Dec. 6 -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
WHO Sets Standards for Melamine Contamination in Foods
Responding to mounting global concerns, the World Health Organization on Friday issued safety limits for levels of melamine in foods. The industrial chemical should not be present in baby formula, but trace levels are unavoidable in some foods, especially those consumed by adults, according to published reports.
Melamine has been blamed for sickening nearly 300,000 children in China and may have caused six deaths, Agence France-Presse reported.
Friday's action marks the first time the United Nations-affiliated agency has set safety limits for the chemical, which is used in the production of plastic products. WHO officials stressed, however, that melamine "should not be in food," even though traces are sometimes unavoidable, the news service said.
Melamine can cause kidney stones if consumed in excessive levels; in severe cases, it can cause kidney failure. The chemical has been routinely mixed into Chinese milk and dairy products to boost protein content.
Jorgen Schlundt, the WHO director for food safety, said the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) threshold states that a 50 kilogram (110-pound) person could tolerate 10 milligrams of melamine a day. This is not a "safe" level, but rather the amount a human being can consume without higher health risks, Schlundt said, according to the Associated Press.
"The TDI is meant to help national authorities set safe limits in food for withdrawal purposes should melamine be detected as a result of intentional adulteration," added the WHO.
The melamine scandal has prompted many countries around the world, including the 27-nation European Union, to ban Chinese milk imports, AFP said. The United States has put in place an import alert that requires importers to prove that Chinese milk products are melamine-free.
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced an allowable threshold of 1 part per million of melamine in baby formula. The FDA had originally said that no levels of the chemical were acceptable.
Alzheimer's Drug May Help Brain Cancer Patients
An experimental Alzheimer's drug may be effective against highly aggressive brain tumors called malignant gliomas that are resistant to conventional treatments, according to Canadian researchers.
The University of Calgary team identified a "switch" activated by a protein already present in the brain that enables cancer cells to spread from the primary brain tumor. The Alzheimer's drug prevents that switch from being turned on, CBC News reported.
The study was published in the journal PLoS Biology.
"Several drug companies have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing drugs that target this process, although in Alzheimer's, not in cancer, so it's sort of a new way to think about it, and we have a leg up where we could make an impact," oncology professor Dr. Peter Forsyth told CBC News.
Clinical trials to test this treatment on brain cancer patients in Alberta could begin within a few years, he said.
Bed Sore-Related Hospitalizations Up 80%: Report
Between 1993 and 2006 there was an 80 percent increase in hospitalizations for pressure ulcers -- better known as bed sores, according to the latest News and Numbers from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
The agency's analysis of data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample found that of the 503,300 pressure ulcer-related hospitalizations in 2006:
Bed sores typically occur among patients who can't move or who have lost sensation. Older patients, stroke victims, and people who are paralyzed, have diabetes or dementia are at high risk for bed sores.
Medicare, Social Security Owe $52 Trillion
Medicare and Social Security currently owe up to $52 trillion to people who have already earned these benefits, a figure that's up to 3.5 times greater than the entire U.S. economy ($14 trillion), according to a National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) study released this week.
According to the study, $9.5 trillion is owed to current retirees, an amount equal to almost $250,000 per person 65 years of age or older in 2008. Adding those aged 55 and older brings that figure to $20.6 trillion and adding in benefits earned by younger workers over the age of 22 brings the total to as much as $52 trillion.
Currently, Medicare and Social Security combined spend more than they receive in premiums and dedicated taxes. By 2012, one of every 10 income tax dollars will be needed to close the funding gap for Social Security and Medicare. That will increase to half of all income tax dollars by 2030 and almost 80 percent of tax dollars by 2070, according to the study.
"Without reform, paying for elderly entitlements will crowd out other federal spending or will require substantial tax increases. The longer we postpone reform, the worse the financial picture becomes," said study co- author Andrew Rettenmaier, a senior fellow at the NCPA, which promotes market-driven solutions to issues.
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.
Disclosure 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.