Health Highlights: April 6, 2010

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

Parents Spending More Time With Children: Study

American parents are spending more time with their children than parents of earlier generations, say researchers who analyzed a dozen surveys conducted between 1965 and 2007.

Before 1995, the average amount of time mothers spent looking after their children was about 12 hours a week. In 2007, that increased to 21.2 hours for college-educated mothers and 15.9 hours for mothers with less education, The New York Times reported.

Among college-educated men, the average amount of time spent with their children increased from 4.5 hours to 9.6 hours per week. Among other men, time with their kids jumped from 3.7 hours to 6.8 hours per week.

The findings were presented in March at a Brookings Institution conference in Washington, The Times reported.

The findings should comfort guilt-ridden working parents, said family researchers.

"Parents are feeling like they don't have enough time with their children," Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York City, told The Times. "It's a function of people working so hard, and they are worried they're shortchanging their children. I've never found a group of parents who believe they are spending enough time with their kids."


Officials Assessing Virus Threat

U.S. public health authorities are investigating whether an infectious virus called XMRV poses a threat to the nation's blood supply.

XMRV, which was identified in 2006, has been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome and a rare form of familial prostate cancer, but there's no conclusive evidence that the virus actually causes those diseases, the Wall Street Journal reported.

There's no sign of spreading XMRV infection. However, the virus appears to be transmitted similarly to HIV, and concern exists about the potential for widespread infection. That's why officials want to quickly assess whether they need to take action to protect the blood supply.

"These are early days trying to understand the public health significance of XMRV," said Jay Epstein, director of the Office of Blood Research and Review at the Food and Drug Administration, the Wall Street Journal reported.


Gene May Offer Target to Boost Radiation Therapy

Blocking the action of a gene that repairs damaged DNA increases the effectiveness of radiation therapy against cancer, according to British researchers. The finding may lead to new drugs to improve outcomes for patients undergoing radiation therapy.

Tumors have widely varying responses to radiation therapy, but the reasons for this are largely unknown, BBC News reported.

The University of Oxford team examined 200 candidate genes. In laboratory tests, the scientists found that blocking the POLQ gene in several types of cancer cells made the cells more vulnerable to radiation therapy. Blocking POLQ in healthy cells had no effect on their sensitivity to radiation.

Because POLQ appears to be more abundant in cancer cells than in healthy cells, it may be a good target for enhancing the effects of radiation therapy, said the researchers, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Cancer Research.

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