One of the pleasures of working for the Tracker is that it's a perfect excuse to sit down in the morning and "read in," sampling the morning's stories, without that voice in your ear that says "Stop fooling around and get to work!"
Here are a few things I noted this morning:
We've read plenty about the difficulties of jousting with insurance companies to get reimbursement for medical care, but I liked a story in Science Times by a Suleika Jaouad, a young woman who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at 22. She's now 24, and she talks about her dealings with insurance companies with a wide-eyed innocence that reminds us, once again, how much financial burden serious illness puts on families who have insurance. "My mother graciously took on the task of disputing claims, keeping track of bills, requesting approval for a procedure or a drug, and spending countless hours on the phone with my provider," she writes. "While it may be a labor of love for my mother, in practice, working out insurance questions is just a lot of labor." Her mother chose to quit her job to handle the insurance claims full-time. Jaouad is chronicling her experience on the Well blog at the Times. (Incidentally, this story ran online almost two weeks ago--on Aug. 9th. If you want to keep current with the Times, discard the paper and read it online.)
1.2 billion-year-old clues to cancer
About 1.2 billion years ago, some single-celled thing used clusters of genes to divide cells, resist stress, and other important jobs. That creature was the common ancestor of yeast and humans, and versions of those gene clusters persist in modern humans. Now, Carl Zimmer reports in Science Times, the identification of those clusters is leading to a new way to search for potential cancer drugs. Edward Marcotte and his colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin are using their knowledge of these gene clusters to make predictions about what kinds of drugs might be useful against cancer (in people, not yeast). And now they're reporting that they have found one--and it looks promising.
Childhood antibiotics and obesity
Rachel Zimmerman of Commonhealth has a frightening episode at the emergency room when her daughter develops cellulitis and quickly needs an infusion of antibiotics. And that leads her to a mention of what sounds like an important study from NYU finding that children exposed to antibiotics from birth to 5 months of age weighed more than those who were not exposed. I mention it because it sounds important and worth following up. I wish, however Zimmerman had reported it, rather than simply reprinting the press release. You'll have to look elsewhere if you want any assessment of this release. One such example is this story by Denise Mann at WebMD, which also wraps in a related study from Nature.
The Science of Rape and Pregnancy
The anthropologist-blogger Kate Clancy has an excellent post at Scientific American on the science that should have informed Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin before he opened his mouth. The pregnancy rate in rape is roughly the same as that in a single act of consensual intercourse, she reports. Her post is particularly useful--and credible--because she acknowledges factors that could affect the pregnancy rate after rape. "Yes, psychosocial stress is associated with fetal loss in some samples," she writes. But she convincingly explains that very little is known about whether the stress associated with rape could affect fetal loss. Kudos to Clancy for evaluating Akin's claims, not just dismissing them as nonsense.
California unveils its climate-change website
While Akin was using a science of his own devising to explain rape and pregnancy, Gov. Jerry Brown of California was relying on more widely accepted science when he unveiled the state's climate-change website, "Climate Change: Just the Facts." Thanks to the Press-Enterpise for letting us know.