Archive for February, 2011

New health-care regulations to extend students’ coverage

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Recent additions to the U.S. health-care reform law will provide college students with some minor benefits.

Effective Jan. 1, 2012, new regulations will establish more accountability on the behalf of insurance providers. Because University-sponsored insurance is mandatory for students, these new regulations will not affect students’ ability to obtain health insurance coverage.

In smaller ways, students may experience some benefits.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, insurance companies will not be allowed to levy lifetime coverage limits on student health plans, drop students’ coverage when a student becomes ill but has an error on an application, or deny coverage to students who are younger than 19 and have pre-existing conditions.

Before the health care law was enacted, many students were covered only under their parents’ plans until they were 21 years old, but the new act allows them to stay on until age 26. This means Washington University students will be able to use their parents’ insurance as secondary coverage in addition to the University-sponsored plan.

Virginia Wells, director of the health center at the College of William & Mary, a public university in Williamsburg, Va., attested to the health care law’s measurable benefits. (more…)

Gene driver for breast cancer discovered

Monday, February 21st, 2011

A rare but hard-to-treat form of breast cancer is driven by a newly discovered gene, researchers have found.

ZNF703 is the first oncogene to be discovered in five years, and it could lead to more effective treatments down the road, Cancer Research UK said.

Oncogenes tell healthy cells to divide when needed. But in tumours, they are overactive and the cancer multiply unstoppably. The oncogene act like a stuck accelerator that leads a car to speed out of control.

In Friday’s online issue of the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, scientists from Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute and the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver said evidence strongly suggests ZNF703 is a new oncogene.

To come to that conclusion, they tested gene activity in 1,172 breast tumour samples that were estrogen receptor-positive. (more…)

Speaking Two Languages Keeps Brain Active, Delays Alzheimer’s Disease

Monday, February 21st, 2011

New research suggests that being bi-lingual offers more benefits than just being able to converse in two languages. In fact, the ability to speak two languages has shown an increased ability in multi-tasking, plus it may protect the brain against significant health risks like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Research has found the benefits to exist whether or not the language was learned during childhood or not. Learning a second language at any point in life may combat brain decline just as well.

The study explains that individuals who spoke just one language started experiencing symptoms of dementia more than 5 years sooner than individuals who were bi-lingual. Additionally, full-blown Alzheimer’s was diagnosed more than 4 years earlier for those who knew just one language.

While this study appears to show many benefits of being bi-lingual, other studies have suggested otherwise. While results have not been concluded, preliminary results allude to the fact that overall brain function is affected very little whether the individual can speak one or two languages. (more…)

Space Shuttle Discovery’s Astronaut Crew Arrives at Florida Launch Site

Monday, February 21st, 2011

The six astronauts who will fly the space shuttle Discovery on its final mission to the International Space Station arrived at NASA’s Florida spaceport today (Feb. 20), four days ahead of their historic launch.

The crewmembers all touched down here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center by about 3:45 p.m. EST (2045 GMT).

Shuttle commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Michael Barratt, Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott and Steve Bowen flew into Florida on supersonic T-38 jets from the agency’s training headquarters at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden was on hand to greet the astronauts upon their arrival.

“We’re back here for another attempt at this,” Lindsey told reporters who had gathered for the crew’s arrival. “We’re pretty confident about this one. The external tank problem we’ve been working for the last several months is probably the most difficult, technical challenge we’ve faced in recent years. The team did a great job of coming together, figuring out a very difficult engineering problem, and coming up with a solution that I think gives us a really good tank to go launch with this week.”

Lindsey also spoke about the challenges that have been faced on the crew side – mission specialist Steve Bowen was selected by NASA less than six weeks ago to replace Tim Kopra, who was injured in a bike accident on Jan. 15. (more…)

NASA spacecraft passes the point of closest contact with a comet

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

On Valentine’s Day, as the world was celebrating the message of love, a NASA spacecraft reached the point of closest contact with a comet calculated to be half the size of Manhattan.

