Health Highlights: Feb. 13, 2012

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

Cancer Drug Shortage Threatens Children's Lives

A shortage of the childhood leukemia drug methotrexate in the United States means that hospitals across the country may run out of the medicine within the next two weeks.

If that happens, cancer doctors and federal officials say that hundreds and perhaps thousands of children will be at risk of dying from a largely curable disease, The New York Times reported.

Methotrexate is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which is most common in children ages 2-5. One of nation's largest suppliers of injectable preservative-free methotrexate was Ben Venue Laboratories. But in November, the company suspended operations at its plant in Bedford, Ohio due to what it called "significant manufacturing and quality concerns."

"This is a crisis that I hope the FDA's hard work can help to avert," Dr. Michael P. Link, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, told The Times. "We have worked very hard to take what was an incurable disease and make it curable for 90 percent of the cases. But if we can't get this drug anymore, that sets us back decades."


Rare Brain Disease Strikes Two People in California

Two cases of a rare and fatal brain disease are being investigated by the Marin County Department of Public Health in California.

One woman is dead and another sick after developing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The two cases are thought to be unrelated, ABC News reported.

"We have no evidence that suggests a causal linkage between the suspect cases nor is there any evidence to suggest a risk in [the] food supply," the health department said in a statement.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease occurs in about one in a million people each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cause in most cases is unknown, but a small number of cases are inherited, ABC News reported.

Some cases -- called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease -- are linked to mad cow disease. That's been ruled out in one of the Marin County cases and officials suspect the second case is also unrelated to mad cow disease.


Immune Cells Use Unique Method to Fight HIV: Study

Some types of immune cells resist HIV by denying the AIDS-causing virus the building blocks of life, according to a new study.

Because viruses cannot replicate on their own, they have to take over other cells and use them to produce new viruses, BBC News reported.

The international team of researchers found that some immune system cells destroy their own raw materials in order to stop HIV. The study appears in the journal Nature Immunology.

Experts said it's not clear whether this type of defense could be harnessed for HIV therapy, BBC News reported.

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