Monthly Archives: March 2008

Cigarette Company Pays for Study…


Next thing you will see is Drug companies paying for studies of their drugs….. err, nevermind.

Cigarette Company Paid for Lung Cancer Study

In October 2006, Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College jolted the cancer world with a study saying that 80 percent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through widespread use of CT scans.

Small print at the end of the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, noted that it had been financed in part by a little-known charity called the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention & Treatment. A review of tax records by The New York Times shows that the foundation was underwritten almost entirely by $3.6 million in grants from the parent company of the Liggett Group, maker of Liggett Select, Eve, Grand Prix, Quest and Pyramid cigarette brands.

The foundation got four grants from the Vector Group, Liggett’s parent, from 2000 to 2003.

Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, editor in chief of the medical journal, said he was surprised. “In the seven years that I’ve been here, we have never knowingly published anything supported by” a cigarette maker, Dr. Drazen said.

An increasing number of universities do not accept grants from cigarette makers, and a growing awareness of the influence that companies can have over research outcomes, even when donations are at arm’s length, has led nearly all medical journals and associations to demand that researchers accurately disclose financing sources.

Dr. Henschke was the foundation president, and her longtime collaborator, Dr. David Yankelevitz, was its secretary-treasurer. Dr. Antonio Gotto, dean of Weill Cornell, and Arthur J. Mahon, vice chairman of the college board of overseers, were directors.

Vector issued a press release on Dec. 4, 2000, saying that it intended to give $2.4 million to Weill Cornell to finance Dr. Henschke’s research. Articles in Business Week and USA Today mentioned the gift. No mention was made of the foundation, begun so hastily that its 2000 tax return stated “not yet organized.”

Paul Caminiti, a Vector spokesman, confirmed that the company donated $3.6 million to the foundation over three years. The company “had no control or influence over the research,” he said.

Prominent cancer researchers and journal editors, told of the foundation by The Times, said they were stunned to learn of Dr. Henschke’s association with Liggett. Cigarette makers are so reviled among cancer advocates and researchers that any association with the industry can taint researchers and bar their work from being published.

“If you’re using blood money, you need to tell people you’re using blood money,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. The society gave Dr. Henschke more than $100,000 in grants from 2004 to 2007, money it would not have provided had it known of Liggett’s grants, Dr. Brawley said.

In an e-mail message, Drs. Henschke and Yankelevitz wrote, “It seems clear that you are trying to suggest that Cornell was trying to conceal this gift, which is entirely false.”

“The gift was announced publicly, the advocacy and public health community knew about it, it is quite easy to look it up on the Internet, its board has independent Cornell faculty on it, and it was fully disclosed to grant funding organizations,” they wrote, adding that the Vector grant represented a small part of the study’s overall cost. The foundation no longer accepts grants from tobacco companies, they wrote.

In the Vector press release, Dr. Henschke was quoted as saying that, thanks to the Vector grants, “we have raised the initial funding needed to support this important research and data collection on the effectiveness of spiral CT screening.”

Dr. Gotto said in an interview that Dr. Henschke, Dr. Yankelevitz and another colleague set up the foundation initially without the university’s approval, which he said faculty members are allowed to do. He and Mr. Mahon joined the board some weeks or months after its creation to ensure that the Vector grants were handled correctly, he said.

“If we had been approached, we would not have set up the foundation,” Dr. Gotto said. “We would have accepted the gift directly. We think we behaved honorably. There was no attempt to set up a foundation to hide tobacco money.”

Days earlier, Andrew Ben Ami, assistant secretary of the foundation, said in an interview he would not disclose the source of the charity’s financing at the request of the university.

In another interview before Dr. Gotto agreed to speak, Mr. Mahon, another foundation director, said he did not know the source of the funds.

Dr. Robert C. Young, chancellor of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and chairman of the Board of Scientific Advisors of the National Cancer Institute, said he had never heard of the Vector grants. “As someone who really hung around the inner sanctum of cancer research, I have never heard anybody — anybody — ever say anything about this,” Dr. Young said.

Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine and the author of a book about conflicts of interest, said he believed that Weill Cornell had created the foundation to hide its receipt of money from a cigarette company. “You have to ask yourself the question, ‘Why did the tobacco company want to support her research?’ ” Dr. Kassirer said. “They want to show that lung cancer is not so bad as everybody thinks because screening can save people; and that’s outrageous.”

