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Research Affirms that Diets Don't Lead to Weight Loss, Health Gains

New research is helping explain why dieting does not lead to long-term weight loss in the vast majority of people and may even lead to weight gain. A key reason for this, some researchers say, is that our bodies employ mechanisms to keep our weight within a certain range or "set point." Forum discusses the effect of dieting on metabolism and the relationship between health and weight.

PBS NewsHour

Major U.S. study links cellphone exposure to cancer in rats

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Close-up of hands using smartphone

A new study has found evidence of a potential link between cell phone usage and cancer. Photo via Getty Images

A major new study provides evidence of a possible link between cellphone exposure and cancer, at least in rats — findings that are likely to spark a fierce new debate about the 21st century’s most ubiquitous tech gadget.

When researchers exposed rats to the radiofrequency radiation emitted by cellphones, they saw higher incidence of two types of cancer: malignant gliomas in the brain and schwannomas in the heart. The increased risk was relatively small, but if the findings translate to humans — still an unknown — it could have a large public health impact, given the widespread use of cellphones worldwide.

The highly anticipated, $25 million study was conducted by the US National Toxicology Program and released late Thursday.

The findings add new urgency to a decades-long debate over whether cellphones can cause cancer.

But other population-level studies in humans have found no increased risk, and the incidence of brain cancer has not risen in recent decades as cellphone use has exploded.
But the research doesn’t settle that debate by any means.

It comes with major caveats. The statistically significant results were limited to male rats. Dr. Michael Lauer of the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Extramural Research, who peer-reviewed the study, concluded “there were no statistically significant differences in rates of glioma or schwannomas in females.”

The male rats exposed to radiation — about 9 hours a day, 7 days a week — lived longer than a control group not exposed to radiation. The authors also noted that it was unusual that no cancers occurred in the control group in this study. The incidence of malignant gliomas in male rats — 2.2 percent to 3.3 percent — was within the range seen in non-exposed rats in previous studies, they said.

Still, the authors said that the brain and heart tumors observed in rats exposed to the radiofrequency radiation are similar to malignancies seen in some epidemiological studies of cellphone use. They say their findings “appear to support” the World Health Organization’s classification of cellphones as a possible carcinogen. (That’s the same classification given to coffee and talcum powder.)

This study in mice and rats is under review by additional experts.
But other population-level studies in humans have found no increased risk, and the incidence of brain cancer has not risen in recent decades as cellphone use has exploded.

Ron Melnick, who was the lead investigator on the study until he retired in 2009, said that he had seen the study’s data himself.

The data “indicated that there were increased tumor responses in the brain and the heart,” he told STAT in a phone interview before the study was released. Melnick said he was asked for his opinion after the results came in because he had been involved in designing the study.

As recently as Wednesday, the NIH said the study was still under review by unnamed additional experts.

The researchers have more data stockpiled that they haven’t reported. They say the rest of the results from the study will likely trickle out starting in late 2017.
“This study in mice and rats is under review by additional experts,” NIH said in a statement. “It is important to note that previous human, observational data collected in earlier, large-scale population-based studies have found limited evidence of an increased risk for developing cancer from cellphone use.”

The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report’s release, which followed a Wednesday leak on what researchers had found.

The researchers have more data stockpiled that they haven’t reported. They say the rest of the results from the study will likely trickle out starting in late 2017.

The new study has the potential to start a firestorm. Until now, there have been conflicting results from other research about whether cellphones cause cancer, but the general takeaway from official authorities was that there is no definitive link — as the NIH statement reiterates.

But there have been now a streak of animal studies suggesting a cancer risk, said Dariusz Leszczynski, a Finnish researcher who focuses on radiation and health and reviewed the leaked news reports of the NTP study.

“Such positive results … suggest that human health might be in some danger,” he said in an email. “The human health risk might not only be possible but it might rather be probable.”

The findings could therefore jeopardize the conventional wisdom at a time when the number of Americans who own a cellphone has exceeded 90 percent in recent years.

“None of us expected them to find anything in this study. I’ve been quoted as saying it’s a total waste of money,” said David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany.

The results have been long anticipated. An NIH official told Congress in 2009 that the results would likely be released in 2014, but their release appeared to be prompted only by this week’s leak.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this study, far too long for this study,” said Joel Moskowitz, director and principal investigator at the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

Still, he added: “The debate will keep going on, I’m sure. This is not going to be the definitive study.”

This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on May 27, 2016. Find the original story here.

The post Major U.S. study links cellphone exposure to cancer in rats appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

New ‘superbug’ becomes first drug-proof bacteria to hit U.S.

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria strain
         is seen in a petri dish containing agar jelly for bacterial culture in a microbiological laboratory in Berlin March 1, 2008.
         MRSA is a drug-resistant "superbug", which can cause deadly infections.    REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (GERMANY) - RTR1XRUZ

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HARI SREENIVASAN: But first: a sobering new development with superbugs and public health concerns about the limited effect of antibiotics.

For the first time in the U.S., a person has been found to be carrying a strain of E. coli that’s resistant to antibiotics of last resort. The Washington Post reported the strain was discovered last month in a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman. She was resistant to Colistin. And researchers said it — quote — “heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug-resistant bacteria.”

