North Carolina woman donates kidney to stranger

iStock/Thinkstock(DURHAM, N.C.) -- Tracy Schmitz works as a nanny, rescues animals, volunteers at orphanages and, perhaps most impressive, just donated a kidney to someone she'd never met before.

"I didn't think twice about it," Schmitz told ABC Raleigh-Durham station WTVD-TV. "Actually, I was thinking somebody needs a kidney, I have two, I can live with one so, why not share the spare?"

"I just knew," she added, "that somebody was dying and they needed one and I didn't think twice about it."

George Adams, a 48-year-old father of three in Columbia, South Carolina, ended up being a match for Schmitz, who lives in Zebulon, North Carolina, and had the operation May 30. She said she was originally inspired to become a donor when she heard a friend's daughter needed a kidney, but the girl wasn't a match.

"She's a lifesaver and a guardian angel," said Adams, who was diagnosed with kidney disease 15 years ago.

The donation inspired four total people, including Adams' wife, also to donate kidneys in an effort to help others.

"I call her my sister," Adams said of Schmitz, "we're brothers and sisters now because we can always be connected."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Overtime work may increase diabetes risk in women

iStock/Thinkstock By Dr Petrina Crain, ABC News Medical Unit

(NEW YORK) --  Working overtime may help your paycheck and give you a leg up in the office, but a new study suggests that women who log too many hours may have an increased the risk of diabetes.

Researchers in Canada found that woman who worked overtime increased their risk of diabetes and published their findings in the British Medical Journal Diabetes Research and Care Monday.

Using medical records, researchers looked at the risk of developing diabetes in over 7,000 men and women ages 35 to 74 who were working different numbers of weekly hours.

They found that one out of 10 people in the study developed diabetes, in particular, if they were men, older, and obese. Although women generally were less likely to get diabetes than men, here’s the interesting part: Women who worked overtime, or over 45 hours per week, were 62 percent more likely to get diabetes over those women who worked regular hours.

This is especially surprising given that the risk actually decreased in men working long hours.

“The difference in paid and unpaid hours for men and women are probably why," Dr. Mahée Gilbert-Ouimet, the lead researcher on the study, told ABC News. "Women tend to do twice as much unpaid work, like household chores and other family duties.”

All of that may contribute to increases in stress hormones, which affect blood sugar control.

But women: All is not lost.

If you can’t afford to work fewer hours to meet the traditional 40 hour work week, there are other steps you can take to lower risk. Researchers stressed to ABC News talking to your doctor about more frequent diabetes screenings and increasing good habits that help maintain overall good health (such as exercising, not smoking, moderate use of alcohol, getting restful sleep, and healthy eating) are good places to start.

Also, women should recognize it’s OK to ask for help for other activities not done at work -- even household and family responsibilities -- if they are the main ones doing it.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Study: Patients don't care if their doctors have tattoos, piercings


(NEW YORK) -- Recently, researchers found that half of all patients surveyed prefer their doctors to wear traditional attire, such as a white coat, and this influenced an increasingly important measure: patient satisfaction. Many hospitals try to control another aspect of a caregiver’s visual presentation: visible body art or piercings. However, a new study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal suggests that whether a doctor has visible tattoos or piercings doesn’t seem to matter much to the patients they’re treating.

“We were inspired to conduct this study because hospitals have many rules around what constitutes 'professionalism,' and some of these rules are excessively stringent and outdated when compared to the general public,” Dr. Holly Stankewicz, associate program director of the Allopathic Emergency Medicine residency at St.Luke’s University Health Network in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and co-author on the study, told ABC News. “We set out to see in this case whether patients actually cared about whether their doctor had a tattoo or a piercing, specifically if it affected how they experienced their care, and whether it negatively affected how they perceived their doctor.”

In this study, seven emergency room doctors chose each day to wear one of three options: (artificial) non-traditional piercings, stick-on tattoos, neither, or both for nine months while seeing patients.

One physician had real “full sleeve” tattoos on both arms, so on days he chose to have "no art or piercings," he wore a white coat to cover them. The doctors wore standard blue scrubs throughout the study period. The patients -- all of whom were over the age of 18 -- were then surveyed about their satisfaction with care, and specifically rated the doctors’ competence, professionalism, empathy, approachability, trustworthiness, and reliability. The patients were not aware of the purpose of the study.

