HEALTH

CDC: Face masks not necessary for anyone but healthcare professionals

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday issued an interim recommendation around face masks and respirators, suggesting that they are not necessary for use for anyone except those healthcare professionals treating a patient who is either known to have or is suspected of having the H1N1 influenza.

Face masks were one of the items that drug stores quickly ran out of in the wake of the first H1N1 flu reports last month.

“Information on the effectiveness of face masks and respirators for decreasing the risk of influenza infection in community settings is extremely limited,” the CDC stated. “Thus, it is difficult to assess their potential effectiveness in decreasing the risk of novel influenza A (H1N1) virus transmission.”

Instead, the CDC recommended people concerned about contacting the H1N1 virus should wash hands frequently, either with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner; cover mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing; avoid touching eyes, noses and mouths; if sick with the flu, stay home and minimize contact with others for seven days after symptoms begin or after being symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer; and avoid close contact, within 6 ft., with people infected with the H1N1 virus.

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Vitamin D intake can help asthma, COPD patients

BY Michael Johnsen

SAN DIEGO Vitamin D may slow the progressive decline in the ability to breathe that can occur in people with asthma, as a result of human airway smooth muscle proliferation, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in a study released Wednesday.

The group found that calcitriol, a form of vitamin D synthesized within the body, reduced growth-factor-induced HASM proliferation in cells isolated from both persons with asthma and from persons without the disease. The proliferation is a part of process called airway remodeling, which occurs in many people with asthma, and leads to reduced lung function over time.

The researchers believe that by slowing airway remodeling, they can prevent or forestall the irreversible decline in breathing that leaves many asthmatics even more vulnerable when they suffer an asthma attack.

“Calcitriol has recently earned prominence for its anti-inflammatory effects,” stated Gautam Damera, who presented the research at the American Thoracic Society’s 105th International Conference on Wednesday. “But our study is the first to reveal the potent role of calcitriol in inhibiting ASM proliferation.”

The investigators have also conducted experiments to determine whether calcitriol, which is currently used to treat psoriasis, could be an effective therapy for COPD.

Although preliminary, their data shows that calcitriol appears to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine secretions in COPD. As with asthma, the researchers believe, calcitriol may also have the added benefit of slowing, if not stopping, the progression of airway remodeling. Others in the field believe calcitriol may also have the potential to inhibit the development and growth of several types of cancer.

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Northwestern U. students win Diabetes Mine Design Challenge

BY Michael Johnsen

EVANSTON, Ill. Two Northwestern University teams took home the top two prizes awarded earlier this week in the Diabetes Mine Design Challenge, which asked teams to create new tools for improving life with diabetes.

The top winners were Eric Schickli, a graduate student in the Master of Science in Engineering Design and Innovation program in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Samantha Katz, a graduate student in the MMM program, a joint MBA and Master of Engineering Management program between the Kellogg School of Management and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

For their efforts, they received a $10,000 prize.

The competition — run by the diabetes information Web site www.diabetesmine.com — was open to anyone, and judges received more than 150 entries, many from top universities across the country.

Schickli and Katz’s winning design was called the LifeCase and LifeApp system, a combined hardware and software system for iPhones that combines a lancer, test strips, a glucose meter, wireless insulin pump management and disease management software all in one package.

“I was looking for an independent study project, and my mother is a Type 1 diabetic, so I knew this would be a way I could help diabetics like her,” Schickli said. “She also had a network of people that we could tap for user interviews.”

By interviewing diabetics and researching diabetic products, the two quickly learned the main complaint about diabetic devices.

“Diabetics have to carry around cases filled with multiple devices to test their blood glucose, and it’s so cumbersome,” Katz said. “They were all looking for devices that could improve their lives and make diabetes take up less of their day,” Schickli added. They decided that an interface that combined aspects of diabetes management into one convenient device would be ideal.

Their final design is a modified iPhone case, complete with a glucose meter, lancer and strip storage. The software interface combines diabetes management software, insulin pump management software, and logs of meals and glucose readings.

The Most Creative award ($5,000) was won by an undergraduate team of Design for America students: Kushal Amin, Can Arican, Hannah Chung, Rita Huen, Mert Iseri, Kevin Li, Justin Liu, Yuri F. Malina, Katy Mess, and Sourya Roy. Involvement in the project crossed the borders of McCormick — students from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education and Social Policy also participated.

Their design, “Jerry the Bear with Diabetes,” is an interactive stuffed toy and web-based play space for children with diabetes. Design for America is a new student-led initiative that creates social impact through human centered participatory design.

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