(HuffPost) ‘Empire’ Star Jussie Smollett Reminds Us That AIDS Isn’t A Problem Of The Past

03/21/2016 05:36 pm ET

Rahel Gebreyes

Editor, HuffPost Live

With about 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States, there’s no reason the conversation about the issue should be slowing down. Actor Jussie Smollett, who has been an outspoken advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention, delivered that message loud and clear in a conversation with HuffPost Live last week.

The “Empire” star warned against considering HIV/AIDS to be a problem from “yesteryear.”

“We get attached to these hashtags and it becomes this social media fad,” he said. “But it’s almost as if HIV/AIDS stopped being the thing to talk about before social media came around. We’ve gotta bring that back because we’re not done.”

In recent years, the estimated incidence of HIV has remained stable at about50,000 new HIV infections annually, but gay men and African Americans are still most affected. With new infections still occurring, the actor stressed the importance of knowing one’s HIV status and being open about it.

“Getting tested, knowing your status, being responsible for yourself and other people is so important — being honest with yourself, number one, so you can be honest with everyone else,” he said.

Smollett also shared words of optimism for those who have been infected and are seeking proper treatment.

“We have to remember that it’s not a death sentence. You can live with it and you can live a beautiful, wonderful life with it, but it’s also something that we can prevent,” he said.

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation with Jussie Smollett here

Medicare Proposal Aims to Prevent Diabetes (NYT)

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans on Wednesday to propose expanding Medicare to cover programs to prevent diabetes among millions of people at high risk of developing the disease, marking the sixth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act with the prospect of a new benefit, federal officials said.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, is scheduled to announce the proposal at a Y.M.C.A. here. Under the plan, Medicare would pay for certain “lifestyle change programs” in which trained counselors would coach consumers on healthier eating habits and increased physical activity as ways to prevent Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult onset diabetes. Such programs have been found effective in people with a condition known as prediabetes, meaning that they have blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetes.

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Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, in Flint, Mich., last month. Credit Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

That expansion was made possible by provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed six years ago Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 86 million adults, including at least 22 million people 65 or older, are prediabetic, increasing their risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes itself.

In 2012, the National Council of Y.M.C.A.s, also known as Y.M.C.A. of the U.S.A., received a federal grant of nearly $12 million to test the value of a diabetes prevention program in eight states. The curriculum for the program was approved by the C.D.C.

After a formal evaluation, Ms. Burwell said, “this program has been shown to reduce health care costs and help prevent diabetes.”

Federal officials said that Medicare saved $2,650 for each person enrolled in the prevention program over 15 months, compared with similar beneficiaries not in the program. That was more than enough to cover the costs. In addition, officials said, Medicare beneficiaries in the program lost about 5 percent of their body weight, which was enough to reduce substantially the risk of future diabetes.

Under the 2010 law, the health secretary can, by regulation, expand such demonstration projects nationwide if she finds that they would reduce Medicare spending without reducing the quality of care, and if the Medicare actuary agrees. That is a major change from the situation before the health care law, when an act of Congress was generally required to make even minor changes in Medicare benefits.

The proposal must go through a public comment period, but without the need for congressional approval, there is little doubt it will go into force before Mr. Obama leaves office.

Ms. Burwell said the counseling for people with prediabetes was the first preventive service to become eligible for expansion into the Medicare program under the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Matt Longjohn, the chief health officer at the national Y.M.C.A. organization, said the results of the demonstration project vindicated the role of “lay health workers” in preventing chronic disease. These workers, he said, delivered preventive services at a much lower cost than doctors, nurses and other health professionals, and the services were “just as effective in terms of weight loss.”

Private insurers have also begun to cover diabetes prevention services like those provided by Medicare and the Y.M.C.A.s.

“The program helped me a lot, and I hope it helps other folks,” said Timothy L. Enfinger, a 45-year-old nuclear licensing engineer in Wilmington, N.C., who received the service through UnitedHealthcare and his employer, General Electric.

He said in an interview that he had lost 35 pounds, lowering his weight to 240 pounds. And he told the government: “I was pretty much your standard couch potato before the program. Now my wife and I go walking every day, sometimes as much as two and a half miles. I feel a lot better.”

