Health Highlights: May 20, 2007

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

FDA Delays Approval of New Anemia Drug

In the wake of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's concern about the safety of anemia treatment drugs, the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche has announced the federal agency has delayed approving its drug, Mircera.

The Associated Press reports that Roche won't say specifically what questions the FDA wants answered about Mircera, but a company spokesperson said it has received an FDA draft for the drug's labeling. She added that no approval would be given until the FDA met in the fall to discuss the safety of drugs used to combat anemia in patients with kidney disease, for which Mircera was designed.

    • FDA Delays Approval of New Anemia Drug
    • Scientists 'Add' an Hour to the 24-Hour Day
    • Where Do People Live the Longest?
    • Son Gets Near-Fatal Infection from Father's Smallpox Vaccination
    • Pill That Would End Periods to Get FDA Blessing
    • Boiling 'Cabbage Family' Veggies Cuts Anti-Cancer Properties

If approved, Mircera would compete with Amgen's Aranesp and Epogen and Johnson and Johnson's Procrit. An FDA advisory panel last week recommended warning labels for Aranesp and Epogen when they are used in treating anemia in cancer patients.

And the agency has already ordered increased warnings for all of the drugs, emphasizing increased risk of blood clots and heat attack when they are taken in high doses, the wire service said.


Scientists 'Add' an Hour to the 24-Hour Day

If you've ever complained that there weren't enough hours in the day to get things done, be patient. It may not be long before you get some extra time.

According to BBC News, researchers from the United States and France have conducted an experiment that suggests it might be possible to "stretch" our day beyond 24 hours.

The research, which was published in the May 14 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, had 12 volunteers who were subjected to bright, pulsing light in a controlled environment that blocked out any difference between night and day.

This, in turn, adjusted the natural human circadian rhythm, programmed in many species to match the 24-hour cycle that makes up one day.

According to BBC using the pulses of bright light, the scientists were able to reprogram the study subjects, "adding" an average of an extra hour to their day.

Why would this be necessary? "Jet-lag, shift work and circadian disorders such as advanced and delayed sleep phase syndromes are all associated, to different extents, with a condition where the circadian system is out of synchrony with the light/dark cycle," the BBC quotes the scientists as saying.


Where Do People Live the Longest?

If you want your son to have a long life -- in fact, statistically the longest life expectancy on earth -- move to San Marino, a small republic on a hill near the Adriatic sea, surrounded by Italy.

And if you have a daughter and want her lifespan to be the longest, you can move across to the Mediterranean to Monaco, or across the sea to Japan.

According to the Associated Press, these countries rank among the best for a person's longevity. The annual list was issued Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO). San Marino's male life expectancy is 80, and Japan and Monaco's (among others) female life expectancy is 86, the wire service reports.

The lowest life expectancy for both males and females is in Africa, the A.P. reports. Males in Sierra Leone, on the continent's west coast, have an average lifespan of only 37, which is the same for females in Swaziland, in the southern part of Africa.

The United States is on the high side in average lifespan, the A.P. reports, although not a leader in either category. U.S. males reach an average age of 75 and women can be expected to live to be 80.


Son Gets Near-Fatal Infection from Father's Smallpox Vaccination

In some rare cases, getting a smallpox vaccination can cause serious consequences.

The New York Times reports the case of a 2-year-old boy who nearly died and spent almost two months in the hospital after suffering from a viral infection attributable to the smallpox vaccination his father, who was in the military, received before leaving for Iraq.

The incident occurred in March, the Times reports and occurred probably because the boy's constant exposure to his father before he left caused a condition known as eczema vaccinatum to incubate and become active.

A government investigation into the incident found that the father had suffered from the skin condition eczema as a child and should never have been given a smallpox shot, the newspaper said. Military procedures require health officials to take a full medical history of a soldier before administering vaccinations.

The son, too, suffered from eczema, and contact with his father caused him to contract eczema vaccinatum, which resulted in kidney failure and the loss of most of his skin, according to the Times. He spent seven weeks in the hospital, the newspaper reports.

Even though smallpox has officially been declared eradicated, U.S. military personnel and certain health workers get the vaccine, the Times reported. About 1.2 million vaccines were given to Americans last year, the newspaper said.


Pill That Would End Periods to Get FDA Blessing

A birth control pill that would eliminate periods completely for women is expected to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Lybrel, which is made by Wyeth, would be the fourth oral contraceptive that doesn't mirror a woman's monthly menstrual cycle. Seasonique, an updated version of Seasonale, limits menstrual periods to four a year, the AP reported.

Almost 50 percent of women surveyed have indicated a desire to eliminate monthly periods, and most would rather have periods less often, the wire service said.

I think it's the beginning of it being very common," Dr. Leslie Miller, a University of Washington-Seattle obstetrician/gynecologist told the AP. "Lybrel says, 'You don't need a period.'"

Lybrel should hit the U.S. market in July, and analysts have predicted that sales could reach $40 million this year and $235 million by 2010, the AP reported.


Boiling 'Cabbage Family' Veggies Cuts Anti-Cancer Properties

Boiling broccoli and related kinds of vegetables -- including cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts -- reduces their anti-cancer properties, according to a U.K. study in the journal Food Chemistry and Toxicology.

Researchers at the University of Warwick Medical School found that boiling these vegetables causes the loss of a substance called glucosinolate. When consumed, glucosinolate changes into another compound called isothiocyanate, which fights the effects of carcinogens and hastens their removal from the body, Agence France-Presse reported.

The study found that boiling reduced glucosinolate content by 77 percent in broccoli, 58 percent in Brussels sprouts, 75 percent in cauliflower, and 65 percent in green cabbage.

Steaming, stir-frying or microwaving had little effect on these vegetables, however, AFP reported.

There are a number of other related vegetables with anti-cancer properties, including collards, kale, horseradish, radish, watercress, boy choy, rutabaga, kohlrabi, turnips, and Chinese cabbage.