Here’s yet another example of the law of unintended consequences — one that could have a harmful impact on the already-struggling U.S. health care system.

About 260 foreign medical students could lose their medical residency assignments as a result of the Trump Administration’s order banning travel to the U.S. from seven countries.

The Association of American Medical Colleges says the order could have a far-reaching effect on medical research and may also ultimately cause problems for patients in the U.S.

The organization released a statement saying that it’s “deeply concerned” about the order, which has been challenged in the U.S. courts and has been suspended — for now.

“International graduates play an important role in U.S. health care, representing roughly 25 percent of the workforce,” the statement said. “Current immigration pathways —including student, exchange-visitor, and employment visas — provide a balanced solution that improves health care access across the country ….”
Atul Grover, executive vice president at the AAMC, told Kaiser Health News: “These are doctors. They could be exceptional practitioners and I don’t know if you want to stop them from coming here and serving their patients.”

The countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

One medical student from Sudan described the turn of events as “very devastating. Because you are born in an unfortunate situation, you have to pay the price for that.”

In addition to the 260 applicants for a residency slot — the positions were set to be announced March 17 — others who are already involved in a residency program fear that they won’t be able to complete it.

About a quarter of doctors in the U.S. are foreign-born, according to KHN. AAMC projects that there will be a shortage of 94,700 physicians in the U.S. by 2025.

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743px-pistachios_in_a_bag

CRACKING THE CANCER CODE: Certain kinds of hard-shelled nuts can help fight cancer, new research shows.

Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and pistachios help initiate “programmed cell death” in cancer cells, researchers found, although it’s unclear whether their anti-cancer power is reduced by roasting.

That will require further study, they said.

The studies were conducted by Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany.

Image: pistachios could help in the fight against colon cancer and other types of the disease. (Credit: Wikimedia commons)

Sixty percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug, according to the Washington Post. Yet only 27 percent have a pre-existing medical condition, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis concluded.

One seems to be in conflict with the other — If you’re taking a prescription drug, aren’t you taking it for an existing condition?

It’s a hot topic now that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act is being pit-bulled through Congress by the new crew in D.C.

prescription_drugsHealth insurance companies can’t reject applicants for pre-existing conditions under the ACA, and President Trump and some Congressional Republicans have suggested that that’s a good provision to keep in whatever plan they come up with.

But on the other hand they are talking about reviving high-risk pools, which were the half-baked solution to the uninsured crisis prior to the ACA’s passage in 2010. High risk pools were expensive and limited, and many states had to put people on a waiting list for coverage.

The one thing high risk pools do is allow cheaper premiums for younger people. The ACA has a spread-the-risk policy that requires younger, healthier people to sign up for insurance so that older, sicker people can access policies that aren’t off-the-charts expensive.

Here’s the thinking: Take care of numero uno, and don’t worry that maybe one day you yourself may need a more accommodative policy.

The real question is, how many people actually have a pre-existing condition? If 60 percent of Americans are taking a prescription drug — and estimates are as high as 70 percent — the problem is a lot more widespread than the Kaiser analysis claims.

It also depends on how a pre-existing condition is defined. The New York Times reported Monday that a woman diagnosed with a mild form of gastritis — basically an upset stomach — was offered an insurance policy that excluded coverage for anything related to the digestive tract.

If that’s how insurers will determine the scope of coverage once the ACA is repealed, there are going to be a lot of very unhappy Americans under President Trump’s “terrific” new health plan.

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Eat your heart out, Mary Shelley.

Scientists have frozen roundworms — solid — and brought them back to life, possibly paving the way for people to be frozen and brought back.

The Antarctic nematode, known commonly as the roundworm, was the first living organism to be frozen and revived by researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand. The worm survives the freezing process because it has a mechanism that allows it to eliminate all of its water content, a process known as cryoprotective dehydration.

maryshelley“No other organism that we know of is able to withstand freezing in its cells with as good a survival rate,” said biologist, Michael Thorne, lead author of the study. “Once thawed from such a state it is able to produce offspring.

“To date no work has been carried out at the molecular level on any organism able to survive total freezing, and the insights provide a great starting point for a fascinating biological phenomenon.”

The paper, Molecular Snapshot of an Intracellular Freezing Event in an Antarctic Nematode, was published in the professional journal Cryobiology.

