Health Highlights: Nov. 11, 2009

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."

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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.

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