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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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« April 15, 2007 - April 21, 2007 | Main | April 29, 2007 - May 05, 2007 »

April 27, 2007

Hallmark Health expands in northern suburbs

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

Hallmark Health System, the parent organization of Lawrence Memorial Hospital and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, continues its expansion spree, in part to better compete with Boston's teaching hospitals for suburban patients.

Hallmark, which opened a $4 million cancer center in Stoneham in February, plans to open the $4.6 million Hallmark Health Medical Center in Reading near Jordan's Furniture in July. It will be equipped to perform ultrasound, CT and bone density scans and digital mammography, and include medical offices for cardiologists, internists, a midwife, obstetricians/gynecologists and orthopedic specialists. Renovations also are underway for a $5 million Cardiac & Endovascular Center on the Melrose-Wakefield Hospital campus.

Like many community hospital networks, Hallmark is feeling the heat as Boston's academic medical centers expand more aggressively into the suburbs, and is trying to woo patients with comprehensive, high-tech services that are more convenient.

April 27, 2007

This week in Science

Two papers in Science, including one by Harvard researchers, were among four published yesterday in Science and Nature Genetics on genetic risk factors for developing diabetes. Alice Dembner describes them in today's Globe.

Reseachers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital are part of an international team reporting on a new mechanism involved in resistance to "smart" cancer drugs Iressa and Tarceva that target lung cancer cell growth.

Scientists have identified a new gene that helps regulate the body's clock and Giulio F. Draetta of Merck
Research Laboratories
in Boston and colleagues report on a molecular component of this clock involved in the
length of the circadian period.

A team that includes researchers from the CBR Institute for Biomedical Research and Harvard Medical School in Boston reveal how the influence of micro-RNAs, small RNA molecules that regulate gene expression, extends to the immune system.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:24 PM
April 27, 2007

On the blogs: high deductibles and hospitals

On WBUR's CommonHealth, Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, asks if high-deductible insurance coverage is worse than being uninsured for patients but better for hospitals seeking payment for services.

"Forcing modest-income families to buy insurance policies with huge deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance may help hospitals, but leave patients even worse off than when they were uninsured," he writes.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:17 AM
April 27, 2007

Med school the easy way

Maybe there is an easier way to get through medical school. This one's certainly cheaper.

med school in a box-150.bmpThird-year surgical resident Dr. Timothy Millington and his wife and Newsweek science writer Mary Carmichael, both of Boston, have condensed his six-figure Duke University medical training into a 96-page textbook being sold on the Internet for less than $20, a story in the Ottawa Citizen says.

When you buy Med School in a Box, a product of Mental Floss Magazine and Quirk Books, you also get "heroes of medicine trading cards, "extra credit" flashcards, a board exam trivia challenge and, of course, a rolled college diploma with real Latin words, the story says.

"There’s a certain amount of cynicism in medicine and we tried to satirize that rather than subscribe to it," Millington said in the story.

There is actual medical information in the book, according to the story.

"You’re better off taking medical advice from Med School in a Box than 'Grey’s Anatomy,' " he said.

Let's hope he meant the TV show.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:58 AM
April 27, 2007

Today's Globe: BU lab fire, therapist on trial, tainted hogs, Afghan infant mortality, nursing home oversight

Smoldering medical waste left in a sterilizing machine spawned the cloud of smoke that wafted through a laboratory last month on the campus of Boston University's medical school, city health officials and the university said yesterday.

wightman.bmpLucy Wightman (at right in photo), who drew stares in the 1970s and '80s as the celebrated stripper Princess Cheyenne in Boston's Combat Zone, held the gaze of 16 jurors yesterday as a state prosecutor accused her of fraudulently posing as a licensed psychologist and treating children whose parents had no idea she lacked the proper credentials.

Up to 6,000 hogs in California, Kansas, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah that ate pet food tainted with industrial chemicals cannot be safely sold to humans, federal authorities said yesterday, and should be euthanized at the farms where they have been held from the market.

Infant mortality has dropped by 18 percent in Afghanistan, in one of the first real signs of recovery for the country five years after the fall of the Taliban regime, health officials said yesterday.

