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Health Highlights: Oct. 28, 2008

Vitamin E, Selenium Don't Cut Prostate Cancer Risk Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Lack Treatment Knowledge: Survey Inhibitor Neutralizes E. Coli Toxins Heart Disease, Infections, Cancer Top Global Killers: WHO Report Implantable Artificial Heart Nearly Ready for Human Tests

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

Vitamin E, Selenium Don't Cut Prostate Cancer Risk

A major study looking at whether vitamin E and selenium protect men against prostate cancer has been suspended after data showed the nutrients didn't reduce risk, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced Monday.

The independent analysis of the $119 million study involving more than 35,000 men also suggested vitamin E and selenium may actually increase the risk for prostate cancer and diabetes, but officials said those findings may be a coincidence, the Washington Post reported.

Study organizers have started notifying participants to stop taking the pills they were taking for the trial. All the men, age 50 and older, will continue to have their health monitored for about three years.

The study was funded by the NIH after previous research indicated vitamin E and selenium may protect against prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in men.

"The important message for consumers is that taking supplements, whether antioxidants or others, is not necessarily beneficial and could be harmful," Eric Klein of the Cleveland Clinic, a study coordinator, told the Post. "You should not be taking them unless there is a rigorous scientific study that shows a benefit."


Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Lack Treatment Knowledge: Survey

Rheumatoid arthritis patients have far less knowledge about treatments than their doctors or nurses believe, according to an international survey of more than 3,300 patients, nurses and doctors.

While 90 percent of nurses and 87 percent of doctors believed their patients had a high level of knowledge of RA treatments, only 50 percent of patients rated their knowledge as high.

The survey also showed a large degree of disagreement between doctors and nurses over who should handle patient education. Only 14 percent of doctors believed nurses should educate patients, while 68 percent of nurses believed they were best suited for the task.

"These findings help pinpoint areas for additional attention where we can better work together to improve the patient understanding of this complex disease," Nicole Furfaro, study investigator at Seattle Rheumatology Associates, said in a news release. "Patients clearly can benefit from more interaction and education from their care providers to help bridge the gaps in knowledge and manage expectations of RA therapy."

The survey also found that 37 percent of RA patients in the United States and 34 percent of patients in the European Union were either extremely dissatisfied or dissatisfied with their level of RA pain. Only 9 percent of U.S. patients and 12 percent of E.U. patients were extremely satisfied or satisfied.

The findings were presented at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.


Inhibitor Neutralizes E. Coli Toxins

An inhibitor that neutralizes toxins produced by E. coli has been developed by Canadian researchers, who said the inhibitor may represent an important advance for patients infected with E. coli, the bacteria that causes the majority of food poisoning outbreaks.

The inhibitor -- called (S)-PolyBAIT -- protected mice against the effects of a dose of a toxin produced by E. coli, said study principal author David Bundle, a chemistry professor at the University of Alberta, and colleagues, Agence France Presse reported.

The researchers said the inhibitor offers a more promising approach than antibiotics alone.

"Because antibiotic therapy alone is not used in practice because of the increased toxin load that results from toxin released by killed bacteria, such dual therapy may be an attractive option for the most severe E. coli infections," the researchers wrote, AFP reported.

The study was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Heart Disease, Infections, Cancer Top Global Killers: WHO Report

Heart problems, infectious diseases and cancer are still the top three causes of death worldwide, says a World Health Organization report on the global burden of disease released Monday. Heart attacks and related problems cause 29 percent of deaths each year, infectious diseases 16.2 percent, and cancer 12.6 percent.

The heart disease death rate was virtually unchanged from 2002, while the rate for infectious diseases was down from 19.1 percent in 2002, the Associated Press reported.

Women die more often from heart disease than men -- 31.5 percent vs. 26.8 percent -- but that's because women tend to live to older ages than men, said study lead author Colin Mathers.

The 2004 data from 112 countries also showed that other leading causes of death are: respiratory infections, such as pneumonia (7.2 percent), respiratory diseases, such as asthma and allergies (6.9 percent); accidental injuries and drowning (6.6 percent); newborn health problems (5.4 percent); digestive diseases (3.5 percent); and suicide, murder and conflict (2.8 percent).

Overall in 2004, about 58.8 million people died worldwide. While most of those deaths involved people over age 60, nearly one in five deaths was a child younger than 5 years old, the AP reported.


Implantable Artificial Heart Nearly Ready for Human Tests

A fully implantable artificial heart will be ready for human clinical trials by 2011, according to European researchers who said the heart will help alleviate the worldwide shortage of heart transplant donors.

"We are moving from pure research to clinical applications. After 15 years of work, we are handing over to industry to produce an artificial heart usable by man," heart transplant specialist and project team leader Alain Carpentier told Agence France Presse.

The prosthetic heart, which is shaped like a real heart and has the same blood flow rhythms, is made from chemically treated animal tissues designed to avoid blood clotting or rejection by the recipient's immune system. The heart is meant for use in seriously ill patients for whom drug therapy, ventricular assistance or heart transplant have failed or aren't available, AFP reported.

Digital simulation and animal testing of the artificial heart have revealed no complications, Carpentier said.

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