Category Archives: Health

And With A Stroke of The Pen The U.S. Joins The Civilized World

Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (544MB) | mp3 (25MB)

Via Whitehouse: This morning the President made it official: things are going to change quite a bit between Americans and their health insurance companies.  The President signed health reform into law, with a package of fixes not far behind, and in the process created a future for the country in which Americans and small businesses are in control of their own health care, not the insurance industry.

Having expressed all due admiration for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Leader Harry Reid, and those Members of Congress who showed the courage to stand up to an avalanche of misinformation and insurance industry attacks, the President explained what the signing was really about:

Today, I’m signing this reform bill into law on behalf of my mother, who argued with insurance companies even as she battled cancer in her final days.

I’m signing it for Ryan Smith, who’s here today.  He runs a small business with five employees.  He’s trying to do the right thing, paying half the cost of coverage for his workers.  This bill will help him afford that coverage.

I’m signing it for 11-year-old Marcelas Owens, who’s also here.  (Applause.)  Marcelas lost his mom to an illness.  And she didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford the care that she needed.  So in her memory he has told her story across America so that no other children have to go through what his family has experienced.  (Applause.)

I’m signing it for Natoma Canfield.  Natoma had to give up her health coverage after her rates were jacked up by more than 40 percent.  She was terrified that an illness would mean she’d lose the house that her parents built, so she gave up her insurance.  Now she’s lying in a hospital bed, as we speak, faced with just such an illness, praying that she can somehow afford to get well without insurance.  Natoma’s family is here today because Natoma can’t be.  And her sister Connie is here.  Connie, stand up.  (Applause.)

I’m signing this bill for all the leaders who took up this cause through the generations — from Teddy Roosevelt to Franklin Roosevelt, from Harry Truman, to Lyndon Johnson, from Bill and Hillary Clinton, to one of the deans who’s been fighting this so long, John Dingell.  (Applause.)  To Senator Ted Kennedy.  (Applause.)  And it’s fitting that Ted’s widow, Vicki, is here — it’s fitting that Teddy’s widow, Vicki, is here; and his niece Caroline; his son Patrick, whose vote helped make this reform a reality.  (Applause.)

I remember seeing Ted walk through that door in a summit in this room a year ago — one of his last public appearances.  And it was hard for him to make it.  But he was confident that we would do the right thing.

Our presence here today is remarkable and improbable.  With all the punditry, all of the lobbying, all of the game-playing that passes for governing in Washington, it’s been easy at times to doubt our ability to do such a big thing, such a complicated thing; to wonder if there are limits to what we, as a people, can still achieve.  It’s easy to succumb to the sense of cynicism about what’s possible in this country.

But today, we are affirming that essential truth -– a truth every generation is called to rediscover for itself –- that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations.  (Applause.)  We are not a nation that falls prey to doubt or mistrust.  We don’t fall prey to fear.  We are not a nation that does what’s easy.  That’s not who we are.  That’s not how we got here.

We are a nation that faces its challenges and accepts its responsibilities.  We are a nation that does what is hard.  What is necessary.  What is right.  Here, in this country, we shape our own destiny.  That is what we do.  That is who we are.  That is what makes us the United States of America.

And we have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.  (Applause.)  And it is an extraordinary achievement that has happened because of all of you and all the advocates all across the country.

So, thank you.  Thank you.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.

All right, I would now like to call up to stage some of the members of Congress who helped make this day possible, and some of the Americans who will benefit from these reforms.  And we’re going to sign this bill.

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 23, 2010 in Diabetes, Health, Political


Tags: , ,

JDRF Announces Diabetes Research Collaboration with Pfizer, Hadassah Medical Organization, and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Program Focuses on Beta Cell Replication and Regeneration

Contact:           William Ahearn, (212) 479-7531                 Joana Casas, (212) 479-7560

NEW YORK, March 22, 2010 – The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a leader in setting the agenda for diabetes research worldwide, said today that it will begin a diabetes research collaboration with Pfizer, Hadassah Medical Organization, and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on drugs to replicate and regenerate insulin-producing cells in people with type 1 diabetes.

