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Recession puts babies on hold

Fear of job loss has forced many couples in Europe and the United States to abandon plans to have babies.

The uncertain economic climate since the crash in 2008 brought to an end steady increases in birth rates that were seen in almost all European countries since around 2000, according to a report on birth rates in rich countries.

Many factors influence birth rates, "but a main one is economic uncertainty," says Vegard Skirbekk of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, one of the authors of the report (Population and Development Review).

Recovery may be slow. "Even if you have an economic boom, it could take time before there's enough confidence, secure enough jobs and high enough salaries for fertility rates to recover," he says.

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Chemo and fertility

Many women undergoing chemotherapy have their ovaries removed and frozen so they can have children later. But this invasive practice might not be needed.

Elisabeth Larsen and colleagues at the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark measured fertility levels in 53 women 10 years after they had had chemotherapy or radiotherapy for childhood cancers. Although the group had slightly fewer eggs compared with volunteers who never had chemotherapy, the difference was not big enough to prevent them from conceiving, says Larsen.

"Ten years ago, we were worried that they would enter early menopause," she says. "Instead, the majority of them have had children."

In a separate study, Kirsten Tryde Schmidt, also at Copenhagen University Hospital, found that 35 out of 56 women who attempted to conceive after having one ovary removed and frozen before cancer therapy successfully gave birth, with 91 percent conceiving naturally.

Geraldine Hartshorne at Warwick Medical School in Coventry, U.K., says that knowing how easily young women conceive if their ovaries are left in place during chemotherapy is particularly important because there is a risk that frozen ovarian tissue may contain cancer cells.

"What is surprising is that even after exposure to chemotherapy the ovary usually seems to retain adequate oocyte (egg) production to support prompt achievement of pregnancy," she says.

The research was presented at the recent European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting in Stockholm, Sweden.

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Dental training robot

She blinks and flinches just like a real patient at the mercy of the dentist's drill. Roboticists at Japan's Showa University say their lifelike dental training robot is now ready to be let loose on her first students.

Showa Hanako 2 is a medical automaton capable of sneezing, head-shaking, coughing and gagging. She will even close her mouth, just as a real patient does when feeling that telltale jaw ache associated with the dentist reaching inside your mouth.

As she is fitted with voice recognition technology, the trainee dentist can even conduct a rudimentary conversation with the robot, which will store and analyze each student's performance and give feedback through a computer link.

Compiled from News wire sources

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