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Science Policy Around the Web – March 27, 2015

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By: Agila Somasundaram, Ph.D

Amazon Manaus forest” by Phil P Harris. – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Climate Change

Amazon Forest Becoming Less of a Climate Change Safety Net

Forests help reduce global warming by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen in return. In a recent study done by a team at the University of Leeds, Britain, researchers reported that the ability of the Amazon forests to absorb excess carbon is declining over time, a finding that does not bode well for the environment. Even though carbon emissions have been drastically increasing, the Earth’s forests and oceans have surprisingly kept up with it. But the study, done over 30 years, covering 189,000 trees across 321 plots in the Amazon basin, has reported that carbon uptake in the Amazon has fallen by half since its peak in the 1990s. Researchers postulate that the rising carbon dioxide levels may have initially sped up the growth of the trees, but the increased metabolism of trees may have led to the decline in carbon absorption. “With time, the growth stimulation feeds through the system, causing trees to live faster, and so die younger,” says Oliver L. Phillips, a tropical ecologist at the University of Leeds and one of the lead researchers of the study. Though forests are still absorbing more carbon than they are releasing, the question is if this trend will reverse. Will other forests also decrease their carbon absorption over time? “Forests are doing us a huge favor, but we can’t rely on them to solve the carbon problem,” Dr. Phillips said. “Instead, deeper cuts in (carbon) emissions will be required to stabilize our climate.” (Justin Gillis, The New York Times)


White House Science Fair celebrates student research

On March 23, 2015, the White House hosted its fifth annual White House Science Fair, where more than 100 elementary, middle and high-school students showcased their exciting and innovative research accomplishments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to President Obama and other government officials. “We’ve got to celebrate the winners of our science fairs as much as we celebrate the winners of football or basketball or other athletic competitions,” said President Obama. 35 student teams, the winners of STEM competitions across the country, exhibited their projects that ranged from disease diagnostics and clean energy, to enhanced information security. Sixteen-year old Sophia Sánchez-Maes has developed energy-efficient ways of extracting lipids from algae, and optimizing their use in biofuel production. Eric Koehlmoos, 18, has found that treating prairie grass with calcium hydroxide could boost ethanol production, making it a viable alternative to corn-based ethanol. Nikhil Behari, 14, created a computer protocol that measures each individual’s unique typing style to help protect online user identity. Other exhibits included carbon dioxide-powered batteries, software to identify genetic mutations that cause breast cancer, spine implants for scoliosis patients, and a Lego-based automatic page-turner. As part of the Fair, President Obama announced $240 million in funding for the ‘Educate to Innovate’ program, including a $150-million philanthropic effort to empower promising early-career scientists to become scientific leaders, a $90 million ‘Let Everyone Dream’ campaign to expand STEM opportunities to under-represented youth, and a $25 million Department of Education competition to create science- and literacy-based media to inspire students to explore. The announcements also included 120 universities and colleges to train 20,000 engineers to tackle the ‘Grand Challenges’ of the 21st century, and a coalition of CEOs called ‘Change the Equation’ to expand STEM programs to 1.5 million more students this year. The theme of this year’s science fair was ‘Diversity and Inclusion in STEM’, and the fair emphasized the importance of including minorities and women in science. “Science is for all of us,” Obama said, “and we want our classrooms and labs and workplaces and media to reflect that.” (Emily Conover, Science)

Climate Change

Arctic Ice Reaches a Low Winter Maximum

The Arctic Ocean is covered by a large amount of ice that fluctuates on a seasonal basis – the ice peaks around March, after which it melts during the warmer spring and summer climes, and reaches its minimum around September every year. This year the arctic ice reached its annual peak on Feb 25, two weeks earlier than average, and the ice cover is lower than it has been at the end of a winter, since 1978, says the National Snow and Ice Data Center in its report. The center said that this could be partly explained by recent changes in weather patterns – the North Pacific was warmer, and the south was cooler with heavier snows, because of the change in spread of the atmospheric jet stream of cold air. Walt Meier, a NASA scientist, says that the summer minimums of ice cover in the Arctic can have a greater effect on global climate than winter maximums, and that the winter ice cover is not a good predictor of how much ice will be left by the end of summer. This is because during winter, the ice near the edges of the sheet are thin, and melt, whereas the thicker ice in the center melt during summers. “When you lose summer ice you aren’t really just losing it for that year, you’re also losing some ice from many years ago,” he said. “That makes it harder for things to go back towards normal.” This long-term decline in the Arctic sea ice is mainly driven by global warming as a result of huge emissions of greenhouse gases by humans. (Derek Watkins, The New York Times)

