Tag: health policy

Study Finds Aspirin Cuts Cancer Risk—but Be Careful, Other Docs Warn

By Andrew Moseman | December 8, 2010 3:13 pm

aspirinIs plain old aspirin the best medicine to ward off cancer? A new study in The Lancet says that it could definitely help, but researchers urge caution before anybody goes on a low-dose aspirin regimen for this reason.

The study, led by Oxford’s Peter Rothwell, is actually a review of eight previous studies that compared people on regular doses of low-dose aspirin to those on a placebo. The researchers who initially performed the studies were investigating questions like whether the aspirin regimen was effective in lowering the risk of heart disease. But in doing so, they kept detailed records on the more than 25,000 people who were involved in the studies—including their causes of death.

Deaths from esophageal cancer were reduced by 60% in the aspirin-takers (who took the drug for at least five years), compared with the placebo group. Lung cancer deaths were reduced by 30%, colorectal cancer deaths were cut by 40% and prostate cancer deaths were lowered by 10%, compared with the patients who got placebo. What’s more, the longer people took aspirin, the greater their reduction in cancer risk. [TIME]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Animal Testing Advocate Gets "AIDS-Tainted Razor Blades" in the Mail

By Jennifer Welsh | November 24, 2010 12:01 pm

razor-bladesA neuroscientist who has spoken out in support of animal testing is in the news again after a militant animal rights group sent razor blades and a threatening note to his house. The group claims that the razor blades were contaminated with HIV-infected blood.

The researcher, J. David Jentsch, who studies addiction and schizophrenia at UCLA, explains the incident:

“About a week ago I was going through my mail in my kitchen and I opened a letter and razor blades spilled out on the floor. It was the first sign something was nefarious,” he said. “The letter inside contained quite specific and heinous acts of violence to kill me.” [CNN]

Jentsch made headlines last year when he staged a pro-test rally in support of (humane) animal research after an animal rights group fire-bombed his car in his driveway. The threats and harassment of Jentsch and other department employees have continued, but Jentsch seems undaunted and undeterred.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

Once-a-Day Pill Reduces HIV Infections—Would People Actually Take It?

By Jennifer Welsh | November 23, 2010 6:59 pm

pillsA drug called Truvada seems to be able to prevent HIV infection from taking hold in the body when taken regularly. The once-a-day pill combines two anti-retroviral drugs, and was found to reduce new HIV infections in a study of 2,500 gay men. But there are two big issues: compliance and cost.

In the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, men who took the pill were 44 percent less likely to contract the disease than those on placebo. But when the researchers looked only at the men who took the pill faithfully, the number jumped to 90 percent.

“These results represent a major advance in HIV-prevention research,” says physician Kevin Fenton of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “For the first time, we have evidence that a daily pill used to treat HIV is partially effective for preventing HIV among gay and bisexual men at high risk of infection.” Fenton cautions, however, that the results don’t warrant abandoning other proven prevention techniques. [Science News]

While the results are certainly promising, it remains to be seen if at-risk people would take a pill every day.

[M]any men in the study failed to take all their pills, and some clearly lied about it. For example, some who claimed to take them 90 percent of the time had little or no drug in their bloodstreams. Although the pills caused no major side effects in the study, some men disliked the relatively minor ones, like nausea and headaches. [New York Times]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

FDA: "Blackout in a Can" Alcoholic Energy Drinks Are Off the Menu

By Andrew Moseman | November 18, 2010 2:33 pm

mambajooseIf you like caffeine with your booze, you might soon have to revert to chugging coffee alongside your alcoholic drink of choice. The Food and Drug Administration, after drawn-out deliberation, has ruled that caffeine-and-alcohol concoctions like Joose, Core, and Four Loko violate the law, and informed the makers that they have two weeks to respond with their plans to change the products.