The program, under the direction of Professor Benjamin Glaser (Hadassah Medical) and Dr. Yuval Dor (Department of Developmental Biology, Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) at The Hebrew University), and in collaboration with scientists from Pfizer PharmaTherapeutics Research & Development, is jointly funded by JDRF and Pfizer.

The research team will focus on the preclinical evaluation of certain proprietary Pfizer compounds as candidates to promote beta cell replication and regeneration. Drugs that can stimulate beta cell replication and expand beta cell mass have potential as disease-modifying agents for the treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes.

The collaboration aims to provide a comprehensive biological characterization of the Pfizer compounds’ potential beneficial effect on beta cell health and survival, building on unique beta cell regeneration models created by Dr. Dor and funded in part by JDRF.

"Drugs that can stimulate the replication of insulin-producing cells and expand beta cell mass have the potential to reverse type 1 diabetes," said Alan J. Lewis, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of JDRF.  "This program may accelerate one of JDRF’s key research goals: to find ways to restore the body’s ability to make insulin."

"With this collaboration, Pfizer, Hadassah Medical Organization, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the JDRF are creating a unique model for how clinical and biomedical scientists in industry and academia, in collaboration with non-profit organizations, can work together for the benefit of patients." said Tim Rolph, PhD., Vice President of Pfizer’s Cardiovascular Metabolic and Endocrine Diseases Research. "Each group brings to the table its specific set of skills and expertise to address complex problems that each alone would take much longer to solve."

"We are very excited about this program and the close collaboration with JDRF and Pfizer," said Dr. Dor. "Ben Glaser and myself have put considerable efforts in recent years into understanding the basic mechanisms by which the total number of beta cells in healthy adult organisms is regulated, and what triggers the formation of new beta cells when demand exceeds supply. With this new project we are given a chance to examine if our insights can be utilized, using clinically relevant drugs supplied by Pfizer, for boosting beta cell mass in healthy and diabetic mice."

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 22, 2010 in Diabetes, Health


Tags: , ,

Watching Your Weight? Avoid Movies

1,180. That’s the number of food-related brand placements in a sample of 200 movies studied by Lisa A. Sutherland of Dartmouth’s Hood Center for Children and Families and three other researchers in, Prevalence of Food and Beverage Brands in Movies: 1996-2005 (PDF)

Popcorn Most of the food placements are for "energy-dense, nutrient-poor" products or product lines, the researchers say.

The research supporting the paper examines the top 20 US box office movie hits for each year from 1996 to 2005 and finds that 69% of the films contained at least one food, beverage or food retail establishment brand. The biggest genres for such placements are comedy, action/adventure, and horror.

The paper explores the data unearthed by the supporting research and the relevance of these findings as it pertains to nutrition, health and diet.

Source: Prevalence of Food and Beverage Brands in Movies: 1996-2005 by Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 9, 2010 in Health


Tags: ,

Remarks by the President on Health Care Reform

Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (250MB) | mp3 (18MB)

Story via The White House blog: Moving Forward to Put the American People Ahead of Insurance Companies

Today the President made it exceedingly clear that he intends to move forward on reform to put Americans in control of their health care, and explained once again why:

Democrats and Republicans agree that this is a serious problem for America.  And we agree that if we do nothing -– if we throw up our hands and walk away -– it’s a problem that will only grow worse.  Nobody disputes that.  More Americans will lose their family’s health insurance if they switch jobs or lose their job.  More small businesses will be forced to choose between health care and hiring.  More insurance companies will deny people coverage who have preexisting conditions, or they’ll drop people’s coverage when they get sick and need it most.  And the rising cost of Medicare and Medicaid will sink our government deeper and deeper and deeper into debt.  On all of this we agree.

So the question is, what do we do about it?

The answer to that question, of course, has been at least a year in the making – countless hearings, meetings, and conversations have brought the best ideas from both sides to the surface, and the President’s proposal includes a broad array of Republican suggestions in addition to Democratic ones.

