Sunday, September 27, 2009

HIV Vaccine Shows Early Signs of Success

Vaccine to Prevent HIV Show Early Signs of Success

Written by: Karen Benardello

Scientists have announced that a vaccine in its early stages has shown signs of potentially being able to prevent the virus, and government leaders have taken part in the effort to determine how to improve it. While it will most likely take years for the vaccine to become widely available if the positive results keep up, both the World Health Organization and the U.N. agency UNAIDS said the announcement has instilled new hope in the science community.

The study tried for the first time ever to prevent HIV the same way they treat it-by using a combination of two different vaccines. During the study, the scientists used the prime-boost approach, meaning the first vaccine helps the immune system attack HIV, and the second one strengthens the response.

The vaccines included in the combination were ALVAC, which is produced by Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine division of French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis. ALVAC uses canarypox, a bird virus, to carry synthetic versions of three HIV genes into the body. The combination also includes AIDSVAX, which is now produced by Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases and contains a genetically engineered version of a protein on the virus’ surface.

The Thailand Ministry of Public Health worked with the U.S. Army to conduct the study. The Army has a history of working with the Thai government to develop and test vaccines and medicine to help treat both troops and the general public.

The study used strains most commonly found in Thailand, and scientists are still unsure if the vaccine will help prevent strains from the U.S., Africa and other parts of the world. Researchers in Bangkok announced on Wednesday that the combo cut the risk of becoming infected by more than 31 percent of the study’s 16,000 volunteers.

While the results are not stunning, “it’s the first evidence that we could have a safe and effective preventive vaccine,” said U.S. Army Col. Jerome Kim, a doctor who helped lead the study. Researchers, scientists and the U.S. Army will meet with donors in New York next week to discuss how to accelerate the benefits of the vaccine, Dr. Alan Bernstein, the executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, also said on the subject.

The scientists and government leaders hope the vaccine works at least somewhat, as 7,500 people worldwide are infected with HIV everyday. But as of now, the scientists still have a lot of work to do. They still have to determine how long the vaccine’s protection will last and whether booster shots will be needed.

Temporary Replacement Found for Ted Kennedy’s Senate Seat

Temporary Replacement Found for Ted Kennedy’s MA Senate Seat

Written by: Karen Benardello

Former Democratic Party chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. was named on Thursday to temporarily fill the Massachusetts senate seat left vacant by the late Edward Kennedy. While Gov. Deval Patrick acknowledged the choice was controversial, he felt it was more important not to be “one voice short” on the issues before Congress.

The Massachusetts Legislature set the way for the announcement when it approved a bill on Wednesday allowing the governor to make an interim appointment. Even though the legislation would not take effect immediately, Patrick signed an emergency letter to make the appointment right away.

However, the Massachusetts Republican Party did not agree with Patrick’s choice, and urged Secretary of State William F. Galvin to initially reject the governor’s request to make the legislation effective immediately. The party pointed to the fact that prior decisions by the Supreme Judicial Court showed the governor’s power applied only when a law is subject to a public referendum. The party also wanted Galvin to wait at least a week, so that they could seek an advisory opinion from the court.

But Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, and their son, Edward Jr., supported the decision, and even attended the announcement at the Massachusetts Statehouse. Kirk is a Kennedy family friend who served on Ted Kennedy’s staff for eight years early in his career. Kirk is also the chairman of the JFK Library Foundation, a Boston attorney and sits on the board of Hartford Financial Services, which sells life and property insurance.

Kirk will serve until a special election is held on January 19, during which voters will pick Kennedy’s permanent replacement. However, Kirk will not be a candidate in that election. He was picked partly because he poses no threat to the candidates competing in the special election, as he has never served in political office.

Kirk showed his gratitude of being picked by saying “He (Sen. Kennedy) often said that representing the people of Massachusetts in the Senate of the United States was the highest honor that he could possibly imagine, and it is certainly nothing that I imagined, but it will be my highest honor, as well.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Silent Journey" documentary review

NATIONAL SCENE MAGAZINE (, under "Entertainment" section) EXCLUSIVE:

"Silent Journey"

Written by: Karen Benardello

In an aspiring tribute to what parents of children with multiple disabilities go through, and the daily struggles these children face, Sandy Rochelle released her documentary Silent Journey on DVD. This touching movie chronicles the struggles her son David, who was born deaf and autistic, encountered during the 1970s and ‘80s, a time when doctors were even reluctant to diagnose, much less treat, the brain development disorder.

The movie primarily focuses on the obstacles David faced during his childhood, particularly in his education, after being born on June 1, 1972. Since Sandy and her husband Alan always wanted children, they were ecstatic when David was born on June 1, the day Marilyn Monroe, Andy Griffith, Pat Boone and Morgan Freeman were all born, as they felt that meant their son was destined to do great things. But the Rochelles knew something was wrong with David at an early age when he continuously wouldn’t respond to slamming doors, ringing phones and even ambulances.

