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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
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Monday, September 17, 2007

Tufts Medical School gets its largest gift

Tufts University School of Medicine will use its largest gift to create a campus center, build a simulation lab where students can practice on a mannequin, and fund scholarships, the university said.

The Jaharis Family Foundation has given the medical school $15 million. Some of the money will go toward half-scholarships for medical students; the amount depends on whether Tufts is able to meet a goal of raising $7.5 million from other donors for the campus center.

Dr. Steven Jaharis is a 1987 graduate of the medical school and his father, Michael Jaharis, is the founder of Kos Pharmaceutical Co.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:49 AM

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Former St. E's cardiologist experimented on himself

While chief of cardiovascular research at Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, a doctor now at Northwestern tested a stem-cell extraction technique on himself before going ahead with an experiment to transplant patients' stem cells into their hearts, the Chicago Sun Times reports today.

losordo150.bmpDr. Douglas Losordo (left, in 2002 Globe photo) moved to Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in December 2006. The pilot study began in 2003 while he was a professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and a cardiologist at St. Elizabeth's.

Losordo did not go on to have stem cells injected via catheter into his heart. Before the small trial to test safety began, he took a drug for five days that boosted production of stem cells in his bloodstream and then had them removed and purified in a process similar to dialysis, the story says.

"I wanted to see what it would be like for patients before I subjected them to the procedure," he told the Sun Times.

The study subjects all had severe angina, or chest pain, that could not be treated by surgery, stents or angioplasty. The group of patients who received stem cells injected into heart muscle that was not receiving blood flow reported fewer angina attacks over six months than the group of patients who underwent catheterization, but did not receive stem cells, the story said.

The results appear in the June 26 issue of Circulation.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:51 AM

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Harvard researcher wins MERIT Award from NIH

Lin100.bmpXihong Lin (left), professor of biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health, has won a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Lin will develop statistical methods for analyzing cancer research data, including long-term and family data as well as genomic and proteomic information in epidemiological studies and population sciences, NIH said in a statement.

Fewer than 5 percent of NIH-funded investigators are selected to receive the awards.

Current MERIT recipients in Massachusetts and their instituions are:

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: Benjamin G. Neel
CBR Institute for Biomedical Research: Timothy R. Springer
Children's Hospital Boston: Michael Klagsbrun and Bruce R. Zetter
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Stanley Korsmeyer and David M. Livingston
Harvard: John Blenis, Stephen C. Harrison, Peter M. Howley and Andrew G. Myers
Massachusetts General Hospital: Daniel Haber
MIT: Michael R. Lieber, Stephen J. Lippard and Alexander Rich
Tufts: John M. Coffin
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research: Rudolph Jaenisch

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:05 AM

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Neurontin fine funds program on drug industry influence

A Boston health educator is taking a page from the antismoking playbook.

Using money from a $430 million Pfizer Inc. settlement of illegal marketing charges, the MGH Institute of Health Professions is launching a program today to teach health care providers about drug industry influence. Just as tobacco company settlement dollars funded stop-smoking campaigns, a total of $21 million and 26 grants were earmarked nationwide to bring information about pharmaceutical marketing to prescribers and consumers.

ladd100.bmp Elissa Ladd (left), clinical assistant professor at the affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital, won $399,400 to develop a documentary called "PERx: Prescribing Evidence-Based Therapies" and a companion website. Both are funded through fines paid by the drug giant Pfizer in 2004 when its Warner-Lambert subsidiary pleaded guilty to promoting unapproved uses for the anti-seizure drug Neurontin.

"As a practicing nurse practitioner, I was struck with the fact that pharmaceutical promotional activity was ubiquitous in our world, both as providers and consumers," Ladd said in an e-mail interview. "I felt that this promotional activity was driving the appetite in our culture for medications."

The documentary, produced by filmmaker and former pharmaceutical sales rep Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau, includes interviews with Dr. Jerry Avorn of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Dr. David Blumenthal of Mass. General, Susan M. Reverby of Wellesley College and Kenneth Kaitin of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.

