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Health Highlights: Feb. 24, 2007

Texas Governor Sued Over His Cervical Cancer Vaccine Order New ADHD Drug Wins Federal Approval Illinois Measure Backs Spending on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Girl Scout Cookies Dump Most Trans Fats MRI Dyes May Harm Kidney Patients Top Milk Producer Sours on Cloned Cows

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

Texas Governor Sued Over His Cervical Cancer Vaccine Order

The latest legal battle over whether a state official has the authority to order pre-teenage girls to be vaccinated against cervical cancer has returned to where it began -- Texas.

The Associated Press reports that a group of families has sued over whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry has the legal right to mandate the vaccination, which clinical trials have shown protects against more than 90 percent of all cervical cancer cases. This particular malignancy is caused by the papapillomavirus (HPV). Perry had issued an executive order in early February, mandating the vaccination for all Texas girls entering the sixth grade.

Because HPV is caused only by sexual contact, many parents objected to the order, because they felt it interfered in the way they wanted to talk to their children about sex.

Kenneth Chaiken, an attorney representing the families in the lawsuit, is quoted by the A.P. as saying in the court papers, "These school-age girls of Texas are not guinea pigs who may be subjected to medical procedures at the apparent whim of Texas' governor." Chaiken emphasized that the lawsuit isn't dealing with moral issues, only with Perry's authority to issue the order.

Perry doesn't appear to be backing down. The wire service quotes his spokesperson Krista Moody as saying, "He sees this vaccine as not only a fiscally responsible order but also one that has the potential to save the lives of thousands of women in Texas."


New ADHD Drug Wins Federal Approval

Shire PLC, a company that makes a top-selling drug to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) won federal approval Friday for a new amphetamine-based drug, which the manufacturer says may be better to control patient misuse.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Vyvanse, (lisdexamfetamine), which Shire will market to replace its popular widely-used Adderall XR over the next two years. Adderall XR's patent is due to expire in 2009.

The wire service quotes Shire PLC spokesman Matt Cabrey as saying that the company has tested Vyvanse on adults who have a history of stimulant abuse to assess its "likeability." The outcome, according to Shire, was that Vyvanse delays the intensity of amphetamine effects, which include increased alertness, physical activity, and decreased appetite.

Despite the company's efforts, the A.P. says, Vyvanse will carry a "Black Box" warning, the same as other ADHD drugs, such as Ritalin and Adderall. The most-often cited concerns are amphetamine abuse and heart attack.


Illinois Measure Backs Spending on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Illinois Senate passed a measure Friday to spend state tax dollars on embryonic stem cell research, but opponents condemned the plan because it involves the destruction of human embryos.

The measure, which passed 35-23, now goes to the state House. If approved there, the legislation would bring the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute, to which Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has already awarded $15 million in grants, under state law.

Supporters of the research say that embryonic stem cell studies could yield new treatments for diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, the Associated Press reported. Opponents say the research needlessly destroys human embryos, and some state senators argued the money would be better spent balancing Illinois' already strained budget.


Girl Scout Cookies Dump Most Trans Fats

This year's supply of Girl Scout cookies will come nearly free of trans fats, as the organization's bakers join cities, restaurants and fast-food outlets across the United States who have already made the switch to more healthy ingredients.

Marking their 90th year in the cookie business, the Scouts will also offer a sugar-free cookie called the Little Brownie. Another cookie, the Cartwheel, was introduced last year with reduced saturated fat, the Associated Press reported Friday. Every variety of Girl Scout cookie now meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards, based on serving sizes that range from four Thin Mints to two Samoas or Caramel deLites, the AP reported.

Denise J. Pessich, vice president of Girl Scouts of the USA, told the wire service that the switch was made only after the two commercial bakeries that make the treats found alternatives that didn't compromise the flavor, texture or shelf life of the cookies. The cookies, in fact, still contain a small amount of trans fat -- less than half a gram per serving -- but that's low enough to qualify for a "zero grams of trans fat" label under FDA rules. Pessich added that consumers should notice few differences.

One warning was sounded, however, by Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "If it says zero grams, but contains partially hydrogenated oil, people should know it does contain a little bit of trans fat," Jacobson said. "If somebody ate several servings of those foods a day, someone could consume 2 or 3 grams of trans fat, which is significant."


MRI Dyes May Harm Kidney Patients

Certain metallic dyes injected into people for MRI scans may trigger a dangerous skin condition in those with kidney problems, the Associated Press reported Friday.

At least two dozen people who required kidney dialysis in St. Louis over a four-year period developed the rare ailment, nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, which stiffens and discolors the skin, the wire service said.

An investigation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded the illnesses were related to injected contrasting agents that contained gadolinium. Contrasting agents are used to improve the detailed pictures of the body's tissues taken by MRI scans.

The dyes in question have been on the market since 1988, the AP reported. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a public advisory after receiving European reports tying the rare disease to kidney patients who had had MRI scans using the contrasting agents.

CDC officials told the wire service that they believe dialysis patients and others with kidney problems can't properly rid the contrasting agents from their bodies.

"To the general public, it's not a big concern. But to somebody with kidney disease, we want to warn them not to get an MRI with [this type of] contrasting agent," CDC spokeswoman Jennifer Morcone told the AP.


Top Milk Producer Sours on Cloned Cows

Dean Foods, the largest milk-producing company in the United States, has turned thumbs down on using milk from cloned cows.

Despite federal government assertions that meat and milk products from cloned cows are safe and virtually indistinguishable from other dairy products, Dean cited surveys that said Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of drinking clone-produced milk.

Dean, based in Dallas, is a $10 billion company whose brands include Land O'Lakes and Horizon Organic, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given preliminary approval to using meat and milk products from cloned cows, and final approval is possible by the end of the year, the wire service said.

Some 64 percent of Americans surveyed in a September poll said they were uncomfortable with the idea of drinking or eating products from cloned cows, the AP reported.


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