Tampa Bay Times, Study: Mental quickness exercises can lower risk of dementia

By Justine Griffin

Where did I leave my keys?

As we age, it can take longer to answer a question like that.

Humans begin to lose cognitive ability at age 25. Dementia, or the decline of memory most commonly seen in aging adults, takes hold early on and is gradual, but accelerates in the seventh or eighth decade of our lives.

However, a local researcher and the lead author on a ground-breaking medical study has found a way to reduce the risk of dementia by a remarkable 29 percent. The answer? Computer games.

Computerized brain-training exercises studied by Jerri Edwards, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the University of South Florida, are the first intervention of any kind to reduce the risk of dementia in older adults, according to the study, just published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.

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Tampa Bay Times: When the goal is getting to the ER fast and cheap, some choose Uber over 911

Most hospitals in the Tampa Bay area don't track how often ride-sharing drivers drop off or pick up patients. But at Tampa General Hospital, pictured here, they are "here quite a bit over the course of a day," said spokesman John Dunn. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]

By Justine Griffin

Matt Lavin had just arrived in Charlottesville, Va., for a business trip when he started feeling sick.

By the time he got to his hotel around 11 p.m., he felt excruciating pain.

“I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew something wasn’t right,” said Lavin, an attorney who lived in Washington D.C. at the time but is also the medical director for a Florida-based chain of addiction recovery centers. He had good insurance through his employer, but still second-guessed calling an ambulance for help.

“My deductible was like $5,000 or something like that. And it was the beginning of the year. I didn’t know how much the ambulance was going to cost me, and I’m away from home in this hotel,” Lavin said.

So he requested a ride on Uber.

The driver arrived in just three minutes, helped him into the car and sped to the hospital, with Lavin keeled over from intense pain his abdomen.

Later Lavin, 48, would find out his appendix burst. He ended up having emergency surgery that night. But Lavin says he saved himself thousands of dollars by choosing Uber, the ride-sharing company that connects passengers with taxi-like independent drivers through a smartphone app, instead of calling 911.

“I knew they would be fast,” Lavin said of Uber. “But I think (the driver) was pretty freaked out. I was in a lot of pain and I had to lie down. He was new to Charlottesville and didn’t know where the hospital was. If I’d taken an ambulance, I would have gotten a bed right away. Instead I had to walk in and wait like anyone else. But I think I paid $20, which is much better than the $5,000 I paid the one time I was in a car accident.”

Lavin is not alone. Ride-sharing drivers in Tampa Bay and beyond are noticing an uptick in rides to and from the emergency room as consumers try to avoid spending what could be thousands of dollars for an ambulance.

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Tampa Bay Times: Coming soon at two Tampa Bay area hospitals: a cancer treatment that could replace chemo

By Justine Griffin

Benjamin Gilkey, 7, with his mother, Laura Gilkey, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2014. He was treated at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hosptial in St. Petersburg until his death in February. Doctors say CAR-T treatment might have helped "Benji" had it been available at the time. "It will draw more people to Johns Hopkins," Laura Gilkey said. [Photos courtesy of Laura Gilkey]

A new cancer treatment that could eventually replace chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants — along with their debilitating side effects — soon will be offered at two of Tampa Bay’s top-tier hospitals.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in August approved the first ever Chimeric Antigen Receptor Therapy, or “CAR-T cell therapy,” for children and young adults up to age 25 suffering from leukemia and other blood and bone cancers. And just this week, the agency approved the same immunotherapy for adults with large B cell lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg will be the first and only pediatric hospital in Florida to become a certified treatment center. Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa also will be among the first in the country to offer the same therapy on adults with blood cancers like B cell lymphoma.

CAR-T uses white blood cells from the patient’s immune system and re-engineers them in a lab to target and wipe out cancer cells. Specialists draw the cells from the patient’s blood and “re-program” them to go after blood and bone marrow-type cancer cells instead of the flu or any other bacteria or infection they would normally attack, said Dr. Frederick Locke, a principal investigator for the experimental therapy at Moffitt.

During the laboratory process, scientists work with receptors, which are molecular structures in cells that tell them what to do based on messages they receive in the bloodstream. In this instance, they add a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR, to each T-cell. The CARs are programmed to target a specific protein, called CD19, found on cancer cells.

Then the newly trained T-cells are infused back into the body to do their job.

Read more here.

Breaking News: New Beat at the Tampa Bay Times!

After six years or so covering retail and other consumer-related business topics for newspapers in Florida, I’m taking on a new beat.

I was named the health and medicine reporter at the Tampa Bay Times at the end of September. (There was some overlap of beats during and after Hurricane Irma.)

Got a story idea or tip? Please email me: jgriffin@tampabay.com

Tampa Bay Times: Feeling allergy symptoms? Blame Hurricane Irma

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By Justine Griffin

Tampa Bay Times, Oct. 4, 2017

Allergies out of whack?

You can blame Hurricane Irma for that. Well, kind of.

As many continue to wait for cleanup crews to haul away the sopping piles of withering tree debris in front of their houses from Irma, plenty of people across Tampa Bay are sniffling and coughing more than they were before the hurricane passed, narrowly sparing the region from the worst of its wrath.

“I’ve been telling my patients that it seems like Irma brought the allergy season on a little earlier,” said Dr. Rachel Dawkins, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. “We usually see the peak of it in the fall at the end of October and into November, when the trees start shedding their leaves. But right now we have a lot of trees on the ground, which means we have a lot of pollen on the ground, and there’s an uptick of mold from standing water.”

Read more here.