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Two over-the-counter drugs may reverse MS

   (NIH) - 4/24/2015 - Two drugs already on the market — an antifungal and a steroid — may potentially take on new roles as treatments for multiple sclerosis. According to a study published in Nature on April 20, researchers discovered that these drugs may activate stem cells in the brain to stimulate myelin producing cells and repair white matter, which is damaged in multiple sclerosis. The study was partially funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health.
   Specialized cells called oligodendrocytes lay down multiple layers of a fatty white substance known as myelin around axons, the long “wires” that connect brain cells. Myelin acts as an insulator and enables fast communication between brain cells. In multiple sclerosis there is breakdown of myelin and this deterioration leads to muscle weakness, numbness and problems with vision, coordination and balance.
   “To replace damaged cells, the scientific field has focused on direct transplantation of stem cell-derived tissues for regenerative medicine, and that approach is likely to provide enormous benefit down the road. We asked if we could find a faster and less invasive approach by using drugs to activate native nervous system stem cells and direct them to form new myelin. Our ultimate goal was to enhance the body’s ability to repair itself,” said Paul J. Tesar, Ph.D., associate professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, and senior author of the study.
   It is unknown how myelin-producing cells are damaged, but research suggests they may be targeted by malfunctioning immune cells and that multiple sclerosis may start as an autoimmune disorder. Current therapies for multiple sclerosis include anti-inflammatory drugs, which help prevent the episodic relapses common in multiple sclerosis, but are less effective at preventing long-term disability. Scientists believe that therapies that promote myelin repair might improve neurologic disability in people with multiple sclerosis.    
   Adult brains contain oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), which are stem cells that generate myelin-producing cells. OPCs are found to multiply in the brains of multiple sclerosis patients as if to respond to myelin damage, but for unknown reasons they are not effective in restoring white matter. In the current study, Dr. Tesar wanted to see if drugs already approved for other uses were able to stimulate OPCs to increase myelination.   
OPCs have been difficult to isolate and study, but Dr. Tesar and his colleagues, in collaboration with Robert Miller, Ph.D., professor at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., developed a novel method to investigate these cells in a petri dish. Using this technique, they were able to quickly test the effects of hundreds of drugs on the stem cells.
The compounds screened in this study were obtained from a drug library maintained by NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). All are approved for use in humans. NCATS and Dr. Tesar have an ongoing collaboration and plan to expand the library of drugs screened against OPCs in the near future to identify other promising compounds.
Dr. Tesar’s team found that two compounds in particular, miconazole (an antifungal) and clobetasol (a steroid), stimulated mouse and human OPCs into generating myelin-producing cells.
Next, they examined whether the drugs, when injected into a mouse model of multiple sclerosis, could improve re-myelination. They found that both drugs were effective in activating OPCs to enhance myelination and reverse paralysis. As a result, almost all of the animals regained the use of their hind limbs. They also found that the drugs acted through two very different molecular mechanisms. 
   “The ability to activate white matter cells in the brain, as shown in this study, opens up an exciting new avenue of therapy development for myelin disorders such as multiple sclerosis,” said Ursula Utz, Ph.D., program director at the NINDS.
   Dr. Tesar and his colleagues caution that more research is needed before miconazole and clobetasol can be tested in multiple sclerosis clinical trials. They are currently approved for use as creams or powders on the surfaces of the body but their safety administered in other forms, such as injections, in humans is unknown.
   “Off-label use of the current forms of these drugs is more likely to increase other health concerns than alleviate multiple sclerosis symptoms. We are working tirelessly to ready a safe and effective drug for clinical use,” Dr. Tesar said.
   Source: National Institutes of Health

Medical Data Theft: Is There an End in Sight?

   (RPC) – 4/7/2015 - Details continue to emerge about the data breach reported last month by Premera Blue Cross, a breach which involved the personal medical records of roughly 11 million people. Some of those records go back more than 14 years. Premera's plight, unfortunately, is emblematic of a much broader crisis in health care data theft that has been building ever since the push toward digital health care record began – a situation which more than just a few of us in the media had raised questions about at the time.
   In February, 2015, insurance giant Anthem, Inc., reported the theft of data in December of 2014 involving an estimated 80 million current and former members, putting at lifetime risk anyone who has ever been a customer of Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Caremore, Amerigroup, Unicare, Healthline, DeCare, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Blue Shield of Georgia.
   The Anthem theft is widely seen as one of the largest data thefts in U.S. history.
