iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- On Wednesday Michigan became the ninth state to restrict private and public insurance plans from offering abortion coverage, with some of them requiring employers and individuals who want abortion coverage to purchase an additional supplemental policy, even in the case of rape or incest.
The citizens' initiative was brought to the state legislature by conservative, anti-abortion group Right to Life, which collected more than 300,000 signatures to place the legislation before lawmakers. Conservative lawmakers were the driving force of approval for the initiative, which passed in a 62-47 vote in the House and 27-11 in the Senate, almost entirely down party lines.
The veto-proof law will go into effect in March, without the signature of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who previously vetoed similar legislation. The law prohibits all insurance companies from providing coverage for the medical procedure, unless a women's life is at risk, without the additional purchase of a supplemental policy, also known as a rider.
Here are eight additional states where you might need additional abortion insurance:
The Gem State placed limitations on insurance benefits for elective abortions in 1983. The statute enacted by the state government requires that all individual nongroup or subscriber insurance policies exclude coverage for elective abortion. The state does allow insurance providers to offer coverage for the medical procedure with the purchase of an additional premium, or rider.
The state statute defines elective abortion as for "any reason other than to preserve the life of the female upon whom the abortion is performed," therefore allowing insurance providers to extend abortion insurance coverage, for no extra charge or policy purchase, to a woman whose life is at risk.
The Kansas law prohibits insurance companies from offering abortion coverage as part of general health plans, except when a woman's life is at risk. Under the law, patients who want abortion coverage must buy supplemental policies, which provide additional coverage for abortion.
The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law and sued the state in August 2011, arguing that the state's real intention was to create obstacles for women seeking abortions, but a judge ruled in September 2011 that the ACLU did not provide enough evidence to support its claim, and the law remains intact.
The Kentucky statute regulating insurance providers' coverage of abortion has been in effect in the Bluegrass State since July 1984.
Under the law, no health insurance provider in the state is allowed to provide coverage for an abortion, unless it is "necessary to preserve the life of the female upon whom the abortion is performed." Coverage for the medical procedure can be purchased for an additional premium, also known as a rider, though insurance providers.
Missouri enacted its abortion insurance law in 1983. The law requires elective abortions to be covered through insurance plans by the purchase of an optional rider, which requires subscribers to pay an additional premium if they wish to receive elective abortion coverage. Under the law, an elective abortion is defined as "an abortion for any reason other than a spontaneous abortion or to prevent the death of the female upon whom the abortion is performed."
In 2010, the state government went a step further in its regulation of abortion insurance coverage, and required that health insurance exchanges in the state not offer coverage for elective abortions.
The Mandate Opt-Out and Insurance Coverage Clarification Act was enacted by the Nebraska state legislature in January 2011. Under the law, health insurance plans are prohibited from providing coverage for abortions, except through an optional rider to the policy, which is paid only by the insured.
The state will allow public funds, and general insurance plans, to cover abortion procedures if "it is necessary to prevent the death of a woman."
The Nebraska law also opts out of allowing qualified health insurance plans that cover abortions to participate in health insurance exchanges in its state.
6. North Dakota
Since 1979, North Dakota has had a law prohibiting insurance companies from providing coverage for abortions. The law states that no health insurance company can provide coverage for abortions, "including the elimination of one or more unborn children in a multifetal pregnancy."
The law does allow residents to purchase an optional rider, in addition to their regular insurance coverage, which must be paid for by an additional premium.
There is one exception to the North Dakota law. If an abortion is necessary to prevent the death of a woman, insurance companies are allowed to cover the procedure as part of general coverage.
Oklahoma restricts insurance companies from providing abortion coverage, unless additional coverage is purchased through an optional rider. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the state does allow insurers to provide coverage for abortions in the case of "a spontaneous miscarriage, to prevent the death of the woman or when the pregnancy resulted from rape reported to the proper law enforcement authorities or when the pregnancy resulted from incest committed against a minor and the perpetrator has been reported to the proper law enforcement authorities."
In 2011, Oklahoma prohibited health insurance plans offered in the Oklahoma exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act from providing coverage for elective abortions.
Utah is the only state, out of the nine states that regulates abortion insurance coverage, that doesn't allow subscribers to purchase additional supplemental coverage for elective abortions.
