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Health Highlights: Jan. 26, 2002

Human Form of Mad Cow Disease Claims Another British Victim Weight Loss Surgery Appears to Improve Diabetes Antioxidant Thwarts Diabetes in Mice Magnet Treatment May Work For Those Stuck On It FDA Approving Drugs Faster Lung Condition Among Risks Climbers Face

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

Human Form of Mad Cow Disease Claims Another Victim

A 26-year-old British man has reportedly died from the human form of mad cow disease, the Associated Press reports.

According to the victim's father, Christopher Hargreaves began experiencing depression as far back as January 2001.

He was diagnosed in October with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CDJ), and died Jan. 17.

Hargreaves is among more than 100 people, most of them in Britain, who have died from the disease, the AP reports.

CDJ causes severe brain deterioration and is believed to be contracted by eating meat that has been contaminated by mad cow disease.

British meat became infected with mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalophy, after farmers added infected animal carcasses to their cattle feed.

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Weight-Loss Surgery Appears to Improve Diabetes

A new type of surgery designed to help severely obese people lose weight appears to have the added benefit of improving diabetes or even sending it into remission, according to wire reports.

The procedure, called laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB), involves placing an adjustable band around the upper stomach with minimally invasive surgery.

In one-year follow-ups of 50 individuals who had the surgery, 34, or 64 percent, had experienced remission of their diabetes.

In addition, 27 of 34 patients who'd had high blood pressure prior to the procedure showed improvement.

Unlike gastric bypass or weight-loss surgeries, LAGB is reversible, but researchers caution that 10 of the 50 patients required surgery to repair bands that had slipped.

The study is published in the February issue of Diabetes Care.

Synthetic Antioxidant Prevents Diabetes in Mice

A synthetic version of a potent antioxidant prevented Type I diabetes from developing in mice by protecting their insulin-producing cells, according to HealthDay.

Researchers say that in diabetes, the immune system mistakenly identifies beta cells in the pancreas -- the insulin producers -- as foreign invaders. In trying to destroy them, the immune system gives off a chemical inflammation in the form of free radicals.

Beta cells, however, are necessary to produce insulin, a hormone that helps us metabolize sugar. And antioxidants work to prevent the inflammation process from occurring, say the researchers.

"The antioxidant not only mops up the inflammation but more importantly, when present in large enough amounts, the antioxidant also helps keep the immune system in line, reducing its desire to attack the beta cells by helping it to recognize these cells are not foreign invaders," says study co-author Jon Piganelli, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh's Diabetes Institute.

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Magnet Treatment May Work For Those Stuck On It

The effectiveness of magnets in alleviating symptoms such as wrist pain may simply depend on how much you believe they will work, suggests a new study.

Magnets have long been looked at as potential treatment for various conditions, including depression and chronic pain. But University of Oklahoma researchers decided to test magnet therapy on a group of 30 people with carpal tunnel syndrome. The researchers found that a wrist wrap including magnets proved no more effective in relieving pain than a placebo wrist wrap with nothing but metal disks, according to wire reports.

Interestingly, many study subjects on both the magnet therapy and on the placebo reported a significant decrease in pain two weeks after the treatment.

"Most likely, this is a placebo effect due to the patients' belief in the efficacy of the device," wrote the researchers in the January issue of The Journal of Family Practice.

"Also, it is possible that pressure over the area of pain, due to application of the (wrist wrap), somehow reduces the amount of pain experienced."

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FDA Approving Drugs Faster

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

The Associated Press reports that the amount of time it took in 2001 to approve new drugs or the additional use of existing drugs was about a month-and-a-half faster than it took in 2000. It takes about 14 months for the Food and Drug Administration 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 FDA approval after only three months in 2001.

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Lung Condition Among Risks Climbers Face

Forget avalanches and slipping off a cliff. One serious hazard mountain climbers face is developing a mild form of a potentially life-threatening lung problem, according to wire reports.

In a study appearing in today's issue of the journal The Lancet, researchers found that three-out-of-four climbers who ascend to high altitudes develop a condition known as high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE).

The condition is caused by a build-up of fluid in the lungs that results from elevated lung pressure in low-oxygen conditions.

While the amount of fluid build-up in most climbers is so small they may not even notice, the study of 262 climbers before and after a climb showed that 40 had evidence of lung deterioration after a 15,000-foot climb and 34 were found to have mild HAPE.

One of the climbers had to be evacuated from a mountain due to the condition. Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough and rapid heart rate.

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