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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
Scott Allen
Alice Dembner
Carey Goldberg
Liz Kowalczyk
Stephen Smith
Colin Nickerson
Beth Daley
Karen Weintraub, Deputy Health and Science Editor, and Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor.
 Short White Coat blogger Ishani Ganguli
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« April 08, 2007 - April 14, 2007 | Main | April 22, 2007 - April 28, 2007 »

April 20, 2007

Short White Coat: What students can do

Short White Coat is our new blog, written by first-year Harvard medical student Ishani Ganguli. Ishani's posts will appear here, as part of White Coat Notes. E-mail Ishani at

By now the statistics, and the photos that bring them to life, are familiar but no less jarring: Ten million people die each year from preventable and treatable causes -— mostly infectious diseases long forgotten in the developed world. Developing nations account for 90 percent of global deaths but only 10 percent of pharmaceutical sales each year, in large part because drugs aren’t affordable.

Our spring course on Social Medicine switched this year from elective to mandatory as testament to a growing emphasis on humanism in medicine. Headed up by such global health celebrities as Jim Kim and Paul Farmer, the class tends to be focused accordingly, on problems in the developing world.

On Thursday afternoons, Farmer or Kim, co-founders of Partners in Health, stand behind the podium, present such statistics, and ask us what we can do to solve these problems in an earnest tone that suggests that even they, despite their decades of dedication to the cause, have little idea.

Sitting in the lecture hall, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and inadequate in the face of such challenges. But as our professors -- who began their global health work when they were classmates at Harvard Medical School -- know, students have a unique drive and capacity to effect change, especially on their home turf.

Two of my first-year friends, Craig Szela and Cyrus Yamin, are doing just that, calling universities to task on their global responsibilities. They’ve joined a national student movement, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), to convince Harvard and other institutions to help increase access to lifesaving drugs.

The idea is this: basic research in federally-funded university labs feeds a significant proportion of pharmaceutical pipelines for drugs against diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Get universities to stipulate in licensing agreements that essential medicines developed from their research be produced cheaply (read: generically) for the world’s poor to afford, and millions of lives will be saved. Backed by Farmer, Kim, four Nobel laureates, and a number of other prominent figures, UAEM is making clear progress.

Waxing eloquent on multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and intellectual property, Kim spoke before a packed lecture hall in Harvard Yard this week to mark UAEM’s National Day of Action (April 18), recognized across nearly 45 universities. At the end of yesterday's Social Medicine lecture on the same topic, Kim, a former head of global AIDS programs for the World Health Organization, reminded us of the credo behind the course -- "to teach [us] how to think socially about terrible problems like drug resistant TB and HIV, but then to understand how you can make a difference."

"Craig and Cyrus are making a difference," he declared. Empowering words for two first-years to hear, coming from the likes of Kim.

Posted by Ishani Ganguli at 07:05 PM
April 20, 2007

This week in Science

germ 150.bmpThis week's Science includes a special section on germ cells -- the reproductive cells of an organism.

George Q. Daley of Children's Hospital Boston, Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute asks whether the cup is half empty or half full for embryonic stem cells.

David C. Page of the Whitehead Institute and MIT considers the mysteries of sexual identity from the germ cell's perspective.

Alexander F. Schier of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT writes about the death and birth of RNAs during the maternal-zygotic transition.

Also in Science, Rachael L. Neve of Harvard and McLean Hospital is an author of a new study in mice about neurons competing to encode a memory in the brain.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 01:03 PM
April 20, 2007

Today's Globe: Virginia Tech emotional toll, violent fantasies not uncommon

The emotional toll on students, faculty, and staff at Virginia Tech, where student Seung-Hui Cho shot classmates and faculty before killing himself, will last for decades, predicted those who have counseled survivors of past shootings on college campuses.

Teachers and fellow students were horrified by Seung-Hui Cho’s violent screenplays — bizarre tales of suburban mothers brandishing chain saws and high school teachers raping their students. But psychologists and psychiatrists say such stuff is no indicator of imminent violence like Cho’s murderous rampage at Virginia Tech.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:25 AM
April 19, 2007

Boston gets $500,000 for anti-obesity campaign

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

A coalition leading the fight against obesity in Boston won a $500,000 grant today, money that will be used to draft a citywide battle plan and to expand public space for physical activity.