In 2011, the Insurance Amendments Relating to Abortion went into effect in the state which prohibited insurers from covering elective abortions. The law does have five exceptions that allow insurance providers to cover the medical procedure. One, if the woman's life is endangered, two, if her health is severely compromised, three in the case of rape, four in the case of incest and, five, in the case of fetal impairment.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Plane face: It's the horrible way you look when you step off a plane. What happened? You slept last night and put your makeup on this morning. So why do you look so . . . awful?
Cosmetic physician and skincare expert Dr. Mitchell Chasin says tiring flights can stress out skin, leaving it dehydrated and dull after hours of traveling. "No one wants to arrive at their holiday destination looking like they've drank too much spiked egg nog," he said.
Here are Chasin's Seven Steps to avoiding the dreaded "plane face" this holiday travel season:
- Skip the Alcohol: The bar cart looks tempting, but think before you sip. The recycled air is already drying out your skin, and alcohol is very dehydrating
- Take Vitamins: Vitamin A and D hydrate dry skin, which is perfect for air travel. Take fish oil pills for a dewy glow.
- Sip Water: Seems obvious, but many don't realize the skincare powers of a few glasses of water.
- Mystify: An on-the-go facial mist can replenish moisture and plump up skin in a few quick sprays.
- Exfoliate: If an exfoliating scrub isn't possible, bring exfoliating facial wipes to slough off dead skin cells that build up and give post-flight skin a sandpaper feeling.
- BYOF: Bring your own food, airplane food is typically greasy and loaded with sodium, which can cause puffiness and blemishes.
- Post-Flight Skincare: When returning from vacation, consider getting a facial or rejuvenating skincare treatment to rid skin of buildup and freshen up.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
urfinguss/Thinkstock(SANTA BARBARA, Calif.) -- After Princeton University students received an imported vaccine to protect them against a specific strain of meningitis, parents of students at the University of California, Santa Barbara are asking why the vaccine hasn't been made available to them.
Both schools have had outbreaks of a rare strain of meningitis -- meningococcal type B. It has infected four students at UC Santa Barbara, and eight at Princeton. One Santa Barbara student was rushed to the hospital and had to have his feet amputated.
Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection recommends that all adolescents receive a meningitis vaccination, there is no vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to protect against this strain of meningitis. A vaccine that was approved in Europe, Australia and Canada was imported, with FDA approval, specifically for the Princeton outbreak.
Leslie and Jeff Klonoff have two children studying at UC Santa Barbara and said they were upset that the vaccine was only being given to Princeton students.
"I'm very concerned and upset about CDC's response," Jeff Klonoff told ABC News. "In UCSB, there has been four [infections] in the last month. If there's an explanation for why they're treating them differently, they haven't conveyed that."
Leslie Klonoff said that UC Santa Barbara had done a good job of handling the outbreak, but that she still feared for her children.
"They're in a relatively enclosed community. It does cause concern," she said.
Health officials contend that they usually do not consider vaccination unless there's an ongoing threat, such as the outbreak at Princeton in which eight people have become infected since March.
"We consider vaccinating when there's a sustained outbreak and ongoing transmission, and it looks like there's a continuing risk for the students," said Dr. Thomas Clark, chief of the meningitis branch at the CDC. "If you look back at the meningitis [strain B] outbreaks we've seen, out of the 13 we looked at, 11 [outbreaks] were four cases or fewer."
Clark also said that the CDC would need to ensure that further tests were needed to make sure the vaccine would protect against the strain infecting UC Santa Barbara students.
Although students from both schools contracted meningococcal type B, CDC officials said the viruses had different genetic "fingerprints."
"All the data so far suggests that [the imported vaccine] would work against this strain, but then we [need to] test this actual bacteria that caused the cases," said Clark.
Additionally, Clark said the winter holiday break was helpful in disrupting social life that could lead to transmission.
As students finish final exams this week and head home, Clark said the face-to-face contact common on college campuses would end.
"It spreads by person to person ... by close face-to-face contact. It's the kind of thing that older adolescents do," said Clark. "Disrupting those social networks is probably the best thing that can happen now."
Clark said the CDC would monitor the situation and would consider approving the vaccine for UC Santa Barbara if the outbreak worsens.
Medical experts said that since meningitis is not spread through casual contact the way a cold or flu is, it makes sense that the CDC has not immediately issued the vaccine to the UC Santa Barbara community.
Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Medical Center, said that meningitis outbreaks at universities rarely spread beyond the student body.
"At the moment, the public health response is not a shotgun response but a rifle response," said Schaffner. "[They're] targeting a population who is at risk."
Schaffner said that students who are experiencing severe headaches, fever and flu-like symptoms should see a doctor.
"Initially, it's a very deceptive infection. You feel flu-ey. You get tired and weak. The disease can progress very quickly," said Schaffner, who said people can go from flu symptoms to being unresponsive in hours. "You can get more fever and a stiff neck, and you may get a rash and may become confused and unaware. It can move very quickly and it is a frightening infection."
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Alex Bramwell/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Ever wonder why James Bond prefers his martinis shaken, not stirred?
Three U.K. doctors set out to find out whether 007 developed the preference because of an alcohol-induced tremor in his hands, and published their findings in the British Medical Journal's annual tongue-in-cheek December edition.
"Ideally, vodka martinis should be stirred, not shaken," Dr. Patrick Davies, a pediatric intensive care specialist at Nottingham University Hospitals, and his colleagues, wrote in the paper. "That Bond would make such an elementary mistake in his preferences seemed incongruous with his otherwise impeccable mastery of culinary etiquette."
So they spent seven months reading all 14 James Bond novels by Ian Fleming, taking meticulous notes about when and how much the spy drank.
They concluded that Bond's license to kill was also a license to, well, swill.
Bond drank 92 drinks a week, on average. Assuming that a unit of alcohol is 10 ml of pure ethanol, which the authors admit, they probably underestimated just how much the secret agent consumed.
According to the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, heavy drinking for men usually means drinking more than 14 drinks per week.
The authors wrote that Bond's maximum daily consumption was in From Russia with Love, in which he drank 49.8 drinks per day -- in case you were wondering.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Hampstead Academy(NEW YORK) -- When 13-year-old Samantha Hinton is unsure of the ingredients in a snack, she just doesn’t eat it.
That’s because Hinton is among the growing population of food allergy sufferers in the United States, and she fears a bite containing peanuts could kill her.
“I know it’s deadly,” she told ABC News. “And the side effects are just too scary.”
But a team of eighth-graders at her New Hampshire school created a smartphone app that could make navigating the cafeteria a whole lot easier.
The Hampstead Academy students took home the grand prize at Verizon’s App Challenge with their idea for “Chow Checker,” an app that identifies food allergens.
They submitted the video pitch last school year and got to work with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab to turn it into a reality. The app's now available for download in Google Play.
“We knew that allergies were a pretty big problem,” ninth-grade team member Alex Mielens said. “We thought we could help solve that problem in our school and other places and help people who have allergies to stop from buying foods that may contain allergens.”
Food allergies affect an estimated four to six percent of children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food allergy prevalence has also increased 18 percent between 1997 and 2007.
“Chow Checker” allows users to develop a profile and select up to 12 allergens. If they scan a food item or search for it in the app, and it contains something to which they’re allergic, the app will let them know.
The app uses food ingredient data from Nutritionix, a company that provides daily updated data from grocery stores and restaurants. The database includes more than 300,000 food items and adds almost 1,000 more items each week.
“We liked the idea that [Chow Checker] was solving for this big issue around finding what the ingredients are on foods that you purchase all the time and providing that instant information back to the user of the app,” said Justina Nixon-Saintil, who oversees education programs for Verizon. “We thought that was very original.”
Hinton plans to incorporate the app into her daily routine.
“I think it’s absolutely fantastic, and it’ll be a perfect kind of ‘easy way out’ for me,” she said. “I can just plug in the stuff to my phone and it can tell me easily whether or not I can eat it.”
Dr. Jonathan Field, a pediatric allergist with St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, told ABC News the app could be “profoundly helpful” for those with food allergies and says he plans to recommend “Chow Checker” to his patients as a resource.
“It’s necessary, because we are an Internet-savvy group these days, especially the target group -- kids and young adults -- who are more and more being diagnosed with food allergies,” he said.
But Field cautioned that no app is foolproof. “You always have to understand where the information is coming from,” he said. “With any app, there is always a chance for error.”
For Chow Checker, that means the Nutritionix database. Although it’s updated daily, it doesn’t include food recall information, which can be an issue when food is recalled because of undeclared allergens.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
pierrephoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Many people think teenage drivers are the most reckless segment of the driving public when it comes to using their phones while behind the wheel, but a new study seems to contradict that belief. Either that, or the teens who participated in the survey lied to researchers.
According to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 43 percent of adults ages 25-39 reported using a phone "fairly often or regularly," while driving within the past month.
That’s compared with only 20 percent of teens and 15 percent of adults ages 60-74.
When the study specifically asked about sending a text or email while driving, adults ages 25-39 once again led the pack, with 45 percent admitting to having done so recently, and 10 percent doing so regularly.
Drivers ages 19-24 narrowed the gap in that measure, with 42 percent texting while driving, and 11 percent of that number doing so regularly.
Teens between the ages of 16 and 18 were the least-frequent offenders, with 31 percent texting or emailing recently, seven percent regularly.
Despite motorists of all ages using their phones while driving to some degree, all admit knowing better. According to the study, nearly nine out of 10 motorists believe distracted driving is a bigger problem now than three years ago.
The AAA survey questioned 2,325 drivers for the 2013 Traffic Safety Culture Index.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Bunyos/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If beautiful beaches and great weather aren’t enough to convince you that Hawaii is a great place to live, consider a new study from the United Health Foundation that ranks the Aloha State the healthiest place to live in the U.S.
According to the group’s "2013 America’s Health Rankings," Hawaii is the healthiest state. Vermont, last year's reported No. 1 state, is ranked second.
Hawaii scored well on most measures, including low rates of uninsured individuals, high rates of childhood immunization, and low rates of obesity, smoking and preventable hospitalizations.
Hawaii isn’t a health paradise, though. The foundation notes that while Hawaii is overall the healthiest state in the country, it does have higher-than-average rates of binge drinking and occupational fatalities, and lower-than-average rates of high school graduation.
Minnesota is third on the list of healthy places to live, followed by Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Utah, Connecticut, Colorado, North Dakota and New Jersey round out the top 10.
Mississippi ranks 50th this year, and Arkansas (49), Louisiana (48), Alabama (47) and West Virginia (46) complete the list of the five least-healthy states.
As a nation, things are starting to look up when it comes to our health. This past year, Americans improved in more than two-thirds of the measures used in America's Health Rankings.
The study finds that obesity has leveled off, with 27.6 percent of adults nationwide reporting being obese. Researchers note that while the nationwide rates of physical inactivity, smoking and diabetes were 22.9 percent, 19.6 percent and 9.7 percent, respectively, there's still significant room for improvement in those key health measures.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
puchkovo48/Thinkstock(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Drink up! A new study finds that moderate drinkers have lower mortality rates than people who never touched a drop.
Researchers led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin looked at 1,824 individuals between ages 55 and 65 over a 20-year period and took into account a wide number of variables, including socioeconomic status and level of physical activity.
The study found mortality rates were highest for those who never drank alcohol, lower for heavy drinkers, and lowest for moderate drinkers who enjoyed one to three drinks per day.
Despite the increased risks for cirrhosis, accidents and other issues associated with excessive drinking, the study found 60 percent of heavy drinkers died prematurely, compared to 69 percent of the nondrinkers. Just 41 percent of the moderate drinkers died prematurely.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Courtesy The Day Family(CINCINNATI) -- Patients at a children’s hospital in Cincinnati will have a merrier Christmas this year thanks to a donation of 4,000 toys by one of their own, a 14-year-old undergoing brain surgery.
Savannah Day, of Troutsville, Va., and her two sisters, six-year-old Chloe and 17-year-old Sierra, collected the toys in less than three months after they found out in September that Savannah and their entire family would spend Christmas at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Savannah was diagnosed over the summer with Chiari malformation, an overgrowth of the skull that causes spinal fluid to build up in her brain. She underwent surgery Thursday at the hospital to remove part of the overgrowth and drain the fluid from her brain.
“I think it was in the moment of them finding out that they would be in Ohio for Christmas that they wanted to bring Christmas to everybody else that was here,” the sisters’ mother, Michelle Day, told ABCNews.com today from the hospital.
“They looked at me and said, ‘We’re not going to have a Christmas so we want to take Christmas to everyone that’s not going to have a Christmas like us,’” said Day, who was told by the hospital that there would be 500 patients at Christmas.
“I told the girls, and they never flinched and said, ‘We’ll just ask more people, Mom,’” she said.
The Day sisters, all three cheerleaders, started a Facebook page -- “Cheer 4 Savannah” -- and spread the word through their respective cheerleading squads.
Soon the cheerleaders of opposing teams, local companies and even Little League teams were donating to the cause.
“Toys have just been coming to the house,” Day said. “My husband’s employer agreed to house them so we’ve just been sorting, labeling and boxing them.”
It quickly became clear that the girls would far exceed their original goal of 500 toys. By the time the family was ready to leave for Cincinnati, there were 4,000 toys in all and a local tractor-trailer company volunteered to drive the toys to the hospital.
On Wednesday, Savannah and her sisters presented the toys to hospital officials. The toys were distributed Thursday to current hospital patients and one will be given to every new patient between now and Christmas. With the leftover toys, the hospital plans to re-stock its playrooms.
The Day girls’ involvement in cheerleading led another sponsor, Varsity.com, to step forward and offer a way to keep the family’s mission going. The cheer-focused company has created $5 “Cheer 4 Savannah” buttons that they plan to sell at cheerleading competitions and donate 100 percent of the profits to the “Cheer 4 Savannah” foundation the Day family plans to establish.
“That the girls are going to pay it forward after Savannah recovers, there’s just not words for that,” Day said. “The girls can keep buying toys to bring smiles to kids’ faces.”
If all goes well with Savannah’s surgery Thursday, her mom says she hopes to be back on the competitive cheerleading circuit in time for Nationals in the spring. By then, she’ll also be ready to buy more toys for patients who will be going through what she’s going through now.
“The girls are really ecstatic that their journey hasn’t ended,” Day said. “It’s really just begun.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Courtesy Alexandra Drane/Engage with Grace(NEW YORK) -- "Talking about sex won't make you pregnant and talking about death won't kill you," says Alexandra Drane, the founder of Engage With Grace. She's on a mission to encourage families to have "The Conversation" about end-of-life wishes. She is part of a growing movement -- and for her it's personal.
When Alexandra Drane was just 32, her beloved sister-in-law, Rosaria "Za" Vandenberg, a vivacious 32-year-old wife and mother of a 2-year-old girl, was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer.
The family had never spoken with her about her end-of-life wishes.
"We had no idea what she wanted because we never had the conversation with her about what her preferences would be, and we didn't because we never thought we would need to," said Drane.
While 70 percent of people say they would like to die at home, only 30 percent do, according to The Conversation Project. So crusaders such as Drane, an advocate for having a conversation about what our loved ones would want at the end of their lives and co-founder of the group Engage with Grace, are coming forward to share their own stories. They hope to make clear why it is so important for people to discuss their end-of-life options in advance with the people they love.
Just seven months after she was diagnosed, Za was clinging to life in a hospital bed, not having touched or held her daughter in two months, not opening her eyes in weeks. Drane and Za's other family members wanted to take her home, but the oncologists resisted.
"The head oncologist said, 'No, her case is too complicated,'" Drane said. "I said, 'OK,' and I will forever be grateful to my man, her brother, who stood at that moment and said, 'No, we are taking her home.' And so we did."
When Za was surrounded by the familiar comforts of her own home, her daughter Alessia -- who had been afraid to come near her mother in the midst of the hospital tubes -- climbed up in bed next to her.
"I will never forget, she tucked her head right there under the crook of her mommy's neck, that special spot, and she gave her mom her medicine -- something she hadn't done in well over two months," Drane said. "And Za, my sister-in-law who had not opened her eyes in at least a week, woke up fully and looked her daughter straight in the eyes and loved her in that ferociously intense way that only a mommy can."
The next day, Za died.
"The most incredible thing for me as more time has passed and I can look back on it and really think without dissolving is I'm so grateful that we got Za home ... because we know now when we look back that her last moments were peaceful, they were beautiful. They were with her daughter. That Alessia will know for the rest of her life that she was the last thing her mom saw. And we almost weren't able to give her that gift and that tortures me."
Drane co-founded Engage with Grace to help other families have conversations about end-of-life care before their loved ones get sick -- so they can avoid gut wrenching decisions that she and her family had to face when Za fell ill.
According to The Conversation Project, depression rates plummet among surviving family members when they're able to carry out the wishes of their loved ones who have died.
