ER Visits by Underage Drinkers Spike on New Year's

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The number of emergency department visits that involved underage drinking jumped by more than 250 percent on New Year's Day two years ago, compared with other days of the year, a new U.S. study reveals. Researchers with the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that an estimated 1,980 emergency visits on Jan. 1, 2009, had something to do with underage drinking. The national average for such visits during the year as a whole was 546 per day.

Compared with other national holidays, the number of admissions on New Year's Day linked to underage drinking was 191 percent higher than on Memorial Day and 110 percent higher than on the Fourth of July, the researchers explained. "This stunning increase in underage drinking-related emergency room visits on New Year's Day should be a wake-up call to parents, community leaders and all caring adults about the potential risks our young people alcohol face for -related accidents, injuries and death during this time of year," Pamela S. Hyde, the agency's administrator, said in a news release.

"Parents, clergy, coaches, teachers and other role models must do everything they can to positively influence young people including talking with them early and often about the many health dangers underage drinking poses to their physical and emotional health and well-being," Hyde urged. Kenneth R. Warren, acting director of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, described the finding as "very troubling" and said that it was "in line with what we already know about the increase in alcohol-related problems during the winter holidays."

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Epilepsy Found to Be More Common in U.S. Than Thought

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A new study suggests that one of every 26 people in the United States will develop epilepsy at some point in their life. That's a higher rate than previously believed and, experts say, highlights the need for more funding and attention to the condition. "This study is an important analysis of the potential number of patients of epilepsy in the United States," said Dr. Joseph I. Sirven, the chairman-elect of the Epilepsy Foundation's professional advisory board and a professor and chairman of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Sirven, who was not involved in the study, noted that it makes two important points:

* Older adults are more at risk for developing epilepsy.
* A greater number of people will develop epilepsy during their lifetime than thought.

"The study suggests up to 12 million Americans will develop epilepsy, which is a greater number than expected," Sirven said. "Moreover, this is a conservative estimate and not the worst case scenario as the lifetime risk would be higher in more urban areas. Clearly, more attention needs to be paid to this condition." The findings are published in the Jan. 4 issue of Neurology. For the study, Dale C. Hesdorffer, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology at Sergievsky Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, and her research colleagues looked for the likelihood of developing epilepsy among residents of Rochester, Minn., between 1960 and 1979.
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New Drug Strategy Shows Promise Against HIV

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Scientists are reporting early but promising results from a new drug that blocks HIV as it attempts to invade human cells. The approach differs from most current antiretroviral therapy, which tries to limit the virus only after it has gained entry to cells. The medication, called VIR-576 for now, is still in the early phases of development. But researchers say that if it is successful, it might also circumvent the drug resistance that can undermine standard therapy, according to a report published Dec. 22 in Science Translational Medicine.

The new approach is an attractive one for a number of reasons, said Dr. Michael Horberg, director of HIV/AIDS for Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, Calif. "Theoretically it should have fewer side effects and there's probably less of a chance of mutation in developing resistance to medication," said Horberg, who was not involved in the study. Viruses replicate inside cells and scientists have long known that this is when they tend to mutate potentially developing new ways to resist drugs. "It's generally accepted that it's harder for a virus to mutate outside cell walls," Horberg explained.

The new drug focuses on HIV at this pre-invasion stage. "VIR-576 targets a part of the virus that is different from that targeted by all other HIV-1 inhibitors," explained study co-author Frank Kirchhoff, a professor at the Institute of Molecular Virology, University Hospital of Ulm in Ulm, Germany, who, along with several other researchers, holds a patent on the new medication. The target is the gp41 fusion peptide of HIV, the "sticky" end of the virus's outer membrane, which "shoots like a 'harpoon'" into the body's cells, the authors said. The launch of this peptide is a first step in the virus's bid to inhabit host cells.
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Gene Activity May Affect Acute Myeloid Leukemia Outcome

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For acute myeloid leukemia patients, overactive genes in their leukemic stem cells (LSC) can translate into a more difficult struggle to overcome their disease and achieve prolonged remission, new research reveals. "In many cancers, specific subpopulations of cells appear to be uniquely capable of initiating and maintaining tumors," the study authors explained in their report. The researchers identified 52 LSC genes that, when highly active, appear to prompt worse outcomes among acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients.

Between 2005 and 2007, study author Andrew J. Gentles, of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and colleagues examined gene activity in a group of AML patients as well as healthy individuals. Separate data concerning AML tumors in four groups of patients (totaling more than 1,000) was also analyzed. In one of the patient groups, the investigators found that higher activity levels among 52 LSC genes meant a 78 percent risk of death within a three-year period. This compared with a 57 percent risk of death in the same time frame for AML patients with lower gene activity among these specific "signature" genes.

