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« July 2011 | Main | September 2011 »

66 posts from August 2011


Mayo Clinic Jacksonville finds Parkinson's-protective gene...

Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville say they've found a "genetic variation" that protects against Parkinson's disease and another variation of the same gene that increases the risk (in Caucasians and Asians).

"The idea that Parkinson's disease occurs mostly in a random sporadic fashion is changing. Our study, one of the largest to date in the study of the genetics of Parkinson's disease, shows that a single gene, LRRK2, harbors both rare and common variants that in turn alter the susceptibility to PD in diverse populations," lead investigator and Mayo neuroscientist Owen Ross, Ph.D. was quoted as saying in an announcement from the clinic.

Parkinson's, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a motor system disorder that can cause "tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination."

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel

Mayo Clinic patients get "socialized"...

Mayo Clinic has announced that social media has the potential to expand the reach of research.

"Mayo Clinic has identified a new benefit of social media and online networking: a novel way to study rare diseases," an announcement from the clinic says. "Through patient-run websites dedicated to heart conditions and women's heart health, a team of cardiologists led by Sharonne Hayes, M.D., is reaching out to survivors of spontaneous coronary artery dissection, also known as SCAD, a poorly understood heart condition that affects just a few thousand Americans every year."

SCAD is a "traumatic cardiac event" that can trigger a heart attack, the clinic notes. 

A SCAD survivor "approached Dr. Hayes asking how she could spur more research into the unusual condition. Dr. Hayes' research team then asked the survivor to help recruit participants through an online support community on the website for WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease," People with rare disease are notoriously difficult to find when researchers want to conduct studies.

A total of 18 people volunteered, through the SCAD survivor's efforts, to become part of a pilot SCAD study, with only 12 spots available. The goal, according to the clinic, is to build a biobank of 400  SCAD survivors and their relatives. 

It's a case of a patient taking the initiative to spur research in a novel way.

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel


MS and stem cells....

Fierce Biotech is reporting early results from a Phase I study using adult stems cells for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS).

I caution that my dad was told throughout his entire life after diagnosis that there would be a "cure" within five years. That never happened.

So it's important to read predictions of cure with a raised eyebrow — and a grain of sand.

"In the trial, six MS subjects were injected with their own PCT stem cells collected from their bone marrow," the Fierce Biotech article says. "Researchers then injected the stem cells into each patient's blood stream."

But before you run off to Europe seeking therapy, keep in mind that this is a Phase I study, meaning researchers are primarily watching for side effects, making sure that the treatment can be effectively delivered in a safe manner.

"We didn't see patients throwing away their wheelchairs, throwing away their walking sticks, the symptoms that the patients had didn't change a great deal," the BBC quotes study leader professor Neil Scolding as saying. But the BBC reports the procedure "increased nerve function by up to 20%" in treated patients.

I emphasize the words "up to." In other words, not all of the patients had a nerve function increase that high.

Scolding told the BBC he's hopeful the stem cell therapy might lead to a way to stabilize MS. In other words, once a patient gets diagnosed, arresting the disease in its tracks.

Researchers hope to begin recruiting study participants for Phase II/Phase III by the end of the year. Those phases focus on effectiveness and demonstrating whether a treatment is better than current therapies. That last part ought to be pretty easy to show if there's any improvement, since there is a paucity of effective therapies against MS.

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel

A $240,000 scientific journal retraction....

Retractionwatch is reporting that a scientific journal article retraction has led one of the authors of that retracted article to donate the author's shares in a company — a gift worth $240,00.

"In December, we reported on how a Swedish company that was about to go public dealt with a retraction of a paper in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that formed some of the basis of their work. The company, Wnt Research, was scheduled to go public on November 26, 2010, but after the retraction appeared on November 11, they postponed the initial public offering (IPO), and let every investor that had expressed an interest know about the retraction. We thought the company’s moves demonstrated a remarkable transparency," Retractionwatch says

Now Retractionwatch reports, "the scientist responsible for the errors that led to the retraction has given back the shares which he or she was given when the company was founded."

If you're interested in scientific integrity, Retractionwatch itself is probably worth "watching."

