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Thursday
Apr112019

Father, son charged for allegedly selling diseased body parts

YJPTO/iStock(DETROIT) -- A father and son have been charged in Michigan for crimes related to allegedly selling diseased body parts through their company, the Biological Resource Center of Illinois (BRCI).

BRCI provides human remains to medical professionals to use in training and research, according to court documents filed last week.

Donald Greene Sr. and Donald Greene II allegedly sold body parts that had tested positive for infectious diseases, including hepatitis, or had not been tested at all, and concealed that information from their customers, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Michigan.

When reached by ABC News, the U.S. Attorney's office had no comment on the case.

Prosecutors allege the scheme was meant "to defraud customers of the Biological Resource Center of Illinois," according to court documents.

The Greenes allegedly knew that their clients would not purchase parts that had not been tested for diseases or had tested positive. The scheme allegedly allowed the Greenes to profit off parts that were otherwise worthless, according to federal prosecutors.

Some of the body parts were allegedly sold for as much as $100,000, and were infected with HIV and sepsis, according to ABC TV station WISN-TV.

One mother was allegedly told her son’s body was going to be donated, but it was instead sold for $5,000, according to WISN-TV.

Donald Greene Sr. allegedly falsely told customers on at least eight occasions the parts BRCI was selling had received negative test results, according to authorities.

In 2013, the Greenes allegedly sold remains to the Detroit Medical Center's sports medicine department that had tested positive for hepatitis, and concealed this information, according to court documents.

Donald Greene Sr. has been charged with wire fraud. Donald Greene II has been charged with misprision of a felony – allegedly having knowledge of the scheme to defraud, not reporting it to law enforcement, and taking steps to conceal the scheme.

Donald Greene Sr. and Donald Greene II could not be reached for comment.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Apr112019

NASA study highlights profound effects of space travel on human body

Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty ImagesBY: DR. NAVJOT KAUR SOBTI

(NEW YORK) -- NASA released the results of a momentous twin study on Thursday, which found that space travel has profound effects on the human body. The findings could shape NASA’s 2020 mission to Mars — a journey that would take astronauts at least three years.

Astronaut Scott Kelly was separated from his astronaut twin brother Mark Kelly on March 27, 2015. Scott Kelly lived on the International Space Station — while his brother lived on Earth — and returned on March 1, 2016. Three years later, the results of the study, announced from NASA’s Houston headquarters, showed that long-term space missions are likely to cause major changes to astronauts’ metabolisms, genetics and cognitive performance. What’s more, the changes could last months after astronauts return to Earth, if not longer.

Space presents unique stresses to the human body. With lower gravity levels, for example, bones and muscles are more likely to become weak since they no longer have to support the weight of the body. Space flight also affects astronauts’ eyes, causing what’s now called space flight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome, characterized by swelling in the optic nerve head, among other symptoms.

Astronauts in space are also exposed to higher levels of radiation without the Earth’s atmosphere there to act as a filter. Dr. Christopher Mason, study investigator and associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell School of Medicine, told ABC News that radiation levels "are about eight times higher" on Mars than they are on Earth.

Until this study, the majority of astronaut research had only looked at space missions lasting six months or less. Writing for The Sydney Morning Herald in 2017, Scott Kelly said that by the end of his mission, he had spent a career total of 520 days in space, "more than any other NASA astronaut.”

During a news conference on Thursday, Scott Kelly said he was ready to go back to space again. "Put me in coach," he said. "I'm ready."

Since the Kelly brothers are genetically identical, researchers were able to control for genetic differences in their study, so that “the only changes that [we] would see would be because of environmental changes,” senior author Brinda Rana, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the UC San Diego School of Medicine told ABC News.

“The study provided insight into the body’s response to space flight…[and] captured an integrated view on the molecular, behavioral and physiological changes experienced by a middle-aged man on Earth over a two-year period,” Rana said in a press release.

By the end of the mission, Scott Kelly had clear signs of DNA damage, dehydration, and cognitive decline, the researchers found. Many of his telomeres — stretches of DNA that protect our genetic data and have been associated with a person’s lifespan — were also shorter.

“This may represent the way the body compensates to counteract some of the effects of space,” Rana said, noting that the DNA damage was due to the radiation Scott Kelly was exposed to in space.