   While there is speculation on precisely what data was taken in the Premera Blue Cross case, the company cites Social Security numbers, clinical information, bank account information, birthdays, the names of applicants and their family members, and other contact and identification numbers as among the type of information that was stolen. Anthem said it does not have a reason to believe bank or credit card information was stolen, but does site income information, birth dates, Social Security numbers, email and address information.
   Premera is currently facing at last five separate class action suits. Anthem is facing numerous lawsuits as well, including one filed by St. Louis County in Missouri against Blue Cross Blue Shield. Three suits were filed against Anthem within a day after the breach was made public.
How sophisticated were the attacks? Not a sophisticated as they would have you believe, experts say.  In the Anthem incident, the company altogether avoided the encryption of sensitive customer data, with data thieves apparently making us of simple email “phishing” attacks, aimed at several employees which network access.
   In both cases, thieves were able to steal some of the most valuable data there is – people's Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses – data that rarely if ever changes and which can be used to commit fraud for many years to come.
   According to the Fifth Annual Study on Medical Identity Theft, the medical identify theft problem grew by approximately 22 percent this past year. The massive Anthem and Premera breaches will likely bump the percentage higher yet again this year. 
   The Secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Office for Civil Right is required by section 13402(w)(4) of the HITECH Act to post a lit of security breaching involving “unsecured protected health information affecting 500 or more individuals.
   A summary of the largest breaches since 2010, by name of covered entity and individuals affected, is as follows:
  • Anthem Inc. Affiliated Covered Entity (78,800,000).
  • Premera Blue Cross (11,000,000)
  • Science Applications International Corporation (4,900,000)
  • Community Health Systems Professional Services Corp. (4,500,000)
  • Advocate Health and Hospitals Corporation, d/b/a Advocate Medical Group (4,029,530)
  • Xerox State Healthcare, LLC (2,000,000)
  • IBM (1,900,000)
  • GRM Information Management Services (1,700,000)
  • AvMed, Inc. (1,220,000)
  • Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (1,062,509)
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennesseek Inc. (1,023, 209)
  • Sulter Medical Foundation (943,434)
  • Horizon Healthcare Services, Inc., doing business as Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and its affiliates (839,711)
  • Iron Mountain Data Products, Inc. (800,000)
  • Utah Department of Technology Services (780,000)
  • AHMC Healthcare Inc. and affiliated hospitals (729,000)
  • Eisenhower Medical Center (514,330)
  • Triple-S Management, Corp; Triple-S Salud, Inc. (475,000)
  • Affinity Health Plan, Inc. (344,579)
  • Southerland Healthcare Solutions (342,197)
  • Emory Healthcare (315,000)
  • Touchtone Medical Imaging (307,528)
  • Shred-It International Incorporation (277,014)
  • Seacoast Radiology, PA (231,400)
  • Southern California Department of Health and Human Services (228,435)
  • Indian Health Service (214,000)
  • Digital Archive Management (189,489)
  • RCR Technology Corporation (187,533)
  • Millennium Medical Management Resources, Inc. (180,111)
  • Walgreen Co. (160,000)
   Of the top 100 largest data theft incidents to date, a quick count suggests that approximately 29 involved a compromised network server, eight involved computer desktops, 19 involved laptop computers, 23 involved some other type of portable device, 12 involved paper/films, three involved email, and seven involved some other type of electronic medical records.
   What do thieves want with your medical records? The answer is apparent in at least one other troubling trend this year, that being tax refund fraud, which has been reported at escalating levels nationwide. In addition to filing fraudulent tax returns,the U.S. Federal Trade Commission warns: “A thief may use your name or health insurance numbers to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, file claims with your insurance provider, or get other care. If the thief’s health information is mixed with yours, your treatment, insurance and payment records, and credit report may be affected.”
   Is there an end in sight to the health care and medical data theft trend, or has Pandora's Box been forever opened? Only time will tell.
   For further reference, see:  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights Breach Portal; or the Federal Trade Commission - Medical Identity Theft.

Suit Claims Officers Violated Human Rights

  (RPC) - 3/19/2015 - More than 230 officers with the Illinois Department of Corrections Special Operations Response Team unit (SORT) known as "Orange Crush" have been named in a class action lawsuit for alleged human rights violations.
   Filed on March 19, 2015, on behalf of a prisoner at Illinois River Correction Center, the suit names a total of 232 officers who it says “beat, sexually humiliated, and otherwise abused hundreds of prisons,” and “gratuitously inflicted punishment for the sole purpose of causing humiliation and needless pain.”
   The plaintiff, Demetrius Ross, is being represented by the civil rights firm of Loevy & Loevy Attorney at Law, and the Uptown People's Law Center.