While the materials were crafted as continuing medical education, the website and film are available to the public, Ladd said.

"The important outcome of this project is that prescribers of all health care professions develop an appreciation that the overuse and sometimes unnecessary prescription of expensive brand-name medications can negatively impact our overburdened health care system," she said. "Ultimately it is our patients who will suffer from the undue burden that these costs are generating."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:46 AM

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tufts doctor diagnoses conflict of interest

carlat150.bmpAvandia is the latest example of a drug whose dangerous side effects are rarely on the curriculum when drug companies underwrite education that doubles as advertising, Daniel Carlat (left) writes in an opinion piece in today's New York Times.

A professor at Tufts University School of Medicine and editor in chief of The Carlat Psychiatry Report, Carlat was the subject of a profile by Globe reporter Carey Goldberg last month in Health/Science.

"Because pharmaceutical companies now set much of the agenda for what doctors learn about drugs, crucial information about potential drug dangers is played down, to the detriment of patient care," he writes.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 01:30 PM

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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:

BU 100%
Harvard 0%
Tufts 0%
UMass 0%
US 13%

Chairs of clinical science departments
BU 11%
Harvard 10%
Tufts 8%
UMass 7%
US 8%

Chairs of basic science departments
BU 0%
Harvard 33%
Tufts 29%
UMass 0%
US 13%

Full professors
BU 19%
Harvard 12%
Tufts 11%
UMass 19%
US 14%

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.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:16 AM

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Monday, April 16, 2007

From couch potato to marathon man in less than a year

By Judy Foreman, Globe Correspondent

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


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

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

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

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

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 05:45 PM

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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.

"The charge is that they be addressing fundamental and important biological questions. It can be for any discipline, and in this new competition we hope to see chemists, mathematicians, engineers and anybody who’s doing something truly special in addressing biological questions," Briggs said.

"We expect a very hefty Boston response."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:10 AM

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Pregnancy history overlooked in stem cell studies, Tufts researcher says

Stem cell researchers should consider whether a woman has been pregnant when they interpret results of stem cell transplantation trials, Dr. Diana Bianchi writes in a commentary in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Bianchi, who is chair of research in the department of pediatrics at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts-New England Medical Center, showed in 1996 that fetal cells persist in the blood of women who have been pregnant. In 2004 she reported that these cells appear to act like stem cells, traveling to injured organs in the mother and repairing them.

Fetal cells are "betwixt and between" adult and embryonic cells, she said in an interview. Embryonic stem cells are prized for their ability to become any kind of cell in the body. Adult stem cells are less capable of this kind of differentiation.

"It's not all adult versus embryonic stem cells," she said. "Fetal cells may have qualties that are intermediate between embryonic and adult cells. We are still testing the hypothesis that they have capabilities that may be closer to embryonic stem cells than adult stem cells."

Recent discoveries of stem cells in amniotic fluid-- another "bewtixt and between" situation -- fit in with her findings, she said.

Bianchi and her co-author, Nicholas M. Fisk of Imperial College London, reviewed 58 articles on the long-term fate of stem cells transplanted into sex-mismatched recipients. None of them reported whether the women who donated or received these bone marrow transplants had been pregnant, they write in their commentary.

Without knowing the pregnancy history of women involved in trials using bone marrow stem cells to treat disease, researchers cannot know whether fetal cells or adult cells are responsible for the results they are seeing, Bianchi said.

"It's important because it's a mixed population of the woman's bone marrow stem cells as well as cells from all the pregnancies she has had, including ones she might have terminated," she said. "It's just remarkable to me that this is not part of the paradigm."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:01 PM

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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.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:29 AM

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Creating robots that slink and squirm

At Tufts University, a multidisciplinary team led by Barry Trimmer is trying to make an ersatz caterpillar that will move around in pretty much the same way as the real thing, a story in today's New York Times reports.

