Friday, August 29, 2008

HEALTH: Deadly Risk - Sleep Apnea

(previously published here at

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have found that people with severe sleep apnea are up to three times more likely to die early from the disorder, and more so if the disorder remains untreated.

Sleep apnea is a common, chronic sleeping disorder in which a person has frequent pauses in breathing, ranging from a few seconds or even minutes, often accompanied by snoring and constant waking. Normal breathing typically begins again, but sleep deprivation night after night is dangerous.

"This is not a condition that kills you acutely. It is a condition that erodes your health over time," said Dr. Michael J. Twery, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research.

Published in the international journal Sleep, the 18-year study of 1,522 men and women, ages 30 to 60, confirms smaller studies that have linked an increased risk of death with sleep-disordered breathing. Eighty people died during this time - about 19 percent of whom had severe sleep apnea and only 4 percent of whom had normal sleep patterns.

According to the report, heart disease and heart-related death was tied to 26 percent of all deaths among those with normal sleep patterns and 42 percent of deaths among those who had severe sleep apnea. Other risk factors for development of the disorder include excess weight, high blood pressure, family history of the condition, being male and use of alcohol or sedatives.

Participants in the study spent one night under observation at a sleep laboratory where they were screened for sleep apnea. Those diagnosed with the disorder were divided into groups according to the severity of their condition. Severity was measured by the average number of breathing pauses and sleep disruptions. Those with normal sleep patterns constituted the baseline group.

The findings implied that risk of death was reduced when participants underwent proper treatment, such as the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which keeps airways open during sleep and prevents pauses during breathing. There has been debate over whether to use airway pressure to treat patients who are not sleepy during the daytime.

Overall, those experiencing sleep apnea had a risk of death 3.2 times higher than those at the baseline, even after adjusting for other risk factors such as age, sex and body mass index. For participants who had untreated (non-CPAP) sleep apnea, the risk of death was 3.8 times higher.

"I was surprised by how much the risks increased when we excluded people who reported treatment with CPAP," Dr. Terry Young, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a news release. "Our findings suggest - but cannot prove - that people diagnosed with sleep apnea should be treated, and if CPAP is the prescribed treatment, regular use may prevent premature death."

Researchers did note that 95 percent of the study's participants were white and most had both a stable income and health care.

"It is likely that our findings may underestimate the mortality risk of [sleep disordered breathing] in other ethnic groups or the lowest socioeconomic strata where there is poor awareness and access to health care," the researchers said.

The same issue of the journal Sleep included a separate 14-year study from Australia's Woolcock Institute for Medical Research, which came to a similar conclusion, finding that individuals with severe sleep apnea have six times the risk of death as those without the disorder.

However, the number of participants in each group was significantly skewed, weakening the conclusion's impact. The study followed 380 men and women between ages 40 and 65 in Western Australia, for up to 14 years. Out of 18 people with sleep apnea, 33 percent (6 people) died; of 285 people without sleep apnea, 7.7 percent (around 22 people) died.

The U.S. study was supported by the National Institutes of Health. The Australian study was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

HEALTH NEWS: US Infant Mortality Rates Stall

(previously published here at

A CDC statistical report says a nearly decadelong decline in rates of infant deaths has stalled, with records showing little change in the last three years. However, premature births are directly associated to increased deaths, especially for "non-Hispanic black women."

The CDC defines this category of people as having African ancestry and no maternal ancestors of Hispanic descent.

The overall rate, unrelated to premature births, showed very little change from 2004 to 2005, with 6.78 deaths per 1,000 live births versus 6.86 deaths. The report was released Wednesday by the CDC's division of vital statistics, which collects data on U.S. rates of infant mortality, birth and death.

Preterm-related infant deaths rose overall from 34.6 percent to 36.5 percent between 2000 and 2005. For non-Hispanic black women, babies were 3.4 times more likely to die from preterm-related causes than were non-Hispanic white women. Per 1,000 live births of black infants, 13.26 died in 2005, a rate that is on par with some developing countries.

Within the Hispanic spectrum (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Central and South American), preterm-related mortality rates were highest for Puerto Rican mothers, 87 percent more than in non-Hispanic white mothers. They were lowest for low-birth-weight infants with mothers of Mexican descent.

"We continue to have persistent and very large disparities by race and ethnicity," said lead author T.J. Mathews, a demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics. While connections between race and higher infant mortality are not certain, these are issues being discussed.

Extremely early births (before 32 weeks gestation) and preterm births (before 37 weeks) are a large factor in infant mortality, according to the report. "Rates [of infant death] are higher in that first day or first week than later on in the post-neonatal period," Mr. Mathews said.

The report also notes that there has been a steady increase in the number of preterm and low-birth-weight births since the mid-1980s, in part due to a rise in multiple births, more frequent use of fertility treatments and an increase in the number of C-sections and early induced labor.

