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Posts Tagged ‘Women

Science Policy Around the Web November 29th, 2019

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By Maria Disotuar, PhD

Source: Pixneo

To Drive Down Insulin Prices, W.H.O. Will Certify Generic Versions

Without insulin, a person with type 1 diabetes cannot survive, and the cost and accessibility to insulin continues to be a problem for individuals suffering from this incurable autoimmune disease. Diabetes mellitus is a chronic metabolic disease characterized by high blood glucose levels. There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 diabetes results from the loss of pancreatic β-cell function, resulting in an inability to produce insulin, a peptide-based hormone. On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes patients are resistant to insulin. Those suffering from Type 1 diabetes require daily insulin therapy to stay alive, and patients with type 2 diabetes require insulin therapy to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Currently, more than 400 million people worldwide have diabetes and this number is expected to increase in the coming years. The main problem being that there are no generic forms of insulin and the price for current insulin analogs has gone from approximately $20 per vial to $250 per vial depending on the type of insulin. This price increase over the past 20 years has made insulin unaffordable for many individuals particularly for younger generations of Americans struggling to pay student loans. For these individuals, seeing the price of insulin jump from $4.34 to $12. 92 per milliliter has meant rationing the lifesaving drug to the bare minimum – a deadly decision for some.

As a response to the growing demand for insulin and skyrocketing prices, the World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed a two year prequalification pilot project, which will allow pharmaceutical companies to produce generic insulin to be evaluated by WHO for efficacy and affordability. These types of pilot projects have been previously deployed to improve the accessibility of life saving drugs for malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis. These efforts have led to an increase in production and market competition leading to reduced costs for individuals.

Currently, the major producers of insulin, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi have welcomed the prequalification program, vowing to be a part of the solution not the problem. According to WHO, companies in several countries, including China and India, have already expressed interest in the pilot project. This shift in insulin production would allow companies producing insulin domestically to enter the global market. As WHO-certified suppliers, these new competitors could dramatically drive down the price of insulin and improve accessibility on a global scale. Despite this positive global outlook, there are still some hurdles to cross for Americans to obtain these generic insulin products. The main one being that the pharmaceutical market is regulated by the FDA and the review process can be expensive for smaller companies. Nonetheless, Americans are fighting back to reduce the cost of insulin and other life savingdrugs, prompting lawmakers, presidential candidates, and the President to prioritize reduced drug prices for Americans. These mounting pressures will hopefully lead to a faster solution for this life or death situation.

(Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times)

Will Microneedle Patches Be the Future of Birth Control?

In 2018, the The Lancet reported that between 2010 and 2014 44% of all pregnancies in the world were unplanned. Despite medical advances in sexual and reproductive health, new contraceptive methods are needed to expand accessibility and improve reliability for women. In the United States, the establishment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and health policies such as the Federal Contraceptive Coverage Guarantee, which requires private health plans to include coverage for contraceptives and sexual health services, has improved family planning for women of reproductive age. Despite the social and economic benefits of improved family planning and enhanced accessibility, conservatives continue to challenge these beneficial health policies. Unfavorable changes to these policies could result in major barriers for women to access some of the most effective, yet pricier forms of contraceptives such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants. Studies show these long-acting forms of birth control are up to 20 times more effective in preventing unintended pregnancies than shorter-acting methods such as the pill or ring. Thus, new long-term contraceptives with reduced cost barriers would be essential in reducing unintended pregnancies and enhancing economic benefits on a global scale.

To address this issue, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Michigan in partnership with Family Health International (FHI) – a non profit human development organization, have developed a long-acting contraceptive administered by a patch containing biodegradable microneedles. The patch is placed on the surface of the skin and the microneedles painlessly come into contact withinterstitial fluid resulting in the formation of carbon dioxide bubbles, which allow the microneedles to detach from the patch within 1 minute of application. The needles themselves do not introduce a new contraceptive hormone, rather they provide levonorgestrel (LNG), which is regularly used in IUDs and has been deemed as safe and efficacious. After dissociation from the patch the needles slowly release LNG into the bloodstream. 

