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Health Highlights: April 7, 2002

Protein May Stimulate Bone Growth Govt. Ratings of Nursing Homes To Be Released Baby Aspirin Better for Cutting Colon Cancer Risk We're One Nation on the Couch, Says Report Stress, Fear From Sept. 11 Linger in NYC Sextuplets Arrive in Kansas Cloned Human Fetus Rumor Has Experts Buzzing

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

Protein May Stimulate Bone Growth

Research is underway to determine whether a protein that stimulates bone growth could someday be used as an alternative to painful bone-grafting surgery that can often result in complications.

Working with grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, researchers at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University are studying the protein known as Runx, or core building factor A, reports the Associated Press.

The protein has been referred to as the "master switch" for bone making cells called osteoblasts and the researchers want to see if the protein could also initiate bone growth in the body.

If so, the protein could possibly prevent the current method of grafting bone from other parts of the body or from cadavers. In addition to being painful, such procedures can result in infections and bone loss, and bone taken from cadavers can be rejected or transmit disease.

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Govt. Ratings of Nursing Homes To Be Released

The results of a controversial new system of rating nursing homes in six pilot states are due to be released by the federal government next week, reports the Washington Post.

Newspaper ads and Internet sites will be used to publish a guide with the results of nine quality measurements of nursing homes in Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, as determined by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The guide, titled "How do your local nursing homes compare," will present such information as which homes have strong records treating pain and infection, which homes have used physical restraints and which have had patients losing inappropriate amounts of weight.

The project has already received some criticism from the nursing home industry, which argues that some data may be presented out of context, and a report last month by the General Accounting Office cited numerous errors in the information collected by the CMS.

Most agree that the best way to find a suitable nursing home is still to do as much research as possible, and pay a visit both before and after chosing a home.

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Baby Aspirin Better for Cutting Colon Cancer Risk

Smaller doses of aspirin work better than larger doses in reducing the risk of pre-cancerous growths in the colon, a group of Dartmouth researchers reported today in the first study of its kind.

The research, which tested baby aspirin against standard adult aspirin in patients at increased risk for colon cancer, was presented at the 93rd annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research in San Francisco, reports HealthDay.

Although epidemiology studies have long shown that aspirin may protect against colon cancer by reducing the risk of adenomas, or polyps, this was the first study to examine which dosages might work best, particularly for those already at increased risk.

"Overall, we found that, in those people who already had one adenoma removed, aspirin definitely had a protective effect, and moreover, those who had the most aggressive adenomas had the greatest margin of protection, and from the smallest dose of aspirin," said the researchers.

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We're One Nation on the Couch, Says Report

A new federal report on the physical state of the nation might be best summed up as calling us land of the free, home of the lazy.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics report, released today in honor of World Health Day, as many as seven in 10 adults don't get regular exercise and almost four in 10 get no exercise at all.

"Regular exercise" was defined as a half-hour of light to moderate exercise five times a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week.

The report says what's particularly alarming is that the fitness figures showed no improvement from 1997 to 2001, despite heightened awareness about the many risk factors of a sedentary lifestyle, such as heart disease and diabetes, reports the Associated Press.

Experts say increasing rates of diabetes among Americans in their 30s is especially concerning, since diabetes is closely related to obesity.

Meanwhile, about 300,000 deaths a year in the United States are attributed to diseases associated with inactivity.

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Stress, Fear From Sept. 11 Linger in NYC

Almost five months after Sept. 11, one in three residents of New York City were still at risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, a new study reports.

The report, released today by the Red Cross, shows that while 69 percent of New York area residents said they were "coping well" following the attacks, about 43 percent had feelings of hopelessness or fear about the future and 31 percent reported worrying about the continuing threat of terrorism and more deaths from such acts.

The study involved a telephone survey of 1,000 adult residents in New York City between Feb. 1-12.

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Sextuplets Arrive in Kansas

A Kansas woman who received fertility treatments gave birth to sextuplets yesterday, reports the Associated Press.

The mother, 33-year-old Sondra Headrick, had been in the hospital for 93 days prior to delivery. A team of 24 medical professionals at Via Christi Regional Medical Center-St. Joseph, in Wichita, delivered the three boys and three girls via Caesarean section.

The infants were delivered at 31 weeks yesterday because doctors feared for the health of one of them. A normal full-term pregnancy typically lasts 40 weeks, but due to the extreme circumstances, doctors had hoped that Headrick could at least carry the children to 26 or 27 weeks.

Each child weighed between two pounds, 10 ounces and three pounds, 11 ounces. Four of the children were placed on a respirator last night and two others were on oxygen, but doctors said all were okay.

The births are among only 96 sets of sextuplets reported worldwide since the early 1900s, when recording began.

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Cloned Human Fetus Rumor Has Experts Buzzing

An Italian fertility doctor's suggestion that one of his patients has become pregnant with the world's first human clone has the international medical community abuzz and wondering whether the news is true or nothing more than a publicity stunt.

The comments, reported in the Middle Eastern newspaper Gulf News, came from renowned fertility expert Severino Antinori, who is director of a human reproduction research center in Rome. Antinori gained worldwide fame in 1994 when he helped a woman become pregnant and give birth at the age of 63.

Antinori reportedly was quoted in the English-language paper as saying that a patient in his human cloning program is in fact eight weeks pregnant, according to the Washington Post.

In addition to suspicions about a publicity stunt, some have questioned whether Antinori's comments were misconstrued in translation, but the Post says an editor at the newspaper stands by the story. The comments were reportedly made last week at a scientific meeting in the United Arab Emirates.

Most cloning attempts on animals so far have resulted in birth defects and premature deaths, leading most scientists to conclude that human cloning is neither safe nor ethical.

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