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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 18, 2002

The Latest in Bypass Surgery: No Chest IncisionHuman Cloning Should be Outlawed, Panel SaysEmbryo-Producing Stem Cell Institute Stops the Practice Bayer Discloses Anti-Cholesterol Drug Linked to More Deaths Study Offers Clues to Brain's Response to Stress Gene Test Finds Colon Cancer Patients at High Risk

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

The Latest in Bypass Surgery: No Chest Incision

The ugly cross-shaped scar that marks the chests of those who have had heart bypass surgery may be gone forever.

As reported by HealthDay, the first U.S. robot-assisted coronary bypass operation requiring no chest incision has been performed at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City.

Arthur Barrett, 70, of Cedar Grove, N.J., looking tired but alert at a news conference at the medical center, said today that he felt "good" after the surgery, which replaced a an almost completely blocked major artery in his heart.

The Jan. 15 surgery was conducted entirely by robotic arms that worked on his heart through two pencil-sized holes that had been punctured in his chest. The arms were guided by surgeons at a nearby computer console. A third hole was inserted for a small camera that allowed the surgeons to see what they were doing.

Normal coronary bypass surgery, the most common open-heart surgery done in this country, requires an eight-to-10-inch incision in the chest, an incision that cuts through the breastbone and chest muscle so that surgeons can do their work. Such incisions have always added considerable time to a patient's recovery period.


Human Cloning Should be Outlawed, Panel Says

Cloning to make carbon-copy babies "is dangerous and likely to fail" and should be banned for the immediate future, says a new report from a government advisory panel that examined the controversial technology.

HealthDay reports that the panel, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, says cloned offspring -- produced through a process called nuclear transplantation -- are prone to the same genetic and physical problems that have afflicted animal clones. And, the panel adds, women who provide the eggs and carry the pregnancies are also at risk of serious, even fatal health problems.

The practice should be prohibited by law and bear "substantial penalties" until proven safe and until society is willing to accept it, says the panel, which calls for a review of the science and societal climate within five years.


Embryo-Producing Stem Cell Institute Stops the Practice

For reasons it says have nothing to do with the controversy it caused, the first U.S. research facility planning to create human embryos for harvesting stem cells says it will stop the practice.

The Associated Press reports that The Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School drew protests from abortion opponents when it announced in July that it had fertilized donated eggs specifically for stem-cell research. But now the institute's administration says the scientist who started the research recently retired, and his replacement wants to concentrate on other areas in stem cell research.

The institute may want to obtain some of the 60 lines of stem cells President Bush approved last year for research into infertility, but it isn't going to create any of its own. Bush decided only those lines would be eligible for federal funding because their use would not constitute the taking of life.


Bayer Discloses Anti-Cholesterol Drug Linked to More Deaths

Bayer AG said today the estimated number of deaths with a possible link to its anti-cholesterol drug that was withdrawn from the market has risen to 100, according to the Associated Press.

The drug, known as Baycol in the United States, was previously thought to have been linked to 52 deaths. It was pulled from the market last August.

In Berlin, company spokesman Guenther Forneck said the company was required to disclosethe latest estimate in its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of its share listing Jan. 24 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The German drug giant voluntarily pulled the product after increasing reports of side effects of muscular weakness, or rhabdomyolysis, particularly in patients who are simultaneously treated with another drug called gemfibrozil. Bayer faces lawsuits in the United States and Europe from patients seeking damages. The company insists the claims are groundless.


Study Offers Clues to Brain's Response to Stress

Some call it being skittish; in more serious cases, it's called post traumatic stress disorder. But researchers say they now have evidence in mice that stress does, in fact, make the brain more sensitive, reports the Associated Press.

A team of Israeli researchers subjected mice to short bouts of stressful situations and found that the animals' brain cells became hypersensitive for weeks.

Believing that a culprit in the hypersensitivity is a brain protein called acetylcholinesterase, or AChE, the researchers then exposed the mouse brains to AChE-affecting chemicals, including the stress hormone cortisol.

Within minutes of being placed in stressful situations, such as being forced to swim, the mice were found to have produced an unusually rare and unusual type of AChE that left their brain cells more hypersensitive. Brain scans showed heightened levels of electrical activity that lasted for weeks.

The study was published in today's edition of the journal Science.


Gene Test Finds Colon Cancer Patients at High Risk

A sophisticated genetic analysis of cancer cells appears to identify patients with cancer of the colon and rectum who could most benefit from aggressive treatment, HealthDay reports today.

A measurement of the differences in chromosomes, the cellular bodies that contain the genes, identified patterns associated with the likelihood that colorectal cancer would recur after surgery, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Emory University report in the Jan. 17 issue of The Lancet.

The study found that colon cancer patients with imbalances in both the 8 and 18 chromosomes, which are known to carry genes associated with colorectal cancer, had just a 58 percent chance of survival after five years, compared to those with normal balances of the chromosomes, all of whom were alive after five years.

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