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FDA Approves Asthma Treatment; Cell Phones Risk Inconclusive; Conversation with Aimee Mullins, Double-Amputee Athlete/Actress

Aired May 22, 2010 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to a special place -- a place we're going to learn how to live longer and stronger. I'm your doctor, but also your coach.

We start, though, with an asthma breakthrough. Imagine having a procedure that can make it so you never have to take medications again.

And this woman over here, Aimee Mullins -- she's a remarkable woman. I had that long conversation with her. She's also a double-amputee. How far can we take technology to improve performance? We'll ask her.

And finally, a medical mystery, one that I've wondered about a lot myself -- how long can you go without sleep? We'll have the answer.

Let's get started.


GUPTA: But first, a medical breakthrough, potential help for millions of Americans out there who suffer from asthma and they're struggling to find some relief. A new treatment out there that could change your life, preventing asthma attacks without any medication.


GUPTA (voice-over): You wouldn't know it, but Jenny McCleland and husband Michael have battled severe asthma since childhood.

JENNY MCCLELAND, ASTHMATIC: I was on the highest dose of a corticosteroids maintenance inhaler, as well as had to use my rescue inhaler at least two to three times a day.

MICHAEL MCCLELAND, ASTHMATIC: Even with medications and stuff like that, I was in and out of the emergency room a couple of times a month.

GUPTA: But now, a new medical breakthrough could slash those numbers and change the lives of thousands of asthma sufferers just like it did for Michael and Jenny.

Two and a half years ago, the McClelands participated in a clinical trial of a procedure that doesn't just claim to treat asthma attacks, but to prevent them. DR. MARIO CASTRO, WASHINGTON UNIV. SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Once we're positioned in the right place in the lung, and we'll introduce the catheter.

GUPTA: What you're looking at is the first non-drug therapy for the treatment of severe debilitating asthma. It's called bronchial thermoplasty.

CASTRO: It allows us to go down into your windpipes and to your bronchial tubes and deliver a very controlled energy -- a controlled heat to the lining of the windpipe.

GUPTA: Here's how it works: When the smooth muscle around your windpipe constricts, it causes a shortness of breath, chest tightness. The heat from the bronchoscope reduces the size of that muscle. It's three treatments, three weeks apart, and no overnight hospital stay.

And get this -- the treatment is long-term. It could be permanent. Asthma symptoms could flare up for 24 hours -- but within a week, they're generally gone for good.

CASTRO: Breath enough on your mouth.

GUPTA: Mario Castro, a pulmonologist, led the study of nearly 300 patients -- the largest of its kind in the United States.

CASTRO: It resulted in a decrease in your asthma symptoms, the shortness of breath, the wheezing, chest tightness. It also resulted in less emergency room visits, less hospitalizations, less days missed from work or school.

GUPTA: To be exact, patients in the study who got the treatment logged 84 percent fewer visits to the E.R. than patients who didn't.

Dr. Norman Edelman of the American Lung Association --

DR. NORMAN EDELMAN, AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION: There's very little that we have to offer to people with severe debilitating asthma. Anything new that will help these people is an important advance.

GUPTA: But, it doesn't come without risks.

EDELMAN: It's a complex procedure. People have to be trained to use the technique.

GUPTA: And a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee agreed. Last October, they recommended approving a device on the condition that doctors who use it get appropriate training and only perform the procedure in a facility equipped with advance life support measures.

The McClelands testified at that hearing about how their lives have changed.

M. MCCLELAND: I felt like I should have felt like when I was 18, 19 years old. I've done two half marathons. I've done a triathlon. We've done a bike -- two bike rides across Iowa. It leaves me speechless.

GUPTA: Now, others can cash in on this new treatment. The FDA just approved the new device for use in certain adult patients.


GUPTA: Could a child's risk for being overweight and obese start in the womb? A new study out there -- a fascinating one -- says yes.

And our colorful conversation of the week: a woman who's a double- amputee. She's pushing technology to unbelievable levels. You're going to get a chance to meet her.