After doctors confirmed the Rochelles fears that David was indeed deaf, Sandy felt it in her soul that he was also autistic. Viewers of Silent Journey, not just those who have disabled children, can feel Sandy’s disappointment when those doctors refused to acknowledge that he was also autistic, instead suggesting he had other illnesses, such as Central Nervous System Damage and minimal brain development, or that he was just emotionally disturbed or atypical.

But Sandy’s determination to get her son treatment really shone through, as she discussed the fact that she, Alan and David would travel with from Manhattan to Queens by subway twice a week so that he could attend the infant program at the Lexington School for the Deaf, the only educational program of its kind at the time. While the program seemed to work at first, the school administrator eventually unjustly suggested that Sandy and Alan’s marriage may have caused David’s emotional problems. He even told her to read Bruno Betteheim’s The Empty Fortress, Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self, which blamed mothers for autism.

But David stopped attending the program at the Lexington School after the administrator’s suggestion and the fact that it seemed to stop helping him. David stayed home for months as Sandy looked for another school for him. Unfortunately, autism schools didn’t want a deaf child, and deaf programs couldn’t accommodate autistic children. But after much persistence, and with the help of the state, Sandy admirably founded the Special Education Unit, or SEU, for children with multiple disabilities, at the Lexington School.

Silent Journey also effectively incorporates interviews with doctors and other people who knew David as he was growing up as a child. Dr. Thomas Colasuonno, who knew David at the Lexington School, said that he had great opportunities at the school, but unfortunately, without the right medical treatment, he had difficulty with the other children. But Prof. Gabriel Grayson, who first met David in the ‘80s, appreciates how far he’s come, and how well he interacts with others now.

This documentary is a great resource for anyone who wants to witness the potential children with multiple disabilities have, and the growth they go through when they overcome obstacles. In Silent Journey, Sandy also reaches out to families with children who have multiple disabilities, and it shouldn’t be missed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

CA Prosecutors Seeking Death Penalty for Mother Accused of Killing Girl, Putting Body in Suitcase

CA Prosecutors Seeking Death Penalty for Melissa Huckaby, Mother Accused of Killing Friend of Her Daughter, Putting Body in Suitcase

Written by: Karen Benardello

Prosecutors in California said during a hearing yesterday that they are seeking the death penalty for Melissa Huckaby, the 28-year-old former Sunday school teacher who is charged with kidnapping, raping and killing an 8-year-old girl whose body was found stuffed in a suitcase. The defendant showed no emotion as Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa told the court of his office’s intentions.

Huckaby pleaded not guilty to the charges during the hearing, which took place in the San Joaquin County Superior Court. She was indicted two months ago for killing Sandra Cantu, a friend of her daughter, as well as drugging two other people.

During the hearing, which Cantu’s family attended, Superior Court Judge Linda Lofthus denied Huckaby’s request for a new attorney. She also scheduled another hearing Sept. 25. Testa said he hopes the trial will happen sooner rather than later, because younger witnesses he may call to testify will have a harder time remembering specifics about what happened.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Where is the Water Underneath India Disappearing To? NASA Is Determined to Find Out

September ‘09 Space Article-National Scene Magazine

Where is the Water Underneath India Disappearing To?

NASA Is Determined to Find Out

Written by: Karen Benardello

Underneath the land of one of the most populated countries in the world, the water has been mysteriously disappearing, which has lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) hydrologists to try to help determine where the supply is going.

Matt Rodell, one such hydrologist, and his colleagues at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., have been observing the country from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). They have determined the water is being pumped and consumed by the country’s citizens, primarily to irrigate cropland, at a faster rate than the aquifers can be replenished by natural processes.

Groundwater accumulates in aquifers and decline and rise again naturally each year. But its levels do not respond to changes in weather as rapidly as lakes, streams, and rivers do, so when they are pumped for irrigation, so it can take months or years to their original levels.

The northern states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, for example, have all seen groundwater depletion, due in part to staggering population growth, rapid economic development and water-hungry farms. Data provided by India’s Ministry of Water Resources stated the regional rate of depletion was unknown.

According to GRACE, groundwater levels have been declining by an average of one meter every three years (one foot per year), and more than 26 cubic miles of groundwater disappeared between 2002 and 2008. “We don’t know the absolute volume of water in the Northern Indian aquifers, but GRACE provides strong evidence that current rates of water extraction are not sustainable,” Rodell said.

The loss is particularly alarming because it occurred when there were no droughts. In fact, rainfall was slightly above normal recently. “The region has become dependent on irrigation to maximize agricultural productivity, so we could be looking at more than a water crisis,” Rodell also added.

”At its core, this dilemma is an age-old cycle of human need and activity-particularly the need for irrigation to produce food,” said Bridget Scanlon, a hydrologist at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas in Austin. “That cycle is now overwhelming fresh water reserves all over the world. Even one region’s water problem has implications beyond its borders.”