Health Highlights: Jan. 10, 2012

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

$1,000 Genome Mapping Soon Available, Company Says

A U.S. genomics company says it will be able to offer $1,000 genome sequencing by the end of the year.

California-based Life Technologies Corp. is expected to introduce Tuesday a machine that can map a person's entire genetic makeup for $1,000 and deliver the information within a day, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Currently, the cheapest genome sequencing costs about $3,000 and takes a week. A large reduction in cost could be a major step in advancing the use of DNA to develop personalized medicine.

Some experts believe it will eventually be routine to use a patient's genetic code to guide prevention and treatment of health problems throughout life, the WSJ reported.


Intel Exploring New Speech Technology for Stephen Hawking

A research project to help reverse the slowing of speech being experienced by physicist Stephen Hawking is being undertaken by chip maker Intel Corp., a senior company executive says.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference celebrating Hawking's 70th birthday, Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner told the Associated Press that the company had a team in England to look at ways to help the famed British scientist communicate more quickly.

The team's task was to gather data for further study, Rattner explained.

Hawking has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which causes muscle weakness, slurred speech and paralysis. Since he lost his voice in 1985, Hawking has used an infrared sensor attached to his glasses that translates pulses in his right cheek into words spoken by a voice synthesizer. However, the nerves in his face have deteriorated and his rate of speech has slowed to about a word a minute, the AP reported.

This means a new approach is needed, Rattner said. Possible solutions include eye or brainwave tracking technology or high definition cameras that can detect minute movements in Hawking's face to synthesize his speech.


Powerful New Painkillers Could Lead to More Violent Robberies: Senator

Market approval of new types of "super painkillers" currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could lead to an increase in violent robberies by people who want to sell the drugs on the streets, warns U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.

"It's tremendously concerning that at the same time policymakers and law enforcement professionals are waging a war on the growing prescription drug crisis, new super-drugs could well be on their way, flooding the market," Schumer, D-N.Y., told the Associated Press. "The FDA needs to grab the reins and slow down the stampede to introduce these powerful narcotics."

Recent violent robberies involving prescription painkillers have left six people dead. On New Year's Eve, a robber and a federal agent died during a robbery at a Long Island pharmacy. Last June, a heist of 11,000 hydrocodone pills at another Long Island pharmacy resulted in four deaths.

Tests are currently underway on four drugs that contain a more powerful version of hydrocodone, one of the most abused painkillers in the U.S., the AP reported.

If the FDA approves these drugs, Schumer said their needs to be "robust post-market surveillance" of the drugs as they are marketed, advertised and sold.


Drug Maker Recalls Bottles of Excedrin, NoDoz, Bufferin and Gas-X

Certain bottles of the over-the-counter medicines Excedrin, NoDoz, Bufferin and Gas-X are being recalled because they may contain stray pills from other medicines, or chipped or broken tablets, Novartis said Sunday.

The recall includes bottles of Excedrin and NoDoz with expiration dates of Dec. 20, 2014 or earlier, and packages of Bufferin and Gas-X with expiration dates of Dec. 20, 2013 or earlier, the Associated Press reported.

More information is available on the company website and customers can also call Novartis at 1-888-477-2403 Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

The recall announcement follows Novartis' recent decision to temporarily halt production at its Lincoln, Neb. plant for "maintenance and other improvement activities," the AP reported.


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