Diabetes Drugs Powerful as Combo

A combination of two new diabetes drugs has proved a powerful means of controlling hard-to-treat cases of the disease. The drugs are troglitazone, approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year, and metformin, approved two years ago. Both are for adult onset diabetes, a disease of high blood sugar that afflicts millions of Americans. Most such patients will eventually need insulin shots, but that treatment often does not work well because the patients' bodies have become resistant to the hormone.

Troglitazone and metformin have previously been shown to be especially useful in these patients--troglitazone by making muscles more sensitive to insulin, metformin by reducing the blood sugar produced by the liver. In a study in the March 26 New England Journal of Medicine, Yale University researchers found that the drugs work even better in combination than they do alone. Taken individually, metformin and troglitazone each reduced the patients' after-meal blood-sugar levels by an average of 25%. Taken together, the drugs yielded a 41% drop.

Camera Detects Potential Blinding Disease in Babies

Doctors at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA have begun using a hand-held digital camera to screen the eyes of premature babies for a potentially blinding disease. The Retcam 120 screens for retinopathy of prematurity, which usually strikes and blinds babies who weigh less than 4 pounds at birth with a gestational age of less than 32 weeks.

If the disease is not detected soon after birth and treated, blindness is inevitable. Using a computer and modem, a doctor can transmit the camera's images along with the patient's medical history to a JSEI physician skilled in interpreting the data. Results are obtained within minutes.

Digital TV May Disrupt Wireless Heart Monitors

The Food and Drug Administration warned hospitals and nursing homes Wednesday that the imminent arrival of digital TV could disrupt important medical monitoring equipment. The warning comes after a Dallas TV station's digital broadcasting test stopped dozens of wireless heart monitors at two large hospitals this month. Stations in 10 other cities, including Los Angeles, are expected to begin digital broadcasts within six months.

It's actually the second warning for hospitals. The Federal Communications Commission issued an alert last year that the debut of digital broadcasting could cause interference with wireless cardiac, respiratory and other monitors. That's because hospitals run those devices on TV broadcast channels that until now have been unused. The FCC classifies hospitals as "secondary users" of the frequencies--meaning that once broadcasters move in, the hospitals have to find alternative airwaves.

Several Shorter Exercise Sessions Recommended

Two or three short periods of exercise every day are at least as effective as one longer period, according to physiologist John M. Jakicic of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The workout is even better if it incorporates available home training equipment, he told a New Orleans meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine.

For the study, 139 sedentary, obese women were asked to reduce their food intake and were divided into three exercise groups--one incorporating a single daily period of 20 to 40 minutes, one exercising for 10 minutes two to four times per day, and one following the same regimen but incorporating home training equipment. "Both in terms of exercise adherence and total weight loss, we found that the group using exercise equipment for short periods of time was most successful," Jakicic said.

Safety of Human Growth Hormone Undetermined

Since the mid-1980s, genetically engineered human growth hormone has been used increasingly to boost the height of short girls who do not have a deficiency of the hormone, but no one has been sure of its safety or efficacy. Dr. Elizabeth McCaughey of the Southampton University Hospitals in the United Kingdom studied 40 short girls enrolled at age 8. Eighteen randomly received either growth hormone or a placebo, while 22 received no treatment.

The team reported in the March 28 Lancet that the girls who received growth hormone were an average of 7.5 centimeters (3.4 inches) taller than the girls who received placebos and 6 centimeters (2.7 inches) taller than those who received no treatment. No adverse effects were observed.

Births From Assisted Reproduction Increasing

Using assisted reproductive technologies, 11,631 women gave birth to 16,520 babies in 1995, the most recent year for which figures are available, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. That represents a substantial increase over the 5,000 babies born with such technology in 1990.

The success rates were 22.5% for in vitro fertilization, 27% for gamete intrafallopian transfer and 27.9% for zygote intrafallopian transfer.

--Compiled by THOMAS H. MAUGH II

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