Author Archive: brianhunsicker

2012 Edition: Research and the AP Top 25

For the college football fans among us, today is like a second Christmas: The season begins tonight. South Carolina’s visit to upstart Vanderbilt is the most notable game on the schedule, as South Carolina is the only ranked team in action tonight.

And so, for the third straight year, we’re happy to present our own little mashup of college football and medical research.

It would be pretty easy to get on a roll about who’s overrated and underrated and what players to watch out for — a temptation we’ve had to force ourselves to stay away from for the past two years. We know our audience: researchers and those who care about research. So, just as we’ve done in the links above, we present some of the interesting research going on at schools ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

We acknowledge, of course, that some of these schools may have greater emphasis in areas other than traditional medical research. But where possible, we’ll highlight recent research from that school that improves health. Schools in italics are Research!America members or have one subunit that is a Research!America member.

1. University of Southern California

USC student Sarmad Al-Bassam, PhD, served as the lead author on a paper that explained what was seen using a new method to see how proteins and transmitted to and from neurons in the brain. Previously, it was difficult to isolate one pathway because there were so many other pathways — many of which overlapped. By itself, the pathway that Al-Bassam and his colleagues captured on video shows a steady stream of incoming and outgoing proteins, not unlike a sped-up video of trucks entering and leaving a warehouse. “Your brain is being disassembled and reassembled every day,” said Don Arnold, PhD, associate professor of molecular and computational biology at USC and a co-author of the paper, according to the school’s press release. “One week from today, your brain will be made up of completely different proteins than it is today. This video shows the process. We’ve known that it was happening, but now we can watch it happen.”

2. University of Alabama

The University of Alabama has made gains against chronic pain in traditional and unexpected ways. William “Skip” Pridgen, MD, a surgeon in Tuscaloosa, AL — where the school is located — has teamed with UA professor Carol Duffy, PhD, to form a startup called Innovative Med Concepts. The company has raised sufficient funding to hold a Phase II clinical trial to test a combination of drugs to treat fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition. Meanwhile, Beverly Thorn, PhD, chair of the psychology department at UA, is developing therapies around the “gate control theory of pain,” which states that pain is a multidimensional experience, not just a sensory one.

3. Louisiana State University

Given that LSU is only today starting to reopen after waiting out Hurricane Isaac, it makes sense that the effects of hurricanes would be a key facet of the school’s research. Barry Keim, PhD, a professor in the Geography and Anthropology Department, and “Hurricane” Hal Needham, a grad student, put together “the world’s most comprehensive storm surge map.” After all, it’s storm surge — not wind or rain — that is traditionally the most deadly aspect of hurricanes. “When we started this research in 2008, this approach was completely unique,” Needham said in a story on the school’s website. “Modeling is very useful, but you need to validate it with what’s happened historically. That is what we are trying to do here … SURGEDAT is a snapshot of where the most vulnerability from storm surge is located worldwide.”

4. University of Oklahoma

Paul Branscum, PhD, surveyed fourth- and fifth-grade students from throughout the Midwest to get a sense of their diets over the course of a 24-hour period. The results: Students had the most control when choosing snacks, but unfortunately the highest calorie snacks were also the least expensive. The group averaged 300 calories from high-calorie snacks (17% of their daily caloric intake needs) but just 45 calories from fruits and vegetables — roughly equivalent to half a piece of fruit. The information is important, since snacking has been linked to childhood obesity.

5. University of Oregon

How’s this for applied research? Elliot Berkman, PhD, from UO’s Department of Psychology, got volunteers to undergo an MRI while viewing motivational messages to help quit tobacco habits. Based on what Berkman learns, the more effective messages will be deployed when the campus goes entirely tobacco-free this fall. “Some of the messages that ultimately go out in the fall will be part of a neurally informed prevention effort,” Berkman said, according to a story on the school’s website.

6. University of Georgia

Collaboration between Yiping Zhou, PhD, a physics professor, and Ralph Tripp, PhD, of the College of Veterinary Medicine, has led to new nanomaterials that could increase the efficiency and lower the cost of common DNA tests. The two focused on microRNA — short strands of RNA. “MicroRNA-based therapies are under way for many diseases, but progress is confounded by the inherent difficulties in detecting small RNAs with standard techniques,” Tripp said according to a story on the school’s website. The hope is that the new method could help clinicians improve diagnosis of certain cancers and also detect the presence of viruses in tissue.

7. Florida State University

A medical device for premature babies would hardly seem to be the province for a music professor. But Jayne Standley, PhD, has come up with an ingenious idea: the Pacifier Activated Lullaby, or PAL. Whenever a baby sucks on a PAL, a lullaby begins to play; that encourages the baby to suck more and for longer. That leads to more effective feeding and earlier trips home from the hospital. According to the video on the link above, PAL is now available to hospitals throughout the country.