Several months after his return to Earth, Scott Kelly continued to exhibit these effects of space on his body. Although it’s unclear how permanent these effects are — or if they’re even totally related to his time in space — the study has prompted NASA to dig deeper. As the organization prepares for the mission to Mars, Rana said that “NASA has expanded [this] study to a larger group of astronauts, and is planning to send up another group.”

Navjot Kaur Sobti is an internal medicine physician at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center/Dartmouth School of Medicine and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Apr112019

What to know about the new immunotherapy allergy tablets treatment 

PeopleImages/iStock(NEW YORK) --  With pollen season in full swing, a new immunotherapy treatment in the form of a tablet is promising some of the more than 50 million allergy sufferers in the United States an alternative to over-the-counter medicines and injections.

A new survey by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology revealed that 73% of allergists are now offering these at-home tablets as an allergy treatment.

Unlike injections, which require repeated doctor's office visits, or over-the-counter medications that often just mask symptoms, this new tablet treatment -- while still a long-term commitment -- is seen by many as a breakthrough in the allergy community.

Allergies are currently the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are typically several ways allergy sufferers can take care of their symptoms, according to ABC News' chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton. You can control your environment — reducing the allergens that cause your symptoms, she said. Or, try medications that reduce allergy symptoms by blocking the release of chemicals when the body is exposed to an allergen.

Allergy sufferers who are not satisfied with these short-term solutions might turn to immunotherapy treatments, which change the immune system's response to allergens. The treatment gives increasing doses of the allergens to help build up tolerance. And while this was normally done with injections, there is now a tablet that can be placed under the tongue, according to Ashton.

The new tablet immunotherapy could be a good option for those who are already taking the immunotherapy shots, as they offer similar benefits in the form of relieving symptoms, according to Ashton.

The biggest difference between the two is that you can administer the tablets at home rather than having to go to the doctor's office, although tablets are medication that need to be prescribed by a doctor.

While allergy tablets do not require repeated visits to a doctor's office, they do require strict compliance and may require up to three years of use to work.

There is no clear answer with tablets as to how long you have to continue treatment. With the shots, a doctor will typically administer them weekly for the first three to 12 months, and then monthly after that.

Missing a dose of allergy tablets might make the treatment less effective, and would require a doctor's office visit in order to create a new dosing schedule, experts say.

The tablets also cannot be used by all patients, including those with severe or uncontrolled asthma.

Additionally, the tablets will only take care of individual allergens, so you would need to take one tablet for each allergen that you react to. By comparison, shots are capable of taking care of multiple allergens at once.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved allergy tablets so far for only four allergens.

Ultimately, Ashton said that each person has to weigh the pros and cons to find the best allergy treatment for themselves. Allergy shots and tablets work better than medications alone, but require more work. However, many would prefer the shot or tablet treatment because they ultimately make you less allergic, rather than just reducing the symptoms.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Apr112019

Woman carries twins for twin sister who can't be pregnant due to rare condition

Courtesy Whitney Bliesner(NEW YORK) -- A woman is giving her twin sister the gift of motherhood.

Jill Noe, 34, is serving as surrogate for her sister, Whitney Bliesner. Noe is due to give birth to twins, a boy and a girl, named Rhett and Rhenley, on June 6.

"I was ultimately shocked because she has a fun, exciting life and she wanted to stop that for me," Bliesner of Portland, Oregon, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "On the other hand I knew where she was coming from because I would do that in a heartbeat for her, if the roles were reversed."

When she was a teen, Bliesner was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) -- a condition that causes tumors to form in the brain, spinal cord and nerves, according to Mayo Clinic. She had a tumor removed in 1999, which caused her left eye to close. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, she completely lost hearing in her right ear and later lost 40 percent of hearing in her left ear, Bliesner said.

In 2016, Bliesner married her husband Peter. The couple wanted to start a family, but Bliesner's condition made it risky for her to carry children, she said.

"I have a 50/50 chance of passing my disorder onto my child," Bliesner explained, adding that pregnancy hormones may increase tumor growth.

"I didn't want to risk getting any worse for my kids, I want to be able to take care of them," she said.

Bliesner went through her options and ultimately decided on surrogacy. She had a friend offer to carry her child, but that plan ended up falling through.

"I just kept hearing her get discouraged after all the roadblocks she was running into," Bliesner's sister Jill Noe told GMA. "She was losing hope and I said, 'I'll do it.'"