Causing 44 percent of all infant deaths in 2005 were birth defects, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Mortality rates were also higher for infants born in multiple deliveries (twins, triplets or more), and to mothers either born in the U.S. (perhaps due to fewer support systems than outside the U.S.) or who were unmarried.

Maternal age and level of education also had some connection with infant mortality rates, with the fewest deaths occurring with women giving birth in their 20s and 30s, and with 16 or more years of schooling. In addition, infant mortality rates were higher among boys than girls.

Mothers of Mexican descent had the lowest rates of low-birth-weight infants (6.5 percent), while Asian or Pacific Islander moms had the lowest death rates among preterm births (10.7 percent).

On the other hand, compared with non-Hispanic white mothers, SIDS rates were highest for babies with American Indian or Alaskan Native mothers, as well as with non-Hispanic black mothers (2.0 times and 1.8 times higher). SIDS rates were lowest for Mexican mothers (48 percent), Asian and Pacific Islander mothers (57 percent), and Central or South American mothers (68 percent).

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

HEALTH NEWS: Hospitalizations For Heart Failure Triple

(previously published here at

The number of patients hospitalized in the U.S. for heart failure and heart-related diseases almost tripled from 1979 through 2004 according to a recent study.

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported this month that hospitalizations rose from 1.27 million to 3.86 million in this time span, and the trend likely will continue.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted the study, which evaluated data from the National Heart Discharge Survey. More than 80 percent of those admitted to hospitals with any mention of heart failure were age 65 or older and most had Medicare or Medicaid.

In the study, Dr. Jing Fang, lead author and an epidemiologist with the CDC, said an aging American population largely accounts for the increases, because older patients more commonly suffer from heart failure and weakening of the heart.

Dr. Fang wrote, "the improvement in technology for treatment of patients with other heart diseases, such as [heart attacks], ... [helps] people with diseases of the heart live longer."

Hospitalizations due to actual heart failure account for up to 35 percent of heart-related hospital stays. The remaining cases had respiratory diseases and conditions such as pneumonia, diabetes and kidney failure.

Dr. Fang added, although better control of these conditions could reduce hospital visits for heart failure, once the condition becomes serious enough to warrant a visit, it cannot be cured.

These people keep coming back to the hospital, and "the best medicine [we] can do is to keep the heart functioning enough for the patient to have a good quality of life," he said.

No effective treatments for severe heart failure exist, said Dr. Javed Butler, director of heart failure research at Emory University, since "when you [talk] about medications that have been proven, they are all for chronic, stable outpatients. ... We don't have any proven medications for treatment at the hospital."

The report did not address cost of the increased hospitalizations over the given period, but the American Heart Association estimates it costs around $20 billion annually.

Considering the high cost, a major effort to develop in-hospital treatments for severe heart failure is needed, Dr. Butler said. "It is a least-studied, most costly problem. We need to get a better grasp on what we should be doing."

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

HEALTH: Alzheimer's Patients Resist 'Elderspeak'

(previously published here at

Most parents have experienced a child's resistant behavior at being lectured, then realized their tone often outweighs what they try to say. Now a study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disorders and Other Dementias shows Alzheimer's patients often resist care, become upset and act out when caregivers talk to them like children.

University of Kansas School of Nursing researchers found the tendency of caregivers - whether by family or professional nursing staff - to use infantilizing speech dealing with elderly or infirm patients likely increases a patient's agitation and resistance to care.

The disruptiveness to nursing care contributes to an overall 30-percent increase in costs of such care. These findings were presented Monday at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago.

Nursing experts describe "Elderspeak" as a type of speech involving an overly caring, yet controlling, tone of voice, shortened sentences, repetition and the use of inappropriately intimate terms of endearment such as "sweetie" or "dear."

"The style of communication that we use with people with Alzheimer's influences how they feel about themselves and how well they respond to those providing care," said Sam Fazio, Ph.D., director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Institute.

"People who have dementia are trying to maintain their sense of being a person. And ... if someone is talking to them like they are an infant, that might be distressing," said lead researcher Kristine Williams, R.N., Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Kansas.

In the study, researchers videotaped the nurses' and nursing assistants' daily interactions with 20 nursing home residents. Ranging between 69 and 97 years of age, the residents had moderate levels of dementia, requiring different levels of care.

A measure called the Resistiveness to Care Scale (RTCS) was used to gauge the type and degree of disruptive behaviors. Actions termed "resistive" included grabbing onto persons or objects; turning away; pulling the limbs tightly to the body; saying 'no' or crying out; and hitting or kicking.

When these behaviors occurred, the researchers rewound the tape seven seconds to see whether any particular type of communication led up to it.

