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Science Policy Around the Web – March 7, 2017

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By: Allison Dennis, BS

Synthetic opiates

Opioid Crisis

Keeping up With the Synthetic Opioids

At the center of the opioid crisis is an ever-expanding class of would-be-regulated drugs, exploited for their ability to produce morphine-like effects. Opioids, including morphine, heroin, and oxycodone interact with the opioid receptors found on the surface of our nerve cells to trigger feelings of euphoria, and block pain. Unfortunately, these substances can adversely affect the respiratory rhythm generating area of the central nervous system, resulting in respiratory depression, effectively disrupting the body’s instincts to breathe.

In 2013, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency began to detect in confiscated supplies of heroin the synthetic compound, Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent and carries a much higher risk of respiratory depression. The supply was traced to illicit online pharmacies in China, prompting Chinese officials to implement an export ban on fentanyl. Just as medical drug makers audition new compounds through structure-based drug design, illicit drug makers quickly modified the structure of fentanyl to produce furanyl fentanyl, temporarily circumventing the ban. This was followed by the production of the elephant tranquilizer, carfentanil. As of March 1, 2017, China has placed a ban on the sale and manufacture of these compounds along with acrylfentanyl and valeryl fentanyl.

However the dynamic that has emerged is a global game of whack-a-mole. Cutting off the global supply of fentanyl-derived compounds will require negotiations with individual governments to cooperate in their ban. Willing chemists in Mexico may already be setting up to fill the gap left by the ban in China. As each substance is entering the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s radar, the list of designer fentanyls is expanding. The rotating portfolio of synthetic opioids has left local law-enforcement and coroners stumped as to how to test for drugs not-yet-known to their screens, leaving a critical lag in identifying local suppliers. (Eric Niler, Wired Magazine)

Influenza

Keeping up with the Neuraminidases

The H7N9 strain of bird flu may be gaining ground as a global threat to human health. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the presence of a highly pathogenic H7 avian influenza strain in a flock of chickens in Lincoln County, Tennessee. The agency is hurrying to establish the neuraminidase protein type, or “n-type” of the virus. In combination with the H7 hemagglutinin type, an N9 would consign this virus to the class of influenza the WHO has described as “definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen so far.”

First detected in China in 2013, the H7N9 strain has been the source of yearly epidemics of human infections. These infections are characterized by severe respiratory illness, which has lead to death in 40% of cases. Over 5 flu seasons, 1222 human cases of H7N9 flu have been confirmed. Most infections have been tied to direct exposure to poultry where the avian strain circulates, indicating that the virus is not currently suited for sustained person-to-person spread. However, the ability of these viruses to recombine, gaining new specificities, keeps public health officials watchful.

Following the first reports of H7N9 infections in humans in 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services amassed a 12 million-dose stockpile of H7N9 specific vaccines. However, the strains selected as the seeds for these vaccines may not adequately protect against the particular H7N9 virus circulating now.  The U.S. CDC is currently evaluating the need to update its vaccine stockpiles in addition to recommending inclusion of H7N9 in next year’s seasonal flu vaccine. Many researchers are hoping to circumvent these concerns with the development of a universal vaccine, protective against all known flu strains. (Helen Branswell, STATnews)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 7, 2017 at 9:02 am

Science Policy Around the Web – March 29, 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.

Thoughts on academic scientists giving media interviews –  David Kroll on the Take As Directed blog gives 7 great tips for how scientists can prepare for media interviews.

The APA’s response to DSM-V panel conflict of interest paper – The American Psychiatric Association has released a response to the Cosgrove and Krimsky paper examining conflicts of interest among the panel writing the next version of the “bible” of psychiatric illness diagnosis and treatment.  Their letter states that nearly three-fourths of the DSM-V panel members report no ties with industry and that their screening process for significant conflicts of interest is solid.  Others have pointed out that the conflicts of interest are more prevalent in areas where medication is a front-line treatment.  What do you think?

One-click science marketing – Martin Fenner’s commentary in Nature Materials gives a short primer on how scientists can use free web services to promote, communicate, and collaborate with both colleagues and the general public.

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 29, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – March 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.

1 solution to global overfishing found – That solution, say the authors of a landmark field investigation of co-managed tropical coral reef fisheries, is a combination of top-down and bottom-up management to balance livelihoods and fish populations.   “The study’s main finding is that co-management has been largely successful in sustaining fisheries and improving people’s livelihoods. … A comparison of co-managed reefs with other reefs showed that co-managed reefs were half as likely to be heavily overfished….”  (via EurekAlert)

Financial Conflicts of Interest and the DSM-5A paper by Lisa Cosgrove and Sheldon Krimsky takes a look at the new competing interest disclosure policy for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and finds that the panel deliberating on the next version of the “bible” of psychiatric illness, the DSM-5, still has considerable financial conflicts of interest.  (via PLoS Medicine)

Flu Debate Highlights Opacity of Public Health Research – Ian Fyfe on the Speaking of Medicine blog points out that the recent controversy on potentially dangerous avian flu research highlights a problem at the science/society interface:  the lack of public transparency of public health research.  He points out that the public does not have the knowledge to make informed decisions on such issues and that “[t]his level of uncertainty about work that has already been done and that carries significant risks to the population can only form a barrier between the public and the scientific community. Asking the public to then trust this same scientific community to evaluate and decide between two worrying prospects on their behalf is difficult.”

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm