NPR Blogs

Too Few University Jobs For America's Young Scientists

NPR Health Blog - 1 hour 58 min ago
Too Few University Jobs For America's Young Scientists September 16, 2014 3:38 AM ET

Victoria Ruiz (left), a postdoctoral fellow in immunology, works with Brianna Delgado, a high school student that she mentors, at the Blaser Lab, inside NYU's Langone Medical Center in New York, NY.

Ramsay de Give for NPR

Imagine a job where about half of all the work is being done by people who are in training. That's, in fact, what happens in the world of biological and medical research.

In the United States, more than 40,000 temporary employees known as postdoctoral research fellows are doing science at a bargain price. And most postdocs are being trained for jobs that don't actually exist.

Shots - Health News Patients Vulnerable When Cash-Strapped Scientists Cut Corners

Academic institutions graduate an overabundance of biomedical Ph.D.s — and this imbalance is only getting worse, as research funding from the National Institutes of Health continues to wither.

The funding squeeze presents an enormous challenge for young scientists like Vanessa Hubbard-Lucey, who is trying to make a career in biomedical research.

Hubbard-Lucey is 35 years old. After earning her Ph.D. a few years ago, she first worked as a research-technician in a cancer lab, then accepted a postdoc position at New York University's Langone Medical Center on Manhattan's East Side, working for a professor who is trying to understand the causes of inflammatory bowel disease.

Vanessa Hubbard-Lucey is also a post-doc at NYU's Langone Medical Center. She works for a professor studying inflammatory bowel disease.

Richard Harris/NPR

"By definition, a postdoc is temporary, mentored training where you are supposed to acquire professional [experience] in order to pursue a career of your own choosing," Hubbard-Lucey says, "the key word being temporary."

But increasingly these low-paying temporary jobs can stretch on for years. "Many people go on to do many postdocs," she says.

That's because if you want a career in academia, it's almost essential as a postdoc to make a splashy discovery and get the findings published in a top scientific journal. Hubbard-Lucey is working on an experiment that she hopes will be her ticket to a professorship — or at least to an interview for an academic job.

Whether she succeeds or not, she's part of a shadow workforce made up of highly qualified scientists who work long hours for comparatively little pay, considering their level of education: about $40,000 a year.

American science couldn't survive without this shadow labor force of some 40,000 postdocs. But only about 15 percent will get tenure-track jobs, heading a lab like the one where Hubbard-Lucey works today. This was not at all what she expected when she started down this path a decade ago.


"I remember [an adviser] saying, 'You know, funding is kind of tough now, but things are going to be better when you finish graduate school,' " Hubbard-Lucey recalls. She says her adviser assured her that the situation would improve, "so I said OK."

In fact the situation hasn't gotten better. It's worse. Support for biomedical research has declined by more than 20 percent in real dollars over the past decade. And even in good times, postdocs had a raw deal.

$(function() { var pymParent = new pym.Parent( 'responsive-embed-nih-award-rates', 'http://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/nih-award-rates/child.html', {} ); });

The entire system is built around the false idea that all these scientists-in-training are headed to university professorships.

"That's obviously unsustainable," says Keith Micoli, who heads the postdoc program at the NYU Medical Center. "You can't have one manager training 10 subordinates who think they are all going to take over that boss' position someday. That's mathematically impossible."

"But we've grown so dependent on this relatively cheap, seemingly inexhaustible supply of young scientists who do great work," Micoli says. "From the standpoint of dollars and cents, they're a great investment."

Even the lucky few who do land academic jobs find it increasingly difficult to get federal funding to run a lab. There's simply not enough money to go around, given the number of scientists working in academia today.

Shots - Health News By The Numbers: Search NIH Grant Data By Institution

"Why go into an academic career when you know you've little chance of success?" Micoli muses. "Funding gets tighter and tighter. It's diminishing returns."

This is very much on the minds of today's postdocs.

Immunologist Victoria Ruiz grew up in modest circumstances in Brooklyn. She says her dad struggled with health issues for many years, "and I saw how troubling it can be, being a patient and being a patient's family. And I wanted to do something to help."

Victoria Ruiz (center) rides the N Train from Bay Parkway into Manhattan every day for work, a commute of nearly an hour each way. Her dad's long health struggles led her to medical research, she says.

Ramsay de Give for NPR

But after getting a Ph.D. at Brown University, and now working in a top lab, she knows she may not end up working to cure diseases.


"What would I do instead? I would love to work with inner city youth and show them different careers that are available to them," Ruiz says. "I came from a poorer community, so I would love to go back and give back to the community."

But she may not advise them to pursue careers in biomedical research.

Kishore Kuchibhotla still holds out that hope. He's a neuroscientist who landed a lucrative consulting gig after earning his Ph.D. from Harvard. But the job didn't inspire him. So he says he took an 80 percent pay cut to come back to the world of academic research as a postdoc.

Shots - Health News When Scientists Give Up

"We will see if it's a foolhardy decision after a few more years," he says. But passion trumps everything for now.

"I'm very excited about really understanding how brains work, how brain circuits work, both in health and in disease," he says. "Is there a way we can slowly figure that out and unpack that so we can get a better handle on what's up in our skull? ... It's really one of the most fascinating organs to me."

But Kuchibhotla knows the system's stacked against him.

"I sometimes like to think of it like medical residents," he says. "Medical residents do need a few years of training before they can become attending [physicians]. The difference is there's not always a job on the other end" for the postdoctoral researchers.

There actually are jobs – in industry, consulting, government and other fields. Biomedical postdocs rarely end up unemployed. But many can't pursue their academic dreams, and they are often in their late 30s or even older before they realize that.

And despite those long odds, Vannessa Hubbard-Lucey was also holding out hope on the rainy spring day when we first talked.

"You have a Ph.D.," Hubbard-Lucey she told me. "It's supposed to be the highest degree you can get, so you feel like, well I've worked this hard, I've done so much, when am I going to get something good out of this?

"I'm sort of at the point where I'm hopeful that my paper's going to go in and it's going to get published," she says, "and at least I'll have something to show for it."

A published paper, then maybe an interview in academia, she was hoping, and at the end of that rainbow, a job running her own research lab from the honcho's office, not the lab bench.

"The boss occasionally comes out and wants to know what's going on, but he's mostly holed up in his office trying to write grants," she says. That may not sound glamorous, but "I would love to actually be telling other postdocs what to do. That would be the best part!"

The worst part: The boss spends a huge amount of time in his office writing grants because money is so tight these days even many top-flight ideas don't make the cut. Nearly 90 percent of grant proposals get rejected.

"Rejection's a little hard," she admits. "You have to get used to rejection."

That first conversation took place in May. Later in the summer, while Hubbard-Lucey was still working on her scientific paper, she heard about a job where she could make good use of her Ph.D. She wouldn't be running a lab or working in academia. But she would be advancing cancer research at a nonprofit institute. She got the job. And now, she says, she's happy with the new path she's chosen.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Key Brain Connection Slow To Develop In Kids With ADHD

NPR Health Blog - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 4:36pm
Key Brain Connection Slow To Develop In Kids With ADHD September 15, 2014 4:36 PM ET

Maps of connections in the brain are helping researchers better understand attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Courtesy of Chandra Sripada/University of Michigan

Scientists analyzing data from a map of connections inside the human brain have gained new insights into the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Past images of brain structures showed that the brains of people with ADHD mature later than those of people without the condition. Now researchers making use of data collected as part of something called the ADHD-200 Initiative (similar to the Human Connectome Project) have found that the growth of connections within and between key brain networks in children with ADHD lags behind what happens in other kids the same age.

The results, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, point to a reduced ability among children with ADHD to turn on and off the networks inside the brain that are involved in control and attention. The brain connections that normally help children focus simply aren't as developed.

"Ultimately the brain is an information processing machine and that process occurs in the connections between regions," University of Michigan psychiatry professor Chandra Sripada, lead author of the study, tells Shots. "So the real test of the maturation hypothesis ... is looking at the connectome rather than structure."

Children's Health Study: Brains in ADHD Kids Mature Later

The researchers used two different databases looking at the connections in brains of 576 children with ADHD and normally developing children. In particular, the scientists assessed 907 known points across the brain and calculated how strongly linked each unique pair was in both groups of children.

They found that one neural network in particular lagged behind when it came to children with ADHD. This area, called the default network, is responsible for your stream of consciousness, or daydreaming. It turns on when you're not actively engaged in tasks and turns off when you're busy.

"The default network is maturing very rapidly between youth and adulthood," says Sripada. "It's neither a hero nor villain — you need to be able to turn it on appropriately and turn it off appropriately." Without this ability, researchers suspect that children can't focus on tasks or think further into the future. Their daydreaming network interrupts the area of their brain working on tasks, causing a loss of attention.

The study "makes a lot of intuitive sense," Philip Shaw, an ADHD researcher at the National Institutes for Health and unaffiliated with the study tells Shots. "We know the connections within the brain are very plastic ... treatments could work by boosting these connections."

Sripada agrees, saying that the research might enable people to identify brain connection patterns earlier and develop treatments to target abnormal circuits.

