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Health Highlights: July 16, 2006

Shortcut Found for Finding Best Personalized Cancer Drugs42nd Bird Flu Death Confirmed in Indonesia FDA Panel Doesn't See 'Bionic Eye' Just YetGovernment Orders Phaseout of Cleaning Solvent in Some Dry Cleaning Businesses Fertility Method No More Effective Than Natural Way: Study Canada Reports New Mad Cow Case

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

Shortcut Found for Finding Best Personalized Cancer Drugs

Researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md. say they've found a shortcut that may allow doctors to zero in on the best chemotherapy for cancer patients more quickly.

The research team from the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, was able to identify genetic mutations in proteins leading to the possible growth of a cancer, instead of examining a gene already established inside a cancer cell.

According to an institute news release, lead researcher Brian J. Druker and his team analyzed proteins inside acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells and studied a group of cell-signaling proteins called tyrosine kinases.

"We decided this more functional assay would get us to the disease-causing genes more rapidly," a Howard Hughes Institute news release quotes Druker as saying.

Eventually, Druker says,this new technique will be a way to create a method to help select a patient's chemotherapy drugs. Druker was involved in developing a number of cancer drugs that inhibit tyrosine kinases, including Gleevec, which has shown success in fighting chronic myelogenous leukemia.


42nd Bird Flu Death Confirmed in Indonesia

Indonesia reached an unwelcome record Saturday, tying Vietnam with 42 confirmed human deaths from the avian flu, the most cases reported anywhere in the world.

The Associated Press reports that local tests confirmed that a 44-year-old man died from the H5N1 virus, the same infection that has killed 132 humans worldwide and millions of birds, most of them fowl.

According to the wire service, the man, who lived on the outskirts of Jakarta and "had contacts with birds," died July 12. The results of his autopsy will be re-tested by a lab sanctioned by the World Health Organization.

So far, there have been no mutations in the virus, which health officials worry would allow human-to-human transmission and possibly trigger a global flu pandemic.

On July 14, bird flu killed a 3-year-old Indonesian girl, making her that country's 41st victim of the virus.

The cause of death was confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. A sample taken from the girl was sent there by the World Health Organization. The girl came into contact with a neighbor's infected chickens, an official with Indonesia's health ministry told AFP.

The world's first cluster of human-to-human transmission of bird flu occurred in Indonesia earlier this year. However, the WHO said the strain of virus that caused those seven human deaths was a genetic "dead end" that could not have sparked a pandemic, AFP reported.


FDA Panel Doesn't See 'Bionic Eye' Just Yet

An important body part of Steve Austin is still going to exist only in fiction... at least for a while longer.

As with many recent technological developments, the bionic eye, an artificially-made super-orb implanted in the hero of the popular television series of "The Six Million Dollar Man," is very close to becoming a real device.

But according to the Associated Press a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel Friday rejected a company's application to market a device that implants a tiny telescope in the eyes of elderly patients.

The 10-3 vote to reject the pea-sized device was based on the panel's concerns about safety, the wire service reports. It cites clinical trial results that showed mixed results.

While the tiny telescope, made by VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies Inc., did indeed help magnify vision for some patients with macular degeneration, doctors also had to remove the device from a number of patients, and other patients reported a loss of visual acuity, the A.P. reported.


Government Orders Phaseout of Cleaning Solvent in Some Dry Cleaning Businesses

A solvent commonly known as "perc", which is used by dry cleaners, has created a time of decision for those who operate their cleaning establishments in residential buildings: move or change solvents.

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has notified dry cleaners who run their businesses out of residential buildings that they have until 2020 to stop using perchloroethylene, or perc, which the EPA describes as a hazardous air pollutant that causes cancer.

In the East especially, many dry cleaning establishments occupy ground floors in apartment and office buildings, and many of them are using machines that aren't air tight, so the perchloroethylene leaks into the buildings, the Post quotes the EPA as saying. Federal law forbids new residential dry cleaners from using perc, so the new regulations are aimed at about 1,300 dry cleaning establishments currently in residential buildings.

There are also new regulations for dry cleaners in non-residential buildings, the Post reports. They must install detection devices that will alert operators of leaks so that perc emissions can be reduced.


Fertility Method No More Effective Than Natural Way: Study

A common fertility technique -- intrauterine insemination with controlled ovarian hyperstimulation -- is no more effective for some infertile couples than trying to get pregnant the natural way, says a Dutch study published in the The Lancet.

The study included 253 couples with unexplained infertility who'd been trying to conceive for more than a year, BBC News reported. Unexplained infertility refers to situations where no obvious abnormalities can be found.

Half the couples were told to try conceiving naturally for six months and half were assigned to receive intrauterine insemination (ICI) with controlled ovarian hyperstimulation. This involves using drugs to make the ovaries produce eggs and the insertion of sperm directly into the womb.

There were 40 (32 percent) conceptions and 34 (27 percent) ongoing pregnancies among the couples trying to conceive naturally, compared to 42 conceptions (33 percent) and 29 (32 percent) ongoing pregnancies among the couples who received the fertility treatment, the report said.


Canada Reports New Mad Cow Case

Canada's second case of mad cow disease in as many weeks was confirmed Thursday. It's the seventh case of mad cow in Canada since 2003.

This latest case involved a 50-month-old dairy cow from a farm in western Alberta. An inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be sent to the province to assist in the investigation, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, Canadian officials announced that another cow in Alberta had died of mad cow disease.

After the first mad cow case was reported in Canada in 2003, shipments of cattle to the United States were halted. Last July, the United States opened its borders to shipments of Canadian cattle younger than 30 months, the AP reported.


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