"[We found] they were more likely to be resistive to care if the nurses were using the 'Elderspeak' communication compared to the normal adult-to-adult kind of talk," said Dr. Williams.

"They also tend to alter the pronouns, [perhaps saying] 'Are we ready for our bath?' ... instead of 'Are you ready for me to help you with your bath?'"

Combined, these alterations in communication and speech patterns have the effect of enforcing the sense the patient receiving treatment stands helpless or highly dependent on the caregiver. Furthermore, the caregiver tends to use "Elderspeak" more often according to how much infirmity they perceive in the patient.

"What, theoretically, we think is going on is that younger people have stereotypes of older adults as being less able to communicate, less competent in a lot of different areas," Dr. Williams said

For family members who witness "Elderspeak" in a nursing home or assisted-care environment, Dr. Williams does not recommend hostile criticisms. Instead, "try and tell them a little bit about your loved one, that they were a high-functioning adults. To get them thinking more of the person in terms of that competent adult framework."

"[Caregivers] really have to know who that person's been their whole life, and not just define them in terms of their disease or their symptoms," said Dr. Fazio, of the Alzheimer's Institute.

"People are always saying, 'Oh, I can't do that because it's going to take more time and I have too many people to take care of.' But this showed us that the other way of doing things was causing even more time and care."

The number of people with Alzheimer's likely will increase to over 106 million people worldwide by 2050.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

NATIONAL: Gates Funding Olympics Smoking Ban, Raise Worldwide Awareness

(previously published here at

The effect of smoking and tobacco on people's health is well known in America, but the World Health Organization (WHO) still estimates that in the next 20 years, eight million people will die each year, with one billion dying worldwide in the next century. Today, 5.4 million deaths are attributed to smoking each year - more than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.

With statistics like these in mind, tech billionaire Bill Gates has earmarked $130,000 from his foundation to support a "smoke-free Olympics" through advertisements in an anti-smoking campaign. Beijing has pledged a smoke-free Games, banning smoking from most indoor public spaces, workplaces and spectator areas of open-air stadiums.

The Wednesday announcement came at a press conference where the retired Microsoft co-founder expressed his desire to use funds from his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to spread awareness of the dangerous effects of smoking to people living outside the United States, where this health issue is more prevalent.

China's Ministry of Health cites a one-million-a-year death toll from smoking-related issues, and the WHO says medical costs from smoking also impoverish more than 50 million people.

The funds and campaign in China is part of a larger international initiative by the Gates Foundation to invest $125 million over the next five years to cut rates of tobacco use in China and India, as well as stemming a tobacco epidemic in Africa. The Gates Foundation has collaborated with China's Health Ministry on other public health campaigns, including HIV prevention.

Mr. Gates and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also announced plans to contribute a combined total of $500 million through their respective foundations toward anti-smoking awareness campaigns, to include efforts to raise tobacco taxes and ban smoking in public places. Mr. Bloomberg's foundation will contribute $250 million over four years, on top of a previous pledge of $125 million.

According to the American Lung Association, second-hand smoke can cause or exacerbate serious health problems, such as cancer, respiratory infections and asthma in both children and adults. It causes approximately 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 22,700 to 69,000 heart disease deaths in adult nonsmokers every year.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

LOCAL: Philadelphia Volunteerism Rated 39th Out Of 50

(previously published here at

Only 25.1 percent of Philadelphians aged 16 and older volunteered in 2007, according to a report released yesterday by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a public-private partnership that oversees three federal service programs: Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America. This measurement puts the city in 39th place among the 50 major U.S. cities ranked in the annual study.

The Volunteering in America report has Philadelphia's rate at a little below the national average of 26.2 percent, which has declined for the second straight year. Overall, the report notes that 60.8 million Americans volunteered in their communities in 2007, giving 8.1. billion hours of service worth over $158 billion.

Pittsburgh fared a little better in 11th place with 32.1 percent of its residents being logged as volunteering last year, while New York City ranked 48th, with a 17.1 percent volunteerism rate.

Headcount statistics aside, Philadelphia is "far, far ahead of the national average in terms of the number of charitable organizations in the region," said Phil Arkow, marketing and communications officer of The Philadelphia Foundation.

According to a study done by Johns Hopkins University and the Pennsylvania Association for Nonprofit Organizations, there are about 20,000 nonprofit groups in the five-county Philadelphia area, with 9,000 of those in the city limits. These include everything from grassroots neighborhood organizations to the University of Pennsylvania.

"It's [also] been estimated that 27 percent of non-government jobs in the city and 15 percent of these jobs in the five counties are [with] nonprofit employees," Mr. Arkow added. "Nationally, communities are only 6.9 percent of non-government employees."

The decline might be attributed to what CNCS director, Robert Grimm, refers to as "the leaky bucket" of volunteerism, which describes a rapid turnover - how nationally, one in three people who volunteer in a given year do not continue their service the following year.

