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Today's Health Highlights

Kids' Vaccines Pose No Mercury Risk Designer Molecule Cuts Off Cancer's Blood Supply Alzheimer's and Parkinson's May Feed Off Each Other

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

No Mercury Risk Found in Childhood Vaccines

A mercury preservative that until recently was commonly added to vaccines in the United States does not appear to pose a risk of autism, hyperactivity and other neurological problems in children, according to a new report that looked at the possible risk.

The report, from the Institute of Medicine, an advisory panel to the government, failed to find a link between the additive thimerosal, found in vaccines and other drug products, and brain damage, HealthDay reports.

But the panel also concluded that it was "biologically plausible" that cumulative exposure to thimerosal might make children vulnerable to mercury-related disorders. So the report recommends that vaccine makers take steps to eliminate thimerosal from their products whenever possible.

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Designer Molecule Cuts Off Cancer's Blood Supply

Human trials of a genetically engineered molecule designed to kill cancers by destroying their blood supply could begin early next year, researchers say.

The molecule, developed by a team led by Alan Garen, professor of microbiology and biochemistry at Yale University, will be mass produced at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City for a trial against melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in San Diego, according to HealthDay.

The treatment has been effective in mice with prostate cancer and melanoma, Garen's team reports in the Oct. 2 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If further trials are successful, it could be used against a number of cancers, Garen says.

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Alzheimer's and Parkinson's May Feed Off Each Other

Alzheimer's disease destroys memory and Parkinson's disease attacks the body's ability to move. But new research suggests these brain diseases are far from strangers to each other: A renegade protein in Alzheimer's patients may inspire another protein to cause Parkinson's, according to HealthDay.

Scientists in California don't know if the reverse -- Parkinson's contributing to Alzheimer's -- happens also. But they hope their research may mean that defusing one of these proteins, or both, may have a wider effect than narrowly targeting one disease. Up to one-third of Alzheimer's patients also get Parkinson's; some Parkinson's patients also have signs of Alzheimer's.

"There is some sort of relationship between these two diseases beyond just coincidence," says study co-author Dr. Eliezer Masliah, a professor of neurosciences and pathology at the University of California at San Diego. "There might be similar mechanisms triggering these diseases. It might be possible that understanding one disease will help us understand the other."

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Sharon Stone Hospitalized

Actress Sharon Stone was resting comfortably in an undisclosed hospital Monday after suffering what appeared to have been a tiny brain aneurysm, the Associated Press says.

Stone was taken to the emergency room Saturday, Sept. 29, by her husband after complaining of severe head pain, the AP says.

An angiogram showed the likely cause was a tiny aneurysm, which required no treatment, according to Stone's publicist, Cindi Berger. The 43-year-old actress will probably remain in the hospital for the remainder of the week, Berger says.

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Blood Pressure Drugs Also Keep Heart Sleek

A class of popular blood-pressure drugs that eases the burden on the heart also can keep it from becoming enlarged and, in the process, trim the risk of heart attacks and strokes, new research says.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow, appear to prevent and even reverse the unhealthy buildup of stiff muscle in the heart's main pumping chamber, a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), HealthDay reports.

LVH occurs when the heart muscle becomes too bulky and rigid from the extra burden of high blood pressure or valve problems. The condition, which occurs more often in blacks than whites and most often in people with hypertension, stymies proper circulation. That, in turn, causes potentially deadly heart attacks, strokes and heart failure.

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Potential Cure for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C kills an estimated 9,000 Americans annually. But a new study released yesterday says early treatment with the drug interferon A can almost always cure the disease -- if it's diagnosed early, the Associated Press reports.

The study found that the drug can wipe out the virus that causes the disease, but it must be given as soon as symptoms appear. It's difficult to diagnose early stage hepatitis C infection, however, because typical symptoms -- including muscle ache and diminished appetite -- resemble the flu.

"This study may make people aware of how important it is to diagnose hepatitis C," says Dr. Michael P. Manns, a co-author of the study at Hannover Medical School in Germany.

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