HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

McCain and Obama on Same Side in War on Cancer

The Washington Post reports that both Obama and McCain agree to fight harder in the battle against cancer by increasing research funding to better detect and treat cancer as well as support cancer survivors.  Deborah Charles writes,

Obama_and_mccain If there is one war John McCain and Barack Obama agree on, it's the one against cancer.

Thirty-seven years after President Richard Nixon launched the "war on cancer," the two U.S. presidential candidates agree on a need to fight the disease that kills more than 560,000 Americans each year.

The close personal ties each candidate has to the disease ensures that cancer advocates will find support in the White House regardless who wins the November 4 election.

McCain, the 72-year-old Republican presidential nominee, survived multiple skin cancers. Democratic nominee Barack Obama, 47, lost his grandfather to prostate cancer and watched his young mother die from ovarian cancer.

With 1.5 million Americans expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year, McCain and Obama both say it is time to add some fire to the battle against cancer.

Though their plans differ in the details, both White House hopefuls want to increase research funding, streamline government organizations dealing with cancer and improve access to screening and clinical trials.

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September 10, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Back and Forth on Stem-Cell Research Energizes Race

The New York Times reports on the clashing views over stem-cell research in the presidential campaign.  Larry Rohter writes,

BidenFirst abortion, now embryonic stem-cell research. An issue that energizes social conservatives has once again been thrust into the presidential campaign, after Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for vice president, attacked Republicans on Tuesday for rejecting President Bush’s limited support for using human embryonic cell lines to develop medical therapies.

“I hear all this talk about how the Republicans are going to work in dealing with parents” who face “the joy and the difficulty of raising a child who has a developmental disability, who were born with a birth defect,” Mr. Biden said at a campaign stop in Columbia, Mo. “Well, guess what folks? If you care about it, why don’t you support stem-cell research?”

The Republican Party platform, just adopted in St. Paul, opposes any form of human embryonic stem-cell research. The McCain campaign, however, immediately cried foul, accusing Mr. Biden of “offensive” behavior and implying that the attack was directed at Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, who in April gave birth to a son with Down syndrome and has promised parents of children with disabilities that she will be “a friend and advocate in the White House” if elected.

Barack Obama’s running mate sunk to a new low today launching an offensive debate over who cares more about special-needs children,” said Ben Porritt, a spokesman for Senator John McCain’s campaign. “Playing politics with this issue is disturbing and indicative of a desperate campaign.”

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September 10, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Consumer Group Sues Miller Over New Drink

The Wall Street Journal reports that a consumer-advocacy group sued MillerCoors over their new Sparks drink, claiming that Sparks contains unapproved ingredients and might pose health and safety risks for consumers.  David Kesmodel writes,

SparksA consumer-advocacy group sued MillerCoors LLC in an effort to have the company's Sparks beverage removed from the Washington, D.C., market in the latest campaign against the caffeinated alcoholic beverage.

The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest sued the second-largest U.S. beer maker in District of Columbia Superior Court, contending that Sparks contains unapproved ingredients and poses health and safety risks for consumers.

MillerCoors, a joint venture of SABMiller PLC and Molson Coors Brewing Co., declined to comment on the suit. But spokesman Julian Green said "it is important to note" that the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau had approved all formulas and labels for Sparks, Sparks Light and other versions of the drink. "We have and we will continue to ensure that the labeling, marketing and product formulations of all our brands meet all applicable federal regulations and that our brands are marketed responsibly to legal drinking age adults," he said in a prepared statement.

The suit came amid probes of Sparks's marketing by various state attorneys general, who are concerned about the drink's appeal to minors. In June, MillerCoors's main rival, No. 1 beer maker Anheuser-Busch Cos., agreed to stop selling similar products in a settlement with 11 state attorneys general.

But MillerCoors seems to be taking a firm stance against moves by regulators and consumer groups to curtail Sparks. The brewer has more at stake with Sparks than Anheuser-Busch did with its Tilt and Bud Extra drinks, which Anheuser pledged to reformulate. Sparks is the No. 1 selling drink in the caffeinated alcoholic-beverage category, with 60% market share, and SABMiller paid $215 million to acquire the brand and other products from McKenzie River Corp. in 2006.

