Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Review of Federal Oversight of Fetal Tissue Research Launched
A review of how federal health officials regulate fetal tissue research has been launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The audit was requested by 35 Republican senators in October, after a series of undercover videos released by anti-abortion activists appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue, the Associated Press reported. Buying and selling fetal tissue is against federal law, according to the wire service.
Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing, saying a few clinics in two states used to accept legally allowed reimbursement for the costs of providing fetal tissue donated by some of its clients. In October, Planned Parenthood announced that it would no longer accept reimbursements, the AP reported.
Republicans in Congress have since launched several investigations of Planned Parenthood, which receives federal funding, including an ongoing one by a House select committee, according to the wire service.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ken.), who initiated the request for the review, said Tuesday that the audit would cover all fetal tissue research supported by HHS grants and would examine how the agency enforced compliance with relevant federal laws.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood noted it had asked back in July that the U.S. National Institutes of Health create an expert panel to review the regulation and oversight of fetal tissue research, the AP reported.
FDA Approves New Gout Drug
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the use of Zurampic (lesinurad) to reduce high levels of uric acid -- hyperuricemia -- in the blood, a major contributor to the painful condition known as gout.
The drug is meant to be used in combination with an already approved class of gout medicines called xanthine oxidase inhibitors (XOIs).
"Controlling hyperuricemia is critical to the long-term treatment of gout," Dr. Badrul Chowdhury, director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Rheumatology Products in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in an agency news release. "Zurampic provides a new treatment option for the millions of people who may develop gout over their lifetimes."
According to the FDA, gout is a painful arthritic condition that occurs when too much uric acid builds up in the body. The disease typically first appears as painful swelling and redness of the big toes.
All tissues contain substances called purines, which then break down naturally to create uric acid. Most blood-borne uric acid will pass harmlessly through the kidneys, the FDA said, but an overabundance of the acid can trigger the formation of uric crystals, which then go on to cause gout.
Zurampic, made by Wilmington, De.-based AstraZeneca, helps the kidneys excrete uric acid by blocking the function of proteins that allow the acid to be re-absorbed by the kidneys, the FDA explained.
Three randomized, placebo-controlled studies involving a total of more than 1,500 patients found that Zurampic was effective when used along with an XOI. Patients were tracked for a year and were found to have lower levels of uric acid in the blood when they received this drug combination, the FDA said.
There were side effects in some patients, including headache, flu, gastroesophageal reflux disease (chronic heartburn), and higher levels of a substance called creatinine in the blood. Zurampic will come with a boxed warning that cautions of the heightened risk for acute kidney failure, especially when the drug is used at higher doses or without an XOI.
Virus Triggers Warning for Brazilian Women to Avoid Pregnancy
Women in Brazil's northeastern region are being advised by the Brazilian government to not get pregnant due to a mosquito-borne virus that's been tied to incomplete brain development in babies.
Maternal infection with the virus, called Zika, has been linked to an uptick in cases of newborn microcephaly, or insufficient brain development, CNN reported. Babies with microcephaly are born with abnormally small heads.
"It's a very personal decision, but at this moment of uncertainty, if families can put off their pregnancy plans, that's what we're recommending," Angela Rocha, the pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in the Brazilian state hit hardest by the outbreak, told CNN.
Overall, there have been more than 2,400 suspected cases reported in 2015 across 20 Brazilian states, compared to only 147 last year, and doctors are investigating 29 infant deaths thought to be linked to the condition.
Six states have declared states of emergency, CNN said, and there have been 900 cases reported in the state of Pernambuco alone.
"These are newborns who will require special attention their entire lives. It's an emotional stress that just can't be imagined," Rocha said. "Here in Pernambuco, we're talking about a generation of babies that's going to be affected."
Doctors treating babies born with microcephaly noticed that many of their mothers had come down with symptoms of Zika virus -- mild fever, rash and headache -- early in their pregnancies. Then in November, Brazil's Health Ministry announced that an autopsy had found Zika virus in a baby born with microcephaly.
It's still not clear, however, if Zika actually causes microcephaly, and research is ongoing, CNN said.
According to the news agency, Zika vius was first found in Uganda in the 1940s and is now endemic in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is only carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which prefers tropical climates. This strain of mosquito -- also responsible for spreading dengue fever and chikungunya -- is only found in very small numbers in the United States, in Florida, Texas and Hawaii, CNN said.