Russell and Robie Bruesewitz say their daughter Hannah suffered seizures and developmental problems after getting a vaccine.

Jeff Swensen for The New York Times

The New York Times, October 13, 2010, by Adam Liptak, WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday struggled to divine the balance Congress had meant to strike in a 1986 law that established a system to compensate people injured by vaccines while barring some, but not all, lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. David C. Frederick, a lawyer for a couple who said their daughter had been badly hurt by a vaccine, said their lawsuit should be allowed to go forward. “We are talking about trying to eliminate some of the most horrifying and horrible incidents of injury from vaccines that we compel children to take,” he said. The 1986 law, Mr. Frederick said, was meant to allow claims both in a special tribunal known as the vaccine court and in ordinary lawsuits.

Kathleen M. Sullivan, a lawyer for the defendant, said that approach would expose the industry to crushing liability that could drive companies from the marketplace and imperil the nation’s vaccine supply.

Ms. Sullivan, who represents Wyeth, now a part of Pfizer, added that the ruling in the case, Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, No. 09-152, could affect thousands of unrelated cases concerning autism in the vaccine court.

The case before the justices involved Hannah Bruesewitz, who received a vaccine known as D.T.P. as an infant in 1992. The vaccine offers protection against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, or whooping cough.

She suffered intense seizures and has experienced developmental problems and seizure disorders ever since.

Ms. Bruesewitz’s parents filed a petition for compensation in the vaccine court, which ruled against them, saying they had not proved that the vaccine caused their daughter’s injuries. They then sued in state court in Pennsylvania. The case was moved to federal court, where Wyeth has so far won.

The question in the case is whether the 1986 law displaced — or pre-empted, in the legal jargon — ordinary injury suits brought under state law. The Roberts court has been much engaged with the limits of the pre-emption doctrine, and it will also hear cases this term in cases involving arbitration, immigration and seat belts that raise pre-emption questions.

Ms. Bruesewitz’s case turns on the text of the federal law, which bars ordinary lawsuits “if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings.”

Much of the argument concerned the meaning of the word “unavoidable.”

“The language that they used is certainly, to say the least, confusing,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

Ms. Sullivan, the Wyeth lawyer, said Congress had meant to allow only lawsuits arising from manufacturing flaws and inadequate warnings. Suits over asserted design defects — those arising from the nature of the vaccine itself as compared with other, potentially safer ones — were meant to be barred, she said.

That argument, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said, may require an unconventional use of the crucial word. “It’s pretty hard to say that that word unavoidable means avoidable,” he said.

Justice Elena Kagan was disqualified from the case and was not present at the argument. A 4-to-4 tie would automatically affirm the appeals court decision, meaning that Wyeth would win.

Published the day before……………

Supreme Court to Consider Vaccine Case

By BARRY MEIER for The New York Times

The safety of vaccines is at the heart of a case expected to be heard on Tuesday by the United States Supreme Court, one that could have implications for hundreds of lawsuits that contend there is a link between vaccines and autism.

At issue is whether a no-fault system established by Congress about 25 years ago to compensate children and others injured by commonly used vaccines should protect manufacturers from virtually all product liability lawsuits. The law was an effort to strike a balance between the need to provide care for those injured by vaccines, some of them severely, and the need to protect manufacturers from undue litigation.

Under the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, such claims typically proceed through an alternative legal system known as “vaccine court.” Under that system, a person is compensated if their injury is among those officially recognized as caused by a vaccine. That person, or their parents, can choose to reject that award and sue the vaccine’s manufacturer, but they then face severe legal hurdles created by law to deter such actions.

The case before the Supreme Court is not related to autism. But the biggest effect of the court’s ruling, lawyers said, will be on hundreds of pending lawsuits that contend a link exists between childhood vaccines and autism. Repeated scientific studies have found no such connection.

Also, in several test case rulings over the last two years, administrative judges in vaccine court have held that autism-related cases did not qualify for compensation. During the last decade, about 5,800 of the 7,900 claims filed in vaccine court, or about 75 percent, have been autism-related, federal data show.