***I ran across this via Twitter, but apologize that I have lost track of the person who originally pointed it out (my apologies to that individual).***

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel


Rochester Walk to Defeat ALS... #RochMN

The Rochester (Minnesota) Walk to Defeat ALS is coming up fast.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, according to, "is a serious neurological disease that causes muscle weakness, disability and eventually death." It is commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Famed baseball player Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS in 1939 at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

"Worldwide, ALS occurs in 1 to 3 people per 100,000. In the vast majority of cases — 90 to 95 percent — doctors don't yet know why ALS occurs. About 5 to 10 percent of ALS cases are inherited," the clinic's online description says. "ALS often begins with muscle twitching and weakness in an arm or leg, or with slurring of speech. Eventually, ALS affects your ability to control the muscles needed to move, speak, eat and breathe."

Date: Saturday, September 10, 2011

Time: Checkin starts at 9 a.m., walk starts at 10 a.m.

Location: Soldiers Field Park (on the west side of South Broadway, if you're new to the area)

Cookbooks: The Rochester Walk to Defeat ALS Committee created a cookbook last year, with recipes from people in the Rochester Area. To buy a cookbook, contact Kristina at or 888-672-0484. Cookbooks are $20 apiece. 

(Walk details source: The ALS Association)

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel

Missouri medical helicopter crash condolences ...

My condolences to the loved ones of those who died Friday night in a helicopter crash in Missouri.

"The Eurocopter AS-350 was carrying three crew members and a patient when it went down at about 7 p.m. in a field a mile north of Midwest National Air Center," the Associated Press reported.

Mayo Clinic here in Rochester, Minnesota also uses AS-350s, though it's possible they're not the same model of AS-350 as the one that crashed.

The Sacramento Bee reports that the helicopter crashed "near a small airport where it planned to stop for fuel, killing all four people on board…."

Mayo Clinic several years ago began advocating nationally that more-stringent safety requirements are needed for medical helicopters, including ground-awareness technology, technology that makes pilots aware when they're too close to a hill or building and night-vision goggles.

It hits close to home for Mayo flight crews when there's a crash, especially a fatality, because most flight crew members interact at some time with members of other flight crews around the country.

I express my sorrow to those who lost a colleague or loved one and hope the investigation by the FAA helps bring information that will prevent future losses of life.

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel


COPD? New antibiotic information....

Dealing with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

The University of Minnesota School of Public Health has new information that might be interesting to you.

"A clinical trial designed by researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health has found that adding the common antibiotic azithromycin to the usual treatment regimen for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can reduce the occurrence and severity of the condition’s characteristic exacerbations, or flare-ups," the university says in an announcement this week (August, 2011).

The hope is the drug will improve quality of life for people with COPD.

Long-term affects of taking the antibiotic remain unclear, along with which patients might benefit most from the therapy. 

A total of "570 study participants who took 250 mg of azithromycin daily for a year in addition to their usual care averaged 1.48 acute COPD exacerbations annually, compared to 1.83 exacerbations for the 572 participants who received their usual care without azithromycin," the university reported.

The research was a "prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study" according to

Researchers present their results in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The drug doesn't cure COPD and doesn't eliminate flare-ups. Plus, there are risks, as there are with any treatment. 

The New England Journal article says, "among selected subjects with COPD, azithromycin taken daily for 1 year, when added to usual treatment, decreased the frequency of exacerbations and improved quality of life but caused hearing decrements in a small percentage of subjects."

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel

U.S. going farm fresh.... #RochMN

Want fresh food? So do many of your neighbors, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests.

"As of mid-2011, there were 7,175 farmers markets operating throughout the U.S. This is a 17 percent increase from 2010," the agency's website says. Last year there were only 6,132.

That means in 2011 there were 1,000 new farmers markets added across the country, the USDA reports. 

"These outlets provide economic benefits for producers to grow their businesses and also to communities by providing increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables and other foods. In short, they are a critical ingredient in our nation’s food system," the USDA quotes Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan as saying.

Be sure to check out your local farmers market in these waning days of summer, now turning to fall. I'm looking forward to hunting some apples and, yes, my fall favorite — pears!

There should also be grapes soon at the Rochester (Minnesota) Downtown Farmers Market, which opens 7:30 a.m. to 12 noon through October 29 (2011).