The researchers at The Biomimetic Technologies for Soft-bodied Robots project see the potential to use the squishable, relatively simple creations to find land mines, repair machinery in hard-to-reach spots and even diagnose and treat diseases.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:52 AM

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Medical students meet their match

match day 2007.jpg
(David L. Ryan Globe staff photo)
Boston University medical students Miriam Shiferaw (left) and Nawal Momani check letters together to find out where they have been accepted for their residency, during the Match Day at BU Medical School in Boston.

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

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.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:41 PM

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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Heart Association to honor Tufts-NEMC physician

Dr. Deeb Salem, physician-in-chief at Tufts-New England Medical Center, will receive the American Heart Association’s Paul Dudley White award at the Boston Heart Ball on May 12, the AHA said today. The event is a major fund-raiser for the organization.

Salem, who is also the chairman of the department of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, is being honored for his work as a cardiologist.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:42 PM

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Floating Hospital hires pediatrician-in-chief

Dr. John Schreiber has been named pediatrician-in-chief and chief administrative officer of Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts-New England Medical Center, as well as chairman of the department of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Dr. John Schreiber

Schreiber, who will step into his new role in July, is coming from the University of Minnesota Medical School, where he was pediatrician-in-chief of the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Hospital.

Schreiber received a masters degree in public health and a medical degree from Tulane University. He completed pediatric residency and clinical and research fellowships in infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School. He was in the United States Air Force Reserves for 11 years, serving during Desert Storm as a flight surgeon with the 757 Airlift Squadron at Scott Air Force Base.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:48 AM

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

'Gifted? Autistic? Or just quirky?'

Increasingly, schools and psychologists assign children labels ranging from Asperger's and attention-deficit disorder to various learning disabilities.

A Washington Post story offers observations on these increasingly specific labels from Phil Schwarz of Framingham, vice president of the Asperger's Association of New England, Robert Sternberg, a psychologist and dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, and Dan Grover, an 18-year-old college student in Boston who co-founded, a site for teens on the autistic spectrum.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:16 AM

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cambridge Health, Tufts seek to improve family medicine training

The Tufts University Family Medicine Residency Program at Cambridge Health Alliance is one of 14 programs in the country to be chosen for an initiative to improve how doctors are trained to practice family medicine.

The Preparing the Personal Physician for Practice program is a $1.75 million, five-year project funded by the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors and the American Board of Family Physicians.

"The goal here is to create graduates of family medicine residency programs who are expert clinical decision makers, who use the best technology available and who are able to apply this in a very individualized process to provide personalized care," said Dr. Randy Wertheimer, chief of family medicine at CHA.

The 24 residents in the Tufts-CHA program will be based in a new CHA-Malden Family Medicine Center, reflecting the emphasis on outpatient care, said Dr. Lyle Bohlmann, associate director of the Family Medicine Residency Program.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:12 AM

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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Birkett to lead state chapter of surgeons group

Dr. Desmond H. Birkett of Lahey Clinic has been named president-elect for 2007 of the Massachusetts chapter of the American College of Surgeons.

Birkett is the chair of general surgery at Lahey and a clinical professor of surgery at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:05 PM

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Tufts doctor questions benefits of multivitamins

More than half the U.S. population takes multivitamins, but there isn't a lot of evidence that they work, says a Tufts University researcher.

Almost 100 years after the first vitamins were named, we still need better advice on whether to take them, particularly when it comes to multivitamins, which "cry out for greater standardization," said Dr. Irwin Rosenberg, director of the Nutrition and Neurocognition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

"The evidence regarding vitamin use for prevention of chronic disease is still quite rudimentary, especially for multivitamins," he said.

Rosenberg made his comments at a National Institutes of Health conference on multivitamins and mineral supplements. They appear in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

While scientists know a lot about individual vitamins, Rosenberg said, there is much less known about the effects of taking multiple vitamins together. He called for regulators to pay more attention to the content and labeling of supplements, as well as to how well they might provide adequate nutrients or prevent chronic disease.

"Information relating to individual vitamins or small combinations of vitamins to disease prevention is stronger than that for multivitamins, formulations that cry out for greater standardization," he said.