Stay with us.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning and welcome back to SGMD. I'm Brooke Baldwin with the latest medical headlines.

First, estrogen positive breast cancer is fairly common in older woman and if it's caught early, the common treatment is to remove the tumor surgically and give the patient a Tamoxifen. It's a drug that blocks the hormones plus radiation treatment.

But getting woman to continue daily radiation treatments for six weeks is really difficult. But now, a new study which experts are calling practice changing finds women who skip radiation live just as long.

And another study has found that an existing test used in a new way may help detect ovarian cancer early. There is no good way to screen for ovarian cancer, which means it's oftentimes diagnosed too late.

But a simple blood test called CA-125 is currently used to see if the cancer treatment is working by finding a protein that's found more often in ovarian cancer cells than regular cells, but it's not the most effective screening tool because there can be many false positives.

Now, a new study suggests if this blood test given in regular intervals, doctors can see when CA-125 levels rise and refer the patient for more rigorous testing.

Researchers were able to find several early cancers this way. In fact, a large European study is currently under way right now to confirm these results.

And finally, do cell phones cause cancer? Results from a long-awaited study, they say they're inconclusive, but critics on both sides of the issue say the study is flawed.

Researchers found the risk of developing brain tumors was slightly higher in people who use cell phones the most.

Now, people who spent the most time on their cell phones over a 10- year period increased the risk of a certain type of brain cancer by 40 percent. That's what the study found.

But the cell phone industry disputes these findings. Here's what they say, quote, "An increase of brain cancer is not established from the data from interphone -- and that these conclusions are consistent with those reached in an already large body of scientific research on the subject."

Everyone agrees: more research is need.

GUPTA: You know, every week at this time, I'm going to be answering your questions. Think of this as your own personal appointment. No waiting, no insurance necessary.

Let's get to a question from Dede in Illinois. She writes this: "My doctor wants me to have a hysterectomy. I'm a fit person, love to workout and watch my weight. I hear all kinds of negative things such as weight gain and loss of sex drive. Is this true?"

Well, Dede, first, an important distinction here, women who have had a hysterectomy may or may not had their ovaries removed. And if you had your ovaries remove, this can lead to issues as you discussed with your libido. The ovaries, think of them like this -- are the main production of female hormones.

The other question specifically was about weight gain. And as women and men get older, they do tend to gain weight, we know that. Hysterectomy really does not contribute to weight gain for the most part. But without your own production of estrogen, which, again, occurs when ovaries are removed, women do tend to have more fatigue and depression, which can lead to poorer choices for both nutrition and exercise.

Now, keep in mind, women do go on to live normal, healthy lives with hysterectomies.


GUPTA: Quick shift of topics now.

The risk of obesity and overweight begin before a child is even born. New research shows that especially in minority communities, the earlier you intercede in the child's life to correct behaviors, the better. In fact, get this -- researchers at Harvard University followed 2,000 pregnant women and found that things like a higher pre- pregnancy weight, higher blood sugar levels during pregnancy, set their babies up for trouble later in life.

Now, once kids in minority communities were born, they were more likely to gain excessive amounts of weight early in life, tended to watch more television, sleep less, drink more sugary beverages and also eat more fast food.

Now, many of these issues are more prevalent in lower income and less- educated families regardless of race. But researchers say, even accounting for that, race still seemed to be a factor. As for experts we spoke to said that the take home message from the study that we need to change some ingrained beliefs like eating for two, for example, when you're pregnant and seeing a very chubby child as a healthy child. Bottom line: prenatal care, good conversation with your health care provider -- both of those things are key.

Now: pushing technology to its limits. Can athletes push it too far for better performance? You're going to be surprised by my conversation this week.

And later, our mystery -- just how much sleep can you go without before making yourself sick?

Stay with us.


GUPTA: And we are back with SGMD.