In another AML patient group, the research team observed that higher gene activity prompted an 81 percent risk for experiencing a disease set-back over three years, compared with just a 48 percent risk among patients with low gene activity. What's more, Gentles and his colleagues found that higher activity among these 52 LSC genes generally meant a poorer response to chemotherapy treatment and lower remission rates.
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Keeping Holiday Drinking in Check May Counter Cancer

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Though holiday partying often includes alcohol consumption, cancer experts are urging partiers to partake moderately. "Research shows that drinking even a small amount of alcohol increases your chances of developing cancer, including oral cancer, breast cancer and liver cancer," Clare McKindley, clinical dietician in the Cancer Prevention Center at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, said in a news release from the center.

"Researchers are still trying to learn more about how alcohol links to cancer," she added. "But convincing evidence does support the fact that heavy drinking damages cells and increases the risk for cancer development." To reduce risk, experts say, drinkers can do a number of things. First, stick to the recommended serving size. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Women should have no more than one drink a day and men should have no more than two drinks a day, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Try to avoid high-calorie drinks. Many popular alcoholic drinks are loaded with calories, especially those mixed with soda, fruit juice or cream. A one-cup serving of eggnog, a holiday staple, has about 340 calories. Being overweight or obese is also associated with an increased risk for cancer. Researchers believe that it is the ethanol or alcohol in beer, wine and liquor that increases cancer risk. Check the ethanol percentage numbers on bottle labels and stay away from 100-proof liquor.
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Gene Research Brings Insight Into Deadly Childhood Brain Tumor

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U.S. scientists have unraveled the genetic code for the most common type of brain cancer in children. Gene sequencing reveals that this tumor, medulloblastoma, or MB, possesses far fewer genetic abnormalities than comparable adult tumors. The discovery that MB has five to 10 times fewer mutations than solid adult tumors could further attempts to understand what triggers the cancer and which treatment is most effective.

"The good news here is that for the first time now we've identified the broken genetic pieces in a pediatric cancer, and found that with MD there are only a few broken parts," said lead author Dr. Victor E. Velculescu, associate professor with the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "And that means it's potentially easier to intervene and to stop it," he said, likening the cancer to a train that's speeding out of control.

Velculescu and his colleagues, who report their findings in the Dec. 16 online issue of Science, say this is the first time genetic decoding has been applied to a non-adult cancer. Each year this cancer strikes about 1 in every 200,000 children younger than 15 years old. Before migrating through the patient's central nervous system, MBs begin in the cerebellum portion of the brain that is responsible for controlling balance and complicated motor function.
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Docs Claim Transplant Cured Man of HIV, But Experts Urge Caution

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In a rare case, a man living in Germany who had both leukemia and AIDS no longer has any detectable HIV cells in his blood following a stem cell transplant for his leukemia three years ago. But experts were quick to caution that the case does not have practical implications for the treatment of AIDS worldwide. As it turns out, the donor for that transplant carried a rare mutation in a gene that increases immunity against the most common form of HIV.

First reported in 2009, this follow-up study, published online in the journal Blood, confirms that the recipient patient is still free of both leukemia and HIV three years after the transplant. But one expert issued strong words of caution in interpreting the finding. "Our phones have been ringing off the hook," said Dr. Margaret Fischl, director of the AIDS clinical research unit at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "We are having patients calling us and asking if they can stop their antiretroviral therapy and the answer is uncategorically no."

The theory is that if you could wipe out every infected cell you could cure HIV, Fischl said, but this is a unique case. The patient had intense chemotherapy and radiation, then relapsed and was given a second transplant from the same donor. The donor was unique in that he had a gene that could fight the most common form of HIV. This mutation is seen in about one in every million people, Fischl explained.
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Depression During Pregnancy Might Affect Baby

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Babies born to mothers who are depressed during pregnancy have higher levels of stress hormones, decreased muscle tone and other neurological and behavioral differences, a new study finds. "The two possibilities are that  are either more sensitive to stress and respond more vigorously to it, or that they are less able to shut down their stress response," lead investigator Dr. Delia M. Vazquez, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, said in a school news release.

She and her colleagues examined the association between depression in pregnant women and the development of infants' neuroendocrine system, which controls the body's stress response, as well as mood and emotions. The study included 154 pregnant women, over the age of 20, whose depressive symptoms were assessed at 28, 32 and 37 weeks of pregnancy and again when they gave birth. Umbilical cord blood samples were taken at birth to measure stress hormone levels. At two weeks, the infants underwent neurobehavioral tests to assess their motor skills and responses to stimuli and stress.

The findings appear online and in an upcoming print issue of the journal Infant Behavior and Development. "It's difficult to say to what extent these differences are good or bad, or what impact they might have over a longer period of time," lead author Dr. Sheila Marcus, clinical director of U-M's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Section, said in the news release. "We're just beginning to look at these differences as part of a whole collection of data points that could be risk markers," she added. "These in turn would identify women who need attention during pregnancy or mother/infant pairs who might benefit from postpartum programs known to support healthy infant development through mom/baby relationships."
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Researchers Turn Stem Cells Into Intestinal Tissue in Lab

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Researchers say they've turned human stem cells into functioning human intestinal tissue in a laboratory setting. The study team described its accomplishment as a "significant step" forward in efforts to better understand the function and development of the human intestine. They also expressed hope that the innovation will spur the development of new strategies to combat intestinal diseases, while opening up new avenues for the generation of transplantation tissue.

