Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Worst May Be Yet to Come for the Most Hated CEO in Pharmaceuticals

Prescription pillsThe rising costs in medications have been a driving force in reform for the American healthcare system. Debates over healthcare in the U.S. came to a head this fall when Martin Shkreli, the CEO of KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, hiked up the price of a prescription medication often used to treat AIDS from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

However, in what seems like karma personified, Vice News reports that KaloBios Pharmaceuticals is now filing for bankruptcy. This comes just two weeks after Shkreli was arrested on fraud charges and suspicion of running a Ponzi scheme as CEO of another biopharmaceutical company, Retrophin.

In their claim, KaloBios disclosed that their assets and liabilities are valued somewhere between $1 million and $10 million.

To put into perspective how low these assets are, consider that in 2014, just the United States’ share of the global pharmaceutical market is valued at an estimated $365 billion.

KaloBios’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy claim came just one day after receiving a delisting letter from the Nasdaq Stock Exchange. This seriously limits their ability to gain capital from investors in the future.

Even though the company itself is also responsible for the increase in pharmaceutical prices, Shkreli has been the main public target. According to Reuters.com, his twitter account was recently hacked after his attempt to use the site to plead his own innocence.

Shkreli had been using both YouTube and Twitter to sway public opinion about his business practices. Apparently, someone was sick of it and decided to take actions into their own hands.

A total of seven tweets were posted by Shkreli’s hacked account, including “Anyone want free money? Willing to donate hundreds of thousands to charities before I go to prison …” and “I am now a god.”

Shkreli is now facing a maximum of 20 years in prison, and from the sounds of it no one will be upset about it.

Reddit Users Share Horror Stories from Dating App Tinder

Pretty young woman using mobile phoneTinder has quickly become the most popular option for singles looking to mingle on the internet, and one online forum is humorously exposing some of the most awkward experiences on the app.

According to SMH.com, Tinder is a dating app in which users “swipe right” to match with potential suitors. Since swipes are usually made based on an impulsive attraction, it’s no surprise that some relationships go awry before they can ever blossom.

Sharing embarrassing stories from Tinder has become a favorite pastime of millennials, and a thread started last Wednesday on Reddit is allowing Tinder users to commiserate over their failed romances on the app.

“What is your Tinder horror story?” the thread’s author asked his fellow Redditors. In just one day, the thread generated over 14,200 entertaining comments and anecdotes of Tinder conversations gone wrong.

Many of the stories are short and sweet, encapsulating everything Tinder has become in just a few simple words.

“Got a Tinder notification on my phone…realized I don’t have Tinder and was holding my girlfriend’s phone,” said user JazzFan419.

“Matched with my cousin,” user DonsMagic humbly admitted.

Other stories are a bit more long-winded, including one account of a woman who went on a date with a “famous chef” that she met on the app, only to have him urinate on her after a night of drinking.

About 71% of people believe in love at first sight, and Tinder is perfect for those who are seeking an instant physical attraction. However, online daters who desire a more personal dating experience may want to try Happn.

According to the New York Post, Happn is a new online dating app that matches users who are looking for a second chance after a fleeting flirtation in public.

Didier Rappaport, CEO of Happn, believes that his app is a much better option than Tinder for singles who are looking for a long-term relationship.

“Frankly speaking, the swipe is an amazing invention,” said Rappaport. “But when you apply the concept of the swipe to a human being, you transform the human being into an object.”

Happn is mainly used in large metropolitan areas like New York City, where the hustle and bustle of daily life can lead to some missed romantic connections. Rappaport added that this initial attraction creates a sense of familiarity between users that Tinder cannot provide.

“With our app, you do not swipe through people so easily with your hand,” he said. Instead, “you approach people, you are struck by someone, you start to talk.”

Launched in Feb. 2014, Happn already has 10 million registers users worldwide. Despite the app’s success, Tinder still boasts five times more active users than Happn.

