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Posts Tagged ‘CDC

Science Policy Around the Web – May 2, 2017

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By: Allison Dennis, BS

Public Health

You Can’t See What You Don’t Test For

The CDC relies on blood testing by pediatric health care providers to monitor lead exposure in children nationwide. However, many doctors may not be prompted to seek a test. According to a recent study, only half of estimated cases of elevated blood lead levels were reported to the CDC. From 1999 to 2010 an estimated 1.2 million cases of elevated lead blood level counts were predicted by state-by-state surveys conducted by the CDC. In contrast, only 607,000 cases were reported to the CDC by the 39 states that report elevated blood lead levels.

There is no safe threshold for lead exposure, however the CDC moved to revise the acceptable limit to 5ug/dL from 10ug/dL in 2012. Currently all doctors who treat children receiving Medicaid benefits are required to submit lead level tests for children at age 12 and 24 months or for those who have not received a test by the age of 7 years to meet formal eligibility. However, the number of tests performed annually falls short of those expected if doctors were following the rules. Each state maintains its own guidelines for when doctors should request testing and report to the CDC. And 12 states do not submit data to the CDC.

The greatest discrepancies between numbers predicted from survey data compared with state reported values were observed in Western states. When diagnosing lead exposure doctors may overlook environmental risk factors when treating patients in communities where lead has not been an issue historically. While public housing in Northeast cities like Baltimore have been recognized as a systemic source of lead exposure, the risk may not be so obvious in communities in California where buildings are assumed to be newer than 1978 when lead paint was banned nationally. (Susan Scutti, CNN)

Drug Policy

Access To Lethal Injection Drugs Challenges States To Get Creative

The FDA ruled on Thursday, April 20th that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Arizona Department of Corrections have 90 days to destroy or return a batch of execution drugs imported from India. The Texas bound shipment seized by the FDA in July 2015 consisted of a thousand or more vials of sodium thiopental, which is used as the anesthetic in three-drug lethal injection protocols. While the FDA had abstained from enforcing a law preventing the import of sodium thiopental, which has no approved use in the United States, a US District Court permanently ordered the FDA to impose the ban.

Implementation of the import ban on sodium thiopental follows a long line of restricted access to lethal injection drugs. Political pressure on drug manufacturers has dramatically reduced the availability of products appropriate for use in lethal injection protocols. The last US manufacturer of sodium thiopental, Hospira, discontinued its production in 2011. In 2012, the European Commission blocked the export of drug for lethal injection to the United States. In May 2016, Pfizer announced it would end the use of its products in lethal injections, making it the final FDA approved manufacturer of potential drugs to do so. States have been responding by adapting protocols to meet drug availability or seeking third-party suppliers.

The modern use of lethal injections for corporate punishment were proposed in 1977 by the Oklahoma state medical examiner as being more humane and was first executed in Texas in 1982. While the practice is associated with drugs and medical professionals, it has never been subject to clinical trials or peer review. (Susan Scutti, CNN)

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May 2, 2017 at 10:08 am

Science Policy Around the Web – October 7, 2016

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By: Eric Cheng, PhD

Source: pixabay

Antibiotic Resistance

World health leaders agree on action to combat antimicrobial resistance, warning of nearly 10 million deaths annually if left unchecked

World leaders committed to take action on antimicrobial resistance during their September 21, 2016 high-level meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance in New York. This is the first time Heads of State made a commitment to address the root cause of antimicrobial resistance in human health, animal health, and agriculture. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization emphasized that “antimicrobial resistance poses a fundamental threat to human health, development, and security. The commitments made today must now be translated into swift, effective, lifesaving actions across the human, animal and environmental health sectors. We are running out of time.”

