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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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« August 12, 2007 - August 18, 2007 | Main | August 26, 2007 - September 1, 2007 »

August 24, 2007

Beth Israel Deaconess to train medical microbiology fellows

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center will launch two new fellowship programs in medical microbiology, the hospital said.

Both are designed to teach doctors to understand bacterial agents, parasites and viruses and to run academic, hospital or public health laboratories. The fellows will train at Children's Hospital Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as well as Beth Israel Deaconess.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:13 AM
August 24, 2007

Today's Globe: health insurance suit, out-of-body experience, disease travel, sunscreen, flu shots, Dr. James Melby

Attorney General Martha Coakley yesterday filed a revised complaint against a group of health insurance companies stating that the firms denied policyholders benefits required by law, disclosed confidential patient information, and used unfair and deceptive sales practices.

out%20of%20body100.bmpUsing virtual reality goggles, a camera, and a stick, scientists have induced out-of-body experiences -- the sensation of drifting outside one's body -- in healthy people, according to experiments being published in the journal Science.

New infectious diseases are emerging at an "unprecedented rate," and far greater human mobility -- by planes, trains, and ships -- means that infectious diseases have the potential to spread across the globe rapidly, a World Health Organization report warned yesterday.

sunscreen100.bmpSun lotions should be required to carry new ratings letting consumers compare for the first time how well the products guard against a form of skin-damaging ultraviolet rays, US regulators said.

GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Novartis AG, two of the world's biggest vaccine makers, may have bet on the wrong technology in the race to develop a better flu shot. The drug makers are building US factories to grow influenza virus in animal cells as an advance over the decades-old technique of using chicken eggs. Now a small, privately held biotechnology company may leapfrog ahead of them with a more advanced method using DNA.


melby85.bmpAs head of the endocrinology department at Boston University School of Medicine for more than 30 years, Dr. James Melby (left) could easily have chosen to spend his career in a research laboratory. Instead, he found that his favorite part of the work was seeing patients. A recognized expert on the adrenal glands and hypertension, he died of pulmonary fibrosis Aug. 19 at his summer home in Friendship, Maine. He was 79.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:56 AM
August 24, 2007

Children's Hospital ranks second on US News list

Children's Hospital Boston came in second in a US News & World Report ranking of pediatric hospitals, the magazine said today.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia took first place and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore finished third on a list of 30 pediatric hospitals. This is the first time the magazine has created a separate ranking for pediatric hospitals or children's hospitals within a medical center.

The rankings are based on reputation, death rates and care-related measures such as volume, nursing care, advanced technology and outside recognition.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 12:01 AM
August 23, 2007

Man, 81, infected with West Nile Virus

By Globe Staff

An 81-year-old man from Missouri may be the first person in Massachusetts to be stricken this year with West Nile Virus, though health officials say he was likely infected in his home state.

The man, whose name was not released, traveled from Missouri to Martha’s Vineyard on Aug. 5 and became ill six days later.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the man was most likely exposed to the virus in Missouri, where there have been five reported cases this year. It is possible, however, that he was exposed in Massachusetts.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 03:05 PM
August 23, 2007

Federal health agency declares biolab no threat to South End

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

A federal health agency ruled this morning that a high-security research laboratory being built in Boston's bustling South End does not present a serious threat to the neighborhood's safety and that it would not have been safer if located in a less-congested area.

The decision from the National Institutes of Health removed another barrier to the 2008 opening of the Boston University lab, where scientists will be able to study the deadliest germs in the world, including Ebola, anthrax, and plague.

In September 2003, BU won a hard-fought competition to build one of two new Biosafety Level-4 labs that are cornerstones of the Bush administration's campaign to protect against acts of bioterrorism. The University of Texas at Galveston was the other recipient of an NIH grant to help underwrite construction of a Level-4 lab.

Community and conservation groups rallied -- staging protests, enlisting scientists, and suing in state and federal courts -- to block the Albany Street lab, which is costing $178 million to build. Opponents have charged that the lab places an undue burden on a neighborhood with a significant proportion of minority and low-income residents.

The NIH report released today is in response to a ruling in one of the lawsuits, which called for further assessment of the environmental consequences of the facility.

Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo compared what would happen if germs migrated from the lab into its South End neighborhood with what might happen if the lab had instead been built on more secluded property owned by BU in Tyngsborough or Peterborough, N.H.