Services covered by the proposed diabetes prevention benefit could be provided in person or online. Omada Health, a San Francisco company founded in 2011 with venture capital, says it has provided diabetes-prevention services online to more than 45,000 people, most of whom had employer-sponsored insurance.

“With Medicare coverage, our work with seniors is likely to grow dramatically,” said Mike Payne, the head of medical affairs at Omada.

Prediabetes is treatable, federal officials said, but only about 10 percent of people with the condition are aware they have it. Left untreated, up to one-third of people with prediabetes will develop diabetes within five years, the government says.People can use a test devised by the C.D.C. to assess their risk of prediabetes.

The government has not said how it would pay for diabetes prevention services. Medicare could reimburse providers directly or could pay for their services as part of a package that also includes the services of doctors who monitor the progress of patients.

Omada executives said that health insurers and employers paid the company $650 to $800 in the first year for each person who successfully completed its program and lost weight, reducing the risk of diabetes. But Medicare could use a different approach. Medicare officials will set forth details of payment in a proposed regulation that will be open to public comment.

Read More at the NYT.com

New dengue vaccine shows promise (CNN)

(CNN)A new type of dengue vaccine called TV003 seems to protect people against at least one type of the virus, according to a small study. If further research can bear out its effectiveness, the new vaccine could eventually represent a big advance in controlling the most common mosquito-transmitted virus worldwide.

Although another dengue vaccine recently became available in Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines and El Salvador, it may not be appropriate to use in countries such as the United States.

By Carina Storrs, Special to CNN

That licensed vaccine, called Dengvaxia, has been found to reduce the rates of severe dengue cases in adults and older children in Asia and Latin America, but many of them had probably already had a dengue infection in their lives. In contrast, Dengvaxia could increase the risk of dengue disease among young children who have not been exposed to dengue virus before — a group that is similar to the U.S. population. (In countries where the vaccine is available, it is only given to children age 9 and older.)

So researchers at several institutions in the United States set out to develop a new vaccine that would give people — including those who have not been infected — strong protection against all four types of dengue virus.

“Control of dengue has certainly been a public health priority for many years. But getting there has not been easy,” Stephen S. Whitehead, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health who designed the new vaccine, said at a news teleconference on Tuesday. Whitehead is one of the authors of the study that tested TV003, which was published on Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine.

The researchers decided to take a different tack in testing the vaccine. Normally the efficacy of a new vaccine is tested in large studies in areas affected by the disease, but those kinds of studies can take up to 10 years and cost millions of dollars. Although that research will still need to be done, “we really wanted to have an early clue that the (vaccine) would work,” Whitehead said.

A different way to test vaccines

Instead, the researchers used a “human challenge model.” They gave TV003 to 24 adult volunteers in Maryland and Vermont, while another 24 adults got a placebo as a control. After one injection of TV003, 92% of participants in the vaccine group developed antibodies to all four types of dengue virus. The only side effect associated with the vaccine was a rash around the injection site, which typically went away in five to 10 days.

But the biggest question is whether the new vaccine can prevent dengue infections. In the “human challenge” part of the study, the participants were artificially infected — using a needle, instead of a mosquito — six months after receiving TV003 with a highly weakened version of dengue virus Type 2.Previous studies have suggested that Dengvaxia does not protect as well against Type 2 as Types 1, 3 and 4.

None of the vaccinated adults got infected, whereas 80% of the individuals in the control group developed a rash and all of them had detectable dengue virus in their blood.

This type of experiment could be “totally unethical,” but in this case, the researchers got consent from healthy adults and used a form of the virus designed to be very weak, said Dr. Sarah George, an associate professor of infectious diseases at St. Louis University. George was not involved in the current study.

As the researchers discussed in the teleconference, this type of approach has been used to develop vaccines for a number of diseases, including malaria, flu and cholera.

The researchers are now testing whether the TV003 vaccine can protect people from the three other types of dengue virus. They are currently challenging study participants with Type 3 and hope to have results by late spring or summer.

ar, the results with TV003 have helped inform dengue vaccine studies about which vaccine formula to use, Dr. Anna P. Durbin, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said at the teleconference. “We are very happy to say that the first phase 3 efficacy trial of the vaccine started last month,” said Durbin, who led the current study on TV003. The trial is working to enroll 17,000 people between the ages of 2 and 59 around Brazil and address whether the new vaccine can help reduce dengue disease.

