Friday, February 26, 2010

National Tooth Fairy Day

I've always liked going to the dentist. I'm pretty sure it started because I got a sticker or plastic ring from my childhood dentist, Dr. Bluth, when I had a good visit. It could also be because after having 8 teeth pulled in preparation for braces, a cleaning doesn't sound so bad. Whatever the cause, I'm a big fan of regular check-ups and dental health.

Throughout Children's Dental Health Month, the American Dental Association is promoting positive early experiences with dental health (like mine!) to give American children a foundation for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.

One strong proponent for healthy teeth is the Tooth Fairy, and since today is her special day, I asked her a few questions about teeth and dental health research.

Me: How are things in the world of teeth collection?
TF: Good across the board. The number of cavities are going down and people are keeping their teeth longer. Which means less collecting for me and more change in my pocket.

Me: Since you brought it up, what's the going price for a tooth these days?
TF: Every tooth is different, but prices have gone up since I collected your baby teeth. It's about $2 a tooth now.

Me: Wow. That's more than the rate of biomedical inflation.
TF: Things have changed since you were 12, Heather.

Me: True. How do you keep up with all the new trends in dental research?
TF: I do frequent flyovers at the American Association for Dental Research. They have great resources for the latest dental research.

Me: Do you know any interesting dental health facts?
TF: Sure. A person's tongue print is as unique as their fingerprints.

Me: ....
TF: Lots of people sleep with their mouths open and I have exceptional vision.
Me: ....

Me: What's one thing about teeth specifically most people wouldn't know?
TF: The average person spends about 38.5 days brushing their teeth over a lifetime.

Me: How do you feel about the new Tooth Fairy movie?
TF: ....

Me: Alright, well that about wraps it up. Thanks Tooth Fairy!
TF: No problem, and don't forget to floss!

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cell Phones, Radiation and our Health

*Updated post
Do you remember what cell phones were like 10 years ago? My mom’s first cell phone was about the size of a brick and weighed about that much. Today, phones have speaker phone, touch-screens, fast internet browsing and email. The downside to all of this amazing cell phone technology is that many users are being exposed to the highest legal amount of radiation possible.

How much radiation exposure is really safe? In the short-term, studies on cell phone usage have found no increased risk for cancer. However, in cell phone usage studies among people who used a cell phone for longer than 10 years, researchers have found an increased risk of developing cancers on the side of the brain where you hold your cell phone the most.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has posted on their website cell phones with the worst and best radiation emissions. If you’re in the market for a smartphone with the lowest radiation possible, check out the Blackberry Storm 9530 (Verizon) or the LG Shine II (AT&T). Users should be cautious of the Blackberry 8820 (AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon) as well as the Palm Pixi (Sprint).

Even if you’re not in the market for a new phone, here are a few easy tips from the EWG's Guide to Safe Cell Phone Usage to reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation:

Use a headset or a speaker. My beloved Blackberry came with a headset in the box. Even though I mainly use the headphones for my iPod, I also plug them into my phone from time to time, when I am too lazy to hold the phone to my ear. Who knew it could actually be good for me?

Choose texting over talking. This is also an easy one. I’m a fan of texting my friends to see how they’re doing or letting someone know when I am running late. With most cell phone carriers offering low-cost unlimited texting plans, you can txt ur way 2 lower radation exposure. :-)

Stay off the phone when your signal is low. When you have a weak signal, your phone emits more radiation to find a tower. Try to only use your phone when its signal is at its best.

According to CNN, the video that we posted yesterday is a hoax. Thankfully, our cell phones cannot double as popcorn kettles. But if you are concerned about the health risks with cell phone usage, speak out and tell the FCC and the FDA to modernize their cell phone radiation standards.

*June 1, 2011 update: This is back in the news again, and everyone seems to be covering it. There's no real new news to be had, but see what's being said via the Knight Science Journalism Tracker.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Weird Science or a Hoax?

