Saturday, September 29, 2007

Children live

New Scientist reports (22 - 28 September 2007) in

Happy Birthdays

Child deaths fall below 10 million for first time, which is also the title of the on-line report..

WHAT a difference a bed net and a few vitamins make. The number of children worldwide who die before the age of five has dropped to below 10 million per year for the first time since records began in 1960. The UN children's fund UNICEF reports that in 1960, on average 184 children died for every thousand born. Last year it was 72 - a fall of 61 per cent.

The riskiest region to be born is west and central Africa, where 186 children per thousand do not reach the age of five, though even there mortality has fallen by nearly 40 per cent since 1960.

Regions with the greatest fall - Latin America, the Caribbean, east Asia and eastern Europe - also had the greatest decline in fertility rates, which have dropped by a third across the developing world since the 1970s. Likewise, regions where child mortality has declined east are also those where birth rates have declined least.

UNICEF attributes most of the fall in deaths to cheap measures like antimalarial bed nets, vitamin A suplemebts, measles vaccination, and increased breast feeding.

Link to UNICEF

Link to New Scientist report [registration required]

Dexter returns

The new series of Dexter (season 2) begins on the cable channel Showtime on Sunday.
You can also see the preview or even download season 1 at the official Dexter site.

Showtime: the official Dexter Site

(RED) donations reach $45 million

OK so some of us were skeptical, thinking that the (RED) program might be more about marketing than charity. But (RED), the initiative launched last year to engage corporate and consumer power in the fight against AIDS in Africa, says that sales of RED-branded products have raised more than $45 million for the Global Fund.

The (RED) contribution to the Fund outstrips pledges from Ireland ($27 million), Australia ($15 million), Denmark ($25 million), Belgium ($16 million) and Switzerland ($5 million) in 2007.

The Global Fund directs (RED) donations to specific AIDS program in Africa with a focus on women and children. $30 million of money donated by (RED) has already reached AIDS program in Rwanda, Swaziland and Ghana, where it is supporting antiretroviral therapy, education and support for vulnerable children, support groups for people living with HIV and new clinics.

(RED) has shown that it is possible to do good business while also doing good. It gives consumers a way to really impact upon the lives of people affected by AIDS in Africa.” said Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund.

According to the (RED) website, the purchase of one i-Pod Nano will finance antiretroviral treatment for an adult for one month. In common with most charity branded credit cards, 1% of total transactions on the (RED) American Express card is donated to the Gobal Fund each month.

Link to Product ( Red )

Friday, September 28, 2007

Assisted suicide

BBC News on line reports (September 27, 2007) in

Assisted suicide fear 'unfounded'

Legalized "physician-assisted death" has not been used to kill people who may be "a burden to society", US research suggests. Some argue that allowing doctors to help people die could lead to the most vulnerable members of society being coerced into ending their lives.

A study, led by Professor Margaret Battin of The University of Utah to be published in the October issue of The Journal of Medical Ethics reports no such evidence in Oregon, US, and the Netherlands which allow assisted dying. The study, examined hundreds of examples of "physician-assisted death" in both locations, looking closely at race, gender, age and medical history.

The average age of people choosing assisted suicide was 70, with most suffering from cancer. There was no sign of any bias towards any other factor, including mental ill health or other chronic illness.

In Oregon, people without health insurance - in theory a far greater burden on their families - were not more likely to be helped to die. The authors wrote: "We found no evidence to justify the grave and important concern often expressed about the potential for abuse."

They said that there were no facts to support the "so-called slippery slope" arguments about new assisted dying laws.

The Pro-life Alliance still warned of the danger of a "slippery slope". "Physician-assisted death" can mean either a form of suicide in which a doctor provides drugs in the knowledge that they will be used to end life, or active euthanasia where the doctor also helps administer those drugs.

A spokeswoman for the Pro-life Alliance said that other studies hinted that vulnerable people were at risk from assisted dying. She said: "There was a 1995 study from the Netherlands which suggested that 900 people had undergone 'involuntary euthanasia'.

"As well as this, data from Oregon in 2005 showed that more than a third of the people who underwent assisted suicide said that one of their reasons for doing so was because they felt a burden to their families. "I think the slippery slope is a real danger."