In fact, people have been frozen since 1967 in the hopes they can be revived later, when a cure is found for the disease that caused their death. The process, known as cryonics, is controversial within the scientific community.

At a cost of between $10,000 and $12,000, the blood is removed from the body and replaced with a special solution before the person is stored at -196 degrees Celsius.

Several U.S. companies do the work but cryonics is also a growing industry in Russia, according to the UK’s Financial Times, which published a profile in December 2015 about a company outside Moscow that hopes to take a global leadership role in the business.

The writer said of the company’s founder: “He has worked at an investment bank, hosted his own television show and helps run an anti-human-trafficking organization, but his day job is freezing people.”

There is actually a new “cold war” brewing between the two countries over cryonics, according to the newspaper.

What proponents have been waiting for is some proof, or at least some hint, that the process can work — that people can be reanimated after freezing and live again another day.

Is the roundworm study the first step in that direction?

Will people wake up 50 years from now to find that world peace has finally been achieved? Or will they step out of the cryonics storage building and into a brutal, raging war between humans and robots?

Stay tuned ….

Image credits: Prescription drugs, National Cancer Institute; Mary Shelley via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers these days don’t get by on coffee and donuts as they pore over pages and pages of printed data. All they need is someone to plug them into the wall in order to recharge their batteries.

The artificial intelligence bandwagon is building up a head of steam as we race toward the next decade. It’s already been well-documented that the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. has very little to do with off-shore out-sourcing and plenty to do with automation.

People waiting for a surge in high-paying manufacturing jobs with the incoming administration touting an America First strategy are whistling Dixie.

Less discussed is new AI technology that can conduct research — think paralegals reviewing thousands of words of case-law being replaced by computers that can sift through the same material in a fraction of the time and at basically zero cost.

And now AI is being successfully employed to do the heavy lifting in academic studies.

The University of Bristol in the UK used it to analyze 150 years of British history by reviewing newspaper clippings from 1800 to 1950. The material included 35 million articles and 28.6 billion words published by regional papers.

The resulting report tracked big cultural changes.

“The research team tracked the steady decline of steam and the rise of electricity, with a crossing point of 1898,” the university reported in a Jan. 9 press release. “Trains overtook horses in popularity in 1902; and the four largest peaks for ‘panic’ corresponded with negative market movements linked to banking crises in 1826, 1847, 1857 and 1866.”

The results also showed that “males are systematically more present than females during the entire period studied, but there is a slow increase of the presence of women after 1900, although it is difficult to attribute this to a single factor at the time. Interestingly, the amount of gender bias in the news over the period of investigation is not very different from current levels.”

While computers do a thorough and quick job of compiling statistics and identifying trends, interpretations are left up to the flesh-and-blood staff.

But how long will it be before even that role is gobbled up by AI?

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California red chili peppers. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Are you a fan of red-hot chili peppers? The food, I mean — not the band.

Eating chili peppers may reduce your risk of death by heart disease or stroke by 13 percent, a new University of Vermont study concludes.

“Although the mechanism by which peppers could delay mortality is far from certain, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels, which are primary receptors for pungent agents such as capsaicin (the principal component in chili peppers), may in part be responsible for the observed relationship,” study authors said.

Just two weeks from inauguration day, the debate over the Affordable Care Act remains chaotic, with no clear consensus emerging.

Although Republicans seemed in December to be coalescing around a plan to immediately repeal the law — and then delay its implementation for a year or more — some party higher-ups have been contradicting that, insisting that a replacement law accompany the repeal.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, has said a replacement law could be passed this year. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, says it will take “several years” and a consensus with Democrats to come up with a workable alternative.

And now evidence is emerging that Americans don’t want outright repeal of the law. A Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll released Friday revealed that 75 percent of the public does not want to see repeal and delay, the option most often discussed by incoming officials.

Forty-seven percent don’t want repeal at all, and another 28 percent say the ACA shouldn’t be repealed until details of the replacement plan are announced.

“Views split not only on partisan lines but also within the Republican Party, where nearly four in 10 think that the government should guarantee health care is available to the elderly and to low-income people, even if it means more federal involvement,” reported Kaiser Health News.

On Thursday, Tennessee Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn asked in a poll on Twitter: “Do you support the repeal of Obamacare?” Eighty-four percent said no and only 16 percent said yes. (As any attorney will tell you, never ask a question you don’ t know the answer to.)

