Quarantine-like monitoring approved for U.S. troops on Ebola mission

Soldiers wearing protective suits as US Army soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), who are earmarked for the fight against Ebola, conduct training before their deployment to West Africa, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky October 9, 2014. REUTERS/Harrison McClary


(Reuters) – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday approved a strict, 21-day quarantine-like monitoring period for all U.S. troops returning from the Ebola relief mission in West Africa, the Pentagon said.

Hagel, acting at the recommendation of top military commanders, signed a memo asking for an implementation plan for the monitoring regimen, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

Hagel also called for a review of the decision in 45 days to evaluate “whether or not such monitoring should continue based on what we learn and observe from the initial waves of personnel” returning from the West Africa relief mission, Kirby said.

The Pentagon chief’s action expanded to all U.S. troops returning from Ebola-affected countries a policy that was put into place earlier this week by General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff.

Odierno ordered a 21-day isolation period for Major General Darryl Williams, commander of U.S. Army Africa, and nearly a dozen of his staff when they returned from West Africa to their home base in Vicenza in northeastern Italy.

The 21-day isolation period is stricter than what is recommended by U.S. health officials, who call for monitoring but not isolation for people returning from relief efforts who do not have symptoms of the illness.

The Obama administration has been seeking to dissuade U.S. states from imposing quarantines on doctors, nurses and other health workers returning from West Africa and has resisted political pressure to impose travel bans on people coming from the affected area.

But U.S. President Barack Obama appeared to back more rigorous procedures by the military on Tuesday, saying U.S. troops were in a “different situation” compared to healthcare workers.

While civilians may be discouraged from volunteering to help fight the Ebola if they are facing quarantine on their return, troops were sent as part of their mission and could expect such inconveniences, he said.

Hagel told a forum in Washington on Wednesday that “the fact is the military will have more Americans in Liberia than any other department.”

“Our younger cohorts are different. They are not volunteers, and this is also a policy that was discussed in great detail by the communities, by the families of our military men and women, and they very much wanted a safety valve on this,” Hagel said.

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Dementia tops female causes of death








By James Gallagher
Health editor, BBC News website


Generic image of elderly womanIt is the second consecutive year that dementia has been recorded as the leading cause of death for women


Dementia is the leading cause of death for women in England and Wales, official figures show.

The disease now kills more than three times as many women as breast cancer and thousands more than either heart attacks or stroke.

Analysts say the rising numbers may be because doctors are becoming more aware of the disease and recording it on death certificates more frequently.

Coronary heart disease remains the leading cause of death in men.

For males, dementia is the third most common cause of death.


Shorter lives

The gradual wasting away of the brain in dementia cuts lives short.

The condition can be recorded as the sole cause of death, but is frequently found as an underlying condition. Many people with dementia ultimately die from pneumonia.

The data, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed more than half a million people died in England and Wales in 2013.





















Women


Men

Cause of death

Number of deaths

Rank

Causes of death

Number of deaths

Dementia and Alzheimer’s


31,850


1


Coronary heart disease


37,797


Coronary heart disease


26,075


2


Lung cancer


16,818


Stroke


20,706


3


Dementia and Alzheimer’s


15,262


Flu and pneumonia


15,361


4


Chronic lower respiratory diseases


15,021


Chronic lower respiratory diseases


14,927


5


Stroke


14,058


Lung cancer


13,619


6


Flu and pneumonia


11,426


Breast cancer


10,144


7


Prostate cancer


9,726


Colon cancer


6,569


8


Colon cancer


7,669


Urinary infections


5,457


9


Lymphatic cancers


6,311


Heart failure


5,012


10


Liver disease


4,661



Total: 261,205




Total: 245,585


Cancer is the leading killer when all subtypes of cancer are combined across both genders. Nearly one in three deaths last year was from some form of cancer.

The latest data confirms a dramatic shift in the causes of death in the past decade.

Between 2003 and 2013 the percentage of deaths from coronary heart disease, which includes heart attacks, fell to 16% of male deaths from 22%. In women the figure fell to 10% from 15%.

Improved care means people are more likely to survive heart attacks and more people take statins to prevent them in the first place.


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What is dementia?


Elderly couple with dementia (posed by models)Dementia now accounts for 12% of female deaths

  • It is an umbrella term that describes about 100 diseases in which brain cells die on a huge scale.
  • All damage memory, language, mental agility, understanding and judgement.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, affecting 62% of those living with dementia.
  • It gets worse with time and eventually people are left completely dependent on carers.
  • It is incurable.

