Stories by Claudia Kalb

  • Research: The Gift Of Stem Cells

    Go west, young scientist. Last week California offered its latest thumbs up to stem-cell research when Stanford announced it had received a $12 million anonymous donation to fund the new Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine. After last year's ban on federal money for the creation of new human stem-cell lines, private investors are stepping up with their own dollars for research. The news comes just months after the University of California, San Francisco, launched its own program with $5 million from Intel chair Andy Grove. And in September, Gov. Gray Davis signed landmark legislation promoting stem-cell research in California--a move that may be echoed by other states.The activity at the state level is encouraging for scientists who say stem cells could lead to a better understanding of diseases and perhaps even cures. At the federal level, the president's August 2001 announcement still stands, allowing federal funds to be used in research on the few dozen human stem...
  • Cruise Virus:Why Ship Happens

    It's not pretty out there. Last week a fourth cruise ship departing a U.S. port since October reported vomiting and diarrhea among passengers and crew. And a ship that had been cleaned after an initial outbreak, Carnival's Fascination, returned to land on Friday with a small new batch of victims. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the Norwalk virus, a.k.a. the "winter vomiting disease," as the culprit on two of the ships, Holland America's Amsterdam and Disney's Magic. The new boat, P&O U.K.'s Oceana, is being investigated at sea; as for the Fascination, the first outbreak may remain a mystery, the CDC's Dave Forney told NEWSWEEK, because stool samples from infected passengers were never collected. The yuck factor may continue. Gastrointestinal viruses are extremely common and contagious, striking an estimated 23 million Americans a year in enclosed places on both land and water. The CDC says the bug, which affected a minority of passengers, probably...
  • A Natural Way To Age

    Enter any health-food store and you will be overwhelmed by an alphabet of products promising menopausal relief. Black cohosh. Chasteberry. Dong quai. Licorice. Red clover. Soy. And then there are the blends of herbs, the creams and the gels. Before the National Institutes of Health (NIH) dropped its bombshell in July--a landmark trial of hormone-replacement therapy would be halted early because of slight increased risks of blood clots, heart disease, stroke and breast cancer--hormone therapy was the treatment of choice for many women. But now that thousands have gone off HRT, the spotlight is on alternatives. And confusion is rampant. "It's very chaotic," says Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventative medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, and "very difficult for women to get a clear message on what to do."The first thing to do is understand the NIH study. Researchers tested a combination of estrogen and progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone, and found the risks...
  • Mind And Moods: How To Lift The Mind

    They are invisible--no bandages or scars--but the mental and physical pain of mood disorders can be unbearable. Anxiety overwhelms the mind with worry, fear and dread. Depression hijacks a person's sense of well-being, manifesting itself not just in the brain but in an array of physical symptoms--weight loss, stomachaches, headaches. The joy of life is seized and "everything is pretty much flat," says Robin Goad, 46, who suffers from depression. "It's real easy to give up."That hopelessness is especially grave in people who do not respond to conventional treatments. The psychiatric field has made great strides in recent years: researchers are teasing out the chemical pathways responsible for mood disorders, and new classes of drugs are helping to relieve the agony for millions. Still, the brain is an enormously complex organ, and people's conditions vary widely. A drug that works wonders for one patient will do nothing for another. And medications come with an array of side effects-...
  • Coping After Hrt

    When the National Institutes of Health halted its trial of Prempro--the combination hormone therapy--in July, citing long-term risk factors, Susan Carroll threw away her drugs and hoped she'd escaped any harm. Then she began to sweat. Life, says Carroll, 52, has been "hell." Hot flashes burn through her body. Sleeping? Forget about it. "I can't believe going through menopause naturally would be like this," she says. "I am about to go out of my mind."She's not the only one. The NIH trial reported critical long-term data: the slight increased risks (heart attack, stroke and breast cancer) of taking combination therapy outweighed the benefits (bone protection and lower colon-cancer rates). But what the study did not address were the short-term benefits of hormone-replacement therapy, such as suppression of hot flashes and improved sleep, which Carroll had been enjoying for years. Nor could investigators predict what would happen to the thousands of other women who also stopped taking...
  • Cheat Sheet | Contraceptives