"This is a conversation that you can have with friends at a dinner table, you can have on a walk with a family member, you can go on a date with expressly this purpose," said Drane. "There is no greater gift you can give the people that you love than caring for them in the way that they would want at the end of their lives."
According to Drane, the holidays are a perfect opportunity to have the conversation.
"You only die once, die the way you want," Drane said. "You are never too young to have the conversation, and now is a good a moment as any other."
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Flu season is here, and federal health officials are urging Americans to get vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that last year, the flu vaccine prevented 6.6 million Americans from getting sick and resulted in 3.2 million fewer doctor visits.
According to the CDC, this year, about 40% of people reported getting the flu vaccine by mid November, which is about three percentage points higher than that time last year.
But Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, says flu activity could get worse as we head into winter.
"We're not where we were last year. Last year, we'd already had quite a lot of disease, but we really don't know what this flu season will be like, because most years, in 90% of years, the flu peaks between January and March," Dr. Schuchat said.
But don't worry - CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says there is still time to get immunized.
"Vaccinations ideally should occur before flu is circulating widely but as long as flu is still spreading, it's not too late to get vaccinated," Dr. Frieden said. "Flu vaccine in a vial doesn't do anyone any good. The more people the vaccinated, the more benefit to individuals, the fewer the hospitalizations, the fewer the illnesses and deaths."
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Heather Smith, her husband John, and son Taylor Dahley, who has lived for 18 years with SCID-X1. (Courtesy of Heather Smith)(NEW YORK) -- Heather Smith carries a recessive gene for a rare sex-linked primary immune deficiency disease that kills most boys before they are 1 year old, and she passed it on to her two sons.
Her oldest, Brandon, behaved like a normal, healthy baby until he was about six months old and couldn't fight off his first cold. He had trouble eating, he developed a rash on his face and thrush in his mouth, and his fingernails turned blue.
Brandon died within three weeks of being hospitalized in 1993 of severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID-X1, commonly known as "bubble boy disease." It was so named for David Vetter, a Texas child with SCID-X1, who died in 1984 after living for 12 years in a germ-free plastic bubble.
"I had seen the movie [The Boy in the Plastic Bubble] with John Travolta, but I never dreamed I would someday lose my first-born child to this devastating disease," said Smith, founder of SCID-Angels for Life, which successfully pushed for mandatory screening of all newborns for the disease in her home state of Florida.
"[A bone transplant] wasn't even an option presented to us for consideration," she said. "Instead, we were told that we had to say goodbye to our only child and turn off the machines."
After genetic testing, Smith's son Taylor was born in 1995, and because of early detection, he received the first-ever in-utero bone marrow cell transplant, previously only done on sheep. Today, at 18, he is "thriving," according to his mother and leads a normal life. He's now preparing to go to college.
Taylor receives infusions of gamma globulin, a blood product that helps his immune system fight off infection.
"It's a treatment, not a cure," Smith, 45, told ABC News. "He will take it for the rest of his life. He still has a defective gene."
But now, an international consortium of scientists has perfected gene therapy in promising clinical trials that they say may lead to an eventual long-term cure for SCID-X1.
Eight out of nine children given gene therapy in the study -- all age 3 and younger and living around the world -- fighting off everyday germs that once might have killed them. They have been cancer-free for between nine and 36 months.
"These boys are basically born without any immune system and are not able to fight off even a cold," said Dr. David A. Williams, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist who directs the gene therapy program at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
The U.S. study sites are Dana-Farber/Boston Children's, Cincinnati Children's Hospital and UCLA. They are being funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute's Product Assistance for Cellular Therapies Program.
The standard treatment for boys with SCID-X1 is stem cell or bone marrow transplantation. That works well when there is a sibling who matches or if it's done before a child contracts an infection.
But problems happen graft versus host disease develops and the incoming immune system attacks the child's own cells, or when the graft just doesn't take.
"This is the potential advantage in the experimental trials," said Williams. "Since you are using the child's own cells, there is no search for a donor. The child is its own donor."
Gene therapy works by taking stem cells from the child's own bone marrow, correcting the IL-2 common gamma chain receptor gene, then reintroducing the cells back into the child.
There, the genetically engineered stem cells multiply and produce normal immune cells.
Heather Smith said she was hesitant to "take a risk" and consider gene therapy for Taylor in the future, even if he were a good candidate.
"Other than getting infusions every three weeks, he feels like he lives a totally normal life," she said. "His quality of life is so good."
