Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cholesterol drugs may cut risk of prostate cancer

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may protect men against prostate cancer and other urological complaints, as well as reducing the risk of heart attacks, U.S. researchers said on Sunday. A large clinical study following 2,447 men aged between 40 an 79 year for over 15 years found those taking statins were less likely to develop prostate cancer, compared to men who did not take the medicines.

Just 6 percent of men on statins were diagnosed with prostate cancer, with non-statin users three times more likely to develop the disease, Mayo Clinic researchers reported at the American Urological Association meeting in Chicago. Their long-term analysis also found men on statins were less likely to suffer benign prostate enlargement or erectile dysfunction.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Are Friends For? A Longer Life

In the quest for better health, many people turn to doctors, self-help books or herbal supplements. But they overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, speed recovery, slow aging and prolong life: their friends.

Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. And last year, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.

“In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated,” said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship. It baffles me. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”
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Routine removal of ovaries is questioned by new research

Women who have their healthy ovaries removed when they have a hysterectomy face a higher risk of death -- including death from coronary heart disease and lung cancer -- than women who keep their ovaries, according to new research. The finding from a study published in the May issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology challenges conventional wisdom that removing ovaries along with the uterus offers the best chance for long-time survival.

Of the 600,000 women in the United States who get a hysterectomy every year, about 300,000 also have their ovaries removed -- about 50% of those between the ages 40 and 44 and 78% of those ages 45 to 64. But the study's authors said routine removal is often not a good choice. Though the risk of ovarian and breast cancer declined after ovary removal, the risk of heart disease and stroke for women under 50 nearly doubled, and risk of death overall before age 50 rose by 40%.
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

It may be the right time to operate

Healthcare reform could, paradoxically, get a boost because of the economic slump. But the bleak environment may paradoxically spur the kind of costly, sweeping overhaul of the nation's healthcare system that has eluded policymakers in Washington for decades, many political strategists, industry leaders and economists say.

Hospitals and physicians are increasingly worried about the escalating burden of newly unemployed workers being thrown onto the rolls of the uninsured. And businesses see new urgency in addressing the nation's healthcare crisis as they struggle to pay costs for medical benefits while sales plummet and profit margins shrivel. "Healthcare reform is very much linked to the broader economic issues that the country is facing," said Todd Stottlemyer, president of the National Federation of Independent Business.
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Primary care doctors struggling to survive

Dr. Tanyech Walford takes blood from patient Gwendolyn Wood during Wood's check-up on Tuesday. Walford is closing her Beverly Hills practice after struggling to stay financially afloat. Relatively low earnings, rising overhead and overwhelming patient loads are sending veteran physicians into early retirement and driving medical students into better-paying specialties. The morning's last patient, a disabled woman on Medicare, trails her doctor into her office and confides that she doesn't have money for lunch. Tanyech Walford pulls out her billfold and hands her $3. It's money the doctor really doesn't have. "I tell patients I'm broke, and they just chuckle," she said. "They don't believe me."

She hadn't drawn a paycheck for herself since February. On top of that, her practice has cost her $40,000 in personal savings and left her with $15,000 in credit card debt. Walford, 39, also owes $80,000 in medical school loans. She shops at Ross and other discount retailers, and rarely eats out or takes time off. "I'm totally stressed out," Walford said. "How can I take care of my patients when I'm that stressed?" Walford is not alone in her struggle. Relatively low earnings, rising overhead and overwhelming patient loads are sending veteran primary care physicians into early retirement and driving medical students into better-paying specialties, creating what the New England Journal of Medicine recently called a crisis.
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Virtual colonoscopy at center of policy debate

With soothing walls of turquoise tile and a vase of orchids on the front desk, the Colon Health Center of Delaware has been selling an alternative to one of medicine's most unloved procedures -- the colonoscopy. Rather than insert several feet of tubing into patients' lower intestines, clinicians slide patients into a computed tomography, or CT, imaging machine that can quickly scan the abdomen for signs of cancer.

Today, however, this procedure is the subject of a heated debate in Washington pitting powerful sectors of the healthcare industry against a government desperate to contain healthcare spending. The fight over virtual colonoscopy has also become a prime example of how hard it can be to ensure that healthcare dollars are spent efficiently, a key goal of the Obama administration. The procedure is cheaper and more comfortable than the traditional method. Proponents say the noninvasive approach will save lives by increasing the number of people who get screened. Around 50,000 people die every year from colorectal cancer, many because they avoided a traditional colonoscopy.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Prostate Cancer Vaccine Meets Goal

Provenge, an experimental treatment vaccine for advanced prostate cancer, met researchers' goal in a key trial needed for FDA approval. That news comes from Dendreon, the company that makes Provenge. "We believe this is truly a breakthrough for the prostate cancer community and a testament to the promise of the field of cancer immunotherapies," Dendreon's president and chief executive officer Mitchell Gold, MD, said in a conference call today.

