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Health Highlights: April 25, 2004

Rejection of Transplanted Lungs Reduced by Inhaling ProcedureMexican Candies' Lead Content Often At Dangerous Levels, Newspaper Reports Reading Programs Increase Brain Connections, Study SaysChina Reports 1st SARS Death Since JulySmaller Hearts Can Be Used in Transplants, Researcher Says

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

Rejection of Transplanted Lungs Reduced by Inhaling Procedure

A method to reduce rejection in lung transplants has been developed by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The Associated Press reports that the procedure involves patients using a nebulizer -- an inhaling device often used by people with asthma -- to inhale an anti-rejection drug deep into their new lungs.

The study was presented Saturday by Dr. Dr. Aldo Iacono, lung-transplant chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to a meeting of the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. government's National Institutes of Health and used the drug cyclosporine, supplied by the pharmaceutical firm Novartis, the A.P. reports. Because lung transplantation is a risky procedure, survival rates haven't significantly improved in the past decade during the past decade.

But the wire service says that Iacono's team reported significant success when cyclosporine was inhaled directly into the transplanted lungs.

Fifty-six new lung recipients were divided into two groups. In addition to standard anti-rejection treatment, and half also were given the inhalable cyclosporine. The other and half took a dummy nebulizer, which would be taken three days a week for two years after their transplant.

After a two-to-five year period 11 percent who inhaled cyclosporine had died, more than 25 percent less than the 47 percent who died while using the placebo.

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Mexican Candies' Lead Content Often At Dangerous Levels, Newspaper Reports

A two year investigation by a southern California newspaper concludes that more than 110 brands of Mexican candy distributed in the greater Los Angeles area have dangerous levels of lead.

What's more, the Orange Country Register reports, neither california nor federal authorities has made the public aware of the potential danger to children, even though some of the lead levels exceed the state's maximum content allowance.

Here are some of the newspaper's findings as written in the first part of its investigative series:

  • The Register tested 180 candy and wrapper samples -- most from Mexico -- and found high lead in 32 percent of the brands - including some brands regulators haven't bothered to test. Candies were counted as high if they met or exceeded the state's level of concern for lead. Montes Tomy, Limon 7 and Pico Diana - have had repeated high lead tests but have not faced federal or state sanctions. One candy, Lucas Limon, tested high seven times out of seven tests in federal labs, but neither the state nor FDA acted.
  • 112 brands of candy - most coming from Mexico - registered dangerous levels of lead over the past decade. In 101 cases, no action was taken against the candy makers. The results were kept confidential, and the candy remained on store shelves.
  • The state makes no effort to notify candy companies in Mexico when their brands test high enough to harm a child. Candy maker after candy maker said they had no idea their product had high lead content.

Here's is the Web link to the newspaper's report.

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Reading Programs Increase Brain Connections, Study Says

There may actually be a physical relationship between intensive programs to help poor readers and the brain's ability to create new connections to improve reading skills.

The Associated Press reports that researchers from the Yale School of Medicine say that MRI scanners tracking children's brains showed permanent reading improvement after they had gone through an intensive reading program.

One measure of progress was observing the poor readers catch up with their classmates after they had completed the program, the wire service reports. But the key in determining success was whether any physiological change had actually taken place in the students' brains.

The study used 77 public school students between the ages of six and nine, 49 of which were classified as poor readers. Those students who were part of the intensive reading program not only improved their performance, but also had evidence that their brain patterns had changed.

The MRI brain scan revealed new pathways in the brain in areas that are known to relate to reading skills.

Dr. Bennett Shaywitz, who worked with his wife on the study, told the wire service: "We know that at least one year after intervention ended that the brain systems for reading are intact and look the same as for readers who have no problem reading."

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China Reports 1st SARS Death Since July

The Chinese Health Ministry confirmed Friday the country's first death from SARS since last July. It also acknowledged a diagnosed SARS case and two other suspected cases.

The World Health Organization says that a research facility has been shut down where the cases were said to have been discovered.

"Chinese authorities have reported a diagnosis of clinically confirmed SARS coronavirus infection in two of these persons," WHO says on its Web site. "These are the 20-year-old nurse in Beijing, reported yesterday, who remains in intensive care, and a 26-year-old female laboratory researcher, from Anhui Province. The fourth person is a 31-year-old male laboratory researcher who also worked at the Beijing virology institute."

In response, the government said it would start disinfecting public buildings, and take the temperatures of travelers at all ports of entry, to try to prevent an epidemic.

The government of Taiwan Friday warned people against making unnecessary trips to Beijing and Anhui, according to Agence France-Presse.

SARS, a potentially fatal respiratory virus, first emerged in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong late in 2002. It then spread to Beijing, Hong Kong, and other countries -- most of them in East Asia -- infecting about 8,100 people and killing nearly 800.

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Smaller Hearts Can Be Used in Transplants, Researcher Says

The shortage of hearts for transplant operations could be eased by using hearts smaller than the ones that had previously been required, according to new research by the head of Temple University School of Medicine's heart transplant team.

A medical team led by Dr. Satoshi Furukawa, associate professor of surgery at Temple University School of Medicine, found "no significant differences between the growth and adaptability of undersized hearts to normal-sized donor hearts in heart transplant recipients."

According to a news release from the Temple University School of Medicine, the study was conducted over a 10-year period and countered a widely-held belief that a heart transplant's success could occur only if the donor heart matched the size of the patient.

"In our study, we found that undersized hearts adapted by increasing in mass. Further, there were no significant differences in function, capacity or survival rates between those patients who received undersized hearts and those who received normal-sized hearts. These findings suggest to us that the heart donor pool could be expanded by including undersized hearts," the news release quotes Fururkawa as saying.

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