The Department of Health and Human Services is failing in its duty to make sure that nursing homes correct their shortcomings and then continue to meet quality standards, a Globe editorial says.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:28 AM
April 26, 2007

Genetic understanding of diabetes deepens

By Alice Dembner, Globe Staff

Four separate scientific teams, including one led by Harvard researchers, are today reporting progress toward unraveling the genetic basis of the most common form of diabetes.

They have identified three new genetic risk factors and confirmed five others that were discovered over the last few years. An additional risk factor identified by one group has not yet been confirmed by others.

Together, the genetic defects account for about 5 percent of the risk of getting the illness, said David Altshuler, associate professor of genetics and medicine at Harvard Medical School and a leader of one of the four teams that included the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

"The picture that is emerging is of multiple genes, each with a modest effect" on diabetes, he said.

Overall, genetics account for about half the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, according to Altshuler. Environment and such behaviors as obesity and lack of exercise account for the remaining risk.

More than 20 million Americans now have type 2 diabetes and scientists estimate that about 54 million more are at risk of getting the illness. The disease harms the body's ability to control blood sugar and can lead to heart disease, blindness and early death.

The new research is expected to provide leads for development of new treatments and possibly ways to prevent diabetes.

"The pharmaceutical industry is absolutely salivating at all of these studies because they represent the best validation of a new drug target," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and a leader of another of the teams. But Collins cautioned that it could be a decade before patients see any new drugs from the research.

The work is unusual because three of the four scientific groups collaborated to confirm their results, making the findings extremely solid. In addition, the results identified some genetic areas that are not connected to any known mechanism behind diabetes.

The results were published today in the online editions of the journals Science and Nature Genetics.

They are all based on a new research technique called genome-wide association studies, in which scientists compare genetic samples from thousands of individuals with a specific illness to those without it. Differences between the two are examined as possible genetic causes of the disease.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 02:05 PM
April 26, 2007

Newton-Wellesley opens joint reconstruction center

Newton-Wellesley Hospital has opened a new center for joint reconstruction surgery in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital.

mccarthy black and white.bmpDr. Joseph C. McCarthy (left), who came to Newton-Wellesley from New England Baptist Hospital in September, was named director of the Jim and Ellen Kaplan Center for Joint Reconstruction Surgery when it opened Monday. A $1 million gift from the Kaplans will help fund three new operating rooms in the center.

McCarthy was also appointed vice chair for program development in orthopedic surgery at Mass. General.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 01:47 PM
April 26, 2007

Aronson, Rosenbaum honored for career achievements

Dr. Mark D. Aronson of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Dr. Jerrold F. Rosenbaum of Massachusetts General Hospital are being honored for liftime contributions to their fields.

Aronson has won the Society of General Internal Medicine's Career Achievement in Medical Education Award. He founded Beth Israel's hospital medicine program, incorporating it into the residency curriculum and into continuing education and graduate medical education at Harvard Medical School.

Rosenbaum, chief of psychiatry at MGH, has won the C. Charles Burlingame Award from the Institute of Living in Hartford. He specializes in treatment-resistant mood and anxiety disorders, focusing on drug treatments for those conditions.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 01:14 PM
April 26, 2007

Today's Globe: junk-food ban, prostate cancer test, Army outpatient boost

A prestigious scientific panel yesterday urged the government to ban soft drinks, sugary snacks and other junk food from schools, saying the typical fare available in vending machines, at snack bars, and at class birthday parties is contributing to the growing obesity of America's children.

A new prostate cancer test that relies on measuring levels of a blood protein called EPCA-2 accurately found cancer 94 percent of the time, a significant improvement over the current PSA test, according to a study released yesterday.

The Army said yesterday that it was hiring case managers and boosting oversight at military facilities, an announcement made after a new internal review concluded poor outpatient care extended beyond Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:31 AM
April 25, 2007

Science City Summit asks how to keep scientists here

If Boston and Cambridge have one of the densest clusters of biotech companies and academic labs in the country, a television studio at WGBH tonight was even more concentrated with about a hundred scientists, life science entrepreneurs and the people who want to keep them here.

The occasion was a live show hosted by Emily Rooney of Channel 2's "Greater Boston" and Lisa Mullins of the WGBH radio program "The World" for the Science City Summit, part of the 10-day Cambridge Science Festival.

They and their panelists asked why Boston and Cambridge have been such fertile ground for discoveries and businesses, and how the cities can keep their edge in innovation while the labor force is dwindling and housing prices are climbing out of reach.