Provenge is a biologic drug given by infusion to spur the immune system to fight advanced prostate cancer that doesn't respond to anti-androgen treatment. In 2007, an FDA advisory panel recommended that the FDA approve Provenge. But instead, the FDA requested more information about whether Provenge prolongs survival. That request led to a new study of 512 men with advanced prostate cancer. Those men had metastatic, androgen-independent prostate cancer, meaning their cancer had spread and wasn't responding to anti-androgen treatment. In that study, overall survival was significantly better for men taking Provenge than those taking a placebo.
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Monday, April 13, 2009

Lab creates an all-it-can-eat mouse

A UC Berkeley team finds that knocking out a key gene, DNA-PK, prevents weight gain from carbs. Imagine you've bellied up to the all-you-can-eat pasta bar in Berkeley, only to meet one of the mice from Hei Sook Sul's Nutritional Science and Toxicology Lab. If you come here often, you know that loading up on carbohydrates is going to make you pretty chubby. But you notice that your fellow diner -- the mouse -- is pretty slim. How does he do it?

The gene involved, known as DNA-PK (for DNA-dependent protein kinase), is widely studied for its role in repairing breaks in the DNA -- a function that has made it crucial in cancer research and treatment. But Sul said it was a surprise to discover that the same gene has a key role in the liver's conversion of excess glucose (all that bread, pasta and sugary soda you've failed to work off) to fatty acids. Not only were mice whose DNA-PK gene had been knocked out 40% leaner than normal mice when all were fed a high-carb, low-fat diet; they also had better blood-lipid profiles, suggesting they'd be at lower risk of developing heart disease.
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Dean Kamen's "Luke Arm" Prosthesis Readies for Clinical Trials

The Luke arm grew out of DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, which was created in 2005 to fund the development of two arms. The first initiative, the four-year, US $30.4 million Revolutionizing Prosthetics contract, to be completed in 2009, led by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., seeks a fully functioning, neurally controlled prosthetic arm using technology that is still experimental. The latter, awarded to Deka Research and Development Corp., Kamen’s New Hampshire–based medical products company (perhaps best known for the Segway), is a two-year $18.1 million 2007 effort to give amputees an advanced prosthesis that could be available immediately “for people who want to literally strap it on and go.” Kamen’s team designed the Deka arm to be controlled with noninvasive measures, using an interface a bit like a joystick.
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Richard Weir and the BioMechatronics Development Laboratory
For 1st Woman With Bionic Arm, a New Life Is Within Reach
Robotic Limbs Offer New Hope to Amputees
DARPA, Wikipedia

The Recession's Impact: "I don't want to die.

"I don't want to die. I shouldn't have to die. This is a county hospital. This is for people that, like me, many people have lost their insurance, have not any other resources. I mean I was a responsible person. I bought my house. I put money away. I raised my two children. And now I have nothing. You know my house isn’t worth anything. I have no money. And I said 'What do I do, but what do all these other people do after me?' 'And they said we don't know,'" Sharp told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.

Sharp, 63, has been fighting lymphoma since July. She's not working because of her illness and has no insurance. Last year, she received charity care at the county hospital, University Medical Center. She was one of 2,000 patients who got the letter. "Dear patient, we regret to inform you that the Nevada Cancer Institute will no longer provide contract oncology services at University Medical Center," Sharp read.
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Friday, April 10, 2009

AARP: The Right Hospital for You

When Kate Probst learned she needed surgery to remove a brain tumor, she launched a nationwide search for the best medical care. Probst, an environmental-policy analyst who lives in McLean, Virginia, consulted doctors in nearby Washington, D.C. She telephoned specialists at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina and sent her records to experts at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Ultimately, Probst chose the second of two neurosurgeons she interviewed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Her operation to remove the benign tumor was a success.
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

FDA: Recall of tainted pistachio nuts far from over

The recall last week of 2 million pounds of pistachios because of concerns about salmonella contamination has been expanded, and federal officials say more recalls of foods containing pistachios are on the horizon. Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, the California company that is the nation's second-largest processer of pistachios, originally had recalled all of its pistachios harvested since September. The recall was expanded this week to cover Setton's entire 2008 crop, except for raw in-shell pistachios. Most pistachios sold in stores are roasted.

