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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
Week of: October 21
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« September 30, 2007 - October 6, 2007 | Main | October 14, 2007 - October 20, 2007 »

October 12, 2007

Short White Coat: I'll have what she's having (in her bloodstream)

Short White Coat is a blog written by second-year Harvard medical student Ishani Ganguli. Ishani's posts appear here, as part of White Coat Notes. E-mail Ishani at shortwhitecoat@gmail.com.

ishani 2.JPG

I committed the ultimate medical faux pas last night -- sticking myself with a used syringe. I have yet to find out what the full extent of the precautionary repercussions will be, since I’m still waiting for the doctor on-call for blood-borne disease exposures to, ahem, call me back. But the situation doesn’t seem too dire -- and on the bright side, I’ve achieved blood-sister status with one of my housemates.

Early in the evening, I decided to check out a training workshop on administering flu shots so I could help dole them out to the Boston community. This represented the first time we’d actually get to puncture a patient -- until now, we’d done talking and testing, but no treating. So, on entering the classroom, I was relieved to see a cluster of citrus fruits next to the vials and disposable needles on the table. Apparently our first bumbling efforts would be endured by inanimate objects.

After a quick primer on the mechanics of the task, we lined up to practice shooting water into our silent charges. I put on my best doctor voice, warmly asking my orange if "he" had ever been allergic to eggs and explaining to him that I was about to wipe his skin with alcohol and that he would feel a slight pinch when I inserted the needle. "Mr. Orange" received the dose with little complaint, and my only regret is that I could not offer him one of the Looney Tunes Band-Aids that motivated my strange affection for vaccine shots when I was a child.

And then it was time for The Real Thing. I modified my doctor speech slightly to address my housemate, then stuck the syringe into the vial of flu vaccine. I overcame the strangeness of piercing the flesh of a living person, and a friend no less, and plunged right in like a pro. But as I pulled out the needle and started to put on the safety cap, the needle slid abruptly into the tip of my gloved left middle finger, and it was immediately clear that this was A Bad Thing.

The nurse leading the workshop told me to wash out the tiny hole in my finger that issued small beads of blood, and to squeeze out as much of this blood as I could. She went over the risks of blood-borne pathogens, including HIV, and while I trust that my housemate is bug-free, I am to go through the usual protective steps, which in a clinical setting are probably more critical.

I paged the doctor to report my exposure like a good Clumsy-Med-Student, and following the brief flurry of activity, I let my roommate practice a shot on me. No mishaps that time around, and at least I won’t get the flu! More shortly on What to Do When You Stick a Used Needle Into Your Finger.

Posted by Ishani Ganguli at 01:54 PM
October 12, 2007

Today's Globe: children's cold medicines, Tysabri procedure, Wyeth fine

Drugstores began clearing their shelves of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines designed for infants yesterday after leading manufacturers announced they were withdrawing the products amid rising concerns about the safety of the popular formulations.

Replacing plasma, the yellowish liquid component of blood, may help head off a rare brain infection that has been linked to Biogen Idec Inc.'s Tysabri drug for multiple sclerosis.

A jury levied a $134.5 million judgment against pharmaceutical giant Wyeth in a lawsuit filed by three Nevada women who claimed the company's hormone replacement drugs caused their breast cancer.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:47 AM
October 11, 2007

Cheaper drug plan stumps board

By Alice Dembner, Globe Staff

Massachusetts made history last March by requiring all residents to obtain health insurance that includes coverage of prescription drugs. Now, it's finding that making such coverage affordable is an even more heroic task.

The goal is to ease the sticker shock for more than 160,000 people who currently have health insurance that doesn't cover drugs and will have to upgrade their coverage by January 2009 when the drug requirement takes effect. In addition, about 30 percent of people who bought non-subsidized insurance through the connector this year have chosen coverage that excludes prescription drugs.

Today, members of the board overseeing the insurance requirement rejected a proposal that could have cut insurance premiums a few dollars a month by imposing a $1,000 deductible for any non-generic drugs.

Although the board of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector did not formally vote on the proposal, several members noted that it offered little savings on the monthly premium while potentially leaving people without adequate coverage.

“A deductible of $1,000 is pretty extreme,” said Celia Wcislo, a board member and assistant division director of labor union 1199 SEIU. “It’s a catastrophic plan; it doesn’t solve the problem.”

