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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 20, 2002

Report: Missing Army Specimens Never Found Targeted Abortion Doctor Marks Roe v. Wade Anniversary With Free Abortions Unregulated Tissue Donations Concern Officials Universities Blow Smoke At Tobacco Companies' Demands

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

Report: Missing Army Specimens Never Found

Years before bioterrorism became a household word, specimens of anthrax, the Ebola virus, and other potentially dangerous pathogens suspiciously disappeared from an Army warfare research center, according to a report in the Hartford Courant.

A total of 27 sets of specimens disappeared from the lab at Fort Detrick, Md., in 1992, and just one of the sets was later found in the lab, according to the Courant.

An Army inquiry into the case suggested that unauthorized research was being conducted in the lab late at night and a counter on a piece of equipment was apparently rolled back.

In addition, someone created a label with the misspelled word "antrax" and left it in the piece of equipment's electronic memory.

Experts offer conflicting assessments of the potential danger of the situation, with Army officials saying the samples would have been killed and rendered harmless in preparation for study, but a molecular biologist told the newspaper that the possibility that anthrax in spore form could survive the chemical treatment could not be ruled out.


Targeted Abortion Doctor Marks Roe v. Wade Anniversary With Free Abortions

A Kansas doctor who survived being shot in both arms by an anti-abortion protester announced an offer of free abortions in honor of the 29th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973.

Dr. George Tiller spoke to about 65 supporters outside his Wichita clinic yesterday while protesters shouted and prayed from beyond a fence, reports the Associated Press.

As one of the few physicians in the country to perform late-term abortions, Tiller has been a frequent target of anti-abortion activists. His clinic was bombed in 1985. And despite being shot in both arms by an anti-abortion protester in 1993, Tiller reportedly returned to work the following day.

Tiller announced yesterday that at least 32 low-income women had already signed up to take advantage of the offer for the free first-trimester abortions.

While President Clinton's pro-choice stance thwarted attempts to restrict women's access to abortion services, President Bush opposes abortion and some fellow conservatives in Congress are advocating such restrictions.

Bush, meanwhile, issued a declaration late Friday that Sunday would be National Sanctity of Human Life Day.


Unregulated Tissue Donations Concern Officials

While the oversight of organ donations such as hearts and livers is extensive, the New York Times reports today that the lack of close monitoring of lower-profile human tissue donations such as ligaments, tendons, bones and skin is of growing concern to public health officials.

Strict federal guidelines must be followed with the donation of whole organs such as hearts and livers, but tissue banks receive donations from sources ranging from universities and hospitals to morgues and even funeral homes.

Many of the tissue banks are reputable and well-established, but of concern are the increasing number of for-profit companies working in the largely unregulated industry of tissue donation.

After federal investigators found serious screening and testing problems at some companies, the Food and Drug Administration proposed new rules for good tissue practices and donor suitability, but it may be several years before they are adopted.

Without proper handling, human tissue can potentially transmit dangerous and even deadly infections.

A case in point involved a 23-year-old student who died after receiving donor knee tissue that was later found by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have been infected with Clostridium sordellii, a relative of the bacteria that causes gangrene.

Doctors report numerous other cases of such life-threatening infections stemming from donor tissue.


Universities Blow Smoke At Tobacco Companies' Demands

A standoff between tobacco companies and some of the nation's top universities is heating up as deadlines pass for academics to turn over documents, notes and personal files relating to tobacco research, reports the New York Times.

Attorneys for such tobacco giants as Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds subpoenaed the records late last year in building their defense against a federal lawsuit filed under the Clinton administration accusing the industry of "defrauding and misleading the American public."

But universities including Harvard, New York University School of Medicine, four campuses in the University of California system, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Kentucky have all balked at the demands, calling the unprecedented requests a "fishing expedition."

"This is a serious infringement upon the academic freedom and rights of our faculty," Estelle A. Fishbein, general counsel for Johns Hopkins University, told the Times.

The tobacco companies contend they are just trying to prove their innocence and show that comments made by tobacco executives in past decades were "entirely reasonable" given what was known about the health effects of smoking at the time.

Just one institution, North Carolina State University, has complied with the demands, allowing tobacco companies to this week review documents found by professors.


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