Testing It Up » January 2012

Monthly Archives: January 2012

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New Saliva Test as Alternative to Blood Tests for Women Undergoing IVF

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Women who are undergoing in vitro fertilization usually have to suffer through repeated blood tests, in order to measure hormone levels. Researchers at Boston IVF, however, may help women escape all that pain and inconvenience, through a new saliva test.

Women undergoing IVF may need to go through as many as seven blood tests per cycle, while on hormone injections on a daily basis. According to Dr. Michael Alper, medical director of Boston IVF, the hormone injections stimulate egg production in women undergoing treatment, and the blood tests help them adjust the dose of their hormone injections, so as not to over-stimulate their ovaries.

The blood tests are used to measure estradiol, a form of estrogen which is also found in saliva. Dr. Alper said that the saliva test costs just as much as the blood test, at $150. It should be covered by insurance in states where coverage for IVF is mandatory, which includes Massachusetts.

The new saliva test is already being offered to patients at the Waltham office of Boston IVF. Dr. Alper said that other locations, including Boston, will follow suit in the next few weeks, while other fertility centers nationwide will probably offer the test over the next year or two.

While the saliva test presents a painless alternative to blood tests, it still cannot be done at home. Women will have to drop off samples at the doctor’s office every day or two, and come back later in the day for the results.

Drug Testing

UFC President Dana White on New Drug Testing Policy

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Dana White, president of UFC, spoke with pride regarding the recently-implemented drug testing policy that requires all new signees to pass a drug test.

UFC officials recently announced that all Zuffa fighters – regardless of whether they are in the UFC, Strikeforce, or “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series – are required to pass a pre-fight drug test for anabolic steroids before they can compete in the cage.

The announcement came on the same day that the Nevada State Athletic Commission revealed that Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, a former Strikeforce champion, tested positive for a steroid at a January 7 event in Las Vegas.

White shared: “That’s the commission’s (responsibility)… We’re the most regulated sport on Earth. We’re the last guys on Earth who should be getting [expletive] steroid questions.” He added: “It’s been a very good policy for us… There have been a lot of things we found out medically about guys coming into ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ that was very positive.”

The program is expected to help save UFC from the embarrassment of having new fighters fail drug tests. Failing a drug test, after all, does not just affect the fighter concerned. It can also have an adverse effect on the hosting organization. In addition – and perhaps more importantly – White shared that it will help protect young fighters from the dangerous side effects posed by steroids.

White said: “If you’re a talented guy who could be in the business a long time and make a career out of this, once you get off this stuff – because you can’t do it because here you’re going to get caught — once you get off it, you’re ruined for life – mentally, physically, emotionally… So if we can stop that stuff early with these athletes that are young and have the talent to be here, we feel we’ll win half the battle.”

Early Disease Detection

Oral HPV Infection Linked to Mouth and Throat Cancer

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A study published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that an estimated 7 percent of American teens and adults carry the human papillomavirus (HPV) in their mouths.

The study may lead health experts towards understanding the increasing trend of incidence of mouth and throat cancer for nearly 25 years. The evidence also shows that oral sex practices play a major role in transmitting the virus.

Dr. Maura L. Gillison of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, lead author of the study, shared: “There is a strong association for sexual behavior, and that has important implications for public health officials who teach sexual education.”

Oral sex is generally deemed as a safer alternative to sexual intercourse, despite the fact that herpes, HIV, and other diseases may also be transmitted when engaging in it. According to a survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year, 90 percent of adults, 27 percent of 15-year-old boys, and 23 percent of 15-year-old girls have had oral sex.

Fred Wyand, director of the American Social Health Association HPV Resource Center, shared: “I don’t think people think of oral sex in the same way they do with traditional intercourse… Sometimes younger people engage in oral sex so they don’t have to worry about pregnancy. They may not even make the link between oral sex and STDs.”

This behavior, researchers suspect, may have led to the transmission of HPV through the mouth over the last decade, resulting in oral cancers.

Early Disease Detection

Self-HPV Testing For Detection of Cervical Cancer

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A study supported by the Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars Program determined that patient-collected specimens for DNA testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) was just as accurate in detecting precancerous cervical lesions as liquid-based cytology and visual inspection with acetic acid.