The board directed its staff to look for other ways to cut costs of prescription drug coverage, but the board is running out of time. Individuals buying insurance through employers may have to make adjustments in their coverage as early as January 2008 to meet the requirement for January 2009. And health insurers must still design actual policies that meet the new standard. The connector has set a November deadline to tell insurers what kind of coverage will meet state standards.

Typically, drug coverage adds at least 15 percent to a monthly insurance premium, or about $50 for a 37-year-old, according to the connector staff. The board is seeking to trim that to as low as 5 percent, or about $15, while still providing adequate coverage and allowing easy access to generic drugs.

“I’m concerned about people who will not only face double-digit premium increases when they renew their insurance, but additional costs to pay for drug coverage,” said board member Richard Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

In March, when the connector approved minimum standards for insurance, it allowed drug coverage with a deductible up to $250 for an individual. That is in addition to a deductible of up to $2,000 for medical care.

Two insurance plans currently offered through the connector’s Commonwealth Choice unsubsidized program include drug coverage with deductibles of $100 or $250. That coverage adds about $20 a month to the cost of insurance for a 37-year-old Boston resident. But four other insurers offering plans through the connector chose not to impose drug deductibles and added prescription coverage that costs from $32 to $40 a month. Most insurers also offer plans that provide more comprehensive drug coverage at a higher price.

Connector staff presented a proposal today for a drug plan that would cover all generic drugs for a copayment of about $15 a refill. But that plan would include a $1,000 deductible on all non-generic drugs, along with additional copayments of $50 or $75 per refill. The premiums would be nearly double for a 60-year-old.

The plan does not cover some expensive drugs at all, particularly when there are less expensive alternatives.

Coverage with that kind of separate deductible for drugs has not been popular in Massachusetts, and no insurer currently offers a plan with different deductibles for generic and brand drugs. But some suggested that it might appeal to people seeking the cheapest plan possible.

“They may prefer catastrophic coverage at a low premium,” said Ben Haas, a consultant hired by the staff to help prepare the proposal.

Robert Carey, director of planning and development for the connector, also suggested the alternative “would provide most people with a better benefit for lower cost" because generic drugs would not be subject to the deductible.

While some board members argued for providing people with this choice, others said employers might offer their staff only the $1,000 drug deductible plan, forcing employees to buy it or forfeit any employer subsidy.

“We could be compelling some people to purchase this…including people who don’t take generics or people who have serious medical problems,” said board member Nancy Turnbull, an associate dean at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 06:55 PM
October 11, 2007

Insuring more people: good news and bad news

By Alice Dembner, Globe Staff

Another 12,000 people signed up for state-subsidized health insurance in September, pushing the total to 127,000, state officials said today. And the state this month is sending out notices to about 45,000 people it believes are eligible, but who haven’t yet enrolled.

Of the total enrolled, about 79,000 are getting full subsidies, far more than the 60,000 the state expected.

All that growth could put unexpected pressure on the state budget, a point made at today’s meeting of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector by board member Richard Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Leslie Kirwan, chairman of the connector's board and state secretary of administration and finance, acknowledged that the state hadn’t budgeted for that success. “We’re still evaluating the impact,” she said.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 06:50 PM
October 11, 2007

New member joins Connector board

Alice Dembner, Globe Staff

The board of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority is finally back up to speed with the appointment of Ian Duncan to fill the seat reserved for an insurance actuary.

Duncan, who runs a healthcare management consulting firm called Solucia in Farmington, Ct., attended his first meeting today and jumped right into a lively and complex discussion of a prescription drug benefit. The connector is overseeing implementation of the state’s new near-universal health insurance law.

Duncan replaces Bruce Butler, an actuary who resigned because of potential conflicts of interest between his private consulting business and the connector’s work.

State officials apparently had to reach out to Connecticut to find an actuary who didn’t have business connections with insurers working in Massachusetts.

In a 30-year career in healthcare management, Duncan has also worked for Aetna Life and Casualty and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has recently specialized in evaluating disease management programs.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 06:46 PM
October 11, 2007

Tainted pot pies blamed for 5 salmonella cases in Mass.

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

Four adults and one toddler in Massachusetts have fallen ill with salmonella in recent months after eating tainted, frozen pot pies, state health authorities announced today.

All five recovered, but an 82-year-old woman from Bristol County was hospitalized for two days because of complications from the bacterial illness. The other patients who became ill were a 2-year-old boy and a 46-year-old man from Bristol County, a 29-year-old woman from Suffolk County, and a 23-year-old man from Franklin County. Their illnesses happened between May and September.

