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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Contributors
Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
Scott Allen
Alice Dembner
Carey Goldberg
Liz Kowalczyk
Stephen Smith
Colin Nickerson
Beth Daley
Karen Weintraub, Deputy Health and Science Editor, and Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor.
 Short White Coat blogger Ishani Ganguli
 Short White Coat blogger Jennifer Srygley
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« July 22, 2007 - July 28, 2007 | Main | August 05, 2007 - August 11, 2007 »

August 03, 2007

MGH research center to focus on heart arrhythmia and stroke

Massachusetts General Hospital has created The MGH Deane Institute for Integrative Research in Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke, the hospital said today.

Funded by a $10 million gift from MGH donors Disque and Carol Deane, the center will combine efforts of the cardiac arrhythmia service led by Dr. Jeremy Ruskin and the stroke service headed by Dr. Karen Furie to improve prevention and treatment of strokes related to atrial fibrillation.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:08 PM
August 03, 2007

Today's Globe: breast-feeding, toddler word spurts, doctors' license raid, Antigenics in Russia, Jean Arsenian

Nearly three-quarters of new mothers in the United States are breast-feeding their babies, but they are quitting too soon and resorting to infant formula too often, federal health officials said yesterday.

It is called the "word spurt," that magical time when a toddler's vocabulary explodes, seemingly overnight. New research offers a decidedly unmagical explanation: Babies start really jabbering after they have mastered enough easy words to tackle more of the harder ones.

valentin100.jpgFederal agents arrested dozens of doctors (including Pablo Valentin, left, a former executive director of Puerto Rico's medical licensing board) accused of obtaining medical licenses through fraud or bribery, carrying out sweeping raids across Puerto Rico yesterday.

Antigenics Inc., the developer of an immune-stimulating drug against kidney cancer, asked Russian regulators to approve its therapy, after a study failed to meet the statistical standard in the United States.

jean arsenian85.jpgJean MacDonald Arsenian (right), a psychologist whose 1940s research into children's attachments to their mothers influenced top researchers, traded the comforts of academia to treat drug addicts at Boston State Hospital in the 1960s. Dr. Arsenian, who scaled back her career to bring up two sons and support her husband's pioneering work in group therapy at Boston State, died July 23 at her seaside Rockport home. She was 93.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:52 AM
August 02, 2007

Partners executive to lead New York foundation

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

george thibault100.bmpDr. George E. Thibault (left), a leader at Partners HealthCare hospitals and Harvard Medical School, is leaving Boston to become president of a New York foundation devoted to improving health care.

Currently vice president of clinical affairs for Partners and professor of medicine and medical education at Harvard, he will become president of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation in January. The philanthropy supports programs to improve the education of health professionals and to increase the representation of minorities in medicine.

"It’s a very exciting opportunity to influence medical education nationally," Thibault said in an interview. "These are things that I’ve been interested in all my career, but now I can do them on a national scale."

Thibault, 63, had previously been chief medical officer at Brigham and Women's Hospital and chief of medical services at Brockton/West Roxbury VA Medical Center. Earlier in his career he was the first director of the Medical Practices Evaluation Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and director of the medical intensive care unit and coronary care unit at MGH.

"The integrity, wisdom, and experience that George has brought to this position have allowed him to play a very important 'honest broker' role in working with physicians across the Partners system," Partners president and CEO Dr. James J. Mongan said in a message to staff today. "During George's tenure as Vice President of Clinical Affairs, he has improved physician relationships and cooperation across Partners."

August 02, 2007

Mosquitoes with West Nile found in Medford

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

For the third time this summer, mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus have been found in Massachusetts, public health authorities announced today. The latest batch of disease-carrying insects was collected in Medford. Earlier, mosquitoes carrying the potentially lethal virus were discovered in Berkley and Marlborough.

Traditionally, West Nile begins circulating widely in mosquitoes in August, increasing the threat of infections in people. No human cases of West Nile have been reported this year in Massachusetts; last year, three people contracted the illness in Massachusetts; all survived.