Setton spokeswoman Fabia D'Arienzo said she did not know how many pounds of pistachios were involved in the expanded recall. "This is going to resemble the peanut recall in that products are going to be added every day as companies discover they used Setton pistachios," says Caroline Smith DeWaal of the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's going to take a while for the dust to settle."
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Medivation prostate drug shows promise-study

A prostate cancer drug that takes a new approach to blocking tumor growth helped more than 40 percent of men with advanced prostate cancer, researchers reported on Tuesday. The drug, made by San Francisco-based Medivation Inc. (MDVN.O), helps stop testosterone from getting into cells and driving the cancer.

Very early phase I/II safety tests in 30 men showed it was safe and might be shrinking tumors, Dr. Chris Tran of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and colleagues reported in the journal Science. Men with advanced prostate cancer are often treated with so-called castration therapy -- drugs that block the production of testosterone, the "male" hormone that drives many prostate tumors. But the cancer cells begin to evade this treatment in many men. The researchers looked for a drug that might work despite this mutation by the cancer cells.

They settled on MDV3100, which worked well in mice. "Of the first 30 patients treated with MDV3100 in a phase I/II clinical trial, 13 of 30 (43 percent) showed sustained declines (by more than 50 percent) in serum levels of prostate specific antigen, a biomarker of prostate cancer," they wrote. Lower levels of PSA suggest that tumors have stopped growing or have shrunk.
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Generic drug cuts escalate price war

One of the nation's largest drugstore chains ratcheted up a price war Thursday, offering deep discounts on generic prescriptions amid national concern about the spiraling cost of healthcare. Drugstore giant CVS Caremark Corp. announced it would sell 90-day supplies of more than 400 medications for $9.99 and offer discounts for cash-paying patients at its in-store medical clinics.

The price war was unleashed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the country's largest retailer, a few years ago. Since then, many grocery stores have followed suit. The price competition makes generic drugs just about the only healthcare bill that isn't escalating. Now savvy shoppers can buy many prescriptions for less than laundry detergent, face cream or a pound of deli meat. Retailers can't make much, if any, profit off the cut-rate generics. But that doesn't mean they won't make money off the customers. The stores are using generic prescriptions as loss leaders to bring people in. And cheap drugs do drive other purchases.
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Push for digital health records sparks debate

The blank wall behind the receptionists' desk stands as a symbol of efficiency in Peter Basch's bustling office. A dozen years ago, Basch and his fellow doctors went paperless and ditched the stacks of patients' charts that stood there.
An early entry into the world of electronic medical records, Basch is an enthusiastic supporter. "It allows our staff and physicians to be far more organized," he says. And that means "more focused on the patient."

President Obama wants doctors' offices and hospitals nationwide to follow suit, and the government has set a goal for every American to have an electronic health record by 2014. Kathleen Sebelius, the White House nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, calls the move to computerization "one of the linchpins" of overhauling the nation's health care system. Obama casts it as a factor in the nation's economic recovery, saying going paperless would "save billions of dollars and thousands of jobs."
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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Insurance Aid for the Newly Unemployed

Individuals who lost their jobs in the last several months may be eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance coverage at greatly reduced rates. The federal government will pay 65% of Cobra continuation coverage premiums as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was signed into law on Feb. 17. The coverage will apply to individuals who lost or lose their jobs between Sept. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2009 and are eligible for continuing coverage under Cobra, a federal law called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. The new subsidy "makes Cobra much more affordable for a lot of people," says Scott Keyes, a senior health-care consultant at Watson Wyatt, a consulting firm. He expects participation could double or triple.
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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Stem Cell Research Offers Hope for the Deaf

British researchers from the University of Sheffield just published the results in the Stem Cell Journal, of an exciting new study using stem cells to treat deafness. Although, researchers admit their methods are years away from human trials, the research shows great promise to someday restore hearing loss in people who suffer from permanent deafness and have little hope of ever hearing again.

The British researchers discovered that the new auditory cells produced from the fetal cells, performed identically to existing cells in developing ears. Researchers are also studying the use of embryonic and adult stem cells for their studies on restoring hearing loss. Stem cell research offers exciting possibilities for cures to such diseases as Parkinson’s, diabetes, cancer and many forms of muscular dystrophy. British researchers also recently obtained great success in using stem cells to treat macular degeneration of the eyes, which is a common condition among the elderly. They will be conducting clinical trials on humans within the next two years.
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