Tests at the state laboratory in Jamaica Plain showed that the type of salmonella that infected the five Massachusetts victims matches a strain blamed for more than 130 cases of the disease in 30 states. The Massachusetts patients had eaten Banquet brand pot pies that authorities have recalled.

Because of the salmonella contamination, consumers have been told not to eat Banquet pot pies or generic store brands that bear the code or plant number 5009 or P9. Products with that code should be discarded or returned to where they were purchased.

More information is available at the state Department of Public Health's web site, as well as from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Information is available via telephone from the Department of Public Health's Division of Epidemiology and Immunization at 617-983-6800 or the Food Protection Program at 617-983-6712.

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Posted by Karen Weintraub at 04:10 PM
October 11, 2007

Second Harvard team heading to Congo to help women injured by rape

Physicians and public health specialists from Harvard will join their colleagues in Congo to care for women who have suffered rape-related injuries.

The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative has been working since May with Panzi Hospital in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where up to 70 percent of girls and women have been raped or sexually mutilated, the group said in a statement today. Their medical problems include pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease (including HIV), and traumatic fistula – a condition that leaves women incontinent. A story in Sunday's New York Times describes the brutal violence that brings about 10 women to the Panzi Hospital each day.

The Harvard surgeons and researchers will perform gynecologic surgery, begin training programs, and initiate research into the causes of the violence. Their efforts will be coordinated with Doctors Without Borders, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Urogynecological Association, V-Day, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and University of Illinois.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:28 PM
October 11, 2007

Boston-Denver team to lead study of COPD

A team of researchers from Boston and Denver will lead a large study of genetic factors and biological mechanisms involved in progressive lung diseases.

Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver are the lead sites for the five-year, 16-center study of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The two hospitals have received $37 million from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

The researchers hope to enroll 10,500 participants, including 3,500 African-Americans. COPD is rising among African-Americans but risk factors in this population have not been adequately studied, according to the two hospitals' news release.

The Harvard School of Public Health, working with Johns Hopkins University, Brigham and Women's and the University of Colorado, will provide statistical analysis.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:20 PM
October 11, 2007

Four Boston doctors named Howard Hughes investigators

george%20daley.jpgelizabeth%20engle.jpgdaniel%20haber.jpgs.%20ananth%20karumanchi.jpg
From left, Daley, Engle, Haber and Karumanchi

Four Boston physician-scientists have been selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in an initiative to promote patient-oriented research.

Dr. George Daley and Dr. Elizabeth Engle, both of Children’s Hospital Boston, Dr. Daniel Haber of Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. S. Ananth Karumanchi of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are among 15 new HHMI Investigators. Boston has the most winners in this new group.

Daley is a world leader in hematopoetic and embryonic stem cell research; Engle has identified genetic factors behind disorders that limit patients’ control over their eye movements; Haber studies how individuals’ genetic mutations affect their response to cancer drugs; and Karumanchi has identified the soluble proteins produced by the placenta that can trigger pre-eclampsia in a pregnant mother.

HHMI received 242 applications from eligible candidates. The 15 selected physician-scientists from 13 institutions will receive a total

of about $150 million in their first five-year terms.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:00 AM
October 11, 2007

Today's Globe: McLean order, flu funds fight, lead in lipstick, former Mass. surgeon, Taxol questions, statins

The Department of Public Health directed McLean Hospital yesterday to investigate whether its former president, Dr. Jack M. Gorman, sexually abused any patients at the hospital, one day after his medical license was indefinitely suspended in New York for "inappropriate sexual contact" with an unidentified patient.

Public-health officials and a leading legislator are resuming their lobbying effort to buy thousands of additional hospital beds, breathing machines, and doses of medication to prepare for a global influenza epidemic.

lipstick%2042%202.bmpParents worried about the dangers of lead in their children's toys, bibs, and homes are about to be confronted with a new potential hazard: their lipstick.

A lawyer for a Kentucky woman whose husband died after gallbladder surgery at a VA hospital in southern Illinois says the VA's hiring of the surgeon with a questionable record in Massachusetts is "the most egregious" concern in the case.

The widely used chemotherapy drug Taxol does not work for the most common form of breast cancer and helps far fewer patients than has been believed, new research suggests.

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs help prevent heart attacks for at least a decade after people stop taking them, the first long-term study of the world's top-selling type of medication found.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:56 AM
October 10, 2007

Children get recommended care less than half the time

Children get recommended care from their doctors less than half the time, leaving them even worse off than adults, concludes an analysis of medical care in 12 cities including Boston.

