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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
 Short White Coat blogger Jennifer Srygley
Week of: October 21
Week of: October 14
Week of: October 7

« October 7, 2007 - October 13, 2007 | Main | October 21, 2007 - October 27, 2007 »

October 20, 2007

Events: Oct. 29 to Nov. 4

Health/Science-related events in the Boston area this week:

Harvard Medical School's "Science in the News" series continues with a discussion about allergies and the immune system. Monday, at 6 p.m. at the Mildred Ave. Community Center in Mattapan, and Tuesday, at 7 p.m., at the Armenise Amphitheater at the med school.

The Coolidge Corner Theatre will host a lecture MIT physicist Alan Lightman followed by a screening of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's ghost film, Pulse. At 7 p.m. Regular admission: $9.75.

The Brown University Environmental Change Initiative will sponsor a lecture about the impact of biofuels on food, energy, and the environment. At 7 p.m. in Brown's MacMillan Hall, Room 115, Providence.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History will host a lecture by ethnobotanist Michael Balick about the relationship between plants and traditional cultures, and his latest work with indigenous peoples in Belize and Micronesia. At 6 p.m., 26 Oxford St., Cambridge.

The Radcliffe Institute Fellows' Presentation Series continues with a discussion about the aerodynamics of falling paper and insect flight. At 3:30 p.m., in the institute's Colloquium Room, 34 Concord St., Cambridge. Call 617-495-8608.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Framingham will host a talk with Angela Grett, author of "My Mother's Bipolar, So What Am I?" At 7:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 25 Brook St., Framingham. Call 615-242-9857.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics will continue its "Family Nights" series with lessons on space observation through telescopes. At 7 p.m., 60 Garden St., Cambridge. Call 617-495-7461.

The Museum of Science will host a discussion about the anthropological applications of DNA analysis. At 7 p.m. Costs are $30 or members, $35 for nonmembers.

The Marine Biological Laboratory will host a lecture by a visiting Swedish professor about the role of benthic microalgae in nutrient cycling. At 3 p.m. in the Speck Auditorium, 7 MBL St., Woods Hole.

The ALS Therapy Development Institute will host a leadership summit at the Museum of Science to discuss the treatments for the disease that killed Lou Gehrig. At 9 a.m. Call 617-441-7209.

The Newton Symphony Orchestra will present an hour of space images set to music. Tickets from $10-$45. From 4:30 - 9 p.m. at the Newton South High School field house, 140 Brandeis Rd., Newton Centre.

Events may be sent to

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 06:25 PM
October 19, 2007

Today's Globe: SCHIP override, Watson remarks, Wrentham infection, cold medicine, stress

House Democrats failed yesterday to override President Bush's veto of a bill to expand a children's health insurance program, coming within a dozen votes and promising to continue their push on what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi termed a "banner issue."

watson%20100.bmpJames Watson (left, with DNA double-helix model), the 79-year-old scientific icon made famous by his work in DNA, has set off an international furor with comments to a London newspaper about intelligence levels among blacks.

A cleaning crew worked to sanitize a Wrentham elementary school last night after a second-grade girl was diagnosed with an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, but Superintendent Jeffrey Marsden said other children are not at risk.

cold%20medicine%20100.bmpCold and cough medicines should not be given to children younger than 6 because they don't help them and aren't safe, pediatricians seeking to curb their use told government health advisers yesterday. Such a prohibition would go beyond last week's move by drug makers to eliminate sales of the nonprescription drugs targeted at children under 2.

A mechanism in the brain may explain why some people keep their cool and others crumble under stress, US researchers said yesterday.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:20 AM
October 18, 2007

Short White Coat: Needle-stick debrief

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

ishani 2.JPG

Last week's needle-stick pseudo-scare has all but resolved itself. The on-call doctor never received my page, it turned out. This has happened before, and doctors at University Health Services are looking into the reasons for the miscommunication.