The committed countries pledged to strengthen regulation of antimicrobials, improve knowledge and awareness, and promote best practices. World leaders also agreed to foster innovative approaches using alternatives to antimicrobials and new technologies for diagnosis and vaccines. The committed countries will base their national action plans on the Global Action Plan on Microbial Resistance, a blueprint developed in 2015 by the World Health Organization along with Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organization for Animal Health. (United Nations Meetings Coverage and Press Releases)

Zika

Documents reveal intense battle over CDC Zika tests

In addition to battling the spread of Zika infections, the Center for Disease and Prevention (CDC) is currently in an internal battle with determining which test will be best in diagnosing someone with the disease. Robert Lanciotti is the Chief of the Diagnostics and Reference Activity in the Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases in Fort Collins, CO. At the center of the debate is the agency’s prioritization of the Trioplex real-time PCR-based assay that tests for Zika, dengue, and chikungunya over the Singleplex assay which only detects Zika, which Lanciotti’s research found to be 39% more effective than the Trioplex assay.

Lanciotti claimed that the CDC “created a substantial and specific danger to public health” when it did not disclose lower sensitivity of the test it used. Lanciotti was subsequently reassigned to a non-supervisory position in his laboratory who then filed a whistleblower retaliation claim with the US Office of Special Counsel. Lanciotti alleged that the demotion was because of his concerns with the Zika test. Lanciotti has since been reinstated as director of his lab. In addition, the Office of Special Counsel requested that the CDC investigate Lanciotti’s concerns with the sensitivity of the Trioplex test.

The CDC’s own investigation found that Dr. Lanciotti’s allegations “are not substantiated by the available evidence.” The CDC ruled that “[t]here is insufficient, statistically robust, definitive data to reach an evidence-based conclusion that use of the Trioplex assay over the Singleplex in clinical practice will result in 39 percent of Zika virus infections being missed.” The CDC also noted that it is continuing to improve on the Trioplex assay such as enabling testing laboratories to use larger sample volumes in order to increase the assay’s limit of detection. The Trioplex assay is still approved for use as a method of detecting Zika virus, dengue, and chikungunya. (Jon Cohen, Science Magazine)

Research Funding

HHMI Launches New Program for Early-Career Scientists

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) recently launched a new program to recruit and retain early-career scientists that are underrepresented in the life sciences. These individuals include those coming from a disadvantaged background. The selected HHMI scientists will become Hanna H. Gray fellows, named after Hanna H. Gray, former chair of the HHMI Trustees and former president of the University of Chicago.

The purpose of the Gray Fellows Program is to find and encourage talented students and early scientists that are committed to continuing their scientific training in the nation’s top laboratories. The Hanna H. Gray Fellows grant competition is open to all eligible applicants and no nomination is required.  Selected fellows are required to devote at least 75 percent of their total effort to research during both the postdoctoral training and faculty phases of the award. In addition, part of the goal for the program is to position Gray fellows to be competitive for NIH grants and other awards when they transition to the faculty phase of their careers. (Howard Hughes Medical Institute)

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October 7, 2016 at 11:12 am

Now Entering the Final Frontier of Antibiotics

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By: Amy Kullas, PhD

Source: CDC

On September 21, 2016, the United Nations (UN) convened a special session to discuss options to stop (or at least slow) the emergence of new resistant microbial strains to the precious antibiotics that are still left. This meeting was only the fourth time in UN history that it has convened prominent global leaders to discuss a health related topic (HIV, non-communicable diseases, and Ebola were the others). During this assembly, the group agreed to tighten regulation of antimicrobials, and encourage development of new antibiotics and treatments.

The development of new antibiotics has not been keeping up with the demand. In the United States, pharmaceutical companies have lost interest in developing new treatments. In fact, the most recent ‘new’ class of antibiotics was developed more than 30 years ago, in 1984. Pharma argues that it costs too much money (estimated at $1 billion and takes an average of a decade) to develop a product that will ultimately fail. Without changes in current policies to combat antimicrobial resistance, an estimated $100 trillion could easily be spent by 2050. Hopefully, this attitude may begin to change as the US government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) announced to invest up to $170 million to support antibiotic development.