8. University of Michigan

We admit it: We couldn’t help but read an article on UM’s website when we saw the term “insect cyborgs.” And it doesn’t disappoint — not even for those looking for a health angle! Researchers at the College of Engineering came up with a cyborg beetle that could serve as a first responder of sorts in exceptionally dangerous or inaccessible areas. But even with miniaturization, much energy would be needed to power a flying insect cyborg and also operate other instruments onboard. But the researchers found a solution. “Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones and other sensors and communications equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack,” said Khalil Najafi, PhD, chair of electrical and computer engineering. “We could then send these ‘bugged’ bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go.” Flapping of the wings, for instance, could generate additional energy.

9. University of South Carolina

X-rays are not new technology by any means, but researchers at South Carolina are exploring whether there are applications in areas few people have looked before. Typical X-rays at the doctor’s office are “hard” X-rays, meaning they have high energy. Professor Krishna Mandal, PhD, is looking at whether “soft” X-rays — those with lower energy — could be more a more effective way to develop imaging. “There’s nothing available on the market that covers this range of X-rays,” Mandal told the school’s website. “Nobody has explored this region, and there will be many innovations that will result from our being able to do so, particularly when it comes to medical imaging.”

10. University of Arkansas

Doctoral student Ellen Brune’s research may lead to a significant shortening of the time from bench to bedside. Her research led to an improved way to develop proteins for pharmaceutical uses. By developing custom strains of bacteria that express minimal amounts of “nuisance” proteins, Brune’s work could help pharmaceutical companies stop “spend[ing] too much time and money getting rid of stuff that doesn’t work to get to the stuff that does,” Brune said, according to the school’s website. “Our work addresses this problem. Our cell lines reduce the garbage, so to speak, before the manufacturing process begins.” She’s already founded a company, Boston Mountain Biotech, for the technology.

11. West Virginia University

An intensive, two-county study identified challenges and opportunities in obesity intervention. The three-pronged study looked at availability of healthy foods, built a map to explore the environment as it relates to physical activity, and talked to community members to get their takes on the obesity epidemic. “Prior to this, the environmental factors were not adequately studied and understood,” Elaine Bowen, a health promotion specialist with WVU Extension, told the school’s website. “It was essential that our study interventions are informed and guided by facts instead of researcher assumptions and opinions.”

12. University of Wisconsin

The university’s Institute on Aging is conducting a national longitudinal study by tracing how we age from early adulthood through later life. The study is called MIDUS, or Midlife in the United States. Of particular interest to the study is resilience in the face of adversity; the study has examined people who buck trends identified by previous studies, such as older individuals who show no signs of cognitive impairment. “This maintenance seems to be facilitated by staying mentally engaged as well as by having good social relationships,” Carol Ryff, PhD, director of the Institute of Aging, told the school’s website.

13. Michigan State University

Our bodies are marvels in any number of ways, but they are far from being perfectly efficient. In that regard, MSU researchers came up with some new ideas in an age-old debate: Why do some organisms build tissue that goes unused? Jeff Clune, PhD, likened it to building a roller coaster and then immediately tearing it down to build a skyscraper. By using new technology called computational evolution, Clune — the lead author who is now at Cornell University — and his team were able to study things impossible to be seen in nature. So what did they find? Clune continues the metaphor. “An engineer would simply skip the roller coaster step, but evolution is more of a tinkerer and less of an engineer,” he said. “It uses whatever parts that are lying around, even if the process that generates those parts is inefficient.”

14. Clemson University

For the avowed aviation geeks, researchers and students at Clemson helped a company modify a mobile drill press so that it could more efficiently drill holes into a runway. Why would you do such a thing? To create an overrun area to aid in arresting aircraft and prevent passenger injuries. According to a story on Clemson’s research blog, students reduced the enormous weight of the machine by working on the undercarriage and wheels, as well as some of the internal components.

15. University of Texas

You may remember Research!America’s event in Houston that looked at neglected tropical diseases in Texas. Flu is hardly neglected, but a pandemic is always a major concern. Lauren Meyers, PhD, an associate professor in the Section of Integrative Biology, came up with a model that simulates how a flu pandemic would spread through the state. “While the forecasts will not be exact, they give a rough idea of how many people will be hospitalized around the state and when an epidemic may peak. Such information can lead to more timely and effective control measures,” Meyers said, according to the school’s website. Officials in the state have already put Meyers’ modeling to use.

16. Virginia Tech

Macrophage cells are “the security guards of the body,” so understanding how they defend the good and root out the bad is critically important — especially when things go awry. Liwu Li, PhD; John Tyson, PhD; and Jianhua Xing, PhD, all collaborated to develop a computational model that shows how macrophage cells respond. Studies like this could lay the groundwork for future study that identifies molecules involved in how the macrophage immune response is altered or reprogrammed.

