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Health Highlights: Feb. 12, 2008

Anger Plus Depression Means Double Trouble for Heart Research Shows How Breast Cancer Becomes Treatment-Resistant 'Icy Hot' Heat Therapy Products Recalled for Burn Hazard Fake Malaria Drugs Likely Made in China, Study Finds Researchers Discover Another Way That HIV Attacks Cells Computer Program Guides Medical Students Through Complicated Hip Surgery

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

Anger Plus Depression Means Double Trouble for Heart

Hostility and depression often appear together, and the combination can put a strain on the heart, a new study finds.

Researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis examined emotional symptoms and blood markers of inflammatory proteins in 316 healthy people aged 50 to 70.

As reported in The New York Times, patients with depressive symptoms and hostility were more prone to higher levels of the inflammatory proteins interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein -- each of which have been linked to heart disease risk.

"The relationship of these negative emotions to inflammatory markers is more complex and much stronger than depression or hostility individually," lead researcher Jesse Stewart, assistant professor of psychology, told the Times. "There are, of course, mental health reasons to treat depression and hostility. Now we know there is a physical health reason -- the link to cardiovascular diseases," he added.

The study is published in the February-March issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.


Research Shows How Breast Cancer Becomes Treatment-Resistant

Breast and ovarian cancers caused by a faulty BRCA2 gene often become resistant to standard drugs, and British scientists now believe they know why, the BBC News reported.

The findings could help doctors spot those patients who stand to benefit most from particular treatments, and also give insights into how medicines lose their effectiveness.

Reporting in the journal Nature, researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research in the United Kingdom, noted that healthy BRCA2 is actually a tumor suppressor. But a defective form of the gene renders cells incapable of fixing damaged DNA, which in turn encourages malignancy.

The new research was conducted with both breast and ovarian cancer cells. The research team found that after exposure to standard chemotherapy, some cells mutate back to the normal BRCA2 gene type. This allows the cells to overcome DNA damage but it does not neutralize the tumor. It does, however, neutralize the effectiveness of the cancer drugs, leading to drug resistance.

"The research deepens our understanding of why some breast cancer patients with a faulty BRCA2 gene may stop responding to treatment," Prof. Herbie Newell, executive director of translational research at Cancer Research UK, told the BBC. "This type of research is becoming increasingly important as we seek to tailor cancer therapies to individual patients," he said.


'Icy Hot' Heat Therapy Products Recalled for Burn Hazard

The maker of "Icy Hot" Heat Therapy products is recalling them nationwide after receiving reports of first-, second-, and third-degree burns among some users, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday in an announcement on its Web site.

Tennessee-based Chattem Inc. said all lots and sizes of the following products are affected:

  • Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat - Back
  • Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat - Arm, neck, and leg
  • Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat - Arm, neck and leg single consumer use samples included in cartons of 3-oz. Aspercreme Pain Relieving Cream.

The products were sold over the counter at food, drug, and mass merchandise stores nationwide. Consumers should stop using them immediately, discard them, or return them to the manufacturer for a full refund.

For more information, visit the FDA.


Fake Malaria Drugs Likely Made in China, Study Finds

An unspecified number of people have been arrested after a global sting aimed at catching people who trade in fake anti-malaria medications, investigators reported in this week's edition of the journal Public Library of Science - Medicine.

Scientific inspection of the fake drugs indicates they probably were made in southern China, study lead author Dr. Paul Newton, of the Wellcome Trust-University of Oxford, said in statement.

Newton and other researchers, law enforcement authorities, and public health workers collaborated to collect and test 391 samples of genuine and fake artesunate tablets collected across southeast Asia. Some were found to contain inaccurate and potentially toxic ingredients, including safrole, used to produce the street drug ecstacy.

The researchers also used a technique called forensic palynology to study pollen contamination of the fake tablets. This pollen evidence suggested that at least some of the counterfeit samples came from southern China, they said.

One suspect arrested in 2006 allegedly traded 240,000 blisterpacks of the counterfeit medicine. In some countries in southeast Asia and Africa, as many as half of all purchased artesunate tablets may be fake, the researchers said.


Researchers Discover Another Way That HIV Attacks Cells

A weapon that HIV uses to invade human cells has been identified by scientists trying to figure out all the different ways the AIDS-causing virus launches its powerful attack on the immune system.

U.S. government researchers say they've identified a new HIV receptor, which helps guide the virus to a place in the gut where it can begin its assault on the body, reports The New York Times.

The discovery was reported Sunday in the journal Nature Immunology by a team led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It's been long understood that HIV prefers to invade the gut's lymph nodes and tissues, then replicate itself. Fauci and his colleagues found that a molecule called alpha-4 beta-7, which is programmed to direct immune cells to the gut, also acts as a receptor for HIV, the newspaper said.

Several other receptors for HIV have been identified previously. Scientists have been trying for years to identify these molecules, then target them with newly devised drugs as a way to stop HIV from invading human cells and replicating itself.


Computer Program Guides Medical Students Through Complicated Hip Surgery

Using a computer program similar to the GPS navigation system, 32 medical students at four hospitals in the United Kingdom have successfully completed a complicated hip surgical procedure that usually takes years to perfect.

BBC News reports that the procedure, known as hip resurfacing, uses a chrome alloy to smooth and redefine diseased or damaged ball joints in the hips. It takes years to become proficient at doing this, the BBC reports, but the computer guidance system has allowed medical students to do the surgery almost flawlessly.

The surgical trial was used on various models of diseased or damaged hips, the BBC reports, but those who supervised the project seemed confident enough from the outcome to consider the experiment successful.

Dr. Justin Cobb, head of the Biosurgery and Surgical Technology Group at Imperial College London, told a recent scientific meeting that the computer-driven surgery augers well for other procedures. "Even students, with the right technology, can achieve expert levels straight away," the BBC quotes him as saying. "More importantly, we've also demonstrated that no patient has to be on an inexperienced surgeon's learning curve."


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