Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. will announce this afternoon a partnership with leading Boston-area hospitals, medical schools, and universities -- in a novel attempt to address a major hurdle in medicine: the years-long gap between basic science advances and the testing of drugs in patients.
Under the unusual arrangement, the company will invest $100 million over five years and establish a research space in the heart of the Longwood Medical Area where Pfizer scientists will work in close proximity and team up with academic scientists. The new Center for Therapeutic Innovation, which will create about 50 new jobs, is part of a global Pfizer initiative to foster new kinds of collaboration with academia to accelerate drug development, a program that will be headquartered in Boston.FULL ENTRY
A senior neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center says many hospitals inappropriately use the antipsychotic Haldol "like water" in agitated elderly patients, putting them at risk for serious complications.
Dr. Louis Caplan, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School, said a recent government report that found pervasive use of antipsychotic medications in elderly nursing home patents underscores the "overuse" problem with this class of drugs.
Caplan said Haldol is typically given to agitated patients to calm them quickly, but he said older patients, especially, can become over-sedated and stiff, putting them at risk for pulmonary and urinary infections, because they have trouble moving and couging.
Ellen Zane, who helped build Massachusetts' largest physicians' network at Partners HealthCare, then joined a competitior, Tufts Medical Center, to pull it from the brink of flatlining, is stepping down as the hospital's chief executive to join her husband in a long-delayed retirement.
The tenacious 59-year-old Waltham native, known for her pre-dawn e-mails to colleagues, sent a "bittersweet" one this afternoon to Tufts' 5,000 employees, announcing her retirement and describing her seven-year tenure there as one of the "greatest experiences" of her career, which also included a stint as head of the Massachusetts Hospital Association.
"Her heel print is very deep on the Massachusetts health care landscape," said Lynn Nicholas, the state hospital association's chief executive. "She is not a 'yes' person and is willing to challenge the status quo."
Nicholas said Zane, who started her career as a speech pathologist, is an "extraordinary communicator" with keen political instincts, who has been extremely effective in explaining the industry's growing challenges and needs to lawmakers and policy makers.
Zane's departure comes as the health care industry faces a sea change as state and national leaders attempt to curb soaring health care costs by transforming the way health care providers are paid. Zane's exit also continues a changing of the guard at Boston's five major teaching hospitals -- four will have new chief executives since last year.
Her last day will be Sept. 30, but the Board of Trustees has asked Zane to stay on as a vice chairman of the board and a paid consultant to the medical center for a year to assist with the transition in leadership.
Zane, who receives a salary and benefits of about $1.2 million, declined to say what she will be paid as a consultant. She said she will not receive any deferred compensation or other payments from her tenure as chief executive.
The hospital's board said it will put together a search committee and hopes to find a successor by Sept. 30, but Zane said she will stay on as chief executive if a replacement is not on board by then.
When Tufts University President Larry Bacow and the Tufts Medical Center board first called Zane in 2003 and asked her to consider joining the hospital, she had been planning to scale back at Partners and spend more time with her husband, Peter, who had recently retired. But she said the Tufts team was persuasive, and the stakes too high -- the potential financial collapse of one of Boston's premier teaching hospitals and its affiliated medical school -- so she jumped in "with both feet and my whole heart."
Still, Zane confessed in an interview this week that she was daunted by the task, asking her husband, 'What if I fail?"
"He said," she recalled, " 'For you, failure isn't an option.' "
While widely credited with helping to turn Tufts Medical Center around -- when she joined in 2004, its losses were greater than $18 million -- Zane said she is most proud of the "terrific team" she assembled while in charge. By comparison, the hospital's profit last year was $6.9 million.
"I am really good at hiring smart people," Zane said. "The rest of what happened here couldn't have been done without that team."
The team's most significant challenge ahead, she said will be finding ways to stay competitive despite the deep financial cutbacks for hospitals from the state's 2006 health care law, with more pending in the national legislation.
"Massachusetts has paid for health care reform for its citizens by cutting rates to hospitals," Zane said. "The cuts are draconian."
Zane's strategy to combat the dwindling dollars has been to partner with several community hospitals, and to bolster relations among the hospital's neighbors in Boston's Chinatown, which helped expand the patient base.
