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Health Highlights: March 20, 2013

Children Getting Into Medicines a Major Problem: Report British Public Supports Use of 3 People's DNA to Create Baby Virus-Based Melanoma Drug Shows Promise Doctors Urge FDA to Take Action on Energy Drinks

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

Children Getting Into Medicines a Major Problem: Report

Each year in the United States, there are about 500,000 cases of children who get into medicines or receive the wrong dose, according to Safe Kids Worldwide report released Wednesday.

The group found that each minute of the day, a poison control center receives a call about a potential medicine poisoning involving a child age 5 and younger. Every eight minutes, a child with medicine poisoning arrives at an emergency department, the CBS News reported.

The numbers have increased 30 percent over the last decade and this rise is likely due to the increased amount of medications at home, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. The group noted that eight out of 10 adults said they took at least one medicine or vitamin in the past week, and three out of 10 said they took five or more.

Ibuprofen is the medication that kids are most likely to get into, according to the report.

"Ask any parent, and they will tell you they store medicine where children can't get them," Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, said in a news release, the CBS News reported. "But they might not be thinking of pills stored in purses, vitamins left on counter tops or a diaper rash remedy near a changing table."

The report was released to coincide with National Poison Prevention Week, March 17-23.


British Public Supports Use of 3 People's DNA to Create Baby

There is wide public support for in vitro fertilization methods that use DNA from three people in order to create a baby for couples at risk of passing potentially fatal genetic diseases to their children, according to Britain's fertility regulator.

The agency also said there is no evidence indicating that these techniques are unsafe, but added that further research is required, the Associated Press reported.

A public discussion about the issue was launched by Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority after a request from the government.

"Although some people have concerns about the safety of these techniques, we found that they trust the scientific experts and the regulator to know when it is appropriate to make them available to patients," authority chair Lisa Jardine said in a news release, the AP reported.

The agency will forward its findings to the government, which would require Parliamentary approval to make these techniques legal.

Critics say there are already safe methods -- such as egg donation -- that can help couples avoid passing serious health problems to their children, the AP reported.


Virus-Based Melanoma Drug Shows Promise

For the first time, a cancer drug based on a tumor-killing virus has been successful in a late-stage study.

The drug, called talimogene laherparepvec (TVEC), was tested in a phase 3 clinical trial that included patients with advanced melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.

Sixteen percent of the patients who received the drug had significant shrinkage of their tumors that lasted at least six months, compared with 2 percent of those in a control group, The New York Times reported.

Drug maker Amgen said TVEC had met the primary goal of the clinical trial. However, the company said that while people taking TVEC were living longer, it was too soon to determine if the drug had improved survival. That question may be answered later this year.

TVEC was developed by modifying the herpes simplex virus (which causes cold sores) so that it replicates in fast-growing cancer cells but not in healthy ones. It also contains an implanted protein that stimulates the immune system, The Times reported.

Amgen did not say if it planned to use the clinical trial results to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for TVEC, which is injected directly into skin tumors.

Efforts to develop this type of approach to cancer treatment -- called oncolytic viruses -- have been ongoing for years and other companies are also trying to create these types of drugs.

While these new findings that an oncolytic virus was effective, TVEC might not prove that successful as a melanoma drug, according to Dr. Antoni Ribas, a melanoma specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

One reason is that only about one-third of advanced melanoma patients have tumors on or near the skin that can be injected, while others have tumors that spread to places such as the brain or liver, Ribas told The Times.

He also noted that two important drugs for melanoma were approved in 2011, raising the level of expectations for new treatments.


Doctors Urge FDA to Take Action on Energy Drinks

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should take action to protect children and teens from the possible risks of consuming large amounts of caffeine contained in energy drinks, says a group of 18 doctors, public health experts and researchers.

In their letter to the FDA, the group said energy drink makers have failed to prove that the ingredients used in their products are safe. Because of this, the group said the FDA should limit caffeine content in the beverages and force makers to include caffeine content on product labels, The New York Times reported.

"There is evidence in the published scientific literature that the caffeine levels in energy drinks pose serious potential health risks," the group's letter said.

The letter also noted that energy drink manufacturers aggressively market their products to teens and urge them to consume the drinks quickly, The Times reported.

Energy drink makers insist their products are safe.


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