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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Thursday, November 8, 2007
UMass-Lowell group to study breast cancer and environmental exposure
Researchers exploring connections between breast cancer and environmental exposures will use state funds to study chemicals found in households and the workplace.
The University of Massachusetts at Lowell, the Silent Spring Institute -- a nonprofit that researches the links between health and the environment -- and the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition will get $250,000 earmarked by the legislature for the project.
The Silent Spring Institute will continue its work examining household dust for links to cancer, UMass-Lowell will pursue the effects of chemicals at work and at home, and the advocacy coalition will publicize findings they reach, Richard Clapp, adjunct professor in the school's School of Health and Environment, said in an interview.
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Tuesday, November 6, 2007
University of Massachusetts Medical School cancer biologist Dr. JeanMarie Houghton (left) has won a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Her research focuses on the contribution of stem cells to cancer, in particular how normal stem cells that migrate to an area of chronic infection can develop into cancer cells. The award will extend her five-year National Institutes of Health grant for two years.
Boston University biomedical engineer James J. Collins has won a four-year, $1 million grant from the Ellison Medical Foundation to study the molecular basis of aging and the causes of diseases associated with it, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Rhode Island Hospital in Providence has received a $5 million grant from the National Foundation for Trauma Care to improve its preparedness for public health emergencies.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Driving and dementia: when to take the keys
By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent
A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease does not automatically mean an end to driving, experts on aging said at an MIT conference today, but because there is no test to determine when people with dementia should no longer get behind the wheel, families need help deciding when to take away the keys.
"All people with Alzheimer's will eventually be unable to drive," said Robert Stern, co-director of Boston University's Alzheimer's Disease Clinical and Research Program. "That does not mean they can't drive early on in the disease. Everyone has a different course. It steals cognitive skills at a different pace."
Caregivers say their loved ones with Alzheimer's are driving an average of 10 months longer than they think is safe, gerontologist Jodi Olshevski of The Hartford said. The insurance company collaborated with MIT's AgeLab and BU to find ways to help caregivers spot -- and then deal with -- the warning signs of trouble.
Family members helped test workshops and written materials that explained how to assess driving skills and how to start the discussion about ending driving. Today the group released a new version of "At the Crossroads," first published in 2000. The booklet for families and materials for support group leaders are available free through The Hartford.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Boston group to share genetic data on autism
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. The data will be held by the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, a program of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Scientists can apply to the exchange, which gathered DNA from the families. The samples have been scanned for sequences where there are deletions or extra copies of DNA segments. The consortium is sharing the genetic variations it found.
"We returned all of the raw data to AGRE so they can distribute it to any other investigtors who want to begin exploring what may be the genetic underpinnings of autism," Mark Daly, a consortium member from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, said in an interview. "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."
Only a small percentage of autism arises from a recognizable genetic cause, such as Fragile X syndrome, Daly said. Recent research suggests that some families with autism might have higher rates of genomic abnormalities, but very few of these abnormalities have been conclusively identified.
"There's very strong heritability to autism but very little of the heritability has been explained by specific mutations of specific genes," he said. "What we hope is that this data is a starting point. We need to perform collaborative research in the spirit of the Human Genome Project to deliver on the trust the public has placed in us."
Members of the Autism Consortium are Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, Boston University, Boston University School of Medicine, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge Health Alliance, Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McLean Hospital and Tufts-New England Medical Center.
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Who needs sleep?
Just as weary but exhilarated Red Sox fans head into the World Series on two days' rest, the New York Times devotes its Science section to the subject of sleep.
“To do science you have to have an idea, and for years no one had one; they saw sleep as nothing but an annihilation of consciousness,” Dr. J. Allan Hobson, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, told the Times. “Now we know different, and we’ve got some very good ideas about what’s going on."
Boston researchers are prominent in the story, beginning with cognitive neuroscientist Robert Stickgold of Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He and postdoctoral student Matthew Tucker are studying the effect of naps on memorized words. Matthew Wilson of MIT is investigating what happens to mice cells when they record memories. Subimal Datta of Boston University School of Medicine is looking at the chemicals that bathe the brain while we sleep.
“During waking we have a thousand things happening at once, the library is filling up, and we can’t possibly process it all,” Datta says in the Times story. “It’s during sleep that we have this special condition to clear away this overload."
Something to sleep on before tomorrow night's Game 1.
Wednesday, 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.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Local researchers win grants to explore human genome
Two local researchers have received government grants to explore the organization and function of the human genome, part of an expansion of a project that already has shown the genome to be far more complex than previously thought.
Dr. Bradley Bernstein of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Zhiping Weng of Boston University are among principal investigators in the ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements, or ENCODE, a project funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute. The insititute announced more than $80 million in grants today.
Bernstein has won $4.8 million over four years to study proteins important in DNA packaging in human cells. Weng will receive $1.5 million over three years to identify binding sites in regions of DNA that guide how genes are transcribed.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Researchers gain access to Framingham Heart Study data
Three generations of Framingham Heart Study participants have shared their medical information with researchers learning about cardiovascular disease. Now the landmark study's files will be opened to scientists around the world so they can explore the links between genes and disease.