Researchers from the University of Washington, RAND and UCLA reviewed the medical records of more than 1,500 children and evaluated the quality of care they got as outpatients. They chose 175 quality indicators, from prescribing asthma medications to immunizing against childhood diseases to screening for sexually transmitted diseases.

To measure quailty, they divided the number of times the children's charts showed that recommended care was ordered or given by the number of times the care was warranted, based on national guidelines for screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up.

Overall, children received recommended care 46.5 percent of the time, they write in tomorrow's New England Journal of Medicine. That compares with a rate of 54.9 percent for adults.

When children had acute medical problems, they got the right services 67.6 percent of the time. For chronic conditions, they were given the indicated care 53.4 percent of the time. That falls to 40.7 percent for preventive care.

The authors note that research and policy devoted to children have concentrated more on expanding access to healthcare for children than on providing the right care.

"Deficits in the delivery of care must be identified if appropriate strategies to close the gaps are to be developed and implemented," they write.

Dr. James M. Perrin and Dr. Charles J. Homer of Harvard Medical School called the findings "shocking," while pointing out the study's limitations. Some of the data are 10 years old and failures in keeping accurate medical records may be a factor in the "dismal story," they write in an accompanying editorial.

"Services are not delivered when they should be, or they are delivered when they should not be," Perrin and Homer say in their editorial, also in tomorrow's journal. "Although one could challenge the precise 46.5 percent value for the percentage of overall care delivered, one cannot avoid the main observation that there exists a yawning chasm in the quality of health care provided to children."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:45 PM
October 10, 2007

Health authorities approve stem cell rules

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

Public health regulators today reversed a controversial limit on stem cell research that was imposed during the administration of former Governor Mitt Romney and that led scientists to fear criminal penalties if they conducted certain kinds of laboratory work.

The unanimous vote by the Public Health Council -- whose members were appointed by Romney's successor, Governor Deval Patrick -- should restore the state's reputation as being hospitable to the work of stem cell scientists, members of the council said. The repeal of the Romney-imposed rule involved altering a single sentence in the regulations.

"It's important for us to be as competitive as possible and allow research to occur," said Public Health Council member Harold Cox, an associate dean at the Boston University School of Public Health. "Changing that one sentence seems to make a world of difference to the people doing the research."

The restrictions, drafted by Romney's aides and adopted in August 2006, had spurred criticism from scientists, leading legislators, and even Romney's lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey. Critics pointed to the stem cell rules as an example of the Republican governor's use of public health policy to strengthen his appeal to social conservatives as he embarked on a presidential bid.

Patrick in March had called for the restrictive regulation to be reversed as part of his initiative to strengthen the state's position in the burgeoning field of stem cell research.

The rule adopted during Romney's administration stated that embryos could not be created "with the sole intent of using the embryo for research." The pivotal part of that rule -- and the part that troubled scientists -- was the word "using."

When the Legislature in 2005 established a framework for conducting stem cell research in the state, it made clear that it did not want the creation of embryos for the purpose of scientific exploration. But the Legislature did not say anything about scientists using stem cell lines developed outside of the state, potentially from embryos created for scientific purposes.

For example, in New York, scientists hunting for treatments for a disease can create embryos using sperm and eggs donated by families stricken with the ailment. The resulting stem cells can then be used to understand a disease and to look for treatments.

Scientists routinely share stem cell material, and researchers feared that the rule crafted by the Romney administration could place them in legal peril if they accepted stem cell lines from scientists outside the state that were derived for scientific use.

While the scientific community backed the reversal of the research restriction, some religious and antiabortion groups registered their opposition to all stem cell research at recent public hearings.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 02:34 PM
October 10, 2007

Short White Coat: A Jell-O mold of the brain

Short White Coat is a blog written by second-year Harvard medical student Ishani Ganguli. Ishani's posts appear here, as part of White Coat Notes. E-mail Ishani at shortwhitecoat@gmail.com.

ishani 2.JPG

As we head into our final weeks of neurology -- the first specialty we’ve really been exposed to -- we’re starting to hear the stump speeches of doctors eager to proselytize on behalf of their chosen field.

Neurology can be as difficult as, well, brain surgery, but the field is also elegant in its simplicity, as said proselytizers are quick to remind us. Despite recent leaps in our ability to image brains, the reflex hammers and lightly probing fingertips of yesteryear still take us most of the way to a diagnosis. And neurological deficits can be picked up in the subtlest changes of a patient’s gait or speech.

