Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Airline Hit with $500,000 Fine for Egregious Wheelchair User Treatment

The U.S. Department of Transportation fined AirTran Airways $500,000 for violating laws on handling passengers who must use wheelchairs.

In the enforcement action announced Monday, the DOT found that:

* A review of AirTran's records indicated that it had "a significant number of apparent violations" of the Air Carrier Access Act.

* "A small number of these complaints appear to involve egregious violations..."

* "...In numerous instances, it did not provide a written response to the complainant," as required by law.

* AirTran failed "to adequately categorize and account for all the disability-related issues that were raised in the complaints."

In response, AirTran stated:

"We are dedicated to treating special needs passengers with the highest level of dignity and respect. Our goal is to establish AirTran Airways as the industry leader in addressing the needs of disabled passengers. We take this leadership role seriously and look forward to continually improving our service to this important group of customers"

DOT said AirTran can reduce its fine up to $200,000 by spending a similar amount to improve its system.

That includes up to $60,000 "to establish a council to help the carrier comply with federal disability rules and hire a manager for disability accommodations."

The rest, up to $140,000, "may be used to develop and employ an automated wheelchair tracking system at AirTran's major hub airports within one year that will generate real-time reports of the carrier's wheelchair assistance performance."

Below, we have the rest of AirTran's statement.

Our first priority has always been the safety and comfort of all of our customers. During the past three years, more than 920,000 passengers with disabilities have enjoyed our high-quality, low-cost service. During that time, less than one half of one percent of these customers has reported any type of issue to either the Department of Transportation or the airline.

The overwhelming majority of issues reported by disabled passengers is in relation to the quick availability of wheelchairs. We are working diligently to correct this by implementing a real-time wheelchair tracking system at our biggest operations (ATL, BWI, MCO, MKE) to ensure timely availability of wheelchairs and continuous monitoring of our performance.

While the number of special needs passengers not fully satisfied with our service is less than one half of one percent of all disabled passengers that have flown with us over the past three years, we constantly strive to improve our service and are dedicated to making a good flying experience even better for all of our customers.

Proactive steps we are taking to improve the quality of our customer service as it relates to special needs passengers:

• We are implementing several initiatives to continue to enhance our ability to serve special needs passengers with the highest level of dignity and care. They include:

- Establishing a cross-divisional Disability Compliance Council. This group, comprised of AirTran senior officers, will oversee, manage and continually improve all aspects of our disability compliance programs and act as an advocate for special needs customers at the highest level of the company.

- Creating a new, dedicated position (Manager of Disability Accommodations), to proactively address the needs of disabled passengers and focus exclusively on continually improving our ability to serve this important group of customers.

- Developing a special needs-specific digital curriculum to ensure that all frontline Crew Members are familiar with proper handling requirements and techniques in assisting special needs passengers.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stem Cell Scientists Push Forward for Eminent First Human Tests

Even as supporters of human embryonic stem cell research are reeling from last week's sudden cutoff of federal funding, another portentous landmark is quietly approaching: the world's first attempt to carefully test the cells in people.

Scientists are poised to inject cells created from embryonic stem cells into some patients with a progressive form of blindness and others with devastating spinal cord injuries. That's a welcome step for researchers eager to move from the laboratory to the clinic and for patients hoping for cures. But beyond being loathsome to those with moral objections to any research using cells from human embryos, the tests are worrying many proponents: Some argue that the experiments are premature, others question whether they are ethical, and many fear that the trials risk disaster for the field if anything goes awry.

"We desperately need to know how these cells are going to perform in the human setting," said John Gearhart, a stem cell pioneer at the University of Pennsylvania. "But are we transplanting cells that are going to cause tumors? Will they will stay where you put them and do what you want them to do?"

Supporters of these privately funded, government-sanctioned tests, including patients' advocates, bioethicists and officials at the companies sponsoring them, are confident that research has been exhaustively vetted. The Food and Drug Administration has demanded extensive experiments in the laboratory and on animals to provide evidence that the cells are safe enough to test in people and hold great promise.

"We're very optimistic," said Thomas B. Okarma, president and chief executive of Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., which after years of delay received a green light in July from the FDA to study patients partially paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. "If we're right, we'll revolutionize the treatment of many chronic diseases."


Monday, August 23, 2010

Judge Blocks Federal Stem Cell Research

A federal judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction that blocks the federal government from funding medical research involving human embryonic stem cells, a blow to the Obama administration's bid to expand stem-cell research efforts.

U.S. Chief District Court Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington ruled that government funding for embryonic stem-cell research was barred by a law that prohibits the use of federal money for research in which an embryo is destroyed.

Lamberth said Congress clearly intended to bar federal funding of research involving embryo destruction, and added, "This Court is bound to apply the law as it is written."

The judge rejected the Obama administration's argument that embryonic stem-cell research itself did not result in the destruction of embryos.

In March 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order lifting barriers to stem-cell research that had been established under President George W. Bush. In July 2009, the National Institutes of Health issued specific guidelines on use of stem cells.

The guidelines allowed funding for research using human embryonic stem cells that were derived from human embryos created by in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed.