So far this year, most of the 185 human cases of the disease in the United States have been reported west of the Mississippi River. California has the most, with 42. In the most severe cases, the infection can cause a high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one of every 150 people infected with West Nile develops severe symptoms.

To avoid contact with infected mosquitoes, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health recommends limiting outdoor activities from dusk to dawn, peak biting times for mosquitoes. Otherwise, wear as much clothing as comfortable and apply insect repellent such as DEET, permethrin, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

DEET should not be used on infants under the age of 2 months and should be used in concentrations of 30 percent or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years old.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 02:45 PM
August 02, 2007

Short White Coat: Physician, heal thy family

Short White Coat is a blog written by fourth-year Harvard medical student Jennifer Srygley. Her posts appear here as part of White Coat Notes. E-mail Jennifer at jen.shortwhitecoat@gmail.com.

srygley- -short white coat106.bmp

The phone calls started coming in even before I’d finished one semester of medical school. As the only person in my immediate or distant family to pursue a career in medicine, I often get calls from relatives with questions about particular drugs or treatments or ailments.

They don’t mean to bother me; if I were a chef, perhaps they would call to consult me about particular blends of spices. But with these phone calls, the stakes are much higher. The consequence for giving bad advice about paprika is a ruined meal, but the consequence for giving poor advice about blood pressure medication could be a heart attack.

My policy is to listen to my relatives’ questions and then to help them formulate questions that they can ask their treating physician about their care. In dire situations (an incident of multiple insect stings comes to mind), I urge them to visit an emergency room. But I cannot see and observe my family members over the phone and even if I could see them, I couldn’t render objective advice about their condition. For those reasons, I never give medical advice to loved ones over the phone.

I don’t think my family members are unique in having many unanswered questions about their health. That they are more willing to ask an untrained medical student personal questions about their health than to call their doctor is a symptom of the larger communication breakdown in healthcare.

Many patients, my family members included, find their doctors too unapproachable or too busy to bother with small questions. But how one should adjust his insulin dosing when sick, or whether two medications can be taken together, are not small questions to the patient who needs to ask them. One of my favorite mentors in medical school always taught me to ask the patient "Is there anything else on your mind?" at least twice before leaving the exam room. Even on my busiest clinic days, I try to ask the "anything else" question and to be prepared for the full diversity of answers that follow.

Posted by Jennifer Srygley at 12:54 PM
August 02, 2007

Korean cloning fraud covered an accidental stem cell first, Harvard paper says

Harvard scientists have answered a question that lingered after Korean scientists retracted their fraudulent claim
that they had cloned the first human embryonic stem cells: Where did the stem cell line they created come from?

george q. daley100.bmpKitai Kim, Dr. George Q. Daley (left) and their colleagues at Children's Hospital Boston and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute report today in Cell Stem Cell that the embryonic stem cells created by the Korean lab resulted not from somatic cell nuclear transfer, a technique in which a person's DNA is injected into a donor egg cell that has had its own DNA removed, but from parthenogenesis, the process of making an embryo from the donor egg alone.

Cells derived from parthenogenesis carry a distinct genetic fingerprint because they have a duplicate set of chromosomes from the egg. Most of the genetic sequences are identical, but some show differences from the donor egg. Investigators looking into the Korean claims last year said parthenogenesis could not explain these different patterns, the paper said.

Kim and Daley's group analyzed the cells further and found that the DNA differences were clustered at certain points, just as they are in experiments on parthenogenesis in mice.

The Koreans appear to have created the first human embryonic stem cells from a woman's egg alone, the paper says.

Daley's lab is studying parthenogenetic cells as another possible source of embryonic stem cells to treat disease.

