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Cancer, Health Costs, In the News, Stanford News, Videos

An initiative to deliver more compassionate and affordable advanced cancer care






This 9-minute video report from Al Jazzera America’s “America Tonight” offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of veterans suffering from advanced cancer, as they discuss end-of-life issues with their care providers at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.

More than 200 late-stage cancer patients are participating in this Stanford-designed pilot study. Its goal is to improve the quality of life of these patients, while simultaneously reducing the costs of 11th-hour treatments that might not offer life-extending or life-enhancing benefits.

The driving force behind this study is Manali Patel, MD, a young Stanford oncologist who designed the plan with three others during her fellowship year at the Stanford Clinical Excellence Research Center, called CERC. The Center’s mission includes tests of its innovative care concepts at diverse U.S. health-care sites, in order evaluate and refine them prior to advocating widespread adoption.

The video focuses on one of three major components of the new CERC-designed approach to cancer care. The first is earlier patient counseling and shared decision-making about treatment options, well before a patient is on the brink of death, when emotions overwhelm the decision-making skills of patients, families and clinicians.

These difficult discussions don’t happen as often as they should, as I wrote in a 2012 Stanford Medicine magazine article on topic:

According to a recent study, end-of-life discussions typically take place only 33 days before death. With Patel’s proposed cancer care model, patients would be thoroughly briefed on the survival odds and side effects before being rushed off to surgery or chemotherapy. Many months before the family is gathered around a loved one’s deathbed, a person’s final wishes – resuscitation, feeding tubes, assisted breathing and whether a person wants to die at home – would be well-informed and documented.

Other pilot sites tests are in the process of implementing various components of the new approach. Last week Patel provided an update on these new cancer-care pilots:

And finally, an update on the cancer patients featured in the video: former Army police officer Rafael Arias, who chose to skip a final round of chemotherapy, recently passed away peacefully at his home. Timothy Blumberg is still in remission.

Previously: Uncommon hero: A young oncologist fights for more humane cancer careTV spot features a more humane approach to late-stage cancer care, “Stop skipping dessert:” A Stanford neurosurgeon and cancer patient discusses facing terminal illness
Video courtesy of Al Jazzera America

Global Health, Health Policy, In the News, Infectious Disease

President Obama and Indian Prime Minister praise partnership that led to rotavirus vaccine

President Obama and Indian Prime Minister praise partnership that led to rotavirus vaccine

Barack_Obama_talks_with_Narendra_ModiDuring his three-day visit to India, President Barack Obama issued a joint statement with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi praising the “highly successful collaboration” that led to the availability of a newly developed Indian rotavirus vaccine, which is expected to save 80,000 children in India alone each year.

The vaccine was developed with support from the Indo-U.S. Vaccine Action Program, co-chaired since 2009 by Harry Greenberg, MD, senior associate dean for research at the Stanford School of Medicine. Greenberg was the lead inventor of the first-generation vaccine for rotavirus, a severe diarrheal disease that kills between 300,000 and 400,000 children each in the developing world.

“This is the VAP’s biggest accomplishment to date,” Greenberg told me from Taiwan, where he is attending a conference. “The program really helped support the development of a new safe and effective rotavirus vaccine from the start to finish. And it’s the first time ever that a new vaccine was developed in a less developed country by and for that country and became licensed.”

The vaccine initiative, funded by the U.S. Public Health Service and the Indian government, was created in 1987 to help advance the development of new vaccines of importance to India. The NIH manages research grants in the United States for the vaccine program.

“The VAP has been the most successful, continuous program we have with India,” Roger Glass, MD, PhD, director of the NIH’s Fogarty International Center, wrote in an email from India to top NIH officials. “It’s amazing to me that this little research project on rotavirus with Harry Greenberg and George Curlin (former deputy director of NIH’s Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases) has turned into a real product that is being launched and will be used.”

A low-cost version of the vaccine, known as Rotavac, is being manufactured in India and was launched into the marketplace on Jan. 23, Greenberg said. It was the result of an unusual team effort involving diverse multinational groups of investigators from 13 institutions seeking to create a vaccine that was not only safe and effective, but also affordable enough for use in India and other low-income countries, Greenberg said. The Indian government is negotiating to purchase the vaccine for public distribution. The vaccine also will compete in the private market against at least two other commercially available vaccines.

In the joint statement, the two world leaders pledged continued support for the vaccine program, and Greenberg, who recently stepped down from his chairmanship, made an argument for now focusing the attention of the vaccine partnership on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a potentially serious lung disease that is prevalent in children in India and in other regions as well.