Link to BBC News story

University of Utah news release


This poignant image by Anthony Russo appears in today's New York Times where it accompanies letter to the editor devoted to the Jena case.

Mr. Walters, the district attorney of LaSalle Parish in Louisiana, states that while he prosecuted six African-American students because they broke the law, he could not pursue a case against the students who hung nooses from a schoolyard tree because their actions “broke no law.”

Hanging a noose constitutes nothing less than a threat of murder that invokes a history of bloody, deadly terror that remains a living memory for many African-Americans.

part of a letter from Barbara Krauthamer, New York

NY Times letters to the Editor

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Risk reduction?

Michael Carter, writing for Aidsmap ( September 27, 2007)

'Risk reduction' strategies don't always prevent HIV infection for gay men

reports over a third of gay men with recent HIV infection due to unprotected anal sex contracted the virus after employing a “risk reduction” strategy, according to an Australian study published in the October 1st edition of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

Some of the methods of perceived risk reduction mentioned by the men were serosorting, insertive unprotected anal sex, and receptive unprotected anal sex with an HIV-positive partner who reported an undetectable viral load. The investigators believe that their study shows that risk reduction is not a substitute for consistent condom use.

The number of gay men reporting unprotected anal sex with casual partners has increased in many countries since the mid-1990s. The extent to which this represents a true increase in the risk of HIV infection is uncertain because men often employ personal strategies to minimize their risk of becoming infected with HIV despite having unprotected anal sex.

Three principal strategies have been reported:

  • The first is serosorting.

    This involves the selection of partners for unprotected anal sex who are known, or believed to be of the same HIV status.

    Serosorting appeared to be widely practiced. Twenty-one (21%) men reported that they were certain that their partner was HIV-negative and18% said they suspected their partner was HIV-negative. Of the 21 men saying they were certain their partner was HIV-negative, ten said that this was a regular partner. The duration of the relationship was under twelve months in most of these cases.
  • The second is strategic positioning.

    This means adopting the less risky role in unprotected sex, for example the HIV-negative partner having insertive sex with a receptive HIV-positive man or man of unknown HIV status.

    Ten men (10%) reported that their highest risk behavior was insertive unprotected anal sex. Of the 21 men who said that they were certain that their partner was HIV-negative, 20 (95%) reported unprotected receptive anal sex.
  • The third involves negotiation about viral load

    This means the HIV-negative partner agreeing to either insertive or receptive anal sex when their HIV-positive partner has an undetectable plasma viral load.

    A total of 21 men said that the viral load of an HIV-positive partner was known to them, and nine of these men said that their partner’s viral load was undetectable. All nine men reported receptive unprotected anal sex.

On the basis of recent seroconverters’ retrospective accounts, serosorting was implicated in 21 HIV infections, strategic positioning in ten infections, and reliance on the undetectable viral load of an HIV-positive partner in nine infections. These 40 attributions of seroconversions to risk reduction strategies…represent 38% of all seroconversions in which unprotected anal intercourse was reported”, comment the investigators.

They believe that their findings have implications for the design of HIV prevention campaigns for gay men, “our data demonstrate that, not infrequently, risk reduction strategies seem to fail to prevent HIV infection on an individual level. This finding should be communicated to populations of gay men who might se these risk reduction strategies as an alternative to the more effective strategy of consistent condom use.”


How homosexual men believe they became infected with HIV: the role of risk-reduction behaviors.
Jin, Fengyi et al
Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. 46(2):245-247, October 1, 2007.

Link to JAIDS abstract

Link to Aidsmap article

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Spiritual wisdom

BBC News on line reports (26 September 2007) in

Shock at archbishop condom claim

The head of the Catholic Church in Mozambique has told the BBC he believes some European-made condoms are infected with HIV deliberately.

Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio claimed some anti-retroviral drugs were also infected "in order to finish quickly the African people".

The BBC's Jose Tembe in the capital, Maputo, says it is estimated that 16.2% of Mozambique's 19m inhabitants are HIV positive.

About 500 people are infected every day.

Archbishop Chimoio told the reporter that abstention, not condoms, was the best way to fight HIV/AIDS.

"Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the virus on purpose," he alleged, refusing to name the countries.

