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Health Headlines - December 30

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
New Jersey Medical School Agrees to Financial Monitor

The nation's largest medical school, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), has appointed a monitor to oversee its finances amid a federal investigation into whether it committed Medicare and Medicaid fraud, the Associated Press reported.

UMDNJ agreed to the appointment last week after U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie threatened to indict the school and effectively shut it down, the wire service said.

The school's University Hospital has been under investigation for allegedly improperly billing Medicare and Medicaid, and for allegedly awarding millions of dollars in no-bid contracts, the AP said.

UMDNJ has already reimbursed the federal and state governments $2 million for the improper bills, the wire service said.

On Thursday, the school's trustees named Herb Stern, 69, a former federal prosecutor and judge, as its federal monitor. Stern led the grand jury probe into the 1965 killing of civil rights leader Malcolm X, the AP reported.

Women in Labor Should Push Less: Study

The delivery room doctor's traditional mantra to "push, push" is largely unnecessary and may even lead to bladder problems, a new study finds.

Some 320 women were divided into two groups, one of which was coached to push for 10 seconds during contractions, while the other was told to "do what comes naturally," according to a study account by the Chicago Sun-Times. Those who were urged to push ultimately had slightly less bladder capacity and more overactive bladder muscles, the newspaper reported of the study, to be published in January's American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

While the coached women spent an average of 13 fewer minutes in labor, the tradeoff was an increased risk of incontinence, wrote study author Dr. Steven Bloom, interim chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Coaching made no difference in prompting a woman's need for Cesarean section, forceps delivery, or episiotomy, the study found.

Millions of American Teens Depressed, Study Finds

Some 2.2 million teenagers in America experienced at least one major bout with depression in the past year, according to a federal report released Thursday.

Nearly one in 10 adolescents was affected during the past year by a depressive episode lasting at least two weeks, with symptoms including depressed mood, loss of interest, and problems with sleep, energy, concentration and self-image, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) said in issuing the report.

"These new data serve as a wake-up call to parents. Mental health is a critical part of the overall health and wellbeing of their children," SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie said in a statement. "Unfortunately, less than half of these children received any help for their depression."

Some 12.3 percent of teens ages 16 or 17 suffered a major depressive bout in the last year, compared to 9 percent of those ages 14 or 15 and 5.4 percent of those ages 12 or 13, according to the report, titled "The National Survey on Drug Use and Health."

Affected teens were about twice as likely as other adolescents to have used illicit drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, the report found.

S. Korean Scientist Fabricated Landmark Stem Cell Research: Panel

South Korean scientist Dr. Hwan Woo-suk could present no evidence at all to corroborate his landmark research on producing genetically matched stem cells from cloned human embryos, a Seoul university panel announced Thursday.

The announcement by the panel from Seoul National University suggested that Hwang fabricated all the research published in the journal Science, The New York Times reported.

"So far we could not find any stem cells regarding Dr. Hwang's 2005 paper that genetically match the DNA of patients," said Roe Jung Hye, the university's dean of research affairs, in a statement. "According to our judgment, Dr. Hwang's team doesn't have scientific data to prove that it has produced such stem cells."

The latest revelation added more skepticism to Hwang's claim that he had the technology to clone human embryos and extract stem cells from them, which would be a breakthrough in the quest to help patients with hard-to-treat diseases produce their own tissues.

There was no immediate comment from Hwang, who apologized last week for falsifications in his paper and resigned from the university, the newspaper reported.

The university committee investigating allegations of fabrications had said last week that Hwang falsified data for 9 of the 11 patient-derived embryonic stem cell lines in his June paper. Of the remaining two lines, the panel had said it did not yet know whether they had been derived from patients or from fertilized human eggs.

In its follow-up report Thursday, the committee, citing extensive DNA tests, said that none of the stem cells Hwang said he had created was produced through cloning. All the samples presented for the paper that still exist in his laboratory were stem cells extracted from fertilized human eggs at Seoul's MizMedi Hospital, which participated in the research, Roe said.

Apparently anticipating such an outcome, Hwang had claimed that his authentic stem cells were stolen from his lab and were replaced with MizMedi samples, the Times said.

The panel is still investigating Hwang's 2004 research on cloning and the authenticity of what he claimed in August was the world's first cloned dog.

Drug Approved to Prevent Breast Cancer Recurrence

The Novartis drug Femara (letrozole) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent recurrence of hormone-sensitive early breast cancer among post-menopausal women.

The Dec. 29 New England Journal of Medicine includes study findings that Femara was more effective at preventing breast cancer relapse when used as an initial therapy after surgery than tamoxifen, a standard breast cancer preventive. The study was funded by Novartis.

Femara showed its greatest benefit among women whose breast cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes, and among women who had undergone chemotherapy, Novartis said in a statement.

Femara is an aromatase inhibitor, a class of drugs that blocks production of the female hormone estrogen, which is thought to spur most post-menopausal breast cancers. The drug should only be taken by post-menopausal women, Novartis warned, since aromatase inhibitors aren't thought to be effective before then. The drug could also cause fetal harm, the company said.

Common side effects of taking Femara include hot flashes, joint pain, night sweats, and weight gain, Novartis said.

Femara is already approved by the FDA to treat advanced breast cancer.

Food Fact:
Beat the low-energy blues.

Eat the right stuff at lunch, and you can cancel those desperate 3 p.m. coffee runs. The building blocks: Minimally processed carbohydrates (whole-wheat bread, whole-grain crackers, pasta, brown rice or bulgur); protein (lean chicken or turkey breast, low-fat or fat-free cheese, canned tuna or salmon); any fruit and/or any vegetable; and low-fat dairy (yogurt, pudding, certain low-fat cheeses, skim milk).

Fitness Tip of the day:
Mind over yoga mat-ters.

Increase confidence, control stress and promote peace of mind -- it's all in the poses. Yoga also improves your posture and circulation, and increases your flexibility, strength and coordination. Many cities have a yoga association that provides information about various types of classes. Check the Yellow Pages under "yoga instruction," or call a local fitness center for the names of studios. The cost is typically $15 to $20 per class, with discounts for multiple classes.

FAQ of the day:
Do men need more calcium?

Guys, you need to bone up on your calcium totals, too. Osteoporosis occurs far more often in women, and since increasing calcium intake is one way to lower risk, it's often framed as a "woman's issue." But men also have good reasons to maintain optimal calcium intake. Many studies suggest that calcium helps regulate blood pressure. Other research suggests that dietary calcium lowers risk of colon cancer, the third leading cancer for both men and women. Intake for men should not exceed 2,000mg per day, as a recent study linked elevated levels with increased risk of prostate cancer.
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