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Discoveries

TV habits, risk of pregnancy linked

HUBBLE HULLABALOO - NASA has delayed its mission to the aging Hubble Space Telescope for the second time, saying it needs to conduct tests on the replacement for a faulty component. The bus-sized Hubble, which studies objects in the galaxy, has been less than reliable of late, experiencing a month of problems before returning to service a week ago. The telescope is hugely popular with astronomers for its ability to capture images such as the cosmic landscape image (above), in which ''hills and valleys'' of gas and dust are displayed in intricate detail. Set amid a background glow are wispy tendrils of gas as well as dark trunks of dust that are light-years in height. This composite image was released last month. HUBBLE HULLABALOO - NASA has delayed its mission to the aging Hubble Space Telescope for the second time, saying it needs to conduct tests on the replacement for a faulty component. The bus-sized Hubble, which studies objects in the galaxy, has been less than reliable of late, experiencing a month of problems before returning to service a week ago. The telescope is hugely popular with astronomers for its ability to capture images such as the cosmic landscape image (above), in which ''hills and valleys'' of gas and dust are displayed in intricate detail. Set amid a background glow are wispy tendrils of gas as well as dark trunks of dust that are light-years in height. This composite image was released last month. (NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA)
November 3, 2008
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ADOLESCENTS
Despite recent successes in reducing teen pregnancy rates , the United States continues to have the highest numbers among all the industrialized countries. Nearly 20 percent of sexually active females between ages 15 and 19 in the United States go on to have unplanned pregnancies each year.

A new study, led by Anita Chandra, a behavioral scientist at RAND Health, a nonprofit research organization, looks at whether television watching habits contributed to the risk of teen pregnancy.

Researchers began in 2001 by surveying the TV viewing habits of adolescents between ages 12 and 17. Three years later, in 2004, researchers again surveyed the group to determine the number of pregnancies that resulted. They found that teens who had the greatest exposure to TV programming with high sexual content were twice as likely to have a teen pregnancy.

Chandra says that while TV can't be solely blamed for teen pregnancies, it may be an important factor and needs further study. "Nearly 80 percent of television programming today has sexual content," says Chandra, "and rarely do these shows address the consequences associated with sex." BOTTOM LINE: Teens who have a lot of exposure to TV programs with sexual content are at increased risk for a teen pregnancy. CAUTIONS: Other environmental factors, including exposure to media such as magazines and music, may have affected teen pregnancy risk. WHAT'S NEXT: Researchers plan to develop a set of literacy tools that help raise awareness of the risks surrounding TV programming. WHERE TO FIND IT: Pediatrics, November 2008.

SUSHRUT JANGI

MS

New drug may restore function
Multiple sclerosis is the most common cause of neurological illness among young adults, with nearly 200 Americans newly diagnosed each week. The disease is caused by the immune system inappropriately attacking parts of the brain and spinal cord, resulting in visual difficulties, dizziness, tingling sensations, and problems with movement. Over time, these attacks can lead to permanent disability.

Although many drugs have emerged that slow the rate of attacks, none has proven to prevent or reverse the effects of permanent damage. Now, new research from the University of Cambridge in London indicates a drug called alemtuzumab, originally used for leukemia, shows promise in dramatically reducing MS attacks and even restoring neurological function.

Researchers, including Dr. David Margolin, Senior Medical Director for Clinical Research at Genzyme, along with investigators at University of Cambridge, recruited 334 patients who received either the new drug, given as an infusion over three days each year, or the more conventional self-injected form of therapy.

The new drug was 74 percent more effective in reducing attacks. In some cases, patients also recovered neurological function thought to be permanently lost, with increases in overall brain volume. "Following therapy, the drug seems to foster a healthy environment that promotes neuronal growth," says co-author Dr. David Margolin.

Funding for the study came from Genzyme Corporation and Bayer Schering Pharma.

BOTTOM LINE: A new drug for multiple sclerosis, alemtuzumab, dramatically reduces the rate of attacks on brain tissue with significant reduction in disability and potential recovery of function. CAUTIONS: There are some serious immune side-effects associated with the treatment, including thyroid and bleeding disorders. WHAT'S NEXT: Researchers are evaluating the drug for safety and efficacy as a first line medication. WHERE TO FIND IT: The New England Journal of Medicine, October 23, 2008. SUSHRUT JANGI

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