“Who knows what will happen (in future studies) — dengue is full of surprises,” George said. However, she added that it is unlikely that TV003 would increase the severity of disease among people who have not previously been infected with dengue, as Dengvaxia seems to do.

The difference comes down to how the two vaccines are designed. Dengvaxia contains hybrid viruses that are made up mostly of yellow fever virus and have just two molecules from dengue virus. On the other hand, the new vaccine contains the entire virus for all four types, except they all contain mutations that make them much less potent in people.

Because the immune system will “see” more dengue virus molecules with the new vaccine, it could develop a stronger protective response to the four virus types, said George, who has received funding from Takeda Pharmaceuticals to study the immune responses to a dengue vaccine the company is developing.

Read More at CNN.com

New York to Discard Prescription Pads, and Doctors’ Handwriting, in Digital Shift (NYT)

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One morning this month, Silvia Cota, a nurse supervisor in the emergency room at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, gathered her nurses together in a huddle to prepare them for the future.

“It really is not a complicated thing,” Ms. Cota told them, speaking loudly over the bustle of patients and emergency room staff. “We just have to get used to it.”

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Starting on March 27, the way prescriptions are written in New York State will change. Gone will be doctors’ prescription pads and famously bad handwriting. In their place: pointing and clicking, as prescriptions are created electronically and zapped straight to pharmacies in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

Dr. Daniel Baker, the vice chairman of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, teaches a physician assistant how to use a new electronic prescription system. Credit Christian Hansen for The New York Times

New York is the first state to require that all prescriptions be created electronically and to back up that mandate with penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for physicians who fail to comply. Minnesota has a law requiring electronic prescribing but does not penalize doctors who cling to pen and paper.

Just as doctors putting away their pads will face a culture change in New York, so, too, will patients, who will no longer be able to shop around for the shortest waiting time or the best price for their medications.

Lenox Hill was one of several New York hospitals owned by Northwell Health, formerly the North Shore-LIJ Health System, that on March 1 began to comply with the new mandate.

The shift is rooted in a 2012 state law known as I-Stop that was designed to curtail the growing problem of prescription opioid abuse. The scale of the problem is enormous. More controlled-substance prescriptions were written in the state from 2013 to 2014 (about 27 million) than there were residents (about 20 million), according to the State Health Department. In 2004, there were 341 opioid-related deaths in the state. In 2013, there were 1,227.

The first part of I-Stop, put into effect in 2013, is an online registry that a doctor must check before prescribing a controlled medication. The registry lists all controlled substances recently prescribed to a patient so doctors can spot a history of abuse.

But the registry can be gamed, even by a move as simple as a patient’s misspelling his name for the doctor.

“It’s certainly not foolproof,” said Dr. Douglas Schottenstein, a Manhattan pain management doctor whose office writes dozens of controlled-substance prescriptions daily.

The second major component of I-Stop legislation is the shift to electronic prescriptions, intended to reduce fraud, as well as mistakes caused by misinterpreted handwriting.

The transition was scheduled to take place a year ago, but state lawmakers pushed the start date back, largely because of software security issues. Those have been resolved.

“There should really be no reason that a doctor shouldn’t have had ample time to get it up and running,” said Dr. Joseph R. Maldonado, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York.

With the push to go digital over the past year, New York now leads the nation in the percentage of medical practitioners able to prescribe controlled substances electronically, according to Surescripts, the company that runs the network on which the prescriptions travel.

Still, many institutions are waiting until the last minute. As of January, only about 60 percent of the state’s roughly 100,000 prescribers were able to send prescriptions electronically, and about half as many were set up to prescribe controlled substances, which requires an extra security step.

In the emergency room at Lenox Hill Hospital, nurses were given a briefing on the move to electronic prescriptions this month. Credit Christian Hansen for The New York Times

Hospitals and nursing homes are among the late adopters, in part because of the complexity of rolling out technical systems in big institutions. Several of New York’s major health systems are applying for waivers to get more time for at least some of their facilities, including Montefiore Health System, NYU Langone Medical Center, Northwell Health and the Mount Sinai Health System.

Officials say that transmitting prescriptions to pharmacies will cut down on fraud, because people will no longer be able to modify a prescription by, for example, increasing the number of pain pills ordered.