"They want to finish with the African people. This is the program. They want to colonize until up to now. If we are not careful we will finish in one century's time."

Aids activists in the country have been shocked by the archbishop's comments.

"Condoms are one of the best ways of getting protection against catching Aids," said Gabe Judas, who runs Tchivirika (Hard Work) - an theatre group that promotes HIV/Aids awareness.

The BBC correspondent says the archbishop is well respected in the country and the Catholic Church and played a leading role in sponsoring the 1992 peace deal that ended a 16-year civil war.

Some 17.5% of Mozambicans are Catholic.

The UN says anti-retrovirals (ARVs), though not a cure,have proved very effective for treating people with Aids.

Link to BBC News report

New Scientist extract (22 - 28 September 2007)

HIV/AIDS among US Blacks

The Black AIDS Institute has announced the release of its report on HIV/AIDS among U.S. Blacks

We're the Ones We've Been Waiting For: The State of AIDS in Black America ... and What We're Doing About It

According to the Black AIDS Institute, it features statistics on the HIV/AIDS epidemic among blacks; information about CDC testing reforms; and the status of HIV/AIDS, treatment, prevention and mobilization efforts.

"When nearly half of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS are Black, AIDS in America today is a Black disease," said Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute. "We are calling on anyone interested in the well-being of Black people to help build and mobilize a mass Black response against this deadly disease."

Over the last decade, Black people have come to bear the greatest burden of AIDS in America. They represent 54 percent of the new HIV/AIDS cases in America, 70 percent of the new cases among American youth are Black, and nearly 67 percent of the new HIV/AIDS cases among American women are Black, and 43 percent of the new cases among men are Black. Most importantly, the majority of those still dying from AIDS in America, totaling more than 18,000 last year, were Black.

Link to Report [pdf]

Link to Black AIDS Institute

The current issue of the journal AIDS includes a report of a study

Explaining disparities in HIV infection among black and white men who have sex with men: a meta-analysis of HIV risk behaviors.

The researches aimed to identify factors that contribute to the racial disparity in HIV prevalence between black and white men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States.

This was done using a comprehensive literature search of electronic databases, online bibliographies, and publication reference lists which yielded 53 quantitative studies of MSM published between 1980 and 2006 that stratified HIV risk behaviors by race. Meta-analyses were performed to compare HIV risks between black and white MSM across studies.

They found that compared with white MSM, black MSM reported less overall substance use, fewer sex partners, less gay identity, and less disclosure of same sex behavior. HIV-positive black MSM were less likely than HIV-positive white MSM to report taking antiretroviral medications. Sexually transmitted diseases were significantly greater among black MSM than white MSM.

There were no statistically significant differences by race in reported unprotected anal intercourse, commercial sex work, sex with a known HIV-positive partner, or HIV testing history.

The researchers concluded behavioral risk factors for HIV infection do not explain elevated HIV rates among black MSM. Continued emphasis on risk behaviors will have only limited impact on the disproportionate rates of HIV infection among black MSM. Future research should focus on the contribution of other factors, such as social networks, to explain racial disparities in HIV infection rates.


Explaining disparities in HIV infection among black and white men who have sex with men: a meta-analysis of HIV risk behaviors.
Gregorio A. Millett et al

AIDS. 21(15):2083-2091, October 1, 2007.

Link to AIDS abstract

Peter Brookes - TheTimes

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Babel's Doctor Who Tribute: THE MASTER

Doctor Who: A Tribute to Sarah Jane Smith

HIV replication

Michael Carter, wrting for Aidsmap (September 25, 2007) in

HIV replication can continue in the intestines even with successful antiretroviral therapy

reports HIV replication continues in intestinal mucosa even if a patient is taking successful antiretroviral therapy, according to a study published in the October edition of AIDS.

Potent antiretroviral therapy reduces viral load an increases CD4 cell count in peripheral blood. But only 2 - 5% of lymphocyte cells are in peripheral blood, the rest being in lymphoid tissue. Gut-associated lymphoid tissue is the largest lymphoid organ and according to the researchers, “is extremely permissive of HIV-1 infection and supportive of HIV-1 replication, providing a persistent viral reservoir.”

