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Health Highlights: May 29, 2006

Herceptin Boosts Survival in Some Breast Cancer Patients 2.3 Million Kids Have HIV, Global Report Says WHO Puts Tamiflu Maker on Alert Researchers ID New Options for Autoimmune Disease Treatment Grief Is Constant for Many Directly Affected by 9/11 Attacks

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

Herceptin Boosts Survival in Some Breast Cancer Patients

Roche Inc. announced on Monday that Herceptin extended the lives of women with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer when it was used in conjunction with the hormone therapy known as Arimidex.

"Patients who received Herceptin had a statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival," the Swiss drug maker said in a statement.

HER2-positive breast cancer is a particularly aggressive form of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer; the prognosis for these patients is typically bleak. Hormone receptor-positive breast cancers account for two-thirds of all cases worldwide, and roughly a quarter of these cases are also HER2-positive. Roche noted that this was the first randomized trial to look at how Herceptin works in this subset of breast cancer patients.

According to the company statement, Herceptin is currently only licensed to treat metastatic cancer -- where tumors have spread throughout the body - in the European Union. The drug is marketed in the United States by Genentech.

To date, more than 230,000 breast cancer patients have been treated with Herceptin worldwide, according to the company statement.

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2.3 Million Kids Have HIV, Global Report Says

More than 2 million children under the age of 15 are living with HIV, almost all in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new report by seven leading child advocacy organizations.

The organizations released a report Friday that showed that 700,000 children were infected with the AIDS virus in 2005, bringing the total to 2.3 million, and that 570,000 died of AIDS, The New York Times reported.

Less than 5 percent of HIV-positive children have access to the pediatric AIDS treatment they desperately need, the report said.

"We are failing children," said Dean Hirsch, chairman of the Global Movement for Children, which issued an urgent appeal to governments, donors and the pharmaceutical industry to recognize a child's right to treatment as fundamental.

Last year, world leaders at the U.N. summit and leaders of the seven richest industrialized nations and Russia pledged to come as close as possible to universal treatment by the end of the decade, the Times reported.

For this to happen, the new report said special efforts must be made for children, starting with providing drugs to pregnant women with HIV to prevent mother-to-child transmission -- the way 90 percent of children with HIV became infected.

"Without treatment, most children with HIV will die before their fifth birthday," the report said.

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WHO Puts Tamiflu Maker on Alert

The World Health Organization has now put the maker of the bird flu drug Tamiflu on alert after the suspected human-to-human transmission of the virus in a family in Indonesia.

But WHO officials stressed Saturday that there was no need for Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG to take further action, the Associated Press reported.

"We have no intention of shipping that stockpile," said Dick Thompson, WHO spokesman. "We see this as a practice run."

WHO officials said the move was part of standard operating procedure when the agency has "reasonable doubt" about a situation that could involve human-to-human transmission.

The WHO acted after the Indonesian Health Ministry on Monday reported on a human cluster in Kubu Simbelang village in North Sumatra in which six of seven members of one family died from bird flu.

Meanwhile, two more people in Indonesia have been killed by bird flu, according to preliminary test results.

The latest victims were an 18-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister from West Java. They died Tuesday within a few hours of each other less than a day after they were admitted to hospital in the city of Bandung, AP reported.

Initial tests showed that the two were infected with the H5N1 virus. The tests will be sent to a World Health Organization (WHO) laboratory for confirmation. To date, the WHO has confirmed 33 human deaths from bird flu in Indonesia and 124 deaths worldwide.

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Researchers ID New Options for Autoimmune Disease Treatment

A rare genetic defect that can trigger a range of diseases, from type 1 diabetes to alopecia (hair loss), helps to explain the imbalance of immune-regulator and killer cells in autoimmune diseases, researchers are reporting.

A mutation in the Aire gene causes APS1, a disease that causes two of three problems -- an underactive parathyroid, yeast infection of the skin and/or mucous membrane, and adrenal gland insufficiency -- by the age 5, and up to 16 autoimmune diseases over a lifetime, the scientists from Medical College of Georgia said.

That same mutation causes a defect in what are called iNKT cells, a type of regulatory cell that helps the immune system fight infections while suppressing errant T cells that mistakenly attack the body, the researchers said.

The discovery offers new options for treating or preventing APS1, or autoimmune polyglandular syndrome type 1, and potentially other autoimmune diseases as well, the researchers said. They reported their findings in the June issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

"Aire controls the development and function of iNKT cells," said Dr. Jin-Xiong She, director of the college's Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine and co-senior author of the study. "This relationship means that iNKT cells are critical to most autoimmune diseases and manipulating the iNKT cell population is one possible way to cure autoimmune disease."

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Grief Is Constant for Many Directly Affected by 9/11 Attacks

Many people directly affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks still suffer constant grief, says an American Red Cross survey released Friday.

Nearly two-thirds of the 1,500 emergency responders, survivors and victims' relatives who took part in the survey believe that grief still interferes to a moderate or large extent in their lives, The New York Times reported.

Just over 40 percent said they still need additional services to help them recover -- including mental health services, financial assistance, and medical services.

Uniformed responders and people closest to the recovery efforts have been most affected by mental distress, the survey found. This link between mental health problems and proximity to the attacks was noted in a recently published study on survivors, the Times reported.

That study, conducted by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that people engulfed by the dust cloud caused by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers were more likely to be struggling with stress and other mental health issues, compared to those who got out of the buildings earlier.

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