Thus far, the pharmacokinetics of the patches has been tested on rats and a placebo version has been tested in humans to test the separation process between the patch and the needles. The in vivo animal studies indicate the patch is able to maintain LNG concentrations at acceptable levels for more than one month and the placebo patch was well tolerated among study participants with only 10% reporting transient pain or redness at the site of patch application. Lastly, the researchers analyzed conceptions and acceptability of this new contraceptive method among American, Indian, and Nigerian women compared to oral contraceptives and monthly contraceptive injections administered by a physician. The results indicate women overwhelmingly preferred the microneedle patch method over the daily pill (90%) or monthly injections (100%). The researchers expect the patch to be simple to mass produce and a low-cost contraceptive option, which will reduce cost barriers and improve accessibility for women. Although the results of the study are promising, additional studies will have to be completed to address some of its limitations. Future studies will have to increase the number of animals used in the study and the number of human participants. Additionally, the release profile for LNG will likely need to be extended beyond 1-month to truly address the need for new long-acting forms of contraceptives. Finally, clinical trials will have to be completed to test the efficacy and general reliability of this method at reducing unintended pregnancies. If the microneedle patch is approved, it would be the first self-administered long-term birth control to enter the market, which could ultimately lead to enhanced accessibility for women with limited access to health care.

(Claire Bugos, Smisothian) 

Science Policy Around the Web – April 10, 2015

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito, Ph.D.

photo credit: Asha Hall-10 via photopin (license)

Women in STEM

Women in engineering engage best with gender parity

The lack of women in STEM related fields has been a hot topic recently with many groups focusing on closing the gender gap. At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a social psychology researcher setup an experiment to gauge the role of female peers in female engineers participation in a group problem-solving activity. Within the groups of 4 engineers, different male to female ratios were utilized: 1:3, 2:2, and 3:1. Each group contained one female engineer subject and 3 evaluators who utilized a script in the problem-solving activity. Following the activity, the evaluators rated the female engineers on participation, confidence, interest and comfortableness. The female engineer also took a self-survey after she met her group, but before the activity started to measure how confident, anxious, challenged, or threatened she felt and the likelihood of her staying in engineering. When there were no other females in the group environment, the female engineers felt less confident and were more likely to view the activity as a threat and less likely to remain in engineering. The females who were in even groups, felt more confident, but were still less likely to participate the females who were in a mostly female group. This highlights how challenging it can be for a women to participate and succeed in a male-dominated field. The study has its caveats so the results may not be generalizable. The subjects were women who already chose engineering, the groups were small, and the interactions were scripted. However, it still emphasizes the role that female peers may have on other females. (Bethany Brookshire, Scicurious – ScienceNews)

Physics

Years after shutting down, U.S. atom smasher reveals properties of ‘God particle’

The Tevatron collider, which was shut down over 3 years ago, has provided more insight into the Higgs boson particle, which was discovered by the physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2012. The Higgs boson particle is essential to the standard model theory, which explains how particles get their mass. Scientists working on the LHC directly measured the mass of the Higgs boson particle and other quantitative measurements such as angular momentum. The subject of angular momentum or spin was determined to be zero spin and the parity was determined to be negative. Scientists using the Tevatron collider, however, used a more indirect approach by using the interaction of the Higgs particle with other particles (Z boson or W boson) to approximate the spin and parity of the parental Higgs particle. This indirect measure puts more strident limits on the hypothetical parity and spin of the Higgs particle. This data was slow to analyze due to the loss of personal to the LHC project and otherwise could have been published prior to the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. (Adrian Cho, Science)

Technology

Amid Protests, Hawaii Governor Says Construction of Thirty Meter Telescope is Paused

The company Thirty Meter Telescope stopped construction of a telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano. This telescope, standing at 180 ft, will be one of the largest in the world with scientists reasoning that the location is perfect for studying “the earliest years of the universe.” The one-week secession of building comes after a week of demonstrations by protesters who argue that the land is sacred to some of Hawaii’s natives. The opposition to the telescope project has existed since its initiation over a year ago, but really came to a head with the demonstrations beginning last week. The land on which the telescope is being erected is leased by the Thirty Meter Telescope company through the University of Hawaii. The Hawaiian Land Board approved the construction of the telescope on March 6th. The pause in construction will provide an opportunity for the opponents, university and government officials, and company to have a discussion of the future of the projects. (Caleb Jones, Huffington Post)