However, if Tinder’s popularity is any indication of what Happn could eventually become, it won’t be long before a new Reddit thread is started — “What is your Happn horror story?”

Researchers Make a Major Breakthrough in Autism Research

xray image of human head with brain and electric pulsesAutism research is an ongoing and extensive field, with few major breakthroughs as the years go by. But last week, researchers discovered something that could change the shape of neurological autism research: for the very first time, scientists have discovered a link between autistic behavior and a specific neurotransmitter in the brain.

The study, published in Current Biology, found that symptoms of autism seem to stem from issues processing GABA, also known as gamma-Aminobutyric acid. GABA is an inhibitory transmitter that prevents brain cells from responding to sensory information.

“Autism is often described as a disorder in which all the sensory input comes flooding in at once, so the idea that an inhibitory neurotransmitter was important fit with the clinical observations,” said lead researcher, Caroline Robertson.

While neurotypical individuals are able to tune out normal sights and sounds, such as a car alarm in the distance or the scraping of a spoon, individuals with autism are flooded with sensory overload, turning normal experiences into rather stressful experiences.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 50 of all school-age children are diagnosed with and fall on the autism spectrum. Additionally, 25% of those with autism have epilepsy, due to what Robertson calls a “runaway excitation in the brain.”

Individuals with autism have difficulty with visual tasks and aren’t able to focus on images and process them. For the study, the researchers combined a visual test with a neuroimaging test that measured the amount of GABA.

For participants with autism that had a hard time with the visual task, their levels of GABA were lower.

This suggests that there’s an issue with the way that GABA is used or processed.

“It’s not that there’s no GABA in the brain,” said Robertson. “It’s that there’s some step along that pathway that’s broken.”

This research could be revolutionary in the way that researchers reduce sensory symptoms for people with autism.

Holiday Tornado Rips Through the South

christmastornadoesFor many in the Northeast, the unseasonably warm temperatures had people celebrating Christmas in t-shirts and sweaters rather than turtlenecks and scarves. But down South, the warmer winter temperatures had more dire consequences.

Right before Christmas Eve, a powerful storm ripped through the South, creating destruction in its path and taking the lives of at least 10 individuals in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. And even more are injured.

According to the Storm Prediction Center, 14 tornadoes hit Mississippi, refusing to let up until they hit Tennessee. And while many tornadoes were active at once, weather experts say only one major tornado did a bulk of the damage.

The National Weather Service reports that the most damaging tornado may have been on the ground as it ripped through the South at 150 miles per hour.

Some of the strongest storm windows can withstand gusts of 200 miles per hour, but homes with older windows may not have fared so well during the tornado.

“If it is continuous it would be the longest track (December) tornado on record here in the mid-South,” the Memphis office of the weather service said.

In Mississippi, the tornado wiped out several communities in the Northern area of the state. According to CNN, damage reports were made from Sardis, Clarksdale, and Holly Springs.

Lance Meeks, Holly Spring resident, was literally floored when he stepped outside of his home.

“I laid down on the ground, and here come the tornado,” Meeks said in an interview with WTVA-TV. “Rolled right over me. Uprooted trees, cut trees in half. And I don’t know why I’m still standing here talking to you.”

In addition to the 10 whose lives were taken, more than 40 people in Mississippi have been injured.

In Tennessee and Arkansas, the storm ripped through Perry County, where two people died.

After the deadly winds ceased, a steady downpour ensued through Christmas Eve. Flood advisories were placed for several states, such as Georgia and the Carolinas.

Kelley Blue Book Names Subaru Top Car Brand for Resale Value for Second Straight Year

Subaru Forester on the off road track in mountainsSubaru, the automobile manufacturing division of Japanese transportation conglomerate Fuji Heavy Industries, is taking home another crown. Kelley Blue Book (KBB), the vehicle valuation and research company, just named Subaru as their top brand for resale value in 2016, according to the New York Daily News.

