Testing It Up » December 2011

Monthly Archives: December 2011

DNA & Paternity Health & Wellness

Vets’ Role in Creation of Largest Medical Database and Gene Repository

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Research continues to play a crucial role in the field of medicine, and will undoubtedly continue to do so for years and generations to come. It is, therefore, to mankind’s great advantage if health researchers and clinical scientists are provided with all the data that they need for their various studies.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hopes to make the yearning of many a researcher for a data repository that contains blood specimens, genetic information, and detailed medical histories for a large number of inividuals, through the Million Veteran Program.

The program will collect blood specimens from Veterans, which will become part of a database that contains Veterans’ electronic health records.

The VA is currently actively recruiting volunteers from among Veterans for the program, and has, thus far, signed up ten thousand volunteers. The program has health researchers excited, given the fact that the VA has two full decades’ worth of electronic health records. Once completed, this will become the largest medical database in the world.

Jennifer Hoblyn, MD, MPH, who specializes in mental illness at the Palo Alto VA, shared: “Not only do we have all their clinical records – laboratory, vital signs, pharmacy database – we have annual assessments that we will do that we can track people, assessments of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide screening, alcohol and substances, traumatic brain injury.”

The Million Veteran Program will contribute significantly to the advancement of personalized medicine and support clinical research, as it will provide researchers with the ability to observe genetic patterns across a large number of patients, as well as specimens for research purposes.

Substance Abuse

Smoking While Pregnant Linked to Blood Vessel Damage in Children

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Smoking is one of the habits that health advocates are trying to put an end to, and the results of a new study provides women smokers with another good reason to quit. The study, which appears on Pediatrics, associated smoking during pregnancy with blood vessel damage in children.

The study was led by researcher Cuno Uiterwaal, MD, PhD, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It involved data from 250 children, whose parents completed questionnaires that asked about such factors as smoking during pregnancy.

The study determined that the walls of the carotid arteries in 5-year-old children whose mothers had smoked while they were pregnant were about 19 microns thicker, and 15 percent stiffer, than those whose mothers had not smoked. If both parents smoked while the mother is pregnant, the carotid arteries were almost 28 microns thicker and 21 percent stiffer.

Dr. Uiterwaal shared the following statement: “The challenge there was to show that it was really smoking in pregnancy and not exposure to cigarette smoke afterward… with our findings, we think that smoking in pregnancy does play an independent role, although we know that exposure of children to [secondhand] smoke is damaging in many areas.”

Authors and pediatricians Susanne Tanski, MD, MPH, of Dartmouth College and Karen Wilson, MD, MPH, of the University of Rochester wrote the editorial accompanying the study, and they indicated that it provided “one more piece of evidence for the importance of smoking cessation, in particular, among families with young children and those planning to have children.”

Early Disease Detection Pregnancy & Fertility

Giuliana Rancic “Feeling Better” After Double Mastectomy

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Giuliana Rancic did not let the year 2011 end without going back to work, as she returned to her usual gig with E! News on December 27, two weeks to the day after she underwent a double mastectomy.

The 37-year-old host, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, successfully went through double mastectomy as well as reconstructive surgery.

While she spoke of not being her usual self, Giuliana did not show signs of slowing down, and everything seemed business as usual as she reported on the engagement of Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves, as well as John Legend and Chrissy Teigen. She also shared the success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol at the box office.

Giuliana shared the following with E! Online: “Thankfully, I’ve been feeling better every single day since surgery and this weekend my doctors gave me the green light to get back to work… Even though I moved a tad slower than usual today, everyone welcomed me back with open arms and it was a wonderful homecoming.”

Giuliana had surgery on December 13, after having undergone a double lumpectomy and radiation, and consulting with experts. Bill Rancic shared with E! News that the surgery lasted for four hours, and that doctors were pleased with the results.

Giuliana and her husband, Bill Rancic, have been very vocal about her health issues, as well as their attempts at conceiving a child. She was diagnosed with breast cancer after a third round of in vitro fertilization. She has been quoted as saying that “early detection means so much… I want women to make sure that they’re taking care of their health and being proactive.”

Early Disease Detection Pregnancy & Fertility

A Mother’s Sacrifice: Cancer-Stricken Teen Chooses Baby Over Treatment

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A teenager who had been diagnosed with a type of brain tumor made the ultimate sacrifice that a mother could do: choosing to stop undergoing treatments so that her baby may live.

The Associated Press shared the touching story of Jenni Lake of Pocatello, Idaho, and the price she paid to ensure that she is able to bring her son safely into the world. Twelve days after giving birth to her son, Chad Michael Lake Wittman, Jenni passed away in their home.

