Health Highlights: May 13, 2004

Panel: U.S. Should Spend More on Poor With HIV N.J. Has First State-Run Stem Cell Institute High Levels of Male Hormone Hurt Social Skills Children's Motrin Mistakenly Contains Adult Painkiller Legislators Ask FDA to Review 'Morning-After' Decision Harvard Med School Cited for Ethical Lapses

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

Panel: U.S. Should Spend More on Poor With HIV

The U.S. government needs to expand its role in paying for treatment of poor Americans infected with the AIDS virus, a panel of experts recommended Thursday.

A new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) said that, the way programs are currently constructed, thousands of low-income people are not receiving adequate care for HIV because they don't have access to services.

"With the development of highly active antiretroviral therapy and other tools, we now have the ability to extend lives and improve quality of life for all Americans with HIV," Lauren LeRoy, chair of the IOM committee that prepared the report, said in a statement. "Failing to provide these cost-effective, lifesaving drugs to all Americans who need them -- including individuals who lack insurance or cannot afford them -- is indefensible."

Medicaid covers most poor people with HIV and AIDS. Still, thousands go without necessary treatment because of strict eligibility requirements and limitations in covered benefits.

The IOM's proposed changes would set uniform eligibility standards and services in all states. The program would cost $5.6 billion over 10 years, and would cover 58,700 more people, according to the recommendation.


N.J. Has First State-Run Stem Cell Institute

Saying that "we can have no higher calling as a state or as a people," New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey on Wednesday signed legislation establishing the first state-funded center to conduct research on stem cells.

Defying both the White House and the Catholic Church, McGreevey put his name on a pact that would provide $50 billion in state funds to the center, which would be co-run by Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, according to the Star-Ledger of Newark. Both are state schools.

Stem cells are blank cells that are capable of becoming other cells. Intense research has been conducted on using these cells to repair damaged or diseased cells in the human body. Scientists hope to use them to treat a wide variety of diseases, from cancer and heart disease to Alzheimer's and diabetes.

They are a source of controversy, however, because they often come from human embryos, which are destroyed when the cells are extracted. In 2001, President Bush severely restricted access to available cells.

Protesters showed up at the ceremony, carrying signs saying the "Garden State farms humans," according to the Star-Ledger. Still, the governor said, "even amidst the torrents of questions and controversy, we must display the courage to stand by our convictions."


High Levels of Male Hormone Hurt Social Skills

A small study finds that high in utero levels of the male hormone testosterone are associated with a lack of social development.

New Scientist reports that the study may explain why boys are four times likelier than girls to suffer from autism.

Researchers at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, U.K., studied the amniotic fluid of the mothers of 58 children with the disorder. The team theorized that that also reflected the levels in the babies themselves.

Previous research by the team found that boys with higher levels of the hormone made less eye contact and had smaller vocabularies. The latest study found that, at age 4, those whose mothers had high levels while pregnant were less developed socially, especially boys, according to the New Scientist account.


Children's Motrin Mistakenly Contains Adult Painkiller

A single lot of Children's Motrin bottles may actually contain an adult dose of a different painkiller, drugmaker McNeil Pharmaceuticals says.

The lot was distributed to retailers nationwide between Feb. 5 and April 1, the Associated Press reports. Instead of Children's Motrin, it may contain extended release Tylenol Geltabs, whose active ingredient is acetaminophen, not ibuprofen.

Children's Motrin is a purple tablet with a grape smell, while the adult product is a red-and-white, gelatin-coated tablet, the AP says.

The affected lot number, embossed on the carton's top flap and printed on the bottle, is "Exp 1/06 JAM108."

In children, acetaminophen overdose can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and liver failure. Anyone who suspects their child may have taken the adult product by mistake should contact their doctor or a poison control center immediately.

Consumers who have a bottle from the affected lot should contact McNeil at 1-800-962-5357.


Legislators Ask FDA to Review 'Morning-After' Decision

A dozen members of Congress have asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review its controversial decision last week to keep the so-called "morning-after" pill a prescription-only drug, against the advice of the agency's own expert panel.

The legislators, who were not fully identified in a Washington Post story, alleged that politics outshone science in the decision to not let the hormonal contraceptive, formally known as Plan B, be sold over-the-counter.

"When a scientific panel votes 23-4 in favor of over-the-counter status but the FDA goes the other way, there has to be something at work other than science," Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) told the newspaper. She said she planned to introduce legislation requiring that the FDA review its decision and affirm it was not politically motivated.

FDA officials have rejected the allegation, saying their decision was based on a lack of evidence that younger women and girls could safely use the drug without a doctor's involvement. The agency has said it left the door open to future approval if the drug manufacturer, Barr Laboratories, could provide such evidence.


Harvard Med School Cited for Ethical Lapses

A federal government audit panel has cited Harvard University Medical School for eight ethical lapses in scientific experiments involving human subjects, the Boston Globe reported Thursday.

While no patients were hurt in the experiments, the Office of Human Research Protections cited the school's institutional review board (IRB) for the lapses, mostly involving the distribution of inadequate or confusing consent forms, the newspaper reported.

However, a more serious case involved a scientist who launched an experiment involving human subjects without any review. The 12-person ethics panel alleged that the IRB knew about the incident but failed to inform federal health officials, the Globe reported.

The newspaper said Harvard has admitted to the lapses and has promised corrective action. The school also promised to address a separate conclusion by the federal panel that the Harvard IRB was dominated by white males who lacked the racial and gender diversity of people who participate in the school's scientific trials.

The Office of Human Research Protections, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has recently investigated two other medical schools -- the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Texas at Austin -- and found "a relatively similar set of IRB lapses," the newspaper said.

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