“Paper prescriptions had become a form of criminal currency that could be traded even more easily than the drugs themselves,” said Eric T. Schneiderman, the state’s attorney general, who helped write the legislation. “By moving to a system of e-prescribing, we can curb the incidence of these criminal acts and also reduce errors resulting from misinterpretation of handwriting on good-faith prescriptions.”

Yet electronic prescribing will present its own set of challenges as patients and doctors get used to the idea.

Patients will have to come in knowing what pharmacy they want to use. At Lenox Hill, nurses will ask all incoming patients to indicate a preferred pharmacy, or have them pick one from a list presented by the software.

And if the medication at the pharmacy is either too expensive or not available, there will be no quick fix. To have a prescription sent to another pharmacy, the doctor will have to cancel it by phone and then prescribe it again.

The hospitals acknowledge the difficulties. When trying to convince doctors of the benefits of electronic prescriptions, “I don’t pitch it as, ‘It’s going to be faster for you,’” said Dr. Michael Oppenheim, the chief medical information officer for Northwell Health. Instead, Dr. Oppenheim said, he mentions things like improved legibility and better coordination of care.

Yet problems at Northwell’s pilot sites have been relatively few, he said. And at NYU Langone, where nearly three-quarters of prescriptions are now issued electronically, doctors report that most patients seem to like that the prescription is sent to the pharmacy ahead of them.

One unexpected impact has been that doctors tend to prescribe more common medications that are likely to be in stock, to avoid the headache of having to reissue a medication because the pharmacy does not have it.

“It’s probably driven us to prescribe more standardized regimens and more standardized dosing,” said Dr. Paul A. Testa, the chief medical information officer at NYU Langone. “And the reality is, there is always the phone. If I have a doubt, I can call the pharmacy.”

 

Doctors can still write prescriptions by hand in exceptional cases, such as when the medication will be filled out of state, when there are technical problems and when the prescription is for something other than a medicine, like crutches or a wheelchair.

Doctors who fail to follow the mandate “will be subject to a full range of disciplinary actions, including both civil and criminal penalties and fines,” according to the State Health Department.

Saying goodbye to the prescription pad is a relief for some doctors. After all, in most medical settings, pointing and clicking is already more prevalent than writing with a pen.

“My handwriting is really pathetic to the point where I think I have dysgraphia,” said Dr. Steven Lamm, the medical director of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Men’s Health with NYU Langone, which has embraced electronic prescribing over the past year. Now, he said, “my prescriptions are actually legible.”

Read More at the NYT.com

New Procedure Allows Kidney Transplants From Any Donor (NYT)

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In the anguishing wait for a new kidney, tens of thousands of patients on waiting lists may never find a match because their immune systems will reject almost any transplanted organ. Now, in a large national study that experts are calling revolutionary, researchers have found a way to get them the desperately needed procedure.

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Clint Smith, at home in New Orleans, had a procedure that altered his immune system to allow his body to accept a kidney from an incompatible donor. It “changed my life,” he said. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

In the new study, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, doctors successfully altered patients’ immune systems to allow them to accept kidneys from incompatible donors. Significantly more of those patients were still alive after eight years than patients who had remained on waiting lists or received a kidney transplanted from a deceased donor.

The method, known as desensitization, “has the potential to save many lives,” said Dr. Jeffery Berns, a kidney specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the president of the National Kidney Foundation.

It could slash the wait times for thousands of people and for some, like Clint Smith, a 56-year-old lawyer in New Orleans, mean the difference between receiving a transplant and spending the rest of their lives on dialysis.

The procedure, Mr. Smith said, “changed my life.”

Researchers estimate about half of the 100,000 people in the United States on waiting lists for a kidney transplanthave antibodies that will attack a transplanted organ, and about 20 percent are so sensitive that finding a compatible organ is all but impossible. In addition, said Dr. Dorry Segev, the lead author of the new study and a transplant surgeon at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, an unknown number of people with kidney failure simply give up on the waiting lists after learning that their bodies would reject just about any organ. Instead, they resign themselves to dialysis, a difficult and draining procedure that can pretty much take over a person’s life.