The report concludes that even if an accident happened in the lab "under realistic conditions, infectious diseases would not occur in the communities as a result." The study also concludes that "there was no difference in simulated disease transmission among the urban, suburban, or rural communities."

One of the diseases evaluated, Rift Valley fever, might actually present more of a threat in the less-developed areas, the report says. That mosquito-borne disease could spread more easily in remote locations where such virus-carriers as livestock are more common.

To see the report, go to:

August 23, 2007

Today's Globe: obesity surgery, hospital salaries, free care, Woods Hole grant, older sex, ruptured eardrums, Risperdal for children, morning-after pill, Marburg virus, paying for mistakes

For the first time, researchers have conclusively shown that losing weight through stomach surgery can extend the lives of severely obese patients, dramatically reducing deaths from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Chief executives at Massachusetts hospitals and healthcare systems didn't receive the gigantic raises last year that were common in 2005.

New state rules that would restrict the availability of free care at hospitals and community health centers could weaken the state's health safety net, according to government officials, healthcare providers, and advocates speaking at a public hearing or offering written testimony yesterday.

A team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has won a $97.7 million research grant from the National Science Foundation to build an ocean observation system of buoys and robotic underwater vehicles off Cape Cod.

Many people maintain rich, active sex lives well into their 80s, according to the first detailed examination of sexuality among older Americans.

An unusual study by doctors treating blast victims at a field hospital in Iraq has found that ruptured eardrums may help reveal which troops are at risk of hidden brain injury.

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved the antipsychotic drug Risperdal to treat children with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

In the year since it was approved for over-the-counter sales, the morning-after pill has become a huge commercial success for its manufacturer, but its popularity and solid safety record haven't deterred critics from seeking to overturn the milestone ruling.

Scientists have found the deadly Marburg virus in one type of African fruit bat, the first time it's been detected in an animal other than a monkey. The bats were collected in the West Africa countries of Gabon and the Republic of Congo, but the test results support a theory that bats caused two recent human Marburg cases in nearby Uganda, health officials said.

The announcement that Medicare will no longer pay hospitals for "conditions that could reasonably have been prevented" is a loud and, many would say, long-overdue wake-up call for American hospitals, Dr. Lucian Leape of the Harvard School of Public Health writes in an opinion piece.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:59 AM
August 22, 2007

Public health agency names medical director

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

A researcher whose work has focused on children's health and healthcare disparities was today named medical director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Dr. Lauren Smith, a pediatrician by training, will oversee programs regarding early childhood health and also be part of the public health department's team monitoring the quality and cost effectiveness of healthcare reform in the state, according to agency spokeswoman Donna Rheaume. Smith will also lend her medical expertise to issues such as whether the state should allow walk-in clinics in drug stores.

Dr.%20Lauren%20Smith.jpg

Smith is an associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston University School of Medicine and medical director of the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children at Boston Medical Center, which unites doctors and lawyers to help families meet the basic needs of children. Smith's research has examined how social, economic, and demographic factors influence children's health.

For the past two years, Smith, who received her undergraduate degree from Harvard and her medical and public health degrees from the University of California, has spent the past two years as a health policy fellow in the office of House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.

Smith's position is new. She will be paid $130,000 a year and will begin working part-time immediately and full-time in January.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 11:06 AM
August 22, 2007

Notables

A Brown University neuroscientist has won Germany's top honor for basic neurological research for creating a device that translates thought into action.

John P. Donoghue, who developed a brain implant called BrainGate that allows paralyzed people to use their thoughts to move a computer cursor, control a wheelchair or operate a robotic arm, will receive one of two K.J. Zulch prizes next week. The other goes to University of Melbourne professor emeritus Graeme Clark, who invented the cochlear implant.

Dr. Robert Ian McCaslin of Children's Hospital Boston has been named director of Mo HealthNet, the Medicaid agency for the state of Missouri, Governor Matt Blunt said. He has been an attending physician in the pediatric emergency department at Children's and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Each year MIT's Technology Review names 35 innovators under 35 for its TR35. This year eight technologists and scientists from New England make the list.

David Berry, 29, Flagship Ventures, Cambridge: renewable petroleum from microbes
Adam Cohen, 28, of Harvard University: making molecules motionless
Ali Khademhosseini, 31, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology: improving engineered tissues
Ivan Kristic, 21, One Laptop per Child (on leave from Harvard): making antivirus software obsolete
Christopher Loose, 27, SteriCoat, Cambridge: beating up bacteria
Anna Lysyanskaya, 31, Brown University: Securing online privacy
Kristala Jones Prather, 34, MIT: reverse-engineering biology
Mehmet Yanik, 29, MIT: stopping light on microchips

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:03 AM
August 22, 2007

Today's Globe: children's health insurance, blood pressure in youths, Leslie Lukash

Thousands of Massachusetts children from low-income families could be denied health insurance under new rules imposed by the Bush administration late last week. The rules could cut federal matching funds for a state-run program that is a key component of the state's health insurance initiative.

