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NaturalNews exclusive: UNITED-Continental airline pilots forced to fly with as little as 3 hours’ sleep, ‘worked until we drop’

August 12, 2012 Leave a comment

 

(NaturalNews) Whistleblower pilots flying for United / Continental airlines warn that they are being “worked until we drop,” forced to pilot consecutive long-distance flights with as little as three hours’ sleep. In a series of secret meetings with NaturalNews, three United / Continental pilots described the “utter hell” they are being put through:

“We are being worked until we drop,” one pilot to me in a recent face-to-face meeting in Texas. “United-Continental is flying us in violation of FAA legal requirements. Pilot fatigue is at red alert levels. This is an accident waiting to happen.”

The FAA requires pilots to have at least 8 hours of rest in any given 24-hour period. From the FAA’s website:

…a pilot is not allowed to accept, nor is an airline allowed to assign, a flight if the pilot has not has at least eight continuous hours of rest during the 24-hour period. In other words, the pilot needs to be able to look back in any preceding 24-hour period and find that he/she has had an opportunity for at least eight hours of rest. If a pilot’s actual rest is less than nine hours in the 24-hour period, the next rest period must be lengthened to provide for the appropriate compensatory rest.

But NaturalNews was told that United-Continental is operating in blatant violation of this rule. One pilot explained to me, in detail:

“The airline often schedules us with only nine hours of time from arrival of one flight to the departure of the next. They claim this is supposed to give us nine hours of rest, but on a recent turnaround in [city withheld for privacy], our flight had more handicapped customers than was recorded in the manifest, and we had to wait for more wheelchairs to arrive, which took an extra 45 minutes. Then we were over an hour on transportation to the hotel, and another hour for check-in and getting to the room. I had exactly 2 hours and 49 minutes of sleep before I was required to get up, shower, dress, check out, get back on the transportation van, get through the airport, and back on the flight deck for preflight. I then flew a long-duration trans-continental flight, managed to catch six hours of sleep after that, and was piloting yet another flight.”

The cost of pilot fatigue: Injury, death and lost planes

The cost of pilot fatigue can be catastrophic. Earlier this year, an Air Canada pilot awoke from an in-flight nap disoriented. He thought the planet Venus (which can appear as a bright “star” on the horizon) was an approaching plane, so he nose-dived the airliner to avoid what he thought was a potential collision.

The result? A 400-foot altitude plunge, 7 people in the hospital and 16 injured passengers and crew. As reported in the DailyMail: (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2130799/Pilot-fatigue-blamed-…)

Jon Lee, chief investigator, said the incident shows the problems airline crews face when dealing with being sleepy. He said: ‘This occurrence underscores the challenge of managing fatigue on the flight deck.’

Pilots have even died from fatigue, even while piloting flights carrying hundreds of passengers.

Did pilot fatigue kill Continental pilot Craig Lenell?

“One of our own had a heart attack and died a few weeks ago, in-flight,” the United-Continental pilots told me. The story checks out. The pilot’s name was Craig Lenell. He was described as being in “perfect health” and was piloting a Boeing 777 from Brussels to Newark. As Fox News reports:

Lenell died of a suspected heart attack midway through Continental Airlines Flight 61 on Thursday. Two co-pilots took over the controls. Passengers didn’t know anything was wrong until they landed and were met by fire trucks, emergency vehicles and dozens of clamoring reporters. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,527465,00.html)

“If something doesn’t change soon, you’re going to see more pilots dying in-flight,” I was told. “Or worse, you’re going to see a fatal mistake, and 150-plus customers could be falling out of the sky.”

Pilot fatigue is even more critical when flying into difficult airports. Many airports served by United and Continental are surrounded by volcanoes and mountains. Localized weather patterns and storm cells make navigation very complex, even for experienced pilots. “The way we’re being flown with these lapses in sleep, it’s only a matter of time before we lose a flight,” one of the pilots told me. “[United / Continental] is rolling the dice with the lives of its customers.”

Pilot fatigue being pushed to its limits by airline company management

United-Continental is currently in a back-wages battle with its pilots. I was told that pilots have had their pensions stolen by the company. They’re owed back-wages dating back several years, the pilots told me, and the company is refusing to pay. As a result, pilots are staging a “work slowdown” that has caused the airline’s on-time flight record to plummet in recent months.

Over 1,400 pilots have been laid off by the company (http://crewroom.alpa.org/ual/DesktopModules/ViewDocument.aspx?Documen…), even at a time when remaining pilots are being stretched so thin that they’re often flying in a sleep-deprived state.