Studies have previously shown that HIV replication persists in lymphoid tissue for at least two years, despite the complete suppression of viral load in the blood with antiretroviral therapy. Although the presence of HIV in intestinal mucosa has been demonstrated, there are few data illustrative of the effects of potent anti-HIV therapy on such tissue.

“Our results show that HIV RNA can be detected in patients with successful highly active antiretroviral therapy, confirming that residual HIV reservoirs remain in spite of successful treatment”, comment the investigators. They add, “the detection of HIV in the duodenum was not influenced by treatment.”

The investigators conclude, “in our study, the plasma viral load did not predict the presence of HIV-1 RNA in the duodenum. These data suggest that the intestinal mucosa can be a reservoir that is not influenced by levels of plasma viral load or antiretroviral therapy. Ongoing HIV replication in the intestine may be a source that repopulates the body with virus after therapy is withdrawn.”


The intestinal mucosa as a reservoir of HIV-1 infection after successful HAART.
Belmonte, Liliana et al
AIDS. 21(15):2106-2108, October 1, 2007.

Link to AIDS abstract

Link to Aidsmap report

The AIDS clock

This is a reminder for all those who think there is already a "cure" for AIDS and who shrug off HIV as "manageable"

This was the clock on July 31, 2007





Monday, September 24, 2007

Hepatitis C

Michael Carter, writing for Aidsmap (September 24, 2007) in

Sexual transmission of hepatitis C in HIV-positive gay men reported in Australia

Reports evidence has been published by Australian investigators in the October edition of AIDS demonstrating the sexual transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV) amongst HIV-positive gay men.

The sexual transmission of hepatitis C has been well-described amongst HIV-positive gay men in England, the Netherlands, France and Germany, and the Australian investigators believe that their evidence shows that “factors driving the epidemiology of acute HCV infection in this population are prevalent globally.”

The Australian Trial of Acute Hepatitis C (ATAHC) is a prospective study of the natural history and treatment outcome of acute hepatitis C. It is being conducted at 21 sites across Australia.


Further evidence of HCV sexual transmission among HIV-positive men who have sex with men: response to Danta et al.
Gail V Matthews et al
AIDS. 21(15):2112-2113, October 1, 2007.

Link to AIDS article access

Link to Aidsmap article

Why worry IF there's a cure?

BBC News on line reported (September 22, 2007) in

HIV rise blamed on belief in cure

from the UK, a false belief among young HIV patients that the virus can be cured is fuelling a rise in infection levels according to Dr Veerakathy Harindra (director at Portsmouth's genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic) who says a quarter of his young HIV patients wrongly believe a cure has already been found. This leads them to fail to take adequate precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, he said. Between 20% and 25% of the young people he sees believe they can be cured of HIV, he explained in a BBC radio interview

The UK Terrence Higgins Trust, a charity for HIV positive people, says the number of HIV infections has more than doubled in the last six years - from 30,000 in 2001 to 70,000 this year. Drug treatments which help manage HIV have led some people to wrongly believe it can actually be cured. According to the Terrence Higgins Trust, the number of people with the virus has risen.

Research by the charity in July suggested there was still widespread ignorance about HIV, particularly among young people. The poll of 1,000 people found more than 20% of people aged 18 to 24 mistakenly thought there was a cure for HIV.

Among the same age group almost a quarter believed condoms had holes in them which let HIV through.

The BBC report adds the reminder that on Friday, Merck halted trials on an HIV vaccine that was regarded as one of the most promising in the fight against Aids after it was judged to be ineffective.

A video is available on the BBC page
Link to BBC News report

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"The Queen's an Antichrist, Sir."

Sacred --- yet profane?

For he's a jolly good fellow ???

Jonathan D. Glater writing for the New York Times (September 21, 2007) in

Rumsfeld as Fellow Draws a Protest at Stanford

reports the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution is drawing fierce protests from faculty members and students at Stanford University and is threatening to rekindle tensions between the institution, a conservative research body, and the more liberal campus.

Some 2,100 professors, staff members, students and alumni have already signed an online petition protesting his appointment which will involve advising a task force on ideology and terrorism.