Bush, in 2001, had restricted federal funding only to research involving the limited number of embryonic stem-cell lines that were already in existence.

Many social conservatives oppose the research. A group of doctors and Christian organizations filed a lawsuit last year challenging the NIH guidelines.

Steven Aden, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund and a lawyer for the challengers, said the ruling "is in line with Congress's intention that taxpayer funds should not be used to destroy human life."

The White House and NIH referred requests for comment to the Justice Department. A Justice spokeswoman said the agency was reviewing the ruling.

Sean Tipton, spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said the judge's injunction "blocks important research on how to unlock the enormous potential of human embryonic stem cells."

"It will be incredibly disruptive and once again drive the best scientific minds into work less likely to yield treatments for conditions from diabetes to spinal cord injury," Tipton said.

Stem cells are the building blocks of the body's tissues and organs. Those derived from embryos can develop into any type of tissue and are considered especially promising for research into diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Finally a Cure, Again

Human neural stem cells 'can restore mobility in chronic spinal cord injury cases'

In a first of its kind study, researchers have shown the reversal of long-term hind-limb paralysis.

The UC Irvine study demonstrated that human neural stem cells can restore mobility in cases of chronic spinal cord injury, suggesting the prospect of treating a much broader population of patients.

Previous breakthrough stem cell studies have focused on the acute, or early, phase of spinal cord injury, a period of up to a few weeks after the initial trauma when drug treatments can lead to some functional recovery.

The study, led by Aileen Anderson and Brian Cummings of the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, is significant because the therapy can restore mobility during the later chronic phase, the period after spinal cord injury in which inflammation has stabilized and recovery has reached a plateau.

There are no drug treatments to help restore function in such cases.

For the study, the researchers transplanted human neural stem cells into mice 30 days after a spinal cord injury caused hind-limb paralysis.

The cells then differentiated into neural tissue cells, such as oligodendrocytes and early neurons, and migrated to spinal cord injury sites.

Three months after initial treatment, the mice demonstrated significant and persistent recovery of walking ability in two separate tests of motor function when compared to control groups.

"Human neural stem cells are a novel therapeutic approach that holds much promise for spinal cord injury. This study builds on the extensive work we previously published in the acute phase of injury and offers additional hope to those who are paralyzed or have impaired motor function," said Anderson.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spinal Cord Stem Cell Growth Long After Injury

Immature human nerve cells grew in the spines of injured mice and helped them walk a little better, researchers said on Wednesday in a study they said shows it may be possible to treat patients weeks or months after their accidents.

The study, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE, suggests there is a longer period of opportunity than previously thought to treat spinal cord injuries.

It is very difficult to heal damaged spinal cords and most studies have shown that any treatment attempt must take place within days after the injury to do any good.

But a team using StemCells Inc's nerve stem cells taken from aborted fetuses found that even a month after injury, the cells took up residence in the spine, proliferated and helped mice walk better.

The California-based company hopes to begin human tests of the cells in 2011.

The cells are a form of stem cell, the master cells of the body. These are technically adult stem cells, taken from the partly developed brains of fetuses and tested for qualities showing they are destined to form particular types of nerve cells.

Dr. Aileen Anderson of the University of California, Irvine and colleagues tested 37 mice, damaging their spinal cords surgically and then transfusing either the StemCells product, ordinary human skin cells or a placebo.

The cells migrated through the spine, grew and began to function, the researchers said. When tested for coordination, 64 percent of the stem-cell-treated mice walked better, compared to 44 percent of mice treated with ordinary cells and 20 percent of placebo-treated mice.

The report is available here


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wheelchair Stalker

Introducing the wheelchair that can stalk

The Human-Robot Interaction Center at Japan's Saitama University is developing a wheelchair whose camera and laser sensor enable it to track--and follow--the person next to it.

The wheelchair, which is considered standard in all other respects, uses a distance sensor to determine which way the followed person's shoulders are facing so that it can change direction as the leader does.

"[Care] facilities sometimes don't have enough staff, so a single helper has to push two wheelchairs," a Saitama spokesperson says in a news report. "With wheelchairs like this, which can follow automatically, you can have two, three, or four moving together. So we aim to use this type of wheelchair in practical applications."

Of course there's always the potential for impractical and uproarious applications, such as group wheelchair line dancing alongside a charitable leader. One never knows what lies in Paula Abdul's future.


Monday, August 9, 2010

If you were a mouse you'd be walking now

Mice movement neurons regenerated after spinal cord injury

Researchers have been searching for decades for a way to mend damage to the spinal cord, an injury that can lead to life-long paralysis. Even the smallest of breaks in these crucial central nerve fibers can result in the loss of leg, arm and other bodily functions. And attempts to prompt healing, through stem cells or growth factors, have yet to achieve widespread success.

Previous research had been stepping closer to encouraging neuronal growth—which usually stops after physical maturation. And a 2008 study co-authored by Zhigang He, a neurologist at Children's Hospital Boston, announced success in shutting down a gene that stops neuron cell growth, thus enticing damaged nerves to start growing again. Through that process, the team was able to reestablish a severed optical nerve connection in mice.