Framingham is the first study in an open-access project launched by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The data come from more than 9,300 Framingham participants who had their DNA tested for 550,000 genetic variations. Researchers will have free access to that genetic information as well as clinical and laboratory test results. Names of the study subjects have been removed.
The Framingham study, sponsored by Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University School of Public Health and the NHLBI, will continue to add information from ongoing research. NHLBI will also add data from other large studies to the new program called SHARe, short for SNP Health Association Resource. SNP stands for single nucleotide polymorphism, which is a kind of genetic variation. Researchers can find out about access to SHARe data at the NIH database of Genotypes and Phenotypes.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
BU names NIH official to major biolab post
By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff
Boston University today named a federal scientist who specializes in the study of the Ebola and Marburg viruses to the number two position at its controversial high-security laboratory being built in Boston's South End.
Thomas W. Geisbert will become associate director of the Biosafety Level-4 Laboratory and related facilities already rising on Albany Street. The high-security lab will allow scientists to work with the world's deadliest germs, including Ebola, anthrax, and plague.
Geisbert comes to BU from a similar position at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where he helps preside over that agency's Biosafety Level-4 lab. When Geisbert joins BU on Oct. 1, he will also have direct responsibility for overseeing the handling and analysis of specimens generated by research projects in the facility, which is underwritten by a $128 million grant from the US government.
BU also announced today that Joan Geisbert, who is married to Thomas W. Geisbert, has been hired to help run the specimen lab. Joan Geisbert, who begins her job at BU on Feb. 1, has worked in Biosafety Level-4 labs for 26 years and most recently has supervised high-security labs at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland.
The BU lab, which is being built on the university's medical school campus, has generated lawsuits and street protests by opponents, who maintain that the facility has no place in a congested urban neighborhood. Foes of the lab have also charged that locating it in the South End imposes an unfair burden on a community with a significant segment of poor and minority residents.
Getting aggressive about organ donations
Boston University bioethicist Michael Grodin says in today's Washington Post that organ donation networks can appear too zealous in their efforts to find potential donors.
"It's like they're vultures flying around the hospitals hovering over beds waiting for them to die so they can grab the organs," he told the Post. "That's the impression you get sometimes."
The story traces the more aggressive drive for organ donations to a 2003 federal campaign called the Breakthrough Collaborative. It was designed to boost the number of organs retrieved by the nation's 58 organ-procurement organizations, or OPOs, in light of a growing waiting list for kidneys, livers and other organs.
OPOs defend their practices while condemning a California case in which a surgeon is accused of hastening an organ donor's death, the story said.
"That case appears absolutely to be a case of a transplant recovery surgeon crossing a very clear line that should never be crossed," Thomas Mone, president of the Association of Organ Procurement Organization, told the Post. "Our job is to recover organs and save lives. But we have to do that sensitively, honestly and fairly, keeping the interests of the donors and families in mind. There's often a fine line there, but we make sure we never cross it."
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Thursday, September 6, 2007
BU and BMC tighten conflict-of-interest rules
By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff
Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center today announced a strict new conflict-of-interest policy that will place hard limits on interactions between doctors and representatives from medical device makers and pharmaceutical companies.
Robert Restuccia, executive director of the Prescription Project, a Boston-based non-profit that promotes stricter conflict-of-interest policies nationally, said the university and hospital have adopted a model policy that goes further than many other institutions.
Boston Medical Center and the medical school, for example, now ban all clinicians from accepting personal gifts from industry, and meals funded by companies -- often a staple at teaching hospitals -- are no longer allowed on campus. Also, doctors who serve on committees that pick which drugs the hospital will use, are not allowed to have any financial relationship, including consulting agreements, with companies that might benefit from those decisions.
"This policy promotes the independence of our clinicians and establishes the highest professional standard of rigor and integrity in the care of our patients," BMC president Elaine Ullian said in a statement.
Restuccia added, "We see the pharmaceutical industry's marketing practices to physicians as undermining the practice of medicine."
BU, Children's win grant to develop minimally invasive heart surgery
Researchers at Boston University and Children's Hospital Boston have won a five-year, $5 million grant to make complex heart repairs possible without open-heart surgery.
Working with California medical instrument maker Mircofabrica Inc., Pierre Dupont of BU's School of Engineering and cardiac surgeon Dr. Pedro del Nido of Children's will develop robotic instruments that can reach the heart through small incisions in the chest and heart walls.
"The goal is to develop techniques where we are not only making just small incisions but actually working to repair defects inside the heart while the heart is still beating," del Nido said in an interview.
Patients would avoid potential complications associated with being on a bypass machine during open-heart surgery, while surgeons would still be able to achieve the precision possible with traditional surgical instruments. The project is primarily aimed at adults with heart disease, although there may be pediatric applications, del Nido said.
The National Institutes of Health Bioengineering Research Partnership award is the second grant for this project, del Nido said. The first grant, now in its fourth year, funded the creation of an imaging system in three-dimensional ultrasound to allow surgeons to see inside the heart. The new grant focuses on creating the tools to perform repairs.