Dr. Henschke’s work, while controversial among cancer researchers, has been embraced by many lung-cancer advocacy organizations, which have pushed for legislation in California, New York and Massachusetts to create trust funds to pay for lung cancer screening — often with language tailored to benefit Dr. Henschke’s group.

In New York, a bill would create a $10 million fund “to carry out lung cancer early detection research using computer tomography (CT) scanning” at a place “that was established by the multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary research program that began at 22 sites in the state in the year 1991,” a description that could only fit Dr. Henschke’s group.

But the disclosure that Dr. Henschke’s work was in part underwritten by grants from a cigarette maker will undercut those efforts, prominent cancer researchers said.

“She’s the biggest advocate for widespread spiral CT screening,” said Dr. Paul Bunn, a lung cancer expert and executive director of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer. “And now her research is tainted.”

Corporate financing can have subtle effects on research and lead to unconscious bias. Studies have shown that sponsored research tends to reach conclusions that favor the sponsor, which is why disclosure is encouraged. The tobacco industry has a long history of underwriting research — sometimes through independent-sounding foundations — to make cigarettes seem less dangerous.

Since 1999, Dr. Henschke has asserted that annual CT scans of smokers and former smokers would detect lung cancer when tumors are small enough to be cured, preventing as many as 80 percent of the 160,000 deaths a year from lung cancer, by far the biggest cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Her 2006 study said that, after screening 31,567 people from seven countries, CT scans uncovered 484 lung cancers, 412 of them at a very early stage. Three years later, most of those patients were still alive, and she projected that 80 percent would be alive after 10 years and assumed that they would have died without the screens.

Critics question both her survival projections and her assumption that all would have died without screening. Indeed, most in the cancer establishment say that Dr. Henschke has yet to prove her case. CT scans have radiation risks and sometimes detect cancers that would not have progressed, leading to risky procedures like biopsies and lung surgery when not needed.

To settle the dispute, the National Cancer Institute started in 2002 the $200 million National Lung Screening Trial comparing death rates among 55,000 people randomly assigned to have CT scans or chest X-rays. Results are not expected until 2010. Dr. Henschke has asserted that allowing hundreds of thousands of people to die in the meantime is unethical.

The Cancer Letter, a newsletter, recently reported that Drs. Henschke and Yankelevitz had failed to disclose in articles and educational lectures a patent and 10 pending patents related to CT screening and follow-up. General Electric, a maker of CT scanners, licensed the issued patent beginning in 2001.

Jonathan Weil, a Weill Cornell spokesman, said Dr. Henschke did not disclose the patents in some articles and lectures because she did not deem them relevant.

On Monday, The Journal of the American Medical Association published corrections about unreported financial disclosures from Drs. Henschke and Yankelevitz. The patent and pending patents reported by The Cancer Letter “are relevant to these publications,” an editors’ note stated. Editors at the journal were not aware of Dr. Henschke’s association with Liggett, said Dr. Catherine D. DeAngelis, the journal’s editor in chief.

“I would never publish a paper dealing with lung cancer from a person who had taken money from a tobacco company,” Dr. DeAngelis said.

Universities are responsible for policing conflicts of interest and, in many cases, the required disclosures of their faculty. But Weill Cornell shared in the proceeds of Dr. Henschke’s patent and pending patents, and university officials were on the foundation board.

“We have a very strict oversight policy” for conflicts of interest, Dr. Gotto of Weill Cornell said. He dismissed any suggestion that the university could not police and benefit from faculty members’ financial deals.

But Dr. Kassirer said, “The problem is that universities, because they’re so conflicted themselves, ignore the conflicts of interest of their faculty.”

Legislation being considered in Congress would require drug and device makers to post registries of payments to doctors.

An increasing number of doctors and institutions are setting up foundations to accept money from companies without having to disclose its source, said Dr. Murray Kopelow, chief executive of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.

“This is the third time in the past few weeks that one of these has been identified to us,” said Dr. Kopelow, whose organization is investigating how widespread the practice is.

Laurie Fenton Ambrose, president and chief executive of the Lung Cancer Alliance, a nonprofit patient advocacy group, said she still trusted Dr. Henschke and still believed in widespread CT scanning to prevent lung cancer deaths.

Cheerleader’s death highlights rare risk


Cheerleader’s death highlights rare risk-

High school senior dies after undergoing cosmetic breast surgery

By Mike Celizic
TODAYShow.com contributor
updated 7:19 a.m. PT, Wed., March. 26, 2008

Stephanie Kuleba’s friends called her “Sunshine” because that was the perfect nickname for the outgoing and bubbly girl who was everybody’s friend, the cheerleader with the near-perfect grade-point average who was too nice and too perfect for anybody to resent.

