FDA Approves First Lupus Drug in 50 Years

Comstock/Thinkstock (WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved Benlysta, the first lupus drug in half a century.

The drug, made by Human Genome Sciences Inc., is designed to lessen the severity of lupus, a little-understood disease in which the body's immune system attacks tissues and organs, producing skin rashes, joint pain, chronic fatigue and, in severe cases, heart and kidney complications.

Even though Benlysta has been shown to be only moderately successful in decreasing disease markers (an FDA advisory committee expressed some trepidation about its effectiveness last November), the dearth of other effective treatments makes Benlysta the hope of many a lupus researcher and patient.

"We still have a long way to go in understanding and treating lupus, but it's important to approve this right now. It really is the first drug for lupus to meet clinical endpoints [in decades]," says Dr. Betty Diamond, a lupus researcher who heads the Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Diseases at the Feinstein Institute.

Current standard of care for lupus includes high-dose steroids and anti-malaria medication to hamper the body's immune system. These medications can cause bone deterioration, infection, muscle weakness, ulcers and more, which, compounded with the symptoms of the disease itself, greatly hinder quality of life.

But even now that it has been approved, Benlysta will likely work in tandem with other lupus medications, and since Benlysta was not tested on patients with severe lupus in which the kidneys are heavily affected, it will most likely be prescribed only to those with mild to moderate disease.

Whether or not Benlysta will become the groundbreaking new treatment that many hope for, lupus experts were eager to see it approved.

"It's a long way from being a perfect drug, but I'll be interested to see if it can hold up as a usable drug," says Diamond.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Researchers Look into Brains of Tumultuous Preteens

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- For many parents, their children's preteen years could be compared only to a rollercoaster ride.

Tumultuous, erratic emotions, and unpredictable behavior are just a part of adolescence, and many parents have learned to just strap on their seat belts and hold on tight.

But why are some adolescents more emotional and susceptible to risky behaviors, while others remain steadfast in the face of peer pressure?

Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA medical school, raised just that question about his 14-year-old daughter. So Iacoboni and a team of researchers sought to answer what might make adolescents give in to their friends and take more risks.

"When [adolescents are] among a group of people, they to tend to follow what others do, and being able to control their own emotions and actions can be very important," said Iacoboni, who is also the director of the transcranial magnetic stimulation lab at the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at UCLA. The brain responses to emotional facial expressions, and would offer the first clue, he said.

Iacoboni and his colleagues took brain images of 38 adolescents over time as they were shown pictures of people expressing basic emotions, such as fear, happiness, sadness, anger, and neutrality. The researchers found that as the adolescents looked at faces expressing happiness or sadness, the area of the brain that expressed control over emotions showed increased activity.

The same group of adolescents reacted less emotionally to the other expressions, and the area of the brain associated with risk-taking and pleasure seeking lit up.

Previous research indicated that increased activity in the amygdala, an area deep in the brain, among preteens is associated with a higher likelihood of engaging in risky behavior, such as experimenting with drugs or sex.

"The assumption was more activity in there meant it was bad for the kids," said Iacoboni. "But we found higher activities and desires in other areas of the brain made them less prone to follow other kids."

Iacoboni and his researchers found that activity in the ventral striatum (VS), located next to the amygdala, also increased when the adolescents were shown more emotional photos.

"We saw there's an inverse activity relationship between the amygdala and the ventral striatum," said Iacoboni. "The VS activity increased while the amygdala activity slightly decreased, so the VS regulates the amygdala."

But could a test like this predict whether a preteen is more likely to act out or succumb to peer pressure? Iacoboni said it's still too early to tell.

The study didn't control for other factors in the adolescents' lives, such as socioeconomic status, current behavio, and life influences that could contribute to future behavior.

The adolescents were tested twice over two years, once at age 10 and again at age 13. The researchers plan to test the group once again when they're 16.