What does it take to fill the shoes of the gray-templed, bow-tied neurologists who guide our learning, besides a House, MD-like insight? It helps to have a knack for impersonating these subtle signs, at least when imparting the nuances to medical students. Besides being instructive, such variety shows can be entertaining -- especially on video, at two times the normal speed.

A sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either (we were urged to eat a Jell-O mold of the brain as some form of early initiation to the field). Neurology must also take a particular brand of fortitude -- most diseases that affect this system are drawn out, debilitating, and irreversible.

Would I be a good fit, down the line? It’s something to think about.

Posted by Ishani Ganguli at 01:32 PM
October 10, 2007

WSJ blog: Harvard scientist devises way to bring vaccines to the poor, via China

Mekalanos%20100.bmpHarvard scientist John Mekalanos (left) came up with a way to make vaccines much more cheaply, but to actually produce them, he had to fly to China, the Wall Street Journal's Health Blog reports.

Mekalanos struck a deal with Gerald Chan, a venture capitalist who is opening a vaccine factory on a tropical island called Hainan, one of the regions China has targeted for foreign investment, the blog says. Harvard will license Mekalanos’s method to Chan’s Morningside Group. The result will be a company with scientists working in Boston and on Hainan to develop a commercial vaccine.

The deal allows Harvard to license any vaccines the company creates to governments and humanitarian groups in the developing world, Isaac Kohlberg, the chief of Harvard’s technology development office, told the WSJ blog. Morningside would be able to sell the vaccine in the developed world.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:51 AM
October 10, 2007

Today's Globe: ex-McLean chief, meningitis death, low fat and ovarian cancer, migraine pill and alcoholics, Israeli doctors and Iraqi patients

jack%20gorman%2085.bmp Former president of Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital Dr. Jack M. Gorman (left), who abruptly left his post last year without explanation, has admitted to "inappropriate sexual contact" with a patient that led to a personal crisis while he was running the prestigious psychiatric hospital, according to documents and an associate of the psychiatrist.

erinortiz85.bmpLike most incoming freshmen, Bentley College freshman Erin M. Ortiz (left) was vaccinated against bacterial meningitis last summer. But it protects only about 85 percent of recipients and is not effective against all strains of the bacteria that cause infection in the brain and spinal fluid, which can result in brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability, or death.

Cutting dietary fat may also cut the risk of ovarian cancer, says a study of nearly 40,000 older women that found the first hard evidence that menu changes protect against this particularly lethal cancer.

A migraine pill seems to help alcoholics taper off their drinking without detox treatment, offering a potential option for an addiction that is difficult to treat, researchers say.

Israeli doctors screened 40 Iraqi children suffering from heart disease yesterday - a rare case of direct cooperation between the Jewish state and the Arab country.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:55 AM
October 9, 2007

Breast-feeding medical student to take licensing test tomorrow

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

A Harvard medical student who went to court to get extra time to pump breast milk during a licensing exam will start taking the test tomorrow.

Sophie Currier, who is breast-feeding her 5-month-old daughter, sued the National Board of Medical Examiners on Sept. 5 when it refused to give her more than the usual 45-minute break allowed to students taking the nine-hour exam. Since then the case has gone through seven rulings.

Today the Supreme Judicial Court denied a request from the board for an expedited review of the case after a state Appeals Court ruling on Friday cleared the way for Currier to have the extra time. The examination board had also asked for a single justice to hear an appeal, but the court did not rule on that petition, board spokeswoman Carol Thomson said in an interview.

"Sophie Currier is scheduled to take the test tomorrow and the following day," Thomson said. "The board certainly will comply with the court's requirements and she will take the test with extra time."

Currier, who must pass the test before beginning her residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, has been granted permission to take the test over two days because of her dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She will get an hour of extra break time each day.

The 33-year-old Brookline resident had argued that it would be uncomfortable and possibly harmful to her health if she could pump breast milk only during standard breaks.

Currier was unavailable to comment today, her spokeswoman Alex Zaroulis said.

"Sophie is looking forward to taking the test tomorrow. She's focused, she's prepared," Zaroulis said. "This has all been about Sophie being able to take this test and be able to express milk while she takes the test in a humane and sanitary way."

One of her lawyers said she found it troubling that the organization responsible for licensing doctors continues to take such an "anti-female approach."