“She was just the kind of girl that everyone loved,” a friend, Dayna Mercer, told NBC News. “There was nothing bad about her.”

But the 18-year-old high school senior, who was headed to college and then medical school, felt she needed to be even more perfect. Her breasts were asymmetrical and she had an inverted areola, so she went to an outpatient cosmetic surgery clinic in Boca Raton, Fla., to have what she saw as a problem attended to by doctors.

And now she’s dead.

She died Sunday, 24 hours after undergoing surgery, the victim of an extremely rare reaction to anesthesia called malignant hyperthermia.

Usually genetic and very difficult to detect, the condition causes the body temperature to spike as high as 112 degrees and salts to precipitate out of the blood. If the reaction is not recognized almost immediately and an antidote given, it is fatal.

The death has focused attention on elective breast augmentation surgery, a procedure that 347,500 women of all ages chose to have in 2007 alone. That number is 6 percent higher than in 2006 and 64 percent higher than in 2000.

Although the FDA recommends that only women 18 or older get breast implants, the number of girls under that age submitting themselves to the surgery continues to grow. In 2005, the last year for which full statistics are available, more than 3,500 girls had breast implants.

But Dr. Richard D’Amico, the president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Wednesday that what happened to Kuleba could happen to anyone.

“This young lady’s death is a tragedy. Our hearts go out to her family. It’s a devastating event,” he said. But, he added, “this is something that can happen in any surgery, on any part of the body, in any setting.”

D’Amico encountered it once during what should have been routine nasal surgery on a male patient. He said he was lucky; his anesthesiologist immediately recognized the signs of malignant hyperthermia and took remedial action quickly enough to save the man’s life.

“There’s a medication for this that needs to be given very quickly, which was done,” D’Amico said.

The problem is that there’s no easy way to identify people who are at risk of the syndrome.

“Most often, there isn’t a clue,” he said. “The only test to predict it, you’d have to cut out some muscles from a leg and there’s only five places in the country that can do this.”

Kuleba’s family, who did not wish to be interviewed, has hired an attorney to investigate the death. The doctor who performed the surgery, Dr. Steven Schuster, also declined to comment.

D’Amico repeated the FDA recommendation that no one under 18 undergo breast augmentation surgery. Despite its popularity, the procedure does have a high rate of complications and often requires additional surgery within five to 10 years of the original surgery.

“The development of the breast is a very sensitive issue with young women and very important to them,” D’Amico said.

He recommended that anyone contemplating any cosmetic procedure seek out a board-certified plastic surgeon in a big clinic with a good reputation. But, he warned, as Kuleba’s case so sadly emphasizes, no surgery is completely safe.

“There’s never no risk,” he said. “Our job is to minimize that risk, and we stay up very late to do that.”

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Food Prices Soaring Worldwide


Food prices soaring worldwide

By KATHERINE CORCORAN, Associated Press Staff Writer 1 hour, 39 minutes ago

MEXICO CITY – If you’re seeing your grocery bill go up, you’re not alone.

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From subsistence farmers eating rice in Ecuador to gourmets feasting on escargot in France, consumers worldwide face rising food prices in what analysts call a perfect storm of conditions. Freak weather is a factor. But so are dramatic changes in the global economy, including higher oil prices, lower food reserves and growing consumer demand in China and India.

The world’s poorest nations still harbor the greatest hunger risk. Clashes over bread in Egypt killed at least two people last week, and similar food riots broke out in Burkina Faso and Cameroon this month.

But food protests now crop up even in Italy. And while the price of spaghetti has doubled in Haiti, the cost of miso is packing a hit in Japan.

“It’s not likely that prices will go back to as low as we’re used to,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, economist and secretary of the Intergovernmental Group for Grains for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. “Currently if you’re in Haiti, unless the government is subsidizing consumers, consumers have no choice but to cut consumption. It’s a very brutal scenario, but that’s what it is.”

No one knows that better than Eugene Thermilon, 30, a Haitian day laborer who can no longer afford pasta to feed his wife and four children since the price nearly doubled to $0.57 a bag. Their only meal on a recent day was two cans of corn grits.

“Their stomachs were not even full,” Thermilon said, walking toward his pink concrete house on the precipice of a garbage-filled ravine. By noon the next day, he still had nothing to feed them for dinner.