More than 1 million US youngsters have undiagnosed high blood pressure, leaving them at risk of eventually developing organ damage, a study suggests.

Dr. Leslie Lukash, a medical examiner who helped identify the remains of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele and studied the deaths of people who disappeared during Argentina's Dirty War, has died at age 86, his son said yesterday.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:44 AM
August 21, 2007

$21.6m in science grants awarded

The National Science Foundation has awarded $21.6 million in 42 grants to Massachusetts colleges, universities and one educational center.

The grants range from $125,240 to Smith College for a high-performance computing network to $3 million to UMass-Amherst for interdisciplinary research training in cellular engineering.

The Education Development Center in Newton won $199,891 for its program to encourage middle-school girls to see what it means to be a scientist or an engineer.

Here are the schools, awards, projects and directors:

Boston College
$438,806
"CAREER: Land use, geological and climatic controls on stream processes in northern New England using airborne laser swath mapping"
Noah Snyder

Boston University
$273,166
"IDBR: Simultaneous tracking of multiple particles in confocal microscopy"
Sean Andersson

$286,239
"Bright field galaxies and their dark matter halos"
Tereasa Brainerd

$325,000
"Influence of eye movements on visual input statistics and early neural representations"
Michele Rucci

$480,000
"Collaborative research: Social organization, behavioral development and functional neuroplasticity in the Ant Genus Pheidole"
James F. Traniello

$570,000
"Perpetual and attentional topography of human posterior parietal cortex"
David Somers

$700,000
"Mathematical analysis of neural dynamics with multiple frequencies"
Nancy Kopell

Brandeis University
$157,624
"Research in geometric group theory: Artin groups and automorphism groups"
Ruth Charney

Education Development Center
$199,891
"GSE/COM girls communicating career connections (GC3)"
Sarita Nair-Pillai

Harvard University
$280,999
"Collaborative research: Dual standards in affective forecasting and experience"
Daniel Gilbert

$300,000
"Collaborative research Ė CSR-EHS: Integrated power delivery Ė Hardware-software techniques to eliminate off-chip regulation from embedded systems"
David Brooks

$309,780
"Biogenic organic aerosol experiment in Amazonia"
Scot Martin

$330,000
"NeTS-FIND: A network-wide hashing infrastructure for monitoring and
measurement"
Michael Mitzenmacher

$499,730
"RCN: Coordinated computing in structural biology"
Piotr Sliz

University of Massachusetts Amherst
$200,000
"CSR-SMA: Measurement, modeling and analysis of large complex data centers"
Prashant Shenoy

$300,067
"Terahertz transport and ultrafast detection in metallic single wall carbon nanotubes"
Sigfrid Yngvesson

$316,365
"GOALI: Integrated product and processes design for emulsified products"
Michael Henson

$350,001
"NeTS-WN: Collaborative research: Cooperative wireless networking:
Foundations and practice"
Donald Towsley

$404,132
"III-COR: Searching archives of community knowledge"
W. Bruce Croft

$442,000
"NeTS-NBD: Packet spacing in small-buffer networks"
Tilman Wolf

$513,600
"MRI: Acquisition of instrumentation for a biofuels research laboratory"
George Huber

$597,503
"IPY STEM polar connections"
Morton Sternheim

$600,000
"NeTS-FIND: A swarming architecture for Internet data transfer"
Arunkumar Venkataramani

$979,098
"Visual modeling strategies in science teaching"
John Clement

$1,500,000
"CBCI: Fueling the future Ė Fabricating new molecules and materials for renewable energy"
Sankaran Thayumanavan

$3,000,000
"IGERT: Interdisciplinary research training in cellular engineering"
Susan Roberts

University of Massachusetts Lowell
$150,000
"NeTS-WN: Collaborative research: Cooperative wireless networking:
Foundations and practice"
Benyuan Liu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
$172,330
"MSPA-MCS: Collaborative research: Algorithms for near-optimal multistage decision-making under uncertainty: Online learning from historic samples"
Retsef Levi