Dr. Beth Bell is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And she is now working with Pennsylvania officials. She’s the director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Thanks for joining us.

First, how — what is so distinct about these findings?

DR. BETH BELL, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Colistin is an antibiotic that we have already had for quite a long time, but we use it as a last line.

So, it’s our drug of last resort. And so when patients are infected with some of these superbugs that we have talked about before, where the strain is resistant to pretty much every antibiotic, we rely on Colistin as the last resort.

And what we find here in this patient, the bacteria that infected this patient, is that her strain contains one of these mobile genes that confers resistance to Colistin. So, because bacteria can spread these mobile genes among themselves, it sets off a situation where we can see a bacteria that’s resistant to every known antibiotic. And, of course, that is a very frightening prospect for all of us.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.

So, when I am go to the pharmacy, and I’m prescribed something like azithromycin or something, it’s pretty low on the scale of the arsenal that doctors have. So, this is the top end. There is nothing after this. That means that the patient is untreatable, and that means there is a, what, greater chance that they might die because of this?

DR. BETH BELL: Sure.

There’s — we luckily haven’t seen actual bacteria that are resistant to every single antibiotic here in the United States. But there are reports of this in other parts of the world, and these patients have a very high mortality rate. It’s extremely difficult to treat them. And, again, this raises the specter of a post-antibiotic era.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, so how do bugs get this strong?

DR. BETH BELL: You know, bacteria are just really, really smart. Microbes have learned how to evolve over centuries and centuries, and they have a number of different methods for outwitting antibiotics.

And because, bacteria, they reproduce so quickly, by chance, sometimes there will be a mutation that allows a certain strain to outwit an antibiotic. And that, therefore, means that that bacteria grows preferentially, and that’s how these bacteria develop resistance.

And so, of course, that points out the importance of using antibiotics only at the right time and the right dose, because overuse of antibiotics, of course, can spur these bacteria to develop these resistance mechanisms.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But what can we learn from what happened to this specific individual? Right now, it’s just one person, but what do we know? Do we know anything about how she contracted this or perhaps if her immune system was already suppressed?

DR. BETH BELL: We don’t know much yet about how she contracted it. It doesn’t sound like she’s traveled outside the United States, but we don’t have the kind of really specific information that we would like.

We’re working directly with the Pennsylvania Department of Health right now to do that sort of in-depth investigation that will help us figure out why she might have gotten it, whether any of her household contacts also had the bacteria, and to just give us the kind of information that we need about how widespread the bacteria might be in this particular situation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Over the past several months, the CDC has been out talking about so many different types of infectious diseases.

One on the hand, we have had Ebola, and now there’s lot of concern about Zika. This is something completely different. This isn’t the type of communicable disease that I can get by just being in the same room with you, right?

DR. BETH BELL: Yes.

Well, the mode of transmission of different — of communicable diseases varies by the bacteria. But certainly with some of these superbug strains, we do see them transmitted, especially in health care settings.

And that is why prevention really is so important, prevention in terms of antibiotic stewardship, using antibiotics correctly, and infection control, using the kinds of strategies that prevent environmental contamination in hospitals and spread of bacteria among patients.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Dr. Beth Bell from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thanks so much.

DR. BETH BELL: Thank you so much for having me.

The post New ‘superbug’ becomes first drug-proof bacteria to hit U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

MIT’s tiny portable drug-making lab can replace an entire factory

Photo courtesy of the Allan Myerson lab at MIT

Photo courtesy of the Allan Myerson lab at MIT

In a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all the work that happens in a vast pharmaceutical manufacturing plant happens in a device the size of your kitchen refrigerator.

And it’s fast. This prototype machine produces 1,000 pills in 24 hours, faster than it can take to produce some batches in a factory. Allan Myerson, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT and a leader of the effort, says it could become eventually an option for anyone who makes medications, which typically require a lengthy and complex process of crystallization.

“We’re giving them an alternative to traditional plants and we’re reducing the time it takes to manufacturer a drug,” he said.

The Defense Department is funding this project because the devices could go to field hospitals for troops, hard-to-reach areas to help combat a disease outbreak, or be dropped at strategic spots across the U.S.

“If there was an emergency you could have these little plants located all over. You just turn them on and you start turning out different pharmaceuticals that are needed,” Myerson said.

Sounds simple? It’s not. This mini drug plant represents a sea change in how medications have been made for a long time.

“For roughly two centuries, to be honest,” says Tim Jamison, a professor of chemistry at MIT and one of Myerson’s partners, along with Klavs Jensen, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT. “The way that we tend to do chemistry is in flasks and beakers and that sort of thing, and we call that batch chemistry — one batch at a time,” he says.

That’s the way virtually all pharmaceuticals are made. Big batches of chemicals are synthesized, then they have to cool down, then are synthesized again to create new compounds. Then those compounds have to crystallize, filter and dry. Powders are added to make a tablet or capsule. These steps that can take months. This new device, says Jamison, produces medicine in one fast continuous process.

