Stories by Anne Underwood

  • Most Doctors Have Financial Relationships With Pharma

    A new study finds that the vast majority of doctors have some kind of financial relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. Who's getting what? And what impact does it have on patient care?
  • America’s Greenest Mayors

    Sometimes great ideas are born of desperation. For Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, that sense of urgency developed in the winter of 2004-05, when the annual snowfall failed to materialize in the neighboring Cascade Mountains. That's a serious issue in Seattle, where melting snow feeds the city's reservoirs in the springtime and swells the river that supplies its hydroelectric energy. Nickels's advisers were coming to him weekly with reports that the snow pack was just 1 percent of normal. "I don't think 'normal' exists anymore," Nickels remembers saying, having endured a succession of unusually warm winters. "Normal would be cause for popping champagne corks."Nickels wasn't the only one who was starting to worry about climate change. In February 2005, 141 nations worldwide were preparing to put the Kyoto Protocol into effect—aiming to reduce global warming by cutting greenhouse-gas emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States was notably not one of them, so Nickels...
  • HDL Drugs: What Now?

    After a spectacular failure last year, researchers and heart patients are about to get some answers.
  • Talk Transcript: Mary Carmichael on Exercise and the Brain

    The phone call began ominously. "We've got some very bad news." It was a top official at Pfizer calling for Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and president of the American College of Cardiology, one Saturday evening last December. The official got right to the point. The company was immediately shutting down clinical trials of torcetrapib—the experimental drug that was supposed to slash heart disease by dramatically raising HDL, or "good," cholesterol. In the largest of the four trials, the pill not only failed to reduce deaths, but actually increased mortality by 60 percent. The finding stunned Nissen. "Torcetrapib was expected to be a blockbuster," he says. "People thought the morbidity-and-mortality trial would be stopped early because the benefits were so clear, not because the drug posed hazards."Cardiologists have long hoped for a drug to boost HDL as efficiently and with as few side effects as the statin drugs reduce LDL ("bad"...
  • What's Up With Stents, Docs?

    It's not often that the New England Journal of Medicine devotes most of its editorial content to a single subject—and releases the information early online. That's exactly what it did Monday with a series of five studies and several commentaries on drug-eluting coronary stents. As the editors explained, "Our motivation is the recent concern that the implantation of drug-eluting stents, as compared with bare-metal stents, may be associated with a small increased risk of late stent thrombosis, a potentially fatal complication."Drug-eluting stents were hailed as a "breakthrough technology" in 2003 and 2004, when the FDA approved the Cypher and Taxus stents, respectively. Like the bare-metal stents that preceded them, these tiny wire-mesh scaffolds were designed to prop open narrowed blood vessels (a problem known as stenosis), reducing the chest pain known as angina. Unlike bare-metal stents, however, the Cypher and Taxus devices were coated with drugs, the purpose of which was to...
  • To Your Health: Another Piece of the Puzzle

    To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Alzheimer’s disease is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Thousands of researchers in labs around the world are hard at work every day trying to unlock its secrets. But how does one begin to unravel the cause of a disease that arises from the interplay of dozens of genes plus a number of environmental factors? To date, 900 scientific papers have identified 350 candidate genes that may be involved in late-onset Alzheimer’s, the form of the disease that accounts for roughly 95 percent of cases. Yet researchers have reached a consensus on only one of them—the APO E4 gene variant. That’s why a paper appearing Sunday in the online version of the journal Nature Genetics is drawing attention. In it, an international team of 41 scientists has provided strong evidence for the involvement of another gene, called SORL1. The new gene appears to confer only a modest degree of susceptibility for Alzheimer’s, but simply knowing that it is involved in...
  • New Alzheimer's Gene Discovered

    Researchers have linked a new gene to late-onset Alzheimer's, the most common form of the disease. What the discovery means.
  • To Your Health: The Perils Of Posing

    Once a fringe activity, yoga is now as mainstream as mocha lattes, and with good reason. Numerous studies have shown that the practice can enhance strength, balance and flexibility. Yoga helps reduce stress and may even help lower high blood pressure.But to reap the benefits, you have to do it right—as all too many people are now discovering. Do it wrong, and you could end up as one of the growing number of casualties. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 5,000 yoga-related injuries in 2005 that resulted in visits to doctors' offices, clinics and emergency rooms—up from 3,700 in 2004. Those numbers are largely a function of more people, especially aging boomers, taking up yoga. The cost of treating these injuries in 2005 came to nearly $90 million.As holiday excesses yield to New Year's resolutions to diet and exercise, it's a good time to review some basics that can help ensure a safe yoga practice. NEWSWEEK's Anne Underwood spoke with Dr....
  • An Alzheimer's Fingerprint?

