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New Study Questions ‘Gay Gene’

THE WASHINGTON POST -- The latest effort to confirm lingering scientific hints that some gay men inherit their homosexuality from their mothers has come up empty-handed, researchers reported Thursday.

The inability to detect a link between male homosexuality and a specific, maternally inherited genetic pattern calls into question a pair of scientifically and politically charged studies that had found evidence of the world’s first “gay gene.”

But the researcher who led the original gene experiments immediately criticized the new study as being designed in a way that made it virtually impossible to detect its genetic target. And other scientists cautioned that larger and better studies are needed to answer the question of whether any single gene has a notable influence on sexual orientation -- a behavior so complex as to almost certainly be controlled by many different genes and environmental factors.

“I think the jury is still out,” said Elliot Gershon, chairman of psychiatry and a professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago, who helped conduct a 1998 study that yielded its own frustratingly ambiguous results about the genetics of homosexuality. “All of these studies may be essentially accurate, and until we have hundreds of gay men enrolled in studies we are not going to get a firm answer.”


FTC Sues Online Data Dealer Accused of Deceptive Practices

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- Tackling a data theft problem that authorities say has found an expanding market on the Internet, the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday filed its first suit against an online “information broker” accused of tricking banks out of sensitive customer information.

The suit accuses Denver-based Touch Tone Information Inc. “pretexting,” or having employees pose as bank customers in a ruse to obtain account balances and other personal data. The company is accused of deceptive trade practices.

Touch Tone allegedly marketed its ability to obtain such data on a Web site that features an array of private investigation services.

FTC officials said there are more than 100 similar investigation firms on the Internet, though it is unclear how many of them engage in pretexting. Privacy experts say the proliferation of Internet sites marketing such personal data, whether obtained from legitimate sources or through illegal means, is a growing source of concern.


Committee OKs Diabetes Pill Which Competes With Rezulin

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BETHESDA, Md.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee Thursday unanimously recommended approval of a new pill to treat adult-onset diabetes that would compete with the controversial compound Rezulin.

The action by the FDA panel is a victory for Britain-based SmithKline Beecham PLC, maker of the new pill, called Avandia. The drug still must be approved by senior FDA officials before SmithKline can market Avandia in the United States.

The endorsement from the FDA’s Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee followed repeated assurances from SmithKline representatives that their drug -- unlike Rezulin, which has been linked by the FDA to 43 confirmed cases of liver failure -- will not damage the organ. Avandia and Rezulin are of the same chemical class.

Despite the enthusiasm voiced for the safety of Avandia, caution was raised on at least four fronts. SmithKline’s clinical studies have found that while the drug reliably lowered blood-sugar levels, it also was associated with significant weight gain, upper-respiratory-tract infections, anemia and abnormal accumulations of fluid.