“Retired Continental Airline pilots alleged that Continental had breached the retirees’ pension plan by improperly calculating their salaries when determining their pension benefits,” reports Corporate Financial Weekly Digest (http://www.corporatefinancialweeklydigest.com/2012/02/articles/litiga…). “The retirees received an adverse ruling from the System Board, and, as they were expressly permitted to do both by the CBA and the System Board’s decision, commenced an action in federal court under ERISA challenging the ruling. The federal district court for the Southern District of Texas dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the Fifth Circuit affirmed..”

The pilots got screwed, in other words. Their pensions have been raided, looted by the usual suspects. This, on top of the insane sleep schedules being forced upon the pilots, is a recipe for disaster.

Bottom line? Don’t fly United / Continental until the pilots get paid and well-rested

Personally, I won’t fly United-Continental until I get word that their pilots are having their pensions restored and sleep requirements honored. To get on an airplane piloted by a sleepy-headed, angry pilot being screwed over by the company he works for is not my idea of a safe flight experience.

Although pilots are among the most psychologically balanced people in any profession (they undergo routine psych evaluations and physical exams), even they have a breaking point. What the airline is doing to these pilots amounts to a type of work torture. Sleep deprivation, after all, is a commonly-practiced torture technique. While not all the pilots are sleep-deprived on all flights, getting on one of these airplanes right now is a bit of a “Russian roulette” game in that you have no idea which pilot is awake and alert versus which pilot is suffering from dangerous sleep deprivation.

Steer clear of United-Continental until further notice.

And to the management of United-Continental, remember this: The pilots make or break an airline. If you piss off the pilots, they will drive your company into the dirt. If you keep the pilots happy, they will deliver a remarkable record of on-time flights, efficient turnarounds and happy experiences for customers. And as a bonus, they won’t accidentally fly your precious hardware into a mountain or scatter passengers across a field somewhere, which is always a messy scene with lots of TV news coverage.

 

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‘Breakthrough’ method rids patients of advanced cancer

August 14, 2011 1 comment

August 10, 2011

Joseph Hall

Health Reporter

 

In what is being hailed as a potential cancer breakthrough, three men suffering late-stage leukemia have been cured using their own, genetically reprogrammed immune systems.

The technique transforms blood-borne T-cells into “serial killers” that hunt down and obliterate cancer cells, leaving healthy tissue unharmed, according to a pair of studies published simultaneously in two prominent journals.

“I’m getting goosebumps,” says University of Pennsylvania pathologist Michael Kalos, lead author of one of the studies.

“The promise of this is profound. If this repeats in more patients . . . it shows that we can, with amazing effectiveness, blow away cancer cells,” Kalos said in an interview.

Two studies describing the process were released Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Medicine.

“For the field of immune therapy it’s a really exciting advance,” says Pamela Ohashi, head of immune therapy at the Ontario Cancer Institute.

“It actually provides a new way to manipulate the immune system,” Ohashi says.

Although it takes in only three patients, Ohashi says the results presented were so robust they should send excitement throughout her field.

Kalos explains that the technique works much like a vaccine, training the immune system to target cancer cells, just as inoculations coax it to fight off viruses.

To do this, researchers isolated immunological T-cells from the blood of the three leukemia patients and genetically reprogrammed them using a virus vector that inserted a new gene into their DNA.

This gene coaxed the T-cells to create an antibody — known as chimeric antigen receptor or CAR — that would specifically target structures on the surface of cancer cells.

The newly armed T-cells were then injected back into the respective patients where they sought out and bound themselves to the cancer cells and killed them.

More importantly, however, the reprogrammed hunters caused other T-cells to multiply each time they attacked, creating more killers with each slain cancer cell.

“Within three weeks the tumours had been blown away, in a way that was much more violent than we ever expected,” Dr. Carl June, a senior study author, said in a statement.

“In addition to an extensive capacity for self-replication the infused T-cells are serial killers. On average each infused T-cell led to the killing of thousands of tumour cells,” said June, a University of Pennsylvania pathologist.

It’s estimated the scant number of T-cells originally injected into the patients killed more than two pounds of tumour cells in each of the men, whose blood and bone marrow were replete with cancer.

After a year, microscopic analysis of their blood could find no trace of cancerous cells, Kalos says.

“I am still trying to grasp the enormity of what I am part of and of what the results will mean to countless others with (leukemia) or other forms of cancer,” one of the patients, none of whom were named, said in a written statement.