    For decades, researchers have been trying to devise a reliable diagnostic test for Alzheimer's disease. But the goal has proven elusive. Today, even with the best techniques available, patients are technically classified as having "possible" or "probable" Alzheimer's, with a definitive conclusion becoming possible only upon death, when the brain can be autopsied. That's why a study appearing today in the online version of the journal Annals of Neurology could be so significant. In the new study, Kelvin Lee and Erin Finehout, chemical and biochemical engineers at Cornell University, joined forces with neurologist Norman Relkin at Weill Cornell Medical College to develop and test a new approach to diagnosing Alzheimer's, based on an analysis of proteins in patients' spinal fluid. The approach won't translate into a commercially available test for several years. But when and if it does, it will be a major breakthrough.It can't come soon enough. Already some 4.5 million Americans have...
  • A Six-Foot Lab Rat

    Samuel Hassenbusch knows brain tumors. As a neurosurgeon at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, he's been operating on them since 1988. But early last year, when he suffered a month long string of persistent headaches, he told himself it was just stress. After all, he was only 51 and fit enough that he'd just completed a charity race for his hospital, combining a 5K run with a 50-mile motorcycle ride--or, as he calls it, "the iron-leg and iron-butt competition." When the thought kept popping into his head that he might have a brain tumor, he quickly dismissed it. "Come on, this is paranoid," he told himself. "Get an MRI to prove it's nothing." Hassenbusch went for the scan on May 10, 2005. When he exited the scanner room, he saw a 17-by-14-inch film posted against a light board--probably some other patient's. Poor guy. Even from 10 feet away, Hassenbusch could see clearly that the patient had a large glioblastoma--the deadliest type of brain tumor. He moved in for a closer look....
  • Targeting Needless Breast Biopsies

    Think mammograms are unpleasant? Breast biopsies are much worse. Any woman who's had one to determine whether a lump is benign or malignant will attest to that. Even with minimally invasive techniques, the doctor has to guide a needle to the spot to localize the lump before inserting small blades to sample the tissue. "You definitely feel it," says Donna Feo, 42, of Columbiana, Ohio, who had the procedure in February. "You have bandages on your breast for a week or so." Then there's the tense wait for the results. For Feo, that meant four days during which she agonized over the prospect that her small children would be left without a mother. Some 1.4 million women undergo breast biopsies in this country every year. And after all that grief, 80 percent of the lumps turn out to be benign ... like Feo's. Isn't there a better way?Soon there may be. Last week at the Radiological Society of North America, Dr. Richard G. Barr, director of ultrasound breast imaging at Southwoods X-Ray and...
  • Environment: A Greener Way to Dress

    Bamboo: the stuff of floors, furniture ... and now, fashion. Five years ago, Chinese engineers learned how to break down the fibers and spin them into thread. Now bamboo is sprouting up in dozens of products, from sheets (from $40; bedbathandbeyond.com ) to baby suits ($22; bamboosa.com ). The fabric is incredibly soft--and earth-friendly, too, because it doesn't require pesticides or fertilizers. Conventionally grown cotton takes a third of a pound of farm chemicals to produce a single T shirt, according to sustainablecotton.org.
  • Targeting Needless Breast Biopsies