It is intriguing to see the justaposing of Mr. Rumsfeld with Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo, emeritus professor of psychology,who still teaches on campus and who conducted the famous in 1971 that found that students playing the role of prison guards readily adopted sadistic behavior toward students in the role of prisoners. In a new book, he has criticized Mr. Rumsfeld, President Bush and Vice President Cheney for policies that he said contributed to the mistreatment and torture of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Glater's article notes another potential conflict could involve Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a former Stanford provost and Hoover fellow. Ms. Rice, who is on leave from a tenured faculty position, has said she would be interested in returning to Stanford after leaving the Bush administration. In a letter to Stanford’s undergraduate newspaper in May, a professor wrote that she should not be welcomed back.

Interestingly, some students said although they disagreed with policies adopted by Mr. Rumsfeld, they were curious to hear what he had to say.

“I’m not a particularly big fan of his, but I think I would go listen,” said Daniel Gratch, 17, a freshman from New York.

Link to NY Times article

Real Time Overtime

Saturday, September 22, 2007


PrEP could save millions

Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor, writing for Reuters (September 18, 2007) in

HIV prevention could save millions in Africa

reports researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and at Imperial College London found using drugs to stop HIV infection could prevent as many as 3 million new cases in Africa .

The study is published online in Public Library of Science journal - PLoS ONE suggests a daily pill would not even have to prevent infection all the time to have an effect, if it was given to the right people with the proper counseling.

The researchers wanted to know if pre-exposure chemoprophylaxis, or PrEP, would work in a real-world setting. Studies in monkeys suggest that the HIV drug tenofovir can keep a healthy animal or person from becoming infected with the incurable virus.

The researchers say "one of the most important things we found is if you target the two highest risk groups, about 18 percent of the population, you have the most cost-effective approach." For the most part, this means young men who have many different sexual partners.

It is acknowledges that such a program would require intensive counseling to find out who the most sexually active people were and to ensure that the medication did not give people a sense of invulnerability. "If the public feels that they can take a pill and now have more sex, the effect of the PrEP will go way down"


Potential Impact of Antiretroviral Chemoprophylaxis on HIV-1 Transmission in Resource-Limited Settings.
Ume L. Abbas et al

PLoS ONE 2(9): e875 (September 19, 2007) doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000875

Link to PLoS ONE article

Link to Reuters article

HIV Vaccine

BBC News on line (September 21, 2007) in

Merck abandons HIV vaccine trials

reports international drug company Merck has halted trials on an HIV vaccine that was regarded as one of the most promising in the fight against Aids after the vaccine was judged to be ineffective. Merck had previously expressed high hopes for the drug, which it spent 10 years developing.

Merck's international trial, called Step, began in 2004 and involved 3,000 HIV-negative volunteers from diverse backgrounds, between the ages of 18 and 45. Most of the volunteers were at high risk of HIV infection. They were repeatedly given advice about how to practise safe sex according to Merck.

The vaccine contained a common cold virus loaded with copies of three HIV genes.

The hope was that exposure to the genes would prompt an immune response in the body so that cells containing HIV virus would be recognized and destroyed.

An independent monitoring panel recommended discontinuing the vaccination of volunteers, saying the trial was headed for failure.

"Today is a very sad day for the industry because Merck's vaccine had shown an ability to turn on the immune system, which gave many people optimism it would work," said Sarah Alexander, from the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.

Link to BBC News report

Friday, September 21, 2007

er in the palace

Drug reaction

New Scientist (15 – 21 September 2007) in

Drug side effects increasing at an alarming rate

reports of harmful side effects from drugs are rising at an alarming rate. Serious consequences, such as a reaction that threatened a patient's life or caused a disability, were 2.6 times more frequent in 2005 than in 1998, while deaths increased by 2.7 times, from 5519 in 1998 to 15,107 in 2005

This is according to a study published in the current issue of Archives of Internal Medicine in which researchers examined data collected by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Unfortunately, the FDA relies on reports from doctors and patients, but when several drugs are being taken at once it is often impossible to know which was responsible for each side effect.

The number of presecriptions went up between 19998 and 2005 but adverse reactions increased four times as fast. Drugs that were withdrawn for safety reasons caused a quarter of the early reactions but contributed to less than 1 per cent of total reports in 2005.

