health

This week, NPR Ed is focusing on questions about why people play and how play relates to learning.

When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground.

Kentucky BioProcessing

An experimental drug used to treat two Americans infected with the Ebola virus was created in Owensboro.

Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are reportedly showing significant improvement after being treated at an Atlanta hospital with a drug called ZMapp.

Compounds used in the drug are grown in genetically modified tobacco plants in an effort overseen by the Owensboro-based Kentucky BioProcessing. The Herald-Leader reports that KBP received a federal contract in 2007 to work on a drug that could treat those exposed to the Ebola virus.

An Ebola outbreak in west Africa has claimed nearly 900 lives, with many more victims infected. Brantly and Writebol, who were giving medical treatment to Ebola victims when they fell ill, are the first known humans to receive Z-Mapp.

A spokesman for the company that runs the Owensboro operation says production of the drug was already being ramped up for approval testing later this year, and that schedule may accelerate given the magnitude of the current Ebola outbreak.

KBP is also involved with the Owensboro Cancer Research program, which this week was given a federal grant to further its research into a possible HIV vaccine using tobacco plants.

Scratch one more simple explanation for autism off the list. This time it's the idea that children with autism have low levels of oxytocin, often called the "love hormone" because it can make people more trusting and social.

The University of Louisville

HIV vaccine research being conducted in Owensboro is getting a boost from a federal grant. The National Institutes of Health Monday announced a five-year, $14.7 million dollar grant for a project being led by the Owensboro Cancer Research program.

The goal is to create a gel-based vaccine that involves tobacco plants.

Researchers in Daviess County have been extracting a protein found in red algae, injecting it into tobacco plants, growing the tobacco on a massive scale, and then extracting the protein for use in a gel. Lab tests show the protein blocks HIV cells from entering uninfected cells.

Researchers have developed a gel using the protein that they hope can be used to stop the spread of HIV during sexual intercourse.

Owensboro Cancer Research program director Kenneth Palmer says the irony of using tobacco plants to possibly create a medical breakthrough isn’t lost on him.

A western Kentucky dermatologist says he sees multiple cases of skin cancer a day as the U.S. Surgeon General is warning of a steady increase of people with the disease.

An industrial hemp official is working to clear up some confusion about the plant’s oils and extracts and their uses as Kentucky researchers work toward finding uses for potential treatments with cannabidiol, or CBD.

Hemp Industries Association Executive Director Eric Steenstra says the non-profit trade group has received several calls from customers who have bought hemp oil at health stores and want to know if their purchase has CBD in them.

This post was updated at 3 p.m. ET:

House and Senate negotiators unveiled a $17 billion plan Monday to address the crisis in care for veterans.

The agreement would provide $10 billion to allow veterans to be treated outside the Veterans Affairs system, if they've had trouble getting appointments within it. More than two dozen clinics would be leased around the country, with $5 billion spent to hire additional doctors, nurses and other medical personnel at the VA.

In the surgery wing of Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center named after her late husband, Nedra Thomas has been putting smiles on children's faces for over two decades.

Thomas began making sock monkeys to give to young patients heading into surgery at the Leithfield hospital. The project grew over the years and she now has a small team of volunteers who help in the effort. The group has become like a second family to the members, who look out for one another during sickness and loss.

WKU Public Radio photojournalist Abbey Oldham paid a visit to Leitchfield to meet with Thomas and learn about how the sock monkey program impacts both patients and volunteers.

Third Baptist of Owensboro

A new law that went into effect this week in Kentucky is changing the way the state views faith-based mental health counselors. Kentucky is now licensing such counselors, which means their services will be covered by insurance policies.

One of the faith-based counselors impacted by the new law is Joe Bob Pierce, who works with Cornerstone Counseling in Owensboro. He says the change in state law could encourage potential clients who might have been put off by having to foot the entire bill.

“Clients that otherwise might have to pay out-of-pocket to see a pastoral counselor now will be provided a bit of subsidy, or help, or in some cases their entire fee for counseling will be handled by the insurance company.”

Pierce’s counseling service is located inside Third Baptist Church in Owensboro. He says while many of his clients are deeply rooted in traditional Baptist beliefs, he has also counseled individuals who don’t claim any religious affiliation.

He says his clients are interested in receiving help from someone who will take into account the spiritual aspects of their lives,

“It may not necessarily be a dimension that is religious in terms of being attached to a particular faith. But I think it’s very much a part of our make-up as people.”

To be licensed by the state, pastoral counselors must have a master’s degree in the field and meet the same qualifications as other licensed counselors.

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

WKU is beginning to prepare its employees for likely changes to the school’s health plan. At a forum Wednesday afternoon, representatives from the school’s Human Resources Department told workers that WKU’s self-funded model is coming under significant strain.

The school says it saw a 13.3 percent increase in medical expenses in 2013 compared to the previous year, with expenses exceeding revenue by more than $2 million.

WKU is predicting that unless changes are made, the school’s health plan expenses could increase by 8 to 10 percent in 2015.

No definitive announcement was made, however, about whether employee premiums or deductibles will be increasing. Speaking to WKU Public Radio after the forum, Assistant Director of Human Resources Kari Aikins described the school’s timeline for announcing any changes.

“We’re going to continue to evaluate and model these options financially over the next month, month-and-a-half, and then start making some formalized recommendations to our leadership and President--through our benefits committee--and hopefully have something set in stone by the end of August,” Aikens said.

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