Wednesday, April 06, 2011

First patient to get stem cell therapy comes forward

In the six months since scientists announced they had infused a drug made from human embryonic stem cells into a partially paralyzed patient’s spine, the identity of the recipient has been shrouded in secrecy.
Recently, rumors began circulating in Internet chat rooms that details about the closely guarded experiment were finally about to be revealed.

Now, a 21-year-old Alabama nursing student who was paralyzed from the chest down in a car crash in September has come forward to identify himself as the volunteer.
“I was the first patient,” Timothy J. Atchison of Chatom, Ala., said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday evening. “I’m doing well.”

Atchison, known as T.J. to his family and friends, was a student at the University of South Alabama College of Nursing when his car crashed on Sept. 25, which, Atchison noted, was the birthday of Christopher Reeve, the actor who suffered a devastating spinal cord injury.

After undergoing emergency treatment at a regional medical center, Atchison was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in spinal cord injuries, for rehabilitation. It was there that he agreed to let doctors inject him with the drug — more than 2 million cells made from stem cells into his spine, he said.
“I feel really good about everything,” Atchison said. “I’ve got a positive attitude. I’m trying to live life to the fullest right now.”

The experiment is the first carefully designed attempt to study an embryonic stem cell therapy. It is seen by supporters and opponents of embryonic stem cell research as potentially pivotal to the future of the research, which proponents say could revolutionize medicine and critics denounce as immoral.
The trial is primarily assessing safety, but doctors are also testing whether the cells restore sensation and movement.

Atchison said he has returned to the Shepherd Center three times for follow-up testing and was scheduled for at least two more visits this year, but he would not discuss whether there was any evidence the therapy was helping.
“It’s too early to talk about that. We’re just in the early stages right now. It’s not at the stage to really know what’s going on,” he said.
Atchison, who has learned to drive a specially equipped car that does not require the use of his legs, said he was planning to return to his studies in August.
“I plan on getting back to school,” he said.
Atchison’s father said that his son has maintained a positive attitude, beginning when he was in the emergency room after the accident, and that he understood how seriously he was injured.
“He said, whatever the Lord leaves him with, he’ll do the best he can with it,” Atchison’s father, Timothy Atchison of Millry, Ala., said in a telephone interview Monday.

The Shepherd Center and the Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., which is sponsoring the study, declined to comment.

Special teams trained
After many delays, Geron finally persuaded the Food and Drug Administration last July to allow the company to study 10 patients. Geron spent months training special teams of doctors at seven secret sites around the country so that they could be ready to act quickly. The teams then had to wait for a patient who met the study’s strict criteria — someone who had been paralyzed from the chest down within the previous two weeks.

Surgeons planned to use specially designed equipment to infuse into the first patient’s spine about 2 million “oligodendrocyte progenitor” cells, which Geron scientists had created in the laboratory from embryonic stem cells obtained from days-old embryos left over from fertility treatments. The hope is that the cells will form a restorative sheath around the damaged spinal cord. In tests in hundreds of rats, partially paralyzed animals regained the ability to move, according to Geron.

Supporters, critics watch
The study is being closely monitored by scientists eager to advance the research from the laboratory to the clinic, as well as by patients and patient advocates hoping for cures. Although the cells have been tested in animals, and some clinics around the world claim to offer therapies using human embryonic stem cells, the trial is the first vetted by the FDA to evaluate the strategy in people.
But in addition to being criticized by those citing moral objections to research using the cells because human embryos are destroyed to obtain them, the study has also raised alarm among some proponents of the research. Some argue that the experiment is premature. Others question whether it is ethical. Many fear that the trial risks becoming a major step backward if anything goes wrong, such as the cells causing tumors, or if there is no sign that the cells help.

Spinal cord injuries are also highly unpredictable. Patients often improve on their own, which makes gauging whether the cells had any effect dicey. Some also wonder whether trauma victims who have so recently suffered a life-altering injury might agree to the experiments out of desperation without fully understanding the risks.
Supporters say they are confident that the study had been adequately vetted. The FDA demanded extensive experiments in the laboratory and on animals to provide evidence that the cells hold promise and are safe to test in people. Even if problems occur, research shows that the cells do not leave the site of the injury, indicating patients would not experience negative effects, Geron said. Each subject is assigned an independent advocate to ensure that volunteers fully understand their decision.
Neither Timothy Atchison nor any of his family members would discuss his decision-making process, saying he was working with a family friend to tell his story in a book.

“I just met with my literary agent. We’re trying to figure out what’s in my best interest to talk about right now,” he said.
On her blog, the family friend, Tory Minus of Millry, recounted Atchison’s experience.
“Almost six months ago, my mom called shortly before 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning to tell me that a close family friend named Timothy (or T.J., as most refer to him) was involved in a terrible automobile accident,” Minus wrote. “Mom could barely get the words out. T.J. had suffered a severe injury to his spinal cord and was being air-ambulanced to a regional medical center some 60 miles away.”