    Sick of the daily pill? You now have other options. And stay tuned: a version of the pill that limits periods to four times a year may be available in about a year. Remember that all drugs containing hormones can have side effects like breast tenderness and nausea. Smoking increases the most serious, but rare, risks--stroke and heart attack.PatchApply a new patch (a combo of estrogen and progestin) weekly. Go patch-free one week per month.Pros: Noninvasive, lasts a week, water-resistantCons: May get rough or dirty at edges, irritate skin; not always discreetCost per month: $30 to $35RingInserted into the vagina, emitting low doses of hormones. Wear it three weeks, then remove for one.Pros: Easy insertion--no precise placement necessaryCons: May be hard to reach at removal; definitely not for the squeamishCost per month: $35 to $40InjectionGiven once a month at the doc's office. Microcrystals containing hormones dissolve over 30 days.Pros: Fast, convenient; out of your hands for a...
  • Operating On Accuracy

    It's a Thursday morning on the set of "ER" and actress Alex Kingston (Dr. Elizabeth Corday) is tripping over her lines. "I need 30 'migs' per kilo of methylprednisolone," she says, rushing to a gunshot victim. "Entry wound left mid-, sterno... cleido... uh... I'll never get that," she says, smiling at Jon Fong, an osteopath and one of "ER's" on-set medical advisers. "Dr. Jon" sounds it out: "Sterno-cleido-mas-toid." Soon, everyone, including Noah Wyle (Dr. John Carter) and director Richard Thorpe, begins chanting together: "Sterno-cleido-mas-toid. Sterno-cleido-mas-toid." Thorpe even kicks into a jig to pound the jargon into Kingston's head. Finally, she gets it--and Thorpe shouts the magic words: "Cut. Let's print.""ER," one of television's most successful dramas ever--despite, or perhaps because of, its excruciating medical accuracy--has long been the envy of Hollywood. This week, as the show kicks off its ninth season, two new medical dramas will fill prime-time slots on CBS and...
  • Health: Dancing Babies

    Ads for general Electric's new 4-D ultrasound promise to let you see your baby's face before it's born. Who wouldn't want one?But so far the "4-D" scans, which create high-resolution moving images, are available at only 300 sites nationwide. They're used mostly to spot problems in high-risk pregnancies. No insurer will cover, and no doctor should perform, a scan solely for your scrapbook. For now, if you and your fetus are healthy, you'll have to wait it out.
  • How Are We Doing?

    We all know that the nation's psyche was badly battered on September 11. But how badly? And for how long? Now researchers have quantified the scope of the problem. Among the findings published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association: one to two months after the attacks, 11 percent of New Yorkers had symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder--almost three times the national average. The condition, which can last a lifetime at its worst, "has the potential of creating a substantial public-health problem," says lead author William Schlenger.The Web-based survey of 2,273 Americans is the latest in a new and growing field: the psychological aftermath of 9-11. The study of posttraumatic stress increased with Vietnam vets, but the disorder did not became a medical diagnosis until 1980. Since then research has been conducted after all kinds of trauma, from rapes to earthquakes to Oklahoma City. But within days of 9-11 it became clear that while prior findings could...
  • What's A Woman To Do?