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Meanwhile, dementia rose to 6% of male deaths from 2% and to 12% of female deaths from 5%.

The latest data is the second consecutive year that dementia has been recorded as the leading cause of death for women.

The ONS report said: “Some of the rise over the last few decades may also be attributable to a better understanding of dementia.

“This means that doctors may be more likely to record dementia as the underlying cause of death.”

Hilary Evans, the director of external affairs at the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The figures highlight dementia as a huge problem that we cannot shy away from any longer.

“Encouragingly, the statistics reveal that other health conditions, such as heart disease, are beginning to be tamed and this has come about due to improved research into treatment, prevention and better public health.

“We must now turn our attentions to dementia – our greatest health challenge – and invest in research that will drive better prevention and treatment of the condition.”

Gavin Terry, from the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Dementia is one of the biggest health and social care challenges the UK faces.

“For too long dementia has been wrongly seen by many clinicians as a natural part of ageing and, as such, have failed to record it as a cause of death.”

Prof Peter Weissberg, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said coronary heart disease “continues to blight the lives of thousands of people and families”.

“We’ve made great progress over the last 50 years but we still need to fund much more research to stop people dying needlessly, and to help the increasing number of people living with heart disease.”

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Ebola appears to be slowing in Liberia: WHO

World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward gestures during a news conference at the organization's headquarters in Geneva October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward gestures during a news conference at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva October 29, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse


(Reuters) – Liberia, the country worst-hit by the Ebola epidemic, may be seeing a decline in the spread of the virus, although the battle to contain the outbreak is far from won, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward told a news conference the number of burials and new admissions had fallen and there was a plateau in laboratory-confirmed cases.

“All the data point in the same direction,” he said. “Do we feel confident that the response is now getting an upper hand on the virus? Yes, we are seeing slowing rate of new cases, very definitely.”

Aylward cautioned against overly optimistic conclusions but said: “We’re seeing a reversal of that rapid rate of increase to the point that there seems to be a decline right now.”

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Reuters on Oct. 8 there were early signs the outbreak might be “in decline”.

Aylward said the fresh information could be attributed to the wrong factors and misunderstood. “Getting a slight decrease in the number of cases on a day-to-day basis, versus getting this thing closed out, is a completely different ball game.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said governments who made commitments to help fight Ebola should deliver on their pledges and those yet to commit should do so.

Power said she was encouraged by progress in the last couple of weeks, and that the two most critical remaining challenges are to fill gaps in the delivery of people and resources and to fight fear, misinformation and stigma.

“There is a need for more beds, more bleach, more cash in order to pay community mobilizers or people who do safe burial,” she told a news conference in the capital of Ghana after a visit to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

In Liberia, the National Christian Ebola Task Force, a group of different Christian denominations, began three days of prayer and dawn-to-dusk fasting on Wednesday to seek salvation from the “curse” of the epidemic, which has killed 2,705 people and infected 4,665 more in the West African country.

“Ebola is a virus from the devil. It’s killing us because we have turned our back to God,” said Reverend David G. Benitoe of the Task Force. “We have traded the worship of God with the worship of demons and witchcraft, and evil stuff is now happening in this country.”

CALL TO NATO

Aylward said there had been 13,703 Ebola cases in eight countries and the reported death toll, to be published later on Wednesday, was likely to be over 5,000.

A jump of more than 3,000 in the number of cases reported since Saturday was largely due to the data being updated with old cases rather than new cases, he added.

Both Senegal and Nigeria have been declared Ebola-free, after passing two incubation periods of a total of 42 days. Cases have also been confirmed in Spain and the United States.

Aylward said he would be “terrified” if his statement was understood to mean Ebola was under control.

“It’s like saying your pet tiger is under control,” he said. “This is a very, very dangerous disease … A couple of burials go wrong, it can start a whole new set of transmission chains and the disease starts trending upward again.”

But if current trends continued, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone should be able to “comfortably” meet a target to scale up Ebola-containment measures by Dec. 1, he said.

Last week, Mali became the sixth West African country to report a case of the disease. A two-year-old girl died after traveling by bus from Guinea with her grandmother, with at least one stopover, in the capital Bamako.