The first answer was easy: Harvard, MIT and Boston's teaching hospitals got the credit for providing the brainpower, and the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which allowed institutions funded by the federal government to profit from their discoveries, was praised for unleashing biotech businesses.

But how to keep that edge and the people who provide it was a harder question to answer.

Before the show, Daniel Bessette, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute, and Alison Bowden, an aquatic ecologist at the Nature Conservancy, explained why they enjoy working here.

"There's something attractive about being in an environment with people who share your interests," Bowden said. "It's appealing to be part of it."

Construction never seems to end in Cambridge, with new buildings occupied by more scientists and engineers, Bessette said, recalling how quickly the Broad's new space filled up.

During the show, audience members and viewers e-mailing their questions repeatedly asked about creating jobs for people who don't have PhDs in science. Those openings come later, with manufacturing plants, not labs, said Oliver Peoples of biotech company Metabolix.

Alan West, a retired chemistry professor from Wisconsin who tutors students in Cambridge, said he thinks the city will lose its scientists if they don't believe their children will get a good education in public schools.

"It's not that they don't know science," he said. "It's that they don't know how to read and write."

At the end, after Rooney described how the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca decided to expand in Waltham rather than other parts of the country where costs might be lower, Bowden of the Nature Conservancy said she didn't expect the emphasis to be on biotech in the evening's program.

"I was surprised by how much science is viewed as an economic issue, and not as an intellectual or cultural issue," she said.


Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:15 PM
April 25, 2007

More than a quarter of doctors paid by industry, survey shows

Lunch in the doctor's office courtesy of pharmaceutical company reps and payments to physicians who speak at conferences aren't new, but the proportion of physicians reporting that they get money from industry and how that varies by specialty may be important for efforts to control these relationships, according to an article in tomorrow's New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers at the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School conducted a national survey of 3,167 physicians and found that 94 percent had some kind of relationship with the pharmaceutical or medical device industries. The respondents reported receiving drug samples (78 percent), gifts of food (83 percent) and sports or cultural event tickets (7 percent). More than a third (35 percent) received reimbursement for continuing medical education or meeting expenses.

More than a quarter (28 percent) got paid for consulting, serving on an advisory board or speakers bureau, or enrolling patients in clinical trials. This surprised the authors more than the 94 percent of doctors with some sort of tie, which could have been as little as a mug or pen, Dr. David Blumenthal said.

"I figured that direct payments went pretty much to people who were academic or opinion leaders, but it seemed to be far more common," he said in an interview. "The fact that more than a quarter of physicians are actually getting direct monetary payments tells me this remains an important phenomenon in American medicine and that the rules and regulations put into effect have not eliminated it."

In 2002, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry's trade group, put in place voluntary guidelines limiting certain gifts. Leading physician groups have also adopted similar rules.

Pediatricians were less likely than internists to receive payments or reimbursements. Anesthesiologists didn't get samples, reimbursements or payments as often as family practitioners, internists or cardiologists.

Cardiologists were more than twice as likely to be paid by industry as family practitioners were, perhaps because they are recognized as the ones who set standards for prescribing widely used heart drugs, the authors suggested.

Where the physician practiced also made a difference, they found. Group practice doctors were six times as likely to get samples, three times as likely to receive gifts, and almost four times as likely to receive payments for professional services such as consulting than doctors in hospitals, clinics or staff-model HMOS. Male doctors and those with fewer Medicaid or uninsured patients also were more likely to receive payments.

"Specialties, organizations and practice leaders with an interest in reporting and managing physician-industry relationships may need to develop guidelines and recommendations that are specific to the context of each specialty and setting," the authors wrote.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:40 PM
April 25, 2007

Arthritis drugs don't appear to work against Alzheimer's

By Alice Dembner, Globe Staff

Daily doses of the anti-inflammatory drugs Aleve or Celebrex did not prevent Alzheimer's in a national study published online today that included 424 people in the Greater Boston area.

But the government-funded study is far from definitive, because the drugs were given to people late in life and because the study was halted midway amid concerns that the drugs were linked to higher rates of heart disease.

The lack of a prevention benefit wasn't the only bad news in the study. There were hints that the pills "may even accelerate the appearance of the disease," said Dr. Robert C. Green of Boston University, who directed the Boston arm of the study.