Two of the doctors didn’t enroll enough patients in the study, and another doctor dropped out due to discomfort with wearing visible body art. Only five doctors’ data made it into the study -- males, females, residents and attending physicians. A total of 924 patients were surveyed.

For all five physicians, there was no difference in how the patients perceived their competence, comfort, professionalism, or approachability, whether they had a tattoo or piercing or not. They were rated positively on all surveyed qualities 75 percent of the time, and this showed no statistically significant difference between days they wore a tattoo or piercing compared to days where they did not.

As well, the researchers found that the ratings didn’t change if the patients were over or under the age of 50, or between men and women. Of note, the patients in the study were not asked whether they had body art themselves, or if they disapproved of it.

“It was surprising to see that age wasn’t a big factor. Some of the older patients didn’t even notice the tattoo or piercing, and if they did they would say things like, 'I like your tattoo,'" Stankewicz told ABC News.

Stankewicz believes the study will help change views around body art.

“At our center, I think it was helpful to change perceptions in both the administration and physicians and staff in general,” Stankewicz explained.

Dr. Myles Spar is an internal medicine doctor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine who runs a busy practice in Venice, California, where many patients themselves may have tattoos and piercings.

“This is an interesting study given the breakdown of survey results by age of the patient. In my experience, I’ve noticed that much older patients may have more traditional expectations about what their doctor should look like, whereas the younger ones do not,” Spar told ABC News. “It might also be helpful to know if the patients themselves had body art or not.”

There were some other limitations. For instance, it’s unclear if the physicians behaved differently on days they wore tattoos or piercings. Known as the “Hawthorne effect,” it’s a common issue that happens in research when subjects are aware they are being observed.

As such, it’s entirely possible that on days where the doctor wore a tattoo or piercing, they may have behaved more positively towards their patients, who then evaluated them more favorably. As well, given that two doctors dropped out of the study, there may be some selection bias at play: The doctors that remained in the study may have been more confident around their patient communication skills compared to those that dropped out. Regardless, Spar sees the results of the study as encouraging.

“The good thing about this study is that it suggests perceptions are changing. Across the board, patients are looking to their provider as a coach and advisor to work with them and less as a traditional authority figure,” Spar told ABC News. “People recognize that there are excellent physicians of all genders and backgrounds. At my office, we recognize that and something as simple as having casual Fridays, where we wear jeans, makes us more accessible to patients and they are thus more likely to tell us what’s going on with them.”

Dr. Amitha Kalaichandran is a pediatrics resident doctor working in the ABC News Medical Unit in New York.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Massachusetts school allowed to continue electric shock therapy on special needs children

iStock/ThinkstockBy Denise Powell, M.D. Candidate

(BOSTON) -- A Massachusetts school for special needs children can continue to use a form of electric shock therapy on students after a long-running battle with state officials over the controversial treatment was decided in their favor.

The Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton is the only learning center in the country to use the graduated electronic decelerator to control the behavior of students with development delays.

The commonwealth had been trying since 2013 to ban the practice, but last week, Judge Katherine Fields, the first justice of the Bristol County Probate and Family Court, sided with the school.

The school did not respond to a request for comment, but instead directed ABC News to contact the JRC Parents Group, which said in a statement, “No one loves our children more than we do; we have tried and continue to try everything available to them, including positive behavior therapies and medications to help our children, but as the Court found - there is no evidence that any alternative treatment would be effective to treat our children and keep them safe.”

What is the treatment?

According to the FDA, the GED is used for “aversive conditioning.” That’s a psychology term meaning giving a negative stimulation whenever a particular unwanted action occurs. For example, people put a rubber band around their wrist and “snap” it whenever they have a cigarette; the goal is for the behavior to eventually be eliminated because of the association.

The GED works by delivering skin shocks for particular behaviors, trying to eliminate the behaviors.

The JRC Parents’ Group told ABC News, “It is a treatment of last resort. That is the important part to know about GED.”

What is it used for?

At JRC, the electrical shocks associated with GED are used to prevent and control self-injury or violent aggression. The skin shock might be used when the patient is aggressive against someone else (hitting, biting, or throwing things), or even to themselves (slamming their own head against a wall, or trying to hurt themselves in another way).

“There is a process the committee goes through where the therapy is peer reviewed to see what has been tried and what worked. Some of these parents have been dealing with these issues for 15 years; there are times when children attack their own parents. To people who think we don’t care, it’s not that, but it is an option when everything else fails,” said the JRC Parents’ Group.

Is it painful?

GED is not the same as Electroconvulsive therapy (ETC), which is when volts of electricity are directed towards the brain to treat depression. However, it does deliver painful shocks to the skin to condition patients with autism or behavioral disorders to stop a certain behavior or action.

What are the benefits and drawbacks?

While use of GED may slow down the student’s aggressive or inappropriate behavior, it’s a management technique, not something that will treat the underlying cause of the problem. While aversive treatment can be useful in stopping a behavior, it is hard to regulate what is considered excessive and what will be successful for certain patients as opposed to others.

Additionally, it’s virtually impossible to do studies on the exact dosage, timing and factors involved in GED needed to stop a certain behavior.

Controversy surrounding the issue

There is controversy surrounding the use of GED because of the unclear intersection of medical use, ethics, who has the ability to administer the shocks, state supervision and the judiciary system. While Fields’ ruling allows JRC to continue with the aversive therapy, it may be mooted by an FDA proposal to ban the use of electrical stimulation devices to control aggressive or self-injurious behavior.

Beyond the power dynamic between government and health care, many, including the disability rights group ADAPT and the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose GED as inhumane. And, in 2013, a United Nations report by the Special Rapporteur on Torture said the rights of the children treated with GED “have been violated under the UN Convention against Torture and other international standards.”

What does the FDA say about the treatment?

The FDA has previously reported that electroshock therapy, such as GED, can result in physical effects -- burning of the skin, trauma, including contusions, falls, oral injury, and fractures, seizure complications or impacts on the heart.

In 2011 and 2012, the FDA put forth warnings to JRC, saying the center was not following guidelines in regard to GED.

And, in 2016, the FDA put forth a proposal to ban GED, but the rule has yet to be implemented.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved


Serena Williams reveals she 'cried a little bit' when she stopped breastfeeding daughter 

Jed Leicester/AELTC - Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Serena Williams may be back on the court, but the tennis great didn't only want to talk about backhands or seeding at a press conference Sunday -- the proud mother also discussed breastfeeding and the challenges women and new moms face.

Williams -- or the mother of Alexis Olympia Ohanian, her 10-month-old daughter -- spoke candidly about motherhood during a Wimbledon pre-tournament news gathering.

The tennis legend said among the biggest challenges was deciding when to stop breastfeeding her baby -- who goes by Olympia.

Williams ultimately stopped breastfeeding after six months -- but not without shedding some tears along the way.

"That was a different thing. I literally sat Olympia in my arms, I talked to her, we prayed about it. I told her, 'Look, I'm going to stop. Mommy has to do this.' I cried a little bit, not as much as I thought I was," Williams, 36, revealed at a pre-tournament press conference at Wimbledon.

Despite her tears, Williams said her daughter "was fine. She was totally fine."

Williams said initially she had planned to stop breastfeeding at the beginning of the year.

"I had planned on stopping in January. Then January became March. March became April. I was still breastfeeding," the tennis star said Sunday. "For me, it was really important to make it through three months, then it was important to make it to four months. I was like, 'OK, I can do six months.'"

Williams admitted she had switched to a vegan diet, but the weight hadn't come off after birth. The tennis legend revealed she had heard stories about losing weight while breastfeeding.

"I was training and everything," she explained, "I feel like everyone says, 'You're so thin when you breastfeed.'"

As Williams turned to several women in the briefing room, one of them audibly said, "That's a lie,” according to ESPN.

“What I've learned through the experience -- everybody is different, every person is different, every physical body is different," Williams continued. "For my body, it didn't work, no matter how much I worked out, no matter how much I did, it didn't work for me."

Williams said once she stopped breastfeeding, she lost 10 pounds in a week.

"It was crazy. I just kept dropping. That's when I learned that everything was different," she said. "Sorry to go on about that, but I wanted to say that so women out there know that's not true ... I think it's important for us to share that message."

Williams also addressed being injured recently, which sidelined her at the French Open earlier this year. It has forced her to reconsider her strategy on her powerful serve in the upcoming tournament at Wimbledon, where she's seeded No. 25.

"I'm debating if I should go 120 or whatever," she said, referring to miles per hour on her serve. "I haven't yet, but it's been good. I often find the less I serve, the better I serve, which is totally weird."

And after a Deadspin article revealed that Williams has been drug tested more than any other America player, Williams told journalists Sunday that she feels everyone should be tested "equally."

"I’m OK with that as long as everyone is being treated equally,” she added. “That’s all I care about. I despise having people in our sport that aren’t being honest. I’m totally OK with testing and I encourage it."

Williams added that she's on board to "really working to keep this sport clean."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved


DNA and genetic genealogy are becoming the 'major game-changer' to heat up decades-old cold cases

KOMO(NEW YORK) -- On March 26, 1986, sixth-grader Michella Welch disappeared while at a Washington state park with her two young sisters, never to be seen alive again.

The 12-year-old's body was found that night; she had been sexually assaulted and killed from blunt force trauma to the head, officials said.

KOMODNA was recovered and a number of men were investigated, but years passed and no one was arrested -- until last week -- shocking news that Michella's mother said "sent chills down her spine," according to police.

A 66-year-old man was charged in Michella's death after the unknown killer's DNA from the crime scene was identified through his family members, who voluntarily submitted their DNA to a genealogy database.

Michella's murder is just one cold case that heated up this year thanks to the cutting-edge combination of DNA and genetic genealogy. Five cold cases were solved this year through DNA and genetic genealogy, -- a turning point for crime-solving in the country, experts say.

Through genetic genealogy, detectives can cast a wide net, searching distant relatives of an unknown suspect, by analyzing the DNA submitted voluntarily to a genetic genealogy database, CeCe Moore, chief genetic genealogist with Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA tech law that has worked with law enforcement, told ABC News.

This allows police to create a much larger family tree than using law enforcement databases like CODIS, in which an exact match is needed, or in some states, a parent/child or a full sibling match, Moore said.

Genetic genealogy "is a major game-changer for these cold cases," Moore said, "because in a genetic genealogy database we can reverse engineer the [suspect's family] tree from their distant cousins who have tested. So it doesn't matter that they haven't had their DNA tested through another arrest or crime scene, we don't need their DNA. We need somebody from their family to have tested in order to resolve these cases."

California's elusive 'Golden State Killer' of the '70s & '80s

The first public arrest thanks to DNA and genetic genealogy, according to Moore, was the April arrest of the suspected "Golden State Killer" -- a cold case that stumped California law enforcement for decades.

Moore was not involved in the genealogy work for this case.

Courtesy FBIThe "Golden State Killer" was believed to have committed 12 murders, at least 50 rapes and multiple home burglaries throughout California in the 1970s and 1980s. His last known crime was in 1986.

In the early 2000s, investigators were able to obtain the unknown killer's DNA at one crime scene: the 1980 double murder of Lyman and Charlene Smith, who were bludgeoned to death at their Ventura County home.

Investigators then started reviewing rape kits -- which contained DNA samples from victims -- in other jurisdictions, said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. The crimes spanned 10 counties.

One of those counties was Contra Costa, where recently retired investigator Paul Holes led the charge to use genealogy to find the killer, said Schubert. Holes spent nearly 25 years on this case, she said.

This year, investigators plugged the mystery killer's DNA into the genealogy database called GEDmatch.

Based on the pool of people on the genealogy website, investigators were then able to build a family tree of the unknown killer’s relatives, who had submitted their DNA to the database on their own. Investigators narrowed the search based on age, location and other characteristics, leading them to 72-year-old Joseph DeAngelo.

Those who participate in DNA testing websites "are doing it for the purposes of genealogy, family history and in some cases finding their biological family," Moore said. For "most it never even occurred to them [that] their DNA might be used to identify a serial killer or any sort of perpetrator."

Authorities surveilled DeAngelo and collected his DNA from a tissue left in a trash. Investigators plugged his discarded DNA back into the genealogy database and found a match, linking DeAngelo's DNA to the DNA gathered at multiple crime scenes, Schubert said.

DeAngelo has been charged with 12 counts of murder spanning four counties. He has not entered a plea in any county.

Pennsylvania murder mystery dating back 26 years

Genetic genealogy was a critical resource to arrest a DJ this week in the killing of a Pennsylvania teacher 26 years ago, according to prosecutors.

