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Health Highlights: June 24, 2014

Health Highlights: June 24, 2014

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

Drug Combo Shows Promise Against Cystic Fibrosis

A two-drug combination shows promise in helping many cystic fibrosis patients, according to new studies.

The two Phase 3 clinical trials found that treatment with ivacaftor (Kalydeco) and lumacaftor (VX-809) led to significant improvements in lung function and other key measures in patients with two copies of the F508del mutation of cystic fibrosis, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The 24-week studies were conducted by Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. The company plans to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the combination treatment, which could benefit nearly 50 percent of CF patients, specifically those with two copies of F508del, the most common CF mutation.

It's the first time that two drugs have been combined to target the underlying genetic cause of CF, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

"Many people with CF and their families have been eagerly awaiting these results, and we are thrilled with the outcome," Robert Beall, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a news release. "These studies further validate that we are on the right road to getting new and effective treatments into the hands of people with CF who so desperately need them."

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Joan Lunden Has Breast Cancer

Former "Good Morning America" host Joan Lunden revealed that she has breast cancer during an appearance on the show Tuesday.

The 63-year-old mother of seven said the cancer was not found during her annual mammogram, but in a follow-up ultrasound she routinely has in addition to the mammogram because she has "dense fibrous tissue," ABC News reported.

"Nothing showed in my mammogram and you come out of there like, 'Yes, one more year. I'm okay,'" Lunden said. "And then you go all happy-go-lucky into the ultrasound and she kept going back to one spot."

A core biopsy showed that Lunden -- who co-hosted "Good Morning America" from 1980 to 1997 -- has what she described as an "aggressive" type of breast cancer. She will undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but is expected to make a full recovery, ABC News reported.

"I've got that journey ahead," Lunden said. "I've already started it. I'm already doing my chemo."

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Organ Transplant Group Allows Kids Better Access to Adult Lungs

Children in the United States who need lung transplants will be given more consideration for receiving lungs from adult donors under a new rule adopted Monday by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, a private nonprofit group that manages organ allocation across the nation.

The decision comes a year after a lawsuit involving an 11-year-old girl with end-stage cystic fibrosis who needed new lungs put the issue in the spotlight, the Associated Press reported.

In that case, a federal judge ordered the network to place Sarah Murnaghan on the adult lung transplant list. Her first transplant failed but the resident of Newtown Square, Penn. is now breathing on her own for the first time in three years.

Her family, including parents Francis and Janet Murnaghan, said the legal action was "the absolute last resort" after other appeals failed, the AP reported.

"We believed making lungs from donors 12 and older available to children under 12 who are good candidates to receive them was the right thing to do. We very much appreciate that the medical community (now) agrees with that," the family said in a statement.

"Any allocation policy must weigh the unique needs and circumstances of transplant candidates with the benefit a transplant can provide them," Dr. Stuart Sweet, secretary of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, said.

"This is a difficult balance for very young lung transplant candidates in particular," he noted. "The progression of their lung disease may be considerably different from other patients, even those just a few years older."

In the past year, a dozen children have asked to be added to the waiting list for adult donor lungs under a waiver, but most children are still matched with donor lungs from children, the network said.

A lung transplant does not cure cystic fibrosis but can extend a patient's life, the AP reported. The typical life expectancy for people with cystic fibrosis is 37 years and it continues to increase with new medical advances.

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Herpes Viruses Around 'Since Before We Were Human:' Study

Two common herpes viruses infected our ancient ancestors and stayed with us as we evolved into modern humans, according to researchers.

"If you think of humans as Homo sapiens proper, then both viruses have been with us since before we were human," study lead author Joel Wertheim, a virologist at the University of California, San Diego, told The New York Times.

About two-thirds of people worldwide are infected with one of the two herpes simplex viruses, oral (HSV-1) or genital (HSV-2).

The researchers concluded that HSV-2 jumped from chimpanzees to our human ancestors about 1.6 million years ago, while HSV-1 began infecting hominids before they branched from the chimpanzee lineage six million years ago, The Times reported.

The findings may not improve herpes treatment, but could offer new insight into how viruses are introduced to humans, according to Wertheim.

"We know a lot about viruses that have jumped in recently, and it's useful to have a point of comparison," he told The Times.

The study was published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

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Fortified Cereals May Pose Threat to Children: Report

Fortified breakfast cereals may provide unhealthy amounts of certain nutrients to children, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group, a health research and advocacy organization.

The group said that "millions of children are ingesting potentially unhealthy amounts" of vitamin A, zinc and niacin, and that fortified breakfast cereals are the main source of this high intake. The three nutrients are added to these cereals in amounts calculated for adults, USA Today reported.

The problem is made worse by outdated nutritional labeling rules and misleading marketing by cereal makers who tout high fortification levels to make their products appear more nutritious, the group said.

Only "a tiny, tiny percentage" of cereal packages have nutrition labels that list age-specific daily values, according to Renee Sharp, director of research at the Environmental Working Group.

"That's misleading to parents and is contributing to the problem," she told USA Today.

 
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