17. University of Nebraska

Fully in the spirit of this post, Nebraska recently convened faculty and members of the school’s athletics department for a discussion on collaborating research. The most obvious area of overlap is with concussions, and indeed that was part of the retreat: A portion of Memorial Stadium, Nebraska’s football field, will be dedicated to the proposed Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior. That addition, however, will also house the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab, which will examine technology, nutrition, psychology and learning as areas critical to better performance and health, according to the school’s website.

18. Ohio State University

Now there’s empirical evidence why you shouldn’t text and drive: A study, led by researchers from Ohio State, found that multitasking with two different visual activities reduced performance in both tasks — significantly more than trying to do a visual task and an audio task at the same time. The caveat, of course, is that driving and talking on the phone isn’t a completely safe behavior either. “They’re both dangerous, but as both our behavioral performance data and eye-tracking data suggest, texting is more dangerous to do while driving than talking on a phone, which is not a surprise,” Zheng Wang, PhD, an assistant professor in the School of Communication and lead author in the study, told the school’s website.

19. Oklahoma State University

Oklahoma State has been selected to design and test unmanned aircraft for the Department of Homeland Security. While the military uses of unmanned aircraft are well known, there are applications domestically as well. “You have a tornado run through an area, you need to find victims very, very quickly,” Jamey Jacob, PhD, a professor of aerospace engineering, told KFOR-TV. “How can you utilize that technology to really help first responders?”

20. Texas Christian University

As you probably know, Research!America is located in Alexandria, VA. We have some farms some miles away, but one thing we don’t have is ranches. Ranches are the province of the Midwest and West, where vast, open plains stretch as far as one can see. TCU has its own Ranch Management program. And that’s pretty darn cool.

21. Stanford University

How appropriate for Silicon Valley: Researchers at Stanford and Intel infused disease-associated proteins on a silicon chip in much the same way they would build a semiconductor. But because of the nature of these proteins, which constantly interact with each other, understanding the whys of those interactions was challenging. By putting them onto a silicon wafer, to analyze thousands of simultaneous interactions. The hope is that it could lead to patient-specific diagnoses and, eventually, more effective therapies.

22. Kansas State University

Thanks to pigs, researchers at K-State could be on the verge of a major breakthrough in the fight against cancer. Pigs with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) are being used to test cancer and cancer therapies. Though tests with SCID mice have been performed, the results have not always translated to humans. But the researchers — Bob Rowland, PhD, and Deryl Troyer, DVM, PhD — believe there may be better luck in studying the pigs.

23. University of Florida

We mentioned insect cyborgs earlier, and faculty at Florida are researching a topic that’s nearly as interesting: nanorobots. These nanorobots could be targeted to particular disease, shutting down the production of disease-related proteins. An earlier test with hepatitis C was successful. “This is a novel technology that may have broad application because it can target essentially any gene we want. This opens the door to new fields so we can test many other things. We’re excited about it,” said Chen Liu, MD, PhD, according to a school press release. Liu, along with Y. Charles Cao, PhD, conducted the research.

24. Boise State University

Boise State recently opened The Kitchen, a building designed to facilitate cross-disciplinary thinking and problem-solving. Entrepreneurs and inventors from the community come by to discuss ideas with faculty. “It’s a place to convene and have the discussions about the unique and optimal commercialization path for various innovations,” Mary Givens Andrews, director for the Office of University and Industry Ventures, said in a story on the school’s website. “We’re advancing ideas, concepts and patents, developing them and moving them along the path, and to do that you need different perspectives along the way, especially industry’s input.”

25. University of Louisville

Researchers at Louisville have devised guidelines to help nurses identify and aid new mothers who are at risk of postpartum depression. The guidelines were put into place at the University of Louisville Hospital. “The hospital policies and procedures are designed to provide perinatal nurses the tools they need to prepare new mothers so they are able to self-monitor for symptoms of depression and know what steps to take if they experience symptoms,” M. Cynthia Logsdon, PhD, who spearheaded the creation of the guidelines said in a school press release.

Research!America Press Release: Maintaining the Momentum of Medical Progress a Low Priority in Many Congressional Campaigns

WASHINGTON—August 7, 2012 —Research!America, a nonprofit advocacy alliance, says too many congressional candidates are minimizing the importance of our nation’s faltering role in fighting deadly and disabling diseases as a campaign issue. Polling indicates that Americans rank medical research a high priority but also shows a majority of likely voters are not aware of their representatives’ views on research.

Some candidates have indicated that they “don’t have time” to fill out a short questionnaire gauging their views on the importance of continued medical progress. Research!America and its partner organizations are calling on candidates to elevate the fight to save lives in their campaigns by participating in the national voter education initiative Your Candidates-Your Health,

The brief questionnaire focuses on the nation’s investment in research and prevention; research as an economic driver; stem cell research; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; and other related issues.

“The idea that candidates ’don’t have time‘ to address an issue that literally has life or death consequences for millions of Americans is truly disturbing,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. “Federally funded medical research is the catalyst to new, homegrown businesses in research and manufacturing in an economy that clearly needs both. Voters deserve to know where the candidates stand particularly when funding for research is on a downward slope, young scientists are discouraged about their future, and other countries are dramatically boosting their investments in research and development.”

