Testing It Up » June 2012

Monthly Archives: June 2012

Early Disease Detection

Bone Marrow Donors Increase After Robin Roberts’ Announcement

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“Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts’ illness is helping bring more awareness to the need for bone marrow donors.

The national bone marrow donation registry has reported an increase in new registrants. The rate of new registrants has more than doubled since Ms. Roberts announced that she was suffering from myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a blood and bone marrow disease where the bone marrow does not make enough normal blood cells for the body.

Roberts will be undergoing a bone marrow transplant, through a donation from her older sister, Sally-Ann Roberts. She had previously battled breast cancer in 2007.

Ms. Roberts shared that her mother told her to “turn a mess into a message,” saying: “When I received this latest disappointment I did not know what the message would be… and now I do.”

Be The Match CEO Jeffrey Chell revealed that since Roberts announced her diagnosis, around 15,000 people have registered; this figure is 11,200 more than what they would normally receive in the same period. Of these registrants, around 60 to 70 may be found to be a good match and donate some of their marrow to those who need a transplant.

Robin Roberts helped supervise a registry drive at the ABC News headquarters in Manhattan. Among those who were tested were ABC News President Ben Sherwood, George Stephanopoulos, and Lara Spencer.

Around 18,000 people develop MDS each year. It is a condition that can affect all blood cells, and may lead to such problems as anemia, infections, and bruising.

Substance Abuse

Nicotine Vaccine to Help Smokers Kick Cigarette Habit

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A vaccine that will help smokers quit is in the works, as researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College were able to develop an innovative approach to nicotine addiction.

The researchers were able to successfully test a vaccine that will help treat nicotine addiction on mice.

The results of their study were published on Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine. A harmless virus is used by the vaccine to genetically modify liver cells, so that it consistently produces nicotine antibodies. These antibodies use up nicotine as it enters the bloodstream, destroying the chemical before it is able to trigger cravings to light up again.

Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell, shared: “The antibody is like a little Pac-Man floating around in the blood, and it grabs onto the nicotine and prevents it from reaching the brain, so there’s no reward…  With a single administration of the vaccine, we converted the liver to make the antibody, and it lasts for the life of the mouse.”

Early Disease Detection

Former Mouseketeer Don Grady Passes Away

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Don Grady, who danced as a Mouseketeer on “The Mickey Mouse Club” and played Robbie in the family sitcom “My Three Sons” has died at the age of 68.

Grady passed away in his home in Thousand Oaks after a four-year bout with cancer, as shared by his wife, Ginny.

He had displayed a fondness for music and dancing as a child, and was given the opportunity to audition for “The Mickey Mouse Club” when he was in middle school. He performed as a Mouseketeer for several years before leaving the Disney show to join the cast of “My Three Sons” when he was 16.

Grady is survived by his wife, Ginny; two children, Joey and Tessa; his mother; and a sister, Marilou Reichel.

Early Disease Detection

Writer Nora Ephron Passes Away

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Nora Ephron, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter who brought us “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “You’ve Got Mail,” has died at the age of 71.

The acclaimed writer passed away in New York, after a bout with leukemia. A statement from her publisher Alfred A. Knopf said: “It is with great sadness that we report that Nora Ephron has died… She brought an awful lot of people a tremendous amount of joy. She will be sorely missed.”

Her son, Jacob Bernstein, a freelance reporter of The New York Times, said that Ms. Ephron died of pneumonia brought about by acute myeloid leukemia, in a report on the Times.

Nora Ephron was born on May 19, 1941, in New York City. Her screenwriter-parents raised her in Beverly Hills, and she worked for a while as an intern at the White House.

Nora Ephron’s career began in journalism, but she eventually went into movies, a career that began while she was married to her second husband, Carl Bernstein, the investigative reporter of The Washington Post who reported on the Watergate scandal.

She is credited with more than a dozen films that usually featured strong female characters, where she either served as writer, producer or director. Her work on the movies “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and the Meryl Streep drama “Silkwood,” where Ms. Streep played an anti-nucleaer activitist, earned Ms. Ephron three Academy Award nominations.

