Health Highlights: Nov. 10, 2008

Nov. 11 -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

'Assassin' Immune Cells Target HIV

Scientists have created "assassin" immune cells that can lock on to HIV even after the virus has mutated in order to evade detection and destruction, one of its most effective defense mechanisms, BBC News reported.

The U.S. and U.K. researchers created "souped-up" immune system T-cells that have the ability to detect and attack more of the mutated forms of HIV. The scientists did this by adding extra versions of the T-cell receptor -- the part of the cell that scans and removes infected cells -- that are preset to recognize various HIV mutations.

Laboratory tests showed that these enhanced T-cells were able to destroy HIV cells. The research appears in the journal Nature Medicine. Tests on patients with advanced HIV may start next year, and the researchers hope the modified T-cells will be as effective in humans, BBC News reported.

"In the face of our engineered assassin cells, the virus will either die or be forced to change its disguises again, weakening itself along the way," said Prof. Andy Sewell of Cardiff University. "We'd prefer the first option but I suspect we'll see the latter. Even if we do only cripple the virus, this will still be a good outcome, as it is likely to become a much slower target and easier to pick off."

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Malaria Vaccine Tested in Large Study

About 16,000 children across Africa are expected to take part in a clinical trial of what researchers hope will be the first effective malaria vaccine. The study could begin as early as next month and should be well under way by January, the Associated Press reported.

It will be conducted in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. Over the past several years, the study's groundwork has been put in place by upgrading laboratory, computer and other equipment, training technicians, and taking steps to ensure proper monitoring.

The trial is a project of drug maker GSK, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (an anti-malaria charity funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), and clinics and research centers in Africa. Researchers said it will be several years before it can be determined if the vaccine is safe and effective enough to widespread use, the AP reported.

Initial trials suggested the vaccine was at least 30 percent effective against mild malaria cases and about 50 percent against severe malaria. The disease, caused by parasites and spread by mosquitoes, kills nearly one million people worldwide every year. Most of the victims are children in Africa.

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China May Classify Internet Addiction as Clinical Condition

Growing concern about compulsive Web use by millions of people may lead China to become the first country to classify Internet addiction as a clinical condition, Agence France Presse reports, citing Chinese state media.

A new manual on Internet addiction may be adopted next year by the health ministry. The manual, created by Chinese psychologists, recognizes Internet addiction as similar to alcohol addiction or compulsive gambling, according to the China Daily.

With 253 million people using the Internet, China has the world's largest online population. In August, a Chinese official said about 10 percent of China's Internet users under the age of 18 (about 4 million people) were addicted to the Web, mainly to online games, AFP reported.

A recent poll by Internet media company InterActiveCorp found that 42 percent of Chinese youth felt addicted to the Web, compared to 18 percent of American youth.

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Chromosome Screening Technique Boosts IVF Success

A technique to screen in-vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos for chromosome abnormalities may double the chances of pregnancy for some women, according to research presented to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.

With CGH, doctors can look at every chromosome in a developing embryo, something that's proven difficult with other screening methods.

A study of 23 women, average age 37, found that use of comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) led to implantation rates of 62 percent -- about twice that achieved using other screening methods, BBC News reported.

The women's eggs were fertilized and allowed to grow for five days before they were analyzed using CGH. The screening led to all 23 women having at least one normal embryo to transfer to their womb. In total, 50 healthy embryos were transferred in 23 cycles of treatment, resulting in 21 pregnancies. Of those, 18 were sustained past the first three months, when most miscarriages occur.

The live birth rate for these women is predicted to be 78 percent, compared with a projected 60 percent for the same patients if they hadn't had CGH screening, BBC News reported.