"The hope is that our ability to turn stem cells into intestinal tissue will eventually be therapeutically beneficial for people with diseases such as necrotizing enterocolitis, inflammatory bowel disease and short bowel syndromes," explained study senior author James Wells, a researcher in the division of developmental biology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, in a hospital news release. Wells and his colleagues report their findings in the Dec. 12 online issue of Nature.

The authors used two types of so-called "pluripotent" stem cells -- cells that have the chameleon-like ability to differentiate into any one of about 200 distinct cell types. Human embryonic stem cells, which are known to have such transformative abilities, were one type. For the other, the researchers looked to "induced" stem cells cells harvested from patients and reprogrammed in the lab to function as pluripotent stem cells. Though less well-tested than embryonic stem cells, induced cells theoretically have the advantage of minimizing the risk for cell rejection when replanted back into the host patient.
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Sperm-Producing Cells Coaxed to Produce Insulin

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Researchers have been able to prod human cells that normally produce sperm to make insulin instead and, after transplanting them, the cells briefly cured mice with type 1 diabetes. "The goal is to coax these cells into making enough insulin to cure diabetes. These cells don't secrete enough insulin to cure diabetes in humans yet," cautioned study senior researcher G. Ian Gallicano, an associate professor in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology, and director of the Transgenic Core Facility at Georgetown University Medical Center, in Washington D.C.

Gallicano and his colleagues will be presenting the findings Sunday at the American Society of Cell Biology annual meeting in Philadelphia. Type 1 diabetes is believed to be an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes must rely on insulin injections to be able to process the foods they eat. Without this additional insulin, people with type 1 diabetes could not survive.

Doctors have had some success with pancreas transplants, and with transplants of just the pancreatic beta cells. There are several problems with these types of transplants, however. One is that as with any transplant, when the transplanted material comes from a donor, the body sees the new tissue as foreign and attempts to destroy it. So, transplants require immune-suppressing medications. The other concern is that the autoimmune attack that destroyed the original beta cells can destroy the newly transplanted cells.
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Sleep Deprivation May Help Treat PTSD

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Sleep deprivation may be therapeutic for some people with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders, a new study suggests. Previous research has shown that sleep plays a crucial role in the consolidation of memories, and that the development of fear-related memories is an important part of anxiety disorders such as PTSD. In this study, researchers investigated what happened when they deprived people of sleep after they had seen disturbing images. Healthy volunteers were shown video clips of both safe driving and traffic crashes.

Half of the participants were then deprived of sleep while the others got a normal night's sleep. Follow-up assessments showed that sleep deprivation eliminated the fear-associated memories. The study appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry. "Sleep deprivation after exposure to a traumatic event, whether intentional or not, may help prevent PTSD. Our findings may help to clarify the functional role of acute insomnia and to develop a prophylactic strategy of sleep restriction for prevention of PTSD," corresponding author Dr. Kenichi Kuriyama said in a journal news release.

"It would be nice if the benefits of sleep deprivation upon fear learning could be produced more easily for survivors of extreme stress," journal editor Dr. John Krystal, professor and chair of psychiatry at Yale University, said in the news release. "New insights into the neurobiology of sleep-dependent learning may make it possible for these people to take a medication that disrupts this process while leaving restorative elements of sleep intact," he added.
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Bone Drug Zometa Flops Overall as Breast Cancer Treatment

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The bone drug zoledronic acid, considered a potentially promising weapon against breast cancer recurrence, has flopped in a new study involving more than 3,360 patients. The drug, long used to combat bone loss from osteoporosis, did not appear to prevent breast cancer from returning or to boost disease free survival overall. British researchers presented the disappointing findings Thursday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas.

"As a whole, the study is negative," study author Dr. Robert Coleman, a professor of medical oncology at the University of Sheffield in England, said during a Thursday news conference on the findings. "There is no overall difference in recurrence rates or survival rates, except in older patients, defined as more than five years after menopause." That was a possible bright spot in the results.

"In that population, there is a benefit," Coleman said. The older women had a 27 percent improvement in recurrence and a 29 percent improvement in overall survival over the five-year follow-up, compared to those who didn't get the drug. "There was tremendous hope that this [drug] approach would be a major leap forward," Coleman noted. "There have been other trials that suggest this is the case." In one previous study, the use of the drug was linked with a 32 percent improvement in survival and lowered recurrence in younger women with breast cancer.
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Weight-Lifting After Breast Cancer Won't Cause Lymphedema

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Contrary to conventional wisdom, lifting weights doesn't cause breast cancer survivors to develop the painful, arm-swelling condition known as lymphedema, new research suggests. There's a hint that weight-lifting might even help prevent lymphedema, but more research is needed to say that for sure, the researchers said. Breast cancer-related lymphedema is caused by an accumulation of lymph fluid after surgical removal of the lymph nodes and/or radiation. It is a serious condition that may cause arm swelling, awkwardness and discomfort.

