Health Highlights: Feb. 3, 2008

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

Method Found to Block Parasitic Spread of Malaria in the Body

While malaria isn't a scourge in the United States, the devastation it causes in other parts of the world -- especially Africa and Asia -- has always been a challenge for scientists, and finding a cure still remains elusive.

The parasitic infection attacks an estimated 500 million people worldwide every year with an estimated 1 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Now, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine say they've been able to identify two enzymes that help the malaria parasites spread throughout the body. And they say they've also indentified compounds that may be able to block those enzymes.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Method Found to Block Parasitic Spread of Malaria in the Body
    • Diabetes-Linked Gene Variant Hikes Premature Birth Risk in Hispanic Women
    • Blood Thinner May Have Caused Allergic Reactions in More Than 50 Dialysis Patients
    • New Procedures at Yale Improve Safety in Obstetrics Department
    • FDA Approves 1st New Drug-Eluting Stent Since 2004
    • U.S. Women's Heart Disease Deaths Continue to Decline

By blocking the enzymes, lead researcher Matthew Bogyo says in a university news release, the parasites stay in blood cells and die before they can escape and spread the malarial infection.

The research, published Feb. 3 in the advance online issue of Nature Chemical Biology, centered on enzymes in the parasite called proteases, according to the news release. By blocking the protease enzymes, the malarial parasites -- entering the body from mosquito bites -- can't be released, said Bogyo, an assistant professor of pathology.

"But no one really knew which proteases were responsible," Bogyo said. "The bottom line is that to combat malaria effectively, we are going to have to keep launching multiple classes of new drugs with different mechanisms of action if we want to prevent resistance."

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Diabetes-Linked Gene Variant Hikes Premature Birth Risk in Hispanic Women

A gene associated with heightened type 2 diabetes risk has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight among Hispanic women, according to Yale University School of Medicine researchers.

The scientists discovered that a variant of the ENPP1 gene, found in the DNA of women who had full term deliveries and another group of Hispanic women whose babies were born prematurely, was associated with increased risk of premature birth in the Hispanic study group.

ENPP1 has been associated with insulin resistance, glucose intolerance and a risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Insofar as low birth weight and pre-term delivery is concerned, the Yale researchers theorized that the gene variant is associated with deranged energy metabolism, according to a university news release. Deranged energy metabolism causes some energy-producing substances in the body to be replaced by other substances not always associated with creating body energy.

The initial results seem to indicate that ENPP1 can be used as a predictor in other ethnic groups as well. "In our original study, 85 percent of the population was Hispanic," said Dr. Errol Norwitz, associate professor at the university's department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences.

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