The two-year grant was awarded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the Boston Food and Fitness Collaborative, a 52-member association that includes hospitals and health centers, city agencies, and activist groups. The collaborative intends to make affordable produce available to residents as well as improve walking and bicycling trails, according to the office of Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

In two years, the coalition could receive an addition $3.5 million from the Kellogg Foundation to further implement strategies emerging from the citywide plan to combat obesity.

April 19, 2007

Two doctors disciplined by medical board

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

The Board of Registration in Medicine has disciplined two physicians, Dr. Matthew Cushing Jr. and Dr. Douglas M. Katz.

The board revoked Cushing's license, following a similar action by the California Medical Board in 2004 over his treatment of a patient who later died of an overdose. No Massachusetts office was listed for Cushing, whose specialty is internal medicine.

The board reprimanded Katz, a 1987 graduate of the School of Medicine, State University of New York, for "engaging in communication" with a patient whose tattoo he removed "designed to foster a personal relationship beyond the boundaries of a doctor/patient relationship."

Katz, who is board certified in internal medicine, practices in Peabody and is affiliated with Lahey Clinic and Union Hospital.

April 19, 2007

Children's doctors to care for babies at Caritas hospitals

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

Children's Hospital Boston and Caritas Christi Health Care today announced an affiliation agreement in which Children's Hospital doctors will provide care at three Caritas nurseries for sick babies.

Children's physicians will staff the neonatal intensive care unit at Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston and the special care nurseries at Caritas Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton and Caritas Holy Family Hospital and Medical Center in Methuen.

The agreement provides a guarantee to Caritas that it won't encounter a shortage of specialists to staff its nurseries and the opportunity to associate itself with the prestigious Harvard teaching hospital.

Children's, which will care for the sickest children at its own neonatal intensive care unit, extends its reach to a new group of potential patients.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 12:43 PM
April 19, 2007

Today's Globe: abortion ban, colleges on alert, breast cancer and hormones, MGH drug sale, flu shots and heart attacks, race, genes and illness

The Supreme Court voted yesterday to uphold a national ban on the procedure opponents call "partial-birth abortion," marking the first time the court has allowed a ban on any type of abortion without a broad exception to protect a woman's health.

In recent years, universities have been trying to weave stronger nets to catch students who are potentially dangerous to themselves and others. But even so, college officials and mental health specialists say that some -- like Virginia Tech's Seung-Hui Cho -- may still slip through. From big-name private colleges to small public schools, universities are focusing on student mental health as never before.

New federal statistics provide powerful evidence that the sharp drop in hormone use by menopausal women that began in 2002 caused a dramatic decline in breast cancer cases, according to an analysis being published today.

enbrel half.bmp

Massachusetts General Hospital
yesterday sold its rights to royalties on foreign sales of the rheumatoid arthritis drug Enbrel (left) for $284 million, a move that eliminates its exposure to market risk and will help it build a research endowment.

Add a seasonal flu shot to the list of medicines that can help prevent heart attack deaths, according to a study in the European Heart Journal.

Even if we think we can agree on various groupings called races, we should understand the limits of how well they can help define health differences, Sally Lehrman, who reports on health and science for Scientific American and the radio documentary series "The DNA Files," writes on the op-ed page.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:20 AM
April 18, 2007

Redstone donates $35 million to Mass. General burn unit and ER

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

Massachusetts General Hospital has received a $35 million donation for its burn unit and emergency department from media mogul Sumner Redstone, the largest single gift in the hospital's history.

Redstone, who nearly died in a 1979 Boston hotel fire and was treated for third-degree burns at Mass. General, has a long history with the hospital and has made previous donations to the burn unit. Of the current gift, $20 million will go toward research in burn and trauma care and a renovation of the unit.

Sumner Redstone (left) and Clint Eastwood, arriving at this year's Academy Awards, in February.

The hospital will use the remaining $15 million to improve access in the emergency department, which will be re-named The Sumner M. Redstone Emergency Department. Mass. General president Dr. Peter Slavin said that since many burn patients are stabilized in the emergency room, Redstone saw helping that department as a natural extension of his relationship with the burn unit.

