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Multiple Babies, Not Breastfed: Link To Aggressive Cancer In African-Americans


This just in from Boston University:

RESEARCHERS IDENTIFY POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTORS TO THE HIGHER INCIDENCE OF AGGRESSIVE BREAST CANCERS IN AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN

(Boston) – Investigators from the Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center have reported findings that may shed light on why African American women have a disproportionately higher risk of developing more aggressive and difficult-to-treat breast cancers, specifically estrogen and progesterone receptor negative (ER-/PR-) cancers.

The study, which appears online in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found that high parity (giving birth to two or more children) was associated with an increased risk of ER-/PR- cancer, but only among women who had not breastfed.

The findings were based on the ongoing Black Women’s Health Study, which has followed 59,000 African American women by biennial questionnaire since 1995.

In 14 years of follow-up, 318 women developed breast cancers negative for estrogen and progesterone receptors (ER-/PR-), while 457 developed breast cancers with estrogen and progesterone receptors (ER+/PR+). Giving birth to two or more children was associated with a 50 percent increase in the incidence of ER-/PR- breast cancer, but the association was not present among women who had breastfed.

The release also quotes researcher Julie Palmer:

“Our results, taken together with recent results from studies of triple negative and basal-like breast cancer, suggest that breastfeeding can reduce risk of developing the aggressive, difficult-to-treat breast cancers that disproportionately affect African American women,” she said.

A ‘Spoonful Of Sugar’ Could Help Antibiotics Kill Bugs

You know that sinking feeling. Your bladder is feeling constantly full, announcing the return of your urinary tract infection. Or your baby is screaming again, just as he screamed the last time he had an ear infection. Or your teenager says, “My throat is hurting — feels like the strep is back.”

Certain bacterial infections have an infuriating tendency to recur even after they’re treated with antibiotics, and scientists have determined a key reason why: A few of the bugs go into a dormant state that protects them from antibiotics. Known as “persisters,” they are the bacterial villains behind those pesky infections that just keep coming back.

Today in the journal Nature, researchers report discovering a surprisingly sweet method to get rid of those nasty persisters. From the Boston University press release:

James Collins, a pioneering researcher in the new field of systems biology and a MacArthur Genius, says: “You know the old saying: ‘a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down?’ This is more like ‘a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine work.’

Dr. Collins, a professor of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, is talking about his recent development of an effective, low-cost – and surprising – way to treat chronic bacterial infections, such as staph, strep, tuberculosis, and infections of the urinary tract.

Boston University professor of biomedical engineering Jim Collins

He and his team of scientists discovered that a simple compound – sugar – dramatically boosts the effectiveness of first-line antibiotics. Their findings appear in the May 12 issue of Nature (online May 11th).

Dr. Collins, 45, who is also a founder of the new field of synthetic biology, has a personal interest in this research. His 71 year old mother, Eileen Collins, was hospitalized several times in recent years with recurrent bouts of a serious staph infection. Doctors treated her with multiple intravenous antibiotics and still the infection could not be killed. It was his mother’s suffering that added urgency to Dr. Collins’ research.

You’ve probably heard about the looming problem of bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics largely because the drugs are so heavily prescribed these days. Persisters are different, the release explains: Continue reading

BU Economist Proposes ‘Purple Health Plan’


The first I heard about “The Purple Health Plan” was a negative reaction this morning on The Incidental Economist” a blog on health care reform and research:

A colleague at Boston University has unveiled a “purple” health plan, with 5 Nobel Laureate in Economics amongst the endorsers. Maybe I’m color blind, but I just don’t see the blue in this plan.

Hmm, I thought, whatever the specifics, it’s a great title. I get it, that it’s meant to appeal to both the red and the blue side of the aisle! And it already has a long stringer of endorsers on its Website, thepurplehealthplan.org. Wonder if it will go anywhere? It sounds a lot like the summary of Prof. Laurence J. Kotlikoff’s 2007 book, “The Healthcare Fix.”

