Entries in National Institutes of Health (9)


Agency Pushes to Retire Chimps from Research Projects

Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte(NEW YORK) -- Chimp Haven, outside Shreveport, La., welcomed seven research chimpanzees into their new home, a move that came on the heels of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) proposal that recommends all but 50 of the 360 chimpanzees currently being used in federally funded research be retired.

The recommendation would effectively end most biomedical research projects in the U.S. that involve chimpanzees.  The remaining colony of 50 chimps would primarily be used for behavioral research.

The NIH formed the committee following a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine that found most biomedical research involving chimps was unnecessary.  The committee also suggests major cuts to grants for studying chimps in laboratories, as well as ceasing to breed them for research, and it sets a high bar for research involving the remaining chimps.

The recommendations were celebrated by animal rights groups that have made efforts to put an end to animal testing.

"We're certainly pleased that the United States has finally joined the rest of the world in ending the national disgrace that is the experimentation on chimpanzees," said Justin Goodman, director of laboratory investigations for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The recommendations are now in a procedural stage that allows for public comment during the next 60 days, at the end of which the NIH director will make an announcement on whether the government agency will implement the changes.

In the meantime, Chimp Haven, the only federally approved animal retirement sanctuary in the country, is preparing for the announcement, expected some time in March.  The haven is already caring for 109 retired, federally-owned chimps, and officials there are proceeding under the assumption the NIH will implement the recommendation.

"If there are more chimpanzees the government deems ready for retirement, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to be able to take them in and take care of them and give them the humane care that they deserve," Karen Allen, Chimp Haven's national advancement director, told ABC News.

The move to end most research projects using chimpanzees will have limited to no impact on biomedical research, according to the NIH.

At a press conference Wednesday, the group's co-chair, Dr. Daniel Geschwind, noted there are "...other animal models and other ways of doing the studies that might be more efficient, that wouldn't require the chimpanzees."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Marijuana Use Up Among Teens, Survey Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Marijuana use is on the rise among the nation's high school students, according to a survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health.  

The annual "Monitoring the Future" survey shows more than a third of high school seniors say they've tried marijuana within the past year, and views on pot are changing.  

A record low number of eighth graders believe it's harmful to occasionally smoke pot -- just 20 percent of 12th graders agree.  

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, highlights the dangers of teens not understanding the harmful effects of regular marijuana use.

"Marijuana use that begins in adolescence increases the risk they will become addicted to the drug, she says in a statement. "The risk of addiction goes from about 1 in 11 overall to about 1 in 6 for those who start using in their teens, and even higher among daily smokers."

The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, also shows use of the prescription stimulant Adderall is up, but illicit drug use overall continues to decline, as tobacco use, and alcohol intake also fall.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Critics Call Government's Alzheimer's Plan Unrealistic

Tom Williams/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration and the National Institutes of Health have homed in on Alzheimer's disease, setting an ambitious goal to have an effective treatment for the brain-wasting disease by 2025.

The plan is intended to give a "clear, national focus and attention on Alzheimer's that we've given to other diseases," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a meeting at the NIH Tuesday.

But Alzheimer's disease experts' reactions to the pledge are less optimistic: Some say giving more attention to the disease can only help, while others call the goal unrealistic.

Most say it is helpful to focus the nation's lens on Alzheimer's, which currently ravages the brains of about 5.4 million Americans and strains 15 million caregivers, numbers that will surely climb as the population ages.

But for some experts, the scope of the government's effort is only a fraction of what is needed to make a difference.

"It's great to have the attention drawn to the disease and have a temporary blip in funding," Dr. Samuel Gandy, a professor of Alzheimer's disease research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told ABC News. "But this is at least an order of magnitude off the figure that is likely to have meaningful impact."

The NIH devoted $448 million in fiscal year 2011 for Alzheimer's disease research, compared with the nearly $5.5 billion for cancer research and $3.1 billion for HIV/AIDS. So far, progress against Alzheimer's has been disappointing. There is no cure for the disease, and the treatments that are available only temporarily relieve its symptoms.

Much of the research so far has focused on amyloids in the brain, and whether targeting these protein tangles can prevent or reverse the disease. But answers have been tantalizingly out of reach, despite much research.

"We have had good reason to focus therapies on amyloid, yet they have failed to date. That is discouraging," Dr. Richard Caselli, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic, told ABC News. "So challenge No. 1 is finding good alternative targets."

