June 20, 2007
Personalized Drugs for Depression
The New York Times Science section, in a story by Dr. Richard Friedman, discusses research by scientists on personalized drugs. Focusing on depression, the article discussed how certain types of drugs for depression may work better for individuals depending on their biology.
Laura is a case in point. A successful management consultant in her late 30s, she sought help for lifelong depression. Her treatment began with four weeks of the antidepressant Lexapro, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or S.S.R.I., without any effect. Next, I switched her to Zoloft, another S.S.R.I., since the chance of response to another member of the same drug family is about 60 percent. Again, no response. Then we moved on to Wellbutrin, an entirely different type of antidepressant, but this didn’t work either. Laura was now ready to call it quits, and who could blame her?
After nearly three months, I had still not found an effective treatment for her. Then she came in one day and said her father had recently revealed that he had been depressed and had done well on Prozac, another S.S.R.I., and she wondered if she could try it. Within three weeks, she felt markedly better, and the symptoms of her depression began to melt away.
Instead of the hit-or-miss approach I had to use with Laura, it will soon be possible for a psychiatrist to biologically personalize treatments. With a simple blood test, the doctor will be able to characterize a patient’s unique genetic profile, determining what biological type of depression the patient has and which antidepressant is likely to work best.
Scientists have identified genetic variations that affect specific neurotransmitter functions, which could explain why some patients respond to some drugs but not to others. For example, some depressed patients who have abnormally low levels of serotonin respond to S.S.R.I.’s, which relieve depression, in part, by flooding the brain with serotonin. Other depressed patients may have an abnormality in other neurotransmitters that regulate mood, like norepinephrine or dopamine, and may not respond to S.S.R.I.’s.
This is very exciting news. The downside, I am sure that it is also extremely expensive.
Bush Vetoes Embryonic Stem Cell Bill
The Associated Press reports on President Bush's latest embryonic stem cell research bill veto.
Vetoing a stem cell bill for the second time, President Bush on Wednesday sought to placate those who disagree with him by signing an executive order urging scientists toward what he termed "ethically responsible" research in the field.
Bush announced no new federal dollars for stem cell research, which supporters say holds the promise of disease cures, and his order would not allow researchers to do anything they couldn't do under existing restrictions.
Announcing his veto to a roomful of supporters, Bush said, "If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos. I made it clear to Congress and to the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line."
Meanwhile state governments and private sources are moving forward with research in this area. Unfortunately, this isn't the best way to proceed. Newsday.com quotes Senator Corzine,
"At a time when states and the private sector are partnering to further discovery of this promising science, the federal government should be doing more to improve the lives of millions of Americans," Corzine said.
Corzine's comments came a day after New Jersey awarded $10 million in stem cell research grants, including money for embryonic stem cell work. The state has also approved $270 million for stem cell research facilities and plans to ask voters in November to approve borrowing $450 million for stem cell research grants.
June 18, 2007
Interesting update on the Flu Stories project and some information that may be helpful for personal use or perhaps in helping teach Health Law and Public Health Law courses:
TFAH ("Trust for America's Health") hosted a fascinating Fred Friendly seminar exploring a hypothetical flu pandemic breaking out in Indonesia (sound plausible?). What would President Lowell Weicker, Jr. and Governor Tom Kane do about the Super Bowl scheduled a week after the outbreak in Gov. Kane's state? What do the President's science advisors say? How would the media handle it? And how would blogging (yes, we were at the table in the form of a science blogger from Scientific American) change how media handled it?
The seminar was taped, and I hope it will wind up in a viewable slot on a PBS near you. . . .
To help you, tool kits are being created by HHS and by other interested parties (we'll help create and/or host some by fall at Flu Wiki). Simple checklists for individuals, schools and businesses are available at pandemicflu.gov.
Medicare and the Elderly Ill
Great post entitled, Twilight Years Should be Golden" at Daily Kos by mpwife discussing the tremendous burden that Medicare can place on the elderly. She concludes:
In an attempt to cut back costs and reform the programs, the Republican congress and President, over the past years, have converted Medicare and Medicaid plans to either health maintenance organizations or preferred provider organizations. Although most look good on paper, often times, doctors and patients are left jumping through hoops, trying to get needed tests, under these plans.
The enrollment process for these plans are often confusing to even the youngest of Medicare and/or Medicaid patients. They're deluged with information, that, unless you're an insurance specialist, or in the healthcare field, is often difficult to understand.
We can lay the blame on the doctors and facilities for wanting more money, but let's not. I work for a company that provides information systems to healthcare providers. The payments providers receive from MCR/MCD for services are often less then what it cost to perform the services that are approved. Should the insurance companies deny the claim, then practices who I work with usually end up writing off the cost of these services and continue to treat these patients. These are physicians who take their hippocratic oath seriously.
Rather then laying blame, our elected officials must continue to work at providing a healthcare package for those individuals who are in need our governments assistance. As the 2008 elections approach, our Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle are jockeying for support to get them past the primary. While the candidates on the right discuss terrorism, abortion and family values, it's the Democratic candidates, or some of them, that are discussing healthcare reform and comprehensive healthcare packages.
It is imperative, that as our parents or even ourselves reach our twilight years, to elect an individual who is truly interested in ensuring that the elderly, especially the poorest of them, receives the quality of healthcare necessary to allow those years to be golden.