Donor eggs were used as Noe underwent in vitro fertilization. Noe became pregnant with twins during the second attempt.

"It's my best friend, someone I've come into this world with so it was really a no-brainer that I'd offer to be her surrogate," Noe said. "It was an easy decision and something I don't think is extraordinary."

Noe said she's excited to become an aunt and to see her sister become a mom. Bliesner said the idea of her twins being born gives her "goosebumps."

"It's amazing and so selfless," Bleisner said of her sister's gift. "I couldn't ask for a better surrogate."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Apr112019

Female lawmakers launch first Black Maternal Health Caucus

daizuoxin/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A record number of women were elected to Congress last year, and two congresswomen are showing their power by shining a spotlight on critical women’s issues.

Freshman Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., and Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., have launched the Black Maternal Health Caucus to address the U.S. epidemic of black women dying in pregnancy-related deaths.

“As a Black mother and grandmother, Black maternal health is deeply personal," Adams told ABC News' Good Morning America in a statement. "My daughter had serious complications with her pregnancies, and if not for the quality prenatal care she received, the outcome could have been different. Unfortunately, countless Black women do not have access to quality pre- and post-natal care or culturally-competent services."

The Caucus was launched with more than 50 founding members, including a number of Underwood's freshman female colleagues, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga.

About 700 women die each year in the U.S. due to complications from pregnancy or giving birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and some 65,000 women nearly die of pregnancy-related complications. While every other developed country has seen a decrease in maternal deaths in recent years, the U.S. has seen an increase, data shows.

The numbers are even more staggering for African-American women.

“If you're an African-American… your risks of dying in childbirth are three to four times higher than if you're white,” Dr. Neel Shah, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an OB-GYN at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told ABC News last year. “It's not tied to income. It's not tied to education… It's something about the lived experience of being African-American.”

Underwood told a story Tuesday at the launch of the caucus about a friend who was her classmate at Johns Hopkins University and later became a CDC epidemiologist. The woman, identified by Underwood as Dr. Shalon Irving, died in 2017 at age 36, three weeks after giving birth to her daughter.

"Shalon’s story is heartbreaking. And it’s unacceptable how common it is in this country," Underwood said.

A Brookings Institution study found that black mothers with advanced professional degrees, such as a master's degree or higher, have a higher chance of infant mortality compared to white women whose highest education level is the eighth grade.

A maternal death is defined as the "death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy from any cause related to the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes," according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The most common complications that women die of during and after childbirth around the world include severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, complications from delivery and an unsafe abortion, according to WHO.

The goal of the Black Maternal health Caucus is to "raise awareness within Congress to establish Black maternal health as a national priority, and explore and advocate for effective, evidence-based, culturally-competent policies and best practices for health outcomes for Black mothers," according to a statement released by the offices of Rep. Underwood and Rep. Adams.

"The status quo is intolerable, we must come together to reverse current trends and achieve optimal birth outcomes for all families," Underwood said in a statement.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Apr102019

Superbug fungus a 'serious global health threat' as over 600 in US are infected: CDC

Teeranan Sukkong/iStockBY: DR. JOSHUA ROSENBLATT

(NEW YORK) -- A type of fungus that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling a “serious global health threat” is sparking a great deal of concern among the medical community after the number of cases has risen across the United States.

Candida auris first popped up on the CDC’s international radar in 2016, and it wasn’t long before the first cases of infection were reported in the U.S. According to the CDC’s latest figures, the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. has risen to 617, with the majority of them clustered in New York City, New Jersey and Chicago. Outside the U.S., C. auris has been discovered in over 20 countries worldwide, according to the CDC.

Multiple factors have created the perfect storm for C. auris to spread. Unlike other species of Candida, for example, C. auris has been found to spread more easily from person to person, according to the CDC. What’s more, it can survive on surfaces even after routine cleaning, making health care settings like hospitals and nursing homes the ideal breeding ground.

“If we don’t change the way we clean rooms, then the Candida could potentially infect the next person that enters the room,” infectious disease expert Dr. Todd Ellerin told ABC New York station WABC-TV.

To make matters worse, C. auris is commonly resistant to one, if not all, of the antifungal medications that are available, making the infection highly difficult to treat. This degree of resistance has never been seen in other Candida species, and might have something to do with our current usage of antifungal medications, the CDC says.