But for other young children down the road, she said, "it's extremely exciting if this leads to a cure."
An estimated 250,000 people in the United States have one of the 185 primary immunodeficiency diseases, according to the Immune Deficiency Foundation.
There are several forms of SCID, but the most common type is linked to the X-chromosome and affects only males. Unlike boys, who have a Y chromosome, girls have a second X chromosome that is able to function for the faulty one.
Boys with SCID-X1 have a severe defect in both the T- and B-lymphocyte systems, causing serious and sometimes life-threatening infections within the first few years of life, including pneumonia, meningitis or bloodstream infections.
In two previous gene therapy trials in Paris and London, 18 of the 20 boys had a complete repair of their immune system, according to Williams, but five developed cancer as a consequence of the virus vector used to deliver the "payload" of repaired gene.
As a result the Food and Drug Administration stopped the trial for child patients in the United States. But in the latest trial, based in Germany, Britain and the United States, scientists "fished out where the vector landed and saw that it was next to a gene that was oncogenic (cancer-causing)," said Williams.
Now, they have changed the virus vector to deliver the repaired gene more safely.
"The bottom line is the vector seems to work as well as the old vector," he said. "We have to wait longer to know whether any of the children develop leukemia before we can say for sure."
The two children who have been in the study the longest have been cancer-free for more three years, which is about the point those in the previous studies had developed the cancer.
The findings of the Dana-Farber/Boston Children's study were presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in New Orleans by pediatric hematologist/oncologist Dr. Sung-Yun Pai.
She treats 6-year-old Aidan Seymour of Springfield, Mass., who was diagnosed with SCID-X1 at the age of seven months. At the time, gene therapy was not available, so he underwent a successful blood cord transplant, which can be done with an unmatched donor. In order to minimize the risk for graft versus host disease, he had chemotherapy first.
"We had hope, but there was risk," said his mother, Kirstin Seymour, 37. "It is an art, not a science."
At the time, a cord transplant seemed the best option.
"I can say as a parent, that if I had had that opportunity for gene therapy, 100 percent it would probably have been my course of action," she said.
Today, Aiden is doing well and takes no medications, but Seymour worries about whether Aidan will ever be able to have children or if he will develop a secondary cancer because of chemotherapy. "At this point, they say he should be able to live a long, happy, healthy life like everyone else," said Seymour.
But Aidan can never get a second transplant from the blood cord donor because of the anonymous nature of the transplant, so gene therapy might provide promise for him.
"It allows the body to cure itself from its deficits, and that is pretty amazing," said Seymour.
Williams is also optimistic about the research.
"Because this is very experimental in human beings, we can't answer if these children are cured with any surety yet," he said. "But because we put the correction into the blood stem itself and those stem cells last a lifetime, it is likely a long-term correction of the child."
Gene therapy technology may also help children with other genetic diseases, most notably sickle cell anemia.
"One of the great things about this trial is that it has multiple institutions around the world working together," Williams said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
mark wragg/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Older women with a strong family history of breast cancer might soon have a new, safer option to help them avoid developing the disease.
New research led by Dr. Jack Cuzick, head of the Cancer Research the U.K.’s Center for Cancer Prevention, looked at a drug called anastrozole, a therapy already used to stave off breast cancer recurrence in postmenopausal women who have experienced the disease.
Among the questions Cuzick and his team hoped to answer was whether the same therapy could help prevent breast cancer in women who never had the disease but have a high risk of developing it.
To answer this question, they studied more than 3,800 women in 18 countries who had a strong family history of the disease -- at least two relatives with breast cancer, for example, or women whose mother or sister developed the disease at a young age.
The researchers found that a daily anastrazole pill cut breast cancer incidence in these women by more than half -- 53 percent -- with few side effects.
“The biggest surprise of our study was that the side effects were less than expected,” Cuzick said.
Cuzick presented the new study Wednesday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. The study also appears in the journal Lancet.
This would not be the first drug to be used to prevent breast cancer in women who have a high risk of the disease; a small number of women take drugs like tamoxifen and raloxifene for this purpose. But their side effects, which include an elevated risk for blood clots, stroke and other cancers, keep many women away from such treatments.
While anastrazole is not without its side effects, the hot flashes and joint pain that accompany its use are generally considered to be less severe than other more serious issues.
