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Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page A16

Stem Cells From Mice Hair Follicles May Prove Useful

Stem cells found in hair follicles of mice can develop into nerve cells and might be useful in medical treatment, researchers said yesterday.

They found that stem cells taken from the follicles of mouse whiskers matured into neurons and other neural cells known as astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, as well as into skin cells, smooth muscle cells, and pigment-producing cells called melanocytes.

The finding, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers another potential source of master cells, which scientists hope may provide new tissue and organs for transplants.

Robert Hoffman at AntiCancer Inc. in San Diego and colleagues at the University of California at San Diego and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said it may someday be possible to take a person's own stem cells from hair follicles and grow a tissue transplant.

Study Questions Ads Used by Top Hospitals

Many of the nation's top-ranked medical centers employ some of the same advertising techniques doctors often criticize drug companies for -- concealing risks and playing on fear, vanity and other emotions to attract patients, a study found.

The newspaper ads by 17 top-rated university medical centers highlight the conflict between serving public health and making money, the researchers wrote in yesterday's Archives of Internal Medicine.

Some ads, especially those touting specific services, might create a sense of need in otherwise healthy people and "seem to put the financial interests of the academic medical center ahead of the best interests of the patients," they said.

The centers were all on U.S. News & World Report's 2002 listing of the nation's best hospitals.

The study's lead author is Robin Larson, a researcher at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt.

American Hospital Association spokesman Rick Wade said that advertising is a necessity for hospitals, and that appealing to emotion is inherent in advertising.

Acupuncture Technique Lowers Rats' Blood Pressure

A specialized acupuncture treatment that uses low levels of electrical stimulation can lower blood pressure dramatically in rats, researchers reported yesterday.

"The Western world is waiting for a clear scientific basis for using acupuncture, and we hope that this research ultimately will lead to the integration of ancient healing practices into modern medical treatment," said John Longhurst of the University of California at Irvine, who led the study.

Writing in the March issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology, he and colleagues said they inserted acupuncture needles at specific points on the front legs of rats with artificially elevated blood pressure.

Acupuncture alone had no effect, but adding electrical stimulation at low frequencies lowered the blood pressure, although it did not bring it to normal, the team found. The effects lasted as long as two hours. They are now testing the technique on people.

-- From News Services

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