Stories by Claudia Kalb

  • 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.
  • AGING: SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL

    Dorothy Green had always been an independent woman. A Cadillac-driving, mink-coat-wearing, Tiparillo-smoking woman. So it was especially hard on her family members when they realized that their spitfire matriarch, now 85 and suffering from dementia, could no longer care for herself. Last year Green's family moved her into a 60-bed assisted-living facility in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Green was well cared for, but she didn't like the rigid schedule. And living with dozens of other people made her agitated. "She would cry a lot," says her granddaughter and staff nurse, Teri Weitkum.All that changed last fall, when Green moved 30 miles away into a luxury suburban home called Vista View. The stand-alone house is a long-term-care facility for people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, but it feels like home. There are spacious bedrooms, wall-to-wall carpeting and a garden, where residents grow tomatoes and squash. In the mornings, Green pads around in her slippers. One recent...
  • ETHICS, EGGS ANDEMBRYOS

    Kim Barnett would do anything to help her dad. Already, she's changed careers. That move came after Barnett noticed her father, who has Parkinson's, drooling on an airplane in 2001. The disease had hijacked his instinct to swallow--and it devastated Barnett, who worried that outsiders would notice only the symptom, not the smart, funny man she loved. Within two years Barnett had given up her job as an educational consultant to head up the Parkinson Association of the Rockies. Today she says she'd do something far more personal to battle the disease: she'd donate her own biological eggs to stem-cell research. "It's important to keep the advances going," says Barnett, 35. "I'm a blood donor and an organ donor. I don't see donating eggs as anything different."For months, politicians have been battling over the ethics of using embryos stored in fertility clinics for stem-cell research. But scientists aren't setting their sights on embryos alone--they want eggs, too. The purpose: somatic...
  • A NEW THREAT IN THE LAB

    For decades, health officials have been scrambling to stamp out polio around the world. Three years ago, Eckard Wimmer, a virologist at New York's Stony Brook University, figured out a way to bring it back. Armed with a genetic blueprint for the virus--readily available on the Internet--Wimmer and his colleagues requested strips of DNA from a biotech company in Iowa. The order was shipped, the scientists got out their chemical tool kit and then, like kids assembling LEGOs, they pieced together the pathogen. Wimmer says the experiment was intended as a wake-up call: "The major purpose was to show that it can be done."Fantastic as it may sound, Wimmer's work wasn't all that revolutionary; in 1981, scientists had demonstrated that if you had the genetic material that codes for polio, you could create the active virus. But Wimmer was the first to construct a chemically manufactured virus from scratch--a feat that spotlighted the growing field of synthetic genomics and, at the same time,...
  • PHARMACY ISLAND

    Danley Pearson left his job as a machinist in utter agony two decades ago. Sixteen-hour days of hauling and lifting submarine and airplane parts had battered Pearson's back. He had two herniated discs, sciatica and enough pain to fill a 767. Over the years, Pearson, of Arrowhead Villas, Calif., tried muscle relaxants, injections and a slew of pain relievers, but the torment persisted, and the drugs' side effects--constipation, dry mouth, sexual dysfunction--made every day a misery. "I couldn't lead a normal life," he says. Then a little snail changed everything.In 2000, just when he was ready to give up on finding relief, Pearson's doctor told him about a clinical trial for a new drug called ziconotide (brand name: Prialt). The drug, given through a pump implanted in Pearson's abdomen, had two unique characteristics: it was 1,000 times stronger than morphine and was derived from an unusual source--a beautiful but deadly cone snail found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The mollusk...
  • THE NEXT REVOLUTION

    It has been more than four decades since dr. judah Folkman presented his theory of angiogenesis--that tumors grow by recruiting blood vessels. The research is now moving from lab to clinic. Last year the FDA approved the first angio-genesis inhibitor, Avastin, for patients with advanced colon or rectal cancer. Dozens more anti-angiogenesis drugs are in clinical trials. Folkman, 72, of Harvard Medical School and Boston's Children's Hospital, spoke to NEWSWEEK's Claudia Kalb about what's next.KALB: Where is angiogenesis headed?FOLKMAN: There are two big trends. One is the biomarker field, which is huge. The idea is that you identify cancer proteins in the blood or urine. Oncologists hope to use biomarkers to diagnose cancer earlier and manage treatment more effectively. I'd like to take biomarkers one step further, using them to treat cancer years before you can see it. This is analogous to the way cardiologists now measure cholesterol, LDL, HDL and C-reactive protein. When those...
  • STEM CELLS: BIG STEP FOR A CONTROVERSIAL SCIENCE

    The South Koreans have done it again. Last year Seoul National University's Woo Suk Hwang announced that his team had derived stem-cell lines from cloned human embryos for the first time. Last week Hwang made another announcement: the scientists had now created "patient-specific" embryonic-stem-cell lines, and they'd done it far more efficiently than a year ago--a giant leap forward in the controversial science. "The Korean study underlines the urgency for us to get moving if we're going to be part of the game," says Zach Hall of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).The new lines were derived from the skin cells of patients who had spinal-cord injuries, an immune disorder or juvenile diabetes. Using so-called therapeutic cloning, the skin cells were merged with donor eggs whose nuclei had been removed, making the new stem cells genetic matches for the patients. Scientists believe that stem cells like these might one day replace unhealthy tissue without fear of...
  • When Does Autism Start?