The emergency department is struggling to care for a growing number of patients, many of whom experience long waits for care or for hospital beds. The donation will pay for various stages of expansion of the ER, including four new triage rooms that will allow doctors to evaluate patients immediately when they arrive and begin tests sooner.

The hospital also plans a significant expansion of the ER as part of a multi-million new building that it plans to complete in 2011. That renovation will add another three triage rooms, a pediatric waiting area, and increase the number of patient bays from 44 to 60, said Dr. Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency services.

Redstone, 83, whose net worth is estimated at $7.5 billion by Forbes magazine, also is giving $35 million to Cedars-Sinai Prostate Cancer Center in Los Angeles and FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions in Washington, D.C.

"Advancements in research and medical science are creating a better world and a higher quality of life for all of us. Like many, I have personally benefited from these advancements," Redstone said in a statement.

Wire services contributed to this story.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 04:44 PM
April 18, 2007

McLean doc accuses the feds of overestimating teenage steroid use

By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff

In a new paper, Dr. Harrison Pope of Harvard’s McLean Hospital is accusing federal researchers of causing undue alarm by greatly overestimating the number of teenage girls who take anabolic steroids.

A 2003 federal survey found that 7.3 percent of 9th-grade girls had used "illegal steroids." But Pope says that a confusing question may have prompted girls to report taking steroids even if they had actually only taken asthma medication, health-food supplements and the like.

The survey question asked teenagers if they had ever taken “steroid pills or shots without a doctor’s prescription.” It would have been better if the question had been more specific, naming steroids like testosterone and Dianabol, Pope says. His paper appears in the new issue of the journal “Drug and Alcohol Dependence.”

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official Laura Kann defends the survey, and says that its findings on steroids were “not inconsistent with what some surveys have shown.” Was there a glitch in the data? “I don’t have any reason to think that, no,” she said.

Pope estimates that perhaps only one-tenth of 1 percent of teenaged girls take anabolic steroids; the drugs can have masculinizing effects such as increased body hair.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 04:34 PM
April 18, 2007

Dana-Farber nurses easily approve new, generous contract

By Scott Allen, Globe Staff

Nurses at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute yesterday approved a contract that will make them the highest paid nurses in New England, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, with senior nurses making more than $140,000 a year by 2009.

The three-year contract, settled after only five bargaining sessions, will give the cancer center's 225 nurses cumulative pay increases of from 9 to 23 percent, depending on their specialty and experience, the union said. A fulltime registered nurse with 15 years experience would make $67.78 an hour, which translates to $141,000 annually.

Nurses at most other teaching hospitals in Boston make at least several dollars an hour less, according to the nurses association.

"The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is an awesome place to work and they really value their nurses," said Kathleen McDermott, the Dana-Farber nurse who chaired the bargaining committee for the nurses' association. "They have a lot of very experienced nurses and they ... want to keep us."

Officials at Dana-Farber also praised the new contract. "We value our nurses, their skill and the high quality of care they provide our patients and their families," said Patricia Reid Ponte, senior vice president for patient care services and chief of nursing at the hospital.

The harmony at Dana-Farber is a striking contrast to last fall's negotiations at neighboring Brigham and Women's Hospital. At the Brigham, nurses threatened a strike last November and narrowly averted a work stoppage after a 14-hour bargaining session produced a contract that will give senior top scale nurses more than $126,000 a year.

But reaching a labor agreement may be easier at Dana-Farber which has only 225 nurses compared to 2,700 at the Brigham and all of them practice cancer medicine, giving the Dana-Farber nurses both a narrower focus and a closer relationship with hospital management. In the past, McDermott said contracts have been wrapped up in as few as three bargaining sessions.

In addition, Dana-Farber officials have particular reason to keep labor peace this year after announcing an ambitious $1 billion fundraising program to pay for expansion, research and improved cancer care. As nursing association spokesman David Schildmeier said, "The last thing they would need is .. nurses who are out there on the street talking about their dissatisfaction," he said.

There is no central ranking of hospital nurse salaries -- and who is on top often depends on which Boston hospital negotiated the most recent contract -- but Schildmeier said there is little doubt that the Dana-Farber nurses are the top paid in the region and among the best paid in the United States.

