Health Highlights: May 13, 2007

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

Tumor Blocker Found to Prevent Growth of Breast Cancer Enzyme

A team of Canadian scientists says it has found a way to block an enzyme that promotes the growth of breast cancer tumors, BBC News reports.

McGill University researchers report in the latest edition of Nature Genetics that the enzyme PTP1B appears to promote uncontrolled cell growth in the breast, which can produce cancerous tumors. Using laboratory mice, the scientists were able to use a drug developed by the pharmaceutical firm Merck and Co. that blocks PTP1B development.

    • Tumor Blocker Found to Prevent Growth of Breast Cancer Enzyme
    • Proposed New Jersey Law Mandates HIV Testing for Pregnant Women and Newborns
    • 'Pulse,' Rather Than 'Shock,' May be Better in Implanted Defibrillators
    • Bare Metal Stents Better for Surgery Candidates: Study
    • Scientists Create Artificial Blood Derived From Plastic

This method could prevent up to 40 percent of breast cancer malignancy, the researchers said. The possibility of combining it with the breast cancer drug Herceptin might improve effectiveness, according to the study leader, Michel Tremblay, a professor at McGill's Department of Medical Biology.

"It's another tool to tackle cancers... however it won't cure cancer alone," BBC News quotes Tremblay as saying. "Combined with Herceptin, it may provide a 'two-way kill'."


Proposed New Jersey Law Mandates HIV Testing for Pregnant Women and Newborns

New Jersey could become the first state in the nation to require HIV testing for both pregnant women and their newborn babies.

The Associated Press reports that with the comment that his proposed statute is a "no-brainer," state senate president Richard Codey (D) introduced the bill last week, requiring pregnant women to be tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, twice: once early in the pregnancy and once in the third trimester. The baby would be tested shortly after being born, the proposed law says.

While other states have some provisions requiring HIV testing, none mandates both mother and baby to be tested, the A.P. reports. Under Codey's bill, a mother could opt out if she submits her objection in writing.

Codey told the A.P. that he made the HIV testing statute a priority after he saw a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding that treating an HIV-infected pregnant woman could dramatically reduce the possibility the virus would passed on to her child. "For newborns this can be a lifesaving measure," the wire service quotes him as saying.


'Pulse,' Rather Than 'Shock,' May be Better in Implanted Defibrillators

While much of the research presented about implanted defibrillators at this past week's annual meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society in Denver was positive, one report questioned whether the device's basic element -- an electronic jolt to bring the heart back into rhythm -- was necessary.

The New York Times reports that a study led by Dr. Bruce L. Wilkoff, a defibrillator expert from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, found that electronic pulses similar to those used in pacemakers would suffice in many situations. The difference, the research concludes, is that the patient wouldn't need to experience the possible damage from the electronic shock, now the hallmark of the implanted defibrillator.

In fact, the newspaper reports, a steady stream of pulses -- usually not felt by the patient -- might actually save more lives. Previous studies have concluded that in 80 percent of cases when a defibrillator has been implanted, a reviving jolt is never needed, the Times reports.

"A lot of these shocks should be classified as inappropriate," the newspaper quotes Wilkoff as saying. The study was sponsored by Medtronics, which makes implantable defibrillators.


Bare Metal Stents Better for Surgery Candidates: Study

While cardiac stents covered with a drug are more effective at keeping diseased arteries propped open, heart patients who undergo non-cardiac surgery after getting a stent would do better with a bare metal one, researchers at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia have found.

A stent is a metal mesh tube designed to be inserted into a once-clogged artery to keep it from re-clogging and narrowing. But a drug-releasing stent could lead to clotting inside the stent, especially when surgery is performed within weeks of a stent placement, the researchers found. Just before their procedures, surgical candidates often are told to stop blood-thinning medicines, compounding the problem, the researchers said.

The scientists studied 60 patients who averaged 68 years old. Some 27 percent of these patients had been diagnosed with diabetes, which can complicate surgery.

Results of the research were to be announced Friday at a meeting of the Society for Cardiovascular Angioplasty and Interventions, in Orlando, Fla.


Scientists Create Artificial Blood Derived From Plastic

An artificial blood derived from plastic molecules has been developed by British researchers at Sheffield University, BBC News reported Friday.

The plastic molecules have an iron atom at their core that functions much like hemoglobin found in human blood. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to tissues throughout the body.

The new blood, which could be used as a substitute in an emergency, does not need to be cooled and keeps longer than real blood, the researchers said.

"This product can be stored a lot more easily than blood, meaning large quantities could be carried easily by ambulances and the armed forces," Dr. Lance Twyman, one of the university's researchers, told BBC News.

The scientists are looking for more funding to develop a prototype suitable for biologic testing, the network said.