In July, the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill that flat-funds the National Institutes of Health, eliminates the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and cuts funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 10% in FY13. In addition, funding for federal health agencies is at risk under sequestration – automatic spending cuts to take effect in January 2013.

Deep spending cuts would have a crippling effect on research conducted by universities, academic health centers and independent research institutions across the country. According to the CDC, approximately 50,000 Americans die monthly of heart disease, more than 47,000 of cancer, nearly 11,000 of stroke, more than 6,000 of Alzheimer’s disease, and more than 5,000 of diabetes.

To date, President Barack Obama and dozens of congressional candidates, including incumbents from both parties, have responded to the Your Candidates-Your Health questionnaire. Gov. Mitt Romney has yet to respond. To learn more about the survey and view the responses of candidates, visit

Research!America is the nation’s largest nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority. Founded in 1989, Research!America is supported by member organizations that represent the voices of 125 million Americans. Visit

Star Tribune Editorial is on the Mark: ‘A Slackened Commitment to Research Could Not Have Worse Timing’

The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a recent editorial supportive of medical research; though it appeared last week, it’s still worth sharing.

The editorial, “Worst possible time to cut research,” ran July 30.

Medical research is an important topic for Minnesota. In FY11, the state ranked 17th in awards and 12th in funding from the National Institutes of Health, thanks mostly to two organizations.

The University of Minnesota, in downtown Minneapolis, earned 583 NIH awards and more than $264 million in funding. Eighty-five miles to the south, in Rochester, the Mayo Clinic (a Research!America member) earned 370 awards and more than $200 million in funding. The state is also home to a thriving medical device industry (including Medtronic, the world’s largest medical technology company) and UnitedHealth Group.

Research and health matters to Minnesotans, and that’s reflected in the editorial.

“In the agricultural Midwest, there’s a term for what policy makers are mulling for medical research,” the editorial board writes. “It’s called ‘eating your seed corn’ — a move that brings short-term gain while jeopardizing the future. And while it’s never good policy, a slackened commitment to research could not have worse timing.

“China, Singapore, Great Britain and others are bolstering their financial commitment to life-science research, hoping to wrest away high-tech industries and high-paying jobs. The United States must maintain its lead amid fierce new competition. It also needs the half-million good-paying jobs linked to NIH funding.

“Those funding recommendations represent more than a dollar figure. They reflect a nation’s priorities. Difficult spending decisions must be made, but thoughtless cuts could wind up ‘relegating us to a different place,’ said University of Minnesota Medical School Dean Dr. Aaron Friedman. ‘Is that what we want to have happen?'”

Bipartisan Agreement: Federal Research for HIV/AIDS Pays Off

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE)

Looking back on last week’s AIDS2012 Conference, it is easy to see the impact that Washington, DC, and the proximity to Congress had on the tone of the discussion. Throughout the week-long conference, many of the events, panels, workshops and sessions highlighted the role of federal funding for global health research and development, as well as the impact of actions by Congress on the future of HIV/AIDS research. At Wednesday’s session, “The U.S. Congress and the Global AIDS Epidemic,” former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist led a conversation with Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), showcasing the past and future role of Congress in the effort to end HIV/AIDS.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY)

During his tenure in the Senate, Frist played an important role in securing increased funding for global health initiatives. Throughout the panel discussion, the importance of bipartisan support and the value of research and development were repeated as key themes. As Lee pointed out, having AIDS2012 in DC has “helped to shed a global spotlight on a domestic epidemic,” noting that areas of the U.S. have HIV rates comparable to areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Washington, DC, itself is one example. Lee went on to note that in order to find a cure, resources and support for PEPFAR, the Global Fund and U.S. global health programs are vital.

The Honorable Bill Frist

Rubio noted that he has been pleasantly surprised by the bipartisan support he has seen in Congress concerning global health issues and emphasized that funding for global health and international development is not the cause of the budget deficit. Despite the perception of the public that the number is much higher, foreign aid comprises less than 1% of the U.S. budget.

“If you zeroed out foreign aid,” Rubio said, “it would do nothing for the debt, but it would be devastating not just for the world, but for America’s role in it.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)

Concluding that research and development is the way to maintain support and move the HIV/AIDS field forward, Rubio emphasized the importance of developing more affordable, more effective medications, treatments and potential cures.

Following up on this theme, Coons called for continued support and investment in order to “innovate and cure our way out of this,” specifically pointing to vaccines as the future in HIV/AIDS research.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Capping off the conversation with some success stories from the field, Frist and Enzi recalled one of their first trips to Africa and the value of seeing firsthand the impact that antiretrovirals were having on the ground. Pointing to meetings with researchers on this trip, both Enzi and Frist reiterated the importance of investment in research in order to truly make a difference.