A Children's Hospital interview with Daley is here.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 12:40 PM
August 02, 2007

Today's Globe: FDA and tobacco, children's health bill, TB and ME's staff

kennedy tobacco bill150.bmpA US Senate panel yesterday approved legislation sponsored by Senator Edward M. Kennedy (left) that, after decades of effort, would give the Food and Drug Administration broad regulatory authority over tobacco products, paving the way for additional restrictions on advertising, tougher warning labels, and reduced levels of addictive nicotine.

The House of Representatives passed legislation to triple the funding for a health insurance program for low-income children, defying a threatened veto by President Bush.

Four employees at the state medical examiner's office had positive reactions in tuberculosis skin tests, but none of them has an active case of the highly contagious disease, officials said yesterday.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:59 AM
August 01, 2007

Former Caritas chief gets warning letter over harassment complaints

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

Dr. Robert Haddad, the former Catholic hospital chief who was forced out amid complaints of sexual harassment, was warned about his behavior by the state licensing board today and told to get training about "maintaining appropriate interpersonal boundaries in the workplace."

The state Board of Registration in Medicine, which licenses Massachusetts doctors, issued a formal Letter of Warning to Haddad, but stopped short of disciplinary action. A warning letter is not part of a doctor's personal profile, which is posted on the board's public website, and is not reported to a national database that tracks discipline against physicians.

Haddad was forced to resign in May 2006 as head of Caritas Christi Health Care System, the hospital network owned by the Archdiocese of Boston, after four female employees complained that he sexually harassed them, including hugging them and kissing some on the mouth.

In its letter to Haddad, the board said, "We warn you not to conduct yourself in any way that would reflect poorly on the medical profession. ... We further warn you that you need to be aware of how your actions may be interpreted by the individuals that work for you and with you."

According to the letter, Haddad and his attorney, Ellen Janos of Boston, argued to board members that they could not discipline Haddad because his conduct occurred in his role as an administrator, not a doctor.

But the board, though it chose not to discipline Haddad, said it has the legal authority to do so. "Any conduct that you engage in that undermines the public's confidence in the medical profession could result in disciplinary action against your license," the board wrote.

Haddad, according to the letter, agreed to complete a training program.

A statement from Gina Addis, a spokeswoman for Janos's law firm, Mintz Levin, said that Haddad "has always taken seriously his responsibility of conducting himself in a professional and dignified manner, most especially during the difficult and challenging times in the successful turnaround of Caritas Christi."

Addis previously said that Haddad is not currently treating patients, and is "considering various options."

When asked why the board didn't discipline Haddad, spokesman Russell Aims said "the board had the advantage of hearing both sides of the story, and concluded based on the facts in front of it that this is the appropriate action."

The board has two female and five male members.

Mitchell Garabedian, attorney for a former Caritas employee who has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Haddad, said his client is unhappy that the board didn't discipline him.

"My client is disappointed that Dr. Haddad was given only a gentle slap on the wrist," Garabedian said. "My client doubts this gentle slap on the wrist will help Dr. Haddad understand that the head of a powerful institution should and can not objectify women."

The woman, Judith Ann LaBelle, was director of security and communications at Caritas Holy Family Hospital in Methuen until March 2006. She filed a complaint last year with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination that Haddad sexually harassed her. She also alleged age discrimination. Garabedian recently removed the complaint from the commission and filed a civil lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court. He said a mediation session is scheduled for today.

Haddad's departure from Caritas last year ended an embarrassing episode for Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley and the archdiocese. Beginning in February 2006, four women filed complaints about Haddad with the Caritas Christi human resources department. Senior vice president Helen Drinan investigated and recommended that Haddad be dismissed.

Initially, O'Malley decided to reprimand, rather than fire, Haddad. But after a Globe story about the decision led to more than 10 new accusations and a public outcry, the cardinal and the hospital's board of governor's forced Haddad to resign. None of these other women has been publicly identified.

August 01, 2007

Beth Israel Deaconess CEO and union lock horns

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

The head of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the union trying to organize workers at Boston teaching hospitals are trading accusations of unfair tactics.

