Human Head Transplants Could Become Reality

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An Italian scientist says human head transplants could become a reality in this century, but don’t lose your head over it. At least not yet.

The most famous actual head transplant was performed on monkeys in 1970. The surviving monkey lived for only eight days.

Still, Dr. Sergio Canavero, who works at Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy, says science has caught up with science fiction, and head transplants are possible.

“The problem here is not really technical but is completely ethical,” he told ABC News, using a spaghetti metaphor to explain the complexities of the spinal cord.

In the journal Surgical Neurology International, Canavero outlined a procedure for taking the head of one person and transplanting it onto the body of another. It involves inducing hypothermia and cutting the spinal cord with an “ultra-sharp blade” so it can be fused with the donor’s spinal cord.

“This is, of course, totally different from what happens in clinical spinal cord injury, where gross damage and scarring hinder regeneration,” Canavero wrote.

He outlined a hypothetical scenario in which the body donor is a brain dead patient. He said the recipient could be anyone dying of cancer or anything else that leaves the brain intact.

For the head transplant to work, two surgeries would have to take place in the same operating room in which both spinal cords would be severed simultaneously but only after all other cuts had been made. Then, the donor body’s spinal cord would be “chemofused” to the recipient head’s spinal cord using a substance called polyethylene glycol, or PEG.

Canavero called his surgery the Heaven surgery, for “head anastomosis venture.”

But he points out that the surgery would create a “chimera,” a mythological creature, and come with complex ethical issues -- such as the patient’s eventual offspring carrying only the genetic traits of his or her body donor.

“However, it is equally clear that horrible conditions without a hint of hope of improvement cannot be relegated to the dark corner of medicine,” Canavero concludes in the paper.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


CDC: Painkiller Overdose Deaths in Women a Growing Problem

RICK EGLINTON/TORONTO STAR(WASHINGTON) -- The number of women overdosing on prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyCotin has increased by more than 400 percent in the past decade, a new national survey on drug use and health from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found.

About 18 women die every day from taking prescription painkillers, according to the survey. Since 2007, more women have died from overdosing on prescription painkillers than in motor vehicle accidents. And death rates from opioid abuse in women are more than four times higher than death by cocaine and heroin use combined.

In 2010, nearly a million women visited emergency rooms for drug misuse or abuse, and 6,600 of them died. Prescription drug abuse by women doubled between 2004 and 2010.

“I find these numbers extremely troubling, though not especially surprising,” said Susan Foster, the vice president and director of policy research and analysis for CASA Columbia, a New York  think tank that studies substance abuse and its effect on public policy.

Since women are smaller than men, they feel the impact of prescription drugs on smaller doses, said Foster. They also become addicted to prescription drugs more quickly than men and are more likely to use prescription drugs in combination with other drugs, such as alcohol, according to the report.

Foster also said that drug marketing is frequently aimed squarely at women. This could explain why women are 50 percent more likely to walk out of a doctor’s office with a prescription for a controlled substance in hand, even if they’ve been given the same diagnosis as a man, she said.

But overdosing on painkillers rose 265 percent in men in the decade covered by the survey.

The report also notes that the rise in deaths closely mirrors increased prescribing of these drugs by doctors. But nearly one-third of men and women who used these drugs started by taking them for nonmedical reasons.  More than 70 percent of prescription drug abusers first got them from friends or relatives. Only 5 percent scored their prescriptions from drug dealers or bought them on the Internet.

To bring the problem under control, the CDC recommends better tracking of prescription drugs and more health care education for both providers and patients.

While Foster agreed with this approach, she believes a broader approach is needed.

“We live in a pill for every ill society, and prescription drugs are just one aspect of the overall addiction problem we have in this country,” Foster said. “If we only focus on one type of drug at a time we are playing a costly game of whack-a-mole. We pound down on one type of drug only to see the problem emerge in a different form.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Alicia Silverstone Starts Breast Milk Bank for Vegans

Jason Merritt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- If there’s one thing actress Alicia Silverstone isn’t Clueless about, it’s promoting her ideas about healthy living.  She’s been an advocate for the raw food diet, pre-chewing her infant son Bear’s food, and now, she’s helping a special group of mothers who can’t breastfeed.

She’s launching a breast milk sharing project for vegans only, for women who can’t breastfeed but would like their babies to get breast milk from moms who eat zero animal products.

Silverstone, 36, writes on her blog, The Kind Life, “Because we are a community of beautiful souls who recognize the importance of food as health, I say we help support those mamas and babies who need a hand during one of the most important times in their lives. It’s why I’m starting the Kind Mama Milk Share, a way for moms to connect with other moms in their area. If you have milk to share -- post it! If you are in need of milk–post it! Think of all the babies we can help raise together!”