Dr. Peter Whitehouse, a professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said if the government plan is to succeed, the NIH should broaden its focus on research against Alzheimer's to include more that will help patients cope with the disease or prevent it altogether, such as community design, diet and exercise.

"The field of Alzheimer's research is getting a little distorted. There's a constant need to focus on magic bullets and single molecules," Whitehouse told ABC News. "It really requires a public health focus. The most effective interventions are not going to be drugs."

Other experts defend the government's efforts, saying the plan can only improve current efforts to fight the disease.

"No doubt it's an ambitious goal. What's different now is that we have a goal," said Harry Johns, president and chief executive officer of the Alzheimer's Association.

Sebelius announced new steps in the government's strategy to develop treatments for the disease and provide better support to patients, families and caregivers in the next 13 years.

The first steps include millions in NIH funding devoted to research on Alzheimer's. Two trials will begin immediately -- $8 million for a clinical trial of a potential treatment for early Alzheimer's (an insulin nose spray), and $16 million to study the potential for a treatment to target amyloid, the brain hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, in Colombian people who are healthy but have a genetic mutation that puts them at high risk for developing the disease.

The initiative is part of the National Alzheimer's Plan Act, signed into law by President Obama in January, which marks $50 million for Alzheimer's research in fiscal year 2012 and another $100 million in fiscal year 2013.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, caring for people with dementia cost $200 billion this year alone, and could reach $1 trillion by 2050. The disease is physically and mentally devastating, not just for patients but for families and caregivers who struggle to care for them.

To help embattled caregivers, the government launched, an online resource for patients, families and caregivers looking for information on dementia and where they can get help, and is assigning $26 million to provide resources for patients and caregivers, including support in local communities and a public awareness campaign with TV, radio, online and outdoor ads.

Sebelius said she hoped the government's effort would lead to a strikingly different picture of Alzheimer's disease in the U.S. by 2025.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Erin Brockovich Launches Investigation Into Tic Illness Affecting N.Y. Teenagers

BananaStock/Thinkstock(LE ROY, N.Y.) -- Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has launched her own investigation into the mysterious illness causing facial tics and verbal outbursts among 15 teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y.

Most of the teens have been diagnosed with conversion disorder -- a psychological condition that causes physical symptoms. But Brockovich suspects ground water contamination from chemical spill more than 40 years ago may be to blame.

"They have not ruled everything out yet," Brockovich told USA Today. "The community asked us to help, and this is what we do."

Don Miller, whose 16-year-old daughter Katie still suffers from debilitating tics, said his sister contacted Brockovich for help.

"We're just trying to eliminate everything, and she wants to eliminate that it's the environment," said Miller. "It's a possibility and she wants to either prove it is or it isn't something in the environment."

Brockovich, who famously linked a cluster of cancer cases in California to contaminated drinking water inspiring an Oscar-winning movie starring Julia Roberts, said a derailed train spilled cyanide and trichloroethene within about three miles from Le Roy High School in 1970. All 15 of the affected teens -- 14 girls and one boy -- attended the school when they started showing symptoms last fall.

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"When I read reports like this that the New York Department of Health and state agencies were well-aware of the spill and you don't do water testing or vapor extraction tests, you don't have an all-clear," Brockovich told USA Today.

An investigation by the New York Department of Health found, "no evidence of environmental or infection as the cause of the girls' illness," according to department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond. "The school is served by a public water system...An environmental exposure would affect many people."

Doctors also ruled out PANDAS -- a neurological disorder linked to streptococcal infections -- and the Guardasil HPV vaccine, which many of the girls did not receive, Hammond said.

The school was tested for volatile organic compounds by an independent firm, but, "people are free to pursue additional environmental testing," Hammond said.

Twelve of the teens -- all of them girls -- have been diagnosed with conversion disorder, in which the emotional response to a stressful situation is converted into physical symptoms. Three new suspected cases are still being examined. Women are more likely to get conversion disorder than men, and teens are at a higher risk than adults. But some parents want a second opinion.

"We don't really agree with it," Miller said of the diagnosis. "Down the road, who knows. But for them to give that diagnosis, they have to rule everything else out. And they haven't done that."

The National Institutes of Health has offered to help solve the puzzle. Dr. Mark Hallett, chief of the NIH Medical Neurology Branch, said the cluster of cases offers a unique research opportunity.

"We have offered our help but have not been asked for yet," said Hallett, adding that he has not yet seen any of the teens. "One of the difficulties in this is that there hasn't been a lot of attention to this problem or very much research into it, which has made it somewhat of a mysterious disorder."