President Obama speaks about health care reform 3.03

President Barack Obama speaks about health care reform in the East Room of the White House, March 3, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

However, the President also confronted the fact that there is a fundamental disagreement on how to deal with some core elements of the problem. Explaining that just as he has rejected one extreme of the spectrum that calls for an actual government takeover of health care, so too does he disagree with the other side:

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those, and this includes most Republicans in Congress, who believe the answer is to loosen regulations on the insurance industry — whether it’s state consumer protections or minimum standards for the kind of insurance they can sell.  The argument is, is that that will somehow lower costs.  I disagree with that approach.  I’m concerned that this would only give the insurance industry even freer rein to raise premiums and deny care.

So I don’t believe we should give government bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats more control over health care in America.  I believe it’s time to give the American people more control over their health care and their health insurance.  I don’t believe we can afford to leave life-and-death decisions about health care to the discretion of insurance company executives alone.  I believe that doctors and nurses and physician assistants like the ones in this room should be free to decide what’s best for their patients.  (Applause.)

The President spoke at length about the merits of his proposal, from ending insurance company abuses, to the fact that it is paid for will reduce the deficit (concepts largely abandoned in recent years), to the fact that 30 million people will be covered and millions of middle class families will be able to afford the peace of mind of quality insurance for the first time.

He also called for an up or down vote in the next few weeks just as has been given to many health care bills before and to the Bush tax cuts, pledging that “from now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform.”

He closed with an explanation of what is motivating him:

So at stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem. The American people want to know if it’s still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future. They are waiting for us to act. They are waiting for us to lead. And as long as I hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership. I do not know how this plays politically, but I know it’s right. (Applause.) And so I ask Congress to finish its work, and I look forward to signing this reform into law.

Here is the entire press release:

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 3, 2010 in Health, Political


Tags: ,

Compressed Sensing: Filling in the Blanks

I stumbled across this article today, Fill in the Blanks: Using Math to Turn Lo-Res Datasets Into Hi-Res Samples by By Jordan Ellenberg, Wired Magazine, February 22, 2010, and found it so fascinating – in particular because of my recent research into fractals – that I had to take a little tour around the internet to find a little more information on compressed sensing.

Wikipedia describes compressed sensing as: “a technique for acquiring and reconstructing a signal utilizing the prior knowledge that it is sparse or compressible. The field has existed for at least four decades, but recently the field has exploded, in part due to several important results by David Donoho, Emmanuel Candès, Justin Romberg and Terence Tao.”

“The ideas behind compressive sensing came together in 2004 when Emmanuel J. Candès, a  mathematician at Caltech, was working on a problem in magnetic resonance imaging. He discovered that a test image [a badly corrupted version of the image shown here] could be P = phantom('Modified Shepp-Logan',200);reconstructed exactly even with data deemed insufficient by the Nyquist-Shannon criterion.”

According to the story Fill in the Blanks: Using Math to Turn Lo-Res Datasets Into Hi-Res Samples by By Jordan Ellenberg, Wired Magazine, February 22, 2010, the mathematical technique called l1 minimization is now being looked at in a number of experimental applications, such as DARPA funded research into acquisition of enemy communication signals:

DARPA ~ …mathematics thrust area have successfully applied a methodology of discovery of physics-based structure within a sensing problem, from which it was often possible to determine and algorithmically exploit efficient low-dimensional representations of those problems even though they are originally posed in high-dimensional settings. Computational complexity and statistical performance of fielded algorithms within the DSP component of sensor systems have both been substantially improved through this approach. The aim of ISP is much more ambitious: to develop and amplify this concept across all components of an entire sensor system and then across networks of sensor systems.

data storage:

Wired ~ …the technique will help us in the future as we struggle with how to treat the vast amounts of information we have in storage. The world produces untold petabytes of data every day — data that we’d like to see packed away securely, efficiently, and retrievably. At present, most of our audiovisual info is stored in sophisticated compression formats. If, or when, the format becomes obsolete, you’ve got a painful conversion project on your hands.

and further into the future, perhaps CS will even live in our digital camera’s:

Wired ~ Candès believes, we’ll record just 20 percent of the pixels in certain images, like expensive-to-capture infrared shots of astronomical phenomena. Because we’re recording so much less data to begin with, there will be no need to compress. And instead of steadily improving compression algorithms, we’ll have steadily improving decompression algorithms that reconstruct the original image more and more faithfully from the stored data.

