Claudia Kalb

Stories by Claudia Kalb

  • Genetic Snake Oil?

    A new report calls for increased FDA scrutiny of the genetic testing industry.
  • Plight of the Teenage Insomniacs

    Rachel Estrella, A high-school senior in Barrington, R.I., gets into bed every night before 10, hoping to beat her insomnia. One frustrating hour later, she gets up. She reads. She writes. She waits. Finally, at 1 or 2 a.m., Estrella's mind and body give in. On average, she gets four to five hours of sleep a night—nowhere near the nine recommended for teens. "I'm exhausted," she says. "There are times when I feel like I want to be knocked out because there would be some relief."Plenty of kids have trouble getting up for early-morning school bells. Teen insomniacs have it much worse. Night after night, they struggle to sleep; day after day, they suffer. In a new study published in March in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers report that insomnia in adolescents is as prevalent as substance abuse and other disorders, like depression and ADHD. "That was a surprise," says lead author Robert Roberts of the University of Texas School of Public Health. One quarter of the 3,134...
  • Autism: Fact and Fiction

    Autism is everywhere—once again. Separating fact from fear as the courts and Hollywood wade in.
  • Kalb: Cancer Studies Want You!

    The goal of one study, which will follow 500,000 people for years, is to figure out who gets cancer and who doesn't, and why.
  • Long-Term Effects of Spanking

    Spanking may lead to aggression and sexual problems later in life, says a new study. So why do so many parents still believe in it?
  • Q&A: 'He Was a Person Who Never Gave Up'

    An old friend talks about Judah Folkman, the pioneering cancer researcher who endured years of skepticism before his work was recognized as the breakthrough it truly was.
  • Fear and Allergies in the Lunchroom

    It's 1 p.m. at Mercer Elementary School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and Lena Paskewitz's kindergarten class is filled with the happy hum of kids getting ready for their favorite part of the day: lunch. Caleigh Leiken, 6, is toting a pink Hello Kitty bag her mom has packed with goodies: strawberry yogurt, string cheese, some veggies and a cookie. But there's one childhood staple missing—a PB&J. Caleigh was diagnosed with a peanut and tree-nut allergy when she was just 7 months old. Nuts are a no-no at her table in the Mercer lunchroom. Her allergy-free friends can sit there, but only if their lunches have been stored in a special bin and carefully inspected by the teacher. Home, too, is a nut-free zone for Caleigh. When she goes trick-or-treating this week, her candy will be scarier than any costume; she won't be able to eat any of it for fear it's tainted with peanut residue. For Caleigh's mom, Erika Friedman—whose other two kids also have allergies—food can seem like an enemy. "We...
  • Peering Into the Future

    The year is 1895 and Pauline Gross, a young seamstress, is scared. Gross knows nothing about the double helix or the human-genome project--such medical triumphs are far in thefuture. But she does know about a nasty disease called cancer, and it's running through her family. "I'm healthy now," she reportedly confides to Dr. Aldred Warthin, a pathologist at the University of Michigan, "but I fully expect to die an early death."At the time, Gross's prediction (she did indeed die young of cancer) was based solely on observation: family members had succumbed to colon and endometrial cancer; she would, too. Today, more than 100 years later, Gross's relatives have a much more clinical option: genetic testing. With a simple blood test, they can peer into their own DNA, learning--while still perfectly healthy--whether they carry a hereditary gene mutation that has dogged their family for decades and puts them at serious risk. Ami McKay, 38, whose great-grandmother Tilly was Gross's sister,...
  • New Childbirth Technology Tanks

    As every 21st century mother knows, technology has become a routine part of delivering a baby in the hospital. One big advance: fetal heart rates are now routinely tracked during labor to be sure that there are no major and worrisome changes that would require an emergency Cesarean delivery. But monitoring heart rates alone doesn’t always provide enough information about risk. Researchers had hoped that a new technology, called fetal pulse oximetry, or fetal oxygen saturation monitoring, would help doctors assess the severity of a change in the fetus’s heartbeat by providing additional information about the baby’s condition. If the fetus had an abnormal heartbeat but good oxygen levels, the thinking went, doctors might be able to avoid performing unnecessary C-sections. A new study released Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, however, found that that thinking did not bear out. Scientists tested oxygen saturation monitoring on the fetuses of 5,341 women during labor and...
  • Fixing America's Hospitals

    Every day, hospitals across the country care for Americans in need. Babies are born, heart-attack victims are saved, broken bones are healed. But today, as the population ages, medical demands surge and costs rise, America's hospitals are being tested like never before. Solving the crisis is a formidable task, but innovative hospitals are rising to the challenge--they're reforming nursing practices, digitizing medical records, transforming end-of-life care.The most urgent hurdle of all: improving patient safety. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine declared that close to 100,000 Americans die annually from medical errors. This year, more dire news: medication errors harm at least 1.5 million people and cost some $3.5 billion per year. What goes wrong? Missed diagnoses, incorrect drug dosing, failure to treat promptly. Experts agree that doctors, nurses, pharmacists and technicians will always make mistakes--it's the safety net around them that needs to be fixed. "No matter how good...
  • Case Study: The Goal Is to Communicate

