Vol. 141 February 1, 2016 Newspaper Update from Z to A

February 1, 2016

Hub thumbnail 2015

All I know is just what I read in the papers.
Will Rogers

You can never get all the facts from just one newspaper,
and unless you have all the facts, you cannot make proper
judgements about what is going on.
Harry S. Truman

I usually start thinking about what to write in my next blog a few days before the 1st and 15th of the month. This Tuesday, January 26 I picked up a newspaper and was immediately struck by the number of medically relevant articles (some of which contained “medical fun facts”, from front page headlines to blurbs in the business section. Here are some of them.

El Salvador Advises Women to Stop having Babies for 2 Years Because of the Zika Virus (front page)
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that causes minor symptom in an adult but can cause severe microcephaly and even death in a fetus. First reported n Brazil, 5000 adult cases have been identified in El Salvador. The rate of infected fetuses is not known. Turns out that the above recommendation has not caused much of a stir in El Salvador. In comparison to other developing countries its birth rate is low. Salvadorian women list their reasons as:  1. fear of violence, 2. poor economics and widespread poverty, and 3. their acceptance of contraception (despite the church’s stand), and now 4. Zika virus. Some have gone so far as to deride the recommendation as a government conspiracy to reduce the birth rate in “this most densely populated country on the entire continent” (per their Health Minister). Zika has caused more of a stir here, and our CDC has advised pregnant U.S. citizens not to travel to Central and South America.

As someone who is not usually receptive to conspiracy theories, I myself feel a bit concerned about “just who” is controlling information. This story sort of “dribbled out” as a minor note only to explode rapidly on the front page with lots of “known facts.”

Grand Jury Indicts the Accusers of Planned Parenthood (lead story on front page)
The Texas grand jury convened to investigate the criminal activity of Planned Parenthood as alleged by the Center for Medical Progress has instead indicted the Center’s founder Mr.Daleiden and Ms. Merritt, makers of the “selling baby parts” videos. After two months of investigating the evidence the grand jury issued indictments for a federal offense (illegal changes made to fake California driver licenses) and a misdemeanor (offering $1600 per sample to Planned Parenthood for fetal tissue which is against existing law).

That this grand jury was impaneled by a Republic DA in a Republican state with a Republican governor made this unexpected result immediately newsworthy because of the rabid Republican-led Congressional attacks on Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood noted that this was the eleventh investigation of them that found no wrongdoing.

Gluten-Free Diet Did Not Benefit Competitive Athletes (first page of Well Section)
A two week double-blind study of 13 seriously training, competitive cyclists eating indistinguishable gluten-free and gluten-laced sports bars revealed no difference in general feeling, performance, or inflammatory markers related to sports bar type. The researcher remarked that, “Unless you are having gastrointestinal problems a gluten-free diet will probably provide no benefit… I hope that people learn to be more objective in terms of what they hear and read about gluten-free diets and nutrition in general.” (1)

EKG Screening For College Basketball Players? (Op Ed page)
When the chief medical officer of the NCAA recommended in March 2015 that all male college basketball players should get a electrocardiogram (EKG) because of the risk of sudden cardiac death, 100 college team physicians reacted very loudly. They strongly pointed out that the inaccuracy of EKG screening causes lots of expensive and unnecessary medical investigation of commonly occurring “false positive” results. Another problem is that rates of sudden death in these students has been calculated to be all the way as low as 1 in 50,000-100,00 to as high as 1 in 1,300 (higher than the risk of dying in an auto accident). The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology both oppose EKG screening of 460,000 U.S. college athletes. Some colleges do require it. The newspaper editor suggests “maybe just for high-risk basketball and soccer players”. “More data later” remains the medical mantra.

More Gun Violence,  (multiple pages, no surprise,)
       Dorchester, Boston: A 34 year old male was shot in the abdomen at 2:35 PM because he had taken another male’s parking spot. The shooter sped away in a black BMW.
         East Boston: At 2 PM on the inbound Blue Line of the MBTA a man getting off the train turned around and fired 5 shots at a man he had been arguing with. He hit the 29 year old target and a 43 year old man just standing on the platform.
        Windham, Maine: A 33 year old man arising from bed in his house in the early morning hours opened fire with a shotgun at a figure at the end of the stairs that he thought was an intruder. It was his wife who had gotten up earlier.
        , Mass: An intoxicated 60 year old man was arrested for firing a gun at a snowplow driver in Plymouth Saturday night.
…………(NY Times probably doesn’t even report such common happenings)

Autism Therapies to be Tested on Genetically Engineered Monkeys (bottom of page in Science section)
Mice are not useful research models for studying social cognition and interaction, so scientists in China have turned to genetically engineered monkeys to test drug therapies for autism . The monkeys born from eggs injected with the human MECP2 gene (associated with autism) showed more repetitive behavior, more stress responses, more defensive behavior, more grunting when people gazed at them, and less social interaction than other monkeys. The higher cost of developing such monkeys compared to mice, the difficulty of equating monkey behavior to human autistic behavior, and the fact that the implanted gene is found only in the monkey’s nerves and not throughout their brains means that this “break-through”  may not be all that helpful(2). Though it could be a good science fiction plot. Synopsis: “Lab break-in releases autistic monkeys. Presidential primary candidates attack (or defend) animal rights activists, but most push their campaign ad content up to a higher reading level.”   