Economic pressures are cited as a possible negative factor affecting volunteerism rates, but the increase in "cross-sector" support for service learning and social responsibility programs in businesses and schools, as well as the growth of volunteer-oriented baby boomers may help raise service rates in the coming year.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

INT'L: HEALTH: POLITICS: The Implications Of China's One-Child Policy

(previously published here as part of the special On Human Life edition of

The People's Republic of China's one-child policy has impacted two generations, simultaneously strengthening the economy and challenging long-held social and cultural norms.

It was introduced as a short-term measure in 1979 to improve living standards and economic performance by controlling population growth. In this, it has been successful.

Between 1970 and 1979, when families were simply encouraged to think small, the fertility rate dropped from 5.93 to 2.66 children per woman.

After the policy took effect, the rate was reported as 1.94, even lower for women under 35. In 2003 the UN Population Fund explained these results through the near universal - 83 percent - use of contraception.

Compliance has been encouraged by the establishment of state-run Family Planning Centers throughout China. Eighty percent of villages have a family planning clinic and 99.3 percent have at least one professional family planning worker. In addition, economic incentives are given for compliance, and punishments, for having additional children.

The most notorious mechanism for the reduction in births is coerced abortion, but long-term contraceptive methods such as IUDs (intrauterine devices) and sterilization are most common. Another constraint is legally mandated minimum ages for marriage, 23 for women and 25 for men.

A 1993 article by Dr. R.E.J. Ryder in the British Medical Journal describes Natural Family Planning as a possible alternative to such measures. "Indeed a study of 19,843 poor women in [Calcutta] India had a pregnancy rate approaching zero. Natural family planning is cheap, efficient, without side effects and may be particularly acceptable to and efficacious among people in areas of poverty." The women in this study were mostly illiterate, but they had been trained in Natural Family Planning by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.

In the PRC, the one-child policy is strictly enforced in cities and for government employees, but there are exceptions. A second child is sometimes allowed in rural or less populated areas, if the first child has a disability, or if both parents work in high-risk jobs such as mining.

Still, the ability of parents to choose the sex of their child through selective abortion has resulted in a gender gap. The male to female ratio has increased, from 1.06 in 1979 to 1.17 in 2001, a universal phenomenon exacerbated by underreported female births and unreported adoptions of baby girls.

China's economic empowerment is indisputable, and those girls who survive the cultural preference for sons may net particular advantages in parental attention, education and marriage. However, the overall social costs have been tremendous.

While Americans are familiar with the practice of foreign adoptions, a heartbreaking trade in children has emerged within China itself.

Every year over 70,000 Chinese children are kidnapped, or sold by parents who cannot afford to care for them or cannot afford to pay the fines incurred by their "illegal" births.

Even if the one-child policy is ended, there may still only be moderate growth since most women asked by the Family Planning Commission say they want small families.

China's current population is 1.3 billion. Whatever hopes anyone may have for the policy to end immediately, the Chinese government has stated that the One-Child Policy will continue in effect for at least a decade to accommodate a "surge in births" expected among the 200 million people who will reach child-bearing age.

Heather Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

LOCAL: CHOP Given $15M For New Care Center

(previously published here at

By: Heather J. Chin, The Bulletin

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia will be opening a new pediatric care center in Norristown thanks to a $15 million gift from Athena and Nicholas Karabots of Fort Washington.

The new Karabots Pediatric Care Center will give families in-and-around the Norristown and Montgomery County communities convenient access to primary pediatric care, state-of-the-art clinical facilities and CHOP community and education programs.

"We are delighted and most grateful to the Karabots family for this generous donation," said Dr. Steven M. Altschuler, president and CEO of CHOP.

Community programs offered through Children's Hospital include Reach Out And Read, the Homeless Health Initiative, drug and substance abuse education, school readiness programs, and child abuse and neglect prevention.

"I have always felt strongly that all children, especially those living under difficult circumstances, deserve the opportunity to live a healthy and productive life," Nicholas Karabots said Wednesday. "To do this, they need to have access to good healthcare services. My wife and I are delighted to be able to support the creation of this facility that will help so many in need."

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia was the nation's first pediatric hospital and remains a leader in research, primary pediatric care and community outreach. It ranked number one in general pediatric care and specialized care (neonatal, cancer and respiratory care, among others) according to U.S. News & World Report.

The Karabots Foundation has also made contributions to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in its efforts to retain the Gross Clinic painting in Philadelphia, and helped fund and create the Karabots Center for MRI Diagnostics at Montgomery Hospital.

Mr. Karabots grew up in the South Bronx in New York City and rose to prominence in the printing and publishing business, including with Kappa Publishing Group, Inc., the largest publisher of puzzle magazines.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

LOCAL: State Ranked No. 1 For Biotech Research, Development

(previously published here at

By: Heather J. Chin, The Bulletin

Pennsylvania's advances in biotechnology research and development have recently been recognized as number one for the "diversity and depth" of their initiatives.