“RSV is an incredibly important pediatric pathogen all over the world, and there is now potential for great progress,” Greenberg said. “I suggested to VAP that it think about RSV as a new target for research. It has a huge public impact and it may well be that there are great advances to be made in the near future. I think that idea resonated with the people. We will see.”

Previously: Life-saving dollar-a-dose rotavirus vaccine attains clinical success in advanced India trial and Trials, and tribulations, of a rotavirus vaccine
Photo courtesy of The White House

In the News, Infectious Disease, Pediatrics, Public Health

Infectious disease expert discusses concerns about undervaccination and California’s measles outbreak

Infectious disease expert discusses concerns about undervaccination and California's measles outbreak

3480352546_ab985b66a6_zStanford’s Yvonne Maldonado, MD, who heads up Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford infectious disease team, weighed in on California’s measles outbreak last week on KQED’s Forum program.

The state reported 59 confirmed measles cases following an outbreak at Disneyland in December and fueled by high rates of under-vaccination.

“Measles is one of the most infectious viruses in humans that we know of,” Maldonado said. Spread by tiny droplets, measles remains contagious in a room for up to two hours after an infected person has left, she said.

At first, the disease appears like a lot of childhood diseases with three primary symptoms, what doctors call the “3 c’s,” — cough, coryza (runny nose) and conjunctivitis (red, watery eyes). The disease also produces fever, the charactoristic rash and in rare cases, pneumonia or other complications.

“It is not a simple, easy disease to deal with,” Maldonado said.

All children should receive two doses of the vaccine, which is 99 percent effective at preventing the disease, Maldonado said.

Adults who are born after 1957 and do not believe they have had measles, or a vaccine, should also be checked. Although measles has been basically eliminated in the U.S., it is prevalent in other countries and under-vaccination  can lead to outbreaks, the researchers said.

Previously: Measles is disappearing from the Western hemisphere, Measles are on the rise; now’s the time to vaccinate, says infectious-disease expert and A look at the causes and potential cost of the U.S. measles outbreaks 
Photo by Dave Haygarth

Addiction, Health Policy, In the News, Pediatrics

To protect teens’ health, marijuana should not be legalized, says American Academy of Pediatrics

To protect teens' health, marijuana should not be legalized, says American Academy of Pediatrics

teen smoking Today, the country’s most prominent group of pediatricians issued a policy statement that opposes marijuana legalization and advocates for policies to help minimize the drug’s harmful effects on children and adolescents. The new statement, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, was written in response to recent research on adolescent brain development and the biology of addiction, as well as a changing national climate on marijuana laws.

I spoke with Stanford’s Seth Ammerman, MD, an adolescent medicine specialist and the lead author of the new statement and accompanying technical report. Ammerman studies substance-use issues in youth and also has extensive experience working with at-risk young people, in part through his role as medical director of the Adolescent Health Van run by Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

“The national trend is definitely toward more medical marijuana, and also toward legalization for adults,” he said. “This trend can definitely affect kids, so it was really important for the Academy to have a voice, to be working on a national conversation about this.”

During our conversation, Ammerman explained some of the latest research that has motivated the AAP’s stance against marijuana legalization:

In the past decade, we’ve learned that brain development doesn’t finish until one’s early to mid-20s, and substance use can alter the developing brain. There are a few ways we know this: One, there’s clear evidence that the younger you start using drugs regularly, the more likely you are to become addicted. This is true for alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, among others. For those who put off substance use until their late teens or early 20s, addiction rates are significantly lower.

We also know that the developing brain is very vulnerable to substance use. One in 10 adolescents who use marijuana become addicted. That means that 90 percent won’t — which is the good news — but the problem is we can’t predict which 10 percent will develop addiction.

We also have a lot of research about the adverse effects of marijuana use. Heavy users fare worse in many ways: their cognitive levels fall, they are less likely to finish high school or attend college, and they tend to suffer more from depression. Most users are not heavy users, but again, we can’t predict who will fall into this category.

The AAP is also in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, replacing current criminal penalties with lesser criminal or civil penalties and drug treatment. This is an especially important step to reduce the long-term damage to educational and job opportunities that currently comes with marijuana arrests, Ammerman said, adding: “There is a significant problem of racial inequity associated with marijuana arrests: minorities are way over-arrested and their lives are messed up because of marijuana arrests. It’s a very important step to say we need to help kids, not punish them.”