Silverstone says her breast milk brainchild was the inspiration of Rachel Holtzman, a vegan friend who had breast reduction surgery a few years before her pregnancy and was having trouble making milk for her newborn son, Levi.

“You’re in this incredibly vulnerable place,” Holtzman, 31, of Brooklyn, N.Y., told ABC News. “I sought out vegan breast milk, because I come to this from a food is medicine standpoint.”

So Holtzman reached out to Silverstone for help, and donations poured in.

“Women have just been incredibly generous and I’m hoping that with their help, we’ll be able to keep Levi exclusively breast-fed for as long as possible,” said Holtzman.

Some experts say while Silverstone’s heart is in the right place, her breast milk sharing initiative should include screening the milk for diseases.

“In an ideal world, breastfeeding is fantastic,” said Dr. Joanne Stone, the Maternal Fetal Medicine Fellowship director at Mount Sinai medical center.  “It really promotes excellent health for a newborn, but unscreened breast milk has a lot of concerns, such as the transmission of viruses such as HIV, hepatitis, and bacteria such as syphilis.”

Silverstone wouldn’t comment, but Holtzman feels that taking into account the breast milk donor’s lifestyle is key.

“Instead of having to ask really probing, very personal questions, going to a place like The Kind Life, took that out of the equation and we could make the safe assumption that the person on the donating end values those things as much as we did,” Holtzman said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Summer BBQs: Cook Meat Thoroughly to Avoid Food Poisoning

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With Fourth of July just a few days away, many Americans are likely preparing to hold a cookout in their backyards.  But before you lay that burger on the grill this Independence Day weekend, there are some things you should consider first.

"Make sure you use a thermometer and make sure that the internal temperature for the burgers on the grill reach 160 [degrees] because then you know it's at a safe level," says Brian Ronholm, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With higher temperatures in the summer, harmful bacteria can multiply much quicker than at any time of the year.  And that can lead to a greater chance of getting food poisoning from outdoor cooking.

"Forty-eight million people get sick from foodborne illness each year.  That leads to 128,000 hospitalizations and it unfortunately contributes to 3,000 deaths," says Ronholm.

His other advice: "Make sure you separate meat from the raw vegetables, make sure you wash your hands."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


It's Now Harder to Get an Abortion in Five States

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Abortion restrictions are popping up everywhere, it seems. While activists and celebrities protest a bill in Texas, Ohio just enacted legislation of its own.

A thousand miles from Austin, Texas, Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed new restrictions Sunday night as part of a new state budget.  Ohio will soon require that women receive ultrasounds before having abortions, and the state will ban public hospitals from having written agreements with abortion clinics to receive women for further care after they have elective abortions.

Those laws won’t take effect for 90 days, according to Kasich’s office. But new laws -- already passed and signed earlier this year -- went into effect Monday in five states.  All were passed by GOP-controlled state legislatures and signed by GOP governors.

Here’s what they do:

Alabama – HB 57: Starting Monday, women in Alabama aren’t able to obtain “abortion pills” via telemedicine. Planned Parenthood has said that making medication abortions, like the RU-486 pill, available to women via video conference provides safe access to women who may live far away from a clinic.  National Right to Life has suggested that supplying the pills without in-person medical supervision, and perhaps without a hospital nearby, can put women in danger.  Now, abortion doctors in Alabama must examine women before prescribing abortion pills.

When performing abortions on minors, doctors now must ask Alabama patients to state the name and age of the unborn fetus’s father. The patients can refuse, but the doctors have to ask.

Signed in April by Republican Gov. Rob Bentley, the new law also classifies abortion clinics as “ambulatory health” centers -- clinics that provide outpatient surgery -- requiring them to meet the same fire codes.  They must submit architectural drawings and sprinkler plans within 180 days and receive a certificate of compliance within a year.

For the time being, a federal judge has blocked a provision requiring that abortion doctors in Alabama have hospital-admitting privileges. The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed suit over that provision in federal district court.

Indiana – SB 371: Women must now be given ultrasounds before getting abortions in Indiana, under a new law signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence on May 1.  Any health care provider that prescribes abortion pills must now abide by the same regulations as medical abortion clinics, and the secretary of state’s office must now draft a new set of regulations for sanitation standards, staff qualifications, necessary emergency equipment and other requirements for clinics.

Medication abortions can no longer be prescribed via telemedicine consultations: Abortion doctors or nurses must meet with women in person and discuss the health risks of taking an abortion pill.

Kansas – HB 2253:
Under what’s known as a “sex-selection abortion ban,” Kansas now bans doctors from performing an abortion if they know it’s being sought because of the fetus’ sex.

Signed in April by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, the new law also requires abortion doctors to tell their patients that after 20 weeks, a fetus can feel pain and that “the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being,” as the bill puts it. 

Doctors also must warn women that having abortions puts them at greater risk of breast cancer -- a point that’s up for debate. The National Cancer Institute writes, on a web page about such a potential risk, that “[N]ewer studies consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk.” 

Kansas abortion providers are also banned from participating in public-school sex education.

Kansas – SB 142: Kansas women can no longer sue doctors for withholding information that leads them to decide against having an abortion, under this law signed by Brownback earlier in April.  The bill bars women from seeking “wrongful life” or “wrongful birth” claims in court against doctors.  If a child is born with birth defects, that child cannot sue -- and no one can sue on his or her behalf -- if a doctor omitted information that would have caused the mother to choose an abortion.

Mississippi – SB 2795: In another ban on telemedicine abortion-pill prescriptions, Mississippi now requires doctors prescribing medication abortions to first examine women seeking them and to schedule follow-up visits after women induce abortions.  Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed the bill into law in April.

South Dakota – HB 1237: Women seeking abortions in South Dakota must now wait 72 hours after consulting with an abortion doctor, and those hours must fall on business days.  Under this law signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, in late March, weekends and holidays don’t count in the 72-hour period.

Montana would have made it six states, as a new law requires girls under 18 to gain parental consent before receiving abortions.  Enacted by the heavily Republican legislature in April over the objections of Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, the law was set to take effect on July 1, but a federal judge temporarily blocked it last month after Planned Parenthood of Montana sued to overturn it.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Six Weight Loss Myths Debunked

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For all the time and effort Americans put into dieting, we have a lot of misconceptions about weight loss.

Read on to find out which six beliefs about shedding pounds it's time to lose.

Cut or Burn 3,500 Calories to Lose a Pound

The 3,500-calories-equals-a-pound rule is known to nearly every dieter on the planet.  What most don't know is that this bit of arithmetic comes from a small starvation study done in the 1950s.

Diana Thomas, a mathematician who is director of the Center for Quantitative Obesity Research at Montclair State University in New Jersey, said the formula grossly underestimates real world weight loss efforts and often leaves dieters sorely disappointed by their lack of results.

"Clicking off 3,500 calories to lose a pound may be close enough to the truth for the first 10 to 12 days of a diet as you lose water weight, but when the body weight drops you carry less mass and start to burn fewer calories for the same activities," she said.  "After a period of time, you stop losing weight even if you continue to cut back by the same amount."

Thomas said new prediction models were developed in the 1970s that took into account everything from age, height, sex and body fat, but they required so much complicated math they never really caught on.

You Gained It So You Can Lose It

Nikhil Dhurandhar, an obesity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., confirms that it is, of course, possible to lose weight -- but gaining weight takes much less effort.

You can consume hundreds or even thousands of calories more than you require without too much effort, Dhurandhar said, and every time you do, excess calories are stored as body fat.

However, losing weight requires a sustained daily effort and you can only cut back or burn off so much beyond your baseline requirements.  Meaningful weight loss usually happens slowly over a long period of time with lots of plateaus along the way, something most of us don't have the patience for.

"If it was easy, you'd see more people pulling it off," he said.

Heroic efforts don't always pay off, either.  As virtually every weight loss trial has shown, weight loss tends to grind to a halt at around the six-month mark.

"It could be because of changes in resting metabolism or people begin to slip a little, we really don't know," he said.  "But we do know that the body likes to hold on to weight."

Exercise Won't Help You Lose Weight

Do coach potatoes have an easier time shedding weight than gym rats?  That's what a spate of recent studies appeared to suggest when they found exercisers tended to compensate for any extra physical activity by eating more.

However, James Hill, the executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado, said such studies are misleading.

"In the first place, many studies don't use a high enough dose of exercise to promote weight loss," he said.  "And secondly, exercisers do tend to compensate by eating more, but not enough to make up for all of the calories they burn up in exercise.  They still create a negative energy balance and they still have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off than people who don't exercise."

Hill was adamant that it is virtually impossible to keep weight off for any period of time without working up a sweat on a regular basis.  He said that lack of exercise promotes metabolic defects that make it harder to lose weight and are generally bad for your health.

The National Weight Control Registry, run by Hill, tracks the health habits of thousands of people who have lost an average of 60 pounds and kept it off for at least two years.  More than 90 percent of registrants say they exercised for an hour or more a day.

