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Health: News In Brief

Thursday, April 22, 1999 Published at 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK

Health Action Zones target health inequalities

The government has officially launched 15 Health Action Zones which aim to reduce health inequalities between rich and poor.

The launch came a day after the publication of a major report showing that the poor have up to 16% poorer cancer survival rates than the rich.

The government says seven million people will be covered by the second wave of Health Action Zones, announced by Health Secretary Frank Dobson last August.

The zones were approved earlier this month and were launched by health minister John Denham at a conference in Nottingham on Friday.

The 15 zones are in both rural and inner-city areas, ranging from Cornwall to Middlesbrough and Bury to Brent.

"Health among the poor must improve at a faster rate than the general population," said Mr Denham.

"This means tacking ill-health that results from poverty where poverty occurs."

Health Action Zones are chosen because they are areas with particularly high rates of ill-health.

The aim is to encourage close partnership between social care and health agencies to improve health.

The zones are in: Tees, Wakefield, Leeds, Hull and East Riding; Merseyside (St Helens & Knowsley, Liverpool, Wirral, Sefton Health Authorities); Bury & Rochdale; Nottingham; Sheffield; Leicester City; Wolverhampton; Walsall; North Staffordshire; Cornwall; Camden and Islington; Brent (Brent and Harrow Health Authority).

Drugs slow MS brain shrinkage

Multiple sclerosis (MS) shrinks the brain early on in its progress, but drugs already in use can slow the process, researchers have said.

Dr Richard Rudick of the Cleveland Clinic's Mellen Centre for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research presented his findings to a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging scans to look at the brains of MS patients.

Seventy were treated with beta interferon - a drug banned by some UK health authorites because of doubts about its effectiveness. Another 70 were given placebo dummy pills.

During the second year of treatment, the brains of patients who got beta interferon shrunk 55% more slowly than those of patients on placebo.

Dr Rudick said: "This new knowledge allows us to identify patients who are losing brain tissue at a faster rate and provide them more aggressive treatment."

Soya may prevent bone disease

Soybeans could help prevent the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, according to research.

Researchers in Japan said the food could help those at risk of calcium loss retain the mineral.

Led by Dr Kironobu Katsuyama at the Kawasaki Medical School, the scientists focussed on Natto, a fermented soybean product, and patients with a genetic fault affecting their ability to absorb calcium.

Patients who ate the product had strong bones and did not lose calcium despite their genetic fault, Dr Katsuyama said.

Gene repair breakthrough

Scientists have suggested a more detailed explanation of how cells repair damage to their genetic material.

Damaged DNA - the genetic blueprint from which cells are made - can lead to cancer or the death of cells.

Researchers working for the Imperial Cancer Research Fund say cells have more than one way of fixing broken DNA molecules. Which method is used is determined by which protein discovers the damage.

If scientists can control gene repair mechanisms, they have a better chance of adding their own genetic material - the key to successful gene therapy.

Dr Stephen West, who led the research, said greater understanding of such mechanisms "could provide a powerful new tool in the study of cancer".

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