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Health Highlights: Aug. 22, 2008

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

Scientists Use Wisdom Teeth to Create Stem Cells

Japanese scientists have created stem cells from the wisdom teeth of a 10-year-old girl, an achievement that offers another method of supplying stem cells for research while avoiding the controversial use of embryos to create stem cells.

"This is significant in two ways. One is that we can avoid the ethical issues of (embryo-derived) stem cells because wisdom teeth are destined to be thrown away anyway," team leader Hajime Ogushdi told Agence France Presse. "Also, we used teeth that had been extracted three years ago and had been preserved in a freezer. That means that it's easy for us to stock this source of stem cells."

The researchers at the Japanese government-backed National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science extracted cells from the wisdom teeth and found that they turned into stem cells after being allowed to develop for 35 days.

However, it will take many years of research before wisdom teeth-derived stem cells may be available for clinical use, said Ogushdi, AFP reported.

Last year, American and Japanese scientists announced they could produce stem cells from skin.


Positive Outlook May Protect Against Breast Cancer

Having a positive outlook may help prevent breast cancer, while getting divorced or losing a loved one may increase the risk, suggests an Israeli study that compared the mental outlook and life events of 255 breast cancer patients and 367 healthy women.

The researchers found that a generally positive outlook was associated with a 25 percent reduced risk of breast cancer, while experiencing one or more traumatic life events -- such as the loss of a parent or spouse -- was associated with a more than 60 percent increased risk, BBC News reported.

Women who've been exposed to a number of negative life events should be considered an "at-risk" group for breast cancer, said lead researcher Dr. Ronit Peled, of Ben-Gurion University.

"We can carefully say that experiencing more than one severe and/or moderate life event is a risk factor for breast cancer among young women. On the other hand, a general feeling of happiness and optimism can play a protective role," said Peled, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal BMC Cancer.


FDA Sanctions Irradiation of Lettuce, Spinach

Food producers will be allowed to irradiate fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce to kill E. coli and other dangerous germs to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said. The new regulation takes effect Friday.

Irradiation of meat and spices has been permitted for years but there were concerns that exposing leafy greens to radiation would affect the quality of the produce, the Associated Press reported.

But the FDA concluded that modern irradiation techniques can kill dangerous germs without compromising the safety or nutrient value of raw lettuce and spinach.

"What this does is give producers and processors one more tool in the toolbox to make these commodities safer and protect public health," said Dr. Laura Tarantino, director of the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety, the AP reported.

The FDA also is assessing the possible use of irradiation on other types of produce.


Anti-Addiction Drug Helps Rats Lose Weight

A drug being tested as a treatment for cocaine and methamphetamine addiction helps rats lose weight, U.S. researchers say. The findings suggest the drug could help treat severely obese people.

Following short-term treatment with the drug vigabatrin, rats genetically modified to be obese lost up to 19 percent of their total weight, and normal-weight rats shed 12 percent to 20 percent of their weight, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Our results appear to demonstrate that vigabatrin induced satiety in these animals," said study leader Amy DeMarco, of the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The study was published online this week by the journal Synapse.

Previous research identified vigabatrin as a potential addiction treatment and found similar brain changes in addicts and obese people. That led the Brookhaven team to study whether vigabatrin would turn off the uncontrolled urge to eat among obese lab rats, AFP reported.


Trauma During Pregnancy Boosts Risk of Schizophrenia in Kids

There's an increased risk of schizophrenia among children born to women who experience traumatic stress during pregnancy, including stress caused by natural disasters, war, a terrorist attack, or the sudden loss of a loved one.

Dolores Malaspina, of New York University's School of Medicine, and colleagues analyzed birth data for 88,829 people born in Jerusalem from 1964 to 1976 and cross-referenced that data with Israel's national psychiatry registry, Agence France-Presse reported.

The study found that females born to women who were in their second month of pregnancy during the height of Six-Day War in June, 1967, were 4.3 times more likely to develop schizophrenia as they entered adulthood, and males were 1.2 times more likely to develop the mental disease.

"It is a very striking confirmation of something that has been suspected for a long time. The placenta is very sensitive to stress hormones in the mother. These hormones were probably amplified during the time of war," said Malaspina, AFP reported.

The study was published in the journal BioMed Central Psychiatry.

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Posted: August 2008