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Health Highlights: Nov. 20, 2006

U.S. Doctors Conduct Quintuple Kidney Transplant U.S. Adds to Bird Flu Vaccine Stockpile Many Heart Attack Patients Slow to Call for Help: U.K. Study Study to Assess Oxygen Therapy for Moderate COPD Cancer 'Stem Cells' Drive Colon Tumor Formation Crews Scrub Cruise Ship for Norovirus

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

U.S. Doctors Conduct Quintuple Kidney Transplant

U.S. surgeons last week performed what's believed to be the first-ever simultaneous quintuple kidney transplant, the Associated Press reported.

The five transplants last Tuesday required six operation rooms, 12 surgeons, 11 anesthesiologists and 18 nurses, said officials at Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center in Baltimore said Monday in detailing the procedures.

Recipients and donors were from Florida, Maine, Maryland, Ontario and West Virginia, hospital officials said.

Johns Hopkins surgeons have previously done a number of simultaneous triple kidney transplants.


U.S. Adds to Bird Flu Vaccine Stockpile

The U.S. government is spending nearly $200 million to buy 5.3 million more doses of influenza vaccine designed to protect against the H5N1 avian flu virus. The doses will be added to the existing stockpile of 5.9 million doses.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department said Monday that it awarded three contracts to vaccine makers: $117.9 million to Sanofi Pasteur for 3.7 million doses; $40.95 million to Novartis for 800,000 doses; and $40.6 million to GlaxoSmithKline for 800,000 doses.

Each dose is 90 micrograms and two doses are required per person. That means the three contracts will provide enough vaccine to protect 2.7 million people.

"Having a stockpile of influenza vaccine that may offer protection against the H5N1 virus is an important part of our pandemic influenza preparedness plan," Mike Leavitt, HHS secretary, said in a prepared statement.


Many Heart Attack Patients Slow to Call for Help: U.K. Study

Britons' stiff upper lips may be costing lives, suggests a study by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) that asked people what they would do if they experienced chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack.

It found that 42 percent of people would prefer to "wait and see" before they called an ambulance, BBC News reported. On average, people with heart attack symptoms wait 90 minutes before calling an ambulance.

"These statistics portray a very worrying, and perhaps very British, reluctance to call 999 (emergency number) even in the most serious of emergencies," said Prof. Peter Weissberg, BHF medical director. "Maybe it is our natural reserve and stoicism, but it is costing lives."


Study to Assess Oxygen Therapy for Moderate COPD

A six-year, $28-million study to examine the safety and effectiveness of home oxygen therapy for patients with moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has been launched by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

COPD, a lung disease that causes breathing problems, is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

The study will be conducted at 14 centers across the country and will include about 3,500 patients with moderate COPD. Researchers will investigate whether home oxygen therapy helps these patients live longer, be more active, and have a better quality of life.

The findings will help Medicare decided whether to extend coverage for home oxygen therapy to patients with moderate COPD. Currently, coverage is limited to patients with severe COPD.

"COPD is a devastating, highly disabling disease. The prospect that home oxygen therapy could lessen the disability of COPD, and perhaps even prolong life when given earlier during the course of the disease, is enticing, but we need more information to determine the risks and benefits," Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, NHLBI director, said in a prepared statement.


Cancer 'Stem Cells' Drive Colon Tumor Formation

A Canadian study in the current issue of the journal Nature may help advance efforts to learn how cancers begin.

Researchers in Toronto said they found strong evidence that only a small percentage of cells drive the formation of colon cancer tumors. This is the fourth type of cancer in which such "stem cells" have been pinpointed as the cause of the cancer, and the finding reinforces the premise that these stem cells may be the source of all cancers, the Toronto Star reported.

This line of research may lead to more effective cancer treatments, said lead author John Dick, a senior scientist at University Health Network who holds a Canada Research Chair in stem cell biology.

He said targeting cancer stem cells within a tumor, rather than every cell, may offer a more effective way of treating cancer. He explained this by comparing cancer to a weed.

"You can keep cutting the leaves off the weed, but the weed will regrow. But if you cut the tap roots, the leaves will whither away. Killing the cancer stem cells is the equivalent of killing the root of the weed," Dick told the Star.


Crews Scrub Cruise Ship for Norovirus

Cleaning crews started scouring the Carnival Liberty Sunday after the ship docked at Port Everglades, Fla., following a trans-Atlantic cruise in which about 530 passengers and 140 crew were made sick by a virus.

When the ship arrived in port, 14 passengers and five crew were still ill. Some passengers were taken off the ship in wheelchairs, the Associated Press reported.

Results from preliminary tests indicate that the outbreak was caused by the highly contagious norovirus that infected several passengers before they boarded the ship Nov. 3 in Rome, said a statement released by the cruise line. Norovirus can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.

The Liberty had been scheduled to set sail again Sunday to begin a six-day Caribbean cruise. But that departure was delayed until Tuesday in order to give cleaning crews extra time to disinfect the ship, the AP reported.

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