“To be certain about the safety of these products,” Dr. Au said, “they must be tested individually and in pure form to assess the health risk to consumers.”
Questions on Irradiated Food
When the European Parliament decided last year to put a moratorium on the irradiation of almost all food, it was influenced by studies suggesting that substances formed when fat is irradiated may promote colon cancer. Last month, officials from the Center for Food Safety and the Public Citizen Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, two Washington-based advocacy groups, met with officials of the Food and Drug Administration and asked that the agency not approve the irradiation of any more foods until the safety of 2-ACBs has been determined by testing them specifically. Dr. William Au, who is a toxicologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch and a scientific consultant to the two groups, said the compounds should be considered food additives, which the FDA is required to test, even though they are created as the raw meat is exposed to radiation. “To be certain about the safety of these products,” Dr. Au said, “they must be tested individually and in pure form to assess the health risk to consumers.”—Marian Burros, writing October 15, 2003, in the New York Times (circulation 1,118,565)
Rescued dolphins fall into three categories: those that can be rehabilitated and returned to the wild, those that are too young to have learned survival skills, and those that are impaired. Cupid fit the latter two descriptions. The only option was to rehabilitate him for a life of permanent captivity. “Eventually we concluded that if we returned him to the ocean he would be shark bait,” explained Daniel Cowan, the state director of the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network. We were talking in his office on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he is a professor of pathology. When I remarked that it was curious that a professor of human pathology would study animal pathology as a hobby, Cowan smiled and said, “I’m an amateur in the classic sense of doing it because I like it. Charles Darwin was an amateur in that respect.”
—Gary Cartwright, writing November 2003, in Texas Monthly (circulation 300,153)
Dialysis Need Not Be a Life Sentence
In most cases of end-stage renal disease, the kidneys have been permanently ravaged by diabetes, hypertension, or other conditions and won’t recover. Dialysis provides the only way to cleanse the blood of waste products, unless the patient can get a kidney transplant. But some patients with chronic kidney failure, previously estimated at 1 percent to 2 percent of the nation’s nearly 400,000 dialysis patients and perhaps as many as 4 percent to 5 percent, have the potential to regain sufficient kidney function to live without the treatments, says Dr. Mahendra Agraharkar, a nephrologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He said these include patients whose already impaired kidneys have been shut down by infection, severe dehydration, antibiotics, or pain relievers. However, the recovery may be so slow “that we may not pick it up,” Agraharkar said.—Jane E. Allen, writing October 27, 2003, in the Los Angeles Times (circulation 955,211)
West Nile Rife in Mexico
This summer, Mexico declared a state of emergency after blood tests in horses suggested that the virulent form of WNV [West Nile virus] had crossed the U.S. border, possibly in October 2002. A few animals in the southern Mexican state of the Yucatán had also been exposed to the virus. Now WNV has turned up in five Mexican states, three in the south, report Scott Weaver, of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and colleagues. Antibodies were present in horses as early as July 2002, they estimate. “West Nile seems to be circulating widely in Mexico,” says Weaver.
—Tom Clarke, writing November 17, 2003, in Nature (circulation 63,683)
But at the oldest public hospital and medical school in Texas, officials have decided to spell out a set of rules and regulations and call it what it is: rationing.
Rationing Health Care Among the Uninsured
In most medical centers, decisions about who gets scarce resources such as expensive drugs and surgical procedures are often made on an ad hoc basis with few formal guidelines for doctors and nurses on how to help their patients while keeping within the budget. But at the oldest public hospital and medical school in Texas, officials have decided to spell out a set of rules and regulations and call it what it is: rationing. When Phyllis Kinsey-Scothorn had a heart attack, she was rushed to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, a public hospital. “They took care of me. They saved my life,” said Kinsey-Scothorn, who had a job but no health insurance. However, when she went back to the hospital for needed follow-up care, the hospital said she couldn’t get it until she paid her bill for the first treatment.
—Robert Bazell reporting, November 21, 2003, for NBC Nightly News (viewership 11,024,000)
A Contraceptive Clears a Hurdle to Wider Access
“It is the rare adolescent that ever comes to see me before she has sex the first time,” said Dr. Abbey B. Berenson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “Usually that’s because she hadn’t planned to have it in the first place. It just happens, usually on a Saturday night when I’m not available.”—Gina Kolata, writing about the “morning after” pill on December 17, 2003, in the New York Times (circulation 1,118,565)
Researchers study blueberry’s benefit
Blueberries may help preserve memory, a study published in Nutritional Neuroscience suggests: After 30 seconds, three groups—young rats, old rats fed a diet supplemented with corn, and old rats fed rodent chow with a blueberry extract—all could distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar objects. An hour later, young rats showed good memory, while aged rats on a normal diet performed no better than chance. But aged rats on a blueberry-enriched diet performed as well as young rats. “The blueberry itself is an antioxidant cocktail that nature has provided us,” said Giulio Taglialatela, co-author of the study and associate professor in the department of neuroscience and cell biology at UTMB.—Carolina Amengual writing June 14, 2004, in the Galveston County Daily News (circulation 24,025).
How Not to Treat Ear Infections
Don’t give a child with ear pain an over-the-counter cold remedy including antihistamine—it may prolong his suffering. Because a runny nose and congestion often accompany ear infections, the medication might seem like the answer. But scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that kids who took an antihistamine plus antibiotics had fluid in their ears for 73 days, while those who got only antibiotics had it for just 25 days. The drying effect of antihistamines may make the fluid thicker, preventing it from draining, says study author Tasnee Chonmaitree, a pediatrician.—Joseph Vetter, writing
January 2004, in the Reader’s Digest (circulation 11,000,000)
But prolonged bed rest can be a medical disaster.
When It Doesn’t Pay to Stay in Bed
Many medical conditions, including high-risk pregnancies, congestive heart failure, and certain surgical procedures, send people to bed for prolonged periods. Some nursing home patients virtually live in bed. And people with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia sometimes put themselves to bed for long periods. But prolonged bed rest can be a medical disaster. Moreover, it takes only a few days of bed rest to cause insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes, says Bob Wolfe, a professor of surgery at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
—January 19, 2004, in the Los Angeles Times (circulation 955,211)
Remembering Robert E. Shope
Robert Shope was an outspoken and recognized epidemiologist who, long before others had turned attention to the problem, sounded a warning on emerging infectious diseases. He and Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg and Stanley C. Oaks edited Emerging Infections: Microbial Threats to Health in the United States, published in 1992. “That book got people’s attention and was the beginning of the interest in emerging diseases,” said Robert Tesh, who worked with Shope at Yale University School of Medicine and then at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. “After that everyone got interested.”—Ivan Oransky, writing March 27, 2004, in The Lancet (circulation 13,782)
During a public hearing conducted by federal officials, only one person spoke against the proposed biodefense lab.
Biodefense Lab Meets Scant Opposition
For six years, University of Texas Medical Branch scientists have ventured into their community to explain the positives and perils of building an infectious disease lab on campus. On Wednesday night their work paid off. During a public hearing conducted by federal officials, only one person spoke against the proposed biodefense lab, which will study the most deadly and infectious viruses, such as Ebola. David Walker, director of UTMB’s Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, said initial forays into the community in the late 1990s were not so cordial, that people were angry, upset, and had questions. But over time, he said, the community has been won over. “The truth argues for itself,” Walker said. “These labs are safe.” Last fall, UTMB was awarded a $110 million federal grant to build a large biosafety-level-4 research facility, a strictly controlled lab studying the most dangerous viruses.—Eric Berger, writing April 1, 2004, in the Houston Chronicle (circulation 553,018)