You know, every week on this program, I'm going to be taking you into the lives of some of the most fascinating people I have met -- people who are truly changing our world. Maybe scientists, medical innovators, even celebrities.

And this week's conversation, I sat down with a woman who was born with no legs yet somehow managed to become a star athlete, activist, model, actress -- a lot of it thanks to advance technology. That got me wondering: how far is she willing to take it? And how about the rest of us?


GUPTA (voice-over): Aimee Mullins never knew what it was to walk on her own legs. But she became a track star on artificial legs like these. World record holder in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and long jump. Along the way, she's been a fashion model -- and today, an actress.


GUPTA: But she really got my attention when she gave this talk at a conference called TED MED.

MULLINS: If you'd ask me at 15 years old if I would have traded prosthetics for flesh and bone legs, I wouldn't have hesitated for a second. I aspired to that kind of normalcy back then. But if you ask me today, I'm not so sure.

GUPTA (on camera): Your speech at TED MED was amazing, and that's part of the reason I really wanted to talk to you today.

MULLINS: Yes, the bag of legs.

GUPTA: I haven't seen the bag of legs. How far does it go? I mean, how good can it possibly get -- the technology? MULLINS: Oh, I think -- well, case in point, I mean, I think we've been dreaming of this for a long time. I mean, the bionic -- the $6 million man and the bionic woman was '60s, '70s.

GUPTA: Jamie Summers.

MULLINS: Oh, yes, I love Jamie Summers. I still have dreams of like being able to rip a phone book in half and leap over, you know?

But it -- what's interesting is that while we love the sci-fi aspect of it, what's interesting to me in the last years to see this very interesting irrational fear, where now, you know, Oscar Pistorius, the sprinter from South Africa who was born with the same, you know, fibular hemimelia, without the fibular bone that I was born with, it's very rare. And just like me, I never know another amputee growing up. And he runs 400 meters in under 46 seconds.

You know, it was a struggle to have people see the achievement of being an athlete and being a competitor instead of, you know, well, good for you. And it was all well meant. But it was very frustrating because there's nothing cute about someone who runs 100 meters in 12 seconds.

GUPTA: So, the shift from this people being frighten, the shift to this sort of, oh, you know, nice job, almost pat on the head sort of attitude, toward, wait a second, that's -- is that cheating? Or is that somehow giving you an unfair advantage?

MULLINS: Well, I mean, the argument, to be clear from a sports perspective, is that the prosthetic has not, you know, superseded human capacity yet. That will happen. And they're going to determine what -- where the bar is on that.

Sometimes, when people want to have a conversation about this, they start with, well, you know, we need to have a level playing field. And that just amuses me.

GUPTA: So, I've read this article where people are getting the Tommy John operation because it's an ulnar ligament and it makes your arm -- your throwing arm, for pitchers, even stronger. What I was really struck by was a fact that people who have no arm problems are getting it done because they want to throw harder, they want to throw faster and they want to throw longer, you know, later into their career.

What do you think about stuff like that? Is there a limit to how much we should enhance or improve ourselves?

MULLINS: I don't know if I'm the one to say. What that limit is. I've been asked this question. Will people amputate their legs to become faster? And I said, well, you know, I don't know. And it's certainly an extreme vision of the future. And yet, people already are amputating parts of themselves.

I mean, that's what breast surgery and rhinoplasty and, you know, cosmetic surgery is. People are already electively undergoing the knife to alter themselves. I've heard of athletes who have 20/20 vision who want to get Lasik surgery to make it 20/15 or 20/10. You know, maybe because we don't see that augmentation. We don't -- we're not alarmed by that. But it's happening. It's happening already, whether we like it or not.

GUPTA: Like it or not, this is happening. As I say, the future -- I've seen the future --

MULLINS: It is now.


GUPTA: And we'll have much more of Aimee Mullins when we come back. In fact, we're going to jump in the pool with her and she's going to show us how she's able to swim without legs. I'll even join her.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: And we are back with SGMD.

