Health Highlights: May 10, 2004

Researchers Report Possible TB Breakthrough China SARS Patient Released From Hospital High Testosterone Levels Could Up Prostate Cancer Risk Urine Test May Detect Kidney Cancer Herb Proves Effective in Treating Malaria

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

Researchers Report Possible TB Breakthrough

In a discovery that could lead to new treatments for tuberculosis, researchers have discovered how a key enzyme and vitamin build a multi-layered cell wall around the potentially deadly bacteria. That finding should allow drug makers to design medications to thwart that chemical partnership, according to the Associated Press.

The discovery is significant because the current antibiotics used to treat tuberculosis are losing their effectiveness, said the University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers.

"We've figured out how the enzyme works," said lead scientist Laura Kiessling, a UW-Madison chemistry professor. "Because we understand the mechanism better, we can design inhibitors of the enzyme."

Kiessling said it might take years and millions of dollars before the discovery leads to available drug treatments, but the scientific knowledge already exists, according to the AP.

The study appeared Monday in the online edition of the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

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China SARS Patient Released From Hospital

A Beijing laboratory worker believed to be the first SARS patient in China's latest outbreak was released from the hospital Monday.

The 26-year-old woman, whose surname is Song, is thought to have caught SARS while studying the virus at the government lab. She went on to infect several other people. They included her mother who died last month, becoming the world's first SARS fatality this year, according to NEWS.com.au, of Australia.

The nine cases in China's latest SARS outbreak were all linked to the laboratory and were reported in either Beijing or Anhui province. The World Health Organization has been examining the lab to determine how the virus spread.

Also Monday, Chinese health officials claimed success in controlling the disease in Anhui province, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

SARS -- severe acute respiratory syndrome -- first surfaced in China's Guangdong province in late 2002. It killed 774 people worldwide and infected more than 8,000 others before it was brought under control.

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High Testosterone Levels Could Up Prostate Cancer Risk

Men aged 50 and older with high blood levels of testosterone have a greater risk of contracting prostate cancer, according to a new study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging.

The scientists studied almost 3,000 blood samples collected over a 40-year period from 759 men who were part of a Baltimore study on aging. The 111 men diagnosed with prostate cancer had elevated levels of free testosterone, the authors reported at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association in San Francisco.

"Since testosterone replacement therapy increases the amount of free testosterone in the blood, older men considering or receiving testosterone replacement should be counseled as to the association [between the hormone and prostate cancer] until the data from long-term clinical trials becomes available," study leader Dr. J. Kellogg Parsons said in a statement from the university.

The association was not affected by a man's height, weight, percentage of body fat, or muscle mass, the statement said.

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Urine Test May Detect Kidney Cancer

A simple urine test appears to identify people who have kidney cancer, scientists with the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia say.

Moreover, they told participants at the American Urological Association annual meeting in San Francisco, the DNA evidence of the disease seems to disappear once the affected kidney is removed.

The scientists released a statement saying they tested 50 patients with kidney cancer, identifying gene changes in 44 patients' urine. When people without kidney cancer were given the same test, none displayed the genetic markers for the disease.

Study leader Dr. Robert Uzzo said the test, once perfected, could be used not only to initially detect kidney cancer, but also to monitor patients after treatment.

As with other forms of cancer, recovery from kidney cancer often depends on how early the disease is diagnosed. Current methods of detection -- including ultrasound, CT scan or MRI -- are often difficult to interpret and could yield false negatives, the researchers said in a statement. There is no known protein marker for kidney cancer, they added.

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Herb Proves Effective in Treating Malaria

A drug derived from a Chinese herb has proven "strikingly" effective in treating drug-resistant malaria, according to The New York Times.

Artemisinin, which contains the active ingredient in the herb qinghaosu (sweet wormwood), is rapidly replacing quinine derivatives and other drugs to which the disease is becoming resistant, the newspaper said.

Chinese military researchers began studying and using the drug in the mid-1960s, and it cut the death rate by 97 percent during an early 1990s epidemic in Vietnam, according to the Times.

Until recently, world health authorities, charities like UNICEF, and big donors like the United States and Britain opposed the drug's use, saying its effects were unproven and it was too expensive. But all are now embracing the drug, the newspaper said.

The World Health Organization and others are now moving to acquire supplies; WHO estimates 100 million doses will be needed by 2005, the Times reported.

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