Coates and Wood Receive Top Honors

July 14, 2009

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Thomas D. Coates, professor of pediatrics and pathology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and John C. Wood, associate professor of pediatrics at the Keck School, are recipients of the 13th H. Russell Smith Award for Innovation in Pediatric Biomedical Research.

The scientists will be honored in ceremonies at The Saban Research Institute on July 14.

Coates is section head of hematology and director of the Red Cell Defects and Hemoglobinopathy program at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. Wood is director of the Cardiovascular MRI program for the Division of Cardiology and co-director of the Thalassemia Program at Childrens Hospital.

Coates and Wood are being recognized for their innovative translational work in the understanding of physiologic and cellular consequences of iron overload in patients with hemoglobinopathies and in the development of innovative methods to measure iron overload in these patients and in applying these techniques to monitor new therapies in these children, according to Yves De Clerck, director of The Saban Research Institute and professor of pediatrics, biochemistry and molecular biology at the Keck School.

“Their work demonstrates how the synergistic combination of different disciplines and teamwork can advance science and directly impact clinical treatment,” he said.

Coates received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sickle Cell Foundation of California in November 2007. He has authored more than 250 peer-reviewed articles, abstracts and book chapters.

“While I had no intention of ever going into medicine, it turns out that providing care to sick children is what I enjoy most,” Coates said. “Having great colleagues with depth of knowledge in math and physics who allow me to do research in the domain of my first interests and bridge the gap between physiology and engineering has really been very rewarding.”

Wood received the Alfred F. Towsley Award for Pediatrics and the Outstanding Fellow Teaching Award. He has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts and abstracts and has been invited to present at 30 conferences.

His major areas of research interest include noninvasive estimation of liver iron content in transfusional iron overload and magnetic resonance imaging processing with emphasis on filtering, edge detection and segmentation.

“I am quite honored to receive this award,” Wood said. “Our work wouldn’t have been possible without the strong support from the leadership in the divisions of cardiology and hematology-oncology and the departments of pediatrics and radiology.”

Six Researchers to Receive Prestigious Awards from the American Society of Hematology

July 14, 2009

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WASHINGTON, July 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The American Society of Hematology (ASH), the world’s largest professional society of blood specialists, will honor six scientists who have made significant contributions to the understanding of hematologic diseases. These awards, including the newly created Ernest Beutler Lecture and Prize, will be presented at the 51st ASH Annual Meeting taking place December 5-8 in New Orleans.

Past ASH president H. Franklin Bunn, M.D., of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, will be presented with the Wallace H. Coulter Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hematology, which was established in 2007. This award, named for Wallace Henry Coulter, a prolific inventor who made important contributions to hematology and to ASH, is bestowed on an individual who has demonstrated a lifetime commitment and made outstanding contributions to hematology, and who has made a significant impact on education, research, and/or practice. Dr. Bunn will receive the award for his leadership in advancing the field of hematology and hematology research for more than 40 years. Throughout his career, Dr. Bunn’s research has represented only a part of his commitment to the field. He has served on many National Institutes of Health advisory groups and councils and as an Associate Editor of Blood, a reviewer and editor of publications about hemoglobin and hemoglobin disorders, and an author of two textbooks. Most importantly, he has been an inspiring teacher of hematology to medical students and a masterful mentor of fellows and junior faculty.

Connie Eaves, Ph.D., of the BC Cancer Agency, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, will be presented with the Henry M. Stratton Medal, which honors an individual whose well-recognized contributions to hematology have taken place over a period of several years. Dr. Eaves will receive this award for her remarkable achievements in the area of stem cell biology for more than two decades. Dr. Eaves has been on the cutting edge of adapting or introducing technologies related to stem cell biology, especially her ground-breaking techniques of using the long-term culture system as means of understanding the proliferative and renewal properties of normal and malignant primitive human hematopoietic stem cells.

