Health Highlights: April 15, 2007

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

Blood Pressure Regulation May Be 'All in Your Head'

Can the brain control Blood pressure?

As improbable as that sounds, BBC News reports that scientists at Bristol University in England say their research on laboratory rats indicates that a protein known as JAM-1 could actually be the substance that determines a person's blood pressure.

JAM-1 appears to trap white blood cells in the brain, obstructing blood flow, which in turn, causes inflammation in the brain, the scientists found. And this condition triggered elevated blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

    • Blood Pressure Regulation May Be 'All in Your Head'
    • DNA Marker for Early Detection of Liver Cancer Identified
    • Possibility of Botulism Prompts Imported Italian Olives Recall
    • Teen Sexual Abstinence Education Program Not Working, Report Says
    • Court Won't Order FDA to Tighten Rules on Mercury Fillings
    • New HIV Drug Shows Promise

The researchers don't know why this happens, BBC News reports, but the finding could initiate new methods for treating hypertension.

"We are looking at the possibility of treating those patients that fail to respond to conventional therapy for hypertension with drugs that reduce blood vessel inflammation and increase blood flow within the brain," Bristol University professor Julian Paton is quoted as saying.


DNA Marker for Early Detection of Liver Cancer Identified

Using a DNA component, Columbia University scientists say they've discovered a new way to detect liver cancer much earlier than before, a finding that may successfully fight what has been considered a death sentence for most people who get the disease.

According to a news release from the university's Mailman School of Public Health, hepatocellular or liver carcinomas (HCC) are usually diagnosed at such an advanced stage that survival is usually not possible. Using blood from 24,000 Taiwanese people from a study begun in 1991, the researchers were able to isolate a DNA biomarker from blood serum.

The researchers then were able to identify the gene changes that identified malignancy in the liver. The change was detected one-to-nine years before actual clinical diagnosis, according to the University news release.

"Having the tools to identify hepatocellular carcinoma at earlier stages, is truly a breakthrough for addressing the challenges that result from this highly lethal form of cancer," the news release quotes Regina Santella, the principal investigator, as saying.

The study results are published in the April 15, 2007 issue of Clinical Cancer Research.


Possibility of Botulism Prompts Imported Italian Olives Recall

The latest U.S. government alert about food that may cause serious illness concerns olives imported from Italy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that olives made by Charlie Brown di Rutigliano and Figli S.r.l, of Bari, Italy may contain the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum, which causes botulism, a disease that often leads to death. The olives were initially recalled by the maker on March 27. They had been distributed in the United States to both restaurants and retail stores.

Although no illnesses have been reported in the United States, the FDA says the olives should be discarded, even if they appear not to be spoiled. They are sold under the following brands: Borrelli, Bonta di Puglia, Cento, Corrado's, Dal Raccolto, Flora, Roland and Vantia, and have codes that start with the letter "G" and are followed by 3 or 4 digits. All sizes of cans, glass jars and pouches of Cerignola, Nocerella and Castelvetrano type olives are affected, the FDA says.

Botulism symptoms include weakness, dizziness, double vision, trouble speaking or swallowing, difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distension and constipation.


Teen Sexual Abstinence Education Program Not Working, Report Says

It doesn't appear that teenagers are getting the message about sexual abstinence.

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. government-funded program, costing about $176 million annually to alert teenagers to the problems of sexual promiscuity, isn't getting the desired results.

Just as many teens who attended one of four abstinence classes surveyed were as likely to have sex as those who didn't attend the program, the wire service reports. The study was ordered by Congress to determine whether the sexual abstinence classes, begun in 1999, were making a difference.

The classes were designed to encourage teens to abstain from having sex until they got married. While acknowledging the report's accuracy, a Bush administration official also says that follow-up is needed to make the program effective.

"This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines," Harry Wilson, the commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families, is quoted as saying. "You can't expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth's high school career."


Court Won't Order FDA to Tighten Rules on Mercury Fillings

A U.S. federal appeals court unanimously ruled Friday that it can't compel the Food and Drug Administration to tighten rules on dental fillings that contain mercury, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that it has no jurisdiction to review the agency's handling of the issue.

Advocacy groups went to court in an attempt to ban mercury fillings and to force the FDA to reclassify the products and impose stricter regulations on them, the AP reported.

The groups argue that mercury vapors from the fillings can harm patients and the dental office employees who handle the fillings.

Significant levels of mercury exposure can damage the kidneys and brain. But the FDA has steadfastly insisted that mercury fillings pose no threat to patients, except in rare cases when patients have allergic reactions, the AP reported.


New HIV Drug Shows Promise

A new drug called raltegravir shows promise in combatting drug-resistant HIV, concludes an international study in The Lancet medical journal. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

Raltegravir belongs to a new class of drugs called integrase-inhibitors, which block an enzyme essential for HIV to replicate itself, BBC News reported.

The study included 178 patients with advanced HIV who failed to respond to the antiretroviral drugs they'd been taking for about 10 years. The patients were assigned to take their usual drugs plus either raltegravir or a non-medicinal placebo.

After 24 weeks, patients taking raltegravir showed a 98 percent drop in the amount of HIV genetic material in their blood, compared to a 45 percent drop among the placebo group. Those taking raltegravir also showed a significant boost in the number of CD4 cells, an indication of immune response, BBC News reported.

"This drug has the potential to become an important component of combination treatment regimens...for patients failing current therapies with multidrug-resistant virus and limited treatment options," wrote the study's authors at Merck Research Laboratories in Pennsylvania.