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Health Highlights: Nov. 15, 2013

Health Highlights: Nov. 15, 2013

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

Obama Nominates Health Care Law Backer To Be Surgeon General

An early supporter and advocate for the Affordable Care Act has been nominated by President Barack Obama to be the country's next surgeon general.

Dr. Vivek Murthy is founder and president of Doctors for America, a group that campaigned for the controversial health care law before Congress passed it in 2010. He is a doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, The New York Times reported.

He also has been a leader in HIV prevention and AIDS education in both the U.S. and India.

Murthy "will be a powerful messenger" on health policy, according to a statement release Thursday by White House spokesman Jay Carney. His nomination is subject to Senate approval.

The previous surgeon general, Dr. Regina Benjamin, left her post in July to return to work at a clinic she founded in Bayou La Batre, Ala. Since then, Dr. Boris Lushniak has been acting surgeon general, The Times reported.

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New Drug for Rare Blood Cancer Approved by FDA

A new drug to treat a rare and aggressive form of blood cancer was approved Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration.

Imbruvica was approved for patients with mantle cell lymphoma who have already undergone at least one previous drug treatment. This type of cancer typically begins in the lymph nodes but has usually spread to the bone marrow and other parts of the body by the time it's diagnosed, the Associated Press reported.

The new once-a-day capsule blocks a protein that enables the cancer to multiply and spread. The FDA's approval is based on a study of 111 patients. Tumors shrank or disappeared in 66 percent of the patients who took Imbruvica. However, it's not clear if the drug actually prolongs patients lives.

The new drug from Pharmacyclics and Janssen Biotech Inc. is the second to be approved under the FDA's breakthrough designation, which was approved by Congress last year. The classification is meant to accelerate development of promising drugs by giving companies additional meetings and earlier communication with FDA scientists, the AP reported.

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Car Mechanic Develops Birth-Assist Device

An Argentine car mechanic's device to ease difficult births has been endorsed by the World Health Organization and other major donors, and has been licensed for production by an American medical technology company.

Jorge Odon, 59, said the idea for the Odon Device came to him after watching a YouTube video about how to extract a cork trapped in a wine bottle. He realized that the same approach could be used to save a baby stuck in the birth canal, The New York Times reported.

Odon built the first prototype in his kitchen. He used a glass jar for a womb, his daughter's doll for the trapped baby, and a fabric bag and sleeve sewn by his wife as his lifesaving device.

With the actual device, an attendant slips a plastic bag inside a lubricated plastic sleeve around the head, inflates it to grip the head and pulls the bag until the baby emerges, The Times reported.

The device has enormous potential to save babies in poor countries, and perhaps to reduce cesarean section births in rich nations, according to doctors.

"This is very exciting," Dr. Mario Merialdi, the WHO's chief coordinator for improving maternal and perinatal health, told The Times. "This critical moment of life is one in which there's been very little advancement for years."

 
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