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Health Highlights: May 19, 2005

Cervical Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise in Trial DeLay Vows to Fight Embryonic Stem Cell Research Bill Some Master's Miracle Dietary Supplements Pose Blindness Risk Vitamin D May Prolong Life of Prostate Cancer Patients U.S. Proposes General Principles for Food Standards

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

Cervical Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise in Trial

A vaccine to prevent cervical cancer has produced promising results in a late-stage clinical study, drug maker Merck & Co. announced Thursday.

The vaccine to protect against human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer, led to higher immune responses and increased levels of antibodies in adolescents, the Associated Press reported.

The Phase III study followed 510 males 10 to 15 years old, 506 females 10 to 15 years old and 513 females 16 to 23 years old. All participants who were infected with one of three types of HPV -- known as 16, 6 and 11 -- and 99.9 percent infected with HPV 18 were producing antibodies to the virus after receiving the vaccine, the AP said.

Merck said it plans to release data from other Phase III clinical trials for the vaccine -- called Gardasil -- later this year.

An estimated 20 million people in the United States are infected with HPV.

But an HPV vaccine would likely meet with strong resistance from certain groups. The reason: It would be most effective in children before they become sexually active. That would mean vaccinating 12- and 13-year-olds against a sexually transmitted disease, CNN reported.

Drug maker GlaxoSmithKline is working on a similar vaccine, called Cervarix. It's about one year behind Gardasil in the testing process, CNN said.

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DeLay Vows to Fight Embryonic Stem Cell Research Bill

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay vowed Wednesday to defeat a bill that would expand U.S. government funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The bill would ease limits imposed by the White House in August 2001 on federal financing of embryonic stem cell research. The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware.

Delay, a Texas Republican, said he's "adamantly opposed" to the Castle bill, but supports another bill that would encourage research on umbilical cord blood stem cells by establishing a national system of cord-blood banks, The New York Times reported.

The Castle bill has 201 Republican and Democrat co-sponsors and needs 218 votes to be approved. A vote is expected as early as next week. The bill promoting umbilical cord stem cell research, sponsored by Republican Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, has 41 co-sponsors.

Advocates for embryonic stem cell research say it offers great potential for treatments and cures for a variety of diseases and conditions. That's because embryonic stem cells have the potential to develop into any kind of cell or tissue in the body, the Times reported.

This kind of research requires destruction of human embryos to obtain these stem cells. As a result, embryonic stem cell research is vigorously opposed by a number of groups, including the Catholic Church and conservatives.

The competing bills have sparked intense debate within the Republican Caucus, the Times said.

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Some Master's Miracle Dietary Supplements Pose Blindness Risk

Some dietary supplements sold by the Master's Miracle Inc. of Minneapolis may be contaminated with bacteria that can cause blindness.

The company said its Fortified Mineral Neutralizer and Ultra Fortified Mineral Neutralizer dietary supplements may have the bacterial contamination. Some distributors of Master's Miracle products have been promoting the use of these supplements in the eyes. If these contaminated supplements come into contact with the eyes, it could result in serious injury, including blindness, warned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

These products do not meet FDA sterility standards for eye products and should not be used or marketed that way, the FDA said.

The supplements are sold in 8-oz., 20-oz. and 1-gallon size containers. Consumers can get more information by calling the company at 1-763-493-3200 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. EDT.

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Vitamin D May Prolong Life of Prostate Cancer Patients

A potent form of vitamin D developed at Oregon Health & Science University may extend the lives of dying prostate cancer patients, according to a new study.

It included 250 men with advanced tumors that continued to grow despite treatment with radiation or surgery and subsequent drug therapy. Currently, such patients receive the chemotherapy drug docetaxel, which extends their lives for an average of 16 months.

The new study found that adding the experimental vitamin pill DN-101 to that chemotherapy extended survival by an average of 7.1 months, the Associated Press reported.

While this study indicated that DN-101 prolongs the life of these prostate cancer patients, it wasn't large enough to prove that DN-101 is ready for market. That will require a study of about 600 patients, the AP reported.

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U.S. Proposes General Principles for Food Standards

A proposal to establish a set of general principles for evaluating whether to revise, eliminate or create new standards for food has been proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

"(This) action starts us down the road on a set of general principles that mark a significant step toward modernizing food standards," FSIS Acting Administrator Barbara J. Masters said in a prepared statement.

"The rule will likely encourage the development of food products with better nutritional profiles and stimulate innovations in food processing technology. The rule, if adopted, will allow both agencies to better utilize resources to better protect public health," Masters said.

Standards of identify define what a given food product is, its name and the ingredients that either must or may be used in making it. These food standards outline a number of areas, including minimum amounts of certain ingredients, such as meat or poultry or milk fat; maximum fat and water contents; processing methods; cooking and safe preparation; and which optional safe and suitable ingredients are permitted.

Overall, the food standards are meant to ensure that foods meet consumers' expectations no matter where they purchase the food.

FSIS and the FDA share the responsibility for ensuring that food labels are truthful. Written comments about the proposal are being accepted until Aug. 19, 2005.

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