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March 27, 2015 at 9:00 am

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Science Policy Around the Web – March 24, 2015

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By: Courtney Pinard, Ph.D

Open Access

NSF unveils plan to make scientific papers free

The National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled a plan last week that will require their grantees to make their peer-reviewed research papers freely available within 12 months of publication. This plan comes two years after the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy ordered U.S. federal science agencies to devise their own public-access policies. According to the plan, archives of full-text articles will be available on the publisher’s website. The push for public-access policies by some scientists and activists has been happening since the late 1990s with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) leading the effort with PubMed Central repository. Many publishers critical of repositories like PubMed Central say that public access policies infringe on their copyright and decrease their revenues. In response to these concerns, NSF has decided to work with the Department of Energy to create a system called PAGES (Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science). PAGES will contain abstracts, authors, and other metadata, but not the full-text paper. Instead, PAGES will provide a link to the full-text paper on the publisher’s website. In the future, NSF may allow open access to full-text papers through other repositories. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)

Infectious Disease

Is Tuberculosis Still a Risk?

Tuberculosis is a widespread, and in many cases fatal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria. Tuberculosis (TB) was once the top killer in the U.S. during the 19th century. With the advent of antibiotics, TB cases have steadily declined. In 2013, for example, 9,588 cases were reported in the U.S. Because of antibiotic resistant strains, there has been a surge in the number of people falling sick with TB in recent decades. Just last week, 27 people tested positive for TB at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, Kansas after a single case prompted testing. Due to the strength of their immune systems and access to proper antibiotics, none of these 27 people had symptoms, nor were they contagious. Without the correct treatment, however, more than 80% of people die from the infection. In fact, TB is the second leading cause of death in adults world-wide after HIV, and affects 1 million children each year. Two-thirds of the drug-resistant cases are found in the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Health policy officials in these countries started working on a TB treatment access plan more than two years ago, but little progress has been made. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), three million people developing tuberculosis in BRICS countries are missed by national notification systems each year and only a fraction of cases are being treated. The WHO report emphasized the need to improve vulnerable populations’ access to quality tuberculosis care in low- to middle-income countries. Maybe, one day, TB-infected individuals in BRICS countries will have similar access to TB medical testing and treatment as those in Olathe, Kansas have. (Jacob Creswell, WHO; Dr. Salmaan Keshavjee, NPR)

Global Health and Agriculture

For the love of pork: Antibiotic use on farms skyrockets worldwide

As the developing world becomes richer, more and more people are consuming meat. Increased meat production will lead to the skyrocketing use of antibiotics, according to a study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study estimates that of the 228 countries who use antibiotics in livestock, total consumption will increase 67% from 63,151 tons in 2010 to 105,596 tons by 2030. The authors suggest that a huge rise in farm drug use will be especially prevalent in middle-income countries, where there is no regulation of antibiotic use on farms. That being said, although the United States Food and Drug Administration has made efforts to limit antibiotic use, critics say U.S. policies passed so far support “voluntary cooperation,” not binding regulation. (Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR)

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March 24, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – March 20, 2015

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By: Amanda Whiting, Ph.D

Biotechnology and Bioethics

Scientists Seek Ban on Method of Editing the Human Genome

With great power comes great responsibility. The inventors of a simple and effective technique for editing and making heritable changes to human DNA have called for a worldwide ban on exactly that until the scientific and ethical consequences can be fully studied and evaluated. While the technique, known as CRISPR-Cas9, can and is used in laboratory research experiments, the authors of a recent paper are concerned about the ability of physicians and scientists to push ahead into human DNA. While clinical use of this technology is highly regulated in the United States and Europe, the paper’s authors are concerned about research in countries with fewer regulations and urge that “scientists should avoid even attempting, in lax jurisdictions, germline genome modification for clinical application in humans” until the full implications “are discussed among scientific and governmental organizations.”

The ethical considerations of such a technological ability are huge – the power to edit, repair, alter or enhance any part of the human genome in a way that can be passed on to offspring would have major implications for future generations of humans. But where do you draw the line? It’s one thing to want to correct a genetic flaw leading to a known and crippling illness, or to potentially free a family from a legacy of disease. It’s another to edit a “flaw” based on one opinion or standard to be more “beautiful” or “intelligent.” There are also concerns over potential mistakes – when the DNA is accidently changed in a way not intended – as well as with the actual consequences of making a “correct” change when the entire spectrum of effects is not known or well-understood at this time. Should any editing take place at all in humans? Is the power to direct our own genome too much?