Popcorn: Are telephones portable microwaves?

My dad sent me this today, and after watching it, I couldn't help but wonder: is this some weird science or a hoax? What do you think?

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February News Round-Up

As we quickly approach the end of the shortest month of the year, here's some of the interesting stuff the New Voices bloggers are reading.

Reactions on Biomedical Research Funding
As you recall, earlier this month, the President's budget was released and requested $32.1 billion for NIH. This was an increase over the previous year's budget, but a decrease if you consider the financial bump from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act they have received for the past two fiscal years.

This past weekend the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences was held in San Diego. One of the distinguished guests was Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health. During a press conference, Dr. Collins shared his thoughts on funding outlooks for biomedical research. In response to the 2-year stimulus money, Collins emphasized that major scientific progress can't be supported by short-term funding increases. One of the approaches the NIH is considering to compensate for the lower budget is by investing the funds that they do have into more high-risk projects, hoping it will enable larger breakthroughs to occur. Collins said, "If you’re not supporting research that fails sometimes, then you’re probably not doing a good job of encouraging the most groundbreaking ideas."
By: Sarah

New Hopes on the Fight against HIV/AIDS
During the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, Brian Williams, a research fellow at the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modeling and Analysis, said that global public health officials could eliminate HIV/AIDS in 40 years, and stop HIV infections in as soon as five years. Epidemiologists are now looking to use anti-retroviral (ARV) medications to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. Since ARV treatment can result in a reduction of the HIV virus by twenty-five times, epidemiologists are hoping that if more people with HIV are treated earlier, there would be fewer new cases of the disease. If the program is introduced, it would be expensive – between $3 billion to $4 billion per year. However, Williams states that the plan would show savings immediately, reducing hospitalizations and lost years of life from youth passing away from the virus.
By: Kimberly

Reacting to Advancing Technology
Research inevitably leads to new advances. However, it can be a challenge for people to incorporate technologies or knowledge into their lives - be they computers, vaccines, or safety procedures. Over at Slate, Vaughan Bell gives us a history of "new" technology and how society has responded through the years. You might be surprised to find that even writing was once considered to be "too much" of an advancement for society.
By: Heather

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Urge Congress to Strengthen the Momentum for Research in FY 2011

Funding for research to improve health in FY 2011 is now in the hands of Congress, and it's time to take action! Let your representative and senators know that the U.S. must continue to robustly invest in research to strengthen the scientific momentum generated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The funding levels necessary to sustain or grow research to improve health in FY 2011 are:
  • National Institutes of Health - $35 billion
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - $8.8 billion
  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - $611 million
  • National Science Foundation - $7.4 billion
Write to your delegation in support of research now!

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Maintaining Your Mental Health

As the final post of The View from Venus series, we will be talking about mental health. Mental health has a significant impact on our physical well-being.

I confess. I am a lover of chick flicks. Among my favorites are Sex and the City, Clueless and then there’s my ultimate favorite − Legally Blonde. The main character, Elle Woods, is a stereotypical blonde sorority girl who decides at the last moment to apply to Harvard Law School to try to win back her boyfriend. One thing I do appreciate about Legally Blonde is that in its silliness, it still manages to show real life issues. During her internship, Elle faces a problem with a professor that makes her consider quitting law school and going home. However, right before Elle drives off into the distance, her friends come to her side to support her through her tough time. Elle stays and ends up graduating at the top of her class.

I’m not a Harvard law student but I have been so overwhelmed that I almost threw in the towel. And I’m not alone. All of us have had one of those days. Between school, careers and family, life can get very difficult. The best thing that you can do to fight the blues is to recognize that you are going through a hard time and react positively. Here are some positive ways to uplift your mood:

Rock out! According to the Cochrane Collaboration, making and listening to music helps eliminate feelings of sadness. Find some positive music that makes you feel like you are on top of the world and turn it up!

