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Health & Parenting

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WebMD's 10 Top Health Stories of 2007

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

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.

No. 9: Allī : Weight-Loss Friend or Foe?

It came over the counter -- the latest answer, in pill form, to America's obesity epidemic.

In case you haven't been to a drugstore since last spring, we're talking about Allī -- with a macron over the "i" so you'll pronounce it like the trusty two-syllable word "ally" (rhymes with "pal eye").

And Allī does want to be your pal, not your parent. Unlike many weight loss drugs, Allī promises results only to those ready to work for them. Whatever weight you're able to lose with the diet and exercise program that comes with the drug, Allī promises you "can" lose up to 50% more weight if you take -- and keep taking -- the pills.

"You don't just try Allī -- you commit to it," the Allī web site says. "If you have the will, we have the power."

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