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Health Highlights: Jan. 17, 2008

U.S. Student Murders Decline U.K. Approves Human-Animal Stem Cell Research CDC Funds Morgellons Study Scientists Produce Cloned Human Embryos Minnesota Company Recalls Ground Beef Products FDA Warns of Chemical Name Confusion

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

U.S. Student Murders Decline

Overall rates of school-associated student murders in the United States declined from 1992 to 2006, says a study released Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study looked at public and private elementary and high schools.

An analysis of data from the School-Associated Violent Death Study found that during the seven school years from July 1999 to June 30, 2006, there were 116 students murdered in 109 school-associated incidents. That works out to an average of 16.5 per year and an average annual murder rate of .03 cases per 100,000 students.

The study also found that:

  • School-associated murders account for less than one percent of overall murders of school-aged young people.
  • Gunshot wounds were the leading cause of death (65 percent) in school-associated murders, followed by stabbing or cutting (27 percent), and beatings (12 percent). Because deaths may result from multiple causes, the total exceeds 100 percent.
  • Males, secondary school students, and students in central cities were most likely to be murdered.

"The decline in episodes of school-associated violence is promising and encouraging," Dr. Ileana Arias, director of the CDC's Injury Center, said in a prepared statement. "However, we are still facing challenges to build on the improvements that schools have made and continue to implement effective prevention strategies to keep our children safe."


U.K. Approves Human-Animal Stem Cell Research

U.K. authorities have given scientists permission to create human-animal embryos for stem cell research, BBC News reported.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority decided to give one-year research licenses to King's College London and Newcastle University after public consultations showed people were "at ease" with the idea. Further licenses for this kind of research would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

The scientists plan to merge human cells with animal eggs in order to create hybrid embryos from which they can extract stem cells. The embryos would be destroyed within 14 days, BBC News reported.

The stem cells from these embryos are needed because researchers currently have to rely on human eggs left over from fertility treatments. But there's a shortage of such eggs, which sometimes are of poor quality.

The King's College team will use the hybrid embryos to study diseases known to have genetic causes, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and spinal muscular atrophy, BBC News reported. The Newcastle University researchers will examine how stem cells develop in different tissues in the body.


CDC Funds Morgellons Study

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding a one-year study of a strange condition called Morgellons. People with the ailment develop sores on their skin -- out of which pop mysterious red, black or blue fibers -- and have the sensation of tiny bugs crawling all over them.

Some experts believe it's a psychiatric disorder, while others say it's a physical condition, the Associated Press reported.

The CDC will pay California-based Kaiser Permanente $338,000 to interview and test from 150 to 500 patients with symptoms of Morgellons in an attempt to better understand the condition and determine its prevalence.

The study will be conducted in northern California, where there are many reports of people with Morgellons. A number of sufferers have documented their cases on Web sites, the AP reported.


Scientists Produce Cloned Human Embryos

Scientists who used ordinary adult cells to produce cloned embryos derived from two men say their achievement may be a step toward developing scientifically valuable stem cells, the Associated Press reported.

In this research, published online Thursday in the journal Stem Cells, scientists used skin cells from two male volunteers to produce three embryos with DNA that matched the men's DNA.

The team is now attempting to produce stem cell lines from the embryos, said study co-author Dr. Samuel Wood, chief executive of Stemagen Corp. of La Jolla, Calif.

Unless they can produce stem cell lines from the embryos, the research isn't a breakthrough because other scientists have previously cloned a human embryo, one expert told the wire service.

"I found it difficult to determine what was substantially new," in this research, Doug Melton, of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, told the AP. He said the "next big advance will be to create a human embryonic stem cell line" from cloned embryos.

"This has yet to be achieved," Melton said.


Minnesota Company Recalls Ground Beef Products

A meat company in Rochester, Minn. has recalled about 188,000 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria.

The recall by Rochester Meat Co. was issued after reports that five people in Wisconsin and one person in California became sick after eating the meat products, said the U.S. Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Associated Press reported.

The recalled ground beef may be contaminated with potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7, which can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration. Seniors, very young children, and people with weakened immune system are most at risk of serious health problems from the bacteria.

The recalled meat was produced Oct. 30 and Nov. 6 and sold nationwide for use in restaurants and food service institutions. The USDA said it was not sold to retail consumers, the AP reported.


FDA Warns of Chemical Name Confusion

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week issued a warning to doctors and patients about possible confusion surrounding the use of Edetate Disodium and Edetate Calcium Disodium.

Edetate Disodium is approved as an emergency treatment for certain patients with hypercalcemia (very high levels of calcium in the body) or certain patients with heart rhythm disorders caused by high amounts of digitalis in the blood. Edetate Calcium Disodium (Calcium Disodium Versenate) is approved to treat patients with severe lead poisoning.

In the warning issued Wednesday, the FDA said there have been cases where children and adults have died after mistakenly receiving Edetate Disodium instead of Edetate Calcium Disodium, or when Edetate Disodium was used for "chelation therapies" and other uses not approved by the FDA.

Because the two drugs have similar names and both are commonly referred to as EDTA, mistakes can easily occur when the drugs are being prescribed, dispensed and administered, the FDA said.

Healthcare professionals should read the FDA Public Health Advisory about the issue, the agency recommended.

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