    Johns Hopkins is a world leader in medicine. So when Sorrel and Tony King found themselves there in 2001 with their 18-month-old daughter, Josie, they were grateful. Josie had climbed into a bathroom tub, turned on the hot water and scalded her tiny body with first- and second-degree burns. Doctors treated her with medications and skin grafts; slowly, she began to heal. But just days before she was expected to be released, Josie's condition took a sudden turn for the worse. She became incredibly thirsty--sucking on a washcloth after a bath--and her eyes rolled back in her head. "I screamed for help," says Sorrel, but she was told not to worry--her daughter's vital signs were fine. Then a nurse gave Josie a shot of methadone, despite Sorrel's protest. She'd been assured that no more medications would be given; the nurse said the orders had changed. Sorrel told herself: "These people are a hell of a lot smarter than I am and they know what they're doing."Nobody can say for sure what...
  • Knowledge That Can Save You

    It was a destiny Melodee stokes desperately wanted to avoid. The youngest of five girls, Melodee watched her oldest sister, Brenda, now 60, battle breast cancer twice. Last year another sister, Cindy, died of the disease at the age of 47. "She was a beautiful, vibrant woman, and when she died she was a very frail, sick person," says Melodee. "I didn't want to put my family through that." In April 2005, Melodee had a blood test to see if she, like her two sisters, carried a mutation in the breast-cancer gene, BRCA2, which increases the odds of both breast and ovarian cancer. She did. Two months later, Melodee had both her breasts removed; this past summer, she had a hysterectomy. "I'm going to do something that will make sure I'm never sick like Aunt Cindy," she explained to her daughters Heather, 11, and Danielle, 8. The girls responded, says Melodee, now 40, with "the biggest smiles."It was 10 years ago this month that tests for mutations in two breast-cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2...
  • Fast Chat: Eat Your Veggies

    If you're an Asian woman living in Bergen County, N.J., good news: your life expectancy, says a new study, is 91. That's 33 years longer than Native American men in South Dakota. Surprisingly, low-income rural whites in the Northern plains and Dakotas ranked second best after Asians. Money plays a role in health, but habits may have the most impact overall. Claudia Kalb talked to lead author Christopher Murray of the Harvard School of Public Health.First, there are millions of Americans living with life expectancies that are essentially equal to [those in] poor developing countries. Second, the vast majority of disparities can be traced to chronic disease in the working aged adult population. Third, there's no sign that the disparities are getting smaller.Tobacco, alcohol consumption, obesity, elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, low fruit and vegetable intake, and physical inactivity.It goes back to those risk factors. They have a strong cultural identity; that translates...
  • A New View of The Boys Club

    Ben Barres knows how it feels to be treated like a girl. Back in high school, Ben--who at that point was a girl named Barbara--was desperate to ditch sewing and cooking class for the "boy" stuff: woodworking, mechanical engineering, auto mechanics. Every year, Barres asked to join the guys; every year, the answer was "No." Same thing when it was time for college. A top science student and captain of the math team, Barres dreamed of going to MIT, but her guidance counselor winced. " 'Oh no'," Barres recalls him saying, " 'you'll never get in there'."Barres did get in there and today, with a B.S. from MIT, an M.D. from Dartmouth and a Ph.D. from Harvard, Barres, 51, is a leading neuroscientist and tenured professor at Stanford. He's also a female-to-male transgendered person (Barbara became Ben in 1997) who is speaking out about discrimination against women in science--on behalf of his former female self and the young female scientists he mentors. Last week, in a commentary published...
  • Health: 'Off-Label' Antipsychotics--for Kids

    The statistics are staggering: a sixfold spike, between 1993 and 2002, in the number of doctor visits in which kids and adolescents were prescribed antipsychotic drugs. Total tally in '02: 1.2 million. Antipsychotics are powerful drugs, typically used to treat severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia in adults--and they're not FDA-approved for children. But increasingly, doctors are prescribing newer generations of antipsychotics "off label" for a range of conditions in young people, from mood disorders to behavioral problems and ADHD. The drugs can be helpful for the right patients. In bipolar disorder, anti-psychotics help tame hard-core aggression, which is a devastating characteristic of the disease in young people, says Dr. Joseph Biederman, chief of pediatric psycho-pharmacology at Massachusetts General Hospital: "They've revolutionized the way we can treat these children." But drug trials in kids are limited and short-term, says Columbia University's Dr. Mark Olfson, who...
  • The Ties That Bind