Aylward said the Mali government was working hard to track people who had contact with the girl, with 84 people being monitored and none showing symptoms as of early on Wednesday.

The goal is to set up 56 Ebola treatment centers across the three worst-hit countries, a total of 4,700 beds, Aylward said.

Only 15 centers with 1,047 beds are fully functional now, he said. There are commitments to build and staff 22 centers, but foreign staff are still needed to manage the final 19 centers.

In Sierra Leone, the second-worst-hit country, the number of cases was continuing to increase in some areas, including the capital Freetown. “We’re still seeing this thing burning quite hot in parts of Sierra Leone right now,” Aylward said.

Separately, 40 senior European political, diplomatic and military figures on Wednesday urged the NATO alliance to deploy staff, ships and aircraft to help fight Ebola in West Africa.

Signatories including two former NATO secretaries-general and three ex-prime ministers said in two open letters the WHO and United Nations should ask for help from NATO, whose “unique capabilities … could make a difference in this situation.”

The letters to NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and WHO Director-General Margaret Chan were drafted by the European Leadership Network think tank in London.

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London, Michelle Nichols and Matthew Mpoke Bigg in Accra; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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Google developing a cancer detector








By Leo Kelion & James Gallagher
Technology and health desk editors


WristbandGoogle hopes to develop a wristband that would carry out non-invasive blood tests


Google is aiming to diagnose cancers, impending heart attacks or strokes and other diseases, at a much earlier stage than is currently possible.

The company is working on technology that combines disease-detecting nanoparticles, which would enter a patient’s bloodstream via a swallowed pill, with a wrist-worn sensor.

The idea is to identify slight changes in the person’s biochemistry that could act as an early warning system.

The work is still at an early stage.

Early diagnosis is the key to treating disease. Many cancers, such as pancreatic, are detected only after they have become untreatable and fatal.

There are marked differences between cancerous and healthy tissues.

Google’s ambition is to constantly monitor the blood for the unique traces of cancer, allowing diagnosis long before any physical symptoms appear.

The project is being conducted by the search company’s research unit, Google X, which is dedicated to investigating potentially revolutionary innovations.


Andrew Conrad and Google Life Sciences teamMr Conrad, seen on the left, joined Google X as head of Life Sciences in 2013

It marks the firm’s latest shift into the medical sector following its work on glucose-measuring contact lenses for patients with diabetes and the acquisition of a start-up that developed a spoon to counteract the tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease.

Google has also bought stakes in Calico, an anti-ageing research company, and 23andMe, which offers personal genetic-testing kits.


Nanoparticles

The diagnostic project is being led by Dr Andrew Conrad, a molecular biologist who previously developed a cheap HIV test that has become widely used.

“What we are trying to do is change medicine from reactive and transactional to proactive and preventative,” he told the BBC.

“Nanoparticles… give you the ability to explore the body at a molecular and cellular level.”

Google is designing a suite of nanoparticles which are intended to match markers for different conditions.

They could be tailored to stick to a cancerous cell or a fragment of cancerous DNA.

Or they could find evidence of fatty plaques about to break free from the lining of blood vessels. These can cause a heart attack or stroke if they stop the flow of blood.

Another set would constantly monitor chemicals in the blood.

High levels of potassium are linked to kidney disease. Google believes it will be possible to construct porous nanoparticles that alter colour as potassium passes through.

“Then [you can] recall those nanoparticles to a single location – because they are magnetic – and that location is the superficial vasculature of the wrist, [where] you can ask them what they saw,” said Dr Conrad.

Unattached nanoparticles would move differently in a magnetic field from those clumped around a cancer cell.

In theory, software could then provide a diagnosis by studying their movements.

As part of the project, the researchers have also explored ways of using magnetism to concentrate the nanoparticles temporarily in a single area.

The tech company’s ambition is ultimately to create a wristband that would take readings of the nanoparticles via light and radio waves one or more times a day.


Google graphic

Prof Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research in London, told the BBC News website: “In principle this is great. Any newcomers with new ideas are welcome in the field.

“There is an urgent need for this. If we can detect cancer or other diseases earlier, then we can intervene with either lifestyle changes or treatment.

“How much of this proposal is dream versus reality is impossible to tell because it is a fascinating concept that now needs to be converted to practice.”

His team at the institute is investigating cancer cells and cancer DNA in the blood as new methods of diagnosis and planning treatment.