This was the conclusion of the most recent Business Facilities magazine study, an annual report that also rated states for their strength in biotechnology.

Gov. Rendell announced the ranking during Wednesday's groundbreaking in Montgomery County for the new North American headquarters of Almac, a worldwide provider of R&D and manufacturing services for pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

"We have laid the groundwork to keep Pennsylvania number one in biotech," said Mr. Rendell noting its elevation in perceived status. The state had previously ranked 11th for the past three years.

"Biotechnology plays a critical role in Pennsylvania's economic and strategic growth. We're providing [the] industry with a competitive edge by directing support and funding to companies to expand, create jobs and retain ... talent."

Criteria included amount of state R&D funding and venture capital investments, level of concentrated occupational employment, tax exemptions, and university grant funding.

The report noted the state's allocation of $150 million in 2007-08 from its tobacco settlement to support research in CURE, the Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement, toward health-related programs.

In addition, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a statewide network that pushes entrepreneurship and tech innovation for economic growth, leveraged $675 million and created and retained 2,475 jobs.

Other Pennsylvania biotech programs include Life Sciences Greenhouse Initiatives and various venture capital investments in medical device and equipment companies worth more than $500 million, according to The National Venture Capital Association.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

Comment To: Don't Ask Don' Tell article

Added: Thursday July 24, 2008 at 09:09 AM EST

I think I am in agreement with John M. on this topic. I have never served in the military, and I think only those who did or currently do should have a say in it. From what I see in movies about our military, part of the training is to push aside all of the "me" identities, resulting in uniform soldiers, with uniform behavior. Letting someone openly be gay, imposing their personal tastes on others in the military is unfair. Then some should be allowed to play loud rap music and wear big gold chains, some should be allowed to wear KKK t-shirts, and some should be allowed to sleep with teddy bears and dolls. See the point? The military expects a certain type of behavior. If you can't do it, you are unfit to serve in the military.

Carl C, East Orange, NJ

NATIONAL: Congress Hears Testimony To Lift 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

(previously published here at

By: Heather J. Chin, The Bulletin

A House Armed Services subcommittee heard testimony yesterday in support of ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving in any branch military. This is the first congressional hearing to be convened on this issue since the policy was enacted 15 years ago.

The hearing is aimed as a preliminary effort before the proposed repeal is pushed forward to educate both Congress and the public about the negative effects of the current policy both on the ground and in the ability of the military as a whole to utilize the best and most skilled people for the job.

H.R. 1246, or the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, seeks to repeal the ban and allow homosexuals to serve openly in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. It is co-sponsored by 134 members of Congress and supported by many retired military personnel, including former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman John Shalikashvili and over 50 retired generals and admirals.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., and 121 co-sponsors first introduced the Act in 2006, but didn't push it forward since a presidential veto was certain to result. House Democrats - plus five Republicans - plan a full presentation of the bill in the next Congress, when there is a new president.

In a July 8 interview with Military Times, Sen. Barack Obama has said he supports a repeal in that "at a time when we are pressed, we should have an attitude of 'all hands on deck'" and "everybody who is willing to lay down their lives on behalf of the United States, and can do so effectively ... should have the opportunity to do so."

Sen. John McCain opposes repeal, maintaining in a letter to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group, that to do so would enable "the polarization of personnel and breakdown of unit effectiveness" and "elevate the interests of a minority of homosexual service members above those of their units."

In the 15 years since "don't ask, don't tell" has been in effect, 12,342 service men and women have been discharged, according to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the General Accounting Office, including those with specialized skills and at least 58 Arabic linguists as of 2007. That amount peaked at 1,273 in 2001 and then fell to about half that after Sept. 11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on July 19 found that 75 percent of respondents said openly gay people should be allowed to serve. That number was 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993.

Although no Pentagon representatives will speak, testimony will be heard from openly gay former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who was the first U.S. soldier wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Navy Capt. Joan Darrah, a retired and openly lesbian servicemember who was on duty in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, and retired Army Maj. Gen. Vance Coleman, who is heterosexual.

The controversial law served as a compromise to then-President Bill Clinton's attempt to fulfill his 1992 campaign promise to allow openly homosexual men and women serve in the U.S. military. It was created by then-chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn, D-Ga, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

MEDICINE: Tobacco Plants Used As Basis For Cancer Vaccine

(previously published here at

By: Heather J. Chin, The Bulletin

In spite of years of its name being associated with cancer, the tobacco plant has recently shown potential in the development of personalized vaccine cells to fight a specific type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Potential medicinal applications for tobacco are still in preliminary stages, but scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California have published their current findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

In their report, the researchers focused on creating antibodies for follicular B-cell lymphoma, which attacks the immune system and is currently considered incurable. A "B-cell" is a type of white blood cell responsible for defending the body against bacteria and other pathogens that cause illnesses.