"The more we get these snapshots of how the brain changes over time, the more we'll be able to see how dynamic a young person's brain is," Iacoboni said. "With this information, we can potentially direct the brain in another course."

The research so far suggests that facial expressions and emotions directed at adolescents may influence their brain response and, potentially, how they act.

Perhaps parents who express -- or control -- their emotions around their preteens could influence the way they express or hold back their emotions around others, Iacoboni said.

"Sometimes staying neutral or apathetic is not the best choice, but don't be over emotional," he said. "You want to show warmth, because it'll be good for their social competence in life."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Elderly Drivers Need More Traffic Signs

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- A new Israeli study says elderly drivers may need more traffic signs alerting them to the presence of pedestrian crossings and other potential hazards.

When drivers over 65 get behind the wheel, they're only half as likely to see pedestrians on the sidewalk as younger drivers, according to  researchers in Israel. They've concluded that the limited field of vision often found in the elderly significantly impairs their ability to detect pedestrian and other hazards while driving. Tested on a traffic simulator, they responded slower and hit the brakes 50% less than younger drivers.

To compensate, the study found the elderly drive slower -- up to 20% slower, in fact -- to give them more time to detect problems.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Unlocking the Secrets to Longevity

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(RIVERSIDE, Calif.) --  It's long been said that always looking on the bright side and not working too hard will lead to a long and happy life -- but a new study blows both of those long-held conceits out of the water.

Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin, psychologists at the University of California at Riverside who specialize in aging, spent the past 20 years analyzing the findings of social scientist Lewis Terman.

Terman launched the famous personality and behavioral study of 1,500 children in 1921 that recorded each participant's progression through life. It created a treasure trove of data, which Friedman and Martin mined for clues as to what behaviors and practices could mean a longer life.

They recently published their findings in a new book, The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study.

"We really wanted to ask the big questions," Friedman said. "What happens across long periods of time, and how do all those things go step by step to keep some people healthy and make some people ill."

Their findings produced several surprising results.

"You always hear don't worry, don't worry you'll make yourself sick," Friedman said. "But we didn't find that at all."

"What we have found is that a moderate amount of worry is not a bad thing and particularly for men," said Martin. "And men facing crisis, like the death of a spouse, those were the men who seemed to step it up and sort of channel that worry into better self-care and sort of took care of the things that the wife would have taken care of beforehand."

Another surprise they found was that people who were consistently too cheerful or too optimistic didn't live as long as their worrywart counterparts.

"When we first started this study, we thought, well, maybe these really cheery kids will go on to live long lives," Friedman said. "It turns out they didn't."

"To come to every decision with an attitude that it is going to be fine and you think nothing bad will ever happen, that pushes you in a particular direction," Martin said. "You know, I won't wear my seatbelt, sure, I will have another drink. I will have another doughnut. It is a bad approach if you approach everything like that." 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Shorter Proves Better in CPR Training

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- The days of the hours-long office CPR training session may be numbered if the findings of a new study hold true.

A 60-second training video may be all it takes to save a life, researchers found in a new study funded by the American Heart Association.  Study participants who viewed a one-minute CPR instructional video were more likely to attempt CPR and perform a higher quality of CPR than those who did not watch the video.

More surprising was that the group who watched the one-minute training video performed better and made better decisions than those who watched a five or eight-minute version, suggesting that less may be more when it comes to teaching CPR basics.

Dr. Gabe Wilson, associate medical director in the department of emergency medicine at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York, said that when information is boiled down to a few clear points, people have much better recall and interest.

"When you know you are going to be provided with important information, and only need to pay attention for 60 seconds, the chances of engaging attention is much greater," said Wilson.

Wilson, who was not involved in the study, said that 60 seconds is enough time to cover the basic fundamentals of CPR.

"We're really excited about this," said Dr. Bentley J. Bobrow, lead author of the study, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Qualities and Outcomes, and clinical associate professor in the department of emergency medicine at the Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix.