He did warn Google that a diagnosis could increase anxiety and lead to unnecessary treatment, so there needed to be “very careful and rigorous analysis” before this type of blood monitoring could be used widely.

The scheme is being made public because Google is now seeking to establish partnerships.

But Dr Conrad sought to play down the idea that his firm wanted to run a search tool for the human body, alongside the one it already offers for the internet.

“We are the inventors of the technology but we have no intentions of commercialising it or monetising it in that way,” he said.

“We will license it out and the partners will take it forward to doctors and patients.

“These are not consumer devices. They are prescriptive medical devices, and you know that doctor-patient relationships are pretty privileged and would not involve Google in any way.”


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Analysis: James Gallagher, health editor


Health graphic

From searching the internet to searching your blood, Google certainly has high ambitions. But is it feasible?

The basic principles are sound and mirror the work already taking place around the world.

Many research groups are looking at bits of cancer floating in the blood as a better way of diagnosing the disease and also to assess which tumours are more aggressive.

But Google will have to address concerns around “false positives”, when healthy people are told they are ill.

These have plagued the PSA test for prostate cancer, as PSA levels can soar even when cancer is absent.

There is also the issue of “over-diagnosis”. Who needs treating even if a condition is discovered?

There is continuing controversy around breast cancer screening: for every life saved, three women have invasive treatment for a cancer that would never have proved fatal.

Screening the body for disease is littered with dangers, and if it is not done carefully, it could make hypochondriacs out of all of us.


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Big risk?

The nanoparticle project is the latest so-called “moonshot” to originate from Google X.

Other schemes include the firm’s driverless car effort and Project Loon, an attempt to provide internet access to remote areas via a network of high-altitude weather balloons.
















Astro Teller









WATCH: Google X “captain of moonshots” Astro Teller explains why he does not fear failure








While such ideas have the potential to make money, there is also a high risk of failure, and Google X acknowledges that several of its ideas have been ditched before being made public.

One analyst commented that its parent was in a rare position to make such investments.

“Under normal circumstances this is the kind of thing that would worry investors because such projects are too long-term and the miss rate is too high,” said Cyrus Mewawalla, from CM Research.

“But because Google’s core search business is currently so strong, shareholders are not worried at the moment and are allowing the firm to take a gamble.”


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Analysis: Leo Kelion, technology desk editor


icons

Google’s diagnostic project may never come to fruition, but its significance lies in the fact it represents part of a wider push by the firm into health tech.

Bearing in mind this is already a crowded sector, it begs the question: why?

The search firm denies that it wants to run its own diagnosis service, with all the privacy headaches that would entail, but the patents it creates along the way could prove lucrative.

No doubt the fact that co-founder and Google X chief Sergey Brin has been told that a gene mutation has increased his likelihood of contracting Parkinson’s has also focused efforts.

And the company clearly believes its expertise in “big data” analysis and its freedom to focus on giant leaps forward, rather than incremental steps, plays to its advantages.

It’s worth remembering that another much hyped health idea, Google Flu Trends – which aimed to predict the spread of the virus based on internet searches – has been dubbed a failure by some after researchers said it had overestimated the number of cases in 100 out of 108 weeks.

And US health watchdogs banned Google-backed 23andme from selling its genetic screening kits last year.

On the other hand, Google’s “smart lens” for diabetics shows promise, with Swiss firm Novartis stepping up to license the technology in July.

And the forthcoming Android Fit platform, designed to harness data from other apps and wearables, has a good chance of success given the huge number of people using the operating system.

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U.S. CDC seeks voluntary isolation for those at high risk for Ebola


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, speaks at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, speaks at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Tami Chappell


(Reuters) – The Obama administration on Monday recommended voluntary home quarantine for people at the highest risk for Ebola infection but said most health workers returning from West Africa would simply require daily monitoring without isolation.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said high risk individuals would include healthcare workers who suffer a needle stick while caring for an Ebola patient or who tend to a patient without protective gear.

Under new guidelines that spell out four risk categories, most healthcare workers returning from West Africa’s Ebola hot zone would be considered to at “some risk” for infection, while healthcare workers tending to Ebola patients at U.S. facilities would be seen as “low but non-zero” risk.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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FDA seeks more data on Sarepta muscle disorder drug, shares slump

The corporate logo of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is shown in Silver Spring, Maryland, November 4, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

The corporate logo of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is shown in Silver Spring, Maryland, November 4, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed


(Reuters) – Sarepta Therapeutics Inc suffered yet another setback after U.S. regulators asked for more data on its experimental muscle disorder drug, a move that further delays the marketing application for the treatment.

