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Joe Satran
Joe reports on doctors, diseases and the culture of modern medicine as a staff writer for The Huffington Post. He previously covered food and entertainment for HuffPost. He was an English major at Yale and has worked at DETAILS magazine, for the Huffington Post Blog Team and at the Yale Sustainable Food Project. In college, he started Yale's biggest campus blog, The Bullblog. He lives in Los Angeles.

Entries by Joe Satran

Ashley Madison Hack Creates Ethical Conundrum For Researchers

(0) Comments | Posted August 31, 2015 | 3:34 PM

When hackers dug into the databases of infidelity-focused dating website Ashley Madison and made the personal information of millions of users publicly available in mid-August, suspicious spouses weren't the only ones tempted to take a peek. Sex researchers, whose work is often hamstrung by subjects' reluctance to reveal...

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Children's Hospitals Cut Down On CT Scans To Prevent Cancer

(0) Comments | Posted August 27, 2015 | 5:56 PM

When your children are sick, it's hard not to want doctors to do everything in their power to cure them. But when it comes to CT scans, less is often more.

That's because CT scanners -- which use X-rays to produce richly detailed images of almost any...

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Scientists Take Huge Step Toward Universal Flu Vaccine

(0) Comments | Posted August 27, 2015 | 2:44 PM

A universal flu vaccine -- one that provides immunity against every strain of the influenza virus for multiple years -- is the holy grail of flu research. It would be a medical breakthrough on the order of penicillin, with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. And scientists just got one crucial step closer to making it a reality.

Two separate groups of scientists published papers this week demonstrating that a new type of flu vaccine can provide protection against multiple strains of the disease, rather than just one. Though a truly universal flu vaccine that could be given to humans remains years away, infectious disease experts hailed the new findings as a major breakthrough.

"These are very good papers. There are no problems with them," Dr. Peter Palese, a renowned flu expert at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told The Huffington Post. "What we need to do now is put [these vaccines] in humans and see if they work. That's the only question at this point." 

One group of researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Nature Medicine, tested the new type of vaccine on mice and ferrets, while the other group, which published its paper in Science, tested it on monkeys. Both teams found that the vaccine increased the test subjects' immunity against both the H1N1 flu type, often called "swine flu," and the H5N1 type, or "bird flu." Until now, all flu vaccines have only been able to protect against one specific strain of flu.

Even if it's determined that the new vaccine type can work in humans, years of clinical trials will be needed before such vaccines could come to market. But if the research pans out, experts believe that within the decade, we could have a vaccine that protects against all strains of influenza for years on end.

The goal would be to try to make it so that you don't have to get immunized every year -- but maybe once every five or 10 years. That would be a major step forward.

American virologists Jonas Salk (1914-1995) and Thomas Francis (1900-1969) developed the first-ever flu vaccines in 1938. Every vaccine developed since then has operated on the same basic principle: The vaccines lead the human immune system to produce antibodies that attach to the end of the flu virus's hemagglutinin, the part that the virus uses to access our cells. The antibodies prevent the virus from successfully invading the cells and causing disease.

But the reason vaccines can protect against only a single strain of the flu is that the ends of the hemagglutinin are structured differently in each strain.

Flu shots generally contain three or four different types of vaccines, so they can offer immunity to the handful of strains that scientists predict will be most common in a given season. But the flu virus can change its genetic makeup so quickly that the ends of its hemagglutinin change completely from year to year, which is why a vaccine given one year confers little to no immunity from a subsequent year's flu strains. Hence the need to get a flu shot every fall. 

But the scientists who wrote the two papers published this week took an entirely different approach. Instead of targeting the invasive ends of the hemagglutinin, they targeted the "stems," which connect the ends to the rest of the virus. Since the structure of these stems doesn't vary much between different strains of the flu, an antibody that attacks the stem should defuse a wide variety of strains.

