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Health Highlights: March 30, 2002

Anti-Cavity Vaccine in the Works Ruling May Put Medical Marijuana Initiative on D.C. Ballots HIV Drug Linked to Nerve Disorder Pierre Cottontail Hops Down the Cloning Trail Infant Formula Recalled Wrist Fracture an Osteo Warning Sign Study Links Worship to Disease, Death Protection

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

Anti-Cavity Vaccine in the Works

That chill many get upon hearing anything that even resembles the sound of a dental drill may be something the next generation never experiences if new research on a vaccine for cavities pans out.

And the news gets even better: The team of Boston researchers developing the vaccine says it wouldn't even require an injection, but just a spritz up the nose.

The Boston Globe reports today that the researchers with that city's Forsyth Institute are far enough along in developing the vaccine that they expect to meet with three companies next month to arrange sponsorship of tests in humans.

The vaccine, which would be given to toddlers, works by disarming the bacteria that make the lactic acid that eats away at teeth.

Should the researchers get the funding they need to continue research, they say the vaccine could be available by the end of the decade.


Ruling May Put Medical Marijuana Initiative on D.C. Ballots

District of Columbia voters may find themselves in the position of deciding whether to legalize marijuana for medical purposes thanks to a judge's decision this week, reports the Associated Press.

Supporters of the medical use for marijuana had requests to place the issue on D.C. ballots turned down by the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, who cited a federal law known as the Barr Amendment.

The supporters, a group called the Marijuana Policy Project, sued the city and federal governments over the issue and, on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan granted the group's request for an injunction.

Sullivan banned the enforcement of the Barr Amendment, saying the law was unconstitutional and limits free speech.

The group still needs to get approval from the elections board and enough signatures to place the initiative on the ballot in November.

If approved by voters, the initiative would change D.C. law to allow seriously ill patients to obtain and use marijuana if their physicians recommend it.


HIV Drug Linked to Nerve Disorder

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Company is warning doctors that its HIV drug Zerit has been linked to an incurable nerve condition when taken with other HIV drugs.

In a letter from the company posted on the Food and Drug Administration's Web site yesterday, the company describes that some patients taking Zerit in combination with other HIV drugs developed a rare condition much like Guillain-Barre syndrome, in which a swelling of the nerves moves across the entire body.

The company does not give specifics of the cases, but says that "some cases were fatal," reports Bloomberg News.


Pierre Cottontail Hops Down the Cloning Trail

As if rabbits haven't already perfected the art of multiplying on their own, a team of French researchers say they have now successfully cloned the cotton-tailed creatures.

According to a study published in the April issue of Nature Biotechnology, the researchers produced six clones. Four developed normally and two apparently died.

Two of the cloned offspring mated naturally and produced separate litters of seven and eight bunnies, reports the Associated Press.

Rabbits have previously been cloned by embryos, but this was the first time they have been cloned from adult cells by removing the nucleus from one female's egg and fusing it with another adult rabbit's cumulus cell.

Researchers say the clonings are promising because rabbits are more closely related to humans than laboratory mice and in their cloned form, could be beneficial as study models for human diseases.


Infant Formula Recalled

A batch of specialty baby formula used for infants and others with rare digestive diseases is being recalled following the death of a child who had been tube-fed the formula.

The formula, made by Mead Johnson Nutritionals, is called Portagen. While it's mainly used by hospitals, Portagen is sometimes also used in the home under doctor's instructions.

The recalled batch includes cans with the code BMC17 embossed on the bottom, reports the Associated Press.

About 17,000 cans from the batch have been shipped around the nation since February 2001, but the cans don't expire until next January.

Yesterday's recall was prompted after a Food and Drug Administration investigation concluded that the formula was the likely cause of the death of a premature infant last April from a rare form of meningitis.


Wrist Fracture an Osteo Warning Sign

Few doctors appear to even check for osteoporosis when women come in with wrist fractures, despite the probable link to the disease and the possibility of future fractures, reports HealthDay.

According to a study by University of Pennsylvania researchers who looked at the cases of 1,162 postmenopausal women who sustained wrist fractures, only 24 percent of the women were given any diagnostic tests or medication for the disease in the six months following the fracture.

And even though women's risk for osteoporosis increases with age, the study found that the older patients were less likely to have received treatment for the disease.

Only 9.1 percent of participants aged 85 to 89 years old were treated for osteoporosis; 4.2 percent of those 90 to 94 years old were treated; and 4.7 percent of those 95 or older were treated.

Due to the increased risk of future fractures and the especially serious hip fractures, the researchers say all postmenopausal women should at least receive bone density tests if they sustain a broken wrist.

The results were published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.


Study Links Worship to Disease, Death Protection

Here's food for thought this Holy Week of Easter and Passover: If you go to church or synagogue regularly, consider yourself blessed with the possibility of a longer life.

A new study suggests that regular attendance at a place of worship will give you some protection from dying early, especially from common diseases of the heart, lungs, and stomach, reports HealthDay.

Researchers analyzed the health records of 6,525 northern Californians who were tracked from 1965 to 1996. Those who didn't consistently attend worship services were 21 percent more likely to have died than those who did.

In other words, six people who didn't attend regular services died for every five who worshiped routinely, says study lead author Doug Oman, a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. "That can make a difference if you're the sixth one," he says.

Hundreds of studies have linked religious faith to good health. But this new study, which will appear in the April 4 issue of the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, is one of the first to examine the connections between service attendance and specific diseases.


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