    SCIENTISTS ARE NOW LOOKING FOR THE EARLIEST SIGNS OF THE MYSTERIOUS DISORDER AS DESPERATE PARENTS HUNT FOR TREATMENTS THAT MAY IMPROVE THEIR CHILDREN'S LIVES
  • GOT (ENOUGH) MILK?

    Remember that first milk mustache? Naomi Campbell, 1995. Followed by a herd of others--Kim Cattrall, Dr. Phil, Michael Phelps--all promoting the wholesome drink. Last fall teen actress Lindsay Lohan donned the 200th "Got Milk?" mustache, making the campaign one of the most successful in American history. The goal: to boost milk consumption, which, despite the ads, has dropped from a high of 45 gallons per person per year in 1945 to 22 gallons today.It's not just dairy farmers and celebs who want to see your milky smile--the government does, too. Last week the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture released the 2005 dietary guidelines, recommending lots of fruits and veggies and more milk, from two glasses a day to three for most Americans. Many nutritionists, worried about a nationwide calcium deficit, applaud the increase, and it is good news for the $21 billion milk market. But the move has also heightened concern among some scientists, who say the powerful dairy...
  • WAVES OF DISEASE

    TV cameras brought the pounding waves and broken souls into our living rooms, but none could capture the next awful threat for Asia: a massive onslaught of infectious disease. The fears of local health officials and villagers who rushed to bury the dead were unfounded; corpses do not spread illnesses. The real risk for the survivors of this disaster are age-old pathogens that sneak into the human gut, bloodstream and airways through contaminated water, mosquitoes and contact between living people. Even without widespread flooding, infectious diseases run rampant in developing countries, which often lack the basic necessities for public health: clean water, efficient sewer systems and well-stocked clinics and hospitals. Every year cholera strikes tens of thousands of people, mostly in Africa and Asia, and malaria kills more than 1 million. Too often, it is the young and the poor who suffer most: the vast majority of malaria victims are children, and 2 million children under the age...
  • HEALTH: A 'TONIK' FOR THE UNINSURED

    For three years, Jon Grover--skateboarder, snowboarder, surfer--has thought about getting health insurance. But his employer, a sporting-goods shop in California, doesn't offer it, and Grover, 27, already forks out about $1,300 a month in bills. Most of his friends are in the same boat: they know they're taking a risk, but they're also young and healthy. "We have this mentality that we're invincible," he says.Enter Blue Cross of California. Last month the company launched Tonik, a new insurance plan aimed at active young hipsters. It's a market waiting to be tapped: more than 30 percent of Americans 19 to 29 are uninsured. The key to Tonik, which Blue Cross plans to roll out nationally after a trial run in the West, is its cool Web site (edgy graphics, bright colors) and its nonjargony choice of plans: "thrill-seeker," "part-time daredevil" or "calculated risk-taker."Tonik isn't perfect. Deductibles are high (up to $5,000), there's no maternity coverage and once you click on apply...
  • WELCOME TO THE STEM-CELL STATES

    When California voted yes on a $3 billion fund for stem-cell research last month, patient activists across the country rejoiced. E-mails went flying: "They did it! They did it!" And congratulatory calls went out to stem-cell advocates on the West Coast. But it wasn't long before people like Michelle Lane, state coordinator for the Parkinson's Action Network in Louisiana, were back at work. Lane, 36, has early-onset Parkinson's. She and her husband, Ronnie, have three children, one of whom has Tourette's syndrome. And Ronnie's mother has Alzheimer's. For two years, Lane has been badgering state senators to pass legislation supporting embryonic-stem-cell research. With California's victory, her passion for the science is hotter than jambalaya. "California gives us enormous energy," says Lane. "It proves we can win this battle."Election-year politics may be history, but the stem-cell furor that erupted during the presidential campaign is far from over. Local activists on both sides of...
  • LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX

    Sex isn't always fun. Just ask Jeffrey Deckham, who volunteered to have his brain scanned while he lay flat on his back inside an MRI machine watching erotic video clips. The room was freezing, the MRI magnets clanked like a cement drill--and then there was the pediatric-size blood-pressure cuff wrapped around his penis. As Deckham stared up at a small video screen, health psychologist Linda Banner monitored changes in his heart rate, brain activation and sexual arousal. The goal: to better understand the physiology of sex. "Not exactly romantic," says Deckham, a family physician in Los Gatos, Calif., "but I did it in the name of science."A half century after biologist Alfred Kinsey published his groundbreaking and controversial exposes on American sexual behavior, sex research--whether low or high tech--is as illuminating and contentious as ever. While researchers are studying subjects ranging from aphrodisiacs to arousal, conservative politicians continue to crusade against...
  • Stem Cell Division

    IN THIS RAZOR-THIN ELECTION, THE ARCANE SUBJECT OF EMBRYONIC-STEM-CELL RESEARCH HAS RALLIED LAWMAKERS, SCIENTISTS, PATIENTS, CELEBRITIES--AND THE CANDIDATES. THE ISSUE MAY CAUSE SOME VOTERS TO SWING.
  • SCIENCE: VIEWING THE INVISIBLE

    If you think quantum dot nanocrystals, turbot larvae and microtubules sound like boring scientific mumbo jumbo, you haven't seen them under a microscope. They're brilliant, they're explosive, they're captivating canvases of colors, shapes and patterns. Last week Nikon announced the winners of its annual photomicrography contest and the results are downright stunning. Amplified under a scope, the head of a tapeworm, in yellow, green and blue, looks like a fanciful rendering of the sun. Baby hamster kidney cells burst into a firecracker of neon red and green. The 20 winning shots, chosen from 1,200 global entries for their scientific insights and artistic impact, will travel to science centers nationwide, but they (and prior winners) can also be viewed on the Web at nikonsmallworld.com. Log on and light up your universe.
  • THE ULTIMATE SURVIVORS?

    You'd think that Stuart Krasnow and Ben Silverman worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One gabs about nicotine addiction, the other touts the benefits of veggies and fiber; both bemoan the toxic American lifestyle. But this is Hollywood, these guys are producers and they're putting a new twist on reality TV: better health. Their two new shows--Krasnow's "Cold Turkey," which debuted on PAX last week, and Silverman's "The Biggest Loser," premiering on NBC next week--entice a bunch of smoking or overweight Americans into kicking their nasty habits. This being reality TV, it's not just about who ate too many carbs: there are group houses, personality clashes, temptations (a pile of doughnuts, a cute blonde offering up her smokes). And, yes, oodles of prize money.Medicine has been good fodder for TV drama. "Marcus Welby, M.D." was the No. 1 show in 1970; "ER" is now in its 11th season. Health as entertainment has been largely scripted. On "The Biggest Loser," by...
  • BUDDHA LESSONS

    At the age of 39, Janet Clarke discovered that she had a benign spinal tumor, which caused her unremitting back pain. Painkillers helped, but it wasn't until she took a meditation course in Lytham that Clarke discovered a powerful weapon inside her own body: her mind. Using a practice called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Clarke learned to acknowledge the aching, rather than fight it. "It was about getting in touch with your body, rather than your head," she says. "Mindfulness gives you something painkillers can't--an attitude for living your life."With its roots in ancient Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is now gaining ground as an antidote for everything from type-A stress to depression. At the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts, where MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, 15,000 people have taken an eight-week course in the practice; hundreds more have signed up at medical clinics across the United States....
  • BUDDHA LESSONS

    For decades, Dalia Isicoff has suffered the agony of rheumatoid arthritis--joint pain, spinal fusion, multiple hip surgeries. Painkillers dull the aches, but it wasn't until she took a course at the University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Medicine that Isicoff discovered a powerful weapon inside her own body: her mind. Using a meditative practice called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, Isicoff learned to acknowledge her pain, rather than fight it. Her negative and debilitating thought patterns--"This is getting worse," "I'm going to end up in a wheelchair"--began to dissipate, and she was able to cut back on her medication. The pain hasn't gone away, but "I view it is an ally now," she says. "Mindfulness is transformational."With its roots in ancient Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is now gaining ground as an antidote for everything from type-A stress to chronic pain, depression and even the side effects of cancer treatment. At the Center for Mindfulness in...
  • MEDICINE: KNOW THE NUMBERS

    If its nickname, the "silent killer," isn't scary enough, the perils it can lead to surely are: kidney damage, heart disease and stroke. The culprit? High blood pressure. In a study published last week, researchers found that 65 million American adults--close to one in three--are "hypertensive," a startling 30 percent surge over the last decade. Aging plays a role, but so does obesity, which now puts kids at increasing risk, too. Fortunately, you can help ward off the killer. Start by knowing your numbers, says Dr. Daniel Jones, a spokesman for the American Heart Association (american heart.org). "Normal" blood pressure is less than 120/80; anything higher could put you in danger. (More details are at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at nhlbi.nih.gov.) New guidelines say children older than 3 should start getting tested, too. Keep numbers low by eating lots of fruits, veggies and low-fat dairy products, cutting back on salt, reducing alcohol and exercising regularly.
  • HEALTH: TRACKING TRIGGERS