For the kids who eventually grow out of ADHD, there may even be a future where understanding the brain's connections could lead to better knowledge of how the brain will mature. "You could tell a mom, you've got a kid with ADHD," Sripada says, "and, by the way, our expectation is at a certain point your kid will outgrow this."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Antibiotics Prescribed For Children Twice As Often As Needed

NPR Health Blog - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 11:40am
Antibiotics Prescribed For Children Twice As Often As Needed September 15, 201411:40 AM ET

Drat those viruses. They're the culprit in the majority of children's colds and sore throats.

iStockphoto

When your child has an earache or a bad cold, it's hard to think that there's not much you can offer beyond Tylenol and sympathy. But most of those infections are mostly caused by viruses that don't respond to antibiotics, a study finds.

Just 27 percent of acute respiratory tract infections are caused by bacteria, researchers at Seattle Children's Hospital found. That means that more than two-thirds are viral and antibiotics don't help.

But doctors prescribed antibiotics for children with those infections 57 percent of the time, the study found. In other words, children are taking medication that's not going to help them and can hurt, because of side effects and the increased risk of antibiotic resistance, both for that person and for the larger community.

Shots - Health News Pediatricians Urged To Treat Ear Infections More Cautiously

That adds up to about 11 million potentially needless prescriptions each year.

Cutting back on unnecessary use of antibiotics is a "pressing concern," the authors write in Monday's Pediatrics. More than half of all outpatient antibiotic prescriptions are for respiratory infections, they note, which includes ears, noses and throats.

But some infections were more likely to be caused by bacteria than others. Ear infections were caused by bacteria 65 percent of the time, while strep tests revealed Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria causing that sore throat just 20 percent of the time.

Shots - Health News Despite Many Warnings, Antibiotics Are Still Overprescribed

Last year the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that doctors use caution when prescribing antibiotics for ear infections. That included giving parents a "contingency" prescription to use if the child doesn't get better in a few days.

To find this out, the researchers combed through studies published between 2000 and 2011. They also looked at doctor-office visits in the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey to see what medications were prescribed.

There was only one study on sinusitis, bronchitis and upper-respiratory infections that met study criteria, so it doesn't address use of antibiotics for those conditions.

Shots - Health News Why Scientists Are Trying Viruses To Beat Back Bacteria

The big problem is that aside from the strep test, there are no quick, simple ways to test a child to see whether an illness is caused by bacteria or viruses.

So parents and doctors have to guess.

This study does give parents and health-care providers a bit more information on the odds of getting benefits from antibiotics.

For instance, the researchers suggest that bronchitis, upper-respiratory infections, sore throats and ear infections in children over age 2 would be good candidates for waiting a bit before prescribing or offering a prescription if the child gets worse.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Patients Vulnerable When Cash-Strapped Scientists Cut Corners

NPR Health Blog - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 4:31am
Patients Vulnerable When Cash-Strapped Scientists Cut Corners September 15, 2014 4:31 AM ET Listen to the Story 8 min 15 sec  

Tom Murphy, 56, in his home in Gainesville, Va., was diagnosed with ALS four years ago. An experimental drug seems to have slowed the progression of his disease, he says, though most ALS patients aren't as lucky.

T.J. Kirkpatrick for NPR

There's a funding crunch for biomedical research in the United States — and it's not just causing pain for scientists and universities. It's also creating incentives for researchers to cut corners — and that's affecting people who are seriously ill.

Take, for example, the futile search for drugs to treat ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The progressive, degenerative disease of the brain and nerve cells has been the focus of recent publicity, thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Four years ago, Tom Murphy went to see his doctor when he started noticing some slight muscle weakness.

"I actually thought I was just getting old," says the 56-year-old resident of Gainesville, Va. "I went to my general practitioner. He asked a few questions and told me to take my shirt off."

The doctor noticed some unusual muscle twitches — and sent Murphy directly to a neurologist. It turns out the news was bad. Murphy had ALS.

Tough News: 'You Won't Be Able To Use Your Hands And Arms'

"They told me I had two to four years," Murphy recalls. " 'Going to be pretty tough living, probably be in a wheelchair soon, won't be able to use your hands and arms.' So that was kind of tough — kind of tough news."

Shots - Health News U.S. Science Suffering From Booms And Busts In Funding

It's been 75 years since baseball great Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with this disease. Surely, Murphy thought, a good treatment has been developed since then. But, no.

Shots - Health News When Scientists Give Up

"I said, 'Are you guys telling me that there's really nothing you can do about this, after so many years?' " Murphy says. "And they said, 'Yeah, unfortunately we don't have anything.' "

The last hope was that Murphy could enroll in a clinical trial — the test of an experimental drug. A few U.S. trials were going on in the East, he learned.

Most patients fade so quickly, they only get one shot at an experimental treatment.

Murphy chose one. It was a long shot, and it turns out the odds were worse than he knew.

Evidence Flimsy For Most Experimental Treatments OF ALS

“ In the rush ... to get a wonderful story out on the street in a journal, and preferably with some publicity to match, scientists can cut corners.

Most of the experimental ALS drugs, it turns out, undergo very perfunctory testing in animals before moving into human tests — based on flimsy evidence.

Story Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, says her institute plunked down $20 million to test one of these drugs in more than 400 ALS patients, "and what we discovered in the trial was the particular compound was of no benefit to the patients."

In hopes of figuring out why, scientists went back to take a second look at the mouse experiments that were the basis for the human study, and found them to be meager. Additional, more careful tests found no compelling reason to think the experimental drug would have ever worked.

Shots - Health News By The Numbers: Search NIH Grant Data By Institution

Landis has thought a lot about how those last-chance patients ended up in this untenable situation. There is no single answer, she says, but part of the explanation relates to a growing issue in biomedical science: the mad scramble for scarce research dollars.

"The field has become hypercompetitive," she says.

Many excellent grant proposals get turned down, simply because there's not enough money to go around. So Landis says scientists are tempted to oversell weak results.

"Getting a grant requires that you have an exciting story to tell, that you have preliminary data and you have published," she says. "In the rush, to be perfectly honest, to get a wonderful story out on the street in a journal, and preferably with some publicity to match, scientists can cut corners."

According to a research paper published earlier this year, corner-cutting turned out to be the rule, rather than the exception, in animal studies of ALS.

Stefano Bertuzzi, the executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology, says that's partly because there is little incentive for scientists to take the time to go back and verify results from other labs.

"You want to be the first one to show something," he says — not the one to verify or dispute a finding, "because you won't get a big prize for that."

It's even hard to get funding to run those sorts of confirmatory experiments in this hypercompetitive environment. (You can check here to learn how any and every U.S. university has fared in garnering research money from NIH.)

'Wishful Science' Plagues Testing Of Drug Candidates

Landis says ALS is not the only example of this type of wishful science. Similar problems emerged in the study of a drug being tested to see if it could protect the brain from the damage of a stroke. She says that test, too, showed the drug to be a dismal failure.

"A number of people have gone back and looked at the evidence and discovered that, in fact, there are a number of very straightforward things about the conduct of those studies that made it likely that the drug would fail when it went into people," she says.

Landis has since added new guidelines that scientists must follow before the neurology institute will fund large drug tests on people.

"There are now clinical trials that would have been funded five to seven years ago which won't be funded until the preclinical studies are done in a way that is actually believable," she says.

In principle, this should help scientists focus on more promising therapies. But it is also potentially discouraging for ALS patients like Murphy. In the short run, at least, animal studies are not identifying drugs that are promising candidates for treating ALS.

Shots - Health News Life After Ice Buckets: ALS Group Faces $94 Million Challenge

"Basically everybody says animal studies don't work," Murphy says. "They aren't representative of humans, at least in this disease. It's a really big issue in the ALS world."

Progress in treating the illness will likely require scientists to take a step back to identify better ways of searching for promising drugs. This means more painstaking work, not simply quick, cross-your-fingers studies with animals.

NIH expects to spend about $40 million this year on ALS research; the ALS Association hasn't yet decided how much of the more than $100 million it has raised so far through its wildly successful Ice Bucket Challenge will go to funding research.

One strategy for further research might be to look at the few people — including Murphy — who have done a bit better than average in the drug trials that have otherwise failed. That could simply be luck — or it could be a clue about individual differences in the way the disease plays out.

Whatever the outcome for the particular experimental drug he's getting, Murphy says he's grateful he has at least had the chance to try it.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Pageant Contestant Felt Helpless Against Domestic Violence

NPR Health Blog - Sun, 09/14/2014 - 5:21am
Pageant Contestant Felt Helpless Against Domestic Violence September 14, 2014 5:21 AM ET

Several contestants in this year's Miss America pageant have chosen domestic violence as their platform topic.

Mel Evans/AP

This year's Miss America competition has involved lots of satin and some excellent ventriloquism by Miss Ohio. But it has also involved a public health issue that's been in the headlines over the past week: domestic violence.

Kira Kazantsev says she isolated herself from her friends when they tried to help her get away from an abusive boyfriend.

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

And it's not just because it's in the news. Miss New York, Kira Kazantsev, was in an abusive relationship during college.

Back in college, Kazantsev says that she wasn't aware that there were resources available for victims of domestic violence. "I very well may have Googled it," she says. "But that's not the mindset that you're in when you're in that situation. You just feel alone. You feel helpless. You don't feel like anyone could possibly understand."

The fact that people are asking why Janay Rice stayed with Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after he knocked her unconscious in an elevator shows a lack of understanding of the complex psychology of domestic violence, Kazantsev tells Shots.