A focus group comprised of Trump voters expressed concern that a gap between repeal of the ACA and a replacement would lead to health care chaos. But one member of the group said she didn’t think “a smart businessman like Trump would let that happen.”

Interestingly, The New York Times said members of the group were “unmoved by the principle of risk-sharing,” a cornerstone of the ACA and in fact the insurance business in general. The insurance industry is built around the idea of combining low-risk customers with high-risk customers to create a profitable pool that can bail people out if a problem occurs.

But members of the focus group didn’t like the ACA’s insurance mandate, even though they want coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Overall, members of the focus group want health care to be affordable and understandable with adequate access to networks of care providers.

So what would the GOP alternative look like? The bill passed by Congress in 2015 — which was vetoed by President Obama — would remove the mandate, eliminate premium subsidies for low and middle-income Americans, and drop taxes on high income households.

The problem is if you remove the mandate but still require insurers to cover everyone with pre-existing conditions, those people would likely face sky-high premiums.

The two sides in this debate — the public’s demand for affordable premiums and simplified access to health care providers, and Republicans’ preference for market-based solutions — appear to be on a collision course.

An uneasy public can only sit back and wait to see what happens next.

Your mother used to say: “If all your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it, too?”

And now there’s evidence that the answer is yes, you’d be more likely to jump off a bridge if all of your friends were doing it.

Human beings are pack animals and if you hang out with a bunch of people who smoke, you’re more likely to smoke; if they use foul language you’re more likely to use foul language, and so on.

And unfortunately that pertains to violence as well. It can spread “like a disease,” particularly among teens, research by Ohio State University concludes.

The researchers found that teens were 183 percent more likely to commit violence if one of their friends did the same — and the tendency toward violence continues like dominoes from friend-to-friend at up to four degrees of separation.

“Acts of violence can ricochet through a community, traveling through networks of friends,” says Robert Bond, assistant professor of communication at Ohio State and lead author of the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Bond looked at data from interviews of 5,913 teens in grades 7 to 12 during the mid-1990s. They were spread across 142 schools.

They were asked to name five male and five female students at their school and how often they were involved in a fight that required medical attention. The researchers then asked the friends whether they had committed the same acts.

total_juvenile_detention_chart_for_the_usaFor each friend who had committed a violent act, the chances of the subject being involved
in similar violence increased by 55 percent.

“If we can stop violence in one person, that spreads to their social network,” Bond said. “We’re actually preventing violence not only in that person, but potentially for all the people they come in contact with.”

Interestingly, juvenile violent crime has been falling, even as the U.S. incarceration rate has skyrocketed.

A 2014 report said violent crime among youths had dropped to a 30-year low, and killings by those under the age of 18 were at the lowest point in at least three decades, according to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Out of a juvenile population of 74 million in 2010, 1.16 million were arrested, down 21 percent from 2001.

Investigators said there was a “blip” during the 1980s and 1990s during which juvenile crime shot up, but now statistics are returning to a more historic norm.

Incarceration numbers in the U.S., meanwhile, have been rising dramatically since the early 1970s, but not because of violent crime. Instead, it’s  largely due to the war on drugs.

us_incarceration_timeline

Graphics: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention graphic via Wikimedia Commons

The big retirement plan these days is a simple one: Keep working.

But as Bloomberg notes, staying active in your career after traditional retirement age isn’t always realistic. It makes sense that if you have a desk job, you can stretch things out longer than if you have a job that requires more physical endurance.

The younger you are, the more apt you are to say you’re going to keep at it in your 60s, 70s and even 80s.

roofer

Roofers are among the professions most likely to “age out,” a survey says. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Big majorities plan to keep working past the usual retirement age, but in fact only 17 percent of retirees in a Bloomberg survey have a job. The financial news service looked at which workers are most likely to “age out” of their careers. They considered 954 occupations.

At the top end of the scale — the jobs that are least likely to lead workers to age out — are sociologists, lawyers and chief executives. Librarians came in at 172 and editors scored 272 out of those 954.

Most likely to age out: Roofers and plumbers.

Fitness trainers came in at 861 — although the late-great TV fitness icon Jack LaLanne would probably take issue with that. He was active until two years prior to his death at the age of 96, and completed a workout the day before he died.

