Health Highlights: April 13, 2007

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

Court Won't Order FDA to Tighten Rules on Mercury Fillings

A U.S. federal appeals court unanimously ruled Friday that it can't compel the Food and Drug Administration to tighten rules on dental fillings that contain mercury, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that it has no jurisdiction to review the agency's handling of the issue.

Advocacy groups went to court in an attempt to ban mercury fillings and to force the FDA to reclassify the products and impose stricter regulations on them, the AP reported.

    • Court Won't Order FDA to Tighten Rules on Mercury Fillings
    • New HIV Drug Shows Promise
    • U.S. Woman Has Baby Conceived with Frozen Egg and Sperm
    • Senate Panel OKs Bill to Negotiate Medicare Drug Prices
    • FDA Approves Ointment to Treat Impetigo
    • Scientists Identify Genetic Mutations Linked to ADHD

The groups argue that mercury vapors from the fillings can harm patients and the dental office employees who handle the fillings.

Significant levels of mercury exposure can damage the kidneys and brain. But the FDA has steadfastly insisted that mercury fillings pose no threat to patients, except in rare cases when patients have allergic reactions, the AP reported.


New HIV Drug Shows Promise

A new drug called raltegravir shows promise in combatting drug-resistant HIV, concludes an international study in The Lancet medical journal. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

Raltegravir belongs to a new class of drugs called integrase-inhibitors, which block an enzyme essential for HIV to replicate itself, BBC News reported.

The study included 178 patients with advanced HIV who failed to respond to the antiretroviral drugs they'd been taking for about 10 years. The patients were assigned to take their usual drugs plus either raltegravir or a non-medicinal placebo.

After 24 weeks, patients taking raltegravir showed a 98 percent drop in the amount of HIV genetic material in their blood, compared to a 45 percent drop among the placebo group. Those taking raltegravir also showed a significant boost in the number of CD4 cells, an indication of immune response, BBC News reported.

"This drug has the potential to become an important component of combination treatment regimens...for patients failing current therapies with multidrug-resistant virus and limited treatment options," wrote the study's authors at Merck Research Laboratories in Pennsylvania.


U.S. Woman Has Baby Conceived with Frozen Egg and Sperm

A 36-year-old California woman has given birth to the first baby in the United States to be conceived using a frozen egg and frozen sperm.

Adrienne Domasin gave birth to Noah Peter Domasin (8 pounds, 4 ounces) at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., the Associated Press reported.

While there have been about 200 documented births from frozen eggs worldwide, the only other birth from a frozen egg and frozen sperm took place in Australia. That birth was reported last year in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics.

Domasin decided to take part in the California study after she learned two years ago that her fallopian tubes were blocked. She was unable to afford in-vitro fertilization but was determined to have a baby, the AP reported.

After eggs were harvested from Domasin, they were frozen for four months, then injected with thawed donor sperm. A fertilized egg was then placed inside Domasin.

The freezing of sperm has been done for decades but attempts to use frozen eggs have a low success rate, the AP reported.


Senate Panel OKs Bill to Negotiate Medicare Drug Prices

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee has approved legislation to permit Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, the Associated Press reported.

The bill, approved Thursday by a vote of 13-8, eliminates a clause that forbids the secretary of Health and Human Services from taking part in negotiations between drug companies, insurers, and pharmacies, the AP reported. The bill is expected to go before the full Senate next week.

While the Bush administration opposes the measure, supporters said the ban on federal government negotiations with drug makers goes too far.

"When you're negotiating on behalf of 43 million people, that's leverage," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told the wire service.


FDA Approves Ointment to Treat Impetigo

An antibiotic ointment called Altabax (retapamulin) has been approved to treat children and adults with a bacterial skin infection called impetigo, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

The drug, a new molecular entity not previously approved in the United States, can be used on people aged nine months or older, the FDA said.

The approval was based on a study of about 3,000 people who received either Altabax, different antibiotics, or a non-medicinal placebo. The most common side effect among those using Altabax was irritation at the site where it was applied. This occurred in less than two percent of people who used the ointment, the FDA said.

Altabax, which will be available by prescription, is made by North Carolina-based GlaxoSmithKline.


Scientists Identify Genetic Mutations Linked to ADHD

Three gene mutations may be associated with cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), say German researchers.

They studied 329 families in which one child had ADHD, finding that about 70 percent of the children had a combination of three mutations in the gene for a dopamine transporter linked to hyperactivity, Agence France Presse reported.

"People who have this combination in both copies of the gene have a 2.5 increased ADHD risk. People with only one copy of this variant still have almost twice the risk," team leader Dr. Johannes Hebebrand of the University of Duisburg-Essen said in a prepared statement.

"Of course, this doesn't mean that everyone who has the genetic variants will automatically get the disease," he added.

Hebebrand said this is the strongest genetic evidence found to date linking the dopamine transporter to hyperactivity, AFP reported.