"Lymphedema is something women really fear after breast cancer, and the guidance has been not to lift anything heavier even than a purse," said Kathryn H. Schmitz, lead author of the study to be presented Wednesday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. " to tell women to not use that affected arm without giving them a prescription for a personal valet is an absurdist principle," she added. A previous study done by the same team of researchers found that exercise actually stabilized symptoms among women who already had lymphedema.

"We really wanted to put the last stamp on this to say, 'Hey, it is not only safe but may actually be good for their arms," said Schmitz, who is an associate professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a member of the Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "It's almost like a paradigm shift," said Lee Jones, scientific director of the Duke Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Survivorship in Durham, N.C. "Low-volume resistance training does not exacerbate lymphedema."
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Depressed Smokers Less Likely to Quit Successfully

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Smokers trying kick the addiction are less likely to be successful if they're depressed, says a new study. Researchers surveyed callers to the California Smokers' Helpline and found that 24 percent had major depression and 17 percent had mild depression. More than half of the smokers had made an attempt to quit smoking after calling the hotline. After two months, the rate of success of smokers with major depression was far lower than that of smokers who were mildly depressed or not depressed.

Of those who tried to stop smoking, around one in five with major depression had been able to quit and stay smoke-free, compared to nearly one in three people in the other two groups. The findings appear online and in the January 2011 print issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It was already known that mild depression reduces smokers' chances of quitting. This study suggests that major depression has an even greater impact. But most smoking hotlines also known as quitlines do not evaluate smokers for depression, the researchers noted.

More than 400,000 smokers in the United States call smoking quitlines each year. Based on their findings, the study authors estimated that up to 100,000 depressed smokers are not receiving the targeted treatment they require. "Assessing for depression can predict if a smoker will quit successfully, but the assessment would be more valuable if it were linked to services" that address both smoking and depression, lead author Kiandra Hebert, of the University of California at San Diego, said in a Center for Advancing Health news release.

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Daily Aspirin Linked to Steep Drop in Cancer Risk


Long-term use of a daily low-dose aspirin dramatically cuts the risk of dying from a wide array of cancers, a new investigation reveals. Specifically, a British research team unearthed evidence that a low-dose aspirin (75 milligrams) taken daily for at least five years brings about a 10 percent to 60 percent drop in fatalities depending on the type of cancer. The finding stems from a fresh analysis of eight studies involving more than 25,500 patients, which had originally been conducted to examine the protective potential of a low-dose aspirin regimen on cardiovascular disease.

The current observations follow prior research conducted by the same study team, which reported in October that a long-term regimen of low-dose aspirin appears to shave the risk of dying from colorectal cancer by a third. "These findings provide the first proof in man that aspirin reduces deaths due to several common cancers," the study team noted in a news release. But the study's lead author, Prof. Peter Rothwell from John Radcliffe Hospital and the University of Oxford, stressed that "these results do not mean that all adults should immediately start taking aspirin."

"They do demonstrate major new benefits that have not previously been factored into guideline recommendations," he added, noting that "previous guidelines have rightly cautioned that in healthy middle-aged people, the small risk of bleeding on aspirin partly offsets the benefit from prevention of strokes and heart attacks." "But the reductions in deaths due to several common cancers will now alter this balance for many people," Rothwell suggested. Rothwell and his colleagues published their findings Dec. 7 in the online edition of The Lancet.
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Blood Cancer Advances May Improve Survival

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Advances in the treatment of blood cancers offer new hope for increased survival, according to two studies scheduled to be presented at the American Society of Hematology meeting Saturday in Orlando, Fla. Results from one study suggest that treating multiple myeloma patients with zoledronic acid can improve survival, while another group of researchers are scheduled to report on their progress in treating a particularly aggressive form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Zoledronic acid, a type of bisphosphonate, is given to myeloma patients to bolster bone health and reduce the risk for fracture and bone pain that are a common feature of the disease.Although prior research has suggested that zoledronic acid may have a broader anti-cancer effect, the current study finds that a well-tolerated regimen of the drug can reduce the risk of death among myeloma patients.The study is published in the Dec. 4 online edition of The Lancet.

"These data add to growing clinical evidence supporting anti-cancer benefits with zoledronic acid in patients with newly diagnosed cancers," the study team, led by Gareth J. Morgan from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said in a journal news release. The authors base their conclusions on work with 1,960 multiple myeloma patients, about half of whom were treated with zoledronic acid in combination with either intensive or non-intensive chemotherapy. The other half received clodronic acid and equivalent chemotherapy regimens.

