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DIABETES DRUG RAISES HEART ATTACK RISK, REPORT CONCLUDES

Patients who take Avandia, a popular diabetes medicine, face an increased risk of heart attacks while those who take Actos, a similar drug, do not, federal drug reviewers conclude in a new report.

Avandia, made by GlaxoSmithKline, is particularly dangerous to patients who take insulin, the review found, a risk not found with Actos, made by Takeda.

The drugs, which increase the body's sensitivity to insulin, were each taken by about 1-million patients last year.

The Food and Drug Administration should issue strict warnings about Avandia's heart attack risk, the reviewers concluded. On Monday, the agency is planning to ask an independent panel of experts whether they agree with stronger warnings or want the drug removed from the market.

"A critical question to be resolved in determining appropriate regulatory action is whether the anticipated therapeutic benefit of rosiglitazone outweighs the demonstrated cardiovascular risk," one agency reviewer concluded, referring to Avandia by its generic name.

Patients with heart disease and those taking insulin should not take Avandia, one review concluded.

The medicine's global sales for 2006 were nearly $3.4-billion.

Pot use found to raise risk of psychosis

Using marijuana seems to increase the chance of becoming psychotic, researchers report in an analysis of past research that reignites the issue of whether pot is dangerous.

The new review suggests that even infrequent use could raise the small but real risk of this serious mental illness by 40 percent.

Doctors have long suspected a connection and say the latest findings underline the need to highlight marijuana's long-term risks. The research, paid for by the British Health Department, is being published today in the Lancet.

"The available evidence now suggests that cannabis is not as harmless as many people think," said Dr. Stanley Zammit, one of the study's authors and a lecturer in the department of psychological medicine at Cardiff University.

The researchers said they could not prove that marijuana use itself increases the risk of psychosis, a category of several disorders with schizophrenia being the most commonly known. There could be something else about marijuana users, "like their tendency to use other drugs or certain personality traits, that could be causing the psychoses," Zammit said.

Gene therapy studies reviewed after death

The government has suspended a Seattle company's gene therapy study - and is reviewing the safety of 28 others around the country - after learning that a patient died this week in what appears to have been a reaction to a novel treatment for arthritis, federal health officials said Thursday.

The precise cause of death remains unexplained. But the event immediately revived memories of a similar tragedy in 1999, when teenager Jesse Gelsinger succumbed in a gene therapy test in which researchers were eventually shown to have violated safety rules.

It marks the third blow since 1999 to the field of gene therapy, as scientists struggle to determine if the viruses they use to deliver new genes may themselves cause serious trouble. The only documented successes - in a handful of children - were undermined when the treatment was found to have caused cancer in some.

Twenty-eight other gene therapy studies have been reported to the FDA that used, or are using, the same virus, called adeno-associated virus or AAV..

West Nile cases on pace to push record

The nation is on pace to have its worst West Nile virus season in years, federal health officials said Thursday.

So far this year, there have been nearly four times as many cases reported as there were at the same time last year. However, cool weather in August or September - when the bulk of West Nile cases usually occur - could take the sting out of the season, officials added.

Researchers scratch surface of itch gene

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are the first to discover a gene responsible for making mice, and probably people, itchy.

The gene, called the gastrin-releasing peptide receptor gene, or GRPR, helps transmit the itch signal up the spinal cord to the brain. It may be partially responsible for chronic itching in people with diseases such as eczema or itching caused by some drugs.

The discovery, reported in the online version of Nature, could be good news for people who are chronically itchy, but "I don't think it's going to solve all itching," said Dr. Gil Yosipovitch, an itch researcher at Wake Forest University.

New microbe found in Yellowstone spring

Yellowstone National Park's hot springs have yielded a new marvel - an unusual bacterium that converts light to energy. Plants use photosynthesis to turn light into energy and so do other bacteria, but this bacterium has "a new kind of photosynthesis," says researcher David Ward.

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