Desensitization involves first filtering the antibodies out of a patient’s blood. The patient is then given an infusion of other antibodies to provide some protection while the immune system regenerates its own antibodies. For some reason — exactly why is not known — the person’s regenerated antibodies are less likely to attack the new organ, Dr. Segev said. But if the person’s regenerated natural antibodies are still a concern, the patient is treated with drugs that destroy any white blood cells that might make antibodies that would attack the new kidney.

The process is expensive, costing $30,000, and uses drugs not approved for this purpose. The transplant costs about $100,000. But kidney specialists argue that desensitization is cheaper in the long run than dialysis, which costs $70,000 a year for life.

Although by far the biggest use of desensitization would be for kidney transplants, the process might be suitable for living-donor transplants of livers and lungs, researchers said. The liver is less sensitive to antibodies so there is less need for desensitization, “but it’s certainly possible if there are known incompatibilities,” Dr. Segev said. With lungs, he said, desensitization “is theoretically possible,” although he said he was not aware of anyone doing it yet.

In the new study, 1,025 patients at 22 medical centers who had an incompatible donor were compared to an equal number of patients who remained on waiting lists for an organ or who had an organ from a deceased but compatible donor. After eight years, 76.5 percent of those who received an incompatible kidney were still alive, compared with 62.9 percent who remained on the waiting list or received a deceased donor kidney and 43.9 percent who remained on the waiting list but never got a transplant.

The desensitization procedure takes time — for some patients as long as two weeks — and is performed before the transplant operation, so patients must have a living donor. It is not known how many have someone willing to donate a kidney, but doctors say they often see situations in which a relative or even a friend is willing to donate but is incompatible.

“Often patients are told that their living donor is incompatible, so they are stuck on waiting lists,” for a deceased donor, Dr. Segev said.

In recent years, an option called a kidney exchange has helped some in this situation. Patients who have incompatible living donors can swap donors with someone whose donor may be compatible with them. Often, there are chains of patient-donor pairs leading to a compatible organ swap.

That process can be successful, said Dr. Krista L. Lentine, the medical director of the living donation program at the Saint Louis Center for Transplantation, but patients often still cannot find a compatible organ because they have antibodies that would reject almost every kidney. In those cases, “desensitization may be the only realistic option for receiving a transplant,” said Dr. Lentine, who was not involved with the study.

Dr. Jeffrey Campsen, a transplant surgeon at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center who also was not a study investigator, said his group focused on exchanges and had been fairly successful. But he also comes across patients whose donors do not want to participate. “There is a hurdle if the donor and patient have an emotional bond,” he said.

The new data showing the success of desensitization “lets people get behind it,” Dr. Campsen said, adding, “I do think it is something we would consider.”

Mr. Smith, the New Orleans patient who went through desensitization, had progressive kidney disease that slowly scarred his kidneys until, in 2004, they stopped functioning. His sister-in-law, Allison Sutton, donated a kidney to him, and he had a transplant, but after six and a half years, it failed. He went on dialysis, spending four days a week hooked up to dialysis machines for hours. It was keeping him alive, he told his friends, but it was not a life.

Then a nurse suggested that he ask Johns Hopkins about its desensitization study. “I was like, whatever I could do,” he said. He discovered that he qualified for the study. But he needed a donor.

One day, his wife, Sheryl Smith, was talking on the phone to a college friend, Angela Watkins, who lives in Augusta, Ga., and mentioned that Mr. Smith was praying for a donor. Mrs. Watkins’s husband, David Watkins, a judge in state court, had been friends with Mr. Smith in college and the two wives, also college friends, had kept in touch over the years.

 

We talked and researched and prayed,” Judge Watkins said. Finally, he said, they came to a conclusion. “We have a moral obligation to at least see if we would qualify.” And he thought that he should be the one to go first. If he did not qualify, his wife could be tested.

Mr. Smith warned his old friend that donating was an enormous undertaking. “He said, ‘You can’t grasp what you are doing.’ I heard him but it didn’t register,” Judge Watkins said. “I told him, ‘I have something you need, so what’s the big deal?’ ”

Of course, it was a big deal. Although Judge Watkins had prepared by getting himself in top physical shape, it still took about six months to recover from the operation.

That was four years ago, and Mr. Smith’s new kidney is still functioning and he is back to his active life, forever grateful to his friend.
“Every night,” he says, “during my nightly prayers with my wife, I thank God for bringing David and Allison to me and for giving me the gift of life.