More than half (52 percent) of the people who take multivitamins say they do so to prevent disease, and more than one-third (38 percent) say they take them because they feel better, studies have shown. But studies also reveal that people who take multivitamins tend to be better educated, weigh less, do more physical activity and eat better diets.

"Since multivitamin users are generally healthier, it might not be feasible to attribute health outcomes to vitamin use until we have more information," he said. "The best source of vitamins is food."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:24 AM

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Predicting which drugs will make it

To develop more successful drugs, you have to look at both the winners and the losers. But that means drug companies need to share their gold mine of information on unsuccessful medicines, two researchers from Children's Hospital Boston's Informatics Program say.

Based on information about failed drugs, Dr. Asher D. Schachter and Marco F. Ramoni say they can predict which drugs in early development will be safe and effective.

They make that case in the February Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, saying their model could help save $283 million per approved drug.

"Suppressing negative data harms everyone," Schachter said. "Companies could reduce drug development costs and pass on some of those savings to the consumer."

Schachter and Ramoni just founded Phorecaster, a consulting business that has no customers or profits yet.

Schachter, a pediatric nephrologist, said to create their forecasting model they looked at data about early-stage drugs described in publications from the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development and other public sources.

They were able to predict success in phase 3 trials and new-drug-application approval with 78 percent accuracy, they said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:31 PM

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Researchers to hunt heart disease clues in WHI data

Boston researchers have won two of 12 two-year contracts from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study major diseases that affect post-menopausal women. The groups will use blood samples and data from the massive Women's Health Initiative to see what factors are important in predicting and preventing heart disease. The 12 grants will total $18.7 million.

Dr. I-Min Lee, Dr. JoAnn Manson and Dr. Howard D. Sesso of Brigham and Women's Hospital hope to tease out the biochemical mechanisms behind physical activity and lower body fat, looking for the way they reduce the risk of heart disease.

Dr. Alice Lichtenstein of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University wants to see how certain biomarkers compare with self-reports of food intake as predictors of heart disease.

Lee's team will focus on inflammatory markers, including c-reactive protein, in blood samples to look beyond known risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.

She's interested in the protective effect of physical activity, particularly in overweight people.

"We know it's very hard for people to lose weight once they become heavy, but there are some studies that say even if you are heavy but physically active, you lower your risk," she said. "We want to understand that mechanism."

At Tufts, Lichtenstein will measure certain proteins in blood samples to see how well they predict risk for heart disease. Samples will come from 1,200 women who died of cardiovascular disease during the 15-year WHI study. Those will be compared with samples from 1,200 women who did not die.

She'll be looking for two kinds of fatty acids and two forms of vitamin K that have been associated with either an increased or decreased risk for heart disease: omega-3s vs. trans fatty acids and natural vitamin K vs. the kind formed when fat is hydrogenated.

After seeing if those biomarkers are linked to heart disease, she will compare them with food diaries to see which is the better predictor.

"We'll look at biomarkers to see if they are good predictors of outcome," she said. "If they are actually validated, then they can be used in a broad range of applications.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:02 AM

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Two new deans bring Lahey, Tufts closer

Lahey Clinic's ties to Tufts University School of Medicine just got stronger through the appointments of two new deans.

Dr. David J. Schoetz, a colon and rectal surgeon, is the first Tufts academic dean at Lahey in Burlington. Dr. David A. Neumeyer is the new dean of admissions at Tufts, chairing the admissions committee he has been on for five years. At Lahey he is co-director of the Sleep Disorders Center.

The relationship between Tufts and Lahey began only about six years ago, said Schoetz, who looks for Lahey's 200 doctors with Tufts faculty appointments to become more closely integrated with the medical school and increase Lahey's research projects.

Tufts has similar posts at its other major academic affiliates, including New England Medical Center, Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center and Baystate Medical Center.

"These appointments more formally reflect a long-standing and important relationship with Lahey Clinic," Dr. Jeffrey Glassroth, vice dean for academic and clinical affairs at Tufts School of Medicine, wrote in an email.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:58 PM
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