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Health Highlights: Dec. 27, 2006

10th Death From Bird Flu in Egypt Cancer Drug Telcyta Fails Late-Stage Trials FDA May Rule That Foods From Cloned Animals OK for Market Drug Plans Under Fire for Not Reporting Changes Drug-Eluting Stents May Hamper Heart's Self-Healing

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

10th Death From Bird Flu in Egypt

A 26-year-old Egyptian man has died of bird flu, the third member of his extended family to die of the virus and the 10th in the country since an outbreak of the virus started in February, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Wednesday.

Rida Farid Abdel Halim, a brick factory worker from the Nile Delta province of Gharbia, had been in a hospital for 10 days, according to Hassan el-Bushra, WHO's regional adviser for communicable diseases surveillance. A 15-year-old girl from the worker's family died on Monday, and a female relative died the day before, raising concerns about the possibility of human-to-human transmission.

Before the latest three deaths, only one person had died of the disease in Egypt since May.

The family had raised ducks at home, and the brother and sister had slaughtered the flock after ducks fell sick and died. The flu outbreak did extensive damage to the Egyptian poultry industry this year but preventive measures appear to have contained the disease.

Bird flu has killed at least 156 people worldwide since 2003, according to WHO. People can contract the virus by coming into contact with infected poultry but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes from human to human, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions.

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Cancer Drug Telcyta Fails Late-Stage Trials

A new cancer drug, Telcyta, did not prolong survival in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer and platinum-resistant ovarian cancer and has failed three late-stage trials, Palo Alto, California-based Telik Inc. said in a statement Tuesday. The trials were conducted in the third of three testing stages needed for U.S. regulatory approval.

Telik's studies for lung cancer and advanced ovarian cancer, called ASSIST I and ASSIST II, did not achieve a "statistically significant improvement'" in overall survival, the company said. The third study, ASSIST III, failed to demonstrate its effectiveness in tumor response for ovarian cancer, Bloomberg News reported.

While all three trials showed some tumor response, two of the trials, ASSIST II and ASSIST III, contained "inconsistencies" that need to be investigated, the company added.

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FDA May Rule That Foods From Cloned Animals OK for Market

The U.S. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to make a formal recommendation this week that could put milk and meat from cloned animals on the nation's grocery shelves.

FDA scientists said in a new study that they have found that food from cloned animals is safe to eat. "Meat and milk from clones and their progeny is as safe to eat" as food that isn't produced through cloning, the report said. Regardless of the decision, however, polls have shown that the public has little appetite for such foods and believes that the FDA should keep such products off the market, the Washington Post reported.

"We are not convinced that this is safe food," Jaydee Hanson of the Center for Food Safety told ABC's Good Morning America. "And we haven't seen the facts that would convince us," Hanson added. A poll taken earlier this year showed that 65 percent of the public called cloning animals morally wrong. Another poll found that 45 percent opposed using cloning in food production.

If the FDA approval goes through, the question is, will the cloned products be clearly marked so consumers know what they're buying? Experts say that may be unlikely. "It's very possible that these products will end up on the grocery store shelves without any specific label identifying them as having come from cloned animals," said Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

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Drug Plans Under Fire for Not Reporting Changes

Some prescription drug plans did not inform Medicare beneficiaries of impending changes in costs and benefits, Bush administration officials and Congressional aides said Tuesday. Because of this, beneficiaries may be given a six-week extension of the open-enrollment period, which ends Sunday, to help compare options available to them in 2007.

The administration told Congress of the problem last week, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, and officials said they would consider imposing penalties on companies that did not provide the necessary information to beneficiaries. "There could be penalties for plans that did not send out the annual notice of change on time," said Jeff Nelligan, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In every state but Alaska and Hawaii, more than 50 drug plans are available, the Times reported. Many have increased or reduced their premiums for 2007 as well as adding coverage of generic drugs or reduced coverage of brand-name drugs. Some insurers have also adopted new techniques to control the use of certain drugs -- for example, requiring doctors to get prior approval for prescriptions and limiting the number of pills given to a patient each month.

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Drug-Eluting Stents May Hamper Heart's Self-Healing

New research shows that drug-eluting stents may interfere with the body's own natural bypass mechanism that reroutes blood past blocked arteries, according to a study in the Jan. 2 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Normally, the body's natural healing process, called coronary collateral function, can prevent complications that can lead to heart attack. But the study, conducted at the University Hospital in Bern, Switzerland, found that when physicians use stents to keep blocked arteries open, further blockages can occur, including a rare condition called stent thrombosis.

"The combination of sudden arterial blockages due to a rare condition called stent thrombosis, and the absence or impairment of the self-healing mechanism of coronary collateral function, potentially leads to a larger and deadlier heart attack in patients with drug-eluting stents," the study authors wrote.

Drug-eluting coronary stents are metallic, expandable, mesh-like tubes placed at the site of blockage in coronary arteries. These stents are coated with medication to prevent the formation of scar tissue, dramatically reducing the risk and occurrence of restenosis, or recurring blockage in the arteries.

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