    Think mammograms are unpleasant? Breast biopsies are much worse. Any woman who's had one to determine whether a lump is benign or malignant will attest to that. Even with minimally invasive techniques, the doctor has to guide a needle to the spot to localize the lump before inserting small blades to sample the tissue. "You definitely feel it," says Donna Feo, 42, of Columbiana, Ohio, who had the procedure in February. "You have bandages on your breast for a week or so." Then there's the tense wait for the results. For Feo, that meant four days during which she agonized over the prospect that her small children would be left without a mother. Some 1.4 million women undergo breast biopsies in this country every year. And after all that grief, 80 percent of the lumps turn out to be benign ... like Feo's. Isn't there a better way?Soon there may be. Last week at the Radiological Society of North America, Dr. Richard G. Barr, director of ultrasound breast imaging at Southwoods X-Ray and...
  • A Six-Foot Lab Rat

    Samuel Hassenbusch knows brain tumors. As a neurosurgeon at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, he's been operating on them since 1988. But early last year, when he suffered a month long string of persistent headaches, he told himself it was just stress. After all, he was only 51 and fit enough that he'd just completed a charity race for his hospital, combining a 5K run with a 50-mile motorcycle ride--or, as he calls it, "the iron-leg and iron-butt competition." When the thought kept popping into his head that he might have a brain tumor, he quickly dismissed it. "Come on, this is paranoid," he told himself. "Get an MRI to prove it's nothing." Hassenbusch went for the scan on May 10, 2005. When he exited the scanner room, he saw a 17-by-14-inch film posted against a light board--probably some other patient's. Poor guy. Even from 10 feet away, Hassenbusch could see clearly that the patient had a large glioblastoma--the deadliest type of brain tumor. He moved in for a closer look....
  • A Virulent Enemy

    It was nature's own bioterror attack. The year was 1898, during the Spanish-American War, and the United States was losing more soldiers to yellow fever than to combat. In the disease's final, hideous stages, patients turned yellow with jaundice and vomited digested blood. They suffered bone-crushing pain and fevers that spiked to 104 degrees and above. One doctor who examined corpses described the victims' blood as steaming--their organs seeming to have been immersed in boiling water.Today we've largely forgotten yellow fever, but a gripping new book, "The American Plague" by Molly Caldwell Crosby, could help remedy that. In an account that's highly readable (if short on scientific detail), Crosby chronicles the history of the disease, which still afflicts an estimated 200,000 people around the world and is viewed by U.S. officials as a potential bioterror threat.Crosby dwells on two epi- sodes--the 1878 epidemic that crippled Memphis and the efforts of Walter Reed, the famed U.S....
  • And For the Rest of the Century’s Weather….

    Scary weather patterns appear to be on the rise. And if a new report is right, we could be in for a lot more. In a study called “Going to the Extremes,” coming out in the December issue of the journal Climatic Change, researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and Texas Tech University found strong evidence that by the end of this century, there will be significant increases in what the authors call “extreme weather events”—deadly heat waves, heavy rainfall and prolonged droughts.While it’s impossible to peg any single storm or heat wave to global warming, the overall trend is clear, according to the report—and closely correlated with rising greenhouse-gas emissions. Already we're seeing increases in extreme weather. The study doesn’t name examples, but they’re not hard to find. There was the heat wave this summer that killed more than 130 people in California. High windstorms in the Southeast this month left a dozen dead and spawned heavy rains and flash...
  • Oh, to Be Fat and Healthy

    A glass of red wine a day helps lower the risk of heart disease. Can it also counteract the effects of a high-fat diet, rich in T-bone steaks and coconut-cream pies? That's what everyone wanted to know after a new study, led by David Sinclair at Harvard, appeared last week in the online version of the journal Nature. The study found that concentrated doses of resveratrol, a compound in red wine, protected mice from the effects of obesity and extended their lives. The mice were fed a high-calorie diet, with 60 percent of calories coming from fat. Not surprisingly, they were overweight. But the mice didn't have high blood sugar, high insulin or fatty livers--the kinds of problems that accompany obesity and are common in diabetes.Now for the reality check. No one has shown that equivalent doses of resveratrol are either safe or effective in people. Nor can you possibly get enough of the stuff from red wine. "You would have to drink over 1,000 glasses a day," says Sinclair. Resveratrol...
  • Health: It's All In The Bark

