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Health Highlights: May 27, 2015

Live Anthrax Spores Sent Accidentally to U.S. Labs White House Puts Hold on Type of Gene Engineering GMO-Free Similac Advance Baby Formula Announced

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

Live Anthrax Spores Sent Accidentally to U.S. Labs

The Pentagon accidentally shipped live anthrax spores to government and commercial laboratories in at least nine states and one overseas location, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

All of the labs had expected to receive dead anthrax spores for testing purposes, the Associated Press reported.

"At this time, we do not suspect any risk to the general public," CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben told the wire service.

The U.S. government has confirmed that one lab in Maryland received live spores. Officials suspect, but have not yet confirmed, that anthrax samples sent to labs in eight other states also contained live spores, the Associated Press reported.

The other eight states were Texas, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, Tennessee, New York, California and Virginia, the wire service said.

Another anthrax sample from the same batch was sent to a U.S. military laboratory at Osan air base in South Korea; no personnel there have shown signs of exposure, he said, and the sample was destroyed, according to the AP.

Shipment of the samples has been halted until an investigation has been completed, officials told the AP.

Contact with anthrax spores can cause severe illness. Harben said that all samples involved in the investigation will be securely transferred to the CDC or other laboratories for further testing.


White House Puts Hold on Type of Gene Engineering

Genetic engineering that makes DNA changes that are passed along to future generations should be put on hold until more is known about possible consequences, the Obama administration says.

Altering DNA that is passed from parents to children is called germline editing. In a blog posting, the White House chief science adviser said it could take years or even generations to fully understand the effects of germline editing, even if it is done with the goal of curing inherited diseases, NBC News reported.

"The Administration believes that altering the human germline for clinical purposes is a line that should not be crossed at this time," Dr. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote.

The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine plan to hold an international meeting in the fall to discuss the issue, NBC News reported.

"It is important that the NAS' international summit fully explore the implications of germline editing for the current generation and generations to come across the globe, as well as the potential for alternative technologies that do not require germline alteration to deliver similar medical promise," Holdren wrote.

One goal of germline editing would be to cure inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease. In such cases, parents' genes would be altered so they do not pass disease-causing mutations to their children, NBC News reported.

However, the unknown side effects could be dangerous, Holdren warned.

"The advances in health technology over the past century -- vaccines, antibiotics, early disease diagnostics, and treatment for countless health conditions -- have reduced infant mortality, extended life expectancy, and alleviated suffering for millions," Holdren wrote.


GMO-Free Similac Advance Baby Formula Announced

Similac Advance baby formula made without genetically altered ingredients will be available by the end of the month in Target stores, according to product maker Abbott.

That will make Similac Advance -- the top commercial baby formula brand in the U.S. -- the first non-GMO version of a mainstream baby formula in the country, according to The New York Times.

Abbott also plans to introduce a non-GMO version of Similac Sensitive. If sales of the two new products are good, the company may introduce other GMO-free baby formulas.

Most mainstream baby formulas use corn and soy, and more than 90 percent of those crops in the U.S. are grown from genetically-modified seeds, The Times reported.

Consumer News