Health Highlights: Feb. 16, 2016

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

New Immune Therapy Achieves Complete Remission in Blood Cancer Patients

A new therapy that uses a person’s immune system to attack tumors led to complete remission in terminally ill blood cancer patients, according to researchers.

In a clinical trial, symptoms vanished in 94 percent of leukemia patients who received the treatment. The response rate was more than 80 percent in patients with other blood cancers, and half achieved total remission, CNBC reported.

The results were presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Detailed data will be published later this year.

They therapy involves removing immune system T-cells from patients, loading them with anti-cancer molecules, and placing them back in the body. The altered T-cells then seek and destroy cancer, CNBC reported.

The results are unprecedented, according to researcher Stanley Riddell.

“In the laboratory and in clinical trials, we are seeing dramatic responses in patients with tumors,” he said at the AAAS meeting. “Unlike a chemotherapy drug which destroys cancer cells that are growing, you put in a living therapy that engages the cancer in hand to hand combat.”

In patients who receive the therapy, “the bone marrow just goes from being full of leukemia to being in remission, and very large tumors simply melt away,” Riddell said on his company website, CNBC reported.

The results are revolutionary, according to Dr. Chiara Bonini, of the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy.

“The last time (I saw) a change in remission rates like this must have been in 2000,” she said at Monday’s joint presentation.

“T-cells are a living drug, and in particular they have the potential to persist in our body for our whole lives,” Bonini said.

She believes the first products from this research “will be available very soon,” CNBC reported.


Proposed Food Stamp Changes Would Boost Access to Healthy Foods

New proposed rules to increase food stamp users’ access to healthy foods are expected by announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Under the new regulations, stores that accept food stamps would be required to stock a wider selection of healthy foods or potentially lose customers, the Associated Press reported.

Currently, stores that take part in the food stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP) have to carry at least three varieties in each of four food groups: dairy, breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, poultry and fish.

The proposal would require these stores to stock seven varieties in each food group, and perishable items would have to be included in at least three of the food groups. Overall, stores would have to carry at least 168 food items considered healthy by the Agriculture Department, the AP reported.

Stores would also have to stock enough of each food item so that they are continuously available to food stamp users.

The new rules wouldn’t prevent that nation’s 46 million food stamp users from buying as much junk food as they desire, but are meant to provide them with more healthy food choices, the AP reported.

The proposed changes could mean fewer convenience stores would qualify to accept food stamps, but they are the only types of stores available in certain neighborhoods and at certain times, such as overnight, according to the convenience store industry.

The Agriculture Department may consider waiving the new requirements in some areas so they don’t restrict SNAP recipients’ ability to buy food, said Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, the AP reported.

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