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Health Highlights: Nov. 21, 2012

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Birth Control Pills Should Be Sold Over-the-Counter: Ob/Gyn Group

Birth control pills are safe and should be sold over-the-counter without the need for a doctor's exam or prescription, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said Tuesday.

The surprise announcement may help advance longtime efforts by proponents to make it easier for women to get birth control pills, the Associated Press reported.

Half of the pregnancies in the United States are unintended and that rate hasn't changed in 20 years. Easier access to birth control pills could help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, according to Dr. Kavita Nanda, who co-authored the opinion for the nation's largest group of obstetricians and gynecologists.

"It's unfortunate that in this country where we have all these contraceptive methods available, unintended pregnancy is still a major public health problem," Nanda, a scientist with the North Carolina nonprofit FHI 360 (formerly known as Family Health International), told the AP.

She noted that many women have difficulty affording a doctor's visit or getting an appointment in time when their supply of birth control pills is running low. This can lead to missed doses and unintended pregnancy.

If birth control pills were available without a prescription, women could pick them "up in the middle of the night if they run out," Nanda said.

But over-the-counter sales of birth control pills aren't likely to happen any time soon. A company would first have to get government approval, and it's not clear if any are thinking about doing so, the AP reported. In addition, it's not clear how much birth control pills would cost women if they were no longer covered by insurance.

Currently, anyone 17 or older doesn't need to see a doctor before buying the morning-after pill, an emergency contraceptive that can prevent pregnancy if taken shortly after unprotected sex.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a meeting to collect ideas about how to sell regular birth control pills without a prescription. And on Tuesday, the FDA said it would meet with any company interested in making a non-prescription birth control pill to discuss what studies would be needed for approval, the AP reported.


Dogs Regain Ability to Walk After Nose Cell Transplant: Study

Paralyzed dogs regained the use of their hind legs after they received injections of cells grown from the lining of their nose, U.K. researchers say.

They're cautiously optimistic that the approach could be used to restore movement in people with spinal cord injuries, BBC News reported.

The Cambridge University team took olfactory ensheathing cells from the lining of the noses of 23 pet dogs with spinal injuries that prevented them from using their hind legs. The cells were grown and expanded for several weeks in the laboratory and then injected into the dogs' spinal injury sites.

Many of the dogs showed significant improvement and were able to walk on a treadmill with the help of a harness. Eleven other paralyzed dogs that were injected with a neutral fluid showed no improvement, BBC News reported.

The study, published in the journal Brain, is the first to test this type of transplant in "real-life" injuries, rather than in laboratory animals.

"Our findings are extremely exciting because they show for the first time that transplanting these types of cell into a severely damaged spinal cord can bring about significant improvement," said study co-author Professor Robin Franklin, BBC News reported.

"We're confident that the technique might be able to restore at least a small amount of movement in human patients with spinal cord injuries but that's a long way from saying they might be able to regain all lost function," Franklin added.

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