Antibiotics were once hailed as “wonder drugs” since they were virtually effective against every pathogen encountered. Nowadays, what used to be common infections and easily treated with routine antibiotics are now resistant. Moreover, this is a worldwide problem. Using metagenomic analysis, scientists have isolated DNA from soil samples from around the globe and identified the presence of antibiotic resistance genes on all seven continents.

Why has there been this increase in antibiotic resistance? The answer is multifaceted. First, many times when people go to the doctor’s office, they expect to be given a prescription for some drugs to ‘help them feel better.’ Physicians may not wait for cultures to be taken and have the results in hand before prescribing a medication. Thus there is the strong possibility that what is ailing them is a viral infection, such as the common cold, rather than a bacterial infection and antibiotics are ineffective against viruses. It is estimated than almost a third of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are not needed and not effective. Further, the prescription may be for a broad-spectrum antibiotic used to kill many pathogens, as compared to a narrow-spectrum antibiotic that would have a higher specificity for a specific type of bacteria. Use of narrow-spectrum antibiotics is less likely to cause resistance. Also, once the patient begins to ‘feel’ better, he or she may not finish the entire regimen of the prescribed medicine. This likely will leave behind bacteria that have been exposed to the specific antibiotic only to be stronger the next time the microbe encounters it. Other times, people may not even seek medical attention and purchase antibiotics over the counter or online. This practice is becoming common in India and as a result the country houses “some of the most resistant bacteria in the world.”

Additionally, antibiotics and antimicrobials are routinely used in agriculture and are given to livestock (cattle, pigs, poultry, etc.) in their feed or drinking water, and sprayed on crops. Shocking estimates are that over 50% (other estimates are as high as 70%) of the antibiotics in the United States are used in food production. This equates to a whopping 25 million pounds of antibiotic products used on livestock each year! They are given for a variety of reasons: to use less food to gain weight while helping the animal gain weight faster, and of course the treatment, control, or prevention of diseases. Many scientists feel that this heavy use of antibiotics in agriculture is contributing to the rapid increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In China, one study found antibiotic resistance genes present in the manure at pig farms that routinely used antibiotics was increased 28,000 times when compared to farms that do not use antibiotics. More than 60 different antibiotics have been isolated from randomly taken samples from both the Yangtze and Pearl Rivers. Thus, the correlation between antimicrobial use in food production and the significant increase in bacterial resistance has prompted a reexamination of agricultural practices in numerous countries, including the U.S.

The CDC stated “up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of the antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” On the CDC’s urgent list of resistant bacteria are: Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae (cephalosporin resistance). The last-line antibiotics are beginning to fail against these pathogens. Recently, there has been a cluster of gonorrhea cases reported in Hawaii in which the bacteria demonstrated high resistance to azithromycin and reduced susceptibility to ceftriaxone. Physicians are prescribing these two drugs in combination in an attempt to slow the emerging resistance of this relentless microbe. Scientists remain concerned that gonorrhea may soon be resistant to all antibiotics. Even one of the most prominent hospitals in the nation, the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center, suffered an outbreak in 2011 of Carbapenem-resistant strain of Klebsiella pneumonia that quickly spread beyond the intensive care unit, ultimately killing six of the patients.

These resistant pathogens have been coined the nickname “superbugs”. However, these superbugs are not nearly as cute as one may envision – little single-celled organisms wearing capes to fight crime. They should be the ones considered criminal, costing billions of dollars annually and killing almost a million people. Advocates and public health experts have been warning of the superbug emergence for decades, but these warnings mostly fell on deaf ears. Last year, the Obama administration revealed a national plan to tackle superbugs and established a presidential council to reduce antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Now for the first time, world leaders finally met to discuss this emerging problem. Hopefully, it is not too late and this global threat will not continue to grow logarithmically out of control.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Check out the TED talk by Maryn McKenna titled: “What do we do when antibiotics don’t work anymore?”

