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Health Highlights: May 22, 2005

Eye Allergies Cause Corneal Transplant Failures, Study Says Connecticut Expected to Enact Tough Anti-Junk Food Law for Schools 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

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

Eye Allergies Cause Corneal Transplant Failures, Study Says

Transplanting the cornea is difficult enough, but researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center report they have found that eye allergies may make transplanting the Cornea close to impossible.

"We found that the immune system's response to corneal transplants was profoundly elevated in mice with allergic eye disease, resulting in the rejection of 100 percent of the corneal grafts," Dr. Jerry Niederkorn, the study's senior author said in a press release. "This was in sharp contrast to the 50 percent rejection rate that occurred in the mice without allergic eye disease," he added.

The study appears in the June edition of the Journal of Immunology.

The reason for the overwhelming rejection of the delicate corneal membrane may have to do with the way the immune system in the eye reacts not only to the new cornea but also to allergies already there, the researchers say.

Ragweed pollen was used in the right eyes of the study animals. When the corneas were transplanted, the allergic mice had a rejection rate twice as fast as the control group.

The scientists then transplanted corneas in the left eyes, which did not have any allergies, but the rejection rate was still the same.

"The allergist and ophthalmologist need to work as partners in managing the allergic patient who is destined to receive a corneal transplant," Niderkorn concluded.

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Connecticut Expected to Enact Tough Anti-Junk Food Law for Schools

At least 17 states have attempted banning junk food and soda in schools in the past, but the results have been mixed. Now, Connecticut is very close to passing the most sweeping restrictions every attempted on high-calorie, high-fat food and drink in the nation.

The reason many advocates of healthier food in school lunchrooms will be watching the Connecticut project so closely is because it is so broad, the Associated Press reports. It applies to every grade and every school where food is sold, the wire service says. "Connecticut would be the first state to apply those standards to high schools," the A.P quotes Margo Wootan, director of nutritional policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, as saying.

The legislation has already passed Connecticut's assembly. It will be debated this coming week in the state Senate, where it is also expected to pass. According to the wire service, the new law would ban soda and junk food in cafeterias, vending machines and school stores. It also requires 20 minutes of physical activity outside of gym for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

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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.

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