"Survival is really low for sudden cardiac arrest, and it's not drugs or fancy expensive devices or hospital care that helps save the most lives.  It's CPR.  But so few people receive CPR.  It's really a tragedy and lost opportunity," Bobrow said.

According to the American Heart Association, sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States.  About 300,000 people experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in the United States each year, and their chance of survival declines seven percent to 10 percent with each minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Charlie Sheen: What's Next, Who Can Help?

Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage(LOS ANGELES) -- Actor Charlie Sheen took to his online program Tuesday night, Sheen's Korner, to fire back at his recent firing from Two and a Half Men and blast his former bosses. Sheen has dismissed widespread suspicion that addiction or mental illness might be fueling his antics, claiming earlier to be on the drug "called Charlie Sheen" and not bi-polar but "bi-winning."

But his increasingly erratic behavior, which cost him his job Monday on the hit CBS comedy, has many health professionals concerned about his well-being even as skeptics say it's all for show.

"When addicts are high on drugs, or a manic person is high due to the biochemical changes in his brain, they reject help because they truly believe that they are 'winners' who know better than everyone else what is best for them," said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

But the job loss and the removal of his 2-year-old twins, Max and Bob, from his home last week might signal the end of Sheen's "winning" streak.

Eric Braun, a friend of Sheen's, told GQ magazine "there are just three options" left for the fired actor: "rehab, jail, or death."

Mental health experts agree. "Frankly, we really don't know what leads one person to a specific end," said Dr. Eric Caine, chair of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "No doubt, this man is a mess and his 'destiny' may not be a happy one." While Sheen's conduct in media interviews and in his online show, Sheen's Korner, has shocked viewers, psychiatrists say they've seen it all before. "There is nothing so unusual about what we are seeing -- for those of us in the mental health field -- just that we are seeing it so publicly," Caine said.

Sheen's long track record of offenses -- from drugs and violence to rumors of trouble on set -- might have hinted at mental health problems in the past. Yet he has consistently avoided major repercussions that could have "tempered his grandiosity," according to Alesandra Rain, co-founder of Point of Return, a nonprofit organization in Westlake Village, Calif., that helps people escape pill addiction.

"Now the consequences are beginning to hit him, but he is still working from the perspective that he is untouchable," Rain said. "His media blitz is being misinterpreted as public support and he is not in the frame of mind to realize the damage he is doing."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Lipitor Among Top Drugs Coming Off Patent by Year's End

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SANTA MONICA, Calif.) -- There could soon be some good news for consumers weary of soaring health care costs: The patents for several best-selling medications will expire this year, clearing the path for lower-cost generics to take their place.

According to IBIS World, an industry research firm, some of the blockbuster drugs whose patents expire this year are the cholesterol buster Lipitor, the antipsychotic Zyprexa, the antibiotic Levaquin, Concerta, a drug used to treat attention deficit disorder and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and Protonix, an antacid.  Together, these drugs brought in more than $10 billion in sales in 2010.

Pfizer, the manufacturer of Lipitor, managed to hold off competition until later this year.  Ranbaxy, an India-based pharmaceutical company, agreed to delay the release of its generic version of Lipitor until Nov. 30.  According to its website, Ranbaxy will have the exclusive right to sell its drug in the U.S. for six months.

Experts say when generic versions of these drugs make it to market, pharmaceutical companies could face billions in potential losses, while consumers could save tens of billions of dollars a year.

"Studies suggest that the average cost of generics is 71 percent less than the cost of brand-name drugs," said James Zhang, associate professor and director of the Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy Research Program at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Pharmacy in Richmond, Virgnia.  "Studies also suggest that generic drug use accounts for 63 percent of drug use."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Women Stressed More Than Men When Work Cuts Into Home Time

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(TORONTO) -- Thanks to technology, we can link into work anywhere, anytime, but the constant office communication can take a toll on the work-life balance, especially for working mothers.