Removing One Food from Your Diet Is the Secret to Weight Loss Success

Hill also cautioned against the idea that removing a specific food from the diet will magically make the weight melt off your body.  Even though most diet books are based on this premise, it simply isn't true.

"You might lose weight initially by limiting a certain food, but it's because you eat fewer calories," he said.  "Most people can't sustain it in the long term, so the approach is doomed to failure."

Even soda, often maligned for its contribution to the obesity epidemic, is a good example.  Hill said that he supports limiting sugar-sweetened drinks and believes overconsumption is bad for health, but he said the data is mixed on whether removing soda from the American diet would shrink our collective waistlines.

"It might have a tiny effect, but there's nothing stopping people from replacing it with something else," he said.  "If you eat more than one thing, it will probably take changing more than one thing to lose weight."

Everyone Gains (and Loses) the Same Way

In 1990, Canadian researcher Claude Bouchard wanted to test the idea that everyone gains weight in exactly the same way, so he asked 12 sets of male identical twins to overeat by 1,000 calories a day while limiting their physical activity to just 30 minutes.  To ensure they stuck with the program, he locked them in a room and carefully controlled every morsel they ate for 90 days.

Bouchard predicted that by the end of their stay, each of his volunteers would gain 24 pounds.  But that's not what happened.

Some sets of twins gained as little as 10 pounds while other sets added nearly 30 pounds.  The twins in each set gained virtually the same amount of weight, but the difference in weight gain between unrelated sets of twins was threefold and their pattern of fat distribution differed by sixfold.

When the researcher turned the tables in a later study and asked sets of twins set to burn off more calories than they took in, the pounds melted off some but clung stubbornly to others.  Numerous other studies have produced similar results, highlighting the fact that some people are predisposed to gain weight easily and must work harder than the average person to burn it off.

Eating Six Small Meals Is Best for Weight Loss

There's little evidence to support the idea that eating smaller, more-frequent meals will improve weight loss results.

For example, a recent British Journal of Nutrition investigation found no weight-loss difference between dieters who ate their calories in three meals versus six daily meals.  And, in fact, another study in the same journal concluded that eating two large meals a day can be the ideal weight loss strategy for some.

"Eating six meals a day can work for someone who has a lot of discipline," Dhurandhar said.  "But for others, it's like offering an alcoholic a glass of wine six times a day.  Their willpower just can't take it."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Government Warns Outdoor Workers About Seriousness of Heat Illnesses

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As the temperatures soar, government officials are warning employers of outdoor workers about the dangers of heat illnesses.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Labor have begun their yearly awareness campaign, urging employers to take precautions for their outdoor laborers who are at higher risk for heat illness.  

"Whenever there is high heat, outdoor workers are at increased risk for heat related illnesses and death. In fact, ever year thousands of workers experience heat related illnesses and dozens more are killed by heat," warned Dr. David Michaels with the Department of Labor's Occupational Health and Safety Division.

"Workers in transportation, sanitation recycling, building and grounds maintenance, landscaping services, oil and gas drilling operations, and anyone else who does strenuous work in the outdoor air" are particularly at higher risk.

For workers in these fields, Michaels has three words: "Water. Rest. Shade."

"If outdoor workers take these precautions it can make the difference between life and death," Michaels said.

"This means regular breaks for workers so they can cool down. It means regular access to water so workers can stay hydrated. It means training for workers on the symptoms of heat illness," he added.

The NOAA's Dr. Louis Uccellini also shared safety tips his office is recommending to employers.

"Wear light colored, lightweight clothing, drink plenty of water, avoid prolonged exposure to direct sun during the peak hours and use sunscreen," he said, adding that heat related illnesses are more serious than people think.

"The 10-year annual average mortality from heat stands at 658. On average that is more deaths than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined," he warned.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Drug Overdoses at Music Festival Kill 1, Hospitalize Dozens

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GEORGE, Wash.) -- One person died and dozens more were hospitalized over the weekend after apparently overdosing on drugs at a Washington State music festival.

The overdoses happened at the Paradiso Festival, a two-day electronic music event held at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Wash. Michele Wurl, spokeswoman for Quincy Valley Medical Center, said doctors at the facility treated more than 40 people for drug and alcohol related issues in the emergency room over the weekend.

Officials said someone was selling a drug promoted as ecstasy, but it was actually Molly, a powerful form of the synthetic club drug, which often includes traces of other stimulants, ABC News’ Seattle affiliate KOMO reported.

Many of the patients were treated at Quincy Valley Medical Center, while seven of the most serious, including a person who later died, were taken to Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee, a hospital spokeswoman said.