A typical alcoholic energy drink is 24 ounces (0.7 liters) and has a 12 percent alcohol content—compared with a 12-ounce (0.35-liter) can of beer, which normally has 4 to 5 percent—plus the caffeine equivalent of five cups of coffee. [Scientific American]

Phusion Projects, the maker of Four Loko says it intends to remove the caffeine, as well as guarana and taurine, to bring the drink into compliance with the FDA. United Brands, which markets Joose, says the same. Despite FDA’s decision, Phusion’s leaders maintain that the alcohol-caffeine combo is not unsafe. (These companies are probably not wild about their products’ common nickname: “blackout in a can” drinks.)

But for some public health experts, there are specific negative consequences for putting alcohol and caffeine together:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Investigation Finds U.S. Kidney Dialysis in a Sorry State

By Andrew Moseman | November 10, 2010 1:48 pm

arlificial kidney (dialysis) deviceDialysis can be a life-saver for people with kidney failure, but according to a major investigation, the way we do it and finance it in this country is a total mess.

Writing in The Atlantic, reporter Robin Fields of the nonprofit investigate journalism group ProPublica lays out her long investigation into dialysis. Though the procedure since 1972 has been the only one guaranteed universal coverage to all Americans through Medicare, Fields finds it disturbingly inefficient, with one in four American patient dying within a year of beginning treatment:

Now, almost four decades later, a program once envisioned as a model for a national health-care system has evolved into a hulking monster. Taxpayers spend more than $20 billion a year to care for those on dialysis—about $77,000 per patient, more, by some accounts, than any other nation. Yet the United States continues to have one of the industrialized world’s highest mortality rates for dialysis care. Even taking into account differences in patient characteristics, studies suggest that if our system performed as well as Italy’s, or France’s, or Japan’s, thousands fewer kidney patients would die each year. [The Atlantic]

How did things go so awry? Medicare mandated coverage, the investigation finds, but it did not properly mandate how the clinics spent Medicare’s money.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Plastic Chemical BPA Is Officially Toxic in Canada

By Jennifer Welsh | October 14, 2010 3:36 pm

NALGENEThe Canadian government today declared bisphenol A, a chemical in plastics also known as BPA, to be toxic.

A scientific assessment of the impact of human and environmental exposure to bisphenol A has determined that this substance constitutes or may constitute a danger to human health and the environment [Official notice]

The chemical has been linked to heart disease, impotence, and diabetes, while animal and cell culture experiments have shown that it can mimic the female hormone estrogen. It is found in some plastic containers, and some food cans are lined with it.

While Canada is forging ahead, most other governments are dithering about whether or not the chemical poses a health threat.

How much exposure is too much, though? There is no clear answer. Two weeks ago, the European Food Safety Authority declared that BPA did not pose sufficient risk to stop using it in food containers. While tiny amounts can leach out into food, they cannot raise human exposure to unacceptably risky levels, the authority concluded after an assessment of existing scientific studies. [Nature]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Health & Medicine

Federal Judge Won't Delay His Ban on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

By Andrew Moseman | September 8, 2010 12:28 pm

StemCellsUPDATE: In a terse statement (pdf) released today—Thursday, Sept. 9—the U.S. Court of Appeals has issued a stay on the ruling of District Court judge Royce Lamberth against federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Earlier in the week, Lamberth refused to grant a stay on his own ruling; see below. This doesn’t mean the appeals court is siding with the Justice Department against Lamberth’s ruling; it simply means the three judges want adequate time to consider the ruling and its repercussions. And because the stay lasts until September 20 at least, the National Institutes of Health can re-up the $54 million in projects currently due for annual renewal.

—————————————————————

The ruling stands, for now.

The Obama Administration asked U.S. District Court judge Royce Lamberth to grant a stay of his injunction against federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, insisting that it could trigger job losses and research setbacks. But yesterday the judge issued an order in which he refused to lift the ban, and dismissed the Justice Department’s arguments that the ruling would cause chaos by immediately shutting down all research.