Women tend to feel more guilt and psychological distress than men do when work follows them home, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

These findings held true despite the fact that women were found to balance work and family life just as well as men.

"Although men did report higher levels of work contact while at home, what we saw was that the level of contact didn't make a difference for mens' feelings of guilt or distress.  It did for women," said Scott Schieman, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto and a co-author of the study.

While men and women may feel equally annoyed or inconvenienced by those late-night work e-mails flagged "urgent," this kind of out-of-office intrusion seems to disproportionately affect women, said Schieman.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


HCG Diet: Starving on Pregnancy Hormones?

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- With one-third of Americans obese and many more overweight, the nation is desperate for a weight-loss miracle. But the return of the hCG diet -- a fad popular in the 1970s that combines daily injections of "human chorionic gonadotropin" and extreme caloric restriction -- has some weight-loss experts worried.

"We're so desperate to have good solutions for weight control that a lot of people with good common sense literally suspend it when it they confront weight-loss claims," Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, said. "This diet is appalling. It takes irresponsible diets to new heights."

HCG is a hormone first produced by the developing embryo and then the placenta during pregnancy to help nourish the womb. Because calories are re-routed from mother to fetus during pregnancy, hCG diet promoters say, injecting the hormone will help curb appetite and allow dieters to get through a day on the energy equivalent of a turkey sandwich.

"A 500-calorie-a-day diet is just plain dangerous," Katz said. "When you restrict calories to that level, there's a real risk for not providing your body with enough essential amino acids, so it scavenges itself. In some instances, it can cause the body to scavenge from critical places, like the heart."

The danger of very low-calorie diets has been well documented since their rise in popularity in the '70s. A 1981 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition described 17 people, all of whom were initially obese and had significant and rapid weight loss, who died suddenly of ventricular arrhythmia after a median five months of dieting.

The lowest recommended caloric intake per day is 1,200 calories for women and 1,500 for men, according to the National Institutes of Health. Restricting calories beyond those limits should only be done under doctor supervision because of the health risks.

Some milder versions of the hCG diet allow dieters to consumer 800 calories per day, and use hormone creams or drops instead of injections.

"Frankly, it's all variations of the same nonsense," Katz said, calling hCG injections an expensive placebo effect.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: More Trauma Patients Surviving Hospital Stay

Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- The quality of care received by injured patients on the scene and in hospital trauma centers plays an important role in their ability to leave the hospital alive. A new study of trauma patients finds that many more are surviving their hospital stay, however, survival rates at three years for these patients are lower than expected. 

An ambulance is often the quickest way to transport an injured patient to the hospital for treatment. Once inside a trauma center, that treatment is critical to their overall survival.

Researchers in Washington state found patients who die from their injuries while in the hospital decreased from eight percent in 1995 to about five percent in 2008. "That's the good news. So many more patients survive the hospital stay and get discharged," says Dr. Sam Arbabi from Harborview Medical Center, in Seattle and co-author of the study. He then wanted to know where these patients go after leaving the hospital and what their long-term survival rates are. Researchers analyzed statewide trauma records that were linked to death certificate data over a period of 14 years. "Overall trauma patients have a higher likelihood to die even if they survive their injury in the hospital compared to non-trauma patients," according to Dr. Arbabi. 

The study appears in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association

After hospitalization for trauma, about half the patients go home, the rest are admitted to rehabilitation or skilled nursing facilities.  "Patients that get discharged to skilled nursing facilities as opposed to patients that get discharged to rehab centers or patients that get discharged home have higher risk of death in one year and three years," according to Arbabi.  Researchers do emphasize that patients released to skilled nursing facilities are often older and lower functioning than those who go elsewhere. "It doesn't suggest that skilled nursing facility is the cause, it's an association but it does suggest that there is an area that we can improve outcomes," Arbabi points out.

Researchers say the next step would be compiling outcome data from skilled nursing facilities like hospitals provide to look at ways of increasing survival rates at those facilities.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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