Stem Cell Transplants May Halt MS Progression

   (NIH) - 12/31/2014 - Three-year outcomes from an ongoing clinical trial suggest that high-dose immunosuppressive therapy followed by transplantation of a person's own blood-forming stem cells may induce sustained remission in some people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). RRMS is the most common form of MS, a progressive autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord. The trial is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and conducted by the NIAID-funded Immune Tolerance Network (ITN).
   Three years after the treatment, called high-dose immunosuppressive therapy and autologous hematopoietic cell transplant or HDIT/HCT, nearly 80 percent of trial participants had survived without experiencing an increase in disability, a relapse of MS symptoms or new brain lesions. Investigators observed few serious early complications or unexpected side effects, although many participants experienced expected side effects of high-dose immunosuppression, including infections and gastrointestinal problems. The three-year findings are published in the Dec. 29, 2014, online issue of JAMA Neurology.
   “These promising results support the need for future studies to further evaluate the benefits and risks of HDIT/HCT and directly compare this treatment strategy to current MS therapies,”  NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci said. “If the findings from this study are confirmed, HDIT/HCT may become a potential therapeutic option for people with this often-debilitating disease, particularly those who have not been helped by standard treatments.”
   Scientists estimate that MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide. Symptoms can vary widely and may include disturbances in speech, vision and movement. Most people with MS are diagnosed with RRMS, which is characterized by periods of relapse or flare up of symptoms followed by periods of recovery or remission. Over years, the disease can worsen and shift to a more progressive form.
  In the study, researchers tested the effectiveness of HDIT/HCT in 25 volunteers with RRMS who had relapsed and experienced worsened neurological disability while taking standard medications. Doctors collected blood-forming stem cells from participants and then gave them high-dose chemotherapy to destroy their immune systems. The doctors returned the stem cells to the participants to rebuild and reset their immune systems.
   “Notably, participants did not receive any MS drugs after transplant, yet most remained in remission after three years,” NIAID Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation Director Daniel Rotrosen said. “In contrast, other studies have shown that the best alternative MS treatments induce much shorter remissions and require long-term use of immunosuppressive drugs that can cause serious side effects.”
  The study researchers plan to follow participants for a total of five years, recording all side effects associated with the treatment. Final results from this and similar studies promise to help inform the design of larger trials to further evaluate HDIT/HCT in people with MS.
   The work was sponsored by NIAID, NIH, and conducted by the ITN (contract number N01 AI015416) and NIAID-funded statistical and clinical coordinating centers (contract numbers HHSN272200800029C and HHSN272200900057C). The ClinicalTrials.gov identifier for the study High-Dose Immunosuppression and Autologous Transplantation for Multiple Sclerosis (HALT-MS) is NCT00288626.
   Source: National Institutes of Health

Defense Contractor to Pay $27.5 Million

  (DOJ) - 12/20/2014 - Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems (LMIS) has agreed to pay $27.5 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly overbilling the government for work performed by LMIS employees who lacked required job qualifications. 
   The settlement was announced today by Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division and U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman for the District of New Jersey.
   “Contractors that knowingly bill the government in violation of contract terms will face serious consequences,”Acting Assistant Attorney General Branda said.  “The department will ensure that those who do business with the government, and seek taxpayer funds, do so fairly and in accordance with the applicable rules.”
   LMIS is a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Inc., which is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland.  The alleged labor mischarging occurred on the Rapid Response (CR2) contract and the Strategic Services Sourcing (S3) contract, both issued by the U.S. Army Communication and Electronics Command (CECOM).  CECOM is located at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and at the Aberdeen Proving Group in Maryland.
   The purpose of the CR2 and S3 contracts is to provide rapid access to products and services to be provided to the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. Individual task orders then are separately negotiated, based on these contracts, to quickly meet the needs of CECOM.  LMIS allegedly violated the terms of the contracts by using under-qualified employees who were billed to the United States at the rates of more qualified employees.  The overbilling allegedly resulted in greater profit for LMIS.
   “This settlement demonstrates the commitment of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) and our partners to vigorously pursue alleged violations of the False Claims Act,” DCIS Northeast Field Office Special Agent Craig Rupert said.  “All contractors doing business with the federal government are expected to abide by the acquisition rules no matter who they are.  Investigations of such allegations are necessary to protect American taxpayers and our warfighters.”
  Source: Dept. of Justice