The periodic comet, Tempel 1, was discovered by German astronomer Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel in 1867. In every 5.5 years, the comet completes one orbit around the Sun with its orbital paths lying in between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Tempel 1 was previously visited by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft on July 4, 2005. The current fly-by of the comet by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft is the first time that a comet has been re-visited to look for changes on its surface.

During the encounter phase, the spacecraft will carry out many important milestones which include turning the spacecraft to point its protective shields between it and the anticipated direction from which cometary particles would approach. Another important milestone includes scientific imaging of the comet’s nucleus. (more…)

Study: Hospital budgets expanding due to IT reform

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Hospital executives are planning for budget increases during the next five years and are prioritizing strategic initiatives that had previously been on hold due to economic constraints. Healthcare insurance reform is also causing hospital management to re-evaluate how they select and purchase medical devices and other services, according to a survey from L.E.K. Consulting.

Nearly 60 percent of 196 surveyed hospital executives expected budget increases in 2011. During the next five years, 70 percent of respondents predicted larger budgets and are planning to increase purchasing in multiple areas, including IT (58 percent), facilities (38 percent), large medical devices (37 percent), small medical devices (21 percent) and disposables (28 percent), according to the Boston-based consulting firm’s survey.

Supplier negotiations will be central to controlling costs, which has hospitals increasingly turning to group purchasing organizations (GPOs) to help negotiate the best rates possible, L.E.K. stated. According to the L.E.K. survey, more than half of respondents expect to use GPOs more by 2015. Some hospitals have also started to approach GPOs to procure high-priced capital equipment in addition to low-price, high-volume items. (more…)

Governors Get Advice for Saving on Medicaid

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Fearing wholesale cuts in Medicaid by states with severe budget problems, the Obama administration told governors on Thursday how they could save money by selectively and judiciously reducing benefits, curbing overuse of costly prescription drugs and attacking fraud.

However, the administration refused to say whether it would allow states to adopt stricter eligibility standards that would, in effect, throw low-income people off the Medicaid rolls and eliminate their insurance coverage.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said she was still studying that question.

Governors said the ideas, though constructive, were not nearly enough. They said they wanted waivers of some federal requirements and relief from Congress, and they noted that the new health care law would greatly increase Medicaid rolls in 2014.

In a letter to governors on Thursday, Ms. Sebelius said, “I have heard the urgency of your state budget concerns.” Ms. Sebelius emphasized that states already had substantial discretion to alter benefits and establish or increase co-payments. (more…)

HIV increase among county’s young black men prompts CDC to focus on prevention

Friday, February 4th, 2011

A startling increase in the number of reported HIV infections among young black men in Milwaukee County who have sex with men may be linked to several risk factors, including internalized homophobia and living on the streets, according to a joint investigation by local, state and federal health officials released Thursday.

The investigation began after the Wisconsin Division of Public Health noted a 144% increase in reported HIV diagnoses in Milwaukee County from 2000 to 2008 among black men ages 15 to 29 who have sex with men.

The resulting investigation – which involved the state, Milwaukee Health Department and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – found the increase likely wasn’t due to intensified testing efforts, but to increased transmission of HIV through high risk behavior and nondisclosure of HIV status.

If the spike in HIV diagnoses among young black men isn’t reversed, the entire metro area could see increased rates, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker warned Thursday.

A higher percentage of young black males than nonblack males have male sex partners at least five years older, according to the investigation, which involved a sampling of Milwaukee County men with HIV or syphilis diagnoses. Older men are more likely to be infected with HIV.

The Milwaukee Health Department last summer announced a multifaceted strategy to boost HIV testing, reduce stigma in the community and teach men to protect themselves.

The city partnered with Diverse & Resilient, an organization that works to improve the public health of lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual individuals. That group networked with multiple other community groups and the medical community. It has trained 60 men to help provide information to the targeted population. (more…)