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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

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Psychologist's advice: Keep SCORE -- and your sanity

For those of you who will be keeping score at home tonight, and especially you lucky ones who will be in the boxes or bleachers, McLean Hospital sports psychologist Dr. Jeff Brown has some advice for you to combat stress:

Stay in the moment
Control only the factors that you can control
Respect the Opponent; if they aren’t good, neither are you
Release emotion in healthy ways
Expect your team to compete again.

Back in 2004, when the Red Sox were clawing their way back against the Yankees and into the World Series, Brown developed a plan to help fans keep their equilibrium during that post-season roller-coaster ride. The Rockies aren’t exactly ancient rivals, but that doesn’t mean our stress is any less, he said in an interview.

“It’s easy to start thinking in a negative way,” he said, even without an 86-year-old curse. There’s that Colorado winning streak, for starters.

Fans can borrow some principles from cognitive behavioral theory to manage their anxiety, he said. Focus on the moment, pitch by pitch and swing by swing. While we really can’t do much about bad calls by the umpires or poor choices by managers -- or anything on the field -- we can do something about our own emotions.

“If you can’t deal with the game, get up and take a walk,” he said.

If the Rockies take the first one tonight, what’s a fan to do?

“All we can do is remember with the Red Sox, it ain’t over til it’s over,” he said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:42 PM

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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.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:37 AM

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Wednesday, 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.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007


Cambridge Health Alliance will accept an award today from the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems for its role in medical school curriculum change.

CHA developed a program for third-year Harvard Medical School students to follow patients for a year at one hospital instead of traditional rotations in different settings. The hospital was chosen for the 2007 Chair Award from 64 submissions, NAPH said in a statement.

Dr. Samantha L. Rosman, a third-year resident in pediatrics in Boston, has been re-elected to the American Medical Association's board of trustees. She is a 2004 graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. After completing her residency, she will begin a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center.

Shedlack100.bmpDr. Karen Shedlack (left), medical adviser for the mental retardation division of Vinfen, has won a 2007 Distinguished Fellowship from the American Psychiatric Association.

Before joining Vinfen, a private, nonprofit human services organization based in Cambridge, Shedlack was medical director for the adult developmental disabilities program at McLean Hospital and worked in the department of psychology and brain science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Virgin Life Care has named three Boston academics to its science advisory board.

A subsidiary of the Virgin group headed by Sir Richard Branson, the Boston company develops activity-based health rewards programs.

The board members are Dr. I-Min Lee of Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, Kyle McInnis of UMass-Boston and Jessica Whitely of UMass-Boston and Brown Medical School.

Children's Hospital Boston has honored five doctors with Community Physician Awards for the care they give in pediatric practices and community health centers.

They are Dr. Anthony Compagnone of Hyde Park Pediatrics, Dr. Debra Ann Gfeller of Holliston Pediatrics, Dr. David Holder of the Martha Eliot Health Center, Dr. Richard Marshall of Harvard Vanguard Associates at Copley and Dr. Robert Michaels of Longwood Pediatrics.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:05 AM

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Friday, 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

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Wednesday, 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

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Drug poisoning likely claimed Anna Nicole Smith's life

By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff

If today’s coroner’s report is correct, Anna Nicole Smith fell victim to what some researchers consider a growing epidemic of drug poisoning deaths, says Dr. James Wines, an overdose expert at Harvard’s McLean Hospital.

The latest figures show that in 2004, poisoning, which includes drug overdoses, claimed the lives of 30,000 Americans, according to the CDC, he said. Another 800,000 suffered through non-fatal poisonings.

Opioids, which include prescription painkillers, appear to be fueling some of the recent surge in deaths caused by legal drugs, Wines said.

The coroner's report said that Smith was taking several different sedatives and sleeping medications along with other drugs.

Researchers need to gain a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding drug-related deaths in order to prevent them, Wines said.

And consumers should be sure to check with their doctors and pharmacists about whether the various drugs they’re taking could be dangerous in combination.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 06:56 PM

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

McLean leads large trial of treatment for pain-pill addiction

McLean Hospital in Belmont will lead the first large-scale study of a treatment for people addicted to pain medications such as Vicodin and OxyContin, the National Institute on Drug Abuse announced today.

Researchers will recruit 648 participants at 11 sites, hoping to enroll both people who have taken prescription medications for pain relief but later became addicted, as well as people who take the drugs illicitly for nonmedical reasons. People interested in participating can call (617) 855-2588.

Study subjects will receive a drug called buprenorphine naloxone, sold as Suboxone, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2002 as an alternative to methadone treatment for people addicted to opiates such as heroin.

"The major contribution of this study is that it’s focusing on this specific problem of prescription opiate dependence," Dr. Roger Weiss, clinical director of McLean Hospital’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center and lead investigator for the study, said in an interview. "Most studies that have looked at opiate dependence have been done on heroin addicts with a sprinkling of people with prescription opiate dependence."

Over the past five to 10 years, the number of people dependent on these prescription pain drugs has grown substantially, Weiss said.

The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 2.2 million Americans aged 12 or older reported being new users of pain relievers for nonmedical purposes, surpassing the 2.1 million new marijuana abusers. In 2005, more than 6 million Americans in all reported nonmedical use of prescription drugs in the past month -- more than the number abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, and inhalants, combined, according to a statement from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"You have adolescents and young adults who have become dependent on prescription opiates, and you also have people of middle age and older," Weiss said. "We don’t really know whether the treatment strategies that we’ve learned are successful for heroin addicts are the same for people with prescription opiate dependence."

Weiss said the researchers also wonder whether the treatment will have the same results for the 40 percent of people who have chronic pain and are dependent on the drugs as for those who take the drugs illicitly.

Most participants will take Suboxone for between three and nine months. They will also be enrolled in one of two different behavioral therapies to test how well they work with the medication. Results are due to be reported in 2009.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:10 PM
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