After isolating the patient's cancer cells, the antibody-producing gene is extracted and transplanted to the "tobacco mosaic virus," which is then used to infect the tobacco plants. The infection then spreads through the cells and the gene produces large quantities of antibodies. After only a few days, the researchers ground up some of the leaves and extract the antibodies necessary.

Only a few plants are needed to produce enough vaccine for one patient.

In the first test of a plant-based vaccine on humans, 16 patients recently diagnosed with follicular B-cell lymphoma were injected with their individualized vaccines. More than 70 percent of the patients had an immune response and 47 percent had the specific response the researchers hoped for.

While the idea of producing and using individualized antibodies for patients is not new, as previous cancer vaccine trials have been done using animal and human cells, but those had mixed results. This early study using plant tissue has both speed and limited side effects on its side.

"This would be a way to treat cancer without side effects. The idea is to marshal the body's immune system to fight cancer," said Dr. Ronald Levy, senior author of the study. "We know that if you get the immune system revved up, it can attack and kill cancer."

Part of the appeal and benefit is in the speed and inexpensive production process. Each year, about 16,000 people are diagnosed with follicular B-cell lymphoma. Treatment is often limited to constant monitoring by doctors to see if a patient's condition worsens, with chemotherapy being avoided. With so few options, a vaccine would have a significant positive impact.

Since the study was only designed to test whether the plants were practical, safe and effective in stimulating a boosted immune system response, larger and more in-depth studies would need to be conducted to test how well such vaccines might perform in reducing the size of tumors.

The irony of using plants that produce tobacco - the main component in cigarettes, a known cancer-causing agent - as the base from which to develop a cancer-related vaccine was not lost on the researchers and everyone involved.

"It's pretty cool technology, and it's really ironic that you would make a treatment for cancer out of tobacco," said Dr. Levy. "That appealed to me."

The tobacco plants and research technology were provided by Large Scale Biology Corp., a company located in Vacaville, Calif., and the study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Further studies into plant vaccines will be taken to major pharmaceutical company, Bayer, which has similar technology and greater financial resources to support the research.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

LOCAL: PCVB Seeks More Health Care Conferences, Sporting Events

(previously published here at

By: Heather J. Chin, The Bulletin

"America's life sciences meetings destination" may become the newest Philadelphia marketing slogan, according to officials from the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. They unveiled their business strategy on Tuesday, aimed at drawing more visitors with a variety of programming - including more health care conventions.

Forty percent of all meetings held at the Philadelphia Convention Center are devoted to health care and life sciences, while 55 percent are held in Philadelphia-area hotels. PCVB hopes increased marketing and cooperation with economic-development groups to recruit related students and businesses to the region, the city will become a global destination for meetings.

The greater Philadelphia area hosts many health care; pharmaceutical and biomedical research; manufacturing; and marketing facilities, including U.S. branches of international corporations.

"Not only do we have the community to hold those conventions, but also the connections in the life sciences to make these things happen," said Mr. Jack Ferguson, executive director of PCVB. From being within driving distance from 85 percent of "big pharma" in the country and [institutions] of higher education, "we've got the infrastructure to do it and an expanding convention center to host."

Philadelphia is the 12th most-visited U.S. city for international visitors, and tourism rose by 27 percent last year, to around 550,000 visitors, according to U.S. Department of Commerce figures, due in part to the strength of foreign currency against the dollar. This increase was valued at $1.2 billion in economic impact for the region, PCVB President Tom Muldoon told a regional business news publication.

The convention center, at 15 years old, is set to expand from the current 440,000 square feet of exhibit-hall space to 700,000 square feet. Construction could finish in January 2011, at an expected cost of between $700 million and $800 million.

In addition to more life-science conventions, PCVB's business plan for the upcoming fiscal year aims to attract individual and group tourism, multicultural groups and sporting events. The Philadelphia Sports Congress, a division of PCVB, has already hosted the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Table Tennis and Gymnastics, generating over $20 million in economic impact.

The PCVB and the Sports Congress, also continue to build on the Philadelphia 2016 Olympic bid, further branding the city as an international and Olympic sports destination city.

"If our city is to compete in a global marketplace, we need to continue to tell the Philadelphia story to people around the world so they choose to travel to America's birthplace," said Mayor Michael Nutter.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

LOCAL: State Treasury Launches Public Database Of Government Contracts

(previously published here at

By: Heather J. Chin, The Bulletin

In a move that increases the transparency of government goings-on, the state Treasury has created the Pennsylvania Contracts e-Library - a new Web-based database where public users can search and find any government contract. It is the result of revisions signed in February by Governor Ed Rendell to the state open records law - the Right-to-Know Law.

