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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 6, 2001

Lawmakers Knock FBI for Anthrax Probe Inflammation Signals May Predict Heart Disease Scientist Creates Stem Cells From Nonviable Embryos

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

FBI Criticized for Anthrax Investigation

At a Senate hearing today on the threat of bioterrorism, lawmakers were critical of the FBI for a lack of progress in the anthrax-by-mail campaign, CNN reported.

Panel chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was "surprised the FBI hasn't made more progress" in tracing sources of the potentially deadly bacterium that has left four people dead and dozens more infected.

Those testifying included Tim Caruso, an FBI deputy assistant director. Asked by Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., whether the FBI knew the source of the anthrax, Caruso replied, "We do not know at this time," CNN reported.

Elsewhere, the chief postal inspector, Kenneth Weaver, told the Postal Board of Governors today that his inspectors were screening the mail passing through selected postal facilities and are following up more than 300 leads received from a broadcast of the TV show "America's Most Wanted.''

The focus, he said, is tracking down whoever placed the anthrax in the mail, according to the Associated Press.

But eight days after the last anthrax diagnosis, a top federal health official said today the worst may be over. "For this episode, we're out of the woods,'' said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, AP reported.

Meanwhile, post offices, government buildings and other facilities affected by the anthrax scare continued to reopen today, while cleanups continued at other sites.

In New York City, the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital reopened today, six days after it was closed by the anthrax threat. Kathy Nguyen, who worked at the outpatient facility, died last week of inhalation anthrax, the most dangerous form of the disease, and was buried yesterday. Police are now using her subway card to try to reconstruct the last two weeks of her life to determine how she was exposed to the germ. They said today they believe it took a large quantity of anthrax spores to kill her, AP reported.

Norma Wallace of Willingboro, N.J., a postal worker who returned home yesterday from the hospital after a three-week bout with inhaled anthrax, said, "I have an obligation to explain that even though we have been confronted with a deadly disease, there is hope.''

Four people have died of inhaled anthrax since the mail attacks began early last month. Wallace is the third inhaled anthrax victim to recover and leave a hospital; three others remain under hospital care.

In Washington, authorities were preparing to deal with the piles of mail held since the anthrax contamination campaign first surfaced there at the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The FBI said sealed containers of congressional mail that had been decontaminated at an Ohio facility and then stored in a Washington warehouse are being transferred to another facility in Virginia for inspection.

In Lansing, Mich., the nation's only manufacturer of an anthrax vaccine said it expects it will be at least mid-December before it can win federal permission to ship the drug. BioPort Corp. has been unable to distribute the vaccine since it failed U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections in 1999 and 2000. BioPort will start a new production cycle on Nov. 22, spokeswoman Kim Brennan Root said. FDA inspectors will visit the company's site in mid-December, she said.

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Inflammation Signals May Predict Heart Disease

Molecules involved in inflammation look promising as risk indicators for coronary artery disease and as targets for treatment, two research teams report, according to HealthDay.

Scientists at Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden have found an association between blood levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), an immune system protein that can drive the inflammatory process, and the risk of death for patients with advanced coronary artery disease. Singling out patients with elevated IL-6 levels for aggressive treatment reduced their death rate, the scientists report.

And researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation say levels of myeloperoxidase, an inflammation-causing enzyme produced by the defense system against infection, are much higher in patients with coronary artery disease than in those with healthy arteries.

But an editorial accompanying those reports in the Nov. 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association says the research linking inflammation and coronary artery disease is at an early stage, with years to go before it can be used for prevention and treatment.

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Scientist Creates Stem Cells From Nonviable Embryos

In a development that could sidestep some of the ethical issues surrounding stem cell research, a scientist in Los Angeles says he has created stem cells that can turn into nerve cells using a kind of embryo that cannot develop into a baby, The New York Times reported today.

The work, done in mice, is one of several recent experiments that explore the usefulness of asexual reproduction in deriving stem cells.

The researcher, Dr. Jerry L. Hall, an embryologist at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Genetic Testing, uses chemicals to coax an egg to grow into an embryo of sorts without being fertilized by a male's sperm. Such embryos, even if implanted into a womb, would not grow to become viable babies, Hall and other experts said. But the embryos can be grown in a laboratory for a few days, long enough to become a source of stem cells. Hall's work was presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Orlando, Fla.

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5th Artificial Heart Recipient in Philadelphia

A patient in Philadelphia has become the world's fifth recipient of a self-contained artificial heart, the Associated Press reported.

Dr. Louis E. Samuels performed the operation yesterday at MCP Hahnemann Hospital and said the plastic-and-titanium AbioCor heart was performing flawlessly, though the patient was having lung problems. The patient's identity was not released.

The first person to receive the AbioCor was Robert Tools, 59. He underwent the operation at a hospital in Louisville, Ky., on July 2. He is reported doing well and could be home for the holidays.

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