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Science Policy Around the Web – October 21, 2014

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By: Jennifer E. Seedorff, Ph.D.

photo credit: NIAID via photopin cc

Ebola Outbreak – Public Health

In the US, fear spreads faster than Ebola

Ebola is a scary, lethal virus. Luckily, “There’s a reason it’s not everywhere. It’s just not as easy to transmit as people think.” said CDC epidemiologist, Michael Kinzer. So far, the only people to become infected while living in the US are two health-care works that treated the initial patient while he was having severe symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea. In Ebola, the amount of virus in the body is not the same throughout the course of the infection. As the disease progresses, the amount of Ebola virus present in the body and bodily fluids increases dramatically. Since Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, individuals without symptoms are not contagious despite being infected with Ebola. However, fears of Ebola have led to what some believe to be overreactions, including a cruise ship that was turned away from port or a school that temporarily closed because an employee had traveled on a different flight that used the same airplane as an Ebola infected health-care worker. As Kinzer told the Guinea media this summer, “Ebola’s not transmitted by the air. Fear and ignorance are transmitted by the air.” (Joel Achenbach and Brady Dennis, Washington Post)

 

Infectious Diseases

US pauses new funding for controversial virus research

The White House has announced that it is pausing any funding for new Gain-of-Function studies on viruses, like influenza, MERS, or SARS, and has called for a voluntary moratorium on existing research projects. Gain-of-Function studies have been controversial both inside and outside the scientific community. These types of studies seek to understand what kinds of mutations are necessary for a virus to evolve to become more pathogenic or to be more easily transmitted in humans or mammels. Proponents argue that these studies help in pandemic planning and strategies for vaccine development. Opponents argue that these studies are generating viruses that have the potential to cause a pandemic if accidentally or intentionally released from the labs. Concerns have been elevated due to recent concerns over safety at high-level containment research labs. US policy for determining the risk/benefits and approval process for these types of gain-of-function will be evaluated by both the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity and by the National Academy of Sciences over the next year. (Jocelyn Kaiser and David Malakoff, ScienceInsider)

 

Cancer Research – Precision Medicine

Cancer Immunotherapy successful in Phase I/IIA clinical trial

Cancer Immunotherapy is a promising precision medicine approach for treating cancer, and was named Science magazine’s breakthrough of the year in 2013.   In a recent study, cancer immunotherapy was shown to be an effective treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of B-cells. This treatment worked well in patients who had failed traditional therapies, including some whose cancer had previously returned even after stem cell transplants. This study reported impressive, durable results six months after therapy, with 23 of 30 patients alive, 19 of 30 in complete remission, and with 15 of 30 receiving no additional therapy. In this particular version of cancer immunotherapy, a patient’s own T-cells were harvested, then genetic bits of information are added to their T-cells to help them recognize B-cells (which are the source of the cancer), the modified T-cells are given back to the patient, and then these genetically modified T-cells hunt and kill the cancerous B-cells. As with any therapy, this treatment does have side effects most, including destruction of healthy B-cells and Cytokine release syndrome, a systematic inflammatory response that can cause a high fever, a drop in blood pressure, and difficulty breathing. This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and was partially sponsored by Novartis which holds the license to develop this therapy. In July, the FDA designated this engineered T-cell treatment as a “breakthrough therapy” which should help expedite the development and regulatory review of this therapy. (Denise Grady, New York Times)

 

Written by sciencepolicyforall

October 22, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – April 24, 2014

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By: Jennifer Plank

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Vermont Will Require Labeling of Genetically Altered Foods – Vermont has recently established the strictest guidelines regarding genetically modified foods. Beginning July 1, 2016, all foods containing genetically modified ingredients must be labeled as such, which could affect up to 80 percent of foods on the shelves of grocery stores. Due to the small number of individuals living in Vermont, it is possible that some suppliers of genetically modified foods will cease selling to grocery stores in the state. While the ruling is currently limited to food sales in Vermont, the precedent set could impact legislation in other states or at the federal level. (Stephanie Strom)

NIH Policy Change Allows Unlimited Resubmissions of Grant Applications – Last week, the NIH revised the policy regarding number of resubmissions for R01 grants. Previously, once a grant was submitted (A0), it could be revised and resubmitted one time (A1). After that submission, if the grant was not funded, another submission of the same research was not allowed. Under the new guidelines, a grant can still only technically be resubmitted one time, however, the same grant can be submitted as a new A0, which means that any grant can essentially be resubmitted an unlimited number of times. Whether this policy change will have a positive benefit on research and the funding climate is yet to be seen. (Chris Pickett)

