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Health Highlights: July 20, 2012

Software Simulation of Entire Organism a First European Approval of Gene Therapy Would be a Milestone 'Polypill' Could Slash Heart Attack, Stroke Rates: Study

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

Software Simulation of Entire Organism a First

U.S. scientists have created the first software simulation of an entire organism.

The researchers and outside experts said the model of a single-cell bacterium that lives in the human genital and respiratory tracts is a major advance toward developing computerized laboratories that could conduct complete experiments without the need for traditional instruments, The New York Times reported.

The team from Stanford University and the J. Craig Venter Institute said their simulation of the complete life cycle of the pathogen Mycoplasma genitalium was a "first draft," but added that it was the first time that an entire organism was modeled in such detail. The model included all 525 of the organism's genes.

"Where I think our work is different is that we explicitly include all of the genes and every known gene function," team's leader Markus W. Covert, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford, wrote in an e-mail to The Times. "There's no one else out there who has been able to include more than a handful of functions or more than, say, one-third of the genes."

The research was published Friday in the journal Cell.


European Approval of Gene Therapy Would be a Milestone

A gene therapy called Glybera should be approved to treat a rare genetic disease called lipoprotein lipase deficiency, the European Medicine Agency has recommended.

If the European Commission follows the agency's advice, Glybera would become the first gene therapy to be approved in the Western world, The New York Times reported.

The approval could give a much-needed boost to the struggling field of gene therapy after more than two decades of failed expectations. Glybera was developed by the Dutch company uniQuire.

Lipoprotein lipase deficiency affects only several hundred people in the European Union and a similar number in North America. The disease is caused by a genetic mutation that prevents people from producing an enzyme required to break down certain fat-carrying particles that circulate in the bloodstream after meals, The Times reported.


'Polypill' Could Slash Heart Attack, Stroke Rates: Study

A "polypill" that combines a cholesterol-lowering statin drug and three blood pressure drugs reduced patients' "bad" LDL cholesterol by 39 percent and their blood pressure by 12 percent, according to a new study.

The U.K. researchers said the pill could prevent a huge number of heart attacks and strokes each year and called for regulators to make the pill available to patients "as a matter of urgency," BBC New reported.

"The health implications of our results are large," Dr. David Wald of Queen Mary, University of London, said."If people took the polypill from age 50, an estimated 28 percent would benefit by avoiding or delaying a heart attack or stroke during their lifetime."

If half of the people over age 50 in the U.K. took the polypill daily, there would be 94,000 fewer heart attacks and strokes each year, according to the researchers.

The results from the study of 84 people over the age of 50 were published in the journal PLoS One.

While the pill's potential is interesting, medicines are not a substitute for healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise, good nutrition and not smoking, Natasha Stewart, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, told BBC News.


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