"I want people to stop asking 'Why doesn't she just leave?' " Kazantsev says. "Every woman is an expert in her own case, and there are so many extenuating circumstances that lead to a woman staying with her abuser."

The woman in the abusive relationship has to decide for herself that she wants to leave, Kazantsev says. The best thing friends and family can do is offer support.

"I definitely had friends that saw this and tried to help and didn't know what to do," she says. "And at that point I isolated myself. I was completely isolated from any help they were offering me."

The Two-Way Janay Rice Says Assault Video Has Brought A 'Nightmare' To Life

That's one reason that she chose to make domestic violence her "platform" topic for the Miss America pageant, which concludes Sunday. It's also the issue chosen by Miss West Virginia, Paige Madden, and Miss Delaware, Brittany Lewis. Lewis told the Associated Press that her sister had been in an abusive relationship for five years before she was fatally shot in her apartment. The case remains unsolved.

Ray Rice Video Sets Off Barrage Of Conversations

"The main goal is to get people talking about it," says Kazantsev. "If people are willing to talk about it, they're not scared of it, it's not taboo."

The uproar over the video showing Rice's assault on his then-fiancee, which resulted in his being cut from the Baltimore Ravens, seems to have accomplished that goal, at least for this week.

Shots - Health News Hey, Miss Idaho, Is That An Insulin Pump On Your Bikini?

Kazantsev is working with Safe Horizon, a domestic violence advocacy group, to steer public conversations about abuse in the right direction.

The fact that Miss America contestants are talking about domestic violence is a good thing, says Barbara Paradiso, director of the Center on Domestic Violence at the University of Colorado Denver.

"I think we still hold on to some of those stereotypical beliefs. When we think about the typical victims of domestic violence, we think of someone who is poor, might not have many resources or is unintelligent," Paradiso says. "When you have someone who has been able to be as successful as a Miss America, that helps us put this in perspective."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Newly Crowned Miss America Felt Helpless Against Domestic Violence

NPR Health Blog - Sun, 09/14/2014 - 5:21am
Newly Crowned Miss America Felt Helpless Against Domestic Violence September 14, 2014 5:21 AM ET

Several contestants in this year's Miss America pageant chose domestic violence as their platform topic.

Mel Evans/AP

Update at 11:50 p.m. EDT

Kira Kazantsev says she isolated herself from her friends when they tried to help her get away from an abusive boyfriend.

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

This year's Miss America competition has involved lots of satin and some excellent ventriloquism by Miss Ohio. But it has also involved a public health issue that's been in the headlines over the past week: domestic violence.

And it's not just because it's in the news. Miss New York, Kira Kazantsev — who was crowned Miss America 2015 in Sunday's ceremony — was in an abusive relationship during college.

Back then, Kazantsev says, she wasn't aware that there were resources available for victims of domestic violence. "I very well may have Googled it," she says. "But that's not the mindset that you're in when you're in that situation. You just feel alone. You feel helpless. You don't feel like anyone could possibly understand."

The fact that people are asking why Janay Rice stayed with Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after he knocked her unconscious in an elevator shows a lack of understanding of the complex psychology of domestic violence, Kazantsev tells Shots.

"I want people to stop asking, 'Why doesn't she just leave?' " Kazantsev says. "Every woman is an expert in her own case, and there are so many extenuating circumstances that lead to a woman staying with her abuser."

The woman in the abusive relationship has to decide for herself that she wants to leave, Kazantsev says. The best thing friends and family can do is offer support.

The Two-Way Janay Rice Says Assault Video Has Brought A 'Nightmare' To Life

"I definitely had friends that saw this and tried to help and didn't know what to do," she says. "And at that point I isolated myself. I was completely isolated from any help they were offering me."

Ray Rice Video Sets Off Barrage Of Conversations

That's one reason that she chose to make domestic violence her "platform" topic for the Miss America pageant. It's also the issue chosen by Miss West Virginia, Paige Madden, and Miss Delaware, Brittany Lewis. Lewis told the Associated Press that her sister had been in an abusive relationship for five years before she was fatally shot in her apartment. The case remains unsolved.

"The main goal is to get people talking about it," says Kazantsev. "If people are willing to talk about it, they're not scared of it, it's not taboo."

Shots - Health News Hey, Miss Idaho, Is That An Insulin Pump On Your Bikini?

The uproar over the video showing Rice's assault on his then-fiancee, which resulted in his being cut from the Baltimore Ravens, seems to have accomplished that goal, at least for this week.

Kazantsev is working with Safe Horizon, a domestic violence advocacy group, to steer public conversations about abuse in the right direction.

The fact that Miss America contestants are talking about domestic violence is a good thing, says Barbara Paradiso, director of the Center on Domestic Violence at the University of Colorado Denver.

"I think we still hold on to some of those stereotypical beliefs. When we think about the typical victims of domestic violence, we think of someone who is poor, might not have many resources or is unintelligent," Paradiso says. "When you have someone who has been able to be as successful as a Miss America, that helps us put this in perspective."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Poets Give Voice To The Toll Of Type 2 Diabetes

NPR Health Blog - Sat, 09/13/2014 - 10:34am
Poets Give Voice To The Toll Of Type 2 Diabetes September 13, 201410:34 AM ET

Young poets Monica Mendoza (clockwise from top left), Erica Sheppard McMath, Obasi Davis and Gabriel Cortez have written about how Type 2 diabetes affects their families and communities.

Courtesy of The Bigger Picture

It may not seem like spoken-word poetry and diabetes have a lot to do with one another, but public health educators in California are using the art form to engage young people about the disease.

"Between growing up in Colón, Panama and a tour in the U.S. army, Grandpa is a proud old soldier marching through a never-ending war," Gabriel Cortez, 24, wrote in his poem "Perfect Soldiers." "At 66, we are scared that another stroke could do what no war ever could and cut him to the ground."

Two of Cortez's grandparents have diabetes and one of his aunts lost both of her legs to diabetes. "Half of our neighborhood [looks] like the emergency ward of a hospital," he wrote.

"If you look at our community, you see it, but to have it named, I think, is an important thing," he tells Shots. Writing poetry is "another way of opening up the conversation."

Cortez wrote his poem last year during a workshop run by The Bigger Picture, a project that brings together University of California, San Francisco's Center for Vulnerable Populations and the literary nonprofit Youth Speaks. The goal is to encourage them to talk about diabetes and the risks it poses to the health of young people.

About 95 percent of the 29 million Americans with diabetes have the Type 2 variety, and the number of young adults and children with it is rapidly increasing. The problem is acute in poor, urban neighborhoods and in communities of color. Half of African-American youths and a third of Latino youths born in 2000 are expected to develop Type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.

Back in 2011, Dr. Dean Schillinger heard Erica Sheppard McMath's poem, "Death Recipe" at a Youth Speaks event. The poem recounts the struggle of McMath, now 22, to stay healthy while much of her family struggles with obesity and diabetes:

It's like knowing most of your family has diabetes

but your still smacking on sour patches

as you're walking your aunt to her dialysis appointment

It's like Auntie Marlow being blind at 32

It's like Grandma Susie dying from a heart attack at 51

It's like cousin Kieara shooting insulin in her nine year old arm

"Young people can be such vocal and articulate revolutionaries in ways that old-fart doctors can't be," Schillinger says. He started the partnership between UCSF and Youth Speaks because he thought poetry could be a way to spark more conversations with young people about Type 2 diabetes.

The collaboration aims to shift the focus of the diabetes epidemic away from people's personal decisions. Schillinger says that Type 2 diabetes needs to be talked about in terms of a social disease.

The Bigger Picture holds workshops for teens and young adults to teach them about diabetes and to help them translate their reactions to the information into poetry.

Some of the best poems have been turned into short films that the organizers see as public service announcements. They've made about 20 so far, ranging from personal stories like McMath's to an over-the-top commercial satire called "Block O' Breakfast."

The Bigger Picture also takes its show on the road, conducting high school assemblies. So far, the team has worked with 40 poets and about 2,500 students in Northern California.

Twenty-nine-year-old José Vadi, who participated in the first Bigger Picture workshop and later facilitated them, now helps direct the project at Youth Speaks. He says that Type 2 diabetes is as much about class and access as it is health and diet.

"If you're traditionally disadvantaged economically, and you don't have the time to prepare a meal with fresh ingredients and whatnot, the idea of ... just putting something in your body to not be hungry, speaks to larger issues of inequality," Vadi says.

The Bigger Picture community also looks at the role food and beverage industries' marketing to minorities has played in the rise of diabetes. In the poem "A Taste of Home," 21-year-old Monica Mendoza says that "dinner has become an expedition where we lick our plates clean and swallow cups of nostalgia — nostalgia that isn't even from our own country. Our tongues have been colonized with the belief that this cup of Coke is home."

Cortez says he hopes the Bigger Picture poems will inspire youth anywhere in the country to write down their own experiences in a poem or a song, or to talk to their parents and friends "in a way they hadn't been able to before."

Lydia Zuraw is Washington, D.C., correspondent for the website Food Safety News.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Opponents Spar In Court Over Texas Clinics That Do Abortions

NPR Health Blog - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 5:47pm
Opponents Spar In Court Over Texas Clinics That Do Abortions September 12, 2014 5:47 PM ET

from

Listen to the Story 2 min 24 sec  

Abortion-rights advocates filled the rotunda of the state capitol in July 2013 as Texas senators debated sweeping abortion restrictions. Some of those restrictions are now under federal review.