Using real-time imaging, a surgeon will be able to use a joystick controller to guide instruments through the chambers of the heart. Tools could be deployed from the tip of an instrument to remove blockages, fix valves and close leaks in the heart.
Current minimally invasive techniques use catheters to bring devices into the heart, deploying tiny umbrellas to patch holes in the heart or using balloons to clear blockages.
"We view this as the next level of intervention that is in a way a hybrid of catheter-based intervention and open-heart surgery, using the tools of open-heart surgery in the reconstruction but the navigation through a blood vessel or through chambers of the heart while the heart is beating," del Nido said.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
This week in the New England Journal of Medicine
A single variant of a gene is linked to an increased risk for both rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus, providing support for the idea that common risk genes and disease pathways are involved in many autoimmune disorders, authors including researchers at the Broad Institute, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Biogen Idec report.
Giving critically ill patients recombinant human erythropoetin did not reduce the need for red-blood-cell transfusions, but it may reduce deaths in trauma patients, according to an article by researchers including doctors from the Boston University School of Medicine and University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Top court hears biolab case
By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff
The state's top judge this morning characterized the campaign to stop construction of a high-security laboratory in Boston's South End as a not-in-my-backyard squabble.
The remarks from Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall of the Supreme Judicial Court came during arguments in a case filed by 10 Boston residents who sued to block the Biosafety Level-4 laboratory being built on Boston University's medical school campus. The lab, a cornerstone in the Bush administration's effort to combat bioterrorism, will give scientists the ability to work with the world's deadliest germs, including Ebola, plague, and anthrax.
A contingent of residents living near the lab have spent more than four years battling the facility, which is already rising along Albany Street and expected to open in the fall of 2008. The neighbors have argued that the lab's work will put their lives at risk and that BU and the National Institutes of Health, which is underwriting the facility's construction, unfairly located it in an area with a high population of minority and low-income residents.
"It sounds in the context of this case rather like a NIMBY case," Marshall said, using the acronym for "not-in-my-backyard." Marshall went on to comment that it seemed inevitable that such a laboratory would have to be built near a medical research center so that it would be accessible to infectious-disease scientists, technicians, and other health workers.
"Your honor, I strongly disagree," said Douglas Wilkins, the Anderson & Kreiger attorney who is representing the residents. "My clients just want to be safe. ... I don't accept the assumption that this has to be near a large medical area."
The case landed before the Supreme Judicial Court after the residents won a partial victory in August 2006 before a lower court judge. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Ralph D. Gants ordered further environmental review of the lab, declaring that a decision by the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs to approve the lab "was arbitrary and capricious." Gants, though, did not block construction of the $178 million building, which will include the Level-4 lab as well as other research facilities.
BU appealed Gants' ruling, and the Supreme Judicial Court decided to hear the case, bypassing an appeals court.
Klare Allen, a stalwart opponent of the lab, said in an interview after the hearing that she found Marshall's depiction of the case as a NIMBY dispute "very insulting. We've been very careful in saying we don't think this project should be built anywhere, period."
The attorney for BU, John M. Stevens, told the judges there was no evidence from the operations of other Biosafety Level-4 labs in the United States that the BU lab would pose a danger to neighbors.
The Supreme Judicial Court did not indicate when it will rule.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Fenway Institute wins NIH grant to study LGBT health
The Fenway Institute at Fenway Community Health has won a five-year, $1 million government grant to study the health of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered population.
Researchers will look at the transmission of HIV, characteristics of families and households, and the demographics of health, illness, disability and death among LGBT people. The funding comes from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
In addition, graduate students will be trained to study LGBT issues at the Boston University School of Public Health. Researchers will also work with the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan to create an Internet-based library of LGBT health studies that will be accessible to the public.
Co-principal investigators of the grant are Judith Bradford, co-chair of the Fenway Institute, and Ulrike Boehmer, assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at the BU School of Public Health.
"We know that health disparites due to sexual orientation exist, but few population-based studies on LGBT health have been conducted and the data are not readily accessible," Boehmer said in a statement announcing the grant.
NIH grants focus on genes and the environment
Seven Massachusetts researchers have won grants from a new government program to study how genes and the environment interact, the National Institutes of Health announced today.
Through the Genes, Environment and Health Initiative, researchers will study the genetics of such diseases as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and tooth decay. To learn about the environmental component, scientists will develop ways to monitor personal exposure, whether to toxins or to physical activity.
The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, led by Stacey Gabriel, will receive $3.8 million to become one of two genotyping centers for the initiative. The other is at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Individual investigators and their projects are:
Dr. Frank Hu, Harvard School of Public Health, genes and environment initiatives in type 2 diabetes, $622,000;
Patty Freedson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, development of an integrated measurement system to assess physical activity, $411,000;
Stephen Intille, MIT, enabling population-scale physical activity measurement on common mobile phones, $681,000;
Bevin Engelward, MIT, comet-chip high-throughput DNA damage sensor, $429,000;
Bruce Kristal, Brigham and Womenâ€™s Hospital, mitochondrial, metabolite and protein biomarkers of effects of diet, $454,000;
Dr. Avrum Spira, Boston University, a non-invasive gene expression biomarker of airway response to tobacco smoke, $643,000.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Update on Harvard physician-scientist's move to Arizona
Dr. Robert A. Greenes says it's hard to leave Harvard and Brigham and Women's Hospital, after 40 years, but the chance to build a new biomedical informatics program in Arizona is too good to pass up.