Louis M. Staudt, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research in Bethesda, MD, will be presented with the William Dameshek Prize, awarded to an individual who has made a recent outstanding contribution to the field. Dr. Staudt will be recognized for his landmark contributions to the diagnosis and treatment of lymphomas. Dr. Staudt pioneered the use of gene expression profiling to delineate clinically distinct lymphoma subtypes and molecular predictors of survival. He further showed that each molecular subtype of cancer has its own “Achilles heel,” which can be discovered by loss-of-function RNA interference-based genetic screens. His work established a new paradigm for understanding the pathways of lymphomagenesis and the interactions of the malignant cell with its environment.

John E. Dick, Ph.D., of the University Health Network in Toronto, will be recognized with the E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize for his pioneering research into the development of human leukemia, which has transformed the view of how leukemia progresses. This prize, named after a Nobel Prize laureate and past Society president, recognizes pioneering research achievements in hematology.

Thomas Maniatis, Ph.D., of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, and Yuet Wai Kan, M.D., of the University of California – San Francisco, are the inaugural recipients of the Ernest Beutler Lecture and Prize. This award, named for the late Ernest Beutler, M.D., past president of ASH and physician-scientist for more than 50 years, includes a two-part lectureship that recognizes major advances related to a single topic. This year’s lecture will be on the impact of molecular genetic studies of globin genes on the diagnosis and treatment of thalassemia.

And my name is blood

July 13, 2009

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I not only accompany you from the womb to the tomb, but I am intricately linked to your very conception.  If not for the role that I play during the sexual act, no man would have been able to impregnate a woman through the natural process.

It is under the pressure of my flow that the pineal organ will give the erection, and consequently the eja­culation, through which semen is transferred to the woman’s vaginal walls, and mate with ova. Even in the woman I play a very vital role. I flow to the vaginal walls and the cervix, and the clitoris, the primordial organ in the initiation of the woman’s ejaculation, which in turn facilitates penetration.

If not for my presence in the uterus of a woman, no foetus would have been able to grow into a baby. Interestingly, each time a baby is born, I am one of the first things which accompany it for I come out from the uterus, along with the new-born.

Social existence
Apart from my biological purports, I also have a grand social existence. There are many people who say that “blood is thicker than water.” Here it is implied that in good and bad times, family members always stand by each other. However, I get sceptical over this issue when I see the rising rate of matricide, patricide, fratricide, sororicide, filicide, uxoricide, mariticide and other related kin homicide.

For aeons, especially through legends, myths, and literature, I have always been a subject of contempt. Legends have it that blood-sucking creatures like vampires would kill human beings to drink their blood. As time evolved, I was turned into an associate of witchdoctors.

They would cure the afflicted by evil spirits by offering blood to their deity. Unfortunately, this practice is still in vogue in the 21st Century. There are millions around the globe to resort to blood offering so as to come out of their problems. Due to this barbarous method of bringing solutions to problems, many innocent people, especially children, have been killed and their blood offered to some deity.

Interestingly, I have built an amazing network of audience and readers who devour blood-related narratives. Many Shakespearean plays evolve around me. Throughout the ages people have been relishing dramas like The Merchant of Venice where a pound of flesh is to be cut without shedding a single drop of blood. There were also tragic love stories like Romeo and Ju­liet where the Mon­ta­gu and the Capulet families are ever ready to shed the blood of the other. I have also created a big impact on spectators, and readers, through the play entitled Macbeth where blood remains a very powerful metaphor throughout its duration.

As time went by, I became a very interesting and acclaimed topic in the world of books. Very few of you would be able to say that you never read a book by the specialist in the thriller genre, Christopher Pike whose bloody stories most probably gave you goosebumps.

Still, as time elapsed, I paved my way into the cinematographic media. Whether in Hollyrood, Bollywood or Tollyrood, I have most certainly become a craze amidst the masses.

