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Health Highlights: Oct. 13, 2003

Scientists Produce Monkey From Transplanted Ovarian Tissue Pentagon Probes Suicides Among U.S. Troops in Iraq Marijuana Smokers' Sperm Going to Pot: Study Some Patients Wake Up During Surgery NYC Investigates Mysterious Illness Separated Egyptian Twins Doing Well A 'Pacemaker' to Fight Obesity?

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

Scientists Produce Monkey From Transplanted Ovarian Tissue

In a breakthrough procedure that might one day help women left infertile by cancer treatments, Oregon University scientists have produced the first ever live birth from transplanted ovarian tissue.

The technique was successfully used in a rhesus monkey, say the researchers, who made the announcement Oct. 13 at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in San Antonio.

The scientists removed part of the ovary from a rhesus monkey and transplanted it to another part of the body. When eggs matured on the transplanted tissue, they were collected and fertilized in a lab. The resulting embryos were then transplanted back into the womb and one grew into a healthy baby monkey, the BBC News reports.

This technique, the scientists say, could one day be adapted for use in women and young girls who are diagnosed with cancer. They could have ovarian tissue frozen and transplanted back years later when they were ready to have a child, the news organization says.


Pentagon Probes Suicides Among U.S. Troops in Iraq

Add suicide to the threats facing U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

At least 11 soldiers and three Marines have committed suicide in Iraq in the last seven months, USA Today reports, quoting military officials. About a dozen other deaths of soldiers are under investigation as possible suicides, and the Navy is investigating a possible suicide.

That translates into an annual suicide rate of 17 per 100,000 people. Last year, the armed forces reported eight to nine suicides per 100,000 people. The Army rate is usually higher, 10 to 13 per 100,000, but that mirrors the rate for the same age group in the general population, the newspaper says.

The Army has asked a team of military doctors to determine whether the stress of combat and long deployments may be partly to blame for the deaths.

Most of the suicides have occurred since May 1, after major combat operations were halted, the newspaper says.


Marijuana Smokers' Sperm Going to Pot: Study

The active ingredients in marijuana negatively affect the sperm of men who regularly smoke the drug, leaving them vulnerable to infertility, new research contends.

Frequent pot smokers have significantly less seminal fluid, a lower sperm count and their sperm function abnormally, says Lani J. Burkman, an assistant professor of gynecology/obstetrics at the University of Buffalo, in New York.

The study is the first to assess marijuana's effects on swimming patterns of sperm from both marijuana smokers and fertile men who don't use the drug.

Burkman says the likely culprit is THC, the primary psychoactive chemical in marijuana. "THC may be causing improper timing of sperm function by direct stimulation, or it may be bypassing natural inhibition mechanisms," Burkman says.

The findings were presented Oct. 13 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine in San Antonio.


Some Patients Wake Up During Surgery

An average of 100 American patients a day wake up during surgery because of anesthesia failure, USA Today reports of a new study.

This research was the first to quantify the problem in the United States in more than 30 years, the newspaper reports, though international studies have produced similar numbers.

The results of this and previous studies led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday to approve wider use of a device that allows doctors to monitor how deeply a patient is sedated. The device, known as the BIS monitor, analyzes the brain's EEG waves. Its manufacturer, Aspect Medical Systems of Newton, Mass., financed the latest study.

A recent Emory University study found that of every 1,000 patients who receive anesthesia, one or two become aware of what is happening to them. Aspect Medical-sponsored trials involving 1,200 patients found that using the BIS monitor reduced the frequency of "surgical awareness" by 82 percent, USA Today reports.


NYC Investigates Mysterious Illness

New York City health officials are trying to explain a mysterious encephalitis-like illness that has stricken five residents on Staten Island.

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain tissue, with symptoms including fever, headache and tiredness. Viruses that cause cold sores, mumps, measles, chickenpox and the flu can sometimes progress to the dangerous brain condition. Less frequently, encephalitis can be caused by viruses spread by mosquitoes.

Preliminary tests for two mosquito-borne diseases -- West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis -- have come back negative, the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in a statement released Sunday evening.

One of the five patients has been released from the hospital, and two other patients have been found to have other conditions explaining their illnesses. The remaining two patients are still hospitalized in critical condition, the department said.


Separated Egyptian Twins Doing Well

Two-year-old twin boys from Egypt were reported "in good shape" Monday morning, having spent their first night apart in a Dallas hospital following 34 hours of surgery over the weekend.

Ahmed and Mohamed Ibrahim were reported in critical but stable condition at Children's Medical Center Dallas. They've been placed on mechanical ventilators and are in a drug-induced coma to help their bodies recover from the traumatic surgery to separate them. They're expected to remain in the coma for three to four days, the Associated Press reports.

Doctors are monitoring the twins, formerly conjoined at the head, for the possibility of stroke, infection and any brain damage they may have suffered during surgery. They were born with an intricate connection of blood vessels but separate brains.

The twins face additional surgeries in the coming years to rebuild the tops of their skulls.


A 'Pacemaker' to Fight Obesity?

How about a device that sends an electrical impulse to your stomach, making you feel like you've had enough to eat?

Believe it or not, researchers have presented just that kind of "pacemaker" for obese people at the annual scientific meeting of the American Association for the Study of Obesity in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

According to the Associated Press, the implantable gastric stimulator -- similar to a cardiac pacemaker -- "fools the body into feeling full and could be an effective alternative to radical digestive surgery for helping obese people shed large amounts of weight."

The stimulator has already been tested successfully on 450 obese people who lost an average of 18 percent of their excess weight. Researchers, headed by Dr. Scott Shikora of Tufts University, hope that studies involving more people will show that the stimulator is a much safer alternative to radical stomach surgery that obese people sometimes choose.

The research was financed by the device's developer, Transneuronix Inc. of Mt. Arlington, N.J.

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