A new study, co-authored in part by He and other members of the 2008 team, demonstrates nerves necessary for voluntary movement could be regenerated in mice with spinal cord damage after removing a common enzyme that regulates the neuronal cell growth.* The results were published online August 8 in Nature Neuroscience (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).

The removed enzyme PTEN, a phosphatase and tensin homolog, helps to dictate activity in the mTOR pathway, which plays a role in cell growth. During maturation, PTEN is activated, halting cell regeneration, but after removing it from a group of experimental mice with spinal cord injury, the neurons grew as they did in the development phase.

The researchers propose that "neuronal growth competence is dependent on the capability of new protein synthesis, which provides building blocks for axonal regrowth." Restarting the mTOR pathway, what the authors term a "'rejuvenation' strategy," could "be widely applicable for promoting successful regeneration following many types of injuries or traumas in the adult [central nervous system]."

Reestablishing this communication across those broken synapses could be life-changing for the millions of people who live with spinal cord injury across the world—especially given that the majority of cases occur in middle age, when these neuron cell growth pathways are already shut down. "Paralysis and loss of function from spinal cord injury has been considered untreatable," Oswald Steward, a professor of anatomy and neurobiology at University of California, Irvine and co-author of the new paper, said in a prepared statement. "Our discovery points the way toward a potential therapy to induce regeneration of nerve connections following spinal cord injury in people."


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Iraqi War Veteran Will Be First In Line

Paralyzed Iraqi War Veteran Will Be First to Receive Adult Stem Cells to Treat Spinal Cord Injuries at TCA Cellular Therapy

TCA Cellular Therapy, LLC has enrolled its first patient to participate in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first adult stem cell clinical trial to treat spinal cord injuries. Enrollee and Marine Veteran, Matt Cole was paralyzed from the chest down in a 2005 insurgent attack in Iraq.

“At minimum, our team expects this therapy will provide some improvement to the patient’s motory and sensory functions with no side effects.”

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (February 2010), it is estimated that up to 311,000 people in the U.S. are living with a Spinal Cord Injury with the average health care and living expenses cost for the first year following the injury as much as $830,000 per patient.

TCA Cellular’s neurological team is led by stem cell experts Jose J. Minguell, PhD, Carolina Allers, PhD, and Gabriel Lasala, MD, neurosurgeon Gustavo Gutnisky, MD, and neurologist Srinivas Ganji, MD. The team is scheduled to treat ten patients in Phase I.

“Many spinal cord injury patients have no effective treatment available at this time,” stated Dr. Gutnisky. “I’m very encouraged by the results of the pre-clinical trials and anticipate this may become a significant therapy for these patients in the near future.”

Utilizing TCA Cellular’s proprietary therapy, a couple of thousand adult stem cells have been extracted from the patient’s own bone marrow, Mesenchymal Stem Cells have been separated, purified, multiplied to millions and will be infused into Cole’s spinal cord later this month.

“In theory we expect the cells to repair damaged neurons,” explained TCA Cellular president, Dr. Lasala. “At minimum, our team expects this therapy will provide some improvement to the patient’s motory and sensory functions with no side effects.”

About TCA Cellular Therapy

Under the scientific guidance of cellular biologist, Jose J. Minguell, Ph.D., TCA Cellular Therapy, LLC is a biotherapeutic adult stem cell research and development company. The company has been recognized by the FDA as one of the top 10 U.S. companies researching stem cell therapies. Founded in 2006, the privately-held company has multiple ongoing FDA clinical trials utilizing patient’s own cells. The company is located in Covington, Louisiana.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Danny Magoo Chandler Dies at Age 50 - Only 25 Years Later Almost Gets a Van

Danny “Magoo” Chandler died May 4th as a result of illnesses related to paralysis. The Hall of Fame rider was 50 years old.

The Sacramento, California native was known for his wild style and wide-open charge. Magoo was a fan favorite from the time he turned professional in 1976. His first real success came with a top-10 finish in the 1981 125cc Motocross Nationals.

He signed with factory Honda in 1982 and began the biggest year of his career. Perhaps the most memorable victory was claiming the U.S. 500cc Motocross Grand Prix. Besting the Europeans at Carlsbad Raceway that day notched his name in the history books. He furthered his international fame by winning every 250cc moto at the ’82 Trophies des Nations in Germany, and every 500cc moto at the Motocross des Nations in Switzerland – the only rider ever to achieve the feat. He also won the ABC Wide World of Sports Superbikers race, which was essentially the first event of what we now call Supermoto.

Magoo went on to finish third in the AMA 500cc series in ’83 but suffered through ’84 with injuries. He switched to the World Motocross Championship in 1985, ultimately settling with an Italian Kawasaki team, but a crash at the Paris Supercross in December of 1985 left him paralyzed.

Following the accident, Chandler embarked on a mission to help spread motorcycle safety, particularly to young riders. Other endeavors included race promotion for mountain bikes and cooperation with the DARE drug awareness program.

The industry has been hard at work to provide Danny with a specially equipped vehicle to make it easier for him to travel and conduct his seminars. The Danny Magoo Chandler Van Fund was completed and the project finalized on May 4, the same day as his death.