Today though, CS is already rewriting the way we capture medical information. A team at the University of Wisconsin, with participation from GE Healthcare, is combining CS with technologies called HYPR and VIPR to speed up certain kinds of magnetic resonance scans, in some cases by a factor of several thousand.  GE Healthcare is also experimenting with a novel protocol that promises to use CS to vastly improve observations of the metabolic dynamics of cancer patients. Meanwhile, the CS-enabled MRI machines at Packard can record images up to three times as quickly as conventional scanners.

Wired ~ In the early spring of 2009, a team of doctors at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University lifted a 2-year-old into an MRI scanner. The boy, whom I’ll call Bryce, looked tiny and forlorn inside the cavernous metal device. The stuffed monkey dangling from the entrance to the scanner did little to cheer up the scene. Bryce couldn’t see it, in any case; he was under general anesthesia, with a tube snaking from his throat to a ventilator beside the scanner. Ten months earlier, Bryce had received a portion of a donor’s liver to replace his own failing organ. For a while, he did well. But his latest lab tests were alarming. Something was going wrong — there was a chance that one or both of the liver’s bile ducts were blocked.

Shreyas Vasanawala, a pediatric radiologist at Packard, didn’t know for sure what was wrong, and hoped the MRI would reveal the answer. Vasanawala needed a phenomenally hi-res scan, but if he was going to get it, his young patient would have to remain perfectly still. If Bryce took a single breath, the image would be blurred. That meant deepening the anesthesia enough to stop respiration. It would take a full two minutes for a standard MRI to capture the image, but if the anesthesiologists shut down Bryce’s breathing for that long, his glitchy liver would be the least of his problems.

However, Vasanawala and one of his colleagues, an electrical engineer named Michael Lustig, were going to use a new and much faster scanning method. Their MRI machine used an experimental algorithm called compressed sensing — a technique that may be the hottest topic in applied math today. In the future, it could transform the way that we look for distant galaxies. For now, it means that Vasanawala and Lustig needed only 40 seconds to gather enough data to produce a crystal-clear image of Bryce’s liver.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Health Care Summit: So What Exactly Was Accomplished?

President Barack Obama discusses a point with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during the health insurance reform legislation meeting at Blair House in Washington, D.C., Feb. 25, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) Surprising perhaps no one, common ground was a scarce commodity at Thursday’s all-day health care summit in Washington. President Obama implored in his opening remarks, "Let’s talk about some areas where we disagree and see if we can bridge those gaps". But by the end of the session more than seven hours later, it was clearer than ever that the two parties have fundamentally — and irreconcilably — different views of how to go about fixing the nation’s health care system.

"We just can’t afford this," said House minority whip Eric Cantor, referring to the 2400 page, $125 billion a year healthcare plan, while John Boehner, the House Republican leader, called it "a new entitlement program that will bankrupt our country."

In contrast to the Democratic legislation, House Republicans have put forward a healthcare bill that does not set minimum national standards for health plans, does not require all Americans to buy coverage and does not provide subsidies to help them.

As a result, the bill is substantially less costly than the Democratic plans and does not include the tax hikes and Medicare cuts that Democrats are proposing to offset the cost of expanding coverage.

The GOP legislation, which many Republicans have touted as a more reasonable, incremental approach, would insure only 3 million additional people over the next decade compared with 30 million more in the Democratic legislation, the Congressional Budget Office has found.

"We’d love to have a five-page bill," Obama countered to the Republicans who arrived toting copies of the massive Senate-passed legislation. "It would save an awful lot of work. The reason we didn’t do it is because it turns out that baby steps don’t get you to the place where people need to go."