"Harvard and the Brigham have provided a wonderful environment for my professional activity," he said in an e-mail message last night. "My decision to leave Boston after many years of working closely with so many wonderful colleagues was not easy but became irresistible as I learned more about what the opportunity could be."
Greenes, a Harvard Medical School radiology professor and program director of a Harvard-MIT training program in medical informatics, is joining Arizona State University, whose faculty teaches medical students at the new Phoenix branch of the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
He is the second prominent biomedical informatics researcher to leave Harvard for a new program, following Stephen Wong, who took about 20 lab staffers with him to Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston.
"Besides the attractions of the new position in terms of the commitment of the participating institutions to it, and the generous budget, and space, ... I think the big attraction for me is the chance to raise the scale of informatics activity and commitment, " Greenes said.
Greenes singled out Dr. Steven Seltzer, chief of radiology at the Brigham, for his support of biomedical informatics as the field has matured. Yesterday Seltzer called the new opportunity for Greenes an exciting one.
Biomedical informatics includes the role of informatics not only in genomics and molecular science, but also in imaging, clinical medicine and public health, Greenes said.
"These are heady times for informatics, and Arizona recognizes and is poised to take advantage of its potential," he said.
His wife, Carole Greenes, is also joining Arizona State University. A professor of mathematics education at Boston University, she will become dean of the School of Educational Innovation and Teacher preparation at ASU's Polytechnic campus in Mesa.
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Thursday, August 23, 2007
Federal health agency declares biolab no threat to South End
By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff
A federal health agency ruled this morning that a high-security research laboratory being built in Boston's bustling South End does not present a serious threat to the neighborhood's safety and that it would not have been safer if located in a less-congested area.
The decision from the National Institutes of Health removed another barrier to the 2008 opening of the Boston University lab, where scientists will be able to study the deadliest germs in the world, including Ebola, anthrax, and plague.
In September 2003, BU won a hard-fought competition to build one of two new Biosafety Level-4 labs that are cornerstones of the Bush administration's campaign to protect against acts of bioterrorism. The University of Texas at Galveston was the other recipient of an NIH grant to help underwrite construction of a Level-4 lab.
Community and conservation groups rallied -- staging protests, enlisting scientists, and suing in state and federal courts -- to block the Albany Street lab, which is costing $178 million to build. Opponents have charged that the lab places an undue burden on a neighborhood with a significant proportion of minority and low-income residents.
The NIH report released today is in response to a ruling in one of the lawsuits, which called for further assessment of the environmental consequences of the facility.
Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo compared what would happen if germs migrated from the lab into its South End neighborhood with what might happen if the lab had instead been built on more secluded property owned by BU in Tyngsborough or Peterborough, N.H.
The report concludes that even if an accident happened in the lab "under realistic conditions, infectious diseases would not occur in the communities as a result." The study also concludes that "there was no difference in simulated disease transmission among the urban, suburban, or rural communities."
One of the diseases evaluated, Rift Valley fever, might actually present more of a threat in the less-developed areas, the report says. That mosquito-borne disease could spread more easily in remote locations where such virus-carriers as livestock are more common.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
This week in JAMA
Three studies by Boston authors appear in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.
A study from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that a diet high in meat, fat, sweets and refined grains may be associated with a higher risk of colon cancer recurrence and death in people who had surgery and chemotherapy to treat stage III colon cancer.
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital report that people with diabetes have an increased risk of death in the first month and first year after they have a heart attack or unstable angina compared with people who have these acute coronary syndromes but do not have diabetes.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
BU neuroscience student on the game show hot seat again
Boston University graduate student Ogi Ogas (on right in photo) used his knowledge of how the brain works to prepare for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," as he described in this Globe story last year. He was one answer away from winning it all, but he did take home $500,000. In a quiz show airing at 7 p.m. Sunday he gets another chance.
The cognitive neuroscience student is competing for a smaller prize -- $100,000 -- on the Game Show Network's Grand Slam, which pits 16 game show players in head-to-head confrontations. All of the contestants except Ogas are either game show champions or million-dollar winners on "Jeopardy," "Millionaire" or other game shows. Ranked ninth, Ogas faces 8th-seed Nancy Christy (at left), who won $1 million on "Millionaire."
In an interview, he wouldn't say how the match turns out. He plans to watch the previously taped show with friends at home in the Leather District, where he bought a condo with his "Millionaire" winnings.
Monday, August 6, 2007
Former BU doctor creating sexual-medicine center in San Diego
After spending three decades in Boston, sexual-medicine expert Dr. Irwin Goldstein (left) has landed in San Diego, where he is creating a center to treat and study sexual problems at Alvarado Hospital, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Goldstein, 57, left Boston University School of Medicine and the 5,000-patient Institute for Sexual Medicine two years ago. The urologist told the Globe at the time that he lost the school's support for a more multidisciplinary approach in the institute he founded.
