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Health briefs

Researchers report clue to Alzheimer's

After decades of going after a sticky substance called beta amyloid that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, scientists in Manhattan have discovered a new protein that might play a critical role in the disease process and offer possible treatments.

Dr. Scott Small and his colleagues at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons used the latest laboratory tool - genetic microarray technology - to identify the pathway of a protein called retromer. This pathway works like a bus that is supposed to shuttle molecules from one part of the cell membrane to the next. And one of the passengers on the bus is beta amyloid, the substance that is the target for a number of developing treatments.

When the shuttle doesn't work, other vital brain proteins don't get where they are supposed to go. They've done several different types of studies to replicate the finding.

"The bus is broken" in Alzheimer's patients, said Small, who presented his findings this weekend at a meeting on neurodegeneration at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.

New Jersey

Contraceptives now in chewable form

TRENTON - Looking for a contraceptive that's convenient - and tasty? The first chewable birth-control method, a tiny, spearmint-flavored tablet that also can be swallowed without chewing, has hit pharmacy shelves.

Femcon Fe, which contains the same hormones as standard oral contraceptives, offers a new option for women who don't like swallowing pills or are on the go and want to take their birth control with them, according to Carl Reichel, president of drugmaker Warner Chilcott of Rockaway.

"This isn't a great leap forward, but I think this is a helpful step," said Dr. Lee Shulman, chairman of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, and an obstetrician-gynecologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a professor at Northwestern University.

Minnesota

Scale use linked to unhealthy dieting

ST. PAUL - Teen girls who frequently weighed themselves were more likely than others to resort to unhealthy dieting measures, and some ended up gaining close to twice as much weight, a study of Minnesota students found.

The most scale-obsessed girls in the University of Minnesota research were more likely to skip meals, use diet pills or laxatives, smoke, and binge and vomit to lose weight.

"The act of getting on the scale, weighing yourself every day, can lead to an unhealthy weight preoccupation," said lead researcher Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, a professor at the university's School of Public Health. "And teenage girls who are concerned about their weight are at great risk for unhealthy weight control behaviors."

Georgia

Magnets cited in 19 surgeries, 1 death

ATLANTA - At least one U.S. child has died and 19 others have needed surgery since 2003 after swallowing magnets used in toys, the government reported Thursday.

Most of those cases were believed to involve tiny but strong "rare earth" magnets that can link together in children's digestive tracts, squeezing and even perforating the intestines, the researchers said.

The magnets, made from neodymium iron boron or other compounds, have become common in the U.S. toy market in the past five years because they have become cheaper to produce, said Jonathan Midgett, the study's lead author and an engineering psychologist with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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