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Health Highlights: July 22, 2015

New Medicare Program for Dying Patients Blends Hospice and Medical Care Hints That New Drug May Slow Alzheimer's Progression: Study People Have Specific Taste for Fat: Researchers Writer E.L. Doctorow Dies at Age 84

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

New Medicare Program for Dying Patients Blends Hospice and Medical Care

A new program that blends hospice care and medical treatment for dying patients has been introduced by Medicare.

Until now, older Americans close to death have had to choose between continuing with medical care or switching to hospice care, which focuses on making them more comfortable in their last days, The New York Times reported.

Under the Medicare pilot program, patients with terminal illnesses will be able to receive hospice care to manage suffering and help them with end-of-life planning, while also seeing doctors and getting medical treatments such as chemotherapy.

About 150,000 patients are expected to use the new program over the next four years, The Times reported.


Hints That New Drug May Slow Alzheimer's Progression: Study

A drug called solanezumab may slow Alzheimer's disease progression by about one-third, a new study from drug maker Eli Lilly suggests.

An 18-month clinical trial of the drug seemingly ended in failure in 2012, but Eli Lilly asked about 1,000 of the patients in that trial with mild Alzheimer's to continue taking the drug for another two years.

The results from that extension of the original trial suggest that solanazumab can significantly slow the progression of Alzheimer's among patients in the earliest stages of the disease, BBC News reported.

The findings were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference. The results of a separate clinical trial of solanazumab are expected next year.

Current Alzheimer's drugs only help dying brain cells function, but the cells still eventually die. Solanazumab may be able to keep brain cells alive by attacking deformed proteins that accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

The new findings are "another piece of evidence that solanezumab does have an effect on the underlying disease pathology," Dr. Eric Siemers, from the Lilly Research Laboratories, in Indiana, told BBC News.

"We think there is a chance that solanezumab will be the first disease-modifying medication to be available," he added.

If the initial findings are supported by other studies, "then I think this is a real breakthrough in Alzheimer's research," Dr. Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, told BBC News.

"Then, for the first time, the medical community can say we can slow Alzheimer's, which is an incredible step forward," he added.

"These data need replicating, this is not proof, but what you can say is it is entirely consistent with a disease-modifying effect," Karran said. "We've never ever had evidence that we can affect the disease process."


People Have Specific Taste for Fat: Researchers

A taste for fatty foods can be added to the list of five currently recognized tastes, according to Purdue University researchers.

They said this sixth taste -- which they call "oleogustus" -- is for fatty foods and should be included alongside sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami, ABC News reported.

The researchers conducted a small study to find out if people could identify the "unique taste of fat," and found that 64 percent of the participants could distinguish a fatty taste.

This type of research could help improve understanding of how people react to certain foods, according to experts.

"I think it's a really interesting piece of research the notion that fat is a taste itself is an important concept," Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science at Cornell University, told ABC News.

"This kind of evidence that says we have a whole extra mechanism (for taste) is really scientifically important and interesting," Dando added.


Writer E.L. Doctorow Dies at Age 84

American novelist and playwright E.L. Doctorow died Tuesday of complications from lung cancer. He was 84.

The author of critically-acclaimed and award-winning novels such as "Ragtime" and "Billy Bathgate" died in Manhattan. He lived in Manhattan and Sag Harbor, N.Y., The New York Times reported.

The writer's cause of death was confirmed by his son, Richard.

Doctorow penned dozens of novels, a stage drama, three volumes of short fiction, and essays and commentary on literature and politics, The Times reported.

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