Health Highlights: July 31, 2009

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

Sen. Dodd Has Prostate Cancer

Sen. Christopher Dodd, the five-term Connecticut Democrat who is a key player in U.S. health care reform, has been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, he announced Friday.

Dodd, who is 65, told a news conference at his Hartford office that the cancer was discovered six weeks ago during an annual physical. "Im very confident that we're going to come out of this well," he said, according to The New York Times. "I feel fine. This is very common. If you've got to have cancer, I am told by some doctors, it's the slowest growing, the best one to have, the most manageable."

    • Sen. Dodd Has Prostate Cancer
    • Cruise Ship Crew Hit By Flu
    • House Passes Food Safety Bill
    • FDA Approves Once-a-Day Pill for Type 2 Diabetes
    • Stem Cell-Derived Sperm Study Retracted By Journal

Dodd said that he would have surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City during the upcoming Senate recess and that he would take a few weeks to recuperate at home.

"I'm going to be fine," he added. "We caught this early, and I look forward to going out on the trail."

Dodd's surgery and recovery aren't seen as affecting his campaign for re-election next year, The Times reported. Dodd is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, but he is currently at the center of the battle over health care, as acting chairman of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee for Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is fighting brain cancer.


Cruise Ship Crew Hit by Flu

A large flu outbreak has hit crew members on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that docked at a French port Friday, and cruise line officials are disputing the French over what kind of flu it is.

French officials said that 60 crew members have been diagnosed with swine flu and another 70 are showing symptoms, USA Today reported. However, cruise line officials said HINI swine flu hasn't been confirmed as the cause of the illnesses.

The ship, which carries 3,634 passengers and is one of the largest in the world, arrived in Villefranche-sur-mer early Friday morning. It left Barcelona, Spain earlier this week for a cruise around the Mediterranean.

Despite the widespread illness among the crew, levels of service for passengers haven't been affected and the ship is operating as normal, Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez told USA Today.


House Passes Food Safety Bill

A bill to strengthen food safety in the United States was passed late Thursday by a House vote of 283-142, a day after the bill had been rejected by a few votes.

Under the legislation, food manufacturers would be subject to more government inspections and oversight, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would have new powers to order recalls, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, the FDA would have to develop a system for better tracing food-borne illnesses; there would be new penalties for violations, and food companies would have to create detailed food safety plans.

In rejecting the bill on Wednesday, House members from farm states argued the bill was too invasive on farms. The bill was defeated by a few votes in a special procedure that required a two-thirds majority, the AP reported. When the bill was reintroduced Thursday, it required a simple majority to pass.

A similar bill is awaiting action in the Senate.


FDA Approves Once-a-Day Pill for Type 2 Diabetes

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved Onglyza (saxagliptin), a new once-daily pill for use against type 2 diabetes in adults. According to an FDA statement, the medication belongs to a class of drugs called dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors, which work by stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin after mealtimes.

In type 2 diabetes, people develop a resistance to insulin or they cannot produce enough of the hormone to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

According to the FDA, the most frequent side effects with Onglyza include infections of the upper respiratory or urinary tracts, and headache. Allergic reactions, such as rashes and hives, can also occur.

Approval came after eight clinical trials. The drug is made by Bristol-Myers Squibb and marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca.

The application for approval came before December 2008, when the FDA began to mandate more rigorous clinical trials for new drugs, looking specifically at their effects on the cardiovascular system. However, the FDA says it will require a postmarketing study of Onglyza to track any such effects on patients.


Stem Cell-Derived Sperm Study Retracted By Journal

A contentious paper in which British scientists claimed to have created the first human sperm from embryonic stem cells has been retracted by the journal Stem Cells and Development, apparently because two paragraphs in the introduction were plagiarized.

The plagiarism doesn't affect the science behind the research or its conclusions, according to Newcastle University officials, the Associated Press reported. The problem was blamed on a research associate who has since left the university.

But experts agreed plagiarism raises concerns about the study's credibility.

"This is clearly scientific misconduct," Allan Pacey, secretary for the British Fertility Society, told the AP. "I can understand why people might think, if they were sloppy here, maybe they were sloppy elsewhere."

In the paper, the Newcastle University team reported that they'd created sperm in the laboratory and that their achievement might one day help infertile men have children. However, critics said the stem cell-derived sperm didn't have the shape, movement or function of real sperm.