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Health Highlights: April 26, 2005

Federal Advisors Offer Stem Cell Research Guidelines Arizona Bans Junk Food Sales in Schools Low Oxygen Levels May Pose Health Risk to Airline Passengers Pfizer Recalls Epilepsy Drug European Union Issues Warnings on Child Use of Antidepressants

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

Federal Advisors Offer Stem Cell Research Guidelines

Proposed U.S. national ethical guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research were released Tuesday in a report by the National Academies, an independent organization that advises the federal government on scientific matters.

The report recommends establishment of a system of local and national committees for reviewing research and says certain kinds of stem cell experiments should be forbidden, at least for now, The New York Times reported.

The guidelines are intended to create a uniform system of public and private sector regulation and to assure scientists and the public that this research is being conducted in an ethical manner.

Among the proposed guidelines:

  • Donors must give their consent before their embryo could be used to produce stem cells. Donors must also be told that they have the right to withdraw their consent at any point before a stem cell is derived from their embryo. Donors should not be paid.
  • Donors should be informed that their embryos will be destroyed in the process of deriving stem cells and that the resulting stem cell lines may be kept for many years.
  • No animal stem cells should be transplanted into a human embryo. Approval from a review committee should be granted before any human embryonic stem cells are put into an animal. No human embryonic stem cells should be put into nonhuman primates.
  • Stem cell repositories require a secure coding system in order to protect donors' identities.

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Arizona Bans Junk Food Sales in Schools

Arizona has passed a law banning the sale of junk food in elementary, middle and junior high schools.

The bill, signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Janet Napolitano, takes effect in 2006. It targets soft drinks, candy, and other fatty and sugary snacks. The ban won't apply to the sale of junk food during events that take place before or after school hours, the Associated Press reported.

While critics charged the move is an intrusion on the authority of school districts, the bill was backed by health groups and the state school superintendent as a way to promote good nutrition and combat student obesity.

High schools won't be affected by the ban.

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Low Oxygen Levels May Pose Health Risk to Airline Passengers

More than half of airline passengers get such low amounts of oxygen that their health may be at risk, a new U.K. study finds.

The study of 84 passengers found that blood oxygen levels averaged 97 percent on the ground but fell to an average of 93 percent once their plane was in the air. Some 54 percent of passengers' levels dropped below thresholds some consider unsafe.

Some hospital patients are put on oxygen when their blood oxygen levels fall below 94 percent, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Anaesthesia.

U.K. air regulators said healthy people don't need to be concerned, but people with heart and lung problems should consult with their doctor before they fly, the network reported.

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Pfizer Recalls Epilepsy Drug

Pfizer is recalling about 40,000 bottles of its epilepsy drug Neurontin due to a manufacturing error that caused some bottles to be filled with empty or partially filled capsules, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said.

The 100-milligram capsules bear lot number 15224V and were distributed only in the United States in October and November 2004. No other Neurontin lots are affected, the company said.

The FDA warned that people with epilepsy who take the empty or partially filled capsules could experience seizures. The company did not mention any adverse incidents stemming from the recalled product.

Consumers with questions about the recall should contact Pfizer Medical Information at 1-800-438-1985.

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European Union Issues Warnings on Child Use of Antidepressants

Antidepressants known as serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including Paxil and Effexor, may cause suicidal behavior in patients younger than age 18, the European Union's medical watchdog announced.

The European Medicines Agency said SSRIs, which also include Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro, shouldn't be used by young patients except under approved conditions, the Dow Jones news service reported Tuesday.

Similar warnings were added recently to product labels for the same drugs in the United States. The black-box warnings, reserved for drugs with the most dangerous risks, were recommended by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel of experts in September.

While only Prozac is approved for use in children, the other drugs can be prescribed legally to children as an "off-label" use. This is true in the United States and in Europe.

Recent studies have shown that about two in 100 children who take these drugs are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts or try suicide, HealthDay has reported.

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