Kalos says it appears that, like a vaccine, the T-cells also left the patients with a lingering protection, which would reactivate the immunological attack if cancer returned.

“If leukemia does come back, those T-cells (appear to be) armed and ready to eliminate it,” he said.

Each of the men had been suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a slow-acting form of the blood ailment that can linger for years before radical therapies like marrow transplants become necessary.

But Kalos says there is no reason to think the killer T-cell therapy would not work on more lethal “hard tumour” cancers like breast, prostate or lung.

He says each type of cancer cell has unique surface structures that T-cells could be similarly reprogrammed to hone in on.

“You can target prostate cancer, for example, by targeting any of the surface molecules that have been shown to be present on prostate cancer,” Kalos says.

Researchers have attempted to use modified T-cells to fight cancer in several previous trials, but always with lacklustre results.

Kalos says he does not know why his team’s attempt appears to have worked, but he suspects the unique lentivirus used to insert the modifying genes played a role.

“This seems to be a novel approach to harnessing the power of the patient’s own immune system to battle Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) and perhaps other related leukemias,” says Dr Michael Wosnick, head of research with the Canadian Cancer Society.

“Although the initial study was limited to 3 patients, this may pave the way for better treatments of these diseases, and that is of course what we all want to see,” he said via email.

The researchers could only treat three patients because they ran out of the virus, which was derived from HIV.

Kalos says the team has managed to acquire more of the virus — which cost $250,000 for the first three treatments — and will begin new trials in the coming months.

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Categories: Health

Cancer-stricken WTC worker gets $0 settlement check

August 1, 2011 1 comment

Then they took a 33.3 percent fee of $2,124.

They also subtracted $352, a fee to the lawyer who referred him.

The remaining $4,950 was withheld for unspecified “liens,” the letter says. Galvis thinks this was repayment of workers’ compensation for aid.

“I have hit rock bottom,” said Galvis, who is jobless and $30,000 in debt. “I was expecting a check, and you can imagine how I felt when I opened it. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke.”

The father of two, who lives in Glendale with his fiancée and her two kids, said he had to sell his car and relies on relatives for rent. “I get collection agencies whenever I open the mail. What little credit I had I don’t have anymore,” he said.

Galvis said he arrived in New York from Bogota, Colombia, in February 2001. Hired by contractors clearing dust and rubble from Merrill Lynch offices next to Ground Zero, Galvis said he toiled 16 hours a day for six months in a jumpsuit and paper mask that would tear when he sweated. At $8 an hour, he made close to $800 a week.

In May 2005, a friend gave him a business card passed out by the law firm. A representative came to his home.

“The man told me that more than likely I will get sick and I would get 60 percent of whatever he won,” Galvis said. “He even mentioned the words ‘millions of dollars.’ ”

In April 2010, he got a $10,000 offer. A letter from the law firm said he could expect about $5,000 after expenses and fees. It warned that if his case went to trial and he lost, he could owe the firm up to $100,000 in costs. He took the settlement.

His claim cited chronic rhinosinusitis and sleep disorders. He was diagnosed with throat cancer last August and began chemotherapy and radiation. But it was “too late” to adjust his claim.

“It was our pleasure to represent you in this matter,” the law firm says in a note that arrived with the zero-dollar check.

It was no pleasure for Galvis.

“I think they are taking advantage of the ignorance of people such as myself,” he said.

The total Merrill settlement came to $18 million for about 400 clients, documents show.

Galvis is one of nearly 10,000 Ground Zero workers represented by Napoli Bern, which led talks for a separate settlement with the city for $712 million.

Anger is also stirring among those clients, who have started getting checks for 40 percent of their total awards. Several told The Post the payouts were less than those estimated by Napoli Bern. Some said they felt duped.

Submitted by dan fey

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Categories: Health, US News

Scientists Project Path of Radiation Plume


By WILLIAM J. BROAD
Published: March 16, 2011

A United Nations forecast of the possible movement of the radioactive plume coming from crippled Japanese reactors shows it churning across the Pacific, and touching the Aleutian Islands on Thursday before hitting Southern California late Friday.

The projection, by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, an arm of the United Nations in Vienna, gives no information about actual radiation levels but only shows how a radioactive plume would probably move and disperse.