“We had to figure out new ways to make molecules, new ways to think about making molecules but from my perspective that has also provided us with a lot of opportunities that are very powerful,” said Jamison. His lab and Myerson’s also are collaborating with the Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing, which is funded by the pharmaceutical company Novartis.

The prototype raises the possibility that hospitals and pharmacies could make their own pills as needed, says James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research.

“If it can done at lower cost, here’s one way at least that we could reduce the exorbitant cost of medications and that could a social good as well as an economic good,” McQuivey said.

Most of the cost of an expensive drug is not the materials or manufacturing or transportation said McQuivey; it’s in the drug makers’ monopoly control. So, he said, “If we can distribute the manufacturing of anything, pharmaceuticals included, so that more people have the opportunity to manufacture it, now there will be competition among those manufacturers.”

Drug makers have at least two big concerns about the widespread use of this device, says Dr. Paul Beninger, who oversees pharmaceutical safety at manufacturer Genzyme Sanofi. He said first and foremost, the drug industry worries about intellectual property rights.

Drug manufacturers own exclusive rights to produce the drugs they develop for a period of time, typically three to five years depending on how much is new in the drug. His other worry is safety, including monitoring of machines to ensure quality and safety.

“There are some really significant issues that this MIT project has to deal with if they’re going to try and make this a successful venture,” he said.

MIT researchers say continuous monitoring would be built into the continuous production process. The Food and Drug Administration is working on how to oversee this type of process.

On the patent concern, MIT developers say the device is being tested to make generic drugs for now, but that pharmacies or hospitals might someday license the right to produce drugs that have just been approved, not existing ones.

For now, their focus is on making an even smaller more portable unit, producing more and more complex drugs and seeking FDA approval for the device.

This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, WBUR and Kaiser Health News.

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. You can view the original report on its website.

The post MIT’s tiny portable drug-making lab can replace an entire factory appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Long wait times for health care still dogging troubled Veterans Affairs department

President Barack Obama will sign a bill Thursday that aims to reduce
         suicide among military veterans. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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HARI SREENIVASAN: The Department of Veterans Affairs is back in the crosshairs with its secretary, Robert McDonald, making some controversial comments.

We had planned to interview the secretary today, but his office called last night to say his schedule was now full. We hope to have an interview with him in the near future.

But we take a look now at the recent controversy and the persistent problems of delivering vets proper care.

Last night, the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs posted the closest thing to an apology: “If my comments Monday led any veterans to believe that I or the dedicated work force I am privileged to lead don’t take that noble mission seriously, I deeply regret that. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The comments Secretary Bob McDonald is referring to came Monday morning at a breakfast with reporters, where he downplayed the importance of measuring wait times for medical appointments.

ROBERT MCDONALD, Veterans Affairs Secretary: What really counts is, how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA? When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line or the number — you know, what is important? What’s important is, what is your satisfaction with the experience?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Reaction was swift. A visibly-angry speaker of the House, Paul Ryan:

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), Speaker of the House: When the VA’s secretary compared the lines at his agency to lines at an amusement park, we were dumbfounded. This is not make-believe; this is not Disneyland, or Wonderland, for that matter. Veterans have died waiting in line for their care.

Clearly, the secretary’s comments were not worthy of the veterans that he serves. But they’re also indicative of a culture of indifference at the VA.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers:

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), Washington: When you go to Disneyland, you aren’t wondering if you are going to live long enough to make it to Space Mountain. Clearly, the VA is not the happiest place on earth, and veterans have died waiting in these lines; 18 percent of appointment cancellations go unfilled. We can do better.

HARI SREENIVASAN: However, veterans groups who have been vocal about problems at the VA offered a more nuanced reaction.

THOMAS PORTER, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: His statements were certainly poorly wondered. I don’t think they were they were meant to do any harm to veterans, certainly. I think that he’s got a big job to do, and we need him to stick in that job and keep moving forward with his department to serve veterans better.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Thomas Porter served in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf and is the legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

THOMAS PORTER: He’s certainly changed the way that the VA is looking at the problem. He’s been very transparent. He’s been open with the VSOs, the veterans service organizations. And he’s making a genuine effort to address the problem.

We understand that the wait lines have been reduced dramatically since this scandal first started coming to light. We want to keep the VA going in that direction.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Wait times for vets to see a doctor is a sensitive, and explosive, issue. The delays and a cover-up cost the last VA secretary, retired Army General Eric Shinseki, the job in 2014.

After a VA doctor blew the whistle at a Phoenix facility, an inspector general investigation found that Phoenix-area veterans seeking care had to wait an average of 115 days, almost four months, for a first appointment; 1,700 veterans were kept off any official waiting list, and were at risk of being lost or forgotten.

Other investigations found this type of problem existed at many VA hospitals throughout the U.S. More recently, the Government Accountability Office reported that the VA’s system for tracking how long veterans have to wait for an appointment was flawed, making it hard to identify and remedy scheduling problems.

The VA’s network of hospitals and clinics is one of the largest health care systems in the U.S., with hundreds of thousands of veterans in need of care.

The post Long wait times for health care still dogging troubled Veterans Affairs department appeared first on PBS NewsHour.