Health Highlights: Nov. 7, 2019

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

Gene Editing Tool Used to Fight Cancer in Early Study

For the first time in the United States, the gene editing tool known as CRISPR has been employed to fight cancer, doctors reported Wednesday.

So far, CRISPR has only been tried in three patients, two with multiple myeloma and one with a sarcoma. All had tried standard treatments, to no avail. With CRISPR, doctors extracted immune system cells from each patient and altered those cells genetically to help them spot and battle cancer cells. Side effects were minimal, the Associated Press reported.

“It’s the most complicated genetic, cellular engineering that’s been attempted so far,” study leader Dr. Edward Stadtmauer, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told the AP. “This is proof that we can safely do gene editing of these cells.”

Two to three months later, one patient’s cancer has progressed and one is stable. The third patient was treated recently, so it is too soon to tell if it worked. Fifteen more patients will get the treatment, to test safety and efficacy, the wire service reported.

“It’s very early, but I’m incredibly encouraged by this,” Dr. Aaron Gerds, a Cleveland Clinic cancer specialist, told the AP.

This study is not aimed at changing the DNA within a person’s body. Instead, the doctors used CRISPR to remove, alter and give back to the patient cells that are super-powered to fight their cancer — a kind of immunotherapy.

Chinese scientists reportedly have tried this for cancer patients, but this is the first such study outside that country. It’s so novel that it took more than two years to get approval from U.S. government regulators to try it, according to the AP.

Preliminary findings were released by the American Society of Hematology, and more details will be presented at the society’s annual meeting in December.


New Strain of HIV Discovered

Scientists report they have discovered a new strain of HIV for the first time in almost two decades.

The new strain is a part of the same family of virus subtypes that have fueled the global HIV pandemic, according to Abbott Laboratories, which conducted the research with the University of Missouri.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that existing treatments for HIV work against this strain.

“There’s no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit,” Fauci told CNN. “Not a lot of people are infected with this. This is an outlier.”

Still, scientists need to know what strains of the virus are circulating so that tests used to detect the disease are accurate.

“It can be a real challenge for diagnostic tests,” Mary Rodgers, a co-author of the report and a principal scientist at Abbott, told CNN. Abbott tests more than 60% of the world’s blood supply.

The findings were published Nov. 7 in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

About 36.7 million in the world are living with HIV, according to World Health Organization.


Only Children May Have Higher Obesity Risk: Study

The risk of obesity may be higher in only children than in those with siblings, a new study says.

Researchers examined the eating habits of body weight of only children and found that they had less healthy eating and drinking habits than those with brothers and sisters, CNN reported.

One reason for the finding could be differences in the meal planning and organization required of mothers with multiple children, according to study lead author Chelsea Kracht, a researcher at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

“With multiple children you’re scheduling a little bit more of your meals. So we’re going to have more at-home meals. We’re probably going to have less fast food,” Kracht said in an interview for the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, CNN reported.

The study does “raise an interesting point that we need to better understand,” said Dr. Natalie Muth, chair, American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Obesity. She was not involved in the study.

“Several studies in addition to this one have shown that only children are more likely to be overweight or obese,” Muth told CNN.

“Why is that? While this study doesn’t provide the answer to that question, it is helpful in building the body of research that eventually will provide clearer answers,” she said.