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Health Highlights: Jan. 15, 2007

Chicken Eggs Contain Proteins Used in Anti-Cancer Drugs NY Hospital Eyes First U.S. Uterus Transplant World's First Test Tube Baby Gives Birth Japan and Thailand Hit with Bird Flu Outbreaks Two Meningitis Cases Hit N.J. High School Hockey Players Adding Sound to Actions Increases Understanding, Study Says

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

Chicken Eggs Contain Proteins Used in Anti-Cancer Drugs

Genetically modified chickens that can lay eggs containing proteins used to make anti-cancer drugs have been developed by scientists at the Roslin Institute in the U.K.

The scientists say they've produced five generations of chickens (about 500) that can produce useful levels of these proteins in egg whites, BBC News reported.

The research, described in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help make a number of drugs easier and less expensive to produce.

"One of the characteristics of lots of medical treatments these days is that they're very expensive," Prof. Harry Griffin, director of the Roslin Institute, told BBC News.

"The idea of producing the proteins involved in treatments in flocks of laying hens means they can produce in bulk, they can produce cheaply and, indeed, the raw material for this production system is quite literally chicken feed," Griffin said.

However, much more research is needed before this method of protein production for medicine could possibly be fully developed, BBC News reported.


NY Hospital Eyes First U.S. Uterus Transplant

Doctors at a New York City hospital are moving closer to offering the United States' first uterus transplant, the Associated Press reported.

The procedure would be for women who can't have children because they have a defective womb, had their uterus removed because of disease, or were born without a uterus.

The world's only uterus transplant was conducted in Saudi Arabia in 2000. The transplanted womb, from a live donor, had to be removed three months later because of a blood clot.

The doctors at New York Downtown Hospital plan to use wombs from dead donors and to remove the wombs after a recipient gives birth so that she doesn't have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life, the AP reported.

The hospital's ethics board has conditionally approved the plan for a womb transplant and the doctors have started screening potential transplant recipients. However, the hospital's president said a womb transplant is not expected "any time in the near future."

A number of experts say much more research needs to be done into this kind of transplant before it's conducted on humans, the AP reported.


World's First Test Tube Baby Gives Birth

The world's first test tube baby -- 28-year-old Louise Brown of England -- gave birth to her first child in late December, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The baby boy, Cameron John Mullinder, weighed just under 6 pounds when he was born Dec. 20 in Bristol. He was conceived naturally.

Louise Brown was born July 25, 1978. Three years ago she married Wesley Mullinder.

Louise Brown isn't the first test tube baby to give birth. That distinction was claimed by her sister Natalie in 1999, the AP reported.

Louise Brown was conceived by what was then ground-breaking in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which is now a common procedure. The likelihood of an infertile couple having a baby through IVF is now about one in five, about the same odds of natural conception by a fertile couple.


Japan and Thailand Hit with Bird Flu Outbreaks

Japanese workers on Monday began incinerating about 12,000 chickens that had died of bird flu or had been killed in order to prevent the spread of an outbreak at a farm in the southern part of the country.

Experts are conducting tests to determine if the outbreak was caused by the dangerous H5N1 bird flu virus, the Associated Press reported.

Officials banned shipments of eggs and 330,000 chickens at 16 poultry farms within a 6.2-mile radius of the affected farm, which has been disinfected. The farm is located in the southern prefecture (state) of Miyazaki, which is Japan's largest poultry-producing region.

In other bird flu news, Thailand announced a new outbreak of H5N1 in ducks in the northern part of the country. The outbreak was confirmed after the deaths of about 100 ducks. It's the first such case in about six months. In order to control the outbreak, officials ordered the slaughter of about 2,100 ducks, the AP reported.

Since it first appeared in Asia in 2003, the H5N1 bird flu virus has decimated poultry flocks in many parts of the world and killed at least 159 people, according to the World Health Organization. Most of the people killed by the H5N1 virus were infected by direct contact with sick birds. However, experts fear that the virus may mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans.


Two Meningitis Cases Hit N.J. High School Hockey Players

Another outbreak of the highly contagious disease meningitis in at least two members of a northern New Jersey high school hockey team prompted the cancellation of all sporting events at Ramapo High School over the weekend.

This is the second meningitis-like outbreak in the Northeast United States in three weeks. Schools in three Rhode Island communities were closed in early January after one death and three illnesses were determined to be related and caused by inflammation of membranes in the brain.

According to The Record of Hackensack, one high school hockey player is hospitalized in serious condition. At least one other earlier case of the student's teammate was diagnosed as meningitis, and health officials say the two cases are linked. A third case involving a student who was not a hockey team member was found not to be meningitis, although the symptoms were similar, the newspaper reported.

Health officials are determining who should receive antibiotics and told The Record that they didn't believe mass doses would be necessary. The paper cited officials as saying they saw no need "to dispense medication on a mass level to all students and staff."

Meningitis is caused by inflammation to the membranes covering the brain. Symptoms can include high fever, headaches, vomiting and, most important, pain and stiffness in the neck.


Adding Sound to Actions Increases Understanding, Study Says

Electrical impulses in the brain called mirror neurons may cause a link between an action and a sound associated with that action, new research has found.

This cause-and-effect relationship can help scientists understand how a sound associated with an action increases a person's ability to better understand a particular task. The study is published in the Jan. 10 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience.

The study, conducted by scientists from the neurology department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, added more support to the theory that a mirror neuron system exists in humans, according to a news release from the journal.

The study subjects, all with no musical training, were taught to play a short piece on a keyboard. Subsequent brain activity was more intense in the "human equivalent of the area in the brain where mirror neurons were found in monkeys... when subjects listened to music they knew how to play compared with equally familiar music they did not know how to play," the news release said.

"Mirror-neuron circuits appear to encode and reflect templates for specific actions," the authors conclude.

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