Late Breaking News
- Categorized in: August 2009 Issue
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS ASSISTANT SECRETARY Tammy Duckworth returned recently to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a key site in her long recovery from wounds suffered in Iraq, to take the oath of office as the chief spokesperson for VA. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki presided over the swearing in ceremony as Duckworth, a major in the Illinois National Guard, became VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs. As assistant secretary, Duckworth will direct VA’s public affairs programs and its intergovernmental efforts. She will also oversee programs for homeless Veterans and consumer affairs. Duckworth was an Army helicopter pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq in 2004. She suffered grave injuries when her helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, and she lost both legs and partial use of one arm. She spent 13 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
EIGHT YOUNG PERFORMERS living with mental health challenges from across the country joined Academy Award winner Goldie Hawn last month for a celebration of resilience. The event was part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s “HEAR ME NOW: A Celebration of Resiliency through the Performing Arts” commemoration of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, which took place at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, DC. Hawn received the SAMHSA Special Recognition Award for her work to increase public understanding of the role mental health plays in the total well-being of children and youth through her non-profit foundation, The Hawn Foundation. SAMHSA presented the award at the national Awareness Day event that was co-hosted by “Twilight’s” Solomon Trimble and Sabrina Bryan of Disney’s “The Cheetah Girls.” National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is SAMHSA’s annual demonstration of collaboration among numerous and diverse individuals, organizations, and agencies in the public and private sector working to provide greater access to community-based mental health services for children and youth with serious mental-health needs and their families.
HHS SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS last month welcomed Deputy Secretary Bill Corr and Indian Health Service Director Yvette Roubideaux, MD, to the Department of Health and Human Services. Corr and Roubideaux were confirmed unanimously by the Senate on May 6. Bill Corr most recently served as executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Previously, Corr served for 12 years as counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. Additionally, Corr served as Chief of Staff for the Department of Health and Human Services. Corr is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the Vanderbilt University School of Law. Dr. Yvette Roubideaux served most recently as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family & Community Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. She has conducted extensive research on American Indian health issues, with a focus on diabetes in American Indians/Alaska Natives and Indian health policy. Roubideaux previously worked in the Indian Health Service as a medical officer and clinical director on the San Carlos Indian Reservation and in the Gila River Indian Community.
THE LONGEST U.S. STUDY OF PEOPLE WITH HIV/AIDS was honored at a 25th anniversary commemoration on May 12 at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC. The Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS) has significantly contributed to the scientific understanding of HIV, AIDS, and the effects of antiretroviral therapy through more than 1,000 publications, many of which have guided public health policy and the clinical care of people with HIV. MACS investigators prospectively study the natural and treated history of HIV infection in thousands of homosexual and bisexual men at sites in Baltimore, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles. A key characteristic of the MACS is its 25 years of behavioral and biological data and specimens from men who have sex with men, before and after they became infected with HIV, before and after they were diagnosed with AIDS, and before and after they began highly active antiretroviral therapy—along with data from a control group of same-aged, HIV-free men who have sex with men. Comparing these before-and-after specimens and data from HIV-infected and uninfected individuals has yielded numerous seminal discoveries.
THE NIH ADVISORY COMMITTEE on Research on Women’s Health of the Office of Research on Women’s Health announced the appointment of five new members last month: Margery L.S. Gass, MD, Paula Adina Johnson, MD, Jeanne Craig Sinkford, DDS, Farida Sohrabji, PhD, and Gary E. Striker, MD. The committee advises the ORWH on appropriate research activities to be undertaken by the national research institutes with respect to research on women’s health, research on sex/gender differences in clinical trials, and research on women’s health conditions that requires an interdisciplinary approach. The committee members are actively involved in reviewing NIH women’s health research priorities, the women’s health research portfolio for NIH, career development, and the inclusion of women and minorities in clinical research. The committee is composed of up to 18 members who are appointed by the NIH director.
MEDICAL IMAGING AT THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS reached a milestone this year, attaining over 1 billion stored images, according to the department. The imaging system captures clinical images, scanned documents, motion video and other non-text data, and makes them part of the patient’s electronic record. In the course of serving 1.2 million patients a month, VA stores 20-25 million images in the VistA Imaging system. In 2009, a total of 290 million are expected to be stored. Storage space used today is approximately one pedabyte—1 million gigabytes. Using digital images makes remote diagnosis and treatment possible, and permits in-home monitoring of some patients’ conditions. It also eliminates travel for patients needing follow-up care, and makes services available in medically underserved areas. VistA Imaging first became operational in 1990 at the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center to handle radiology, and in 1999, VA spread its use to all VA medical centers.
DR FRANCIS COLLINS WAS UNANIMOUSLY CONFIRMED BY THE SENATE last month as the next director of the National Institutes of Health. Doctor Collins served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993-2008, where he led the Human Genome Project to completion. In addition to his work as NHGRI Director, Dr Collins’ own research laboratory has discovered a number of important genes, including those responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease, a familial endocrine cancer syndrome, and most recently, genes for adult onset (type 2) diabetes and the gene that causes Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome.
AUTHORITY FOR THE ENFORCEMENT AND ADMINISTRATION OF THE HIPAA Security Rule was delegated to the Office for Civil Rights last month. OCR is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 provides federal protections for personal health information held by entities covered by the rule and gives patients an array of rights with respect to that information. Enforcement of the rule had previously been delegated to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Through a separate delegation, CMS continues to have authority for administration and enforcement of the HIPAA Administrative Simplification regulations, other than privacy and security of health information.
THE NATIONAL INSTITTUE OF NEUROLOGICAL DISORDERS AND STROKE has named William D. Matthew, PhD, as director of its Office of Translational Research. Doctor Matthew will lead the Institute’s efforts to translate the results of laboratory research into treatments for neurological disorders. Doctor Matthew was formerly Vice President of R&D Partnering and Business Development at UCB, an international biopharmaceutical company based in Brussels. He holds a PhD in biochemistry from the University of California, San Francisco, and has served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School in Boston and Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. An untold number of potential therapeutic drugs disappear into a critical gap between academia and industry. Academia is the main source of insights into the mechanisms of disease—and hence insights into potential drug targets —but few academic scientists have the means to develop a drug. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies have the resources to formulate a drug and test it in clinical trials, but they cannot invest in a drug without some sign of market value. The OTR aims to close this gap, and accelerate drug development for neurological disorders. The OTR replaces the NINDS Office of Technology Development, and will build on NINDS’ existing programs in translational neuroscience research. According to NINDS, Dr Matthew was selected to lead the OTR because his career ranges from academic neuroscience research to all stages of the drug development process.
THE SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES ADMINISTRATION is moving to provide urgent funding to suicide prevention centers around the nation that are dealing with the enormous hardship wrought by the economic downturn. Many of these centers must cope with a sharp rise in the number of callers in crisis (often because of financial problems). At the same time, these centers are threatened with significant cutbacks in funding from state and local governments and other sources of support. SAMHSA funds the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline through a cooperative agreement for Networking, Certifying and Training Suicide Prevention Hotlines that was awarded to Link2Health Solutions, Inc. SAMHSA is providing more than $1 million in additional funding through a fiscal year 2009 supplement to this cooperative agreement. This supplemental funding will help expand the ability of the network of up to 20 crisis centers participating in the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to deal with the increased demand for services during a time of financial hardship, and to reach out to those in their communities most at risk. The $1,050,000 supplement will be overseen by SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services.