Pennsylvania Treasurer Robin L. Weissmann publicly unveiled the database, available through the Treasury Department's Web site,, Tuesday morning at a press conference at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg, describing the site as the first step toward making Pennsylvania government more open and accessible.

"Since taking office ... I have been committed to making the Commonwealth's financial information and operations more accessible to all Pennsylvanians," said Ms. Weissmann. "We are pleased to offer this new free, online service as part of our commitment to bringing good governance and transparency into all of our day-to-day operations."

The Contracts e-Library was launched in only four months, with Ms. Weissmann saying in a prepared statement that treasury staff held focus groups with users and built the online portal for the database. The e-Library is already up and running, but the additional requirements of the law are not scheduled to take effect until Jan. 1, 2009.

The Treasury Dept. will be responsible for the system's infrastructure and maintenance, but each state government agency is responsible for uploading its information. Agencies are required to provide summaries with every contract for easier access and identification. Every search will also include links to any related contracts, such as amendments and purchase orders, to help public users to track an agency's transactions with a particular vendor.

The revised Right-to-Know law details that all government records, save for many dated before July 1, 2008, are open to the public. For contracts dated prior to that point, public users would have to send a request, labeled under the RTK law, to the Treasury Dept. via email or telephone.

"The passage of the Right-to-Know Law earlier this year was an important step toward boosting the public's trust in government," Mr. Rendell said, adding that "the Pennsylvania Contracts e-Library is the first of many action items from that law that ... will continue to break down the barriers between Pennsylvania citizens and government."

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

LOCAL: Steuer Instated As Head Of Phila. Culture Office

(previously published here at

By: Heather J. Chin, The Bulletin

Philadelphia - Mayor Michael Nutter has installed Gary P. Steuer as the city's new cultural leader, who will head the newly reconstituted Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. Mr Nutter made the announcement Friday at a City Hall reception, where the 52-year-old was introduced to members of the city's diverse arts community.

Reopening the arts office fulfills one of Mr. Nutter's campaign pledges. The office, as well as the $165,000-a-year cabinet-level post, was eliminated by former Mayor Street for financial reasons and has been recreated in what Mr. Nutter says is an investment in urban revitalization.

"We will be a place where other cities come to figure out how we did it," Mr. Nutter said at the reception, packed with around 100 city arts leaders.

Mr. Steuer carries an extensive background in arts administration and communication, having served as president of the Arts and Business Council, and then as vice-president and executive director of the newly merged Arts and Business Council of Americans for the Arts. His wife, Sophie, is a fund-raiser at Jazz at Lincoln Center, but will leave her job in the coming months to move to Philadelphia.

Mr. Steuer's new responsibilities will include bringing more arts venues and opportunities into neighborhoods, attracting more visitors to the city and restoring full-time art and music instruction in public schools. He will be a member of Mr. Nutter's cabinet, and will work out of the mayor's office. Additional staff for the Office of Arts and Culture have not yet been named.

Mr. Steuer begins work on Oct. 1.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

HEALTH FEATURE: Summer Allergy Miseries

(previously published here at

By: Heather Chin, The Bulletin

Don't think it's just you. It is not your imagination. Age has nothing to do with it. Things really are worse this year. Everyone is feeling the pressure.

Yes, this is a vintage year, maybe a historic year, for allergy miseries. Many of us are having just a little more trouble breathing. Our sinuses feel as though they are under attack. Coughing and sneezing and scratching incessantly at dry eyes seems to have become a more or less permanent condition.

Although observers described last year as an especially bad allergy season on the East Coast, with a mild winter and late growing season exacerbating already warm weather, 2008 is already providing even more frustrating conditions for allergy sufferers.

Tree pollen, mold and grass pollen were the most common, active pollen types in the Philadelphia area during June, with "very high" levels according to's Pollen Almanac, and mold allergens have dominated the scene through the first half of July.

Seasonal allergies are caused by airborne pollens, which are released from trees and grasses during pollination and reproduction. Beginning with the spring pollination of trees and the early summer introduction of grass particles, allergens trigger the strongest reactions in summer and early fall.

This year, "with the mild winter, the trees have been blooming earlier, and the first cases of allergy exacerbation started in early March," said Corinna Bowser, M.D., an allergist at Adult and Pediatric Asthma and Allergy, in Havertown, whose practice serves patients throughout the region. "The counts have been [especially] high because it hasn't been raining a lot and rain usually clears the air of allergens."

Dr. Bowser said she has observed an increase in reports of first-time allergy suffering by people in their 40s and 50s. Allergic reactions to outdoor allergens usually first present themselves in teenagers and those in their 20s.