There's also a farmers market at Kmart in the parking lot every Wednesday through the summer from 4 to 6:30 p.m.

Farmers Market Rochester Downtown Farmers Market
[Rochester Downtown Farmers Market. Photo by Jeff Hansel. Copyright.]

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel


Wishes for former Minnesotans in hurricane path... #RochMN

My best wishes this weekend to former Minnesotans who live in the path of Hurricane Irene.

Kasson-Mantorville graduate Pierce Lushinsky starts college this fall studying Fire Protection Engineering, which means he'll one day perhaps become a fire marshal, investigate arson or work in a law enforcement capacity. His fire department is in the hurricane's path.

Pierce MFD Uni
[Submitted photo of Pierce Lushinsky.]

Lushinsky volunteers nights and weekend at College Park, Maryland Volunteer Fire Department, Company 12, Prince George’s County Fire and EMS in exchange for housing (which, in my personal opinion, is a pretty sweet deal — good for citizens, the fire department and for students studying fire protection). His classes are right across the street.

Contacted via email last night, Lushinsky said, "we have increased staffing to handle the anticipated calls for service during the storm but we’re not really sure how big that increase will be. Because of the possible flooding and water situations the station has acquired PFD’s (Personal Flotation Devices) and rope throw bags so we have the capability to perform a simple water rescue if the need arises. We also have caution tape to mark downed power lines. All of our chain saws are ready to go if we need to clear trees. We also have a sump pump if we need it. The big thing right now is alerting the public about the risks."

Read what Lushinsky and other formers Minnesotans had to say about storm preparations in today's print edition of the Post-Bulletin (August 27, 2011).

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel

A conflicts of interest bonanza.... #NEJM

Yesterday I blogged about an interesting study related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

At the end of the New England Journal of Medicine article, I started looking at the list of potential conflicts of interest. But I had to give up after a few lines. I send kudos to the researchers for really laying their conflicts on the table.

One of my eyebrows always raise when a researcher says he or she has no potential conflicts of interest to declare prior to a presentation about their area of expertise or in a journal article.