Read Full Article Here

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Categories: Environment, Health

Sick Gulf Residents Beg Officials for Help

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Inter Press Service

By Dahr Jamail 

a

Cherri Foytlin, co-founder of Gulf Change, at a rally at the state capital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, October 2010. (Credit: Erika Blumenfeld)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, Jan 14, 2011 (IPS) – In an emotionally charged meeting this week sponsored by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, fishermen, Gulf residents and community leaders vented their increasingly grave concerns about the widespread health issues brought on by the three-month-long disaster.

“Today I’m talking to you about my life,” Cherri Foytlin told the two commissioners present at the Jan. 12 meeting. “My ethylbenzene levels are 2.5 times the 95th percentile, and there’s a very good chance now that I won’t get to see my grandbabies…What I’m asking you to do now, if possible, is to amend [your report]. Because we have got to get some health care.”

Ethylbenzene is a form of benzene present in the body when it begins to break down. It is also present in BP’s crude oil.

“I have seen small children with lesions all over their bodies,” Foytlin, co-founder of Gulf Change, a community organisation based in Grand Isle, Louisiana, continued.

“We are very, very ill. And dead is dead. So it really doesn’t matter if the media comes back… or the president hears us, or… if the oil workers and the fishermen and the crabbers get to feed their babies and maybe have a good Christmas next year… Dead is dead…I know your job is probably already done, but I’d like to hire you if you don’t mind. And God knows I can’t pay you. But I need your heart. And I need your voice.”

a

Toxic Symptoms

Many of the chemicals present in the oil and dispersants are known to cause the following health problems:

Headaches, nausea, vomiting, kidney damage, altered renal functions, irritation of the digestive tract, lung damage, burning pain in the nose and throat, coughing, pulmonary edema, cancer, lack of muscle coordination, dizziness, confusion, irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, difficulty breathing, delayed reaction time, memory difficulties, stomach discomfort, liver and kidney damage, unconsciousness, tiredness/lethargy, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, and hematological disorders.

Commissioner Frances Beinecke, president of the National Resources Defence Council, vowed to convey her concerns to the White House.

“We hear what you are saying,” said Beinecke. “We will take these health issues and concerns back to the president.”

The commission, appointed by President Barack Obama, released its final report this week after a six-month investigation into the nation’s worst-ever oil disaster.

The report recommended a massive overhaul of the oil industry’s failed safety practices in the Gulf, as well as the creation of a new independent agency to monitor offshore drilling activity.

However, most of the 250 people at the meeting here focused on the health crisis that has exploded in the wake of the April 2010 disaster, leaving former BP clean-up workers and Gulf residents alike suffering from ailments they attribute to chemicals in BP’s oil and the toxic dispersants used to sink it.

Dr. Rodney Soto, a medical doctor in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, has been testing and treating patients with high levels of oil-related chemicals in their bloodstream.

These are commonly referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Anthropogenic VOCs from BP’s oil disaster are toxic and have negative chronic health effects.

Dr. Soto is finding disconcertingly consistent and high levels of toxic chemicals in every one of the patients he is testing.

“I’m regularly finding between five and seven VOCs in my patients,” Dr. Soto told IPS. “These patients include people not directly involved in the oil clean-up, as well as residents that do not live right on the coast. These are clearly related to the oil disaster.”

Nevertheless, U.S. government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with President Obama himself, have declared the Gulf of Mexico, its waters, beaches, and seafood, safe and open to the public.

Gulf residents at the meeting on Wednesday made sure the two commissioners were aware of the health crisis they are facing.

Tom Costanza of Catholic Charities in the New Orleans area stated that the region is in the middle of a social service crisis and faced a claims process he said is fraught with problems.

“People call me crying and dying,” he said. “They need medical attention and support to get through this.”

Ada McMahon works with Bridge the Gulf Project, a citizen journalism website that highlights stories from Gulf Coast communities about justice and sustainability. She told IPS that “the unmet health issues are the biggest issue, along with residents turned advocates going to meetings of the commission or with [BP oil spill fund administrator Kenneth] Feinberg to tell people about their health problems.”

“People who can afford the 300-dollar blood tests have found alarming rates of chemicals in their bodies, and these people are concerned and doing what they can to speak out,” she said. “But they feel they can’t wait for Congress or Obama to address this, because they need doctors and support now in the communities.”

LaTosha Brown, director of the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, which works with 250 community groups, agreed that “the key concern expressed by the community in response to the report is the overwhelming need for access to health care.”

