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Skin cancer hope

Two new drugs for the deadliest form of skin cancer are being hailed as the biggest breakthrough in cancer therapy in 30 years.

The first, vemurafenib, inhibits a rogue form of the BRAF gene that accompanies half of all malignant skin tumors.

Paul Chapman at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York showed that the drug outperforms dacarbazine, the most commonly prescribed drug for melanoma that has spread. After six months, survival was 84 percent for those taking vemurafenib compared with 64 percent for those taking dacarbazine. The results were presented at an American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting.

Meanwhile, Caroline Robert's team at the Gustave Roussy Cancer Institute in France found that 28.5 percent of 250 patients who received dacarbazine with ipilimumab survived for two years compared with 17.9 percent of those taking dacarbazine alone. Ipilimumab boosts the immune system's response to a tumor. The firms behind each drug are now planning to combine ipilimumab and vemurafenib in a trial.

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Child survives rabies

It looks like the immune system sometimes defeats rabies on its own.

In June, Precious Reynolds, 8, of California became only the sixth person known to survive rabies without receiving a vaccine within a few days. Doctors treated her with the experimental Milwaukee protocol, plunging her into a drug-induced coma to take her brain "off-line" while immune cells scrubbed away the virus. Tried with at least 35 people, only five had previously survived. Some doctors reckon they may have been infected with a weaker strain of the virus and might have survived anyway.

When Craig Hooper and Bernhard Dietzschold at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia gave mice that already had rabies a weakened strain of the virus, the mice cleared the infection on their own. Weaker strains are recognized more quickly by the immune system, which then grants immune cells access to the brain, where they clear the virus.

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Safety of food dyes studied

Controversy over artificial food dyes has been simmering for the past four years, ever since a 2007 U.K. study suggested a link between six food colorings (Red 40, E124, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, E104 and E102) and hyperactivity in children.

While the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the study did not support changing the acceptable daily intake levels of these food dyes, the European Parliament recently insisted that products with these food colors carry warning labels stating that they "may have an effect on activity and attention in children."

Centers for Science in the Public Interest pressured the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to consider adding warnings for food dyes. The FDA Advisory Committee reviewed the evidence and reported that more research is needed to better understand food dyes and health.

Compiled from News wire sources

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