Friday, January 30, 2009

Health Headlines - January 30

U.S. Soldier Suicides Reach New High

The number of American soldiers who committed suicide increased again in 2008, reaching almost a three-decade high, according to military officials.

They told the Associated Press that at least 128 soldiers killed themselves in 2008, but also said the final count is expected to be higher because more than a dozen other suspicious deaths are still being investigated.

There were 115 suicides among U.S. soldiers in 2007, 102 in 2006, and 64 in 2004. The 2008 figure of 128 is the highest since record-keeping began in 1980 and works out to a rate of 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers. That means the suicide rate among soldiers is higher than the adjusted civilian rate for the first time since the Vietnam War, the AP reported.

The military officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the data will be formally released at an Army news conference later Thursday.

Repeated and long tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan are putting troops under tremendous and unprecedented stress, officials say. In an attempt to halt the rise in suicides, the Army has increased training, prevention programs, and psychiatric staff, the AP reported. Additional measures are expected to be announced at the news conference.


Stem Cells Used to Clone Dogs

In what's believed to be a world-first, a South Korean biotech company said it used stem cell technology to clone two puppies born this week.

Seoul-based RNL Bio said the puppies were cloned using fat tissue from a female beagle, the Associated Press reported. The company plans to commercialize the technology so that clients can store their dogs' stem cells to treat their pets' health problems or clone them after they die.

The technology may also benefit people, said RNL Bio chief Ra Jeong-chan. Human disease-related genes can be put into dogs' stem cells in order to create clones that can be used to study human diseases such as diabetes and arthritis.

The stem cell cloning of the dogs was done in cooperation with a team of Seoul National University scientists, led by Lee Byeong-chun. Lee was a key aide to disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who reported stem cell research breakthroughs that were later shown to be false.

While this may be the first time stem cells have been used to clone dogs, other researchers have used stem cells to clone mice, pigs and deer, the AP reported.


Nicotine May Boost Risk of Mood Disorders: Study

Nicotine exposure during the teen years may increase the risk of mood disorders such as depression, suggests a Florida State University study.

For 15 days, researchers gave adolescent rats twice daily injections of either nicotine or saline. In subsequent experiments, the rats were put in stressful and pleasurable situations, United Press International reported.

The rats exposed to nicotine showed depression- and anxiety-related behaviors, such as repetitive grooming, decreased consumption of rewards, and freezing in stressful situations, instead of trying to escape. These symptoms eased when the rats were given more nicotine or antidepressant drugs.

Adult rats exposed to the same levels of nicotine didn't show the same depression- and anxiety-like traits, UPI reported.

The findings, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, may also be true for humans, the researchers said.


Multiple-Virus Flu Vaccine Developed in Japan

A flu vaccine that works against multiple viruses has been developed by Japanese researchers, who said the vaccine could help prevent a deadly bird flu pandemic caused by mutating viruses.

The vaccine is based on common, rarely changing types of protein inside flu viruses. Current flu vaccines utilize a protein on the surface of viruses, but the protein commonly mutates and renders vaccines ineffective, Agence France Presse reported.

Tests on mice implanted with human genes showed that the new vaccine is effective even when flu viruses mutate, said Tetsuya Uchida, a researcher at Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Uchida told AFP the research team needs to confirm the vaccine's safety with further experiments on mice and possibly large animals before they can test it on humans. That means it could be several years before the vaccine is available for use.

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