Health Highlights: Feb. 2, 2010

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

Researcher Who Tied Vaccine to Autism Acted 'Dishonestly,' Brits Rule

The researcher whose discredited study suggested that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked with autism and bowel disorders in children acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" and with "callous disregard" for the children in the study, say British medical authorities.

The ruling was issued Jan. 28 by the General Medical Council, which will now decide whether to revoke Andrew Wakefield's medical license, Time reported.

Wakefield's findings about the MMR vaccine, published in 1998 in The Lancet, caused a public health panic that led parents to question the safety of having their children vaccinated. His study has since been refuted and the MMR vaccine found to be safe.

On Tuesday, The Lancet editors said they "fully retract this paper from the published record."

When he conducted his MMR study, Wakefield was a gastroenterologist at London's Royal Free Hospital. He now heads an autism research center in Austin, Texas.

Wakefield said the General Medical Council's ruling was "unfounded and unjust," and added that he had "no regrets" about his MMR research, Time reported.


New Drugs May Help Treat Intellectual Disabilities

Scientists are trying to develop treatments for a genetic condition that causes learning disabilities and cognitive impairment and is the most common cause of autism yet identified by researchers.

Fragile X syndrome, which affects almost 100,000 Americans, is the most common inherited form of intellectual impairment, the Associated Press reported. In people with Fragile X syndrome, the synapses, or connections between brain cells, are too immature to work properly.

Researchers are focusing on drugs designed to block an overactive receptor that plays an important role in these poorly functioning synapses. Strengthening the synapses could improve learning and behavior in people with Fragile X syndrome.

"We are moving into a new age of reversing intellectual disabilities," Dr. Randi Hagerman, who directs the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, told the AP.


Anti-HIV Drugs Carry Risk of Liver Problems: FDA

The anti-HIV drugs Videx and Videx EC can trigger a rare but serious liver complication that can cause severe bleeding or death, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency said there have been 42 reports of patients suffering this type of complication, and four patients taking the drugs have died from liver failure or hemorrhaging, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The drugs' labels have been revised to warn patients about the potential threat of the drug, which slows the growth of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. For certain patients with HIV, the benefits of the drugs outweigh the risks, according to the FDA.

"The decision to use this drug, however, must be made on an individual basis between the treating physician and the patient," the FDA said in an advisory to health care professionals, Dow Jones reported.

Videx, marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., is also sold under the generic name didanosine.


Enzyme's Structure Could Lead to New HIV Treatments

Scientists have revealed the structure of an enzyme used by HIV to copy its genetic information into a person's DNA.

This discovery about integrase could lead to better treatments for people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, CBC News reported.

The study by the American and British scientists appears in the journal Nature.

"Despite initially painstakingly slow progress and many failed attempts, we did not give up and our effort was finally rewarded," lead author Peter Cherepanov, of Imperial College London, said in a news release, CBC News reported.

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