But the White House said the summit was not intended as a vehicle to start the healthcare debate all over again, and as such the Democratic leaders have apparently decided to go forward alone on health care, although it remains to be seen whether they will be able to muster enough of their own votes to get it done.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged her colleagues to back a major overhaul of U.S. health care even if it threatens their political careers, a call to arms that underscores the issue’s massive role in this election year.

Lawmakers sometimes must enact policies that, even if unpopular at the moment, will help the public, Pelosi said in an interview being broadcast Sunday the ABC News program "This Week."

"We’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress," she said. "We’re here to do the job for the American people."

It took courage for Congress to pass Social Security and Medicare, which eventually became highly popular, she said, "and many of the same forces that were at work decades ago are at work again against this bill."

The procedural and political hurdles ahead are formidable, and with each new poll showing public confidence slipping away – even if for very disparate reasons – they know that time is not on their side.

Yet, they say, they believe that if they can pass the bill, they can sell it too. Once voters can look beyond the messy political process and deal making that it took to get this far, they may once again be able to focus on the actual substance of the legislation, which still enjoys broad support.

That will be a tough sell judging from the latest Gallup poll suggesting that if an agreement is Americans Tilt Against Democrats' Plans if Summit Fails - not reached, Americans by a 49% to 42% margin oppose rather than favor Congress passing a healthcare bill similar to the one proposed by President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate. By a larger 52% to 39% margin, Americans also oppose the Democrats in the Senate using a reconciliation procedure to avoid a possible Republican filibuster and pass a bill by a simple majority vote.

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on February 28, 2010 in Economic News, Health, Political


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The President’s Proposal For Health Care

Over the past year the House and the Senate have been working on an effort to provide health insurance reform that lowers costs, guarantees choices, and enhances quality health thumbnail care for all Americans. Building on that year-long effort, the President has now put forth a proposal that incorporates the work the House and the Senate have done and adds additional ideas from Republican members of Congress. The President has long said he is open to any good ideas for reforming our health care system, and he looks forward to discussing ideas for further improvements from Republicans and Democrats at an open, bipartisan meeting on Thursday. 

The proposal will make health care more affordable, make health insurers more accountable, expand health coverage to all Americans, and make the health system sustainable, stabilizing family budgets, the Federal budget, and the economy:

  • It makes insurance more affordable by providing the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history, reducing premium costs for tens of millions of families and small business owners who are priced out of coverage today.  This helps over 31 million Americans afford health care who do not get it today – and makes coverage more affordable for many more. 
  • It sets up a new competitive health insurance market giving tens of millions of Americans the exact same insurance choices that members of Congress will have.  
  • It brings greater accountability to health care by laying out commonsense rules of the road to keep premiums down and prevent insurance industry abuses and denial of care.  
  • It will end discrimination against Americans with pre-existing conditions.
  • It puts our budget and economy on a more stable path by reducing the deficit by $100 billion over the next ten years – and about $1 trillion over the second decade – by cutting government overspending and reining in waste, fraud and abuse.

Key Provisions in the President’s Proposal:

The President’s Proposal builds off of the legislation that passed the Senate and improves on it by bridging key differences between the House and the Senate as well as by incorporating Republican provisions that strengthen the proposal.

One key improvement, for example, is eliminating the Nebraska FMAP provision and providing significant additional Federal financing to all States for the expansion of Medicaid.  For America’s seniors, the proposal completely closes the Medicare prescription drug “donut hole” coverage gap.  It strengthens the Senate bill’s provisions that make insurance affordable for individuals and families, while also strengthening the provisions to fight fraud, waste, and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid to save taxpayer dollars.  The threshold for the excise tax on the most expensive health plans will be raised from $23,000 for a family plan to $27,500 and will start in 2018 for all such plans.  And another important idea included is improving insurance protections for consumers and creating a new Health Insurance Rate Authority to review and rein in unreasonable rate increases and other unfair practices of insurance plans.

Summaries of Key Elements of the President’s Proposal:

Republican Ideas Included in the President’s Proposal

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 23, 2010 in Health, Political