Ruffled by the lack of an authority figure's oversight, I picked the brains of my colleagues in training. These accidents happen fairly frequently at Harvard hospitals and elsewhere, I discovered. A friend at another medical school cited a classmate who had stuck himself twice and started prophylactic antiretroviral therapy for HIV both times, until he could be sure the needle's previous target didn't have the disease.

My first thought -- what a waste of anti-retrovirals. But we had learned that treatment within days of the exposure can prevent infection. And though the chance a needle-stick from an HIV-positive patient would actually infect the recipient is only 1 percent (it's up to 50 percent for hepatitis B and C), it isn't zero. My source-patient was not a stranger, or a patient I knew only peripherally; it was my housemate. But out of a mixture of curiosity and sense of duty, I went with her to University Health Services at lunchtime on Friday to officially report the accident and find out what we needed to do next.

We sat down with the doctor and went through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for post-exposure precautions. Given the fact that I was wearing gloves and that my housemate had been cleared for blood donation at the Red Cross within the last month, I decided to forego the treatment.

Though it seemed a no-brainer, it really is a personal decision, we were told. For some people, the anxiety provoked by even a tiny risk of infection may be worth the side effects and hassle of taking the meds. We each got blood tests, just in case, doubling my left arm Band-Aid count to two. At least this was good practice for next time.

October 18, 2007

Today's Globe: cervical cancer test, chronic disease, W. Proctor Harvey

A relatively new screening test was about twice as accurate as the traditional Pap smear at spotting cervical cancer, according to the first rigorous study of the test in North America.

While the state's healthcare system is the best worldwide in helping acutely sick people, it is poorly organized to prevent chronic disease or to intervene early enough to prevent complications, Ranch Kimball, president and chief executive of Joslin Diabetes Center, writes on the op-ed page. He was Massachusetts secretary of economic development under Governor Mitt Romney.

W. Proctor Harvey, one of the nation's most respected cardiologists, died Sept. 26 from complications of a fall at his home in Richmond, Va. He was 89. Dr. Harvey had been a professor at Georgetown University since 1950 and was considered the nation's most skilled practitioner of auscultation, or the ability to detect cardiac ailments by listening to the sounds of the heart. He invented stethoscope models, his books have been standard texts for more than 50 years, and his patients included at least four presidents, as well as diplomats and members of Congress.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:59 AM
October 17, 2007

BU falls short on hiring goals

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

Opponents of a high-security research laboratory being built by Boston University in the South End criticized the university today for failing to hire more city residents, minorities, and women into construction jobs at the Albany Street site.

A city rule on construction hiring requires contractors to make a good faith effort to assure that at least half of the workforce lives in the city, that a quarter represent minority groups, and that 10 percent are women.

The lab foes, led by the community group Safety Net, charged that BU had betrayed a promise to create jobs for the community. A BU spokesman acknowledged that the university had fallen short of the city benchmarks, but pledged to continue working toward meeting the goals.

The centerpiece of the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories will be a Biosafety Level-4 lab, where scientists will have the ability to study the world's deadliest germs, including Ebola, anthrax, and plague.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 06:26 PM
October 17, 2007

Cape Cod doctor's license suspended

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

The Board of Registration in Medicine today temporarily suspended the medical license of Hyannis physician Dr. Rahul Chaturvedi, saying he poses a serious and immediate threat to public health, safety and welfare.

The board alleges that Chaturvedi improperly prescribed narcotics, failed to properly create and store patients' medical records, and provided poor care for some patients, including not performing physical exams and following up on abnormal laboratory results.

For example, one 36-year-old woman saw the physician in October 2006 for depression and back pain. Without a physical exam, the board alleges, Chaturvedi prescribed antidepressants. He then failed to evaluate her response to the medication during her next visit, and did not address her four elevated blood pressure readings in one month.

The board also alleges that the doctor told employees to perform medical tasks they were not qualified to perform. For example, he had one employee, who was a personal trainer, perform a range of motion test on a patient and administer a shot to another patient. He was not a licensed physical therapist, and was not qualified to give shots, the board said.

Chaturvedi has seven days to appeal the emergency suspension to the state Division of Administrative Law Appeals.

