Health Highlights: Dec. 3, 2008

Five years ago, new regulations capped the working hours of young doctors to about 80 hours per week. The new report offers recommendations to further improve conditions for overworked medical residents doing on-the-job training, the Associated Press reported.

The Institute of Medicine said:

  • Residents working the maximum 30-hour shift should get an uninterrupted five-hour sleep break after 16 hours.
  • There should be better overlapping of schedules during shift changes to reduce chances for error as one doctor transfers patients' care to the next doctor.
  • Experienced physicians should more closely supervise residents.
  • The number of mandatory days off each month should be increased and the number of hours between shifts should be extended depending on how long the resident worked, during day or night.

Sleep deprivation can cause fatigue that leads to serious medical errors. Before new caps on resident hours were issued in 2003, some residents in specialties could average 110 hours of work a week, the Associated Press reported.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education didn't immediately say if it would follow the Institute of Medicine recommendations.

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Gene May Protect Against Lung Cancer

A gene that protects against lung cancer has been identified by British researchers, a discovery that may lead to earlier diagnosis and new treatments for the deadly disease.

The University of Nottingham team compared lung cancer tissue with healthy lung tissue and found that the LIMD1 gene was missing in most of the lung cancer samples. This suggested that the gene may help protect against lung cancer, BBC News reported.

In a follow-up experiment, the researchers found that mice bred to lack the LIMD1 gene developed cancer. The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The LIMD1 gene studied in this research is located on part of chromosome 3, called 3p21," said lead researcher Dr. Tyson Sharp, BBC News reported. "Chromosome 3p21 is often deleted very early on in the development of lung cancer due to the toxic chemicals in cigarettes, which implies that inactivation of LIMD1 could be a particularly important event in early stages of lung cancer development."

"This is very exciting research which could lead to the development of early screening techniques and treatments for lung cancer," Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, told BBC News.

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5 Distinct Types of Ovarian Cancer: Study

Five types of ovarian cancer are actually distinct diseases, according to a study by American, Canadian and German scientists, who said the current method of lumping them together as one disease hinders efforts to develop more effective treatments.

The researchers analyzed tissue from 500 tumors and found major differences in the pattern of biomarkers present in five types of ovarian cancers: low- and high-grade serous; clear cell; endometrioid; and mucinous, the Canadian Press reported.

The study appears in the journal PLoS Medicine.

While the findings won't have an immediate impact on the treatment of ovarian cancer, they should change the way ovarian cancer research is conducted and possibly accelerate the discovery of more effective treatments, said senior author Dr. David Huntsman, a researcher with Vancouver General Hospital and the British Columbia Cancer Agency.

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