Health Highlights: July 1, 2008

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

Drug Store, Pharmacy Benefit Managers Combine Info Systems

In an effort to increase electronic prescribing by doctors, the drug store and pharmacy benefit management industries will combine their information systems, the Associated Press reported.

The union will make electronic prescribing more convenient and efficient for doctors, according to executives with the two industries.

"This merger sets aside historic economic and political differences to do what is necessary to advance paperless prescribing and the secure exchange of critical information," said John Driscoll, president for new markets at MedcoHealth Solutions Inc., the AP reported.

    • Drug Store, Pharmacy Benefit Managers Combine Info Systems
    • Babies Need Stomach Time to Develop Back and Neck Muscles
    • Watermelons Said to Boost Heart Health
    • Dogs Can Detect Ovarian Cancer: Study
    • Experimental Alzheimer's Drug Ineffective

Along with MedcoHealth Solutions, the merger will include the RxHub network, operated by CVS Caremark Corp., Express Scripts Inc., and Surescripts, which is run by the drug store industry's two main trade groups.

Last year, only about 2 percent of all medicines dispensed in the United States were prescribed electronically, according to Surescripts, the AP reported.


Babies Need Stomach Time to Develop Back and Neck Muscles

While having babies sleep on their backs reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), it can impair development of their back and neck muscles, according to U.S. experts.

When babies sleep on their backs, it means they miss out on 12 hours of time they used to get on their stomachs while sleeping. This means they don't get much-needed stretching and strengthening of their back and neck muscles, which can lead to early motor delay, according to the Pathways Awareness Medical Round Table, United Press International reported.

The round table -- a group of pediatricians, surgeons, physical therapists, nurses and researchers -- developed a set of standards for stomach time that specifies when to start, how much infants need, and the best ways to encourage the activity.

About one in 40 babies is diagnosed with early motor delay, which can range from low muscle tone to cerebral palsy. Some early motor delays are present at birth and others develop or are made worse by lack of stomach time. Physical therapy can help children with early motor delay to catch up quickly, UPI reported.


Watermelons Said to Boost Heart Health

Watermelons contain compounds that can benefit the heart and circulatory system and may even provide a Viagra-like lift to the libido, according to Texas A&M researchers.

"The more we study watermelons, the more we realize just how amazing a fruit it is in providing natural enhancers to the human body," Dr. Bhimu Patil said in a prepared statement, United Press International reported.

Patil and colleagues found that when watermelon is consumed, a phyto-nutrient called citrulline is converted into an amino acid called arginine.

"The citrulline-arginine relationship helps heart health, the immune system and may prove to be very helpful for those who suffer from obesity and type 2 diabetes," Patil said. "Arginine boosts nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, the same basic effect that Viagra has, to treat erectile dysfunction and maybe even prevent it."

In addition, Patil said deep-red varieties of watermelon also contain plenty of the antioxidant lycopene, which protects the heart, prostate and skin health, UPI reported.


Dogs Can Detect Ovarian Cancer: Study

Specially trained dogs can use their noses to distinguish different types and grades of ovarian cancer, say researchers at the University Hospital in Goteborg, Sweden. Early stage and low-grade ovarian tumors emit the same scent as advanced ovarian tumors.

The researchers said their study shows ovarian cancer has an odor that's distinct from other gynecological malignancies such as cervical or endometrial cancers, United Press International reported.

The researchers said "we do not believe that dogs should be used in clinical practice, because they may be influenced during their work, leading to changes in the accuracy rates," but under controlled circumstances dogs "may be used in experiments to further explore this very interesting new property of malignancies."

The study was published in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies.


Experimental Alzheimer's Drug Ineffective

The experimental Alzheimer's drug Flurizan produced disappointing results in a late-stage clinical trial and development of the drug will be halted, Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics announced Monday.

Compared to a placebo, the drug didn't improve thinking ability by a statistically significant amount, nor did it improve patients' abilities to do daily activities, The New York Times reported.

The drug -- designed to prevent the buildup of toxic amyloid plaques in the brain believed to cause Alzheimer's -- was one of the first of its kind to reach late-stage testing. The failure of Flurizan may raise doubts about the role of amyloid plaques in Alzheimer's and about other experimental drugs designed to combat the plaques.

Two such drugs are currently in late-stage testing, the Times reported.

A study published earlier this month in the journal Nature suggested that gamma-secretase modulators such as Flurizan showed potential for treating Alzheimer's. The study said these drugs reduce the production of long pieces of amyloid beta protein that stick together and form clumps, while increasing production of shorter amyloid beta that blocks longer amyloid beta from sticking together, HealthDay News reported.