Choose your own science

4 08 2009

In the lead up to Australia’s National Science Week this month (don’t forget to sign up for that), the Australia Museum is holding People’s Choice Awards for their Eureka Science Prizes.

GO VOTE. (There are prizes for Australian residents)

I actually have connections with one of these scientists! Squeee! I am like legitimate (or not…). Kathy Belov, nominated for her work regarding the genetics of the Tadmanian Devil facial tumour (DFTD). Marsupial immunology is a small field, so Kathy was one of the collaborators with my ex-supervisor on the launchblock for my research (one of my former lab-mates now has Kathy as a PhD co-supervisor) – near the end of my research our lab received some very useful American marsupial DNA libraries from her.Good luck Kathy.

And if transmissible facial cancer in devils is not cool enough for you there is also:





Name your job

12 07 2009

One of the final pieces I need to line up is part time work while I study, if only to minimise my need to deal with Centrelink.

This means dusting off and brushing up the old resumé… and making myself as appealing as possible to employers.

Something interesting in my “to post” box was some research out of Canada that showed employers are discriminating against persons with non-English names that might be perceived as difficult to pronounce. If you’d like to see the names they used, the actual working paper here: Why Do Skilled Immigrants Struggle in the Labor Market? A Field Experiment with Six Thousand Resumes.

A few weeks after I read this item, the story circulated in the Australian press, this time citing an Australian study from ANU that used only 4,000 resumes. Headlines abounded stating that Australian bosses were racist.

Now this may be fair conclusion, but it neglects to mention that this scenario is the same any where – someone with a local sounding name is always more likely to be hired (the Australian study found that Italian surnames were no hinderance in Melbourne, a city with Australia’s largest Italian community). This does not mean it’s an okay practice, but it is something to consider.





For just one dollar a day

29 06 2009

No, I am not about  to con you into some religious sponsorship program.* Absolutely no African children for sale here.

It’s about SunSmart awareness and skin cancer prevention. The idea is that for $1 per day per person the Australian government could encourage people to regularly use sunscreen and prevent over 100,000 cancers and 20 deaths each year. This is based on some trials done in Queensland.

Now some of you might be trying to do the math. It is a little over 8 billion dollars annually for Australia’s 22 million inhabitants. But the authors make a compelling case by comparing it to the cost of public cosmetics expenditure, as well as government spending on vaccines (which cost $100s per dose).

Sunscreen is important for all Australians.

An exemplary example of framing science?

*Food for thought on religious-based missions here, here, and here





Scabies treatment uptake in regional indigenous communities

21 06 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgIn doing some background research for this blog entry, I discovered scabies causes 1 death in Australia per year. Yikes!

That aside, the point of this blog was to help illustrate that health is not just about big killer diseases. And that non-lethal diseases are not issues that do not need to be taken seriously. A non-lethal disease like scabies still represents a burden on the community. It drains on health resources, it also drains on family resources, and can also be a source of conflict and agitation.

This paper is an Australian study published through PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, it examines scabies and treatment uptake in two rural Aboriginal communities in northern Australia. A number of factors lead to these communities experiencing a high burden of scabies infestation – including distance from resources, household overcrowding and high mobility between households. Those most at risk are young children.

In general, the best known way to control endemic scabies is through community-based mass treatment initiatives. However these initiatives require community awareness and cooperation in order to be successful. This study looked to not only measure levels of cooperation and success, but also what barriers exist in the community that might hinder such initiatives.

Scabies is primarily an inflammatory condition caused by the bodies reaction to burrowing behaviour and eggs laid by the scabies mite (pictured to the left). In Australia, the approved treatment for scabies is a topical cream, permethin that is applied to the entire body. In the study, a “Healthy Skin Day” was held in the community, and all community members were advised to utilise the cream over an 8-day period. The study then followed those households in which at one or more cases of childhood scabies were subsequently identified.

If a child was diagnosed with scabies, the parent was given cream to use not only on the child, but every other member of the household. Not only is this because there is likely to be others not diagnosed but affected in the same household, but the mites are likely to just leave the treated person and go over to new host.

