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Health Highlights: Dec. 10, 2010

Blood Pressure Drug Pulled Due to Fatal Liver Problems Early Intervention Helps Autistic Toddlers: Study Kidney Exchange Program Reports First Transplants Trade Talks Could Cut Supply of Generic Drugs Clearance of Damaging Proteins Slower in Alzheimer's Patients: Study

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

Blood Pressure Drug Pulled Due to Fatal Liver Problems

Drugmaker Pfizer Inc. said Friday that it was removing its blood pressure drug Thelin from the market and stopping all clinical trials because the medication can cause liver damage that's potentially fatal, the Associated Press reported.

Thelin is an oral medication used to treat severe pulmonary arterial hypertension, or high blood pressure in the pulmonary artery.

The drug is sold in the European Union, Canada, and Australia. Pfizer said it was withdrawing its application for approval in the United States, the AP said.

Pfizer said two patients taking Thelin died during a clinical trial. Also, a review of findings from clinical studies and post-marketing reports showed a new link to liver injury, the AP reported.

Since there are other treatment options, Pfizer said the benefits of Thelin don't outweigh the risks, the news service reported.


Early Intervention Helps Autistic Toddlers: Study

A six-month early intervention program for toddlers with autism spectrum disorders led to improvements in their social and communication skills, says a U.S. study.

It included 50 children, 21 to 33 months old, with ASD who were randomly assigned to one of two interventions. Both were led by a trained intervention provider and included a home-based component in which parents received specialized education and training, United Press International reported.

But those in the Interpersonal Synchrony group had more opportunities for joint attention, affect sharing and socially engaged imitation than those in the Non-Interpersonal Synchrony group.

Children in both groups showed progress in social, cognitive and language skills, but those in the IS group made greater and more rapid gains, according to Rebecca Landa of Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and colleagues, UPI reported.

The study appears in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.


Kidney Exchange Program Reports First Transplants

A U.S. pilot program that helps arrange kidney exchanges had its first success this week when two participants received new kidneys.

The United Network for Organ Sharing was launched in October to assist "kidney paired donation," where a person donates a kidney to a stranger so that their relative or friend can receive a kidney in return, the Associated Press reported.

On Monday, the project's first transplants were performed in Lebanon, N.H. and St. Louis. Kathy Niedzwiecki received a kidney from Rebecca Burkes, while Burke's fiance, Ken Crowder, received a kidney from Niedzwiecki's sister-in-law, Catherine Richard.

The new national program includes 77 transplant centers that will submit information about patients and donors to a database.

There are fewer than 17,000 kidney transplants performed in the U.S. each year, but experts believe the kidney exchange project could lead to 2,000 to 3,000 more transplants annually, AP reported.


Trade Talks Could Cut Supply of Generic Drugs

Health activists say trade talks between Europe and India could greatly reduce the world's supply of cheap generic drugs, which could have severe consequences for people in poor nations.

While European officials dismissed such concerns, leaked passages of the draft treaty include a clause that places tighter restrictions on Indian companies trying to get their products to market, the Associated Press reported.

Currently, approval is given to a generic drug if there is proof it is equivalent to the original brand name drug. The new rules could require generic drug makers to conduct costly clinical trials to duplicate the data produced by the original drug maker.

Other causes of concern for activists include efforts to extend drug patent protection to beyond 20 years and measures to seize generic drugs as they cross borders, the AP reported.


Clearance of Damaging Proteins Slower in Alzheimer's Patients

Alzheimer's disease patients clear the damaging beta-amyloid protein from their brains 30 percent slower than people without the disease, finds a new study.

It was already known that this protein accumulated in the brains of people with Alzheimer's. This U.S. study of 12 Alzheimer's patients and 12 people without the disease suggests it is the slow clearance of beta-amyloid, not the build-up, that is the problem, BBC News reported.

It may be possible to develop a test to measure beta-amyloid clearance rates to detect Alzheimer's before symptoms appear, and to create drugs that assist the clearance process, said the researchers at the University of Medicine in St. Louis.

The study appears in the journal Science.

"This exciting study gives us an insight into the building blocks of Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society in the U.K., told BBC News. "We now need further research to find out why the system is not working properly and whether amyloid is toxic in higher concentrations."

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