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October 7, 2016 at 11:09 am

Posted in Essays

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Science Policy Around the Web – August 9, 2016

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By: Thaddeus Davenport, Ph.D.

Infectious Diseases

Local Transmission of Zika Virus in Miami

Most of the world became aware of Zika virus earlier this year when doctors in Brazil noticed a correlation between Zika virus infection in pregnant women and microcephaly in their newborn children. Recent articles in the New York Times on July 29th and August 1st report a notable shift in the course of the Zika virus epidemic – local transmission of the virus within the United States. In the last year, there have been over 1600 cases of Zika virus detected in the United States, but nearly all of these were imported infections, in which individuals became infected while traveling in Zika-endemic regions or through sexual transmission of the virus from people traveling outside of the United States. Because the Zika-carrying mosquito species, Aedes Aegypti is resident in parts of the continental United States, many people expected that it was only a matter of time before Zika virus would be transmitted locally within the United States. On July 29th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida State Department of Health reported that Zika virus was transmitted to at least four individuals in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami. By August 1st, the number of individuals infected in the neighborhood had risen to fourteen, and the CDC issued a travel advisory discouraging pregnant women from traveling to the affected area. Though Congress went to recess last month without passing a bill to provide funding for the fight against Zika virus, perhaps, and hopefully, the news of local Zika transmission will motivate bipartisan action in Congress to fund mosquito control efforts and basic research on this still poorly understood virus. (Pam Belluck, New York Times)

Clinical Research

First CRISPR-based clinical trial set to begin this month

The gene-editing technique commonly referred to as CRISPR-Cas9 has received significant attention over the last year because of its impressive potential to target, cut, and modify nearly any sequence of interest within a genome. David Cyranoski reported for Nature News that scientists in China are poised to be the first to use CRISPR-Cas9 technology in a human clinical trial. The trial will enroll individuals with metastatic, non-small cell lung cancer, for whom other treatment options have failed. T cells, immune cells capable of killing infected, cancerous, or otherwise afflicted cells, will be removed from these individuals and modified using CRISPR-Cas9 to delete the gene for a protein called PD-1, which plays a role in downregulating the immune response. It is hoped that removing PD-1 will make the participants’ T cells better able to mount an immune response against cancer cells. As an additional measure of safety, the genome of modified cells will be sequenced in order to confirm that there are no off-target modifications outside of the PD-1 gene that might impact the safety or validity of the study. Initially the trial will test the safety of introducing CRISPR-Cas9-modified cells into ten individuals at three different dosages, while also monitoring the effect of the treatment on cancer progression. A similar trial is set to begin in the United States later this year. These will be important proof-of-concept studies to show that CRISPR-Cas9 can be applied safely and effectively in the treatment of disease. (David Cyranoski, Nature News)

Drug Development – Antibiotic Resistance

New Funding for Antibiotics Development

Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a significant and emerging threat to public health. Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – a commonly reported and widely feared strain of S. aureus – is one example of a bacterium that was once readily treatable with penicillin and related antibiotics, but which became difficult to treat after acquiring resistance genes. As current antibiotics become less effective against pathogenic bacteria, doctors are running out of tools to treat infections. An important hurdle to addressing the problem of antibiotic resistance is obtaining the funding necessary to support basic research. Unlike drugs to treat chronic health problems, effective antibiotics designed to cure infections of limited duration, are not necessarily a good investment for pharmaceutical companies. Asher Mullard reported for Nature News that CARB-X – Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator- a public-private partnership supported primarily by the US government, Wellcome Trust, and the UK-based Centre for Antimicrobial Resistance hopes to provide US $350 million to motivate and accelerate the development of new antibiotics over the next five years. While many biotechnology companies support the initiative, some researchers, including Kim Lewis a researcher at Northeastern University, worry that CARB-X is too heavily focused on drug development instead of the discovery of novel antibacterial compounds. Despite their limitations CARB-X and other similar programs will likely provide valuable incentives for biotechnology and academic researchers to work towards better antibiotics for the common good. (Asher Mullard, Nature News)

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August 9, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – May 20, 2016

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By: Valerie Miller, Ph.D.

