JBS CEO Art Thompson's weekly video news update for November 21-27, 2011.
Citing the uncertain economy and the scarcity of needed capital, the company that launched the first government funded embryonic stem-cell trials announced that it is halting further stem-cell research and will lay off nearly 40 percent of its staff. The California-based Geron Corp., which began the first FDA-approved stem-cell trials in 2010, said that it would shift its focus to cancer research.
Explaining what he insisted was purely a financial decision, Geron Chief Executive John Scarlett told the Wall Street Journal that the “time frame for meaningful value inflection [for stem-cell programs] would occur substantially further in the future than for our oncology products.” Suspension of Geron’s research, which involved patients with spinal cord injuries, still leaves at least two other companies invested in the controversial project.
Pro-life activists have been vocal in their opposition to the research because it requires the destruction of human embryos. While it has received the lion’s share of attention from the scientific community and the media, embryonic stem-cell therapy “has yet to produce any treatments or cures,” reported Baptist Press News. “By contrast, pro-lifers say, research using non-embryonic forms of stem cells — such as adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells — has been far more promising. Adult stem cells — found throughout the body — have produced 73 medical treatments, according to a tally by the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics. In induced pluripotent stem cells, researchers reprogram adult skin cells into stem cells that have virtually the identical properties of embryonic ones.”
Activists are fuming after GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed an emergency rule to implement ObamaCare in the state and refused to return federal grant money provided under the scheme.
Critics are calling the actions a “betrayal” of his supporters and the Tea Party, though some defenders are saying he has merely been acting on bad advice. Democrats, meanwhile, are demanding that Walker keep the funds and continue to implement Obama’s controversial healthcare plan.
Some Republican legislators fought hard to kill AB 210, a bill that would have brought Wisconsin into compliance with ObamaCare even as it remains under assault in court for being unconstitutional. And GOP state Sen. Frank Lasee ensured that the legislation died in the Senate Committee on Insurance and Housing he chairs.
“My office reached out to Gov. Walker approximately two weeks ago in a sincere effort to discuss the many reasons for killing AB 210,” Sen. Lasee said in a statement released on November 14. “We also hoped to broach the hazard of the $49 million in federal ‘Early Innovator Grant’ funds that the governor accepted in February of this year. Regrettably, we were rebuffed.”
After nominating Donald Berwick as head of Medicare and Medicaid, President Obama has now nominated Henry Aaron as head of the Social Security Advisory Board, and they are both proponents of healthcare rationing. Berwick, who Obama appointed through executive measures, circumventing the conventional Senate confirmation, has stated, "The decision is not whether or now we will ration care…. The decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open. And right now, we are doing it blindly."
Henry Aaron, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, harbors sentiments on the issue that are arguably even more extreme, which is evident in his comments about the Independent Payment Advisory Board.
The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a U.S. government agency established in 2010 by sections of Obama’s healthcare overhaul, has the explicit task of curtailing the rate of growth in Medicare expenditures. Section 4303 of the Affordable Care Act grants the IPAB an unbounded authority to develop proposals to cut Medicare costs, which become law unless Congress acts to produce alternative cost-saving proposals that would save at least as much as the IPAB proposes.
There may be some unintended grave consequences for the heavy use of birth control pills in nations like the United States. A recent study published in the online British Medical Journal Open found that those countries having a high number of women using birth control pills also have a higher incidence of men with prostate cancer. While the study did not make a definite tie-in, “researchers said estrogen hormones released in urine that recycle through the water supply could account for one possible explanation” for the correlation between use of the pill and increased prostate cancer, reported ABC News.
Explained Dr. Neil Fleshner, head of urology at the University Health Network in Ontario and one of the study’s authors: “There’s reason to suggest there’s an environmental component [to prostate cancer] and not solely genetic.”
While other studies have linked prostate and other cancers to the presence of pesticides, chemicals, and medications in water supplies, researchers explained that their speculation is based on the increase of prostate cancer in developed countries during the four decades that has seen a dramatic rise in the use of oral contraceptives by women in those countries.
The Obama administration’s latest effort in its "We Can’t Wait" jobs strategy is a $1-billion grant program for organizations to hire, train, and deploy new healthcare workers. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Monday that the department will disperse the grant money over three years to generate jobs which enhance healthcare through innovation. "Both public and private community organizations around the country are finding innovative solutions to improve our health care system and the Health Care Innovation Challenge will help jump-start these efforts," Sebelius affirmed in a statement.
The initiative, called the Health Care Innovation Challenge, will award grants of from $1 million to $30 million next spring to medical providers, nonprofit organizations, community groups, local government agencies, and other organizations serving patients in federal healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. While the funding stems from Obama’s healthcare overhaul, the program is an appendage to the President’s "We Can’t Wait" campaign, a political ploy by the White House to pressure congressional Republicans into supporting Obama’s jobs plan.
The program is designed to find "the most compelling new ideas to deliver better health, improved care and lower costs to people enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program," a White House announcement disclosed. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, established as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will administer and monitor the program.
According to a study published in the Journal of Religion and Health recently, regular attendance at religious services produces a more optimistic outlook on life and a reduced inclination to depression. Those respondents to the survey who attended religious services more than once a week in the prior month were 56 percent more likely to be above the median score on a measurement for optimism than those who had not attended religious services at all. Respondents who attended weekly religious services were 22 percent less likely to be depressed than those who did not attend religious services.
Not everyone agrees, however, about what exactly these numbers mean. Eliezer Schnall, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Yeshiva University in New York notes that: "There is a correlation, but that does not mean there is causality. One could argue people who are more optimistic may be drawn to religious services. The person who says, 'I guess if I go to services, that will make me more optimistic' -— while a possibility, that may not be true."
A 2008 study conducted by Schnall found that those who sent to religious services regularly had a 20 percent reduced risk of death over the period of the study and its follow up. Schnall again cautioned against reading too much into the study: "We're trying to connect the dots here. We know they're less likely to die, and health outcomes can be related to psychological factors."
The U.S. Supreme Court approved a petition on Monday to hear arguments in cases challenging the constitutionality of ObamaCare. The court granted certiorari (a petition submitted requesting that the court hear an appeal from a lower appeals court) in three of the several cases currently filed against the U.S. government. The announcement by the court indicates that the justices have set aside five and one-half hours to hear oral arguments from the parties.
JBS CEO Art Thompson's weekly video news update for November 14-21, 2011.
Scientists are questioning a $433-million government contract for an experimental smallpox drug (ST-246) awarded to Siga Technologies by the Obama administration. Siga, a New York-based pharmaceutical company specializing in disease-causing pathogens, was given a contract in May through a "sole-source" procurement: It was the only company asked to submit a proposal, while the government reportedly blocked other companies from bidding after Siga nearly lost the contract a year ago.
The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that administration officials used deceitful measures to secure the contract, as Siga’s controlling shareholder is one of the world’s wealthiest men and a prominent Democratic Party donor. Interviews, email correspondence, and various documents revealed that the Obama administration replaced the project’s lead negotiator after Siga complained that contracting specialists at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) repelled its financial demands.