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September 9, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

DNA Testing Expands to Lesser Crimes

The Washington Post reports on the expansion of DNA testing used in less violent crimes such as robberies, burglaries, and drug deals to lead to faster convictions.  Defense lawyers worry that this will boost the odds of false matches.  Dan Morse writes,

Genetic_testing4While unusual, here is a crime as alleged by Montgomery County police that joins the list of things harder to get away with in the era of DNA evidence:

Man walks into a Starbucks, says he wants to apply for a job. He's given an application and a complimentary cup of coffee. Minutes later, he walks around the counter and threatens a barista with a ballpoint pen. He flees with $204 from the cash register and keys to another barista's 1993 Nissan Maxima, leaving behind the partially consumed cup of coffee.

Dominic J. Wilson is scheduled to stand trial today in the Starbucks case.

"Saliva," said Ray Wickenheiser, director of Montgomery's crime lab, "is a good source of DNA."

DNA testing in the county is expanding from killings and rapes to less violent robberies, burglaries and drug deals. Prosecutors say this will lead to quicker convictions because defendants will cave and plead guilty. Defense lawyers worry that as more DNA samples are pushed through the county's crime lab, it will boost the odds of false matches.

"It runs the risk of turning the gold standard of evidence into fool's gold," said Stephen Mercer, a Montgomery lawyer who has taken on so many of these cases lately that one of this clients calls him "the DNA Dude."

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September 9, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Facing Veto, Democrats Drop Plan for Vote on Child Bill

The New York Times reports that Congressional Democrats have scrapped plans for another vote on expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, thus sparing Republicans from a politically difficult vote just weeks before elections this fall.  Robert Pear writes,

Child_billBefore the summer recess, Democrats had vowed repeatedly to force another vote on the popular program. But Democrats say they have shifted course, after concluding that President Bush would not sign their legislation and that they could not override his likely veto.

Mr. Bush vetoed two earlier versions of the legislation, which he denounced as a dangerous step toward “government-run health care for every American,” and the House sustained those vetoes.

Congress returns on Monday for a session expected to last three or four weeks. Lawmakers say they will focus on energy legislation, essential spending bills and efforts to revive the economy and to create jobs.

The fight over the children’s insurance program prefigures a larger legislative debate, expected to start next year, over the future of health care and the role of government in providing it.

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September 8, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Poverty-Reduction Aid Lags, Study Finds

The Los Angeles Times reports that the United Nations says an ambitious goal embraced by wealthy countries to cut extreme global poverty by 2015 is in jeopardy.  Richard Boudreaux writes,

Millenium_campaignDevelopment aid from the United States and other wealthy countries has declined since the middle of this decade, jeopardizing the ambitious U.N. goal they had embraced for reducing poverty by 2015, according to a report issued Thursday.

The report card on the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations' 15-year global anti-poverty plan, cites improvement in easing the debt burdens of the world's neediest countries, but says pledges to help them with stepped-up aid and lower trade barriers were faltering.
It says development aid from the United States, the largest benefactor, fell 10% last year to $21.7 billion. Japan's dropped 30% and the European Union's nearly 6%. The report says the 22 donor countries committed to the plan must increase their development aid by $18 billion a year between now and 2010 to meet targets they accepted three years ago.

"This report sounds a strong alarm," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in releasing the study by a U.N. task force. "We are running out of time."

Ban has called a one-day summit of world leaders here Sept. 25 to prod wealthy countries to do more.
American officials said President Bush has remained committed to the U.N. plan.

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September 8, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

FDA to List Drugs Being Investigated

The Washington Post reports that the FDA will begin posting every three months a list of drugs whose safety is under investigation because of complaints brought to the agency's attention by drug companies, physicians and patients.  David Brown writes,

Doctor6The FDA will name the drug and the nature of the "adverse events" but will not describe their seriousness or the number of complaints received, officials said yesterday. Being on the list does not mean the drug is unsafe, only that the FDA is looking into that possibility.

FDA officials said they realize that the new policy, required by changes to federal law enacted last year, may unintentionally alarm some patients.

