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Archive for Thursday, October 23, 2003

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October 23, 2003

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Boston

Scientists identify puberty gene

Scientists have discovered a gene needed to start puberty, zeroing in on it by studying families in which cousins had married each other.

The find could lead to more effective treatments for youngsters who fail to mature sexually, and could shed light on the causes of other reproductive disorders, researchers said.

Three sets of researchers in the United States, France and England identified the gene simultaneously.

The gene is not on the X or Y sex chromosome. Instead, it is on one of the ordinary paired sets of chromosomes, No. 19. That means one good copy is enough to start puberty. But two defective copies -- one from each parent -- can keep the body from maturing, a condition that usually can be treated with hormones.

Teams of researchers from Boston and from Cambridge, England, reported their findings in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Washington, D.C.

Democrats block effort on class action lawsuits

Senate Democrats on Wednesday derailed Republican-backed legislation designed to limit class action lawsuits and large damage awards against corporations, apparently killing the bill for this year.

The 59-39 vote to avoid a filibuster left the measure's supporters one vote shy of the 60 needed to advance the measure. The legislation's supporters needed only the Republican-controlled Senate's approval to enact the measure, with the GOP-controlled House and President Bush already on board.

The legislation says that if fewer than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state as the primary defendant, the case would go to federal court.

Moving the cases to federal court would curb frivolous lawsuits and keep trial lawyers from getting millions of dollars in fees while their clients get little compensation, GOP senators said.

Washington

Sandbags hold floodwaters at bay

The downpour is over, but the Skagit River was still more than 7 feet above flood stage Wednesday and likely won't drop until later in the week.

Determined sandbagging around Mount Vernon helped hold down damage, county officials said.

"It was like a carnival" Tuesday night as townspeople turned out to help erect sandbag walls along the rising river, said Leon Torrey, whose Sweetwater Bistro was sheltered by sandbags at the back door.

"There were thousands of people out here," he said, "some pitching in, others out to see the rising waters."

The 50,000-to-75,000 sandbags held down damage to a few damp basements, said John Pell, sector engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Chicago

Breast cancer vaccine shows promise in trial

Researchers hope that an experimental vaccine derived from tiny bits of tumor protein will prevent recurrences of breast cancer.

Though only preliminary, early results in 14 vaccinated survivors of advanced breast cancer suggest the researchers might be on the right path.

They have detected signs that the vaccine triggered an immune-system response in all 14 that might potentially fight recurring cancer cells, said co-researcher Dr. George Peoples Jr. of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Peoples presented study results Wednesday at an American College of Surgeons meeting in Chicago. He stressed that the experimental vaccine was not a cancer cure, but he said it might someday help prevent the disease in high-risk women.

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