At least three people remained in serious but stable condition on Monday, according to the hospital.

“It is not uncommon on a busy concert weekend. It seems this year the numbers are increasing in intensity,” Wurl said. “It’s something we plan for and we gear up for.”

Calls to the Gorge Amphitheater were not immediately returned.

Molly, “has seen a surge in interest in the past few years, being celebrated frequently by popular music artists,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

While the drug produces bursts of energy and euphoria, it can also alter body temperature, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and cause confusion, depression and sleep problems.


Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Flesh-Eating Bacteria Survivor Gets Service Dog

ABC News(ATLANTA) -- Aimee Copeland, the 25-year-old who lost her hands, feet and her entire right leg to flesh-eating bacteria more than a year ago, has a new helper: a black labradoodle named Belle.

Belle, who is a year old, started training when she was a 3-month-old puppy, said her trainer Crystal Callahan, who owns the Psychiatric Service Dog Academy and Registry in Cocoa, Fla. Belle will be able to help Copeland get back up if she falls down, pick things up if she drops them and deliver her medications on time.

Copeland and Belle met for the first time this past weekend, and spent time getting to know one another over the last two nights, Callahan said. Belle will return to Florida for another few weeks to complete her training. After that, she'll move in with Copeland permanently.

And since Copeland is allergic to most dogs, Belle is hypoallergenic.

"Labradoodles are much more allergy-friendly dogs," Callahan said. "That's what took so long to find the right dog, a hypoallergenic dog with the right temperament and a working dog."

But owning a dog takes work. Belle has to be walked. To do that, Callahan helped her learn how to use a hands-free leash. It clips around Copeland's waist and onto Belle's collar.

Copeland cut open her right leg falling from a zip line near the Tallapoosa River in Georgia in April 2012, allowing a deadly bacterium to enter her body. She said she sensed something wasn't quite right days after receiving 22 stitches to close the wound on her calf because it hurt up to her thigh.

The bacteria advanced undetected until her leg turned "a dark purple color," Copeland said on the set of ABC's Katie talk show in September.

"I wasn't able to walk," she told show host Katie Couric. "I wasn't able to speak. The only thing I was able to babble was, 'I think I'm dying.'"

After being in and out of the emergency room with the painful wound that wouldn't heal, doctors realized Copeland had necrotizing fasciitis and amputated her leg from the hip.

Later, when her hands turned black, doctors amputated them, too.

Copeland spent two months in a hospital and another two months in rehabilitation before returning to her renovated Snellville, Ga., home in late August 2012.

She received bionic hands in mid-May.

With Copeland's inspiration, Callahan has formed a new organization, PawsOfMind.org, which hopes to provide free service dogs to 3,000 individuals each year. Callahan currently provides service dogs to 200 people a year. The new organization will have a fundraiser in Georgia this November.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Celebrities Help to Fight Texas Anti-Abortion Bill

ABC/Randy Holmes(WASHINGTON) -- A roster of celebrity women will rally this week on behalf of Texas Democrats as they try for a second time to stop state Republicans from pushing through a restrictive anti-abortion bill.

Celebrity singer Natalie Maines, Friday Night Lights and Nashville actress Connie Britton, actress Lisa Edelstein of House and Stephanie March of Law & Order: SVU have joined Planned Parenthood in the organization’s effort to aid Texas Democrats in round two of their fight against a 20-week abortion ban.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry called on lawmakers to return to Austin for another special session after State Sen. Wendy Davis successfully stopped Republicans last week from approving the law with an 11-hour filibuster.

But as lawmakers return to the Capitol for a second special legislative session, “pro-choice” forces are rallying public support for their cause, all the while knowing that, unlike last week, time is not on their side.

The 30-day session gives Republicans, who hold wide majorities in both the state House and Senate, plenty of time to try whatever legislative maneuvers are necessary to move the bill through.

Maines, lead singer of the country group the Dixie Chicks, Edelstein and March will all join Planned Parenthood at a rally at the state Capitol. They will be joined by Davis, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, and Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Britton, who famously played Tami Taylor, wife of a Texas High School football coach on the cult hit show Friday Night Nights, has commissioned a “WWTTD? What Would Tami Taylor Do” T-shirt for the cause.

“The character Tami on Friday Night Lights is a Texas woman deeply committed to her community and to standing up for what is right for her neighbors and the people she loves,” Britton said in a statement.

“I have been inspired by how people around the country have united to stand with the women of Texas, and I can’t help but think that, in this moment, we all have the opportunity to join with and become strong, powerful Texas men and women.”

The shirt will be available for the month of July.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio