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Health Highlights: May 21, 2005

Anti-Depression Implant Device Nears Approval Despite Questionable ResultsFDA Warns About Street Use of Cough and Cold Drug Bush Vows Veto of Stem Cell Legislation Heart Attack Patients Often Struggle With Depression: Study Too Much TV, Too Little Sleep Linked to Childhood Obesity

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

Anti-Depression Implant Device Nears Approval Despite Questionable Results

An implantable device called a vagus nerve stimulator may soon receive government approval for treating people with severe bouts of depression.

But test results indicate that its effectiveness is far from certain, the New York Times reports.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved the implant device for the treatment of epilepsy, the newspaper says. The nerve stimulator is a pacemaker-like device, implanted in the upper chest, with wires leading to the brain. The problem, the Times says, is that clinical trials have shown that the nerve stimulator was no more effective in fighting severe depression than a placebo procedure, in which the machine was implanted but never activated.

In fact, the newspaper says, most patients who pay up to $15,000 for the device show no mood improvement at all. A few do, but not enough to necessarily warrant FDA approval, the Times quotes one expert as saying.

"I've never seen anything quite like this," Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of health research at Public Citizen, told the newspaper. Public Citizen is a nonprofit group that monitors government agencies and their relationships private industry. "What we could be setting ourselves up for is an epidemic of implantation of a device with no proven effectiveness."

The vagus nerve stimulator is manufactured by Houston-based Cyberonics Inc., whose stocked has fluctuated while waiting for a final decision from the FDA.

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FDA Warns About Street Use of Cough and Cold Drug

A drug commonly found in over-the-counter cold and cough medicines may be the cause of five recent deaths when offered in a powdered form sold in capsules on the street.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning about synthetically produced dextromethorphan (DXM), saying it is working with law enforcement officials to warn the public about abuse of the the drug's powdered form.

"Although DXM, when formulated properly and used in small amounts, can be safely used in cough suppressant medicines," the FDA says in a news release, "abuse of the drug can cause death as well as other serious adverse events such as brain damage, seizure,loss of consciousness, and irregular heart beat." The agency says that DXM has gradually replaced codeine as the most widely used cough suppressant used in over-the-counter cold and cough remedies.

Calling the trend of finding more DXM being sold in the powdered form "disturbing," the agency has issued the DXM alert and offered a link to its over the counter drug alert Web site..

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Bush Vows Veto of Stem Cell Legislation

President George W. Bush said Friday that he would veto legislation being considered by the House of Representatives to ease restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

"I have made very clear to the Congress that the use of taxpayer money to promote science that destroys life in order to save life, I am against that," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office before meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, according to a Bloomberg news report. "If the bill does that, I will veto it."

The U.S. House will vote as early as next week on two competing bills governing stem-cell research. One proposal, written by Delaware Republican Mike Castle, would remove the limit on the number of embryonic stem-cell lines eligible for federal research funding. The measure has 202 co-sponsors and could pass the House with 218 votes. The other proposal, sponsored by New Jersey Republican Christopher H. Smith with 41 co-sponsors, would encourage research on umbilical cord blood stem cells by establishing a national system of cord-blood banks.

The President's vow followed word out of Britain that Newcastle University scientists have successfully created Britain's first cloned human embryo -- an early stage embryo cloned from a human cell using nuclear transfer.

Last August, the same team of scientists became the first in Britain to receive a license for human cloning. The Newcastle researchers' goal is to eventually develop insulin-producing cells that could be transplanted into people with diabetes, the Associated Press reported.

Cloned human embryos are used to supply stem cells that may offer a way to repair spinal cord injuries and heal numerous diseases.

And the White House reaction also followed the announcement Thursday that a team of South Korean scientists had found a way to accelerate the creation of human embryonic stem cells. They were able to grow 11 new batches of stem cells that, for the first time, genetically matched injured or sick patients, the AP reported.

The same research team created the world's first cloned human embryo last year.

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Heart Attack Patients Often Struggle With Depression: Study

One in five patients hospitalized for heart attack suffers from major depression. What's more, these patients may be more likely than other heart attack patients to need hospital care again within a year for a cardiac problem, and three times as likely to die from a future attack or other heart problems.

Those findings are contained in a report released Friday by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The review suggests that 60 percent to 70 percent of people who become depressed when hospitalized for a heart attack continue to suffer from depression for one month to four months or more after discharge.

The researchers also found that, during the first year following a heart attack, those with major depression can have a delay in returning to work, poorer quality of life, and worse physical and psychological health.

On the plus side, the reviewers found that both counseling and certain antidepressants are effective at reducing symptoms of depression in patients following a heart attack.

"This report provides the scientific evidence clinicians need to know about the prevalence of depression in heart attack survivors, how depression affects these patients, and the need to treat the disease early," said AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy in a prepared statement.

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Too Much TV, Too Little Sleep Linked to Childhood Obesity

Getting less than 10.5 hours of sleep per night and watching more than eight hours of TV a week are among eight key factors that increase the risk of obesity in young children, says a U.K. study in the British Medical Journal online edition.

The other key factors identified by University of Glasgow and Bristol researchers were: birth weight; parental obesity; size in early life -- measured at eight and 18 months; rapid weight gain in the first year of life; rapid catch-up growth up to two years of age, and early development of body fatness in pre-school years.

The findings from this study of 9,000 children support the theory that early life environment can influence obesity risk, the study authors said. They way that these factors may increase the risk of obesity is complex, BBC News Online reported.

Many interventions designed to prevent obesity have been unsuccessful, the researchers noted.

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