Jenni’s mother, Diana Phillips, shared that she learned that Jenni’s decision to stop treatments for the sake of her child would prove to be fatal a day after she gave birth on November 9, 2011. The cancer had grown to a point where nothing could be done.

Jenni had started having migraines when she was 16, and scans determined a mass on the right side of her brain.

Five days after undergoing a biopsy, in October 2010, Jenni was diagnosed with with stage three astrocytoma. She began to undergo aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and was told prior to the start of treatments that she may never have children.

A couple of weeks before her diagnosis, Jenni had begun dating Nathan Wittman, and despite their youth, their relationship withstood the test of cancer, as well as school gossip. Jenni’s pregnancy, however, came as a surprise, in part because they were told that the treatments may make her sterile.

After the pregnancy was confirmed, Jenni’s mom shared the options presented by Dr. David Ririe, Jenni’s oncologist: “He told us that if she’s pregnant, she can’t continue the treatments, so she would either have to terminate the pregnancy and continue the treatments, or stop the treatments, knowing that it could continue to grow again.”

Jenni, however, had always wanted to be a mother, so there was no question about what her decision would be. And even if she is no longer around, her legacy of sacrifice will live on. Phillips shared: “I want him to know everything about her, and what she did.”

Substance Abuse

New Painkiller Raises Concerns Among Addiction Experts

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It is unfortunate that breakthroughs in research and development in some areas of medicine can be a double-edged sword to the community that it aims to serve. While its primordial goal is to provide much-needed medical treatment for those in need, some medicines can be equally as deadly to those who find ways to abuse them.

Addiction experts share their concernes over one such drug: a painkiller that will reportedly be 10 times stronger than Vicodin, a drug that has become a favorite among prescription drug abusers.

This type of painkiller is said to contain a pure version of hydrocodone, which belong to the family of drugs called opiates. Opiates include such drugs as morphine, heroin, oxycodone, codeine, and methadone.

If and when the drug is approved, it will be the first pure form of hydrocodone that can be purchased legally, as drugs that are already in the market combine it with non-addictive painkillers.

Four companies are currently testing pills with this formulation. One such product is Zohydro, from Zogenix of San Diego, which plans to apply for permission to market the drug early next year. Zohydro is a timed-release drug for the management of moderate to severe pain.

April Rovero, president of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, expressed her concerns about the drug: “I have a big concern that this could be the next OxyContin.” Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin was developed to manage pain with timed-release doses of oxycodone.

Abusers, however, discovered that they could crush the pills to get around the timed-release feature, and get an immediate high. OxyContin is the most abused prescription drug in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The other companies testing hydrocodone drugs are Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, and Egalet.

Substance Abuse

Quit-Smoking Tools Aimed at Teens

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Smoking is a habit that many advocates are trying to eradicate from the system of smokers, especially if these smokers are still in their teens. And when dealing with teens, one way to reach out to them is through the use of technology.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is rolling out a new program aimed at encouraging teenagers to quit smoking. The program includes a website, http://teen.smokefree.gov, as well as texting support; and come January, NCI behavioral scientist Erik Auguston shared, a smart phone application will also be added. All these are efforts towards urging teen smokers to quit early on, before they grow into chronic adult smokers.

University of Michigan researcher Lloyd Johnston, who leads an annual study that tracks smoking, drinking, and drug use among teenagers, shared that 19 percent of teenagers smoke by the 12th grade. He shared further: “From a health viewpoint, (tobacco) is probably the most important of all drugs… There’s no product, legal or illegal, that kills as many people.”

The Smokefree Teen program is hinged upon three things: emphasizing that teens are in charge, in recognition of the fact that teens usually do not appreciate being told what to do; producing materials that focus on teen-specific triggers, such as social life, test anxiety, and peer pressure; and the technologies being used by teens, including providing teens with text support and allowing them to connect to counselors through phone or instant messaging. Teen smokers who would like to quit may also join social network-based support groups on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Alcohol Testing Substance Abuse

Arizona to Ease DUI Sentences for First-Time Offenders in 2012

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Drivers in Arizona who are convicted with driving under the influence (DUI) charges for the first time will receive a “slightly gentler” sentence, starting January 1st next year.

A new state law set to take effect when the New Year comes in will reduce the amount of time that first-time offenders are required to have an ignition-interlock device on their vehicles, from one year to six months.

Interlock devices prevent vehicles from turning on if alcohol is detected in the driver’s breath. Arizona is known as among the toughest states when it comes to DUI laws, as it is one of only 15 that require first-time offenders to have interlock devices.

The length of time that an interlock device is used varies by state, and with the reduction, Arizona joins the ranks of Oregon, New Jersey, and Missouri, which require interlock devices for a period of six months.