License: (license) Photo Credit: photo credit: Happy Days via photopin (license)

Global Health

Society is Messing with Your Sleep

There are a number of factors, such as work, personal habits and families, that determine how much sleep a person gets. Individual chronotypes, the sleep cycle an individual’s body naturally prefers, also affect sleeping patterns. However, a question that remains to be answered is: does society as a whole affect sleeping patterns? Researchers from the University of Michigan seeking to examine societal effects on sleeping patterns at the population level have published a study in the journal Science Advances that used smartphone data to track sleep cycles in different countries. The researchers created a smartphone app, called Entrain, which was designed to recommend sleeping times to travelers to help them deal with jetlag in new time zones. People who signed up for the app were also given the option to answer questions for research purposes, such as where they live, how much indoor or outdoor light they’re exposed to, their usual bedtime, and when they typically wake up. The study included data from over 5,000 app users. Shift workers were excluded from the analysis.

The researchers first created a mathematical model to determine what might be considered a “normal” bedtime and wake time for each user location, using local sunset and sunrise times. They then compared these times to the actual sleep and wake times reported by the users. They found that there were variations on a demographic level, with older people sleeping less and waking earlier, and with women of all age groups getting more sleep than men. At the society level, the researchers found that there was little variation on when people in different countries wake up, although people in locations with earlier sunrises tended to get up slightly earlier. However, major differences were found when people in different countries reported going to bed. In other words, in countries where people tend to get less sleep, such as Japan and Brazil, later bedtimes are the cause, not rising earlier.

The study did not delve into the particular reasons for why some societies have later bedtimes, but did discuss that oftentimes, wake times are more rigid than bed times, due to work and school responsibilities. With bed time, people have more control in deciding when they want to go to bed, which may be based on how tired one is, how much sleep one wants to get and what else is going on in ones’ life. However, when bedtimes are differing across societies, cultural reasons are likely the cause, but future studies will need to be performed to determine what those reasons are. (Julie Beck, The Atlantic)

Child Health Policy

Beware the Monkey Bars! Playground Concussions are Rising

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an increasing number of children have been visiting the ER due to traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, sustained at playgrounds. The study, recently published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at children between the ages of 0-14 who visited an ER in the US between 2001 and 2013. They found that the estimated annual visits to the ER due to traumatic brain injuries remained relatively stable between the years 2001 and 2008, with fewer than 20,000 per year. However, this number has steadily increased to approximately 30,000 estimated ER visits per year by 2013. Of all pieces of playground equipment, the monkey bars and swings were the two places where children suffered the most traumatic brain injuries, followed by the slides.

The CDC doesn’t have a clear answer as to what is causing the increase. One suggestion posits that children are playing on playgrounds that aren’t repaired or maintained enough. Another possibility is that due to a number of recent reports regarding concussions in professional sports, doctors, parents and teachers have an increased awareness of traumatic brain injury, leading to more diagnoses.

Although concussions are serious injuries, they represent a relatively small percentage of injuries that occur at the playground. A study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission determined that fractures were most likely, representing 40% of all playground injuries in 2015. Concussions accounted for 3% of injuries, and internal injuries that affected the head accounted for an additional 9.5%. (Leah Libresco, FiveThirtyEight)

Public Health

How safe is bike commuting? Perhaps less than you think

While most people think of biking as a healthy way to commute that is earth-friendly and can be faster, cheaper and more reliable than driving or public transportation, it turns out that biking is a lot less safe than people realize. Of all methods of transportation, biking is the second most dangerous, with motorcycles claiming the top spot. According to a 2007 study published by the CDC, people in the US are twice as likely to die while biking than riding in a car per trip, and 500 times more likely to die per trip than taking the bus. In US cities, the addition of dedicated bike lanes and trails have helped to reduce fatalities. Washington, DC and Boston are safest large cities for bicyclists, with only 1.5 fatalities per million residents in 2014, whereas Tucson, AZ was the least safe, with 11.4 fatalities per million residents.

