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White Coat Notes

Fostering stem-cell research

About two-dozen representatives from state and federal governments were in Cambridge last week as part of a fledgling campaign to improve collaboration among stem cell scientists by identifying barriers to sharing research material across state lines. What's legal in one state might not be in another, and scientists have expressed concern that differences in laws could impede research and potentially put researchers in legal jeopardy.

Warren Wollschlager, chief of the Office of Research and Development in Connecticut's Department of Public Health, says the interstate consortium wants to assure that no matter where researchers do their work, they can benefit from material developed by colleagues elsewhere.

To that end, one of the alliance's first steps is compiling the states' laws and analyzing their implications on research. Wollschlager said the consortium is not trying to create "a cookbook for all the states to follow," but instead to share information with states about what regulations worked well and what didn't.


Lahey breaks ground
The Lahey Clinic Medical Center, North Shore, broke ground last week on a $50 million expansion in Peabody. A new three-story wing will add 63,500 square feet to the current 162,000-square-foot space off Route 128. Its cancer center, orthopedic surgery, and emergency departments will be enlarged, and sleep disorders, spine, and pain units will be added. About 25 doctors, 125 nurses, and technical and clerical workers will be hired. The project is expected to be completed in spring of 2009.


Struggling with medical errors
Doctors aren't the only ones who can become paralyzed by guilt, fear, and isolation after medical errors occur. Patients and families also struggle with these emotions, Dr. Tom Delbanco and Dr. Sigall K. Bell discovered when they made a documentary about the impact of medical errors. The doctors, both of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, wrote about the parallel experiences in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"I had no idea, frankly, and I've been a primary care provider for 36 years," Delbanco said in an interview. "It had never entered my mind that family members could feel the same kind of guilt that we as doctors feel. It had never entered my mind they would say, 'If only I'd been more assertive with the doctor before this happened' or 'If only I'd listened to my instincts.' "

Another surprise, Delbanco said, was how reluctant people are to speak up, afraid that they will get worse care, particularly if they are from disadvantaged immigrant groups.


Group to share autism data
A Boston group is sharing genetic information from families affected by autism with other researchers to promote understanding of the developmental disorder.

The Autism Consortium, whose members include hospitals, medical schools, and universities in the Boston area, will transfer profiles of 500,000 genetic variations found across the genomes of 700 families with two or more children who have autism.

"Understanding the genetics underlying a complex disease is not an easy problem to solve. So there's no excuse for hoarding your data when much more can be learned by sharing," Mark Daly, a consortium member from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, said in an interview.


Fish oil and depression
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles are recruiting volunteers for a randomized clinical trial that will compare two compounds found in fish oil - the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA - against each other and against inactive pills in 300 adults who have major depression, the hospitals said. To be eligible, participants must not be taking antidepressant medications, principal investigator Dr. David Mischoulon of Mass. General said in an e-mail.


Brigham to study health IT
Brigham and Women's Hospital has won $4 million in federal funding to study how health information technology can help medications be used more safely. The Boston hospital is one of four new Centers for Education and Research on Therapeutics named last week by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Six previously funded research centers won renewals, including Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.


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