Tamir Kalifa/AP

A federal appeals court in New Orleans is reviewing whether 11 clinics that provide abortion in Texas must immediately close their doors because they don't comply with a state law requiring that they meet all the standards of an outpatient surgical center.

Shots - Health News Federal Judge Blocks Texas Restriction On Abortion Clinics Shots - Health News A Doctor Who Performed Abortions In South Texas Makes His Case

A three-judge panel heard arguments Friday for more than 90 minutes, first from the Texas solicitor general and then from a lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing many of the Texas clinics. The questions from the judges centered mainly on what constitutes an "undue burden" when a woman is trying to get an abortion, and what fraction of Texas women would be affected.

Advocates say that about 20 clinics that perform abortions in Texas have already closed in advance of the law; if the court rules in Texas' favor, fewer than 10 clinics that provide abortion would remain in a state with a population of 26 million.

Both sides agreed that if the law is upheld, women in the Rio Grande Valley would have to travel more than 200 miles to San Antonio to get an abortion. But Jonathan Mitchell, the Texas solicitor general, said there was no good evidence that women weren't figuring out how to deal with that, and no evidence that if the abortion rate in Texas had fallen, that it was related to the law.

"An abortion law cannot be enjoined based on conjecture," Mitchell said. Judge Jennifer Elrod questioned him about a clinic's survey of 20 patients, presented at the trial in August. An expert testifying for the clinics said one patient surveyed said she did not get an abortion after the Texas law went into effect.

"He did not report she was unable to get it; he did not report she encountered an undue burden," Mitchell answered. "She could simply have changed her mind."

Supporters and opponents of Texas's controversial abortion law gathered Friday afternoon outside the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in downtown New Orleans. Emily Horne (left) is a legislative associate with Texas Right to Life, a group that lobbied for the law.

Carrie Feibel/KUHF

Furthermore, patients in El Paso (where another clinic might close because it doesn't meet the standards of an outpatient surgical center) could just travel to New Mexico for an abortion, Mitchell added.

Stephanie Toti, with the Center for Reproductive Rights, argued on behalf of affected clinics such as Whole Woman's Health. She says lots of evidence was presented at the trial that women were facing numerous burdens exercising their constitutional right to an abortion. For example, a San Antonio clinic had offered gas cards and free bus tickets to women in the Rio Grande Valley who were seeking abortions, to help them travel north. But the patients told the clinic it wasn't just the distance and lack of money that made such travel difficult, but also problems with child care, getting time off work, and explaining to family why they needed to travel so far away.

Toti said a health outreach worker testified at the trial that women were experiencing obstacles to getting the procedure legally after clinics closed in the Rio Grande Valley. "She says she personally observed women turning to illegal means to get an abortion," Toti told the judges.

In a rebuttal, Mitchell called that testimony "vague," and said the worker couldn't give specific numbers of women doing that, and couldn't provide evidence that those choices stemmed from restrictions in the Texas law.

The three judges did not indicate when they would render their decision; but if they rule in favor of the state of Texas, the clinics would probably close immediately. The judges could also decide that some of the most isolated clinics could remain open, while others must close.

Federal district Judge Lee Yeakel ruled in August that the surgery center regulation had no health benefit and would place numerous burdens on any woman seeking an abortion, especially if she lived in the Rio Grande Valley or West Texas. Yeakel allowed the noncomplying clinics to remain open, but the state asked for an emergency motion to overrule Yeakel's decision and close them.

Sandy Jones (from left) of Houston, with Amelie Hahn and Michelle Colon, of Mississippi. Hahn and Colon are with Pink House Defenders, a group fighting for the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.

Carrie Feibel/KHUF

Mitchell told the panel the state of Texas has a compelling interest in closing any clinics that it deems unsafe, and that's why the state sought an emergency motion to stay Yeakel's decision.

"If there is a Kermit Gosnell-type clinic in a state, and that's the last clinic in the state, I think everyone could agree that clinic could be shut down," Mitchell said, referring to a notorious doctor who performed abortions and was convicted of murder in Philadelphia last year.

Outside the courtroom, protesters carried signs.

Bethany Van Kampen, a lawyer and board member of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, attended the hearing. She said it seemed that the judges were asking very hard questions of Toti.

"It's a bit discouraging," she said. "It felt very targeted. I felt our line of questioning was harder and more difficult and I think we tried to do our best."

Sandy Jones, an activist with Stop Patriarchy, traveled from Houston to attend. She said it seemed the judges had too narrow a focus.

"These are forces that are determined to criminalize every abortion, every woman, and make it inaccessible to every woman," Jones said. "And birth control, as we know, is not far behind. This is a war on women. This is a state of emergency."

Abortion opponents had also traveled from Austin and Fort Worth to listen.

"It's hard to say how this will go," said Emily Horne, a legislative associate for Texas Right to Life.

She said there was a need for Texas to seek this emergency hearing to shut down the noncomplying clinics right away. "It is a direct safety measure for the health and safety of Texas women, so we think that sooner is better to implement that," Horne said.

She said it was exciting to be there, and important for all states, not just Texas.

"Texas is definitely setting some precedents as far as what states are being allowed to pass," Horne added, "so there is a lot that does hinge on this."

This story is part of a reporting partnership between NPR, Houston Public Media and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2014 KUHF-FM. To see more, visit http://www.houstonpublicmedia.org.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Health Costs Inch Up As Obamacare Kicks In

NPR Health Blog - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 11:44am
Health Costs Inch Up As Obamacare Kicks In September 12, 201411:44 AM ET

Partner content from

Whoa!

iStockphoto

Doctors and hospitals treated more patients and collected more payments in the spring as millions gained insurance coverage under the health law, new figures from the government show.

But analysts called the second-quarter increases modest and said there is little evidence to suggest that wider coverage and a recovering economy are pushing health spending growth to the painful levels of a decade ago.

Thursday's results from the Census Bureau's survey of service industries join other recent cost indicators that "are quite a bit lower than what the folks at CMS were projecting," said Charles Roehrig, director of the Center for Sustainable Health Spending at the Altarum Institute, a nonprofit research and consulting outfit. "And they're lower than what we were expecting as well."

CMS is the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the government's main health care bookkeeper. Last week CMS projected that health-expenditure growth would accelerate to 5.6 percent this year from an estimated 3.6 percent in 2013.

But health and social spending as measured by the Census Bureau grew by only 3.7 percent from the second quarter of 2013 to the same quarter of 2014. Hospital revenue increased 4.9 percent during the same period. Revenue for physician offices barely budged, growing by only 0.6 percent. Medical lab revenue rose 1.9 percent.

The report is far from being the last word. It doesn't include spending on prescription drugs, which has been rising this year thanks to new very expensive medicines for hepatitis C.

And while the Census Bureau's year-over-year results for the second quarter show tame cost trends, the increase from the first quarter to the second was more substantial. Total health and social spending rose at an annual rate of more than 12 percent from first quarter to the next. If sustained, such acceleration would raise alarms and actuaries' blood pressure.

But some who follow costs closely don't think the pace will continue.

First, health spending suffered a mini-crash over the winter, as bad storms kept people away from caregivers. Hospitals and doctors billed less from January to March than they did last fall. Part of the second-quarter recovery may just have been catch-up, analysts said.

At the same time, many people covered through the health law's online marketplaces didn't sign up until close to the deadline at the end of March. Much of the spring increase may represent a one-time surge as those folks sought treatment for previously neglected conditions.

For those reasons, the year-over-year results for the second quarter may give a better indication of longer-term cost trends than the change from the first quarter to the second, Roehrig said.

Estimates vary, but no one disputes the idea that the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplaces and expansion of Medicaid for the poor have added millions of previously uninsured people to coverage rosters this year.

History and logic suggest that expanded coverage and an improving economy will boost long-term, national health expenditures from their average growth rate of 3.7 percent during the past five years. (That's spending by everybody — government programs, employer insurance, commercial plans and consumers paying out of pocket.)

But so far the speedup seems nowhere close to the near-double-digit rates in the early 2000s.

Copyright 2014 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Changing Tack, GOP Candidates Support Over-The-Counter Birth Control

NPR Health Blog - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 3:30am
Changing Tack, GOP Candidates Support Over-The-Counter Birth Control September 12, 2014 3:30 AM ET Listen to the Story 4 min 53 sec  

A string of Republican candidates for Senate are supporting an issue usually associated with Democrats: easier access to contraception.

They're supporting it on the road and in ads, like one from anti-abortion conservative Cory Gardner. In it, he says he believes "the pill ought to be available over the counter, round the clock, without a prescription." Tom Tillis and Ed Gillespie, also anti-abortion conservatives, have made similar statements.

YouTube

Some of them have been associated with state legislation to restrict abortions or with so-called personhood amendments that would give constitutional rights to fertilized eggs.

So what gives? First of all, Republicans are in a deep hole with female voters, and polls show all voters are less likely to support candidates who restrict women's reproductive rights. Republican strategist Katie Packer Gage says the GOP needed to get out of its defensive crouch.