You know, Aimee Mullins is a connoisseur of body modification. She had to be. She was born with no legs.

But then she met the inventor Dean Kamen. He had started building the special swim fin for the Navy SEALs. And when he asked Aimee if she would help to test it out, she jumped at the chance.

What you're about to see here has never been shown before on television.


MULLINS: Are you ready?

GUPTA: Pay attention here because this is really important. And keep in mind that they want to don't anything but flippers. They don't want flippers trying to improve swimming.


MULLINS: All right.

DEAN KAMEN, INVENTOR: This is attached directly to a calf.


MULLINS: Not going to hurt me.


GUPTA: Another big advantage.


MULLINS: It's great.

What's great about the device is it's a prosthetic for anyone. It's part of this realization that so much of the -- of how we're looking to enhance our experience with our environment around us is about using assisted devices, and it's not just about replacing loss anymore.


KAMEN: Down.


GUPTA: Oh, yes. That was it.

MULLINS: You feel that?

GUPTA: I definitely felt that. Do you want to do one together?



MULLINS: The flesh and bone leg is just beautiful. It's elegant. You know, when it's working, it's incredible. But if it's not working? Well, you know, your life is certainly far from over.

And in fact, next year, we are going to have 78 million Americans over the age of 65, and the idea of rebuilding your body because you refuse to let your quality of life be limited because your body's changing, I think that's why we're seeing such a different response and a push towards augmentation and enhancement.

GUPTA: That's so cool. Doing stories like that reminds me of --

MULLINS: You do have one of the coolest jobs around.


GUPTA: It's an amazing conversation. And I could tell you on another note: Aimee was so moved recently by what she saw in Haiti that she is gathering a group together to go down there and help bring prosthetics to those who lost limbs on the earthquake.

Now, switching gears here. We've talked about how refined and processed foods can lead to weight gain. In fact, the World Health Organization points the processed foods as one of the big culprits in the global obesity problem.

Now, the movement to avoid these foods has a grassroots champion, Jenny McGruther. She's an online blogger and she put her 946 followers to the test. She called it the 28-day Real Food Challenge. It's a mission of sorts to change the foods you're going to be eating, reducing your overall intake of processed foods and introducing foods that are wholesome and natural things -- like vegetables, greens, nuts, seeds, natural meats. She also suggests that we try using clarified butter, coconut oil for cooking, and raw, whole milk.

The cost and benefit of such diet -- check out the details,

Losing a little sleep -- it got us thinking. How long can you go without it? Sleep, that is. That's next.


GUPTA: And we're back with SGMD.

For our "Medical Mystery of the Week": How long can you go without sleep? It's fascinating topic, one that's been studied for a very long time.

You know, there's really not a magic number out there, but studies have shown you can go about 16 to 20 hours without sleep and be relatively fine.

Once you start hitting between 36 and 48 hours, that's when you start to feel the serious effects of sleep deprivation. You're going to begin to show some changes in your cognitive function, for example. You have trouble paying attention.

Your emotions will become extreme. You have problems with short term memory. You're definitely going to be mentally slower and you're going to make more mistakes.

You know, I actually put myself to the test. I was in this simulator over here. NASA allowed me to be in there. It's a true 747 simulator and about more than a day without sleep to sort of put myself to the test.

You know, the way that I felt was pretty remarkable. Just two days and I'm forcing myself to go without sleep that normally shuts your body down. You have these unpredictable lapses of sleep; you won't notice you just close your eyes. You also have lapses in performance, which is what they're trying to test here. And your brain can go to sleep seemingly with your eyes open.

Now, sleeplessness can be extremely dangerous -- as you might imagine -- leading to auto accidents. It's also been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, loss of productivity and weight gain.

Bottom line: everyone needs sleep. Don't push the limits. Having a lack of sleep can simply alone be dangerous to your health.

Now, if you missed any part of today's show, be sure to check out my podcast on

And remember, this is the place for the answers to all of your questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

More news on CNN starts right now.