In food items
Did you know that people consume me? Yes, they do. Some cultures consume me as food, often in combination with meat. This may be in the form of blood soup, as a thickener for sauces, a cured salted form for times of food scarcity. There are blood sausages or blood puddings, blood stews, blood pancakes, and others. I can also be fried and eaten fresh, right away after the animal is slaughtered. However, some cultures consider blood to be a taboo form of food. In Jewish  and Muslim cultures, for instance, consuming me is forbidden by religious law.

As you can see, I am omnipresent in your lives in more than one way. However, there remains an aspect of me which interests very few people. I am here referring to myself as a life-saver. I hold the capacity of saving your lives upon need. But that is only if you volunteer to share me with others. I find that there are quite a few of you who have actually shared me with others.

Remember, I may be needed anytime, anywhere and by anyone. Let’s take the example of diseases which require me to play a primary part. Bone marrow, Thalassemia and Haemophilus are some examples of the diseases which are linked to me. Then there are also and always patients with severe trauma and loss of blood, or  anemic patients who need blood transfusion.

Voluntary donors’ number is growing
Let us see what Subhanand Seegoolam, president of the Blood Donors’ Association (BDA), has to say about blood donation in Mauritius.

“Only 5% of the Mauritian population are regular donors,” says  Seegoolam. That is why this organisation is always making earnest appeals to volunteers to come forth to donate blood. “Yearly there are some 800 patients who go for dialysis and some 400-450 who need blood transfusion during surgical operations,” he says.
Seegoolam says many persons are indifferent towards  blood donation. According to him, many people remain insensitive to the problem unless and until their own kith and kin require blood. That is why the appeal for donating blood should be constant.

This year, on the occasion of the Blood Donors’ Day, emphasis has been laid on the sensitisation of the youths, aged between 18-25 years. “Last year we collected 46 000 pints. This year, our target is 50 000,” says Seegoolam.
He adds that during winter season, there are less blood donors. “However, we cannot forget road accident victims, and women with difficult delivery. These are two frequent cases where blood transfusion is badly needed,” he says.
Donating one’s blood is the greatest gesture that one can do to mankind. “When we give our blood, we do not know to whom it will be going, and this feeling of joy at having helped someone in time of need cannot be compared to any other feeling,” he says.

One interesting and encouraging sign is that  compared to 10 years back when there were only 30% of blood donors, the rate of volunteers has now increased by 50%.

Crucial Differences Between Non-Embryonic and Embryonic Stem Cells

July 13, 2009

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We hear a lot about “stem cells,” which are front-and-center as a major policy debate in America, one that involves science, medicine, ethics, politics, and much more.

What are the issues? What’s at stake? What are embryonic and non-embryonic stem cells? What are the crucial differences and distinctions we need to make as a society and citizenry?

Stem-cell technologies are some of the newest and fastest developing biotechnologies. Typically, along with genetic engineering and cloning, these technologies constitute the kind of 21st century advances that make this “the century of Biology.”

A stem cell is a type of cell that is nonspecific in its function; in contrast, for instance, to a heart or brain cell, which is functionally specific. There are two major sources of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and non-embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are obtained from 5- to 12-day old embryos. Although removal of a stem cell from an embryo kills the embryo, the stem cells are valued for their potential to produce any type of cell. That is, they have high plasticity. Conversely, non-embryonic stem cells are found in large quantities in placenta, umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, and in essentially all adult organs or tissues, including bone marrow, fat, kidney, liver, pancreases, intestines, breast, lung, etc. Any of these non-embryonic stem cells have ample plasticity and can give rise to nearly any type of cells, including heart, liver, lung, muscle, etc.