She says when Republicans saw what happened to Mitt Romney in 2012, "where women's groups very falsely and very aggressively attacked him claiming that he wanted to do away with birth control," the party "started to say, 'Look, we're going to have to play offense on this message because otherwise we're going to be totally misdefined by our opponents.' "

Calling for an over-the-counter pill allows Republicans to support access to birth control while also supporting the right of corporations to avoid covering it. Getting the pill at a pharmacy without a prescription leaves insurers and employers out of the picture altogether.

But some Republicans are having trouble with their new talking points. Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman stumbled on the issue in a recent debate: "I am just pro-life, and I'm proud of that. And, uh, I do not support personhood. But, uh, I support a woman's access to, to, um, certainly to — this Hobby Lobby decision — to uh, to get ... "

YouTube

At that excruciating moment, Coffman is rescued by the audience, which feeds him the word he's been looking for: "birth control."

The exchange is followed by laughter, but Democrats do not find this the least bit funny.

"It really is quite ironic that suddenly now the Republican Party and candidates, after voting repeatedly to take away birth control access for women, are trying to kind of do this before the November elections," says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"It has no credibility based on their voting records. ... What it demonstrates is how important women's health is as an issue to women voters and how important it will be in this election," she says.

Planned Parenthood is also for over-the-counter birth control. But so far, no drug company has asked the FDA for permission to sell contraception over the counter.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says Democrats should respond to Republicans with an argument about cost and fairness because insurers generally do not cover over-the-counter medicine, and the pill can cost $600 a year.

"When voters hear that Republicans support your employer denying coverage for birth control when Viagra is still covered, they're very angry about it," she says. "When we make the argument, it really backfires because women say this is going to cost me $600 and this is a very cynical ploy."

But Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway says Republicans have finally found a way to blunt the Democrats' charge that the GOP is conducting a so-called "war on women."

"What's happened with the over-the-counter birth control issue is that the Democrats didn't see it coming," says Conway. "They think that they've got a monopoly on talking to women from the waist down. Anything that has to do with reproduction and birth control and abortion — they call it women's health, then they call it women's issues. They feel like how dare the loyal opposition go ahead and take them on and really neutralize and defang this issue."

There's no doubt Republicans are trying harder this election year to appeal to women, which is a big difference from the past two cycles when some GOP candidates alienated female voters with comments about rape and unwanted pregnancies. Republicans know they can't eliminate the gender gap altogether; they just hope to shrink it enough to win elections.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

A Doctor Who Performed Abortions In South Texas Makes His Case

NPR Health Blog - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 5:35pm
A Doctor Who Performed Abortions In South Texas Makes His Case September 11, 2014 5:35 PM ET Listen to the Story 6 min 58 sec  
  • Hide caption Dr. Lester Minto has closed his Texas clinic, Reproductive Services of Harlingen, after 35 years. Previous Next Lisa Krantz/San Antonio Express-News/Zuma Press
  • Hide caption Though Reproductive Services of Harlingen has been shuttered for months, the surgery rooms seem frozen in time. Previous Next Maisie Crow
  • Hide caption Minto's shirt still hangs in the doorway of a former surgery room at the clinic. Minto continues to work as a physician — these days as a family care practitioner in the Rio Grande Valley. Previous Next Maisie Crow
  • Hide caption Jackets, once worn by staff members in the lab, hang unused. Previous Next Maisie Crow
  • Hide caption Boxes of tissue are stacked in what used to be the clinic's reception window. Previous Next Maisie Crow
  • Hide caption

    Signs used to be posted outside the clinic warning of venomous snakes. Minto says the signs were part of an effort to deter protesters from the clinic's front lawn.

    Previous Next Maisie Crow
  • Hide caption Minto still gets messages via the former clinic's phone number. Women still call for help. "I'll never lie to a patient," he says. "If they come to me and ask for information with regards to how they can handle their situations, I tell them the truth. However, I don't encourage them to do illegal things to obtain their medications." Previous Next Maisie Crow
  • Hide caption Artwork that once hung on the waiting room walls now sits in empty chairs. After he closed the clinic earlier this year, Minto and his staff packed up and sold much of the contents. Previous Next Maisie Crow

1 of 8

View slideshow i $(document).ready(function(){var slideshow347717043=new NPR.Swipe.slideshow($('#res347717043'),347717043,false);NPR.Swipe.initSlideshow(slideshow347717043);$(window).resize(function(){NPR.Swipe.resize(slideshow347717043);});});

In a Brownsville family clinic, a powerfully built, bald doctor treats a never-ending line of sick and injured patients. He has been practicing for nearly four decades, but family medicine is not his calling.

"For 35 years I had a clinic where I saw women and took care of their reproductive needs, but mostly terminating pregnancies," Dr. Lester Minto says.

He seems an unlikely doctor to perform abortions. The son of an Army officer, he grew up in a deeply religious family in rural Texas. His career path was shaped by an experience in medical school in the early '70s. A young woman whose uterus had been accidentally pierced by a backroom abortionist bled to death in front of him. After Roe v. Wade was decided, the young doctor devoted his career to helping poor and working-class women terminate their unwanted pregnancies in South Texas.

"Ninety-eight percent were Hispanics," Minto says. "I would go days where I wouldn't speak English because they were all Spanish speakers — which is great.

"Getting this level of care has always been available to rich women," Minto points out. "They can always go somewhere else — another state, another country. They can go to their gynecologist and get a 'menstrual extraction' or something that's not called an abortion. So they're OK."

Nearly half of Minto's patients were teenagers, and he averaged more than 4,000 abortions each year.

But Minto had to close his clinic after laws passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013 rendered his clinic obsolete. It doesn't meet all the standards of an ambulatory surgical center, with amenities like extra-wide hallways.

The other important restriction in the new Texas law (under review this week by a federal appeals court) requires all doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association say these two requirements are medically unnecessary. If one of Minto's patients were to have a medical crisis during an abortion, she would be rushed to the closest hospital emergency room. Doctor privileges aren't an issue in emergencies.

"I've been there 30-plus years," Minto says. In that time, only two of his clinic patients have had to go to the hospital, he says, and that was because they had bleeding conditions that kept their blood from clotting.

Nevertheless, the laws led to the closing of half of the 40 clinics across the state that offer abortion services. It's not just the valley. In vast swaths of Texas, there are no longer any such clinics in operation.

Minto has been getting calls from women desperate for help. "When they hear that I've closed after all these years, they cry," he says. "They ask me, 'What do I do, Doctor?' "

But there are plenty of people in South Texas who enthusiastically support the restrictions. While the Rio Grande Valley is deeply Democratic it's also very Catholic.

"I take the position that life begins in conception and ends in natural death," says Eddie Lucio Jr., a Democrat and Texas state senator, who has represented the valley for nearly 30 years. "I was an outspoken advocate for the bill."

Bill sponsors Rep. Jodie Laubenberg and Sen. Glenn Hegar of Texas hug after Texas abortion restrictions are signed into law in July 2013.

Lisa Krantz/San Antonio Express-News/Zuma Press

Lucio and his allies in the state Legislature say the restrictions increase patient care and reduce medical complications — the closing of clinics that do abortions is a happy byproduct.

The Texas Legislature has thrown up as many obstacles to abortion as the federal courts will allow, including waiting periods, ultrasounds and outdated protocols for administering abortion pills that require women to repeatedly return to the clinic.

And for women on the state's border with Mexico, there's another barrier — an inland Border Patrol checkpoint on the highway to San Antonio. Women whose visas confine them to the border, or who are completely undocumented, can't get past the checkpoint to San Antonio.

For Lucio that's a plus. "I'm OK with that," he says. "Because all they're looking for is putting an end to a life. And I'm not for that."

Lucio and his allies had abortion-rights supporters on the run in Texas, until U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel intervened in late August and struck down as unconstitutional the requirements regarding admitting privileges and that clinics providing abortions be held to all the same standards as outpatient surgical centers. In his decision, the judge ruled that the abortion rights of women along the border were particularly endangered by those regulations.

"The requirements erect a particularly high barrier for poor, rural or disadvantaged women," Yeakel wrote. "A woman with means, the freedom and ability to travel and the desire to obtain an abortion will always be able to obtain one," he wrote, echoing Minto's sentiments. "Roe's essential holding, guarantees to all women — not just those of means — the right to a pre-viability abortion," the judge concluded.

Yeakel's ruling has had an immediate impact in Texas. Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Woman's Health, says her group is reopening its clinic to provide abortions in the Rio Grande Valley. But with a hearing on Yeakel's ruling still looming from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, it could be only a matter of days before Hagstrom Miller is forced to close the clinic for good.

"I'm very careful with hope in the state of Texas, being an abortion provider," Hagstrom Miller says. "But I am hopeful for a couple of reasons: We put on a very strong case with very strong evidence. And I'm encouraged by the 5th Circuit giving us two weeks with this injunction, instead of ruling immediately."

The 5th Circuit is one of the most conservative federal courts in the country and has a history of reversing the legal decisions of its federal judges in Texas, who've generally ruled to protect women's rights to abortion. Oral arguments begin tomorrow.

This is the first in a series of NPR reports airing on All Things Considered that will explore abortion and maternal health around the world.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

FDA Approves New Diet Pill That's Made Of Old Medicines

NPR Health Blog - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 5:01pm
FDA Approves New Diet Pill That's Made Of Old Medicines September 11, 2014 5:01 PM ET

When does a diet drug tip the balance for health?

iStockphoto

There's another pill to help people lose weight.