He said nurses at the Brigham and Boston Medical Center -- all of them working under contracts signed in the past year -- are probably ranked second and third in the region with top pay scales just above $60 per hour.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 03:11 PM
April 18, 2007

Medical PR move

John Lacey leaves his post as associate director of public affairs for media relations at Harvard Medical School today to become director of communications at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council on April 30. No replacement has been named for Lacey, who held the Harvard job for 7 years.

John Lacey

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 02:47 PM
April 18, 2007

State gets high rating for Medicaid care

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

Public Citizen, Ralph Nader's consumer advocacy group, today rated Massachusetts as having the best Medicaid program in the country.

The organization gave Massachusetts 650 out of 1,000 points, ranking the state in four areas: eligibility, scope of services, quality of care and provider reimbursement. Massachusetts ranked 1st in quality of care, based on good nurse staffing in nursing homes, the high percent of infants who've been immunized and other factors. But the state ranked just 23rd in provider reimbursement.

Public Citizen's data went up to January 2006, so some of the impact of the state's new health insurance law may not be reflected in the rankings in individual categories.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 12:05 PM
April 18, 2007

Cambridge names new chief public health officer

jacob 100.bmpCambridge has named Claude-Alix Jacob (left) chief public health officer for the city and director of the Cambridge Public Health Department.

Jacob had been deputy director of the Office of Health Promotion at the Illinois Department of Public Health and before that he was chief of the Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control at the Baltimore City Health Department. He earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Jacob will take over from interim health director Dr. Karen Hacker, who was appointed in July after Harold D. Cox stepped down to become associate dean for public health practice at Boston University's School of Public Health.

The Cambridge Public Health Department is a municipal health agency operated by Cambridge Health Alliance through a contract with the City of Cambridge.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:03 AM
April 18, 2007

Today's Globe: antidepressants, Epogen, Army injured, healthcare law loose ends

Authors of a new analysis of antidepressants for children and teenagers say the benefits of treatment trump the small risk of increasing some patients' chances of having suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

For-profit dialysis chains in the United States give patients larger doses of the expensive antianemia drug Epogen compared to nonprofit clinics, according to a study to be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Under criticism for poor treatment of injured soldiers, the Pentagon announced new measures yesterday to provide more health screenings, improve its record keeping system, and simplify an unwieldy disability claims system.

The Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, charged with establishing rules for the state's healthcare law, needs to tackle extending coverage to the 60,000 residents who are exempted from the mandate and to ensure that those required to purchase insurance, especially the low-premium plans, actually benefit from their coverage, Mark Rukavina and Carol Pryor of the national healthcare access advocacy group The Access Project write in an opinion piece.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:21 AM
April 17, 2007

Former Channel 5 anchor joins Beth Israel in online venture with station

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's marketing department already looked a little like Channel 5 with the arrival of former senior health producer Rhonda Mann and former writer and news producer Zineb Marchoudi in January.


But now the television station's website,, is looking a little like the hospital with former news anchor Heather Kahn's (left) arrival as a Beth Israel spokeswoman for a sponsored spot on the WCVB health page.

Outlined in purple, the monthly BIDMC "Hot Health Topic" and video from Kahn appear on either side of Channel 5 news stories - making it hard to tell where the ads end and the news begins.

The online feature debuted yesterday with text reports about weight-loss surgery written by Mann, the hospital's marketing director, and a patient's video story told by Kahn.

Kahn, who used to work with Mann on WCVB's health unit and now lives in Philadelphia, will also appear in television spots promoting the venture, the hospital said. The videos are shot at the station's studios in Needham.

Channel 5 also has sponsored arrangements with Mount Auburn Hospital and Tufts Health Plan, whose advertisements appear on the health page.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:26 PM
April 17, 2007

On the blogs: life-threatening or not, vaccine costs, calling RNA labs

Flea, a Boston-area pediatrician-blogger, answers a vehement "no" to this article's title in Pediatrics: "Do All Infants With Apparent Life-Threatening Events Need to Be Admitted?"

But that doesn't mean they aren't.