The study, designed to last seven years, was stopped in its fourth year. Many of the participants had only taken the drugs for two years.

The results, published in the journal Neurology, were based on 2,128 people age 70 or older with a family history of Alzheimer's.

Researchers still hold out the possibility that other anti-inflammatory drugs, taken at an earlier age, might prevent dementia, but they urged individuals not to take these pills for that purpose.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 04:04 PM
April 25, 2007

Leading legislator supports lifting stem cell research rules

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

A leading legislative voice on health affairs today applauded public-health authorities for moving to scrap restrictions on stem-cell research -- and took some not-so-subtle swipes at the former administration of Mitt Romney.

State Representative Peter J. Koutoujian, chairman of the House Committee on Public Health, urged the state's Public Health Council to follow the recommendation of administrators to abandon stem-cell regulations adopted last August under the Romney administration. Governor Deval Patrick last month also decried the restrictions.

"It is wonderful to be working with a new administration with a commitment to public health," said Koutoujian, a Waltham Democrat. And he said that as the Public Health Council considers rolling back the restriction, it should engage in a discussion driven by scientific evidence "rather than one that would be pressured by an external political agenda."

Critics charged that politics figured prominently in the Romney administration's directive to limit stem-cell research.

Scientists worried that the regulations adopted last summer could subject them to criminal penalties if they engaged in certain kinds of laboratory work.

The Public Health Council, the panel that sets health policy in the state, also got a primer today on stem cell research from Dr. David T. Scadden, who specializes in the field at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

The council won't vote on the proposal to lift the regulations until at least this summer, after a series of public hearings.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 02:54 PM
April 25, 2007

On the blogs: malpractice trial prep

Faithful readers of Dr. Flea's blog know the Boston-area pediatrician is preparing to testify in a malpractice trial. He doesn't divulge details of the case, but in his latest post he does share lessons from his lawyers, complete with diagrams of the courtroom.

He tells us where the jury experts say he should look (first at the plaintiff's lawyer, then at the jury), how he should hold his hands (folded in his lap) and how he should speak (slowly, no more than three sentences at a time).

"Finally, Flea was given a DVD of his screen test and a script to practice the head turning and slow-question-answering-thing daily until trial date," he writes.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:30 AM
April 25, 2007

Today's Globe: stem cell ban, DMR chief, tainted food, vaccine gaps, VA care, Caritas lawyer

The state Department of Public Health will propose this morning the scrapping of restrictions on stem cell research that generated widespread concern among scientists who feared criminal penalties for conducting certain kinds of laboratory work.

A large contingent of House lawmakers, led by a top lieutenant to House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, is demanding that Governor Deval Patrick reinstate Gerald Morrissey, the commissioner of the Department of Mental Retardation.

Thousands of hogs in at least five states and poultry at a Missouri farm ate salvage pet food that had been laced with an industrial chemical, the Food and Drug Administration said yesterday, opening potential avenues for the contaminant to enter the human food supply.

While the new vaccine Prevnar has all but eradicated common causes of pneumonia, meningitis, and ear infections in children, new strains of bacteria not covered by the vaccine have emerged, US researchers said yesterday.

Injured soldiers and veterans grappling with Veterans Affairs backlogs and red tape will now fill out less paperwork, get more screenings for brain injury, and go through an improved disability claims system, a presidential task force said yesterday.

Kevin Phelan lasted only one week after being named chairman of Caritas Christi Health Care System. His sin: wanting to replace Wilson D. Rogers Jr., the hospital's controversial long time lawyer and his firm, columnist Steve Bailey writes.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:26 AM
April 24, 2007

Gene variants tied to progression of eye disease

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss in people over 60, but only some of the people who have the early or intermediate stages of the eye disease develop its more serious form, losing so much of their central vision that they can no longer drive or read.

Researchers led by Dr. Johanna M. Seddon of Tufts-New England Medical Center report in tomorrow’s Journal of the American Medical Association that people with variations in two common genes have a two- to four-times higher risk of developing advanced AMD. When combined with smoking and obesity, already known risk factors for advanced AMD, the gene variations pushed the risk of advanced AMD 19 times higher.

