Category Archives: Studies

Study: Sugar industry influenced plan to prevent tooth decay

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Uwe Hermann via Flickr

Photo: Uwe Hermann via Flickr

Under the influence of the sugar industry decades ago, federal health officials stepped back from an ambitious campaign to wipe out tooth decay, according to a newly published study.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed previously unexplored sugar industry documents from the 1960s and early 1970s to reach their conclusions. The paper describing the findings appeared in March in PLOS Medicine.

The documents trace industry interactions with the National Institute of Dental Research (now the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research) during a period when health officials were planning to launch the National Caries Program, an initiative with a goal of eradicating tooth decay within a decade. Continue reading

A problem with precision medicine: It’s not quite precise – at least not yet

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

At a conference last year, Michael Laposata, M.D., Ph.D., one of the nation’s best known pathologists, explained how clinical laboratories could deliver more value to patients, physicians, and health insurers. To do so, pathologists and laboratory scientists need to provide more detailed explanations about lab test results because even physicians who order genetic and molecular tests are often confused about the results, said Laposata, chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

When he explains test results to ordering physicians, he frequently refers to an “allele” which is one of two or more versions of a gene, he said. When he does, physicians sometimes ask, “What’s an allele?”

His anecdote is telling following President Obama’s announcement last month that he recommended spending $215 million on the precision medicine initiative. The announcement was correctly hailed as an important and needed investment in medical technology. “Precision medicine” is described by the National Institutes of Health as “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.” Continue reading

Grant will allow comprehensive tracking of journal retractions

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Adam Marcus

Adam Marcus

Ivan Oransky

Ivan Oransky

A $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation will be used to create a database of retractions from scientific journals, extending the work done by  Adam Marcus and AHCJ Vice President Ivan Oransky on their Retraction Watch blog.

The grant was awarded to the Center for Scientific Integrity, a nonprofit organization set up by Marcus and Oransky. Continue reading

Clearing the air on a WHO study

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology and Home Care Technology report. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Last week, I encountered yet another example of why it’s so important to always read the whole study — not just the press release. In this case, it was actually a report, not a study. A press release from Alzheimer’s International with the somewhat misleading headline, “Smoking Increases Risk Of Dementia” arrived in my inbox, citing a new World Health Organization report that put smokers at a 45 percent higher risk for developing the disease than non-smokers.

When I opened the report, I learned that the “news” touted in the press release was actually just a summary of old research. There was nothing new here. Nor was there proof of causation – the cited evidence showed associations.

As I looked more closely at the report, I found an error that appeared to undermine its conclusions and suggest a sloppiness and lack of rigor.

Continue reading

More evidence links speaking multiple languages to better cognitive function in older adults

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology and Home Care Technology report. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Image by Tobias Mikkelsen via flickr.

Image by Tobias Mikkelsen via flickr.

A study published in the Annals of Neurology indicates that cognitive decline may slow down when people speak two or more languages — even if they learned their second language in adulthood.

While it’s been known for some time that speaking more than one language benefits cognitive function, across the lifespan, scientists could not conclusively determine whether people improve their cognitive functions through learning new languages or whether those with better baseline cognitive functions are more likely to become bilingual.

“Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence,” said lead author Dr. Thomas Bak, of the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, in a statement. Continue reading

Breast cancer screening recommendations up for review

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

With mammograms in the news lately, it’s worth noting that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has posted its plan for reviewing and updating its recommendations for screening for breast cancer. The draft research plan lays out the “strategy the Task Force will use to collect and examine research and is the first step in updating the 2009 recommendation,” according to Ana Fullmer at USPTF. Recommendations are updated every five to seven years, so she says a new recommendation probably won’t be finished for a few years.

The panel is seeking answers about the specific benefits and harms of screening mammography for women over 40, they’re asking if benefits and risks vary by imaging technique – digital mammograms, ultrasound or MRIs; and importantly, they’re trying to find out how common ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is in the U.S. and what benefits and harms are involved in treating it.

Experts recently recommended renaming DCIS to exclude the word “carcinoma” so the finding wouldn’t be so frightening to patients. DCIS is an abnormal pattern of cell growth in the milk ducts of the breast. In many cases, it doesn’t progress to cancer. Yet a growing number of women have decided to remove both breasts rather than take their chances that it isn’t dangerous.

