Health Highlights: Dec. 14 2009

By on December 14, 2009

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

Kidney Exchange Benefits 13 Recipients

A record-setting kidney swap in which 13 people received organs was accomplished over six days by surgeons at Georgetown University Hospital and Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

The exchange — believed to be the largest of its kind — included three donors who offered a kidney to anyone and five patients who received kidneys only because of a blood-cleansing treatment called plasmapheresis that reduced the risk of rejection, the Associated Press reported.

Another special feature of the kidney swap was that 10 of the kidney recipients are black, Asian or Hispanic. Minority patients in the United States are far less likely than whites to receive a kidney transplant from a living donor, which is superior to a kidney from a deceased donor.

In the United States, 88,000 people are on the kidney transplant waiting list, but fewer than 17,000 kidney transplants are performed each year.

The use of multiple kidney swaps and blood-cleansing could lead to 4,000 more transplants a year, said Dr. Keith Melancon, Georgetown’s kidney transplant director.

“It’s really almost a religious experience when we start doing this, because it’s miraculous, it really is,” he told the AP.

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Americans May Live Longer Than Government Thinks

Thanks to biomedical advances, the average American lifespan in 2050 will be longer than the U.S. government now predicts, says a team of researchers.

The average American will live three to eight years longer than the U.S. Social Security Administration and Census Bureau anticipate, said members of the MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society in a report released Monday, according to ABC News.

Those few years could have a huge implication on U.S. society, they said. “The economic implications for the U.S. economy are huge. We estimated we would be spending $3.2 to $8.3 trillion more in today’s dollars than currently projected,” said S. Jay Olshansky, professor in the school of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of the report released in The Milbank Quarterly.

According to the group’s estimates, women would reach 89 to 94 on average instead of the government’s estimate of 83 to 85 years, ABC said. Men would live to 83 to 86 instead of the 80 years average predicted by the government.

Traditionally, the government’s lifespan projections were relatively accurate. But Olshansky’s group contends that the government failed to take into account advances in medicine, including gene therapy, that could lengthen lifespans.

“The government is anticipating that the rate of improvement in life expectancy will decelerate,” said Olshansky. “We suggest the opposite.” And to minimize the burdens that an aging society will place on the young, he said “the time to plan for this is now.”

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Bionic Fingers Function Like Real Ones

Fifty people worldwide have received cutting-edge bionic fingers called ProDigits that function like normal fingers.

The custom-fit prosthetics, created by a company called Touch Bionics, each contain a motor smaller than a dime, a tiny rechargeable battery and a small computer processor. Movement is driven by electrodes placed against the wearer’s arm, ABC News reported.

“This is right out of science fiction,” said Nathan Wagner, a prosthetist-orthotist and occupational therapist at Touch Bionics.

But the cost of $60,000 to $80,000 may put the fingers out of reach for many people because most insurance companies have a $1,000 limit on prosthetic devices, ABC News reported.

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Less Sodium in SpaghettiOs

The amount of sodium in SpaghettiOs canned pastas will be reduced by 35 percent, Campbell Soup Co. said Monday.

Several reduced sodium versions of SpaghettiOs will appear on store shelves in April, followed by others in July, the Associated Press reported.

With the changes, the products will meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules for main dishes that are suitable for children. Under those requirements, products must be controlled for sodium, cholesterol, fat and saturated fat and must contain a significant level of at least two positive nutrients.

In response to criticism from consumers, regulators and health groups, food manufacturers have started to try to make healthier products for children. Last week, General Mills said it planned to lower the amount of sugar in children’s cereals, the AP reported.

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Gel Doesn’t Appear to Protect Women From HIV

A vaginal gel called PRO 2000 was not significantly more effective than a placebo gel in reducing the risk of HIV infection in women, says a study that included 9,385 women in four African countries.

“The result is disheartening,” said lead researcher Dr. Sheena McCormack, of the Medical Research Council in London, BBC News reported.

Promoting condom use alone has failed to control the spread of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), and it was hoped that microbicide gels would further help limit transmission of HIV.

“It is unfortunate that this microbicide is ineffective at preventing HIV infection, but it’s still vital for us as scientists to continue to look for new ways of preventing HIV.” added Professor Jonathan Weber of Imperial College London, who also took part in the study, BBC News reported. “Now that we know this microbicide is not the answer, we can concentrate on other treatments that might be.”

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