Heart Patients Recover Equally Well with Bypass Surgery, Stents 

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) -- Findings from a new study suggest that whether one has heart bypass surgery or undergoes a less-invasive procedure in which medicated stents are used to open clogged arteries, cardiac patients may manage their recovery similarly.

"The degree of symptom relief is very comparable," said study author Dr. David Cohen, director of cardiovascular research at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo. 

Patients can feel comfortable with whatever option they choose. However HealthDay News notes that the most severe cases fare better with bypass surgery, despite the quick recovery time of the stent procedure.

Dr. Kirk N. Garratt of the Lenox Hill Heart and Vascular Institute in New York City commented that most patients, about 90 percent, "do just fine" taking medication for arterial blockage, but surgery is necessary for other cardiac care patients.

Garratt said that with bypass surgery, the body may try to heal itself, thereby causing post-op scar tissue to form, which can be harmful.  This is one reason the stent procedure has become the preferable option -- the stents are coated with a drug that can help to prevent this scar tissue from forming.

The study, which followed up with 1,800 heart patients who underwent bypass surgery or the stent prodecure, showed that 76 percent of bypass patients had no chest pain within a year after the operation, while 72 percent of stent patients said the same.

While neither procedure can guarantee a longer life for heart patients, Garratt said both do improve quality of life.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NY State Reports Rare HIV Transmission from Living Organ Donor

ABC News Radio (NEW YORK) -- The New York State Department of Health confirmed Tuesday that an organ recipient had contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS from a live kidney donor at an unnamed city hospital, The Wall Street Journal reports.  The health department will not identify the hospital for protection of the patients' privacy.

A spokeswoman for the health department called it the country's first documented case where HIV was transmitted from a living organ donor since a test for the virus was introduced to screen donors in 1985.

Now the department recommends that health care facilities screen potential donors for HIV and both Hepatitis C and B within 14 days before the organ transplant. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not issued organ donor screening guidelines since 1994.  An update to the current guidelines is expected from the CDC this year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Seasonal Asthma Flare-Ups Cut Dramatically by Xolair  

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MADISON, Wisc.) -- The FDA-approved Xolair can improve asthma symptoms, alleviate seasonal flare-ups and allow for a dosage reduction for other asthma medications for children as young as six years of age, according to a recently released study.

Although the study tested Xolair in asthma patients aged 6-20, the FDA has only approved the medication for use in people 12 and older.

However, researcher William W. Busse, MD, from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health reported that the drug reduced symptom days by 25 percent in study participants.  He added that the number of asthma attacks were also reduced by about 30 percent.

More important, Busse says, is that his team of researchers saw a near elimination in the onset of attacks associated with seasonal allergies, colds and other airway infections when children took Xolair.

"It indicates in these kids that allergy seems to play an important role in their asthma," Busse told WebMD.

Critics of the study say the cost of the drug (typically $1,700 for the injected drug) is one drawback among many.  According to WebMD, excessive use of Xolair can actually trigger asthma symptoms and a condition called anaphylaxis, which affects breathing.

But Busse says that although the drug is costly, patients will visit the hospital less frequently, saving on hospitalization costs.

As for the drug's links to various negative side effects, the FDA required that Genentech, Xolair's manufacturer, add a warning label to boxes cautioning users of the potential risk of anaphylaxis.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Transplant-Rejection Drug Is First Treatment for Rare Lung Disease

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(CINCINNATI) -- The drug sirolimus (Rapamycin) is the first to produce any benefit for women who suffer from a rare lung disease called lyphangioleiomyomatosis, or LAM.  The disease has had no cure, and until now, no suitable treatments.

While sirolimus has already been approved as a transplant-rejection drug, a study released Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that when given to LAM patients, lung function and quality of life is improved.

LAM is the loss of lung function due to the abnormal growth of muscle tissue causing airway obstruction.  Internationally, an estimated 250,000 women are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, according to the LAM Foundation.

The study's lead author, Dr. Francis X. McCormack of the University of Cincinnati and scientific director of the LAM Foundation, noted the "rare and special" nature of the treatment's discovery, but said that stabilized lung function only occurred "for as long as patients took the drug."  If a patient stopped taking the drug, a decline in lung function would resume, McCormack said.