FDA Warns Against Protocol To Remove Uterine Fibroids – Last week, the FDA issued a statement encouraging doctors to stop a surgical procedure to remove uterine growths; such removal may inadvertently spread cancer throughout the body. The procedure, known as power morcellation, is used to remove uterine growths during laparoscopic surgeries. Although the FDA urges doctors to cease using the procedure, they do not intend to ban any of the devices required to perform the operation. (Brady Dennis)

 

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April 24, 2014 at 3:40 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – October 20, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

 

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

A New Method Against Genetically Modified Salmon – The Food and Drug Administration has recently indicated that they intend to approve genetically modified salmon for human consumption to the dismay of many consumer and environmental activists. Because the government will not ban the production and sale of the fish, the activists are taking a different approach to inhibit the sale of the GMO salmon. Retailers including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Target, and Safeway have indicated they have no intention of selling the product, and Kroger is being pressured to follow a similar path. Activists believe that the GMO salmon will not be sold if there is no demand for the product. (Brady Dennis)

Pakistan Polio Outbreak Puts Global Eradication at Risk – Since 2012, the Taliban has claimed that vaccinations are a Western method to sterilize Muslims and has imposed bans on vaccinations. The Taliban controlled region, North Waziristan, has seen an increase in the number children infected with polio. Additionally, tests from sewage indicate that the disease seems to be spreading to other regions. Prior to this, polio had been largely eradicated with the exception of three small pockets. However, the recent increase in the number of polio infections suggests that the pockets within Pakistan are growing. (Kate Kelland)

Uganda Fights Stigma and Poverty to Take on Breast Cancer – In Uganda, stigma, poverty, and misinformation result in women not receiving treatment for breast cancer until it is too late. In the United States, 20% of women with breast cancer will die from the disease compared to 40-60% in less developed countries. In these countries, women generally do not seek treatment immediately and there is a delay in receiving the appropriate treatment. Uganda is trying to treat cancer patients more effectively through building a new government sponsored hospital, which has not yet opened due to lack of equipment. (Denise Grady)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

October 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – September 16, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

Our weekly linkpost (sorry for the delay!), bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

A silent hurricane season adds fuel to the debate over global warmingHalfway through hurricane season, there have been no Atlantic hurricanes. One possible explanation is abundance or warmer, dryer air across the Atlantic leading to fewer disturbances. Furthermore, a Category 3 or greater hurricane hasn’t made landfall since 2005 (Wilma), and scientists are confused about the cause. A report published in 2007 predicted an increase in destructive hurricanes, however, the opposite has been true, and a newer report indicates that there was only a 20 percent chance of the 2007 report being accurate. The debate regarding the severity of hurricanes illustrates the ongoing debate about the effects of global climate change. (Bryan Walsh)

More than 1,100 have cancer after 9/11 – More than 1,000 people who lived or worked near the World Trade Center around 9/11 have been diagnosed with cancer. To date, approximately 1,140 people who developed cancer after exposure to debris from the 9/11 attacks on the WTC have received health insurance from the World Trade Center Health Program. Although cancer was not initially covered by the program, in September 2012, 58 types of cancer were added to the list of illnesses covered by the program. The program was created following the passage of the Zagoda Act, which was signed by President Obama in 2011. (CNN)

The adjunct advantage – A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that new students at Northwestern University learned better from adjunct professors than tenure-track professors. The study considered many aspects of learning- not simply completion of the course. The results of the study suggest that hiring faculty with only teaching responsibilities to complement those who also have research responsibilities may be beneficial to students. (Scott Jaschik)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

September 16, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – August 10, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: jazzijava via photopin cc

photo credit: jazzijava via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

FDA Regulates ‘Gluten Free’ Labels – Until last week, the term “gluten free” was not regulated by the FDA, and individual manufacturers got to decide exactly what it meant. According to new regulations from the FDA, the term “gluten free” does not mean that a particular food is devoid of wheat, rye, and barley. However, the foods must consist of less than 20 parts per million of gluten. That amount of gluten should not cause a person with celiac disease to feel ill. Companies producing “gluten free” food will have a year to comply with the new FDA policy. (Mary Clare Jalonick)

