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Health Highlights: Sept. 27, 2010

Segway Executive Dies While Riding Upright Scooter in English Countryside Appeals Court Hears Arguments on Stem Cell Research Ban High Costs Spark Debate Over New Cancer Treatments Glass Flakes Trigger Recall of Amgen Anemia Drugs Recalled Baby Formula Poses Little Risk, Manufacturer Says

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

Segway Executive Dies While Riding Upright Scooter in English Countryside

A British executive who owned the company that makes the upright scooter known as the Segway died this weekend after he apparently rode an all-terrain version of the vehicle off a cliff and into a river in west Yorkshire.

The death of Jimi Heselden, 62, came on the heels of a study published last week in the Annals of Emergency Medicine that questioned the safety of these popular scooters.

In that study, reported online last Friday by Consumer Affairs magazine, researchers from George Washington University looked at 44 patients who came to the emergency department with injuries sustained while riding the Segway.

Only 7 percent of the patients had worn helmets, and head traumas were common. The incidence of Segway injuries has been increasing steadily, the researchers added.

"All of the injuries were sustained by riders simply falling off, mostly from striking an inanimate object, study author Dr. Mary Pat McKay told the magazine. "The Segway may seem cool, but there's nothing cool about a head injury. One-quarter of the patients who came to our emergency department with Segway injuries were admitted to the hospital. Forty percent of the admitted patients were admitted to the ICU because they had traumatic brain injuries."

The researchers urged the Consumer Product Safety Commission to gather injury data on the Segway to gauge the scope of the problem.

"In the meantime, all Segway riders should wear helmets and pay close attention to what is in front of and around them when riding," McKay told Consumer Affairs.


Appeals Court Hears Arguments on Stem Cell Research Ban

Important biological material would be lost if a judge's order discontinuing federal funding of stem cell research is allowed to stand, the Obama administration told an appeals court in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

A three-judge Court of Appeals panel was questioning the repercussions of a lower court judge's ban on President Barack Obama's rules for federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. The appeals court is deciding whether to throw out the ban.

The judges wanted to determine if suspending the taxpayer-funded research would destroy the work or simply delay it, the Associated Press reported.

In deciding to temporarily block Obama's rules, the lower-court judge said the rules probably violate the law involving government funding of embryo destruction.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Beth Brinkmann told the appellate judges that the injunction would halt funding to 24 research projects at the U.S. National Institutes of Health that have already received $64 million in taxpayer investment, the AP reported.

Thomas Hungar, a lawyer for an adoption group, responded that just because the government can't do the research on its preferred timetable, it's not an irreparable harm, the news service reported.

Embryonic stem cells are cells that can turn into any tissue of the body. Scientists hope that someday stem cells can be used to treat a variety of diseases and conditions, including spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease and other ailments.


High Costs Spark Debate Over New Cancer Treatments

The latest in a string of high-priced cancer-fighting treatments is Dendreon Corp.'s Provenge, approved in the United States in April for men with terminal prostate cancer. Whether Medicare will cover the $93,000 one-time therapy could be decided at a meeting on Nov. 17.

Provenge, which extends patients' lives by four months on average, and other pricey new cancer drugs have ignited controversy about whether their cost is worth the benefit. The first so-called "cancer vaccine," Provenge is individually designed using the patient's own cells in order to trick the immune system into fighting the tumors.

Given the aging population of men at risk of developing prostate cancer and changes in private insurance plans under the new U.S. health care law, the burden to taxpayers could be huge, some observers say.

But researchers say Provenge and similar treatments on the horizon could revolutionize cancer care, according to the Associated Press. Calling for a "national investment," Dr. Christopher Logothetis, chief of prostate cancer research at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, said Medicare coverage is essential to determine the potential of these treatments.

"It's no longer a fringe science. This is working," he told the AP. "We need to get it in the door so we can evolve it."


Glass Flakes Trigger Recall of Amgen Anemia Drugs

Certain lots of the anemia drugs Epogen and Procrit have been recalled because they may contain glass flakes, says California-based biotechnology company Amgen.

The flakes result from interaction of the drugs with glass vials, according to the company, the Associated Press reported.

In most cases, the flakes are barely visible and there have been no complaints or reports about problems that can be directly linked to the glass flakes, Amgen said.

The Web sites for the drugs contain information about the lot numbers and expiration dates of the recalled products, the AP reported.

Epogen is used to treat anemia in kidney failure patients who are on dialysis, and Procrit treats anemia in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and in some patients with HIV.


Recalled Baby Formula Poses Little Risk, Manufacturer Says

The maker of Similac says it's unlikely any recalled containers of the baby formula are tainted by insects, and doctors say the risk of serious harm is low even if babies do consume bug-tainted formula.

Abbott Nutrition announced the voluntary recall of five million cans and plastic containers of Similac powdered formula after common warehouse beetles were found near a production line at its Sturgis, Mich., plant late last week, the Associated Press reported.

Production was immediately halted and tests conducted on containers of formula from that production line showed that "99.8 percent of product was not contaminated," according to company spokeswoman Kelly Morrison.

One doctor told the AP that there's "no reason for parents to panic."

Even if a baby consumes bug-tainted formula, symptoms might include a mild upset stomach that should last only a few days, said Dr. Joseph Gigante, an associate professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville.

For more information about the recall, Abbott asks consumers to phone (800) 986-8850.

Consumer News