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Vital Signs

Media Mentions: DMS and DHMC in the News

Among the people and programs coming in for prominent media coverage in recent months was Professor of Medicine John Baron, M.D., who chaired the steering committee for the study that led to the recent withdrawal of Vioxx, a pain medication manufactured by Merck. Baron was widely quoted, including in the Washington Post: "'I looked at [the data] and concurred immediately that the trial should stop,' Baron said. But first, Baron needed to get the approval of his steering committee. . . . This took nearly a week, during which Baron took precautions to guard against leaks of negative information and insider trading of Merck shares. . . . Baron said in the next few days, as he presented the data to company officials . . ., he experienced 'no pushback at all.' But then again, he said, 'if an independent committee makes a recommendation like ours, only a fool would tell us to buzz off.'" (See page 3 for more on Baron's role in the Vioxx controversy.)

"Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in women worldwide, killing nearly a quarter of a million women each year," noted the Wall Street Journal. So it was big news when a clinical trial from Dartmouth showed a vaccine to be up to 100% effective against the viruses responsible for more than 70% of cervical cancers. "This is incredibly exciting," said study head Diane Harper, M.D., M.P.H., on ABC's World News Tonight. "There is no other gynecologic cancer, or any cancer in the human body, that can be completely prevented from a vaccine in the way that cervical cancer can be." USA Today and U.S. News & World Report also reported her results. (See page 4 for more on Harper's study.)

"Sunshine makes men more fertile!" trumpeted the Hindustan Times of India. The Times of London was a little more restrained in reporting the finding, which was presented at a National Institutes of Health conference: "Vitamin D—which is produced by the human body when exposed to the sun—is critical to the production of sperm, and a lack of the nutrient may be linked to male infertility. The finding, from a team at Dartmouth- Hitchcock Medical Center, suggests that boosting Vitamin D production, either by increasing exposure to sunlight or by taking dietary supplements, might improve fertility among men. More work, however, is needed to confirm the link, and experts warned people against excessive sunbathing, which can cause skin cancer."

"I have seen the future of health care here at the Spine Center of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center," began a recent Washington Post article titled "Health care by the numbers saves money." Continued economics reporter Steven Pearlstein, "It's not that Dr. Jim Weinstein and his colleagues have any breakthrough cures for back pain. What they do have is a revolutionary model for how doctors and patients interact that improves medical care while saving money."

A Wall Street Journal reader wrote to the paper's "Health Mailbox," about a "most helpful article on memory loss in chemotherapy patients. It was only after reading your article that my oncologist started to pay attention to my complaints. How do I find out more about researchers at Dartmouth who are working on the

issue of cognitive impairments in women after chemo?" The response began as follows: "Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School are studying ways that women treated for breast cancer can cope with cognitive changes. Information about their research can be found here." For women who don't live close to Dartmouth, "Dr. Robert Ferguson, assistant professor of psychiatry at DMS, suggests The Memory Bible by Gary Small or The Memory Workbook by Douglas J. Mason."

"Simple telephone call found to help depressed people" was the headline of an Oakland Tribune story about a DMS-led study on treatment for depression. Published in the British Medical Journal, the study "found that inexpensive enhancements to care by primary-care physicians, such as follow-up phone calls to patients, could boost response to treatment by almost 30 percent," the Tribune reported. Depression affects "about one out of every 10 Americans, so even small improvements in care could bring relief to millions. Yet Dr. Allen Dietrich, a professor at Dartmouth and lead investigator on the new study, noted that the realities of today's health-care system are such that any changes in treatment delivery will need to be of modest cost and take advantage of existing resources as much as possible." (See page 9 for more on this study.)

National Public Radio's All Things Considered recently gave airtime to a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine which predicted a shortage of doctors in the U.S. by 2020. Said reporter Patricia Neighmond: "But in an editorial in the same issue, Dr. Harold Sox raises cautions." Sox is former chair of medicine at Dartmouth and remains an adjunct member of the faculty. Went on Neighmond: "He says there are too many unknowns. For one, it's not clear that older people in the future will need as much health care as older people today." Said Sox himself on air: "There's every reason to believe that people, in fact, are becoming less and less disabled as they get older now as, say, compared with 10 or 15 years ago."

A Supreme Court appeal by a man sentenced to death for murdering a woman when he was 17 drew "intense interest from the American Medical Association, the nation's psychiatrists and psychologists, and other health and research groups," said the New York Times. "They've filed briefs with the court making a novel scientific argument—that juveniles should not be executed because their brains are still developing." The Times quoted Dartmouth neuroscientist Abigail Baird, Ph.D., who has done studies asking teenagers and adults to identify emotions on faces in photos.

Adults recognize the emotions correctly, but teens don't. "When shown a face expressing fear, for example, they identify it as surprise or even happiness. 'The finding was that the alarm system—the amygdala—was ready to go,' Baird said. 'But the interpreter—the prefrontal cortex—doesn't care.' " Added Baird: "The people around [teens] are like an external frontal cortex," helping them control impulses and regulate emotions.

The Kansas City Star highlighted "one of the leading scientific storehouses of fungi in the world," the Fungal Genetics Stock Center at the University of Missouri in Kansas City (UMKC). Noting that the center "was founded at Dartmouth in 1960," the article quoted a geneticist who uses its wares: "At Dartmouth Medical School, Jay Dunlap is using Neurospora from UMKC for a $9-million research project involving eight universities nationwide." Dunlap and his team "are trying to determine what each of the fungus's 10,000 genes does. He's relying on the center to maintain the bioengineered fungi the researchers produce. 'They make it easy,' Dunlap said. 'No one questions whether the stock center is up to the task.'"

"'Spray vitamins are the new snake oil,' says Dr. Timothy Quill, a professor of anesthesiology at Dartmouth Medical School." Quill was quoted by the Phoenix New Times in an expose about an entrepreneur with a history of marketing bogus health products, most recently spray vitamin supplements called Vitamist. "New Times asked Quill, one of the nation's most respected drug researchers, to give his opinion about the products and claims of Vitamist. He had nothing good to say. 'The arguments given on the Vitamist Web site for taking these spray products are specious pseudomedical mumbo jumbo,' he says. 'It's just foolishness. None of it makes any sense when you understand vitamins and the way they're absorbed.'"

In late November, the Los Angeles Times reported on a study which found that about one out of six soldiers returning from Iraq suffers from major depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "'The bad news is that the study underestimated the prevalence of what we are going to see down the road,' said Dr. Matthew Friedman, a professor of psychiatry and of pharmacology at Dartmouth and executive director of the VA's National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since the study was completed, Friedman said, 'The complexion of the war has changed into a grueling counter-insurgency.'"

In a 400-page report released in October, the U.S. surgeon general said the country must take osteoporosis—a degenerative bone disease that affects 10 million Americans, 80% of them women—more seriously. "The report, the surgeon general's first on osteoporosis, predicted that by 2020, half of Americans over 50 will have or be at risk for the disease," explained the Baltimore Sun. "'These numbers are going to grow as baby boomers age,' said one of the report's authors, Dr. Anna Tosteson, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School and one of more than 100 experts who helped craft the document over 2 1/2 years." The report "emphasized that osteoporosis can have fatal consequences" but is a preventable disease.

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