Health Highlights: Nov. 12, 2009

By on November 12, 2009

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

FDA Can’t Expect All Drug Risk Info in Web Ads: Experts

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration can’t expect online drug ads to contain all the required risk information, drug and advertising experts said at an FDA meeting Thursday.

The two-day (Thursday and Friday) session, convened by the FDA in order to get input on how it should regulate drug ads on the Internet, has attracted several hundred drug, advertising and social media specialists, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The drug industry lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America suggested that the FDA create a universal logo that would indicate a Web site displays accurate information about drug risks.

But some at the meeting questioned how the FDA could guarantee the accuracy of information when Web sites are often updated daily or even hourly, Dow Jones reported.

It’s believed the FDA won’t release any drug industry Web ad guidelines or regulations for at least a year.

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Nearly $1 Billion a Year Spent on Blood Thinners in U.S.: Report

In 2007, nearly $900 million was spent in the United States on outpatient prescriptions for blood thinning (anticoagulant) drugs, according to a federal government report released Thursday.

Anticoagulants are used to help prevent blood clots, which can cause heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary embolisms.

About 4.2 million Americans age 18 and older used an anticoagulant in 2007, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The average cost and out-of-pocket payment for a brand name anticoagulant was $65 and $29, respectively, compared with $18 and $7, respectively, for generic anticoagulants.

Among the other findings:

  • Less than 1 percent of Americans younger than 65 used an anticoagulant in 2007, compared with 6 percent of those ages 65 to 74 and about 10 percent of those 75 and older.
  • Among patients who used blood thinners, 74 percent had a heart-related condition, 40 percent had undergone surgery that year, and 30 percent had cancer or diabetes.
  • Of the nearly 28 million anticoagulant prescriptions filled by pharmacists in 2007, 19.3 million were for generics and 8.5 million were for brand-name drugs.

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Scientists Manage to Neutralize Cancer Protein

A method of neutralizing a protein believed to play an important role in leukemia and other cancers could lead to new treatments, say U.S. researchers.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute team made their breakthrough by examining the structure of a protein called Notch and identifying a potential weak spot. They then developed a peptide that disrupts Notch, BBC News reported.

Tests in mice showed use of the peptide limited cancer growth by reducing activity of genes both directly and indirectly controlled by Notch.

The study appears in the journal Nature.

Previous attempts at neutralizing Notch had failed, leading scientists to conclude nothing could be done to disrupt the protein, BBC News reported.

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Researchers Developing Method to Re-Grow Breasts

Australian researchers are testing a technique that may lead to the ability to re-grow breasts in women who’ve had a mastectomy, offering them an alternative to breast implants.

The procedure involves implanting a chamber beneath the skin and connecting a blood vessel to fat tissue in order to help it grow. The idea is to use a biodegradable chamber that dissolves inside the body after it fills with fat tissue, a process that would take about 24 months, CBS News reported.

So far, tests have been limited to pigs, but the team at the Bernard O’Brien Institute of Microsurgery in Melbourne plans clinical trials on women who have lost breasts to cancer.

“We are starting what is called a prototype in the next three to six months — a proof of principle trial with about five to six women, just to demonstrate that the body can re-grow its own fat supply in the breast,” Dr. Phillip Marzella told Sky News, CBS News reported.

The procedure may be ready for use within three years.

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200 Million Children Have Stunted Growth: UNICEF

Stunted growth affects nearly 200 million children who don’t have enough to eat, says a UNICEF report released Wednesday.

The agency said more than 90 percent of children with stunted growth are in Africa and Asia, the Associated Press reported. Last year, the rate of stunted growth in Africa was about 34 percent and 30 percent in Asia.

UNICEF also said that undernutrition is linked to more than a third of all deaths in children under 5. Without proper nutrition, children aren’t able to fight off diseases and complications.

“Unless attention is paid to addressing the causes of child and maternal undernutrition today, the costs will be considerably higher tomorrow,” UNICEF executive director Ann M. Veneman said in a news release, the AP reported.

UNICEF said wider use of programs to provide vitamin A supplementation and promote breast-feeding could cut the death rate in children by up to 15 percent.

“With more than 1 billion people suffering from malnutrition and hunger, international leadership and urgent action are needed,” Veneman said.

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