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Science Policy Around the Web – May 22, 2018

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By: Patrice J. Persad, PhD

Species Conservation

Massive Eradication Effort Ends Rodents’ Reign Of Terror On Forbidding Isle

In an era when biotechnologies, such as gene drives and in-vitro fertilization, pulsate as pending alternate strategies for species conservation, two seemingly outdated tactics emerge victoriously: man power and canine power. Because of collaborations, for almost ten years, between the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) and Friends of South Georgia Island, the South Georgia pipit, a native avian species, regained habitat from plaguing invaders—rodents, predators of both chicks and adult birds. After scaling approximately 1,500 miles (area of 400 square meters) of the South Atlantic island’s icy, merciless terrain, “a blessing incognito,” conservation project human members and three dogs, expert ”rodent sniffers,” confirmed the region to be absent of rats and mice. This is giving the South Georgia pipit something to merrily sing about.

How exactly did the 200-year dynasty of the rodent collapse on South Georgia Island? With helicopters furnished by the Friends of South Georgia Island, an American-headquartered organization, pilots circulated poison targeted to the invasive species. Geographical barriers also trapped the whiskery mammals; Goliath-sized glaciers stalled rodents from scurrying to and populating other places on the island. Project members two years later then positioned low-tech chewy apparatuses smothered with tantalizing bait—sticky substances like vegetable oil and sweet peanut butter. These served as checks to record any remaining rodents; any captured teeth impressions signaled rodent infestation. The trinity of dogs, Will, Ahu, and Wai, roamed with their handlers and sniffed amongst the other native wildlife—elephant seals, penguins, and fur seals—while on their quest to determine the deadly invaders’ survival. Fortunately, the rats were history, and this event marked the conservation efforts as successes.

Where one chapter ends, another starts. This characterizes the neverending book of conservation. To permanently keep rodents off the island, the SGHT prudently enforces safeguards. Travellers to South Georgia face examination of their persons and belongings. International governmental officials transfer these individuals to land on miniature vessels from major sea vessels. This is to permit ease of keeping eyes (and canine noses) on any vagabond rats and mice since the vessel area to hide decreases.

As human beings (and dogs) work to restore South Georgia pipits’—and other seabirds’—home into their wings, hope awashes and renews the wildlife conservation front. Given that the triumphant primary actors, the SGHT and Friends of the South Georgia Island, are non-profit organizations, this shows that federal agencies or other government institutes may not be the only ones to fly to species’ rescue. With funding, proper planning, perseverance, and global cooperation [in this case, various networks spanning the United Kingdom (primarily Scotland, the SGHT’s location), the United States, New Zealand, and South Georgia], the inconceivable transforms to the imminent. As Professor Mike Richardson of SGHT envisions, the win over the rodents in South Georgia will inspire others—yes, even “mere” citizens—to take a stand in protecting both native species and their habitats across the hemisphere.

(Colin Dwyer, National Public Radio)

Environment

Air pollution inequality widens between rich and poor nations

Injustice again accompanies the impoverished throughout the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor air quality (more air pollutants) equals poor health, with the highest percentage (45%) of pollution-linked deaths (total worldwide: 7 million) corresponding to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 25% of these deaths corresponded to stroke, the second global leading cause of death. An interactive map of related air pollution annual mean measurements [micrograms of particulate matter (less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) per cubic meter—PM2.5] highlights Southeast Asian, African, and Middle Eastern lower-income regions with the greatest numbers (PM2.5 > 70 micrograms per cubic meter). Individual cities with monstrous PM10 peaks (micrograms of particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter per cubic meter) include Delhi (292), Cairo (284), Dhaka (104), and Mumbai (104). North America, specifically the United States and Canada, on the other hand, overall inhaled better air quality (PM2.5 < 10 micrograms per cubic meter).