Nearly a third of Sarepta’s market value was wiped out on Monday after the company disclosed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision on eteplirsen, its lead drug.

The company’s shares have been volatile for most of the past year as the timeline for the approval of eteplirsen, based on positive mid-stage data from a tiny 12-patient study, has been pushed back and forth.

The FDA on Monday asked for additional mid-stage and initial late-stage data on the drug, and said it required more discussions with Sarepta to determine what constituted a complete marketing application.

Eteplirsen is being developed to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a progressive degenerative disorder that hampers muscle movement and affects one in 3,600 newborn boys, most of whom die by age 30.

The agency’s decision delays the submission of Sarepta’s application to the middle of next year, pushing the company behind Netherlands-based competitor Prosensa Holding NV, which has already begun filing for the approval of its drug.

At the heart of FDA’s arguments against Sarepta’s drug lies a protein called dystrophin and its reliability as a biomarker – a measurable indicator of a biological state or condition.

Eteplirsen, like Prosensa’s drisapersen, skips a faulty section of the gene to produce dystrophin, the lack of which causes DMD.

Sarepta’s entire strategy depends on the viability of dystrophin as a biomarker to reasonably predict clinical benefit, Roth Capital analyst Debjit Chattopadhyay told Reuters.

The FDA on Monday asked for an independent assessment of the drystrophin data for the application, as it raised concerns about the reliability of the results, Sarepta said in a statement.

The regulator first showed reluctance towards Sarepta’s application last November, calling it “premature”, after a late-stage trial testing Prosensa’s drisapersen failed to improve walking ability despite increased levels of dystrophin.

However, the agency in April provided an alternate path to support an accelerated approval of eteplirsen, suggesting walking ability as an intermediate goal and using dystrophin levels as a surrogate endpoint.

“It’s become a bottomless pit now, because the FDA’s clearly changed their minds again,” Chattopadhyay said.

“If you question dystrophin as a biomarker – without which Sarepta’s available data is insufficient – the possibility of them getting an accelerated approval is fairly remote,” he added.

Still, analysts expect the drug to win approval eventually, as the regulators requests largely encompass data that Sarepta already intended to submit to the FDA, albeit after filing for marketing.

Prosensa’s shares rose as much as 14 percent to a 13-month high on the Nasdaq on Monday. The stock was up 6 percent at $12.75 by afternoon.

Sarepta’s shares were down 32 percent at $16.

(Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Simon Jennings and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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Two Diabetes Bills Before Congress

Endocrinology

Published: Oct 27, 2014

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) continued its push for diabetes-related legislation in a recent letter to members of Congress.

The letter, signed by AACE president Mack Harrell, MD, and president-elect George Grunberger, MD, called for the passage of two bills: the Medicare CGM Access Act and the National Diabetes Clinical Care Commission Act.

It also asks Congress to conduct follow-up hearings to examine FDA’s pre- and post-marketing surveillance and enforcement activities for medical devices, along with a call for a review of Medicare’s competitive bidding practices.

“Unfortunately our current healthcare system is failing patients with diabetes in part due to issues of access, reimbursement, and quality of glucose monitoring supplies,” they wrote in the letter.

The Medicare CGM Access Act promotes Medicare coverage of continuous glucose monitors. Currently, Medicare does not reimburse for CGM, which means that well-controlled patients with type 1 diabetes lose an important means of monitoring once they hit the eligibility age of 65, Grunburger told MedPage Today in an earlier interview.

He said it is unclear why Medicare does not cover the devices, despite the evidence of benefit and cost savings. The device has been associated with a reduction in hospitalizations for hypoglycemia, he said.

The National Diabetes Clinical Care Commission Act seeks to create a public-private commission with clinical diabetes experts, patient advocates, and representatives of federal agencies to better coordinate the activities that now fall under the purview of 35 federal departments, agencies, and offices.

Harrell and Grunberger said AACE’s recent Glucose Monitoring Consensus Conference, which brought together medical experts, industry, insurers, regulators, and patient advocates, served as a model for the type of collaboration that the commission seeks to achieve.