“Over and over, people exposed to crude and dispersants from the drilling disaster told stories of serious health issues – from high levels of ethylbenzyne in their blood, to respiratory ailments and internal bleeding – and expressed an urgent need for access to doctors who have experience treating chemical exposure,” she said.

Stephen Bradberry, executive director of the Alliance Institute, a non-profit that provides community organising support in the Gulf South, worries that the Gulf Coast Claims Facility is not accepting health claims, thus leaving sick residents unable to work and without any income to pay their medical bills.

“There is bruising and skin lesions, not just with clean-up workers, these are residents not involved in the clean-up,” Bradberry told IPS. “Just yesterday I learned of five people on Grand Isle who passed away…people who did not have health problems prior to this. Nevertheless, there has not been any talk of monitoring of these communities.”

Bradberry, who also attended the forum on Wednesday, also said, “We need a separate health task force that can focus solely on testing, monitoring, and studying the long-term health issues from exposure to crude and dispersants. And this needs to happen now.”


** Dahr Jamail’s MidEast Dispatches **

** Visit Dahr Jamail’s website http://dahrjamailiraq.com **

Dahr Jamail’s new book, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now available.

Order the book here http://tinyurl.com/cnlgyu

As one of the first and few unembedded Western journalists to report the truth about how the United States has destroyed, not liberated, Iraqi society in his book Beyond the Green Zone, Jamail now investigates the under-reported but growing antiwar resistance of American GIs. Gathering the stories of these courageous men and women, Jamail shows us that far from “supporting our troops,” politicians have betrayed them at every turn. Finally, Jamail shows us that the true heroes of the criminal tragedy of the Iraq War are those brave enough to say no.

Order Beyond the Green Zone

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“International journalism at its best.” –Stephen Kinzer, former bureau chief, New York Times; author All the Shah’s Men

Winner of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism

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Five superbug defenses that can keep you from dying in the hospital

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

By Boonsri Dickinson | Dec 22, 2010 | 0 Comments

He may have not realized it, but Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered a mold that could save millions of lives. On 1928, while in his lab, he discovered penicillin. The active ingredient in the mold Penicillium notatum was an infection-fighting agent that could kill colonies of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus.

The pharmaceutical industry began producing antibiotics, drugs that could kill disease-causing bacteria. Bye bye, syphilis? Bye bye, gangrene? Bye bye, tuberculosis? Almost. Doctors started prescribing them (and then over-prescribing them). And we started using them (and abusing them).

However, this spawned another problem. This one possibly was as lethal as the infection itself: resistance and the suberbug. Some experts warn that we are at the end of the antibiotic era.

University of California, Los Angeles professor Brad Spellberg told Newsweek:

“It’s already happening,” says Spellberg, to the tune of roughly 100,000 deaths a year from antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States alone. “But it’s going to become much more common.”

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA is a superbug – when it enters the blood stream and begins to attack the body, the infection can grow so large only surgery can get rid of the drug-resistant bug.

Right now, our best line of defense to kill off the infection is antibiotics. Sometimes, as a last line of defense, doctors prescribe — vancomycin and linezolid. But even those drugs aren’t guaranteed to work.

The MRSA infections are becoming a problem as bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. Just because hospital-acquired MRSA infections have been declining, it doesn’t mean we don’t need more ways to fight the superbug infections.

Superbugs are a huge problem in hospitals, but scientists have been working on a number of ways to combat the spread of the potentially deadly bug.

Here are five technologies that stand a chance against superbugs:

1. Fecal transplants: Any poo will suffice, as long as it is screened for infectious diseases. But siblings make the best donors. Gastroenterologist Thomas Borody’s clinic has performed 1,500 fecal transplants. Restoring the bacterial flora of the colon to the native state can literally stop a potentially deadly Clostridium difficile infection from taking over.

Borody tells New Scientist:

“I got a very bad name among my colleagues, as someone who feeds people shit.”

The donor’s poo is first cleaned with saline and filtered to remove unwanted particles. Then the poo is fed to a patient through a tube goes through the nose and into the stomach. Going from the bottom seems the more natural way. Either way, the transplants help restore populations of Bacteroides, the type of bacteria that is seen in a person with a healthy colon.

Borody asks:

“We have a therapy that is nearly 100 per cent curative. What the hell are we doing spending millions of dollars on antibiotics?”