The agency's Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS) last year received 482,154 unsolicited reports of potential reactions to drugs. The vast majority were false alarms, with the reported problem having nothing to do with the medication a patient was taking.

Presumably, many of the investigations that the FDA will now announce will not find any new problem with the drug in question.

"The risk is that people will read more into this than what it is, which is a statement that an evaluation is underway," said Paul Seligman of the agency's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. He added that he hopes patients will not stop taking a medication simply because they saw it on the list.

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September 7, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Vaccinations of Toddlers Set a Record

The New York Times reports that federal health officials are urging parents to trust vaccine safety as last year's numbers of vaccinations set record levels.  The New York Times writes,

Measles_vaccineToddlers received the recommended vaccinations against childhood diseases at record levels in 2007, federal health officials said on Thursday, as they urged parents to continue to trust vaccine safety.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its report on vaccination rates for children ages 1 1/2 through 3 a day after another study came out showing no link between autism and the vaccine given to guard against measles, mumps and rubella.

A record 77.4 percent of children in this age group received the full recommended series of vaccinations, the centers said.

Ninety percent of children got all but one of the six individual vaccines in the series, it said.

The one exception was the four doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis or whooping cough vaccine, received by 84.5 percent of toddlers, the centers said.

The report, based on data on 17,017 children, found that less than 1 percent were given no vaccines.

The immunization program’s success hinges on parents’ trust in vaccine safety, the centers’ director, Dr. Julie Gerberding, said.

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September 7, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Judge to Unseal Documents on the Eli Lilly Drug Zyprexa

The New York Times reports that a federal judge in Brooklyn decided on Friday to unseal confidential materials about Eli Lilly's top-selling antipsychotic drug Zyprexa, citing “the health of hundreds of thousands of people” and “fundamental questions” about the way drugs are approved for new uses.  Mary WIlliams Walsh writes,

ZyprexaThe decision by Judge Jack B. Weinstein of Federal District Court came as part of a ruling that gave class-action status to a case brought by insurance companies, pension funds and unions that want Lilly to repay them billions of dollars they spent on the drug. They contend that Lilly hid the side effects of the drug and marketed it for unapproved uses.

The confidential documents were produced by Lilly in response to a related lawsuit filed by patients who said that Zyprexa had caused excessive weight gain and diabetes. The papers were placed under a protective court order soon after the suit was filed in 2004.

“Lilly’s legitimate interest in confidentiality does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure at this stage,” Judge Weinstein wrote.

A spokeswoman for Lilly, Marni Lemons, said the company would not appeal the decision to make the documents public but that it would appeal the judge’s certification of a class action.

The issue of confidential information arose in 2006, when some of the Zyprexa papers were provided to a reporter for The New York Times, Alex Berenson. He wrote front-page articles based on evidence they contained that Lilly executives had kept information from doctors about Zyprexa’s links to obesity and high blood sugar.

Eli Lilly denied having withheld such information and said that the documents Mr. Berenson had seen were “cherry-picked” to give a one-sided view.

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September 6, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

The Science of Happiness

The Los Angeles Times gives the phrase "pursuit of happiness" a run in the Times' reflection of happiness as a process rather than a goal.  Marnell Jameson writes,

HappinessIf recent scientific research on happiness -- and there has been quite a bit -- has proved anything, it's that happiness is not a goal. It's a process. Although our tendency to be happy or not is partly inborn, it's also partly within our control. And, perhaps more surprising, happiness brings success, not the other way around. Though many people think happiness is elusive, scientists have actually pinned it down and know how to get it.

For years, many in the field of psychology saw the science of happiness as an oxymoron. "We got no respect," says Ed Diener, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, who began studying happiness in 1981. "Critics said you couldn't study happiness because you couldn't measure it." In the mid-1990s, he and a few other researchers started to prove the naysayers wrong. As a result, Americans now have an abundance of consumer books, academic articles, journals and associations to help them find happiness.

"Many of us have material things and our basic needs met, so we are looking for what comes after that," says Diener, co-author with his son, Robert Biswas-Diener, of the forthcoming "Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth." "Materialism isn't bad. It's only bad if we use it to replace other things in life like meaningful work, a good marriage, kids and friends. People are recognizing that those who make money more important than love have lower levels of life satisfaction."