He practices internal medicine and has been licensed to practice medicine in Massachusetts since 1992. His wife, Dr. Neena Chaturvedi, who had practiced with him, previously entered a voluntary agreement with the board not to practice medicine.

October 17, 2007

Mayor Bloomberg to receive Harvard public health award

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has championed bans on cigarette smoking in restaurants and bars and banished trans fats from restaurant menus, is receiving the highest award bestowed by the Harvard School of Public Health.

Bloomberg, a native of Medford, will receive the Richmond Award in a ceremony Oct. 29 at Harvard. The award is named for Dr. Julius Richmond, an emeritus professor at Harvard who served as US surgeon general from 1977 to 1981 and was the first national director of the Head Start program.

Along with his campaigns against smoking and fatty foods, Bloomberg has been lauded -- and, in some camps, vilified -- for his efforts to keep illegal guns off the street, a passion shared by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Most recently, the New York mayor has embraced aggressive measures to curtail pollution in the city, raising the specter of charging drivers who venture onto Manhattan's traffic-clogged streets.

Bloomberg is no stranger to schools of public health: He has one named for him. His financial backing led Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to call its school the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 05:56 PM
October 17, 2007

Former McLean president permanently surrenders license

By Scott Allen, Globe Staff

Former McLean Hospital President Jack M. Gorman permanently surrendered his right to practice medicine in Massachusetts today, ending a state investigation that began last year when officials at the renowned psychiatric hospital in Belmont reported allegations that he engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient.

The 55-year-old psychiatrist abruptly resigned from the Harvard-affiliated hospital in May 2006, just four months into his tenure as president, after the woman -- a patient at his practice in New York City -- threatened to expose the relationship and he attempted suicide. Gorman reported the improper relationship to the state of New York, which earlier this month suspended his medical license indefinitely.

Gorman allowed his medical license in Massachusetts to expire last year after leaving McLean, but his agreement never to seek renewal of the license ensures that he cannot legally practice medicine in Masachusetts again.

"When you resign your right to renew, you can never even attempt to get your license back," said Russ Aims, spokesman for the Board of Registration in Medicine. He said Gorman's resignation would be entered into national databases that allow potential medical employers to check doctors' backgrounds.

October 17, 2007

Harvard launches new website

Harvard Wednesday launched a new website – HarvardScience – to feature the scientific, medical, and engineering work done at the university’s schools and related hospitals.

The site has a snappy design, and includes profiles, breaking news and stories about topics from agriculture to zoology. Today’s headlines include Harvard chemists’ construction of nanowires that can carry and create electricity, as well as a study led by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers finding that the drug companies have increasingly cozy relationships with medical schools and teaching hospitals.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 04:34 PM
October 17, 2007

Today's Globe: drug-resistant germ, Affleck and hospital workers, ex-Mass. surgeon, defibrillator suit, Betsy Laitinen

A dangerous germ that has been spreading around the country causes more life-threatening infections than public health authorities had thought and is killing more people in the United States each year than the AIDS virus, federal health officials reported yesterday.

ben%20affleck%20100.bmpActor and film director Ben Affleck took time out yesterday from promoting his new movie "Gone Baby Gone" (right, at opening) to stump for the powerful Service Employees International Union, which moved closer to launching a full-blown organizing campaign to unionize thousands of workers at Boston's teaching hospitals.

A surgeon who gave up his Massachusetts medical license and is under investigation in a string of deaths at an Illinois Veterans Affairs hospital has applied for a medical license in North Dakota, that state's medical regulators confirmed yesterday.

A man who claims he received 47 unneeded jolts from his implanted defibrillator is suing Medtronic over the broken wires the company is recalling.

betsy%20laitinen%2085.bmpAn advocate for the rights of those with disabilities, Betsy Laitinen (left) spent years working with agencies on everything from improving medical care to ensuring that people can live independently even when they need significant assistance with basic daily tasks. Mrs. Laitinen, who had a neuromuscular illness akin to muscular dystrophy, was with friends for their annual girls' weekend on Cape Cod when she could not be awakened Saturday, and she died at Falmouth Hospital. She was 45 and had lived in Chestnut Hill.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:57 AM
October 16, 2007

Ties between industry and medical schools widespread, survey finds

Almost two-thirds of the people leading medical school departments have personal relationships with industry and two-thirds of these departments have similar ties, a survey of 140 medical schools and top-funded teaching hospitals found. Most of the doctors polled said their relationships had no effect on their decisions, but they thought multiple conflicts of others could lead to biased research.