Link to New Scientist article [registration required]


Serious Adverse Drug Events Reported to the Food and Drug Administration, 1998-2005
Thomas J. Moore et al
Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1752-1759.

Link to Arch Intern Med abstract

By some estimates, UK figures are even worse. Millie Kieve, who is the founder of the UK based charity APRIL -- Adverse Psychiatric Reactions Information Link, which advises on reactions to prescribed medicines -- writes in the same issue

Comment: Falling on deaf ears

She notes people are suffering and dying in their thousands from medecines' side effects. Patients and families complain but is any one listening, she asks. Every day I read emails sent to APRIL, the charity I founded after the death of my daughter Karen. Many people write of their suspicions that the abrupt onset of what had been labeled a psychiatric illness of a family member or friend was in fact caused by a reaction to prescribed medicines or anesthetics. In some cases, like Karen's, the result can be fatal.

The same suspects turn up time and again: corticosteroids, anti-malarial drugs, acne drugs, tranquillizers and antidepressants among others, prescribed for everything from support for giving up smoking to urinary incontinence.

She concludes with the warning of the need for real reform when the fast-tracking of licensing is being encouraged and investigations into pharmaceutical companies drag on. There is a need for ADR reporting to made independent and legally enforceable, and for professionals with prescribing rights to be educated to recognize the warning signs.

Link to APRIL

Link to New Scientist article [registration required]

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Neil A. Lewis writes in The Arts in today’s New York Times (September 19, 2007)

In the Shadow of Horror, SS Guardians Frolic

Last December, Rebecca Erbelding, a young archivist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, opened a letter from a former United States Army intelligence officer who said he wanted to donate photographs of Auschwitz he had found more than 60 years ago in Germany.

Ms. Erbelding was intrigued: Although Auschwitz may be the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, there are only a small number of known photos of the place before its liberation in 1945. Some time the next month, the museum received a package containing 16 cardboard pages, with photos pasted on both sides, and their significance quickly became apparent.

As Ms. Erbelding and other archivists reviewed the album, they realized they had a scrapbook of sorts of the lives of Auschwitz’s senior SS officers that was maintained by Karl Höcker, the adjutant to the camp commandant. Rather than showing the men performing their death camp duties, the photos depicted, among other things, a horde of SS men singing cheerily to the accompaniment of an accordionist, Höcker lighting the camp’s Christmas tree, a cadre of young SS women frolicking and officers relaxing, some with tunics shed, for a smoking break.

In all there are 116 pictures, beginning with a photo from June 21, 1944, of Höcker and the commandant of the camp, Richard Baer, both in full SS regalia. The album also contains eight photos of Josef Mengele, the camp doctor notorious for participating in the selections of arriving prisoners and bizarre and cruel medical experiments. These are the first authenticated pictures of Mengele atThe Banality of Evil is a phrase coined in 1963 by Hannah Arendt in her work Eichmann in Jerusalem officials at the Holocaust museum said.

The photos provide a stunning counterpoint to what up until now has been the only major source of preliberation Auschwitz photos, the so-called Auschwitz Album, a compilation of pictures taken by SS photographers in the spring of 1944 and discovered by a survivor in another camp. Those photos depict the arrival at the camp of a transport of Hungarian Jews, who at the time made up the last remaining sizable Jewish community in Europe. The Auschwitz Album, owned by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, depicts the railside selection process at Birkenau, the area where trains arrived at the camp, as SS men herded new prisoners into lines.

The comparisons between the albums are both poignant and obvious, as they juxtapose the comfortable daily lives of the guards with the horrific reality within the camp, where thousands were starving and 1.1 million died.

As Lewis points out, Museum curators have avoided describing the album as something like “monsters at play” or “killers at their leisure.” Ms. Cohen said the photos were instructive in that they showed the murderers were, in some sense, people who also behaved as ordinary human beings. “In their self-image, they were good men, good comrades, even civilized,” she said.

This is, perhaps, yet another reminder of The Banality of Evil - the phrase coined in 1963 by Hannah Arendt in her work Eichmann in Jerusalem. And a warning what humanity may still capable of.