Dance! Nothing makes me feel better than to put on a nice outfit, grab my friends and hit the dance floor. Research shows that dancing helps lift your mood and combat depression. If you aren’t able to go out, there’s no better place to dance than your own living room.

Exercise! According to the Mayo Clinic, short bursts of physical activity—as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — have been shown to improve mood in the short term. As Elle Woods puts it, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”

Go outside! Studies have shown that sunlight helps the body produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D has been strongly linked to lifting your spirits. So get out! Even if you take a brief walk during your lunch break, the sunlight and air will help improve your mood.

Note: Having a bad day or going through a tough time is much different than depression. Symptoms of depression include
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • fatigue and decreased energy
  • feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • irritability, restlessness
  • overeating or appetite loss
  • persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
According to the Uplift Program, 30% of women are depressed and 41% those women are too embarrassed to seek help. If you or someone you know is showing signs of depression, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance can put you in contact with someone locally that can help.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Go Be Beautiful

As part of our The View from Venus series, guest blogger Jessica Stutzman shares her thoughts on body image.

I will never be Penelope Cruz. I once desperately wished to be as curvaceous and voluptuous as Ms. Cruz, but was blessed with the body of a ballerina. Long and lean and flat as a board. Now, for any of you who have been to high school it is not optimal to be the Twiggy of your class. Over time I began to believe that if someone said I looked thin it was a put-down rather than a compliment.

Over the years I have gone through my own sort of “yo-yo” diets including the “let’s see how many ding dongs I can eat in addition to my regular meals today diet” and the “consume 3000 calories regardless of what it is consumed diet”. No matter what I did my body always went back to its pre-diet shape. Fortunately, I am now able to accept being called thin as a compliment and make healthier decisions about the foods I eat.

As women, we are our own worst critics. How many of us have turned a compliment such as, “Your hair looks fantastic today!” into “Oh, it usually looks terrible.” The results are in, and they verify (as expected) that our self-esteem is linked to the way we think others perceive us. When someone tells you that you look great, don’t argue! Agree and say thanks.

Return a compliment. Giving and receiving compliments makes us feel great and boosts our confidence. Nothing is sexier than confidence!

Start being more confident by loving the skin you’re in! You don’t have to live at the gym to look and feel fantastic. Adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. You can achieve this goal by walking briskly to and from the grocery store. As a North Dakotan, I can certainly attest to the workout one receives from shoveling the “fluffy” white stuff. Exercise is proven to boost energy and positively influence one’s mood.

Another way to improve our health is to improve the quality of calories we intake. Not all foods are created equal. Certain foods offer higher percentages of the vitamins and minerals we need per serving size. One high-quality choice is “super-food”. If you haven’t heard of these “super-foods”, you are missing out.

“Super-foods” are natural foods regarded as especially beneficial because of their nutrient profiles or their health-protecting qualities. These fruits, vegetables, and legumes give you your daily source of vitamins and are touted as cancer, cholesterol, and heart disease fighters. Two fantastic super-foods that I love to include in my diet are blueberries and tomatoes.

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, which are great for our skin and supporting a healthy immune system. A half cup a day of dark blue, frozen or fresh blueberries is all we need to reap the benefits.

Tomatoes provide us with lycopene, an antioxidant linked to lowering the risk of digestive and many other cancers. Tomatoes in the form of ketchup, paste, or sauce allow for easy absorption of all the vitamins and nutrients into our systems.

These are only two of a myriad of super-foods available to us. Take advantage!

A healthy body image is an essential starting point on the path to a healthier lifestyle. While the majority of women find flaws in their outward appearance, we need to take control and recognize all of our positive attributes and how they work together to make us uniquely beautiful.

While I still don’t think I am perfect, I have come a long way from the girl who wanted to look like Penelope Cruz. Choosing a healthy lifestyle through food and exercise has definitely made me more confident, a quality which radiates for all to see.

It's your turn. Go be beautiful.

