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Health Highlights: Nov. 30, 2006

Deal Will Cut Cost of HIV/AIDS Drugs for Children Study Confirms Protocol to Reverse Type 1 Diabetes in Mice Youth Smoking Varies by Racial/Ethnic Groups New Hampshire 1st State to Offer Free Cervical Cancer Vaccine Drug-Coated Stents Boost Blood Clot Risk: Study Gene Transfer Therapy May Help Treat Impotence

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

Deal Will Cut Cost of HIV/AIDS Drugs for Children

The Clinton Foundation and two Indian drug makers have reached an agreement that's expected to greatly reduce the cost of treating children with HIV/AIDS in developing countries.

Under the deal announced Thursday, Cipla and Ranbaxy Laboratories will produce 19 different antiretroviral drugs designed for children at an average price of 16 cents a day ($60 a year). That's about 45 percent below the current lowest price, The New York Times reported.

The low-priced drugs will be available to 62 developing nations and will result in the treatment of an additional 100,000 young HIV/AIDS patients in 2007, according to the Clinton Foundation, founded by former President Bill Clinton.

"This is historic because it's doing for children what was always available for adults," Stephen Lewis, the United Nation's special envoy for HIV and AIDS in Africa, told the Times.

While aid groups and governments have strived to improve access to HIV/AIDS drugs among adults in developing countries, children have been left behind. That's because they need special versions of drugs to suit their different ages and weights.

A new report underscores the plight of HIV-positive children: Fewer than half of South Africa's 15-year-olds will live to see their 60th birthday because of HIV/AIDS.

An estimated 950 people died each day during 2006 from AIDS-related diseases and an additional 1,400 were infected each day -- a total of 530,000 new infections, said the study by the Actuarial Society of South Africa and the Medical Research Council, the Associated Press reported.


Study Confirms Protocol to Reverse Type 1 Diabetes in Mice

New data from U.S. National Institute of Health researchers provide further support for a protocol to reverse type 1 diabetes in mice.

The NIH data also offer new evidence that adult precursor cells from the spleen can contribute to the regeneration of beta cells, according to a news release from the Iacocca Foundation, which supported the research.

In previous studies in 2001 and 2003, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) demonstrated that this protocol was effective in reversing type 1 diabetes in mice. Three studies published earlier this year in Science confirmed that the MGH-developed protocol can reverse the underlying disease in mice. However, the three studies were inconclusive on the role of spleen cells in the recovery of insulin-producing pancreatic islets.

"This data from the NIH and the earlier studies have added significantly to the understanding of how diabetes may be reversed," Dr. Denise Faustman, director of the Immunobiology Laboratory at MGH, said in a prepared statement.

She was primary author of the two earlier MGH studies and is co-corresponding author of the new NIH study, published in the Nov. 24 issue of the journal Science.

"It is still early, but it appears that there are multiple potential sources for regenerating islets," Faustman said.


Youth Smoking Varies by Racial/Ethnic Groups

Youth anti-smoking programs targeted at specific racial/ethnic groups in the United States need to be developed, suggests a study in this week's issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and found wide variations in smoking among different ethnic/racial groups of youngsters ages 12 to 17.

Rates of smoking in this age group were: 23.1 percent among American Indians/Alaska Natives; 14.9 percent among non-Hispanic whites; 9.3 percent among Hispanics; 6.5 percent among non-Hispanic blacks; and 4.3 percent among Asians.

There were large variations in subgroups of these populations. For example, smoking among Asians ranged from 2.2 percent for Vietnamese to 6.8 percent for Koreans. Among Hispanics, smoking rates ranged from 7.3 percent for Central and South Americans to 11.2 percent for Cubans.

The researchers also concluded that about 20 percent of nonsmokers ages 12 to 17 are susceptible to start smoking.


New Hampshire 1st State to Offer Free Cervical Cancer Vaccine

Beginning in January, New Hampshire will become the first state to offer the new vaccine to protect against cervical cancer free to all girls, ages 11 through 18.

State officials hope about 17,000 girls -- 25 percent of those eligible -- will come forward in 2007 to get the vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June for girls as young as 9 years old, the Associated Press reported.

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in U.S. women.

The vaccine doesn't protect girls who've already been exposed to HPV, so it's important for them to get vaccinated before they become sexually active, the AP reported.

"Some say giving the vaccination to 11-year-old girls is a license to promiscuity. I disagree," said John Stephen, the state's Health and Human Services Commissioner.


Drug-Coated Stents Boost Blood Clot Risk: Study

Compared with bare-metal stents, drug-coated stents can increase the risk of potentially deadly blood clots in heart patients by as much as five times, according to a Cleveland Clinic Foundation study published Wednesday in the American Journal of Medicine.

The researchers reached their conclusion after analyzing 14 studies involving 6,675 heart patients who received the two kinds of stents, Bloomberg News reported.

In September, European doctors said they'd found a link between drug-coated stents and higher death rates. Next week, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet to discuss clotting risks and drug-coated stents and to consider limits on the devices.

Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson dominate the worldwide market for drug-coated stents.

Boston Scientific spokesman Paul Donovan said the ability of drug-coated stents to prevent scar tissue growth and repeat procedures outweighs any increased clotting risk, Bloomberg News reported. New data on the risks/benefits of drug-coated stents will be presented at the FDA advisory panel meeting, he said.


Gene Transfer Therapy May Help Treat Impotence

Using gene transfer therapy to treat erectile dysfunction (ED) showed promising results in the first human study of the technique, say U.S. researchers.

Unlike gene therapy, gene transfer does not change the DNA or genetic code of cells. Instead, small pieces of DNA reach the nuclei of cells, causing them to boost production of particular proteins that help relax smooth muscle cells. These type of cells are found in the penis. Relaxing the smooth muscle cells allows the penis to fill with blood and become erect.

This study of 11 men with ED found that the gene transfer therapy was safe and well-tolerated. Improvements in erectile function were maintained through the 24 weeks of the study. The findings were published online today in the journal Human Gene Therapy.

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