Unlike professors elsewhere, faculty at BU's School of Medicine have no tenure, allowing them to be dismissed at any point, the Globe story said.
"The medical center was unable to reach an acceptable agreement with Dr. Goldstein and therefore decided not to continue his contract," BU spokeswoman Ellen Berlin said in May 2005.
Monday, July 2, 2007
Scientists report win against bacterial biofilms
Two scientists from Boston University and a Harvard-MIT program have engineered an organism to fight bacterial biofilms.
Writing in the online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Timothy K. Lu and James J. Collins report that they created a bacteriophage -- a virus that infects bacterial cells -- that releases an enzyme to attack both the bacterial cells in the biofilm and to disperse the biofilm itself.
Bacteria commonly live in biofilms. They can be found in dental plaque or water pipes or on medical devices. A source of infection and contamination, biofilms pose a particular problem when they are resistant to antibiotics.
Bacteriophages work in a different way than antibiotics when they infect bacterial cells. The authors say that adding enzymes makes the bacteriophages much more effective than previous efforts that didn't incorporate enzymes.
Lu is from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and Collins is from BU's Center for BioDynamics.
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Tuesday, May 29, 2007
On the blogs: surgeons and sleep, cholesterol testing for kids, shortage of primary care doctors
On Nurse at small, Betsy Baumgartner, who works at a Boston teaching hospital, wonders about the safety of surgeons operating without enough sleep.
"We've all had a rough night where we weren't able to sleep, or where our kid was sick and kept us up the whole night," she writes. "Surgeons go through these same things, and they show up to work the next morning running on empty with only their Starbucks as fuel. Just like you and me. The one difference is that they are about to cut someone open."
On Healthy Children, pediatrician Dr. Steven Parker of Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine votes no on testing kids' cholesterol levels.
"I'm concerned that the testing will imply to some parents that their obese child with a normal cholesterol level should not be a concern and, alternatively, others will become unduly overwrought about their perfectly healthy child with a high number," he writes. "Seems to me a set-up for both unwarranted reassurance and needless anxiety."
On WBUR's CommonHealth, Michael V. Sack, president and CEO of Hallmark Health, asks if there will be enough primary care physicians to take care of people gaining health insurance under the new healthcare law.
"Across the state, too few primary care physicians are signing up for participation in the MassHealth and Commonwealth Care plans because of low reimbursement," he writes.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Brandeis-led project targets lack of women leaders in medical schools
Relatively few women are department heads or full professors at the four medical schools in Massachusetts. And Dr. Karen Antman of the Boston University School of Medicine is the only female dean.
This lack of women in leadership roles in academic medicine is no longer a pipeline problem, now that medical schools admit equal numbers of men and women, says Dr. Linda Pololi of Brandeis University, who is leading a study of the issue.
The answer to women's persistent under-representation must lie elsewhere, she said in a recent interview. "Something in the system impedes their progress toward taking leadership positions."
Here are the percentages of women in leadership positions at Massachusetts medical schools and how they compare with all 125 medical schools nationwide, according to 2005 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges provided by Pololi:
Chairs of clinical science departments
Pololi, principal investigator of the National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine, brought deans from five US medical schools to a two-day retreat at Brandeis last week. The medical schools, which are demonstration sites for the project, are Tufts University, Duke University, George Washington University, the University of Minnesota and the University of New Mexico.
Project members are still trying to diagnose the problem before coming up with solutions, Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, dean of the Tufts school of medicine, said in an interview. The project will run five years and is supported by a $1.4 million grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation of New York.
"People might reflexively think that it's discrimination or a glass ceiling, and there may well be an element of that," he said. "It may be in some cases that women choose not even to apply for these positions or don't aspire to them because they are not appealing to women at that stage in life."
"It's an important problem," Rosenblatt said. "I hate to see that potential not being realized."
The five medical schools in the project will experiment with programs to deal with the issue. Those programs have not been defined yet, Rosenblatt said, but each school will report on its results and share what works with others.
Certain minority groups -- African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders -- are also under-represented in academic medicine, but that does seem to reflect a pipeline problem at entry to medical school, Pololi and Rosenblatt said.
Monday, May 7, 2007
CIMIT awards $5m to medical device researchers
Proposals to build new devices to help premature infants, to inject medicine without breaking the skin and to guide surgeons operating on the brain were among projects to win $5 million in grants from the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology, the consortium announced today.
CIMIT, composed of Boston-area teaching hospitals and engineering schools, made 37 grants that range from $40,000 to $100,000. Twenty-two have military applications, acording to CIMIT, which receives support from the US Department of Defense as well as its members.
Dr. Riccardo Barbieri of Massachusetts General Hospital won a grant to develop a computational tool based on a premature infant's heartbeat to predict episodes when they stop breathing.
Mark Horenstein of Boston University will demonstate a way to inject medications through the skin using nanoparticles, leaving no wound behind.