The panel discussion was interrupted by individuals advocating for increased rights for sex workers and the repeal of PEPFAR’s anti-prostitution funding restrictions. Regardless of one’s perspective on the impact of this disruption, it reinforces the strength of our nation’s democratic system and in no way compromised the strength of the panelists’ positive message about the importance of the federal role in advancing global health.

Tell your Member of Congress that research to combat HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, neglected tropical diseases and other health threats here and abroad is an economic and humanitarian imperative by visiting our website.

One Voice for Global Health

When advocates speak with one voice, amazing things can happen. Here in the U.S., with help from high-visibility breast cancer advocates, the federal budget for breast cancer research has increased nearly eight-fold over a 20-year span. More recently, the National Alzheimer’s Project Act redoubles public efforts to find a cure for this devastating disease.

The fight against AIDS stands as perhaps the most telling example of the power of advocacy. The voices of so many, amplified by entertainment heavyweights, have helped shine a light onto efforts at combating the disease, from prevention to treatment.

Research, of course, plays no small part in either area, from the tantalizing goal of a vaccine to the antiretrovirals that have turned an HIV diagnosis from a death sentence into a manageable chronic disease. And one panelist at AIDS 2012 – going on this week in Washington, DC – sees research as an entryway into advocacy.

“Research is an opportunity to build sustainable advocates behind one voice for global health,” said Prince Bahati of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

Research brings together diverse constituencies: It pushes the frontiers of scientific knowledge, it improves health around the globe and it positively affects local economies.

But one word in his statement is not to be minimized: “opportunity.” Research, and the people who perform research, cannot be the sole voice; instead, research becomes a gateway to help build out the advocacy community. A full – and full-throated – advocacy community has the chance to change the world.

Part of that diversity was on display all week at the conference: Veterans groups and faith-based organizations were among the constituencies represented.

Those many, diverse voices are needed now more than ever. The U.S. contribution to AIDS research is significant, but there are no priorities in the current political climate. Christine Lubinski of the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) encouraged the audience to do its homework before meeting with congressional offices. She cited Research!America’s economic impact work, saying that we must try to demonstrate a domestic constituency for these issues, with U.S.-based research being a clear entry point. She also gave some words of advice for those who face policy makers that say our AIDS situation is leading us into a “treatment mortgage” for 30 years: It is actually a temporary bridge until research yields a vaccine. Congress used to have similar debates regarding polio and the “iron lung,” debates that evaporated when science produced a polio vaccine.

We also know that sometimes research has unexpected and multiple benefits for worldwide health. For example, AZT was developed to treat cancer. It failed in that regard, but federally funded scientists discovered that it works for HIV/AIDS.

Research and its advocates, as part of the larger advocacy community, have a clear role to play. Each voice adds to the chorus – and we’ve seen what those voices can do.

Advocacy Alert: Ask Your Candidates About the Future of Health Research

It’s time to find out where your congressional candidates stand on health research issues. Research!America has launched our award-winning voter education initiative, Your Candidates–Your Health 2012. This initiative gets candidates on the record with their views on health research and displays their responses to a questionnaire on our website.

We need your help TODAY to reach out to the candidates and ask them to complete this short questionnaire. Health and medical research are critical issues for our nation, and we must know where candidates stand. Send a message to the campaigns right away. Together, we can put the spotlight on health research in the 2012 elections. Like this alert on Facebook, like our Facebook page and share it with your networks.

At AIDS 2012: Research is Paying Off, but Support Still Necessary

The International AIDS Conference has been in town all week, stirring up community excitement, celebrity activism, political commitment and scientific progress for global health, specifically for HIV/AIDS. There is talk of achieving an AIDS-free generation.

“We can’t hope to eliminate AIDS in this country or around the world if we just tinker with one little problem or another timidly, at one time, if we let short-term thinking rule the day,” Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a packed room Monday. “Some will claim … that in the midst of a global economic crisis we don’t have the luxury of leading on this issue, that we ought to scale back PEPFAR, reduce U.S. support for the Global Fund. But what they ignore is that this is precisely the moment when our investment is most needed so that past investments are not lost, and we don’t slide backwards.

“So everyone knows that ending AIDS; not going to be easy, not going to be quick, not going to be cheap but we know now that it may be a huge effort or investment, but just like the eradication of smallpox, it’s an investment that is absolutely guaranteed to show enormous returns. It is also my friends, an inescapable test of our values as a nation, as human beings.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also spoke.

“Now is not the time to retreat, now is the time to pour it on; money does matter. You have seen the benefit of the money being appropriated at Congress throughout the international community beginning to pay dividends,” Graham said. “Now is the time to focus on finding a vaccine like the future of the world depended on it.

“Part of what I am trying to do is encourage the international community and my government to have a vision very much like the [Bill & Melinda] Gates Foundation: Turn this into a business problem and solve it. It is a humanitarian exercise for sure; we all benefit when we do good things for those who are in need, but the opportunity to solve this problem exists now greater than ever.