    No doubt you're confused about hormone-replacement therapy. And, like thousands of women who bombarded their doctors' offices and sent help! messages to Internet bulletin boards last week, you're probably wondering what to do. Sammy Stevens, 60, started Prempro seven years ago to protect herself "for the future" against heart disease, stroke, maybe even Alzheimer's. But now that future seems more muddled than ever, and Stevens has decided to quit the drug. Taking it is like playing Russian roulette, she says. As Stevens ages, she will never know if Prempro did any good--or any harm. "I think there should be clear, definitive answers, but of course there aren't," she says. "I hate these studies."Millions of American women feel exactly the same way. Despite those very precise statistics ("seven more heart attacks per 10,000 women"), last week's announcement did not suggest any specific alternative treatments. Marcia Stefanick, chair of the Women's Health Initiative's steering...
  • The Truth About Spf

    With an ever-growing array of sunscreen products, it's easy to get confused about what to buy. Some basics: SPF (sun protection factor) ratings apply to a band of ultraviolet light called UVB, the key culprit in skin cancer. SPF 15 (the lowest number recommended by doctors) blocks all but 1/15, or about 93 percent, of UVB. (SPF 2 blocks just 50 percent; SPF 30, about 97 percent.) Don't assume that SPF 60 will protect you twice as long as 30. Unlike the vast variation between SPF 5 and 15, the difference between 30 and numbers above is so minimal that the FDA may eliminate the higher ratings and call the entire category "30-plus."Another band of light called UVA seems to play a role in skin cancer, too. So many products promise "broad spectrum" protection. But with no UVA ratings (at least for now--they may soon be required), there's no way to tell what you're getting. You can, however, look for specific ingredients that block UVA, like zinc oxide, avobenzone and titanium dioxide....
  • Overexposed

    Skin Cancer: With Temps Rising, So Are Rates Of This Deadly Disease. How Scientists Are Hunting For New Treatments--And Better Approaches To Prevention.
  • Should You Have Your Baby Now?

    A Group Of Doctors Thinks Advances In Fertility Treatment Have Given Women Too Much Hope. Its New Ad Campaign Is Bound To Stir Up Public Controversy--And Private Anguish
  • Painkiller Crackdown

    OxyContin was developed to do good: relieve debilitating pain. But since the powerful drug debuted in 1996, it has become increasingly known for a dangerous side effect--the potential for serious addiction ("Playing With Painkillers," April 9, 2001). Abusers crush and snort the pill to get an intense narcotic rush. Some "doctor-shop" to get multiple prescriptions; others buy the drug for up to $1 per milligram on the street. In a new environment where doctors are being encouraged to treat patients more aggressively for pain, a critical new dilemma has emerged: can OxyContin be responsibly prescribed to patients who need it without being "diverted" to those who don't? ...
  • Playing With Pain Killers

    Over The Past Decade, Doctors Have Focused New Energy On Managing Their Patients' Pain, And Sales Of Prescription Painkillers Have Tripled Since 1996. For Most People, These Drugs Are A Blessing. For Some, They're A Nightmare.
  • Dare Checks Into Rehab

    For more than a decade, Salt Lake City schools did as other schools did: they taught kids about drugs the DARE way. There were cops in the classroom, DARE T shirts and bumper stickers and the message "Just say no." But last summer, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson lambasted DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) as "completely ineffective," canned the city's budget for it and booted it out of the schools. DARE "has been a complete waste of money, a fraud on the American people," he says. "We should put our resources behind programs that work."It was one of the boldest strikes yet against the nation's most popular drug-prevention program. Over the last decade, studies have repeatedly shown that the simplistic message of the $226 million program has little effect on keeping kids from abusing drugs--yet it continues to be used by 80 percent of schools. Now DARE is finally admitting it needs an overhaul. Last week officials announced they will be revamping the program, with the help of ...
  • Folkman Looks Ahead

    On the 10th floor of Boston's Children's Hospital, Dr. Judah Folkman--a gentle presence with a racing mind--sits down to talk. He offers coffee and cookies. He teaches, he questions, he wonders. He plunges back to the past, hurtles ahead to the future and then, bounding through his lab in his scientist's white coat, he marvels at the present. "Look at this," he says, peering at a cylinder filled with sloshing red liquid. "These are human tumor cells." Tiny white dots, like grains of sand--they are the vicious beasts that Folkman, 68, has spent a lifetime trying to tame. And not, he insists, without the help of others. Walking past lab tables cluttered with flasks and tubes, he greets his collaborators, boasting about their discoveries. "I'm conducting an orchestra here," he says. "I'm listening to the music."And the tempo is picking up. Angiogenesis, Folkman's once derided theory that tumors grow by recruiting blood vessels for nourishment, is now widely accepted as a promising...
  • Can This Pill Stop You From Hitting The Bottle?