Kristina Fiore joined MedPage Today after earning a degree in science, health, and environmental reporting from NYU. She’s had bylines in newspapers and trade and consumer magazines including Newsday, ABC News, New Jersey Monthly, and Earth Magazine. At MedPage Today, she reports with a focus on diabetes, nutrition, and addiction medicine.

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White House seeking to reverse New York, New Jersey's Ebola quarantine orders: NYT

Governors of New Jersey Chris Christie (R) and of New York Andrew Cuomo speak during a news conference about New York's first case of Ebola, in New York October 24, 2014.    REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Governors of New Jersey Chris Christie (R) and of New York Andrew Cuomo speak during a news conference about New York’s first case of Ebola, in New York October 24, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri


(Reuters) – The White House is pressuring the governors of New York and New Jersey to reverse their orders imposing a quarantine on all medical workers returning from West Africa who had contacts with Ebola patients, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made the decisions on Friday after a doctor who treated patients in Guinea came back to New York infected.

Quoting an unnamed administration official, the paper said “top administration officials have been speaking with Mr. Cuomo daily and have also been in touch with Mr. Christie, trying to get them to rescind the order.”

In the meantime, Illinois and Florida said they were also imposing similar steps.

“A senior administration official, who did not want to be identified in order to discuss private conversations with state officials on the issue, called the decision by the governors ‘uncoordinated, very hurried, an immediate reaction to the New York City case that doesn’t comport with science’,” the New York Times said.

The Obama administration says the new measures could have unintended consequences.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday that the new steps could deter healthcare workers from going to West Africa to help fight the epidemic and that the best way to protect Americans is to stop Ebola in Africa.

Christie, speaking earlier on “Fox News Sunday,” stood his ground. “We’ve taken this action and I have absolutely no second thoughts about it” he said.

(Reporting by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)

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Woman isolated in NJ under Ebola rules tests negative

President Barack Obama leans over to hug Dallas nurse Nina Pham while meeting with her in the Oval Office in Washington, October 24, 2014.    REUTERS/Larry Downing

President Barack Obama leans over to hug Dallas nurse Nina Pham while meeting with her in the Oval Office in Washington, October 24, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing


(Reuters) – The first person quarantined under strict new rules in the New York City area for people with a high risk of Ebola tested negative, New Jersey officials said on Saturday, as President Barack Obama said the response to the deadly disease needed to be based on “facts, not fear”.

Under the new policy, anyone arriving at the two international airports serving New York City after having contact with Ebola patients in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea must submit to a mandatory 21-day quarantine.

The requirement exceeds current federal guidelines, although the Obama administration is discussing similar measures.

“We have been examining the protocols for protecting our brave healthcare workers, and, guided by the science, we’ll continue to work with state and local officials to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and health of the American people,” Obama said.

The disease has killed thousands of people in West Africa and has become a political issue in the United States ahead of Nov. 4 congressional elections.

The new rules in New York and New Jersey were announced a day after an American doctor who recently helped Ebola patients in Guinea also tested positive for the virus at Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital. The doctor, who was self-monitoring, started feeling symptoms about a week after he returned home.

The first person to face the mandatory quarantine under the new rules was a medical worker who arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday after treating Ebola victims in West Africa. She broke into a fever soon after being quarantined and was taken to University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey’s health department said.

Tests on the woman, who has not been publicly identified, showed no signs of the virus, the health department said on Saturday. Even so, she remains under the 21-day quarantine. She was described by friends as a nurse who went to Sierra Leone to help with the epidemic, the Newark Star-Ledger reported.

The worst Ebola outbreak since the disease was identified in 1976 has killed almost half of more than 10,000 people diagnosed with the disease — predominantly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — although the true toll is far higher, according to the World Health Organization.

The United Nations agency also said on Friday that trials of Ebola vaccines could begin in West Africa in December, a month earlier than expected, and hundreds of thousands of doses should be available for use by the middle of next year.

SCREENING MEASURES

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie put the screening measures in place after Dr. Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old New Yorker who spent a month treating Ebola patients in Guinea for Doctors Without Borders, tested positive for Ebola on Thursday.

Spencer was the fourth person diagnosed with the virus in the United States and the first in its largest city.

International and local officials in Guinea defended their screening systems on Saturday, which include temperature checks at the airport, and said Spencer was not ill when he left the country.