2. Light technology: Scientists at the University of Strathclyde have shown that special light can make bacteria basically commit cell suicide. Clinical trials proved the HINS-light Environmental Decontamination System is effective in getting rid of bacterial pathogens in the hospital setting. The light prevents the pathogens from being transmitted through the environment – which ultimately prevents the spread of the infection among patients. University of Strathcylde professor John Anderson explains:

“The system works by using a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths to excite molecules contained within bacteria. This in turn produces highly reactive chemical species that are lethal to bacteria such as meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and Clostridium difficile, known as C.diff.”

3. Anti-pathogenic drugs: Case Western Reserve researchers developed an anti-pathogenic drug to treat MRSA . The drug works by blocking MRSA from producing toxins. This way, you can treat MRSA without actually killing the bacteria.

“Staph bacteria are ubiquitous and normally do not cause infections, however, occasionally these bacteria become harmful due to their secretion of toxins,” said Case Western Reserve’s professor Menachem Shoham. The key was preventing a molecule called AgrA from releasing toxins. The professor looked for compounds to inhibit it, so he screened 90,000 compounds. Seven of those worked.

The anti-pathogenic drugs might change they way we fight bacteria in the body. The way we currently treat the infection makes it a prime place for bacteria to want to fight for survival. The side effect of that is the eventual resistance to the drugs. This new type of drug would sidestep that urge and keep the bacteria at bay.

4. Brains of cockroaches: My first instinct around cockroaches have been to kill them with a paper towel. British researchers discovered that molecules found inside the brain tissues of insects can fended off unwanted bacteria. The brain tissue killed off 90 percent of the E. coli and MRSA. Remarkably, the healthy human cells were left alone.

“We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into treatments for E. coli and Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs,” University of Nottingham’s Simon Lee said in a statement. “Also, these new antibiotics could potentially provide alternatives to currently available drugs that may be effective but have serious and unwanted side effects.”

5. A coating can kill MRSA upon contact: Imagine if surgical equipment or the walls of the hospital could be coated with a paint that could slice up MRSA. The coating has carbon nanotubes with lysostaphin, an enzyme that is found in Staph bacteria that naturally fights off the superbug.

In the lab, when the nanotube-enzyme was mixed with regular household paint, all of the MRSA was eradicated in 20 minutes after it touched the special surface. Don’t worry though, the paint isn’t toxic to other cells – it’s just toxic to MRSA. It probably won’t lead to more resistance and won’t pollute the environment. The coating can be washed without losing its ability to kill MRSA.

Related on SmartPlanet:

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Categories: Health, Medical

Hey Would-Be Daddies, How You Take Care of Yourself Plays into the Health of Your Future Children

December 15, 2010 Leave a comment

By Emily Anthes, Miller-McCune.com
Posted on December 14, 2010, Printed on December 15, 2010
http://www.alternet.org/story/149200/

The fathers weren’t supposed to matter. But in the mid-1960s, pharmacologist Gladys Friedler was making all sorts of strange findings. She discovered that when she gave morphine to female rats, it altered the development of their future offspring — rat pups that hadn’t even been conceived yet. What’s more, even these rats’ grandchildren seemed to have problems. In an effort to understand the unexpected result, she made a fateful decision: She would see what happened when she put male rodents on the opiate. So she shot up the rat daddies with morphine, waited a few days, and then mated them with healthy, drug-free females. Their pups, to Friedler’s utter shock, were profoundly abnormal. They were underweight and chronic late bloomers, missing all their developmental landmarks. “It made no sense,” she recalls today. “I didn’t understand it.”

For the next several decades, Friedler tried to understand this finding, ultimately assembling a strong case that morphine, alcohol and other substances could prompt male rodents to father defective offspring. There was only one problem: No one believed her. Colleagues questioned her results — her former adviser urged her to abandon the research — and she struggled to find funding and get her results published. “It didn’t occur to me that you’re not supposed to look at fathers’ roles in birth defects,” Friedler says. “I initially was not aware of the resistance. I was one of the people who was actually naïve enough to work in this field.”

Over the last half-century, as scientists learned more and more about how women could safeguard their developing fetuses — skip the vodka, take your folate — few researchers even considered the possibility that men played a role in prenatal health. It would turn out to be a scientific oversight of significant proportions. A critical mass of research now demonstrates that environmental exposures — from paints to pesticides — can cause men to father children with all sorts of abnormalities. Drinking booze, smoking cigarettes, taking prescription medications and even just not eating a balanced diet can influence the health of men’s future kids. In the several decades since Friedler started her work, the idea that chemicals in a man’s environment can influence the health of his future children has, she says, “moved from lunatic fringe to cutting edge.”