Jessica has a Bachelor of Arts in Security and Intelligence from The Ohio State University and is an administrative assistant at Research!America. This is her first guest post for New Voices.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Be Anything But Still, My Beating Heart

Photo credit: John Rawlings, Vogue 1948

You never thought you could feel this way, and so fast. Sure, over the past couple weeks you haven’t really been yourself, but here, in this moment, it suddenly hits you. Your palms start sweating, your breath comes more quickly as your heart begins to race, and your stomach seems to be doing flips. Then you lean forward, head spinning, terrified of what this might mean… because you could be having a heart attack.

It seems like something out a fairy tale, but those subtle symptoms are the number one killer of women. Why?
Women tend to delay longer than men in getting help for a possible heart attack. A large study of heart attack patients found that, on average, women waited 22 minutes longer than men did before going to the hospital. Many women delay because they don’t want to bother or worry others, especially iftheir symptoms turn out to be a false alarm. But when you’re facing something as serious as a possible heart attack, it is much better to be safe than sorry. If you have any symptoms of a possible heart attack that last up to 5 minutes, call 911 right away.
~from the National Institutes of Health The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women

We have a lot of figurative expressions that involve our hearts, pretty much all of which are in someway related to our love lives. However, our figurative heart is pretty useless if our literal heart isn't in good health.

When it comes to staying heart healthy, it's important to know the risk factors, and do what you can at every age to reduce your chances of being effected. This February, as we celebrate American Heart Month, take some time to think about your literal heart. Your figurative heart will love you for it.

This is part of The View from Venus series on women's health.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Relationship Health: 15 Signs He Is 'Loving' You to Death

When we enter into a relationship, we are looking for that special someone that completes us, supports us, and loves us unconditionally. However, it is estimated that "1 out of 3 women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime."

Abuse does not discriminate based on class, race, or religion, but it is still predominantly a women’s issue. Statistics show that women are more likely than men to be victimized with 84 % of spouse abuse victims and 86 % of victims of abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend being women.

One reason we are including this post in our The View From Venus series, is that abuse can have serious health consequences for victims. The Family Violence Prevention Fund reports that:
Women who have experienced domestic violence are 80 % more likely to have a stroke, 70 % more likely to have heart disease, 60 % more likely to have asthma and 70 % more likely to drink heavily than women who have not experienced intimate partner violence.
In summary, healthy relationships are healthy for your heart.

Are you afraid to disagree with your partner because of his or her temper? Here is a partial list of warning signs that you are in an unhealthy relationship. More complete lists can be found here and here.

Dose your partner:
  • Embarrass you with put-downs in public or private?
  • Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
  • Control what you do, who you see or talk to or where you go?
  • Stop you from seeing your friends or family members?
  • Control your finances?
  • Make all of the decisions?
  • Tell you that you’re a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Prevent you from working or attending school?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, it’s your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives or other weapons?
  • Shove you, slap you, choke you, or hit you?
  • Force you to have sex or to do sexual things that make you uncomfortable?
  • Threaten to commit suicide?
  • Threaten to kill you?
To get help for you or a loved one who is trapped in an abusive relationship, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

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Monday, February 15, 2010

The View from Venus

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean that we should stop thinking about hearts. Over the weekend I’m sure we all had our share of candy, chocolate and many other tasty treats in heart shaped forms. Although the human heart isn’t made of Godiva chocolate and doesn’t have a sweet message on one side of it, we still need it to live. Having a healthy heart is the key to a long and productive life. Heart disease (including heart attack and stroke) are among the top causes of death for people in the United States. Unfortunately, the statistics for women are even scarier. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States.