Their hunger has had a ripple effect. Haitian food vendor Fabiola Duran Estime, 31, has lost so many customers like Thermilon that she had to pull her daughter, Fyva, out of kindergarten because she can’t afford the $20 monthly tuition.

Fyva was just beginning to read.

In the long term, prices are expected to stabilize. Farmers will grow more grain for both fuel and food and eventually bring prices down. Already this is happening with wheat, with more crops to be planted in the U.S., Canada and Europe in the coming year.

However, consumers still face at least 10 years of more expensive food, according to preliminary FAO projections.

Among the driving forces are petroleum prices, which increase the cost of everything from fertilizers to transport to food processing. Rising demand for meat and dairy in rapidly developing countries such as China and India is sending up the cost of grain, used for cattle feed, as is the demand for raw materials to make biofuels.

What’s rare is that the spikes are hitting all major foods in most countries at once. Food prices rose 4 percent in the U.S. last year, the highest rise since 1990, and are expected to climb as much again this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As of December, 37 countries faced food crises, and 20 had imposed some sort of food-price controls.

For many, it’s a disaster. The U.N.’s World Food Program says it’s facing a $500 million shortfall in funding this year to feed 89 million needy people. On Monday, it appealed to donor countries to step up contributions, saying its efforts otherwise have to be scaled back.

In Egypt, where bread is up 35 percent and cooking oil 26 percent, the government recently proposed ending food subsidies and replacing them with cash payouts to the needy. But the plan was put on hold after it sparked public uproar.

“A revolution of the hungry is in the offing,” said Mohammed el-Askalani of Citizens Against the High Cost of Living, a protest group established to lobby against ending the subsidies.

In China, the price hikes are both a burden and a boon.

Per capita meat consumption has increased 150 percent since 1980, so Zhou Jian decided six months ago to switch from selling auto parts to pork. The price of pork has jumped 58 percent in the past year, yet every morning housewives and domestics still crowd his Shanghai shop, and more customers order choice cuts.

The 26-year-old now earns $4,200 a month, two to three times what he made selling car parts. And it’s not just pork. Beef is becoming a weekly indulgence.

“The Chinese middle class is starting to change the traditional thought process of beef as a luxury,” said Kevin Timberlake, who manages the U.S.-based Western Cattle Company feedlot in China’s Inner Mongolia.

At the same time, increased cost of food staples in China threatens to wreak havoc. Beijing has been selling grain from its reserves to hold down prices, said Jing Ulrich, chairwoman of China equities for JP Morgan.

“But this is not really solving the root cause of the problem,” Ulrich said. “The cause of the problem is a supply-demand imbalance. Demand is very strong. Supply is constrained. It is as simple as that.”

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says fighting inflation from shortages of key foods is a top economic priority. Inflation reached 7.1 percent in January, the highest in 11 years, led by an 18.2 percent jump in food prices.

Meanwhile, record oil prices have boosted the cost of fertilizer and freight for bulk commodities — up 80 percent in 2007 over 2006. The oil spike has also turned up the pressure for countries to switch to biofuels, which the FAO says will drive up the cost of corn, sugar and soybeans “for many more years to come.”

In Japan, the ethanol boom is hitting the country in mayonnaise and miso, two important culinary ingredients, as biofuels production pushes up the price of cooking oil and soybeans.

A two-pound bottle of mayonnaise his risen about 10 percent in two months to as much as 330 yen (nearly $3), said Daishi Inoue, a cook at a Chinese restaurant.

“It’s not hurting us much now,” he said. “But if prices keep going up, we have no choice but to raise our prices.”

Miso Bank, a restaurant in Tokyo‘s glitzy Ginza district, specializes in food cooked with miso, or soybean paste.

“We expect prices to go up in April all at once,” said Miso Bank manager Koichi Oritani. “The hikes would affect our menu. So we plan to order miso in bulk and make changes to the menu.”

Italians are feeling the pinch in pasta, with consumer groups staging a one-day strike in September against a food deeply intertwined with national identity. Italians eat an estimated 60 pounds of pasta per capita a year.

The protest was symbolic because Italians typically stock up on pasta, buying multiple packages at a time. But in the next two months pasta consumption dropped 5 percent, said farm lobbyist Rolando Manfredini.

“The situation has gotten even worse,” he said.

