Health Highlights: April 27, 2009

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

Group Wants New Term for Shaken Baby Syndrome

Instead of "shaken baby syndrome," doctors should use the term "abusive head trauma," says a new American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement.

The group said the new diagnostic term is a more comprehensive diagnosis for brain, skull and spinal injuries caused by severe shaking and other forms of abuse, the Associated Press reported.

The new term should be used in medical records, and it may provide more clarity in legal cases, the academy said in the new policy statement, which is being published in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

    • Group Wants New Term for Shaken Baby Syndrome
    • Firms Halt Nexavar Skin Cancer Study
    • Alfalfa Sprouts Linked to Salmonella Outbreak: FDA
    • Trio of Researchers Shares $500,000 Medical Prize
    • Team IDs Bacteria That Use Toxins to Cause Infections

Physicians should watch for signs of head trauma in infants that could be caused by abusive shaking and need to teach parents safe ways to calm upset babies and how to avoid shaking, the policy recommends, the AP reported.


Firms Halt Nexavar Skin Cancer Study

A late-stage study of the drug Nexavar in skin cancer patients has been halted, because the drug wasn't extending patients' overall survival rate, said California-based Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc. and partner Bayer.

An independent data monitoring committee determined the drug wouldn't meet the study's treatment goal of improved overall survival in patients, the Associated Press reported.

The companies said they'll look more closely at the results of the skin cancer study to determine if its data has any impact on other ongoing studies of Nexavar.

Nexavar is currently approved to treat liver and advanced kidney cancer, the AP reported.


Alfalfa Sprouts Linked to Salmonella Outbreak: FDA

U.S. consumers should avoid raw alfalfa sprouts because they've been linked to a Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak in six states, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Other types of sprouts are considered safe.

The agency said infected alfalfa seeds, sold nationwide, are believed to be the cause of 31 cases of Salmonella Saintpaul in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia, USA Today reported. There have been no deaths.

These current cases appear to be an extension of an outbreak in February and March that sickened more than 100 people in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota, the FDA said.

Over the past two decades, several outbreaks of salmonella have been have been linked to raw sprouts, USA Today reported. Salmonella can be especially dangerous to infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.


Trio of Researchers Shares $500,000 Medical Prize

The richest medical prize in the United States has been awarded to three immune system scientists whose work has led to new diabetes and arthritis therapies, the Associated Press reported.

The $500,000 Albany Medical Center Prize is being shared by Dr. Ralph Steinman of Rockefeller University in New York City, Dr. Charles Dinarello of the University of Colorado, and Dr. Bruce Beutler of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

The medical award established in 2000 is among the world's largest, second only to the $1.4 million Nobel Prize, the wire service said.

Here's a brief look at what each of the researchers was cited for:

  • Steinman, in 1973, discovered the dendritic cell, a white blood cell that mobilizes other disease-fighting cells in the body to ward off infectious germs.
  • Dinarello identified a molecule later labeled Interluekin-1, which produces inflammation and fever. His discovery led to treatments for immune disorders including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Beutler isolated a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which plays a role in conditions such as inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis.


Team IDs Bacteria That Use Toxins to Cause Infections

More than three dozen bacterial pathogens that use toxins to manipulate human host cells and cause infections have been identified by scientists. The findings may lead to improved treatments for bacterial infections.

The German researchers found that the 39 bacterial pathogens produce toxins that bind relatively weakly to human proteins, but can influence several different proteins simultaneously, United Press International reported.

"A single bacterial toxin seems to function like a master key that can access different host cell proteins in parallel," explained Matthias Selbach of the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine. "Perhaps it is due to this strategy that bacteria are able to attack very different cells and, thus, to increase their survival chances in the host."

He said it may be possible to develop new drugs that target the signaling mechanisms in human cells that are disrupted by the bacterial toxins, UPI reported.

The research appears in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.