Adult Human Stem Cells

Used to Make Brain Cells

Swedish researchers have used adult human stem cells to generate functioning brain cells. Although their research is still at preliminary stages, it has the potential to open doors to effective treatments for neurological damages and diseases and dodge the moral and ethical issues surrounding research using embryonic stem cells.

Ulf Westerlund, a researcher at Stockholm Karolinska Institute, reported in a five-chapter thesis that scientists obtained stem cells harmlessly from the brains of living patients and were able to grow these cells into working neurons, or brain cells, in rats' spinal cords.

There are few studies involving stem cells drawn from the brains of adult humans. "We're excited about the early findings," said Leif Havton, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of California at Los Angeles who has been collaborating with Westerlund's group.

The human spinal cord and brain are made up of cells called neurons. If damaged, these cells typically do not regenerate and can lead to syndromes, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease or paralysis resulting from spinal cord or brain injuries.

"This [research] could lead to finding a repair strategy for spinal cord injuries," or treatments in which the damaged cells can be replaced by adult stem cells that will be obtained from other living adults or the patient, Havton said. "These are very interesting cells, but we need more time to study them and compare them to other cells," he said, stressing that their work has yet to be peer-reviewed or published.

Cognitive Therapy Lowers

Repeat Suicide Attempts

Short-term therapy that focused on understanding attempted suicides sharply reduced the number of repeat attempts, according to a study in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

University of Pennsylvania researchers studied 120 adults who had attempted suicide -- a group known to be at high risk for repeating. Those who received the 10-week cognitive treatment were half as likely to try again -- as many as 18 months after the treatment -- compared with those who received the usual referrals to community mental health programs. Cognitive treatment is built on the idea that thoughts influence emotions and behavior, and that the way one thinks about a situation can influence the way one reacts to it.

"We hope our study conveys that prevention of suicide is possible," said Gregory K. Brown, research associate professor in psychiatry and the study's lead author. But he said the results of the study may not apply to other populations. The majority of patients studied were African American women recruited from Philadelphia hospitals.

Approximately 25,000 adults commit suicide each year, making it the fourth-highest cause of death among 18- to 65-year-olds, and more than 100,000 others attempt it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who attempt suicide are up to 40 times more likely than others to try it again.

Some Diabetics Have Higher

Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Middle-aged and older people who are newly diagnosed with diabetes also appear to have a higher risk of deadly pancreatic cancer, according to a Mayo Clinic Cancer Center study.

For three years after their diagnosis with diabetes, patients have eight times the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, the study found. Diabetes itself may be an early symptom of the hard-to-treat cancer, the researchers said in the journal Gastroenterology.

"Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect until it is in an advanced stage, leaving little hope for patients," said Suresh Chari, who led the study. "This study is important, because it leads us closer to finding indicators that will allow earlier detection and treatment."

Pancreatic cancer kills virtually all of the 32,000 people in the United States who are diagnosed with the disease each year, making it the fourth-leading cause of cancer death.

-- Compiled from reports by staff writer Naseem Swoti and news services