Bill Gates spoke compellingly about the need for new tools and ultimately for a vaccine in order to seriously talk about moving towards the end of AIDS. He said that while we do not have the tools yet, we will get them if we stay the course in terms of research investments.

“The ultimate tool will be a vaccine. Scientists are making great progress, they understand the shape of the virus, how to count the antibodies … It is very exciting, and the U.S. government is by far the biggest backer, not only of these treatment things we have been talking about, but also all of these research programs. So, it is phenomenal to see that in that ongoing commitment.

“Earlier this year [the Gates Foundation] made a $750 million grant to Global Fund, but equally we support these research activities, so no one should think that we have got the tools yet. We will get these tools but only if we stay the course in terms of the scientific investments.”

Follow Research!America’s presence at AIDS 2012 through our Twitter feed

Scenes from the XIX International AIDS Conference

The AIDS 2012 Conference is being held here in Washington, DC, this week. Research!America has been in attendance as well, and we’ve gathered some images from the global village and in different sessions to share with you.

Check back later in the week for more images from the conference!

A display from the Red Umbrella Project invites attendees to listen to the stories of sex workers.

Another display from the global village, which hosts art, workshops and seminars, all free to the public.

This sign, from an unidentified group, echoes a point Research!America makes in its advocacy.

Artwork is displayed in the global village.

This display is part of The Condomize Campaign; according to its website, the campaign works to reduce the stigma surrounding condoms and ensure global access to quality condoms and education. The campaign is an initiative of the United Nations Population Fund.

This session at the conference, titled “The Role of Faith-Based Organizations in Turning the Tide on the HIV Pandemic,” included (from left) Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai, a Thai monk; Kay Warren, wife of well-known pastor Rick Warren and cofounder of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA; McDonald Sylves Sambereka, an Anglican priest from Malawi; and moderator John DeGioia, PhD, president of Georgetown University.

Agricultural Research Supports Public Health, Too

Research!America’s mission statement mentions that we work to make “research to improve health a higher national priority.” Most often, that’s medical research, in all the varying forms that the term encompasses.

Agriculture research may seem to be tangential to research to improve health; but in truth, there are many shared goals: improving access to food for hungry populations here and abroad; prevention of foodborne illnesses, whether accidental or intentional; and eliminating childhood obesity.

Four thought-leaders in agricultural research will be discussing these goals and more in a webinar on Wednesday, July 25:

  • Roger Beachy, PhD, former chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture;
  • William Danforth, MD, chancellor emeritus of Washington University and chair of the Board of Trustees of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
  • Carol Tucker Foreman, distinguished fellow at the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute
  • Donald Kennedy, PhD, president emeritus of Stanford University, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and former editor-in-chief of Science

These four have also come together to form a new organization called SOAR (Supporters of Agricultural Research). SOAR’s goal is to increase support for investigator-initiated agriculture research grants; and, in the end, that helps the health of Americans and people around the world too.

The webinar will be held July 25 from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Eastern. Registration is required; to register, click here.

Research!America Statement on House Appropriations Subcommittee Bill

Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley released a statement, saying that a House appropriations subcommittee bill places the health and well-being of Americans in jeopardy:

“How can Congress justify the elimination of a critical health agency and severe cuts to other programs under the House Labor-HHS-Education appropriations subcommittee bill? We cannot afford to zero out funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) at a time when it is addressing medical errors that kill more than 100,000 people a year and accelerating patient access to the best medical practices. We cannot afford to slash the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) budget when it barely has enough funds as it is to protect Americans against pandemics, bioterrorism, and outbreaks of dangerous and deadly infectious diseases. Unfortunately, the subcommittee started with a funding level that almost assured the measure released today. Fortunately, this is not the end game; there are more negotiations ahead, when, we trust, better decisions will be made.

“Essentially, the measure turns its back on the health and safety of Americans. As the House and Senate negotiate final spending levels for FY13, we hope that they will assign priorities with an eye toward assuring that we retain and sustain agencies that are well-respected by citizens and critical to improving the health and well-being of us all.”

Poor-Quality and Counterfeit Drugs in Emerging Markets

The numbers were shocking, but they weren’t meant to be. Amir Attaran, DPhil, LLB, a panelist at Tuesday’s event at the American Enterprise Institute on poor-quality and fake drugs in emerging markets, reframed some statistics that had been discussed earlier.

What if, he said, 40% of the arriving flights at Dulles International Airport originated outside the U.S. and were unknown to air traffic controllers until each plane was on final approach? What if 7% of flights were using substandard engines?

Such statistics, of course, would be unacceptable to the American public and its government. But Attaran’s larger point was that we never have to worry about such things because there are policies, whether treaties or international organizations, that manage such regulation. Air traffic controllers are made aware of all inbound flights to the U.S., even for general aviation aircraft. And the European Union has banned hundreds of airlines for not meeting safety regulations.