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Common Epilepsy Drug Taken During Pregnancy Might Raise Spina Bifida Risk

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Pregnant women with epilepsy who are taking carbamazepine (Tegretol) to control seizures may be at a slightly increased risk of having an infant with spina bifida, a new study finds. Spina bifida is a condition in which the bones of the spine do not close but the spinal cord remains in place, usually with skin covering the defect. Most children will need lifelong treatment for problems arising from damage to the spinal cord and spinal nerves.

"For women with epilepsy, seizure control during pregnancy is very important," said lead researcher Lolkje de Jong van den Berg, from the division of pharmacy at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. "Our study can help in decisions regarding whether carbamazepine should be the drug of choice in pregnancy." However, the best option regarding treatment can be chosen only on an individual basis by the woman and her neurologist before pregnancy, weighing the benefits of epilepsy control against the risk of birth defects, de Jong-van den Berg said.

The report is published in the Dec. 3 online edition of the BMJ. For the study, de Jong-van den Berg's team reviewed existing research to determine the risk of birth defects among women taking Tegretol. The researchers found that infants of women taking Tegretol were 2.6 times more likely to have spina bifida, compared with women not taking any anti-epileptic medication.

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Brain Scan Might Someday Spot Autism

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A type of brain imaging that measures the circuitry of brain connections may someday be used to diagnose autism, new research suggests. Researchers at McLean Hospital in Boston and the University of Utah used MRIs to analyze the microscopic fiber structures that make up the brain circuitry in 30 males aged 8 to 26 with high-functioning autism and 30 males without autism. Males with autism showed differences in the white matter circuitry in two regions of the brain's temporal lobe: the superior temporal gyrus and the temporal stem. Those areas are involved with language, emotion and social skills, according to the researchers.

Based on the deviations in brain circuitry, researchers could distinguish with 94 percent accuracy those who had autism and those who didn't. Currently, there is no biological test for autism. Instead, diagnosis is done through a lengthy examination involving questions about the child's behavior, language and social functioning. The MRI test could change that, though the study authors cautioned that the results are preliminary and need to be confirmed with larger numbers of patients.

"Our study pinpoints disruptions in the circuitry in a brain region that has been known for a long time to be responsible for language, social and emotional functioning, which are the major deficits in autism," said lead author Nicholas Lange, director of the Neurostatistics Laboratory at McLean Hospital and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "If we can get to the physical basis of the potential sources of those deficits, we can better understand how exactly it's happening and what we can do to develop more effective treatments."
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FDA Panel to Vote on Drugs Said to Prevent Prostate Cancer

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A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is expected to decide Wednesday whether to approve two drugs for the prevention of prostate cancer, the third highest cancer killer of men. Avodart and Proscar, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, respectively, are already approved to treat enlarged prostates. The drug makers say their research shows the drugs also lower the risk of prostate cancer by more than 20 percent. FDA regulators have several concerns, the Associated Press reported. For one thing, black men, who are at high risk for the disease, were underrepresented in the clinical trials.

"The applicability to African-American men is not known due to marked under-representation," the FDA's online review stated. Blacks made up just 4 percent of Merck's patients and only 2 percent of Glaxo's patients, according to the AP. The panel of outside experts assembled by the FDA is also likely to discuss the overall value of preventing low-grade tumors. According to the FDA, more than three-quarters of the tumors the drugs prevent are slow-growing, meaning they are non-aggressive and probably not life-threatening for anyone with a life expectancy of less than 20 years.

If the tumors aren't aggressive, Glaxo has said they often involve unnecessary treatment and biopsies, or surgical procedures, to diagnose cancer, that pose risks of their own. Also, slightly more aggressive tumors were seen in men taking Avodart and Proscar, compared with those taking placebo pills, according to the FDA. But the pharamaceutical companies say the drugs simply make those tumors easier to detect because they shrink the prostate. The U.S. National Cancer Institute estimates that 217,730 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year and 32,050 men will die of it.




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Fresh Seafood Shouldn't Smell Fishy, Food Science Expert Says

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If seafood is on the menu this holiday, there are a number of ways you can ensure that it's fresh and safe. A faint sea odor is normal, but fresh seafood should not smell "fishy," according to Kantha Shelke, an Institute of Food Technologists food science expert. Freshly cut fish, peeled crustaceans and shucked mollusks should be moist, not slimy or dry around the edges. Fresh fish should have clear, well-rounded eyes, not clouded, dry and sunken. The gills should be bright red, not darkened or slimy, and the fish should feel moist and springy instead of mushy, she added.

