Health Highlights: Dec. 15, 2005

Most S. Korean Study Stem Cell Lines Reportedly Were Faked Bird Flu Vaccine Prototype Shows Promise Illinois Top Court Overturns $10 Billion Verdict Against Philip Morris Drug Firms Violated Marketing Rules at Medical Convention: Report Experimental Diarrhea Vaccine Safe and Effective: FDA Panel New York City to Monitor Half a Million Diabetics

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

Most S. Korean Study Stem Cell Lines Reportedly Were Faked

South Korean cloning researcher Hwang Woo-suk has agreed to withdraw a controversial research paper because most of the stem cells produced for the study published in Science journal were faked, says a doctor who provided Hwang with human eggs for the research.

In an interview Thursday, Roh Sung-il told KBS television that Hwang told him he would ask Science to withdraw the paper, which appeared in June and attracted worldwide attention, the Associated Press reported.

The study described how cloning was used to create individual cell colonies for 11 patients and was hailed as a breakthrough achievement.

Roh, chairman of the board at Mizmedi Hospital, was one of the study co-authors. In another interview, Roh told MBC television that nine of the 11 embryonic stem cell lines Hwang claimed to have created were fake and the authenticity of the two remaining cell lines was unknown.

MBC also aired an interview with a former researcher who said Hwang ordered him to fabricate photos in order to make three stem cell colonies look like 11 separate colonies, the AP reported.

Earlier this week, University of Pittsburgh researcher Gerald Schatten asked Science to remove his name as a senior author of the study because he doubted the research accuracy.

Hwang could not be reached for comment. Seoul National University will conduct an internal probe into Hwang's research.


Bird Flu Vaccine Prototype Shows Promise

A bird flu vaccine prototype based on the deadly H5N1 virus shows promise, according to preliminary tests by scientists at the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Pasteur.

They added an ingredient called alum to the vaccine and found that it boosted the potency of lower doses. This means that it may be possible to stretch supplies of the antigen -- a crucial element of the vaccine -- and make more flu shots available during a pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

The new vaccine was tested on 300 people and the Sanofi-Pasteur team found that they were able to prompt adequate immune responses by using two injections of vaccine that each contained only 30 micrograms of antigen.

A short supply of antigen has been one of the primary challenges in creating a vaccine that could be used in a worldwide flu pandemic, the AP reported.

The prototype vaccine's ability to prompt an immune response does not prove that the vaccine will protect against infection by a bird flu virus. However, it is considered a first step.


Illinois Top Court Overturns $10 Billion Verdict Against Philip Morris

A $10 billion verdict against tobacco giant Philip Morris USA on cigarette labeling was overturned by the Supreme Court of Illinois on Thursday.

The 4-2 decision countered a 2003 lower court ruling against Philip Morris in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 1.1 million people, which accused the company of fraudulently misstating the amount of tar and nicotine in so-called light cigarettes, The New York Times reported.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the claim against Philip Morris could not stand because the labeling on the light cigarettes was specifically authorized by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

"We conclude that the FTC could, and did, specifically authorize all United States tobacco companies to utilize the words 'low,' 'lower,' 'reduced,' or like qualifying terms, such as 'light,' so long as the descriptive terms are accompanied by a clear and conspicuous disclosure of the tar and nicotine content in milligrams of the smoke produced by the advertised cigarette," Justice Rita B. Garman wrote for a majority of the Illinois Supreme Court.

However, the two dissenting judges strongly criticized the reasoning adopted by the majority judges.

The ruling ends a five-year legal battle and takes some pressure of Philip Morris, which could have been hit with numerous lawsuits in other states if this lawsuit had been successful, the Times reported.


Drug Firms Violated Marketing Rules at Medical Convention: Report

More than half the drug makers who attended the 2002 American Psychiatric Association (APA) convention committed drug marketing violations, says a study by the U.S. consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

The study authors examined 24 drug company booths at the convention and identified 16 violations of the APA's voluntary exhibit rules. Two companies, Eli Lilly and Pfizer, had four violations each while eight other companies had one violation each.

The most common violations were providing gifts worth more than $10 each, booths with "glaring lights," promotional activity outside of the booth, and giving away toys or stuffed animals, the study said.

Four of the companies violated U.S. Food and Drug Administration off-label marketing rules by mentioning products for uses not approved by the FDA or by discussing drug use at doses higher than recommended levels, the report contended.

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Public Health Policy.


Experimental Diarrhea Vaccine Safe and Effective: FDA Panel

A experimental vaccine for a virus that causes potentially deadly diarrhea in infants appears to be safe and effective, say members of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Vaccines and Related Biological Products advisory panel.

On Wednesday, the panel gave unanimous support to the rotavirus vaccine, called Rota Teq, the Associated Press reported. The vote moved the vaccine a step closer to FDA approval. Rota Teq was developed by Merck & Co.

The panel also recommended that, following FDA approval, long-term studies of the vaccine be conducted to monitor for cases of a potentially fatal bowel condition linked to an earlier diarrhea vaccine.

Rotavirus infects many children before they turn 3 years old, and infection with the virus results in the deaths of several dozen children in the United States each year. The toll is much higher in developing countries, where rotavirus kills one in 250 children, the AP said.


New York City to Monitor Half a Million Diabetics

A new database to monitor blood sugar levels of 500,000 diabetics in New York City will warn patients and their doctors about any changes in glucose levels and help patients get care, city health officials say.

This program is the first of its kind for a patient population this large, The New York Times reported. Laboratories will be required to relay to the city's health department patient blood tests that show abnormally high levels of hemoglobin A1C, a three-month average measure of glucose indicating diabetes.

When it receives the information, the health department will notify patients and their doctors. Possible follow-up care could include medicine, exercise, nutritional counseling and at-home blood sugar testing kits, the Times said.

The program will begin as soon as possible and a pilot treatment plan is scheduled to start in the Bronx in 2007.

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