Health Highlights: March 12, 2008

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

FDA Panel Backs New Platelet Drug

An experimental biotech drug to treat a blood-clotting disorder won a recommendation for approval Wednesday from U.S. health experts.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously in favor of Amgen's drug, Nplate, according to a company spokeswoman.

The company is seeking approval for Nplate for patients with immune thrombocytopenic purpura, a disorder that causes the body to attack its own platelets, tiny components of blood that help with clotting, the Associated Press reported. The condition, which causes bruising and bleeding after minor injuries, affects about 200,000 people in the United States.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • FDA Panel Backs New Platelet Drug
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    • Scientists Discover Key to Pneumonia Bacterium's Penicillin Resistance
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    • Researchers 'Hack' Into Heart Device
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Amgen submitted studies that showed patients treated with the drug had significantly higher platelet levels than those taking placebo. The drug is a genetically engineered version of the protein that encourages platelet production, the AP reported.

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Meth Use Declines in U.S.

A U.S. government crackdown on the availability of chemicals used to make methamphetamine may be one reason why meth use continued to drop in nearly every part of the country last year.

A study released Wednesday by New Jersey-based drug testing company Quest Diagnostics Inc. found that the number of U.S. employees who tested positive for meth decreased 22 percent overall in 2007, the Associated Press reported. However, meth use in the Northest remained steady.

And a new report from the Drug Enforcement Agency said the number of illegal meth lab seizures decreased from 7,347 in 2006 to 5,080 in 2007, a drop of 31 percent. White House drug policy director John Walters said the market for meth has been disrupted by laws restricting the sale of cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine (a key ingredient in meth), and increased efforts to block the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico.

The Quest study, based on the results of more than 8.4 million worker drug tests, also found that cocaine use in the workforce decreased by 19 percent last year, the largest single-year drop in a decade, the AP reported.

However, positive tests for amphetamines increased by 5 percent, the Quest study said.

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Scientists Discover Key to Pneumonia Bacterium's Penicillin Resistance

U.K. scientists have discovered how a bacterium that causes pneumonia becomes resistant to penicillin, a finding that could lead to the development of new drugs to fight different types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The University of Warwick researchers studied Streptococcus pneumoniae, which kills five million children a year worldwide, BBC News reported. S. pneumoniae is among a growing number of bacteria that have developed resistance to penicillin and other drugs.

The researchers found that S. pneumoniae deploys a protein called MurM in order to protect itself from the effects of penicillin. The study appears in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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