Interested parties who want to weigh in on the draft plan are encouraged to submit comments and questions to the Task Force by Dec. 11.

Project focuses on cognitive health as a public health priority

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology and Home Care Technology report. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

The Alzheimer’s Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention kicked off “The Healthy Brain Initiative: The Public Health Road Map for State and National Partnerships, 2013-2018″ today at the 2013 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Boston.

This program is a follow up to their 2007 “Healthy Brain Initiative: A National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health.” According to a press release from the association, the goal is to “create a tool for public health officials to improve the quality of life for those families and advance cognitive health as a integral component of public health.”

A morning workshop about the program included panelists from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Emory University, The Alzheimer’s Association, New York Department of Health and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Participants focused on action steps the public health community can take at all levels, across disciplines, to address cognitive health and impairment, including implementing the Road Map and making cognitive health a priority.

News from the conference this past weekend included results of a Georgetown University study on possible associations between pre-diabetes and Alzheimer’s, an inverse relationship between Alzheimer’s onset and cancer, new therapies that target physical changes in the brain and possible association between the diabetes drug metformin and decreased risk of dementia.

Note: Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Some resources:

Catching more cancer with vinegar than with money

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

Sterile vinegar bleaches suspect cells white when it's swabbed on the cervix.

Image by Sweet One via flickr.

It can be tough to find a medical study that is both important and compelling. But that was the opportunity presented to health reporters this week in the shape of a big study on a humble condiment, vinegar.

What makes this study even more wonderful, in a way, is that it was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology, a medical meeting that’s awash in high-stakes, big money, endlessly pitched and spun drug research.

In the midst of that madding crowd was Dr. Surendra Shastri, a preventive oncologist at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai who needed an inexpensive, low-tech way to screen for cervical cancer – the leading cancer killer of women in India.

He found it in the form of sterile vinegar which bleaches suspect cells white when it’s swabbed on the cervix. Continue reading

Drugs remain on market despite fraudulent research; FDA withholds information

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Despite concluding that a drug research lab’s violations “were so ‘egregious,’ and pervasive that studies conducted there between April 2005 and August 2009 might be worthless,” the FDA didn’t pull the drugs tested there from the market, according to a ProPublica piece by Rob Garver and Charles Seife.

pills

Photo by Grumpy-Puddin via Flickr

The FDA is refusing to release information about those drugs, saying that “We believe that this did not rise to the level where the public should be notified.”

A statement from the agency said, “The issue is not a lack of transparency but rather the difficulty of explaining why the problems we identified at Cetero, which on their face would appear to be highly significant in terms of patient risk, fortunately were not.” Continue reading

Was a study of chelation fatally flawed or just countercultural?

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

This is the second of two posts about a study of whether chelation therapy might benefit some patients who have suffered a heart attack. In the first post, I gave health reporters high marks for their coverage.

Early in my career, I covered a story on chelation therapy. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the alternative treatment. I was a broadcast producer, and we needed video, so we visited a chelation clinic. Looking back, I can’t recall what our story was about, but I do remember what it was like to talk to the patients as they sat in recliners that lined the walls of the narrow storefront.

They were all hooked up to IV bags filled with a vivid yellow liquid that was a mixture of B-vitamins and the chemical EDTA that they believed was flushing heavy metals, minerals, and toxins from their bodies.

Many spoke of chelation with fervor. One man, a diabetic, credited the regular three-hour infusions with saving his legs, which were riddled with sores.

Chelation has been around for decades. It is accepted treatment for lead poisoning and other kinds of heavy metal toxicity. But alternative practitioners have greatly expanded its use, with claims that it can treat myriad ills, everything from autism to Alzheimer’s to problems caused by metal hip implants.  There’s almost no scientific evidence to back up these claims.

It was against this backdrop – lots of claims, enthusiastic patients, evangelistic providers – that the NIH set out to test the practice.

The Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy, or TACT, has again ignited a heated debate among doctors.

Here’s another voice to add to the discussion. He is lead study author Gervasio A. Lamas, M.D., chairman of medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla., and professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University Division of Cardiology. I asked him to talk about the process of publishing TACT and asked him to respond to a few of the main criticisms of the trial. These are lightly edited questions and answers from our interview: Continue reading