This week on New Voices, we will be focusing on women’s heart health (both literal and figurative) in our new series: The View from Venus. The topics that we will cover this week include: healthy body image, healthy relationships, mental health and cardiac health.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

National Condom Week

Condoms have been around in some form or another since before the 15th century (though undocumented forms may have been used as far back as ancient times). Condoms can be used for birth control and disease prevention, and have been made from everything from tortoise shells to treated fabric or paper, to rubber. Today there are a variety of different types of condoms (male and female) on the market made from a number of substances.
  • Latex – this is the natural, durable evolution of the first rubber condoms. It is the most popular material that condoms are made of, however not everyone can use them due to latex allergies.
  • Polyurethane – these are thinner and more sensitive to heat transfer than latex, tend to be odorless and are less allergenic than latex. However, polyurethane tends to be more expensive and breaks more easily in trials.
  • Lambskin – one of the oldest condom materials, lambskin is effective at preventing pregnanacy, but does NOT protect from sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Nitrile – like polyurethane, nitrile is a synthetic substance that is an alternative to latex.

When condoms are used in coordination with lubricant or another substance (such as spermicidal jelly) it is important to read all labels, since some chemicals can decrease the effectiveness of condoms.

Condom use during all sexual activity can prevent the spread of disease and decrease the risk of pregnancy. There are both male and female condoms for use during intercourse and dental dams and flavored condoms are available for oral sex.

According to CDC surveillance studies, 19 million new cases of STDs are transmitted annually, with half of those cases occuring in people aged 15-24 years old. One contributing factor to this high rate of STDs is low condom usage. A 2007 study of college age men showed that 41% reported that they had never used condoms.*

Also, as the frequency of heterosexual couples choosing to engage in oral and anal sex has risen, the tendency of couples to use condoms is “relatively uncommon”. A study in 2007** determined condom use for heterosexual couples and found that:

• Only 6% of men and women used a condom the last time they engaged in oral sex
• Only 25% of men and 16% of women used a condom the last time they engaged in anal sex

Among other STDs, anal sex puts you at higher risk of contracting HIV than vaginal sex. And oral sex is mistakenly perceived as “low risk” sexual contact, when in reality, oral sex can transmit herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia. Recent studies have shown HPV transmitted by oral sex has caused a rise in oropharyngeal cancers.

Studies have shown that condoms are a great way to protect you and your partner from sexually transmitted disease. The CDC website does a great job of summarizing the benefits, including that studies have shown that “latex condoms provide an essentially impermeable barrier to particles the size of STD pathogens.”

The best way to protect yourself is to use a condom every time for every type of sex.

* Partridge JM. Hughes JP. Feng Q. Winer RL. Weaver BA. Xi LF. Stern ME. Lee SK. O’Reilly SF. Hawes SE. Kiviat NB. Koutsky LA. Genital human papillomavirus infection in men: incidence and risk factors in a cohort of university students. Journal of Infectious Diseases. 196(8):1128-36, 2007 Oct 15.

** Leichliter JS. Chandra A. Liddon N. Fenton KA. Aral SO. Prevalence and correlates of heterosexual anal and oral sex in adolescents and adults in the United States. Journal of Infectious Diseases. 196(12):1852-9, 2007 Dec 15.

I hate tests. I have spent countless hours studying, memorizing, writing and re-writing in order to get the highest possible score on my exams in undergrad and in my masters program. I find standardized tests even more repulsive, but the MCAT, GRE and even a certification exam in public health are all necessary for me to become a public health physician. So, I am learning to face the music: test taking is necessary.

Although I have somewhat of a disdain for test-taking, I know that some tests that I will take can actually save my life. Getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs*) is one of those times. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 19 million new cases of STD infections occur every year. To make matters worse, almost 50% of the newly infected cases are of someone between the ages of 15-24 years of age.

As young adults, we should be especially careful when engaging in sexual activity, given the current statistics. A major part of being careful includes regular testing for STDs. Even though you can’t actually “study” for a STD test, you can prepare yourself. Here are some great tips to get ready:

Find a testing facility: Your regular primary care physician can test you for STDs. If you do not have a regular primary provider, your local health department can test you, or direct you to a place to get tested at little to no cost.

