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Posts Tagged ‘trans fat

Science Policy Around the Web – April 14, 2017

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By: Leopold Kong, PhD

Fatty foods: By Lucasmartin2 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Health Policy

Banning Trans Fats in New York Prevented Thousands of Heart Attacks

In an effort to lower the incidence of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, the FDA will prohibit food manufacturers from using trans fats next summer. FDA’s decision was based on decades of research linking trans fat consumption with increased risk of heart disease. A study published this Wednesday in JAMA Cardiology provided further support for the ban. Using data from the New York State Department of Public Health, collected from 11 counties where trans fats restriction was recently implemented, the researchers showed a statistically significant decline in heart attack (7.8%) and stroke (3.6%) events since then. “The most important message from these data is that they confirm what we predicted — benefit in the reduction of heart attacks and strokes,” said the lead author, Dr. Eric J. Brandt, a fellow in cardiovascular medicine at Yale. “This is a well-planned and well-executed public policy.” With the rising cost of health care in the United States, the FDA’s long awaited trans fat ban is urgently needed to lighten the public health burden. (Leah Samuel, STATNews)

Vaccine Research

The Human Vaccines Project, Vanderbilt and Illumina Join Forces to Decode the Human Immunome

Rapidly evolving viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis C have been difficult targets for traditional vaccine development, in which inactivated viruses or viral proteins are used as vaccine components. Despite the success of small molecule therapeutics against HIV and Hepatitis C, an effective vaccine remains the most cost effective solution to curb the global pandemics caused by these viruses. Scientists now seek to optimize vaccine candidates based on a deeper understanding of host-pathogen interactions using multidisciplinary approaches, ranging from protein engineering and evolutionary biology to immunology and genetics. To facilitate these sophisticated efforts, the Human Vaccines Project, an international public-private collaboration, was established. A major initiative of the project, the Human Immunome Program, is led by Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Now, Illumina has joined the collaboration to help decipher the genetic features of the immune system, or the “immunome,” using cutting edge sequencing technology. DNA sequences from immune cells during infection may capture how the immune system adapts to viruses, providing guidelines for vaccine design. “Successfully defining the human immunome will provide the foundational knowledge to usher in a new era of vaccine, diagnostic, and therapeutic development,” says Gary Schroth, vice president for product development at Illumina. Greater understanding of the immunome may also lead to more effective cancer vaccines. (Human Vaccines Project)


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Science Policy Around the Web – June 19, 2015

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By: Sylvina Raver, Ph.D.

Drug Policy

Medical marijuana laws don’t lead to more teen toking

A recent study published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry evaluated the association between states’ legalization of medical marijuana and marijuana use by teenagers. Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the US, with approximately 19.8 million Americans reporting use within the past month. Although cannabis remains illegal under Federal law, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use for medical purposes under the supervision of a medical professional. A primary concern for opponents of marijuana legalization – for either medical or recreational use – is that these laws will increase marijuana use in adolescents, among whom the perception of the risks associated with marijuana has steeply declined since the mid 2000’s. Marijuana use in adolescence coincides with a period of substantial brain maturation and can lead to negative consequences in adulthood, such as persistent cognitive impairments, an increased risk for severe psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, and abnormal neurological activity. These serious risks underscore concerns that any effort that makes marijuana seem less dangerous to teenagers, such as medical legalization, would lead to an increased prevalence of use within this population. Indeed, Hasin and colleagues, the authors of The Lancet study, initially predicted that marijuana use among teenagers would increase in states that enacted medical marijuana laws. However, this was not the case. The authors used data from the Monitoring the Future survey, which included information from more than 1 million US teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 over the past 24 years in 48 US states. After controlling for potentially mitigating factors, the scientists found that marijuana use among teenagers did not significantly change before and after states passed medical marijuana laws. In fact, a significant and robust post-law decrease in marijuana use was found among 8th graders, the youngest age surveyed. Adolescent marijuana use was more prevalent in states that subsequently enacted medical marijuana laws, but, contrary to the authors’ predictions, those laws did not increase marijuana use in teens. These findings argue against a widely held notion that passage of state laws that legalize medical marijuana use conveys a public message to teenagers that marijuana is relatively harmless, and therefore prompts more teenagers to use the drug, even if the new law explicitly prohibits underage use. Hasin and colleagues advocate for a shift away from the concern that medical marijuana laws will increase teenage marijuana use and favor allocating more resources to identify those factors that do influence marijuana use in this vulnerable population. (Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press)