Accidents aren’t the only health risk that bicyclists face. Air pollution is another risk that affects bike commuters. A 2015 study by researchers at Colorado State University found that, on average, people commuting by bike inhaled three times more air pollution than drivers, caused by heavier breathing and longer commute times outside in the presence of cars.

Despite these factors, Johanna Boogaard, a researcher at the Health Effects Institute in Boston, argues that biking is still the best commuting option for overall health due to the benefit of getting regular exercise. In fact, using data from the Netherlands, a nation in which many people bike, Boogaard and colleagues demonstrated that the benefits of cycling (3-14 months of lifespan gained) outweighed the negative effects of accidents (5-9 days lost) and air pollution (0.8-40 days lost). Boogaard also was confident that the findings of her study would hold true in the US, a place where there are more traffic accidents, but where more people with inactive lifestyles could benefit from physical activity. (Sadie Dingfelder, The Washington Post)

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May 20, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 8, 2015

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By: Ian McWilliams, Ph.D.

Drug Policy and Public Heath

Applying Public Health Principles to the HIV Epidemic — How Are We Doing?

December 1st marked World AIDS Day and a time to raise awareness about the fight against HIV and AIDS. With approximately 1.2 million people in the United States alone affected by the disease, much focus is given to the prevention and control of HIV. Significant progress has been made over the last two decades towards controlling the epidemic. More sensitive diagnostic tests that can detect the virus earlier and better treatments has improved the health of HIV patients and allowed them to live longer. Although US public health departments, community organizations, and other groups have made concerted efforts to provide access to treatment and eliminate transmission of this disease (as evidenced by a 36.5% decrease in deaths related to AIDS), many hurdles still remain. There are currently 45,000 new HIV infections every year and 65 percent of all Americans diagnosed with HIV are not currently on treatment.

To further combat the HIV epidemic, Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  and other public health leaders recommend applying public health principles of communicable diseases such as prompt diagnosis, systematic partner notification, and accountability for treatment for all patients. In the same issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, renowned HIV/AIDS expert Anthony Fauci emphasized the importance of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in the treatment and prevention of transmission of HIV. By calling for patient empowerment, community engagement, clinical excellence, and focus on outcomes these leaders hope to unite groups with a common cause against HIV and AIDS. (Thomas R. Frieden, Kathryn E. Foti, and Jonathan Mermin, New England Journal of Medicine)

Bioethics in Research

Scientists Debate How Far To Go In Editing Human Gene

The CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system has garnered attention for the unprecedented ease by which DNA manipulation can occur. This powerful technique has possibly opened the door to treating hereditary diseases such as Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and Tay-Sachs disease. Although this could be a potent treatment modality, germline editing of sperm, eggs, and embryos raises many ethical and safety concerns. Further compounding these concerns are reports that CRISPR can have off-target effects that could result in unintended deleterious consequences. Geneticist George Church weighed in on this matter to suggest these effects are manageable and not as dangerous as we think. Adding to the complexity of this issue are fears that the ease by which this technology can alter DNA will allow for “designer babies” and “eugenics,” where individuals will try to manipulate germline DNA to create super humans.