"We have shown how genetic variations do add to progression," Seddon said in an interview about the clinical trial, which followed 1,466 people for about six years. "Genetic factors, smoking and obesity are all independent factors related to progression of AMD and they seem to be additive."

But Seddon and her co-authors, who include Sarah George and Bernard Rosner of Harvard, say it's too early to call for genetic screening. Many, but not all, people with the gene variations progress to advanced AMD, but so do some people without the gene variation.

"The story is unfolding and we have a lot more to learn," Seddon said. "Genetic screening is premature at this point."

They do recommend that people exercise, eat a healthy diet and not smoke, based on previous work implicating the same risk factors for cardiovascular disease in AMD. Seddon showed in 1994 that diet is linked to AMD, and in 1996 that smoking is related.

Dr. Bruce P. Rosenthal of Lighthouse International, a non-profit organization established to help people with vision loss, said the study will be valuable as researchers continue to seek the root causes of the disease.

"While we have known for many years that smoking and being overweight contributes to the risk of macular degeneration, the findings of a genetic link for the progression of macular degeneration from early or intermediate stages to advanced disease are indeed significant and will have a major impact on future study and possible treatment of AMD," he said in a statement.

Rosenthal was not involved in the study, which was funded by the National Eye Institute and other grants.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:27 PM
April 24, 2007

Angina drug helps with symptoms but doesn't reduce risk of further heart problems, study says

The anti-angina medication ranolazine safely eased chest pain in a large clinical trial led by Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers, but the drug did not make a significant difference in whether people with coronary artery disease had another heart attack or died, according to a report in tomorrow's Journal of the American Medical Association.

"It does not prolong life, but it provides important relief of symptoms," lead author Dr. David A. Morrow said in an interview.

One of the purposes of the randomized trial, which followed 6,560 patients for almost a year, was to answer questions about whether ranolazine could lead to heart problems, based on differences in heart rhythm noted in the electrocardiograms of people who took it.

The researchers found no difference in the number of heart arrhythmias reported in people who took ranolazine compared to people who took placebos.

In an editorial, Dr. L. Kristin Newby and Dr. Eric D. Peterson of Duke University Medical Center said beta-blockers and nitrates should still be the first drugs to turn to because ranolazine does not improve a patient's prognosis.

"Ranolazine may offer a back-up option for intensification of antianginal treatment if these first-line agents fail," they wrote.

Ranolazine, approved for marketing by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006, is sold as Ranexa by CV Therapeutics, which funded the trial.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:42 PM
April 24, 2007

On the blogs: furry lab supplies, messy doctors, changing healthcare

On Lab Life at Nature Network Boston, virology Ph.D. student Anna Kushnir describes getting used to mice as pieces of lab equipment that try to bite her.

"Curiously enough, my comfort with mice and mouse work does not extend beyond the lab," she writes.

On Nurse at small, Betsy Baumgartner asks about dress codes for doctors in light of conversations about uniforms for nurses at the Boston teaching hospital where she works.

"Just tonight there was a resident up on the floor reading a chart with his iPod on, visibly in both ears, while wearing a running jacket over his scrubs," she writes. "How unprofessional is that!"

On WBUR's CommonHealth, Andrew Dreyfus, executive vice president for health care services for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, argues that other states can do what Massachusetts is doing under its new healthcare law.

"Each state can try to capture the significant amount of money spent to care for the uninsured and use it to support coverage for low wage workers and others who cannot afford health insurance," he writes. "We are demonstrating that health care reform -– despite its infamous complexity -- does not defy solutions."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:18 AM
April 24, 2007

On the trail of Parkinson’s, through yeast cells

lindquist150.bmpDr. Susan L. Lindquist (left), a member and former director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studies how molecular proteins change shape in cell division. The process, called protein folding, can — when it goes wrong — lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. She is also a founder of FoldRx Pharmaceuticals, a startup biotechnology company seeking to develop drugs to fight Parkinson’s.

In a Q and A in today's New York Times, she explains why she works in yeast and the path she followed to a life in science.

"I have to tell you that the sheer intellectual joy of finding out how life works is really cool," she said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:56 AM
April 24, 2007

Today's Globe: no abortion-breast cancer link, lethal injection, Somali hospital crisis, overweight workers

Abortions and miscarriages do not raise the risk of breast cancer, despite claims by some groups and some studies that suggest they do, researchers said yesterday.

