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Health Highlights: June 8, 2011

Last Updated: June 08, 2011.

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

In Mice, Drug Helps Heart Repair Itself

A drug designed to help the heart repair itself after a heart attack proved successful in mice.

Researchers at University College London in the U.K. found that the drug, thymosin beta 4, was able to "prime" the heart for repair if it was given to mice before a heart attack, BBC News reported.

The ability of the heart to pump out blood increased 25 percent in the mice, scar tissue was reduced, and the walls of the heart became thicker, according to the researchers.

The findings appear in the journal Nature.

Currently, damage caused by a heart attack is considered permanent. Heart self-repair is the "holy grail of heart research," but any such treatment in humans is years away, the British Heart Foundation told BBC News.


All-Electronic, Home-Based Drug Study a First

Patients will use smartphones and computers to take part in a new drug trial believed to be the first all-electronic, home-based study of a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Pfizer Inc. said the findings from the study of the overactive-bladder drug Detrol will be compared to a previous, traditional study of the drug that included 600 patients, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Patients for the new study are being recruited through Internet ads and directed to the study's website.

If successful, the methods used in the all-electronic study might eventually help reduce the high cost of getting new medicines to market, a Pfizer official told the Wall Street Journal.


More Than 300 New E. Coli Cases in Germany

The number of people reported sick in a deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany is rising, but government officials claim there is hope the outbreak is abating.

On Wednesday, Germany's national disease control center told the Associated Press that the number of reported cases increased by more than 300 since Tuesday, to a total of 2,648. That tally includes 700 people with a serious complication that can cause kidney failure.

The Robert Koch Institute also said that another person had died in Germany, bringing the death toll there to 24. In addition, another E. coli death was reported in Sweden.

Despite the rise in reported cases, German Health Minister Daniel Bahr noted there is often a delay in the reporting time and the number of new infections "are clearly going down," the AP reported.


Many U.S. Employers May Cut Worker Health Insurance

Nearly one-third of U.S. employers could stop offering health insurance to their workers after most of the new health care law takes effect in 2014, suggests a new report.

McKinsey & Co. surveyed 1,300 employers earlier this year and found that 30 percent would "definitely or probably" stop offering employer coverage after 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal.

That proportion increased to more than 50 percent among employers with a high awareness of the Obama administration's health overhaul.

Under the plan, Americans will have new insurance options outside the workplace, and carriers will no longer be permitted to deny people coverage because they have been sick. The survey found that these factors reduced the moral obligation employers may feel to provide coverage for their workers, the Wall Street Journal reported.


Appeals Court Hears Health Law Case

A challenge to the Obama administration's health care law is scheduled to be heard Wednesday in a federal appeals court in Georgia.

Similar challenges about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act have been heard by appeals courts in Ohio and Virginia, but this latest hearing is attracting increased attention because of the number of states involved in the challenge (26) and because it involves a lower court ruling that invalidated the entire law, ABC News reported.

In January, Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida ruled that Congress exceeded its authority when it passed the law's mandate requiring nearly all Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or face a tax penalty.

Without that mandate, the rest of the law could not stand, Vinson concluded. His ruling is on hold pending the outcome of the appeal, ABC News reported.

No appellate court has ruled on the health care law, but three lower court judges have upheld the law and two others have ruled against it.


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