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Health Highlights: Dec. 5, 2004

BALCO Head Says He Supplied Steroids to Top Athletes SARS Vaccine Passes 1st Clinical Test, China Says Some Children With Sickle Cell Need Ongoing Blood Transfusions Florida Investigation Centers on 'Bogus' Botox Sugar Substitute May be Too Successful

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

BALCO Head Says He Supplied Steroids to Top Athletes

The central figure in the burgeoning steroids-in-sports scandal says he provided performance-enhancing drugs to numerous world-class athletes, including track and field star Marion Jones, world record sprinter Tim Montgomery and former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski.

Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) in California, said he also provided the once-undetectable drugs to the personal trainer for baseball superstar Barry Bonds. But, Conte said he didn't know if the trainer, Greg Anderson, ever gave the drugs to the home run champion.

Bonds last year told a federal grand jury investigating BALCO that he had used a clear substance and a cream supplied by Anderson, but denied knowing they were steroids, according to published reports.

Conte, who has been indicted by a federal grand jury for steroid distribution, made his claims in an interview broadcast Friday night on ABC's "20/20" news magazine.

He said the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs was rampant among professional and Olympic athletes, and skirting drug-testing measures was "like taking candy from a baby."

"Let me tell you the biggest joke of all: I would guesstimate that more than 50 percent of the athletes are taking some form of anabolic steroids," Conte said.

Much of the interview focused on Conte's description of his relationship with Jones, who won five medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Conte said he supplied Jones with a variety of banned drugs from August 2000 through September 2001. The drugs included a substance called "the clear," EPO, human growth hormone, and insulin. According to "20/20," "the clear" is thought to be the anabolic steroid tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG. EPO, or erythropoietin, is a red blood cell-boosting hormone experts believe can increase endurance by 10 percent to 15 percent.

Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, told the Associated Press he would work to revoke Jones' medals if Conte's comments prove true.

But Jones denied the allegations.

"Victor Conte's allegations about me are not true, and the truth will come out in the appropriate forum," Jones said in a statement issued through her attorney. "I have instructed my lawyers to vigorously explore a defamation lawsuit against Victor Conte."

A lawyer for Montgomery declined to comment on the allegations, ABC News said.

And on Sunday, Sen. John McCain demanded that representatives for Major League Baseball's players and owners take immediate steps to tighten the sport's drug-testing policy "to restore the integrity of baseball" or face possible congressional action, the AP reported.

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SARS Vaccine Passes 1st Clinical Test, China Says

Chinese health officials said Sunday that the world's first vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) had proven safe and effective in a phase-one clinical trial.

Wang Xiaofang, a senior official with the Ministry of Science and Technology, said at a news briefing that 36 volunteers had been injected with the vaccine 56 days ago, and none reported any abnormal physical reactions. Antibodies were found in 24 volunteers, Xinhua online reported.

Lin Jiangtao, a professor at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital who coordinated the clinical test, said the trial involved healthy people, 18 men and 18 women, who ranged in age from 21 to 40.

The vaccine must still undergo phase-two and phase-three clinical tests before it could be widely used, the news agency said.

SARS first emerged in the southern China province of Guangdong in November 2002. The viral epidemic killed more than 770 people worldwide, most of them in Asia, before subsiding the following June.

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Some Children With Sickle Cell Need Ongoing Blood Transfusions

The 10 percent of children with sickle cell disease who are at risk for a stroke need ongoing blood transfusions to reduce that risk, a new study says.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the $11 million, 25-site study based at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), issued a clinical alert to coincide with the Dec. 5 announcement of the study findings at the American Society of Hematology meeting in San Diego.

"Whatever process puts these children at risk is fairly durable," said Dr. Robert J. Adams, a neurologist and stroke specialist at MCG and principal investigator on the study. "We believed that we had identified a group that might tolerate coming off transfusion but the results did not confirm this. Too many of those taken off had return of abnormal transcranial Doppler, the best indicator we have of stroke risk, and there were two strokes in this group. We need more research to come up with a better way to limit the use of transfusion while still preventing strokes."

Barbara Alving, acting director of NHLBI, said, "This important study shows the value of continuing periodic blood transfusions in preventing the serious and debilitating consequences of stroke. At the same time, there are risks of chronic transfusions and the decision to continue with this treatment must be made on a case-by-case basis.

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Florida Investigation Centers on 'Bogus' Botox

Investigators are focusing on whether an unapproved wrinkle treatment caused four people to be hospitalized with suspected botulism poisoning after they received injections at a Florida clinic, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

Citing officials close to the investigation, the newspaper said state and federal agents found paperwork in the Oakland Park, Fla., clinic from a pharmaceutical wholesaler that sells an unlicensed, low-priced Botox-like wrinkle treatment.

"The theory is that the shots were not real Botox that was contaminated, that they were bogus Botox," one official said.

The four patients remain hospitalized in serious condition.

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Sugar Substitute May be Too Successful

The maker of Splenda, the leading sugar substitute in the United States, says it is having trouble keeping up with demand for the product, dimming dieters' hopes for any new foods containing the sweetener, according to the Associated Press.

Sucralose is the key ingredient behind the increasingly popular no-calorie sweetener. And Tate & Lyle PLC, the world's only manufacturer of sucralose, said demand has so outpaced expectations the company won't take on new U.S. customers until it has doubled production at its plant in McIntosh, Ala., early in 2006, the AP said.

The company said it also plans to open a second plant in Singapore.

Much of Splenda's success is due to anti-sugar diets like Atkins and South Beach. The sweetener is now used in everything from soda and ice cream to candy and jams, the AP said.

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