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Headlines: March 3, 2010

by Meg Larkin


             Even as support for the bill falters, the White House is confident that it will be able to pass a health care overhaul along a party lines vote.  The White House favors having the House vote to adopt the Senate’s bill and then ironing out the compromises through a budget reconciliation process.  However, indecision among centrist Democrats is weakening the chances of passing the Senate bill with a simple majority vote in the House.  According to the New York Times, abortion opponents and fiscal conservatives are unsure of whether they will support the Senate bill, which does not contain the Stupak amendment limiting access to abortion services.  In an attempt to gain more support for health reform, President Obama has indicated that he is willing to add some Republican ideas to the bill.  The proposals, including new efforts to tackle fraud and abuse and medical malpractice costs, have so far failed to garner any Republican support for the bill as a whole.

            A new study indicates that stents may be as effective as surgery in preventing a stroke.  An American study by the Mayo clinic found that stenting had comparable success rates to carotid surgery for preventing strokes in patients.  However, a European study released around the same time as the American study found that patients who received stents were at a much higher risk of stroke than those who had surgery.  The differences between the studies may be attributable to the relative age and health of the patients or in the screening process used to select the participant doctors in each study.

            In International health news, the European Commission has approved a bio-engineered potato for cultivation.  The potato, which has a different type of starch content, is expected to be used in paper products and for feeding animals.  However, some scientists think there is a link between the marker gene in the bioengineered potato and antibiotic resistance in humans.  The potato is the second biotechnology crop to be approved in Europe.  It follows in the footsteps of genetically modified corn produced by Monsanto.

            Scientists from Stanford University’s Medical School are helping North Korea develop its first laboratory to test for antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis.  The laboratory, while a major step forward in collaboration between the United States and North Korea, may only go a small way towards solving North Korea’s tuberculosis problem.  Even once North Korea can test for antibiotic resistant tuberculosis, the country may not be able to afford the more expensive drugs that are designed to attack resistant TB.

            A group of patients and the ACLU are suing the Utah-based owner of the test for BRCA, the genetic mutation that is linked to high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad Genetics owns the patent on the BRCA genetic sequence, and until the patent expires, it is the only company with the ability to test for BRCA.  Because the test costs over $3,000, many patients are unable to pay for it, and it is not covered by some insurers or State Medicaid programs.  According to the Washington Post, “While it is illegal to patent products of nature, laws of nature or abstract ideas, federal courts have decided that a DNA sequence that has been extracted and isolated does not qualify as a product of nature.”  The plaintiffs believe that Myriad shouldn’t be able to hold the exclusive patent on the gene, and should allow other companies to make a test for BRCA. 


Meg Larkin is a second year law student at Boston University.  Please feel free to email her with any comments, questions, suggestions, or concerns.


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