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Health Highlights: July 24, 2005

Protein May Precipitate Stomach Cancer, Study Says Scientist Who Established Link Between Smoking and Lung Cancer Dies At 92 Statins Improve Heart Failure Patients' Survival Rate Clinton Launches AIDS Initiative FDA Approves New Treatment for Insomnia Guidant Says Defibrillator Recommendation May Be Harmful

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

Protein May Precipitate Stomach Cancer, Study Says

A new study suggests that a hyperactive stomach protein may be a culprit in causing stomach cancer to develop.

The research, published in the journal Nature Medicine, centered on a protein known as Stat3, which can become hyperactive in the stomach and shut down cell growth. This, in turn, can allow other cells more likely to develop into cancer, to take hold.

A news release from the Melbourne, Australia branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) quotes the study's lead author Dr. Brendan Jenkins as saying that in the research done with mice "hyperactive Stat3 shuts down a vital controller of stomach cell growth, called TGF beta, and this allows cancer formation, and this mechanistic link is a world-first."

The news release also quotes team leader Dr. Matthias Ernst, as saying this research may be beneficial in therapy for other types of cancer. "Add to that the evidence suggesting that Stat3 is also involved in breast, head and neck, and prostate cancers, and we have a compelling case for investigating the development of therapies that target Stat3," Ernst said.

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Scientist Who Established Link Between Smoking and Lung Cancer Dies At 92

Sir Richard Doll, a British scientist, whose name never reached the public recognition level that some of his peers like Dr. Jonas Salk did, died Sunday in Oxford, England at the age of 92.

Doll was the researcher whose landmark 1950 study first established the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. According to the Associated Press, Doll was an epidemiologist who continued his research at Oxford University's Imperial Cancer Research Center right up to the time of his death. The exact cause of death was not immediately released.

Doll wrote his 1950 study with Austin Bradford Hill, and it concluded that smoking was "a cause, and a major cause" of lung cancer, the wire service said.

Doll's latest research was published in 2004 and found that somewhere between 50 percent and 66 percent of people who begin smoking in their youth are eventually killed by the habit, the wire service reported.

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Statins Improve Heart Failure Patients' Survival Rate

Statins -- the drugs that reduce a person's cholesterol level in the blood -- may be effective in lowering the mortality rate for a type of heart failure, according to new research.

Researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center report in the latest edition of the journal Circulation that statins appear to help the survival rate of people with diastolic heart failure (DHF).

According to a Wake Forest news release, the findings may be significant because "currently, there are no treatments shown to improve survival in these patients, who make up about 40 percent of all heart failure cases."

Diastolic heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to receive blood normally. The reason for this, researchers say, is the heart doesn't fully relax for patients with DHF and doesn't fill properly with blood. The mortality rate is 5 to 8 percent per year, according to the research.

The Wake Forest cardiologists studied the survival rates of 137 DHF heart failure patients over a three-year period. The patients were being treated with a variety of heart drugs -- ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium blockers and/or statins.

The scientists found that during the study period, heart failure patients on statin therapy had a mortality risk that was 22 percent lower than the patients receiving the other drugs. Even after adjusting for other factors -- hypertension or cardiovascular disease -- the heart failure patients on statins still fared better, the researchers said.

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Clinton Launches HIV/AIDS Initiative

Former President Bill Clinton on Saturday kicked off a program that will almost double the number of children in Kenya receiving HIV treatment by the end of 2005, the Associated Press reported.

About 100,000 children in that country are currently infected with HIV, according to the AP, but only 1,200 actually received treatment for their disease. The Clinton Foundation's Pediatric HIV/AIDS Initiative will target an additional 1,000 children.

After flying to Rwanda late Saturday, Clinton donated a year's supply of anti-retroviral treatment for 2,500 children in that country. The foundation's goal is to have 10,000 HIV-infected children in at least 10 countries on anti-retroviral treatment by the end of the year. The money for the massive effort was raised by Clinton mostly from private donors, the AP said. Rwanda was the last stop on Clinton's tour of six African countries, the aim of which was to shine the spotlight on this continent's AIDS crisis.

Children account for one-sixth of HIV/AIDS deaths each year, but they represent only 5 percent of those treated worldwide, according to the United Nations.

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FDA Approves New Treatment for Insomnia

A new treatment for insomnia was approved on Friday, and it bears the distinction of being the first prescription sleeping aid not to be classified as a controlled substance.

The drug, known as Rozerem (ramelteon), works differently than its competitors, the Associated Press reported. It is a chemical cousin of melatonin, a natural hormone that keeps the body's sleeping/waking cycle in balance. Rozerem appears to stimulate melatonin receptors in the brain, Dr. Robert Meyers, of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told the AP.

Studies have also shown the drug does not cause dependence, which is why the FDA did not classify it as a controlled substance. However, the medication is metabolized by the liver, so those with liver conditions should not take this drug, Meyer added.

Rozerem should be available in late September, although its maker, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, would not reveal a price. Roughly a third of adults have trouble sleeping, and about 10 percent have trouble functioning during the day, the AP reported.

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Guidant Says Defibrillator Recommendation May Be Harmful

Guidant Corp. said Friday that one of its recommendations designed to correct a problem with its implantable heart defibrillators may actually increase risk to patients.

The Indianapolis-based company had recalled 11 models of its defibrillators last month, affecting about 88,000 devices, because of malfunctions in the pacemaker-like devices. The malfunctions occurred when a magnetic switch inside the device got stuck and prevented the device from providing treatment. Defibrillators shock the heart back into a normal rhythm when they detect abnormal heartbeats.

Guidant said Friday that it has now changed its advice to doctors treating about 21,000 patients with implanted Ventak Prism AVT, Vitality AVT, and Contak Renewal AVT defibrillators, according to the Associated Press.

In other Guidant news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday classified the company's recent decision to pull back nine models of pacemakers it sells as a Class 1 recall. A seal within the devices can leak, letting in moisture that can disrupt the electrical circuitry. That can lead to unexpected failure or rapid heart rates. The affected models were made between Nov. 25, 1997, and Oct. 26, 2000.

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