Federal data shows that $154 million was paid in fiscal 2010 to 154 claimants involved in vaccine court proceedings. That figure was significantly higher than in preceding years and reflected several unusually high awards, officials involved in the program said.

In the five preceding fiscal years, an average of $68 million in compensation was paid out on an annual basis, federal data indicates. A compensation fund is financed by an excise tax on vaccinations.

The case to be heard on Tuesday involves an 18-year-old woman, Hannah Bruesewitz, who suffered seizures when she was 6 months old and subsequently suffered developmental problems, her parents say, after receiving a type of D.T.P. vaccine that is no longer sold. The D.T.P. vaccine protects against three potentially deadly childhood diseases: diphtheria; pertussis, which is also known as whooping cough; and tetanus.

Ms. Bruesewitz’s parents have contended in court papers that the vaccine’s manufacturer, which is now a part of Pfizer, knew at the time that their daughter was immunized that there was a safer version of the D.T.P. vaccine but did not produce it. The company rejected that contention

Initially, Ms. Bruesewitz’s parents brought a claim on her behalf to the vaccine court, but the severe injuries that she reportedly suffered were removed from the list of those that qualified for compensation a month before the case was heard. An administrative judge in vaccine court subsequently rejected her claim, so her parents filed a product liability lawsuit against Wyeth, a Pfizer unit that had acquired the vaccine’s manufacturer, Lederle Laboratories.

Lower court judges have ruled that her claims are barred by the federal Vaccine Act. As a result, Ms. Bruesewitz, who lives with her family in Pittsburgh and requires specialized care, has not received any compensation, her father, Russell Bruesewitz, said in a telephone interview.

“The cost of her care is an ongoing burden,” Mr. Bruesewitz said.

The Supreme Court review revolves around the narrow question of whether Congress in passing the Vaccine Act intended to bar lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers based on so-called design defect claims. A vaccine design defect claim essentially asserts that the manufacturer should have sold a different vaccine, which plaintiffs say would have been safer than the one used.

Those filing briefs arguing that Congress intended to permit such lawsuits include the American Association for Justice, a plaintiffs’ lawyers group, and the National Vaccine Information Center, an advocacy group.

Those filing briefs arguing that Congress intended to bar them include the solicitor general of the United States, the Chamber of Commerce and several professional medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.

James M. Beck, a lawyer in Philadelphia who defends makers of drugs and medical devices, said in a phone interview that a ruling in favor of the Bruesewitzes would allow hundreds of lawsuits asserting a link between vaccines and autism to go forward.

“If these cases go forward, it will make it economically unfeasible for anyone to make vaccines in this country,” said Mr. Beck.

Mr. Bruesewitz said that he and his wife were not opposed to vaccination. Instead, he said they pressed his daughter’s claim because he thought that vaccine producers needed to face the threat of litigation to produce safer medications.

“What we want and are concerned about is to make sure that the safety of vaccines in this country is constantly enhanced,” Mr. Bruesewitz said.

Shewanella oneidensis strain MR-1 Image: Wikimedia commons,    Gross L, PLoS Biology Vol. 4/8/2006, e282

Microbial appendages can conduct significant amounts of electricity, but how the bacteria use the so-called “nanowires” is still unclear, October 13, 2010, by Jef Akst  —  Bacterial hair-like extensions appear to be capable of conducting electricity down their length, possibly playing a key role in respiration by allowing the cells to dump electrons at distances far outside the cell.

The results, reported online today (11th October) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, add to a controversial body of literature about the function of these conductive pili, or “nanowires.”

“It is the first time in which [researchers] actually measure electron transport along the wires at micrometer distances, [which] make it a biologically relevant process,” said microbiologist Gemma Reguera of Michigan State University, who was not involved in the research. “This suggests they could be relevant mode of respiration for bacteria.”