Adding to the problem is that lab tests don’t always identify C. auris as causing an illness, so patients are often misdiagnosed or given inappropriate treatment, prolonging their infection, according to the CDC. Between 30% and 60% of patients die from the infection.

According to the CDC, those who are most likely to be affected by C. auris are patients who are hospitalized for a long time, those who have a central venous catheter or other lines or tubes entering the body and those who have previously received antibiotics or antifungal medications.

The C. auris infection has been diagnosed in people of all ages, the CDC says, and it can cause infections in a wide range of areas, from wounds to the ears to the bloodstream.

Joshua Rosenblatt is an internal medicine resident at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Apr102019

'Your days are numbered!' House lawmakers get angry over insulin prices

digicomphoto/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A House hearing on the affordability of insulin turned tense Wednesday, as visibly frustrated lawmakers repeatedly pressed pharmaceutical executives to explain how a drug patented for $1 ballooned to as much as $280 per vial for Americans.

The hearing, by the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee, was a rare display of bipartisanship as both Republicans and Democrats chastised the nation’s three biggest insulin makers for high list prices.

For their part, the company executives returned repeatedly to carefully scripted talking points. List prices can be high, they said, because of a convoluted system of rebates negotiated with prescription benefits plans. The officials also said that their companies were using much of their profits to develop other innovative products that would benefit diabetic patients. And they noted that their companies offered special pricing programs for people who qualify.

But lawmakers like Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois were having none of it. At one point, Schakowsky suggested illegal price collusion might even be in play, calling insulin costs “curiously close” and declaring “you’re in trouble.”

“I don’t know how you people sleep at night,” said Schakowsky, D-Illinois.

“If you think you can out-talk us without any transparency, without any accountability, I just want you to know your days are numbered,” she said.

Kathleen Tregoning of Sanofi, which makes Lantus, said the company will start as of June offering uninsured patients the ability to access insulin for $99 a month. But Rep. Joe Kennedy said the companies only seemed to be moving toward lowering costs when facing pressure from the public and potential regulation from Congress.

“No one should be rationing insulin,” Tregoning said at one point.

“And they do every day!” Kennedy, D-Mass., interrupted.

Unlike Type 2 diabetes, which can be controlled by a person’s diet, people with Type 1 diabetes need daily insulin injections to regulate their blood sugar.

The Senate Finance Committee this year launched a bipartisan investigation into insulin prices, citing skyrocketing prices. According to that panel, the insulin drug NovoLog cost 87 percent more in 2019 compared to 2013, while Sanofi’s Lantus drug jumped 77 percent. And Eli Lilly’s drug Humalog increased 585 percent between 2001 and 2015.

Republican Rep. David McKinley said he couldn’t understand why a drug that had been around for nearly 100 years would suddenly spike in cost. The inventors of insulin originally sold the patent to the University of Toronto for a single dollar.

“I’m a strong, strong supporter of innovation,” said McKinley of West Virginia. “But help me out a bit … Innovation is supposed to drive the price down, not up.”

Doug Langa, president of Novo Nordisk Inc., which makes NovoLog, said drug companies are researching innovative ways to make life easier for diabetics patients, such as limiting the number of shots they need per day. He also said there were “perverse” incentives when it comes to pricing, noting the $18 billion a year his company spends on rebates, discounts and fees.

“The higher the rebate, the higher the list price,” he said.

Tregoning of Sanofi said the money negotiated through rebates don’t always make it back to the customer.

“We don’t have visibility on how those rebates are used,” she told the panel.

Rep. Diana DeGette, who chaired the hearing, said: “it seems to me what is happening is that every component of the drug system is contributing to an upward pressure on the drug price.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Apr102019

Prince Harry is co-producing a new series on mental health and wellness with Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey arrives for the wedding ceremony of Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and US actress Meghan Markle at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, in Windsor, on May 19, 2018. (IAN WEST/AFP/Getty Images)(LONDON) -- She is the “queen of talk” and he is a member of Britain’s royal family.

Now Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry are teaming up on a new documentary series for Apple.

The series will focus on mental health, Kensington Palace announced Wednesday.

"The multi-part documentary series will focus on both mental illness and mental wellness, inspiring viewers to have an honest conversation about the challenges each of us faces, and how to equip ourselves with the tools to thrive, rather than to simply survive," the palace said in a statement. "This commitment builds on the duke’s long-standing work on issues and initiatives regarding mental health, that has seen him share his personal experience and advocate for those who silently suffer, to empower them to get the help and support they deserve."