Thus, the heart of the stem-cell controversy centers on the aforementioned fact that the extraction of stem cells from 5- to 12-day embryos kills the embryo. But that’s not the only issue: In addition, stem cells derived from an embryonic human may, in turn, reject the person who receives them. This situation is called graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD). The problem can be avoided by producing an embryonic clone of the person needing the stem cells. However, the procedure produces an embryo that is indistinguishable from an embryo from a fertilized egg. This embryonic clone would be destroyed during the stem-cell harvesting required by the therapy. This type of cloning is called “therapeutic cloning,” since the production of a human baby is not the goal. (Reproductive cloning, producing a cloned human baby, has been universally outlawed.)

Another problem is that the embryonic stem cells can unpredictably cause cancer in the treated patient.

On the other hand, newly developed treatments associated with non-embryonic (adult) stem cells are way ahead of any hoped-for treatments associated with embryonic stem cells. Recent non-embryonic stem-cell therapies include treatments for non-healing bone breaks, healing damaged hearts, regenerating damaged muscles, correcting scoliosis, regenerating knee cartilage, treating thalassemia, osteoarthritis, diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis, spinal chord and nerve damage. Treatments to heal conditions associated with almost any organ or tissue are in view. These advances cast serious doubt on the need to develop embryonic stem-cell therapies, especially since embryonic technologies are morally objectionable, given that they require the death of the human embryo.

The use of one’s own adult stem cells (autologous stem-cell transplant) is a way to avoid the problems of rejection and of killing human embryos. Also, certain types of adult stem cells (mesenchymal cells) can be harvested from anyone and changed in the lab (transdifferentiated) into a desired cell. In both of these stem-cell applications there are no adverse effects to the donor of the adult stem cells. The non-embryonic stem cells are safely harvested, purified from other cells and/or expanded in culture, and introduced into the patient without rejection. In another process, virtually any adult cell can be harvested from one’s own body and treated to become cells capable of producing the needed cell type (induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS). These cells can also be cultured in the lab, and reintroduced into the patient. All of these sources of adult stem cells avoid the problem of having to use patented embryonic stem-cell lines that would be less available to the public.

And yet, the reputed plasticity of the embryonic stem cells continues to make the prospects of doing research on human embryos attractive to researchers who are uninhibited by the prospect of killing human embryos.

It is worth pointing out that, in terms of medical applications and treatments, two major facts are usually left out of these discussions: First, non-embryonic stem-cell treatments have been used to treat tens of thousands of patients, and with dramatic benefits. However, embryonic stem cells have not had one clinical trial with humans. Also, it has been clearly demonstrated that non-embryonic stem cells do not produce cancerous tumors in humans. Whether iPS cells share this non-tumorigenic quality is not yet clear. However, iPS cells have all of the medical application value hoped for in embryonic stem cells.

It must be noted that in a field as rapidly moving as stem-cell research, this situation will likely not be current for long. However, the current progress of stem-cell research as of spring 2009 speaks volumes regarding the effectiveness of non-embryonic vs. embryonic stem-cell research. The promises of embryonic stem-cell researchers are wildly overstated. The claims that embryonic stem-cell therapies will be available in five to 10 years rings hollow.

Aside from these scientific considerations, there are moral-religious matters of obvious concerns to Christians:

Christians committed to the sanctity of human life should look with favor on technologies that preserve and/or improve human life. Consequently, non-embryonic stem-cell advances should be embraced when they: 1) respect the consent and preserve the dignity of the stem-cell donors, 2) enhance the health of the stem-cell recipient, and 3) protect human life at every stage of development. Embryonic stem-cell harvesting remains problematic because the procedure destroys the smallest and most helpless members of the human family: embryos.

In truth, embryonic stem-cell use is being trumped by successful and surprising advances in adult and other non-embryonic stem-cell research. These advances protect the dignity of the donor and recipient while recognizing the value of all humans, regardless of their stage of life, from conception through old age. Hence, all frozen human embryos should be given a chance to be born, not given over to researchers to be destroyed for the sake of a research project.