Moore and Parabon NanoLabs were involved in this case.

On Dec. 21, 1992, Christy Mirack, 25, was found dead at her East Lampeter Township home, according to the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office. She had been beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted, prosecutors said. A weapon used in the attack -- a wooden cutting board -- was near Mirack’s body, prosecutors said.

DNA left at the scene was eventually sent to Parabon NanoLabs, which created "a DNA phenotype 'composite' of the killer’s attributes," including hair color, eye color and skin tone, according to a statement from prosecutors.

"The phenotype report included visual composites of what the killer would look like at various ages,” prosecutors said. “That data and associated composites were released to the public in November 2017.”

Parabon uploaded the file to a public genetic genealogy database, "which resulted in matches to relatives of Raymond Rowe," according to prosecutors.

Investigators last month surreptitiously took DNA from gum and a water bottle Rowe had used while DJing at an elementary school, prosecutors said.

The DNA was submitted to a state police crime lab, which determined it matched DNA found on multiple parts of Mirack's body, as well as the carpet underneath her body, prosecutors said.

Rowe, 49, was arrested Monday and charged with criminal homicide, prosecutors said.

"But for Parabon and the lab work they did, I don't think we would've solved this case," Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman told ABC News Tuesday.

"He wasn't on our radar," he added, referring to Rowe. "He wasn't on our list of suspects. We were out of them."

Rowe's preliminary hearing is set for July 9.

A 1986 cold case killing in Washington

DNA and genetic genealogy came together once again in last week's arrest in the cold case killing of 12-year-old Michella Welch.

Michella was sexually assaulted and killed at a Tacoma, Washington, park on March 26, 1986.

Unknown DNA was recovered and a number of men were investigated, but the case turned cold.

In 2006, a DNA profile was developed from the original crime scene, but there was no match in databases, according to a statement from the prosecutor's office.

Twelve years later, Tacoma Police detectives worked with genetic genealogists, who used DNA technology to track the unknown suspect's family members, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said. Investigators then incorporated traditional genealogy to make a family tree from information on public websites, Lindquist said.

That allowed police to identify two brothers -- who lived in the area in 1986 -- as possible suspects, police said.

On June 5, a detective tracking 66-year-old Gary Hartman took a discarded napkin he had used at a restaurant and submitted it to the state crime lab for testing, officials said.

The lab found a match between the DNA on the napkin and the suspect's DNA from 1986, officials said.

Moore and Parabon NanoLabs were also involved in this case.

On June 20, Hartman was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and first-degree rape, police said. He has entered a plea of not guilty.

"My client insists he is innocent and he is charged with probably the single most God-awful crime a person can be charged with," defense attorney Bryan Hershman told ABC News Tuesday. "He's presumed innocent and we're entitled to our day in court."

Hartman wasn't one of the men initially investigated in 1986 based on witness accounts, according to police.

Tacoma Police Chief Donald Ramsdell at a news conference called the arrest a "great example" of "advancements in DNA identification and computer modeling combined with tried and true police techniques."

And in the wake of the success, Ramsdell issued a stern warning to other criminals in the community.

"If you think you can run, you're wrong," he said. "If you think you can hide, you're wrong. If you think the Tacoma Police Department is going to give up, you're wrong."

Genealogy advances come with privacy concerns

No genetic genealogy cases have been to trial yet, according to Moore. But the use of genetic genealogy has already drawn criticism from some attorneys and civil liberties advocates, who say it unfairly gives up the privacy of law-abiding people because of their family members.

Watch 20/20 on Friday, July 6 at 10/9c on ABC to see how Cece Moore used her techniques to solve two foundling cases that reunited families with lost loved ones.

"The overarching concern here is that we should be able to access the benefits to these sorts of emerging technologies without having to give up our rights," Vera Eidelman, a legal fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told ABC News. "Folks who are excited about the promise of genetic testing to learn about their health traits, to connect with family members, to learn about their ancestry, should be able to do that without having to worry about the implications of handling over that incredibly sensitive information to government."

Eidelman said these recent cases suggest there's a "continuing trend of using this technique, and that is alarming."

"Blockbuster cases and cases where communities understandably really want to solve a crime can lead to serious bias in terms of what we're willing to do in criminal investigations," Eidelman said. "I think every time this is used it's also important to think about would we be willing to have the same sort of technique used against every trespass or every property crime?"

