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WebMD's 10 Top Health Stories of 2007

Recalled Toys, Unsafe Food, Bad Bugs, New Stem Cell Source Top List

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A CDC study recently showed no consistent link between thimerosal and a wide range of neurological symptoms. But the study did not look into autism, which is the topic of another CDC study. Release of that study is expected to be a top story in 2008.

No. 7: Kids' Cough Medicine: Out Cold?

2007 was barely under way when the CDC warned parents that cough and cold medicines can be deadly for kids younger than 2 years old. The culprit: too-high doses of a common decongestant called pseudoephedrine.

In August, the FDA warned parents not to give over-the-counter cough or cold medicines to children younger than 2 unless told to do so by their health care provider.

Fast-forward to the October meeting of an expert FDA advisory panel. The panel voted 13-9 that over-the-counter cough medicines not be used in children younger than 6. By a 15-7 vote, the panel voted to permit the drugs' use in kids aged 6 to 12.

What does this mean to parents? Doctors deeply involved in the issue offered answers to hard questions suggested by WebMD readers.

Will the FDA ban the drugs for young kids? That's not clear. While the FDA usually follows its panels' advice, it does not always do so. And makers of the medications strongly opposed an outright ban.

Some parents aren't waiting for the FDA to act. A December 2007 poll showed that a third of U.S. parents already have stopped giving cough and cold medicines to kids younger than 6.

On the other hand, some parents don't care what the FDA says. Half of parents in the poll say they'll keep giving the drugs to their young children.

No. 8: Stem Cell Breakthrough

Embryonic stem cells are the ultimate transformer, capable of becoming literally any kind of cell the body needs. That's why so many researchers, patients, and patient advocates so eagerly support stem cell research.

The problem is that these cells come from embryos. Even when an embryo is created in the laboratory, with no chance of developing into a fetus, the idea of destroying it is morally repugnant to many people. U.S. law severely restricts research on embryonic stem cells.

That's been a major roadblock to research. But now there may be a way around it. Researchers working independently in Japan and in the U.S. now say they can reprogram human skin cells to become embryonic-like stem cells.

Having overcome this hurdle, researchers face others. The biggest hurdle is that this reprogramming requires infecting the cells with viruses that carry potentially cancer-causing genes. But researchers seem confident that they can leap these barriers, too.

Will the reprogrammed cells work as well as embryonic stem cells? That's not entirely a sure bet. But a new study shows what might be possible. In mice, researchers were able to use the reprogrammed cells to treat sickle cell anemia.

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