   As stated in the introduction to the suit: “In late April 2014, the 'Orange Crush' conducted a shakedown of cells at Illinois River Correctional Center (Illinois River). Rather than pursue this shakedown as a legitimate security procedure, however, Defendants beat, sexually humiliated, and otherwise abused Mr. Ross (and hundreds of other prisoners), destroyed his property, and otherwise gratuitously inflicted punishment for the sole purpose of causing humiliation and needless pain. Plaintiff seeks damages for his injuries (and those of other similarly abused prisoners), and an injunction prohibiting Defendants from inflicting such abuse during future searches.”
   The suit alleges that such abusive searches were common practice at several IDOC facilities, namely Menard Correctional Center, Bug Muddy River Correctional Facility, and Lawrence Correctional Facility.
   In one instance at the Illinois River facility, Ross alleges in the suit, prisoners were subject to humiliating strip searches while female officers were present, as well as various unsanitary acts and painful handcuffing positions in which the palms are extended outward. Included were “orders to march from their housing units to the gym at the facility with their hands on the backs of the prisoners ahead of them in line so that one man's genitals were in direct contact with the next man's buttocks (referred to by the Orange Crush team as 'Nut to Butts'”).
   The suit describes several other acts of physical and verbal abuse that it says were common at the hands of the guards.
   “The painful and humiliating shakedowns inflicted physical injuries—including headaches, dizziness, wrist pain, and lower back pain—and emotional injuries—including severe embarrassment, fear, stress, trauma, and humiliation,” it states.
   The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, East St. Louis Division. Ross' complain was brought on behalf of himself and “all others similarly situated to him—namely, other prisoners housed at Illinois River, Menard, Big Muddy River, and Lawrence from 2014 to the present.”
   Defendants at Illinois River, all of whom are members of the IDOC Special Operations Response Team (SORT, also known as Orange Crush), include Brian Piper, Brendan Ankrom, Justin Hammers, Brad Johnson, Fred Williams, Frank Thompson, Derek Smith, Steve Albrecht, Robert Adams, Sarah Arnett, Bryan Bailey, Shawn Bailliez, Andrew Bottrell, Larry Boyd, Douglas Brown, Dennis Bucco, Vincent Cogdal, Nick Conklin, Jason Dams, Robert Dorethy, Olin Eldridge, Lisa Ellinger, Curtis Jenkins, Scott Lamb, Chris Luker, Canduce Morrill, Andrew Moser, William Myers, Lee Parker, Chad Sappington, Ron Shoultz, Jamie Skaggs, Cally Stein, Mike Stufflebeam, Ashley Thompson, Steve Wilcoxen, Drew Derenzy, Justin Dircks, David English, M. Fluder, Joseph France, Jason Jester, Loretta Joachim, Nick Lohnes, Robert Passmore, Andy Phelps, Sam Taylor, Tammy Thousand, and Cayd Walljasper.
   Defendants at Muddy River, all of whom are members of the SORT, include Chris White, Keneth Finney, David Hermetz, Robert Walsh, Ryan Davis, James Bruce, Matt Dees, Donald Pulliam, Jeremy McBride, Nick Nalley, Gary Stark, William Hughey, Ayla Heinzmann, Kenny Brown, Randy Smith, Shane Smith, Robert Rivett, Larry Provence, Kyle Massey, DaWayne Cotton, Bradley Herzog, Dale Martin, Pat Anderson, Dwight Dilg, Rene DeGroof, Angela Craddock, Sierra Tate, John Mohr, John Jones, Doug Mason, Justin Johnson, Khorey Anderton, Matt Cannon, James Johnson, John Maragni, Mike Bowers, Blake Elliot, Ray McCann, Brice Wilson, Josh Curry, Kendall Harris, Eric Shelton, Rene Waters, and Stephanie Beasley.
   Defendants at Lawrence, all of whom are members of SORT, include Michael Gilreath, Jason Zollars, Jerry Tanner, Andy Stout, Dale Monical, Ben Lewis, Brad Yonaka, Kevin W. Johnson, Marcus Jenkins, Janet Carle, Bud Brown, Stephen Sawyer, Walter McCormick, Jerry Harper, Jason Ginder, Jeremiah Patterson, James Berry, Randy Baylor, Bill Carroll, Brad Stuck, Eric Weber, Lance Wise, Daniel Dust, Steven Conrad, Jarrod Carter, Timothy McAllister, Noble Harrington, Samuel Shehorn, Jeffrey Kidd, Ben Vaughn, Travis Ochs, Brian Livingston, Robert Kamp, Anthony Senn, Trent Ralston, Maury Goble, Bradley Ausbrook, Seth Hough, Christopher Brant, Ethan Clary, Matthew Winka, Michael Dean, Nicholas Lampley, Dallas Willis, Timothy Conrad, Christopher Cales, James Gosnell, Alexander Lockhart, Matthew Tribble, Andrew Gangloff, MaryEllen Thomason, Justin Eckelberry, Doug Line, Jacob Milam, Zachariah Buchanan, Akeem Hamilton, Andrew Volk, Gary Perkins, Kyle Brooks, John Chenault, Jr., Dan Mullin, Andrew Mays, and Brandon Richey.