But Moore says it's important to understand the different types of DNA databases available.

Companies like AncestryDNA and 23AndMe, which are direct-to-consumer, "work very hard to protect their customers' privacy," and generally do not allow their DNA samples to be searched by authorities, Moore said.

However, those companies do allow users to download their raw data. And third-party genealogy databases like GEDMatch permit people to upload their DNA information, making the samples widely available for searches -- and that's how genetic genealogists have been cracking these cold cases.

Moore said the genealogy "community has a lot of trust in GEDmatch;" however, GEDmatch "couldn't control how someone might use their database because they allow uploads. That's how they function. They're not the ones testing the DNA -- they're accepting raw data files from the commercial companies that test the data."

"If you're someone who highly values your privacy then [third-party sites] may not be something you want to participate in because you can't be guaranteed the same level of protection that you would from a huge corporation [like AncestryDNA and 23AndMe]," Moore said.

To District Attorney Greg Totten of Ventura County, where the unknown "Golden State Killer"'s DNA was first retrieved from the 1980 double murder, "the bottom line here is we have brought a serial killer, serial rapist and a dangerous predator to justice as a result of that."

"People use this database to search their family tree, to search for relatives. It is a public database," Totten told ABC News in April. "For the crime victims, the horror of the crime, the sense of loss, just the harm that is done by the crime, it can be lifelong. So perhaps the most gratifying aspect of this case was we could finally begin the healing process and the closure process for the countless victims that this individual had preyed upon."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved


Husband, wife work together to lose 135 pounds

Instagram/@losermentality(NEW YORK) -- Shandra and Gerald Redwine have lost a combined 135 pounds over the past four years.

Their secret?

“We are a team,” Gerald Redwine told “GMA.” “So for me it was [to] support my wife and support my family, so it’s easy, honestly.”

The Michigan couple’s weight loss journey began when they decided to start a family.

“I said, ‘I need to lose weight first,’” Shandra Redwine recalled. “I was at least 100 pounds overweight.”

Shandra Redwine started by going to the gym every day for one month. She was joined by her husband and they next focused on improving their nutrition.

“I joined Weight Watchers for a couple months and learned how to eat and saw even greater success with that,” she said. “So we just kept rolling with it.”

Shandra Redwine lost 60 pounds in nine months. She managed to maintain her new weight after she had the couple’s two sons, now ages 1 and 4.

She’s since lost an additional 55 pounds and Gerald Redwine has lost 25 pounds total.

With summer in full swing, the couple revealed how they have kept off the weight even while enjoying vacation.

Here are their three tips, in their own words.

Tip 1. Stay near a kitchen

It gives you the ability of knowing that at least a good percentage of your meals are going to be on track with what your intentions are.

Tip 2. Preplan your meals, including snacks

Just like any normal busy week at home, while on vacation we plan our meals and snacks ahead of time and prep for meals as much possible. This means making sure each meal has healthy meats and protein as well as veggies.

We always make sure we have some grilled chicken or pre-prepped snacks and salads so that we never have to make a bad choice. We buy all of our favorite snacks [and] put them in little baggies or containers.

Tip 3. Stay active

For us, that means taking our running shoes along with us on vacation. We alternate going on our own or we take the kiddos in the jogger. We always try to stay active with them and do lots of family "adventures and exploring" as well as swimming, playing ball, etc.

Bonus tip

We allow ourselves to have a few treats here and there, depending on the situation. We might have s'mores by the bonfire or mom's special vacation treats, but just one and not all day and definitely not all week.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Researchers say poliovirus may help treat brain cancer

iStock/ThinkstockBy PETRINA CRAINE

(NEW YORK) -- Glioblastoma is a type of brain cancer that has recently been quite visible in the media after Sen. John McCain was treated for it. Glioblastoma claimed the lives of more than 15,000 people in 2015. However, researchers at Duke University are working to reduce that number through oncolytic virus therapy from an unexpected medical foe: poliovirus.

What is oncolytic virus therapy for cancer?

It's a type of treatment from a branch of cancer care called immunotherapy where human viruses, which can fight cancer in different ways, are modified in a lab and used to fight cancer. Through oncolytic virus therapy, the viruses can stimulate the immune system -- the same system that fights disease such as the flu -- to also attack cancer. With this particular form of therapy, the viruses can also infect cancer cells themselves, making them break apart and die.