Inform yourself: Knowledge is power. If you are unfamiliar with STDs, the CDC provides great fact sheets on the most commonly diagnosed. They include information on symptoms, treatment and prevention.

Know when you should be tested: There is a general schedule to help patients remember when they should be tested for certain STDs. To help you remember to get tested, make your appointments around other important dates; like your birthday or the New Year.

Be proactive: Depending on where you live and where you go to get tested, you may or may not be tested for certain STDs. For example, some health departments or clinics test everyone for HIV, but may not test for HPV. Make sure to ask your health provider what tests that they usually run. If they don’t normally test for something and you want to be checked for it, ASK! It’s your body and your health.

*STDs are also known as STIs, but no matter what you decide to call them…you should definitely GET TESTED!

Heather, Sarah, and Kimberly contributed to this post.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Days

New Voices is based in Alexandria, Virginia. An amazingly historical city just inside the Beltway (which marks the DC metro area). If you haven't seen the news, Mother Nature has decided to dump many, many inches of snow on us. (As is evident by the view from my office window above; that's a 2.5-3 foot wall on the balcony.)

Since most of the blogging team has been snowed away from the office, we are going to delay the (now upcoming) series The View from Venus by a few days while we shovel out.

If you're local to DC, stay warm and dry; remember to hydrate, and watch for falling icicles. If you're not someplace snowy, I'm jealous.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Snowstorm Friday Hodgepodge

Image courtesy of: afagen

If you live anywhere in the DC metro area, you probably know we're expecting snow today. Lots, and lots, and lots of snow. So before we get snowed in someplace for the weekend, here's a hodgepodge of tidbits from New Voices to you!

To start us off, Research!America has a paid Communications Intern position open. "Ideal candidates will have a strong academic background, excellent writing and editing skills, and an interest in medical and health research and related policy issues." If that's you - or someone you know - get applying!

Scientists to Watch
New Voices is tipping our hat to the 100 winners of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. PECASE is the highest honor the U.S. Government can give to scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Interesting reading for anyone who likes the arts and science
On Art, Fairy Tales, and Creativity from Asymptotia
The Music of the Species from Neurotopia
Netflix rental trends in metropolitan areas from the New York Times

If only science worked this way...
Comic credit: Toothpaste for Dinner

That's it for today! Enjoy your weekend everyone!

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Health Research in the President's FY2011 Budget

With the release of his FY 2011 budget proposal, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to science and research by making them a priority amid efforts to limit spending. Although President Obama recommended a freeze on the part of the budget that includes research, he opted to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Science Foundation.

Under the President’s proposal, the overall NIH budget would increase 3.2% percent to $32.1 billion in FY 2011. This recommended boost to the budget is an excellent beginning to the priority-setting conversation that now moves to Congress. Ultimately, an FY2011 budget less than $35 billion will not allow NIH to sustain the research capacity made possible through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The NIH has been functioning with a $35 billion budget for two years and we cannot afford to lose ground as the nation struggles out of the Great Recession.

In a briefing Monday afternoon, NIH Director, Francis Collins, MD, PhD, emphasized that the administration is focused on science-based budgeting, with the intent to prioritize resources and take advantage of the greatest scientific opportunity. Dr. Collins most recently outlined his priorities for the agency in Science magazine (subscription required). As a result of the science-based budgeting approach, percent increases for individual institutes and centers varied across NIH. President Obama again called for specific increases for cancer and autism research as he did in his 2010 budget proposal.

Maintaining an emphasis on evidence-based medicine, President Obama proposed $611 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a 53.9% increase. Of this, $286 million is allocated for comparative effectiveness research. President Obama is keeping the NSF on a budget doubling track, by recommending $7.4 billion for the agency, an 8.0% increase. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not fare as well, with the President recommending a 2% cut to $6.3 billion.