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Russian intelligence successfully promoted candidates of their choice during the 2016 election, according to CIA sources cited by The Washington Post and The New York Times.

As disturbing as that news is, there’s at least some reason to believe that this is unlikely to happen again, since campaigns from here on out — on both sides of the spectrum — will make hiring cybersecurity experts job number one.

Of greater concern, perhaps, is the “fake news” phenomenon that swept across the Internet during the primaries and general election. A recent BuzzFeed survey indicated that 75 percent of Americans who viewed fake news headlines thought they were accurate.

For the pro-Trump/ anti-Hillary fake news, more Trump voters believed them, according to BuzzFeed, but almost half — or more than half — of Clinton voters believed them, too.

For example, 85 percent of Trump voters bought the story about an FBI agent suspected in Clinton email leaks being found dead in “an apparent murder-suicide.” But 52 percent of Clinton voters belived it as well.

Eighty-nine percent of Trump voters believed a fake story that a Trump protester was paid $3,500 to protest at a Trump rally, as did 62 percent of Clinton voters.

A lot of this stuff ends up on Facebook.

And most of it was anti-Clinton and pro-Trump because that’s what attracted the most clicks. And clicks are what produce income. A fake news poster told The New York Times: “This is all about income.”

So it’s a cottage industry that packs a punch — and is unlikely to go away.

A major part of our lives slipped away Thursday when we lost our dog, Miles, who was around 14. Nobody knew for sure how old he was and Miles himself refused to say, and in fact kept the story of his previous life a deep secret.

He came to us the most well-mannered, cool and calm dog who sought everyone’s attention and was always going up to strangers in search of a handout or a good petting. That won him instant admirers.

He was born sometime around 2002 or 2003 and apparently lived in Collier County, Florida, near Naples. His exact role remained a mystery to the end. Was he a family dog or someone’s individual trusted companion? Was he a mascot for some mom and pop shop who greeted customers and put a smile on their face?

miles-nelanderThe only thing known is this: He became separated from his owners and roamed the countryside for an undetermined amount of time, scrounging up his own food or relying on the kindness of strangers to keep him going.

This is the surprising thing about Miles. As friendly and good-natured as he was, he always seemed to claw back from the brink of disaster, a survivor who could never be counted out.

When he was picked up in Collier County and taken to a shelter, he was in sorry shape, underweight and dirty and had matted fur and fleas. He’d been outside for so long that he suffered from a number of major health problems, including heartworm, which is very often a death sentence for a dog.

In fact, the public West Coast shelter had deemed him a lost cause. But someone from Animal Aid, on Florida’s East Coast, thought he had a shot and took him to the other side of the state. He cleaned up nicely, but what to do about the heartworm?

Animal Aid brought him to their Boca Raton facility. They put him in with other — much yappier — dogs his size and that’s where my wife and I found him in January of 2010. “He was the best dog I ever fostered,” said one of the volunteers who had named him Serge.

We took him to an outdoor courtyard for a short get-to-know-you session and I was skeptical, since he had so many health problems. But as I sat on a bench with him he put his head on my knee, a sales pitch that closed the deal.

We opted to give him the full heartworm treatment, which was risky, but it worked, thanks to the Animal Aid vet. He was free from the disease after a few months, although he was left with an enlarged heart and a heart murmur, which would affect him for the rest of his life.

He was a little slow-paced and never did much running. When he did run, it was a cantor or lope. Nor did he bark much. If the UPS guy came to the door, he’d look up and bark exactly once.

He became the family’s social ambassador. When we took him to the park or an outdoor festival — of which there are many in West Palm Beach — he would wander over to people’s tables and wait for attention. He almost always got it.

They would ask what kind of a dog he was. We didn’t know, and gave them an abbreviated version of his backstory.

There are services, I know, that will trace your dog’s DNA if you send them a sample and will give you a detailed rundown of his or her breeding. But we decided to leave that a mystery, a topic of speculation and debate.

Several years ago, we started bringing him to our respective offices where he would make the rounds of the desks, cubicles and private offices. He’d always manage to extract treats, especially chicken and cold cuts. Toys were not his thing. He never whined.

On days when he didn’t come in people would ask: “Where’s Miles today?”

As everyone who has ever lost a pet understands, it’s a question we’ll be asking ourselves for a very long time.