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Health Highlights: March 31, 2008

Anti-Obesity Drug Trials Limited to Lower Doses: Merck Glass Fragment Risk Prompts Yogurt Recall Starting Family at Young Age Beneficial for Some: Study Scientists Cure Cirrhosis in Rats Antidepressant May Offer New Treatment for Cystic Fibrosis 3 New Bowel Cancer Gene Mutations Identified

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

Anti-Obesity Drug Trials Limited to Lower Doses: Merck

Four-milligram and 6-mg doses of the investigational obesity treatment taranabant won't be included in future clinical trials, because they've been linked to increased rates of mental health problems, Merck & Co. announced Monday.

In a late stage trial, 2-mg, 4-mg, and 6-mg doses of taranabant were compared with placebo. The drug did help reduce patients' weight, but those taking the two higher doses had higher rates of depression, anxiety and irritability, the AP reported.

"Based on the benefit-risk considerations and the lack of substantial improvement in the efficacy of taranabant at the 4-milligram and 6-milligram doses seen in our clinical program compared to the 2-milliogram dose, we have decided to continue to evaluate taranabant in doses up to and including 2 milligrams in our Phase III studies," Dr. John Amatruda, Merck's vice president of clinical research, metabolic disorders, said in a prepared statement.

Also on Monday, Merck said it stopped patient enrollment in a late-stage trial of its cholesterol drug candidate Cordaptive, while the company looks at recent results from similar studies, including a failed trial of the cholesterol drug Vytorin, the AP reported.


Glass Fragment Risk Prompts Yogurt Recall

Due the possibility of glass fragments in the product, Stonyfield Farm of Londonderry, N.H., has recalled its six-ounce, nonfat blueberry yogurt with product codes that start with the following dates: Apr 14 08, Apr 15 08, Apr 25 08, Apr 26 08, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

People who bite into or swallow a glass fragment could be injured. There have been no reports of injuries.

The yogurt is sold at natural food stores and major grocery retailers across the United States. Consumers should return the recalled containers to their retailers, where they'll receive a full refund. Stonyfield Farm has instructed its distribution network to remove the yogurt from store shelves, the FDA said.

For more information, contact Stonyfield Farm at 1-800-PRO-COWS.


Starting Family at Young Age Beneficial for Some: Study

Starting a family at a young age may actually be beneficial for some people, suggests a Pennsylvania State University study that found little difference in depressive symptoms between young adults who had children early in life and those who did not.

The study, which included 8,000 people, suggests that the conventional view that young people should complete their education and postpone marriage may not apply to everyone, United Press International reported.

"It's believed that those individuals -- ages 18 to 25 -- who fail to postpone these family transitions miss out on better career opportunities, make poor choices on partners, and may experience problems," lead author Alan Booth said in a prepared statement.

But he and his colleagues said that escaping a troubled home and parents with poor parenting skills to marry or have children may offer young people an escape from an unloving home and an opportunity to create a more positive family environment, UPI reported.

The study was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family and was expected to be presented April 17 in New Orleans at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America.


Scientists Cure Cirrhosis in Rats

Japanese scientists successfully cured liver cirrhosis in rats and say this treatment may be available for use in humans within five years, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Sapporo Medical University team used a tiny vitamin A-laced sac containing a genetic material to block the production of collagen, which contributes to hardening of the liver. This treatment proved effective even on rats with full-blown cirrhosis.

The research was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

"We want to carry out clinical tests with private companies and put this to practical use within five years," one of the researchers told AFP.


Antidepressant May Offer New Treatment for Cystic Fibrosis

The antidepressant drug amitriptyline shows promise as a treatment for cystic fibrosis (CF), according to German researchers who conducted tests on mice.

In mice, the drug (sold under brand names such as Elavil, Endep and Vanatrip) reduced levels in the lung of a fatty molecule called ceramide, Agence France-Presse reported.

An accumulation of ceramide results in the death of lung cells and inflammation, causing bacterial infection, which is the leading cause of death among CF patients.

The researchers said amitriptyline could offer a "new and important" strategy to control infection. However, they added the drug would have to be carefully dosed so that it didn't totally eliminate ceramide, which plays an important role in cell maintenance, AFP reported.

The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.


3 New Bowel Cancer Gene Mutations Identified

British scientists have identified three new gene mutations that increase the risk of bowel cancer, including one mutation that increases risk in people of European descent, but not in Japanese people.

It's the first time that a racial difference in a bowel cancer gene mutation has been identified, and could improve understanding of why Japanese people tend to be more resistant to the disease, BBC News reported.

Using these three new gene mutations and four previously identified mutations, scientists hope to develop methods of identifying people at high risk for the disease in order to diagnose it at an early stage or to prevent it. Currently, bowel cancer often isn't detected until it's well-advanced, which greatly lowers the chances of successful treatment.

This study is "an important step forward in our knowledge of the causes of bowel cancer, bringing us ever closer to a genetic test for those at high risk of the disease," said research leader Professor Malcolm Dunlop, of the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics.

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