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Science Policy Around the Web – February 10, 2017

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By: Saurav Seshadri, PhD

Source: pixabay

Sleep

The Purpose of Sleep? To Forget, Scientists Say

Humans spend approximately one third of their lifetime sleeping, yet the purpose of sleep is still largely unknown. A pair of recent studies in the journal Science suggest that a key function of sleep is to give the brain a chance to rewire itself, specifically by cutting down connections between neurons, which naturally scale up during wakefulness, and especially during learning.

In one paper, researchers used 3D electron microscopy to measure the sizes of these connections, called synapses, in mouse brain slices. They found that sleep produced a significant decrease in the size of synapses. Interestingly, this effect was more pronounced in smaller synapses, which were likely strengthened by general information processing while awake, than large ones (~20% of synapses), which may encode more well-established memories. In the other, researchers used two-photon imaging in live mice to observe sleep-induced changes in synapses. They found a similar decrease in synaptic strength, and went on to identify the signaling pathway that caused this effect; blocking this pathway prevented a normal reduction in the scope and magnitude of a learned behavioral response.

These findings underscore the importance of sleep, especially for memory consolidation involved with learning. Studies like these can have far-reaching effects on the public’s perception of sleep, influencing individual habits as well as policy related to education. For example, they suggest that prioritizing sleep when setting school start times (an issue currently under debate in Montgomery County schools) could improve students’ lesson retention and ultimately their test performance. They also point to important cellular and molecular processes that take place during sleep, which could help explain how existing sleep aids adversely affect brain functioning and memory (a public health concern), and ultimately lead to the development of better drugs. (Carl Zimmer, The New York Times)

Drug Policy

Massive Price Hike for Lifesaving Opioid Overdose Antidote

Increased public exposure to the epidemic of opioid abuse, which continues to intensify in the US, has made it increasingly influential in politics, possibly including the recent presidential election.  A crucial tool for communities at the forefront of this public health crisis is naloxone, which can reverse potentially fatal symptoms associated with overdose. The Evzio naloxone auto-injector, produced by Kaleo, is one of two such products approved by the FDA. Kaleo has recently come under fire for increasing the price of Evzio from $690 to $4,500.

Kaleo cites several justifications for the price hike. Firstly, they offer coupons to patients whose insurance doesn’t cover Evzio. Second, they argue that large insurance companies and government agencies (such as the Veterans Health Administration, which sees a high rate of opioid use) can negotiate prices, while other organizations are currently well funded (thanks to public concern) to absorb the increase. Thirdly, they are expanding their donation supply to allow smaller groups to apply for free devices. However, experts say that the increase is not justified by production costs, and some organizations have been forced to switch to alternative drugs.

News of the decision arrives at a time when the public is particularly sensitive to drug pricing, and have made their concern clear to lawmakers. Negotiation with drug companies over prices has been a prominent campaign issue in recent elections. Public outcry following similar moves by investor Martin Shkreli and Mylan led to hearings by a special congressional committee. Soon after the last election, a bill that would have allowed patients to import cheaper drugs from Canada became a high-profile occasion for posturing in the Senate, where it failed despite overwhelming public support. These stories highlight the often antagonistic relationships between the American public, its government, and the pharmaceutical industry, and illustrate how disruptive drug pricing can directly affect policy. (Shefali Luthra, Scientific American)

Scientists in Politics

Geneticist Launches Bid for US Senate; while Empiricists Around the Country Will March for Science

Donald Trump’s agenda of self-serving lies and denial of evidence has led to unprecedented levels of engagement and activism across the country. The scientific community has been especially impacted by Trump’s brand of broad, allegedly populist anti-intellectualism. Thus, although the empirical facts uncovered by scientific research are inherently apolitical and should be treated as such, scientists are beginning to mobilize to oppose the Trump administration in several ways.

One essential path to policy change is increased representation. With that in mind, evolutionary biologist Dr. Michael Eisen, an HHMI-funded investigator at UC Berkeley and co-founder of the People’s Library of Science (PLOS), recently announced his candidacy for the US Senate in 2018. Dr. Eisen’s platform seems to center on bringing a scientific perspective to Senate proceedings, and working towards comprehensive yet practical solutions to issues such as climate change. More of Dr. Eisen’s views can be found on his twitter feed and blog.

Protests are another way for individuals to make their voices heard by policy makers. The March for Science, which currently has over 350,000 followers on Facebook, will be an opportunity for ‘scientists and science enthusiasts’ to both call for and demonstrate support for the scientific community, and promote solidarity between science and the public. The main march will be held on April 22nd, 2017 in Washington D.C.; satellite marches are scheduled in over 100 additional cities. Organizers hope to maintain the momentum gained by January’s Women’s Marches, which saw historic attendance. (Sara Reardon, Nature News; Lindizi Wessel, ScienceInsider)

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Science Policy Around the Web – October 27, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Dolphin Slaughter Fueled by Illegal Shark Trade – A conservation NGO, Mundo Azul, has suggested that the demand for shark meat is leading the yearly slaughter of over 15,000 dolphins near Peru alone. The dolphin skin is harvested for shark bait. Hunting dolphins in Peru has been illegal since 1996, but the law is rarely enforced. Over 30 NGOs have joined together signing a petition asking the Peruvian government to investigate the dolphin killings. The Peruvian government has agreed to do so by June 2014. (Alexis Manning)

Obama Urges More Education Spending, Calls for ‘Political Courage in Washington’ – President Obama has called for Congress to increase the amount of money dedicated to education. In FY2014 budget proposed by Obama, he called for spending cuts to entitlement programs, increased spending for education, biomedical research, and transportation projects, and a decrease in tax cuts for wealthy Americans. (Scott Wilson)

Researchers Spar Over Tests for Breast Cancer Risks – At the American Society for Human Genetics annual meeting, a heated debate arose over genetic testing for breast cancer genes. Using BRCA1 and BRCA2 sequences to analyze risks for breast cancer has been well established, however, many other genetic loci are associated with developing breast cancer. A new set of tests BROCA, tests for BRCA mutations and also sequences 38 other breast cancer associated genes. Since the other genes do not have as clear of link to breast cancer, many in the field think a positive result will result in patients taking drastic and unnecessary measures. (Jocelyn Kaiser)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

October 27, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – November 28, 2011

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By jeltovski on Morguefile.com. Used with permission

By:  Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Cooking in the Classroom Helps Kids Learn, Changes Food Attitudes – An evaluation of the Cooking with Kids program shows that fruit and vegetable tastings and cooking classes integrated into other core curricula (history, science, etc.) introduces kids to new, healthy foods, changes their views of cooking as “chores”, and helps them understand the curriculum material better.    (via EurekAlert.org)

Congress Blocks New School Lunch Rules – The USDA proposed new rules to make school lunches healthier by increasing fruits and vegetables and decreasing starch and salt.  Critics said that the new proposals were too restrictive and would result in lunches kids wouldn’t eat.  Congress listened.  (via The New York Times, by Ron Nixon)

Debate Intensifies on Usefulness and Ethics of Chimpanzee Research – Is invasive ape research useful?  Is it ethical?  Would a ban on invasive great ape research (such as the Great Ape Protection Act, now in Congress) be an ethical protection of primate species or an unethical roadblock to cures for human disease?   An NIH report due this year on the usefulness of chimps in research will hopefully bring some data to the debate table. (via The New York Times, by James Gorman)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

November 28, 2011 at 10:53 am