Health Highlights: March 20 2006
Discredited South Korean Cloning Scientist Fired by University Japan Stands Firm on U.S. Beef Embargo Egypt Reports Human Cases of Bird Flu Lawsuit Alleges Doctors Gave Patients Diluted Chemo Drugs Controversial Drug Caused Swelling in Monkeys Web Site Provides Medical Procedure Costs to Consumers
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Discredited South Korean Cloning Scientist Fired by University
Seoul National University said Monday that it had fired disgraced researcher Hwang Woo-suk, who faked cloning research published in the journal Science in 2004 and 2005.
Six other professors who worked with Hwang were either suspended or forced to take salary cuts, the Associated Press reported. As an interim disciplinary measure, the university in February suspended Hwang from teaching and doing research, but allowed him to remain a professor.
A university disciplinary committee decided to fire Hwang because he "took overall responsibility as the lead author and played a leading role in writing papers with fake facts and data," said Byun Chang-ku, the university's dean of academic affairs.
Hwang had been a professor at the university's Veterinary College since 1986. The school is state-run, so Hwang's firing means that he is not allowed to take any other public posts for five years, as dictated by law.
There may be more consequences for Hwang. He may also face criminal charges, as prosecutors have been investigating the cloning research scandal, the AP reported.
Japan Stands Firm on U.S. Beef Embargo
Citing continuing concerns about mad cow disease, Japan has refused a U.S. request to begin immediate resumption of U.S. beef imports.
"Unless safety is firmly secured, imports cannot resume," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said at a news conference. He said Japanese customers will not buy U.S. beef unless Washington does more to prove that the beef is safe, the Associated Press reported.
"U.S. measures should be considerable enough to get rid of concerns. We need to demand what we need to demand," Abe said.
At a meeting in Australia on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called on Japan to end the ban on U.S. beef imports.
Japan first banned U.S. beef in December 2003 after a case of mad cow disease was found in a herd in Washington state. Under intense U.S. pressure, Japan lifted the embargo in December 2005. However, a new ban was imposed just one month later after a shipment of U.S. beef violated Japanese safety guidelines, the AP reported.
Before the initial ban in 2003, Japan had been the largest overseas market for U.S. beef.
Egypt Reports Human Cases of Bird Flu
Two human cases of bird flu have been reported in Egypt, including a woman who died on Friday. A man infected with the H5N1 virus is in the hospital and is reported to be recovering.
Eight of Egypt's 25 provinces have reported bird-flu outbreaks, first detected in Egyptian poultry last month. Officials said that 121 people who were in contact with bird-flu outbreaks had tested negative for the infection, Agence France Presse reported.
The outbreaks in Egypt and other African nations prompted a three-day meeting of experts from 46 African nations and U.N. agencies. They met to develop an emergency strategy to deal with a potential pandemic on the continent.
"For us Africans, it is an additional challenge that comes on top of all the other well-known problems -- poverty, AIDS, malaria and many others," Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba said Monday as he opened the conference.
In Romania, officials said they want to manufacture a new bird-flu vaccine for humans that was developed in Hungary. Romania's poultry flocks have been hard hit by bird flu and the country wants to use the vaccine to protect people working in close proximity to infected birds, AFP reported.
Hungarian experts have offered to help Romania. To avoid a lengthy approval process, the new vaccine will not be submitted to the European Union's drug authority for approval. Instead, countries that want to use the vaccine are being urged to speedily approve the vaccine through their own national drug authorities. That's what was done in Hungary.
Lawsuit Alleges Doctors Gave Patients Diluted Chemo Drugs
A lawsuit filed in Boone County Circuit Court in Missouri claims that 23 doctors administered diluted or tainted chemotherapy drugs to patients and charged full price for the treatments.
The lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of Ron Merchant, the husband of Artie Jean Merchant, who died in 2003 of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The doctor who treated her, James Hueser, is named as one of the co-defendants, the Associated Press reported.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched in late 2001 found that between at least February 1999 and December 2001, Hueser "routinely billed Medicare for larger doses (of chemotherapy drugs) than were actually given to the patients," said an affidavit filed by investigator Daniel Coney.
Last November, Hueser reached a settlement with federal officials and paid a $1 million fine. Under the settlement, Hueser did not admit any wrongdoing.
Along with Hueser, the legal action launched last week names an affiliated company, Medical Network Technologies LLC, and former associates of Hueser's in the Boone Clinic medical partnership, the AP reported.
Controversial Drug Caused Swelling in Monkeys
In research conducted before the experimental drug TGN-1412 was tested on humans, monkeys suffered swelling of the lymph nodes after being given the drug.
This information contradicts claims by the German drug company TeGenero that there had been "no drug-related adverse effects" in tests conducted before the human clinical trials last week that left six men fighting for their lives in a London hospital, the The Daily Telegraph reported.
The six men suffered severe swelling after being given TGN-1412 as part of a clinical trail to test the safety of the drug in humans. Before they agreed to take part in the trial, the men claim they were told the drug had caused no serious adverse events in previous tests.
As of Sunday, two of the men remained in critical condition and two others were still receiving organ support. The other two men were off their support systems.
The Daily Telegraph reported that it had seen documents that showed the monkeys' serious reactions to the drug prompted TeGenero officials to warn doctors conducting the human trial in London to monitor the immune system of the human volunteers and to take immediate action if there were signs of swelling.
Web Site Provides Medical Procedure Costs to Consumers
Starting today, U.S. consumers can learn the cost of 42 medical procedures to help them shop for health care, says the Colorado company that's offering the online pricing information. It plans to soon add 14 more medical procedures to the list.
"What this helps an individual do is to shop for health care, which is a very new concept," HealthGrades Inc. spokesman Scott Shapiro told the Associated Press.
HealthGrades charges $7.95 for the service. Consumers provide their zip code, age, gender and insurance co-pay and the Web site will provide them with a report that outlines: The average price for the procedure negotiated by health insurers in the consumer's region; the expected out-of-pocket costs for people with insurance; and the average cost charged by the provider -- an amount that's usually paid only by uninsured patients.