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Headlines: September 7, 2010

by Meg Larkin


             First, in global health news, a new test for drug-resistant TB can give results in hours instead of weeks.  The test, known as Xpert MTB/RIF is 98 percent accurate, both in detecting the presence of tuberculosis and in determining whether a patient is infected with a drug resistant strain of the disease.  According to the New York Times, “The test was developed by Cepheid, a private company, and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics in Switzerland, with support from the National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”  Potential drawbacks include the high cost of the machines required for the test, and the test itself, which could make use in developing countries dependant on large amounts of donor funding.

            In military news, the Army is using bomb technicians to study the effects of concussions.  The 52nd ordinance Group, which is comprised of bomb specialists and is soon to be deployed to Afghanistan, will be studied throughout its deployment so that the Army can understand the effects of concussions on brain functions.  The bomb specialists were selected because their type of work tends to put soldiers at higher risk of concussive injuries in the line of duty.

            In other military news, Walter Reed is using volunteers to  study malaria.  The volunteers agree to be bitten by a malaria infected mosquito in order to allow researchers to study the disease.  Once infected, volunteers receive appropriate medical treatment and recover.  According to the Washington Post, over the past 17 years, the “Human Challenge Model”  has been used to study numerous aspects of the disease.  “Some trials have tested medicines to treat patients; others test vaccines to prevent people from getting the disease. Bolton's was aimed simply at showing that researchers could infect people with Plasmodium vivax, one of the five strains of the malaria parasite”  One of the projects that has been influenced by the Walter Reed system is the current clinical trial of a malaria vaccine that is under way in Africa.  If effective, the vaccine could prevent tens of thousands of people from being infected with Malaria.

            Finally, in England, regulators are calling for the removal of  the diabetes drug Avandia from the market.  The Washington Post reports that, “The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said an independent panel of experts had advised it that the risks of Avandia outweigh its benefits, and that the drug should no longer be sold in Britain. The body said it had sent a letter to doctors in July advising them to consider alternative treatments. “  The drug’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline, maintains that the drug is still safe and effective when appropriately prescribed.  In the United States, the FDA has placed Avandia under increased scrutiny since a 2007 study suggested that patients taking the drug were more likely to suffer a heart attack than patients taking other diabetes drugs or not taking any diabetes medication.   


Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University.  Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.


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