Health Highlights: Dec. 21, 2007

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

Do Stem Cells Play a Prime Role in Cancer?

Cancerous stem cells are the focus of a preliminary study that will be launched within the next few months by scientists at three U.S. medical centers: the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Some experts believe that cancerous stem cells play a major role in maintaining and propagating malignant tumors, while others disagree, The New York Times reported.

    • Do Stem Cells Play a Prime Role in Cancer?
    • Wii Sports Games Do Little to Stop Weight Gain: Study
    • Moving Child From Orphanage to Foster Home Boosts IQ
    • Accidental CO Poisoning Kills More Than 400 Americans a Year
    • African Nations Facing Major Meningitis Outbreak: Red Cross

The cancerous stem cell hypothesis is closer to religion than science and proponents are so attached to the idea that they dismiss or ignore evidence against it, says Dr. Scott E. Kern, a leading pancreatic cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

But others say that developing new drugs that target cancerous stem cells may provide a treatment breakthrough.

"Within the next year, we will see medical centers targeting stem cells in almost every cancer," Dr. Max S. Wicha, director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, told the Times. "We are so excited about his. It has become a major thrust of our cancer center."

The U.S. National Cancer Institute will provide $5.4 million in funding for cancer stem cell studies.

"If this is real, it could have almost immediate impact," Dr. R. Allan Mufson, chief of the institute's Cancer Immunology and Hematology Branch, told the Times.


Wii Sports Games Do Little to Prevent Weight Gain: Study

There's no evidence that Nintendo's Wii sports games can help prevent weight gain in children, according to researchers at Liverpool John Moores University in England.

Using a wireless controller, Wii users move their bodies while playing games such as bowling, boxing and tennis. While many people believe this helps burn calories, this study found only a minimal effect, Agence France-Presse reported.

The researchers monitored energy expenditure in six boys and five girls, ages 13 to 15, while they played the Wii games and conventional, sedentary video games. The study found that the children used 51 percent more energy while playing the Wii sports games compared to the sedentary games.

However, the children burned only 60 calories per hour (about one-quarter of a Mars bar) while playing the Wii sports games, AFP reported.

"In a typical week of computer play for these participants, active gaming rather than passive gaming would increase total energy expenditure by less than two percent," the study authors wrote in the British Medical Journal.


Moving Child From Orphanage to Foster Home Boosts IQ

A study of Romanian children found dramatic improvements in IQ once youngsters were removed from orphanages and placed in foster care instead.

The study, led by Dr. Charles Nelson III of Harvard Medical School, involved 136 young children from Bucharest's six orphanages. The children were randomly assigned to continue living in the orphanage or be moved into the new state-run foster care system.

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