"All of these initiatives ... have caused Tufts Medical Center to be the fastest growing academic medical center (in the number of discharges) in Massachusetts," Tom Hollister, chair of Tufts Medical Center Board of Trustees, wrote in an e-mail today to employees.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents nurses at the hospital, however, criticized Zane's administration earlier this week, saying her strategy to hold down costs has translated to deep cuts in the ranks of nurses, which has led to a "deterioration" in patient care.
Zane's plans for post-retirement hardly include time in a rocking chair. In addition to her consulting contract at Tufts, she said he has been invited to serve on the boards of several companies, will continue her busy public speaking schedule, and will likely write a book about, what she calls, her management "pearls" of advice, learned through the school of hard knocks.
A federal judge in Boston today ended the court's five-year oversight of dental care for thousands of low-income children in Massachusetts after the latest data showed significant improvement in services.
US District Court Justice Rya W. Zobel, who has presided over the issue since health advocates first sued the state in 2000, said in an interview that all sides worked diligently to reach a remarkable outcome.
"In the end, they found a very good solution under very difficult circumstances," Zobel said. "The court monitor was very imaginative and effective and, in the end, I think the Commonwealth, its taxpayers, and its children got a great benefit."
For fibromyalgia sufferers who disdain the sterile smell of gyms, a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine offers another option to deal with the constant pain and fatigue: the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that interrupts sleep and causes stiffness and other psychological and physical issues. Exercise, along with behavioral therapy, wellness education, and medication are typically part of the multi-pronged treatments for the syndrome, but nothing has yet proved to be a silver bullet in eliminating the pain.
Tai chi involves meditation, deep breathing, and smooth, slow movements to enhance relaxation.FULL ENTRY
The state's medical school is joining three Boston institutions in a national consortium dedicated to more quickly converting laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients.
University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester has won a five-year, $20 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health, the agency announced today. UMass will become part of a 60-member consortium that includes current members Boston University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and Tufts University School of Medicine.
The goal of the consortium, founded in 2006, is to speed the process of moving therapies from "bench to bedside," or from the research scientist's lab to the hospital patient's bed.
"This CTSA award catapults UMass Medical School into the upper ranks of research institutions, positioning us alongside institutions like Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the University of California at San Francisco,” Dr. John L. Sullivan, vice provost for research and professor of pediatrics and molecular genetics & microbiology at UMass, said in a statement. “The funds will allow us, through our Center for Clinical and Translational Science, to apply our remarkable knowledge base to clinical applications that have direct impact on human diseases, such as diabetes and cancer.”
Better to be fit and lean, but fit and fat comes close.
That’s what researchers at Tufts University discovered when they evaluated 564 freshmen on the Medford campus from 2000 through 2007. The scientists measured height and weight, collected blood, and conducted step tests to gauge how fit the students were.
A team led by Jennifer Sacheck of Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy found that 60 percent of the freshmen had more body fat than ideal. Overall, that translated into higher cholesterol levels among men and more fatty triglycerides and less good cholesterol among women.
But fitness appeared to reduce some of the negative effects of body fat. Women with higher body fat who did well on the step test had lower triglycerides and more "good" cholesterol, while their male counterparts had lower blood sugar levels than their less-fit peers.
Those findings can have very real health consequences: The lower the levels of cholesterol and blood sugar, the lower the risk of heart disease, strokes, and diabetes.
"If someone is overweight or obese and unfit, they are clearly so much worse off. Someone who is physically fit and has a low body mass index clearly has the best health effect, but in between there still is a benefit," Sacheck said in an interview about the research, which appears in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Here's a ranking of medical schools that doesn't place Harvard at the top. When schools were evaluated based on their "social mission," the University of Massachusetts scored in the top 20, Boston University in the bottom 20, and Tufts and Harvard in the middle of the pack. BU's dean was "shocked" by the conclusions published today, saying the criteria used by the researchers were too narrow.
Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan, professor of health policy and pediatrics at George Washington University, and his colleagues devised a scoring system that weighed how well the country's 141 medical schools produced graduates who practiced primary care, worked in areas with a federally designated shortage of health professionals, and belonged to underrepresented minority groups. Their sample comprised more than 60,000 physicians who received their MDs between 1999 and 2001, a group the researchers chose because the doctors would have completed their residencies and other postgraduate training before settling on a medical specialty. The data came from the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile and the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Association of American Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.