By Rob Stein Washington Post

ACORN pleads guilty to felony compensation for registration of voters

The grass-roots community organizing group ACORN once drew the ire of conservative groups and the attention of national media.
And when ACORN faced charges in Las Vegas of voter registration malfeasance in 2008, a flock of political spin doctors and lawyers rushed to its defense.

But three years later, with ACORN's two co-defendants already having taken plea deals and the organization essentially defunct and in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the case received little attention as a lawyer on behalf of ACORN pleaded guilty Wednesday.

After months of negotiations and some legal wrangling, mostly because of a federal court-appointed bankruptcy trustee not wanting to deal with the criminal case, ACORN entered a guilty plea to one count of felony compensation for registration of voters. Its criminal defense attorney, Lisa Rasmussen, entered the plea.

In negotiations with the Nevada attorney general's office 12 other felony counts were dropped against the organization and prosecutors will not argue at the Aug. 10 sentencing hearing.
ACORN faces a maximum $5,000 fine. According to court records, when the national organization closed it's doors in April 2010, the organization had real assets totaling less than $4,000 and "liabilities of more than $4 million."

Prosecutor Patrick Ferguson said he was satisfied with the outcome of the case and said the reason he agreed not to speak at the sentencing hearing was "we're not looking to take money away from other creditors, but a message had to be sent."
Rasmussen was given permission to enter the guilty plea by ACORN's general council, Arthur Schwartz of New York.

In a letter to District Court Judge Donald Mosley, Schwartz said while he authorized the plea, he did "not in any way concede that the statute upon which the charges are based is constitutional."
ACORN has not authorized an appeal in the case, Rasmussen said.
Another defendant in the case, Amy Busefink, who in November pleaded no contest to two counts of conspiracy to commit the crime of compensation for registration of voters, a gross misdemeanor, is appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the statute.

Ferguson said he is looking forward to arguing the appeal and proving the law's constitutionality.
Nevada law states it is "unlawful for a person to provide compensation for registering voters that is based upon the total number of voters a person registers."

Prosecutors argued that ACORN and Busefink authorized a Las Vegas field operative to run an illegal voter-registration program during the 2008 election cycle that paid cash to encourage workers to sign up voters.
ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, also had an illegal quota policy that forced workers to register a certain number of people per shift or face termination, according to authorities.
The field operative who created and ran the incentive program, Christopher Edwards, is serving three years of probation after pleading guilty to two gross misdemeanors.

Busefink is a longtime employee of Project Vote, a national grass-roots organization that registers voters and which worked in partnership with ACORN in 2008. Busefink oversaw Edwards, who was sentenced to a year of probation in January.

ACORN officials had maintained Edwards was ordered not to run the incentive program.
The program, called Blackjack or 21-Plus, rewarded employees with $5 extra per shift if they brought in 21 or more completed voter registration cards.

The 40-year-old organization, which once counted President Barack Obama among its ranks in Chicago, came under fire in recent years for its voter registration tactics.

Conservatives condemned it as a pro-Democrat group engaging in partisan political activities, which violated the tax-exempt status of some of its affiliates.
Congress effectively killed off the group when it slashed the organization's federal funding following a hidden-camera sting by conservative operatives showing ACORN employees giving advice on illegal activities.

By Francis McCabe

Charge dropped in Barry Bonds case

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds' confident defense team rested its case Wednesday without calling a single witness, just minutes after a federal judge accepted the government's request to dismiss one of the five counts against the home run king.

Prosecutors called 25 witnesses to the stand over 2½ weeks, but the defense needed just one minute to present its side. The jury of eight women and four men barely had time to get settled in the courtroom before being told to return Thursday morning for closing arguments.

"We are expecting that you will get this case for decision tomorrow," U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said to the jurors. "Tomorrow will be the last day."

Once indicted on as many as 15 counts, Bonds will face just four charges when the jury starts deliberations in a court house less than two miles from the ballpark where he set records for the Giants. A decision could come as early as Friday -- when the World Series championship flag is raised in San Francisco for the first time.

Faced with a defense motion that Illston was prepared to grant, prosecutors dropped the count accusing Bonds of lying to a grand jury in 2003 when he said prior to that season he never took anything other than vitamins from trainer Greg Anderson.

The defense said the government presented no evidence that Bonds was given tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) and a testosterone ointment, designer steroids known as "The Clear" and "The Cream," before 2003. Bonds testified in front of the grand jury that Anderson told him the substances were flaxseed oil and arthritic balm.

The remaining counts charge Bonds with lying when he denied knowingly receiving steroids from Anderson, denied getting human growth hormone from Anderson and said he only allowed himself to be injected by doctors. The final count accuses Bonds of obstruction of justice.