Previously: Medical marijuana not safe for kids, Packard Children’s doc says, Pediatrics group calls for stricter limits on tobacco advertising and To reduce use, educate teens on the risks of marijuana and prescription drugs

Photo by mexico rosel

Events, In the News, Medical Education, Medicine and Society

Intel’s Rosalind Hudnell kicks off Dean’s Lecture Series on diversity

Intel's Rosalind Hudnell kicks off Dean's Lecture Series on diversity

STANFORD, CA - JANUARY 23, 2015--Rosalind Hudnell ? Chief Diversity Officer, Global Director of Education and External Relations at Intel Corporation, gives a speech on the Fresh Perspectives on Diversity at Dean?s Lecture Series on Friday, January 23, 2015, at Stanford School of Medicine at Berg Hall. ( Norbert von der Groeben/ Stanford School of Medicine )

In 1971, just three years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., ninth-grader Lloyd B. Minor was bussed from his white Little Rock, Arkansas neighborhood to a formerly black school. What he saw there stuck in his memory: Plaster peeled off the walls, and the library had only a few tattered books.

“What I had been told was separate but equal was certainly separate, but in no way was it equal,” Minor said. “That caused me then to see that diversity is a moral imperative.”

Now, as dean of Stanford’s School of Medicine, Minor, MD, has made diversity the initial focus of the newly launched Dean’s Lecture Series.

“Diversity is at the core of everything we do,” Minor said at the inaugural lecture last Friday. “To be a highly performing organization, we have to embrace diversity because… creativity doesn’t come from a monolithic, stereotypic focus.”

The featured speaker at the first lecture was Rosalind Hudnell, chief diversity officer and global director of education and external relations at Intel.

“I’m so jealous of the representation of women and people of color in medicine,” Hudnell told the audience. Nearly every child wants, maybe just for a moment, to be a doctor, inspired by the respect the profession commands in society and its portrayal on popular television shows from Marcus Welby, M.D. to Grey’s Anatomy, she said. By contrast, about 40 percent of college students drop out of engineering after the first year.

In 2013, Intel’s approximately 100,000 employees were 76 percent male and 86 percent white or Asian, and Hudnell said Intel has been working hard to diversify its workforce. The company recently captured headlines by pledging $300 million over three years to recruit and retain more minorities and women.

“We’ve spent the last decade building capability,” Hudnell explained. “Then, we stepped back and said, ‘So, why aren’t we better?’”

The key is to set goals and hold everyone accountable, she said. Now, Intel is committed to reaching market representation across its workforce by 2020. Hudnell admitted she isn’t quite sure how that’s going to happen, but she’s confident it will. “It’s time to use our capability and lead.”

And in that regard, she believes Stanford’s School of Medicine has an advantage. “I think, quite frankly, you are incredibly blessed and lucky to have a leader who truly gets it,” Hudnell commented. “It really does take a consistent, resilient leader… They must have a personal belief in their soul and in their DNA that diversity is the ultimate goal.”

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Complementary Medicine, In the News, Mental Health, Pediatrics, Research, Stanford News

Stanford researchers to study effectiveness of yoga-based wellness program at local schools

Stanford researchers to study effectiveness of yoga-based wellness program at local schools

kids_yogaManaging stress and making healthy choices is a daily struggle for many of us. But what if way back in elementary school we had learned resiliency skills and mind-body practices to cope with anxiety, reduce incidents of bulling and violence, and boost our cognitive ability? Would this training have helped us keep our flight-or-fight response in check and live healthier lives?

A four-year study conducted by researchers at Stanford aims to answer these questions. The project will evaluate a yoga-based health and wellness program involving 3,400 students at the Ravenswood City School District. The program, which has been funded for three years by the Sonima Foundation, includes exercise-based on yoga, basic fitness regimes, relaxation techniques, mindfulness practices and nutrition. As the San Jose Mercury News reports:

The plan is to employ a multi-method approach that involves biology, physiology and psychology — a complete bio-psychosocial assessment — to measure [students’] emotions and behavior, academic and cognitive strengths and weaknesses, brain activity and structure, stress-related hormone levels, and sleep patterns.

“We’re really looking forward to a year from now — when I tell you this is effective — for you not to only take it on my word, but for you to also have data,” said Dr. Victor Carrion, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at [Stanford].

Carrion is also the director of the Stanford Early Life Stress and Pediatric Anxiety Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

In 2012, he launched a mindfulness program in the Ravenswood City School District to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in teens that was featured on a PBS NewsHour segment. Jones and his wife happened to catch the broadcast, and because Carrion has done pro bono work with students and parents in the community for years, the partnership between the district, Stanford and the Sonima Foundation was forged.