You can read the New York Times article and view a display of the photographs at Holocaust Memorial Museum website

Link to USHMM

The Great Apes

New Scientist (15 - 21 September 2007) in

Spare the apes

records that is the message from the Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Last week, 433 of 626 MEPs signed a declaration demanding an end to experiments on great apes and non-human primates in Europe.

The declaration is not legally binding, but it is a barometer of opinion and must be formally taken into account by officials drawing up legislation in the European Commission (EC).

"It sends an incredibly powerful message to the commission, who are currently reviewing rules for animal experiments across Europe," says Animal Defenders International, the London and San Francisco-based lobby group that championed the declaration.

Later this year, the EC is due to update and redraft a 21-year-old directive that regulates animal experiments. At present, it allows experiments on all non-human primates, although the UK unilaterally banned experiments on great apes in 1997. Europe currently conducts tests on around 10,000 non-human primates each year.

While you are thinking about it you could also take a look at The World Conservation Union's Red list of Threatened species
Link to the Red List

Link to New Scientist report


Steve Bell's comment on greedy fat cats
in the current financial crisis - The Guardian


BBC News on line reports (September 19, 2007) in

Testicle stem cell harvest plan

A man's testicles might be a source of stem cells to help him fight serious diseases, according to a study, by US scientists from the Weill Cornell Medical College, published in Nature.

They extracted early-stage sperm cells from mice, then turned them into cells capable of becoming different tissues. Stem cells have already been extracted from mouse testicles - however, the New York team is claiming a more reliable way to isolate and develop them, increasing the potential for larger numbers to be produced successfully.

The testicular cells do not need to be genetically "tweaked" to behave more like embryonic stem cells, unlike other "adult stem cells" found elsewhere in the body, say the scientists.

Dr Shahin Rafii, who led the research listed several illnesses which he hoped could be tackled using stem cell technology, including Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's, stroke, diabetes and even certain cancers.

However, some doubt has been expressed on the willingness of men to undergo the procedure to extract the cells.


Generation of functional multipotent adult stem cells from GPR125+ germline progenitors
Marco Seandel et al

Nature 449, 346-350 (20 September 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06129

Link to Nature abstract

Link to BBC News report

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Ballad of The Existentialist (Original Song)

The poisonous cocktail

Jane E. Brody writing in the Personal Health section of the New York Times (September 18, 2007) in

The ‘Poisonous Cocktail’ of Multiple Drugs

tells of a 78-year-old woman found unconscious on the floor of her apartment by a neighbor who checked on her. The woman could not remember falling but told doctors that before going to bed she had abdominal pain and nausea and had produced a black stool, after which she had palpitations and felt lightheaded.

Her medical history included high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure and osteoarthritis. She also had a cold with a productive cough. For each condition, she had been prescribed a different drug, and she was taking a few over-the-counter remedies on her own. These were the medications:

Lopressor to control high blood pressure.

Digitalis to help the heart pump and control its rhythm.

Coumadin to prevent a stroke caused by blood clots.

Furosemide, a potent diuretic to lower blood pressure.

Lipitor to lower serum cholesterol.

Baby aspirin to reduce cardiac risk from blood clots.

Celebrex for arthritis pain.

Paxil for depression and anxiety.

Valium, as needed, to help her sleep.

Levofloxacin, an antibiotic for the cough.

Ibuprofen for body aches.

Cough medicine.

This is what doctors call polypharmacy, otherwise known as a “poisonous cocktail” of many drugs that can interact in dangerous ways and cause side effects that can be far worse than the diseases they are treating. Elderly people are especially vulnerable because they often have several medical problems for which they see different doctors, each prescribing drugs, often without knowing what else the patient is taking.

The case was reported in the June issue of Emergency Medicine by Dr Michael Stern, a specialist in geriatric emergency medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. He noted that the elderly took about 40 percent of prescribed drugs, roughly twice what younger adults take, and that they suffered twice as many adverse drug reactions as younger people. Polypharmacy is responsible for up to 28 percent of hospital admissions and, if it were classified as such, it would be the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.