Science in the 21st century seems to follow a trend of first developing a technique, trying to understand the consequences of using that technique, and then finally developing the necessary policy. With this ban, perhaps policy will have time to catch up to our scientific ability. (Nicholas Wade, New York Times)

Federal Research Funding

Cancer institute plans new award for staff scientists

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is planning to try out a new “experiment” in funding science by targeting a new award at staff scientists, rather than graduate students, post-doctoral researchers or principle investigators (PI). In this way, NCI hopes to address some of the current flaws in biomedical funding, which encourage labs to over rely on (cheaper) trainees to do research (rather than longer term employees), creating an over-abundance of highly trained post-docs to very few actual PI positions at the end of the day.

The K05 “research specialist award” would be aimed at researchers with a masters, Ph.D., M.D., or other advanced degree and the applicant would need to be sponsored by a PI and the institution at which they would work. These 5 year, renewable rewards would cover 100% of the cost of the scientist’s salary (but not any supplies), and would be portable if the scientist chose to move to another lab. While mostly positively received, there are uncertainties such as creating even more competition for a shrinking pool of federal funding, and the worry that NCI would be swamped with applications. NCI plans to start with approximately 50 to 60 awards, totaling $5 million, over the next 18 months. Requests for applications can be expected later this year. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)

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March 20, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – March 13, 2015

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By: Thomas Calder, Ph.D


Drug Policy

F.D.A. Approves Zarxio, Its First Biosimilar Drug

For the first time in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of a “biosimilar” drug, called Zarxio. This drug will be prescribed for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to help prevent infections. Biosimilar drugs are essentially generic versions of costlier drugs known as biologics, which are created from a living cell instead of a chemistry lab. Many European countries have already approved several biosimilar drugs, but the U.S. patent system has previously prevented their approval. The complex creation process of brand-name drug has essentially protected these drugs from competition. New technologies are allowing drug companies to create biosimilar drugs to overcome these patent rules, which may equate to big savings for the healthcare system. Zarxio is projected to reduce healthcare costs by $5.7 billion in the U.S. over the next 10 years. According to Dr. John K. Jenkins, director of the Office of New Drugs in F.D.A.’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, “The biological products tend to be products that have very high prices. With competition, one of the goals is to see hopefully lower prices to make access better for the patients who need these products.” Currently, 11 other biosimilars are in development, and if approved, Express Scripts estimates the U.S. will save $250 billion over the next 10 years. (Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew Pollack, New York Times)

Ebola Research

New Ebola drug trial starts in Sierra Leone

An experimental drug to combat Ebola is entering phase II trials. Researchers are testing the drug in Sierra Leone, which is still experiencing 10 new Ebola cases everyday. The drug consists of small RNA molecules that were coded to interfere with the replication process of the Ebola virus. These RNAs are encapsulated in a lipid nanoparticle that transports and delivers the RNA to its target. The researchers hope to enroll up to 100 patients for this trial, and potentially use non-enrolled patients as controls. There are several challenges to this clinical trial. First, the drug must be administered for 2 hours, and will therefore require a doctor or nurse to monitor the patient for long periods of time while wearing protective equipment in the intense tropical heat. Second, the drug may have dangerous side effects, such as an extreme immune response known as a “cytokine storm.” Third, new Ebola cases are continuing to drop and therefore, there is a short time frame to test this new drug and potentially begin phase III trials. According to Trudie Lang, a global health researcher at the University of Oxford, “We are looking for a big effect, and if there is a big yes or a big no, we hope to see that sooner.” If the drug is ineffective, the researchers hope to quickly test a different drug while there are still Ebola cases in western Africa—with the ultimate goal of saving lives in future Ebola epidemics. (Kai Kupferschmidt, ScienceInsider)

Federal Research Funding

Physical scientists offer outside-the-box idea for funding U.S. basic research

Federal funding for research and development (R&D) in the U.S. has been decreasing in recent years, when adjusted for inflation. The downward trend in buying power may continue into the future. In fact, the percentage of the federal budget that is dedicated to discretionary spending is projected to go from 36% in 2012 to only 23% in 2040. Therefore, strategies may need to be developed to support and maintain federally funded R&D programs. Two physicists, Michael Lubell and Scott Franklin, have proposed a unique idea of creating a $100 billion dollar endowment called the “Research Bank.” This endowment would provide roughly $7 billion every year for research funds. The scientists proposed that the original funds could come from taxes of overseas corporate profits. According to Lubell, convincing congress of this plan is a “heavy lift,” especially since taxing overseas corporate profits is highly controversial. While this funding strategy may never gain traction in congress, Lubell and Franklin are helping to foster policy discussions on R&D funding strategies. (Robert F. Service, ScienceInsider)