Group Welcomes Report On CIA Torture Program

   Washington, D.C. – 12/10/2014 - Human Rights First has welcomed the release of the executive summary of a landmark Senate intelligence committee report on the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program. The report is the result of an investigation launched with bipartisan support, and the report itself was both adopted and declassified in separate bi-partisan votes in the committee.
   The report documents a program that was far more brutal and widespread than Americans were led to believe. The report also reveals that the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” did not produce critical intelligence gains that had previously been claimed and that the CIA systematically misled the administration and Congress about the efficacy of the program. The group said it urges Congress and the administration to examine carefully the report’s key findings and take steps to ensure that torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment is never again the official policy of the United States.
   “This is how a strong democracy deals with its mistakes. We look at what we did, however painful that is, and we take the necessary steps to make it right. America is strongest when we keep faith with our ideals and uphold the rule of law. Thanks to the Senate’s report, Americans can now see for themselves how far we fell short of that standard, how little we gained—and how much we lost—because of it," Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino said. "The test for our democracy now is what we will do with that knowledge. The Obama Administration and Congress should work together to build a durable consensus against torture by pursuing legislation that demonstrates bipartisan unity and fidelity to our ideals. We can’t leave room for loophole lawyering when it comes to what we stand for as a nation.
   The Senate intelligence committee’s 6,000-plus-page study of the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program is one of the most comprehensive and thorough oversight endeavors in congressional history. For months Senate staff and the CIA were engaged in protracted discussions about the extent to which the committee’s report on the post-9/11 CIA torture program should be redacted.
   Former Air Force interrogator Colonel Steven Kleinman stated: “As a career interrogator, I know that the lawful, humane methods for acquiring intelligence are also the most effective. (The) report only reinforces this fact and makes it publicly available to the American people. There is no need to debate this any longer. Now it’s time to chart a new course for the future, one that will not only respect human rights, but will also keep America safe.”
   The report’s findings enjoy widespread support from political, national security, and intelligence leaders, including among Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The report was also initiated, adopted, and submitted for declassification on three independent, bipartisan votes. A nonpartisan group of retired generals and admirals who stood with President Obama in the Oval Office as he signed an executive order banning torture have tirelessly advocated for the report’s release.
   “Torture violates our laws, principles, and core foreign policy and national security interests,” said Alberto Mora, former general counsel of the Navy. “We will now be defined by the steps we take to ensure that this brutal practice never occurs again."
   Source: Human Rights First

Investor to Plead Guilty To Bid Rigging, Fraud

  (DOJ) - 12/3/2014 - A Northern California real estate investor has agreed to plead guilty for his role in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced.
    Felony charges were filed on December 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland against Garry Wan of Concord, California. To date, 50 individuals have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty, as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California.
    According to court documents, beginning as early as May 2008 until January 2011, Wan conspired with others not to bid against one another, and instead designate a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda County. Wan was also charged with conspiring to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire title to selected Alameda County properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs, and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have otherwise gone to mortgage holders and other beneficiaries by holding second, private auctions open only to members of the conspiracy. The department said that the selected properties were then awarded to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in the second, private auctions. The private auctions often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.
    “While there has been a lengthy series of guilty pleas by the participants in this activity, the division’s work is not yet over,” said Brent Snyder, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute collusion at real estate foreclosure auctions, which allow the conspirators to profit from illegal payoffs at the expense of financial institutions and distressed homeowners.”
    The department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and eliminate competition and to conceal payoffs in order to obtain selected real estate offered at Alameda County public foreclosure auctions at non-competitive prices. When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner. According to court documents, these conspirators paid and received money that otherwise would have gone to pay off the mortgage and other holders of debt secured by the properties, and, in some cases, the defaulting homeowner.
    “These charges demonstrate our continued commitment to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations responsible for the corruption of the public foreclosure auction process,” said David J. Johnson, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Office. “The FBI is committed to work these important cases and remains unwavering in our dedication to bring the members of these illegal conspiracies to justice.”
    A violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. The maximum fine for the Sherman Act charges may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victim if either amount is greater than $1 million. A count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The government can also seek to forfeit the proceeds earned from participating in the conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
    Today’s charges are the latest filed by the department in its ongoing investigation into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa, and Alameda counties, California. These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Office. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at 415-934-5300, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.
   Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

The Arms Debate

Not All American's Have the Right to Bear Arms

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