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September 6, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 5, 2008

FDA Posts List of Potential Problem Drugs

The Washington Post reports that the government on Friday began posting a list of prescription drugs under investigation for potential safety problems, in an effort to better inform doctors and patients.  Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes,

Pills9The first list is a bare-bones compilation naming 20 medications and the potential issue for each. It provides no indication of how widespread or serious the problems might be, leading some consumer advocates to question its usefulness, and prompting industry worries that skittish patients might stop taking a useful medication if they see it listed.

Food and Drug Administration officials said they are trying to walk a fine line in being more open to the public while avoiding needless scares. Congress, in a drug safety bill passed last year, ordered the agency to post quarterly listings of medications under investigation.

"My message to patients is this: Don't stop taking your medicine," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, who heads the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "If your doctor has prescribed a drug that appears on this list, you should continue taking it unless your doctor advises you differently."

The first list included some drugs whose problems have already been publicized, such as the blood thinner heparin and immune-suppressing medications that are being studied for a possible link to cancer in youngsters. Several medications administered in hospitals were listed because of overdoses linked to possibly confusing instructions. Among the drugs taken in the home, insulin and nitroglycerin were cited because of possibly confusing instructions that may be contributing to patients getting the wrong doses.

The listings will be updated for each calendar quarter.

"What's new here is that we are telling the public really at the earliest stage what we are working on," said Dr. Gerald Dal Pan, head of the Food and Drug Administration's drug safety office. "I think the public told us, 'We want to know what you are working on.' And we are responding to that."

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September 5, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Chemical in Plastic Is Connected to Health Problems in Monkeys

The Washington Post reports on a study that has found bisphenol A, a chemical found in everyday plastics, to create problems with brain function and mood disorders in monkeys.  Lyndsey Layton writes,

PlasticResearchers at the Yale School of Medicine have linked a chemical found in everyday plastics to problems with brain function and mood disorders in monkeys -- the first time the chemical has been connected to health problems in primates.

The study is the latest in an accumulation of research that has raises concerns about bisphenol A, or BPA, a compound that gives a shatterproof quality to polycarbonate plastic and has been found to leach from plastic into food and water.

The Yale study comes as federal toxicologists yesterday reaffirmed an earlier draft report finding that there is "some concern" that bisphenol A can cause developmental problems in the brain and hormonal systems of infants and children.

"There remains considerable uncertainty whether the changes seen in the animal studies are directly applicable to humans, and whether they would result in clear adverse health effects," John R. Bucher, associate director of the National Toxicology Program, said in a statement. "But we have concluded that the possibility that BPA may affect human development cannot be dismissed."

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Yale team exposed monkeys to levels of bisphenol A deemed safe for humans by the Environmental Protection Agency and found that the chemical interfered with brain cell connections vital to memory, learning and mood.

"Our findings suggest that exposure to low-dose BPA may have widespread effects on brain structure and function," the authors wrote. In contrast to earlier research on rodents, the Yale researchers studied monkeys to better approximate the way BPA might affect humans.

"Our goal was to more closely mimic the slow and continuous conditions under which humans would normally be exposed to BPA," said study author Csaba Leranth, a Yale professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and of neurobiology.

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September 5, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

F.D.A. Orders Stronger Warnings on Arthritis Drugs

The New York Times reports that the FDA has ordered stronger warnings Thursday on four medications widely used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other serious illnesses, saying they can raise the risk of possibly fatal fungal infections.  The New York Times writes,

EnbrelThe drugs -- Enbrel, Remicade, Humira and Cimzia -- work by suppressing the immune system to keep it from attacking the body. For patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the treatment provides relief from swollen and painful joints, but it's ''a double-edged sword,'' said the FDA's Dr. Jeffrey Siegel. That's because the drugs also lower the body's defenses to various kinds of infections.

Siegel, who heads the office that oversees arthritis drugs, said the FDA became concerned after discovering that doctors seemed to be overlooking a particular kind of fungal infection called histoplasmosis. Of 240 cases reported to the FDA in which patients taking one of the four drugs developed this infection, a total of 45 died -- about 20 percent.