Hallett said he's not surprised the teens and their families are looking for another, nonpsychological explanation.

"It always seems to be the case that patients far prefer to have a [medical] diagnosis than a psychological one," he said. "Maybe they don't see the connection; don't see how it's possible to have a tremor or tic produced just by stress."

The possibility of an environmental trigger has been bolstered by reports of similar symptoms in two teens living in Corinth, a town 250 miles from Le Roy. The girls started showing symptoms in May, around the same time they passed through Le Roy on their way to a softball tournament in Ohio.

If it is conversion disorder, there are treatments. Psychotherapy, stress management and in some cases medications can improve the symptoms. But Hallett said more research is needed to understand which approach is best.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Whistleblower: Tainted Blood at National Institutes of Health Kills Two

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The federal government should investigate the deaths of two cancer patients at the National Institutes of Health who died after they received transfusions of blood that a military blood bank deemed contaminated, a public advocacy group said Tuesday.

Internal investigations by the NIH and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, both in Bethesda, Md., "are not adequate to remedy this serious problem," Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

In an afternoon interview, Wolfe said he urged the two cabinet secretaries to have their agencies determine how infected blood products could have reached the NIH and ultimately killed patients. Without "an immediate external investigation," other patients at the military hospital, the NIH "and possibly military personnel in the field, may be exposed to these entirely preventable risks," his letter said.

The investigations need to begin "quickly, to make sure they've identified exactly where the problem is, and most important, they've remedied it," Wolfe said.

Wolfe, whose work at the NIH decades ago involved platelets, the blood components that transmitted deadly infections to both patients, called it "inconceivable" that they died from tainted blood, which should never have left the blood bank except as medical waste. "The best way of ensuring that infected blood or blood components (never gets used) is to get rid of them."

In a statement released early Tuesday evening, NIH spokesman John Burklow said the NIH was "deeply saddened by the deaths of two patients who were participants in clinical research at the NIH Clinical Center."

Both patients received platelets "from an outside source that were labeled as suitable for transfusion," but developed bacterial sepsis. After the NIH learned the platelets were contaminated, "the patients and their families were informed, and every effort was made to treat their infections. We're doing everything we can to make sure this never happens again."

In addition to requesting immediate investigations, Wolfe said he also asked that inspectors general at both agencies undertake longer-term investigations to make sure the problem doesn't happen again.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What's Your Health IQ? Experts Seek Better Communication with Patients

Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- For more than a decade, Helen Osborne drafted health education material, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and her doctor gave her a printout that was supposed to help her understand her condition, she said she couldn't make heads or tails of it.

"I had no idea what I just read," said Osborne, who worked with a variety of medical centers and organizations, including the National Institutes of Health.

Osborne, 62, of Natick, Mass., reached out to her colleague at the National Cancer Institute to vent her frustration. She told her friend that she didn't understand why the printout recommended that she see numerous specialists, including a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist.

"Who exactly are these folks anyway?" she recalled asking her colleague.

"Well, Helen," she recalled her colleague say, "you wrote a whole booklet about this topic already."

Although Helen is highly educated and considered extremely literate, she is one of many Americans who, regardless of their education level, at times struggle to understand health information.

Nearly half of American adults, including doctors themselves, have poor health literacy, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine. Many struggle to understand instructions on prescription drug bottles, doctors' notes, health insurance forms, and educational brochures.

And many studies suggest that understanding health information could mean the difference between life and death.

As ABC News Radio reported Tuesday, surveyed heart failure patients who had low health literacy were more likely to die outside of a hospital setting than those who were considered health literate, according to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association.

But literacy and health literacy are not synonymous terms, said Osborne, who founded Health Literacy Consulting, LLC.

"If you're struggling to read, of course you'll have trouble with health information," she said

But health information is often hard to decipher on your own.

"The fact that I love Shakespeare does not mean I'll have good health," said Rima Rudd, senior lecturer on society, human development, and health at the Harvard School of Public Health. "The mistake in research has been to focus on skill level of patients rather than on the information presented to them."

The responsibility lies in large part with some health experts who don't effectively communicate health information with the patient, according to Rudd.

But it's also due in part to some patients who don't ask for clarification when they need it, Osborne said.

The hard-to-decipher medical information is also found on many pill bottles and medication boxes likely to be found in any medicine cabinet.