Doctors not involved with the study said the findings were promising. Dr. Angel Rodriguez, a breast cancer doctor at Houston’s Methodist Cancer Center, said that based on this study, he will start using the drug for this purpose in his patients.
“We need to raise awareness that medications to prevent cancer exist,” Rodriguez said. “It is vastly underutilized in the world. This study further validates their safety -- a major concern for most prescribers.”
Dr. Lawrence Wickerham, chief of cancer genetics and prevention at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, agreed that the finding could change clinical practice.
“The results will provide an additional option for postmenopausal women to decrease their risk of developing breast cancer,” he said.
Not all doctors agreed, however, that all women who could potentially benefit from this treatment would be willing to endure the side effects of the drug.
“Asking women to take a daily pill to prevent breast cancer is a hard sell, particularly when there is an undertow of other concerns that arise with taking the pill,” said Dr. Michael Fisch, chair of medical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
BananaStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If you think no harm can befall you while you're swashbuckling in the virtual world, you might want to take heed of a sobering new report.
A recent case study published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports found that one man developed a potentially life-threatening condition after playing video games for eight hours a day for four days straight.
The unidentified patient, who played while in bed, sought medical help after noticing swelling and pain in his legs. Doctors found that he had deep vein thrombosis and had multiple blood clots in his legs.
Deep vein thrombosis usually occurs when a person is sedentary or still for long periods of time and can lead to a life-threatening pulmonary embolism if a blood clot forms in the leg and travels to the lung.
If a patient with a pulmonary embolism is not treated, the condition is fatal approximately 30 percent of the time, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The man in the case study, an exterior painter, first noticed symptoms into his second day of game playing but didn’t seek medical attention for another 48 hours, according to the report. In spite of the delay in treatment, doctors were able to dissolve the clots with medications.
As people spend more and more time playing video games, some experts are now concerned that there could be a rise in cases of deep vein thrombosis. The authors of the case study recommended further research to study the effects of game playing on the body.
According to a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation examining media usage by teens, daily video game use by teens has risen from 26 minutes per day in 1999 to an hour and 13 minutes in 2010.
In 2011, a British man died from a pulmonary embolism after playing video games up to 12 hours per day.
Experts say that unlike television or other sedentary activities, video games encourage people to stay still to finish a game.
“One thing about video games is it requires that you’re doing things and attending to it,” said Joe Hilgard, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Psychological Sciences at University of Missouri. "It can be harder to walk around the room than say if you were watching T.V.”
Additionally, Hilgard said that playing the game could have helped the patient ignore his symptoms.
“There’s something about games that’s a little anesthetic,” said Hilgard, who points out video games are sometimes used to soothe children in the hospital because the games can distract players.
Cardiologists say in cases where a person appears to suddenly develop blood clots on a long-distance flight or other common activity such as playing video games, it often indicates that the person had secondary risk factors.
Dr. Gregory Piazza, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said risk factors such as smoking, taking birth-control pills or having hormonal problems can lead to greater risks of developing pulmonary embolisms.
To avoid deep vein thrombosis, people should avoid being sedentary and be sure to move around if they are on a long flight. Piazza said people should also listen to their body so that they can seek treatment early if they have symptoms.
“It’ll be a few a days before they interpret the symptoms as something they need to see a health care provider for,” said Piazza. “They may think it’s attributable to sleeping in the wrong position. ... It’s only after the symptoms persist” that they seek a doctor.
Common symptoms for deep vein thrombosis include swelling of the leg, pain in the lower or upper extremities or feeling like one shoe is too tight, Piazza said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
fotofermer/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Excess may be one of the keys to success at work.
Harvard Business Review columnist Andrew O'Connell says there's a lot of data to back up his theory that people who understand social science can figure out how to impress people in the workplace and as a result, move up the corporate ladder faster.
One way of surrounding yourself with the trappings of success, according to O'Connell, is bringing super-sized food items to the job.
He writes that carrying around a 24-ounce cup of coffee or even ordering an extra large pizza might demonstrate to others that you're preparing for bigger and better things.
O'Connell also points to a University of Pennsylvania study about appearances and how men who shave their heads or are completely bald are viewed as taller and more powerful, images that certainly work to the advantage of ambitious male employees.
The bottom line, according to O'Connell, is that a keen awareness of social science is an important tool for those who want to succeed in business by really, really trying.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
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