The researchers shared: “Although it is not specific enough to be a stand-alone test, self-HPV testing provides sensitive results without pelvic exams, medical professionals, or healthcare facilities and thus has the potential to serve as a primary cervical cancer screening method for women, regardless of their geographic location or access to healthcare… Limited resources can then be focused on the clinical follow up of the smaller percentage of women who tested positive.”

While cytology-based screening programs for cervical cancer have led to decreased incidence as well as death rates in developed countries, 85 percent of the global burden of cervical cancer is in less-developed countries, where conducting current screening techniques may prove to be a challenge.

The authors said that testing for HPV DNA has been suggested as an alternative to screening using cervical cytology. DNA testing produced “highly-sensitive, objective, and reliable results in high-risk HPV DNA from cervical and vaginal specimens.”

The study consisted of an analysis of data from 13,004 women, aged 17 to 56, who underwent screening from 19999 to 2007. All the study participants were sexually active, had an intact uterus, and had no history of CIN2+ disease or worse, or a history of pelvic irradiation.

Early Disease Detection

Cancers Screening Among Americans Below Targets

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Federal officials reveal that there are not enough Americans undergoing screening for common cancers, as their number falls below national targets.

Only 72.4 percent of women, as opposed to the targeted 81 percent, underwent screening for breast cancer in 2010. In the case of cervical cancer, only 83 percent, as opposed to the target 93 percent, of women underwent testing, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, only 58.6 percent of Americans were screened for colon cancer, a figure that is below the target of 70.5 percent.

Mary C. White, branch chief of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control of the CDC and co-author of the report which appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, shared: “Not all Americans are getting the recommended screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer… There continue to be disparities for certain populations.”

The disparities White was referring to were based on the observation that screening rates were particularly low among Asians and Hispanics. The screening rate for breast cancer among Asians was found to be 61.4 percent; for cervical cancer, 75.4 percent; and for colon cancer, 46.9 percent. Furthermore, the researchers determined that Hispanics were less likely to undergo screening for cervical and colon cancer, when compared against their non-Hispanic counterparts.

Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, stressed the importance of undergoing screening: “Screening saves lives… when you catch cancer at a smaller size it does affect outcome.”

Early Disease Detection

Gene Test May Prove Beneficial to Early-Stage Lung Cancer Patients

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Researchers from the University of California – San Francisco (UCSF) determined that a new gene test may improve the odds of survival of patients who have early-stage lung cancer.

The new molecular test can predict which tumors are more likely to be aggressive more accurately, when compared against current diagnostic procedures.

The study involved an analysis of data from the two largest clinical trials conducted on the molecular genetics of lung cancer. It included information from early-stage lung cancer patients from Northern California Kaiser hospitals, as well as from China.

The results of the study indicated that a 14-gene test, based on developments made originally at UCSF but created by a Mountain View Company, was able to determine the odds of death of a patient within five years of surgery more accurately, through an analysis of the biological make-up of the tumor. This held true, the researchers observed, for both trial groups.

Researchers shared that the results may potentially save lives, by becoming a basis for decisions regarding the next steps that a patient who has early-stage lung cancer should take after surgery. Such decisions may include whether or not one should undergo such additional treatment as chemotherapy or targeted radiation.

Dr. David Jablons, chief of the thoracic oncology program of the UCSF and one of the study authors, shared: “It can help enhance the chance of curing more patients, and this is not an insignificant problem… This is 50,000 patients in the U.S. alone or more a year and hundreds of thousands of patients a year worldwide.”

The study was published Thursday in the medical journal The Lancet.

Health & Wellness Substance Abuse

Legalization of Pot Use for PTSD Treatment in Vermont

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A lawmaker in Vermont is calling for the legalization of the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The bill to amend the medical marijuana law of Vermont was introduced earlier this month by state Rep. Jim Masland, who said that he did so in response to the request of a number of his constituents who have turned to medical marijuana in order to alleviate PTSD symptoms that they feel was caused by military service. These constituents, Masland said further, were Vets who served during the Vietnam War, as well as other wars fought by the United States over the last decade.

Rep. Masland shared: “I understand that these unnamed individuals, at least a couple, haven’t been able to find relief any other way or at least this is the best way for relief… So I would say they are quietly, surreptitiously using marijuana, but they would much rather do it legally.”

Michael Krawitz, executive director of Veterans for Medical Marijuana Use, shared that using marijuana for the treatment of PTSD in Veterans is increasingly being accepted across the country. Krawitz said: “The bottom line is we just don’t have a lot of treatments for post-traumatic stress that are that effective.”