    When explorer Jacques Cartier was stranded in Canada in the winter of 1535, many of his crew members developed bleeding gums and skin lesions from scurvy. But a local Indian gave them a remedy: a tea brewed from the bark and needles of a pine tree. Just maybe, there was some wisdom in that folk remedy. Today a French maritime-pine-bark extract called Pycnogenol--a mix of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds--is a fast-growing supplement on the U.S. market, with sales up 25 percent this year to date.Unlike most supplements, which have very little research behind them, Pycnogenol (pic-NOJ-en-ol) has 36 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. The strongest evidence relates to heart health--helping to reduce unwanted clotting, lower "bad" cholesterol and bring down mild hypertension. But the latest studies suggest benefits for diabetes, too. Diabetic patients eventually tend to develop leaky capillaries, which can lead to vision loss, leg ulcers and even amputation of toes or...
  • Unraveling the SIDS Mystery

    Susan Gertler of Olympia Fields, Ill., was delighted. Her 15-week-old son, Joey, had slept through the night for the third time. “I can’t believe he slept through the night again,” she said to her husband, Jeff, when she woke that morning—Jan. 19, 1996. But Joey hadn’t slept through the night. He’d stopped breathing around midnight and never started again, a victim of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Gertler administered CPR, while her husband called 911 and summoned a doctor friend down the street, but all their efforts proved fruitless. Joey had been dead too long. “My memories of that morning are all grey, as if someone had turned out the lights,” says Gertler, now 46. “You’re responsible for your baby’s life. You were the one who put them to sleep. It’s nobody’s fault but your own.”Painful as it sounds, that's what many people used to think. But according to a study appearing Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it now seems that there is a...
  • Health: Get the Whole Truth

    When Rebecca Faill began manning the baker's hot line at King Arthur Flour Company in Norwich, Vt., she expected run-of-the-mill cooking questions, like "Why aren't my biscuits fluffy?" or "How do I convert my pancake recipe to serve 300 for the church dinner?" But over the past year, another query has moved to the fore--a more basic nutritional question: "My doctor just told me I have to eat whole grains. What does that mean?"It's a question that consumers have been asking with increasing urgency since 2005, when the USDA's Dietary Guidelines started recommending that people eat three or more servings of whole grains a day (or, as the government slogan put it, "Make half your grains whole"). The USDA action came in response to a growing body of research showing that people who eat the most whole grains have a 20 to 40 percent reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, not to mention better colon health. The reasons for the health benefits aren't hard to fathom. Whole...
  • Medicine's Racial Gap

    The Institute of Medicine may not seem like a revolutionary body. But in 2001, it issued a challenge to the nation—to strive for equal health care for all citizens, regardless of gender, ethnicity, geographic location and socioeconomic status. The impetus was clear: Too many studies were showing that African-Americans were receiving poorer medical care than whites. Five years later, how are we doing?Not so well, according to a pair of new studies. The first one, appearing tomorrow in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at 334,204 black and white members of 151 Medicare plans—and found that only one plan was delivering equally well for blacks and whites, and even this plan was making the grade on only two out of four measures. The study didn’t aim to assess care in the doctor’s office per se, according to Dr. John Ayanian, associate professor of medicine and health care policy at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the study. Ayanian and Dr. Amal Trivedi...
  • How to Read a Face

    Carl Marci was jubilant. After a year in therapy, trying to decide whether to propose to his girlfriend, he had finally taken the plunge--and she had said yes! As Marci recounted the story to his shrink days later, his therapist appeared to share the triumph with him. And it wasn't just an act. Marci, a psychiatrist himself at Massachusetts General Hospital, had wired himself and his therapist to special equipment that records heart-rate variability and "skin conductivity"--two measures that, taken together, indicate the ebb and flow of emotional arousal. When he examined the data later, Marci was stunned. Lines on the two charts rose and fell in perfect unison, revealing that his therapist was truly sharing his excitement. "It's no accident that we speak of being on the same wavelength with someone," says Marci. "In a moment like that, you really are."That is precisely the point that science writer Daniel Goleman makes in his new book, "Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human...
  • Thawing the ‘Frozen Chosen’