Dr. Nobuyuki Nakajima of Brigham and Women's Hospital will work to improve how instruments can be navigated to diagnose and treat brain injury or disease.
"Our goal ... is to bring life-changing technology to patients as quickly as possible," Dr. John Parrish, CIMIT founder and director and Vietnam War battlefield surgeon, said in a statement. "We are especially aware of the needs of soldiers wounded on the battlefield."
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Neurologists here for conference
Boston researchers are among neurologists and neuroscientists delivering more than 1,000 presentations and poster sessions at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. The weeklong conference has drawn more than 10,000 people, the group said.
Local presenters include Dr. Miguel Hernan of the Harvard School of Public Health, who is presenting his study showing that depression may be an early symptom of Parkinson's disease.
Evan L. Thacker, also of the Harvard School of Public Health, was scheduled to describe research exploring how moderate to vigorous exercise might be associated with the risk of developing Parkinson's disease.
Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen of Harvard Medical School was slated to talk about his study's conclusion that sleep not only protects memories from outside interferences, but also helps strengthen them.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Arthritis drugs don't appear to work against Alzheimer's
By Alice Dembner, Globe Staff
Daily doses of the anti-inflammatory drugs Aleve or Celebrex did not prevent Alzheimer's in a national study published online today that included 424 people in the Greater Boston area.
But the government-funded study is far from definitive, because the drugs were given to people late in life and because the study was halted midway amid concerns that the drugs were linked to higher rates of heart disease.
The lack of a prevention benefit wasn't the only bad news in the study. There were hints that the pills "may even accelerate the appearance of the disease," said Dr. Robert C. Green of Boston University, who directed the Boston arm of the study.
The study, designed to last seven years, was stopped in its fourth year. Many of the participants had only taken the drugs for two years.
The results, published in the journal Neurology, were based on 2,128 people age 70 or older with a family history of Alzheimer's.
Researchers still hold out the possibility that other anti-inflammatory drugs, taken at an earlier age, might prevent dementia, but they urged individuals not to take these pills for that purpose.
Monday, 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.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
HHMI opens competition for 50 scientists and $600m
At at time when federal funding for scientific research is harder to come by, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is opening up a competition today to select 50 new investigators who will share $600 million for biomedical research.
For the first time scientists can apply directly to become HHMI investigators rather than needing their institutions to nominate them.
The researchers must belong to eligible institutions. In Massachusetts, 10 qualify: Boston Biomedical Research Institute, Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Harvard Medical School and associated hospitals, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory, MIT, Tufts University School of Medicine, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
The competition comes at a time when funding from the National Institutes of Health, which is based on individual grant proposals, is declining, when inflation is taken into account. Established researchers worry about sustaining their work while younger investigators are taking longer to win approval for their first grant applications.
HHMI, which has spent $8.3 billion over 20 years on biomedical research and science education, won’t be filling that gap, senior scientific officer Dr. Josephine Briggs said in an interview yesterday.
"Our resources are very sizable, but they do not in any way compensate for the problem of the shrinking NIH budget," she said. "The support that Hughes is able to offer is something that the scientific community will of course welcome with delight, but at the same time all of us hope we can see a reversal in the decline in federal funding."
HHMI holds competitions every three or four years. This time, it's looking for people in the earlier stages of their careers, Briggs said.
HHMI investigators receive initial five-year appointments that come with support for their own salaries as well as flexible budgets they can use to pay for personnel and some equipment. Appointments can be renewed.
To be eligible to apply, a candidate must hold a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree; have a tenured or tenure-track position as assistant professor or higher at one of about 200 eligible host institutions; and be the principal investigator on one or more active, national, peer-reviewed research grants at least three years long, such as an NIH R01 award.
The deadline for applications is June 13; expert panels will convene to review them in January, and decisions will be made in March.
"We expect a very hefty Boston response."
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Feldman leaving as leader of Worcester health center
Zoila Torres Feldman, an ardent advocate for expanding access to high-quality health care, is leaving as chief executive officer of Great Brook Valley Health Center in Worcester after 26 years.
Feldman, 62, said her Oct. 1 departure is "absolutely not" a retirement. She has accepted no specific position but said she is passionate about addressing the ethnic and racial disparities that persist in health care.
"There are too many challenges in health care I’d like to participate in," she said in an interview. "I’d like to do some new things."
Her influence has been felt beyond Worcester, where the health center grew from an apartment in a housing complex to a free-standing clinic with an annual budget of $23 million and 140,000 patients a year. Another health center opened in Framingham last year, despite anti-immigrant opposition.
Feldman, who lives in Newton, is a native of Ecuador and a graduate of Boston University and the Harvard School of Public Health. She worked as a nurse for 12 years at Tufts-New England Medical Center.
"I think there is no more talented and respected community health leader in the commonwealth than Zoila," Andrew Dreyfus, executive vice president of health care services at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, said in an interview. "Her center was a kind of magnet for innovation in community health delivery. She was always a thought leader in the kind of public policy issues that surround the community health movement."
Friday, March 30, 2007
Harvard leads U.S. News medical school rankings
Harvard Medical School, is again the top medical school in the United States, according to the annual rankings compiled by U.S. News & World Report. Harvard has led the rankings since 1990, when they began.
Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, Washington University in St. Louis and University of California -- San Francisco followed in the top five.
Boston University ranked 34th, Tufts University was 47th and the University of Massachusetts came in 49th out of 125 U.S. medical schools.
The standings were based on eight measures, including surveys of medical school deans and residency program directors, as well as 2006 research funding from the National Institutes of Health. Harvard received $1.17 billion from NIH that year, BU pulled in $170 million, UMass had $118 million and Tufts drew $61 million, according to U.S. News.
UMass Medical School's primary care education program ranked 11th. The University of Washington led that category.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Optional caesareans carry higher risks, BU study finds
Caesarean sections performed without a medical reason result in longer hospital stays, higher costs and more than twice as many rehospitalizations as vaginal deliveries, according to a study by researchers at Boston University's School of Public Health published in the March issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
"There are trade-offs in having an elective caesarean," Eugene R. Declercq, the study’s lead author, told the New York Times. "Among them are longer recovery time and a higher chance of being rehospitalized, which shouldn’t be surprising — it’s major surgery."
Friday, March 23, 2007
On the blogs: BU biolab image and who's watching?
"Even though the fire department said no contamination occurred, all the proper precautions were taken and that the smoke probably was due to an electrical issue, the specter this incident conjured up of disease-causing bacteria being unleashed on the community and the image of men in protective suits are enough to make front-page news in this town," she writes. "Doesn’t exactly help BU’s image. Doesn’t really help science’s image either, I think."
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Top state court to rule on BU biolab
By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff
The state Supreme Judicial Court will decide whether construction of a high-security research laboratory in the South End should continue, the latest twist in the ongoing fight to block the Boston University lab.
In an action made public today, the state's highest court said it would directly hear the controversial case, bypassing an appeals court that had been scheduled to consider the matter. The SJC set a hearing for September, speeding up the legal process.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Ralph D. Gants in August ordered further environmental review of the $178 million project but did not halt construction.
BU appealed Gants's ruling, an appeal that was scheduled to be heard next month. But yesterday, the SJC, without explanation, issued a notice that it was taking the case.
"Generally, that means that it views the case as something that either has an important legal issue or is of general public significance," said Douglas Wilkins, the Anderson & Kreiger attorney who is representing the residents.
It is not unusual for the SJC to hear a case directly, and Wilkins said today that its action should not be interpreted as favoring one side or the other.
BU spokeswoman Ellen Berlin said the university welcomed the court's action.
"We are pleased that this important project is receiving this important scrutiny from the Supreme Judicial Court," Berlin said.
The facility, known as a Biosafety Level-4 lab, has provoked controversy since the moment it was proposed in January 2003, with a fervent contingent of scientists, environmentalists, and community activists protesting at every turn.
After their objections failed to stop the project at the city or state level, opponents turned to the courts.
Foes of the lab hailed the decision by the high court to resolve the case.
"Finally, the residents are going to be heard," said Klare Allen, one of the residents suing to stop construction.
Earlier this week, concerns about lab safety were fanned when fire crews descended on BU after smoke wafted through a lab.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Today's Globe: biomed lab evacuation, drug coverage, PTSD diagnosis, name change
Firefighters evacuated hundreds of people from a 10-story Boston University biomedical research building yesterday after white smoke wafted through a laboratory that houses vials of highly infectious bacteria, renewing concern about the danger of studying potentially deadly pathogens in a densely populated area.
Massachusetts is poised to become the first state to require that all adults have health insurance that includes prescription drug coverage.
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are so common that depressed people who have never faced trauma usually qualify for the condition, according to a new study that raises questions about whether thousands of Iraq war veterans as well as civilians are getting the right diagnosis and treatment for their emotional problems.
When the 700 doctors at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and four other physician groups chose a name three years ago for their new umbrella organization, HealthOne Care System, they thought they picked a winner. The problem was the name was too good. Another group already had claimed it -- a hospital network in Denver called HealthONE.
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Monday, March 19, 2007
New trend in organ donation raises questions
A new approach to organ donation is saving the lives of more waiting patients but, some say, it risks sacrificing the interests of the donors, according to a story in Sunday's Washington Post.
In "donation after cardiac death," surgeons remove organs within minutes after the heart stops beating and doctors declare a patient dead, the story says. Most organs are removed only after doctors have declared a patient brain dead.
Two Boston doctors and a woman whose son became a donor at Massachusetts General Hospital voice their opinions.
"People are dying on the waiting list," said Francis L. Delmonico, a transplant surgeon at Harvard Medical School, speaking on behalf of the United Network for Organ Sharing. More than 95,000 Americans are waiting for organs. "This is vital as an untapped source of organ donors."
Nancy Erhard's 25-year-old son, Bo, became a DCD donor at Mass. General in November 2005 after a burst artery caused devastating brain damage, the story said.
"There was no hope. He would never regain conscious thought," Erhard said. "This gave his life so much more meaning in the end because he was able to help so many others."
Michael A. Grodin, director of Boston University's Bioethics and Human Rights Program, said the practice is troubling.