Visually impaired become torchbearers, donate …

July 13, 2009

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Shimla: It was the first camp of its kind in Himachal Pradesh in which six visually impaired persons came forward to donate blood voluntarily. In fact, the blood donation camp was inaugurated by Shobhu Ram, president of Blind Persons Association of Himachal Pradesh by donating blood. Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal also paid visit to the camp and lauded efforts being made by Umang Foundation to protect the rights of children with thalassemia in the state. As many as sixty persons, including girls, donated blood in the camp to support children with thalassemia.

The camp was held in association with SEWA Trust, and was dedicated to the loving memory of two young journalists who died young. Ajai Srivastava, a crusader for the rights of the disabled, convener of the camp and president of Umang Foundation, said blind persons gave a very strong message to the society that they want to make a positive contribution to the society and should not be excluded at all. Anurup Thakur, Tarachand, Kartar Sharma, Gopal and Naveen Kumar, all blinds, also donated blood. Shobhu Ram thanked Ajai Srivastava for giving an opportunity to blind persons to donate blood and support the cause of children with thalassemia.

The Chief Minister, while visiting the blood donation camp, said that Umang Foundation was rendering a great service to the society by creating awareness about the importance of blood donation and the problems being faced by children with Thalassemia.

Rakesh Kanwar, founder trusty of SEWA Trust, was among those who donated blood. He said the trust would continue to support such cause in future also. Prof. Vepa Rao, patron of the trust, Ms. Meeakshi Kanwar, a trusty, was also present in the camp. The camp received active support from members of YES, a local organization of youth.

Antiviral for all with chronic disease

July 13, 2009

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The 2.4 million people in Thailand suffering from chronic diseases such as asthma, heart disorders, paralysis, diabetes, cancer and kidney transplant would be given antiviral drugs without having to undergo lab tests for type A (H1N1) virus first, the Public Health Ministry announced yesterday.

The move comes after it was reported that most deaths from swine flu in Thailand were of people with underlying disease.

Yesterday, the ministry reported 211 new cases, bringing the number of swineflu cases in the country to 2,925. Three more deaths were reported, lifting the total number of fatalities to 14. Among the new cases, 180 were students and 10 were medical workers.

Of the three new victims, one was a traffic policeman based at Bang Na police station. He succumbed to kidney complications yesterday at the Police Hospital.

The second victim was a 45-year-old man who suffered a high fever for five days before seeking treatment on Monday. He died on the same day.

The third victim, a student from Maha Sarakam province, died from a new strain of the virus at a hospital in Khon Kaen. The youngster had recently come to Bangkok to sit for an exam, before developing a high fever and succumbing to the flu on Wednesday.

In a bid to cut down the deaths, the Department of Disease Control’s spokesperson Dr Kamnuan Ungchusak said doctors nationwide should start giving patients with underlying diseases the oseltamivir drug immediately if they show any flu symptoms.

“Patients with chronic disease should seek medical treatment and receive the antiviral drug as soon as they develop flulike symptoms or have a high fever. Doctors should not wait for lab results to confirm the infection first,” he said.

Kamnuan explained that people with underlying health problems were at higher risk of getting a severe form of the influenza and developing further complications.

Department of Medical Service’s director general, Dr Rawat Witsaruthvej said only 20 out of the 2,000 patients infected with the new virus showed severe flulike symptoms. Of these, 15 already have preexisting conditions such as obesity, heart disease, kidney, leukaemia or thalassemia, while some were also pregnant.

He said eight patients with underlying disease were in critical at the hospital. The doctor said most deaths were caused because the patients were tardy in seeking treatment.

“We found that most patients who have died from the new virus chose to stay at home for six days after developing flulike symptoms instead of immediately seeking treatment,” he said.

The World Health Organisation’s regional director for Southeast Asia, Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, said pregnant women and young children appeared to be facing a higher risk.

He was speaking at a regional consultation on Pandemic H1N1 2009: Strengthening Country Capacity for Pandemic Preparedness attended by 68 health experts from eight countries in the region.