When comparing rich areas to poor areas, what accounts for the disparate distributions of air pollution? In economically struggling communities, dwellers can only purchase cheap means of creating fire or generating heat for cooking and other everyday uses: coal, wood, or kerosene. Governmental policy setting standards and restrictions on PM10 and PM2.5 levels impacts air quality, too, such as the United States’ long-standing Clean Air Act and China’s recent air pollution regulations. However, despite high-income countries’ regulations and air quality management, these dominions, too, are not immune to miasma; well-to-do cities, such as Manchester and London, fail to fall under the WHO recommended PM2.5 threshold (10 micrograms per cubic meter). Thus, existing acts must be evaluated for shortcomings and amended, if not rewritten, for improvements. Jenny Bates, a Friends of the Earth member, suggests championing more research. Studies on air pollution levels during periods/intervals and effects of certain practices on these levels pave the trail for effective policy measures. Research will also uncover pollutant levels in countries—mainly those in Africa—currently missing these data.

(Jonathan Watts, The Guardian)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

May 22, 2018 at 8:02 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – May 18, 2018

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By: Patrick Wright, Ph.D

Suicide Prevention

Gaps Remain in U.S. State Policies on Suicide Prevention Training

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with 45,000 people dying by suicide in 2016 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite this, there is not a universal requirement or standard of suicide prevention training across states, especially among healthcare professionals, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) that aimed to assess the effectiveness of national guidelines by the U.S. Surgeon General and National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention released in 2012. Given the proximity and dynamic at the healthcare professional-patient interface, clinicians and mental health experts are in a unique, critical position to explicitly tackle suicide in at-risk individuals. As of October 2017, all 50 states had a suicide prevention plan, but only 10 states—California, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia—require healthcare professionals to complete suicide prevention training and intervene with appropriate intervention. Policies in seven states only encourage training, but do not require it. Even the duration and frequency of training varies extensively.

Jane Pearson, chair of the National Health Suicide Research Consortium, stated “When there’s someone in crisis you have to gather information very quickly and if you’re not asking the exact right questions you can miss someone’s intentions. The most pressing goal is to increase the person’s will to live so it’s greater than their will to die and buy time to get past the crisis, so they have a chance to work on problem solving.” Earlier work has shown that a majority of people who attempt suicide have seen a healthcare professional in the weeks and months prior to their suicide attempt, emphasizing the significance of potential opportunity in these healthcare professional-patient interactions.

The 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention created by the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention outlined four strategic directions, including creating “supportive environments that will promote the general health of the population and reduce the risk for suicidal behaviors and related problems”, developing and implementing clinical and community-based preventive programs, providing treatment and care for high-risk patients, and surveying and evaluating suicide and its prevention nationwide.

Washington was the first state to mandate suicide assessment, treatment, and management training for healthcare providers, through the Matt Adler Suicide Assessment, Treatment, and Management Act of 2012 (House Bill 2366), with the state defining suicide assessment, treatment, and management training as one “of at least six hours in length that is listed on the Best Practices Registry of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center including, but not limited to: Applied suicide intervention skills training; assessment and management of suicide risk; recognizing and responding to suicide risk; or question, persuade, respond, and treat.”

The AJPH study poses that ensuring that suicide prevention training is disseminated universally among health care professionals is not limited only to legislation; accrediting bodies (e.g. American Psychological Association) share this burden in guaranteeing that graduates are prepared to identify and aid patients who may be at risk for suicide. The study concludes, “Better equipping health care professionals to assess and provide care to patients at risk for suicide may contribute to a meaningful decline in the rate of suicide across the nation, and it is the responsibility of policymakers, health care professionals, and citizens to advocate change.”

(Cheryl Platzman Weinstock, Reuters)

Animal Welfare

Animal Tests Surge Under New U.S. Chemical Safety Law

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act of 2016 (H.R. 2576) amended the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) (S. 3149), the primary chemicals management law in the United States, to require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “minimize, to the extent practicable, the use of vertebrate animals in testing chemicals” and states “Any person who voluntarily develops information under TSCA must first attempt to develop the information by an alternative or nonanimal test method or testing strategy before conducting new animal testing.” It required the EPA to explicitly develop a strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of alternative test methods that do not require the use of animals. However, despite the goals of the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, there has reportedly been a recent increase in the number of animal tests and requested or required by the EPA.