Every car has a lifespan of some kind and usually passes from one owner to another at least a couple times throughout it, but no brand maintains their value at a higher rate than Subaru, as shown by this latest rating.

“The 2016 Best Resale Value Awards are based on what we consider to be the best research and analysis in the industry,” KBB guidelines state, as reported by TechTimes.com. “Our resale value projections take into account current vehicle data, sales data, market conditions for each vehicle, competition within vehicle segments, expectations of the future economy and the combined experience of Kelley Blue Book’s team of market and pricing analysts.”

The car manufacturer took individual awards specifically for the Impreza, WRX, and Legacy models for the top rank in compact car, sporty compact car, and midsize car categories, respectively.

Subaru of America was established in 1968 in Philadelphia and since that time has blossomed into one of the most successful, albeit slightly niche, car companies. With many of their models offering things like turbocharged packages, off-road capabilities, and unique boxer engine layout, they’ve been able to establish a dedicated following, which KBB says is well-deserved.

This most recent award comes just days after Subaru was also honored by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for having multiple models that ranked as a “Top Safety Pick Plus,” their highest award, according to the Chicago Tribune. In order to make the cut, vehicles must get the top score in all five of the group’s crash tests and offer advanced front crash-prevention systems with automatic emergency braking.

All in all, it’s a pretty good time to be a Subaru owner.

Study Finds Efficient Pain Treatment for Kids

Young man eating a spoon full of medicineFor years, doctors have been trying to make life more comfortable for the 1.5 billion people around the world who deal with chronic aches and pains. One new study, however, is taking a different approach by helping children who suffer from chronic pain in particular.

“Effective treatment of pain can be particularly difficult because it’s subjective,” said Angela Johnson, a practitioner of Chinese medicine of Rush’s Cancer Integrative Medicine Program. “But with children, it is increasingly difficult because a child may not be able to communicate effectively depending on the age and accurate recognition of pain.”

Johnson was one of the doctors running the study, which discovered that acupuncture may hold the answer for childhood pain. The results were published in Alternative and Complementary Therapies just this month.

“While acupuncture has been shown to reduce pain in adults, there is very little data on whether it’s effective in children.” Johnson says. “This study looked at the effect of acupuncture in children directly, rather than examining data collected from adults. This focus is especially important, since children experience pain in different ways than adults.”

This study in particular focused on 55 children and young adults, all between seven and 20 years of age. Each participant received an individualized acupuncture treatment based on their chronic pain, with the treatment lasting about 30 minutes.

Every patient who participated reported lower levels of pain after the treatment, across eight sessions. They also added that they felt their pain being reduced within each session.

The acupuncture treatments also led to reductions in their health, emotional, social, and educational problems. These findings were double-checked with the parents and noted on parent observations.

Acupuncture provides an amazing alternative to chronic pain medication,” says Paul Kent, co-principal investigator of the study and pediatric oncologist at Rush. “This is especially true for patients who may have to cope with pain for most of their life, including those who have sickle cell anemia and aftereffects of cancer. In addition it helps with anxiety and depression.”

The study did accomplish what the doctors set out to do — this is a major contribution to the literature on pediatric chronic pain. The doctors hope this is the first of many studies on this topic.

Research on the subjects notes that in addition to the chronic pain by itself, it can cause traumatic effects on a child’s overall quality of life. Experts say it may have physical, psychological and social repercussions, and that doesn’t even touch on the helplessness the child’s caregivers may feel, either.

The problem has always been that treating pediatric chronic pain is more complex than treating it in adults, because the body is still growing and developing. There is a fear that the wrong treatments could have long-term effects, worse than the child started with, and most therapeutic treatments are widely untested.

“The results of this study suggest that acupuncture can have a profound positive impact on the health and well-being of children who experience the disabling effects of chronic pain,” Johnson says. She hopes to expand her research to larger groups of children in order to understand more about how acupuncture can help relieve their chronic pain.

