Health Highlights: May 13, 2009

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

Scientist Held for Smuggling Ebola Research Vials Into U.S.

A 42-year-old Canadian scientist has been arrested for smuggling 22 vials stolen from Canada's National Microbiology Lab, used in Ebola and HIV research, into the United States, officials from both countries said Wednesday.

Konan Michel Yao was arrested while crossing from Manitoba province into North Dakota on May 5, a spokeswoman for the Public Health Agency of Canada, which operates the lab, Agence France-Presse reported. U.S. prosecutor Lynn Jordheim said Yao was carrying the unidentified materials in aluminum foil inside a glove and packaged in a plastic bag in the trunk of his car when he was detained. Yao said he had stolen the vials on his last day of work on Jan. 21 and was taking them to his new job with the U.S. National Institutes of Health at the Biodefense Research Laboratory in Bethesda, Md., AFP reported.

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"This turned out not to be a terrorism-related case," Jordheim told AFP. "It appears to be exactly as he said. However, he still faces possible charges for smuggling the vials into the United States."

A Canadian health agency spokesperson said the Ivory Coast-born Yao worked on vaccines for the Ebola virus and HIV, but only had access to harmless and non-infectious materials, according to AFP. U.S. authorities tested the contents of Yao's packages and determined they were not hazardous


Lawsuit Challenges Practice of Gene Patenting

A lawsuit organized by The American Civil Liberties Union and filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York is challenging the practice of gene patenting in a case that could have wide-reaching consequences for medical research and genetic diagnostics, the New York Times reports.

At issue was a decision made 10 years ago by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to grant Myriad Genetics, based in Salt Lake City, exclusive rights to two genes -- BRCA1 and BRCA2 -- closely associated with increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer and on testing methods to measure that risk. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of several cancer patients, professional organizations and genetic researchers, argues that gene patents restrict the practice of medicine and new research and block alternatives to the patented tests or interpreting or comparing gene sequences that involve these genes, according to the Times.

The specific case involved a Texas woman who had received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2006 then took a genetic test to see if her genes also put her increased risk for ovarian cancer. When her test came back positive, she wanted a second opinion, but discovered that under the patent granted, there could be no second opinion, the Times reported.

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