Health Highlights: Nov. 11, 2009

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

200 Million Children Have Stunted Growth: UNICEF

Stunted growth affects nearly 200 million children who don't have enough to eat, says a UNICEF report released Wednesday.

The agency said more than 90 percent of children with stunted growth are in Africa and Asia, the Associated Press reported. Last year, the rate of stunted growth in Africa was about 34 percent and 30 percent in Asia.

UNICEF also said that undernutrition is linked to more than a third of all deaths in children under 5. Without proper nutrition, children aren't able to fight off diseases and complications.

    • 200 Million Children Have Stunted Growth: UNICEF
    • FDA to Consider Rules for Online Drug Ads
    • FDA Approves Glaxo Swine Flu Vaccine
    • Ricin Antitoxin First to Go Into Production: U.K. Scientists
    • Genes Linked to Melanoma Patients' Survival

"Unless attention is paid to addressing the causes of child and maternal undernutrition today, the costs will be considerably higher tomorrow," UNICEF executive director Ann M. Veneman said in a news release, the AP reported.

UNICEF said wider use of programs to provide vitamin A supplementation and promote breast-feeding could cut the death rate in children by up to 15 percent.

"With more than 1 billion people suffering from malnutrition and hunger, international leadership and urgent action are needed," Veneman said.


FDA to Consider Rules for Online Drug Ads

Drug makers want the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make it easier for them to market their products online.

Under current regulations for traditional media, drug ads must include a detailed list of possible side effects. That rule has severely limited their ability to advertise drugs on the Web, according to pharmaceutical companies.

In response to those concerns, the FDA will hold a two-day meeting beginning Thursday to consider developing rules for online drug advertising, the Associated Press reported.

At the meeting, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America will suggest the FDA develop a logo that could be used in ads in place of lengthy statements about drug risks. Clicking on the logo would take users to a full listing of a drug's risks.

The FDA likely won't release final regulations until 2011, the AP reported.


FDA Approves Glaxo Swine Flu Vaccine

A swine flu vaccine made by British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline is now approved for use in the United States.

In a news release, the company said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved the unadjuvanted influenza A (H1N1) pandemic vaccine, Agence France Presse reported.

"The United States Department of Health and Human Services has placed an order to fill 7.6 million doses of unadjuvanted H1N1 pandemic vaccine from GSK, which will contribute to the approximately 250 million doses secured by the U.S. government," the company said.

The makeup of the GSK swine flu vaccine approved for use in the United States is different than that of Pandermix, the company's drug recently approved in Europe to treat swine flu, AFP reported.


Ricin Antitoxin First to Go Into Production: U.K. Scientists

British scientists say their antitoxin against the deadly poison ricin is the first to move into production and should be available within a few years.

They said the antidote can protect against death when given up to 24 hours after exposure to ricin, which is about 1,000 times more toxic than cyanide and could be used in a bio-terror attack, BBC News reported.

To produce the antitoxin, an inactive form of ricin is injected into sheep, which triggers the production of antibodies. The antibodies are harvested from the sheep to create a freeze-dried product that can be reconstituted with water and injected into patients.

"In the past there has been lots of research carried out using different methods. But this is the first [antitoxin] that has been moved into production," Dr. Jane Holley, of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, told BBC News. "It is anticipated that a product will be available for use in the next couple of years."


Genes Linked to Melanoma Patients' Survival

Genes that may predict survival and help determine treatment options for patients with advanced melanoma have been identified by U.S. researchers.

A team at New York University's Langone Medical Center studied 38 patients whose melanomas had recurred after being surgically removed and pinpointed 266 associated with shorter or longer survival, United Press International reported.

"We found that patients who survived longer had gene activity consistent with an immune response," said study senior author Dr. Nina Bhardwaj. "Patients who didn't survive as long didn't have an up-regulation of those genes, but tended to have higher levels of genes associated with cell proliferation, suggesting that if your cells are growing more actively, the tumor is going to grow faster."

Bhardwaj noted that if doctors knew more about "what was happening in those patients, within the tumor itself, perhaps we'd be able to help them in terms of what therapy they might go on," UPI reported.

The study was published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.