In decades past, farm subsidies and support programs allowed major grain exporting countries to hold large surpluses, which could be tapped during food shortages to keep prices down. But new trade policies have made agricultural production much more responsive to market demands — putting global food reserves at their lowest in a quarter century.

Without reserves, bad weather and poor harvests have a bigger impact on prices.

“The market is extremely nervous. With the slightest news about bad weather, the market reacts,” said economist Abbassian.

That means that a drought in Australia and flooding in Argentina, two of the world’s largest suppliers of industrial milk and butter, sent the price of butter in France soaring 37 percent from 2006 to 2007.

Forty percent of escargot, the snail dish, is butter.

“You can do the calculation yourself,” said Romain Chapron, president of Croque Bourgogne, which supplies escargot. “It had a considerable effect. It forced people in our profession to tighten their belts to the maximum.”

The same climate crises sparked a 21 percent rise in the cost of milk, which with butter makes another famous French food item — the croissant. Panavi, a pastry and bread supplier, has raised retail prices of croissants and pain au chocolat by 6 to 15 percent.

Already, there’s a lot of suspicion among consumers.

“They don’t understand why prices have gone up like this,” said Nicole Watelet, general secretary at the Federation of French Bakeries and Pastry Enterprises. “They think that someone is profiting from this. But it’s not us. We’re paying.” Food costs worldwide spiked 23 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to the FAO. Grains went up 42 percent, oils 50 percent and dairy 80 percent.

Economists say that for the short term, government bailouts will have to be part of the answer to keep unrest at a minimum. In recent weeks, rising food prices sparked riots in the West African nations of Burkina Faso, where mobs torched buildings, and Cameroon, where at least four people died.

But attempts to control prices in one country often have dire effects elsewhere. China‘s restrictions on wheat flour exports resulted in a price spike in Indonesia this year, according to the FAO. Ukraine and Russia imposed export restrictions on wheat, causing tight supplies and higher prices for importing countries. Partly because of the cost of imported wheat, Peru‘s military has begun eating bread made from potato flour, a native crop.

“We need a response on a large scale, either the regional or international level,” said Brian Halweil of the environmental research organization Worldwatch Institute. “All countries are tied enough to the world food markets that this is a global crisis.”

Poorer countries can speed up the adjustment by investing in agriculture, experts say. If they do, farmers can turn high prices into an engine for growth.

But in countries like Burkina Faso, the crisis is immediate.

Days after the riots, Pascaline Ouedraogo wandered the market in the capital, Ouagadougou, looking to buy meat and vegetables. She said a good meal cost 1,000 francs (about $2.35) not long ago. Now she needs twice that.

“The more prices go up, the less there is to meet their needs,” she said of her three children, all in secondary school. “You wonder if it’s the government or the businesses that are behind the price hikes.”

Irene Belem, a 25-year-old with twins, struggles to buy milk, which has gone up 57 percent in recent weeks.

“We knew we were poor before,” she said, “but now it’s worse than poverty.”

___

Katherine Corcoran is based in Mexico City. AP correspondents worldwide contributed to this report.

Will Your Cable Box Have A Camera To Watch You?


Comcast Cameras to Start Watching You?

If you have some tinfoil handy, now might be a good time to fashion a hat. At the Digital Living Room conference today, Gerard Kunkel, Comcast’s senior VP of user experience, told me the cable company is experimenting with different camera technologies built into devices so it can know who’s in your living room.

The idea being that if you turn on your cable box, it recognizes you and pulls up shows already in your profile or makes recommendations. If parents are watching TV with their children, for example, parental controls could appear to block certain content from appearing on the screen. Kunkel also said this type of monitoring is the “holy grail” because it could help serve up specifically tailored ads. Yikes…..Read Rest of Story, Watch Video..

Sunshine Prevents Cancer?


All these years, doctors have been telling their patients to avoid the sun to prevent cancer… now, perhaps the opposite is true! Get more sun and you may be able to prevent breast, colon and prostate cancer, to name a few… 

A Ray Of Sunshine In The Fight Against Cancer: Vitamin D May Help

ScienceDaily (2008-02-16) — It sounds too good to be true … a little inexpensive pill that could block the development of some cancers, strengthen bones, prevent multiple sclerosis and alleviate winter depression. But it’s not science fiction. The “new aspirin” could be Vitamin D. Just as we discovered that aspirin can guard against heart disease, Vitamin D could become a useful weapon in the fight against MS, osteoporosis, mild depression and one of the most devastating diseases of our time — cancer. … > read full article