The change was proposed early this year by Sen. Linda Gray of Glendale, who said that while she still believes in requiring interlock devices, she thinks that six months is long enough to teach a lesson.

The Arizona Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), however, opposed the change to the law. Since Arizona required first-time offenders to have interlock devices, the number of DUI fatalities has decreased, and MADD Arizona program specialist Kelley Dupps said that they will be monitoring whether the new law will cause an increase in the number of DUI fatalities.

Dupps said: “We definitely feel the interlock law has made a huge difference in the DUI fatalities in Arizona… Interlocks allow offenders to get back on the road and drive safely while the community can rest assured that they are driving safely.”

Health & Wellness

Senator Asks FDA to Investigate ‘Inhaled Caffeine’

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Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat from the state of New York, has asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to look into “breathable caffeine,” which may potentially pose as a danger to teenagers.

The senator wrote FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to call for a review of the “safety and legality” of AeroShot Pure Energy caffeine inhaler. The product contains caffeine powder and B-vitamins.

It comes in a yellow and gray canister that resembles a tube of lipstick. It can fit in jeans pockets and is allowed in carry-on baggage. The product is set to hit store shelves in New York and Boston in January.

Sen. Schumer shared further that AeroShot will be sold over the counter, without age restrictions. When the substance is taken with alcohol, it may have the same adverse affects reminiscent to those encountered with caffeinated energy drinks.

Sen. Schumer said: “The product is nothing more than a club drug designed to give users the ability to drink till they drop.”

AeroShot is being sold online by Cambridge-based Breathable Foods, Inc., and The Lab Store in Paris. It was created by Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences professor David Edwards, the inventor of Le Whif, a calorie-free inhalable chocolate.

A fact sheet about the product indicates that it delivers 100 mg of caffeine, which is comparable to the amount of caffeine in a large cup of coffee. The caffeine is absorbed in the mouth and digestive tract. It is priced at $2.99, and is only intended for users aged 12 years old and over.

Tom Hadfield, chief executive officer of Breathable Foods, Inc., shared the following through an e-mail: “It is a safe product that delivers caffeine and a mix of B vitamins to the mouth, and it does not contain the mystery chemicals found in other energy products like taurine or glucuronic acid.”

Health & Wellness

Preference for Salt May Be Developed at Six Months Old

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One may develop preference for salty dishes halfway before reaching one’s first birthday, according to the results of a new study.

A study led by physiological psychologist Leslie Stein of the Monell Center indicated that babies introduced to such foods as bread and breakfast cereals have greater preference for salty dishes, when compared against those who have not been eating them yet.

Lead author Stein shared that “more and more evidence is showing us that the first months of life constitute a sensitive period for shaping flavor preferences.”

Researchers found a link between preference of babies for salty food, and their previous exposure to salt-containing starchy meals, including processed food.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, focused on starchy table foods, including breakfast cereals, bread, and crackers; these foods are usually employed in the weaning of children. Dr. Stein shared: “Our findings suggest that early dietary experience influences the preference for salty taste.”

The babies who participated in the study were also checked when they reached pre-school age, as their mothers were asked to complete questionnaires regarding their dietary behavior. The responses to the questionnaires indicated that children who were introduced to starchy table foods before the age of six months were more likely to lick salt from foods, as well as eat plain salt.

Dr. Stein shared further: “Experimental studies are now needed to address the important question of how children and adults come to prefer high levels of salt in their food.”

Health & Wellness Substance Abuse

How to Manage Weight Gain When Kicking Your Cigarette Habit

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There are many reasons why people are wary about quitting smoking, and one of their concerns is the fact that quitting may lead to weight gain. While that may be true, the benefits that may be derived from quitting smoking far outweigh the few extra pounds that you may gain from giving the habit up. And there are things that you can do to keep that weight gain to a minimum.

People who quit smoking may possibly gain weight because nicotine curbs the appetite, and perks one up when one’s energy levels are low because of hunger. This is why quitting smoking makes one more hungry, and causes one to eat more. Nicotine also dulls the taste buds, and makes the body burn calories faster. This combination makes food taste better and leads one to eat more, while the body is not burning calories as fast as it used to.

The first thing to keep in mind is how much healthier you will become once you are able to quit smoking. Then, focus on quitting first, before worrying about dealing with whatever weight you may gain because you quit; and while working on kicking your cigarette habit, make it a point to eat healthy foods and be more active.

One should be conscious about food labels and which foods are high in calories and fats – and steer clear of these foods. Load up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods, and find ways to stay physically active. It can be simple things as choosing to take the stairs as opposed to the elevator, or something more significant as deciding to start hitting the gym regularly. It would be beneficial if one stayed away from alcohol, and eat at least three meals a day.