After years of study and lots of questions from the Food and Drug Administration questions, a pill called Contrave finally got the agency's OK Thursday.

It's the third diet medicine to get the regulatory go-ahead in recent years. But the other drugs — Qsymia and Belviq — haven't proved that popular. Many insurers have been reluctant to cover the medicines.

Contrave, for better or worse, is a combination of two drugs that have been around for a long time. One is bupropion, an antidepressant sold as Wellbutrin, that's also been used to help people stop smoking. The other is naltrexone, a medicine that's prescribed to help people stay off drugs and alcohol.

Contrave is intended for people who are obese or who are overweight and have other weight-related health problems, such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

In a study of people without diabetes, 42 percent of patients who got Contrave lost at least 5 percent of their weight over about a year compared with 17 percent for those who took a placebo. A study in people with diabetes found that 36 percent received Contrave lost at least 5 percent of their weight compared with 18 percent who got a placebo. (You can find the study details in the instructions to doctors who might consider prescribing the drug.)

Shots - Health News FDA Rejects Diet Pill, Casting Pall Over Future Of Weight-Loss Medicines

People in the studies also reduced the calories they consumed and exercised. In one study the patients also got counseling about weight loss. Contrave is supposed to be used in combination with other weight-loss approaches.

Shots - Health News Takeda And Orexigen Make Deal For Diet Pill

Contrave has side effects. The most common ones include nausea, constipation and headache. About a quarter of people taking the drugs in clinical tests stopped taking the drug because of side effects.

Contrave also comes with a stern warning about the potential for suicidal thoughts and behavior, which is consistent with the instructions for Wellbutrin.

All told, almost half of people taking Contrave or the placebo used for comparison stopped taking their pills before the studies were finished. The FDA says people who haven't lost at least 5 percent of their weight after taking Contrave for 12 weeks should stop the medicine because it's unlikely to help them.

Back in 2011, the FDA rejected the Contrave application, despite a recommendation for approval from an outside panel of experts. The agency was concerned, among other things, about potential heart risks. Orexigen Therapeutics, developer of the drug, agreed to run a study looking at cardiovascular risks.

The interim results apparently were reassuring enough for the FDA to approve Contrave. But the company hasn't released the data. Orexigen and Takeda agreed to conduct a new study looking at heart risks as a condition for approval of the drug.

Contrave will be available in pharmacies this fall, according to Takeda Pharmaceuticals and Orexigen, the companies working on the drug's marketing.

How much will it cost? The companies won't say yet. "For price, it's not Takeda's policy to disclose," spokesman Bob Skinner told me in an email. He said Takeda will offer a savings program to make the medicine more affordable for people whose insurance won't cover the medicine.

Insurance coverage has been a sore spot for obesity drugs. "There's very little value perceived in anti-obesity care," Dr. Jeffrey I. Mechanick, immediate past president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, tells Shots. A conference convened by the group found that many insurers said they don't cover obesity interventions because they've not been asked to do so. Still, he said another drug is a "good thing" because it gives patients and doctors another option for care.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Rare Virus Has Sickened Hundreds More Children, Hospitals Say

NPR Health Blog - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 4:03pm
Rare Virus Has Sickened Hundreds More Children, Hospitals Say September 11, 2014 4:03 PM ET States With Enterovirus-D68 Cases

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Credit: Alyson Hurt/NPR

Just 82 children have confirmed cases of enterovirus-D68, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but hospitals around the country say they are treating hundreds more children who have been sickened by the rare virus.

"We have some of these cases now in our ICU," says Dr. Giovanni Piedimonte, a pediatric pulmonologist and chairman of Cleveland Clinic's pediatric institute. Children with the virus can have serious trouble breathing, he says, enough so that they have to be put on a ventilator or lung bypass machine.

But Ohio isn't on the CDC's list of six states with confirmed cases of enterovirus-D-68 – they are Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky and Missouri. Official numbers always lag in a fast-moving outbreak, but the gap appears to be particularly big with enterovirus-D68. That may be because it appears to spread easily, because milder cases often look like a cold, and because there's no swift test to identify it.

"It would be great to have a rapid test, because we could identify children more at risk of rapidly developing symptoms," Piedimonte told Shots. He's particularly concerned because children can get worse suddenly and have trouble breathing. They then need immediate medical care.

What the Cleveland Clinic and other hospitals have is a PCR test that can tell if the bug in question is an enterovirus, but not if it's EV-D68. Those samples get sent to the CDC for further testing.

Shots - Health News CDC Warns Of Fast-Spreading Enterovirus Afflicting Children

"To be honest, everyone we've tested with the exception of one since Sept. 1 has tested positive with this," Elizabeth Ann Esterl, pediatric nurse manager at National Jewish Health in Denver, a hospital that specializes in asthma and respiratory disease, tells Shots.

Children with asthma appear to be particularly vulnerable to EV-D68, with one-half to two-thirds of cases in children with asthma.

Although the CDC has confirmed 19 cases in Colorado, Esterl says she thinks National Jewish has seen 41 cases. And other children's hospitals in the Denver area say they've seen hundreds more.

"This virus knows no boundaries," Esterl says. "If you think you don't have it in your area, just wait."

Because there's no vaccine or specific medication for enterovirus-D68, the lack of a rapid test doesn't affect treatment. Instead, children are being given fluids, oxygen and other supportive care while they fight the virus. "The good news is that it looks like it's self-limiting, and in a few days they get better," Piedimonte says.

But that doesn't mean that parents should just wait it out if their child seems to be getting worse, he cautions. "When someone has the symptoms of a bad cold that seems to be progressing fast, report as soon as possible to an emergency room," Piedimonte says. "Time is of the essence in case a child requires oxygen and other care."

As more samples make their way to state health departments and the CDC, epidemiologists will have a better idea of why EV-D68 has suddenly morphed from being a rare and rarely dangerous virus to a surprisingly vigorous foe.

"We want to reduce the spread by doing things we know how to do," Esterl says. Number one on her list: Hand washing. Children should cover their coughs, she says, and consider skipping school even if it just seems like a mild cold. "It's a great time to watch movies at home."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Some Things You Can Do In Your Sleep, Literally

NPR Health Blog - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 1:32pm
Some Things You Can Do In Your Sleep, Literally September 11, 2014 1:32 PM ET

For those who find themselves sleeping through work — you may one day find yourself working through sleep.

People who are fast asleep can correctly respond to simple verbal instructions, according to a study by researchers in France. They think this may help explain why you might wake if someone calls your name or why your alarm clock is more likely to rouse you than any other noise.

After people learned to sort words while awake, their brains were able to do the same task while asleep.

Courtesy of Current Biology, Kouider et al.

The connections between sleep, memory and learning aren't new — but the research is notable for its examination of automatic tasks. The study, published Thursday in Current Biology, first recorded the brain waves of people while they were asked to identify spoken words as either animals or objects while they were awake. After each word, the participant pushed a button with either their right hand for animals or their left hand for objects.

The brain map produced by the EEG showed where activity was taking place in the brain and what parts of the brain were being prepped for response. This preparation might include hearing the word elephant and then processing that an elephant is an animal. The participants did this until the task became automatic.

The researchers then lulled the participants to sleep, putting them in a dark room in a reclining chair. Researchers watched them fall into the state between light sleep and the deeper sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). They were then told a new list of words.

This time, their hands didn't move, but their brains showed the same sorting activity as before. "In a way, what's going on is that the rule they learn and practice still is getting applied," Tristan Bekinschtein, one of the authors of the study, told Shots. The human brain continued, when triggered, to respond even through sleep.

But the researchers weren't fully satisfied, so they took it a step further. They did it all again, but instead of animals and objects, they used real words and fake words. They also waited until the participants were more fully asleep.

Author Interviews Of Neurons And Memories: Inside The 'Secret World Of Sleep'

Again, they found that the sleeping participants showed brain activity that indicated they were processing and preparing to move their hands to correctly indicate either real words or fake words were being spoken.

"It's pretty exciting that it's happening during sleep when we have no idea," Ken Paller, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University who is unaffiliated with the study, told Shots. "We knew that words could be processed during sleep." But, Paller adds, "we didn't know how much, and so this takes it to, say, the level of preparing an action."

Shots - Health News Bursts Of Light Create Memories, Then Take Them Away

While this sounds like great news for those who could use a few extra hours in the day for memorizing irregular verbs or cramming for the bar exam, the researchers caution that the neural activity they found may apply only to automated tasks. They hope that future studies may look into whether any similar cognitive task begun in an awake state might continue through early sleep — like crunching calculations.

"It's a terrible thought, in the modern world," says Bekinschtein, referring to the pride people take in forgoing sleep for work. "I think, in a way, these experiments are going to empower people ... that we can do things in sleep that are useful."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Suicides Rise In Middle-Aged Men, And Older Men Remain At Risk

NPR Health Blog - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 4:50pm
Suicides Rise In Middle-Aged Men, And Older Men Remain At Risk September 10, 2014 4:50 PM ET

Men have historically been more likely to commit suicide than women, but a new, vulnerable group is emerging from their ranks: middle-aged men. That age group includes comedian Robin Williams, who committed suicide last month at age 63. The rate for middle-aged men now eclipses older men, who historically have had the highest rate of suicide.

