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By ALEXANDRA THOMPSON, UPI Science News   |   Sept. 3, 2003 at 9:00 AM   |   Comments

TROUBLED BIRTHS FOR AFRICAN-AMERICAN TEENS

New research finds babies born to African-American teens are twice as likely to have low birth weight as those born to white teens. They also are 1.5 times more likely to be premature compared to babies born to whites, putting them at higher risk for health problems and developmental problems later in life. Scientists already have linked lower birth rates to teens, as well as to African-American and Hispanic populations, but until now the outcomes of African-American teenage births had not been well studied. "This study shows the need for effective intervention programs to reduce the risk factors contributing to low birth weight and other poor pregnancy outcomes in this population," said principal investigator Kimberly O'Brien, associate professor with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers identified several characteristics and risk factors related to adverse birth outcomes in a group of urban black teens, including low pre-pregnancy body mass index, inadequate weight gain during pregnancy, inadequate utilization of prenatal care, the presence of sexually transmitted diseases, and a history of cigarette smoking.


ECSTASY LINKED TO INFANT BRAIN DAMAGE

A study in rats suggests human mothers using Ecstasy in the first trimester could put their unborn child at risk for brain damage and behavioral disorders. Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said while previous studies linked use of the popular party drug to fetal neurological changes and infant learning impairments, those studies focused on the third trimester. "The limited data that exist suggest that women who use Ecstasy stop taking it when they learn they are pregnant," she said. "Thus, this study sought to investigate a more true-to-life situation by looking at neurobiological changes caused by Ecstasy early in pregnancy." Researchers at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago gave rats Ecstasy during the first trimester. The most striking finding was that 21-day-old Ecstasy-exposed rats had a 502 percent increase in the number of dopamine neuron fibers in the frontal cortex -- which is important in planning, impulse control, and attention. Rats exposed to ecstasy in the womb also were less adaptable and adventurous, suggesting attention deficits or hyper-anxiety in their human infant counterparts.


STEM CELLS WORK IN LUNGS

University of Vermont researchers have successfully regenerated damaged human lung tissue using circulating stem cells. Lead author Dr. Benjamin Suratt, of the school's College of Medicine, says the findings indicate circulating stem cells are going into organ tissue and repairing damage. "Many of the body's tissues once thought to be only locally regenerative may, in fact, be actively replaced by circulating stem cells after hematopoietic or blood-forming stem cell transplantation," he said. Supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health and a National Center for Research Resources grant, Suratt and colleagues currently are looking further into what types of cells have the capacity to differentiate and generate a different type of cell, and whether these cells might be used to treat cystic fibrosis.


HIGH COST VACCINE TAKES TOLL

The high cost of Prevnar, an effective pediatric vaccine that protects against bacterial meningitis and other diseases, prevents its wide-spread use. The vaccine, which introduces immunity to Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, is $260 and a study at the University of Michigan finds that affects whether 1 of 3 doctors decides to use it -- particularly with under-insured patients. "Vaccines are some of the most cost-effective tools that we have for protecting children's health," said lead author Dr. Matthew M. Davis. "But the cost of Prevnar is eroding physicians' efforts to provide it in their clinics. And in general, vaccines are becoming more like other medications on the market -- ones that are expensive but have profound benefits." The findings underscore problems with the current patchwork system of vaccine coverage in the United States, the study says, and some doctors steer uninsured patients to public vaccination clinics.

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(EDITORS: For more information on BIRTH WEIGHT, contact Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham at (410) 955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu. For ECSTASY, contact Chris Martin at cmartin@rsh.net or (312) 942-7820. For STEM CELLS, contact Jennifer Nachbur at jennifer.nachbur@uvm.edu or (802) 656-7875. For VACCINE, contact Kara Gavin at kegavin@umich.edu or (734) 764-2220)

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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