Health Policy

Trans fats to be illegal

On Tuesday, June 16th, the FDA issued a final determination stating that partially hydrogenated oils (PTOs), the primary dietary sources for trans fats, are no longer “generally recognized as safe” for use in food products. The decision requires food manufacturers to completely remove synthetic trans fats from processed foods by June 2018. The FDA has required that trans fat content be clearly labeled on food packaging since 2006, and issued a proposal for an eventual ban on adding artificial trans fats to food in 2013. However, the food industry still includes partially hydrogenated oils in products ranging from microwave popcorn to cake frosting, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association – the food industry’s largest trade association – has been continually petitioning the government to allow “very limited” use of PTOs in the future. Food manufacturers turned to PTO’s starting in the 1950’s as an alternative to saturated fats that could improve food texture while simultaneously increasing shelf stability. PTOs have held the “generally recognized as safe” distinction since then, which means that the oils do not require FDA’s approval. The recent FDA decision is in line with the organization’s “…goal…to minimize trans fat intake as much as possible,” according to Susan Mayne, Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and the organization estimates that a total ban on these substances could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 premature deaths each year. (James Hamblin, The Atlantic; Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico)

Climate Change

Pope Francis: Climate Change A ‘Principal Challenge’ For Humanity

Pope Francis has issued a much-anticipated 184 page encyclical letter titled “Laudato Si,” or “Praise Be: On Care for Our Common Home,” in which he argues that the threat of global climate change is a moral and ethical concern, rather than being exclusively a matter of politics, science, and economics. In the Catholic Church, encyclicals are considered to be formal teachings on Catholic doctrine, and have historically been intended for audiences of bishops and priests. However, as the pope recently stated, “This encyclical is aimed at everyone,” and in it he offers “…the world a moral vocabulary for talking about climate change, shifting global attention from the macro solutions of policy summits to the personal ethics of environmental stewardship.” Pope Francis calls on wealthy nations, the largest global producers of greenhouse gases, to shoulder the burden of limiting their consumption of non-renewable forms of energy and to assist poorer countries to develop policies and programs that support sustainable development. In his letter, the pope agrees with the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists that humans’ actions are largely responsible for the Earth’s changing climate, a stance that places him at odds with many conservative lawmakers and Republican presidential hopefuls who deny the effects of human actions on climate change. His language is clear: “ …yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases…released mainly as a result of human activity.” And while he acknowledges that efforts have been made to enact policies intended to combat climate change, Pope Francis is relatively critical of their efficacy and of humanity’s possible reliance upon new technological solutions to curb the effects of global warming. The timing of the letter may have strategic importance: The next United Nations Climate Change Conference is scheduled for November 2015, and the organizers have set the lofty objective of achieving, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, binding and universal agreements for reducing carbon emissions. (Scott Neuman, NPR; Laurie Goodstein & Justin Gillis, The New York Times; Emma Green, The Atlantic)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

June 19, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – May 18, 2015

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By: Amanda Whiting, Ph.D.

Agriculture and Food Policy

Food industry braces for Obama trans fat ban

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to announce its final determination on the use of partially hydrogenated oils (or trans fats) in food products as early as next week. The announcement is expected to ban the use of trans fats. This potentially marks a final step in removing artificial trans fats from the American diet, a move that began in 2013 when the Obama administration issued a tentative determination stating that partially hydrogenated oils are not generally regarded as safe (GRAS). Partially hydrogenated oils are created when unsaturated liquid oils are exposed to hydrogen, which reduces their unsaturation and creates solid fats that improve food product texture and shelf life. Consumption of trans fats have been linked to cardiovascular disease and their removal could “prevent 20,000 heart attacks and some 7,000 deaths” according to FDA estimates, said Sam Kass, the former senior adviser for nutrition at the White House and executive director of Let’s Move!, to Politico. While the potential health benefits of such a policy are easily apparent, there are other repercussions to consider with a policy change such as this. Trans fats have been used in a myriad of smaller applications, such as in the sprinkles on cupcakes to prevent color leaching, to prevent baked goods from sticking to equipment, and to stabilize flavors in food products, that may not have been well considered by the FDA. Food manufacturers will need tweak their recipes and/or find alternative substances to fill the void left by a trans fat ban. In the past, they have turned to palm oil, though there are environmental concerns over rainforest deforestation to harvest the palm oil. Getting rid of trans fats is not a bad idea in terms of public health – let’s hope that its alternative does not end up having an unintended detrimental effect elsewhere. (Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico)