Case Studies in Geriatric Emergencies: Polypharmacy
Michael Stern
Emerg Med 39(6):10, 2007

Link to Emerg Med article

Link to NY Times article

HIV sequencing

New Scientist (15 - 21 September 2007) in

HIV sequences cannot prove guilt

warns that people infected with HIV might well want to know who gave it to them - but the genetic sequence of their virus won't tell them.

The virus is now routinely sequenced in each infected person to uncover drug-resistance genes, but virus sequences have also been used in several high-profile court cases (particularly in the UK) by lawyers seeking to show who infected whom. This has led some HIV carriers to wonder if they might be able to do the same.

Deenan Pillay of University College London one of the authors of an editorial article in the British Medical Journal warns

“The data won't work for that because HIV evolves too fast. This means that even though the viruses from two people may look similar, other local viruses may even be more alike. Analyzing them can't show whether A infected B or vice versa, whether it went through a third person or whether both were infected by another person “

However, the British database - now the world's largest collection of viral sequences from a national epidemic - could answer other important questions. For example, it could tell us whether certain strains tend to spread among certain risk groups, or where the super-spreaders of HIV are.


HIV phylogenetics
Deenan Pillay et al
British Medical Journal 2007;335:460-461 (8 September),

Link to BMJ abstract

Link to New Scientist report

Monday, September 17, 2007


John Carvel , social affairs editor of The Guardian reports (September 17, 2007) in

Doctors' long-sleeved coats banished to counter MRSA

that the British health secretary, will today declare the long-sleeved white coats worn by generations of hospital doctors to be an MRSA-infection hazard that must be eliminated throughout the National Health Service in England. A new dress code for all NHS staff requires them to remain bare below the elbow whenever they are in contact with patients.

They believe the MRSA superbug has been spreading from one patient to another on the cuffs of doctors' white coats. They think the bare arms rule will make it easier for staff to go through the correct hand- and wrist-washing procedures. Guidelines being issued to every NHS trust will also order doctors, nurses and therapists to stop wearing watches and jewelry. They will be advised to avoid wearing ties and to don plastic aprons when carrying out clinical activity.

Meanwhile, here in Seattle the sight of MDs and ancillary hospital staff out in the streets – and the super markets – wearing uniforms & scrubs is still quite common.

Link to The Guardian report

Homeland Security?

extract from New Scientist September 15, 2007

HIV risk score

Adam Legge, writing for Aidsmap (September 14, 2007) in

European researchers develop method of calculating short-term risk of HIV disease progression

reports a new HIV risk score can accurately calculate the short term risk of HIV disease progression, according to research is published in the September edition of AIDS.

The new tool, called the EuroSIDA risk score, has been designed to be used in people already on anti-HIV treatment and calculates the risk of disease progression in the short-term, for example three, six or twelve months.

The researchers derived the risk score by studying the EuroSIDA study population, a group of 14,262 HIV-infected people in 31 European countries plus Israel and Argentina.

The data showed there were 658 events which defined clinical progression in the 22,231 person-years of follow up, giving a incidence rate of 3.0/100 person-years.

Current viral load and CD4 count, CD4 cell slope, haemoglobin level and BMI were all independent predictors of new AIDS events or death.

Other risk factors included age, becoming infected through intravenous drug use, having taken any antiretrovirals before starting HAART and having a diagnosis of AIDS before starting HAART.

These factors were combined to come up with the risk score (of between 0 and 5) with patients being put into four categories:

  • lower than 1.5,
  • 1.5 to 2.99,
  • 3.0 to 4.49
  • 4.5 or above.

Those groupings then give a risk of developing an AIDS illness or death in three, six or 12 months.

For example, having a Euro-SIDA score of less than 1.5 means the chances of developing an AIDS event or illness is 1 in 801 at three months or 1 in 201 at 12 months.

Having a higher score, for examples 3.0 to 4.49 puts those risks at 1 in 63 and 1 in 16 respectively.

The developers plan to make the risk score publicly available soon at Copenhagen HIV Programme site ( ) for patients and clinicians to input lab results and get the risk score calculated online.


Short-term clinical disease progression in HIV-1 positive patients taking combination antiretroviral therapy: the EuroSIDA risk-score.
Mocroft, Amanda et al
AIDS. 21(14):1867-1875, September 2007.

Link to AIDS abstract

Link to Aidsmap report