    How well are you warding off the wheezing? In a study published last week, University of Michigan researchers found that half the steps parents take to prevent a child's asthma attacks are ineffective or unproved. That's because asthma is provoked by a variety of triggers, each of which calls for a specific intervention. Special bedding makes sense if your child is allergic to dust mites, but not if the problem is plant pollen. Shut the windows instead.Asthma triggers fall into four main categories: irritants (tobacco smoke, cleaners), allergens (pollen, dust mites, pet dander), viral infections and strenuous exercise. Start by identifying your child's trigger, says Michigan's Dr. Michael Cabana, then take effective action. If the trigger is cigarettes, quit smoking. (Do it for yourself, too.) If it's a cold, keep everybody's hands washed. For more tips, see the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (aafa.org).
  • HEALTH:GET READY FOR E-MEDICINE

    When Anne Perlman, 50, needs to see her doctor at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) in California, she schedules her appointment online. Prescriptions zip through the ether from her physician to her pharmacy. Test results go into her electronic medical records. (Once she even got a lab test back on a Sunday--"very cool," she says.) And Perlman can log on any time to take stock of her health: Did her cholesterol go down this year? When was her last tetanus shot? For Perlman, the business of medicine is... get this... "a pleasurable experience."If you're one of the millions of Americans still in the medical dark ages, take heart: e-medicine may be coming your way soon. In July, the government launched a bold plan to get doctors and patients wired over the next 10 years. To encourage participation, officials are looking for ways to reduce costs and ensure software compatibility nationwide. The goal: a vast electronic network, where records can be securely viewed by any doctor or...
  • FERTILITY AND THE FREEZER

    Sauntering into a coffee shop in Pasadena, Calif., Cassandra McCarthy--pink flip-flops, big smile--looks carefree. But McCarthy, 34, is worried: will she find a mate and have kids before her fertility plummets? A few months ago she Googled the Web and hit on a new company, Extend Fertility. For about $13,000, plus a $500 annual storage fee, doctors would freeze her eggs for later use. In June, McCarthy took out her credit card, signed up and breathed a sigh of relief. "There's a peace of mind knowing I didn't leave my fertility to chance," she says.For decades, frozen sperm and embryos have created thousands of babies for infertile couples, making young single women with old-fashioned dreams (husband first, then kids) bystanders to the reproductive revolution. Now there's egg-freezing. While still evolving--only about 100 babies have been born so far-- the science, researchers say, has advanced significantly in the last few years. Extend Fertility, launched this spring by Harvard M...
  • How Tlc Makes You Sick

    When she's not working as a naturalist leading tours through the Minnesota woods, Pat Rummenie takes care of her husband, Mike, 62, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years ago. She helps him get dressed, she cooks his meals, she monitors his medications. Her mom, Lorraine Rains, is doing pretty well at 81, but she needs a hand with chores. On top of all that, Rummenie, 56, has diabetes and arthritis. Last week the stress got so bad that a counselor prescribed a mandatory vacation. "Sometimes I feel like a walking dead person," she says, "but I wouldn't change anything."More than 20 million households contain Americans who look after loved ones, donating an estimated $250 billion a year in free care. While caregiving can offer enormous rewards--providing a sense of fulfillment, deepening lifelong loves--new research increasingly links it to deleterious health effects, including a weakened immune system, depression and even premature death. In one landmark study, Richard Schulz,...
  • A Shocking Diagnosis

    In a Philadelphia hotel, hundreds of twenty- and thirtysomething women sip coffee and swap e-mail addresses. They are a vibrant, confident, upbeat group. But here and there you glimpse a bald head or sunken eyes. And you are hit by the unthinkable reality they share: breast cancer. "Stand up and look around," says Randi Rosenberg, president of the Young Survival Coalition (YSC), a breast-cancer advocacy group for women 40 and under. "Young women can get breast cancer. And they do."Breast cancer typically strikes after the age of 50. But of the 200,000 women diagnosed every year, 11,000 are under 40--and their youth isn't necessarily an advantage. A landmark study published last week by researchers at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital found that young women tend to be more negatively affected by a breast-cancer diagnosis, both physically and psychologically, than middle-aged or elderly women. For young single women, especially, the emotional effects can be excruciating. One day...
  • Putting It All Together

    New Medical Research Shows How Different From Men Women Really Are. Take Heart Disease: Female Symptoms Are More Subtle And Often Get Overlooked. What To Watch For, What To Do