West Virginia (54), Arkansas (53), Oklahoma (53), New York (52), Vermont (50).

Rates in other states ranged from 30 to 49 deaths per 1,000.


Lab-Made Sperm Fertilizes Eggs: Study

Japanese scientists who used laboratory-made sperm to restore fertility in sterile mice say their achievement could lead to new ways to treat infertility in humans.

The researchers first converted mouse embryonic cells into sperm, which was used to fertilize mouse eggs. The resulting pups were healthy and fertile, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The study by the Kyoto University team was published Thursday in the journal Cell.

While this research breaks new ground, “we have a long way to go before it can be applied to humans,” senior author Mitinori Saitou told the Wall Street Journal.


Hackers May be Able to Attack Insulin Pumps: Expert

Insulin pumps and blood-sugar monitors are vulnerable to computer hacking, according to a security researcher.

Flaws in the devices could enable a hacker to take control of an insulin pump or alter the readouts of blood-sugar monitors, causing diabetics to get too much or too little insulin, Jay Radcliffe told the Associated Press.

Radcliffe is a diabetic who tested his own diabetes equipment. He presented his findings at a security conference Thursday in Las Vegas.

“My initial reaction was that this was really cool from a technical perspective,” he told the AP. “The second reaction was one of maybe sheer terror, to know that there’s no security around the devices which are a very active part of keeping me alive.”

However, medical device makers downplay the threat, saying that attacks have been limited to demonstrations by security experts and are unlikely to occur in the real world, the AP reported.


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