“It’s an incredibly important finding,” agreed microbiologist Derek Lovley of the University of Massachusetts, who also did not participate in the study. “It’s fascinating that these microorganisms can make electricity and can get electrons outside the cell.”

Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 are among a class of bacteria that can generate energy using solids, such as metal oxides, as electron acceptors. Unlike oxygen, for example, which diffuses into cells to accept the electrons produced during respiration, these solids are found outside cells. These bacteria must thus find a way to transport their electrons to solid surfaces across the cell membrane.

A number of strategies have been proposed for how bacteria can accomplish this. If the cells are in direct contact with the solids, electron transfer proteins on the cell membrane can transfer the electrons. Alternatively, small soluble molecules may act as chauffeurs, shuttling the electrons to their final destination. Recently, a third mechanism of electron dumping has been proposed: Bacteria use nanowires to conduct the electrons to areas where the metal electron acceptors may be more abundant.

Evidence that nanowires actually conduct electrons, or electricity, down their length has been lacking, however. To resolve this lingering question, biophysicist Moh El-Naggar of the University of Southern California and his colleagues grew S. oneidensis under conditions that promote the production of lots of nanowires, namely by limiting the number of available electron acceptors. They then rested platinum rods at each end of a nanowire and applied a voltage. Sure enough, the nanowire conducted the current. When the nanowires were snipped, the current stopped.

“It’s the first demonstration that these bacterial nanowires are actually conductive,” El-Naggar said. “The question is now, what are the implications for these bacterial nanowires in entire microbial communities?”

Until in vivo measurements can be made, it is impossible to know if the bacteria are using the nanowires as a mechanism for transporting electrons for respiration, El-Naggar cautioned. Unfortunately, the techniques available today are adopted from research on inorganic wires, which may impact any findings, he said. But when the group repeated the experiment using a different technique, they got the same results. “Our research indicates that bacteria produce nanowires that are capable of mediating electron transport over long distances.”

Click to finish reading this article: Bacteria form electric circuits? – The Scientist – Magazine of the Life Sciences http://www.the, October 13, 2010, by Bjorn Carey  —  We’ve all sucked down a milkshake so quickly that it causes a sudden headache—the dreaded brain freeze. But . . . milkshake. Tasty. Must. Drink. Could chugging the rest of that shake cause lasting brain damage?

First, let’s get one thing straight. “This condition is referred to as an ‘ice-cream headache,’ ” says Stacey Gray, a sinus surgeon at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. “It’s a very technical term.” Although there’s no published paper saying as much, a milkshake slurped too quickly probably does not actually lower brain temperature. Besides, Gray says, the temporary pain can’t do any harm because it has nothing to do with the brain.

There are two schools of thought on what causes the ice-cream headache. The drink may chill the air in your sinuses and cause the blood vessels in the nasal cavity near your forehead to constrict, creating pain similar to a migraine. Or perhaps it touches off a branch of the trigeminal nerve in your mouth, triggering a pain response in the nerve that’s responsible for facial sensation.

The condition has not drawn research funding from the National Institutes of Health, so no one has performed the simple experiment that Gray says would settle things once and for all. “You could block the nerve with an injection of lidocaine, cool the area, and if it still happens it’s probably a circulatory-system thing,” she says. “But no one seems that interested.”

Even if a cold drink was able to temporarily chill your brain a few degrees, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Neurosurgeons including Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Rafael Tamargo often take the brain from its cozy resting range of between 98.6˚F and 100.4˚ all the way down to 64˚. “There are situations, particularly for correcting blood-vessel problems like an aneurysm, where we cool the brain in order to stop circulation to an area to perform our work safely,” he says. When the brain is chilled to 68˚, its metabolism and electrical activity drop to 15 percent; surgeons reduce it to 64˚for good measure.

“Even if the patient wasn’t anesthetized, at that temperature they would be in a noninteractive state, unable to sense stimuli or produce a response,” Tamargo says. “But once you warm the brain up, it picks right up from where it left off. It’s not harmful at all.” So whether your brain is frozen or not, if you can handle a little pain, slurp away.