Beth Israel CEO Paul Levy says that the Service Employees International Union uses a strategy that includes attacking the reputations of hospitals, its senior management and its trustees. In an item posted on his blog Monday called "Pages from the Playbook," Levy says one part of the approach is to accuse hospitals of not carrying out their public service mission.

Last week, union Local 1199 sent a report to Beth Israel trustees alleging that the hospital made "potentially misleading representation of charity care" in its financial statements.

This follows a report from the union last month that said Beth Israel has higher emergency room costs than other major hospitals in Boston and as a result uses more of the state's uncompensated care pool to gain reimbursement for free care to uninsured patients, according to this Globe story. Beth Israel said then that it follows the rules and regulations governing the pool and had not received any indication to the contrary from the state.

In an e-mailed statement responding today to a request for comment, Local 1199 executive vice president Mike Fadel called Levy's blog entry "intellectually dishonest" and a "tired rhetorical device of attacking the messenger."

"The tactic of decrying critics of an institution's policies as being somehow disloyal is something that we might expect from the Bush administration. It is not something that should be coming from the leader of one of Boston's most important healthcare institutions," Fadel said. "The act of demanding a community institution uphold its social mission and obligations is not something that warrants a broadside attack."

While not responding to the charity care allegations, Levy wrote that the SEIU attempts to pressure hospitals into agreeing to the "card check" method of organizing workers rather than holding an election to see if they want the union to represent them. He also says union researchers pore through financial documents for inconsistencies that will embarrass trustees.

"The key is to pick a topic that garners a headline and public concern, like provision of care to poor people," Levy wrote. "It is also helpful to pick an arcane accounting issue that few understand, so that a cogent and concise rebuttal by the hospital is virtually impossible in the regular media."

The union said the hospital lowered by 30 percent the figures it had reported for un-reimbursed charity care in 2005, without providing an explanation for the change.

"BIDMC's financial reporting with respect to charity care may deny board members necessary information to evaluate the extent of the hospital's charitable activity," Fadel wrote in the July 26 letter sent to trustees with the union's report.

Levy said his colleagues at the hospital are wondering whether SEIU is preparing for a union drive at Beth Israel.

"Or is it sending a message to other hospitals in the city that it will attack anybody who has the nerve to speak out against its tactics?" he said they are asking.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:27 PM
August 01, 2007

Harvard-educated doctor named Joint Commission chief

mark chassin.jpgDr. Mark R. Chassin (left) of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, a Harvard-educated doctor and former commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, has been named president of The Joint Commission, a body that accredits US healthcare organizations.

Chassin graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Medical School and received a master's degree in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He also holds a master's degree in public health from the University of California at Los Angeles.

Chassin succeeds Dr. Dennis S. O'Leary, who will conclude 21 years as president of the commission at the end of the year. O'Leary earned his bachelor's degree at Harvard.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 01:23 PM
August 01, 2007

Brain-damaged patient shows remarkable recovery

By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff

The patient went from near-total catatonia to being able to eat, cry, laugh and say, “I love you, Mommy,” his mother says.

A brain-damaged man who had been barely conscious for six years underwent a striking recovery after doctors implanted a pacemaker-like device in an area of his brain connected to arousal, the journal Nature reports today.

The 38-year-old is the first brain-injured patient to be implanted with a “Deep Brain Stimulator,” a device that uses tiny electrodes to send electrical signals into precisely targeted areas of the brain.

Deep Brain Stimulation has been used for years in tens of thousands of patients with Parkinson’s Disease, but it is now being tried in a variety of brain diseases, from psychiatric illnesses to movement disorders.

The man, whom researchers are keeping anonymous at the family’s request, was the first in a planned 12-patient study using the stimulators on an area of the brain called the thalamus, which is believed to be a kind of gateway to the cortex, the seat of conscious thought.

The multi-site study is led by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

Researchers caution that the single case study, though exciting, should not evoke too much hope for the relatives of the tens of thousands of comatose and semi-comatose patients in the United States.