Words like "risk," "probability," "range," and "normal" are hardly ever defined -- even a simple line that asks you to take medication with "plenty" of water but doesn't specify what that means, or a line directing you to take a certain medication "four times daily" but doesn't specify when or how far to space out the dose can be a problem.

But many researchers, including Rudd, are implementing methods to help health experts better communicate with patients. One method, says Rudd, is to change the way experts ask questions. Simple questions like "Do you have any questions?" can turn to "How can I help answer your questions?"

"It's known as the teachback method -- actively creating an environment for questions and understanding," Rudd said.

Also, Rudd says health communicators should pilot test text material to see whether it's easily understandable among a test group.

"I think it's a criminal offense for anyone to write health information on managing your diabetes for example, not pilot test it and simply press the print button for all to have."

While researchers work to reform how health providers communicate, patients can take proactive steps to better understand medical information, Osborne said. It's a simple list of advice that she says she wish she'd known throughout her breast cancer diagnosis.

"Make sure you really understand what you're really supposed to do," she said. "Make sure you ask questions. Bring someone with you. Create a notebook."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Rado 


The Impact of a Government Shutdown on NIH Clinical Trials

Comstock/Thinkstock(BETHESDA, Md.) -- Clinical trials involving new drugs to help cure diseases such as cancer, including cancer in children, will be stopped or slowed by any government shutdown, a spokesman for the National Institutes of Health said on Wednesday.

A shutdown would mean no new studies will be started at NIH, where everyone is a federal employee.

At the NIH Clinical Center there are currently seven new procedures, or protocols, scheduled to start next week that will not begin if the government shuts down over the weekend.

Ongoing studies at the NIH Clinical Center will not admit new patients, according to John Burklow, associate director for communications and public liaison at NIH, which “will delay the completion of all studies currently active at the Clinical Center.”

Burklow says there are approximately 640 clinical trials (and 1,443 variations, or protocols, within those clinical trials) at the Clinical Center that will stop admissions of new patients. Of the 640 clinical trials that will stop admitting new patients, 285 are for patients with cancer and 60 involve children with cancer.  

One new patient -- a child from a poor family with a rare disease -- was supposed to visit NIH on Monday to be added to a clinical trial, and had made special arrangements including traveling to NIH on a Miles for Kids program on Sunday. But none of this will happen if there’s a shutdown: no new patients, after all.

It’s unclear how a shutdown would impact other ongoing clinical trials outside the NIH campus, with NIH grants, since the doctors and other assistants are not federal employees.

But new trials will be stopped, including the phase III study of a promising new cancer drug -- Anti-CTLA4 -- at the Philadelphia’s Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group. That study will not be able to start on schedule if the government runs out of money, which will happen Friday night unless a deal is struck.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Federal Government Attempts to Jumpstart Drug Development

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) – In an effort to try to develop more pharmaceutical drugs, the federal government has decided to put $1 billion into a new drug research laboratory. The National Institutes of Health will be launching the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, at a time when the drug industry is putting less and less money into research and development.

According to a report in The New York Times, the idea was drummed up as an effort to get drug manufacturers, who have produced a decreasing amount of new drugs, back into stronger competition with one another.

The report cites Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, as saying that the efforts of the government are not to be in direct competition with the private sector, but to make their jobs easier. By advancing the early parts of research on a drug or disease, the government hopes for private companies to take what research has already been done, expand upon it, and turn it into an innovative solution for patients.

Collins also says that despite the country’s dire financial situation, there is still a need to try and develop new drugs.

The proposal for the new center was put to Congress in a letter on Jan. 14, and preliminary plans have already been made for an opening date some time in October.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Research: Nearly 8 Million in U.S. Have Food Allergies

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A study funded by the National Institutes of Health estimates that 2.5 percent of the U.S. population, or 7.6 million Americans, have food allergies. 

According to the research results, food allergy rates were highest for children ages 1 to 5, at 4.2 percent, while the lowest rates were found in adults over the age of 60.  The odds of patients with asthma and food allergies experiencing a severe asthma attack were 6.9 times higher than those without clinically defined food allergies.

The researchers also found that food allergy rates were higher for non-Hispanic blacks and males.  The odds were 4.4 times higher for male black children to have food allergies compared to the general population.

Darryl Zeldin, M.D., acting clinical director at the NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and senior author on the paper, said, "This study is very comprehensive in its scope. It is the first study to use specific blood serum levels and look at food allergies across the whole life spectrum, from young children aged 1 to 5, to adults 60 and older."

Zeldin added, "This research has helped us identify some high-risk populations for food allergies."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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