Headlines: November 23, 2010
by Meg Larkin
First, in research news, new studies indicate that fat may not live up to its bad reputation. New research indicates that stem cells found in fat may actually help heal a damaged heart. Stem cells inside a patient’s own fat have been shown to “limit the loss of heart function after a heart attack and repair heart failure damage.” According to the Washington Post, “Six-month results from a 14-patient heart attack trial in the Netherlands and Spain showed not only a reduction in the size of the heart injury but also improvements in the amount of blood supplied to the heart muscle and the amount of blood the heart can pump,” in patients receiving fat-derived stem cells.
In other stem cell news, researchers in Boston are investigating the possibility that dental stem cells could be used to re-grow teeth. Scientists at the Boston University School of Dental Medicine are using dental stem cells to generate dental pulp that they hope will one day provide an alternative to root canals. Dental stem cells are found in baby teeth or wisdom teeth, and a number of businesses have sprung up recently that offer to store baby teeth for a fee. Researchers have cautioned potential customers that the long term benefits of storing baby and wisdom teeth are still unclear as the research in the field is still in the early stages of development.
In public health news, as the American population ages, tele-health is emerging as a tool to potentially reduce the number of hospitalizations. Tele-health devices enable patients to check their health status at home, and then transmit the results to providers, alerting them to any potentially concerning developments. Researchers are hopeful that tele-health devices will help people with chronic conditions better manage their health and follow their doctor’s advice. Tele-health initiatives have been met with great success in other countries, such as Denmark, but so far results in the United States have been mixed. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that earlier versions of home monitoring technology were not effective in reducing Medicare costs, and a study published by the NEJM just last week found “no significant differences in health status between patients who were monitored at home and a control group receiving the usual care.” But, researchers from the Mayo clinic have indicated that success may vary with the type of device being used, and many in the tele-health field are hopeful that new studies under the health reform law will help identify the best and most promising technologies.
In global health news, despite a lack of attention in recent years, new cases of bird flu are being diagnosed around the globe. The New York Times reported that, “In contrast to the swine flu, which killed only 1 out of every 2,000 people who got it, the avian flu kills about 3 out of 5.” There have been 508 confirmed cases of bird flu since 2003, and 302 deaths, but only three countries (Indonesia, Egypt and Vietnam) have had more than the occasional case in recent reports.
Finally, in light of the holiday, the Washington Post has warned that just one big meal might increase heart attack risk. Eating a large, high fat meal increases insulin, cardiac output of blood, gastric acid, and can impair the functioning of the coronary arteries. The Post recommends limiting portion sizes, eating slowly, and limiting alcohol consumption to minimize risk.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.