These researchers, though, tell us so much about potential conflicts that its likely many people won't make it all the way through the list. Check this out (and see if you can read the whole thing — I broke it into bullet points to make it easier to digest):
• Dr. Albert reports receiving consulting fees from Gilead Sciences, fees for expert testimony from the Bruce Fagel Law Firm, and royalties from Elsevier, and being named on a patent pending for a device that provides continuous monitoring of the elevation of the head of the bed (Denver Health and the University of Colorado)
• Dr. Casaburi, receiving payment for service on the advisory boards of Novartis Pharmaceuticals and Forest Pharmaceuticals, consulting fees from Theratechnologies, Breathe Technologies, Medtronic Spinal and Biologics, Boehringer Ingelheim, Philips Respironics, Novartis, and Actelion Pharmaceuticals, lecture fees from Boehringer Ingelheim, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer, holding stock in Inogen, and receiving grant support from Novartis, Roche, Boehringer Ingelheim, Osiris Therapeutics, Forest Pharmaceuticals, and GlaxoSmithKline, Breathe Technologies (pending), and Theratechnologies (pending)
• Dr. Cooper, receiving fees for expert testimony from Watkins, Louri, Roll and Change; Lawrence R. Dry & Associates; Starnes Davis Florie LLP; Walker, Tipps & Malone PLC; Moore, Ingram Johnson & Steele; and Farris, Riley & Pitt, LLP; and grant support from GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis
• Dr. Criner, receiving consulting fees from Phillips Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline, Uptake Medical, and Dey, grant support from Philips Respironics, GlaxoSmithKline, Boehringer Ingelheim, Novartis, and AstraZeneca, and royalties from Springer
• Dr. Curtis, receiving grant support from Boehringer Ingelheim
• Dr. Dransfield, receiving consulting fees from GlaxoSmithKline, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Forest Pharmaceuticals, grant support from GlaxoSmithKline, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Boston Scientific, and lecture fees from GlaxoSmithKline and Boehringer Ingelheim
• Dr. Han, receiving payment for service on the advisory boards of CSL Behring, GlaxoSmithKline, and Boehringer Ingelheim, consulting fees from Genentech and Novartis, lecture fees from GlaxoSmithKline, CSL Behring, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Pfizer, royalties from UpToDate, and meeting expenses from AstraZeneca
• Dr. Madinger, receiving honoraria in conjunction with the Merck Study Monitoring Antimicrobial Resistance Trends (SMART), the JMI Laboratories Sentry study, and the Eurofins Medinet Trust study
• Dr. Make, receiving payment for service on the advisory boards of Forest Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Dey, Nycomed, Philips Respironics, Schering-Plough (now Merck), SeQual, Embryon, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline, consulting fees from Astellas Pharma, Talecris Biotherapeutics, and Chiesi Pharmaceuticals, lecture fees from GlaxoSmithKline, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer, and Forest Pharmaceuticals, payment for manuscript preparation from AstraZeneca, payment for video presentation preparation from Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer, payment for document reviews from Spiration, and grant support from AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Nabi Biopharmaceuticals, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Sunovion
• Dr. Martinez, receiving payment for service on the advisory boards of GlaxoSmithKline, MedImmune–Astra Zeneca, Merck, Pearl Therapeutics, Novartis, UBC, Mpex Pharmaceuticals and Ikaria, consulting fees from Forest–Almirall, Boehringer Ingelheim, Nycomed–Forest, Roche, Bayer, Schering-Plough (Merck), HLS, Talecris Biotherapeutics, Comgeniz, fb Communications, BoomComm, Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Elan, Genzyme, Quark Pharmaceuticals, Merck, Pfizer, and Sanofi-Aventis, royalties from Associates in Medical Marketing and Castle Connolly, lecture fees from GlaxoSmithKline, National Association for Continuing Education, Med-Ed, Potomac Pharma, Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Schering-Plough (Merck), Vox Medica, WebMD, Epocrates, AstraZeneca, and Altana–Nycomed, payment for development of educational presentations for HIT Global and UpToDate, and grant support from Boehringer Ingelheim, Gilead, Johnson & Johnson–Centocor Ortho Biotech, and Actelion Pharmaceuticals
• Dr. McEvoy, receiving grant support from Boston Scientific and GlaxoSmithKline and lecture fees from Boehringer Ingelheim and GlaxoSmithKline
• Dr. Niewoehner, receiving consulting fees from Boehringer Ingelheim, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Forest Research, Merck, Sanofi-Aventis, Bayer Schering Pharma, Nycomed, ProtAffin, and Pfizer
• Dr. Porszasz, receiving consulting fees from Breathe Technologies, Boehringer Ingelheim, Novartis, and Forest Pharmaceuticals, and grant support from Boehringer Ingelheim, Forest Pharmaceuticals, Breathe Technologies (pending), and Novartis
• Dr. Price, receiving consulting fees from Astellas Pharma, Cubist Pharmaceuticals, and Merck, providing expert testimony on transmission of hospital-associated infections, management of musculoskeletal infections, aminoglycoside toxicity, and diagnosis of infection, receiving grant support from MicroPhage, Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Quintiles, Sanofi Pasteur, BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, and Accelr8 Technology, and lecture fees from Robert Michael (a CME vendor), Cubist Pharmaceuticals, and Baxter Healthcare
• Dr. Scanlon, receiving grant support from Altana, Boehringer Ingelheim, Dey, Forest Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and Pfizer and royalties from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins and Wolters Kluwer
• Dr. Sciurba, receiving consulting fees from Boehringer Ingelheim, AstraZeneca, and GlaxoSmithKline and grant support from Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline
• Dr. Washko, receiving consulting fees from MedImmune and Spiration and being married to an employee of Merck Research Laboratories Division of Clinical Pharmacology
• Dr. Woodruff, receiving consulting fees from MedImmune, grant support from Genentech, and being a coinventor on a patent held jointly by his institution and Genentech.
No other potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.

Did you make it all the way through? I'm wondering if anyone is studying how many conflicts get reported nowadays versus those that were reported, say, a few years ago. It's interesting to consider the ethical concerns those who push for more transparency might bring to the table but also to recognize the simple use of space that is now being devoted to such lists in the scientific journals.

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel