Health Highlights: Aug. 17, 2009

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

German Doctors Implant World's Smallest Artificial Heart Pump

The world's smallest artificial heart pump was successfully implanted in a 50-year-old women in late July, a German hospital announced Monday.

The three-ounce plastic and titanium pump is touted as being more effective and unobtrusive than earlier devices, Agence France Presse reported. The pump is the fifth generation of the so-called DeBakey Heart pump.

"It can fully replace the function of the heart's left ventricle and works particularly quietly and effectively," said Matthias Karck, director of the cardiac surgery division at the University Hospital of Heidelberg.

    • German Doctors Implant World's Smallest Artificial Heart Pump
    • FDA Approves New Drug For Gaucher Disease
    • Researchers Sequence Exomes of 12 People
    • Blood Sugar Testing Strips Sometimes Wrong: FDA

Hospital official said the woman who received the heart pump is now leading a normal life with it at home, AFP reported.


FDA Approves New Drug For Gaucher Disease

A new drug can be used to treat patients with a rare genetic disorder called Gaucher disease before the drug gets full marketing approval, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Associated Press reported that the agency approved a treatment protocol that allows Protalix BioTherapeutics Inc. to give prGCD to patients in a clinical trial during a shortage of an older drug called Cerezyme, made by Genzyme Corp. That company had to discard most of its ingredients for Cerezyme after an FDA inspection of the manufacturing facility.

Under the treatment protocol, the patients in the clinical trial will receive prGCD for free until the drug receives full FDA approval, the AP reported.

Gaucher disease can cause liver and neurological problems.


Researchers Sequence Exomes of 12 People

Scientists who sequenced the exomes of 12 people say this new method could help efforts to identify disease-causing genes.

The new method used in the U.S. government-funded study involves isolating and sequencing all exons, which are parts of the genome that contain the information needed to produce proteins, the building blocks of the body.

The complete set of exons (the exome) accounts for only one percent of the human genome. Sequencing only the exome can reveal important genetic information about a person at a much lower cost than sequencing the entire genome.

"This focused approach will yield information that informs our understanding of the genetic basis of diseases, a prerequisite for personalized medicine," Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, said in a news release. "We have great hope that targeted sequencing, when applied to a larger number of individuals, will be used to discover the genetic underpinnings of common conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The current findings provide the fundamental groundwork for pursuing this important goal."

The research appears online in the journal Nature.


Blood Sugar Testing Strips Sometimes Wrong: FDA

Certain blood sugar testing strips could give inaccurate results in diabetes patients taking dialysis and other biologic drugs, warns the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The drugs contain non-glucose sugars that can falsely elevate blood sugar results, which can increase the risk of insulin overdose. Since 1997, the FDA has received 13 reports of deaths related to the use of the blood sugar testing strips and biologic drugs, the Associated Press reported. Six of the deaths have occurred since 2008.

The blood glucose strips covered in the FDA warning include Freestyle strips from Abbott Laboratories and Accu-Check Comfort Curve strips from Roche.

The FDA noted that many of the blood sugar testing strips that can be affected by biologic drugs are used in hospitals and nursing homes, "which should instead use a laboratory essay to measure a patient's glucose if the patient is also receiving an interfering product," the AP reported.