Headlines – MS, Alzheimer’s, Flu Benefit, Tsunami Relief

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Following the first year of two ongoing clinical trials. the FDA has approved natalizumab, also known by the brand name Tysabri and previously known as Antegren, to reduce the frequency of clinical relapses in relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). The sixth drug approved by the FDA for MS, Tysabri works by a different biological approach from other MS drugs.

So far. Tysabri has been tested alone and as an addition to therapy with the already-approved drug Avonex (generically known as interferon beta-la). In current trials, intra venous (IV) infusions of Tysabri every four weeks have significantly reduced the rates of clinical relapse (periods of worsening neurological symptoms). Tysabri has reduced the number of new or newly enlarging brain lesions on MRI scans, and a greater proportion of those using the new drug have remained relapse-free.

Tysabri is a monoclonal antibody (immunologically active molecule) that binds to potentially damaging immune cells and helps prevent them from crossing over from the bloodstream into the brain and spinal cord where they can cause inflammation.

Tysabri has been well-tolerated; side effects reported in the first year of clinical trials included headache, fatigue, urinary tract infection, depression, lower respiratory tract infection, joint pain and abdominal discomfort, although rates of some effects are comparable to placebo.

Because all drugs delivered by IV infusion pose risks of bruising, vein damage, blood clots and more, infusions must be managed by a well-trained medical professional.

It is not known how long Tysabri needs to be taken, how its benefits and safety compare with other currently available treatments, or if future limitations will need to be placed on long-term use. The drug was approved by the FDA based on only one year’s duration of treatment. Monitoring of safety will continue to detect any unforeseen adverse events in people taking the drug for longer periods. ?

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Researchers from Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California, reported recently in the medical journal Neurology that people who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, who are diabetic, or who smoke have a much greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

In a study following 9.000 men and women over the age of 27 years and from a variety of ethnic groups, investigators found that people with diabetes in their forties were 46 percent more likely to develop dementia later on, those with high cholesterol were 42 percent more likely, those with high blood pressure were 24 percent more likely, and smokers were 26 percent more likely to develop dementia. Subjects who had all four risk factors increased their risk of dementia by more than 100 percent.

Dr. Marilyn Albert, chair of scientific and medical research at the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association, summarized, “The message is that the risk factors that are bad for the heart are bad for the brain. That largely is because what happens to blood vessels in the heart is the same as what happens to blood vessels in the brain.”

The good news is that people who were treated for their conditions lowered their overall risk of Alzheimer’s.

Previous research has shown that physical, mental and social activity all play a role to help prevent or delay the development of dementia. Doctors recommend exercising daily, maintaining social connections and eating plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. Some studies have also supported the use of a class of cholesterol lowering drugs called statin drugs (Zocor, Lipitor, Pravachol and others), which are also believed to play a role in keeping the linings of blood vessels healthy.

Alzheimer’s affects an estimated 4.5 million Americans, and that number is expected to jump to 16 million by 2050 as the population ages. ?


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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Ser vices (CMS) has announced a national Medicare demonstration project covering antiviral medicines for people who have contracted the flu or have been exposed. Coverage is effective for the duration of the flu season through May 31st of this year and is limited to two prescriptions per beneficiary during the coverage period. Medicare beneficiaries can receive coverage if they receive traditional Medicare Part B for outpatient services, are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, or participate in the Medicare Drug Discount Card Program.

The demonstration pays for 80 percent of the outpatient cost for four different anti-influenza medications: amantadine (Symmetrel), zanamivir (Relenza). oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and rimantadine (Flumadine). For Medicare beneficiaries who are treated while hospitalized, the medications will be covered as part of the hospital stay under Medicare Part A.

Prescriptions for the antiviral medications must be written by a physician or other authorized practitioner and filled by pharmacies that are authorized Medicare suppliers. ?

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Volunteers with all ranges of mobility-related and intellectual disabilities helped construct an ABILITY House for Kawa Talabani, his wife Amina Shaheen, who has heart disease, and the couple’s four children. The home was build in partnership with the Atlanta Habitat for Humanity affiliate and ABILITY Awareness, and was sponsored by BellSouth and the BellSouth Telecomm Pioneers. “Home ownership is part of the American dream, and having a disability should not stand in the way of people’s achieving that dream,” shared Mike Watson, senior director of BellSouth Corporation.

An ABILITY House is an affordable, accessible home built for a low-income family in which one or more members have disabilities. What makes the ABILITY House program unique is that it utilizes volunteers with disabilities during all phases of construction. This inclusiveness demonstrates the potential of every per son and empowers the community with a new level of awareness. At the same time, the program also highlights the cost-effectiveness and importance of incorporating universal design and visibility features into all new construction. ?

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The Center for International Rehabilitation (CIR) and the Office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Disabilities launched an assessment of the needs of people with disabilities in tsunami devastated communities. Early reports from disaster assistance experts indicate massive numbers of lower extremity injuries and amputations in the tsunami-effected regions. The joint Critical Needs Project will target India, Thailand and Indonesia, evaluating the avail ability and accessibility of critical services for people with disabilities. Coordination with local disability officials and advocates is already underway, and Donovan Webster. CIR board chairman and journalist, will initiate the reporting program to the targeted countries.

“The critical needs assessments provide a valuable ser vice to people with disabilities and support the urgent relief efforts already underway by the UN and international and national relief organizations,” said Maria Veronica Reina, CIR president. “Local disability advocates who are already familiar with the community will be hired and trained to conduct the research, assuring the production of locally relevant needs assessments.”

According to reports from the World Health Organization, the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia on December 26th left over 200,000 dead and more than a half million people seriously injured. Medical and rehabilitation services for new amputees, access to wheelchairs and prosthetics in devastated communities, and replacement of lost disabilities services are key issues in tsunami-impacted areas. People with disabilities are among the most neglected populations worldwide and will like ly be overlooked in the wake of the tsunami disaster. In order to identify and meet the demand for health care. rehabilitation services, accessible housing, and the many other needs of the disability communities throughout South Asia, a thorough assessment of the situation is essential.

“As the expert researchers document the resources available to people with disabilities throughout the tsunami-devastated communities, this information will be distributed throughout the region with the assistance of our partner nongovernmental organizations,” said Sheikha Hissa Al Thani, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Disabilities. ?

For updates of the Critical Needs Assessment Project, visit cimetwork.org/tsunamirelle!

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