Viral therapy arose many years ago when spontaneous tumor remissions happened after immunizations with live, weakened viruses. There have been studies using viral therapy in lung cancer and melanoma, with an actual viral therapy approved for melanoma by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016.

Why use it to treat this brain cancer?

Brain cancers are rare, but if someone does develop brain cancer, it's likely to be glioblastoma. Unfortunately, it has a poor prognosis, with most patients dying about 14 months after it’s diagnosed.

That's not just because of a high tendency for malignancy, but also because of its resistance to current cancer treatments -- surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

The reality of the glioblastoma prognosis has caused some patients to choose to end their lives soon after diagnosis. New treatments are desperately needed, and this particular type of cancer has characteristics that make it an ideal candidate for viral therapy.

How does it all work?

A live poliovirus is used, weakened by a process in the lab. It’s important to note that live, weakened viruses have been commonplace for years and are critical components of many vaccines worldwide, such as the poliovirus.

In the case of oncolytic virus therapy, the poliovirus is genetically modified so that it works like its regular viral self but does not have the ability to cause its “normal” disease. The disease-causing part of the poliovirus -- infamous for causing a devastating neurological disease -- is taken out and replaced with a part that is harmless.

To the immune system, it looks like “the real polio,” but does not have the ability to cause the disease or even mutate to anything that could cause it. This is important because the modified virus has to maintain the ability to affect the same target -- the brain.

The virus is also further modified to include components that would stimulate one’s immune system to fight back. Glioblastoma patients often have poorly functioning immune systems, both from the disease and also from treatments such as radiation, which knocks out immunity. By inserting a new segment into the virus -- say, from the common cold -- the immune system gets active without any actual illness. A strong immune system reaction draws cells toward cancer to attack it.

Because cancer cells work differently than normal cells, the genetically modified virus interacts differently with cancerous and noncancerous cells. Cancer cells from glioblastoma have different chemical components than noncancerous brain cells. The genetically engineered poliovirus thus has the ability to target cancer cells, infect and take over the cell’s machinery, and encourage a person’s own unique immune system to attack. It does this while leaving noncancerous cells untouched.

Why use the poliovirus?

Human viruses are unique -- co-evolved with the human immune system, teaching it to recognize and kill infected and abnormal cells. Poliovirus has a large RNA size -- RNA is a genetic component -- in comparison to other viruses, so researchers can play with its parts in genetic manipulation. It also has a limited lifespan in humans, unlike other viruses such as chickenpox. Thus, it has the potential to be used to treat a number of different kinds of cancers.

What have been some of the results?

Using polio as a "cancer-killing virus,” researchers at Duke have seen a survival rate at three years of about 21 percent in patients with brain cancer who got the oncolytic virus therapy with the poliovirus. Survival was only 4 percent for those who didn’t receive the therapy treatment.

The therapy has been able to be given locally in the brain’s tumor site through a special catheter. This allows more “seeding” of the virus into tumor cells and not spreading throughout the body. Many patients have been able to tolerate the poliovirus therapy well, but some have had side effects such as seizures, headaches and speech problems. Too much of an inflammatory response can be a bad thing. Higher doses of the poliovirus therapy treatment were associated with more inflammation to the brain. Researchers have been working to address dosing and minimize inflammation without compromising an immune system boost by using bevacizumab, a drug to minimize inflammation during the viral treatment.

Poliovirus therapy is still in clinical trials and not ready yet for the general public. Big questions are potential costs, as some current viral therapies are about $60,000 per treatment. The ability of hospitals to transport, store and discard these drugs are also concerns for patients and providers.

Where can one learn more?

Immunotherapy is still a developing field. Talking to a medical professional and keeping up with results from quality sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Cancer Society, are important ways to find out more.

Petrina Craine is an emergency medicine resident physician in Oakland, California, working in the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Sparklers leading cause of fireworks-related injuries: CPSC

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission(NEW YORK) -- With the Fourth of July just around the corner, the Consumer Product Safety Commission wants to remind consumers of the risks involved in setting off fireworks.

