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Health Highlights: Dec. 17, 2007

Canadian Reactor Resumes Production of Medical Isotopes Disgraced South Korean Scientist Trying to Resume Stem Cell Research New Drug Benefits Breast Cancer Patients: Studies Swad Sindoor Recalled Over High Lead Concerns Gene Mutations May Increase Bowel Cancer Risk: Study

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

Canadian Reactor Resumes Production of Medical Isotopes

A Canadian nuclear reactor that's a major global source of radioisotopes resumed operations Sunday after being shut down for about a month. The shutdown led to a shortage of medical isotopes, which are essential for medical imaging and diagnostic scans for cancer, heart conditions and fractures.

Because they have a short shelf life, it isn't possible to stockpile radioisotopes.

The National Research Universal reactor in Chalk River, Ont. is producing new supplies of medical isotopes, which should be ready for distribution within a few days, CBC News reported.

The facility was shut Nov. 18 for a week of maintenance, but the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission wouldn't let it resume operations until a number of safety issues were addressed. Last week, Canada's Parliament passed legislation to get the reactor back online.

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Disgraced South Korean Scientist Trying to Resume Stem Cell Research

Disgraced South Korean cloning scientist Hwang Woo-Suk is trying to get back into stem cell research. He's part of a team that's seeking government approval to begin a new stem cell project, Agence France-Presse reported.

The South Korean Health Ministry said a research lab opened by Hwang in 2006 submitted the request last week.

An official at the ministry's bioethics and safety bureau told AFP that the scientist "was one of eight researchers from the Suam Biotechnology Institute who filed an application to conduct stem cell studies."

It's expected that the bioethics and safety bureau will meet in February to consider the request, the official said.

Hwang was banned from research using human eggs after it was discovered that he had lied about claims that he created the world's first cloned human stem cells. He is awaiting trial for fraud, embezzlement, ethical breaches and other charges, AFP reported.

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New Drug Benefits Breast Cancer Patients: Studies

Treatment with a drug called Tykerb reduced levels of breast cancer stem cells, which helped eliminate cancer in two-thirds of patients, according to a study presented Sunday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

The study found that breast cancer stem cells were reduced by about half in 30 patients who received Tykerb for six weeks. After follow-up treatment with Herceptin and chemotherapy, 63 percent of the patients were cancer-free, Bloomberg news reported.

A second study presented at the meeting found that Tykerb shrank the size of brain tumors by at least 20 percent in patients whose breast cancer had spread to the nervous system.

Tykerb received U.S. approval in March and European approval last week. Tykerb, which belongs to a class of drugs called dual-kinase inhibitors -- is recommended for treatment of advanced or metastatic breast cancer in patients with the HER-2 gene.

"This drug does seem to have different ways to prevent cancer from spreading, based on the early studies we're seeing. It's rare to have a huge breakthrough, so at this point we take an optimistic wait-and-see approach," Stephen Jones, medical director for U.S. Oncology Research Inc. in Houston, told Bloomberg.

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Swad Sindoor Recalled Over Lead Concerns

Consumers should not use 3.5-ounce packages of Swad-brand sindoor -- a colored powder used in some South Asian Pacific ceremonies -- because it may contain high levels of lead, warns the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency said that even though the red or orange powder is usually applied to the face or scalp and is not intended to be sold as food, the product's labeling is confusing and implies that it can be consumed, United Press International reported.

Two cases of lead poisoning in consumers who used sindoor as an ingredient in home-cooked meals have been confirmed by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The high levels of lead make the sindoor dangerous for cosmetic or any kind of use, the FDA noted.

The agency said that Raja Foods LLC of Skokie, Ill., distributed at least 280 packages of the sindoor to Indian food specialty stores in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, UPI reported.

Consumers with recalled packages of sindoor should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

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Gene Mutations May Increase Bowel Cancer Risk: Study

Two genetic mutations that may triple the risk of bowel cancer have been identified by U.K. scientists, says a study in the journal Nature Genetics.

In earlier research, the same team of scientists identified a part of the human genome responsible for Hereditary Mixed Polyposis Syndrome (HMPS), a condition that greatly increases the risk of bowel cancer in Ashkenazi Jews - descendents of Jews from Austria, Germany, Poland and Eastern Europe, BBC News reported.

In this new study, the researchers took at closer look at that region of the human genome. They identified two mutations that are present in many more people with bowel cancer than in the general population.

This is a significant finding, said Professor Ian Tomlinson, joint lead researcher at the Institute of Cancer Research.

"Finding out that a region we thought was only relevant to bowel cancer risk in Ashkenazi Jews was also related to risk in the wide U.K. population is very important," he told BBC News. "This could help us understand how different variants of the same gene affect risk and how genes interact to increase overall risk."

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