References: (other than the January 26, 2016 NY Times and Boston Globe)
1. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Dec. 2015, Dana Lis
2. Nature, January 2016, Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Science,Shanghai


Vol.138 December 15, 2015 Who Buys Baby Parts?

December 15, 2015

Hub thumbnail 2015

The Colorado gunman who shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs is reported to have said “no more baby parts.”

 

The distorted flap about Planned Parenthood “selling baby parts” continues. On December 3 the Senate ( Republican-led) voted to strip Planned Parenthood (PP) of government funding. President Obama (a Democrat) will veto it if it reaches his desk. (I’m not suggesting that this is a political issue, of course) Planned Parenthood received $528 million from the U.S. government in 2014 to help support 700 clinics providing health services to mostly poor women. Why so much money? Basically because PP is providing subsidized women’s health services that in every other developed country except ours is provided by the government. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if Congress were to succeed in blocking Medicaid patients from obtaining care at PP health centers 390,000 women would lose access to preventative health care in the first year alone. (1)

Who wants “baby parts”?

In 2014 NIH funded 164 research projects using fetal tissue with about 0.27% of its total grant money. (2) These projects were researching HIV/AIDS (39%) , eye development and disease (32%), Hepatitis C and other infections, (13%), diabetes (8%), and miscellaneous others including Alzeihmer’s and Parkinson’s. “Fetal tissue is a flexible, less-differentiated tissue … and it is a tool for research that can’t be replicated with adult tissue.” (3) It is different from stem cells, a medical tissue that came under attack back in W. Bush’s administration.

Use of fetal tissue has been legal since 1993 when Congress passed the NIH Revitalization Act which permits the tissue from any type of abortion to be used for fetal tissue research. The law requires complete and detailed informed consent from the woman to donate tissue from the abortion after she has made the decision to have an abortion. The law allows clinics to recover “reasonable payments” ($45-60 per specimen at PP) for providing the tissue to biological-research supply companies. The companies process the tissue and provide it to the researcher for about $800 per specimen. (I wonder if any Republicans have stock in some of those companies).

An estimated 5.8 Billion (yes, a “B”) people have received vaccines made with the two cell lines derived from fetal tissue. (Oh, NO, another red flag! “VACCINES”, “Guns”, “abortions” – all mentioned in the same blog! It’s almost enough to make you believe that there is a government conspiracy to enslave us all.)

“People are talking about fetal tissue, but really what the discussion is about is abortion.” (4) ( Duh!!)   3% of PP services are abortions, done in 1% of the clinics, and in just 2 states. (5) Planned Parenthood leaders have now instructed any PP clinic providing fetal tissue NOT to accept the measly 60 bucks.

Planned Parenthood has experienced 15 smear campaigns in 10 years according to its medical director (5). The current campaign has included:
1) six votes in Congress to restrict woman’s health care,
2) five Congressional committees currently investigating PP,
3) submission of 25,000 pages of documents by PP, and
4) 5 hours of testimony to one committee by its president.

Abortion politics appear to be as complex and almost as emotionally provocative as Presidential election politics, but the outcome of election politics will immediately affect only two women, not hundreds of thousands.

A HOLIDAY DIVIDEND:
Another learned cardiologist has reaffirmed the Hubslist axiom: “Just pick your parents right .” Dr. Lee Goldman, Dean of Columbia School of Medicine, explains that obesity is due to our genes in his new book, “Too Much of a Good Thing: How Four Key Survival Traits Are Now Killing Us.” He thinks that our overreaction to stress and our cravings for sweet, fatty, and salty foods all served us well in the cave man years when we had a life-span of 30 years, but that these “survivor genes” are now mismatched with our environment as we live into the 80’s. Of course, being a modern scientist he knows it is too late to “pick your parents”, so he is placing his hopes on future drug therapies that will turn off or block specific genes. Dr. Goldman says, “Gaining weight doesn’t mean that you are a terrible, non-virtuous person. This is the way you were built.” (6)

So, my holiday (includes New Year’s eve, of course) mantra for me and you is:
“Merry Christmas. Don’t beat yourself up. YOU are NOT in control.”

References:
1. CBO cost estimate on H.R. 3134, Defunding Planned Parenthood, September 16, 2015
2. Nature Magazine, Dec. 9, 2015, Meredith Wadman
3. Carrie Wolinetz, Associate Director for Science Policy, NIH
4. Shari Gelbar, MD. Weill-Cornell Medical College
5. Tearing Down the Fetal Tissue Smokescreen, NEJM, December 10, 2015, p.2376, Reagan McDonald-Mosley, M.D., M.P.H.
6. Boston Globe December 14, 2015 , B11


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