Scientists never even thought to develop vaccines aiming at the hemagglutinin stems until recently, because it only became clear a few years ago that humans produced antibodies that targeted the stems. 

That's partially because humans don't produce very many of these antibodies. And it's still unclear whether any vaccine could spur our immune systems to produce enough stem-targeted antibodies to fight off flu strains.

Even if a vaccine can trigger production of a sufficient quantity of stem-targeted antibodies, no one knows how long the body will do so after vaccination, so we have no idea how long any immunity conferred by such flu shots would last. 

"In a perfect world, it would last for life," said Dr. Ian Wilson of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, who is one of the authors of the Science paper. "But we have no idea how long it will last for the moment. The goal would be to try to make it so that you don't have to get immunized every year -- but maybe once every five or 10 years. That would be a major step forward."

Still, one concern is that flu viruses could start to vary the structures of their stems more widely than they currently do, mitigating the advantage of this new type of vaccine.

"It's a constant arms race with all of these viruses," Wilson said. "Basically, the immune system can neutralize the virus that's infected with, then the virus escapes, and the immune system attacks the new virus … This is a constant process with all viruses."

Only more research -- including human trials -- will be able to answer these questions. 

Dr. Barney Graham of the National Institute of Health, who is one of the authors of the Nature Medicine paper, told HuffPost that the two teams were aware of one another's work. The researchers who published the Science paper, he said, "made [the vaccine] in a different way, and used different materials and such, but they ended up showing very similar results. So both papers complemented each other and supported each other."  

"This is a proof of concept that puts us on a path toward a universal vaccine," Graham continued. "It's not that we have something that's going to be in a bottle next year. I don't want people to get that impression. But it is exciting, because it does put us on this path that could lead to...

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Your Cell Phone Could Soon Predict Whether You'll Get The Flu

(0) Comments | Posted August 19, 2015 | 2:14 PM

Cell phones track our every move. A privacy advocate might see this as a problem. But an epidemiologist like Dr. Allison Aiello of the University of North Carolina sees it as an opportunity.

Aiello, along with researchers from across the country, recently published a paper showing...

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Anonymous Essay Recounts Shocking Treatment Of Anesthetized Patients

(3) Comments | Posted August 17, 2015 | 3:01 PM

Going under general anesthesia is always a leap of faith. When you're knocked out for an operation, you have no choice but to trust your doctors completely.

Yet a disturbing essay published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine shows that doctors sometime betray...

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FDA Approval Of Medical Devices Involves Shockingly Little Research

(0) Comments | Posted August 13, 2015 | 2:29 PM

Are federal regulators playing fast and loose with the health of the tens of millions of Americans who rely on medical devices to see, walk and survive? 

That's the suggestion of a new study that finds most medical devices go to market with little evidence...

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IBM Is Teaching Watson To Interpret Medical Images

(0) Comments | Posted August 12, 2015 | 6:47 PM

In the latest sign that the singularity is nigh, IBM announced last week that it would start teaching its ultra-fast computer system "Watson" to be something like a robotic radiologist. 

The goal is for Watson -- most famous for beating human opponents on "Jeopardy!" -- to...

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Testosterone Therapy Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be, Study Finds

(0) Comments | Posted August 10, 2015 | 6:20 PM

Millions of men, mostly over the age of 50, are now using testosterone therapy to treat a broad array of symptoms -- erectile dysfunction, weight gain, listlessness -- thought to be caused by low testosterone levels, which the pharmaceutical industry in copious advertising calls "Low-T." 


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How Google Glass Could Save Lives In The Hospital ER

(0) Comments | Posted August 10, 2015 | 3:38 PM


Google suspended commercial production of Google Glass in January, despite copious media attention, largely because few normal consumers saw a compelling reason to buy the $1,500 computerized eyewear.

