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Health Highlights: March 15, 2016

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

First NFL Acknowledgment of Link Between Football and Brain Disease

In what is believed to be a first, a senior NFL official acknowledged a direct link between football and the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Jeff Miller, the NFL's executive vice president for health and safety policy, took part in a roundtable discussion Monday that was arranged by the House Government and Commerce Committee. The committee is examining concussions in sports, the military and other areas, NBC News reported.

Miller was asked by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, whether he believed "there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders" like CTE.

Miller replied that some research "shows that a number of retired NFL players were diagnosed with CTE, so the answer to that question is certainly yes," NBC News reported.

Schakowsky asked again, "Is there a link?" Miller responded, "Sure," but then added that he is not a doctor.

Miller's acknowledgment of a connection between football and CTE could be a major shift in the discussion about head injuries in football, America's most popular sport, according to NBC News.

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Marijuana-Based Drug Reduces Epilepsy Seizures: Study

An experimental marijuana-based drug called Epidiolex reduced epilepsy patients' seizures, according to the company developing the drug.

GW Pharmaceuticals said the drug was more effective than a placebo in reducing convulsive seizures in children with a rare type of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, The New York Times reported.

The average age of the 120 patients in the study was 10 and they suffered an average of 13 convulsive seizures a month at the start of the study, despite taking other drugs. Half the children were given Epidiolex and half a placebo.

During the 14-week study, those taking the drug had a 39 percent reduction in seizure frequency, compared with 13 percent in the placebo group. Major side effects of Epidiolex included drowsiness, diarrhea, decreased appetite, fatigue, fever, vomiting, and upper respiratory infection, The Times reported.

Further study findings will be presented at a medical conference, GW said.

The U.K.-based company said it will meet with U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials to discuss if the findings of this single study could be used to approve Epidiolex to treat Dravet syndrome. Currently, there are no drugs specifically approved for the condition, which affects about 5,000 children in the U.S., The Times reported.

GW said the results of another trial of the drug for Dravet syndrome later this year, along with the results of two trials assessing its effectiveness in treating another form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut.

If approved by the FDA, Epidiolex would become the first marijuana-based prescription drug to be approved in the U.S., The Times reported.

Marijuana extracts prepared by medical marijuana dispensers are being bought by some parents whose children with epilepsy are not helped by conventional drugs.

"The results of this Epidiolex pivotal trial are important and exciting, as they represent the first placebo-controlled evidence to support the safety and efficacy of pharmaceutical cannabidiol in children with Dravet syndrome," study principal investigator Dr. Orrin Devinsky, of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, New York University Langone Medical Center, said in a statement, The Times reported.

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Dissolving Heart Stent to be Reviewed by FDA Panel

Possible approval of a heart stent that dissolves into the body after helping open clogged arteries will be discussed by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel.

Stent maker Abbott Laboratories is seeking FDA approval for the first-of-kind Absorb device, but the agency has questions about its safety and effectiveness, the Associated Press reported.

An FDA review posted last week said a company study showed that rates of cardiovascular complications were slightly higher with Absorb than with a conventional metal stent, and that the risk of complications was higher when Absorb was used in smaller arteries.

The panel of outside experts will discuss available data about Absorb and advise the FDA on whether the device should be approved. The agency typically follows the recommendations of its advisory panels, the AP reported.

The Absorb stent is already sold in Europe.

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