    Addicts know the pattern all too well--that roller-coaster ride of intoxicating highs and wasted lows. David Nott's journey has been one of the worst. At 28 he was a successful underwriter for Lloyds Insurance in London with a Porsche, a Ferrari and a country manor. But after two decades, Nott's life had spiraled into a mess. His addiction drowned his fortune, ruined three marriages and propelled him toward suicide. Drug of choice: alcohol. Breakfast was cheap Spanish wine; then came the vodka--a sickening cycle of passing out and coming to. He craved both another drink and a better life. "Once I was holding a glass of vodka and shaking and crying," says Nott, now 48. "I didn't want to drink it, but I couldn't stop."It's a battle far too many are losing. Alcohol abuse costs this country a staggering $185 billion a year in everything from lost workdays to drunken-driving accidents--more than all illegal drugs combined. Six million Americans persistently misuse alcohol, and 8 million...
  • Seeing A Virtual Shrink

    When Rita Lowitt, a Berkeley marriage and family therapist, isn't meeting clients in her office, she's treating them from home. Some nights, she might comfort a nervous new mom. Others, a stressed-out CEO or a fortysomething with a disappointing sex life. Her clients share their most private feelings, but Lowitt can't see their tears or hear their sighs. She may not even know what time zone they're in. Confused? Lowitt is counseling people online. "We're all more pressed for time, trying to avoid despair," she says. Internet counseling is "immediate, it's focused, it cuts to the chase."It had to happen someday. Buy online. Date online. Visit the shrink online. Everything, it seems, is a virtual commodity--as long as you have a keyboard and credit card. Five years ago, only a handful of therapists offered e-mail counseling and interactive chats; now, there are whole clinics of them, like here2listen.com, where Lowitt practices. An estimated 250 to 300 counseling sites exist, charging...
  • A Cancer 'Smart Bomb'

    Two summers ago, Douglas Jenson was so wiped out from battling Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) that he could do little more than sit by his window, watching the numbers on a thermometer rise and fall with the sun. Today, thanks to an experimental drug called STI571 (brand name: Glivec), Jenson, 67, is biking in Oregon and planning a trip to the Caribbean. "I feel wonderful," he says.So do his doctors. STI571, a "smart bomb" drug that targets leukemia cells without harming healthy ones, first made headlines last year when researchers announced that white blood counts returned to normal in 31 out of 31 patients who had taken the pill. Last week scientists were back, reporting new data on just over 1,000 patients. In one trial, more than 90 percent of 532 people on the drug saw blood counts return to normal. And under microscopic examination, 28 per-cent showed no evidence of cancer left in their bone marrow. The drug even helped--though not as dramatically--some patients in the...
  • The Meaning Of Falling

    Ann Schneider has the spirit of a child--but a body succumbing to age. Her physical decline started 13 years ago, when she tripped and dislocated her hip. A hip replacement got Schneider, now "80-plus," back on her feet and, until last March, she was still out line dancing with her friends. But Schneider's joint has weakened over the years, and after several recent falls in her bathroom, she is barely able to walk. She's still lively, gets out as much as she can--even doing volunteer work--and is optimistic that her condition will improve. But another fall is her greatest nightmare. "That is the biggest fear of many older people," she says, "that fall, that big fall, that changes your life."For millions of Americans, many of them our parents and grandparents, that big fall threatens like a fault line. Other symptoms of aging sneak up slowly: hearing dims, vision blurs, muscles weaken. But a serious tumble strikes without warning, and can shatter bones in an instant. One in three...
  • 'Nobody Expected This'