"When you say 'everyone's doing it,' the accumulation of data suggests that's really true," Eric G. Campbell, associate professor of health policy at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Policy, said in an interview. He is the lead author of the study appearing in tomorrow's Journal of the American Medical Association. "There is virtually no aspect of medical education in which drug companies don't have significant relationships."

Campbell said the study gives the first portrayal of the links between companies and medical schools on the department level. The authors sampled departments of medicine, psychiatry, microbiology and one other nonclinical department at each surveyed institution.

They asked the individual chairs if they had served on company boards or speakers bureaus, been a paid consultant, or received compensation in the form of stock options, travel subsidies or honoraria. For departments, the questions were whether they got unrestricted funds, support for graduate students, or money for holding research seminars. They were asked if discretionary funds from industry paid for food and beverage, travel to meetings, journal subscriptions, software, or research or clinical equipment.

When asked about other chairs' involvement with companies, almost three-quarters of the respondents thought having more than one substantial role, such as being a consultant and a board member, would harm the department's ability to conduct independent research.

"Failure to address the existence and influence of industry relationships with academic institutions could endanger the trust of the public in US medical schools and teaching hospitals," the authors concluded.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:00 PM
October 16, 2007

Community partnerships needed to recruit minority patients to cancer clinical trials

Higher cancer rates among ethnic and racial minority groups cannot be attacked without increasing their representation in clinical trials, community health workers and health care providers heard today.

"The solution is to build community-academic partnerships," Dr. Claudia Baquet, director of the University of Maryland Comprehensive Center for Health Disparities, told about 100 people at a conference at the University of Massachusetts - Boston also sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health and community outreach organizations. "Notice I said 'community' first."

About 3 percent to 5 percent of all cancer patients participate in clinical trials that study ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Fewer than 1 percent of African-American patients do.

Historic barriers, including lack of trust or limited access to health care, aren't the only reasons, Baquet said. Patients need to hear from their health care providers that they might have the option of joining the studies, which are typically run by researchers at academic medical centers.

"It's a total myth that underserved communities have no interest in research," she said. "It's just that it has not been presented in a way that they can consider the benefits."

Groups like the Cherishing Our Hearts and Souls Coalition, which works to improve health among African-Americans in Roxbury, is an example of efforts to make research better reflect different populations, she said. The group is one of three pilot programs in the US funded by the Lance Armstrong Foundation with the goal of including more minorities in research.

Trust is still an issue, Tarma Johnson, director of clinical health services at Mattapan Community Health Center, said at a separate session for primary care practitioners. She was involved in recruiting patients for a clinical trial about vitamin D led by Boston University School of Medicine researcher Dr. Michael Holick. The patients were interested in what she told them, which could apply to cancer studies, too.

"The information came from the health center, not the hospital, because they trust us," she said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:37 PM
October 16, 2007

Today's Globe: radiologist killed, 'breakfast bomb,' gay brothers study

While carrying out his medical duties yesterday afternoon, the longtime Brockton Hospital physician and well-respected radiation oncologist Dr. Mark A. Vasa was killed when a car crashed through the glass doors of one of the hospital's main entrances, struck four people, and smashed into a reception desk.

The people who brought you the Monster Thickburger and the 1,100-calorie salad are at it again - this time for breakfast. Hardee's yesterday rolled out its new Country Breakfast Burrito - a two-egg omelet filled with bacon, sausage, diced ham, cheddar cheese, hash browns and sausage gravy, all wrapped inside a flour tortilla. The burrito contains 920 calories and 60 grams of fat, which one critic called a "country breakfast bomb."

