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Health Highlights: Sept. 22, 2007

Experimental AIDS Vaccine Fails Key Test Researchers ID Hundreds of Genes Linked to Infertility FDA Urged to Ease Patient Restrictions for Heart Ablation Trials Simplicity Recalls Cribs Linked to Deaths of 3 Babies Colic Remedy May Contain Parasite California Officials Warn of Lead in Lunch Boxes Mattel Apologizes to China Over Toy Recalls

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

Experimental AIDS Vaccine Fails Key Test

A trial of a vaccine designed to control AIDS has been halted after numerous participants became infected with HIV, the virus that causes the disease.

Drug maker Merck & Co. said Friday that it was stopping enrollment and vaccination of volunteers taking part in the international study, which was partly funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Merck told the Associated Press that 24 of 741 volunteers who got the vaccine in one part of the trial eventually became infected with HIV. In a comparison group of volunteers who got dummy shots, 21 of 762 participants also became infected with HIV.

The volunteers were HIV-free at the start of the trial. But they were at high risk for getting HIV. Most were homosexual men or female sex workers. They were all repeatedly counseled about how to reduce their risk of HIV infections, including use of condoms, according to Merck, the AP said.

The Merck vaccine was the first major test of a new strategy to prevent HIV infection. Initial trials to develop a vaccine tried to stimulate antibodies against the virus, but that didn't work.

The new approach -- which is also being tried by other researchers -- seeks to prod the body to produce more of key immune system cells called killer T-cells, the news service said.


Researchers ID Hundreds of Genes Linked to Infertility

U.S. researchers say they've identified nearly 350 genes linked to female fertility, a finding that could lead to greater study of the poorly understood field of infertility.

"This study gives us a way to begin to understand the causes of female infertility," said Dr. Diego Castrillon, assistant professor of pathology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas. "It gives us a much more complete list of candidate genes to explore. Before, we didnt even know where to look."

The new study was done with mice, but "at the molecular level, ovarian biology is very similar in mice and humans," said Castrillon, senior author of the paper that is published in the September issue of the journal Genetics.

The findings might one day allow clinicians to test whether an infertile woman has problems with a specific gene, allowing for improved diagnostic tests and individualized therapy, said Castrillon, a specialist in the diagnosis of infertility and other diseases of women.

About 13 percent of women suffer from infertility, with the most common cause being dysfunction of the ovary. Researchers suspected genetic links in many cases, he said.


FDA Urged to Ease Patient Restrictions for Heart Ablation Trials

Experts say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should ease restrictions on which patients with a common heart condition called atrial fibrillation can be enrolled in clinical trials of devices used to provide a treatment called ablation, The New York Times reported.

That was one of the suggestions offered Thursday by a panel of experts at a daylong meeting on clinical trials for treatments of atrial fibrillation, a nonfatal but distressing condition in which electrical shortcircuits in the upper chambers of the heart cause rapid, erratic contraction. The condition affects about 2.2 million Americans.

Ablation involves burning or freezing certain areas of the atrial muscle to either eliminate the source of the irregular pulses or to block the pathways they travel. This common method of treatment is used when drug therapy fails or causes intolerable side effects, the Times reported.

"We have to be more flexible," Dr. Bram Zuckerman, director of the FDA's cardiovascular devices division, said in response to the expert panel's remarks about rapidly evolving technology for treating atrial fibrillation.


Simplicity Recalls Cribs Linked to Deaths of 3 Babies

About one million Chinese-made cribs have been voluntarily recalled by Simplicity Inc. because problems with the drop rail can create a dangerous gap that poses a risk of suffocation and entrapment. The cribs have been linked to the deaths of at least three children in the United States, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission said Friday.

The three babies -- ages 6 months, 9 months, and 1 year -- died in cribs where the drop rail was installed upside down due to poor hardware and crib design, the Chicago Tribune reported. The CPSC said it's also aware of seven infant entrapments and 55 incidents in these cribs.

The recalled Simplicity crib models include: Aspen 3 in 1; Aspen 4 in 1; Nursery-in-a Box; Crib N Changer Combo; and the Chelsea and Pooh 4 in 1. The recall also includes these Simplicity cribs sold with the Graco logo: Aspen 3 in 1; Ultra 3 in 1; Ultra 4 in 1; Ultra 5 in 1; Whitney; and the Trio.

This is the largest crib recall since the CPSC was created in the 1970s, the Tribune reported. For more information, contact Simplicity toll-free at (888) 593-9274.


Colic Remedy May Contain Parasite

Parents should not give their babies a liquid herbal supplement called Baby's Bliss Gripe Water -- sold as a remedy for colic and teething pain -- because it may contain a parasite that can cause diarrhea and intestinal infections, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

Tests on several bottles of apple-flavored Baby's Bliss Gripe Water tested positive for Cryptosporidium, which may have sickened a 6-week-old baby in Minnesota. To date, that baby is the only one with a reported illness possibly linked to the supplement, the Associated Press reported.

The product is distributed in the United States by MOM Enterprises of San Rafael, Calif. The company has recalled about 17,600 bottles sold through the Internet and at retail stores across the country. The recall covers 4-ounce bottles with the code 26952V and an expiry date of October 2008. Consumers can call the company at 877-457-4955 for more information.

The FDA advised parents to throw out any of the product they have and to consult a pediatrician if the product was consumed by a child who seems sick, the AP reported.


California Officials Warn of Lead in Lunch Boxes

Concerns about the presence of lead prompted California officials Thursday to warn people not to use about 56,000 made-in-China lunch boxes distributed by the state as part of a program to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Tests detected elevated levels of lead in three of the green canvas boxes, which were distributed at health fairs and other events, the Associated Press reported. The lunch boxes carry a logo that says "eat fruits and vegetables and be active."

Parents whose children used the lunch boxes should consult with a doctor to determine if the children should be tested for exposure to lead, said Mark Horton, director of California's Department of Public Health.

A swab test conducted in July by the Sacramento County Health Department indicated that the lunch boxes contained lead, Horton said. Several weeks of more sophisticated testing through the state Department of Toxic Substance Control confirmed that there was lead in multiple parts of the box, the AP reported.


Mattel Apologizes to China Over Toy Recalls

In an extraordinary move, U.S. toy giant Mattel Inc. on Friday issued a public apology to China over the recall of Chinese-made toys. Mattel said it was to blame for design flaws in the toys and said its recalls of lead-tainted toys were more extensive than necessary.

"Our reputation has been damaged lately by these recalls," Thomas A. Dombrowski, Mattel's vice president for worldwide operations, said in a meeting with Chinese product safety chief Li Changjiang, the Associated Press reported.

"And Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, and the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys," Dombrowski said.

In recent months, concerns about lead paint and tiny magnets that could be swallowed prompted Mattel to order three high-profile recalls of more than 21 million Chinese-made toys.

Dombrowski said the "vast majority of those products that were recalled were the result of a design flaw in Mattel's design, not through a manufacturing flaw in China's manufacturers," the AP reported. Only a small percentage of the recalled toys were lead-tainted, he noted.

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