Health Highlights: March 9, 2010

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

Alzheimer's Protein May Be Infection Fighter: Study

The protein that plays a major role in Alzheimer's disease may normally help protect the brain against invading bacteria and other microbes, say Harvard University researchers.

In people with Alzheimer's, plaques composed of beta amyloid (A-beta) destroy signals between nerves, resulting in problems such as memory loss and personality changes. It's been believed that A-beta has no real function, but is simply a waste product that's not properly disposed of by the brain.

However, the Harvard team's findings from a series of tests suggest that A-beta is part of what's called the innate immune system, a group of proteins that helps combat infection, The New York Times reported.

This means that Alzheimer's disease could be caused by an overly aggressive brain response to an infection, responses to injuries and inflammation, or the effects of genes that cause higher-than-normal levels of A-beta.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal PLoS One.

Experts say the findings are interesting, but it's not clear whether they'll lead to new ways to prevent or treat Alzheimer's disease, The Times reported.


No Nicotine Spikes While Smoking: Study

Nicotine levels in smokers' brains don't spike after each puff, but instead take a few minutes to peak, says a new study.

It had been believed that a nicotine spike occurred in the brain about seven seconds after each puff. But Duke University researchers used brain scans on volunteers and found that it takes three to five minutes of smoking for maximum nicotine levels to be reached, the Associated Press reported.

The findings may lead to new ways to help people quit smoking, said study author Dr. Jed E. Rose, director of the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research.

The study, published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was funded by tobacco companies Philip Morris USA and Philip Morris International, the AP reported.


Two Flavors of Pringles Chips Recalled

Two types of Pringles chips have been recalled because of concerns about possible Salmonella contamination.

The recall includes the Cheeseburger and Taco Night versions of the chips. Consumers with the products can get replacement coupons or refunds, said Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co., the Associated Press reported.

The company says there have been no reports of illnesses associated with the chips.

This is the latest recall of products that contain flavor-enhancing hydrolyzed vegetable protein made by Basic Food Flavors Inc. of Las Vegas, the AP reported. Salmonella was found on Basic Food's processing equipment, say U.S. officials. Salmonella can cause serious infections in young children, the elderly and others with weakened immune systems.


Vaccine Case Goes to U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will hear an appeal in a case involving parents who say their child suffered serious health problems from a diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine and want to sue vaccine maker Wyeth.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that a 1986 federal law forbids the couple's legal action, the Associated Press reported. That law established a special vaccine court to handle complaints in order to shield companies from most lawsuits and ensure a stable vaccine supply.

Wyeth asked the Supreme Court to hear the appeal because the case involves a recurring legal issue that needs to be resolved.

The Obama administration, which takes the side of vaccine manufacturers, also called for a high court review, the AP reported.

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