The four-year study is also in partnership with the Center for Education Policy and Law at the University of San Diego.

“This is something that for years has been a gap in our educational system,” Carrion said. “There’s nothing… that teaches children to socialize and to be in touch with their emotions and to take care of their inner health.”

Previously: Stanford researchers use yoga to help underserved youth manage stress and gain focus, Yoga classes may boost high-school students’ mental well-being and Study shows meditation may lower teens’ risk of developing heart disease
Photo by Nicole Mark

In the News, Medicine and Society

The medical community and complicity: Our role in the Eric Garner case

The medical community and complicity: Our role in the Eric Garner case

die-in photo2Last week, more than one hundred Stanford graduate and medical students gathered to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and remember the lives of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. On a white board that proclaimed “Black Lives Matter,” attendees wrote their thoughts. On the board, I wrote “Keep the conversation going,” and as part of that effort I’d like to examine one instance where the practice of medicine is deeply entwined, for good and bad, in the movement for equality.

Over the past several months, the role of racial bias in policing practices and the judicial system has been the subject of extensive discussion and protest, but what hasn’t been adequately discussed is the lesson in this for medical professionals. A catalyzing event for our national discussion has been the video footage of police use of a chokehold and its role in the death of Garner. However, there is a second video from the same incident that warrants scrutiny, particularly from the medical community.

The second video follows the minutes after Garner’s death. After prolonged moments of police prodding and the encouraging of his motionless handcuffed body to cooperate, emergency medical services arrive on the scene. In gloved hands and comforting voices, they appear to very briefly check for a pulse and then encourage Garner, unconscious, to cooperate with getting onto a stretcher.

In the background an observer asks why Garner is not receiving CPR, and a police officer replies, “He’s still breathing.” Given the video, it’s unclear whether or not Garner was actually breathing. What is clear is that progressing from a witnessed loss of consciousness, he eventually entered respiratory arrest followed by cardiac arrest in the presence of multiple medical and police personnel trained in CPR. To perform CPR in such an instance is standard of care and may have saved his life, but basic life support was not performed. Why? And I wonder: Would CPR have been administered if Garner had been white?

There were likely a complex mixture of assumptions, prejudices, and biases that led these health-care workers to not act to save Garner. There is no evidence of overt malice, but race, socio-economics, and deference to the authority of the police all likely played a role in influencing the medics’ actions, or lack of action. As they arrived on the scene, did the medics believe that CPR would just delay the inevitable? Were they worried of offending the authority of the police and exposing the police’s failure to initiate CPR? As medical professionals, we must learn from this incident and begin to recognize and dismantle our own prejudices and biases, wherever we may find them.

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In the News, Medicine and Society, Parenting, Pediatrics, Pregnancy, Stanford News

Grandparents update their baby skills at children’s hospital

Grandparents update their baby skills at children's hospital

2057241787_0f89a0276f_zThe past century has been flooded with trends and new information surrounding pregnancy, birth, and infant care. From doctors Spock, Lamaze, and Bradley in the ’50s, to the promotion of new technologies such as epidural anesthesia and formula feeding in the ’60s, through various iterations of the natural birth movement in the 70’s and 80’s… From the licensing of non-hospital midwives in the 90’s, to the boom in doulas in the 2000s, through the proliferation of maternity apps in this decade, the “right way” to bring a baby into the world has evolved.

To get grandparents updated on their baby knowledge, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital sponsors a “Grandparents’ Seminar” as part of its course offerings. As a recent San Francisco Chronicle article notes,”Hospitals commonly offer classes in labor, lactation and baby CPR. But adding grandparents to the mix is a modern twist. It used to be that grandparents didn’t go to classes for advice. They dispensed it.”

The two-hour course covers infant safety, sleep, and feeding. Though most of the class participants were conscientious and up-to-date when they were raising their own children, some accepted practices have changed – babies are now swaddled tightly like burritos, laid to sleep on their backs without pillows, and exclusively breastfed when possible. Umbilical cords are cleaned with water instead of alcohol, the specifications for car seats have changed dramatically, and there is a potentially overwhelming array of new products on the market. Medical communities are increasingly becoming aware of perinatal mood disorders, and informing patients about practices that were once “fringe” – like co-sleeping and intervention-free birth.

The course also touches on the complex emotional issues that come with becoming a grandparent, and offers advice on etiquette – which the course instructor, Marilyn Swarts, a labor and deliver nurse and nurse manager quoted in by the Chronicle, sums up with “Seal your lips.” Parents want their parents involved with the baby, but they also want autonomy and to incorporate modern care practices. Indeed, many people who take the course learned about it through their children.