Fresh prawns, shrimp, lobster, soft shell crabs and rock shrimp should have a uniformly light-colored tail without any discoloration, Shelke said. Mollusks in the shell should be alive and hold tightly to their shells when handled and must come with either a "last sale date" or "date shucked." When buying fresh oysters, look for a natural creamy color within a clear liquid. It's best to buy fresh seafood the day you're going to eat it. If that isn't possible, properly store it in the fridge or freezer until it is prepared and cooked. Shelke offered the following storage tips:

* Fresh fish, shrimp, scallops, freshwater prawns, and lobster tails can be stored in tightly sealed storage bags or plastic containers and kept on ice in the refrigerator. Using this method, fresh scallops and crustacean tails will keep three to four days and fresh fish will keep five to seven days.

* Scallops, crustacean tails and fish can be frozen in water and stored in a freezer for four to six months. To thaw, leave them in the refrigerator overnight or you can place them under cold, running tap water immediately before you cook them.

* Live, hardshell mollusks can remain alive for a week to 10 days stored un-iced in the fridge, kept at 34 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

* Freshly shucked mollusks can keep for up to 10 days when packed in ice and stored in the refrigerator.

* Fresh softshell crabs can be stored up to two days if wrapped in plastic and packed in ice in the fridge. They can keep for up to six months when wrapped in several layers of plastic and stored in a freezer. It is important to thaw these overnight in the refrigerator only.
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Black Smokers May Face Higher Death Risk Than Whites: CDC

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A study conducted in Missouri suggests that smoking may be even more lethal for blacks than it is for whites. In fact, researchers say the smoking related death rate for blacks is nearly one-fifth higher than it is for whites in that state. The study was conducted by researchers at the Office on Smoking and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They analyzed data from 2003-2007 found that the average annual smoking-attributable death rate was 358 per 100,000 for blacks in Missouri and 286 per 100,000 for whites, a difference of 18 percent. That racial difference was larger among men than among women.

Blacks had a 26 percent higher smoking-related death rate for cancer and a 53 percent higher smoking-related death for circulatory diseases, but a 32 percent lower smoking-related death rate for respiratory diseases. Overall, smoking caused about a third of all cancer deaths, 15.3 percent of all circulatory disease deaths, and 46.5 percent of all respiratory disease deaths in Missouri between 2003 and 2007, according to the study. The findings appear in this week's issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Based on the data, the CDC says that "states should continue to implement population-wide tobacco control interventions that reach all racial groups."
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Daily Pill Lowers Odds for Infection With HIV

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A pill a day cut the risk of HIV infection by almost 44 percent in those at highest risk for contracting the virus, namely sexually active gay and bisexual men, a new study finds. The reduction in risk climbed to nearly 73 percent among study participants who took the pill, called Truvada, 90 percent of the time, the researchers added. Truvada is already available by prescription in the United States as a treatment for HIV-infected people.

The pill, which was tested in over 2,500 men at 11 sites in six countries worldwide, combines two HIV antiretroviral medications, emtricitabine (Emtriva) and tenofovir (Viread). Experts are hailing the results as a big step in the worldwide effort to combat the spread of the HIV virus, which infected some 2.7 million people worldwide in 2008. And it adds to other efforts to prevent spread, such as a topical gel containing tenofovir that was found last summer to be effective in preventing HIV infection in women in southern Africa.

"These results represent a major advance in HIV prevention research," Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement. "For the first time, we have evidence that a daily pill used to treat HIV is partially effective for preventing HIV among gay and bisexual men at high risk for infection, when combined with other prevention strategies. Given the heavy burden of HIV among gay and bisexual men, a new tool with potential additive benefit is exciting and welcome news."
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For Teens, Privacy May Trump Health Care

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If teens' desires for health care privacy aren't respected, their care could be compromised, a new study suggests. Teens are cautious about revealing sensitive information to health care providers for fear of being judged, and are reluctant to talk to unfamiliar or multiple medical staff, according to researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The researchers conducted 12 focus groups for 54 teenagers and found that keeping health care information private was their most important issue. They also found that younger teens were more likely than older adolescents to want parental involvement.

In fact, some older adolescents said they might avoid a health care visit to prevent information being shared with their parents. Among the other findings:

* Teens of all ages said they would not discuss sensitive topics with health care providers if they thought the provider would judge them or "jump to conclusions."
* Younger teens said they did not have personal discussions with providers they didn't know or like, or if they believed the provider did not need to know the information.
* Only younger adolescents said they had concerns about violations of physical privacy.
* Kids with chronic illnesses better understood and accepted the need to share information with health care providers.

Doctors and other health care professionals need to make it as easy as possible for teens to share information, and need to respect their readiness or reluctance to disclose information, said lead author and adolescent medicine physician Dr. Maria Britto. "If the information isn't urgent, such as a routine health visit, providers may be better off waiting to ask sensitive questions until they know the teen better and can get better information once they've established trust," Britto said in a hospital news release.
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Race Seems to Impact Rate of Kidney Function Decline

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Among patients with kidney disease in the United States, certain racial/ethnic groups, including blacks and some Hispanics, get sicker faster than whites do, researchers have found. "Racial/ethnic differences are present early, before chronic kidney disease has been established," study co-author Dr. Carmen A. Peralta, of the University of California, San Francisco, said in a news release from the American Society of Nephrology. "The observed differences were not fully explained by traditional risk factors," which include cholesterol, weight, tobacco use, diabetes and high blood pressure, Peralta noted. The researchers reached their conclusions after examining the medical records of almost 5,200 adults in the United States whose kidneys initially worked normally.