On the 11th day of the trial, the defense presentation lasted about the time it took Bonds to circle the bases after one of his record 762 home runs. Lawyer Cristina Arguedas read the jury one answer from the grand jury testimony of former Bonds' girlfriend Kimberly Bell in which Bell said she wrote her own diary. That conflicts with Bell's trial testimony, in which she said ghost writer Aphrodite Jones collaborated on the diary.

Defense lawyer Allen Ruby had said Tuesday he might call up to six witnesses, including Bonds, and every spectator seat in the court room was filled in anticipation. But Bonds' never took the stand to tell the jury his side of the story, signaling the defense believes the government has failed to prove its charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

With Anderson in jail on a contempt citation for his refusal to testify, prosecutors had to rely on witnesses who put Bonds near Anderson and needles, along with evidence that Anderson was supplying players with performance-enhancing drugs.

If Bonds is convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on each count. However, federal guidelines suggest a total sentence of 15 to 21 months. For similar offenses in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) case, Illston sentenced cyclist Tammy Thomas to six months of home confinement and track coach Trevor Graham to one year of home confinement.

Illston denied a defense motion to strike testimony that Bonds' testicles shrank, which prosecutors alleged is a side effect of steroids use. She also turned down a defense motion to strike testimony from former AL MVP Jason Giambi and three former players -- Jeremy Giambi, Marvin Benard and Randy Velarde -- all of whom detailed how Anderson supplied them with steroids and human growth hormone.

With the trial nearing its end, there were interjections of humor -- or at least attempts -- by the lawyers. When Illston asked for a "ballpark figure" on the length of closing argument, Ruby estimated three hours and told her, "I think the football people call it a hard cap."

When Ruby said he planned to split the closing with Arguedas, Illston said, "The court does not give you permission to tag team."

Ruby then took a shot at the prosecutors, saying, "We're not going to do that like they did at the grand jury," prompting Illston to respond, "Because there's a judge here, I get to tell you."

She ultimately told them they could share the argument but could not keep alternating.

Twitter Predicts the Stock Market

CS - Twitter Logo
Watch out Bloomberg: There’s no need for that expensive terminal when you have a Twitter feed. So says German doctoral student Timm Sprenger, who analyzed more than 250,000 tweets from a six-month period. He found that using only stock market news from the microblogging site, an investor could have made a 15 percent return—way better than bank interest rates, and better than what many people get using fancy analysts (for comparison, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway sees a growth of about 20 percent in book value annually). Sprenger’s now working on a site that crowdsources financial information and prioritizes news by how frequently it’s retweeted.

ONLY IN AMERICA - See SNOOKI gets laid!!

Bristol Palin’s Abstinence Payday

CS - Bristol Palin 
Her mother must have taught her how to cash in: Bristol Palin made $262,500 from the teen-pregnancy prevention nonprofit Candie’s Foundation.
That is more than seven times the amount Candie’s Foundation spent actually preventing teen pregnancy:
It gave only $35,000 to teen pregnancy health and counseling clinics. It also spent $165,000 on advertising, which includes Palin’s widely mocked commercial.

Glenn Beck to bid farewell to Fox News show

Glenn Beck will be leaving his Fox News show, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be leaving Fox News. Glenn Beck’s production company Mercury Radio Arts and Fox News announced Wednesday that Beck would be transitioning off his daily program to concentrate on developing “a variety of television projects for air on the Fox News Channel as well as content for other platforms including Fox News’s digital properties.”

Beck’s ratings have dropped from 2.9 million views in January of 2010 to 1.8 million in January of 2011 and there has been speculation about his departure for some time.

“Since last August, when he summoned more than 100,000 followers to the Washington mall for the “Restoring Honor” rally, Mr. Beck has lost over a third of his audience on Fox — a greater percentage drop than other hosts at Fox,” David Carr wrote in early March. “True, he fell from the great heights of the health care debate in January 2010, but there has been worrisome erosion — more than one million viewers — especially in the younger demographic.”

Already, media watchers question if the press release with its promise of future projects is just a kind way of reporting that Beck and Fox News are parting ways. NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik writes, “We’ll see about those “special projects” — this boils down to Beck’s departure from Fox.”
Will you be sad to see the chalkboard go?
Are you disappointed by the announcement that Glenn Beck will be leaving his Fox News show?
Yes - 22% (719 votes)
No - 78% (2481 votes)

Fact-checking the Ryan budget plan

 “We need to get rid of all these accounting tricks, all these budget gimmicks, and we've got to attack the drivers of our debt.”
--Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, April 5, 2011

 With a snazzy video presentation and a plan long on rhetoric and short on details, Rep. Ryan unveiled his 2012 “Path to Prosperity” budget blueprint Tuesday, setting the stage of a titanic clash of government philosophies. Give Ryan credit for his willingness to offer some bold ideas on spending, including fundamentally changing the venerable Medicare and Medicaid programs — after all, President Obama punted on those issues — even as Ryan refuses to consider any kind of tax increases to deal with the growing budget deficit.
In any case, the Fact Checker doesn’t deal in philosophical questions; we look at cold, hard facts. Ryan on Tuesday suggested he was going to get rid of “these accounting tricks, all these budget gimmicks” in writing his budget plan. So how did he do?  Here are some initial findings. 