"In the real world, evidence-based medicine often doesn't make a dime's worth of difference," he writes. "It doesn't matter to parents and it doesn't even matter to some of Flea's colleagues. This is especially true in the current climate of over-test, over-diagnose, over-treat, and over-admit."

On Kevin, M.D., Nashua pediatrician Dr. Kevin Pho posts a link to the American Academy of Pediatrics' concern about the cost of new vaccines Gardasil, against cervical cancer vaccine ($360), and RotaTeq, against diarrhea-causing rotavirus ($190).

Via Nature Network Boston, Alex Palazzo of Harvard Medical School and the Daily Transcript is putting out the word to 29 RNA labs in the Boston area to meet for a monthly informal data seminar to be called the Boston RNA Data Club. Something like the Boston Area Yeast Meeting at the Whitehead, Nature Network's Corie Lok notes.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:16 PM
April 17, 2007

Patients can manage their own care better, researchers argue

Teaching patients how to monitor and manage their chronic illnesses can not only lower costs but improve quality of care, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT say.

In an essay in this week's Public Library of Science Medicine, Harold J. DeMonaco of MGH and Eric von Hippel of MIT review the medical literature on self-management tools for type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, depression and asthma.

They ask why the methods patients use to take care of their own diabetes -- monitoring blood sugar, injecting insulin, evaluating how well they are doing and adjusting dosage -- can't be expanded to other conditions. In one study they cite, patients with hypertension successfully used home monitors to lower their blood pressure and stay on their medications.

"We propose that the time has come for health systems to support appropriate and appropriately timed shifts from practitioner-based care to patient self-management," they write.

Can this work? Let White Coat Notes know what you think at

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:08 AM
April 17, 2007

Teaching doctors to teach patients about lifestyle

Two years ago, a group of doctors founded an organization with the goal of making lifestyle medicine -- how daily habits affect health -- a credentialed clinical specialty and a part of basic medical training, according to a story in today's New York Times. Now the group, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, has a new publication, The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

"We know lifestyle interventions can be very powerful," often more effective than drugs or surgery, said Dr. JoAnn Manson, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health and a member of the editorial board of the new journal. "But we need to provide the scientific evidence on how to incorporate that knowledge into practice."

Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the lifestyle medicine college’s board of advisers, said primary caregivers should be trained in lifestyle medicine.
Dr. Thomas W. Rowland,
chief of pediatric cardiology at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, counters that the principles of lifestyle medicine should be at medicine's core and not a separate specialty.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:52 AM
April 17, 2007

Most doctors see religion as beneficial, study says

Most physicians in the United States believe that religion and spirituality have a positive effect on patients’ health, according to a survey published last week in The Archives of Internal Medicine, and that God at least occasionally intervenes on their behalf, a story in today's New York Times says.

groopman 150.bmpDr. Jerome E. Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard who was not involved in the study, told the Times he was surprised by how many doctors believe in divine intervention.

"The most striking finding is the perception that God is micromanaging clinical outcomes at the bedside," said Groopman, the author of the new book "How Doctors Think" (Houghton Mifflin).

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:56 AM
April 17, 2007

Today's Globe: Guidant, anemia drug, marathon medical tent, Frank Westheimer, FDA screening

The Food and Drug Administration has lifted a warning letter that had been hanging over the Guidant division of Boston Scientific Corp., the medical-device maker said yesterday, freeing the Natick company to introduce products that had been blocked by quality-control problems.

One in four cancer patients given Amgen Inc.'s Aranesp anemia drug in a study died after 19 weeks, a rate about 5 points higher than among those on a placebo, a finding likely to make doctors more cautious about the product.

medical tent 150.bmpConditions during yesterday's Boston Marathon weren't as drastic as predicted -- the temperature was higher -- but the wind, rain, and cold combined to make it a challenging race for medical personnel (left), who had prepared for the worst.

Retired Harvard University professor Frank H. Westheimer, a major force in 20th century chemistry who served as a science adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, died Saturday of natural causes at his home in Cambridge, relatives said yesterday. He was 95.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy is leading efforts in Congress to pass legislation to overhaul the Food and Drug Administration. Such reform is needed, but the proposed legislation is so weak that it is unlikely to save any lives, write Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, and Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families, in an opinion piece.