“The system at the airport here worked fine and he was not showing any symptoms,” Benjamin Dahl, the officer in charge of Guinea operations for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference in Conakry, the capital.

Cuomo’s announcement of the heightened screening appeared to mark a shift from the tone taken by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Cuomo, who is up for reelection on Nov. 4, had sat alongside de Blasio and city health officials on Thursday evening as they praised Spencer for diligently monitoring his health and dismissed the idea that New Yorkers could catch Ebola on the city’s subway, which Spencer had ridden since his return.

Less than a day later, in justifying the heightened screening, the Democrat appeared to criticize Spencer for venturing out and eating at city restaurants before his temperature started to rise.

The governor said Spencer’s behavior demonstrated that voluntary quarantines did not work. In fact, Spencer was never required to quarantine himself either under federal guidelines or those of Doctors Without Borders, which says quarantines are “unwarranted” for returning health workers who show no symptoms.

Cuomo and Christie said people facing mandatory quarantines could do so at home if they lived in New York or New Jersey, but other details were unclear, including what might happen to quarantined people who decided to venture outside.

The two governors’ offices and their health departments did not immediately respond to questions seeking more details.

Critics of the new measures say they worry that mandatory quarantines could discourage Americans from going to help control the epidemic in West Africa.

Representative Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat who was an early advocate of reassessing federal protocols on handling Ebola, warned against an over reaction by health authorities.

“It’s a very fine balance between getting our people to go over and help treat these Ebola patients – and they are very courageous to go on the front lines like that – and also make sure we protect public health,” DeGette said in an interview with CNN on Saturday morning.

The virus is not airborne but is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person who is showing symptoms.

(Additional reporting by Saliou Samb in Conakry; Editing by Frank McGurty, Rosalind Russell and Stephen Powell)

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Cancer-killing cells made in the lab








A brain tumourBrain tumours are often solid and hard to reach so stem cells are an effective way of targeting them


Scientists from Harvard Medical School have discovered a way of turning stem cells into killing machines to fight brain cancer.

In experiments on mice, the stem cells were genetically engineered to produce and secrete toxins which kill brain tumours, without killing normal cells or themselves.

Researchers said the next stage was to test the procedure in humans.

A stem cell expert said this was “the future” of cancer treatment.

The study, published in the journal Stem Cells, was the work of scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

For many years, they had been researching a stem-cell-based therapy for cancer, which would kill only tumour cells and no others.

They used genetic engineering to make stem cells that spewed out cancer-killing toxins, but, crucially, were also able to resist the effects of the poison they were producing.

They also posed no risk to normal, healthy cells.

In animal tests, the stem cells were surrounded in gel and placed at the site of the brain tumour after it had been removed.

Their cancer cells then died as they had no defence against the toxins.


Toxin-producing stem cells (in blue) help kill brain tumour cells (in green).Toxin-producing stem cells (in blue) help kill brain tumour cells in the tumour cavity (in green)

Dr Khalid Shah, lead author and director of the molecular neurotherapy and imaging lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said the results were very positive.

“After doing all of the molecular analysis and imaging to track the inhibition of protein synthesis within brain tumours, we do see the toxins kill the cancer cells.”

He added: “Cancer-killing toxins have been used with great success in a variety of blood cancers, but they don’t work as well in solid tumours because the cancers aren’t as accessible and the toxins have a short half-life.”

But genetically engineering stem cells has changed all that, he said.

“Now, we have toxin-resistant stem cells that can make and release cancer-killing drugs.”

Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine at University College London, said: “This is a clever study, which signals the beginning of the next wave of therapies.

“It shows you can attack solid tumours by putting mini pharmacies inside the patient which deliver the toxic payload direct to the tumour.

“Cells can do so much. This is the way the future is going to be.”

Nell Barrie, senior science information manager for Cancer Research UK, said it was an “ingenious approach”.

“We urgently need better treatments for brain tumours and this could help direct treatment to exactly where it’s needed.

“But so far the technique has only been tested in mice and on cancer cells in the lab, so much more work will need to be done before we’ll know if it could help patients with brain tumours.”

She said this type of research could help boost survival rates and bring much-needed progress for brain cancers.

Dr Shah now plans to test the technique using a number of different therapies on mice with glioblastoma, the most common brain tumour in human adults.

He hopes the therapies could be used in clinical trials within the next five years.

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