In an effort to address these dilemmas, the International Summit on Human Gene Editing recently convened “to discuss the scientific, ethical, and governance issues associated with human gene-editing research.” The consensus of the committee, chaired by David Baltimore, call for more “intensive basic and preclinical research” and “the creation of a ongoing forum to continue to assess the state of the research and society’s readiness.” Of note, the committee cautioned “there is a need to understand the risks” and “it would be irresponsible to proceed” in reference to somatic and germline gene editing respectively. This certainly wasn’t a ringing endorsement for human gene editing, but does allow the scientific community to further develop these gene-editing tools while actively engaging with the communities to assuage fears and define care. (Rob Stein, NPR)

Health IT and EHRs

“Unsexy Plumbing,” Integrated Data And The Future Of The Healthcare System

Electronic health records (EHR) will be an important component of a modernized health care system. Improved connectivity within health organizations will provide better access to more useful data and can support larger public health programs, such as the Precision Medicine Initiative. However, the implementation of these systems has faced many hurdles such as outdated technology that is time-consuming and incompatible with newer systems and privacy-related regulations. Many initiatives have been made to share health data in order to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and improve quality of care, but currently, less than half of doctors surveyed think that EHRs have improved patient outcomes.

To address these shortfalls, efforts from government and the private sector are attempting to ease integration of EHRs. Because the Affordable Care Act limits the amount insurance companies can spend on administrative costs, and EHRs would reduce administrative burden, many insurance providers are introducing payment incentives to healthcare providers that use EHRs. Additionally, the private sector could further drive the transition to EHRs with cloud-based solutions and improved wearable devices for data gathering. These changes will lead to better payment solutions, data analytic tools, and even better insurance plan selection. (Jason T. Andrew, techcrunch.com)

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December 8, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – June 2, 2015

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito, Ph.D.

photo credit: GENE A101 via photopin (license)

Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA)

Test for ‘devious defecator’ was unlawful, judge rules

The Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA), which protects people from health care and employment discrimination based on their DNA, is being used in court for an unlikely case. A mysterious person had been leaving feces in a warehouse run by Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services near Atlanta. In an effort to solve the mystery, two employees suspected of being involved were threatened with losing their jobs if they did not take a DNA test. The DNA was then compared to the DNA in the fecal sample. The samples were not a match showing that these employees did not commit the crime. Despite being cleared, the employees sued the company citing humiliation. The employees won the lawsuit with the judge ruling that using a DNA test to identify the employees was a violation of GINA, even though there were no disclosure of medical information. In this case, the judge argued that even though they weren’t using the test to check for genetic disorders, the information they received could have been used for this purpose. This case suggests that GINA can be more far-reaching than originally intended. (Nita Farahany, The Washington Post)

GMO Debate

A proposal to modify plants gives GMO debate new life

A process dubbed “rewilding” where scientists re-introduce genes lost through years of breeding back into plants is sparking a new debate in the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMO). This technique may be used to bolster fragile organic crops using “precision breeding” where modern molecular biology techniques are used to insert or delete genes. By US law, organic non-GMO foods cannot contain any “foreign” genes which could not have occurred in nature in that organism. Since rewilding is introducing genes, which have previously been in the plant, this may not be considered GMO by US standards. The EU, however, uses a different definition. The EU’s definition revolves around the process of genetic engineering to introduce genes, making rewilding a GMO in the EU. Regardless of whether rewilding would be considered GMO, opponents of GMO would likely not accept precision breeding since it involves genetic engineering. (Gina Kolata, The New York Times)

Biosecurity

Anthrax inquiry widens to 24 labs in 11 states, two foreign countries

A military lab at Dugway Proving Ground outside of Salt Lake City accidentally sent live Bacillus anthracis, Anthrax, spores to 24 labs inside and outside the US. The samples were supposed to have been inactivated prior to shipment. The army lab sent samples to laboratories that were testing a new diagnostic for anthrax. The error was discovered when a private lab in Maryland was able to culture the anthrax bacteria. The CDC and other agencies are working to determine how the samples were shipped and whether all the labs received live anthrax samples. 26 people are currently being treated for potential exposure, but no infections have been confirmed.   The public is not at risk for exposure. This recent breach of biosecurity is not an isolated incident. Last year, the CDC’s Bioterror Rapid Response and Advanced Technology laboratory also failed to properly inactivate anthrax before releasing it to another CDC laboratory. (W.J. Hennigan, The LA Times)

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June 2, 2015 at 9:00 am