   Defendants at Menard, all of whom are members of SORT, include Jerry Witthoft, Frank Eovaldi, Mark Bower, Fredrick Carter, Kevin Cartwright, Nathan Berry, Chase Caron, Kyle Donjon, Justin Engelage, Wesley Engelage, Charles Fricke, Jason Furlow, Brian Guetersloh, Shane Gregson, Mark Hanks, Joel Hepp, Kevin Hirch, Anthony Jones, Tyler Jones, Brian Kulich, Jason Lane, Jay McMillan, Alex Moll, Wesley Monroe, Jared Phillips, Kenny Porter, Rory Renk, Minh Scott, James Watkins, Eric Wenzel, Aaron Westerman, Carson Winter, Caleb Zang, Gene Bailey, Derek Baylon, David Brock, Benny Davis, Bryan Easton, Richard Harris, Shayne Howell, Brandon Hunter, Michael Laminack, James Lloyd, Lucas Mennerich, Jason Migneron, Jason Morris, John Restoff, Steven Richard, Tyson Shurtz, Ryan Ziegler, Trevor Rowland, David Holder, Scott Ebers, Mike Baughman, Hubert Brace, James Cissell, Bradley Clark, Charles Compton, Dustin Harmon, John Koch, Brandon Lloyd, Kenneth Smith, Nathan Ward, Mitch Simmons, Michael Jones, Tracy Heiman, Aaron Campbell, Edwin Gladney, Kyle Hughhey, Erik Krammer, Wendy Parks, and James Rigdon.
   Illinois River warden Greg Gossett, Big Muddy River warden Zach Roeckeman, Lawrence warden Steve Duncan, Menard warden Kim Butler, IDOC Chief of Operations Joseph Yurkovich, Acting IDOC Director Donald Stolworthy are also named as defendants in the suit.
   Allegations, as listed in the document, are as follows:
   “In late April 2014, Illinois River was put on lockdown for approximately one week. During the lockdown, Defendant Orange Crush Officers conducted a shakedown of each house at the facility.
  “Upon entering each wing of the facility, Defendant Orange Crush Officers would yell loudly and began making loud “whooping” noises, and hitting their batons on the walls, tables, doors, and railings in the wing.
   “Two of the Orange Crush officers lined up in front of each cell in the wing, and yelled at the men in the wing to “get asshole naked!” Once the prisoners were undressed, they ordered each man to come out of his cell, one at a time. They ordered each prisoner to bend over while facing their cell (leaving their backs to the officers), and spread their buttocks and lift each foot off the ground.
   “Defendant Orange Crush Officers then ordered the men to turn around to face the officers, and to lift their genitals. Next, they were ordered to open their mouths with their fingers, using the same hands that they had just used to touch their genitals and buttocks. Prisoners who asked to wash their hands before putting them into their mouths were told to “shut the fuck up!” and were threatened with segregation if they did not comply. Some of the Defendant Orange Crush Officers present in the housing unit during the strip search were female.
   “When Defendant Orange Crush Officers finished strip searching the first group of prisoners in the cells, they ordered them to return to their cell and to get dressed in pants, overshirts, and shoes. They were told that they could not put on any underwear. While those men were putting on the permitted clothing, Defendant Orange Crush Officers repeated the same process with the other men in the cells.
   “Once all of the strip searches were completed, Defendant Orange Crush Officers ordered the men to face the wall (with their backs to the officers) and to 'keep [their] fucking heads down!' Any prisoner who looked at the officers was slammed into the wall and told to 'put [his] fucking head down!' Defendant Orange Crush Officers then handcuffed all of the men in a particularly painful way—with the palms of their hands facing outwards and their thumbs pointed up to the sky. The handcuffs were also extremely tight, causing injuries to the prisoners’ wrists, and eliciting complaints from the prisoners. They were told to “shut the fuck up!' and to 'keep [their] fucking head[s] down!' and were threatened with segregation if they did not comply. Some of the prisoners asked to see a nurse or other medical staff. Their requests received the same response. All of the prisoners were handcuffed in the same way, regardless of whether they had a “front cuff” permit issued by medical staff (a medical order requiring correctional officers to handcuff men with their hands in front of them, rather than behind).
