By: Agila Somasundaram, Ph.D.
Climate Change Is Shrinking Where Bumblebees Range, Research Finds
Climate change has caused the geographical range of bumblebees in North America and Europe to shrink, according to a recent study published in Science. Increasing temperatures have caused the southern limits of bumblebee travels to shrink by 170 miles since the 1970s, but there is no corresponding increase in the northern limits of their travels, likely because the northern areas may be less habitable to the bees. The researchers, led by Jeremy T. Kerr, conversation biologist at University of Ottawa, Canada, studied 67 species of bumblebee in North America and Europe. They compared populations from 1974-2010, when temperatures started increasing, to 1901-1974, when climate change was less of a concern. They found that the southernmost geographical limits of the bumblebee retreated north at about 3 miles per year, and that the trends were quite similar for Europe and North America. Dave Goulson, a bee biologist at the University of Sussex in England, says that he is not surprised by the findings given that bees thrive in cooler climes and would be affected by temperature changes. Many entomologists who disagree with the findings say that the study provides a correlation between climate change and decreasing bumblebee habitat, but not direct evidence that warming climates are the major cause. Entomologists Sydney Cameron and James Strange warn that there are other factors that could affect bumblebee habitat, such as pesticide use, parasites and habitat destruction, and it is too early to say that climate change is the main reason for bumblebees’ shrinking habitat. (Nicholas St. Fleur, The New York Times)
Biomedical research funding
21st Century Cures bill sails through House
The U. S. House of Representatives recently approved the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill to speed the discovery and development of new health cures. The bill supports new funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – $8.75 billion over 5 years, $500 million per year to fund research within NIH’s 27 institutes, including research on precision medicine, while the remaining money would fund high-risk, high-reward research, intramural research and others. The bill also authorizes $550 million to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to handle new responsibilities including priority review process for certain antibiotics, speedy approval for certain medical devices, and creation of new guidance documents for drug developers. New provisions include ones that would allow the FDA to approve cures for rare, life-threatening diseases based on smaller clinical trials, given the difficulty in recruiting large number of patients for these studies. Though the bill has the support of many industries, research and patient organizations, it has raised concerns about whether speeding cures might compromise patient safety. There are concerns about “…the misperception that you might be able to speed innovation by lowering standards for safety and efficacy, and we think that would be a terrible mistake,” said former FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg. Safety concerns include risks of using fast track antibiotics on patients who may not fit the profile of people the drugs were originally tested on, and the risk of increased antibiotic resistance that might result from increased use of newer antibiotics by hospitals, encouraged by higher Medicare reimbursements. An amendment passed with the bill directs the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to study whether increased incentives for the use of new antibiotics would lead to increased antibiotic resistance. The bill is now headed to the Senate. (Kelly Servick, ScienceInsider)
Should you take painkillers? FDA bolsters safety labels, warns of heart attack, stroke risk.
The FDA recently strengthened its safety warnings on over-the-counter and prescription painkillers. Painkillers can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and these new labels will be added on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a commonly used class of painkillers for temporary and chronic pain, including ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). A safety label has already been on NSAIDs since 2005, but now the wording would be changed from “may cause” problems, such as heart attack and strokes, to “cause.” A number of research studies have shown that long-term use of high doses of NSAIDs can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and death. But recent studies show that the risk of heart attack and stroke are associated with even short-term use of these drugs. Though the risk is higher for people with a history of cardiovascular diseases, everyone may be at risk, says Judy Racoosin, deputy director of FDA’s Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia and Addiction Products. The FDA says that consumers can still take NSAIDs, given that they are effective in treating pain, but people should avoid taking more than one NSAID containing drug at the same time. Also, people should watch for symptoms of a heart attack and stroke, and seek medical help. (Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post)
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