The patient, whose skull had been crushed in a brutal mugging, was not in a coma or vegetative state; he was “minimally conscious,” meaning he did sometimes respond a bit to the world around him. And his brain damage had left intact certain key areas of his brain, which is often not the case.

Still, researchers say, the case does suggest that even long-term minimally conscious patients may be able to make progress if the right treatment can be found.

And the patient’s mother, who spoke tearfully at a press conference today, said she thought her son’s case sent the message to other patients’ relatives: “Don’t give up hope.”

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 01:01 PM
August 01, 2007

Today's Globe: bats, Guantanamo, sex trade, Tysabri, FDA

bat150.bmpHealth officials in East Bridgewater are recruiting a new ally in their fight against mosquito-borne diseases -- an army of bats to scout the night skies and devour the insects in this town of wetlands and woods.

Military doctors violate medical ethics when they approve the force-feeding of hunger strikers at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, according to a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

mumbai150.bmpA rare glimpse into the harrowing lives of girls and women forced into India's sex trade found that the youngest among them -- girls age 14 or younger -- faced another cruel risk from their bondage: 60 percent became infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

A panel advising the Food and Drug Administration yesterday said the multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri, sold by Biogen Idec Inc. of Cambridge and Elan Corp. of Ireland, should be approved to treat Crohn's disease.

As Congress finalizes the first major FDA legislation in years, there is momentum for real change, and resistance from powerful forces that like the system the way it is, Susan F. Wood, a former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA, and David Michaels, a former assistant secretary of energy for environment, safety, and health, write on the op-ed page.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:41 AM
July 31, 2007

Resignation about more than Sherley tenure denial, former MIT professor says

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

Frank L. Douglas, who resigned from MIT last month as his colleague James Sherley was ending his fight for tenure, writes in The Scientist that his reasons for leaving MIT go beyond Sherley's case.

Sherley, an African-American stem cell scientist, went on a 12-day hunger strike in February to protest what he called racism in MIT's denial of tenure. MIT has denied his contention.

Douglas, who is also African-American, said he left his positions as a professor and director of MIT's Center for Biomedical Innovation because of MIT's "lack of will to deal with a problem that had clearly polarized minority faculty and the larger MIT community."

"I did so because I perceived an unconscious discrimination against minorities and because my colleagues and the institute authorities did not act on my recommendations to address these issues," he writes. "The timing was such that many of my colleagues thought I was resigning over the case of James Sherley, who was denied tenure in 2004 and went on a hunger strike earlier this year in protest. But my decision was based on the complex, insidious nature of discrimination in a university context."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:48 PM
July 31, 2007

Harvard researchers identify treatment target in Hodgkin lymphoma

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

Hodgkin lymphoma tumors are a paradox. In tumors that can grow as large as baseballs, only a small fraction of the tumor is made up of cancer cells – about 5 percent – but they are surrounded by the patient’s normal immune cells. Something keeps the immune cells from attacking the cancer cells they vastly outnumber.

Harvard researchers will report later this week in the online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have identified a protein that acts like the tumor’s bodyguard. Called galectin-1, it disables the immune cells, a discovery they believe will lead to better diagnosis and treatment of the blood cancer that usually strikes young adults.

"The reason we think this may turn out to be very important from a clinical perspective is it suggests if you could neutralize the galectin-1 that is being secreted by the Hodgkin lymphoma cells, then you would have a very good chance at re-regulating or reinstalling an effective immune response in Hodgkin lymphoma," Dr. Margaret A. Shipp of Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute said in an interview. "We think this may have relevance in other tumors."

The protein is already showing promise as a way to identify tumors as Hodgkin lymphomas as opposed to other types of lymphoma, the paper suggests. Previous work in mice has shown that galectin-1 can also be produced by tumors in melanoma.

Shipp and her colleagues are working on generating an antibody to neutralize galectin-1 that would be an attractive alternative to the chemotherapy and radiation used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma.

