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Health Highlights: May 12, 2005

Scientists Create Pill to Boost Memory More Fast-Food Outlets, Higher Heart Attack Rates: Study Recalled Pacifiers Pose Choking Hazard Stem Cell Treatment Helps Paralysis in Rats Bird Flu Data Not Sufficient, WHO Officials Warn Birth Month May Influence Menopause Onset: Study

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

Scientists Create Pill to Boost Memory

A pill that improves memory by boosting the brain chemical glutamate has been invented by a scientist at the University of California.

Dr. Gary Lynch says the drug called CX717 could be used to treat jet lag and Alzheimer's disease, BBC News reported. The pill could also be used by healthy people as a type of memory pick-me-up, he said.

A drug manufacturer is considering using the drug as a possible treatment for narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the news service said.

The drug has to undergo further clinical trials before it's approved for sale. A British study of 16 sleep-deprived people found that CX717 improved their wakefulness and mental ability, the BBC News said.

"What it's doing is causing the neurons to communicate with each other a little better," Lynch explained. "As you get tired, communication between brain cells begins to fail. When you take the pill, the communication is better.

According to Lynch, the drug appeared to have no side effects.

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More Fast-Food Outlets, Higher Heart Attack Rates: Study

The more fast-food restaurants there are in your neighborhood, the higher the rate of heart disease and death, according to a Canadian study.

Researchers found that in areas with few fast-food outlets (less than 10 per 100,000 population) the rates of death and heart disease were much lower than average. In areas with 10 to 19 fast-foot outlets per 100,000 population, the death rate increased by 35 per 100,000 people and heart attacks increased by 28 per 100,000 people over the average.

In areas with 20 or more fast-food restaurants per 100,000 population, death rates increased by 62 per 100,000 people and heart attacks increased by 47 per 100,000, the study found.

The study concluded that each additional fast-food outlet translated into one additional death per 100,000 people, the Globe and Mail reported.

The study authors say it isn't just the fast food that's killing people, it's what they termed a "fast-food lifestyle" that includes inactivity, gluttony and doing everything -- including eating -- too fast.

The study was published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

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Recalled Pacifiers Pose Choking Hazard

About 180,000 Lov's Decorated Orthodontic Pacifiers that pose a choking hazard to young children are being recalled by Delta Enterprise Corp. in the United States.

The pacifiers are banned under U.S. law because they failed safety tests when the nipples separated from the base. So far, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received one report of a child found gagging on the nipple after it separated from the base. The child was not injured.

The pacifiers are about 2 1/4-inches wide and 1 1/2-inches long and have button or hinged handles. The pacifiers are white with various colored handles and some of the pacifiers have designs imprinted on the shields.

The amber-colored nipple is imprinted with the words "caoui," "chouc," and "pur." The front packaging of the pacifiers has "Lov 2-Pack," "Decorated Orthodontic Pacifier," and "99705" printed on it. The back of the package has "Delta Enterprises Corp., Brooklyn NY 11212 Made in Thailand" printed on it.

The pacifiers were sold in small retail stores from November 2001 through December 2004 for about $1.

Consumers should immediately discard the pacifiers and contact the company for a replacement or refund. Phone Delta Enterprises at 1-800-377- 3777 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

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Stem Cell Treatment Helps Paralysis in Rats

A therapy derived from human embryonic stem cells has successfully restored paralyzed rats' ability to walk, researchers at the University of California at Irvine say.

The findings represent the first demonstration that the controversial cells can regenerate damaged spinal cord tissue, according to United Press International. The harvesting of stem cells from human embryos has drawn the ire of many right-to-life advocates since the embryos must be destroyed in the process.

The Irvine researchers, writing in the May 11 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, said they coaxed stem cells into developing into specialized cells called oligodendrocytes. These cells produce a substance called myelin that insulates nerve cells. When myelin is missing or damaged, it can lead to paralysis, UPI said.

When paralyzed rats injured seven days earlier were injected with oligodendrocytes, the rats showed marked improvement in their ability to walk within two months, the wire service said. However, the success rate was much lower in rats injured 10 months before treatment, suggesting that the treatment would have to be begun early after a spinal cord injury, the researchers said.

The study's lead author, assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology Hans Keirstead, cautioned that "there is still much work to do before we can engage in human clinical tests," he said in statement.

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Bird Flu Data Not Sufficient, WHO Officials Warn

Too little data and too few avian flu samples are flowing out of Southeast Asia, making it difficult to assess whether the threat of a human bird flu pandemic is growing, a top official from the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.

Dr. Klaus Stohr, chief of the WHO's influenza program, has echoed the fear of many experts that the bird flu virus could soon combine with a human strain of the disease, causing an outbreak among people that no existing flu vaccine could control.

New data confirms that the bird flu virus is changing, but it's not clear if the mutations pose a greater threat to people, the Canadian Press reports. In the past 18 months, more than 89 people in Southeast Asia have contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza, and more than 50 have died.

Flu experts wanting to assess the latest risks posed by the virus have been clamoring for information and samples, but affected countries have provided fewer than a handful of viruses taken from victims, the wire service said. Experts differ on the political and logistical reasons for the shortfall, the CP added.

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Birth Month May Influence Menopause Onset: Study

The month in which a female infant is born appears to be a factor in when she'll reach menopause as an adult, Italian scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Modena studied 2,822 post-menopausal women in northern Italy, the Scripps Howard News Service reported. The scientists found that women born in March reached menopause at the earliest age of 48 years and nine months, while women born in October were the oldest when menopause began. The difference averaged 18 months between the two.

The researchers speculated that differences in temperature or sunlight may influence fetal growth and a woman's future reproductive potential. Differences in diet or exposure to infections may also play a role, the wire service said.

Results of the research appear in the May edition of the journal Human Reproduction.

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