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Health Highlights: Oct. 14, 2003

FDA Begins Silicone Breast Implants Hearings Another Conjoined Twin Operation Called Successful Decline in Teen Suicide Rate Linked to Antidepressants Fertility Research Is Close to Human Cloning Congress Considers Medicare Co-Pay for Home Care

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

FDA Begins Silicone Breast Implants Hearings

The two-day hearing on whether the 10-year U.S. ban on silicone breast implants should end began Tuesday with women opponents reminding government officials why the devices were banned in the first place.

The Associated Press reports that many witnesses buttressed research showing that leaking and rupturing caused pain, and additional surgery about 46 percent of the time.

But the company that submitted massive amounts of research to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and asked for the hearings claims that saline-filled implants are just as bad.

INAMED Corp. argues that implants filled with silicone gel are comparable to those filled with salt water.

"I live in pain every day," the AP quotes Sherry Henderson of Louisiana. She had her silicone implants removed after 11 years and cites a litany of diseases, including lupus and chronic fatigue. "We are tired of all the suffering."

Another silicone opponent, breast cancer survivor Pam Dowd of Boise, Idaho, is quoted by the wire service: "My bones still scream with pain," Dowd said. She had silicone scraped off her chest wall when her leaking implants were removed in 1995.

But the chorus isn't unanimous. The AP says some women pleaded for access to an implant they say feels more natural.

"Unfortunately for me, I'm just a woman seeking to undergo a cosmetic procedure," the wire service quotes Michele Colombo, 34, as saying. And Elizabeth Weber of Maryland said she tried saline implants after cancer surgery, but they turned rock-hard, causing disabling pain. She had them replaced with silicone implants, and "I felt like myself, a whole, natural and complete woman," Weber said. "My breasts felt like mine. I hope you give other women the same choice."

The FDA's hearing to decide if INAMED has proved its case will be followed by a decision, which examiners promise will be made quickly.

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Another Conjoined Twin Operation Called Successful

Just a day after successful surgery on twin Egyptian boys in Dallas, doctors in Rome say they have successfully separated conjoined 4-month-old twin girls from Greece joined at the temple.

The girls should be able to live normal lives, the chief surgeon told the Associated Press.

A team of more than 30 doctors and nurses participated in the 13-hour operation at the infant neurosurgery department of Rome's Policlinico Gemelli hospital on Saturday, but no information was previously released at the request of the girls' parents, the wire service says.

"They are in perfectly good condition. We have not had any real complications. They are awake and they are with their parents," said Dr. Concezio Di Rocco, who led the surgical team. Di Rocco said it would be some time before doctors could determine if the girls' sight has been impaired because of where they were connected, but he added that shouldn't interfere with their living normal lives.

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Decline in Teen Suicide Rate Linked to Antidepressants

While suicide still accounts for a significant number of teenage deaths, the rate is dropping, and statistical evidence appears to tie the decline with an increased number of adolescents taking antidepressants.

The New York Times reports that Columbia University researchers examined teenage suicide rates and prescriptions filled for children ages 10 to 19 in 588 regions of the country from 1990 to 2000. At first, regions with higher rates of antidepressant use in 1990 or 2000 had higher suicide rates. But over time, an increase in the use of antidepressants was associated with a decrease in suicides, the newspaper says.

"People have known for some time that over the last few years there has been an increase in the use of antidepressants" among children, Dr. Mark Olfson told the Times. Olfson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia and the lead author of the study published this month in The Archives of General Psychiatry, added, "The question we're trying to get at here is, 'Has that contributed to the decline in suicide?' This provides some evidence that it may have."

One weakness in the study may be the reliance on information from groups, rather than from individuals, the newspaper says. Other factors, including tougher gun control laws in some regions and reduced use of alcohol and drugs, may have contributed to the drop in suicides, the Times quotes researchers as saying.

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Fertility Research Is Close to Human Cloning

A team of Chinese and American scientists has created a human pregnancy using a fertility technology that's similar to what created Dolly the sheep, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Because the embryos created from the DNA-swapping procedure weren't made from a single source of DNA, the scientists involved aren't calling the procedure a human clone. But experts say it's very close.

In a process known as nuclear transfer, the genetic material came from the embryos' parents and an egg donor, the newspaper says. All three of the fetuses involved in the experiment later died, which promises to reignite the volatile ethical issues involved in replicating humans.

Because this type of procedure is all but banned in the United States, the experiment took place in China, which has loosely enforced anti-cloning regulations. The doctors involved, including James Grifo, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology at New York University, say the project is meant to test new methods for reversing hard-to-treat cases of infertility.

Grifo says U.S. regulators warned him twice that the procedure couldn't be performed in the United States, adding that the experiment wasn't approved by New York University either. However, he expresses regret that the procedure didn't take place in America, noting that the deaths of all three fetuses involved in the procedure might have been avoided had it been done in a country with better obstetrical care, the Journal reports.

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Congress Considers Medicare Co-Pay for Home Care

Congressional negotiators ironing out a final agreement to revolutionize Medicare say they're seriously considering a co-payment on home health care. It's one of the few remaining Medicare benefits for which participants don't have to pay such charges, reports The New York Times.

The co-pay for home care was eliminated in 1972 to encourage more people to seek an alternative to more expensive nursing homes and hospitals.

The negotiators tell the newspaper they're considering a co-pay of up to $45 for each 60-day period of home care. That amounts to about 1.5 percent of the average cost of such care, which typically ranges from $2,700 to $3,000.

Congress is seeking ways to pay for long-sought Medicare prescription drug coverage and other benefits, which come with an estimated $400 billion price tag over 10 years. Most supporters of the home care co-pay are Republican, but there is opposition from both parties, the Times reports.

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