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Health Highlights: Jan. 15, 2008

Testosterone Supplements May Pose Health Risk to Men: Study FDA Approves New Genetic Breast Cancer Test Air Pollution Increases Sperm Mutations: Study Scientists Boost Calcium Content in Carrots Supreme Court Won't Review Drug Ruling on Terminally Ill Patients Officials Testing for Possible Bird Flu Outbreak in India

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

Testosterone Supplements May Pose Health Risk to Men: Study

Testosterone supplements may pose an "urgent" health risk to men, warn the Texas authors of a study in the current issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center doctors detailed the cases of two men who developed unusually aggressive and deadly prostate cancer within months of taking the same over-the-counter supplement said to promote stronger muscles and enhance sexual performance, the Canwest News Service reported.

The doctors said there's no firm evidence that the product, which is no longer on the market, directly caused these cases of prostate cancer. But they urged men to be cautious.

"Given that testosterone supplements are in high demand, there is significant concern that HHDS (herbal/hormonal dietary supplements) other than the one evaluated in the current study may pose an urgent human health risk," the study authors wrote.

A leading Canadian urologist told Canwest News Service that men who take nutritional supplements containing male hormones are "really playing with fire."

"Many men are on androgen replacement therapy or some kind of male hormone replacement and there's always been a concern this may stimulate the growth of prostate cancer cells," said Dr. Laurence Klotz, chief of the division of urology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto. "It's a very controversial question and the answer is still not clear."


FDA Approves New Genetic Breast Cancer Test

A new genetic test that helps assess the risk of tumor recurrence and long-term survival for patients with relatively high-risk breast cancer has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The TOP2A/FISH pharmDx is the first approved device to test for the TOP2A (topoisomerase 2 alpha) gene in cancer patients. The gene plays a role in DNA replication. Changes in the TOP2A gene in breast cancer cells indicate increased risk that a tumor will recur or decreased survival.

The new test, made by Dako Denmark A/S, uses fluorescently-labeled DNA probes to detect or confirm gene or chromosome abnormalities, a process called fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH).

The FDA approval was based on a study of 767 high-risk patients in Denmark who had been treated with chemotherapy after removal of a breast tumor. The findings indicated the test was useful in estimating cancer recurrence and overall survival.

"When used with other clinical information and laboratory tests, this test can provide health care professionals with additional insights on the likely clinical course for breast cancer patients," Dr. Daniel Schultz, director of the FDA's Center for Clinical Devices and Radiological Health, said in a prepared statement.


Air Pollution Increases Sperm Mutations: Study

Compared to male mice that breathed filtered air, those exposed to polluted air had 60 percent more genetic mutations in their sperm, says a Canadian study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings suggest that air pollution may be linked to inheritable DNA damage, Agence France Presse reported.

For this study, one group of mice was exposed to unfiltered air from steel mills and highways. Another group of mice was exposed to the same air after it had been cleaned using high-efficiency HEPA filters.

"These findings show that chemical pollutants may cause heritable mutation. Further research is required to confirm these results, and to evaluate the potential risk to humans exposed to particulate air pollution," AFP cited the study authors as saying.


Scientists Boost Calcium Content in Carrots

American scientists have genetically engineered carrots that provide about 41 percent more calcium than current carrots. The researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas hope that eating this kind of carrot as part of a normal diet may help prevent osteoporosis and other bone conditions, BBC News reported.

An altered gene enables calcium to cross more easily over membranes in the carrots, which still have to undergo numerous safety trials.

"These carrots were grown in carefully monitored and controlled environments. Much more research needs to be conducted before this would be available to consumers," said team member Professor Kendal Hirschi, BBC News reported.

The research appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Supreme Court Won't Review Drug Ruling on Terminally Ill Patients

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that it will not review a ruling that terminally ill patients don't have a constitutional right to be treated with experimental drugs, the Associated Press reported.

Last year, a federal appeals court supported Food and Drug Administration policy by ruling that the U.S. government may deny access to drugs that haven't been rigorously tested and approved by the FDA, a process that can take years.

In 2003, the FDA was sued by the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs and the Washington Legal Foundation. The groups launched the legal action in an attempt to force the FDA to allow terminally ill patients access to drugs that have undergone preliminary safety testing but haven't been approved by the FDA.

The Abigail Alliance said it was seeking the "right for terminally ill patients with no remaining treatment options to fight for their own lives."

In its decision Monday, the Supreme Court did not explain its decision to reject a review of the appeals court ruling, the AP reported.


Officials Testing for Possible Bird Flu Outbreak in India

Health officials in India are concerned there may be a possible major bird-flu outbreak after nearly 20,000 chickens died in the past week, Agence France-Presse reported.

Samples from the dead birds have been sent to a laboratory to determine if the H5N1 bird flu virus killed the chickens at the farms in an eastern district of West Bengal state.

"The dead birds showed the flu symptoms," said S.K. Bhowmic, the chief medical officer in the affected district.

West Bengal animal resources development minister Anisur Rehman said preliminary test results suggest bird flu caused the chicken deaths. A final report on test results is expected to be released later on Monday, AFP reported.

In August 2006, India declared itself free of bird flu. But there was an outbreak of bird flu among poultry in India in July 2007.

Since it first appeared in 2003, the H5N1 virus has killed more than 200 people worldwide. Health experts are worried that the virus could mutate, making it easier to transmit among humans, leading to a possible pandemic.

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