Based on five years of follow-up data, the researchers used mathematical equations to estimate age-related changes in kidney function. The kidneys of blacks declined faster on an annual basis than those of whites, about 60 percent faster judging by one method, the study authors noted. Among Hispanic groups, kidneys declined faster among Dominicans, followed by Puerto Ricans. But other Hispanics, as well as Chinese Americans, didn't suffer from a faster rate of decline than whites. The research "reflects a new opportunity to study how to best identify persons at high risk and to investigate prevention strategies," Peralta said. The study was scheduled to be presented at the American Society of Nephrology's annual meeting, held this week in Denver.
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Mental Illness Hit 1 in 5 U.S. Adults in Past Year

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A new survey finds that 20 percent of U.S. adults over 45 million people experienced mental illness in the past year. Overall, 4.8 percent suffered serious mental illness, 8.4 million people had serious thoughts of suicide, 2.2 million made suicide plans, and one million attempted suicide, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Nearly 20 percent of adults with mental illness in the past year also had a substance abuse disorder, the report found. The rate was 25.7 percent for those with a serious mental illness about four times higher than the rate of 6.5 percent among people without a serious mental illness,

The survey, which included 67,500 adults nationwide, was released Thursday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Among its other findings:

* Mental illness is more common among jobless people (27.7 percent) than among those with full-time jobs (17.1 percent).
* Women are more likely than men to experience mental illness 23.8 percent vs. 15.6 percent.
* Young adults had the highest rate of mental woes (30 percent) while those aged 50 and older had the lowest rate (13.7 percent).
* Overall, only 37.9 percent of adults with mental illness received mental health services.
* While the use of mental health services was highest among those with serious mental illness (60.2 percent), 4.4 million adults with serious mental illness in the past year did not receive the services they needed.

"Too many Americans are not getting the help they need and opportunities to prevent and intervene early are being missed," SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in an agency news release. "The consequences for individuals, families and communities can be devastating. If left untreated mental illnesses can result in disability, substance abuse, suicides, lost productivity, and family discord. Through health care reform and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act we can help far more people get needed treatment for behavioral health problems," she said.
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FDA Expected to Ban Caffeinated Alcohol Drinks

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was set to rule Wednesday on the safety of caffeinated alcoholic beverages that have reportedly left dozens of young adults sick or hospitalized. The announcement comes amid a growing backlash against so-called energy drinks that mix caffeine and alcohol, even though such beverages are becoming increasingly popular with college students and even children. The drinks are regularly consumed by 31 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 34 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who has supported a ban on the drinks that are marketed under such names as Four Loko and Joose, reported Tuesday on his Web site that the FDA would outlaw the products because they are an "unsafe food additive to alcoholic beverages." Schumer, a Democrat, also said the Federal Trade Commission planned to notify manufacturers that "they are engaged in the potential illegal marketing of unsafe alcoholic drinks." Meanwhile, the maker of Four Loko said Tuesday that it would remove caffeine and other stimulants from its four different flavors of alcoholic drinks.

Four Loko has up to 12 percent alcohol in a 23.5-ounce can, according to published reports. Four Loko's manufacturer, Chicago-based Phusion Projects, insists that the drinks are safe. But, in a statement posted on the company's Web site, it said it was removing the caffeine "after trying unsuccessfully to navigate a difficult and politically charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels." The company said it doesn't agree that mixing caffeine and alcohol is inherently unsafe.
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Gene Therapy Shows Potential Against Heart Failure

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By substituting a healthy gene for a defective one, scientists were able to partially restore the heart's ability to pump in 39 heart failure patients, researchers report. "This is the first time gene therapy has been tested and shown to improve outcomes for patients with advanced heart failure," study lead author Dr. Donna Mancini, professor of medicine and the Sudhir Choudhrie professor of cardiology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, said in a university news release.

"The therapy works by replenishing levels of an enzyme necessary for the heart to pump more efficiently by introducing the gene for SERCA2a, which is depressed in these patients. If these results are confirmed in future trials, this approach could be an alternative to heart transplant for patients without any other options," she added. Mancini presented the results Monday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA) in Chicago. The gene for SERCA2a raises levels of the enzyme back to where the heart can pump more efficiently. The enzyme regulates calcium cycling, which, in turn, is involved in how well the heart contracts, the researchers said.

