mm230: Stem Cells; Insurance Scum; Overtreatment!

MUDGE’S Musings

Yes, fan, it’s a Health/Medical edition of SASB!

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We begin with a doubly frightening topic: Cancer combined with cancerous Stem Cells. This story hit NYTimes:

nytimes

Scientists Weigh Stem Cells’ Role as Cancer Cause

By GINA KOLATA | Published: December 21, 2007

Within the next few months, researchers at three medical centers expect to start the first test in patients of one of the most promising — and contentious — ideas about the cause and treatment of cancer.

The idea is to take aim at what some scientists say are cancerous stem cells — aberrant cells that maintain and propagate malignant tumors.

Although many scientists have assumed that cancer cells are immortal — that they divide and grow indefinitely — most can only divide a certain number of times before dying. The stem-cell hypothesis says that cancers themselves may not die because they are fed by cancerous stem cells, a small and particularly dangerous kind of cell that can renew by dividing even as it spews out more cells that form the bulk of a tumor. Worse, stem cells may be impervious to most standard cancer therapies.

Not everyone accepts the hypothesis of cancerous stem cells. Skeptics say proponents are so in love with the idea that they dismiss or ignore evidence against it. Dr. Scott E. Kern, for instance, a leading pancreatic cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said the hypothesis was more akin to religion than to science.

“…more akin to religion than to science.” How fitting when stem cells are the topic!

Of course these are one’s own, cancerous stem cells in question.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Scientists Weigh Stem Cells’ Role as Cancer Cause – New York Times

Here’s the telling quote:

“Not only are some of the approaches we are using not getting us anywhere, but even the way we approve drugs is a bad model,” he said. Anti-cancer drugs, he noted, are approved if they shrink tumors even if they do not prolong life. It is the medical equivalent, he said, of mowing a dandelion field.

Cancer patients and their families are desperate, so promising drugs can get expedited approval, even if, as noted, they don’t prolong life.

It would be spectacular if this stem cell related research might yield an effective, more permanent treatment.

Now, let’s get angry together…

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For some time now, we’ve had Esoterically.net/weblog as a member of L-HC’s blogroll blogroll2. The subtitle has changed since we originally captured it, Life is too short to live it as a Republican,” but the blog continues to highlight the important issues. Here’s one also from Dec. 21 that set me off:

esotericallynetweblog

Health insurance screwup

Published by Len Dec. 21, 2007 at 17:50 under General, Politics

I hope the Sarkisyan family wins their lawsuit and is award millions and millions of dollars. It is time for these $7.00/hour clerks at the insurance companies to stop playing doctor.

Family to Sue Insurer in Transplant Case

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The family of a 17-year-old girl who died hours after her health insurer reversed a decision and said it would pay for a liver transplant plans to sue the company, their attorney said Friday.

Nataline Sarkisyan died Thursday at about 6 p.m. at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. She had been in a vegetative state for weeks, said her mother, Hilda.

Len updated the post with a link to a more complete analysis definitely worth the detour.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Esoterically.net/weblog » Health insurance screwup

Tragedy is tragedy, but the absolute worst ones are those that were preventable: Katrina, the I-35 bridge, and now Nataline Sarkisyan are all examples of bureaucratic failures caused by a deliberate policy of undercutting the public good in the service of private political agendas, in the first two examples, and shareholder profit, in poor Nataline’s case.

U.S. healthcare needs fixing, and here’s a story pointing to an unexpected cause, and potential fix.

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This week, NYTimes published its list of top economics books as chosen by its columnist, David Leonhardt. His No. 1 book is one I’d not encountered shame on me!

nytimes

No. 1 Book, and It Offers Solutions

By DAVID LEONHARDT | Published: December 19, 2007

In 1967, Jack Wennberg, a young medical researcher at Johns Hopkins, moved his family to a farmhouse in northern Vermont.

“Overtreated” by Shannon Brownlee, above, diagnoses the big flaw in medical spending.

Dr. Wennberg had been chosen to run a new center based at the University of Vermont that would examine medical care in the state. With a colleague, he traveled around Vermont, visiting its 16 hospitals and collecting data on how often they did various procedures.

The results turned out to be quite odd. Vermont has one of the most homogenous populations in the country — overwhelmingly white (especially in 1967), with relatively similar levels of poverty and education statewide. Yet medical practice across the state varied enormously, for all kinds of care. In Middlebury, for instance, only 7 percent of children had their tonsils removed. In Morrisville, 70 percent did.

Dr. Wennberg and some colleagues then did a survey, interviewing 4,000 people around the state, to see whether different patterns of illness could explain the variations in medical care. They couldn’t. The children of Morrisville weren’t suffering from an epidemic of tonsillitis. Instead, they happened to live in a place where a small group of doctors — just five of them — had decided to be aggressive about removing tonsils.

But here was the stunner: Vermonters who lived in towns with more aggressive care weren’t healthier. They were just getting more health care.

That last bears repeating: Vermonters who lived in towns with more aggressive care weren’t healthier. They were just getting more health care.”

As you’ve doubtless heard, this country spends far more money per person on medical care than other countries and still seems to get worse results. We devote 16 percent of our gross domestic product to health care, while Canada and France, where people live longer, spend about 10 percent.

So, we’re overtreated, but undercured. Part due to our fee-for-service system; part due to our own ignorance of medicine’s true costs when we ourselves are the patients; part due to that byzantine health insurance system” that dazzles and confuses us, and lets Natalines die rather than pay.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

No. 1 Book, and It Offers Solutions – New York Times

As Leonhardt makes clear, the true value of this book is that it has clear and achievable recommendations for reforming our sick healthcare system.

When it’s back in stock (ah, the power of the press!) we ought to buy copies for every senator, congressperson and presidential candidate.

So, that’s our Health/Medicine edition of SASB shortattention©. Stay healthy!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Note!: the links to Amazon.com used above is for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. It’s an artifact of Sequitur Service©. Deal with it.

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4 Responses to mm230: Stem Cells; Insurance Scum; Overtreatment!

  1. Michelle says:

    I’m angry wth you! Damn, that was a great post.

    When was the last time scientists found a cure for anything? Polio? With all the medical technology and DNA research we have and all they can up with is “treatments,” not cures. That’s because corporations don’t make money from cures.

  2. mudge says:

    Hi, Michelle,

    Hadn’t thought of it that way, but you have hit a nerve… reasonably effective treatments for medical conditions represent a predictable income stream.

    A cure for depression, for example, might make Big Pharma even richer for a few years, and then… they’d have to invest in a cure for something else. How depressing for them!

    Better for cash flow, as you suggest, to suppress or at least control the symptoms, but maintain the chains of chronic treatment.

    Thanks, again Michelle, you made me think today (never a given!), and I appreciate the notice!

    –mudge

  3. […]   mm230: Stem cells; Insurance scum; Overtreatment! […]

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