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Health Highlights: Jan. 25, 2009

Protein's Removal from Platelets May Help Control Harmful ClottingFourth Human Avian Flu Victim Dies in China Obama Overturns International Abortion Funding Ban: Report Drug Maker to Seek Approval for MS Pill

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

Protein's Removal from Platelets May Help Control Harmful Clotting

Laboratory results from British scientists at the University of Bristol have found a possible way to prevent arterial blood clots, which can cause heart attacks.

According to BBC News, the researchers were able to remove the protein PKC alpha from blood platelets in laboratory mice, and this prevented clots from developing. PKC alpha is an essential element in clot formation.

Eventually, this method may be a reasonable alternative to anti-clotting medicines, which run the gamut from aspirin to prescription drugs, BBC News reports.

Lead researcher Alastair Poole told the BBC that one surprising result was that not having PKC alpha in a person's blood may not prevent normal bleeding control: "... we have also found that absence of PKC alpha doesn't seem to impair the normal control of bleeding, unlike some current anti-clotting medicines," Poole said.

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.


Fourth Human Avian Flu Victim Dies in China

Avian flu has claimed a fourth death in China this year.

The Associated Press reports that a 31-year-old woman from a far western region in China died Friday from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, the same strain that has caused the deaths of 251 people since the World Health Organization (WHO) started keeping statistics in 2003.

The other three deaths appear not to be related, the wire service reports, coming in three different geographic regions. In all, 22 people in China have died from this strain of flu since 2003, the A.P. reports. As in all other human cases reported by WHO, this incident of bird flu appeared to be contracted by contact with poultry or fowl and not transmitted from human to human.

Scientists have been carefully monitoring avian flu outbreaks, in which millions of birds have been put to death, to see whether the H5N1 virus has mutated. The fear is that a mutation causing human-to-human infection could lead to a worldwide influenza pandemic.

Chinese officials are increasing their monitoring of bird flu outbreaks, the A.P. reports, because the Lunar New Year holiday will be celebrated next week, and there will be more contact with chickens and ducks as holiday meals are prepared.


Obama Overturns International Abortion Funding Ban: Report

President Barack Obama signed an executive order Friday overturning the ban on using federal funds for international groups promoting or performing abortion, CNN reported.

The so-called "Mexico City Policy" banned U.S. taxpayer money from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. It is also known as the "global gag rule," because it prohibited taxpayer funding for groups that even talk about abortion if there is an unplanned pregnancy, the Associated Press said.

The policy was instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, overturned by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and re-instituted by President George W. Bush in 2001, according to ABC News.

Most presidents acted on the ban on Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but Obama held off on that move, thinking it too combative, ABC reported.


Drug Maker to Seek Approval for MS Pill

The first pill to treat multiple sclerosis shows promise, and drug maker Merck Serono says it will submit cladribine tablets for registration in the United States and Europe later this year.

MS patients taking the pills had an almost 60 percent lower relapse rate than those taking a placebo, according to a two-year study that included more than 1,300 patients, the Associated Press reported. The study was paid for by Merck.

"This is promising news," said Dr. Lee Dunster, head of research for the Multiple Sclerosis Society in the United Kingdom.

Dunster, who wasn't involved in the study, said the findings suggest cladribine is twice as effective as current primary treatments for MS, the AP reported.

There is no known cure for MS. Current MS treatments must be given by injections and have varying success rates. Known side effects of caldribine, currently used to treat leukemia, include fatigue, anemia and increased risk of infections.


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