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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 23, 2002

More Than $13 Million Guaranteed Child Cancer Victims in LawsuitOne Way to Combat Dementia: Music, Music, Music Don't Rely On a Machine to Predict Premature Delivery Liver Disease Treatment Approved by FDA Women Docs Practice What They Preach British Meat Free of Foot-and-Mouth, Says Panel

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

More Than $13 Million Guaranteed Child Cancer Victims in Lawsuit

At least $13 million will be paid to the children of 69 New Jersey families in a the settlement of a cancer lawsuit, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The newspaper obtained court records in a Toms River case that showed a settlement had been reached between with the families and Union Carbide, Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp. (the successor of Ciba-Geigy) and a local water utility.

The parents had alleged that their children got sick by drinking water polluted by a Ciba-Geigy chemical plant and a site where Union Carbide toxic wastes were dumped in 1971. Fifteen children died from cancer.

Actually, the amount the comapnies have to pay may be much higher, The Inquirer reports. All parties agreed not to reveal the settlement figure, and the $13 million is only the amount required by law to be made public.


One way to Combat Dementia: Music, Music, Music

Active involvement in music, whether by playing an instrument or just singing along every day, may be key in staving off dementia in the elderly.

ABC News reports on studies being conducted by neuroscientist Christo Pantev at Toronto's Rotman Research Institute, part of a large geriatric care center. A musician himself, Pantev noticed that among the patients at the center, the last items remaining in their memories were music and songs.

He began research that lasted several years, resulting in a mathemtical theory concluding that the more proficient a person is with playing music, the longer his memory may last. Much of this has to do with the magnetic distribution of brain waves.

The practical result is that Pantev has now begun clinical trials to determine whether the theory really can eliminate or reduce memory loss in the elderly.


Don't Rely On a Machine to Predict Premature Delivery

Machines that monitor uterine contractions in pregnant women do just that, and no more.

In what experts call a disappointing confirmation of conventional wisdom, a new study shows portable devices that monitor uterine contractions can't predict a woman's risk of premature delivery, HealthDay reports.

While women who go into labor early are likely to experience early contractions, so, too are those who deliver at term -- effectively scuttling the costly monitor's predictive value.

The findings, while not surprising, frustrate doctors who've long sought ways to foretell premature labor.

Dr. Jay D. Iams, of Ohio State University, led the latest study, which appears in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Iams and his colleagues followed 306 pregnant women and asked them to monitor themselves at home using the portable devices that measure the frequency, intensity and time of day of uterine contractions.


Liver Disease Treatment Approved by FDA

A breakthrough drug originally developed as a weed killer was approved by the FDA this week for treatment of a rare and usually fatal liver disease that strikes children in their earliest years.

The drug, called Orfadin, proved to be ineffective as a weed killer, but Swedish researchers discovered that it could be effective in treating the hereditary liver disease called tyrosinemia, reports the Associated Press.

Hereditary tyrosinemia type 1, or HT-1, is a genetic metabolic disorder that affects fewer than one in 100 children, but since it is not among the metabolic diseases that newborns are tested for at birth, many infants die undiagnosed.

The only treatment for infants is a special low-protein diet and most patients who survive infancy will require a liver transplant by their 20s.

The new drug works by destroying the formation of toxins that attack patients' livers. And while it's not known whether Orfadin can fend off an eventual liver transplant, studies have shown that it increased the numbers of patients surviving at least four years from 29 percent to a 88 percent.


Women Docs Practice What They Preach

Ever wonder if doctors take their own advice? If your physician is a woman, and the advice involves diet, nutrition, and weight loss, there's a good chance she practices what she preaches, reports HealthDay.

According to a survey of 3,500 female physicians from across the United States, researchers found that most women doctors counsel patients on diet and nutrition based on their own lifestyle practices. They are also more likely to offer such advice over and above any other type of preventive health counseling, like quitting smoking or getting enough sleep.

The study appears in the February issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Almost all the doctors in the survey said nutrition and weight loss issues were important in their own lives, and that influence carried over into their practices, the researchers say.


British Meat Free of Foot-and-Mouth, Says Panel

After being tainted for several years by foot-and-mouth disease, Britain's meat has been officially declared fit for a king again.

A ruling by the World Organization for Animal Health restores Britain's "foot-and-mouth free status without vaccination" and clears the way for the international exportation of the country's meat, meat products and dairy products, reports the Associated Press.

The ruling follows the British government's declaration last week that the nation was free of foot-and-mouth disease.

The outbreak of the disease almost a year ago caused the destruction of almost 4 million animals and led to a worldwide ban on exports of livestock and most meat products from Britain.

The highly contagious disease, which does not harm humans, can destroy a livestock industry and reportedly cost British taxpayers almost $2.1 billion.

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