That’s not the case with substandard or fake drugs.

Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa, said an international body to handle criminal conduct in the area of public safety is necessary before any substantive curbing of bad drugs can begin. For example, he said, if a resident of Canada exports fraudulent pharmaceuticals into the U.S., the Canadian government has no legal obligation to arrest the perpetrator. Until that happens, efforts to curb bad drugs are “extremely laudable but utterly unattainable,” he said.

But the problem of substandard and fraudulent drugs won’t merely be solved at the 30,000-foot level, as other panelists noted.

Patrick Lukulay, PhD, vice president of Global Health Impact Programs at the United States Pharmacopeial Convention, said poor regulation, an unmonitored market and an uninformed — i.e., unsuspecting — patient all add up to a deadly combination. And some problems aren’t even that broad; many companies mean no harm but lack the resources for quality control or proper equipment. Even, Lukulay said, installing air conditioners instead of air handling units represented a problem; air conditioners can carry particles to different areas and increase the risk of contamination.

Local health care delivery, legitimate and otherwise, may present a barrier also. Bernard Nahlen, MD, deputy coordinator of the President’s Malaria Initiative, noted that many areas affected by malaria assume that fevers equal malaria until proven otherwise. On a recent trip to Burma, Nahlen noticed local fisherman purchasing bags of pharmaceuticals (all of unknown quality) from salesman.

“These young men were at the mercy of itinerant drug salesmen,” Nahlen said, “and I think we can do better than that.”

Better oversight from non-governmental organizations would help too, said Richard Tren, co-founder and executive director of Africa Fighting Malaria.

There are reasons for hope, however. Andreas Seiter, MD, senior health specialist and expert in pharmaceutical policy and management at the World Bank’s Health, Nutrition and Population Anchor, noted a program in Nigeria that was able to reduce counterfeits and substandard drugs in urban areas. Scaling the program nationwide, at the very least, could “name and shame” bad operators but would cost $20 to $30 million. So far, only the U.S. has shown willingness to fund the program.

But several of the panelists agreed that local and national rules can only do so much. International mechanisms are needed most, and that starts with getting a consensus on what constitutes substandard drugs and what constitutes fraudulent drugs. Attiran recalled the Kyoto Protocol, which demanded that countries reduce carbon emissions by at least 6%; countries that wanted to do more were welcome to. Setting a reasonable floor — and the accompanying unlimited ceiling — would be a start, he said.

“The floor should be high enough that we’re comfortable” using those drugs, Nahlen said.

Global Health R&D Protects the Health of Americans, Part 2

Last week, we noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report about a spike in dengue cases in Puerto Rico. It’s just more evidence of what we’ve been saying all along: global health R&D matters for Americans, both in terms of health and economics.

And, this weekend, a story in the Palm Beach (FL) Post helped fortify that and another argument we make: Cutting research is not a deficit-reduction strategy.

According to reporter Stacey Singer, a CDC official warned the Florida Department of Health that Jacksonville was facing the worst tuberculosis outbreak the official had seen in two decades. But policy makers never got the message. They were too busy focusing on a restructuring – i.e., shrinking – of the Department of Health that Gov. Rick Scott (R) had signed into law only days earlier. Among that restructuring was the closing of A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana, located between West Palm Beach and Boynton Beach on Florida’s Atlantic coast. Holley had experience treating TB cases for more than 60 years.

Apparently unaware of the CDC report, the Department of Health mandated that Holley be closed six months ahead of schedule.

Now, as many as 3,000 people may have been in close contact with contagious people, yet only 253 have been tracked down. And TB has begun popping up in other parts of the state, including Miami.

The story notes State Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples) – the “champion of the health agency consolidation,” according to the story – said he too was unaware of the CDC report but promised that funding would be made available to treat those who were infected.

And it’s also left the local health department in a bind. Robert Harmon, MD, MPH, director of the Duval County Health Department, noted that in 2008, his agency had 946 employees and a $61 million budget. Today, there are 700 employees and a $46 million budget. If he can find $300,000, Harmon plans to hire experts to track down the thousands of others who may be unknowingly affected.

The story notes that a person with uncomplicated TB needs a months-long course of drugs to defeat the disease, which costs around $500. Not sticking to the course can and often does result in drug resistance.

“However,” Singer writes, “the itinerant homeless, drug-addicted, mentally ill people at the core of the Jacksonville TB cluster are almost impossible to keep on their medications.”

The cost of treating drug-resistant TB? $275,000.

CDC: Dengue Spikes in Puerto Rico

Research!America’s recent event in Houston made the point that global health concerns are also American concerns, and neglected tropical diseases don’t merely reside in the tropics. They’re in Texas too.

