Health Highlights: Dec. 21, 2017

Robot Cats With 'AI' May Soon Roam Nursing Homes Boxed Warning Removed From Certain Asthma Medications: FDA 2 Million Kids Will Lose Health Coverage If GOP Doesn't Approve CHIP Funding

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

Robot Cats With 'AI' May Soon Roam Nursing Homes

Researchers trying to find ways to add artificial intelligence to a robotic cat so it can help seniors have received a three-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The effort focuses on Hasbro'ss "Joy for All" robotic cat, which has been on the market for two years. It does things such as purr, meow, and roll over for a belly rub, the Associated Press reported.

Hasbro and Brown University scientists want to add artificial intelligence to the cat so it can help seniors with simple tasks such as finding lost objects or reminding them to take their medicine or go to a doctor's appointment.

The goal is to enable seniors to remain in their own homes longer.

"It's not going to iron and wash dishes," Bertram Malle, a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown, told AP. "Nobody expects them to have a conversation. Nobody expects them to move around and fetch a newspaper. They're really good at providing comfort."


Boxed Warning Removed From Certain Asthma Medications: FDA

New evidence regarding safety is spurring the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to remove a Boxed Warning from certain inhaled medications used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The decision applies to a class of medications known as Long-Acting Beta Agonists (LABAs) used in combination with inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) medicines.

These medicines include brand name products such as Advair, Airduo, Breo, Dulera and Symbicort.

In 2011, the FDA told makers of such medicines to conduct large safety trials to assess the risk of serious side effects such as hospitalization, intubation and death among asthma patients.

A review of data from those trials found that treating asthma with LABAs in combination with ICS medicines "does not result in significantly more serious asthma-related side effects than ICS alone. Based on these results, the FDA has approved changes to the labeling of these products removing the Boxed Warning about asthma-related death," the FDA said.

However, the agency said that "using LABAs alone to treat asthma without an ICS to treat lung inflammation is associated with an increased risk of asthma-related death. Therefore, the Boxed Warning stating this will remain in the labeling of all single-ingredient LABA medicines."

The FDA also noted that labeling on medicines that contain both an ICS and LABAs will still have a Warning and Precaution about the risk of using LABAs without an ICS for asthma and will provide information on the completed safety trials.


2 Million Kids Will Lose Health Coverage If GOP Doesn't Approve CHIP Funding

If Congress does not renew funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by Friday, nearly 2 million children will begin losing health insurance coverage in January, according to a new report that says 20 states will run short of money for the program in the first quarter of next year.

"Congress must get CHIP done before they leave for the holidays," Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Research Center, which issued the latest report, told NBC News.

"Families need the peace of mind that their child's coverage will not disappear as the new year begins," she added.

About 9 million children are enrolled in CHIP, which provides insurance for children who don't have health coverage through other programs.

Congress failed to approve funding in September, and some states have already started warning parents to get their children in for medical visits while coverage is still available, NBC News reported.

CHIP is universally popular, but Republicans -- who control both the House and Senate -- have been focused on a tax reform bill. On Wednesday, Democrats urged Republicans to approve CHIP funding by Friday.

"This is the ultimate bad Christmas carol story," Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said at a news conference where lumps of coal were held by politicians, NBC News reported.

Consumer News