New Study to Test Controversial Treatment Methods for Sleep Apnea on Obese Miniature Pigs

Biological and science backgroundResearchers at the University of Washington may be getting a stern letter from PETA after announcing that they would be testing controversial new treatments for sleep apnea on miniature pigs.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received a grant for over $200,000 from the federal government to conduct the study, titled “Obstructive Sleep Apnea, an Obese Minipig Model.” The project will begin this month in Washington.

A statement accompanying the grant explains the purpose of the study, in addition to why overweight pigs are ideal testing subjects.

“Clinical data show that patients with obstructive sleep apnea or hypopnea (OSA) commonly have anatomic compromise of the [upper airway] UA due to either excessive tissue mass or neuromuscular compromise of the tongue base and/or soft palate,” the statement noted.

“Human study cannot address these critical questions underlying the pathogenesis and pathophysiology of [obstructive sleep apnea] because of the invasive technology necessary,” the statement continued. “Thus, a suitable and reliable animal model is an imperative.”

Obese miniature pigs were specifically chosen because of their “considerable similarity with humans.” Excess weight is the strongest risk for factor for the development of sleep apnea in humans, and researchers believe the pudgy pigs will provide a good benchmark for how humans would respond to treatments.

More than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, but experts suggest that this number could actually be substantially higher. According to the New York Daily News, doctors estimate that 80-90% of sleep apnea patients remain undiagnosed.

As for the NIH study, the primary treatment that will be tested on the pigs is low-level electric shock therapy, known throughout the medical community as Functional Neuromuscular Stimulation.

The statement added that using obese pigs for the study would allow researchers to test “controversial therapies such as neuromuscular stimulation and pharmacological application under well-controlled experimental conditions.”

Before the study can officially begin, the obese mini pigs will be tested to see which ones actually suffer from sleep apnea. Once this is determined and the project commences, researchers hope that the findings will “create a useful tool and solid body of knowledge for understanding the beneficial and adverse effects of various [sleep apnea] treatments.”

Currently, the research has cost taxpayers $231,750. However, this number is expected to increase, as the study’s budget will remain open through November 2016.

Best Buy and J.C. Penney Lead the Way Among Major Retailers for Black Friday Foot Traffic

Black Friday And Cyber Monday SaleThe rich tend to get richer on Black Friday, and this year was no exception. Despite what is being considered as a slow season for brick-and-mortar stores, two of the biggest brands reigned supreme and attracted the most shoppers this past weekend.

According to the Los Angeles Times, data from consumer website Foursquare has found that electronics chain Best Buy and retailer J.C. Penney were the big winners on Black Friday when it comes to foot traffic. Foursquare collected the data through its geo-location search app that many consumers have on their smartphones.

On the day after Thanksgiving, which is regarded as the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S., Best Buy received approximately 4.2 times more foot traffic than it typically sees on an average Friday. J.C. Penney was right on their heels, registering about 4.1 times more browsers and buyers on Black Friday.

Macy’s finished in third place with a respectable 3.8 times more foot traffic than usual, while two moderate surprises rounded out the top five list. Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority, who both saw about 3.5 times more foot traffic on Black Friday, were tied for fourth place among all major retailers.

The high foot traffic for the top three stores this year could be attributed to their strong brand visibility and well-known logos. About 17% of Best Buy’s walk-in customers entered the store because of its sign, while J.C. Penney and Macy’s are two of the most recognizable store names in the country.

While Black Friday typically accounts for as much as 40% of the annual revenue for retailers, in-store sales dropped about 2% from last year as online shopping continues to grow in popularity. According to CNN, Best Buy is looking to capitalize on this trend by extending their Cyber Monday deals through Dec. 5.

Despite a general downturn in sales among brick-and-mortar stores this year, shareholders of these big-box retailers shouldn’t have a problem buying gifts to leave under the tree. Combined sales for Thanksgiving and Black Friday still totaled about $12.1 billion this year, down from $12.3 billion in 2014.