As expected scabies susceptibility was lower in households that experienced universal treatment. However, while 80% of children directly diagnosed with scabies used the supplied creams, compliance rates amongst other people advised to follow the treatment because of someone else in the household being diagnosed was less satisfactory (44% of these persons used the cream). Just over three quarters of households had at least one household member not take the treatment, and in almost a fifth no one followed the treatment. The study also noted that treatment cooperative households were more likley to remain in the study, meaning that if anything these statistics are possibly over-estimating compliance rates.

There were multiple factors that contributed to treatment not being followed through: treatment not being a priority, treatment was not considered necessary, and treatment caused discomfort. The first two of these responses point to issues in education and trust. The community needs to be aware of the burden of disease on the community, and the benefits of treatment. Trust is a more trickier issue, as the relationship between indigenous communities and the government is one giant elephant that I’m not quite ready to take on that I’m not quite wanting to take on at the moment. The last points to a question of whether the proscribed treatment is appropriate for these communities.

The authors point out that in a hot, crowded environment, a sticky cream-like substance is possibly not the most enjoyable of treatments to experience. The cream also needs to be washed off in the morning, and with drought and water access also being an issue in regional communities, provides further complications with treatment compliance. Sadly while creams like permethin are the only treatments available in Australia at present, oral treatments for scabies do exist and would seem on the front a more acceptable treatment for the tropical environment. Pills might also be considered more like “real working medicine” and therefore encourage higher rates of compliance.

This study, while obviously not carried out with unlimited resources, does a very good job at highlighting the multiple factors that complicate rural health.


La Vincente, S., Kearns, T., Connors, C., Cameron, S., Carapetis, J., & Andrews, R. (2009). Community Management of Endemic Scabies in Remote Aboriginal Communities of Northern Australia: Low Treatment Uptake and High Ongoing Acquisition PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 3 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000444

Image credit: Scabies by MacAllenBrothers





Who is testing cancer vaccines?

15 06 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgAs I wrap up my “Pharma is your Phriend” series, lets take a look at some more research.

This is a very interesting analysis of cancer vaccine trials using data mining from Open Access journal, Immunome Research.

The authors have taken advantage of there being quite a lot of publicly available information on clinical trials these days (yes, it is there, if you know where to look¹) to amass a whole host of information on cancer vaccine clinical trials for a type of analysis known as data mining.

There own summary of the results reads:

This application enables rapid extraction of information about institutions, diseases, clinical approaches, clinical trials dates, predominant cancer types in the trials, clinical opportunities and pharmaceutical market coverage. Presentation of results is facilitated by visualization tools that summarize the landscape of ongoing and completed cancer vaccine trials. Our summaries show the number of clinical vaccine trials per cancer type, over time, by phase, by lead sponsors, as well as trial activity relative to cancer type and survival data. We also have identified cancers that are neglected in the cancer vaccine field: bladder, liver, pancreatic, stomach, esophageal, and all of the low-incidence cancers.

Two cool things I learned from the paper were: Vaccines for cancers have been in development since the 1970s, and melanoma has been the cancer studied most for a vaccine, even though the first ones out to market have been for cervical cancer (expect melanoma vaccines in the next 1-5 years?).

But as we are looking to shift this discussion towards the pharmaceutical industry, let’s look at who runs clinical trials (Pop up: Figure 2a).

Read the rest of this entry »





Women need to apply more to achieve representation in MSTE

3 06 2009

Women just aren’t applying enough to get senior faculty and tenure track positions in maths, science, technology and engineering (MSTE). Perhaps I should rephrase, the report suggests that underrepresentation may be a result of women not applying for positions in the first place. Ha! not nearly as mysoginistic as you thought.

The congressionally mandated study, Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty, concluded that women are hired in similar proportions to that they are interviewed. For example in maths, women made up 20% of applicants, 28% of intervewees and 32% of job offers. That doesn’t seem to smell of discrimination against women in science technology, does it?

Th problem is that first figure is low. More than 20% of doctorates in math are awarded to women. So why aren’t women applying for the jobs?