Since the budget and appropriations process is now in the hands of Congress, it is time for advocates to start contacting their representatives and senators in support of robust increases for research to improve health in FY 2011. New Voices will keep you posted on updates in the budget and appropriations process and alert you when your voice can make the most difference.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Temple Grandin: Innovator. Author. Activist. Autistic.

This Saturday, February 6th HBO will be premiering their movie, Temple Grandin, which is a biographical account of a high-functioning autistic woman who managed defy all expectations, earning her Ph.D. in Animal Sciences and becoming a respected scientist and autism advocate.

This movie couldn't have been released at a more important time, as The Lancet, a leading medical journal, formally retracted the seminal paper linking autism to vaccinations.

Some history...
In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield and co-workers published an article in the Lancet that suggested a possible link between autism and the common childhood vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella. The paper sparked widespread concern over the safety of vaccinations, and resulted in an increase in the number of parents who chose not to have their children vaccinated. Yesterday, the Lancet fully retracted the paper in response to the ruling by U.K.’s General Medical Council that Dr. Wakefield acted dishonestly and that the specific study, which started the anti-vaccine movement, did not actually demonstrate a causal relationship between autism and vaccines.

Autism is a disease that affects approximately 1 in 110 children. Autism is diagnosed on a spectrum and no two patients have exactly the same symptoms. There has been a lot of research into the causes and potential treatments for autism, but at this point very little is known.

Two of your New Voices bloggers got to see a sneak peek of the movie last night. Here's what they thought:

Sarah’s reaction
Temple Grandin highlighted major strides made for the widespread recognition of the human component of autism. At the start, the movie showed the struggles a mother faced when her daughter was diagnosed with autism in the 1950’s. Doctors in that era were quick to suggest that the solution for the disease was institutionalizing autistic children. They believed that the cause of autism was poor parenting and that there was no potential for recovery. But by the end of the movie, in the 1980s, parents were trying to get more involved and were seeking out information about the condition and trying to play an active role in their children’s treatment.

The movie also provided insight into the autistic mind through the story of the life of Temple Grandin. It related difficulties autistic people have navigating social interactions by showing how Temple did not understand how to use her face to convey emotions. The movie also tried to give viewers a glimpse into the way autistic children think. The director used series of rapid pictures to convey the way Temple’s mind uses imagery to process information. As a result, the film successfully juxtaposed some advantages and disadvantages of her pictorial reasoning.

Heather's impression
Temple Grandin is a mix between Rain Man, Forrest Gump, and October Sky. From animated scenes in Temple's mind to the portrayal of her human and animal research, this movie gives anyone who isn't "normal" a heroine to look up to and love.

The film captured the essence of not only Temple's view of the world, but the world's view of her. Autism is difficult for even researchers to define, so it isn't so unbelievable that many people don't understand the disease. We can only hope that as stories like Temple's become more mainstream, that discrimination against autistic individuals will decrease.

This is a must see film about an incredible woman who has made an amazing impact in both medical and animal research. She also happens to be autistic.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Aftermath of Tuskegee

... continued from Remembering Tuskegee.

Twenty-seven years later, on May 16, 1997, President Clinton formally apologized for the Tuskegee Experiment, stating,
“The United States government did something that was wrong -- deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens.

To the survivors, to the wives and family members, the children and the grandchildren, I say what you know: No power on Earth can give you back the lives lost, the pain suffered, the years of internal torment and anguish. What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry.”
Thankfully, the scientific community has learned from the lessons of this event. Tuskegee University (formerly known as Tuskegee College) founded the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care, ensuring the ethical and equal treatment of minorities in clinical and public health studies.

"The entire history of health care in the United States has been shamefully blighted by a long series of racial inequalities," said Dr. Marian Gray Secundy, the first Director of the Center. "As a result, a legacy of distrust has been handed down from one generation to the next. But this Bioethics Center bears great hope. It takes us to the critical next step in changing the course of history for people of color."

