Calls for a Drug Trial Registry / Formaldehyde Declared a Chemical that Causes Cancer / More Dangers of Tobacco / Giant Panda Count in China
This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Sarah Long. This week: calls for a listing of all drug studies in the United States.
The widely used chemical formaldehyde is found to cause cancer.
More warnings about the dangers of tobacco.
And, a panda count in China.
Clinical trials are studies done with groups of people to test the safety and effectiveness of new treatments. But doctors and the general public may never learn the results of some experiments. Now, the American Medical Association wants to change that. It says there should be an electronic record of all clinical trials in the United States.
The American Medical Association is the largest professional group for doctors in the country. The A.M.A. has called on the Department of Health and Human Services to create an electronic registry. Such a list would identify each clinical trial and permit scientists, doctors and others to find the results.
The A.M.A says a registry would help deal with concerns that successful studies are more likely to be published than unsuccessful ones. The group says there is evidence that leaders of clinical trials sometimes think medical publications are not interested in negative results.
Government approval of a new medicine often depends on the results of clinical trials paid for by the company that made the drug. Drug companies invest millions of dollars to develop new treatments, and millions more to sell them. Critics of the industry say they worry about the influence of business considerations on the reporting of studies.
The drug maker GlaxoSmithKline faces legal action in New York in connection with this issue. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer says the British company tried to hide information about the effects of Paxil on children. Paxil is a medicine for depression. Mr. Spitzer says the company did at least five studies in children, but published only one. That one showed mixed results for the drug.
The legal action says the company suppressed findings that Paxil was not effective in children. It says the company also suppressed findings that Paxil may increase the risk that young patients will think about killing themselves.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved Paxil for use in adults. The only drug approved for children who are depressed is Prozac. However, doctors still have a right to give children Paxil. The lawsuit in New York notes that doctors treated more than two-million children with Paxil in two-thousand-two.
GlaxoSmithKline says it acted responsibly in its studies in children. It also says it "publicly communicated" all those studies to government agencies worldwide.
After facing the lawsuit, GlaxoSmithKline published the results of its studies on its Web site. Also, another major drug maker, Merck, says it supports the idea of a registry of clinical trials. But some medical experts warn that even a complete list is not a perfect solution. They say some doctors may not use such a registry even if it exists.
The American Medical Association says other action would be needed to support a registry of clinical trials. For example, medical centers and universities use committees called review boards to approve research on humans. The A.M.A. says these review boards should consider requiring trials to be registered as a condition for approval.
Also, the A.M.A. said it welcomes recent news involving the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. The major publications that publish studies are represented on this committee. The editors were reported to be considering a proposal to publish only the results of clinical trials that are listed in a registry.
An agency of the World Health Organization says formaldehyde causes cancer. Until now, the agency said only that this chemical probably caused cancer in humans.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer is based in France. It gathered twenty-six scientists from ten countries. The experts examined additional studies. They decided that formaldehyde was more dangerous that scientists had thought. The experts say there is now enough evidence to show that formaldehyde causes a relatively rare form of cancer of the nose and throat.
Government researchers in the United States recently announced that formaldehyde may cause leukemia, a cancer of the blood. However, the W.H.O. agency said more studies are needed to establish such a link.
Formaldehyde is a gas usually made from methanol, a form of alcohol. It is used in a liquid solution in substances that hold together materials such as wood and paper products. Formaldehyde is also used in the production of plastics and in textile finishing. It is used in cleaners and industrial chemicals, and in dead bodies, among other uses.
Formaldehyde is found in smoke from vehicles and tobacco. It is found in particle board and similar building materials. And the agency lists other places where it is commonly found, such as carpets, paints and finishes.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer notes the development of chemicals that release less formaldehyde. It says these have helped reduce the levels of formaldehyde that many workers have to breathe in their jobs.
In nineteen-sixty-four, the United States surgeon general warned the public about several diseases caused by smoking. The surgeon general is the top government doctor in the country. The diseases included cancer of the lungs and voice box.
Later studies found that smoking causes other kinds of cancer and disease, and harms the babies of women who smoke. Now, the current surgeon general, Richard Carmona, says tobacco is even more dangerous than doctors have known. The newest report on tobacco says smoking causes disease in almost every organ in the body. The report expands the list of conditions caused by smoking. New ones added include leukemia, cataracts and pneumonia. Smoking is now also known to cause cancers of the cervix, kidneys, pancreas and stomach.
Health officials say smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease. The new report says that on average, smokers die thirteen to fourteen years before non-smokers. Smoking also harms other people who have to breathe tobacco smoke.
Doctor Carmona says there is no safe cigarette. The only good news for smokers in the surgeon general's report is that their health begins to improve immediately after they stop.
In China, researchers say almost one-thousand-six-hundred giants pandas remain in the wild. Chinese forestry officials and the World Wildlife Fund carried out a four-year project to count the pandas. The last count took place six years ago. It found one-thousand-one-hundred pandas, or more than forty percent fewer.
So, are these large black-and-white animals reproducing more like rabbits than pandas? Karen Baragona of the World Wildlife Fund says the higher number is more likely the result of improved counting methods.
More than one-hundred-seventy people were involved in the study. Each counter carried a global positioning device. This device uses a system of satellites to identify a position on Earth to within a few meters. Karen Baragona says the panda counters also covered more territory than in nineteen-ninety-eight.
China says the new count shows that government measures to protect pandas are succeeding. In nineteen-ninety-eight, China banned logging in areas where giant pandas live. The government has also set up forty protected forest areas for pandas.
But Karen Baragona notes that the census found that one-third of the giant pandas do not live in protected areas. She says the pressure for economic development in China threatens those animals. And she says the protected areas are disconnected, like separate panda islands across six mountains.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Caty Weaver and Cynthia Kirk, who was also our producer. This is Sarah Long. And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science, in Special English, on the Voice of America.