Health Highlights: July 24, 2009

And while the estimated $1 trillion price tag over 10 years for health-care reform has been a sticking point for many in Congress, it seems to be a little less worrisome for those polled. When asked if $1 trillion was too high, too little, or about right, 42 percent said it was too high, 36 percent said it was the right amount, and 9 percent said it was too little.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit foundation, based in Menlo Park, Calif., that produces analysis and information on health issues.


Study Looks at Implanted Pig Cells to Treat Type 1 Diabetes

In a trial that could one day lead to a way to slow the ravages of type 1 diabetes, a New Zealand company announced Thursday that it plans to implant newborn pig cells into eight people with the blood sugar disease.

The Associated Press reported that these cells produce insulin that the researchers are hoping can be used to lower blood sugar levels in these volunteers. However, a company official told the wire service that such a treatment will not eliminate all the symptoms of type 1 diabetes indefinitely, which include blindness, premature heart disease and poor blood circulation that can lead to the amputation of limbs.

Critics have also expressed concern that putting these pig cells into humans might introduce a new virus into the human population, a fear that company officials said is unfounded.

"There is no evidence of a risk of retrovirus infection," Bob Elliott, medical director of Living Cell Technologies, told AP. "Nobody has developed a retrovirus."

Elliott stressed that the pigs being used in this trial come from isolated islands south of New Zealand, and are being kept in a sterile environment. He also noted that he has run two previous trials, the first with six patients in New Zealand in 1995-1996. A Russian trial with 10 patients began two years ago. In those trials, the cells that weren't rejected produced insulin for roughly a year, although the cells in one patient continued generating the hormone for 12 years.

The pig cells that will be implanted in this latest trial are coated in a membrane made from seaweed, which will eliminate the need for immunosuppressant drugs, according to company officials.

With type 1 diabetes, the body mistakenly attacks the pancreas to the point where the organ stops producing the insulin needed to break down sugars in the blood and convert it to energy.


Swine Flu Fears Prompt Arab States to Limit Pilgrimage

Swine flu fears have led health officials in Arab states to decree that the very young, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions may not attend this year's hajj, the pilgrimage devout Muslims can take to Saudi Arabia each year, the Associated Press reported.

In a meeting held Wednesday, the ministers decided against an outright cancellation of the annual hajj, which draws millions of Muslims to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in late November. Instead, the ministers hope that by excluding those most vulnerable to infection they can minimize the impact of H1N1 infections that might arise with so many people coming into close contact at one time.

If an H1N1 vaccine becomes available before the start of the hajj, pilgrims will be required to provide proof of immunization before they receive a visa for the pilgrimage, the health ministers added.

Debate has raged throughout the Muslim world on the advisability of cancelling this year's hajj due to the swine flu outbreak. According to the World Health Organization, there are 952 reported cases of swine flu in the eastern Mediterranean region, which includes the Middle East and Afghanistan. One Egyptian woman has died from swine flu after returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, the AP reported.

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