The medical marijuana law in Vermont took effect in 2004, and currently has 411 patients and 68 caregivers in its registry. The Department of Veterans Affairs, on the other hand, allows its patients to use medical marijuana in states where it is legal, but does not allow its health care providers to provide Vets with documentation to get pot.

Celebrity Substance Abuse Health & Wellness Real Drug Stories Substance Abuse

Was Demi Moore Hospitalized Due to Whippets?

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The celebrity circuit was abuzz with news that actress Demi Moore was rushed to the hospital on January 23, after suffering from an apparent seizure.

The actress’ friends told emergency workers that she had been doing “whip-its,” before experiencing seizure-like symptoms and becoming semi-unconscious.

“Whip-its,” also known as “whippets,” “whippits,” and “nossies,” are steel cylinders filled with nitrous oxide (NOX). NOX, also called “laughing gas,” is usually used by dentists prior to administering novocaine injections or performing dental procedures.

Dr. Harris Stratyner, regional vice president at New York’s Caron Treatment Center, shared that nitrous oxide can result in a euphoric, dissociated, and out-of-body experience for the people who inhale them. It is also found in whipped cream aerosol cans, which NOX abusers use by emptying the gas into a balloon, and then inhaling it. The gas is also used to boost engine power in race cars.

Inhalation of nitrous oxide may lead to a lack of oxygen, which may be fatal.

Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hospital in New York City, shared that abuse of whippets can cause the following side effects: nausea; vomiting; disorientation; and vitamin B-12 deficiency, which can cause numbness in the fingers and toes. Severe side effects of nitrous oxide abuse include lung collapse; blood vessel hemorrhage in the lungs; heart attack; seizure; and slipping into coma.

When asked whether “whippets” can be addictive, Stratyner responded that NOX can be psychologically addictive, but it was “not highly usual” for people to go to rehab because of it.

Celebrity Substance Abuse Real Drug Stories Substance Abuse

The Social Network Actor Arrested on Marijuana Charges

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Recent reports revealed that actor Armie Hammer, who played the disgruntled Winklevoss twins in the movie The Social Network, was arrested in November for having pot cookies in his car.

Hammer’s mug shot was taken after he was arrested in Sierra Blanca, Texas. Arrest records indicated that Hammer had 0.02 ounces of marijuana on him, as well as three medicinal marijuana cookies and one brownie. He spent one day in jail and was released on $1,000 bond.

The discovery was made after a border patrol dog sniffed his way to a brown backpack between the driver and passenger seat. Hammer admitted to police that the bag and its contents were his. The district attorney in El Paso, however, decided not to prosecute the actor, as one needs to be in possession of more than four ounces of marijuana before he can be slapped with a felony charge. The case is going back to the local sheriff, and the county attorney may choose to pursue lesser charges.

To date, no charges have been presented against the actor, based on information provided by Kent Schaffer, lawyer for Mr. Hammer.

Other celebrities have also been caught with pot in Sierra Blanca. Earlier this month, Snoop Dogg was arrested after a sniffer dog led police to a marijuana stash that weighed a total of 0.13 lbs. Country star Willie Nelson was also arrested for possessing six ounces of marijuana.

Health & Wellness Substance Abuse

Studies Look into Magic Mushrooms as Treatment for Depression

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Psychedelic mushrooms, or magic mushrooms, may eventually be used to treat depression, based on two small studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the British Journal of Psychiatry.

One study involved inserting psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, into the blood of 30 study participants, as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners measured changes in their brain activity.

For this study, it was observed that psilocybin lead to decreased activity in the “hub” regions of the brain – areas of the brain that are especially well-connected to other areas.

The second study, on the other hand, involved 10 healthy volunteers. The results indicated that psilocybin boosted the participants’ recall of personal memories and their emotional well-being for up to two weeks. What this may indicate, the researchers said, is that psilocybin may be useful as an adjunct to psychotherapy.

David Nutt of the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London served as senior author for both studies. He shared: “Psychedelics are thought of as ‘mind-expanding’ drugs, so it has commonly been assumed that they work by increasing brain activity, but surprisingly, we found that psilocybin actually caused activity to decrease in areas that have the densest connections with other areas… These hubs constrain our experience of the world and keep it orderly. We now know that deactivating these regions leads to a state in which the world is experienced as strange.”

The researchers stressed, however, the need for further research as both studies only involved small groups of participants.