The press release I read doesn’t identify any particular reason for this difference. It notes “most institutional strategies to try to increase the proportion of women in the applicant pool … did not show significant effectiveness [except] Having a female chair of the search committee and a high number of women on the committee were associated with a higher number of women in the applicant pool”. Suggesting lack of prominent role models might be factor. The comitte rests on the ubiquitous phrase “[more] Research is needed to investigate why more women are not applying for these jobs”.





Oils ain’t oils: the essentials

2 06 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgYou may have noticed my general feeling about so-called “alternative medicine” is that there is no “alternative” to medicine. One of my friends puts it another way:

Q. What do you call an alternative medicine that works?

A. Medicine.

There is no grand pharmaceutical conspiracy against natural remedies. Once a treatment demonstrates value to medical science, it will become accepted as medicine. That’s why, while you last month science bloggers descended upon a laughably flawed acupuncture study flouted as proof of effect and tore it to pieces, I doubt there’ll be a similar response at this a new international study currently in print that shows essential oils may have a role to play in combating infections caused by multi-resistant microbes.

It’s actually quite a well done study, with interesting results that provide an opportunity for the complementary medicine industry to clean up it’s act and get on board with whole evidence-based medicine paradigm, rather than remaining in the realm of snake oil and shamanism.

Read the rest of this entry »





Free drugs: Just say no?

28 05 2009

ResearchBlogging.org “Everybody likes something free.” I don’t think anyone is going to disagree with Chimonas and Kassirer there.

Drugs are expensive. And even if in a country like Australia, universal insurance may mean that vital medicines are cheap for the end-consumer, somewhere someone has pay the full price (i.e. the government).

Because drugs are so expensive, many drug companies – particularly when releasing a new product, will offer “free samples”. Now these aren’t quite like a give-away taste-test counter like at the local deli – the drugs still need to be prescribed by the doctor to a sick patient – but the principle is the same. You try it, and if it works, hopefully you’ll buy the real deal.

Sounds great! Hospitals get free medicines. Doctors learn about new treatments. Patient receives expensive treatment cheaply. And Pharma makes a friend. Everyone is a winner! What’s not to love?

Well… turns out it’s not quite the rosy picture we’d pictured. PLoS Medicine carries an investigative essay on the ramifications of free drug samples on the health care system.

Summarised points below: Read the rest of this entry »





Baker drug deals

24 05 2009

There will be more medical marketing musings over this week. There are few more articles in my backlog as I’ve been trying to work out what is and is not okay to do when engaging medical education activities.

But the final post today will be a little lazy. This was so obviously wrong.

The very recent Baker-Sanofi Plavix deal, which can be followed at Croakey. Read the rest of this entry »





Babies hate your marriage

26 04 2009

Research from the University of Denver on 218 couples, showed that in 90% of couples, having a baby accelerated deterioration of their marriages.

The researcher “cautions against concluding that children damage overall happiness in life” – but just look at those cold hard statistics.

I think what it most likely shows is that having a baby, or getting married, is not a suitable recourse in a failing relationship.

The research appeared to focus solely on partners relationships with each other, not the relationship between parents and their kids. Perhaps their isn’t enough love to go around.





NITD

20 01 2009

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Novartis Institute for Tropical Disease (NITD) is a Singapore-based tropical disease research institute created through a public-private partnership between Novartis and the Singapore Economic Development Board. Research at NITD focuses primarily on developing novel small molecule therapies for tropical infectious diseases that are endemic to the developing world, particulary dengue fever, malaria and tuberculosis.[1][2]

History and mission

NITD was founded in 2002 as a public-private partnership between Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Novartis and the Singapore Economic Development Board.[1]

NITD states its goals are “to discover novel treatments and prevention methods for major tropical diseases.” Their website states they hope to have at least two drug candidates going through clinical trials in patients by the year 2012.[2]

Novartis has also stated that the NITD will seek to make treatments developed by the NITD available without profit to the poor in developing nations in which these diseases are endemic.[3]