   “The men were ordered to line up and told to keep their heads down. Defendant Orange Crush Officers then lined up next to the prisoners, hitting their batons in their hands, and chanting 'punish the inmate.' This went on for several minutes.
   “Once the chanting stopped, Defendant Orange Crush Officers grabbed the back of each prisoner’s head and slammed it violently into the back of the prisoner ahead of him in line. Defendant Orange Crush Officers ordered the prisoners to stand in such a way that one man’s genitals were in direct contact with the buttocks of the man ahead of him in line—referred to by Defendant Orange Crush Officers as “Nuts to Butts.” Mr. Ross’s head was slammed down so violently that his glasses broke and fell from his face. He suffered extreme dizziness and lightheadedness as a result.
   “Defendant Orange Crush Officers then shoved their batons in between each prisoner’s legs and jerked upwards, forcing the prisoner to straighten his legs while keeping his back bent over at a 90-degree angle onto the prisoner in front of him. This had the effect of forcing the men to place their genitals directly against the buttocks of the men in front of them. The officers then ordered the prisoners, using several epithets, to march in that formation from their housing wing to the gym at the facility. As the men began marching, the officers yelled that they didn’t 'want to see any fucking daylight' between any of the prisoners in line.
   “The march from the housing wing to the gym was long and painful. Every time that a prisoner’s head came off of the back of the prisoner in front of him, officers responded with violence. Defendant Orange Crush Officers would slam the prisoner’s head into the back of the prisoner in front of him. Some, like Mr. Ross, were violently yanked out of the line, and choked and pulled to the ground while other officers jabbed them in their backs with batons. Each time this occurred, the line would stop moving. The frequent starts and stops of the procession, as well as the inherent difficulty that prisoners had maintaining perfect contact with the prisoner ahead of them in line, forced several prisoners to break contact with the prisoner in front of them, causing them to be attacked by the officers.
   “When the procession of prisoners arrived at the gym, Defendant Orange Crush Officers ordered them to stand facing the wall with their heads down. They remained handcuffed. Many of the officers then left the gym to return to the housing wing. Defendant Albright, however, remained in the gym with the prisoners.
   “The prisoners remained standing in this stress position for several hours. During that time, Defendant Albright yelled at the prisoners: 'This is punishment for all your sins!' He ordered the prisoners not to ask for medical attention because none would be provided, not to ask for water because none would be given, and not to ask to use the bathroom because they would be denied. He further told the prisoners that if their handcuffs were too tight, they would have to 'be a man and take it or get dragged to seg!'
   “After several hours, the other Defendant Orange Crush Officers returned. They lined up the prisoners in the same formation as before, and again slammed their heads into the backs of the prisoners in front of them. They again ordered the prisoners to march in that formation back to their housing wing. Just as before, if a prisoner broke the line by lifting his head off the back of the person in front of him, Defendant Orange Crush Officers reacted with violence.
   “ Defendant Orange Crush Officers laughed at and taunted the prisoners throughout the entire march to and from the gym.
   “When they at last returned to their housing wing, the prisoners found their cells had been 'tossed.' Many of the prisoners found that non-contraband items had been taken, including legal documents and property that they had legitimately purchased from the commissary at the facility. Although IDOC policies require staff to complete 'shakedown slips' to document any property taken from a prisoner, many prisoners did not receive any shakedown slips at all. Those prisoners who did receive “shakedown slips” found that they contained an inaccurate account of what had been taken and also that the slips obscured the officers’ names who had confiscated the property. Upon information and belief, this was done intentionally, as policy, to conceal the identity of Defendant Orange Crush Officers who had participated in the shakedown.
   “One of the prisoners asked an officer to get the warden, Defendant Greg Gossett. In response, the officer laughed and told him that the warden already knew all about what was happening at the facility.
   “The prisoners suffered physical injuries as a result of the shakedown at the facility, including severe headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, and severe pain in their neck and back from the march. Many prisoners complained about these injuries to the officers during the shakedown and march, and upon return to their cells. They were all denied medical attention. Officers instead told them to 'submit a grievance like you inmates always do.'
   The plaintiff argues that this neither the first nor the last time that such abuse occurred, with officers conducting similar shakedowns at Menard in April 2014, at Big Muddy River in May 2014, and in July 2014 at Lawrence.
   Altogether the suit alleges that hundreds of prisons suffered human rights violations at the hands of the named officers, as well as violations of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.
   A jury trial has been demanded on behalf of the plaintiff in suit.

Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2014