"This is a fascinating paper from a big-picture perspective because we are increasingly learning that the immune system is often involved in cancer formation and it can be stimulated to be part of cancer treatment," said Deborah Banker of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which is funding the research going forward. "It seems that in general none of us might ever get cancer if the immune system were better at finding the very first cancer cells and eradicated them before they had a chance to multiply."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:52 PM
July 31, 2007

Summer's first mosquitoes with West Nile found in state

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

For the first time this summer, mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus have been found in Massachusetts. The virus-carrying insects were found in Berkley, in Southeastern Massachusetts, state health authorities announced today.

The mosquitoes were collected Thursday as a part of routine sampling conducted each summer and fall. A bluejay infected with West Nile was found last week in Marlborough, in the MetroWest region.

No human cases of the mosquito-borne disease have been reported this year in the state. Last year, three people contracted the illness in Massachusetts; all survived.

So far this year, most human cases of the disease have been reported west of the Mississippi River, with South Dakota reporting 28 cases and California reporting 27 cases. In the most severe cases, the infection can cause a high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one of every 150 people infected with West Nile develops severe symptoms.

To avoid contact with infected mosquitoes, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health recommends limiting outdoor activities from dusk to dawn, peak biting times for mosquitoes. Otherwise, wear as much clothing as comfortable and apply insect repellent such as DEET, permethrin, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

DEET should not be used on infants under the age of 2 months and should be used in concentrations of 30 percent or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years old.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 02:59 PM
July 31, 2007

Two Mass. scientists win Keck awards

Two Massachusetts scientists are in the 2007 class of the W.M. Keck Foundation's Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research.

The Los Angeles philanthropy awards grants of up to $1 million each to five junior faculty members in the United States. Institutions make nominations by invitation only.

amy wagers150.bmpAmy Wagers (right) of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School will study how to slow down or reverse the natural process of aging, which has potential implications for treating such age-related diseases as diabetes, immune deficiencies, muscle weakness and cancer, the foundation said.

job dekker150.bmpJob Dekker (left) of University of Massachusetts Medical School will study how chromosomes are regulated by comparing cancer cells to normal cells, which may uncover defects that cause malignancy, potentially leading to advances in treating cancer, the foundation said.

The three other winners are Wallace Marshall of the University of California, San Francisco, who will study blue-green algae to gain insights into human ciliary disorders such as polycystic kidney disease and retinal degeneration; Dr. Xander Wehrens of Baylor College of Medicine, who will investigate the mechanisms of specialized protein complexes in excitable cells, such as heart muscle; and Jennifer Zallen of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who will focus on a fruit fly’s cell structure to develop approaches to analyze cell behavior and structure in living embryos, the foundation said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:54 AM
July 31, 2007

Today's Globe: children's health plan; allergy-free cat sales; coffee, exercise and skin cancer; medicine mistakes; Avandia

The politically charged proposal to extend health insurance to more than 3 million poor and lower-income children nationally -- one of the most ambitious domestic health proposals to come through Congress in the last decade -- unfolded yesterday in the Senate under the shadow of a formal veto threat from President Bush.

kiki and judy smith100.bmpHe looks like a regular cat, white, furry, playful at times, and disinterested at others. But Judy Smith of Westwood swears that her cat, Kiki, is different, and it is not just because she spent about $7,000 to buy him. Kiki, she says, is hypoallergenic, a cat that does not cause her to sniffle and sneeze. Cat geneticists and allergists aren't so sure.

Can adding a cup or two of coffee to the exercise routine increase protection from skin cancer? New research indicates that just might be the case.

Consider it the other drug problem: Millions of people do not take their medicine correctly -- or quit taking it altogether -- and the consequences can be deadly.

Avandia, once the world's top-selling diabetes pill, should remain on the market, federal advisers said yesterday, but many recommended that the drug carry stronger warnings about its heart risks.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:44 AM
July 30, 2007

Bigby names new DMH commissioner

JudyAnn Bigby, state secretary of Health and Human Services, today named new commissioners of the Department of Mental Health and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and a new director of Medicaid.