Harry, 34, has made mental health a top priority in his royal charitable work.

He and his wife, Duchess Meghan, along with Prince William and Duchess Kate, lead Heads Together, a mental health initiative supported by The Royal Foundation. The initiative is focused on ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Harry has spoken openly in recent years about needing therapy after the death of his mother, the late Princess Diana. He has also worked to change the conversation on mental health for members of the military through his work with the Invictus Games Foundation and the Endeavour Fund.

Harry said in a statement that he is "incredibly proud" to be working with Winfrey on the series. He also confirmed the pair have been developing the project together for "several months."

Apple announced its multi-year partnership with Winfrey to produce original programming last June. The talk show host was a guest at Prince Harry and Meghan's star-studded wedding in May.

"I truly believe that good mental health – mental fitness – is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self. It is a huge responsibility to get this right as we bring you the facts, the science and the awareness of a subject that is so relevant during these times," Harry said in the statement.

He continued, "Our hope is that this series will be positive, enlightening and inclusive – sharing global stories of unparalleled human spirit fighting back from the darkest places, and the opportunity for us to understand ourselves and those around us better."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Apr102019

Pediatricians urge recall of Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper over infant deaths

milanvirijevic/iStock(NEW YORK) -- An American professional association of pediatricians is calling for an immediate recall of the Fischer-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper amid reports linking it to the deaths of tens of children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement Tuesday urging parents of children of all ages to stop using the popular baby sleeper and advising stores to remove the product from their shelves.

The group cited a new analysis by Consumer Reports magazine that links Fischer-Price's Rock 'n Play Sleeper to 32 sleep-related infant deaths between 2011 and 2018.

Fisher-Price's general manager, Chuck Scothon, said the sleeper "meets all applicable safety standards."

"To ensure a safe sleep environment for infants, we remind parents and caregivers to follow all safety warnings included with the product," Scothon said in a statement Tuesday. "Always use the provided restraints, always place infants on their backs to sleep, and make sure that no pillows, blankets or extra padding are placed in the Rock 'n Play Sleeper."

On April 5, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Fisher-Price jointly issued recommendations telling customers to discontinue use of the product when children turn 3 months old or "as soon as an infant exhibits rollover capabilities."

It cited reports of 10 deaths that occurred in the inclined sleeper since 2015 after infants -- all 3 months or older -- rolled from their backs to their stomachs or sides while unrestrained.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said the warning is not enough to ensure safety.

"This product is deadly and should be recalled immediately," Dr. Kyle Yasuda, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in the Tuesday statement.

The Consumer Reports investigation, published Monday, included the deaths of babies younger than 3 months. The cause of death listed for some of the babies was asphyxia.

"When parents purchase a product for their baby or child, many assume that if it's being sold in a store, it must be safe to use," Yasuda said. "Tragically, that is not the case."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Apr092019

Southern California police officer saves choking 9-month-old, bodycam footage shows

KABC-TV(LOS ANGELES) -- A Southern California police officer is being hailed a hero after he saved a 9-month-old baby who was choking inside her mother's car last month.

On the afternoon of March 22, Culver City Police officer Brian Cappell responded to a call of a baby choking nearby, ABC Los Angeles station KABC-TV reported.

Body camera footage shows Janet Lockridge's 10-year-old daughter, Auria, leading Cappell to her mother's car, where her sister, Harleigh, was suffering from the life-threatening emergency.

"She was struggling for air, she was struggling to breath," Lockridge said.

As Cappell approached the car, the worried mother could be heard crying as she tried to figured out how to help her baby.

"I was afraid," she said. "I didn't know what the outcome was going to be, and I was just praying the whole entire time."

Cappell then "reverted back to his training" and grabbed the little girl, placing her face-down in his hands so he could give her some firm slaps on her back. To his relief, the method worked.

"Once I heard the baby crying, it was the best sound I ever heard in my life," he said.

The next day, Cappell posed with Harleigh, who had since recovered from the accident.

Cappell received special honors Monday to commemorate his life-saving actions, KABC-TV reported.

Lockridge told the station that she is "extremely, extremely grateful" that Cappell was nearby to help save her daughter's life.

"I am, like, indebted to him forever," she said. "It was amazing. It was truly amazing."

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