The infection, which mimics the flu, is prevalent in much of the middle part of the country. It can have particularly grave consequences if it isn't caught early and spreads beyond the respiratory system to other organs of the body.

Siegel said the investigation began with a single case of a woman taking one of the drugs who died of histoplasmosis. Delving into the case, doctors at the FDA found that the woman had been sick with the fungal infection for a long time. ''This case led us to be concerned that there may be other situations in which physicians may not recognize histoplasmosis,'' said Siegel.

FDA officials searched the agency's database and found the 240 cases of patients taking the medications who had also developed the fungal infection. Of those, at least 21 appeared to involve a late diagnosis, and 12 of them -- more than half -- ultimately died.

Siegel said the FDA's order Thursday means that the risk of histoplasmosis will be flagged in a ''black box,'' the strongest warning information in a drug's prescribing literature. The four medications already have black box warnings about the risk of infections, but the language varies from drug to drug.

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September 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Turf War: California Sues Artificial-Grass Makers Over Lead Content

The Los Angeles Times reports that California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown and other law enforcement officials allege that three makers of artificial turf deliberately failed to disclose that their products contain lead.  Lead, which is used to give a natural green hue to the artificial turf, has been identified by state agencies as a carcinogen.  Marc Lifsher writes,

Artificial_grass2California's attorney general wants to put a new spin on the old admonition "Don't step on the grass!"

The warning could read "Don't roll on the artificial turf" if Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown and local law enforcement officials prevail in a lawsuit filed late Tuesday against three top makers of the green plastic playing fields and grasslike indoor-outdoor carpeting.
The complaint filed in Alameda County Superior Court alleges that the three manufacturers violated California's Proposition 65 environmental law by knowingly failing to disclose that their products contain lead.

The lawsuit, which has been joined by Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and Solano County Dist. Atty. David W. Paulson, names Beaulieu Group of Georgia, AstroTurf of Georgia and FieldTurf USA Inc. of Florida.

All three companies said they were working with California officials to settle the lawsuit and stressed that their products were safe.
AstroTurf, an artificial-turf pioneer, said in a statement that it "has demonstrated its industry leadership by proactively developing new products that are below the most stringent standards for lead in consumer products."

Joe Fields, chief executive of FieldTurf's Canadian parent company, said that his artificial turf recently got a clean bill of health from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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September 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Irradiating Iceberg Lettuce, Spinach Effective But Not Fail-Safe; Critics Cite Consequences

The Los Angeles Times reports that the FDA's latest ruling that spinach and iceberg lettuce can be irradiated weighs food safety against concerns about vitamin loss and cleaner farming practices.  Elena Conis writes,

LettuceFor many consumers, the prospect of eating produce zapped with ionizing radiation doesn't sound all that appetizing, conjuring up images of mushy fruits and wilted leaves -- not to mention fears over safety. Last month's ruling by the Food and Drug Administration that food manufacturers can now irradiate fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce to kill bacteria came with reassurances that the process wouldn't result in food any less appealing or healthful than non-irradiated varieties.

Research indicates that that may all be true. But critics say the new rule ignores the source of the problem -- sloppy agricultural practices -- and could give consumers a false sense of security.
One might imagine that washing would take care of most bacteria on a piece of fruit or a vegetable -- including the forms of E. coli and salmonella implicated in recent food-borne disease outbreaks. But the microbes that spurred the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Assn., an industry group, to request the current ruling are known as internalized bacteria -- so called because they've taken up inside the plant's tissues and can't just be washed off.

Food irradiation, on the other hand, does penetrate deep. The process uses high-energy particles, usually in the form of gamma rays (generated by radioactive cobalt) or electron beams (similar to those in a television set). The particles break up water molecules in the plant, which then release free radicals that damage cell walls and DNA of any reproducing bacteria nearby.

Contrary to popular perception, the food doesn't retain radiation any more than, say, skin does after a day in the sun -- which is to say, not at all. It heats up a bit during treatment, then the radiation dissipates -- and no radioactive compounds enter the food.
When the radiation dose is kept low enough, the plant's own cells remain largely intact. When it's too high, however, the whole plant suffers. Irradiated food's reputation suffered a blow half a century ago, says Brendan Niemira, acting research leader with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's in Wyndmoor, Penn. Early experiments to develop an eternally shelf-stable head of lettuce resulted in leaves that were limp, colorless and bland.