"We took this case pro bono because we believed strongly in the legal positions that were set forth regarding a nursing mother's right in the workplace and by extension, a nursing mother's right to be able to become a doctor and take the medical exam without being at risk for physical harm," said Lauren Stiller Rikleen, who worked on the case with Christine Smith Collins of the law firm Bowditch & Dewey.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:45 PM
October 9, 2007

Local researchers win grants to explore human genome

Two local researchers have received government grants to explore the organization and function of the human genome, part of an expansion of a project that already has shown the genome to be far more complex than previously thought.

Dr. Bradley Bernstein of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Zhiping Weng of Boston University are among principal investigators in the ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements, or ENCODE, a project funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute. The insititute announced more than $80 million in grants today.

Bernstein has won $4.8 million over four years to study proteins important in DNA packaging in human cells. Weng will receive $1.5 million over three years to identify binding sites in regions of DNA that guide how genes are transcribed.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:24 PM
October 9, 2007

MIT gets $100m gift to build cancer center

A $100 million gift from an MIT alumnus and prostate cancer survivor will establish a new center for cancer research, the university announced today.

The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research will bring together scientists and engineers in a new building scheduled to open in 2010. Koch, a billionaire executive at the Wichita energy and manufacturing company Koch Industries, called bringing together geneticists, cell biologist and engineers a new approach, according to a statement from MIT. Koch has given millions to other cancer centers, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"Conquering cancer will require multi-disciplined initiatives and MIT is positioned to enable that collaboration," he said in the statement distributed by MIT. "As a cancer survivor, I feel especially fortunate to be able to help advance this effort."

The MIT center will be led by biologist Tyler Jacks and will house the laboratories of approximately 25 MIT faculty members, including star scientists Angelika Amon, Phillip Sharp, Angela Belcher and Robert Langer.

The center's opening date is an accelerated schedule demanded by Koch, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal summarized below.

The cancer center is part of a $750 million expansion announced by MIT last fall that includes an apartment complex for graduate students, more space for the Media Lab and growth for the Sloan School of Management and for the School of Architecture and Planning.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:52 AM
October 9, 2007

WSJ: MIT donor ties cancer center gift to timetable

david%20koch%20mit.jpgBillionaire David Koch (left), who is battling prostate cancer, agreed to give $100 million to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a cancer research center -- but he made the gift with a condition, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal.

To get the entire gift, MIT had to agree to build the $280 million center whether or not it has raised the full 80 percent of funds that it usually wants in hand before it breaks ground, the Journal story says.

Koch estimates that under the "crash basis" schedule, MIT will shave 18 months to two years off the building process. "They were going to do it over five years," Koch, an MIT alum and board member since 1988, told the Journal. "I said that is too long."

MIT President Susan Hockfield said building a new cancer center was already under discussion.

"I agreed to accelerate because the opportunities [in cancer research] are enormous right now," she told the Journal.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:30 AM
October 9, 2007

Today's Globe: meningitis death, banked blood, heart-imaging agents, Watson's words, Bruce Statham

A first-year Bentley College student died from bacterial meningitis in New York yesterday, Bentley officials said.

Much of the stored blood given to millions of people every year may lack a component vital for it to deliver oxygen to the tissues.

Regulators will alert doctors about reports of deaths and serious reactions following the use of certain imaging agents to help diagnose heart problems, Food and Drug Administration officials said yesterday.

avoid%20boring%20people%20100.bmpJames D. Watson, one of the most important scientists of the post-World War II era best known for teaming with Francis Crick to discover the structure of DNA, intricately details his stellar career in science is in "Avoid Boring People."

stathams%20150.bmpBruce Statham (right, with his family: Annie, Tom, and his wife, Lee), who lent his voice to fund-raising efforts for research, and to help students at Harvard Medical School understand what it was like to live with ALS, died Thursday at Brigham and Women's Hospital of complications from the disease. He was 39 and had lived in Milton.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:57 AM
October 8, 2007

Events: Oct. 15 - Oct. 21

Health- and science-related events in the region this week:

MONDAY, OCT. 15
The Ford Hall Forum will sponsor a presentation about the power of electroconvulsive therapy by Michael and Kitty Dukakis. At 6:30 p.m. in the Raytheon Amphitheater in Northeastern University's Eagan Center, 120 Forsyth St., Boston. Call 617-373-5800.

MONDAY, OCT. 15 & WEDNESDAY, OCT. 17
On aging The latest "Science in the News" seminar will address the effects of aging on the human body. At the Mildred Ave. Community Center in Mattapan on Oct. 15 from 6 - 8 p.m., and at the Armenise Amphitheater, Harvard Medical School on Oct. 17 from 7 - 9 p.m.