"Heart failure is a defect in contractility related to calcium cycling," explained Dr. Robert Eckel, past president of the AHA and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver. The study authors hope that, if replicated in larger trials, the gene therapy treatment could actually delay or obviate the need for heart transplants in patients with heart failure. "There are a lot of treatments for heart failure but at some point patients stop responding and then the prognosis is poor," said Dr. Rita Redberg, AHA spokeswoman and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. After that, the only option is a transplant.
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Omega-3 Supplements Won't Fight Irregular Heartbeat

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Omega-3 fatty acid supplements don't cut back on recurrences of atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat that can cause stroke, new research suggests. "We now have definitive data that they don't work for most patients with AF," said Dr. Peter R. Kowey, lead author of a study appearing in the Dec. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that is also scheduled to be presented Monday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Chicago. "Although we can't exclude the possibility of efficacy in sicker AF patients, it would be hard to believe that it would work in that population and not in healthier patients. So for practical purposes, yes, the end of the line in AF."

This study, the largest of its kind, looked at patients with AF who were otherwise healthy. "We cannot say there is any convincing evidence of a role for omega-3 in the prevention of atrial fibrillation," added Dr. Ranjit Suri, director of the Electrophysiology Service and Cardiac Arrhythmia Center at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved with the trial. The study was funded by GlaxoSmithKline. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish such as salmon and albacore tuna, had showed some promise in preventing heart disease in earlier trials. Of the total 663 outpatient participants, 542 had paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, which appears suddenly and resolves on its own, and 121 had persistent atrial fibrillation, which needs treatment.

Participants were randomized to receive either a placebo or 8 grams of omega-3 supplements daily for the first week, followed by 4 grams a day for the remaining 23 weeks of the trial. The doses used in the study are available only by prescription and are "higher than doses previously published in studies," said Dr. Robert Block, a cardiologist and assistant professor of community and preventive medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. At the end of six months, 46 percent of those in the placebo group and 52 percent of those taking omega-3 supplements experienced recurrences. The numbers of paroxysmal AF patients in the placebo and treatment groups who had AF recurrences were about equal, the investigators found.
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CPR Guidelines May Lower Out-of-Hospital Death Rate

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When implemented, the American Heart Association's 2005 guidelines on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can dramatically boost survival rates among people being treated outside a hospital setting, according to an expert report. A case report on the effectiveness of the new guidelines is scheduled to be presented Saturday at the AHA's annual meeting in Chicago by Dr. Michael Dailey, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Albany Medical College. Dailey also serves as medical director of emergency medical services (EMS) for the town of Colonie, N.Y., population 80,000. He said that local implementation of the AHA directives beginning in 2006 translated into a quadrupling of survival rates in his community over a three-year period.

Adoption of the guidelines took many forms, including the expansion of CPR training along the lines of the AHA's "CPR Anytime" format. Since 2005, about 200 Colonie residents a year have been trained in CPR, Dailey said. In addition, the town has embraced other AHA suggestions, such as the use of impedance threshold devices, faster deployment of mechanical CPR devices, bringing down emergency response times by upwards of a full minute, a commitment to performing two minutes of CPR before applying defibrillation, and favoring a period of high quality CPR prior to application of advanced airway placement and IV access. Also, as of 2009, once in the hospital, resuscitated patients in comas have received therapeutic hypothermia, he added. Since 2005, Colonie has also opened three Level One cardiac arrest centers.
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'Stop Smoking' Ads That Target Emotions Seem to Work Best

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Television ads that encourage people to quit smoking are most effective when they use a "why to quit" strategy that includes either graphic images or personal testimonials, a new study suggests. The three most common broad themes used in smoking cessation campaigns are why to quit, how to quit and anti-tobacco industry, according to scientists at RTI International, a research institute. The study authors examined how smokers responded to and reacted to TV ads with different themes. They also looked at the impact that certain characteristics such as cigarette consumption, desire to quit, and past quit attempts had on smokers' responses to the different types of ads.

"While there is considerable variation in the specific execution of these broad themes, ads using the 'why to quit' strategy with graphic images or personal testimonials that evoke specific emotional responses were perceived as more effective than the other ad categories," lead author Kevin Davis, a senior research health economist in RTI's Public Health Policy Research Program, said in an institute news release. Davis and his colleagues also found that those who had less desire to quit and those who had not tried quitting in the past year had significantly less favorable responses to all types of smoking cessation ads. The same was true, to a lesser extent, for smokers with high levels of cigarette consumption.

"These findings suggest that smokers clearly differ in their reactions to cessation-focused advertising based on their individual desire to quit, prior experience with quit attempts and, to a lesser degree, cigarette consumption. These are important considerations for campaign creators, designers and media planners," Davis said. The study, published online in the journal Tobacco Control, used data from 7,060 adult smokers in New York State who took part in an online survey. On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a new "comprehensive tobacco control strategy" that would include not only graphic photos on packs of cigarettes, but bold statements such as "Smoking Will Kill You."
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