Barbara Leadholm will return to the mental health agency after 10 years in the private sector as a vice president at Magellan Health Services, a company that manages behavioral health care for large health plans. At the Department of Mental Health, she was assistant commissioner for policy and planning from 1990 to 1993 and then Metro South Area director until 1996.

In a joint interview, Bigby and Leadholm sounded the same theme of integrating services for medical and behavioral health – a term Leadholm said she prefers to "mental health" because it includes problems such as substance abuse. They also said distinctions between private and public insurance are not as important as building a coherent system of care.

"Barbara’s background brings a special combination of experience that will serve us and the Department of Mental Health well as we look at strategies for optimizing services and ensuring quality, looking at the type of outcomes that we want to see that really focus on the individual, not just on mental illness," Bigby said. "We want to ensure that we have a unified set of standards and principles."

Leadholm had previously worked at the former Department of Welfare as director of chronic and specialty hospitals, director of CommonHealth and special populations, and provider manager for mental health and mental retardation. She holds a master's degree in psychiatric nursing from Boston College and an MBA from Boston University.

"I’ve got about 30 years of experience working both in the public sector as well as the private sector. That allows me to have a broad perspective," Leadholm said. "We want to look at how we can work together to make sure the system makes sense for more people. It’s very confusing for anyone who has a child with a serious emotional issue or a family facing schizophrenia for the first time. I don’t think it matters whether you have private insurance or whether you look to the state for assistance."

Bigby also appointed Janet LaBreck head of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, where she has worked for 22 years, the last six as regional director for Central Massachusetts. Before then she was a vocational rehabilitation counselor and an independent living coordinator. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts-Boston and a master's in education at Springfield College.

Thomas Dehner, who has been acting director of Medicaid since January 2006, has been named director. He is responsible for MassHealth, the state's Medicaid plan, and its $8 billion budget.

He had been deputy Medicaid director and before that chief of staff for the state Division of Medical Assistance. From 1999 through 2003 he was deputy general counsel for the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:07 PM
July 30, 2007

Harvard leader named president of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center

john baldwin100.bmpDr. John C. Baldwin (left), a Harvard professor of surgery and head of the CBR Biomedical Institute affiliated with Harvard Medical School, has been named president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, the university's chancellor announced today.

A fifth-generation Texan, Baldwin graduated from Harvard College and Stanford University School of Medicine and completed his internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was chief of cardiovascular surgery at Yale University, head of surgical programs at Baylor College of Medicine, dean of Dartmouth Medical School and associate provost of Dartmouth College before returning to Harvard to become president and CEO of the CBR Institute for Biomedical Research, which is in the process of changing its name to the Immune Disease Institute.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:37 PM
July 30, 2007

Today's Globe: black teeth, hearing and SIDS, crowd farming, extreme work and play, lowering nicotine, ambulance contract, stem cell tests, MS genes, AIDS in Botswana, Daniel Bernstein, Howard Judd

el tejar child150.bmpEcuadoran children, lead-poisoned by their parents' livelihood, still manage to lead fairly normal lives. A Harvard doctor who has been helping them wonders how they've done so well in what he calls the village of the black teeth, a sign of dangerously high lead levels.

Researchers who reviewed the medical records of five dozen Rhode Island babies are posing this intriguing question: Could a simple hearing test predict the newborns who are likely to succumb to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

MIT architecture students James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk propose the Crowd Farm to generate electricity by capturing the energy people create in such simple motions as walking, running or jumping.

walt kagan100.bmpDuring the week, Dr. Walt Kagan (left) heads New England's largest private cancer care network, with 10 community-based cancer care offices across the state. And then there's the weekend. Whenever he can, Kagan, 57, rides mountain bikes on some of the world's most challenging trails and hikes up dangerous peaks for the thrill of skiing down them.

Also in Health/Science, is resveratol on the market and can humans use chlorophyll?