TUESDAY, OCT. 16
Harvard forestry professor Peter Ashton, will talk about lessons learned from tropical rainforests. At 6 p.m. at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, 26 Oxford St., Cambridge.

The newest installment of Nova scienceNOW will address the relationship between DNA and hereditary traits. At 8 p.m. on WGBH.


WEDNESDAY, OCT. 17
The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Lowell will host a discussion about the impact of bipolar disorder. At 7 p.m. at the Billerica Public Library, 15 Concord Rd., Billerica. Call 928-256-8456.


THURSDAY, OCT. 18
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics' monthly "Observatory Night" will focus on the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. At 7 p.m. at 60 Garden St., Cambridge.

The Harvard Stem Cell Institute will host a public forum about media coverage of stem cells. At 6 p.m. at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, in the Radcliffe Gymnasium, Second Floor, 10 Garden Street, in Cambridge. Call 617-496-6647.

Brown University will host a lecture on learning and memory in babies. At 4 p.m. in the Salomon Center for Teaching, Room 001, 69 Waterman St., Providence. Call 401-863-7515.


FRIDAY, OCT. 19
The University of New Hampshire will sponsor a discussion about climate change with the president of the National Academy of Sciences. At 8 p.m. at the university's New England Center, 15 Stafford Ave., in Durham.


SATURDAY, OCT. 20
Massachusetts General Hospital will host its 5th annual Schizophrenia Education Day. From 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at MGH, 55 Fruit St. Call 617-724-8318.


SUNDAY, OCT. 21
The Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition will host a lecture about solar wind and technology. At 7:30 p.m. in Carey Memorial Hall, 1605 Massachusetts Ave. in Lexington.

Nova scienceNOW continues with a segment about the evolution of bees, and how they have played a key role in our survival. At 8 p.m. on WGBH.

The Museum of Science's Breast Cancer Forum continues with a series of discussions on breast cancer detection and biology. At 12:30, 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 p.m.


Events may be sent to healthscience@globe.com.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 03:36 PM
October 8, 2007

Howard Hiatt honored by Institute of Medicine

The Institute of Medicine today presented the 2007 Gustav O. Lienhard Award to Dr. Howard H. Hiatt, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, former dean of its School of Public Health and a senior physician at the Brigham and Women's Hospital.

The $25,000 award recognizes Hiatt's contributions to improving the performance of personal health services in the United States and around the world, the institute said in a news release.

"Throughout his professional life, Howard Hiatt brought compassionate and innovative approaches to health and medical care," said Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine. "He introduced fresh analytic methods to medical and public health education, fostered interdisciplinary approaches to complex health problems, cultivated a new generation of socially responsible physicians, illuminated key challenges to making the best use of limited health resources, pioneered in research on patient safety, and championed successful programs to reduce health disparities. Many of today's leaders in health can trace the roots of their accomplishments to the inspiration, example, and guidance of Howard Hiatt."

Hiatt was formerly chief of medicine at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, led a pioneering study of medical malpractice, called the Harvard Medical Practice Study, and helped to create the Division of Social Medicine and Health Inequalities at the Brigham in 2001.

October 8, 2007

Five Boston researchers named to Institute of Medicine

Five Boston researchers have been elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine, a prestigious group established by the National Academies of Science to analyze health issues and make recommendations on policy.

Among the 65 new US members, five are from Massachusetts (four from Harvard, one from MIT), three are from Connecticut (all from Yale) and one is from New Hampshire (Dartmouth). The current 1,538 active members chose new members from candidates nominated for achievement and commitment to service, the IOM said in its announcement of new members today.

The Massachusetts members are:

Dr. Emery N. Brown, professor of anesthesia, department of anesthesia and critical care, Massachusetts General Hospital; and professor of computational neuroscience, health sciences, and technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr. William G. Kaelin Jr., investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and professor, Harvard Medical School, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Dr. David T. Scadden, professor of medicine and co-chair, department of stem cell and regenerative biology, and co-director, Harvard Stem Cell Institute; and director, Center for Regenerative Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital

Jonathan G. Seidman, professor of genetics, Harvard Medical School

B. Katherine Swartz, professor of health economics and policy, department of health policy and management, Harvard School of Public Health

The three new members from Connecticut are:

Dr. Robert J. Alpern, dean, Yale University School of Medicine

Dr. Harlan M. Krumholz, professor of medicine and epidemiology and public health, and professor of internal medicine, Yale University School of Medicine

Dr. Mary E. Tinetti, professor of medicine, epidemiology and public health, and director, Yale Program on Aging, Yale University School of Medicine

New Hampshire has one new member:

Jonathan S. Skinner, professor of economics, Dartmouth College, and professor of community and family medicine, Dartmouth Medical School

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:44 AM
October 8, 2007

Nobel for medicine honors gene targeting in mice

mario%20capecchi%20100.bmpevans%20and%20smithies100%20deep.bmp

Mario R. Capecchi
(from left), Sir Martin J.
Evans
and Oliver Smithies

Three scientists who modified genes in mice using embryonic stem cells have won this year's Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, the Swedish Academy announced this morning.