“But for David giving me this gift, I would still be in that dialysis chair.”

Read more at the New York Times


Has Cancer’s weak spot be found? (CNN)

(CNN)A new breakthrough in cancer research could lead to a novel form of cancer treatment — one that is highly specialized for each patient.

By Holly Yan, CNN CNN’s Dominique Heckels contributed to this report.

WHO urges cancer prevention

  Researchers discovered that even though cancer cells mutate wildly within a person’s body, the cancer cells within each patient also have common mutations — ones that could be isolated and fought off by certain immune cells.

Think of it this way: A patient’s cancer cells all start off with the same tree trunk, but then grow different kinds of branches. The new research shows certain immune cells can “chop the tree at the trunk rather than just pruning the branches,” Dr. Sergio Quezada told CNN.

 Quezada, from the University College London’s Cancer Institute, co-authored the study, which was published Thursday byScience magazine.

For years, one of the biggest obstacles in fighting cancer has been the fact that a tumor’s cancer cells are not all the same.

“The tumor is an evolving mass. Mutations change here and there. Mutations in one area of the tumor are usually different from mutations in other parts of the tumors,” Quezada said.

Read: These dogs can sniff out cancer better than some tests

In a statement to Cancer Research UK, he likened the fight against cancer to police chasing a wide array of criminals.

“The body’s immune system acts as the police trying to tackle cancer, the criminals. Genetically diverse tumours are like a gang of hoodlums involved in different crimes — from robbery to smuggling. And the immune system struggles to keep on top of the cancer — just as it’s difficult for police when there’s so much going on,” he said.

“Our research shows that instead of aimlessly chasing crimes in different neighborhoods, we can give the police the information they need to get to the kingpin at the root of all organized crime — or the weak spot in a patient’s tumor — to wipe out the problem for good.”

What this means for treatment

Quezada told CNN this discovery could lead to two kinds of treatment:

1) Making customized vaccines to target the core mutations in each patient.

2) Identifying which immune cells, or T-cells, can fight off those core mutations, then multiplying those T-cells in a lab.

Quezada said the customized vaccines would be “the ultimate personalized form of therapy.”

“This would mean basically taking a cancer tumor, finding the trunk, and then designing a vaccine (to) inject in the patent,” he said.

“The second approach is to ‘fish’ these cells — T-cells — that recognize the trunk, expand them outside the patient” and inject them in the body.

Quezada said no human trials have started using either approach in light of the study, but said he hopes trials will begin within five years.

Read: Blindsided by cancer? 5 things to do

The limitations

But the discovery doesn’t mean all cancer patients will be cured soon. The potential for new treatment also has several limitations.

First is “the speed at which you can generate personalized therapy,” Quezada said. “Some cancers go really fast.”

Developing a customized vaccine, for example, could take more time than a cancer patient has.

Second, it would be expensive. Quezada said he doesn’t have an estimate on how much either type of treatment would cost, but given the highly customized nature of each, it could be extremely expensive.

“That’s going to be an important point of this discussion,” he said.

Finally, such treatments would likely work better for some types of cancer than others. Quezada said he believes lung cancer and melanoma would be the most likely to respond well to such treatment.

Read: Why cancer drugs worth $3B are wasted

A massive collaboration

A team of 36 international researchers worked on the study, which included scientists from the London, the United States, Denmark and Germany. The study was funded by Cancer Research UK and the Rosetrees Trust.

“It’s the most amazing collaboration I’ve ever worked on, Quezada said. “It’s been an amazing roller coaster.”

The next roller coaster will be determining when patients could receive the treatments — and learning how well they might work.

Technology is a key driver to overcome healthcare challenges in Africa (IT News Africa)

Healthcare in Africa differs widely, depending on the country and also the region—those living in urban areas are more likely to receive better health care services than those in rural or remote regions.  Many communities lack clean water and proper sanitation facilities, particularly in rural areas.  This means that illnesses caused by poor hygiene, such as cholera and diarrhoea, are common in some countries.

By Staff Writer: IT News Africa

Mobile technology can address some of the biggest health challenges in Africa.