Decades After Henrietta Lacks’ Death, Family Gets a Say on Her Cells – In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a cervical cancer patient unknowingly donated tumor cells to science. The cells, called HeLa cells, can grow indefinitely in a dish and have been invaluable to biomedical research. In fact, over 70,000 publications reference the cells. The HeLa genome has recently been sequenced and published, to the dismay of Lacks’ family. The NIH has agreed to let the Lacks family have some say in how the cells will be used. The Lacks family will allow her sequence to be used by scientists assuming their are some safeguards to protect their privacy. (Michaeleen Doucleff)

Greenland Soars to Its Highest Temperature Ever Recorded – The Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) has been recording increasingly warmer temperatures over the past several years. On July 30, temperatures in Greenland reached 25.9C (78.6F) at Mantiisoq observing station, the highest temperatures seen in Greenland since 1958. The warm temperatures were brought by southeasterly winds. (Jason Samenow)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

August 10, 2013 at 10:56 am

Science Policy Around the Web – Aug 2, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: Army Medicine via photopin cc

photo credit: Army Medicine via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

The Pertussis Paradox – As the number of incidences of pertussis (whooping cough) neared 50,000, scientists were forced to evaluate the efficacy of the newer pertussis vaccine. A new, safer pertussis vaccine was introduced in 1990. The newer vaccine, called DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis), had fewer adverse side effects than the older DTP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis) vaccine that was introduced in the 1940s. Possible side effects of the DTP vaccine included high fevers and seizures. After following the efficacy of the DTaP vaccine for several years, it became clear that while DTaP caused fewer adverse effects, the immune-protection is not as long lasting. Initially, the DTaP vaccine creates an immune response that is similar to that of the DTP vaccine, however, over time the immune-protection declines with the DTaP vaccine. In fact, children who received 1 dose of DTP were twice as likely to be protected during a whooping cough outbreak than children who received 5 DTaP vaccines during infancy. Today, efforts to determine the cause of the declining immune-protection in DTaP and methods for making the DTP vaccine safer are underway. (Arthur Allen, subscription required)

Astrophysicist tapped to lead NSF – Earlier this week, President Obama nominated astrophysicist France Cordova to head the National Science Foundation. If her nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Cordova will be only the second woman to lead the agency. Cordova, who is a former Purdue University administrator and NASA chief scientist, currently serves as the chairwoman for for the governing board of the Smithsonian Institution. Interestingly, Cordova’s career didn’t start with science; she earned her bachelors in English from Stanford University. (Lauren Morello)

Experts warn of dangers of over diagnosis and treatment of cancer –  A panel advising the National Cancer Institute has recommended that the word “cancer” be selectively used in diagnoses to prevent patients from panicking and seeking unnecessary, extreme treatments. The committee recommended using the word “cancer” only when lesions have a “reasonable likelihood of lethal progression if untreated.” For example, some women have localized lesions that look like cancers but are not lethal, and these women are unnecessarily treated with radiation therapy or mastectomies despite the fact that the lesions will never harm them. While preventative care is not necessary in some cases, removal of non-cancerous lesions in the colon or on the cervix has reduced the incidence of cancer. (Lenny Bernstein)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

August 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 22, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

To Ease Shortage, F.D.A. Lets 2 Cancer Drugs Be Imported –   Tight economic times are encouraging even tighter delivery and production margins, as well as fewer US companies making generic drugs.  One factory shut-down can be catastrophic for the US supply of vital medications.  This issue branches into several areas, including the US stance on importing drugs from other countries, the budget troubles of the FDA, and the harsh realities that crop up when drug-making is a profit-driven business. (by Gardiner Harris via the New York Times)

Occupy Science? – “…some citizen science projects, [...] stand or fall on the strength of the social networks that underlie them.  Though far from perfect, these projects begin to sketch the outlines of an altered social contract between science and society—one that is open, participatory, and dependent on the collective energy of the community.”  Well-said.  (by Krishanu Saha and J. Benjamin Hurlbut via The Scientist online)

Celebrities Pushing Drugs? –  “These ads don’t just sell us products. They sell us ways to think about disease.” An interesting piece on the psychology of having celebrity spokespeople for pharmaceutical brands.  Opinionated, but an interesting take on the issue.  What do you think?  (by Howard Brody via The Scientist online)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

February 22, 2012 at 1:53 pm

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