"The image this creates is people hovering over the body trying to get organs any way they can," he said. "There's a kind of macabre flavor to it."
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Thursday, March 15, 2007
Medical students meet their match
Now they know.
Graduating medical students ripped open envelopes at noon today that contained their futures. Known as "Match Day," today was the day 15,206 medical school seniors across the country learned where they will be going and what specialty they'll embark on once they get there.
Nationally, 94 percent of students trained in the United States got their first choices, according to the National Resident Matching Program, which has coordinated the preferences of medical students with residency programs since 1952.
Massachusetts' four medical schools -- Boston University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Tufts University School of Medicine and University of Massachusetts Medical School -- took part in the ritual. They did not all have data today on who's going where.
At Harvard, 44 percent of its 180 graduates will be going into primary care, which includes family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology. A third of all students will be training in internal medicine. The next closest specialty was emergency medicine, where 8 percent of students are headed. These percentages are in line with what they've been over the last several years, according to Harvard data.
At Tufts, primary care was the choice of 49 percent of graduating students, while 18 percent are going into surgical specialties. Five percent of the students will go into military residencies.
At UMass, there was no crush at the mailboxes. Students were randomly called by name in a conference room to get their envelopes. They were reminded to bring $1 to put in a pot. Daniel Egan, the last one called, picked up $79 for his patience.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Children of long-lived parents have fewer heart risks
If you could pick your parents, you'd be wise to choose ones who live long and have few risk factors for heart disease. But don't lose hope if your parents died young -- you still can lower those risks yourself, researchers from the Framingham Heart Study say.
Results published in tomorrow's Archives of Internal Medicine show that middle-aged children who had at least one parent who lived to age 85 were less likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease than people whose parents died younger.
Other research has connected longevity to heredity, but this multigenerational study showed that having fewer risk factors for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in Americans, was an advantage that lasted. The Framingham Heart Study has followed generations of residents since 1948 to study cardiovascular and other chronic diseases. This latest analysis included 5,124 people who were examined every 4 to 8 years from 1971 to the present.
"If you weren't lucky enough to choose your parents, this study shows how some of destiny is determined by risk factors we already know about and know to be modifiable," study co-author Dr. Daniel Levy, director of the Framingham Heart Study and a member of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said in an interview. "We know that if we eliminate high blood pressure, eliminate high cholesterol and then cigarette smoking, we would eradicate the overwhelming majority of cardiovascular disease in the United States."
People in mid-life shouldn't wait for signs of trouble to take steps to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol, said study co-author Dr. Emelia J. Benjamin, a professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and a cardiologist at Boston Medical Center.
"Clearly there is a genetic basis to longevity but what this says is, some of the basis has to do with risk factors," she said in an interview. "You don't have to say, 'My parents died young so I can't do anything about it.' What this suggests to me is, 'Why don't you change the risk factors?' "
In an editorial about the article, Dr. Clyde B. Schecter of Albert Einstein College of Medicine asks whether cardiovascular disease is just postponed in long-lived people or if longevity might be a factor in whether people survive cardiovascular disease.
"Heart disease accounts for a large enough proportion of all deaths that any factor that promotes exceptional longevity almost inevitably must lead to decreased risk of cardiac death," he wrote.
The Framingham researchers, funded by NHLBI and NIH, are pursuing answers in the genes. A genome-wide scan of participants across the generations in the study began last fall with genotyping that Levy expects to be completed by the end of the summer.
"Longevity may be related to risk factors we don't yet know," he said. "We intend to look at the genetic variations that may differentiate children whose parents live to an old age from children whose parents died at a young age."
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Children's to help Somali refugee families
Children's Hospital Boston has won a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to bring mental-health services to Somali refugee families, the hospital announced today.
The $300,000 award will fund mental health programs at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester over the next three years. The project is expected to serve 700 people, including children and their families, the hospital statement said.
The Boston University Graduate School of Social Work is offering two full scholarships to their Master’s of Social Work program to Somali individuals who will provide services as part of their training during the three-year grant period.
Other organizations involved are the Boston Public Schools, Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center, Somali Development Center, The Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention, The Boston Healing Landscape Project and the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights.
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Friday, March 2, 2007
Beth Israel hires new emergency radiology chief
Dr. Marc A. Camacho, instructor in radiology at Harvard Medical School, has been named chief of the newly established section of emergency radiology in the department of radiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Camacho received his medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine and a masters of science degree in biomedical engineering from Boston University. He comes to Beth Israel from Virginia Commonwealth University Health System/Medical College of Virginia Hospital in Richmond, Va., where he was chief of the emergency radiology section and an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Exercise not a factor in risk of knee osteoarthritis
Exercise makes no difference for the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee, Dr. David T. Felson and colleagues at Boston University School of Medicine report in the February issue of Arthritis Care and Research.
They studied 1,279 people from the Framingham Offspring cohort, beginning in the early 1990s. The results showed no relationship between recreational walking, jogging or other activity and developing knee osteoarthritis. Even in overweight patients who were at higher risk for osteoarthritis, exercise didn't raise or lower the risk.