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September 3, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Concerns Linger Over Safety of Chemical Used in Baby Bottles

The Wall Street Journal reports that government experts on Wednesday released a final report on the safety of a chemical used in plastic baby bottles, saying they have "some concern" the chemical is linked to health and developmental problems.  Jared A. Favole writes,

Baby_bottleThe chemical, bisphenol-A, or BPA, makes plastic hard and shatterproof, and is used in hundreds of consumer products from plastic baby bottles to CDs.

The report, released by the Department of Health and Human Services" National Toxicology Program, doesn't say BPA should be banned but that more research is necessary to understand how the chemical affects human health.

"There remains considerable uncertainty whether the changes seen in the animal studies are directly applicable to humans, and whether they would result in clear adverse health effects," said NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D. "But we have concluded that the possibility that BPA may affect human development cannot be dismissed."

Concerns over the chemical's safety have heightened in recent months, prompting more than a dozen states to consider legislation banning BPA in some children and food products. Concerns about BPA also drove Wal-Mart Stores Inc., among other retailers, to say it would stop selling baby bottles containing the chemical. Canada has said it intends to ban the use of BPA in baby bottles.

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September 3, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Doubts Grow Over Flu Vaccine in Elderly

The New York Times reports on a study that questions the statistical evidence of the flu vaccine's effectiveness and suggests the flu vaccine may not be as effective in warding off the virus in the elderly as once thought.  Brenda Goodman writes,

Flu_vaccine_for_elderlyThe influenza vaccine, which has been strongly recommended for people over 65 for more than four decades, is losing its reputation as an effective way to ward off the virus in the elderly.

A growing number of immunologists and epidemiologists say the vaccine probably does not work very well for people over 70, the group that accounts for three-fourths of all flu deaths.

The latest blow was a study in The Lancet last month that called into question much of the statistical evidence for the vaccine’s effectiveness.

The authors said previous studies had measured the wrong thing: not any actual protection against the flu virus but a fundamental difference between the kinds of people who get vaccines and those who do not.

This contention is far from universally accepted. And even skeptics say that until more effective measures are found, older people should continue to be vaccinated, because some protection against the flu is better than none.

Still, the Lancet article has reignited a longstanding debate over claims that the vaccine prevents thousands of hospitalizations and deaths in older people. “The whole notion of who needs the vaccine and why is changing before our eyes,” said Peter Doshi, a doctoral candidate at M.I.T. who published a paper on the historical impact of influenza in May in The American Journal of Public Health.

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September 2, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

DNA Databases Blocked from the Public

The Los Angeles Times reports that the National Institutes of Health removes patients' genetic profiles from its website after a study reveals that a new type of analysis could confirm identities.  Jason Felch writes,

Genetic_testing3The National Institutes of Health quietly blocked public access to databases of patient DNA profiles after learning of a study that found the genetic information may not be as anonymous as previously believed, The Times has learned.

Institute officials took the unusual step Monday and removed two databases on its public website. The databases contained the genetic information of more than 60,000 cooperating patients. Scientists began posting the information publicly eight months ago to help further medical research.
Creators of the databases had taken steps to mask the identities of the patients, summarizing and aggregating the genetic information. However, the independent study released today reported that a new type of DNA analysis could confirm the identity of an individual in a pool of similarly masked data if that person's genetic profile was already known.
Such a confirmation could reveal patients' participation in a study about a specific medical condition, denying them their presumed confidentiality, experts said.

"It's possible, but the likelihood is quite low" that a patient's privacy could have been violated, said Dr. Elizabeth Nable, head of the institute's genetic oversight body, in an interview Thursday evening. "We wanted to err on the side of caution."

The unexpected scientific advance and the institute's swift reaction highlight a growing tension in the field of genetic research, several experts said. Researchers favor public access to large pools of such data to speed the pace of medical innovation, but the privacy and public policy implications of such moves are still being understood.

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September 2, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)