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Health Highlights: Feb. 16, 2009

Many Factors Can Contribute to PTSD Risk Acrylamide May Increase Heart Disease Risk: Study FDA Approves New Gout Drug DNA Decoys Prompt Cancer Cell Suicide

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

Many Factors Can Contribute to PTSD Risk

Stress hormones, genetics and childhood events are among the factors that could influence a person's risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

One study of U.S. military personnel who were exposed to highly stressful situations found differences in stress hormone levels.

"Interestingly, there are some individuals who, when confronted with extreme stress, their hormone profile is rather unique," said Yale University psychiatrist Deane Aikins, Agence France Presse reported. "It doesn't reach the same peak as the rest of us. So we are ready to scream in our chair, and there are certain individuals who just don't get as stressed. Their stress hormones are actually lower and the peptides that down regulate that stress are quite higher."

Low IQ as early as age 5, difficult temperament at age 3, and family factors such as growing up in poverty, having a depressed mother or being separated from parents at a young age could all increase a person's risk of developing PTSD, found Harvard University public health professor Karestan Koenen and colleagues, AFP reported.

Also, "some people have genetic variants that make them more vulnerable to the effects of trauma," Koenen said.

Another study found that Vietnam veterans who suffered injuries in a certain area of the brain didn't develop PTSD.


Acrylamide May Increase Heart Disease Risk: Study

Acrylamide, a chemical found in foods such as potato chips and french fries, may increase a person's risk of heart disease, according to a Polish study. Previous research has linked acrylamide to nervous system disorders and, possibly, cancer.

Participants in this new study ate large amounts of potato chips for four weeks, resulting in a daily acrylamide intake of 157 micrograms. The volunteers showed negative changes in oxidized low-density lipoprotein ("bad" cholesterol), inflammatory markers and antioxidants. The researchers said these changes could increase the risk of heart disease, United Press International reported.

The findings appear in the March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study authors noted the need for long-term studies of people consuming typical amounts of acrylamide -- about 20 micrograms a day, UPI reported.


FDA Approves New Gout Drug

The first new gout treatment in four decades has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after more than four years of review due to concerns about dosing and a potential increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The FDA approved febuxostat (brand name Uloric) to control excess uric acid in the blood that can build up in joints or soft tissues, Bloomberg news reported. About six million Americans have gout.

Japanese drug maker Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co. initially sought approval for 80-milligram and 120-milligram oral doses of the drug. However, regulators were concerned about a higher number of cardiovascular side effects in patients taking the drug and requested a new study using only 80-milligram and 40-milligram doses.

Both lower doses proved effective and weren't linked to a higher rate of heart attack or stroke in patients taking the drug, Bloomberg reported.

Febuxostat was approved by European regulators last May.


DNA Decoys Prompt Cancer Cell Suicide

A molecular "decoy" that mimics DNA damage and triggers cancer cells to kill themselves could help treat tumors that are resistant to conventional therapy, say French researchers.

They developed tiny fragments of DNA that mimic the two broken ends of the double-helix genetic code. These "Dbaits" fool cancer cells that have survived chemotherapy or radiation into believing they're more damaged than they actually are, prompting them to self-destruct, Agence France Presse reported.

When Dbaits were injected into mice a few hours before they received radiotherapy, 75 percent to 100 percent of cancer cells in the rodents were destroyed, compared with 30 percent to 50 percent using radiotherapy alone. There was no damage to healthy tissue when Dbaits were used.

The study appears in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

If further tests are successful, clinical trials on humans could begin by the end of 2010, said Marie Dutreix of the Curie Institute in Paris, AFP reported.

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