Across the country, public medical schools did better than private ones, largely because of their traditional focus on educating primary care doctors. The Northeast was at the bottom of the list and three historically black medical schools -- led by Morehouse College in Georgia -- were at the top. The higher a school's National Institutes of Health funding was, the lower its social mission score.
On the strength of high scores for primary care physicians and practice in underserved areas, Worcester-based UMass Medical School was ranked 17th. Harvard Medical School placed 62nd, Tufts University School of Medicine was 76th on the list, and Boston University School of Medicine was 131st.
Dr. Karen Antman, dean of BU's School of Medicine, took issue with the study authors' criteria.
"I think that they are absolutely right to pay attention to primary care, diversity, and and service to underserved populations, but I think they've got a very, very restrictive definition of social mission," she said. "Our mission is actually the Boston Medical Center mission, [which] is service to an underserved population. Medical students come here and in fact stay here for that mission. To be ranked in lowest 20 makes no sense. So we were shocked."
By Carolyn Y. Johnson
Wheeling around his laboratory in a white lab coat and snapping his latex gloves to the beat of M.I.A.’s rap song, “Paper Planes,” Jonathan Garlick is spreading the word about stem cell research.
Garlick, a professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, who normally works on tissue engineering projects and stem cells says he finds that scientific terminology lends itself to rap – and that rap is a good way of communicating science to the public.
“I speak to [students] about stem cells, tell them why the topic is so compelling…At the end I summarize everything with a rap,” said Garlick, whose rap nickname is Dr. Jonny Cool J. “It takes a memorable talk and makes it unforgettable.”
In the video, Garlick appears first as a mild-mannered, middle-aged scientist working at a white board, trying to teach a student about pluripotent cells using some rather technical language. Then, he begins to “break it down," taking a spin through the lab. “I try so hard to treat disease, my brain explodes with stem cell ideas…doing my best for humanity, innovatin’ stem cell biology. New policy could set me free,” he raps. Instead of bling, he wields pipettes and petri dishes.
Garlick says he began rapping in the early 1980s, and describes his style as old school hip-hop. His rap heroes include Grandmaster Flash, who inspired him to write a rap about the ups and downs of life as a dentist. At scientific conferences, he often takes notes on presentations and then performs on the final day. “I recapitulate the entire conference in rap and rhyme,” Garlick said.
When he's not rapping, Garlick works on using stem cells to fabricate and engineer tissues that mimic human skin. While he admits that putting scientific concepts to rhyme is fun, he also sees the serious side. It is important, he says, for people of all ages to engage with and understand science.
In his next project, Garlick is working on a rap called "I See Cells." Written to the beat of “Baby Got Back,” by Sir Mix-A-Lot, this rap is about pathology.
"It's about diagnoses of all kinds of interesting diseases," Garlick said. "It’s inspirational; it’s all about the learning. I have a deep reverence and respect for the content, but I think we all need to be able to think about learning in a new light."
Scientists at nine Massachusetts research centers were awarded a total of $55.5 million in federal stimulus grants today to pay for new buildings, labs, and renovations.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology received the most, $15 million, to underwrite renovation of a Cambridge building devoted to public health research focusing on neuroscience, aging, cancer, heart disease, and novel drug deliver models. Only two other institutions nationally received that much money.
The National Institutes of Health announced $1 billion in stimulus grants today. In a statement, Kathleen Sebelius, US secretary of Health and Human Services, said the money "will not only give our world-class scientists the modern facilities they need for impact research, it will also help create and maintain jobs."
Other top recipients in Massachusetts included Tufts University ($9.5 million), the University of Massachusetts at Amherst ($7.1 million), and Brigham and Women's Hospital ($6.1 million). The remaining recipients include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center ($1.8 million), Boston University ($5.9 million), the Forsyth Institute ($4.4 million), Schepens Eye Research Institute ($500,000), and the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester ($5.2 million).
About white coat notes
|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor
Elizabeth Comeau, Senior Health Producer