Research

NITD is a small molecule drug discovery research institute.[1]

Research is currently focused on three main diseases:[2]

NITD’s research model relies on global partnership with other research institutes.[1] In 2008, NITD announced a 5-year collaborative research effort would be conducted in cooperation with the TB Alliance to develop new medicines for tuberculosis, including drug resistant tuberculosis.[4]

Education

In addition to research, NITD is engaged in educational activities. It runs a research-based Master of Science program in fields related to infectious diseases in cooperation with National University of Singapore, University of Basel and Swiss Tropical Institute.[5]

NITD also supports training opportunities for post-graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.[2]

References

External link





A whale is a terrible thing to waste

22 10 2008

Oh I so want to move back to Brisbane.

The Queensland Museum has gotten first dibs on the body of a juvenile Blue Whale that died after beaching itself near Townsville.

They plan to cut away its soft tissue (a mammoth task that will take 2 days) and then display the skeleton. It would be the first complete skeleton of a blue whale in a museum anywhere in the world.

The soft tissue and other samples won’t go to waste either (I hope). They will be used in further research, first on the agenda, identifying the subspecies of this specimen.





At least its not leeches

17 10 2008

Adverse immune reactions are a serious issue in modern medicine. Not just for transplants, but for ultra-modern molecular therapies – such as enzyme replacement therapy, or genetic therapy – making sure your body does not decide to destroy that expensive medicine can be an issue. Sometime this means giving patients immunosuppressants, drugs that turn off the immune system. This is obviously risky, leaving such patients open to infection and cancer development.

Parasites and other wee beasties have evolved very complex mechanisms to evade our immune systems. So looking at them for clues on how to develop better drug delivery systems is a good idea. Some researchers are looking at promising chemical produced by schistosome eggs that may benefit gene therapy. Schistosomes cause schistosomosis which ranks no. 2, behind malaria, as the parasite-caused disease with most global impact.

This molecule goes into the cells nucleus and binds to DNA, making sure the therapeutic genes get to where they are meant to rather than just floating around in your bloodstream. This may prove less risky than using viral vectors.





In dog shit with Big Brother

9 10 2008

hattip DBinaDW

In Israel they are going to go all CSI … on rogue puppy poop vandals.

The suburb of Petra Tikva in Tel Aviv, the DNA of registered dogs will be sequenced and kept on file. Now, when someone doesn’t scoop their poop, the sample can be tested and the offending pooch pounded (or at least the owner fined).

Scientists are hoping the gene database will assist in other research as well.

Currently the system is only in trial stages. No one is being forced to provide dog DNA samples, but city officials are hopeful they will be able to use DNA to replace costly electronic tag systems.

I would think dogs in the same town would have a high chance of being related. This could be an issue with DNA based assays. Also exactly how much host DNA is in a fecal sample (I thought it mostly waste chemicals and bacteria), won’t everything be highly degraded and unstable.

I swear everywhere I have seen that posts this story up gets the exact same comment response. Let’s see if someone will be unable to resist repeating it here.





Sydney Harbour’s Heavy Metal Weeds

8 10 2008

via ScienceDaily

I live in North Sydney, just up the hill from Luna Park and the iconic Harbour Bridge.

It’s good to learn that the horror stories about the quality of Sydney Harbour’s water are actually true.

The waters of the harbour are actually teeming with life of all kinds. But rising levels of heavy metals in the ecosystem is threatening its stability. Copper, lead and zinc find their way into the waterways from stormwater runoff, industrial waters and motorised watercraft. These heavy metals are being found in large quantities in seaweed at a number of locations on the harbour, even higher than notoriously contaminated around the Hong Kong Islands and Brazil’s Sepetiba Bay.

This won’t necessarily kill the seaweed. But its worse for the whole ecosystem. The UNSW studies show that areas with heavily contaminated weeds are devoid of grazing amphipods. This could be considered good news for the weed (and possibly accumulation could be selected for), but less grazing amphipods means less food to support higher predators, like fish. The ecosystem collapses from top to bottom. Not good.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.