An FDA proposal to ban anyone with a financial interest of $50,000 or greater from taking part in an FDA advisory panel is a vain political effort to placate the medical journal editors, ethicists, and bureaucrats who enforce conflict-of-interest regulations, writes Dr. Thomas P. Stossel of Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women's Hospital on the op-ed page.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:23 AM
April 16, 2007

From couch potato to marathon man in less than a year

By Judy Foreman, Globe Correspondent

Larry Haydu, 56, a licensed clinical social worker from Sudbury, finished yesterday’s marathon in 6 hours and 17 minutes.


Haydu, the subject of a story in today's Globe, trained and ran the marathon despite having had a heart attack 13 years ago.

He was part of a Tufts University research project to see if average people could go from completely sedentary to super fit in about 10 months.

Miriam Nelson, a Tufts nutritionist and the project's chief scientific consultant, said she spoke with Haydu shortly after he finished his run.

"He looked great," she said. I think he was really happy with his race."

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 05:45 PM
April 16, 2007

BU wins Templeton Research Lectures grant

Boston University's Albert and Jessie Danielsen Institute has won one of two Templeton Research Lectures grants for its proposed project "Religious and Psychological Well-being."

The project grants, which last up to four years and provide up to $500,000, are designed to promote discussion about science and religion through interdisciplinary study groups and annual lectureships, according to the Metanexus Institute, the organization that makes the grants for the Templeton Foundation. Johns Hopkins University won the other grant for 2007.

Robert C. Neville, executive director of the Danielsen Institute at BU and a professor of philosophy, religion and theology, said he will form a research group that includes people from psychology, medicine, education, religious studies and theology.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:54 PM
April 16, 2007

Medical interpreters group changes name, expands mission

The Boston-based Massachusetts Medical Interpreters Association has changed its name to the International Medical Interpreters Association, reflecting an expanded mission to decrease healthcare disparities worldwide by improving communication between healthcare providers and patients, the group said.

The 1,500-member nonprofit group said it seeks to grow through a network of international interpreter associations and chapters in other countries.

"We will now be able to join forces with other associations around the world, to help develop an international code of ethics, standards of practice and quality controls for medical interpreters, and to facilitate the cross-continental exchange of knowledge in the language services industry," Izabel S. Arocha, the group's president, said in a statement.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:34 PM
April 16, 2007

Three Mass. hospitals make integrated network top 100

Three Massachusetts hospitals have been named among the country's top 100 integrated health networks -- hospital systems that operate as a unified group.

Baystate Health System in Springfield was ranked 31st, Cambridge Health Alliance came in 49th and Lahey Clinic in Burlington finished 85th in the ratings released by Verispan. There were 587 hospital networks considered.

The healthcare information company said it surveyed health systems about patient access, clinical quality, physicians and the use of technology.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:58 PM
April 16, 2007

Harvard, Michigan team share cancer research honor

Scientists from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital have been honored with collaborators from the University of Michigan for their discoveries about the genetics of prostate cancer.

The American Association for Cancer Research chose the team from about 30 applicants, the organization said. The researchers will share a prize of $50,000.

The Harvard members are Dr. Mark A. Rubin, Charles Lee, Dr. Sven Perner and Francesca Demichelis.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:19 PM
April 16, 2007

New genetic risk factors for Crohn's disease identified

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT are part of a team that has discovered new genetic risk factors for Crohn's disease.

Reporting in the online Nature Genetics, they identify new genes that are involved in the immune system's response to bacteria. Crohn's disease, which affects about half a million Americans, is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease.

The authors include John D. Rioux, who has moved from the Broad to the Universite de Montreal, Ramnik J. Xavier, Alan Huett and Petric Kuballa of MGH, Todd Green of the Broad, and Mark J. Daly of the Broad and MGH.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:03 PM
April 16, 2007

Short White Coat: What I didn't learn in high school biology

Short White Coat is our new blog, written by first-year Harvard medical student Ishani Ganguli. Ishani's posts will appear here, as part of White Coat Notes. E-mail Ishani at

Who says medical school can’t be fun? I’m taking Human Sexuality in Medicine, a spring elective meant to supply future doctors with the knowledge and vocabulary to discuss this sometimes uncomfortable subject with patients. In previous weeks we’ve covered the anatomy and physiology of it, as well as what can go wrong.

