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Health Highlights: Jan. 27, 2002

Gene Linked to Rare Form of Epilepsy Cholera Outbreak Kills Dozens in Africa Dalai Lama Hospitalized After Lump is Detected in Stomach Birth Defects Higher Near Landfills, Says Study Thatcher Suffered Minor Stroke Human Form of Mad Cow Disease Claims Another British Victim Weight Loss Surgery Appears to Improve Diabetes

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

Gene Linked to 'Sound Seizures' Identified

Researchers have identified a gene that causes a rare form of epilepsy in which patients experience sound hallucinations before their seizures, reports HealthDay.

A report in the February issue of Nature Genetics reveals that mutations in the leucine-rich, glioma-inactivated 1 gene cause a rare form of the disorder known as autosomal-dominant partial epilepsy with auditory features (ADPEAF).

The findings open many new avenues for research, say the researchers, because unlike the eight previous genes linked to autosomal dominant forms of epilepsy, this gene is not involved in moving chemical signals in and out of brain cells.

An expert in the genetics of epilepsy praised the discovery.

"Finding a gene is exciting, because it gives us information about which signaling pathway in the brain is at the cause of this particular form of epilepsy," says Dr. Jeffrey Noebels, a neurologist and molecular geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "Finally, it's a starting point to try to understand what causes the disease and, also, which molecules might be useful therapeutically to prevent it."

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Cholera Outbreak Kills Dozens in Africa

An outbreak of cholera has claimed the lives of 44 people and sickened another 425 in southern and central regions of Malawi, the Associated Press reports.

The water-borne disease was primarily concentrated in the lakeside district of Mangochi, which borders Mozambique.

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Dalai Lama Hospitalized After Lump is Found in Stomach

The Dalai Lama was hospitalized but in good condition today after doctors discovered a lump in his stomach.

According to the Associated Press, the Tibetan spiritual leader was flown to Bombay, India, and admitted to a hospital after complaining of abdominal pain and exhaustion.

On Thursday, he reportedly canceled a special service of his teachings before thousands of followers because the event would have required that he sit still for at least five hours.

No further details were released on his condition.

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Birth Defects Higher Near Landfills, Study Says

British researchers say they've found that living near a landfill can increase the risk of having children with birth defects by as much as 40 percent, according to wire reports.

In studying 245 cases of children born with chromosomal defects, such as Down Syndrome, and 2,412 healthy babies, the researchers said they found that people living within 1.8 miles of a landfill had a higher chance of having a child with a birth defect than those living farther from a landfill.

While the researchers speculate that exposure to hazardous chemicals may play a role in the higher birth defect rates, they are calling for more research to better understand the causes.

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Family Says Thatcher Suffered Minor Stroke

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher suffered a minor stroke late last year, the BBC reports today.

A family member told the BBC that the stroke apparently occurred when Thatcher, 76, was in Madeira celebrating her golden wedding anniversary with her husband.

Thatcher was reportedly admitted to a hospital for two days after her husband, Denis, noticed she was developing coordination problems and began slurring her speech.

The stroke was said to be "very, very minor" and family members said they were concerned but "not desperately worried."

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Human Form of Mad Cow Disease Claims Another Victim

A 26-year-old British man has reportedly died from the human form of mad cow disease, the Associated Press reports.

According to the victim's father, Christopher Hargreaves began experiencing depression as far back as January, 2001.

He was diagnosed in October with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CDJ), and died from the disease on Jan. 17.

Hargreaves is among more than 100 people, most of them in Britain, who have died from the disease.

Variant CDJ causes severe brain deterioration and is believed to be contracted by eating meat that has been contaminated by mad cow disease.

British meat became infected with mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalophy, after farmers added infected animal carcasses to their cattle feed.

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Weight Loss Surgery Appears To Improve Diabetes

A new type of surgery designed to help severely obese people lose weight appears to have the added benefit of improving diabetes or even sending it into remission, according to wire reports.

The procedure, called laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB), involves placing an adjustable band around the upper stomach with minimally invasive surgery.

In one-year follow-ups of 50 individuals who had the surgery, 34 people, or 64 percent, had experienced remission of their diabetes.

In addition, 27 of 34 patients who'd had high blood pressure prior to the procedure showed improvements in their follow-ups.

Unlike gastric bypass or weight loss surgeries, LAGB is reversible, but researchers caution that 10 of the 50 patients required surgery to repair bands that had slipped.

The study appears in the February issue of Diabetes Care.

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