McCormack added that sirolimus costs around $8 a tablet, and that the recommended dosage is two tablets a day.

Jill Raleigh, executive director of the LAM Foundation, indicated the treatment isn't likely to be a cure-all for everyone.

"It's not a cure," she said. "But it's hope."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Gene Therapy Is Successful as Parkinson's Treatment, Study Says

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- There is no magic bullet to cure diseases like Parkinson's. Certain therapies like deep brain stimulation and dopamine drugs are not often successful. But a new study published in Lancet Neurology provides results from a successful phase II gene therapy trial in patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

A hallmark of Parkinson’s disease is uncontrolled tremors and movement impairment due to abnormal brain circuitry. In the study, the authors use a sophisticated approach to inject genetic material into the brain cells responsible for motor functions in an attempt to correct the abnormal functioning.

Forty-five patients aged 30-75 years with moderate to advanced Parkinson’s disease were enrolled in the trial, with half of them receiving the gene therapy and the other half getting a “sham surgery." The patients were then tested after six months for their motor score which was based on speech, tremor at rest and facial expressions.

In the results of the trial, researchers found that patients receiving gene therapy had a 23.1-percent improvement in their motor score as compared to 12.7-percent improvement in the control group. Based on these results, the authors conclude that gene therapy can be further developed as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease. This is a first-ever successful phase II clinical trial of a gene therapy for Parkinson’s or any other neurological disorder. The phase I trial was published in 2007.

Unlike ceep brain stimulation which involves the implantation of a medical device called a brain pacemaker, gene therapy does not involve any electrical variables. However, it still remains to be seen if the improvements with this therapy are long-lasting.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Early Age at First Drink May Predict Alcohol Abuse Later

Bananastock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Taking your first drink at an early age could be the first baby step on the road to alcohol abuse. A study in the journal Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research finds that if you had your first taste of alcohol at a young age, you may be at increased risk in later life for heavier drinking under stress.  

Researchers studied three hundred six people, their drinking habits, and stressful events in their lives from the death of a loved one to unemployment to being expelled from school. The results: the earlier young adults had their first alcoholic drink and the higher levels of stress they had, the more alcohol they consumed.  The association was strongest among those who started drinking at age fourteen or younger.   

The authors say the findings highlight the importance of prevention programs to delay the onset of drinking and may help identify those at risk for alcohol abuse.   

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Report: US Mortality Rate Falls to All Time Low

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The number of deaths in the U.S. fell for the tenth straight year in 2009, reaching an all time low, according to a new report released Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC report found that there were 741 deaths per a population of 100,000, marking a 2.3 percent drop from the 2008 rate of 758.7.  More specifically, the report noted that there were 2,436,682 deaths in the U.S. in 2009 compared to 2,473,018 the previous year.

The death rates among some of the leading causes of death also dropped significantly from 2008, with heart disease declining by 3.7 percent, cancer by 1.1 percent, stroke by 4.2 percent and homicide by 6.8 percent.

Moreover, the mortality rate for infants also hit a record low in 2009, falling to 6.42 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 2008's rate of 6.59.

On another note, the report also found that life expectancy at birth went up by 0.2 years since 2008 to 78.2.

The report, entitled Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2009, was based on more than 96 percent of death certificates reported through the National Vital Statistics System from all 50 U.S. states.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Doctor Does Groundbreaking Autism Research

Comstock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Four years ago, doctors diagnosed Tyler Hudson of Gwinnett County with high functioning autism. "The first two days I think I did nothing but sit in this house and cry and feel sorry for myself," said Tyler's mom, Melanie. She quickly turned autism into action and found a developmental pediatrician who recommended speech and occupational therapy for Tyler. Now, she said, Tyler is a typical 7-year-old boy who loves school, friends, and sports.

Hudson still has strong beliefs that it was childhood vaccines that triggered Tyler's autism, but a local researcher said extensive studies show the vaccines can't be blamed.

Neurogeneticist Dr. John Stoffner has spent the last 20 years studying the connection between autism spectrum disorder and mitochondria disease. Mitochondria produce most of the energy the body needs. Stoffner said mitochondria deficiencies can be linked to a host of problems including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and autism. Dr. Stoffner and his team discovered children who have autism and mitochondria disease together are a greater risk for autistic regression, especially when they have a fever. He said a fever of around 102 degrees or higher coupled with dehydration, can act as a trigger. Think of it as going from a 1 to a 6  or an 8 on the autism spectrum. "We found that developing a fever was a very important part," Dr. Stoffner said. He urged parents who believe their child could be in danger to speak with their pediatrician. Doctors can test and treat mitochondria disease in some cases.