During Thursday’s session, a sex therapist with effusive gesturing habits shared her experiences in the field with our predominantly female classroom.

Lessons learned: Talk to each member of a couple individually to root out the cause of complaints in the bedroom. Don’t be afraid to talk methods. And even 85-year-olds have concerns about sex (so ask).

Besides discussing how to bring up sexuality in a patient doctor conversation (Do you have sex with males, females, or both? is the somewhat jarring standard), we addressed such questions as—what happens when a patient hits on you? And what if you accidentally hit on him? It was the type of conversation I’d have with girlfriends, poring over Cosmo at a sleepover (yes, such stereotypes are valid). But this time, we were taking it to a professional level, with the guidance of an expert.

Class was followed with a highly anticipated field trip to the Brookline branch of Good Vibrations, a chic “sexuality product retailer” with a sense of humor. Store-clerks gave us a hands-on tour of the boutique, pointing out books, videos, toys, games, and other merchandise designed to shield, stimulate, and educate. On several occasions, I was compelled to check if my phone was vibrating (it wasn’t).

All in all, we picked up information that’s good to know, for our future patients.

Posted by Ishani Ganguli at 01:33 PM
April 16, 2007

Eric Lander honored for work in genomics

lander100.bmpEric S. Lander (left), founding director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and a leader of the Human Genome Project, has won the 2007 Society for Biomolecular Sciences Achievement Award for his study of genes and how they function in health and disease.

He will receive the award, which carries a $5,000 honorarium, and present a talk called "Beyond the Human Genome" at this week's SBS meeting in Montreal. Past recipients have included Stuart L. Schreiber, also of the Broad, in 2004.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:31 AM
April 16, 2007

On the blogs: dogs and handwashing, dumb movie science

On Running a Hospital, Paul Levy says Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has joined Boston Children’s Hospital, Tufts-New England Medical Center and MGH in offering a pet therapy program. Trained dogs and volunteers visit patients who give written consent. A dozen comments include praise as well as concern about allergies, infection and fears, plus Levy's replies with hospital policies on screening for the therapy dogs.

In the next post down, Levy vents frustration over hand hygiene stats at the hospital that show some improvement but not enough.

"Trust me, the irony of putting these two posts next to each other was not lost on me," he writes.

On Nature Network Boston, Harvard virology graduate student Anna Kushnir lists her favorite dumb movie science moments and invites more.

"When I think about the fact that I have spent 23/28ths of my life in school, I have difficulty controlling my gag reflex," she writes. "However, the (exceedingly) rare swells of intellectual superiority I experience when watching really (really) dumb movies make those 23 years worth it."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:00 AM
April 16, 2007

Today's Globe: Cambridge science, marathon heart, medical reservists, generic biologics, electronic records deal

From nature walks to rocket launches to the world’s first scale model of the human genome, Cambridge celebrates its best April 21 through 29 in the Cambridge Science Festival, led by the MIT Museum.

haydu100.bmpLarry Haydu (left), 56, who had a heart attack at 43 and was almost completely sedentary until last summer, will run the Boston Marathon today. He and 11 teammates are running as part of an experiment dreamed up by exercise physiologists and nutritionists at Tufts University and the television program "Nova." Check back later today to see how Haydu fared.

Also in Health/Science, meet MIT bioengineer Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia, ponder cloud color, consider antidepressants and read about studies on ALS insights and a link between Tai Chi and shingles (second item).

In World news, A 350-strong US military task force of medical reservists called New Horizons last month spent two weeks bivouacked in the remote jungle in Panama, buffing the image of the United States as they help the poor.

In Business & Innovation, lobbyists take aim at generic biologics and New York City will buy electronic medical records software systems from eClinicalWorks of Westborough.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:23 AM
April 16, 2007

In case you missed it: paying 'on call' doctors

Some Massachusetts hospitals have started paying surgeons and other medical specialists up to $1,000 for "on call" emergency room shifts, breaking with decades of medical tradition, the Sunday Globe reports.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:21 AM
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