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Embryonic stem cells turned to vessels

Cells extracted from a human embryo have been nurtured into tiny blood vessels, a key step toward someday using embryonic stem cells to aid ailing hearts or fix blocked arteries, researchers say.

For the first time, researchers have demonstrated that human embryonic stem cells can be coaxed to spontaneously form blood vessels and organize themselves so they could nourish tissue in the body, said Robert Langer, leader of a lab team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Langer said that if the technique is refined, scientists may eventually be able to make in the laboratory blood vessels that could replace diseased arteries.

"There are thousands of operations a year now where doctors take vessels from one part of the body and transplant them to another," Langer said. Eventually, he said, such vessels might be made outside the body from embryonic stem cells.

"This shows that you can make endothelial cells from human embryonic stem cells," said Langer. Endothelial cells line veins, arteries and lymph tissue. They are key to the formation of vascular structures that carry blood throughout the body.

Epilepsy misdiagnosed among seniors

WASHINGTON _ The grandfather watches TV when suddenly he feels a funny rising sensation in his stomach, a dreamy sense of deja vu and a strange aftertaste. It lasts only about a minute.

Weird, he thinks, but shrugs it off, though he's tired and forgetful for the next few days.

Such subtle symptoms can be a classic sign of epilepsy in the elderly, confusing because it's not the stereotypical convulsive seizure.

Commonly considered a childhood disorder, in fact epilepsy strikes the elderly at higher rates than other ages. And experts say misdiagnosis and faulty treatment _ because too few doctors know seniors need special doses and are prone to bad side effects _ is a serious problem poised to worsen as the population ages.

Until recently, "the elderly were neglected," says Dr. A. James Rowan of the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who is co-directing one of the first major studies comparing epilepsy therapies for seniors. "They were treated the same as any other adult when their problems are quite different."

Epilepsy is essentially periodic electrical storms in the brain. When brain circuits misfire fast enough, a seizure results.

Epilepsy can strike at any age, particularly after injury to brain cells, such as head trauma, meningitis, even a mini-stroke or years of high blood pressure. Those risks increase with age.

FDA warns herb kava may

be linked to liver injury

WASHINGTON _ The popular herbal supplement kava may be linked to serious liver injury, the Food and Drug Administration warned Monday, urging consumers to see a doctor at the first sign of symptoms.

People who already have liver problems, or who take medications that can harm the liver, should ask a doctor before taking kava, the FDA said.

The FDA began investigating the blockbuster-selling herb after a previously healthy 45-year-old woman used kava and suddenly required a liver transplant. European health officials report 25 similar cases of liver toxicity, including four transplants.

The FDA hasn't concluded if kava, or its use together with some other supplement or medication, is truly to blame.