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Health Highlights: May 14, 2014

NIH Calls for Gender Equality in Lab Research Strict Patient Protection Guidelines Needed in Brain Research: Report Injunction Against Abortion Drug Rules Back in Court Ohio Measles Outbreak Largest Since Mid-1990s

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

NIH Calls for Gender Equality in Lab Research

Scientists must do a better job of including female animals in their lab research, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) warned Wednesday.

In a commentary published in the journal Nature, the NIH said it is telling researchers they must include male and female animals, and female cell lines, to tease out gender differences in their experiments.

NIH officials added that sex balance of study designs will be weighed in the grant approval process, unless the subject of the research is gender-specific, the New York Times reported.

This latest move follows a lengthening trail of evidence that many drugs act differently in men than they do in women.

"Most scientists want to do the most powerful experiment to get the most durable, powerful answers," said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, according to the Times. "For most, this has not been on the radar screen as an important issue. What we're trying to do here is raise consciousness."

Women now make up more than 50 percent of the subjects in clinical research funded by the NIH, but women are still underrepresented in clinical trials carried out by drug companies and medical device manufacturers, the Times reported.

"One of the underlying assumptions has been that females are simply a variation on a theme, that it isn't a fundamentally different mechanism, that if you've learned about the male you've learned enough to deal with both males and females," Jill Becker, a senior research scientist at University of Michigan who studies gender differences in addiction, told the Times. "We've discovered that's not always the case."

The new policies will be launched in October, but they are likely to face resistance from the scientific community because of fears about increased costs and more time-consuming methodologies, the newspaper reported.



Strict Patient Protection Guidelines Needed in Brain Research: Report

Stringent guidelines are needed to protect patients participating in brain research, says a new report from the president's Bioethics Commission.

"Neuroscience research strikes at the very core of who we are," said panel leader Amy Gutmann. "So the ethical stakes of neuroscience research could not be higher."

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced $110 million to boost brain research efforts. The ethics panel called for strict rules to safeguard the privacy of patients who take part in these studies, Bloomberg News reported.

Today's report is the first on brain research expected to be released by the panel. The second will deal with ethical practices among scientists, educators, advocacy groups and other brain research stakeholders.


Injunction Against Abortion Drug Rules Back in Court

Arguments for and against continuing an injunction against Arizona's strict restrictions on the use of abortion drugs were heard Tuesday by a federal appeals court.

The Arizona regulations - the strictest in the nation -- forbid women from taking the widely-used abortion drug RU-486 after the seventh week of pregnancy, and also require that the drug be given only at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved dosage and that both doses be taken at a clinic, the Associated Press reported.

The typical dosage is lower than the FDA-approved amount and the drug is usually taken at home. Previously, women in Arizona had been allowed to take RU-486 through nine weeks of pregnancy.

The new regulations were approved by the state legislature in 2012 and took effect for one day in April, before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction against the rules. The court said the restrictions were likely to cause women irreparable harm, the AP reported.

The legal challenge was launched by Planned Parenthood of Arizona. On Tuesday, the group asked the appeals court to keep the injunction in place while it pursues its lawsuit, which contends that the new restrictions are unconstitutional.

Two of the three judges seemed to be in favor of continuing the injunction against the new rules and questioned their constitutionality, the AP reported.

"One could look at this legislation as pretextual and an effort to flat out reduce the number of abortions by any means," Judge Susan Graber said. "That's one concern I have."

The rules are not unconstitutional and were created to protect women's health, according to Arizona Solicitor General Robert Ellman. "The primary, if not the sole purpose, of this legislation is maternal health," he told the court.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will release a written decision in the coming weeks, the AP reported.


Ohio Measles Outbreak Largest Since Mid-1990s

A measles outbreak in Ohio has reached 68 cases, making it the largest outbreak in any state since 1996, when Utah had more than 100 cases, according to health officials.

Measles is a growing concern in the United States, which could end up having the worst year since home-grown measles outbreaks were eradicated in 2000, USA Today reported.

As of Friday, there had been 187 cases nationwide, which is close to last year's total of 189, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. California has had 59 cases so far this year.

All of the measles cases in Ohio have been among Amish people. The outbreak began after unvaccinated Amish missionaries returned from the Philippines, where there is a major measles outbreak. The California outbreak is also linked to the Philippines, USA Today reported.

A mumps outbreak is also hitting Ohio, with more than 300 cases. With the two outbreaks, state health officials want families to be sure they are up to date on vaccinations before kids head off to summer camp and people get together for large gatherings.

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