Meanwhile, director general for the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation, Dr Vithit Atthavejkul said his agency would produce another 10 million oseltamivir tablets, bringing the country’s stockpile to 15 million. Of these, 10 million tablets will be distributed among the 2.4 million patients with chronic diseases. GPO will also start producing a new vaccine after it receives the seed vaccine virus from WHO on July 16.

The organisation expects to produce 2.8 million doses per month of the new vaccine and should be ready to distribute it by November.

To give people access to essential medication and flu vaccines, the National Health Security Office (NHSO)’s secretarygeneral, Dr Winai Sawasdivorn said the NHSO board will approve Bt300 million for the purchase of a new vaccine to deal with the pandemic next year. However, he said, he was not sure the NHSO could purchase two million doses of vaccine as requested by the Public Health Ministry.

Meanwhile, Dr Samlee said the biggest concern was the reassortment of the virus. If people with seasonal flu are further infected by the typeA (H1N1) virus the two viruses could genetically combine to create a more virulent and severe infection.

“This is the time for seasonal influenza and we should be well aware of this phenomenon and protect ourselves from ordinary flu,” he said. Plus, the avian flu (H5N1) virus, which has been prevailing in the region, could further complicate the situation.

“Further reassortment can take place with a coinfection of H1N1 and H5N1 viruses,” he warned. “We have to make sure that the avian influenza is under proper control.”

Influenza viruses, in general, are highly unstable and can easily undergo genetic mutation that in turn can either make them milder or more severe. In this regard, the typeA (H1N1) virus is no exception.

“This is something we have to keep in mind when dealing with the influenza viruses,” Samlee said.

The Public Health Ministry expects 200,000 to 300,000 people to be infected with the new virus by the end of this month. The mortality rate of the pandemic in Thailand is 0.4 per cent, which is equal to the figure in the United States.


Cost of examination for the 2009 influenza charged by private hospitals


Initial screening test: to determine whether it is common flu Type A or B:


Blood test to determine whether it is the 2009 influenza


Blood tests with a positive result, come with medication included

Source: The Private Hospital Association


World Health Organisation: Alert levels depending on scale of outbreak

Level 1: Fatality rate at 0.1 per cent of all confirmed cases

Level 2: Fatality rate at 0.10.5 per cent of all confirmed cases; Thailand’s rate is now at 0.4 per cent

Level 3: Fatality rate at 0.51 per cent of all confirmed cases

Level 4: Fatality rate at 12 per cent of all confirmed cases

Level 5: Fatality rate over 2 per cent of all confirmed cases; all public gatherings and activities are required to be cancelled, as happened in Mexico, where the outbreak is thought to have originated.

High judge orders brides, grooms tested for H1N1 before court issues marriage certificate

July 13, 2009

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Jerusalem – Ma’an – No marriage certificates are to be authorized by Islamic courts in Palestine until both the bride and groom are certified to be “swine flu free,” Chief Justice of Palestine Sheikh Taysir Tamimi announced Tuesday.

Tamimi sent a memo to all courts authorized to issue marriage certificates announcing the latest measure. All couples seeking certicicates will have to undergo Ministry of Health authorized procedures before the certificate will be issued. The top judge said the measure will slow the spread of the epidemic.

“This action is in pursuance of the purposes of Islamic law in the need to conserve the five imperatives: reason and restraint, religion, money, and birth.” He said the courts have a duty to curb the spread of the H1N1 virus.

Prospective couples must already have tests from the Ministry of Health ensuring the are AIDS/HIV free and test negative for Thalassemia, a genetic kidney disease prevalent among southern Mediterranean peoples that leads to kidney failure if untreated. The orders for lab tests for Thalassemia and AIDS/HIV were passed in 2000 and 2001 respectively.

According to Tamimi the orders lead to a dramatic decrease in the incidence of both diseases.

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