    When Dick Cheney left George Washington University Hospital only two days after his heart attack last week, at least one of the election's surprise headlines seemed to fade quickly. A few hours after his minor surgery, Cheney, 59, reassured the nation on "Larry King Live" that he felt fine. At Thanksgiving the next day, he dined on turkey with his family in the hospital and phoned staffers, sounding, said one, like his usual good-natured self. By Friday morning, Cheney was smiling and out the door. "I should be able to return to a full and normal life," he insisted.If it had to happen, Cheney's latest heart attack--his fourth in 22 years--went well from a medical perspective. He checked into GW immediately after feeling chest discomfort at dawn last Wednesday. Doctors detected a 90 to 95 percent blockage in one artery, then successfully inflated a stent to restore blood flow. Cardiac enzyme levels, which mark the extent of heart-muscle damage, showed only minor elevations. "This...
  • Physics Envy

    When 260 physicists gathered for a recent conference at the University of Michigan, they chatted in their usual vocab: compactification, tachyon condensation, flop transition. All unintelligible to human life forms. But standing out in this galaxy of obscurity was author and Columbia University physicist Brian Greene, 38, who has spent the last year and a half touring the country to explain string theory--an abstruse branch of physics and the subject of his 1999 book, "The Elegant Universe"--to the masses. Articulate, witty and totally nongeeky (black jeans, contacts, former wrestler, vegan), Greene's gravitational pull rivals a black hole's. In the words of one 37-year-old telephone operator who joined a standing-room-only crowd to hear him speak in Michigan: "He is hot."Add that to the physics lexicon. Greene's theatrical lectures--which include lots of metaphors, cool 3-D visuals and dry humor--routinely draw hundreds. The paperback of his book, a Pulitzer finalist, has been on...
  • 'We Have To Save Our People'

    Four years ago aids researchers were ebullient about the development of powerful new drugs. Last week the more than 12,000 delegates gathered for the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, were more subdued. Some 34 million people worldwide are now infected with HIV or AIDS, the bulk of them in Africa--yet politics, rather than medicine, dominated the headlines. There was intense frustration over South African President Thabo Mbeki's focus on poverty, not the virus, as South Africa's No. 1 killer, and his consulting dissident scientists who deny that HIV causes AIDS. And there was anger over limited access to expensive drugs in the developing world. Former South African president Nelson Mandela, in closing the conference, summed up the challenge. "We have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people," he said. "History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now--and right now."Medical reports presented at the conference and several...
  • What Boys Really Want

    All that stuff you've heard about how girls are ignored and oppressed and boys get all the attention in school? It's just a "myth," says philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers in her new book, "The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men." Girls are actually flourishing, says Sommers--boys are the ones in trouble. They're trailing their sisters in the classroom and they're at greater risk for learning disabilities, drug abuse and crime. In this all-girls, all-the-time milieu of ours, boys have not only been ignored, she argues, they've been dismissed. And now, on top of all that, they're viewed as defective by misguided feminists and psychologists who are trying to mold them into the other sex. "Boys badly need our attention," Sommers warns. "It is late, but not too late."A brazen attack against leading child researchers like Harvard psychologists Carol Gilligan and William Pollack--both of whom have shaped current thinking on girls' and boys' development-...
  • When Weight Loss Goes Awry

