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Health Highlights: Dec. 14, 2004

MIT Scientists Create Beating Heart Tissue Parasitic Worms May Help Crohn's Patients AP: U.S. AIDS Chief Rewrote Drug Study Safety Report Deadline Pressure Raises Heart Attack Risk: Study Low-Cal Diet May Ease Parkinson's Symptoms Florida Botulism Cases Unrelated to Botox

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

MIT Scientists Create Beating Heart Tissue

Using cells taken from rats, Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists have created small pieces of dense heart tissue that beat when an electrical current is passed through them.

This is the first time this has been successfully accomplished, the Boston Globe reported.

The MIT researchers are now attempting to use this tissue to repair damaged rodent hearts. The idea is that the tissue would act as a patch that would restore normal heart function.

The ultimate goal is to use laboratory-grown tissue to repair human hearts. But it will take many years of research before that's even a possibility.

"We'd all like to be able to grow a patch and put it onto the patient and reanimate what has become dysfunctional tissue in the heart," University of Pittsburgh researcher William Wagner, who is also working on a cardiac patch, told the Globe.

"That's the dream. This research from MIT looks like it's an important advance in our ability to get something that functionally approaches cardiac tissue," Wagner said.

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Parasitic Worms May Help Crohn's Patients

Parasitic worms may prove beneficial for people with Crohn's disease, according to a small University of Iowa study in the journal Gut.

The study included 29 people with moderately active Crohn's disease who swallowed 2,500 whipworm eggs every three weeks for 24 weeks. Standard treatment had not worked for these patients, most of whom had suffered Crohn's symptoms for about four years, BBC News Online reported.

Five patients dropped out halfway through the study. By the end of the study, 21 of the remaining patients reported having no more symptoms of Crohn's, an inflammatory bowel disorder caused by an excessive immune system response to normal gut bacteria.

There were no signs that the worms caused any side effects. The worms suppress immune system response, which helps reduce bowel inflammation, the researchers explained. Larger studies are needed to confirm their findings, they added.

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AP: U.S. AIDS Chief Rewrote Drug Study Safety Report

Dr. Edmund Tramont, chief of the U.S. National Institutes of Health's AIDS Division, changed the conclusions and deleted negative data in a safety report on a U.S.-funded study of the AIDS drug nevirapine being conducted in Uganda.

Tramont also ordered that the research be resumed, even though his staff objected to the decision, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The documents show that Tramont said his actions were based on his four decades of medical experience. He also said that some leniency in U.S. safety standards for drug research was warranted in the midst of the African AIDS crisis.

Nevirapine is an antiretroviral drug that has been used in the United States since the 1990s to treat adult AIDS patients. It is known to have potentially lethal effects, including liver damage and severe rashes when taken over time, the AP said.

In 1997, the NIH began studying the use of nevirapine in Uganda to see whether it could be given safely in single doses to stop mother-to-baby transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. That research showed it could reduce transmission in as many as half the births, according to the wire service.

However, by early 2002, an NIH auditor, the agency's medical safety experts, and the drug's maker -- Boehringer Ingelheim -- all disclosed widespread problems about the U.S.-funded research in Uganda. Boehringer and NIH auditors pointed to such concerns as failing to get patients' consent about changes in the experiment, administering wrong doses, and delays and under-reporting of "fatal and life-threatening" problems, according to the AP.

NIH officials told the AP they remain confident after re-reviewing the Uganda study and other research that nevirapine can be used safely in single doses by African mothers and children to prevent HIV transmissions during birth. But they acknowledged their Uganda research failed to meet required U.S. standards, the news service said.

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Deadline Pressure Raises Heart Attack Risk: Study

People under intense deadline pressure are six times more likely to have a heart attack than those who don't face such stress, Swedish researchers conclude from a new study.

Intense immediate stress appeared to have more of an impact on heart attack risk than stress accumulated over many months, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said.

They studied 3,500 people ages 45 to 70 who had suffered a first heart attack. About 8 percent of the participants had experienced a traumatic work-related event the day before their heart attack, according to an account by Bloomberg News.

For women, a change in financial status tripled their heart attack risk, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Men were six times more likely to have a heart attack after taking on more work-related responsibilities, the scientists said.

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Low-Cal Diet May Ease Parkinson's Symptoms

A long-term, low-calorie diet may offer protection from Parkinson's disease, U.S. government researchers say.

The preliminary findings stem from a study on monkeys, in which those fed 30 percent fewer calories were less affected by a toxin that causes a Parkinson's-like condition, National Institute on Aging researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Prior studies have found that this type of diet extended the life span of mice and could hold similar good fortune for people, the Associated Press reported.

In the Parkinson's study, Rhesus monkeys fed this type of diet for six months lost about 12 percent of their body weight and were able to better fight off the effects of a toxin that caused Parkinson's-like neurological damage, the wire service said.

While all of the monkeys injected with the toxin suffered impaired movement, the low-calorie monkeys were better able to move -- and at a quicker pace -- than those fed a normal diet, the researchers said.

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Florida Botulism Cases Unrelated to Botox

Four cases of botulism triggered by cosmetic shots at a Florida clinic were not caused by the anti-wrinkle drug Botox, but by the use of an unapproved toxin bought from a California laboratory, the Sun-Sentinel newspaper reported.

According to federal documents released Monday, the shots contained a high-potency raw toxin that amounted to an overdose of deadly botulinum bacteria. The same bacterium is used to make Botox, a federally approved drug, but at much lower concentrations, the newspaper report said.

The unapproved form of the toxin was purchased from a San Jose, Calif., company called List Biological Laboratories. The firm produces deadly substances like anthrax that are supposed to be used only in animal research, the newspaper reported.

The four people sickened at the Oakland Park, Fla., clinic over the Thanksgiving weekend remain virtually paralyzed in critical but stable condition, the Sun-Sentinel said. Federal authorities investigating the incident have searched the California lab in an attempt to learn who ordered the toxic shipment and why, the newspaper said.

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