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*** Experts: Mad cow risk very low WASHINGTON (AP) - Travelers worried about eating beef in Europe can relax, health experts say. There is little chance of getting mad cow disease in Europe, given the precautions now in place and the relatively few illnesses reported, a Senate committee was told Wednesday. Europe's scares over mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease prompted Northwest Airlines to waive cancellation fees for passengers who wanted to postpone trips. Ireland's main airline, Aer Lingus, has cut fares to stimulate traffic. United and Northwest no longer serve beef on some flights. U.S. airline traffic to Europe was about 5% higher last month than in March 2000, according to the Air Transport Association. Foot-and-mouth is harmless to humans. But mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is linked to a human brain-wasting disease, variant Creutzfeld Jakob Disease, that has killed an estimated 97 people in Britain since 1995 and a few more in continental Europe

*** Gene related to anorexia found (AP) - Researchers have found that one form of a gene involved in controlling appetite is more frequent among anorexics, a discovery that suggests disruptions of the brain's system for governing food intake contribute to eating disorders. This is the first time an anorexia-related gene has been identified, though researchers have known for several years that a person's chances of developing an eating disorder depend partly on genetics. The study by researchers from Germany and the Netherlands found that 11% of anorexics had a variant form of the gene for agouti-related protein, a chemical messenger that stimulates appetite. In contrast, only 4.5% of subjects without anorexia had the variant form. The study compared 145 anorexia patients and 244 people without the disorder, and concluded that having the mutation more than doubles a person's chance of developing anorexia. The finding suggests that a drug mimicking agouti-related protein might help some anorexics regain their appetites.

*** High-heels bad news for the knees LONDON (AP) - Healthy knees aren't the main consideration in choosing among high heels, but new research says chunky heels are just as bad for the knees as spindly stilettos. Some women who want to add a bit of height and walk comfortably opt for wide heels. But comfort is the problem: Because they can be suffered for longer, such shoes are just as likely to cause knee arthritis, scientists report in The Lancet medical journal this week. "It takes a long time to feel the effects of knee osteoarthritis - and once you do, it's too late," said Dr. Casey Kerrigan, lead researcher of the study and associate professor at Harvard Medical School's department of physical medicine and rehabilitation. "I liken it to smoking - one cigarette is not painful, but over a lifetime it is. Wide-heeled shoes feel comfortable, so women wear them all day long," Kerrigan said. "They are better for your feet than stiletto heels, but just as bad for your knees." Increased pressure on the knee eventually leads to arthritis.

*** Study: Bacteria could help eczema LONDON (AP) - Supplements of a friendly bacteria found in live yogurt could halve the chances of infants developing eczema, an incurable skin disease some never outgrow, new research shows. Capsules of lactobacillus GG, which belongs to a class of supplements known as probiotics, are popular in Europe, but evidence that they do any good has been weak. Allergic conditions such as asthma and eczema, linked to failures of the immune system, have been steadily increasing in the developed world. Many scientists believe such disorders are on the rise partly because babies aren't exposed these days to as many germs as they used to be and their immune systems are therefore blunted from an early age. Lactobacillus GG and other probiotics are thought to improve the balance of germs in the intestines, which proponents believe may enhance the immune system. The prevalence of eczema varies widely worldwide. In the United States, 10% of infants and 3% of adults have it. About 65%of children are clear of the condition by the time they reach their mid-teens.

*** Drug federation defends prices GENEVA (AP) - AIDS victims in poor countries would rarely benefit from a reduction in drug prices because the clinics needed to distribute them don't exist, the head of a drug manufacturers federation said Wednesday. "A price reduction is like a tree falling in a forest when no one is there," said Harvey Bale, director-general of the Geneva-based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations. The drug industry has come under increasing pressure in recent years over the price of its patented drugs - especially treatments for HIV/AIDS - in developing countries. Aid agencies say companies are ignoring the misery of sufferers because prices are well beyond the reach of most. Around 90% of AIDS victims live in developing countries, most of those in sub-Saharan Africa. Drug companies counter that they spend a lot of money on research and development. If new drugs are to be created, then manufacturers have to charge prices which will allow them to recoup their investment and make a profit.

*** Study of medical marijuana launched - The first federally approved study to give AIDS patients marijuana to determine whether the drug can effectively control their pain is under way in northern California. In November, the federal government authorized the use of marijuana it grew to be transferred to San Mateo County Health Center for a 12-week study. The center launched the study Tuesday. Patients will be given 15 marijuana cigarettes over a prescribed time and will be asked to keep a detailed log of their drug use, said Dr. Dennis Israelski, chief of infectious diseases and AIDS medicine at the center. The study will involve 60 AIDS patients who have pain in their limbs and who have already used marijuana. Supporters of the study hope it will determine whether marijuana relieves pain and increases appetites as many users claim. California voters in 1996 passed a proposition which allows possession, cultivation and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. However, implementation of the measure has proven difficult, particularly since federal law says distribution of the drug is a crime.

*** Computers enlisted to fight cancer - A new project launched Tuesday is designed to harness the spare processing power of personal computers to fight cancer. The project is the first element of Intel Corp.'s Philanthropic Peer-to-Peer Program, which takes the theory behind Napster and applies it to science. Instead of swapping music, individual users will share processing power. Organizers expect as many as 6 million people to participate by installing a free program and letting it run as a screen saver or while they use other programs. The computers linked processing power will perform like a supercomputer to calculate answers to researchers questions. Organizers say the machines' combined processing powers will be 10 times more powerful than existing supercomputers. With a price tag of $1 million, the program is about 100 times cheaper than existing supercomputers.

*** Government plans organ donor card - The government will begin issuing national organ donor cards as part of an aggressive effort to increase the number of donations, officials said Wednesday. The idea is to give transplant coordinators a stronger case for proceeding with donation, regardless of a family's OK, by making the donor cards legal documents that carry more weight than a driver's license or unofficial donor card. It's one element of a sweeping plan that Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson plans to unveil later this month. Since taking office, Thompson has talked regularly about organ donation, prodding his audiences to sign donor cards. More than 75,600 patients are waiting for organs, and more than 6,000 of them die each year. The Thompson initiative is likely to involve several elements, including a media campaign and efforts to work closely with businesses and states to promote donation. It also will include an effort to encourage and support increasingly popular living organ donations.

*** Annan urges cheaper AIDS drugs ) - Meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the chief executives of six major drug companies agreed Thursday to speed up the reduction of prices to help control the AIDS epidemic in poor countries. The companies also agreed to consider using private aid agencies and charities to ensure the drugs reach the people who need them, a U.N. statement said. Until now, the distribution has been only through governments. The meeting was a signal that Annan is deepening his personal involvement in combating AIDS in poor countries, before an AIDS summit this summer in New York. The AIDS fight "has become my personal priority," Annan said. Annan supported the patent protection which yields the profits that would allow those companies to develop new medications. At the same time, he urged them to further cut prices voluntarily in the developing world, where 90% of AIDS victims live.