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April 10, 2015 at 9:00 am

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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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October 27, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – Aug 2, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: Army Medicine via photopin cc

photo credit: Army Medicine via photopin cc

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

The Pertussis Paradox – As the number of incidences of pertussis (whooping cough) neared 50,000, scientists were forced to evaluate the efficacy of the newer pertussis vaccine. A new, safer pertussis vaccine was introduced in 1990. The newer vaccine, called DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis), had fewer adverse side effects than the older DTP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis) vaccine that was introduced in the 1940s. Possible side effects of the DTP vaccine included high fevers and seizures. After following the efficacy of the DTaP vaccine for several years, it became clear that while DTaP caused fewer adverse effects, the immune-protection is not as long lasting. Initially, the DTaP vaccine creates an immune response that is similar to that of the DTP vaccine, however, over time the immune-protection declines with the DTaP vaccine. In fact, children who received 1 dose of DTP were twice as likely to be protected during a whooping cough outbreak than children who received 5 DTaP vaccines during infancy. Today, efforts to determine the cause of the declining immune-protection in DTaP and methods for making the DTP vaccine safer are underway. (Arthur Allen, subscription required)

Astrophysicist tapped to lead NSF – Earlier this week, President Obama nominated astrophysicist France Cordova to head the National Science Foundation. If her nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Cordova will be only the second woman to lead the agency. Cordova, who is a former Purdue University administrator and NASA chief scientist, currently serves as the chairwoman for for the governing board of the Smithsonian Institution. Interestingly, Cordova’s career didn’t start with science; she earned her bachelors in English from Stanford University. (Lauren Morello)

Experts warn of dangers of over diagnosis and treatment of cancer –  A panel advising the National Cancer Institute has recommended that the word “cancer” be selectively used in diagnoses to prevent patients from panicking and seeking unnecessary, extreme treatments. The committee recommended using the word “cancer” only when lesions have a “reasonable likelihood of lethal progression if untreated.” For example, some women have localized lesions that look like cancers but are not lethal, and these women are unnecessarily treated with radiation therapy or mastectomies despite the fact that the lesions will never harm them. While preventative care is not necessary in some cases, removal of non-cancerous lesions in the colon or on the cervix has reduced the incidence of cancer. (Lenny Bernstein)

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August 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 30, 2013

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photo credit: lanier67 via photopin cc

photo credit: lanier67 via photopin cc

By: Katherine Donigan

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

FDA Gets Tough on Tobacco– The FDA earlier this week announced its rejection of four proposed tobacco products, signifying the agency’s new oversight over tobacco products.  The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, passed in 2009, allows the FDA to regulate new tobacco products that are looking to enter the market.  Though a promising step, medical professionals remain concerned that the FDA’s assessment of these products took four years. Authorization by the FDA is not an indicator of safety, nor does it allow companies to claim FDA approval.  It simply means that the product does not pose more of a risk to public health than those already available.  By further regulating ingredients in cigarettes (like nicotine and menthol), experts are hopeful that such regulation may generally help reduce tobacco use. (Gillian Mohney, ABCNews)

W.H.O. Issues Guidelines for Earlier H.I.V. Treatment– According to new guidelines released by the W.H.O. people infected with HIV should be placed on anti-retroviral therapy sooner than they are currently – when a patient’s CD4 white blood cell count falls to the lowest level of the normal range.  For certain populations (including those with other serious infections, pregnant women and young children), the new guidelines recommend starting treatment as soon as a positive HIV result is seen.  Scientists have been recommending that all patients begin therapy immediately upon testing positive, so as to maximize patient outcomes and reduce further infections.  Such early intervention comes at increased cost, but falling costs of HIV drugs combined with improving economies in at-risk countries are helping to reduce this burden.  (Donald G. McNeil, Jr. NYTimes)