Antibiotic resistance

Guarantee drug companies a profit to develop new antibiotics, U.K. report says

With the increasing, widespread and global appearance of antibiotic resistant infections, the need to develop new potent antibiotics to tackle these threats is quite clear. Once developed however, in order to prevent resistance from developing to the new drugs, their use – and in our current economic model, their sales – must be restricted and limited. This presents drug companies with a problem, since the high cost of drug research and development is often driven and funded with an eye on the potential future sales of a drug. This makes it highly economically undesirable for a drug company to spend resources to develop a drug that must then be restricted, despite the very great worldwide need for such drugs. A report commissioned by the government of the United Kingdom, seeks to fix this problem. In the report, it is suggested that global governments “unite to offer multibillion-dollar incentives for drug developers, and pharmaceutical companies should pool their billions in support of early-stage research.” Most interestingly, the report suggests a way to incentivize drug development without encouraging overuse by “de-linking” a drug company’s profits from the drug’s sales. Specific examples of how this could be accomplished include having a “designated global body” buy the rights to a new pharmaceutical (at $2-3 billion per antibiotic) and then carefully manage the worldwide supply, or having a company retain the rights to the drug but receive a “bonus” for developing and introducing it to market, while being patient with overall (rather than initial blockbuster) sales. While this would take worldwide cooperation, aligning financial incentives for drug companies with the needs public health via a unifying policy could help kick-start drug development where we need it most. (Kelly Servick, ScienceInsider)

Federal Funding

Key House Republican says 70% of NSF’s research dollars should go to “core” science—not geo or social research

Two out of the six research directorates at the National Science Foundation (NSF) have been targeted to not receive any additional funds in the 2016 federal spending bill. The current spending bill allots an additional $50 million to the overall NSF budget, much smaller than the total $379 million (or 4.3% increase) requested. The markup of the House spending bill from the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee would allow the NSF to spread the additional $50 million in funds only in areas that have been deemed “pure sciences” – namely, biology, computing, engineering, and math and physical sciences. The bill prevents NSF from funding research in geoscience and the social and behavioral sciences. Both Representative John Culberson (R–TX), chair of the CJS subcommittee, and Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), chair of the science committee who introduced the America COMPETES Act to set NSF policies, say they support the NSF and simply want to make sure what it funds is in the “national interest.” That is all well and good, but what is in the “national interest” today may not be where the groundbreaking research of tomorrow is born. Scientific research is increasingly breaking out of such siloed classifications and into multidisciplinary fields and collaborative discovery that require inputs from all areas. While Rep. Culberson may favor funding only the “hard sciences,” understanding our own home planet and our human-to-human interactions are also areas worthy of study and research. (Jeffrey Mervis, ScienceInsider)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

May 18, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – November 8, 2013

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By: Tara Burke

Photo credit: Ryan Thompson via photopin cc

Photo credit: Ryan Thompson via photopin cc

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

F.D.A. Ruling Would All But Eliminate Trans Fats – Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration outlined measures to rid the nation’s food supply of trans fats, a major contributing factor to heart disease. The announcement ends a thirty-year fight by public health advocates against trans fats, which are created when liquid oil is treated with hydrogen gas to make a solid. The Institute of Medicine has found that there is no allowable amount of consumption of artificial trans fats and therefore, the FDA recommends that trans fats be removed from the legal category “generally recognized as safe”. The complete removable of trans fats from the American diet is expected to significantly cut down on health care costs and heart attacks. (Sabrina Tavernise)

U.K. Researchers Launch Open-Access Genomes Project – The United Kingdom announced this week the establishment of a British Personal Genome Project (PGP-UK). This program will recruit volunteers to provide DNA as well as health data; both DNA and health data will be available with no restrictions on their use. Britain’s PGP, headed by Stephan Beck from University College London, stems from a 2005 Harvard study. While the Harvard PGP currently has less than 200 genomes available, the study has many volunteers waiting. Other countries continue to see the value in personal genome databases as a way of furthering our understanding of DNA’s contribution to disease as Britain’s PGP joins other programs currently underway in Canada and Korea and one launching soon in Germany. (Elizabeth Pennisi)

More Asteroid Strikes Are Likely, Scientists Say – Traditionally, asteroid strikes have been thought of as an extremely rare event. However, in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, scientists estimate that asteroid strikes may occur as often as every decade or two. These findings, along with the recent asteroid explosion over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk are elevating the topic of planetary defense. The United Nations is expected to recommend the establishment of an International Asteroid Warning Network, a way for countries to share information. They are also likely to recommend an advisory group to explore technologies that can deflect asteroids. (Kenneth Chang)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

November 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm