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Health Highlights: Feb. 3, 2002

Gene Therapy on Hemophiliac Resumes, Say Researchers $1 Billion Settlement for Defective Hip, Knee Replacements Hong Kong Chickens to Be Destroyed Over Avian Flu Fears New 'World's Oldest Man' Named Alzheimer's Vaccine Trials Suspended After Problems Develop Leading Prostate Cancer Test 'Clinically Useless'

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

Gene Therapy on Hemophiliac Resumes, Say Researchers

Stanford University scientists are due to announce tomorrow that they have resumed gene therapy research in which a 48-year-old hemophiliac man's liver is being subjected to trillions of gene-filled viruses, reports USA Today.

The patient has the rare blood-clotting disorder hemophilia B. The condition is characterized in men by a lack of an essential gene that produces a critical blood-clotting protein called factor 9.

The aim of the therapy is to insert enough healthy factor 9 genes into the patient's liver cells to cause their blood to clot normally.

An earlier stage of the research was suspended when traces of DNA from a virus were found in another patient's seminal fluid. But when no further evidence of the problem were seen, the research was allowed to continue due to its "great promise."


$1 Billion Settlement to Cover Defective Hip, Knee Replacements

A Swiss company responsible for making faulty hip and knee replacements has agreed to pay $1 billion to settle the thousands of lawsuits filed over the defect.

Sulzer Orthopedics' settlement, announced yesterday, should work out to pay somewhere in the range of $200,000 to each patient, the Associated Press reports.

Thousands of the company's artificial joints were recalled in December 2000 after it was discovered that a manufacturing change had coated parts with an oily substance that prevented the joints from bonding with patients' bones.

Sulzer Orthopedics is the Austin, Texas-based subsidiary of the Swiss company Sulzer Medica. Sulzer Medica will reportedly contribute $725 million to the settlement.


Hong Kong Chickens to Be Destroyed Over Avian Flu Fears

All 100,000 chickens at a Hong Kong farm will be destroyed in an attempt to prevent a new outbreak of the avian flu, the Associated Press reports.

Fears of a new outbreak grew last week after 10,000 of the chickens mysteriously died over the course of two days.

Health officials said that the farm was quarantined after the deaths and that the slaughter of the remaining birds will begin immediately.

Six people were killed when an avian flu spread through the human population in 1997; a similar avian flu infected thousands of chickens in Hong Kong last May, forcing the government to destroy more than 1.3 million birds.


New 'World's Oldest Man' Named

The world has a new "oldest man."

The Guiness Book of Records has declared that 112-year-old Yukichi Chuganji, a retired Japanese silkworm breeder, is now the "world's oldest man," reports the Associated Press.

Chugani earned the esteemed title after the former "world's oldest man," Italian Antonio Todde, died last month just before his 113th birthday.

When asked about the secret of his longevity, Chuganji's daughter said "My daddy eats and drinks alcohol moderately. And he is an optimist,'' says the AP.


Alzheimer's Vaccine Trials Suspended After Problems Develop

Studies of a promising Alzheimer's vaccine have come to a temporary halt after four French patients on the experimental treatment developed inflammation in the central nervous system, CNN reports.

Multiple doses of the vaccine have so far been given to about 360 patients in Europe and the United States, and no unusual side effects have been reported. However, dosing has now been suspended.

AN-1792 was found to be safe and was even found to produce an immune response in a previous study.

The vaccine appears to prevent the build-up of plaque in the brain that is characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.

Studies in rats showed that Alzheimer's was stopped, and in some cases reversed, under the vaccine.


Leading Prostate Cancer Test 'Clinically Useless'

The leading test to detect prostate cancer is "clinically useless" at determining the size or severity of a man's tumor, and is only of "limited" value at predicting cure rates from surgery to remove the diseased gland, reports HealthDay.

The test, which measures a blood enzyme called prostate-specific antigen (PSA), is likelier to find benignly enlarged prostates and prompt overly aggressive treatment, according to the scientists who conducted the study just published in the Journal of Urology.

"We used to think [PSA testing] was good. But what we would like it to tell us is whether a PSA that is not much elevated is elevated because of [normal prostate growth] or whether it's elevated because of prostate cancer," says Dr. John McNeal, a Stanford University pathologist and a co-author of the paper. And the protein, at least at moderate levels, can't do that, McNeal says.

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