Trenchless Pipe Repair One Aspect of Swampscott’s Plan to Eliminate Sewer Contamination

trabajando en una alcantarillaThe Department of Public Works and consultants have come up with a game plan for eliminating the sewer contamination in a water drainage area of Swampscott, MA, says a report from WickedLocal.com for North Boston.

The area, known as Stacy’s Brook, was chosen after months of assessment done on leaks there, according to a report at the Special Town Meeting last week by David Peterson of the consulting firm Kleinfelder.

Now that they’ve decided on an area to start with, they will be fitting it with cameras to determine exactly where leaks are and the current condition of pipes. King’s Beach at the Lynn line is where Stacy’s Brook drainage area empties into. The structure in place now is between 80 and 130 years old.

The Massachusetts town was notified in October of 2014 by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that there were water quality violations resulting from contamination from the sewer system. The problem led to bacteria infiltrating the nearby beach, which in turn resulted in a $65,000 fine (negotiated down from $125,000) for Swampscott.

As part of the negotiations, the town was also given a September 30 deadline to assess the situation, define a project area, and develop a budget for the work that needs to be done. A later deadline of October 2016 was given to submit an actual design for the project.

Although the town and consultants have worked diligently to hit all deadlines, they’re still not sure when they will begin work.

“There is no hard and fast deadline,” Peterson said.

Recent estimates suggest the end price tag will be in the $9.5 to $11 million range. One of the techniques they’re hoping to use is trenchless pipe repair.

If the pipes are in good enough shape, this is possible and would save them time and money, but if they’re found to be collapsed, traditional excavation will be required. The actual process can cost 30 to 50% more than conventional digging in some cases but will still usually be more cost effective in the end because of the money saved in additional restorative work.

Trenchless methods have been around for decades, but came on the market for residential homes about 10 to 15 years ago. Still, many consumers are still unaware that they’re an option.

Peterson also acknowledged it will probably be a long and slow process that “could extend longer than a decade.”

“Water infrastructure systems are very old and in need of sustained investment for reliable long-term performance,” he said.

British Government Urges Sugar Tax to Control Obesity Epidemic

Carbonated drinks in plastic bottlesIn an attempt to tackle childhood obesity from a more legislative approach, British Lawmakers are pressuring the government to introduce a tax on sugary drinks that will effectively control the price for unhealthy food items.

According to NBC News, Parliament’s Health Committee feels that there is “clear evidence that measures to improve the food environment” need to be employed in order to mitigate the ongoing obesity crisis in the United Kingdom, which costs the country’s health services over $7 billion annually.

In the Parliament Health Committee’s report, they urged that the government place strong controls on the price promotion of foods high in sugar, such as sodas and sweets. The report then recommends that the remaining proceeds go to helping the children who are at the highest risk for obesity.

In addition to controlling the prices of sugary, unhealthy foods themselves, the report urges that there should be more constraints on the marketing and advertising of these foodstuffs, with labels that show sugar content in readable measurements like teaspoons.

“One-third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese, and the most deprived children are twice as likely to be obese than the least deprived,” said Sarah Wollaston, chairman of the Health Committee.

“A full package of bold measures is required and should be implemented as soon as possible.”

The Committee hopes that these changes will enable families to make healthier food choices, and will lead to an increased consumption of healthy food items.

In fact, consuming fruits and vegetables three times a day is associated with 27% reduced incidence of stroke, 42% reduced stroke mortality, and 25% reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease, among other health improvements.

Meanwhile, the soda industry in Britain has criticized the Health Committee’s statements, accusing the lawmakers of “swallowing” the lobbyists’ agendas.

“It’s disappointing that the committee has missed its chance to add a robustly independent voice to the obesity debate,” said Ian Wright, director general of Britain’s Food and Drink Federation.

Wright adds that consumers pay billions in taxes on food and drink and feels that the report seems to exclude consumers in its decision making.