At a Wednesday news conference, CPSC acting chairman Ann Marie Buerkle said an estimated 12,900 people suffered fireworks-related injuries last year, with 67 percent of those injuries occurring during the month surrounding the holiday. Moreover, sparklers were the number one cause of the injuries, accounting for 14 percent of cases.

The CPSC says sparklers are more harmful than they seem. The CPSC website reads: “Parents don't realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees - hot enough to melt some metals.” If consumers are not careful, the CPSC said, sparklers can also catch on clothing, resulting in burns.

“Sparklers are often viewed as harmless but let’s be clear, they can be deadly if not used properly,” Buerkle said. “They are actually the most often cause of any injuries that we see firework-related.”

The CPSC used a dramatic first-person example to remind consumers that injuries are possible even if fireworks are purchased legally.

In 2015, Michael Spencer celebrated July 4th in Montana with his girlfriend and friends. What seemed like an innocent act of lighting off a firework, cost Spencer several fingers.

“We had purchased at a roadside firework stand, just your garden variety mortar shell,” Spencer said at the CPSC news conference. “I loaded the mortar into the tube and I held the tube above my head. I listened to fuse burn down and I heard a very loud bang and my wrists started to hurt. [...] I thought maybe it was the kickback from the fireworks.”

At that moment, Spencer said, he heard his friends scream and saw blood gushing from his hand. He was airlifted to a hospital in Seattle where he would undergo 14 surgeries.

Spencer says even though his life has changed, he felt he had also changed the lives of the people around him.

“People had to take months of work to take care of me because I wasn’t able to dress myself, I wasn’t able to feed myself, I wasn’t able to work [...],” Spencer said. “Fireworks not only affect the victim but they affect the victim’s support structure around them.”

The agency also held its annual safety demonstration on the National Mall Wednesday to showcase the dangers if fireworks aren't handled properly, showing how they can destroy mannequins and objects such as watermelons.

“CPSC works year round to help prevent deaths and injuries from fireworks,” Buerkle said in a statement. “Beyond CPSC’s efforts, we want to make sure everyone takes simple safety steps to celebrate safely with their family and friends. We work with the fireworks industry, monitor incoming fireworks shipments at the ports and enforce federal fireworks safety regulations so that all Americans have a safe Fourth of July.”

For more information on firework safety precautions, view the CPC’s full fact sheet here.

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Student-peer organization helps erase stigma tied to mental-health issues: Study

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With news of rising suicide rates, there is a growing movement to remove the stigma associated with mental health throughout the nation.

That effort includes college campuses, where previous national studies showed that 11 percent of students reported suicidal thoughts but only 24 percent got the treatment they needed and that number has since increased.

One organization in particular, Active Minds, has been crucial in helping remove the stigma tied to mental health -- and a study says the group is getting results.

Active Minds is a student-peer organization where students at different college campuses are in charge of how they implement their programs. It's the oldest national nonprofit organization that emphasizes the importance of college populations' becoming comfortable with conversations on mental health.

A new study, implemented through Active Minds, covered 12 campuses throughout California during the 2016-2017 academic year. According to their research, college students know more about the importance of mental health and found decreased stigma around mental health issues and about asking for help.

Dr. Bradley Stein, M.D./Ph.D., senior physicians policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and the evaluator of this Active Minds study, explained: "More than 1,000 students across California were recruited through college fairs, social media and a variety of other ways. The first survey was taken in September. Then the same questions from that survey were asked in November and April. Each survey we asked the same questions, and over time we saw what happened with the answers of the students."

The surveys the researchers used are called a Likert scale, which is an "agreement" scale that measures someone's agreement with various statements. Higher scores meant a greater feeling of stigmatization around mental-health problems.

The researchers were pleasantly surprised with the results from the study -- decreased agreement scores over time, meaning less stigma.

"As we followed the college students, we found that they became more aware and more involved in mental health issues, based on their responses," Stein said.

The results showed students who began with "low engagement" with information from Active Minds -- most of the student body, about 60 percent -- ended up with lower scores, i.e. less stigma, and were more knowledgeable about mental health issues at the end of the year.

"As a child and adolescent psychiatrist,” Stein told ABC News, "I have seen that there is a need to improve college mental health. This program, Active Minds, actually was started by a young lady after her brother committed suicide. With this peer-driven group, we can address stigma on college campuses to educate and get college students the help they need throughout the country."

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