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Health Highlights: Feb. 18, 2015

Gene Therapy Vaccination Technique Protects Monkeys Against HIV More Than 11 Million Signed Up For Subsidized Health Coverage: White House Breast Milk Consumption Growing Trend Among Body Builders Babies of Teen Fathers at Greater Risk for Genetic Defects: Study

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

Gene Therapy Vaccination Technique Protects Monkeys Against HIV

A new vaccination technique that uses gene therapy appears to give monkeys full protection against HIV, researchers say.

Vaccines typically prime the immune system to fight infectious diseases, but this new approach altered the monkeys' DNA to protect them against HIV, BBC News reported.

The team at the Scripps Research Institute in California described their study in the journal Nature as "a big deal" and said they want to start human tests within a year.

In the new technique, gene therapy is used to place a new section of DNA inside healthy muscle cells. The DNA contains coding to make HIV-killers, which are then pumped into the bloodstream, BBC News reported.

This method protected the monkeys from all HIV strains for at least 34 weeks.

"We are closer than any other approach to universal protection, but we still have hurdles, primarily with safety for giving it to many, many people," lead researcher Michael Farzan told BBC News.

The gene therapy causes cells to constantly produce HIV-killers, and the long-term effects of that are unknown.

"In the absence of a vaccine that can elicit broadly protective immunity and prevent infection, and given the lack of major breakthroughs on the horizon to provide one, the idea of conferring potent, sustained vaccine-like protection against HIV infection through gene therapy is certainly worth strong consideration," said Nancy Haigwood, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University, BBC News reported.


More Than 11 Million Signed Up For Subsidized Health Coverage: White House

A preliminary estimate shows that 11.4 million Americans signed up for subsidized private health insurance this year under the Affordable Care Act, the White House said Tuesday evening.

The final number could be higher because federal officials have given an extension to people who started their applications but couldn't finish them before last Sunday's deadline. The new deadline for these people is Sunday, Feb. 22, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, Democrats want President Barack Obama to give uninsured people facing tax penalties a second chance to sign up for health insurance.

The final number could be lower if people who enrolled for coverage this year fail to pay their share of premiums, the AP reported.

Last year, 8 million people signed up, but only 6.7 million were still in the program by fall. Some of those who left the program found other coverage, such as through a job.

"The Affordable Care Act is working," Obama said in a video released by the White House. "It's working a little better than we anticipated. Certainly, I think, working a lot better than many of the critics talked about early on."

However, there are still legal hurdles. Early next month, the Supreme Court will hear a case from plaintiffs who claim the literal text of the health care law only permits the federal government to offer subsidies in states that have created their own insurance markets. Most states have not done that, the AP reported.

If the court rules against the federal government, millions of people would lose their subsidies, and most of those would cancel their insurance plans.


Breast Milk Consumption Growing Trend Among Body Builders

Some bodybuilders are drinking human breast milk in the mistaken belief it will give a boost to their muscles.

There are dozens of online forums and articles about this growing trend, and some online breast milk banks are paying women up to $1,200 a month for selling extra breast milk, according to ABC News.

Experts are concerned.

"I would discourage anyone from purchasing breast milk from those untrusted sources," said pediatrician Dr. Lana Gagin, ABC News reported. "The way this milk is stored and processed is not always safe."

"There is nothing in breast milk that can be of benefit to a healthy adult or there is nothing in breast milk that would enhance your physical performance," Gagin noted.

Breast milk isn't "harmful" to adults, but there is no evidence that demonstrates the benefits of adults consuming human milk, said registered nurse Emily Pease, ABC News reported.


Babies of Teen Fathers at Greater Risk for Genetic Defects: Study

Teen fathers pass along six times as many genetic mutations to their children as teen mothers, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed DNA from more than 24,000 parents and their children and found that children born to fathers 20 or younger had many more mutations than those born to older fathers and to teen mothers and adult fathers, NBC News reported.

The results may help explain why children of very young parents are much more likely to have genetic defects than those of older parents, according to study leader Dr. Peter Forster of the University of Cambridge in England and the Institute for Forensic Genetics in Munster, Germany.

There may be something wrong with the sperm of boys and younger men, Forster told NBC News.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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