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March 13, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – March 10, 2015

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By: Ashley Parker, Ph.D

Antibiotic-Resistant Infections

Second Los Angeles hospital identifies “superbug” infections and Hartford Hospital says patients might have been exposed to E. coli

Recent “superbug” outbreaks in at least three hospitals have been associated with a sophisticated surgical instrument known as a duodenoscope. Duodenscopes are fiber-optic instruments used to examine the duodenum (small intestine), and are inserted into the mouth, through the stomach and into the top of the small intestine. Two Los Angeles hospitals, UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have reported seven and four carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) infections, respectively, with two of the UCLA incidents resulting in death. 67 more patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who were treated with the same instrument are currently at risk. In Connecticut, Hartford Hospital reported at least five patients infected with a strain of drug resistant E. coli. These “superbug” infections were also linked to the use of two duodenoscopes in procedures that involved 281 patients. Dr. Rocco Orlando, the Chief Medical Officer at Hartford, stated that the patients found infected were treated successfully. The hospital remains confident that the 281 patients exposed to the instruments are not at greater risk for infection due to laboratory test revealing the strain’s sensitivity to other antibiotics. However, additional safety measures, including contacting these patients and bringing them in for screening, are currently taking place. In the earlier cases in Los Angeles, both hospitals offered free home monitoring kits to potentially exposed patients.

Hospital officials at all three hospitals stated that they followed the manufacturers’ disinfection procedures correctly to clean and disinfect the instruments. Since the reported outbreaks, both Los Angeles hospitals have enhanced their disinfection procedures beyond those recommended by the manufacturers. Proper sanitation of these instruments is currently under investigation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its first warning on February 19 regarding problems with the design of the instrument that may prevent effective cleaning. In this report, the FDA discussed reported issues of disinfecting these surgical instruments and the potential risk associated with the transmission of multi-drug resistant bacterial infections. The FDA Safety Communication also provided recommendations for healthcare providers regarding their responsibility to communicate the potential benefits and risks, and included information for patients who undergo such procedures with these duodenoscopes. The situation is still being monitored and the FDA will continue provide updates regarding the related use of these devices. (Steve Gorman, Reuters and Josh Kovner, Hartford Courant)

Healthcare and Infectious Disease

CDC puts C. difficile burden at 453,000 cases, 29,000 deaths

Hospital-acquired infections and the resulting costs of treating them continues to be an issue in the United States. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently reported that the bacterium Clostridium difficile is responsible for more than 450,000 cases per year and results in death in approximately 6.5% of cases. C. difficile is one of the major pathogens responsible for antibiotic-associated colitis, an infection resulting in inflammation of the large intestines. Further damage to the colon can cause the bacterial infection to leak into the bloodstream, resulting in septicemia. This is a major concern, primarily for patients who are treated with antibiotics in hospitals and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

Surveillance studies have been reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) to monitor new cases of C. difficile. Although there were a considerable number of community-acquired cases in these studies, a significant number of infections were attributed to healthcare-associated environments. Strikingly, 10% of the patients with healthcare-associated infections died within a month.

As a result, serious efforts to reduce the incidence of C. difficile infections have been implemented. Hospitals are now required to report infection rates and healthcare workers are encouraged to use proper hand-washing techniques rather than rely on hand sanitizers to prevent the spread of C. difficile spores. In addition, measures to avoid the unnecessary use and prescribing of antibiotics have improved the incidence of antibiotic-associated hospital cases. Moving forward, additional evidence is needed to better understand the spread of infection and improve the disinfection of healthcare environments. (Robert Roos, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy)

Global Health and Infectious Disease

Malawi: Cholera Scare Hitting Malawi, Govt Alert

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is on high alert after a cholera outbreak in Malawi, Africa and its borders. Cholera is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae which infects the small intestine. While some infected persons can be initially asymptomatic, progress of the infection can lead to excessive watery diarrhea, vomiting, severe dehydration, and death in 25-50% of untreated infections. The Ministry of Health in Malawi has reported 39 cases of cholera with two confirmed deaths. These reports are in the southern border areas of Malawi which is shared with the neighboring country of Mozambique. UNICEF has also reported more than 3400 cholera cases in Mozambique, including 37 deaths since December, many of which were children.