    For years, America’s mainline Protestant churches were in serious decline, with plummeting membership and a voice that seemed irrelevant in national politics. All the energy seemed to have drained out of them, flowing inexorably toward evangelical and Pentecostal denominations, with their burgeoning megachurches and media empires. But a new book finds hope for the mainline. In “Christianity for the Rest of Us” (HarperSanFrancisco), independent scholar Diana Butler Bass contends that a spiritual renewal is underway, and to prove it, she marshals the examples of 50 mainline churches that are anything but dead. As Butler Bass says of her own Episcopal church (the Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C.): “They’re not just the ‘frozen chosen’ anymore. They’re starting to thaw.” She spoke to NEWSWEEK’s Anne Underwood.NEWSWEEK: How did this book come about?Diana Butler Bass: It grew out of an earlier book of mine, published in 2002, called “Strength for the Journey.” I was a little...
  • Case Study: New Ideas For Nurses

    Which of these hospitals would you rather be treated in? At Hospital A, a major southwestern facility, the nursing staff is stretched so thin--and the intellectual and emotional demands of the job are so intense--that nurses question their ability to deliver quality care. This summer, the strain finally drove Rebecca Matthys, 40, to quit nursing after 16 years. Too many times, an emergency with one patient had meant postponing care to others, then scrambling to catch up on her remaining duties. "It was like playing Russian roulette," she says. "It was just a matter of time before I made some horrible mistake that I would have to live with the rest of my life."At Hospital B--UPMC Shadyside, part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center--the ambience couldn't be more different. Even on a hectic day, things seem to be under control. There's a sense of energy rather than panic. "I truly love coming to work," says medical-cardiology nurse Cynthia Hostetler, 51.Check into a random...
  • ‘CSI’ Nursing

    What do you call a job that combines nursing with detective work—where you can examine rape victims for evidence of the crime or study corpses for clues to the killer's identity? It's called forensic nursing. And, given the popularity of crime shows like “CSI,” you can expect to hear a lot more about it in the future.Forensic nursing was launched as a specialty in the 1970s, when it became clear that hospital emergency rooms didn’t have the resources to deliver proper treatment to rape victims. Violated women were assigned low priority because medical staff didn’t regard their cases as urgent when compared with, say, a heart-attack victim—and physicians weren’t enthusiastic about caring for patients for whom they were probably going to have to testify in court. The brusque treatment only compounded victims' trauma. So a handful of ER nurses formed a specialty they called sexual-assault forensic examination. It was only in 1992, however, that the International Association of Forensic...
  • Food: Purer Delights

    All a chocoholic once needed to know was the difference between truffles and nut clusters. Not anymore. The latest trend in fancy food is "single origin" chocolate. Instead of being made from a blend of cacao beans, it contains a single type of bean from one country. And connoisseurs discuss it in the same reverent terms usually reserved for fine wines--polished, fruity, beautifully rounded. Is there really a difference?To find out, we tried the new Single Origin Chocolate Tasting Kit from the Guittard Chocolate Co. ($15.95; guittard.com ). It includes 16 miniature bars--four each from four countries. All contain exactly the same ingredients in the same proportions. Yet even our unrefined taste buds could detect a difference between the selections: from Colombia ("pleasant hints of peppery spice," according to the enclosed booklet), Venezuela, Madagascar and Ecuador ("floral flavors with hints of green forest"). Skeptics say the roast and processing of the beans affect taste more...
  • Health: Loud and Clearer

    Kim Nero of Saratoga, Calif., needed help with her hearing, but balked at the idea of hearing aids. "I'm 42. I don't want to look 82," she says. She stopped objecting after her audiologist prescribed the sleek new Delta aid from Oticon, Inc. ( oticon.com ). The device is available in 17 shades--from Cabernet red to a leopard-skin pattern--but don't spend too much time picking out a color. When tucked behind the ear, the Delta is barely visible, except for the tiny clear tube that leads into the ear canal. More important, it boasts the latest technology, which enhances conversation while filtering out troublesome background noise. "It's the iPod of hearing aids--high tech, phenomenally small, in cool colors, easy to use," says audiologist John Miles of Los Gatos, Calif.The Oticon Delta isn't for everyone. It costs up to $3,000 (double the price if you need two) and isn't suitable for people with severe hearing loss. But at least it proves that hearing aids aren't just for Grandpa...