Questions about effect of over-the-counter Plan B for all ages– Timely access to emergency contraception (EC) is critical to preventing unintended pregnancies.  In 2011, the Obama administration overruled the FDA’s decision to make EC available over the counter to women and girls of all ages. This meant that girls 16 and younger needed to obtain a prescription for EC, and girls 17 and older had to show identification to a pharmacist.  The decision was reversed a few weeks ago when the administration announced they would no longer fight to keep the age restriction (see link).  Emergency contraception is now (theoretically) available to women and girls regardless of age, but whether the FDA’s recommendation will actually increase access remains to be seen.  Some pharmacists indicate they will still refuse to provide EC to girls who look “too young”, and the price (around $40-50) is still a barrier for some, including teens. (Meeri Kim, Washington Post)

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June 30, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – April 21, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: limowreck666 via photopin cc

photo credit: limowreck666 via photopin cc

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

FDA’s rejection of generic OxyContin may have side effects – With the patent on the original OxyContin ending, the FDA has declared that they will not approve generic versions of the drug. In order for drug developers to compete in the prescription pain relief market, they will have to develop abuse resistant forms of the drug. In 2010, Purdue Pharma LP, the developer of the original OxyContin, produced a form of the drug that includes a polymer that makes it impossible to snort and inject the drug. The patent on the drug resistant form expires in 2025.  (Nancy Shute and Audrey Carlsen)

Stereotype threat for girls and STEM – According to Facebook executive and author Sheryl Sandberg, women are being held back by what social scientists call a “stereotype threat”- an idea that suggests that the more we are aware of the stereotype, the more likely we are to act in accordance with it. Sandberg suggests that the stereotype threat is what is responsible for preventing women to pursue leadership roles and careers in highly technical field, such as computer science. A recent study looking at author gender and gender typing of projects suggests that publications from male authors were more highly regarded scientifically. The author also presents many links aiming to encourage interest in STEM. (Chris Gunter)

Gene patents are sabotaging the future of medicine – A case currently being debated by the Supreme Court, Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, has the potential to influence how clinicians can report the results of genome wide sequencing to their patients. Currently, Myriad holds the patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are associated with the onset of breast and ovarian cancers. Therefore, Myriad has a monopoly on all diagnostics and therapeutics related to the BRCA genes. The Association for Molecular Pathology states that a person has a right to know their own genetic code and should not have to have permission from patent holders to know the sequence of their own genes. The Supreme Court will rule on the case in late June. (Daniela Hernandez)

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April 21, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – March 22, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: Rick Eh? via photopin cc

photo credit: Rick Eh? via photopin cc

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

Mice Fall Short As Test Subjects for Humans’ Deadly Ills – Data obtained from mouse models of sepsis, burns, and trauma have been misleading. Nearly 150 drugs developed to treat sepsis in humans have failed. A manuscript published in PNAS last month demonstrated why- mice have a condition that looks similar to human sepsis but is very different biologically. The decade long study analyzed genes used by white blood cells when responding to sepsis. The investigators found a panel of genes that were upregulated in response to sepsis in humans and then analyzed the response in mice to see if a similar panel of genes were involved. Surprisingly, there were no similarities between organisms. Additionally, in samples from human patients, a similar panel of genes were involved in the response to burns, sepsis, and trauma suggesting that finding a drug to treat one condition will treat all 3. While in many situations, mice are an ideal genetic model to human disease, this work suggests that mouse models cannot be used to develop drugs for all human conditions.  (Gina Kolata)

How To Find a Food Desert Near You – A food desert is an area where it is difficult to access large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable food. To identify regions where access to healthy foods is limited, the USDA has recently released the Food Access Research Atlas.  Using the atlas, you can identify regions where there is low access to grocery stores. Additionally, income data has been incorporated into the map to compare low access to low income regions. (Nancy Shute)

Inequality Quantified: Mind the Gender Gap – While the number of women working in science and engineering fields has increased, universities still employ more men than women in STEM fields, and men still earn significantly more in these fields. Currently, only 21 percent of science professors and 5 percent of engineering professors are women. One potential cause of this problem is that a larger percentage of women quit scientific careers in the earlier stages to raise a family. Additionally, women only make 82 percent of what male scientists earn in the United States, and this gap is larger in European countries. Many universities are conscious of the need to correct the gender gap. (Helen Shen)

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March 22, 2013 at 1:47 pm