The continued spread of this disease is a pressing concern. In Malawi, the disease is associated with major flooding that occurred in January and the more than 230,000 people who are still displaced due to continued rainfall. Mahimbo Mdoe, the UNICEF representative in Malawi stated “[that] as humanitarian actors in Malawi, we need to move quickly.” UNICEF along with other organizations such as the European Union and UK’s Department for International Development are contributing to efforts to prevent the spread of cholera such as providing safe water, sanitation and hygiene services. In addition, UNICEF, in partnership with governmental and non-profit organizations, has dispatched essential medications and healthcare equipment to control the outbreak. (Paul Nthala, Malawi24)

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March 10, 2015 at 9:00 am

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Science Policy Around the Web – March 6, 2015

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By: Varun Sethi, MD, Ph.D

photo credit: El Bibliomata via photopin cc

Research Funding – Human Brain Project

Human Brain Project votes for leadership change

Europe’s ambitious 1 billion Euro project, the Human Brain Project (HBP), was launched in October 2013, and aimed to boost digital technologies such as supercomputing, working together with neuroscientists. Many high-ranking neuroscientists have voiced their discontent in the way that the HBP has been managed and its scientific progress therein. In response, the Board of Directors met on 26th February and voted narrowly to change the governance structure, disbanding the three person executive committee. This decision is expected to be supported by about 85 of the HBP’s partner universities and research institutes, later this week. The initial sparks of discontent were noted when the HBP had revealed plans to remove cognitive neuroscience from the initiative. 150 top neuroscientists had signed a protest letter alleging that committee was autocratically running the scientific plans off the course. The neuroscientists stated that they would boycott the HBP if their concerns were ignored. While the issue is being resolved, the responsibilities of the committee have been taken over by the Board of Directors. Recommendations from a mediation committee and a Commission interim report will be taken into account. With the Board of Directors in the driving seat, scientists believe that the HBP is getting itself in order. However the recommendations of the mediation committee, and their implementation, remain to be seen. The HBP’s announcement also confirmed reports that while the major funding body for the HBP is the European Commission and its research partners, the HBP has a larger vision to evolve into an international organization with a permanent infrastructure. (Alison Abbott, Nature News)

Scientific Societies – Social Responsibility

AAAS Questionnaire: Most Scientists feel duty to society but priorities vary

Most professional bodies agree that serving society is an important part of their mandate, however, there are differences regarding what exactly these social responsibilities are thought to be. To investigate, the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law program, together with AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, conducted a pilot study collecting responses to a questionnaire from 2153 scientists, engineers and health professionals across the world. The questionnaire presented examples of social responsibilities and asked participants to grade them, ranging from ‘critically important’ to ‘not at all important’.

Some of the highlights of the findings were that 80% of the respondents considered the proposed responsibilities as important, with some differences in response based on age, discipline and geographical locations; there were no differences by gender. While younger respondents were keen to explain their work to the public, senior respondents emphasized the need to report suspected misconduct. Respondents from health and social/behavioral sciences were most likely to select ‘critically important’, while engineers were least likely to consider a responsibility as important, very important or critically important. Respondents from Europe, North America and the Pacific concurred with an emphasis on considering the risks of potential adverse consequences associated with their work. Respondents from Africa, the Arab states, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean tended to respond in  ways similar to each other and prioritized the impact of each research project on social well-being.

This is a pilot study and reflects responses only from a small group of respondents, who were associated with AAAS in some way. A larger scale survey focusing on a broader international audience is the next step and will explore differences in the perception of what social responsibility is. (Kathy Wren, AAAS News)

Immune Defense

Does a high salt diet combat infections?

The adverse effects of too much salt in your diet are well known and have been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and in some cases even to autoimmune disorders. In a recent study, researchers are now finding that high levels of salt in the skin are helping mice fight infections. While immunologists are intrigued by the possibility that salt storage has evolved as a host defense mechanism, they remain skeptical. Experiments in mice have demonstrated that extremes of salt intake allow for additional accumulation of salt in the skin and this appears to boost the immune defense. Research using MRI techniques that measure sodium in the skin has found large accumulation of salt in bacterial skin infections even in humans who consumed a high salt diet. Scientists warn that these findings do not authorize a high salt diet to boost immunity. It is possible that prior to the era of antibiotics, and before the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease, a high salt intake might have benefited our ancestors. However, today, the detrimental effects of a high salt diet out weigh any potential immunological benefits. A more realistic application of these findings might suggest that local application of high salt wound gels or dressings on wounds. It makes you wonder if there is some truth in ‘rubbing salt on your wounds’ – perhaps fueling the immune system against the infection? (Kate Wheeling, Science News)