Heavy demands on health care systems
Diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS as well as diseases found mostly in African countries such as elephantiasis, leprosy, polio, helminthiasis and trachoma are rife. Furthermore, there are not enough health workers, hospitals and clinics in Africa. Some African countries lack basic equipment and have inadequate supplies of medicines. Half of Africans do not have access to essential drugs and disruption to daily life and damage to facilities caused by conflict, mean health clinics have an even greater struggle to offer services to local populations.  Diseases then take an even greater toll. Demands on health care systems are also increasing as non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease are on the rise.

At a 2001 African Union (AU) meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, African countries agreed to allocate 15% of their budgets to healthcare.  To date, only six countries have met this commitment.  Health experts now believe that even if the target is reached, 15% of a small budget is not sufficient to make major inroads into poor health.  Four of the six countries allocating 15% of their budget still spend only 14USD per capita on health.

Technology—a key driver to overcome healthcare challenges
Vuyani Jarana at Vodacom Business says that mobile technology can address some of the biggest health challenges in Africa. “We have developed a range of healthcare solutions using mobile technology specifically to bridge the gap,” he says. To achieve this and leapfrog the global health care systems, it is critical for technology and innovative solutions to be implemented across the continent.

For example, there are mobile applications to:
– Capture patient information making service records more accurate and easily accessible
– Remind patients when they are due back at a clinic for an immunisation visit
– Remind the clinic management to submit an update on stock levels, expiry dates, wastage and stock received.

Jarana believes that technology will be a key driver in helping the continent to overcome some of its biggest healthcare challenges.

Innovative funding mechanisms can provide much needed revenue
Funding remains a monumental problem. Under these difficult circumstances, it is imperative to create new and innovative sources of funding like innovative financing for development, to address the socio-economic development needs of the population, of which health is clearly an urgent priority. According to McKinsey & Company, “innovative” refers to finance mechanisms that might mobilise, govern, or distribute funds beyond traditional donor-country official development assistance (ODA).  New revenue streams will have to be identified to implement or scale up already-existing programmes to address the current health challenges.

The Group contribution
Innovative financing for development has the capability of generating significant amounts of revenue that could either replace or complement existing traditional methods of funding. For instance, innovative funding mechanisms implemented with the assistance of a revenue-assurance expert like Global Voice Group has generated an estimated USD 1.5 billion over the last 10 years, through micro-levies on international telecommunications services.  These revenue-generating opportunities empower African countries to take charge of their own socio-economic development, using their own resources and through the smart integration of ICTs.

Innovative Financing—a game changer for sustainable development
Several developing or emerging countries are already capitalising on innovative financing for development.  For instance, in Haiti, education is being funded through micro-charges on international telephone calls.  By June 2015, more than US$16 million had been generated, allowing the government to provide free quality education to 1.4 million Haitian children.

It is no exaggeration, then, to say that innovative financing for development is a real game changer for sustainable development.  The leveraging of international incoming calls as an innovative funding mechanism has become an important part of the economies of many African countries. However, to make this funding mechanism effective international incoming telecoms traffic must be accurately measured and a revenue-assurance solution put in place to prevent fraud.  GVG’s cutting edge telecommunications governance solutions have assisted many African countries to optimise the revenue generated by international incoming telephone traffic so as to ensure that both the local operators and the government receive their fair share of the revenue.

These revenues can be used to finance social projects like health and education and meet the respective countries’ specific development goals.  This paves the way to more sustainable models of society on the African continent.

Read More at IT News Africa

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Another robotic first in Africa achieved (IT News Africa)

The Urology Hospital in Pretoria has successfully conducted Africa’s first robotic assisted removal of a cancerous bladder (cystectomy) and prostate (cysto-prostatectomy).

Dr Hugo van der Merwe, who performed the surgery, also used the robotic system to reconstruct a new bladder (neobladder) from the patient’s bowel, after removing the cancerous bladder and prostate in what is normally a high morbid surgery.

By Staff Writer: IT News Africa

The Urology Hospital in Pretoria has successfully conducted Africa’s first robotic assisted removal of a cancerous bladder (cystectomy) and prostate (cysto-prostatectomy).

“Success using the robotic system has been excellent,” said van der Merwe. “The patient had aggressive bladder cancer and needed standard post-operative chemotherapy. The recovery is remarkable.”

The 36-year-old patient now has perfect bladder control, is fully potent and enjoys normal bodily functions without the burden of a colostomy bag.

