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Health Highlights: Jan. 25, 2002

FDA Approving Drugs Faster, But Not That FastGene Brain Surgery Offers Hope Against Alzheimer's Clot-Causing Part Removed From Artificial Heart AIDS to Surpass Plague as History's Worst Pandemic Study: Fertility Drugs Don't Increase Ovarian Cancer Risk States to Get More Than $1 Billion for Bioterrorism

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

FDA Approving Drugs Faster, But Not That Fast

It's taking new or improved drugs a little less time to get to the marketplace.

The Associated Press is reporting that the amount of time it took in 2001 to approve new drugs or additional use in existing drugs was about a month-and-a-half faster than it took in 2000. It takes about 14 months for the FDA to make a decision on a drug after it's submitted for review. The fastest median time recorded was in 1999, when it took only 11-and-a-half months.

But FDA watchers say that may have been too short, because a number of drugs approved in the late 1990s have been pulled from the market.

There's always the exception, however. Gleevec, a drug that was shown to be dramatically effective in combating adult leukemia, received it FDA approval after only three months in 2001.

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Gene Brain Surgery Offers Hope Against Alzheimer's

A unique genetic tissue brain operation on a 72-year-old woman is being watched by scientists around the world to see if it will slow the degenerative process of Alzheimer's disease.

CNN reports on the progress of Lola Crosswhite after she became only the third person ever to undergo the implanting of genetic tissue in her brain.

Surgeons who peformed the operation at the University of California at San Diego implanted material that contains proteins designed to prevent the death of memory and reasoning cells. Two of the major symptoms of Alzheimer's are the loss of memory and the loss of reasoning ability.

Alzheimer's disease strikes more than 22 million people worldwide and so far, there's no known cure.

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Clot-Causing Part Removed From Artificial Heart

A problematic part from the world's first self-contained artificial heart that may have played a role in the deaths of two recipients of the heart has been removed, report the makers of the heart.

Abiomed, based in Danvers, Mass., said the part, a plastic cage, has been removed from the device after clotting was found on the cages of artificial hearts in two patients who died, reports the Associated Press.

Doctors believe the cage may have been causing blood clots by touching tissue and restricting blood flow.

Clots called hematomas have been removed in a majority of patients who've received the AbioCor heart.

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AIDS to Surpass Plague as Worst Pandemic

AIDS is likely to achieve the dubious distinction of overtaking the Black Death as the worst pandemic in human history, reports HealthDay.

An American public health expert says the death toll and the social impact of the disease will exceed that of the plague's deadly march during the Middle Ages.

In the Jan. 26 issue of the British Medical Journal, Dr. Peter R. Lamptey of the Family Health International AIDS Institute in Virginia compares the modern AIDS crisis to the historical impact of the Black Death.

Despite medical advances, AIDS, he says, has already killed 25 million people worldwide, and another 40 million are living with the disease.

During the 14th century, the Black Death swept through Asia and Europe, killing more than 40 million, and altering society and the global economy

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Study: Fertility Drugs Don't Increase Ovarian Cancer Risk

Women who use fertility drugs can breathe a sigh of relief. HealthDay reports that a new study -- the largest to date on the subject -- offers the best evidence yet that the popular medications used to increase the number of eggs a woman produces in a single cycle do not increase the risk of ovarian cancer.

For Dr. Jaime Grifo, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology at New York University Medical Center, the finding is welcome news that has long been anticipated.

"We have always believed the drugs were safe, mainly because the original studies were flawed. They looked at only one population of women, those who were infertile. And we knew long before fertility drugs were being used that infertile women in general have an increased risk of ovarian cancer," says Grifo.

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States to Get More Than $1 Billion for Bioterrorism

The federal government says that U.S. states will receive more than $1 billion of the $3 billion that the Department of Health and Human Services will spend this year on bioterrorism preparedness.

Most of the funds, however, will only be distributed once states submit details of their preparedness plans, The New York Times reports.

The money, which is about 10 times the amount spent last year on bioterrorism, was appropriated by Congress following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

About $200 million of the funds will reportedly be released now so that states can at least get started on their preparedness plans.

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