$(function() { var pymParent = new pym.Parent( 'responsive-embed-suicide-rates', 'http://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/suicide-rates/child.html', {} ); });

In 2011, 39,518 people committed suicide -– a rate of 12.7 per 100,000 and the highest in the last 12 years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The middle-aged — people 45 to 64 years — had the highest rate, the result of an upward trend since since 1999.

Younger people consistently have lower suicide rates than their older counterparts.

Additional Information: Men, Suicide And Pain

Shankar Vedantam talks with All Things Considered's Audie Cornish on how social isolation may play a role in suicides among men.

Listen to the story 4 min 13 sec  

Men were also more likely to commit suicide than women. In particular, death rates for middle-aged men have increased since 2000 from 21.3 to 29.2 in 2010, more than women in the same age group. And these numbers are probably low, the CDC notes, because deaths are reported in different ways around the country.

The rising rate of suicide in middle-aged men, and the fact that older men continue to have the highest rate of suicide, points to the need for more suicide prevention efforts aimed at men, the CDC says.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Women Who Eat Fish Twice Weekly Cut Their Risk Of Hearing Loss

NPR Health Blog - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 3:48pm
Women Who Eat Fish Twice Weekly Cut Their Risk Of Hearing Loss September 10, 2014 3:48 PM ET

Researchers speculate that the Omega-3 fatty acids in fish may help maintain good blood flow to the inner ear.

iStockphoto

Are you finding it tougher to follow conversations in a noisy restaurant? Or does it seem like people are mumbling when you speak with them?

These are two questions commonly used to screen for hearing loss, which affects more than one-third of people over age 65, according to the National Institutes of Health.

So, what to do to cut the risk?

Women who eat fish regularly have a lower risk of developing hearing loss compared to women who rarely or never eat fish, according to a study published Wednesday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Shots - Health News Here's Fish Oil In Your Eye

Women who ate two or more servings of fish per week had a 20 percent lower risk of hearing loss, according to Dr. Sharon Curhan, a researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital and co-author of the study.

And though she and her colleagues had a hunch that certain types of fish may be more protective than others, it didn't turn out that way. "Eating any type of fish — whether it's tuna, dark fish [like salmon] or light fish was a associated with a lower risk," Curhan told Shots.

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish are linked to a range of health benefits, including cutting the risk of heart disease, depression and possibly, memory loss.

The Salt Eat Fish And Prosper?

"Omega-3 antioxidants, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and vitamin C have been the focus of a growing body of evidence showing potential hearing benefits," says Dr. Gordon Hughes, program director of clinical trials for the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, which funded the study.

The findings come by way of the Nurses' Health Study — yes, that huge, long-term research study that includes more than 100,000 nurses.

The nurses were aged 27 to 42 when they started completing detailed surveys about what they ate and drank. And they were also asked whether they had a hearing problem and, if so, at what age they first noticed it.

The blood flow to the inner ear needs to be very well-regulated and "higher fish consumption may help maintain adequate cochlear blood flow," Curhan says. This could help protect against hearing damage.

Curhan and her colleagues are not the only researchers to document a connection between fish consumption and hearing. In an Australian study of about 800 men and women, those who ate fish had a lower incidence of hearing loss

And it looks like lots of people have an opportunity for improvement. Curhan points out that only one-third of Americans eat fish once a week, and almost half eat fish only occasionally or not at all.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Heavier Teen Pot Smoking Linked To Problems In Young Adults

NPR Health Blog - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 12:00pm
Heavier Teen Pot Smoking Linked To Problems In Young Adults September 10, 201412:00 PM ET

Does smoking pot make it less likely that you'll go to college?

iStockphoto

There's a lot of argument over how teenage marijuana use might affect people through life, but distressingly little data to help figure it out. That leaves parents, policymakers and young people pretty much in the dark when it comes to making decisions about use and legalization.

Three long-running studies of teenagers and young adults in Australia and New Zealand might help. An analysis of the studies found a dose-response relationship: The more someone smoked pot as a teenager, the more likely that person would struggle as a young adult.

People who were daily marijuana smokers before age 17 were much more likely to have not completed high school or graduated from college than were those who never smoked; their odds were 63 percent and 62 percent lower. They were also much more likely to be dependent on marijuana and to be using other illegal drugs in adulthood. The risk of a suicide attempt also increased, though more modestly than the other factors.

13.7: Cosmos And Culture When Science Becomes News, The Facts Can Go Up In Smoke

Earlier studies also have found that marijuana use makes it less likely that students will succeed in school. But those findings, and all of these studies, look at correlation, not causation. And they are muddied by confounding factors, like the fact that adolescents living in low-income communities are more likely to use marijuana.

There will almost certainly never be a randomized controlled trial on teenage marijuana use, so observational studies, confounders and all, are what we've got. The studies used in this analysis are among the best: long-term studies with lots of participants that tracked their behavior and health in real time, rather than retrospectively. Altogether the studies followed 3,765 teenagers starting at age 13 until they reached age 30.

The researchers looked at two milestones in making the transition to adulthood: graduating from high school or college. They also looked at whether the young adults were dependent on marijuana; used other illicit drugs; had attempted suicide; were diagnosed with depression; or were dependent on welfare.

Shots - Health News Evidence On Marijuana's Health Effects Is Hazy At Best

Once the researchers used statistical analyses to adjust for confounding factors, they found that depression and welfare dependence were not associated with adolescent pot use. But the associations with completing school, drug use and suicide attempts remained strong. The likelihood of problems increased as smoking frequency increased, on a scale that ranged from less than monthly to daily.

The results were reported Wednesday in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

Earlier studies have found that heavy marijuana use in adolescence affects learning and memory, and that teenagers' thinking skills are more impaired than those of adults. But they didn't look at long-term effects.

"Youth is a very vulnerable period in life," Merete Nordentoft, a suicide prevention researcher at the University of Copenhagen, wrote in a commentary accompanying the study. It's a time when people are developing skills to meet the demands of adult life, she notes. "Cannabis use, especially frequent uses, impairs this development and reduces the likelihood that a young person will be able to establish a satisfactory adult life."

Shots - Health News Poll: Yes To Medical Marijuana, Not So Much For Recreational Pot

Surveys in the United States, including one poll conducted earlier this year by NPR, find that although almost half of people support legalization of marijuana, they overwhelmingly oppose legalization for teenagers. And half of our respondents also thought that there should be age restrictions on use of medical marijuana.

"The reason that people are concerned is that they recognize that this is an addictive substance, and some portion of the population that uses it will become addicted to it and have very bad outcomes," Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the adolescent substance abuse program at Boston Children's Hospital, told Shots in May. "As with all addictive products, the risk is greatest in adolescence."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Love And Sex In The Time Of Viagra — 16 Years On

NPR Health Blog - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 6:00pm
Love And Sex In The Time Of Viagra — 16 Years On September 09, 2014 6:00 PM ET Listen to the Story 4 min 45 sec  

Mountains of "little blue pills" and their chemical kin have transformed the way many people think about sex and aging.

Raphael Gaillarde/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The lives of older men have changed in a significant way since 1998, or at least their sex lives have changed. That's the year Viagra was introduced. Cialis and Levitra followed a few years later.

The once taboo subject of erectile dysfunction is now inescapable for anyone who watches TV. Late-night comedians continually mine the topic. By 2002, Jay Leno had told 944 Viagra jokes, according to the Wall Street Journal. We couldn't independently verify that number. Actually, we didn't try.

The drugs have been pitched by former Sen. Bob Dole, Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and dozens of attractive, anonymous actors canoodling on sofas and lounging in bathtubs.

Shots - Health News Pfizer Goes Direct With Online Viagra Sales To Men

A retired Marine Corps pilot named Mike — he asked us just to use his first name — says his own experience wasn't much different from the scenes on TV.

Shots - Health News Testosterone, The Biggest Men's Health Craze Since Viagra, May Be Risky

"It was fantastic," he says.

Mike's been married for 47 years. He's been using either Viagra or Cialis for the past 10.

Movies In Quest For A Female Viagra, Many An Odd Twist

"I was having some 'issues,' " Mike explains. So he discussed the problem with his son, who's a doctor and suggested Mike try the drugs.

Mike's wife was all for it, too, and he says they've lived happily ever after. "I believe my wife and I became closer," he says, because a source of anxiety vanished from their relationship.

Before Viagra, relieving that anxiety required measures that could cause plenty of anxiety themselves, says Dr. Edward Schneider, a professor of gerontology, medicine and biology at the University of Southern California. They're "just medieval, these things," he says.

For example, there's the vacuum pump, "where you essentially cause an erection by creating a partial vacuum around the penis, drawing blood into the penis," Schneider explains. He's never tried it himself, he says, but "I imagine it's awful."

Schneider says other remedies on the market include a surgically implantable pump; a Viagra-like drug you can inject directly into the penis; and a little pill that can be inserted directly into the tip of the penis.

All these methods are still in use, explains Schneider, because some men can't take the oral medications. But the men who can take them have made Viagra, Cialis and Levitra wildly successful: The three drugs took in more than $2.5 billion last year.

Dr. Jacob Rajfer, a urologist at UCLA Medical School, says there's another reason the drugs are so profitable: Erectile dysfunction "happens to all men."