Van der Merwe added: “Standard surgical procedures are associated with very high morbidity (complication) rates. Even in the best medical centres in the world there is a 30% chance of secondary surgery within the first 30 days after operating as well as significant problem such as blood loss, pneumonia and embolism. The robotic system aids in significantly less morbidity and recovery time is much faster. We have not as yet had to take any patients back to theatre due to complications.”

Read More at IT News Africa 

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Scientists Just 3D Printed a Transplantable Human Ear (Gizmodo)

Scientists have developed an innovative 3D bioprinter capable of generating replacement tissue that’s strong enough to withstand transplantation. To show its power, the scientists printed a jaw bone, muscle, and cartilage structures, as well as a stunningly accurate human ear.

After nearly 10 years in development, a research team led by Anthony Atalafrom Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine has unveiled the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP). Once refined and proven safe in humans, these 3D bioprinted structures could be used to replace injured, missing, or diseased tissue in patients. And because they’re designed in a computer, these replacement parts will be made to order to meet the unique needs of each patient. The details of this breakthrough were published today in Nature Biotechnology.

By George Dvorsky

Bioprinters work the same way that conventional 3D printers do, using additive manufacturing to build complex structures layer by layer. But instead of using plastics, resins, and metals, bioprinters use special biomaterials that closely approximate functional, living tissue.

Credit: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine

But existing bioprinters cannot fabricate tissues of the right size or strength. Their products end up being far too weak and structurally unstable for surgical transplantation. They also cannot print more delicate structures like blood vessels, or vasculature. Without these ready-made blood vessels, cells cannot be supplied with critical nutrients and oxygen. Read more

(AFK Insider) Gates Foundation Pays For Contraceptive Delivery By Drone To African Women

Ghana health care. Photo Credit: gooverseas.com

Ghana health care.
Photo Credit: gooverseas.com

By Dana Sanchez

Published: January 29, 2016, 3:26 pm 

Drones are delivering contraceptives to hard-to-reach Ghanaian villages in a program jointly funded by the U.N. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and it’s so successful that other countries want it too, HuffingtonPost reported.

Deliveries to rural Ghana that once took two days now take 30 minutes by drone, and each flight costs only $15, according to Kanyanta Sunkutu, a South African public health specialist with the U.N. Population Fund.

Sunkutu said he expected the pilot program in Ghana to encounter resistance, and worried people would associate the drones with war. So the U.N., in its program materials, referred to the drones only as “unmanned aerial vehicles” — not drones.

“We don’t want that link between war and what we are doing,” Sunkutu told The Huffington Post in an interview. “But the resistance we thought we would get has not been there.”

Less than than 20 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa use modern contraceptives. In rural Africa, a flood can shut down roads for days and cut off medical supplies, making access to birth control a massive problem.

An estimated 225 million women in developing countries around the world want to delay or stop childbearing, but don’t have reliable birth control, according to the World Health Organization. This prevents women and girls from finishing school or getting jobs. About 47,000 women die of complications from unsafe abortions each year.

“We are particularly committed to exploring how our family planning efforts can meet the needs of young women and girls,” Bill and Melinda Gates said, according to their foundation website.

The idea to use drones for delivering birth control came from a program in the Amazon, Sunkutu said.

The drone operator packs a five-foot-wide drone with contraceptives and medical supplies from an urban warehouse and sends it over to places hard to reach by car. There, a local health worker meets the drone and picks up the supplies.

Project Last Mile has been flying birth control, condoms and other medical supplies to rural areas of Ghana for several months.

Now it’s expanding to six other African countries. The goal is to revolutionize women’s health and family planning in Africa. Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Mozambique have expressed an interest.

Using drones to improve reproductive health isn’t exactly a new idea — it’s just new in Africa, according to Huffington Post. In June, a Dutch organization called Women on Waves used a drone to fly abortion pills to Poland, trying to raise awareness of Poland’s restrictive abortion laws.

Project Last Mile says it is the first to develop a long-term, sustainable program for delivering contraceptives by drone.

Sunkutu hopes that eventually drones will revolutionize other areas of rural African life., starting with family planning.

“They can deliver ballots after elections, or exams for school,” he said. It becomes a logistics management solution for hard-to-reach areas. We’re going to use family planning as an entry and make it sustainable.”

The article was published in AFKInsider.