In Business & Innovation, legal and technological changes are in sight to dramatically reduce nicotine, the addictive property in tobacco products.

The union representing employees of a private ambulance company that serves 40 New England communities called off today's strike after reaching a tentative agreement with American Medical Response yesterday, parties from both sides announced.

US scientists in the past year have developed several methods for creating embryonic stem cells without having to destroy human embryos. But some who wish to test their alternatively derived cells have found themselves stymied by an unexpected barrier: President Bush's stem cell policy.

After decades of dead ends, scientists have identified two genes that might raise the risk of multiple sclerosis, providing insight into the causes of the debilitating disease.

Chandapiwa Mavundu100.bmpA decadelong, global push to provide infant formula to mothers with the AIDS virus had backfired in Botswana, leaving children more vulnerable to other, more immediately lethal diseases, the US team found after investigating the outbreak at the request of Botswana's government. In one example of the policy, Chandapiwa Mavundu, 28 (left), has HIV and didn't breast-feed her son because nurses warned her not to. He died at 8 months.

daniel bernstein85.bmpDr. Daniel S. Bernstein (left), a researcher turned academic, always kept a clinical practice going and during the past 51 years developed the kind of wide-ranging diagnostic skills that are as rare today as a doctor who makes house calls. He died Wednesday, two days after bidding farewell to his patients in a letter. He was 80 and had lived in Cambridge and in Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard.

Dr. Howard Judd, a researcher who oversaw a groundbreaking national study of the medical problems of older women and who questioned the early termination of a landmark clinical trial investigating the effects of hormone-replacement therapy for women, has died in California. He was 71.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:38 AM
July 30, 2007

In case you missed it: face transplants, aesthetic medicine, Thomas Pyle, system failure, balancing act, South Boston smoking, LSO

mike paganelli300.bmp
Mike Paganelli was in a fiery crash on the night that
the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. He does not
qualify for the Brigham transplant program run by Dr.
Bohdan Pomahac, his plastic surgeon, and said he would
have doubts about having a face transplant.
(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

Brigham and Women's Hospital has given a surgical team permission to perform partial face transplants on certain disfigured patients, making it the second US hospital that has gone public with plans to do this rare and hotly debated procedure, Liz Kowalczyk reports in Sunday's Globe.

A cluster of New England companies is developing drugs and medical devices that will reduce wrinkles and cellulite, grow hair where you want it and remove it where you don't, and help you manage your impulse to overeat, columnist Scott Kirsner writes in Innovation Economy. And while keeping you young and slim may not be as socially redeeming as, say, devising a vaccine for the next flu pandemic, millions of dollars in venture capital funding are flowing into the sector dubbed "aesthetic medicine."

thomas o. pyle85.bmpThomas O. Pyle (left), whose leadership of Harvard Community Health Plan for two decades helped transform the healthcare field and introduced concepts that are commonplace today, died of complications from pancreatic cancer June 18. He was 67.

It's not enough simply to beat up on the bad guys in the health care system; we have to overhaul the system that made them bad in the first place, Jonathon Cohn writes in Ideas.

carole kelley with shannon and mark150.bmpMany families find themselves dealing with a tragedy. The Kelleys of West Newton have suffered a stream of life-altering calamities, but Carole Kelley (at left, with daughter Shannon and husband, Mark) keeps them going in a balancing act of care.

The people who live in the 3 square miles of South Boston are twice as likely to die of lung cancer, on average, than other residents of the city. The neighborhood's lung cancer death rate dwarfs even those of Charlestown and Hyde Park, the next deadliest neighborhoods for lung cancer, according to the Boston Public Health Commission.

LSO at Jordan Hall100.bmpThe Longwood Symphony Orhestra (right, in Jordan Hall), established in 1982 by members of the Harvard Medical School community, allows talented amateur musicians to strive for artistic excellence while supporting health-related nonprofit organizations through public performances. Its annual appearance on the Esplanade is set for Aug. 22 at the Hatch Shell.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:34 AM
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