Power Up with Protein for Stronger Muscles, October 13, 2010, by Dana Sullivan  —  You don’t have to lift the heaviest weights to build bigger muscles. But you do have to do enough reps to exhaust your muscles.

Many gym-goers believe they have to pump iron with heavy weights to get the biggest muscle gain. But a new study at McMaster University shows you can build just as much muscle using lighter weights, as long as you reach muscle fatigue. That means keep going until you can’t lift anymore. This is especially good news for the elderly, people with arthritis and weight lifting novices. Start with a weight that you can lift 12 to 15 times before fatiguing. Repeat each exercise until you can no longer do another while still maintaining proper form.

When it comes to having enough energy to lift weights, build muscle and then maintain it, what you eat makes a difference. Even if you can lift a ton of weight, if your diet consists of simple carbohydrates, fatty foods and sugary drinks, much of your hard work will be in vain because protein is muscles’ foundation. When you lift a weight heavy enough to challenge your muscles, it causes the muscle fibers to literally tear. But then, as the muscle tissue heals, it becomes stronger than it was. In order to build new, stronger muscle than you’ve broken down with exercise — a condition called positive protein balance — you need adequate protein in your diet.

Protein = Power
Muscle tissue is about 15 to 20 percent protein, so if you want to maintain the muscle you’re building, make sure you’re eating enough protein. How much is enough? “Casual exercisers, or people who exercise for overall health and fitness, need 0.5 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily,” says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy and a group fitness instructor at the Cleveland Clinic. (Competitive athletes need more.) For a person who weighs 150 pounds, that adds up to 75 to 135 grams of protein a day. You can get enough by eating foods such as fish (24 grams per three-ounce serving), poultry, eggs, low- and nonfat dairy (eight grams per eight ounces of milk), soy-based foods, beans (15 grams per cup) and lentils. If your day-to-day diet lacks protein, you can boost your intake with protein shakes and supplements, but Moore always recommends whole foods first.

Count on Complex Carbs
Thanks to the low-carb diet craze of a few years ago, carbohydrates got a bad rap. But if you want to have enough energy for exercise to build stronger muscles, you need to eat them. “Carbohydrates, which our bodies store as glycogen, are the body’s preferred energy source,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, a registered dietitian and the director of wellness coaching at the Cleveland Clinic. “They provide fuel to working muscles during exercise, maintain blood sugar levels and help brain function.”  The human body stores about 150 grams of glycogen, which isn’t much. That’s why we need to continually fuel ourselves to avoid hitting the wall. The bottom line: If you avoid carbs, your exercise performance suffers.

So how many carbs should you get? “If you eat a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, about 1,200 of those calories [300 grams] should come from carbohydrates,” Moore says. She advises choosing complex carbs, the ones that do double duty by adding fiber to your diet, including whole-grain bread, pasta and cereal, brown rice, couscous, and vegetables. If possible, eat foods that provide long-lasting energy, such as yogurt, oatmeal with bananas or half of a whole-grain bagel with peanut butter.

What you eat after a workout matters too. “There is a 30- to 45-minute window following exercise when the muscles are most likely to replenish the glycogen you used up during exercise,” Jamieson-Petonic says. Go for foods that are quickly absorbed, such as low-fat chocolate milk or a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread. Note, though, that refueling is mostly important for high-intensity exercisers and high-performance athletes. If you’re exercising lightly or moderately, you probably don’t need a post-workout snack.

The Bottom Line on “Energy” Bars
It’s a mistake to think you need bars or nutritional supplements to give your body the fuel it needs for exercise. “Whole foods contain so many nutrients, including protein, vitamins and minerals,” Moore says. Of course, protein bars are super convenient, and there’s no harm in occasionally eating one for a pre-exercise snack, or even as a last-ditch breakfast option. Just know that they are not all created equal. Some contain unhealthy fats and are loaded with sugar and/or high-fructose corn syrup. Plus, energy bars often pack 200 calories (or more) in a dense, little (not very filling) package.