$300,000
"Collaborative research: CT-T: Towards a more accountable Internet"
Hari Balakrishnan

$321,171
"New tests for dark energy and modified gravity"
Edmund Bertschinger

$330,000
"A convergent synthesis approach to the uranium-carbon triple bond"
Christopher Cummins

$500,000
"CT-ISG: Applications and evolution of trusted platform module technology"
Srini Devadas

$701,449
"HCC: Collaborative research: Social-emotional technologies for Autism spectrum disorders"
Rosalind Picard

$716,676
"Terrascope youth radio"
Rafael Bras

$800,000
"CRI: CRD Ė Development of Alloy tools, technology and materials"
Daniel Jackson

Smith College
$125,240
"RUI: A high performance computing environment at Smith College"
Ruth Haas

$315,760
"MRI: Acquisition, of instrumentation for aqueous biogeochemistry
investigations"
Elizabeth Jamieson

Tufts University
$444,620
"HCC: Human-computer interaction and brain measurement using fNIR
spectroscopy"
Robert Jacob

$597,433
"Neural substrates of perceiving status and solidarity"
Nalini Ambady

$638,000
"CAREER: Interactions between error-prone and error-free DNA double-strand break repair pathways in Drosophila Melanogaster"
Mitch McVey

Worcester Polytechnic Institute
$180,000
"Collaborative research: Nanoscopic metal-semiconductor hybrid elements and arrays"
L. Ramdas Ram-Mohan

$1,498,428
"ASSISTments meets inquiry"
Janice Gobert

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:03 AM
August 21, 2007

Dana-Farber wins genomic research grant

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has won $16 million to explore how viruses and human genetic variations can disrupt cellular networks, causing disease.

The National Human Genome Research Institute will fund a research team led by Marc Vidal, director of the Center for Cancer Systems Biology at Dana-Farber and an associate professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. The group will work with colleagues from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the University of Notre Dame through the new Center of Excellence in Genomic Science.

"We decided to try to see how pathogens are affecting the complex networks formed by our molecules, and relate that back to the genetic differences between individuals," Vidal said in an interview.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:10 AM
August 21, 2007

Today's Globe: Brockton Hospital violence, encephalitis in NH, Bellevue press, virus in obesity, Teflon in drugs

In the last year, a nurse at Brockton Hospital was kicked to the floor and beaten by a patient, officials said. Other nurses have had their hair pulled. One was punched in the face, and another was threatened with a knife.

A man from Newton, N.H., is this year's first human case of Eastern equine encephalitis in the region, New Hampshire health officials said yesterday.

bellevue  press150.bmpThe 271-year-old Bellevue Hospital is producing literature -- and not just the medical kind. Among the first titles of the Bellevue Literary Press, released this spring, are a novel interweaving themes of sickness and recovery into a 1940s family drama, a collection of editorial cartoons by an accomplished physician-artist, and a nonfiction work that explores the mind-set and meaning of awkwardness.

In the buffet of reasons why Americans are getting fatter, researchers are piling more evidence on the plate for one still-controversial cause: a virus.

Teflon -- the same chemical that keeps eggs from sticking to frying pans -- may let antibiotics produced by frogs fight off drug-resistant infections in humans, researchers said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:44 AM
August 20, 2007

Patient safety leader applauds Medicare policy to not pay for hospital errors

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

A leader of the patient safety movement supports Medicareís decision to not cover hospitals' costs of treating preventable errors, saying itís time to go beyond altruistic efforts at improving outcomes.

"I would have preferred it to have been positive rather than punitive, but the time has passed for that, Iím afraid," Dr. Lucian Leape of the Harvard School of Public Health said in an interview. "Weíve got a lot of solutions out there and the thing that is so frustrating is they havenít been implemented."

Under the new regulations, Medicare will not pay the costs of treating patients harmed by errors, injuries and infections that occur in hospitals.

The list of conditions includes pressure ulcers (bedsores), injuries from falls, and infections, most commonly from the use of catheters in the bladder or lines inserted into blood vessels. Hospital-acquired infections lead to 99,000 deaths a year, according to an estimate by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Leape was an author of the landmark Institute of Medicine report "To Err is Human" in 1998 that said as many as 98,000 people die each year from hospital medical errors. Since that time, the picture has improved, he said -- citing the Cambridge-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement's "100,000 Lives Saved" campaign -- but not enough.