Some prisoners executed by lethal injection in the United States may die of suffocation while they are still conscious and in pain, University of Miami researchers said yesterday in a study that concluded the drugs do not work as intended.

There are no empty hospital beds in Somalia's bloodstained capital, and barely enough bandages to patch up the wounded. Even bottles of medicine are running dry.

Overweight workers cost their bosses more in injury claims than their lean colleagues, suggests a study that found the heaviest employees had twice the rate of workers' compensation claims as their fit co-workers.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:27 AM
April 23, 2007

NEJM bans cardiologist for alleged embargo break

The New England Journal of Medicine has banned a prominent Columbia University cardiologist from its pages for five years for reportedly jumping the gun on the release of embargoed information to be published about a major heart study, the New York Times said in a story today.

Dr. Martin B. Leon is said to have commented on a study in the journal about how well coronary stents work compared with drugs in treating chest pain -- a study that he knew about because he had reviewed it for the journal. According to an account in www.theheart.org, the Times story says, Leon made the remarks at a conference of heart doctors on March 25, two days before the journal planned to disclose the information.

Though he didn't release the study's findings, Leon criticized the study's design.

The ban means he cannot review manuscripts by other researchers or have his own work appear in the journal, the story said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:04 PM
April 23, 2007

Possible bipolar disorder genes found, scientist reports

By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff

The data are so fresh and preliminary that researchers have not submitted a paper to a scientific journal yet. But Pamela Sklar, a geneticist at the Broad Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital, said yesterday that new genome scans have identified a crop of previously unsuspected genes that -– at first glance, at least -– may be connected to bipolar disorder.

Sklar spoke to the Boston Mental Health Research Symposium at the Boston Harbor Hotel, an event sponsored by NARSAD -– The Mental Health Research Association, a major funder of research on mental illness. The results are far from definitive, she said, and need to be replicated.

Sklar and others are taking advantage of rapid advances in gene-scanning technology to try to find the elusive genes for bipolar disorder –- which is believed to affect about 1 percent of the population -– as well as schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

April 23, 2007

Journal decries Supreme Court abortion ruling

By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff

The New England Journal of Medicine this afternoon published online two commentaries and an editorial critical of the US Supreme Court's decision last week upholding the federal ban on the abortion procedure that opponents call "partial-birth abortion."

"With this decision the Supreme Court has sanctioned the intrusion of legislation into the day-to-day practice of medicine," writes Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, the Boston-based journal's editor-in-chief. Physicians are open to oversight and discussion of delicate matters, he says, but those discussions should occur "among informed and knowledgable people who are acting in the best interests of a specific patient."

The political ruckus over Terri Schiavo in 2005 demonstrated "the disastrous consequences of congressional interference" in a medical case, Drazen writes. And now, "the judicial branch has regrettably joined the legislative branch in practicing medicine without a licence."

Dr. Michael F. Greene, director of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, writes in another piece that the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the ban "creates an intimidating environment" around second-trimester abortions. The result may be that doctors will feel too scared of prosecution to perform such abortions, even if the mother’s life is in jeopardy, he writes.

"Both health care providers and patients should be alarmed by the current degree of intrusion by our government into the practice of medicine," Greene writes.

April 23, 2007

Today's Globe: food ads for kids, terror replayed, psychiatric residents in Ethiopia, estrogen, ice, hospitals launch insurance drive

There is mounting scientific evidence of advertising's culpability in the nation's obesity epidemic -- and intensifying pledges to do something about it.

As if the images of injured students and mourning families and the gunman's own video were not disturbing enough during the day, for many people, the killings at Virginia Tech may continue to haunt them after they turn off the light.

Earlier this year, two psychiatric residents from Massachusetts General Hospital traveled to an Addis Ababa hospital as the first participants in a program set up by the hospitals to ease the burden on Ethiopia's doctors and to help teach the country's newest psychiatry residents -- all three of them.

Also in Health/Science, meet science historian Janet Browne, learn about the difference between estrogen patches and pills and ice melting at the North and South poles.

In Business, Massachusetts hospitals and community health centers are launching a drive to educate business owners and employees, particularly at smaller firms, about the significant responsibilities and costs they will face under the state's mandatory health insurance expansion.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:43 AM
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