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Health Highlights: June 12, 2007

Camp Lejeune Drinking Water Tainted with Dry Cleaning Solvent Survey Shows Women's Knowledge of Breast Cancer Scientists Developing Clothing That Monitors Health Stem Cells Slow Parkinson's Disease in Monkeys FDA Official May Have Been Reprimanded for Avandia Recommendation Weight-Loss Drug Linked to Suicidal Thoughts

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

Camp Lejeune Drinking Water Tainted with Dry Cleaning Solvent

For 30 years, drinking water at the Tarawa Terrace family housing area of U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina, was contaminated with the dry cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene (PCE), a chemical that may cause cancer and birth defects.

During those 30 years, from November 1957 to February 1987, as many as 75,000 people may have lived in Tarawa Terrace, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) said Tuesday.

The PCE leaked into the drinking water system from a dry cleaning business located off the base. In 1987, the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant was disconnected from the base's drinking water supply.

The maximum concentration of PCE in the drinking water was estimated to be about 200 micrograms per liter, at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency's maximum contaminant level for PCE was five micrograms per liter.

Former Marines and their families who lived in Tarawa Terrace can get more information by calling the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 1-800-232-4636.


Survey Shows Women's Knowledge of Breast Cancer

Many American women believe they are more informed and educated than ever about breast cancer, suggests a survey of more than 500 women released Tuesday by the nonprofit group CancerCare.

The survey of women ages 50 to 65 found that 76 percent said they believe they know a fair amount about breast cancer. But the survey also found that while 67 percent of respondents know chemotherapy and radiation are used to treat breast cancer, only 23 percent knew about newer targeted treatment options.

Among the other findings:

  • 82 percent said they believed progress had been made in breast cancer treatments, but 63 percent did not know the benefits of these treatments
  • If they were diagnosed with breast cancer, 71 percent said they'd research breast cancer on their own in addition to discussing treatment options with their doctor
  • However, 86 percent said they were uncertain about the right questions to ask their doctor in the event of a breast cancer diagnosis.

CancerCare offers five key questions that women diagnosed with breast cancer should ask their doctor:

  • What kind of breast cancer do I have?
  • What kind of treatment will help me the most?
  • What are the risks and benefits of that treatment?
  • What is my risk that it will come back and/or spread to another part of my body?
  • Where do I go for support when I need it?


Scientists Developing Clothing That Monitors Health

Clothing with sensors designed to monitor a wearer's health is being developed by European scientists. The embedded sensors in the "intelligent textiles" will be able to scrutinize body fluids such as sweat and blood.

The clothing would be used to check the status of recovering hospital patients, injured athletes and people with chronic illnesses, BBC News reported.

A prototype multi-sensor test patch is nearly complete. Once it is, the experimental fabric will be tested on volunteers. The first sensor will track sweat by measuring perspiration rate, salinity and acidity.

Researchers involved in the Biotex project hope to eventually develop clothing with sensors that are able to provide a wide range of information including: vital signs; progression of wound healing; and early detection of infections and illnesses by identifying abnormalities in metabolism, BBC News reported.


Stem Cells Slow Parkinson's Disease in Monkeys

In what experts regard as a major advance, U.S. scientists injected human stem cells into monkeys with Parkinson's disease symptoms. Until now, this type of treatment had only been tested in rodents.

After receiving the stem cell injections, the monkeys' damaged brain cells stopped deteriorating. However, after four months their condition started to worsen again, BBC News reported. The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers said they were surprised that the stem cells did not replace the monkeys' damaged brain cells -- as anticipated -- but instead helped protect the injured cells and prevented further deterioration.

The failure of the stem cell treatment after a few months may have been due to the monkeys' immune systems rejecting foreign tissue, the researchers said. They said further research needs to be done into suppressing that immune response, BBC News reported.

While this is a promising start, many more years of research are needed before there's any possibility of using this kind of approach to treat people with Parkinson's disease, experts stressed.


FDA Official May Have Been Reprimanded for Avandia Recommendation

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it's investigating whether a former official was reprimanded for recommending that the diabetes drug Avandia be made to carry a "black box" warning that it may increase the risk of congestive heart failure, USA Today reported.

Recently published research raised concerns about the safety of the drug, which prompted the FDA to call for a black box warning on the labels of Avandia and a related drug called Actos.

In February 2006, Rosemary Johann-Liang recommended a black box warning for Avandia. At the time, she was deputy director of the FDA's Division of Drug Risk Evaluation in the Office of Surveillance and Epidemiology. FDA staff members told Senate Finance Committee investigators that Johann-Liang was verbally reprimanded for making the recommendation, USA Today reported.

The staff members said Johann-Liang was told she should talk to her director before making any major recommendations related to drug safety.

Last Friday, Johann-Liang left her job with the FDA for a position as chief medical officer in the vaccine injury compensation program at the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. She said she left the FDA mostly for personal reasons.


Weight-Loss Drug Linked to Suicidal Thoughts

U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulators said Monday that Sanofi-Aventis' weight-loss drug rimonabant may raise users' risk of suicidal thoughts.

The assessment was posted on the agency's Web site one step ahead of an advisory panel meeting Wednesday to weigh U.S. approval for the drug, which is also known as Acomplia or Zimulti.

The FDA has already postponed a decision on rimonabant three times, the Bloomberg news service reported.

The drug, already approved in Europe, is among a new class of medicines called CB1 antagonists, which block brain receptors that regulate hunger.

But the FDA documents posted Monday noted two suicides among clinical trial participants who tested the medicine, Bloomberg said. Other reported side effects included mood swings, anxiety and depression.

The advisory panel will help the agency decide whether there is a causal link between the drug and suicidal thoughts, and if the drug's benefits outweigh its potential risks.

Sanofi seeks the drug's approval to treat obesity and as a treatment for diabetes, Bloomberg said. The FDA's final word is due by July 27.


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