Health Highlights: June 19, 2008

Tests on rats suggest that bisphenol A may be associated with brain and behavior changes, early puberty and possible precancerous changes in the prostate and breast, the wire service said.

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Large Increase in Suicides By Elderly Japanese

The number of Japanese over age 60 who committed suicide increased by almost 9 percent in 2007. The 12,107 suicides among people 60 and older accounted for nearly 40 percent of all cases in the country, according to the National Police Agency.

Elderly people in Japan are increasingly plagued with worries about money and rising health care costs. Changes in the traditional family structure mean that many older adults are worried that no family members will be able to care for them. There's also concern among the elderly that the state will not be able to support them, BBC News reported.

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Nationwide in 2007, the overall suicide rate rose 2.9 percent to 33,093. The main reasons for suicide were depression, illness and debt, according to the National Police Agency.

Japanese officials have introduced a number of measures to try to reduce the suicide rate, including workplace counseling and blocking Web sites that offer suicide tips, BBC News reported.

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Rating System Being Introduced for U.S. Nursing Homes

A five-star rating system for U.S. nursing homes will be in place by the end of the year, the federal government announced Wednesday. The ratings, to be posted on the Internet, will provide consumers with an additional resource when selecting a nursing home.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to seek input from consumers and the nursing home industry to determine the criteria for the rating system, the Associated Press reported.

"The fact a home has a lower rating will likely put them on the path to improvement," said Kerry Weems, the agency's acting administrator. "I don't think we're going to see many people who are very anxious to put a loved one in a one-star home."

Also on Wednesday, federal officials said new regulations will require all nursing homes to have sprinkler systems by 2013, the AP reported. After that time, homes without sprinkler systems will not be allowed to care for Medicare clients.

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Endangered Dogs Cloned By Disgraced Stem Cell Scientist

Seventeen clones of an endangered dog breed have been created by a South Korean team led by disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk. The Tibetan mastiff dogs were born in April, according to the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which refused to reveal the cloning success rate of the project, the Associated Press reported.

The cloning was done at the request of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Tibetan mastiff dogs are popular in China.

According to the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, all 17 dogs were cloned from two Tibetan mastiffs -- a female and a male - through six surrogate dogs. However, an official with another institute that did blind DNA tests for the foundation said the samples it tested were provided by Hwang's team, meaning it was unclear if the samples came from the original dogs, the cloned dogs, or a combination of both, the AP reported.

In 2005, Hwang and colleagues created the first known dog clone. But Hwang's reputation was later tarnished when it was revealed that he faked what had been hailed as breakthrough research involving embryonic stem cells.

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