Health Highlights: July 30, 2010

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

FDA Approves 1st Embryonic Stem Cell Trial Using Patients

The world’s first embryonic stem cell study using patients has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The main objective of the phase 1 trial is to test the safety of the therapy in patients with spinal cord injuries. It would take years of further testing to prove the effectiveness of the therapy before it might be approved for widespread use, The New York Times reported.

The test cells used in the trial were developed by California-based Geron Corporation and the University of California.

The FDA initially approved the study in January 2009 but put a hold on the trial after cysts were discovered in some mice that received the stem cells. The FDA told Geron to do another mouse study and improve methods of checking the purity of its cells, the Times reported.


Study Pinpoints Cells Linked to Prostate Cancer

Researchers who identified cells that may cause prostate cancer say their finding could lead to improved prevention and treatment of this common form of male cancer.

It had been believed that prostate tumors arose from prostate gland luminal cells because tumor cells look like luminal cells. But a team at the University of California, Los Angeles said it found that prostate cancer originates in basal cells, a more stem-cell like component of the prostate, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The research was conducted in mice but the findings apply to humans, according to the researchers.

The study appears in the journal Science.

The researchers said their results contribute to increasing evidence that cancers are caused when tissue-specific stem cells found in various organs grow out of control, the Times reported.


Louisiana Reopens Some Gulf of Mexico Fishing Grounds

Wide areas of fishing grounds that were closed due to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have been reopened by Louisiana.

The state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said “commercial fishing will reopen for finfish and shrimp in portions of the state waters east of the Mississippi River,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Extensive testing found that seafood from these areas is safe for consumption, according to the state and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, other areas of Louisiana waters will remain closed to fishing and shrimping, AFP reported.


USDA Reviewing Chicken Labeling Rules

New proposed rules about whether chicken injected with salt, water and other ingredients can be labeled as “natural” are expected to be issued this fall by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The agency decided to review labeling guidelines because of a disagreement among poultry producers about when the word “natural” can be used on a label, the Associated Press reported.

Some poultry producers, politicians and health advocates say that about one-third of chicken sold in the U.S. is injected with ingredients that can account for up to 15 percent of the meat’s weight and double or triple its sodium content.

The injections are done to make the poultry more tender and tasty.

Among those pushing for changes to labeling rules is Perdue, the nation’s third largest poultry producer.

“Our labels say natural or all natural only if there is nothing added,” Perdue spokesman Luis Luna told the AP. “Under no circumstances is it acceptable to label poultry that has been enhanced with water or broth or solutions as natural, or all natural.”


Frozen Mice Used as Snake Food Linked to Salmonella Oubreak

Millions of frozen mice used as food for pet snakes have been recalled after being linked to more than 400 of cases of salmonella in people in the United States and Britain.

Most of the illnesses occurred in snake owners or their children. Salmonella can be contracted by handling the mice when they’re frozen or thawed, handling snakes who’ve become infected with salmonella from the mice, or cleaning feces from an infected snake’s enclosure, The New York Times reported.

The mice were sold over the Internet by a Georgia-based company called MiceDirect, which said it would begin irradiating future shipments to kill infectious bacteria.

The company also recalled frozen rats and baby chickens used to feed pet reptiles, even though those products haven’t been linked to the salmonella outbreak, The Times reported.