Her last film was 2009’s “Julie and Julia,” where Meryl Streep played celebrity cook Julia Child.

Health & Wellness

Federal Panel Recommends Screening all Adults for Obesity

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As everyone awaits for the Supreme Court’s decision on Obama’s healthcare law, the federal health advisory panel, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, said that doctors should screen the weight and height for all patients to determine if they are obese.

Though the move could significantly increase insurance coverage of weight loss treatments, the recommendation is part of the effort to combat the obesity epidemic in the country. According to the statistics posted on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese. During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the obesity rate in the United States. Even more alarming is the fact that even child obesity has more than tripled in the past three decades.

Obesity puts a person at greater risk of acquiring several health problems, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer – some of the leading causes of death. People with a body mass index of 30 or above are already considered obese.

Susan Curry, a member of the task force and dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health in Iowa City, said “The good news is that even what you might consider to be modest rather than radical weight loss has tremendous health benefits, including lowering diabetes risk and blood pressure.”

The U.S. government-backed panel also recommends that screened patients should be referred to intensive diet and exercise programs if necessary. Curry adds that effective weight loss programs include both nutrition and exercise support.

Following a review of the medical literature, the task force concluded that intensive behavioral programs with at least 12 sessions typically helped people lose between nine and 15 pounds, or about 6 percent of their original weight.

Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

Moderate Exercise May Lower Breast Cancer Risk

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A study published in the journal Cancer found that women who exercise moderately may have reduced risk for developing breast cancer after menopause, when compared against their peers who did not engage in physical activity.

Women who exercised during their childbearing years were less likely to develop breast cancer after menopause, although women who only began exercising after menopause also had lower breast cancer risk, suggesting that it was never too late to start being physically active.

Study lead Lauren McCullough, of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, shared: “What we can say is, exercise is good for you… It’s never too late to start. Our evidence suggests that if you start after menopause, you can still help yourself.”

The results of their research lends further credence to previous studies that associate regular exercise with lower breast cancer rates, although these studies only indicate a correlation between the two, as opposed to offering proof that reduced risk for breast cancer is due to exercise itself.

McCullough shared that there may be several reasons behind the correlation. One indirect possibility is that, by cutting body fat, known growth factors that can feed the development of tumors may also be reduced. Exercise may also have direct effects by boosting the immune system.

The study involved an analysis of data from 1,500 women with breast cancer, and 1,550 women who were not suffering from the disease. The study participants were of the same age, and were asked about their exercise habits and other lifestyle factors, including smoking and drinking.

Early Disease Detection Health & Wellness

Passive Smoking Linked to Obesity, Diabetes

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A study co-authored by Theodore C. Friedman, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles, found that passive smoking increases risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Based on the results of the study, adults who are not smokers but are exposed to second hand smoke were more at risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes, when compared against non-smokers who have no environmental exposure to secondhand smoke.

The study involved the use of serum cotinine levels in order to verify passive smoking. This is something that has not been done by other studies that also suggested a link between Type 2 diabetes and passive smoking, according to Dr. Friedman. Serum cotinine measures a person’s exposure to tobacco smoke.

Dr. Friedman and his colleagues examined data from more than 6,300 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2001 to 2006. Current smokers were defined by the researchers as those who admit to smoking cigarettes and had a measured serum cotinine level greater than 3 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). Non-smokers, on the other hand, were defined as those who do not admit to smoking cigarettes and whose serum cotinine levels were below 0.05 ng/mL.

Those who do not admit to smoking but whose serum cotinine levels were above 0.05 ng/mL were called passive smokers.

The study showed that passive smokers had a higher measure of insulin resistance, higher levels of fasting blood glucose or blood sugar, higher rate of Type 2 diabetes, and a higher body mass index (BMI).

Substance Abuse

State of Montana Suffers from Growing Cases of Prescription Drug Abuse

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It seems that prescription drugs are becoming deadlier by the minute, at least for people who abuse them. In Montana, the state’s Department of Justice reports that it is prescription drugs that are killing an average of 300 Montanans a year. Great Falls Police Sgt. Chris Hickman, who is the commander of the Central Montana Drug Task Force, said “It’s pretty clear that prescription drugs are killing more Montanans than all the other drugs combined.”

