Health Highlights: June 6, 2013

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

New Rules Would Require Labeling of Mechanically Tenderized Beef

Labels on beef would have to disclose whether the meat was mechanically tenderized, under proposed new rules announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

About a quarter of the beef sold in the U.S. is mechanically tenderized, an unlabelled process which uses needles or blades and regulators say contributes to contamination with E. coli and other pathogens, Bloomberg News reported.

Consumer groups have campaigned for labeling of mechanically tenderized meat, pointing to studies that show the needles can push E. coli from the surface deep inside the meat where it is harder to kill through cooking. Mechanically tenderized beef looks no different than non-tenderized beef.

The labels disclosing the use of mechanical tenderizing will also have to include cooking instructions to help protect consumers. The new rules could take effect as soon as next year, Bloomberg reported.


Judge Suspends Age Rule for Young Girl Who Needs Lung Transplant

A federal judge's ruling to allow a dying 10-year-old girl to move up the adult waiting list for a lung transplant was welcome news for her parents but an expert expressed medical and ethical concerns about the decision.

Sarah Murhaghan has end-stage cystic fibrosis and is waiting for a lung transplant. But under the nation's transplant policy, children younger than age 12 can't be given adult organ transplants unless all adults and teens on the list have been offered the organs.

Sarah's parents have been fighting to change the policy, but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius refused to become involved in the case. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson suspended the age rule in the transplant policy at least until a June 14 hearing on the request for a broader injunction, the Associated Press reported.

"We are beyond thrilled," Sarah's mother Janet Murnaghan told the AP after the ruling. "Obviously we still need a match."

However, the judge's decision was questioned by Dr. Arthur Caplain, a bioethicist at New York University Langone Medical Center. He explained that lung transplants are the most difficult of organ transplants and children fare worse than adults, which is one reason for the existing policy.

Caplain said it is troubling for a judge to overrule that medical judgment and suggested that the ruling may lead to legal action by many other patients who aren't happy with their place on the transplant waiting list.

"I'm not sure I want judges or congressmen or bureaucrats trying to decide what to do with organs at the bedside," Caplan told the AP.


Groups Will Create Databases to Organize and Share Genetic Data

An agreement to create an organized way to share genetic and clinical information was announced Wednesday by more than 70 medical, research and advocacy groups in 41 countries.

The goal is to place the extensive and growing amount of data on genetic variations and health into databases that would be open to doctors and researchers worldwide, The New York Times reported.

In coming years, millions of people are expected to get their genes decoded and there are concerns that the handling of this huge amount of genetic and clinical data about how people and how they respond to treatments could be unorganized and slow the advance of medical science.

The agreement announced this week seeks to standardize the data and make it widely available.

"We are strong supporters of this global alliance," Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, told The Times. "There is lots of momentum now, and we really do want to move quickly."

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