The Facts

First of all, his fancy presentation stacks the deck a bit. His budget presentation shows a scary-looking graph depicting an ocean of red stretching out into the future. The graph is titled, “We are in a Spending-Driven Debt Crisis” and says it is based on “CBO’s Alternative Fiscal Scenario.”  But then when you actually look at one of CBO papers that outlines this scenario, it turns out that the scary scenario is also based on taxes being too low, not just spending being too high. 

In fact, taxes are a big part of the problem. The CBO paper assumes, among other things,  the Bush era tax cuts are extended forever (as Ryan proposes to do), the alternative minimum tax that increasingly snares middle-income Americas is indexed for inflation (Ryan says he will deal with this problem) and tax law evolves so that tax revenues remain at 19 percent of GDP (as Ryan proposes to do.)
The alternative fiscal scenario also accounts for other aspects of current law, such as assuming discretionary spending will match the rate of growth of the nation’s economy (gross domestic product). But a large part of the ocean of red comes from the revenue side of the equation, not just the spending side, as Ryan implies.
 Ryan also claims that his proposal has the imprimatur of the Congressional Budget Office. The budget document declares: “According to the Congressional Budget Office, this budget charts a path to complete balance. By 2040, the CBO estimates that this budget will produce annual surpluses and begin paying down the national debt.”
 This seriously overstates the case.
 Yes, CBO has produced a letter in which it plugged various data, plans and scenarios provided by Ryan’s staff into its budget database. But just as Republicans have repeatedly complained about the cost estimates associated with the Obama health law, this document largely reflects the scenarios that Ryan has concocted. There are, for instance, no real revenue estimates, just an assumption that federal revenues will remain at about 19 percent of GDP.
 In fact, CBO included a major caveat emptor: “CBO’s long-term scenarios and the proposal analyzed here are all subject to pressures over the long term that would make them difficult to sustain.” It said that although under Ryan’s plan debt would shrink relative to the size of the economy, Medicare beneficiaries “would bear a much larger share of their health care costs than they would under the current program,” payments to doctors would shrink dramatically, states would have to pay substantially more for Medicaid and spending for programs other than Social Security and health programs “would be reduced far below historical levels relative to GDP.”
 As the CBO dryly put it, “It is unclear whether and how future lawmakers would address the pressures” resulting from Ryan’s plan.
 Indeed, the spending cuts proposed for the nonsecurity discretionary budget seem absurdly low. Obama’s budget would bring such spending to the lowest level since the Eisenhower administration — about 2.8 percent of GDP in 2016 — and that seemed unrealistic. But Ryan would bring it to about 2 percent of GDP by 2016, giving Americans a bare-bones government they have not experienced since before the Great Depression.
 Mysteriously, though Ryan relies on the CBO to vouch for his plan, he appears to ignore CBO estimates that a repeal of the health care law would lead to an increase in the deficit. Instead, a substantial part of his claimed deficit reduction — $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years — comes from repealing the health care law. Where do those numbers come from? Ryan does not explain, and his spokesman did not respond to a query.
 In one of the more dubious assertions, Ryan relies on a report from the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis to claim his budget would result in a gusher of jobs. Readers always should be wary when politicians rely on analyses from outside groups, rather than respected government auditors.
 The Heritage uses “dynamic” budget analysis, which assumes such things as lower tax rates and less government spending will result in a burst of economic growth and thus more tax revenues, higher wages and more jobs. There has been a long dispute among economists about the actual effect — and whether it can be accurately measured. At first glance, this Heritage model comes up with some numbers that seem rather strange — in fact, so strange that Ryan does not even claim them in his presentation.
 For instance, the Heritage analysis claims that the unemployment rate would hit 2.8 percent in 2021, which is a rate that has never been achieved. The claim must have been even too much for Ryan, since his budget document only mentions a 4 percent unemployment rate in 2015 — which itself would be a neat trick.

The Pinocchio Test

We have only scratched the surface, but a pattern is emerging. As with President Obama’s budget, the Ryan budget plan relies on dubious assertions, questionable assumptions and fishy figures. The ideas may be bold, but the budget presentation falls short of his claim that he is getting rid of budget gimmicks.

Two Pinocchios