One thousand pairs of gay brothers are taking part in the largest study to date seeking genes that may influence whether people are gay.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:47 AM
October 15, 2007

Whoa: Heart-stopping image

David Grubin Productions, Thirteen/WNET

By now commuters traveling into Boston on the eastbound Mass. Pike may be getting used to the WGBH digital mural looming over the highway before the Allston/Brighton exit. But this image of a beating heart was a little more startling than, say, last Monday's Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

"The Mysterious Human Heart" premieres tonight on Channel 2. Wonder if road rage comes up.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:53 AM
October 15, 2007

Today's Health|Science: Jupiter, inkjet life, breathing easier

Jupiter is yielding stunning images and startling data beamed earthward from a plutonium-powered spacecraft that zipped past the solar system's biggest planet earlier this year as part of an epic 3-billion mile, 9 1/2-year journey to Pluto.

If you print over and over on a single piece of paper, the ink layers will eventually build up a three-dimensional structure. What if, scientists are asking, you use that same inkjet technology to print layers of cells on a tissue matrix? Can you eventually build up a living structure like a heart or a kidney?

For decades, the haze over Maine's Acadia National Park, the acid in Vermont's mountain lakes, and the choking summer air in downtown Boston have - in part - been blamed on power plants in the Midwest belching pollution our way. A $4.6 billion settlement deal reached last week in federal court should help curtail that pollution and enable New Englanders to breathe a little easier.

Martin Nowak sees math in some pretty unexpected places: in the evolution of verbs like "laugh," in the spread of cancer cells, and in the performance of professional bicyclists who trade the lead position with their competitors so they can save energy by drafting off the other's wind.

Also, how does a one-way mirror allow you to see through in only one direction and is dieting or exercise better for weight loss?

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:01 AM
October 15, 2007

Today's Globe: hospital falls, war stress, SCHIP bill, defibrillator defect, MS drug, drug makers in doctors' forum

The state's 70 acute-care hospitals reported 4,573 falls from October 2006 through March of this year, including 1,005 in which patients were injured, according to data being posted on the Massachusetts Hospital Association's website today.

After revelations about the poor treatment of outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center earlier this year, President Bush appointed a commission to study the care of the nation's war-wounded. But so far, little has been done to sort out the mess of bureaucracy or put more money in the hands of newly disabled soldiers who are fending off evictions and foreclosures.

House Democratic leaders said yesterday that they were working to gather votes to override a veto on a popular children's health program, but pledged to find a way to cover millions without insurance should their effort fail.

The nation's largest maker of implanted heart devices, Medtronic, said yesterday that it was urging doctors to stop using a crucial component because it was prone to a defect that has apparently been linked to five deaths and has malfunctioned in hundreds of patients.

Genzyme Corp.
said yesterday that three-year data from a mid-stage trial of its experimental multiple sclerosis drug showed it to be very effective, but patients must be monitored to avoid a potentially deadly side effect.

A year-old online forum where 30,000 doctors swap medical observations has lined up a partnership with Pfizer Inc. - an alliance that runs counter to the site's founding ideal to give doctors a place to communicate without the drug industry listening in.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:55 AM
October 15, 2007

In case you missed it: fallout at McLean, biolab review, Kennedy surgery, cerebral palsy lawsuit

McLean Hospital is publicly facing the fall-out from one of the more tawdry chapters in its nearly 200-year history. Last week, Partners HealthCare, the parent company of McLean, conducted a review of Dr. Jack M. Gorman's brief tenure to reassure state regulators that he had not sexually abused patients there.

State environmental regulators are taking the unusual step of commissioning a prestigious national panel of scientists to independently review a research laboratory being built in the South End where the world's deadliest germs will be studied.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy
is "expected to make a full recovery" following surgery early Friday to clean out a partially blocked neck artery that put him at risk of a stroke, according to his surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.

A Brockton boy who was born with severe brain damage at Brigham and Women's Hospital has been awarded $26.5 million by a Suffolk County jury who saw the nearly blind 10-year-old child wheeled into the courtroom with a feeding tube in his stomach.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:20 AM
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