"That progress has been made in the absence of any financial incentives or penalties," he said. "It has been done because a lot of good people Ė- doctors, nurses, administrators and others -Ė have wanted to do the right thing and reduce injuries. That just hasnít been enough, so people are beginning to pull the other lever, pulling the financial incentives in."

The Medicare move wasnít a surprise to hospitals, Karen Nelson, vice president of clinical affairs at the Massachusetts Hospital Association, said in an interview, calling it consistent with a trend toward pay for performance and public reporting of patient outcomes.

"This is sort of the flip side: non-payment for non-performance," she said. "The new angle to this is an implied causation. We hope that the final rules that come out are clear and easy for hospitals to apply in terms of documenting, to ensure that the attribution is correct."

That might mean getting urine samples before a patient is admitted to determine whether a patient already has a urinary tract infection, she said, a practice in place now but not used for every patient.

John Auerbach, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, applauded the Medicare policy, but said it was only one part of a solution that will also involve the state and individual hospitals.

"I think it's an excellent policy and we need a range of different approaches in terms of eliminating these infections and injuries," he said in an interview. "Reimbursement is one of them, providing technical assistance and education is another one, and requiring public reporting of these infections and injuries is a third. If we employ them all, it will end up being the best thing for the patient."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:21 PM
August 20, 2007

'Simon Birch' star, now MIT student, on human augmentation

ian michael smith150.bmpIan Michael Smith (left), star of the 1998 movie "Simon Birch" and a sophomore at MIT, tells Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert that technology such as his cochlear implant is all about "customizing your body."

Smith had just had the implant activated as a result of his increasing deafness, a side effect of Morquito's syndrome. The form of dwarfism limits his height but not his life span, the story says.

Ebert asked Smith, who is majoring in electrical engineering and computer science, about the science-fiction dream of merging human and robot.

"Weíre seeing advances in human augmentation that we had no idea 10 or 20 years ago would be possible," Smith said. "I donít think anyone ever expected cochlear implants to be as advanced today as they are now. Now we have the same sort of technology being used as visual implants to provide sight to people, and to treat Parkinsonís with brain stimulators."

"Itís not about augmenting human capability for its own sake," he said. "In my case, Iím not going to rush out and start injecting steroids just to be strong because I have no use for that. Itís about customizing your body to do what you want it to do."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:04 AM
August 20, 2007

Today's Globe: body clocks, a mother's will, bridging gaps, Harold Greenberg

Besides the one in the brain, biological clocks have been found all over the human body. And Ramadan, it turns out, has become a useful phenomenon for researchers studying circadian rhythms -- and what happens to the body when they are disrupted.

A physician son's love meets a mother's will in her final illness.

ferrer150.bmpAlthough Boston has the best medical facilities in the country, it's a sorry truth that African-American and Hispanic Bostonians don't enjoy the same standard of health as do their white neighbors. For Barbara Ferrer (left), who took over as executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission this summer, fighting this disparity is her greatest challenge.

Also in Health/Science, why do people and animals yawn and why is it so contagious, and does being bilingual help delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease?

Dr. Harold L. Greenberg
was senior surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where he taught and mentored medical students and was an early practitioner of colonoscopic and laser colorectal procedures. Still operating and working as late as May, he died Aug. 17 at the same hospital he spent his career. He was 83.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:56 AM
August 20, 2007

In case you missed it: US castoffs' dirty career, war on polio, your brain on gambling, paying for errors

From 4-ton trucks to 40-ton boilers, US vehicles and equipment are finding a second life in developing countries -- postponing meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by inefficiently using energy or directly emitting carbon dioxide, Beth Daley reports in Sunday's Globe, the sixth in a series of occasional articles examining climate change, its effects, and possible solutions.

The nearly two-decade, $5 billion campaign to eradicate polio has made significant gains in reducing the virus's strongest strain, but the global battle is in a difficult end game: Fighting in Afghanistan has kept vaccinators from reaching about 100,000 children for nearly a year, allowing the disease to flourish in the remote region, John Donnelly writes Sunday.

From the perspective of the brain, gambling has much in common with addictive drugs, like cocaine. Both work by hijacking the brain's pleasure centers -- a lure that some people are literally incapable of resisting, Jonah Lehrer, an editor at large at Seed magazine, writes in the Sunday Ideas section.

Also in Sunday's Globe, in a significant policy change, Bush administration officials say that Medicare will no longer pay the extra costs of treating preventable errors, injuries, and infections that occur in hospitals, a move that could save thousands of lives and millions of dollars.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:44 AM
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