Lamberth indicated that his injunction was less restrictive than had been interpreted by the Obama administration. “Defendants are incorrect about much of their ‘parade of horribles’ that will supposedly result from this Court’s preliminary injunction,” Lamberth wrote. The ruling did not necessarily apply to research that had been funded under guidelines issued during the Bush administration or that had previously been “awarded and funded,” Lamberth wrote. [Washington Post]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

FDA Says Genetically Modified Salmon Is Safe to Eat; Decision Looms

By Andrew Moseman | September 7, 2010 5:21 pm

Salmon SteakIn about a week and a half, officials at the Food and Drug Administration must complete their final deliberations over whether or not to approve a genetically modified salmon as the first GM animal in the world sold for human consumption.

It would seem they’re leaning toward “yes.”

Last Friday, while the country was preparing to go on vacation, the FDA released an analysis (pdf) of the transgenic salmon created by AquaBounty Technologies of Waltham, Massachusetts, declaring it safe to eat and safe for the environment.

The AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon that is kept active all year round by a genetic on-switch from a different fish, the ocean pout. Normally, salmon produce growth hormone only in warm weather. So with the hormone produced year round, the AquAdvantage salmon grow faster [The New York Times].

“Faster” is an understatement. A normal Atlantic salmon requires about 30 months to grow large enough so that it can be sold at market. But a GM salmon with year-round growth hormone bulks up to market size in barely more than half that time—16 months or so.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

Active Ingredient in "Magic Mushrooms" Could Help Cancer Patients

By Eliza Strickland | September 7, 2010 5:06 pm

magic-mushroomsHallucinogenic drugs are making a comeback–not among the restless youth of today, but among medical researchers. Doctors are increasingly testing illegal drugs like LSD, psychedelic mushrooms, and the party drug ketamine for beneficial effects, and are suggesting that these discredited drugs could have a place in modern medicine. The latest study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found that the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms helped alleviate depression and anxiety in terminal cancer patients.

“This is a landmark study in many ways,” said Dr. Stephen Ross, clinical director of the Center of Excellence on Addiction at New York University‘s Langone Medical Center, who was not involved in the research. “This is the first time a paper like this has come out in a prestigious psychiatric journal in 40 years.” [Los Angeles Times]

The small pilot study included only a dozen volunteers, so the findings are far from conclusive. The volunteers ranged in age from 36 to 58; all had been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer and had considerable anxiety as a result of their disease. Each patient had one session in which they were given psilocybin, the active ingredient of magic mushrooms, and another session when they were given a placebo that caused a physiological reaction–still, in most cases the patients could figure out if they’d been dosed or not. In all the sessions the patients were kept under supervision for six hours and were encouraged to lie in the dark while listening to music (no word from the researchers on whether Pink Floyd was provided).

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Feds Challenge Judge's Injunction Against Stem Cell Research

By Andrew Moseman | September 1, 2010 4:40 pm

StemCellsThe U.S. Department of Justice has now officially asked Royce Lamberth, the District Court judge who ruled that the Obama administration’s expansion of embryonic stem cell research violated federal law, to suspend the injunction he issued last week that prevents any more funds from going to stem cell projects. The DOJ is also taking the case to the Court of Appeals.

In a 23-page legal filing, Justice Department lawyers said the stay was needed to avoid terminating research projects midstream and negating years of scientific progress toward finding new treatments for devastating illnesses. The department said the ruling would cause irrevocable harm to “millions of extremely sick or injured people” who could benefit from stem-cell research, as well to scientists and taxpayers “who have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on such research through public funding of projects which will now be forced to shut down and, in many cases, scrapped altogether.” [Wall Street Journal]

Most ongoing projects had been allowed to continue for now, but only if they used National Institutes of Health money to research at their home universities. However, NIH head Francis Collins notes (pdf) the $54 million in projects due for renewal at the end of this month—without a change in the ruling, NIH is forbidden to renew them. Additionally, projects underway on the NIH campus itself have been ordered shut down.

DISCOVER will keep you posted on further updates.

Related Content:
80beats: Stem Cell Decision Fallout: What’s Next, and Who Were the Plaintiffs?
80beats: Judge: Obama’s Expansion of Stem Cell Research Violates Federal Law
80beats: The Trouble With Lab-Created Stem Cells—and Why They Won’t Displace Embryonic Ones
80beats: FDA Green-Lights First Trials Using Embryonic Stem Cells (Again)

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
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