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March 6, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – March 3, 2015

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By: Cheryl Jacobs Smith, Ph.D

photo credit: Flickr heart via photopin (license)

Science and Health Policy

Younger Women Hesitate To Say They’re Having A Heart Attack

Each year more than 15,000 women under the age of 55 die of heart disease in the United States. Interestingly enough, younger women are twice as likely to die after being hospitalized for a heart attack as men in the same age group. In a small study in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, Lichtman and her colleagues investigated why younger women delay getting help. The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 30 women, ages 30 to 55, who had been hospitalized after a heart attack. It turned out that many had trouble recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack. Many women cited that they had not ‘experienced the Hollywood heart attack’. This is in part due to early clinical research into heart disease where the clinical subjects were men. Only when the studies started to include women did researchers and clinicians identify that there are gender-specific symptoms to a heart attack. Men experience the ‘Holly wood heart attack’ where women experience vague symptoms like nausea or pain down their arms. Moreover, several women reported that their doctors initially misdiagnosed the pain. This within itself highlights the unconscious bias of female hysteria that dates back to ancient times. Hopefully this study increases awareness of what social factors impact how heart disease is diagnosed in women and spurs additional studies to validate their findings. Heart disease is the third leading cause of death for women ages 35 to 44, and it’s the second leading cause of death for women 45 to 54, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Cancer is the No. 1 cause). Therefore, it is of utmost importance to better educate both clinicians and the general public of the differences in heart disease symptoms between men and women. (Maanvi Singh, NPR)


Health Policy – Cancer

Cancer Breakthroughs Are Needed In Policy As Well As Science

Since 1990, the number of cancer-related deaths and new cancer diagnosis has been on a negative decline. Although cancer discoveries and cancer treatment has been improving, new insights to how to meet the challenges of affording high-quality treatment and delivery of excellent cancer care is needed. The economic burden of cancer care in the U.S. is expected to reach more than $170 billion per year by 2020. Some say expensive medicines are the culprits. However, spending on cancer treatment as a share of overall healthcare expenditures in the U.S. has not changed significantly in 50 years. To better measure the burden of cancer treatment in the U.S., it would be beneficial to have more transparency when it comes to cancer treatment billing—not only cancer medication costs. This likely would reduce large variations in the cost of the same services between different cancer-care providers. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s oncology division has teamed with academia and industry in efforts to accelerate cancer R&D—exploring “adaptive” clinical trials that steer patients to the most appropriate trials through “master protocol agreements.” With these efforts and more there is a growing consensus that cancer care and treatment needs to be reformed. Hopefully with the raised awareness this will lead to further scientific breakthroughs to reduce the overall burden of cancer care treatment and deliver the kind of outcomes that cancer patients deserve and have been patiently waiting for. (John Lechleiter, Forbes)


Bioethics – Ebola

Bioethics Commission: Ebola Teaches Us Public Health Preparedness Requires Ethics Preparedness

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) advises the President and the Administration on ethical practices that promote research, healthcare delivery, and scientific innovation as a means of improving public health. The Commission decided to report its findings from the Ebola epidemic to highlight the successes and failures of the U.S. infectious disease protocol. From the perspective of Commission Chair, Dr. Gutmann, there is much to be improved. “The Ebola epidemic in western Africa overwhelmed fragile health systems, killed thousands of people, and highlighted major inadequacies in our ability to respond to global public health emergencies,” Commission Chair Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., said. “It demonstrated the dire need to prepare before the next epidemic. A failure to prepare and a failure to follow good science — for example, by not developing vaccines and not supporting health care providers — will lead to needless deaths.” “Public health preparedness requires ethics preparedness,” Gutmann said. “We need to be prepared, for example, to communicate early and often during an Ebola epidemic — drawing upon the best scientific evidence — why not to quarantine asymptomatic individuals. Needlessly restricting the freedom of expert and caring health care workers is both morally wrong and counterproductive; it will do more to lose than to save lives.” The Bioethics Commission’s seven recommendations offer targeted policy and research design suggestions. The Bioethics Commission sets a critical framework from which the U.S. can work off of to improve its education and outreach concerning future public health epidemics both domestically and abroad. (Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues)



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March 3, 2015 at 9:00 am


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