More evidence came to light yesterday through a startling report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found that, in recent weeks, dengue cases in Puerto Rico are trending well above the threshold to be considered an epidemic. In the past two weeks alone, 228 suspected cases were reported, bringing the 2012 total to 2,101. Twenty-one percent, or 446, were confirmed as dengue by lab analysis and – thankfully – only eight have been classified as the more serious dengue hemorrhagic fever. Also, thankfully, no one has died.

According to the Associated Press, Puerto Rico’s health secretary, Lorenzo Gonzalez, MD, said that the rate of reports may be increasing because doctors are better able to identify symptoms.

But late June and early July are the low point of the year for dengue cases reported, according to a chart in the CDC’s Dengue Surveillance Weekly Report. But for the rest of the summer, they’ll begin climbing until reaching the peak in October.

If Puerto Rico still seems too disconnected and remote, consider this: Puerto Rico has three airports with direct service to the U.S. Those three airports combine to send at least 83 flights to the U.S. mainland each day. Those flights go to Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Charlotte, NC; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Hartford, CT; Houston; Jacksonville, FL; Miami; New York; Orlando; Philadelphia; Tampa; Washington, DC; and West Palm Beach, FL. Many of those aircraft continue on to western destinations too, including Los Angeles.

(Depending on the day, it could be more than 83; we crafted our numbers from the timetables of seven different airlines, none of which are standardized. But we tried our best to count only those flights coming to the mainland at least six times a week.)

Even in the low season, that’s a lot of chances to spread dengue to a place that isn’t expecting to see it.

Global health R&D protects the health of Americans, and that’s why it’s important.

amfAR Analysis: Sequestration for Global Health Programs Isn’t Worth the Cost

A graphic from a recent amfAR report shows the potential loss of life because of across-the-board cuts, or sequestration.

Research!America’s report on sequestration detailed the devastating impact that the sequester, or across-the-board cuts that are scheduled to take place in 2013, will have on federally funded research to improve health. Now, a recent report by amfAR trains the focus of sequestration on global health.

Just as we found, amfAR reaches the same conclusion: Sequestration isn’t worth the cost.

The cuts would save $689 million — or 0.63% of the required deficit reduction for FY13. And at what cost?

  • HIV/AIDS treatment for 273,000 fewer people, potentially leading to 62,000 more deaths
  • Malaria treatment for 3.7 million fewer people, potentially leading to nearly 6,000 more deaths
  • TB treatment for 65,000 fewer people, potentially leading to 8,000 more deaths
  • Reduced funding for the GAVI Alliance, potentially resulting in 13,000 more deaths from diptheria, tetanus, pertussis, hib and hepatitis B

That’s hardly all. Besides an increase in the death rate, critical interventions will never get a chance to prevent disease: antiretroviral drugs that prevent transmission of HIV from a pregnant mother to her child and insecticide-treated nets to prevent bites from malaria-infected mosquitoes.

And that has consequences further down the line, the report notes.

“The savings achieved in across-the-board cuts in global health funding will have a negligible impact on deficit reduction,” the report states, “but will adversely affect the lives of millions of men, women and children worldwide, resulting in substantial human suffering and squandering of opportunities to build on successes in U.S. global health programming.”

Your voice can make a difference, however. Click here to contact your representatives, and tell them that sequestration is an unacceptable outcome.

Download the full amfAR report here.

amfAR is a Research!America member.

Report: NY a Successful Bioscience State, but More Work Remains

By any measure, New York is one of the country’s top states for medical research and development: In FY11, the state attracted more than $2 billion across 4,606 awards from the National Institutes of Health. Only California and Massachusetts were better in either category. With robust academic research (not to mention a significant presence of independent research institutes, like Research!America members Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Masonic Medical Research Laboratory) and NYC-based pharmaceutical giants Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer, bioscience pays off for New York and its residents: According to a new report, the industry directly and indirectly supported 250,000 jobs across the state and generated $309 million in state taxes and more than $5.63 billion in personal wages.

But that report — “Cultivating the Next Generation of Discoveries and Development in New York Bioscience,” by The Public Policy Institute of New York State — also notes that New York can do more to support the industry. And where it draws inspiration from is no surprise: California and Massachusetts.

The report cites the efforts of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative; Governor Deval Patrick (D) not only funded the initiative with $1 billion over 10 years, but also provided a five-point guidance plan. The report says New York would stand to benefit from such guidance. There’s also a comparison chart that shows how each state helps science companies from startup through maturity.

California is known for its entrepreneurial spirit, and the report states that the New York would benefit from more formally bringing together scientists and entrepreneurs.

In all, the report includes three policy and program initiatives to ensure continued success of New York’s bioscience sector:

  • Establish a “Governor’s Council” to help facilitate communication between the state and industry and to market the state’s life sciences capabilities to audiences far and wide;
  • Designate state funding specifically for bioscience companies; the report offers matching funds for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants and enacting legislation to create a Biosciences Commercialization Fund;
  • Aiding startups and young companies by increasing the amount of affordable incubator and lab space.

The report was produced in May and released earlier in the week.