The creation of a seemingly new group of allergy sufferers may be the result of more people reporting their allergies, rather than the development of new airborne issues, Dr. Bowser, who is also part of the teaching faculty at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, said. Either way, it can be excruciating for allergy sufferers.

"People who have had allergies for some time, but never bad enough to seek care [may be] finally pushed over the edge [to seek treatment] now that the counts have been higher and the effect has been worse."

There are other theories and possibilities being considered by asthma, allergy and immunology specialists, including the impact of climate change (warmer temperatures leading to higher pollen counts) and something called the hygiene hypothesis.

"Our super clean environment, perhaps, may actually put more people at added risk for developing allergies down the line," Dr. John Sundy, an allergy specialist at Duke University Medical Center, told a local television station. This risk would come not from too little hand-washing, but from a lack of early exposure to natural environments that include allergy triggers like pollen, dust and animal fur.

American Lung Association statistics indicate residents under age 18 and over age 65 living in the five-county Philadelphia area are at a high risk of developing everything from pediatric asthma to chronic bronchitis and CV disease to diabetes.

Common allergy triggers in Pennsylvania, as listed on, include alfalfa, honeysuckle, horse chestnut, poison sumac [leaves], post oak and prairie ragweed.

In addition to the typical plant-related allergens such as pollen and ragweed, atmospheric conditions such as ozone levels and levels of particulate matter also cause concern.

A recent German study suggests that pollution levels, especially those from vehicular-derived particles and aerosols, can increase the possibility of sensitivity to allergens.

Many options exist to aid allergy sufferers, ranging from asking doctors about allergy medications and antihistamines to timing outdoor activities to avoid early morning pollen saturation.

Heather Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

Monday, August 04, 2008

HEALTH NEWS: Eating Nuts While Pregnant May Raise Risk Of Asthma For Child

(previously published here at

By: Heather J. Chin, The Bulletin

Mothers-to-be might - or might not - be better off reducing consumption of nut-based foods if they wish to decrease their child's risk of developing asthma.

According to a recent study, pregnant women who daily consumed at least one nut product, like a peanut butter sandwich, had children with a 40- to 60-percent higher risk of developing asthma or asthma-related symptoms within the child's first eight years of life.

Still, researchers don't recommend removing nuts from pregnant womens' diets, since they contain nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E, which previous studies say may have protective properties against asthma development.

"While it is too early to make recommendations of avoidance, it is important for pregnant women to eat healthily," said Dr. Saskia Willers, who led the study at the the Netherlands' University of Utrecht. "What is true for many foods is that too much is never good."

The study observed women who ate nut products "rarely" throughout their pregnancy.

It showed that children whose mothers had previous history of asthma or sensitivity were on a restricted diet and also reported suffering from the condition.

On the other hand, women who ate nut products in moderation did not have children who showed any more risk of asthma development.

In this cohort (group) study, the Dutch researchers examined 4,146 pregnant women who completed diet questionnaires about how often they consumed fruit, vegetables, fish, egg, milk, milk products, nuts and nut products during the previous month. Of the women, 1,327 were atopic, having asthma or allergic sensitivity, and 2,819 were nonatopic, with no pre-existing sensitivity or related condition.

Researchers were able to maintain contact with 80 percent of the mothers and children/families, allowing for a great amount of communication during the process.

The health of the children born to participants was monitored from ages 1 through 8, with complete data available for 2,832 children.

The results found no associations between maternal intake of vegetable, fish, egg, milk or milk products and nut consumption and observed childhood outcomes.

This is the first study to examine the mother's diet while they were pregnant (instead of relying on memory years later) and to track the asthma outcomes past the first five years of life. It was published in the July 15 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, which is put out by the American Thoracic Society.

Asthma affects over 20 million adults and more than 9 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with it.

Despite the strong study and promising findings, the specific factors during pregnancy and early childhood that cause some children to develop asthma [and allergies] over others is still unclear. One known factor is an inherited genetic predisposition.

"Genes play a large role in whether or not the child is eventually going to develop food, or environmental allergies in the future," Dr. Nora Lin, a pediatric and adult allergist with Allergy and Asthma Specialists in King of Prussia. "The effects of the maternal diet on how those genes play out is a pretty complex issue, but [there has not been much] definitive evidence that what a mom eats will affect the outcome of what the child develops or not."

"We don't know what other things the parents did or were exposed to... what supplements or food or medications ... they were using," said Dr. Jonathan Steinfeld, pediatric pulmonologist at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children. "This is an association study - between eating more nut products and the children being diagnosed with asthma later in life, but this does not imply causation (that it caused the asthma)."

The study would also be difficult to apply to American and other families throughout the world since we have such a variety of genetic makeup, Dr. Steinfeld notes.

"While they did it well and with a large group, it needs to be repeated to be sure that elsewhere in the world, [these findings] are reproducible."

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008