Headlines: June 25, 2010
by Meg Larkin
In government news, Congress has voted to delay cuts in doctor payments under the Federal Medicare program. The cuts will be delayed for six months while lawmakers try to work out a more permanent solution. The cuts are part of a budget balancing bill that was put in place in the 1990s, but they have never come into effect because Congress has continued to extend the deadline for their enactment. The Medicare funding had been part of a larger bill that would also provide unemployment assistance, among other things, but Congress was unable to agree on other portions of the legislation.
In public health news, California has declared an epidemic after five children died of whooping cough. There have been 910 confirmed cases of whooping cough in California, and State officials are urging residents to get vaccinated. Whooping Cough generally peaks around mid summer, and is highly contagious. Vaccination is usually done in infants, and then booster shots are given over time through adulthood.
In research news, scientists at Yale University have successfully grown a rat’s lung in a laboratory. According to the Boston Globe, “researchers took apart and regrew a rat's lung, and then transplanted it and watched it breathe.” While the research shows a lot of promise, the technology is still a long way from being able to be used in humans. The Globe reported that, “In short-term implants in four different rats, engineered lungs replaced one of the animals' native lungs and proved 95 percent as efficient at exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide.” However, there are still some problems with the lungs that researchers need to work through.
In other research news, a start up company has developed a dye that can identify plaque on the brains of living Alzheimer’s patients. While the dye must still be approved by the FDA, it may be able to help doctors more accurately diagnose the presence of Alzheimer’s disease in patients who have memory problems. Thus far, doctors have only been able to confirm an Alzheimer’s diagnosis by examining a patient’s brain post-mortem to see if it had the plaque that is a key characteristic of Alzheimer’s. Being able to see the plaque in living patients may enable doctors to diagnose the disease more accurately and learn more about it’s progression and possible treatment.
Finally, the University of Michigan Medical School has broken from corporate sponsorship of its continuing medical education courses. The University of Michigan is the first school to entirely reject corporate sponsorship of its CME training, which is required for doctors to keep their medical licenses. According to the New York Times, “Dr. James O. Woolliscroft, dean of Michigan’s medical school, said leading faculty members “wanted education to be free from bias, to be based on the best evidence and a balanced view of the topic under discussion.” “ The University of Michigan’s decision is met sharp criticism from some industry leaders, such as the National Institutes of Health and the President of the American Heart Association, who feel that such a move will cut doctors off from the latest scientific developments. On the other hand, many doctors and researchers believe the policy will reduce the potential for conflicts of interest. It remains to be seen whether other schools will follow in Michigan’s footsteps.
Meg Larkin is a law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.