Looking backward, it is very easy to see where the research and public health community went wrong with what occurred in Tuskegee. Even though this may seem like such a long time ago, this study directly impacted our parent’s and grandparent’s generation. Research and health care communities have much progress in bioethics, informed consent and cultural competency.
To continue these successes, it is important to put these lessons into action. Here are ways that we can actively recruit and build relationships with minority populations to continue with clinical research.
  1. Try to think outside the box for ways to recruit minority patients. A group in Atlanta found that by working with barbershop owners, they were able to encourage more Black men to get prostate cancer screenings.
  2. Build relationships with community leaders. Pastors, small business owners, local officials and other community workers are strongly linked to their community. They are often able to talk to others on a level that they will understand and have already built a sense of trust with the people that they serve.
  3. Seek patients in the places that they already receive care. Federally qualified health centers (also known as community health centers) are located in areas of high medical need; both urban and rural. They service a high number of minority patients, as well as a large amount of uninsured patients. Building relationships with the health care providers, management and patients can also bridge the gap into increased participation.

Post contributed by: Kimberly Brown

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Remembering Tuskegee

Last week, Jackie advocated for the need to include more minorities in clinical trial research. In the African American community, there is a specific apprehension to take part in clinical research. For many African Americans, the Syphilis Study in Macon County, Alabama heightened longstanding suspicions of the U.S. health care system.

Even after more than 25 years from the ending of the study, apprehensions still linger. There are many Black Americans that refuse to participate in clinical trials, donate blood and even refuse basic medical care. Why is this? To understand, we need to look at minority involvement from a historical prospective.

From the years 1932 to 1972, 600 men (399 with syphilis and 201 without) were recruited from Macon County, Alabama to observe how the disease affected Black patients as opposed to White patients. The principal investigators (Taliaferro Clark, Oliver Wenger, Raymond Vonderler, John Heller and Eugene Dibble) theorized that Black patients were more susceptible to cardiovascular damage from the syphilis; whereas white patients suffered more neurological impairments. Data was collected on the natural course of the disease through physical exams and routine checkups.

That doesn’t seem so bad, right? Well, at the time, it wasn’t. Treatments for syphilis during the 1930s were poisonous and often not effective. However, as time progressed, the ethics of the study came into question. The Macon County community was aware of the study that was being conducted.

The men, for the most part, were sharecroppers in one of the poorest parts of Alabama, and were not told of the seriousness of their disease. Instead, they were just told that they had “bad blood”. In exchange for their participation in the study, the participants were provided medical treatment for minor illnesses from “government doctors”, burial insurance (provided that they agreed to autopsy before they were buried), free hot meals during clinic visits and transportation to and from the hospital.

By 1947, penicillin was approved as a clinically effective treatment for syphilis. Instead of terminating the study and providing treatment, the principle investigators in the Tuskegee Experiment continued their work, blocking their patients from taking penicillin. Patients that questioned the fact that they were not receiving any therapeutic treatment were warned of the “dangers” of penicillin. In other cases, patients were assuaged by placebos in order for the researchers to continue their study on the progression of the disease.

No one questioned the ethics of the study until Peter Buxtun, a venereal disease researcher for the US Public Health Service, sent a letter to the national director of the Division of Venereal Diseases. The CDC reaffirmed the study’s significance and ensured that it went to completion. The National Medical Association (representing African American physicians) and the American Medical Association backed the CDC’s statement.

In spite of the opposition, Buxtun went to the Washington Star with the story and the following day it became front page news in the New York Times. Senator Edward Kennedy called congressional hearings and from there, the CDC and the PHS were required to terminate the study in Tuskegee.

After 40 years of mistreatment, the PHS finally ended their study in 1972, after constant and negative publicity. At its conclusion, only 74 of the test subjects were alive; 28 of the original 399 men died of syphilis, 100 died of related complications, 40 of their wives were infected and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.

Check back tomorrow for the continuation of this post.

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