    Our blood holds the secrets to who we are. Human genomes are 99.9 percent identical; we are far more similar than diverse. But that tiny 0.1 percent difference reveals clues to our ancestries. In recent years, as companies have sprung up claiming to trace one's background through genetic testing, tens of thousands of people have swabbed their cheeks and mailed in their DNA to discover more about where they came from. Far-flung cousins are finding each other; family legends are being overturned. Six years ago the term "genetic genealogy" was meaningless, says Bennett Greenspan, head of Family Tree DNA, a testing firm with 52,000 customers. "Now the interest is huge."As individuals track down their personal family narratives, population geneticists are seeking to tell the larger story of humankind. Our most recent common ancestors--a genetic "Adam" and "Eve"--have been traced back to Africa, and other intriguing forebears are being discovered all over the map. One group of scientists...
  • The Therapist as Scientist

    The year is 1876 and Sigmund Freud's scientific career is about to begin. The id, the ego, the superego? Nowhere to be found. When he travels to the University of Vienna's zoological station in Trieste, Italy, sometime around his 20th birthday, the young med student embarks on a far less esoteric task: hunting for the testicles of the eel. For millennia, the animal's mating habits had confounded scientists, including Aristotle. Could Freud solve the mystery? Not exactly. Four hundred dissected eels later, the organs remained elusive. But Freud did acquire enough material to write his first scientific paper. Title: "Observations on the Form and the Finer Structure of the Lobular Organs of the Eel, Organs Considered to be Testes."Long before the Oedipus complex, Sigmund Freud was a hard-core scientist. Early on, it was eel gonads; later, he studied the cellular underpinnings of the human brain. There were limits, however, to Freud's scientific pursuits--brain scans hadn't been...
  • Interview: Biology of the Mind

    In 2000, Dr. Eric Kandel, a Columbia professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute senior investigator, earned a Nobel Prize for his work on learning and memory. But Kandel's early passion was psychoanalysis, and he is a leading proponent of merging the long-divided fields of neuroscience and psychology. His book on the topic, "In Search of Memory," hits bookstores this month. Kandel, 76, talked with NEWSWEEK's Claudia Kalb.KALB: How does Freud hold up?KANDEL: I think he's a giant. Tremendously thoughtful, insightful and imaginative. There are things that he said that don't hold up. His view of female sexuality was wrong. But he gave us a nuanced and rich picture of the complexities of mental life. He's one of the great thinkers of the 20th century.What are his greatest contributions?Much of what we do is unconscious. That is a revelation that largely comes from Freud. The fact that dreams have psychological meaning, that infants are active, thinking individuals who have sensual as...
  • Food News Blues

    Fat is bad, but good fat is good. What about fish? Wine? Nuts? A new appetite for answers has put science on a collision course with the media.
  • Paradise Found

    If only Darwin were alive to see it. Last week, scientists announced that they had discovered a biological treasure trove of never-before-seen plants and animals in the Papua province of Indonesia. New frogs, new flowers, new butterflies, even a new tree kangaroo. The team of Indonesian, American and Australian researchers were dropped by helicopter into the Foja Mountains on New Guinea island, "as close to the Garden of Eden as you're going to find on earth," in the words of team coleader Bruce Beehler of Conservation International. Over several weeks in November and December, the team discovered dozens of new species. Highlights: ...
  • Marriage: Act II

    For the millions of baby boomers who decide to stick it out, survival depends on 'flexibility, humor and affection.'
  • In Our Blood

    DNA Testing: It is connecting lost cousins and giving families surprising glimpses into their pasts. Now scientists are using it to answer the oldest question of all: where did we come from?
  • Saving Soul food

    Health-conscious African-Americans are reinventing classic recipes. So long, pork fat; hello, baked chicken.
  • Health: How Their Stories End

    I always wonder about the patients: after my stories go to print, how do their stories turn out? In October I got an e-mail from Suellen Bennett, whom I had interviewed last year for a piece on young women and breast cancer. At that point she was 35, with a scar on her chest and a head bald from chemo. Today "I look a lot different," she wrote. "I'm back and I'm better than ever."Journalists are supposed to be objective, but you always root for the patients. When I met Christian Kelly, he was 2 months old; already he'd endured two open-heart surgeries. But I held out hope, remembering the little Boston Red Sox baseball cap hanging on his hospital bassinet. Maybe Christian could beat the odds, too. This fall Trish Kelly let me know that her baby, not quite 4 months old, had died. "It's hard," she said, "but I keep trying to look at all the positives. Christian was such a blessing."Michael Romano was, too. Battling a cancer called neuro-blastoma since 1999, Michael had been in and out...
  • Into the Wild: A Scientific Approach

