Health Highlights: March 3, 2014
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Rare Mutation Protects Against Type 2 Diabetes: Study
Scientitsts who identified a rare mutation that protects people from developing type 2 diabetes say the finding may lead to the development of new drugs that can prevent the disease.
The mutation -- which shields even overweight people from diabetes -- was pinpointed by the researchers after they conducted genetic tests on 150,000 people, The New York Times reported.
The mutation wipes out a gene used by cells in the pancreas, where insulin is produced. People with the mutation appear to make a bit more insulin and have somewhat lower blood sugar levels than others.
The findings from the study, which began four years ago, were published in the journal Nature Genetics.
"The study is a tour de force, and the authors are the top people in the field," Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the center for human nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine, told The Times. He was not involved in the study.
Drug makers Pfizer and Amgen were associated with the study and have launched efforts to develop drugs that mimic the mutation. However, it can take 10 to 20 years for a discovery about genetics and disease to lead to the introduction of a new drug, noted Timothy Rolph, a Pfizer vice president.
The mutation is so rare that it could only be identified by analyzing data from a huge number of people, according to scientists.
This is the first time in diabetes research that investigators have found a gene-destroying mutation that is beneficial, Louis Philipson, director of the Kovler Diabetes Center at the University of Chicago, told The Times.
The research team -- led by Dr. David Altshuler, deputy director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT -- is now trying to determine if the mutation has any harmful effects. So far, there appear to be none.
Electrical Stimulation Benefits Some Nearly-Comatose Patients: Study
Mild electrical stimulation of the brain can temporarily boost the mental responsiveness of nearly-comatose patients, according to a new study.
It included 55 patients in Belgium who were either minimally conscious or in a vegetative state. They received mild electrical stimulation for 20 minutes at a time, ABC News reported.
Fifteen of the 30 minimally-conscious patients became more responsive after receiving the stimulation. Two of them were even able to communicate nonverbally with the researchers. None of the patients in a vegetative state showed any reaction to the stimulation, according to the study in the journal Neurology.
The findings show that "there is some possibility of plasticity," in the brains of people who are minimally conscious, study co-author Dr. Steven Laureys, a neurologist and professor at the University of Liege in Belgium, told ABC News.
However, this is not a "miracle treatment," and patients who do respond to electrical stimulation would likely never fully "wake up" and return to being their normal selves, Laureys said.
Embryos Implanted in Women With Transplanted Wombs
Four Swedish women with transplanted wombs have had embryos implanted in order to determine if they can have babies, doctors say.
The embryos from the women's own eggs were created through in-vitro fertilization conducted before the women received their new wombs, the Associated Press reported.
The four women are among nine in Sweden who have received womb transplants from relatives since 2012. Two of those women had to have their new wombs removed due to complications.
"We have already begun transferring embryos into four of the women and plan to make attempts with the others when they are ready," research leader Dr. Mats Brannstrom, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Goteburg, told the AP.
He did not reveal whether any of the four women who've received embryos have become pregnant, but did predict that three or four of the seven women with new wombs would give birth.
"One or two more will perhaps get pregnant and miscarry and one or two won't be able to get pregnant," he told the AP.
Those who do become pregnant will be given low doses of drugs to prevent rejection of the transplanted womb and will be treated as having high-risk pregnancies, Brannstrom said.
The transplanted wombs will be removed after a woman has had a maximum of two pregnancies, he added.
Womb transplants could be used to help women who can't have children because they who were born without a uterus or lost it to cancer, the AP reported.