So why don’t we ever hear about it?

As an andrologist, Bernard Robaire has spent his career studying the functions and dysfunctions of the male reproductive system. In the early 1980s, he was giving grand rounds at the McGill University Health Center in Montreal when an oncologist approached him with a question. The oncologist had been treating men with testicular cancer; chemotherapy and radiation were generally expected to render the patients infertile. But lo and behold, tests were showing that, even after the cancer had been licked, some of the men still had viable sperm. The patients had concerns, however: Were the sperm defective? Was it safe for them to have kids? The oncologist, surprised that reproduction was even an option for his patients, had no idea. He put the question to Robaire.

Robaire was equally stumped. He combed through the scientific literature but couldn’t find a clear answer. So he decided to research the question himself. He paired up with a specialist on birth defects, and together they put together an application for a grant to study whether cancer drugs might damage sperm in ways that put men’s future children at risk. They submitted their application to the Medical Research Council, Canada’s equivalent of the National Institutes of Health. “And I had the absolute worst ranking on a grant I’ve ever had in my life,” Robaire recalls today. The scientists reviewing the application rejected it outright. “This makes no sense,” they had written. “How can you expect drugs given to the male to affect the progeny?”

It wasn’t an unreasonable question. There was no obvious physiological mechanism that could explain the connection. It’s the woman who makes her body home to a developing fetus, and damaged sperm were widely thought to be too weak to successfully fertilize an egg. The conventional wisdom, among oncologists, was that anti-cancer drugs would kill sperm, but after stopping treatment, sperm production would begin again — and the germ cells would be normal.

But that’s not what Robaire found. In his early rodent studies, he discovered that chemotherapy agents could degrade the quality of sperm. These sperm were still capable of fertilizing eggs, but the embryos would often spontaneously abort themselves. Among those that actually survived to term, the rodent pups had abnormally slow development. Since then, Robaire has continued to study the effects of chemotherapy drugs on sperm in rodents and humans; some of his most recent work reveals that some men continue to manufacture damaged sperm — with abnormal numbers of chromosomes and breaks in DNA — for as long as two years after their last dose of chemo. “The chemo causes really dramatic damage,” Robaire says.

While Robaire was slogging away, other scientists were quietly accumulating similar evidence. Some of the early work showed that women had more miscarriages when their male partners worked in manufacturing jobs where they were exposed to heavy metals, such as lead and mercury. Men exposed to pesticides were more likely to have children who developed leukemia. (For years, studies have linked Agent Orange, an herbicide used during the Vietnam War, to birth defects in the offspring of veterans, but a causal link has not been definitively established.) Other research suggested that men who worked with solvents, cleaning solutions, dyes and textiles, paints and other chemicals were all more likely to father kids with birth defects or childhood cancers.

Scientists also showed that it didn’t require industrial-strength chemicals to wreak havoc on men’s sperm. Smokers seemed to produce sperm with the wrong number of chromosomes, a DNA error that could lead to miscarriages or Down syndrome. (A stunning 2008 paper revealed that men with deficiencies in folate, that superstar maternal vitamin, had the same problem.) Paternal smoking has also been linked to childhood cancer, and even alcohol and caffeine can cause sperm abnormalities that derail child development.

We now know that what started as an inconceivable mystery — how could men’s environments and lifestyles possibly affect the children they would later father? — has not just one but several answers. Certain substances interfere with the earliest phase of sperm production in the testes, prompting errors in cell division that lead to genetic mutations in immature sperm cells. Chemicals can also cause what are known as epigenetic mutations, which don’t change the DNA sequence itself but alter how the body reads these genetic instructions. Essentially, an epigenetic change involves turning certain genes on or off, telling the body to pay more or less attention to the code they contain. (If genetic changes are akin to changing the lyrics of a song, epigenetic changes are like fiddling with the volume.)

Drugs can also interfere with sperm transport. A 2009 study revealed that a standard dose of paroxetine — the active drug in the antidepressant marketed as Paxil — causes a fivefold increase in the number of men who show evidence of “sperm fragmentation,” which can increase the chances of miscarriage. Researchers have known that certain antidepressants can influence ejaculatory response; it turns out that they seem to slow the transportation of sperm through the male reproductive system, causing the cells to age prematurely. “Sperm are being damaged because they’re not traveling properly through the body,” says Peter Schlegel, who led the study and is a urologist at New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College.

