Health Highlights: Dec. 3, 2008

Dec. 4 -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Americans' Health May Decline: Report

Americans' health improved by 18 percent between 1990 and 2000, but has leveled off over the past four years and may be about to decline, according to the 2008 America's Health Rankings report released Wednesday.

Weight gain, tobacco addiction and rising rates of chronic diseases are the most serious threats to previous advances in the nation's health, USA Today reported.

"This is a perfect storm," said Reed Tuckson, of the United Health Foundation, one of the report sponsors, along with the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention.

Researchers analyzed 22 health measures, including access to medical care, immunizations, prenatal care, infant mortality, heart disease deaths, infectious disease deaths, smoking cessation, violent crime, and occupational fatalities.

Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Utah were the healthiest states while Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana were the least healthy, said the health rankings report, USA Today reported.

Vermont, the healthiest state, had a lower smoking rate than the national average (17.6 percent vs. 20 percent), a slower increase in obesity than the national rate, and a higher percentage of people with health insurance. Louisiana, the least healthy state, had a high infant death rate, high cancer death rates, and high rates of racial disparities in health care, according to the report.


Cleveland Clinic to Disclose Doctors' Business Ties

In what's believed to be a first for a major U.S. medical center, the Cleveland Clinic this week started to publicly report business ties between its 1,800 staff doctors and scientists and drug and medical device makers.

Disclousure of such financial links are posted on the Web site of the clinic, one of the nation's leading medical research centers.

"They are breaking a new path here," Dr. David J. Rothman, president of the nonprofit Institute on Medicine as a Profession, told The New York Times. The Columbia University-based group studies potential conflicts of interest.

In the United States, doctors' and scientists' connections to industry are often kept secret, a practice that can harm the integrity of medical research and patient care, according to critics.

The Cleveland Clinic's move was praised by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R- Iowa), who's introduced legislation to force drug and medical device makers to disclose payments they make to doctors.

"Patients deserve easy access to information about their doctors' relationships with drug companies and the Cleveland Clinic is making that possible," Grassley said in a statement, the Times reported.


Report Urges Further Measures to Help Medical Residents

More needs to be done to ease the workload of doctors-in-training in the United States, according to an Institute of Medicine report released Tuesday.

Five years ago, new regulations capped the working hours of young doctors to about 80 hours per week. The new report offers recommendations to further improve conditions for overworked medical residents doing on-the-job training, the Associated Press reported.

The Institute of Medicine said:

  • Residents working the maximum 30-hour shift should get an uninterrupted five-hour sleep break after 16 hours.
  • There should be better overlapping of schedules during shift changes to reduce chances for error as one doctor transfers patients' care to the next doctor.
  • Experienced physicians should more closely supervise residents.
  • The number of mandatory days off each month should be increased and the number of hours between shifts should be extended depending on how long the resident worked, during day or night.
  • Sleep deprivation can cause fatigue that leads to serious medical errors. Before new caps on resident hours were issued in 2003, some residents in specialties could average 110 hours of work a week, the Associated Press reported.

    The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education didn't immediately say if it would follow the Institute of Medicine recommendations.


    Gene May Protect Against Lung Cancer

    A gene that protects against lung cancer has been identified by British researchers, a discovery that may lead to earlier diagnosis and new treatments for the deadly disease.

    The University of Nottingham team compared lung cancer tissue with healthy lung tissue and found that the LIMD1 gene was missing in most of the lung cancer samples. This suggested that the gene may help protect against lung cancer, BBC News reported.

    In a follow-up experiment, the researchers found that mice bred to lack the LIMD1 gene developed cancer. The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "The LIMD1 gene studied in this research is located on part of chromosome 3, called 3p21," said lead researcher Dr. Tyson Sharp, BBC News reported. "Chromosome 3p21 is often deleted very early on in the development of lung cancer due to the toxic chemicals in cigarettes, which implies that inactivation of LIMD1 could be a particularly important event in early stages of lung cancer development."

    "This is very exciting research which could lead to the development of early screening techniques and treatments for lung cancer," Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, told BBC News.


    5 Distinct Types of Ovarian Cancer: Study

    Five types of ovarian cancer are actually distinct diseases, according to a study by American, Canadian and German scientists, who said the current method of lumping them together as one disease hinders efforts to develop more effective treatments.

    The researchers analyzed tissue from 500 tumors and found major differences in the pattern of biomarkers present in five types of ovarian cancers: low- and high-grade serous; clear cell; endometrioid; and mucinous, the Canadian Press reported.

    The study appears in the journal PLoS Medicine.

    While the findings won't have an immediate impact on the treatment of ovarian cancer, they should change the way ovarian cancer research is conducted and possibly accelerate the discovery of more effective treatments, said senior author Dr. David Huntsman, a researcher with Vancouver General Hospital and the British Columbia Cancer Agency.