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Health Highlights: May 17, 2011

Health Highlights: May 17, 2011


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

FDA Panel to Discuss Cholesterol Drug Trilipix

A meeting to discuss whether a key indication should be removed from the cholesterol drug Trilipix will be held Thursday by a panel of expert advisors to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Trilipix is approved for use with statins, the most widely-used class of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Trilipix, a type of drug called a fibrate, lowers blood fats called triclycerides and increases levels of "good" cholesterol, the Associated Press reported.

A large government study released in March found that taking Trilipix plus a statin didn't reduce heart attacks among diabetic patients, compared with taking a statin alone.

The FDA panel will consider a number of options for Trilipix, including adding information about the study findings to the label or revoking the drug's approval for use with statins, the AP reported.


Security Problems Persist for Online Patient Records

Security gaps that put patients' information at risk are not being addressed as the federal government pushes to computerize medical records, according to the inspector general of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

Investigators warn that the effort to connect hospitals and doctors to enable them to share patient data electronically is being built on a system that already has major privacy problems and could provide hackers and snoopers with new pathways to get patient information, reported.

Health care records can be used to create false identities or to send bogus medical bills to Medicare.

Investigators found 151 security weaknesses in online patient records at seven large hospitals in different states.

The findings "raise concern" about the effectiveness of security measures for personal health information and these problems "need to be addressed to ensure a secure environment for health data," the inspector general said, reported.


U.S. Will Keep Smallpox Stockpiles at Least 5 Years

The world's last known stockpiles of smallpox virus in the United States and Russia won't be destroyed for at least another five years, U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sibelius said Tuesday.

The U.S. is "committed to the eventual destruction" of the stockpiles, but there are concerns that smallpox could be released unintentionally or be used as a bioweapon, Sibelius said at a press conference at the United Nations' European headquarters, where a World Health Organization assembly was discussing the issue, the Associated Press reported.

In order to fight an outbreak, scientists would need the smallpox virus to create a vaccine.

A number of countries want the remaining stockpiles of smallpox virus destroyed. The WHO will review the situation in another five years, the AP reported.

The last known case of smallpox was in Britain in 1978. In previous centuries, about one-third of the people who became infected with the highly contagious disease died.


Experts Question Usefulness of Test to Gauge Life Span

Some experts are questioning the usefulness of a blood test that may reveal whether people are biologically older or younger than their age.

The test, set to be made available in Britain later this year, measures the length of telomeres, which are short pieces of DNA at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres become shorter over time and some scientists believe their length reveals a person's biological age, ABC News reported.

People who take the 500-euro ($700) test and find out that their telomeres are shorter than expected may be motivated to adopt healthier lifestyle habits, according to proponents.

But others are skeptical about the test's usefulness, noting that many factors affect a person's longevity.

"Research has shown that lifespan is determined by both genetic and environmental factors and therefore a test examining one measurement, may not accurately predict this process," Heidi Tissenbaum, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told ABC News. "More research is needed to show the connections between telomere length and a person's life span."


Older Rural Americans More Likely to Have Certain Types of Surgery: Study

Older Americans in rural areas are more likely than those in cities to have any of nine common surgeries, including prostate removal, back surgery, hip and knee replacements, and emergency and elective surgeries, a new study finds.

The results of the analysis of 2006 Medicare data were published Monday in the journal Archives of Surgery and seem to challenge the common belief that city dwellers have better access to medical care than rural residents.

"When I first saw the result, I looked at it and said maybe I got it backwards," lead author Dr. Mark Francis, a researcher at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso, told the Associated Press.

The reasons for the findings can't be found in the study, but Francis and colleagues offered some possible explanations.

They said rural residents may be sicker, are receiving treatment they don't need, are more likely to delay treatment until they require surgery, or have less access to non-surgical treatments or consider them less desirable, the AP reported.


Obesity Linked to Worsening of Prostate Cancer

Obese men with prostate cancer appear to have a higher risk of the cancer spreading, even after they've been treated with tumor-suppressing hormone therapy, a new study finds.

Researchers from Duke University in Durham, N.C., focused on 287 men who had undergone prostate removal surgery at one of five Veterans Affairs hospitals between 1988 and 2009. The tumors reappeared, at which point the patients also got androgen deprivation therapy, aimed at starving the tumor of testosterone, which helps fuel prostate cancer's growth.

Reporting Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association in Washington, D.C., the research team found that men who were overweight had triple the odds of cancer progressing compared to normal-weight men, and the risk jumped five-fold in obese men. The weight-related increase in risk was similar when the researchers looked at tumors spreading to the bones.

It's not clear why overweight or obese men fare so much worse, but "we think perhaps obese men may require additional androgen deprivation therapy," study lead author Dr. Christopher J. Keto, a urologic fellow at Duke University Medical Center, said in a university news release. "The dose [for men with prostate cancer] is the same regardless of weight, while most drugs are dosed according to weight," he pointed out.


'Fat Control' Gene Inherited From Mothers: Study

A gene inherited from mothers may determine whether their children will be fat, a new study suggests.

Scientists assessed 850 twins and concluded that the KLF14 gene influences the behavior of other genes that play a role in insulin and glucose levels, body mass index, and cholesterol, Britain's Daily Mirror reported.

Controlling the gene may lead to new ways to treat obesity, heart disease and diabetes, the researchers said.

"We are working hard right now to understand how we can use this information to improve treatment of these conditions," study co-leader Professor Mark McCarthy of Oxford University told the Mirror.

The study appears in the journal Nature Genetics.


Copyright © 2011 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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