And these findings are just the beginning. Consider, for instance, that there are some 84,000 chemicals used in American workplaces, says Barbara Grajewski, a senior epidemiologist at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Only 4,000 of these have even been evaluated for reproductive effects in men or women, and males are particularly understudied. “There’s a whole range of effects in men that really are not being given attention or are well understood,” Grajewski says. “The whole area of men’s reproductive health is way behind women’s health.”

The implications of this research deficit are huge. Some 60 percent of all birth defects today are of unknown origin; tracing even a small fraction of these back to men’s environmental exposures would constitute a major public health advance.

Despite the accumulating findings, the idea that fathers can somehow contribute to birth defects has gained little traction in the public sphere. Cigarette packs have no warnings about the association between male smokers and birth defects. A woman who drinks while she’s pregnant can be prosecuted, but most men have no idea that drinking in the months before conception is risky.

“Why would we not look at the paternal side of the equation? To me that’s really a social and political puzzle,” says Cynthia R. Daniels, a political scientist at Rutgers who studies gender and reproductive politics. “We seem to politically be in a place where we overprotect and over-warn women, but where men and fathers remain almost completely invisible. You’re not likely anytime soon to see signs in bars that say, ‘Men who drink should not reproduce.’”

We still assume that men are secondary partners in reproduction, that their biological contribution to a child is fleeting and ultimately less important than women’s, Daniels says. What’s more, both men and women can find the research threatening. After Friedler organized a scientific symposium on the paternal-fetal connection, she found herself in the elevator with two male colleagues. They turned to her and said, “Why are you picking on men?” On the other hand, when Friedler later had a fellowship at an institute for female scholars, some of the women there challenged her, demanding to know why she was spending so much time researching men. She couldn’t win.

Even when the science is unambiguous, policy seems to lag. For decades, only women were banned from the lead trade, though the evidence suggested the metal could cause stillbirths and fetal problems regardless of which parent had been exposed. Today, federal occupational and health standards protect men from lead, but there are lots of regulations missing for other dangerous compounds.

Consider the well-documented hazard presented by anesthetic gases. The female partners of men who work as dentists, operating room technicians or anesthesiologists are more likely to experience miscarriages. On its website, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a lengthy document devoted to the hazards presented by anesthetic gases and how companies can protect their workers. But, in a prominent message at the top of the page, the agency comes straight out and says, “These guidelines are not a new standard or regulation, and they create no new legal obligations. The guidelines are advisory in nature. …”

By law, employers are required to provide what are known as “material safety data sheets” that outline the hazards involved in any chemicals their workers might encounter. A team of researchers discovered that these sheets were 18 times more likely to mention risks to female reproduction than male reproduction. To be fair, it’s harder to figure out what to do to protect men. With women, it’s obvious — keep them away from these chemicals during pregnancy. But what do you do with men who are constantly making sperm and could contribute to a pregnancy at any point?

Well, we should start with a thorough review of the evidence, Daniels says, and then establish a commission to develop appropriate policy. It’s also clear more research is needed — particularly research that asks the right questions. The FDA requires that new drugs be tested in rodent models for any potential effects on sperm production. But while these sorts of analyses will reveal whether a drug drastically affects sperm count, they may not show more subtle changes, says Schlegel, who conducted the study on antidepressants. Unless a chemical has “a huge and dramatic effect on sperm numbers, it often can be missed,” he says.

An obvious step toward better fetal health would have obstetricians and gynecologists consider fathers’ chemical exposures when trying to ensure healthy pregnancies and children. Ideally, men would be engaged even earlier, with the government issuing guidelines for young men that deal with environmental toxins and lifestyle choices that might jeopardize the health of future children. The time may be right for more engagement; many occupational health and safety guidelines, for men and women, were loosened by the Bush administration. “I think there’s a great opportunity now to rebuild standards to include risks to male reproductive health,” Daniels says.

There’s a generational opening, too, she says. In recent years, she’s noticed a change in the reaction male college students have to learning about the risks they face. “I’ve found, especially among young men, a sense of outrage and alarm,” Daniels reports. “They say, ‘How could this be? How could it be that no one has ever suggested to me that alcohol might have an impact on my ability to have healthy children?’ They’re angry that they don’t know about this.”

Emily Anthes is a science and health writer whose work has appeared in Scientific American Mind, Slate, New York and Foreign Policy, among other publications. She is working on a book about biotechnology and the future of animals. She has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT and a bachelor’s degree in the history of science and medicine from Yale.

© 2010 Miller-McCune.com All rights reserved.
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