Mario R. Capecchi
of the University of Utah, Sir Martin J. Evans of Cardiff University and Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina will share the prize for discoveries that made gene targeting possible. Their work led to creation of "knockout mice," or animals whose genes have been modified so scientists can study development, physiology or disease.

Capecchi, born in Verona, Italy, in 1937, earned a doctorate in biophysics at Harvard in 1967 and is now a US citizen. Evans was born in Great Britain in 1941. Smithies was born in Great Britain in 1925 and is now a US citizen.

At Harvard, Capecchi's Ph.D. advisor was James D. Watson, a previous Nobel winner for his co-discovery of the DNA double helix. Capecchi, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, credits Watson for inspiring his development as a scientist and his pursuit of big questions, according to the institute's website.

"He taught me not so much about how to do science but rather provided me with the confidence to tackle any scientific question that fascinated me, regardless of its complexity," Capecchi is quoted on the site. "He also taught me the importance of communicating your science clearly and to pursue important scientific questions."

Capecchi told the journal Nature in 2004 that his relationship with Watson was not always smooth. He recounted a disagreement they had about the results of an experiment. Capecchi was unconvinced by the data and wanted to repeat the experiment while Watson wanted to publish the results. Capecchi then threw away glass plates containing crucial bits of data, ensuring that the results could not be published and prompting Watson to explode in anger. Capecchi recalled: "I came that close to being thrown out of the lab."

Capecchi's childhood was disrupted by World War II in Italy, according to the Nature article and the Hughes website. When he was 4 years old, his mother, a poet, was taken by the Gestapo to a concentration camp, and he lived on the streets, begging and stealing, until they were reunited five years later. After the war, they emigrated to the United States, where Capecchi began school at age 9, knowing no English and unable to read or write.

"It is not clear whether those early childhood experiences contributed to whatever successes I have enjoyed or whether those achievements were attained in spite of those experiences," he said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:47 AM
October 8, 2007

Today's Globe: doctor-patient divorce, flu shots for healthcare workers, genes and financial choices, teaching climate change

Open conflict in the doctor-patient relationship can be painful and time-consuming for both sides. There is little guidance available for patients, families, and doctors about how to manage these difficult situations. Have you ever dropped a doctor or a patient because of personal differences?

Hospitals from Boston to Seattle are bribing workers with granola bars, throwing immunization parties, and, in one case, forcing unvaccinated staff members to wear face masks in the hopes of persuading more medical personnel to get an annual flu shot.

New research by a team that includes a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student suggests that our genes may play an important role in influencing our economic behavior.

As a teenager, Stephen Nodvin used to lecture high school assemblies about acid rain and why pollution is bad. Thirty-five years later, he's still doing it.

Also in Health|Science, does lightning only strike in one direction and do women need regular bone density exams?

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:31 AM
October 8, 2007

In case you missed it: ending a painful choice, tracking children on psychiatric drugs

Holly%20Poirier%20and%20Owqyn%20Tyler%20Law%20300.bmp
Holly Poirier and her son, Owyn Tyler Law (above),
who has a brain tumor, participate in a
state program that provides palliative care.
(Suzanne Kreiter/GLOBE STAFF)


Massachusetts is blazing a path that melds the latest medical treatments with emotional and spiritual supports for families of children with life-limiting illnesses. The initiative brings government-paid palliative care to the homes of families, without requiring them to meet the strict requirements of end-of-life hospice programs, Alice Dembner writes in Saturday's Globe.

rebecca%20riley%20100.bmpFollowing the death of 4-year-old Rebecca Riley Hull (left) from an overdose of psychiatric drugs last December, state officials have set up a unique early-warning system to spot preschoolers who may be getting excessive medication for mental illness. In just the first three months, the system has flagged the cases of at least 35 children for further investigation, and the number is sure to rise, Scott Allen reports in Sunday's Globe.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:18 AM
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