Mom's Meth Use Affects Babies in the Womb

BABIES EXPOSED TO METH IN THE WOMB Research on babies' hair samples shows that they can be exposed to methamphetamine or "crystal meth" in the womb. Hair keeps a record of what drugs have gotten into the body, and babies start growing hair at about the 20th week of pregnancy. Out of more than 8,000 hair samples, scientists from the University of Toronto identified 11 mother and baby pairs that tested positive for methamphetamine. They found that the amount of methamphetamine in the mothers' and babies' hair matched, indicating that hair samples are a good indicator of how much of the drug the baby had been exposed to in the womb. Previous research suggests that babies who are exposed to methamphetamines before birth are at risk for reduced height and weight, and also reduced cognitive performance as they age. These findings were published this week in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

GENETIC RISKS FOR BREAST CANCER Women in families with a genetic history of breast cancer are at increased risk for the disease, even if they don't carry the known breast cancer genes, researchers in the United Kingdom find in a new study published in the Journal of Medical Genetics. In the study, doctors tested family members of 277 women who had one of the breast cancer genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. They found that the female relatives of women with the genes were at increased risk for breast cancer, even if the relatives didn't have the mutated genes themselves. Researchers estimate that relatives testing negative for the genes are still at three times greater risk for breast cancer before age 50 compared with women in the general population. These women may need increased screening, the authors conclude.

DON'T GO TO BED LONELY Older adults who go to bed feeling lonely, sad or overwhelmed have higher levels of stress hormones in the morning, Northwestern University researchers find in a study of 156 people born between 1935 and 1952. In the study, participants documented their mood in the evening with a diary and collected saliva samples three times a day to establish stress hormone levels. While stress hormone levels are generally highest in the morning, researchers found they were especially high in people who had gone to bed with negative feelings. These findings were published in the most recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

NEW BIRD FLU STRAIN REPORTED Researchers in China have found a previously unknown strain of H5N1 avian flu that has spread through Southeast Asia and caused human infections. Scientists looked for the new strain by monitoring H5N1 influenza in chickens, ducks and geese at the markets. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, authors say that the new strain emerged last year and became the dominant form of H5N1 in China this year. The strain may have begun a third wave of outbreaks and could spread through the rest of Asia and to Europe. This study documents the fact that the virus is constantly changing, and so current bird flu vaccines made from old viruses in 2003 and 2004 may offer only limited protection against newer strains. Researchers say it is important to keep monitoring the bird populations for changes in the virus.

STAT is a brief look at the latest medical research and is compiled by Joanna Schaffhausen, who holds a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience. She works in the ABC News Medical Unit, evaluating medical studies, abstracts and news releases.