In March 2018, the EPA released a draft of its strategic plan for public comment of their proposed long-term strategy for increasing the use of animal research alternatives, including computer modeling, biochemistry, and cell culture approaches. In response, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) quantified the number of EPA, TSCA-related animal tests and animals used over the last three years. They found that the number of animal tests requested or required by the EPA increased substantially last year, with the total number of tests and animals involved in testing jumping more than an order magnitude, from approximately 6500 across 37 rests required or requested to over 75000 animals across 331 tests. They issued a response letter, stating “The dramatic increase we have documented indicates that EPA is failing to balance its responsibilities to determine whether chemicals present unreasonable risks with its Congressional mandate to reduce and replace the use of vertebrate animals in chemical testing.”

Unfortunately, the underlying cause for this trend is not known. It is possible that the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act’s stricter requirements on a larger range of chemicals compared to the original TSCA may be driving additional testing and subsequent data collection in order to comply. Moreover, Kristie Sullivan, PCRM’s vice president of research policy, said that EPA staff may need more training and funding of animal research-alternatives and “to stay abreast of new developments in toxicology, so that they can quickly incorporate new methods and kinds of data into their decision-making process.”

In contrast, implementation may be slow due to the EPA’s need to adequately pursue alternatives while adapting to the new law. Daniel Rosenberg, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, emphasized the importance of taking whatever time is necessary to validate alternative testing strategies: “We need to ensure that the alternative testing methods that are implemented are able to actually identify toxicity, exposure and potential adverse effects of chemicals.”

The comment period on EPA’s draft strategy for reducing animal tests closed earlier this month, with the agency required to release its final plan by the end of June 2018.

(Vanessa Zainzinger, Science)

Written by sciencepolicyforall

May 22, 2018 at 7:31 pm

Gene Patenting: Ethical and Legal Issues

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By:  Jessica Scherrer Lamb

The role of intellectual property in the health care sphere can be controversial.  In a society where health care costs are a significant issue, it is easy to question whether the contributions companies make in research, development, and manufacturing justify the price protection and licensing fees patents enable.  Many scientists worry that patents hinder research, either by patent holders’ direct interference or because competing companies will not invest in developing products that might infringe on existing patents.  Furthermore, products derived from human tissue introduce problems of donor consent and ownership.  While these issues are important in all areas of biomedical research, the idea of “gene patents” seems to raise eyebrows the highest.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sciencepolicyforall

July 13, 2012 at 11:49 am

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The Potential and Pitfalls of Direct to Consumer Genetic Tests

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By:  Danielle Daee

At the genomic level approximately 0.1% of our genomic sequence differs from person to person.  Some of these subtle genetic variations have important physiological consequences, which are reflected in our risk for developing diseases and our overall health.  In recent years genome-wide association studies have sifted through individuals’ entire genomic sequences to try and identify genetic variants that are associated with increased disease risk.  While these studies are highly informative, they often lack the functional studies required to close the gap between correlation and causation.  After all, without knowing what the changes in a particular gene do, there is no way to understand whether that change is actually the cause of a particular disease.

Despite the caveats to interpreting correlative association studies, several biotech companies have developed direct to consumer (DTC) genomic tests to help consumers identify their personal risk for various diseases.  These tests present a variety of public health policy concerns.  Foremost is whether or not companies are overstating the usefulness and understating the caveats of genetic information to their consumers.  Furthermore, are consumers adequately equipped to interpret the results of genomic tests without a trained professional?

In May 2010, Pathway Genomics announced a plan to offer their genetic testing services at Walgreens pharmacies.  This plan marked the transition of DTC genetic testing sales from a less-accessible, internet commerce model to an over-the-counter sales model that would dramatically increase accessibility.  This increased reach sparked a firestorm of public concern and triggered an investigation by the General Accounting Office, a Congressional Committee hearing, and a Federal Drug Administration (FDA) panel discussion to determine how regulation of DTC tests should proceed. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by danidaee

June 5, 2012 at 11:53 am