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Health Highlights: Nov. 8, 2006

CDC Urges Child-Care Providers to Monitor Emotional Development Bird-Flu Expert Is New WHO Director-General Sugary Foods and Drinks Increase Pancreatic Cancer Risk U.S. Supreme Court to Review Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Industrial Chemicals Pose Threat to Children's Brains Study Tests Stem Cell Treatment in Heart Attack Patients

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

CDC Urges Child-Care Providers to Monitor Emotional Development

A U.S. public awareness campaign about childhood development is being expanded to target more than 400,000 child-care facilities across the nation, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

The "Learn the Signs. Act Early" campaign is designed to increase awareness about the importance of monitoring a child's social and emotional development, including looking for early warning signs of autism and other developmental disabilities. The expanded program will offer free materials to help child-care providers and preschool teachers educate parents about child development, the CDC said.

"More than 8.7 million children younger than 5 years of age in the United States are in some type of child-care arrangement," Alison Johnson, acting director of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a prepared statement.

"Child-care providers and preschool teachers are in a special position to watch for (developmental) delays and to promote early identification and action when a delay is suspected. In fact, because they see children interact in peer groups, child-care providers can be the first to observe early warning signs of a developmental delay such as autism," Johnson said.

The CDC campaign also encourages parents to talk to their child's doctor about any concerns they may have regarding their child's social and emotional development.

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Bird-Flu Expert Is New WHO Director-General

A Chinese bird-flu expert has been chosen as the new director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO's executive board on Wednesday selected Dr. Margaret Chan from a field of five candidates. The post became vacant when former director-general Lee Jong-wook died in May. Chan is the first Chinese national to be appointed to such a high-ranking U.N. position, the Associated Press reported.

She still has to be approved by a two-thirds majority at a special session Thursday of the 193-member World Health Assembly, which governs the WHO. In the past, the assembly has voted in favor of the WHO executive board's choices for director-general.

Chan was appointed Hong Kong's director of public health in 1994 and had to deal with bird flu and SARS outbreaks there. In recent years, Chan has been the WHO's influenza pandemic chief and assistant director-general, the AP reported.

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Sugary Foods and Drinks Increase Pancreatic Cancer Risk

People who consume a lot of sugary food and drinks have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, says a study by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

Between 1997 and 2005, the researchers surveyed the eating and drinking habits of 80,000 healthy men and women. Of those, 131 developed pancreatic cancer, Agence France Presse reported.

People who drank fizzy or syrup-based products two times a day or more were 90 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than people who never drank those types of beverages, the study found.

The researchers also concluded that people who added sugar to food or drinks at least five times a day had a 70 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer, which is often diagnosed in the late stages and is difficult to treat, AFP reported.

The study was published in the November issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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U.S. Supreme Court to Review Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

The White House is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a controversial nationwide ban on so-called partial-birth abortions, the Associated Press reported.

The Supreme Court was scheduled to meet Wednesday to hear arguments for and against the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2003.

Six federal courts in different regions of the U.S. have ruled that the law is an impermissible restriction on a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, as established by the 1973 landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, the AP reported.

Partial-birth abortion usually takes place in the middle third of pregnancy. It's estimated that a few thousand such procedures are done each year in the U.S., out of a total of more than 1.25 million abortions. Ninety percent of all abortions in the U.S. take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, the AP reported.

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Industrial Chemicals Pose Threat to Children's Brains

Exposure to hundreds of industrial chemicals could be damaging the developing brains of children worldwide and may be linked to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, says a study published online Wednesday in The Lancet medical journal.

Two environmental medicine specialists from Denmark and the United States compiled a list of 201 industrial chemicals -- including arsenic, benzene and phenol -- that could cause irreparable damage to youngsters' developing brains, the Canadian Press reported.

The researchers also noted that many of these potentially toxic chemicals are not regulated because too little is known about their effects on human health. They said this lack of regulation is a "silent epidemic" that's putting children around the world at risk.

Governments need to immediately start placing strict controls on these chemicals, instead of waiting for years of research to determine whether the chemicals are dangerous or not.

"What we are saying is we cannot afford to wait decades because that way we will expose another generation of children to toxic chemicals that will affect their brains permanently," study lead author Philippe Grandjean, chair of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark, told the CP.

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Study Tests Stem Cell Treatment in Heart Attack Patients

A study to determine if heart attack patients can be treated with injections of their own bone marrow stem cells is being conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom.

The trial of 100 people will assess the effects of injecting the stem cells within five hours of a heart attack, BBC News reported.

There is evidence to suggest that bone marrow stem cells can help repair heart muscle damage caused by a heart attack. This kind of repair could help prevent subsequent heart failure in heart attack patients.

Stem cells are immature cells that can develop into any kind of tissue.

The study, funded by the U.K. Stem Cell Foundation, will be run by Barts Hospital in London. Patients in the study will receive both the stem cell injections and angioplasty, a procedure to clear blocked arteries, BBC News reported.

"If we can demonstrate improvement in quality of life of patients then this will be a significant step forward in the treatment of heart disease," said researcher Dr. Anthony Mathur. "Because the stem cells are taken from the patient themselves there are minimal ethical issues surrounding this procedure. There is also less likelihood of rejection complications."

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