Additional Information: Series: Men In America 'All Things Considered' Explores What It Means To Be A Man In America Today Shots - Health News With Men's Y Chromosome, Size Really May Not Matter Men In America The Average American Man Is Too Big For His Britches

Not all at once, but gradually over time, "such that men in their 40s have a 40 percent chance of having this problem," Rajfer says. "For every decade after 40, there's a 10 percent increase." That means that a man in his 70s would have a 70 percent chance of having a problem, at least once in a while.

Rajfer says this happens because after a man's prime reproductive years, smooth muscle — the type found within the walls of blood vessels and in the penis — starts to deteriorate. In fact years before Viagra hit the market, Rajfer helped identify nitric oxide as the chemical in the body that acts on smooth muscle and makes erections possible. Viagra-type drugs work by keeping nitric oxide from breaking down too quickly.

The drug is much more than the sum of its chemical parts — and its physiological effects, says a man named David, who also asked that we not use his last name. "It's something that gives that sense that intimacy can continue," he says. "You can feel less alone as a result."

David is 66 years old, a recently retired community college professor, and a widower. He's now in a new relationship.

"I was simply concerned at my age that I wasn't as capable as I wanted to be," he says. "And after I got the prescription I told her I had done that so that she would know.

And he says she was fine with it.

"Women have their own concerns as they age," says David. "She was also concerned about how we were going to be as older people making love."

With people living longer, David notes that he and the new woman in his life could spend 25 years together.

"I wanted to keep that intimacy as long as possible because I love this person and I expect to be with her for a long time," he says.

And now because of a little pill, being physically intimate with the woman he loves isn't something that will be lost to old age.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

When Scientists Give Up

NPR Health Blog - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 4:27pm
When Scientists Give Up September 09, 2014 4:27 PM ET Listen to the Story 7 min 41 sec  

Randen Patterson left a research career in physiology at U.C. Davis when funding got too tight. He now owns a grocery store in Guinda, Calif.

Max Whittaker/Prime for NPR

Ian Glomski thought he was going to make a difference in the fight to protect people from deadly anthrax germs. He had done everything right — attended one top university, landed an assistant professorship at another.

But Glomski ran head-on into an unpleasant reality: These days, the scramble for money to conduct research has become stultifying.

So, he's giving up on science.

Ian Glomski outside his home in Charlottesville, Va. He quit an academic career in microbiology to start a liquor distillery.

Richard Harris/NPR

And he's not alone. Federal funding for biomedical research has declined by more than 20 percent in the past decade. There are far more scientists competing for grants than there is money to support them.

That crunch is forcing some people out of science altogether, either because they can't get research funding at all or, in Glomski's case, because the rat race has simply become too unpleasant.

"My lab was well-funded until, basically, the moment I decided I wasn't going to work there anymore," he says during an interview on the porch swing of his home in Charlottesville, Va. "And I probably could have scraped through there for the rest of my career, as I had been doing, but I would have had regrets."

Glomski's problem was that he could only get funding to do very predictable, unexciting research. When money gets tight, often only the most risk-averse ideas get funded, he and others say.

"You're focusing basically on one idea you already have and making it as presentable as possible," he says. "You're not spending time making new ideas. And it's making new ideas, for me personally, that I found rewarding. That's what my passion was about."

At his lab at the University of Virginia, Glomski had a new idea about how to study an anthrax infection as it spread through an animal — and doing this with scans, rather than having to cut the animal open.

Shots - Health News U.S. Science Suffering From Booms And Busts In Funding

"I think if it did what I hoped it would, it would have revolutionized a lot of the research that I was focusing on," Glomski says. It would have given him important new insights, he thinks, into how this bacterium does its deadly damage.

Shots - Health News By The Numbers: Search NIH Grant Data By Institution

But it was not a surefire idea. Like a lot of science, it might not have worked at all. Glomski never found out. His repeated grant applications to the National Institutes of Health never made the cut. Funding is so competitive that reviewers shy away from ideas that might not pan out.

"You actually have to be much more conservative these days than you used to," Glomski says, "and being that conservative I think ultimately hurts the scientific enterprise." Society, he says, is "losing out on the cutting-edge research that really is what pushes science forward."

Historically, payoffs in science come from out of the blue — oddball ideas or unexpected byways. Glomski says that's what research was like for him as he was getting his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. His lab leader there got funding to probe the frontiers. But Glomski sees that farsighted approach disappearing today.

"That ultimately squashed my passion for what I was doing," he says. So two years ago, at the age of 41, he quit.

Instead of helping society improve its defenses against deadly anthrax, he's starting a liquor distillery, Vitae Spirits. He's actually excited about that. It's a big challenge, and it allows him to pursue an idea with passion, rather than with resignation.

Meanwhile, Randen Patterson is not passionate about his post-science career as a grocery store proprietor. He recently bought the Corner Store in the tiny town of Guinda, Calif.

Randen Patterson (right) mans the register at the Corner Store in Guinda.

Max Whittaker/Prime for NPR

Patterson, 43, once worked for Dr. Solomon Snyder at Johns Hopkins University in one of the top neuroscience laboratories in the world. His research is published in some of the most prestigious journals.

And Patterson got there against the odds. He was raised in a trailer park in Pennsylvania by a single parent, he says, and stumbled into science quite by accident. Mentors realized his potential and encouraged him to make a career of it.

“ I shouldn't be a grocer right now. I should be training students. I should be doing deeper research. And I can't. I don't have an outlet for it.

He landed a tenure-track assistant professorship at Penn State University, and then moved on to a similar job at University of California, Davis (a 45-minute drive from his new "hometown" of Guinda).

But Patterson struggled his entire career to get grants to fund his research, which uses computer simulations to probe the complex chemistry that goes on inside living cells. And he chose an arcane corner of this field to focus his intellectual energy.

"When I was a very young scientist, I told myself I would only work on the hardest questions because those were the ones that were worth working on," he says. "And it has been to my advantage and my detriment."

Over the years, he has written a blizzard of grant proposals, but he couldn't convince his peers that his edgy ideas were worth taking a risk on. So, as the last of his funding dried up, he quit his academic job.

"I shouldn't be a grocer right now," he says with a note of anger in his voice. "I should be training students. I should be doing deeper research. And I can't. I don't have an outlet for it."

When the writing was on the wall a few years ago, Patterson says he bought his own souped-up computer so he could continue dabbling in research on the side. But those ideas aren't adding to the world's body of knowledge about biology.

"The country has invested, in me alone, $5 million or $6 million, easily," Patterson says, thinking back on the funding he received for his education and his research. And he's just one of many feeling the brunt of the funding crunch.

There are no national statistics about how many people are giving up on academic science, but an NPR analysis of NIH data found that 3,400 scientists lost their sustaining grants between 2012 and 2013. Some will eventually get new funding, others will retire; but others, like Glomski and Patterson, will just give up.

"We're taking all this money as a country we've invested ... and we're saying we don't care about it," Patterson says.

He watches with some trepidation as his daughter, a fresh college graduate, hopes to launch her own career in science.

The funding squeeze could persist for his daughter's generation as well. So Patterson is hoping she will settle on a field other than biomedical research — one where money isn't quite so tight.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Get The Measles, Get Ready To Be Out For Two Weeks

NPR Health Blog - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 2:52pm
Get The Measles, Get Ready To Be Out For Two Weeks September 09, 2014 2:52 PM ET

Helen Down holds her 14-month-old daughter, Amelia, for an MMR shot in Swansea, Wales, April 2013. The vaccination was in response to a measles outbreak.

Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Measles is often lumped in with flu and chickenpox as mild childhood illnesses. But people who got measles during outbreaks in the United Kingdom say they were pretty darned sick, missing two weeks of school or work on average.

A bout of the measles lasted 14 days on average, according to a study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Public Health England. That added up to having to take 10 days off work or school. More than a third of people needed someone to stay home to take care of them, too.

And they felt crummy. This study is one of the few that actually asks people how they feel when they're sick. They said they felt high levels of pain and anxiety, and weren't able to do their usual activities.

Shots - Health News Fifteen Years After A Vaccine Scare, A Measles Epidemic

"People with the measles report that they're far more sick than if they have flu or chickenpox," Dominic Thorrington, a graduate student in epidemiology and lead author of the study, told Shots. The study was published Tuesday in the journal PLoS ONE.

The researchers asked people who had become infected during the 2012 and 2013 measles epidemics in the United Kingdom how they felt and how they coped.

Shots - Health News Measles Outbreak In Ohio Leads Amish To Reconsider Vaccines

Being unable to manage school, work and other usual activities was the biggest complaint, with 97 percent of people saying they had severe problems or some problems with that. Another 90 percent said they suffered pain or discomfort. About half said measles severely compromised their mobility, and 40 percent said they couldn't care for themselves.

The vast majority of 203 people in the study had never been vaccinated for measles.

Shots - Health News Measles At A Rock Concert Goes Viral In A Bad Way

Earlier research has shown that the measles outbreaks in the United Kingdom followed a vaccine scare prompted by a 1998 paper that implicated the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in autism. The study was later proven to be fraudulent, but the number of children who did not get vaccinated spiked in the following decade.

The virus spreads easily in unvaccinated communities. Researchers say the higher numbers of unvaccinated people in the U.K. led to the outbreaks.

"I just hope that when people read this, they realize that measles is not a disease that has gone away and it is a disease that has quite severe implications when there's an outbreak," Thorrington says. "The best way to protect yourself is through vaccination."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs
Syndicate content