Health Highlights: Feb. 3, 2010

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

Child Abuse Decreases in U.S.: Study

Incidents of serious child abuse in the United States decreased by 26 percent between 1993 and 2006, and other forms of physical abuse dropped by 15 percent, a federal government study says.

Experts say the findings are proof that public awareness campaigns and stricter law enforcement are having an effect, the Associated Press reported.

Researchers analyzed information from thousands of child-welfare workers, doctors, teachers, police officers and other professionals from across the country.

The study was commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services, the AP reported.


Lawsuit Targets Patents on Cancer Genes

Important medical research is being hampered by a U.S. company's patents on two genes associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, say lawyers for plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the patents held by Myriad Genetics Inc.

The patents for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes prevent the study of the genes by other researchers, Christopher Hansen, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the Associated Press reported.

The ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation lawsuit against Myriad, the University of Utah Research Foundation, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office could have a major effect on the biotechnology industry and genetics-based medical research.

Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation have a right to the patents because they pertain to the process developed to isolate chemical composition, argued attorney Brian Poissant, the AP reported.

He said invalidating the patents would destroy the foundation of the biotechnology industry.

U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet did not issue a ruling on Tuesday.


High Levels of Cadmium Found in Adult Jewelry

Worries about the heavy metal cadmium in jewelry have grown after tests on adult necklaces and bracelets revealed high levels of the toxic material.

The high levels of cadmium -- as much as 75 percent by weight -- were found in jewelry purchased by a California environmental group at three retailers -- Saks Fifth Avenue, Aeropostale and Catherines, the Associated Press reported.

Based on the findings, the Center for Environmental Health said it would seek a ban on cadmium in all jewelry. One of the pieces tested by the group was made in China, another in India, and the origin of the other piece was unknown, the news service said.

Last month, an AP investigation reported that some Chinese-made children's jewelry contained levels of cadmium of up to 91 percent of their total content.


Scientists Identify Farsightedness Gene

A gene linked with farsightedness has been identified by Australian scientists, who said the finding may lead to drug treatments that would replace glasses.

The researchers analyzed the DNA of 551 adults and identified variations of the hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) gene associated with farsightedness. People with this vision problem can see objects clearly at a distance but have difficulty with close-up tasks such as reading, Agence France Presse reported.

Farsightedness, also known as longsightedness, is likely caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. HGF is the first gene to be linked to the condition, which is treated with glasses, contact lenses and laser surgery.

"We hope this important gene discovery will help us develop new drug treatments and I expect it will have a profound impact on improving global eye health," said lead researcher Professor Paul Baird, of the Centre for Eye Research Australia in Melbourne, AFP reported.

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