    It's not as easy as popping Prozac, but it's definitely more fun: swimming with dolphins. But is it medicine? In a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found that patients with mild to moderate depression who splashed around with dolphins reported greater improvements in their symptoms than a control group who swam and snorkeled on their own in a coral reef. Participants, all of whom went off their meds for the study in Honduras, got better after two weeks and there were no side effects (except, perhaps, the angst of donning a bathing suit). The dolphins had no comment.Animal therapy isn't new. Greek soldiers put wounded comrades on their horses to help them heal. But as complementary medicine grows, some scientists are trying to put Mother Nature to the test in a more medically rigorous fashion. Older studies often relied on a single group; newer ones are randomizing patients and including control groups for comparison. During the past several years,...
  • Mamma Mia! 'Infertility,' the Musical

    Chris Neuner was doing his manly duty in the collection room at New York University's infertility clinic when the light bulb went on. The high-tech babymaking that he and his wife, Amy, were enduring--the sperm specimens, the hormone shots, the egg harvesting--wasn't only agonizing, it was pretty darn funny. So when Amy finally got pregnant, Chris started crafting little ditties. Nine months later, Amy delivered twins, Garrick and Olivia, and Chris, a writer and composer, delivered a script: "Infertility: The Musical That's Hard to Conceive."Almost three decades after the birth of the world's first test-tube baby, infertility is not only out of the closet, it's kicking up its heels off-Broadway. "You have to laugh because if you look too long at that petri dish you can convince yourself to get pretty upset." says Neuner, 35. At Dillon's Theatre in New York City, a straight couple, a lesbian couple, a single working gal and a fertility doc sing about ovulation, sex-by-day-planner and...
  • Big Binky Brouhaha

    It's hard to hate baby pictures, especially your own, but Janna Bosshardt could never stand the ones that showed her as a toddler with a pacifier in her mouth. There she is, 3-1/2 years old, a piece of plastic where the adorable smile should be. So when Bosshardt, now 33, started having her own children, she vowed to avoid the Binkys. "I didn't want to get any of my kids hooked," she says. Her first two, Zach and Brad, did fine without them. Then came Cale, an Olympic-level screamer. "A pacifier was the only thing that would calm him down," says Bosshardt. "It was for his sanity and mine."It's a pointed debate, one as old as, well, the thumb: are pacifiers good or bad for babies? They certainly aren't new--generations of children have sucked on devices made out of everything from cloth to silver--but they're more popular than ever. They've earned a vocabulary of their own (soothers, dummies, Binkys), spawned a minor fashion industry (glow-in-the-dark and "mood" pacifiers that change...
  • New Ways To Create New Lines?

    Stem-cell scientists love a good challenge. Here's one: can you create embryonic-stem-cell lines without destroying healthy embryos? Two new reports, released online last weekend by the journal Nature, say yes. At least yes in mice.The studies take very different approaches. In the first, scientists at MIT's Whitehead Institute figured out how to derail a gene that is critical to the formation of placenta. The result: an embryo capable of providing stem cells, but incapable of implanting in the womb. In the second study, led by Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., researchers extracted one cell out of eight-cell embryos. Each cell was used to generate stem-cell lines; the original "biopsied" embryos survived. After implantation in mice, some even developed into live pups.Mice aren't humans, so nobody knows if the science will translate. An embryo doomed for demise may not quash the ethical debate, says Harvard stem-cell scientist Dr. George Daley. And biopsying an embryo is...
  • THE SMALLEST PATIENTS

    Melissa Paske was 29 weeks pregnant with a girl when she asked her doctor for a second ultrasound. Her belly had been scanned at 24 weeks, and there was no medical reason to take additional images. But, says Paske, "something in me felt that I needed to see her again." That something turned out to be a devastating diagnosis for her baby: a badly clogged aortic valve, which doctors feared could lead to a massively underdeveloped left side of the heart, a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). The news, says Paske, "was like a truck backing up over me."Babies with HLHS typically undergo a complex series of surgeries after birth to compensate for the defect. But a team of doctors at Children's Hospital Boston and neighboring Brigham and Women's Hospital offered Melissa Paske and her husband, Travis, of Spokane, Wash., something new: a revolutionary procedure performed while their baby was still floating in Melissa's womb. Within days the Paskes were flying across the...
  • HEALTH: NO PAIN, BIG GAIN

    What's the problem?Boomers still think their bodies are indestructible. We've doubled our life span, but our frame is only engineered to last 40 years. We need to change our mind-sets, not wait for evolution to change our bodies.What should we do?Find your weak link and work safely around it. If you've got a shoulder injury, avoid lifting weights overhead. Do partial lifts instead. If you've got an arthritic knee, swap lunges, squats and running for cycling or swimming. And always warm up--your beat-up old parts will work better.Any tips on trainers?You want somebody who asks if you have specific ailments, then designs a customized program. You should never feel pain during or after workouts.