Swarts has been teaching the course for the nearly ten years it has been offered. In a 2009 interview with a grandparenting blog, she said:

It’s so hard because we’re still in the parent mode and just want to help our children, but they must learn for themselves. Better to ask them: What do you think would be a good solution? I want grandparents to empower the new parents, help them believe they’re the best parents for their child and make them feel comfortable and confident in their new roles.

Related: Classroom catch-up for expectant grandparents
Photo by surlygirl

Events, In the News, Public Safety, Stanford News

Stanford biomedical community shows support for those affected by police violence

Stanford biomedical community shows support for those affected by police violence

group on ground - 560

Scores of biomedical students, researchers, faculty and staff  staged a “die-in” yesterday to protest excessive police violence against people of color.

Clad in black “BlackLivesMatter” t-shirts, demonstrators lay down on the medical school’s Discovery Walk while listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The demonstration was organized by the Biomedical Association for the Interest of Minority Students (BioAIMS.)

The demonstration also featured two large posters that prompted viewers to complete the statement “I am privileged because…” or “I have a dream…”

Organizers said they were motivated to stage the demonstration because they felt there wasn’t enough conversation about the issue on the Stanford campus.

The Stanford community is comprised of people with a variety of backgrounds, who come from all sorts of communities, organizer and graduate student Jesus Madrid said. “Do we want to forget what it’s like outside?”

The demonstrators pointed out that violence against minorities is very relevant to biomedical researchers and doctors. “People getting killed is absolutely medically relevant,” said graduate student and organizer Tawaun Lucas.

In addition, it takes widespread societal awareness that extends beyond racial groups to promote change, the organizers said.

BioAIMS president Julie Huang said the group was pleased with the turnout, which topped 150 people.

A few voices from the demonstration:

“On a campus like this, we do need to focus on issues that are globally important.”
Sheri Krams, PhD, associate professor of surgery

“I’m new here, and I wanted to inform myself. In Austria, we absolutely have police violence against minorities.”
—Alex Woglar, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow in developmental biology

“It could have been any of us.”
—Tawaun Lucas, graduate student and member of BioAIMS

BioAIMS intends to keep the dialogue ongoing by hosting a series of upcoming events, including “Transitions into Privilege,” a forum scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 22 from 12-1 PM in the fourth floor reading room at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge.

Previously: Community violence can increase risk of heart disease, What happens when people witness violence and death? and Gun safety addressed by editorials in three JAMA journals
Photo by David Purger

CDC, Chronic Disease, Health Policy, In the News, Infectious Disease, Public Health

To screen or not to screen for hepatitis C

Hep CIn the past few years, newer, more effective treatments have been introduced for hepatitis C – a disease that can lead to chronic liver problems and in the worst cases, liver cancer. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended screening for the disease in anyone born between 1945-1965, since about three-quarters of cases occur in this age group, the Baby Boomers. Last year, the World Health Organization also called for more screening for the disease.

But in a recent analysis piece in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), several scientists, including Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis, MD, DSc, lay out the case that universal screening in this age group may not be warranted. A story in the San Francisco Chronicle today quotes Ioannidis:

“The question is whether these aggressive screening policies are justified and whether they would result in more benefit than harm,” said Dr. John Ioannidis...“We know very little about the potential harms of these drugs, especially in the long-term. And we don’t know how they will translate into long-term benefits.”

Ioannidis and his colleagues suggest that instead of rolling out widespread screening programs, researchers, as soon as possible, start a randomized trial to test the usefulness of screening and who may benefit from it.

On top of the medical uncertainties of the new treatments, they’re expensive, costing about $84,000 for the 12-week treatment. But they’ve been shown to cure patients of their hepatitis C infections at the end of that 12 week stint. Not all people who contract the disease will develop chronic infections, but a majority – two-thirds -will. Twenty percent of those cases will go on to develop severe liver disease.

Advocates of universal screening say that the new screening strategy could identify many people who don’t know they’re sick – symptoms from hepatitis C chronic infections can take years to manifest. But Ioannidis and his colleagues note that many people will get unnecessary treatment and that the long-term uncertainties of the treatment should be taken into consideration.

Previously: Despite steep price tag, use of hepatitis C drug among prisoners could save money overallA primer on hepatitis CFor patients with advanced hepatitis C, benefits of new drugs outweigh costsDrugs offer new hope for hepatitis C and Program examines hepatitis C, the “silent epidemic”
Photo of hepatitis C virus by AJ Cann

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