    At 5 feet 5 and 110 pounds, Amelia Greenberg was about as overweight as an earthworm. But last summer, as friends started dieting, she decided to lose five to 10 pounds. Within a few months Amelia, now 15, was on the death march called anorexia nervosa. Daily meals shrank down to "a grape, a mushroom and a cracker." Her weight plummeted to 84 pounds, her heart rate to a terrifying 31. In a weak but determined voice from her bed at the Children's Hospital in Denver, Amelia--a straight-A student and cheerleader--says, "I would never want this to happen to anybody else."Unfortunately, it is. While kids on one extreme are getting bigger, others are wasting away. Statistics say that 1 percent of adolescent girls and young women suffer from anorexia nervosa and 1 to 3 percent from the purging disorder bulimia nervosa--but those numbers are conservative. They don't take into account kids with serious borderline symptoms, or the two groups that experts say appear to be growing in number:...
  • Fading Of The Light

    It's a cruel visual trick: you see someone in front of you, but you can't make out her features. Is it a friend? A stranger? Your own child? This is the heart-wrenching reality of severe age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It attacks the macula, home of the sharp central vision that enables us to read fine print, distinguish colors and drive safely down the road. Victims of AMD retain their peripheral vision, but the details in front of them--including the faces of the people they love most--blur and fade. "When you lose your vision," says John Bukowicz, 74, who suffers from AMD, "you lose everything."Today an estimated 13 million Americans have some form of the disease. As the population ages and life spans lengthen, the number will multiply. Doctors know little about AMD's causes, and they have no cure. Still, there is hope. Last month the FDA approved Visudyne, the first drug to treat the most serious AMD. And scientists are actively researching other therapies. In the...
  • Stars, Money And Medical Crusades

    When Joan Samuelson first traveled to Capitol Hill to lobby for Parkinson's research funding in 1991, nobody knew or cared much about the disease. The hearing rooms where she testified were small, the turnout spotty. If she was lucky, she'd get to meet with a representative's legislative assistant, who'd say: "I only have 10 minutes--but I'd prefer to wrap it up in five." There was, says Samuelson, "a complete vacuum of awareness."Cut to last fall, when Samuelson arrived on the Hill with Michael J. Fox on her arm. Those five-minute meetings? Come in, the congressman would say. Stay an hour. When Fox testified, asking for an additional $75 million in research money for Parkinson's this year (they got part of it), the Senate hearing room was mobbed. "The mood was electric," says Samuelson. "Everyone from pages to prominent senators wanted a picture." Next week Samuelson, president of the Parkinson's Action Network, will announce the organization's new name--the Michael J. Fox...
  • Unhealthy Habits

    Ok, there are those dreaded pimples and that mess of raging hormones. But most American teens aren't battling the scourges of adulthood--cancer, heart disease, arthritis. What young people are facing is their own minefield of health risks: an overwhelming array of behavioral and lifestyle choices and pressures from what to eat to whether or not to smoke or use illegal drugs. What they decide now could affect their health for a lifetime. Here's a look at how they're doing:Eating: Snack foods and sodas rule. On a scale of zero to 100 in the government's Healthy Eating Index (80 and up being "good"), teens scored in the low 60s, earning them a big fat "needs improvement." Only about one in 10 adolescents gets the recommended two to four daily servings of fruit. They do slightly better with veggies, with about one fourth scarfing down the recommended three to five. But that doesn't mean they're filling up on carrots and spinach--french fries, potato chips and pizza sauce all count.Even...
  • Still Sexy After All These Years

    What a sexual past. They reveled in the birth-control pill, free love and premarital bliss. But today, baby boomers are edging unwillingly closer to their golden years and it's their sexual future they're thinking about--as in, "I have a sexual future, right?"There's no getting around the fact that sexual performance, interest and satisfaction can change over time. "Certain things go down with age," says John McKinlay, principal investigator of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS), a major survey of men's health. "Number one is erections." For many men, that means two things: longer to get there, not as firm once you do. Others are less fortunate. Between the ages of 40 and 70, the probability of complete impotence triples from 5 to 15 percent, according to the MMAS. Poor health and habits--diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and smoking--are all major contributors. In women, it's hormones that go down. Estrogen levels drop dramatically at menopause, thinning the vaginal wall...