Recently, Great Falls football star and former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, was sentenced to nine months of lockdown addiction treatment after pleading guilty for illegal possession of painkillers and burglary. Though Leaf’s case – professional athlete strayed on drugs – is nothing new, neither is the problem on prescription addiction. In fact, those in the medical and criminal justice circle have witnessed how prescription abuse in the state has steadily become worse in the past 15 years.

While opiate derivatives remain the most commonly abused prescription medications as they mimic the effects of heroin, hydrocodone and oxycodone are ultimate big sellers on the black market. Hydrocodone is usually found in prescriptions as Vicodin and Lortab; whereas, oxycodone is an active ingredient in medications, such as Percocet or Percodan. Additionally, fentanyl, which is often prescribed to terminally ill or cancer-stricken patients, has also become very popular among prescription drug abusers.

Teenagers are also beginning to find solace in prescription medications like Adderall or Ritalin – stimulants that are given to patients with ADHD.

Hickman adds that pills are the most widely distributed drug in Montana and the easiest to get. Buyers and sellers managed to establish underground network that makes pills easier to access. “That pill network is really, absolutely amazing,” he said.

What’s even more bothersome is that users are often willing to pay as much as $1 per milligram for certain medications, a much higher price than in other black markets in other states; thereby, making Montana a sought-after market in the illegal distribution of prescription drugs.

Substance Abuse

Colorado Woman Blames Bath Salts for Bizarre Behavior

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A woman from Denver who was caught defacing a multi-million dollar painting attributed her meltdown to the use of bath salts.

Carmen Tisch, 36 years old, was caught by a surveillance camera beating a $30 million painting by the noted Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still, before urinating on the 10-foot tall, 13-foot wide work of art.

Carmen Tisch shared with KDVR-TV that she does not remember the day she stumbled into the Clifford Still Museum. She said: “I was a pill popper, heroin addict. I was in the methadone clinic for while… And when I got off the methadone that’s when I started drinking a lot. That’s when I was doing the bath salt.”

She said that when police told her about what she had done a few hours later, she was in shock. By then, she was already in a jail cell, and had come down from her high.

Tisch said: “I’m kind of scared to watch it just to see myself like that… I was in shock… I was ashamed and also a little relieved that I didn’t murder somebody.”

At first, the police thought that she was drunk.

After spending time in jail as well as in two psychiatric wards, Tisch is currently on probation. She undergoes weekly testing for drugs and alcohol.

She stays sober for two reasons: “I got God, and I also have a daughter… My daughter, she comes in my mind every time now.”

Early Disease Detection

HIV Infections Up Among Some Women in District of Columbia

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A study released recently by the Department of Health of the District of Columbia revealed that the HIV infection rate for heterosexual African-American women in the poorest neighborhoods in D.C. have almost doubled in two years.

The HIV infection rate for these women have increased to 12.1 percent from 6.3 percent, a rise that officials are attributing to a wider testing of people who were previously unaware of their HIV status.

The release of the results of the study was accompanied by new recommendations for doctors as well as other health-care providers to immediately start treatment for people who have been newly-diagnosed with HIV, as opposed to waiting for evidence of severe damage to the immune system.

The Health Department also released the annual update on HIV/AIDS, which indicated a drop in the total number of new AIDS cases over the past four years, as well as improvements in getting infected people into care quickly. The latter was cited by Mayor Vincent C. Gray as among the city’s many achievements.

While the at-risk populations in other cities are concentrated among intravenous drug users as well as sexually active gay men, Washington was found to have a “mixed epidemic,” with a “huge burden” falling on heterosexual African Americans; according to officials, 90 percent of all women with HIV are black.

Michael Rhein, senior vice president at the Institute for Public Health Innovation, a nonprofit group that coordinates several regional programs supporting people with HIV/AIDS, shared: “While recognizing the limitations of a sample-based study, it seems the HIV epidemic among heterosexuals may be more significant than the previous study estimated.”