Health Highlights: April 26, 2018
Scientists Pinpoint Dozens of Gene Variants That Increase Risk of Depression Trump Nominee for VA Secretary Withdraws Safety of Parkinson's Drug Nuplazid Being Reviewed by FDA Doctors Worry as Company Stops Making Cancer Drug Pump
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Scientists Pinpoint Dozens of Gene Variants That Increase Risk of Depression
Researchers have pinpointed 44 gene variants that increase the risk of depression, including 30 never been linked with depression before.
They said their findings may help improve understanding and treatment of the disease that affects more than 300 million people worldwide, according to The Guardian newspaper in the U.K.
Previous research suggests that genetics account for about 40 percent of depression cases, while the remainder of cases are due to other biological factors and life experiences.
"If you have a lower genetic burden of depression, perhaps you are more resistant to the stresses we all experience in life," said study senior author Cathryn Lewis, professor of statistical genetics, King's College London, The Guardian reported.
People who rank in the top 10 percent in terms of genetic risk factors for depression are 2.5 times more likely to develop the condition than those in the bottom 10 percent, according to Lewis.
She noted that while the study identified 44 gene variants linked to depression, these represent only a small percentage of the total, because many others have too small an effect to be pinpointed be the team, The Guardian reported.
"We know that thousands of genes are involved in depression with each having a very modest effect on a person's risk," said Lewis. "There is certainly no single gene for depression."
The study, which involved analysis of data from 135,000 people with depression and 345,000 without the condition, was published in the journal Nature Genetics.
Trump Nominee for VA Secretary Withdraws
Dr. Ronny Jackson announced Thursday that he has withdrawn his name for consideration to be Veterans Affairs secretary.
President Trump's nominee for the position faced accusations that as White House physician, Jackson improperly dispensed prescription drugs, got drunk while traveling with the president, and created a hostile work environment, The New York Times reported.
The concerns came to light through Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee interviews of more than 23 people, including current and former military personnel, who had worked with Jackson.
Jackson said the allegations were false.
A new nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary was not immediately announced by the White House, which means the department will be without a permanent head for at least a few more weeks, The Times reported.
Safety of Parkinson's Drug Nuplazid Being Reviewed by FDA
The safety of the Parkinson's disease drug Nuplazid is being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The drug has been cited as a "suspect" medication in hundreds of deaths reported by health care providers, CNN reported.
Nuplazid, the only drug approved to treat hallucinations and delusions in Parkinson's disease patients, was approved by the FDA despite concerns that not enough was known about its risks.
At a congressional budget hearing last week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he would "take another look" at Nuplazid. The FDA this week told CNN that a review of the drug was launched several weeks ago.
The agency said the decision to review the drug was based on a number of factors, but would not specify those factors. Doctors should not stop prescribing the drug or take patients of it while the safety review is conducted, the FDA said.
Death reports citing Nuplazid have typically involved elderly patients with advanced-stage Parkinson's disease who had many medical conditions and often took other medications that can increase the risk of death, according to the FDA.
However, some medical experts say the high number of death reports citing Nuplazid warrant further examination to determine what role the drug may have played, and expressed concern that the drug was approved too quickly, with too little evidence that it was safe or effective, CNN reported.
Doctors Worry as Company Stops Making Cancer Drug Pump
A life-extending drug pump for cancer patients will no longer be available because the manufacturer has decided to stop making it.
The Codman pump is implanted in the abdomen and sends high doses of chemotherapy directly into the liver for cancer that has spread there, typically from colorectal tumors, The New York Times reported.
A pump costs between $7,000 and $11,000 and is used in conjunction with intravenous chemotherapy.
The pumps are made by Cerenovus, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. In a letter dated April 4, the company told doctors that production of the pumps stopped on April 1 "because of significant and multiple raw material supply constraints within the manufacturing process," The Times reported.
Demand was "very low," with sales of about 300 pumps a year in the U.S., according to Cerenovus spokeswoman Mindy Tinsley.
"I don't know what we're going to do," Dr. Nancy Kemeny, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and a pioneer in using the pump, told The Times.
She said her hospital implanted 146 of the pumps last year, and more than 1,000 pumps overall.
"They've increased survival more than anything else in this disease," Kemeny said.
She said she and other doctors appealed to the company to keep making the pump, but it declined, The Times reported.
The Food and Drug Administration does not have the authority to force companies to sell a specific product, said agency spokeswoman Angela Stark.
A similar pump is made by Medtronic, but approved for use in the spine, not the liver. Kemeny said she hoped the Medtronic pump could be used in her patients, The Times reported.