Health Highlights: Feb. 2, 2010

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

Scientists Identify Farsightedness Gene

A gene linked with farsightedness has been identified by Australian scientists, who said the finding may lead to drug treatments that would replace glasses.

The researchers analyzed the DNA of 551 adults and identified variations of the hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) gene associated with farsightedness. People with this vision problem can see objects clearly at a distance but have difficulty with close-up tasks such as reading, Agence France Presse reported.

Farsightedness, also known as longsightedness, is likely caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. HGF is the first gene to be linked to the condition, which is treated with glasses, contact lenses and laser surgery.

"We hope this important gene discovery will help us develop new drug treatments and I expect it will have a profound impact on improving global eye health," said lead researcher Professor Paul Baird, of the Centre for Eye Research Australia in Melbourne, AFP reported.

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Anesthesia Brain Patterns Resemble Deep Sleep: Study

People under anesthesia have brain patterns similar to those that occur in the deepest sleep, says a U.S. study.

Researchers monitored the brains of patients receiving the anesthetic midazolam -- used in "conscious sedation" -- and detected patterns that occur when the brain is in deep, non-rapid eye movement sleep, United Press International reported.

"Based on a theory about how consciousness is generated, we expect to see a response that is both integrated and differentiated when the brain is conscious,'' study co-author Giulio Tononi, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a news release.

"When there is a loss of consciousness, either due to sleep or anesthesia, the response is radically different. We see a stereotyped burst of activity that remains localized and fades quickly," Tononi said, UPI reported.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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Fashion Industry Pressures Teen Girls to Be Skinny: Survey

The fashion industry is at least partly to blame for American girls' fixation on being thin, according to 89 percent of respondents who took part in a survey released by the Girl Scouts of the USA.

The poll of more than 1,000 girls ages 13 to 17 also found that 88 percent said the media puts a lot of pressure on them to be skinny, United Press International reported.

Among the other findings:

  • Other strong influences on how teen girls feel about their bodies included peers (82 percent), friends (81 percent) and parents (65 percent).
  • Nearly one-third of respondents said they have starved themselves or refused to eat in an effort to shed pounds, 42 percent said they know someone their age who has induced vomiting after eating, and 37 percent said they know someone their age who's been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
  • 81 percent of the teen girls said they would like to see natural photos of models instead of digitally altered and enhanced images.

Despite their criticism of the fashion industry, about 75 percent of the girls said fashion is "really important" to them, UPI reported.

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New Drugs May Help Treat Intellectual Disabilities

Scientists are trying to develop treatments for a genetic condition that causes learning disabilities and cognitive impairment and is the most common cause of autism yet identified by researchers.

Fragile X syndrome, which affects almost 100,000 Americans, is the most common inherited form of intellectual impairment, the Associated Press reported. In people with Fragile X syndrome, the synapses, or connections between brain cells, are too immature to work properly.

Researchers are focusing on drugs designed to block an overactive receptor that plays an important role in these poorly functioning synapses. Strengthening the synapses could improve learning and behavior in people with Fragile X syndrome.

"We are moving into a new age of reversing intellectual disabilities," Dr. Randi Hagerman, who directs the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, told the AP.

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