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News Briefs

Kevorkian Ordered to Stand Trial

The Washington Post

DETROIT

More than three years after he shocked the nation by helping a 54-year-old woman to kill herself, Jack Kevorkian was ordered Thursday to stand trial on a criminal charge stemming from the most recent of 17 assisted suicides in which he has participated.

The ruling by Detroit District Judge Willie G. Lipscomb Jr. was a milestone in Kevorkian's battle with Michigan authorities, setting the stage for the first jury trial of the retired pathologist who has become known as "Dr. Death." Arraignment was set for Sept. 24.

Last month, Wayne County Prosecutor John D. O'Hair charged Kevorkian, 65, with violation of Michigan's new law banning assisted suicide, which carries a maximum penalty of four years imprisonment and a $2,000 fine. Under Michigan law, Lipscomb, acting much like a grand jury, Thursday found "probable cause" to believe that Kevorkian committed the crime.

But Lipscomb went out of his way to praise Kevorkian as "a very courageous person" whose willingness to help others end their lives "is his method of bringing this issue to the forefront."

"He has created an atmosphere where we must act," Lipscomb said.

In his ruling, Lipscomb said he was not implying that the terminally ill have no right to commit suicide with a physician's help. But he said physician-assisted suicide should be regulated by the state legislature and not left to the discretion of individual doctors and their patients. "I believe it is important for us to pause in a democratic society to allow the democratic process to function," he said.

Scientists Trying to Use Gene Technology to Create Vaccines

Newsday

A bold attempt to use a man's own genetically engineered skin cells to immunize him against a rapidly growing skin tumor has begun in a Pittsburgh cancer center, doctors announced Thursday.

The patient, identified as a 69-year-old resident of Kittaning, in western Pennsylvania, is the first of 20 cancer patients who will get the highly experimental treatment that researchers hope will revolutionize cancer treatment.

"We believe this is a significant step in the future use of a wide variety of gene therapies to treat cancer," said Dr. Michael Lotze, a co-director of the program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The goal of the research, he said, is to use gene-splicing technology to create vaccines that would combat breast cancer, melanoma, colorectal cancer and kidney cancer.

The vaccine was prepared by taking normal skin cells from the patient, growing them in laboratory dishes and inserting a gene that makes a hormone-like substance, IL-4. These engineered cells are then mixed with cells from the patient's tumor and injected into the patient.

The goal is to get IL-4-secreting cells to the tumor, with the hope that excess IL-4 will stimulate the patient's immune system to attack the tumor cells. The technique seems to work in laboratory mice, but has not yet been proven in humans.

Aspin Cancels Trip to Sarajevo

Newsday

WASHINGTON

Defense Secretary Les Aspin PhD '66, Thursday canceled his trip to embattled Sarajevo as part of what defense officials say is a retreat from President Clinton's pledges to use U.S. troops to enforce a possible peace agreement in Bosnia.

Aspin's trip next week to Europe had included a stop in Sarajevo that many say would have underscored Clinton's earlier promise that U.S. combat troops -- as many as 20,000 -- would be dispatched to the Balkans once the warring factions reached an accord in Geneva.

Defense officials acknowledged that the Aspin visit had not been approved by Clinton's foreign policy advisers, including Anthony Lake, the president's adviser for national security affairs.

After complaints from Lake, the Sarajevo stop was dropped. "It might have sent the wrong message," an Aspin aide said.

Defense officials also said a combination of circumstances now make it unlikely that U.S. troops would be sent, and a senior military official said use of U.S. troops to enforce a U.N.-sponsored peace "was off the boards."

Test of Mechanical CPR Vest Awaiting Go-Ahead From FDA

The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE

Federal approval is being sought to test a mechanical resuscitation vest in a national trial, estimating that the vest could save twice as many heart attack victims as conventional cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques.

The vest, which wraps around the torso, inflates and deflates once each second. With each inflation, it exerts pressure evenly to all areas, restoring blood circulation.

Ten years in development, the vest is the invention of researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Last year, Hopkins licensed a Baltimore-based company, CardioLogic Systems Inc. to test and produce it.

Pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration, trials would begin by November on 300 to 400 patients in the early stages of a heart attack. The trials would take place at several hospitals -- but not at Hopkins, because the institution as well as researchers there hold shares in the company.

Dr. Henry Halperin, director of the cardiac mechanics laboratory at Johns Hopkins, said the vest has a better chance of reviving patients and saving lives than manual CPR, which is successful 15 percent of the time.

The chief advantage, he said, is that the vest exerts pressure all around the torso, squeezing blood to the heart and brain more effectively than hand compressions, which exert force in just one area.

"The more blood flow you generate during CPR, the more likely you are to save the victims," Halperin said.

He said the vest is much safer than the manual technique, which can fracture ribs and damage internal organs.