Health Highlights: April 14, 2007

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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