In an introductory letter, Prof. Kotlikoff writes that health care is in a crisis that current federal reforms do not solve.

Economists and other concerned citizens can play a pivotal role in providing our political leaders with a set of principles to guide fundamental healthcare reform as well as a specific plan to fix our healthcare system from the ground up.

The plan? It’s here, including a set of guiding principles and a concrete plan, to wit:

The Standard Plan

All Americans receive a voucher each year to purchase a standard plan from the private-plan provider of their choice.

Vouchers are individually risk-adjusted; those with higher expected healthcare costs, based on documented medical conditions, receive larger vouchers.

Participating insurance companies providing standard plans cannot deny coverage.

Each year a panel of doctors sets the coverages of the standard plan subject to a strict budget, namely that the total cost to the government of the vouchers cannot exceed 10 percent of GDP.
Insurance companies providing standard plans contract with private providers to cover their plan participants. Continue reading

Stomach Flu At BU: We Report It On HealthMap


Normally, we wouldn’t make it a news item that there’s an uptick of vomiting and diarrhea at Boston University, centered at Warren Towers.

But it seemed like that information from the BU Student Health Services could serve as a good example for how we can all use HealthMap, the new sickness-tracking service that is a joint project between CommonHealth and Children’s Hospital Boston.

The BU health service writes that “It seems most likely that this does not represent a food-borne illness. The clinical presentation is possibly consistent with Norovirus. Gastrointestinal illnesses can be caused by viruses and/or bacteria (among other things). Both of these causes are contagious.”

So here’s what I did. I went a little ways down the right-hand bar of CommonHealth, and clicked on the HealthMap picture. At the lower left, I clicked on “Post a Report.” Then on “Provide an eyewitness report.” For a headline, I wrote “Possible Norovirus at Boston University’s Warren Towers.” I clicked on Norovirus from the drop-down menu of diseases, wrote “Boston University” for the location, gave my email and for the description, wrote “vomiting and diarrhea among students.” Clicked submit and was told “Thank you for your report!” Because it comes from a non-official source, it will take a day or so to be vetted, but then should appear on the map.

Why bother? Well, wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you? And when you know that something is going around, that gives you the chance to up your prevention efforts, or if you do catch it, to be prepared with knowledge about treatments. For example, at B.U., the Health Service reported:

Prevention is key in such situations.

* Wash your hands frequently, particularly after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.
* Avoid those who are ill, if possible.
* Clean high touch surfaces in your room with anti-bacterial cleaner (Clorox wipes).

For the past two days, custodial staff has increased cleaning efforts in residence halls around campus, particularly in Warren Towers. We have also implemented increased infection control measures in the dining halls.

B.U., Harvard Issue Warnings On Four Loko


Don’t drink that evil Four Loko “blackout in a can” stuff.

That’s the message to students today from authorities at Harvard and Boston University. (And probably many other colleges as well.) The warnings come in the wake of reports from around the country that some students needed medical care after drinking the potent alcohol-caffeine mix. According to the Harvard Crimson:

In an e-mail to students sent through House officials on Friday, UHS Director David S. Rosenthal ’59 and Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services Director Ryan M. Travia urged students not to drink Four Loko, saying that one 23.5-ounce can contains the equivalent of six standard servings of alcohol and five cups of coffee.

And here’s the message from the B.U. chief of police and director of student health services:

Dear Friends,

We want to pass along this important message about a potentially dangerous alcohol drink that has received some national press recently. We share this information so that you can continue to make smart choices about your personal health and safety while at Boston University.

There has been much fanfare recently about a fruity malt liquor called “Four Loko” and the attendant side effects which have been referred to as, “Blackout in a can.” Alcohol companies are targeting college students with these products without regard for your safety. National attention has been focused on this particular beverage because of a couple of very troubling incidents at Central Washington University and Ramapo College in Northern New Jersey. Continue reading