But not everyone thinks Google Glass is useless. Major hospitals have been

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New Study Links Chronic Jet Lag To Weight Gain, Early Breast Cancer Onset

(0) Comments | Posted July 17, 2015 | 11:19 AM

Anyone who's flown across the country knows jet lag can be unpleasant. But a growing body of research suggests that subjecting yourself to jet lag on a regular basis can also have major consequences for your health: weight gain, impaired memory -- and, according to one new study,...

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Diet Pepsi With Aspartame Isn't Going Away Completely

(0) Comments | Posted July 10, 2015 | 4:45 PM

Aspartame lovers can stop hoarding Diet Pepsi now. 

In April, PepsiCo announced that it was removing aspartame from Diet Pepsi in response to growing consumer concern about the artificial sweetener's possible adverse health effects, and replacing it with sucralose. On Thursday,the Wall Street Journal reported the drink company's...

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Whole Foods Sued For Misleading Sugar Claims

(0) Comments | Posted July 10, 2015 | 3:33 PM

Whole Foods is in trouble again. 

The supermarket chain, still reeling from the revelation that it had systematically overcharged customers for packaged foods for years, is now facing...

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McDonald's 'Sustainable' Filet-O-Fish Threatens Alaska Fishermen's Livelihood

(0) Comments | Posted July 9, 2015 | 4:02 PM

In January 2013, McDonald's made waves in the media by committing to use only wild Alaskan pollock, certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), to make its popular Filet-O-Fish sandwiches in the U.S.. With awareness of an overfishing problem on the rise, this move was hailed...

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The 14 Major Restaurant Chains With The Fastest-Growing Sales

(0) Comments | Posted July 8, 2015 | 6:11 PM

Domino's Pizza was the fastest-growing major restaurant chain in America in the first quarter of this year, according to a Forbes analysis of publicly-traded food service companies.

Same-store sales growth -- a crucial measure of the annual growth in sales at stores open at...

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Arby's Launches Support Line For Vegetarians Tempted By Its New Bacon

(0) Comments | Posted July 7, 2015 | 5:05 PM



On June 28, Arby's restaurants across the country began selling three sandwiches featuring bacon baked with brown sugar. 

The brown sugar bacon will only be available until the end of July, but in the months leading up to its launch, Arby's executives became concerned...

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Gluten-Free Foods Are Not More Nutritious For Most People, Study Finds

(0) Comments | Posted July 7, 2015 | 3:34 PM

A large study of gluten-free foods confirms what health experts have long been saying, but many consumers refuse to believe: Foods without the compound are no healthier for most people than gluten-containing counterparts. 

The study's authors, led by Jason Wu, a research fellow at the University of...

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Bourbon Production Climbs To Historic High

(12) Comments | Posted July 6, 2015 | 8:33 PM

At no point in recent memory have consumers been as excited about bourbon as they are today.

"We are in the middle of a global whiskey renaissance," Lisa Hawkins, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council, said. "There is a fascination with bourbon in the U.S. and abroad, with...

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The Fast Food Chains Americans Love And Hate The Most

(152) Comments | Posted July 2, 2015 | 6:14 PM

Perhaps the key narrative in the world of fast food today is the rise of Chick fil-A and Chipotle and the fall of McDonald's. Industry analysts could build an entire career on an explanation of this phenomenon, but it's really not so complicated: American consumers love Chick fil-A and Chipotle,...

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17 Foods That Aren't Worth Making At Home

(100) Comments | Posted July 2, 2015 | 2:27 PM

Once upon a time, if there were a food you wanted to eat, you had to make it yourself. In some parts of America, this wasn't so long ago -- if you lived in the Texas Hill Country in the 1920s, for example, you probably baked all your own bread...

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Whole Foods Co-CEOs Admit To Overcharging Customers

(187) Comments | Posted July 1, 2015 | 8:08 PM

Consumer trust in Whole Foods Market was shattered last week when a New York City government investigation revealed that the supermarket had been systematically overcharging customers for packaged foods since at least 2010. At first, Whole Foods representatives stridently denied the claims -- but today, company executives admitted...

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