COMMENTS: More & More Medicine

All three networks went healthcare happy for their feature coverage: ABC on Big Pharma, CBS on genetics and NBC on alternative medicine.

NBC's was the most interesting as Robert Bazell filed the final, and superior, instalment of his three-parter The Mind Body Connection. Monday, Bazell offered us a walk-through the lavish Integrative Medicine Center at Duke Unversity where patients pay $3,000 for a wellness evaluation. Tuesday, he told us that "mindful eating" is better than a weight-loss diet for handling the hormonal factors controling our appetite. Now meet Shin Lin, a biophysicist at UCal-Irvine, who is using hi-tech medical monitoring to track the physiological effects of T'ai Chi, the meditation exercise developed in Hunan Province some 450 years ago. Lin uses Doppler laser to measure the blood flow through the extremities; electrodes for brain waves--and claims to detect "tiny amounts of light emissions" as the body goes through its exercise ritual.

On CBS, we saw part two of Your DNA Destiny, a series on genetic testing to screen for high risks of inherited diseases. Tuesday, anchor Katie Couric introduced us to an unlucky family whose bloodline carries Lynch Syndrome. Those with the syndrome have an 80% chance of being afflicted with colon cancer, compared with a 6% chance for the rest of us. Couric introduced us to Gretchen Robertson, a 38-year-old who tested positive, and then delivered similar bad news to her brother John. "The good news is that colon cancer is 90% curable if found early," was Couric's consolation. Nancy Cordes brought us part two on the growing industry of commercial genome screening test kit makers. Cordes consulted the experts and came up with this caveat: "The industry promises more than science can currently deliver because many genes are poor predictors of whether or not you will actually get a disease. Lifestyle and environmental factors also play a major role."

On ABC's A Closer Look, John Donvan investigated the depressing tale of Connie Loughman that her daughter Jackie has publicized on YouTube. Loughman is a terminal pancreatic cancer patient who is ineligible for clinical trials of an experimental medicine developed by GenVec called TNFerade because she had participated in another earlier experiment. Loughman applied to GenVec for a so-called "compassionate use" waiver but GenVec turned her down. Donvan called it "not an uncommon dilemma." If that compassionate TNFerade had been granted and had happened to harm Loughman, he explained, "the FDA could slow the entire approval process to investigate, costing GenVec money and potentially thousands of people from getting a drug that otherwise would be ready."


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