Dr. Stoffner's research was awarded one of the top 10 autism achievements of 2009 by the group Autism Speaks. He's currently working on a joint project with Georgia State University and Georgia Tech to study brain function of children with both mitochondria disease and autism. "I am committed to the concept that there is going to be a cure one day," he said. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Doctors Say Japan Radiation Danger Outside Plant Not Large, for Now

Sankei via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As the world watches Japanese officials struggle to gain control of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the short- and long-term health of people living in the area has become an overriding priority and topic of conversation worldwide.

ABC News contacted a dozen experts on radiation and, while most said that it is unlikely that the radioactive material will have severe health repercussions on those in Fukushima for now, doctors also agreed that it is too early to tell what will happen as the situation continues.

The Japanese government has evacuated nearly 200,000 residents living in the 20-km exclusion zone and urged others within 30 kilometers of the plant to stay indoors and keep their homes airtight.

Jacky Williams, director and core leader of the Center for Biophysical Assessment and Risk Management Following Irradiation at the University of Rochester Medical Center, called the 20-kilometer evacuation radius an "extremely conservative safety zone to protect against fallout."

On Monday, the World Health Organization's spokesman, Gregory Hartl, tried to ease people's worry.

"From what we know at the moment on the radiation levels, the public health risk is minimal for Japan," Hartl said. "That means that if someone is affected, there is no great risk."

But many people remained concerned after Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the damaged nuclear reactors may spew further radiation.

"The leaked radiation level is now rather high and there is high chance for further leakage of radiation from now on," Kan told residents on Tuesday.

"These are figures that potentially affect health," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told residents.  "There is no mistake about that."

Experts agree that simple measures like creating a sealed containment in one's home and washing one's body and clothing has a direct impact on long-term and short-term effects of potential radiation exposure.  Experts also agree that it is too early to tell the short-term and long-term damage.

"Until the type and quantity of the radioactive materials released into the atmosphere can be determined, it is impossible to estimate," said Jeff Clanton, director of radiopharmacy services at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Japanese government has dispensed more than 200,000 units of potassium iodide, a drug commonly used to treat low-level radiation exposure, which would block radioactive iodine to prevent thyroid cancers. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


1896 X-Ray Machine: 1,500 Times More Radiation Than Today

Maastricht University Medical Center(MAASTRICHT, Netherlands) -- In a pitch-black room a series of coils buzz with electricity.  A spark ignites and a greenish glow lights the dim.  The "patient" tries to hold still for over an hour as an image of the inner workings of his body develops on a glass plate.

This was how the first X-ray machines worked in the late 1890s, but to see the process in action, one must look no further than a modern-day Dutch laboratory.

Using a piece of turn-of-the-century equipment once relegated to a museum shelf, researchers at the Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands were able to produce X-ray images as experimenters would have back in 1896, just months after Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen first discovered X-rays.

"We were able to recreate the process with rather small exceptions.  One is the battery -- they used a Bunsen battery that gave off noxious gases, so we used a simple car battery.  A second is that they used glass plates [to capture the image], but we used a more modern sulfur plate, reducing the exposure time from 90 minutes to about 20," said lead researcher Gerrit Kemerink, a medical physicist at the Maastricht University Medical Center.

What they discovered was not only the surprising accuracy of these rudimentary X-ray machines pieced together with common laboratory equipment, but the shockingly high levels of radiation both researchers and patients were exposed to during these historic experiments.

An 1896 X-ray machine exposed the body to 1,500 times more radiation than modern technology, largely because each image took 90 minutes to develop, dramatically increasing the patient's cumulative exposure to the rays.  By comparison, modern day X-rays require only 21 milliseconds, and technicians place lead coverings over the body to protect it from even this slight exposure.

As a result, experimenters using these early X-ray machines often suffered effects such as eye complaints, skin burns, loss of hair, and ultimately, cancer.  Technicians who worked the equipment with their hands sometimes had to have their hands amputated.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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