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Health Highlights: Feb. 19, 2002

Newer Drug Not Always Better With Breast Cancer Therapy Dolly Creator Won't Clone Humans Diabetics Miss the Point About Heart Risk Antioxidant-Laced Smokes Reduce Tobacco's Damage: Study Cancer Drug Appears to Target HIV-Laden Cells School Bus Pollution Endangers Kids Claritin-D Antihistamine Recalled

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

Newer Drug Not Always Better With Breast Cancer Therapy

Breast cancer patients using the drug tamoxifen to protect against recurrence of the disease should not look to extend that protection with the medication raloxifene, HealthDay reports.

According to research that appears tomorrow in the <>Journal of the National Cancer Institute, raloxifene did not prevent tumor growth in laboratory mice, and it appeared to increase their risk of endometrial cancer, or cancer of the uterine lining.

"We were trying to do in the laboratory what may never be done in the clinic, and that is give a guesstimate if tamoxifen followed by raloxifene was going to be good or bad. And the answer is, it is bad," says study author V. Craig Jordan, professor of cancer research at Northwestern University and the scientist who developed tamoxifen.


Dolly Creator Won't Clone Humans

An animal is one thing, but the scientist who brought the world Dolly, the cloned sheep, says he would not be interested in cloning a human because of the simple notion of free will.

Between lectures at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, scientist Ian Wilmut reportedly told the Associated Press he wouldn't want to clone a human because the cloned person would be expected to act just like their genetic match.

"No one should be expected to be anything," he reportedly said.

Wilmut does, however, support the cloning of human embryos for research in treating such illnesses as Parkinson's or cystic fibrosis or in finding their causes.

The British scientist's work is now focused on improving the conditions of cloned embryos. Only 1 percent to 5 percent of such embryos result in live births, and survivors are often plagued with health problems including obesity and kidney problems, he stressed.


Diabetics Miss the Point About Heart Risk

The vast majority of diabetics are in the dark about the darkest complication of their disease, reports HealthDay.

Almost seven out of 10 people with diabetes don't consider cardiovascular problems to be a significant complication of their underlying disease, even though two-thirds of them will die of a heart attack, stroke or other vessel ailment.

So says a new survey by the American Diabetes Association and the American College of Cardiology, which shows that although patients generally understand that their diabetes can lead to blindness and amputations, they're woefully unaware of how unhealthy blood sugar can jeopardize their heart and vessels.

The survey found that three-quarters also had risk factors for heart attacks and strokes -- such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol -- but don't associate them with their sugar trouble.

"More than 16 million Americans have diabetes, and that figure is growing at an alarming rate," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said at a briefing today to announce the results of the survey.

"Sixty-five percent of people with diabetes in the United States die from heart attacks or strokes. Unfortunately, most of them are not aware of the link between diabetes and heart disease and the things they can do to reduce their risks."


Antioxidant-Laced Smokes Reduce Tobacco's Damage: Study

Cigarette filters are designed to filter out the harmful ingredients of tobacco smoke, but new research indicates that they may in fact be used to filter in beneficial ingredients - - antioxidants.

Research presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston last week shows that smoke passed through antioxidant-impregnated filters in fact had a less damaging impact on two types of human cells and caused less damage to saliva proteins.

The research was conducted by antioxidant maker Thione International, Inc., according to wire reports.

The researchers said cigarettes containing antioxidants can reduce the free radical damage to the mouth and throat, respiratory tract and lungs that is caused by tobacco smoke.


Cancer Drug Appears to Target HIV-Infected Cells

Immune cells infected with the virus that causes AIDS appear to be targeted by a drug originally tested as a treatment for cancer, BBC News Online reports.

While the drug, motexafin gadolinium or Gd-Tex, seems to target only HIV-infected CD4+ cells, it appears to leave other healthy cells alone, Stanford University researchers say. So far, however, the drug has only been tested in the laboratory. The drug's manufacturer, Terrance Higgins Trust, says it hopes to launch clinical trials within the next few months.

CD4+ T cells, which are targeted by the HIV virus, are largely responsible for the body's ability to ward off bacterial and viral illnesses.

Even in low doses, Gd-Tex appears to kill the weakened cells infected with HIV, while leaving all other healthier, more resilient, cells alone.

But the researchers caution that lab test results often don't translate the same way to live patients. And they worry that the rapid deaths of infected CD4+ cells could have adverse consequences, BBC News Online says.


School Bus Pollution Endangers Kids

A significant percentage of the nation's 24 million school children are at risk of serious health problems posed by school bus pollution, HealthDay reports.

The buses' diesel exhaust is a toxic health threat that increases the risk of asthma, heart disease, cancer and premature death, two new studies indicate. Diesel fuel powers more than 90 percent of the 600,000 American school buses, and researchers say American children spend a total of 3 billion hours on school buses each year.

A Massachusetts-based group, Clean Vehicles Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, graded school bus fleets in each state based on emissions of particulates, smog-forming pollution and greenhouse gases.

Only six states and the District of Columbia were ranked "ahead of the curve," while 23 states received a "middle-of-the-road" ranking. The remaining 21 states did poorly or failed. No state came close to the highest grade for pollution performance, which is achieved using school buses powered by natural gas, the report says.

A second study in Connecticut found that diesel exhaust contains 40 hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated the components of diesel exhaust as probable causes of cancer.


Schering-Plough Recalls Claritin-D

Certain lots of Claritin-D 12-hour antihistamine are being recalled because the decongestant portion fails to release itself properly within a specified period of time, manufacturer Schering-Plough says in a press release distributed today. The products were manufactured between August 1999 and June 2001.

On its Web site, the company says the products pose no danger, adding that the recall is being conducted with the knowledge of the Food and Drug Administration. It advises that the recall extends only to distributors, not to patients themselves.

Schering-Plough says the decongestant, pseudoephedrine, is supposed to be fully released within five hours after a person takes the drug, and that there was a delay of about 25 minutes. The company says this "short delay" is expected to have "no clinical consequence on expected efficacy or safety of these products." More recent lots do not pose the problem.


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