Category Archives: Prevention & Public Health

Early-Career Public Health Professional: Sasha McGee

In honor of Public Health Thank You Day we will be highlighting public health professionals throughout the day today.  Our first professional is Sasha McGee, Ph.D., M.P.H., epidemic intelligence service officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assigned to the District of Columbia Department of Health.

SashaWhat drew you to a career in public health?

My earliest educational and research experiences were guided by my passion to pursue a career in which my work would contribute to the improvement of health. After completing my doctoral training, I knew that I did not just want to conduct research but to participate in the translation of data into interventions that would benefit large populations. The field of public health seemed to be the perfect choice in terms of having the opportunity to both investigate and address health challenges.

What do you enjoy most about your current position as an early career public health professional?

What I enjoy most about my current position is the opportunity to participate in projects on a wide range of topics — I am always learning something new and no day is ever the same. I also appreciate the collaborative nature of my work. Continue reading →

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Can we put a dent in the costly toll of suicide?

Dear Research Advocate: 
 
The loss of American Icon Robin Williams has riveted national attention on suicide, one of the 10 most common causes of death in the United States. Today, we are releasing our updated fact sheet on suicide that you can use when meeting with lawmakers and educating others about the impact research can have. Efforts to prevent suicide rightly draw on research findings. But progress has been painfully slow, stymied by serious gaps – partly due to severely limited funding – in the basic research base that precedes private sector development, and stymied by the equivalent of handcuffs placed on social science research.

The notion promulgated by some in the Congress that social sciences research doesn’t add enough value to merit federal funding is not just unfounded, it’s holding us back. Social sciences research saves lives. Case in point: behavioral research guided the development of a suicide intervention that was pilot tested in schools in Georgia and Connecticut and resulted in a 40% reduction in attempted suicides. It has since been implemented in schools across the country. This is just one example of social sciences research at work.

Research moves faster when patient advocates engage. This is the history of the nation’s commitment to defeating polio, to ramping up HIV/AIDS research, to prioritizing breast cancer research and women’s health research overall. Writing in the New Yorker last month, Seth Mnookin described the impact that “dedicated … well-informed families” can have in pushing progress. In his responsive letter to the editor, Peter L. Saltonstall, CEO of the National Organization for Rare Disorders, focused on the use of social media by patient groups to establish global registries, taking full advantage of abilities we didn’t have just a few years ago, and in so doing, saving lives. But there is another message here. The research community must work more closely with patient advocates in order to drive medical innovation. As one of the researchers in the Mnookin article said, “Gone are the days when we could just say, ‘We’re a cloistered community of researchers, and we alone know how to do this.’” Continue reading →

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: A long letter with timely news

Dear Research Advocate:

Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) — one of the most effective and dedicated champions of medical and health research ever to serve in public office — introduced major new legislation, the Accelerate Biomedical Research Act.  This visionary legislation would increase the budget caps in order to boost National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to $46.2 billion by FY 2021, a strategy for restoring NIH purchasing power without cutting into funding for other national priorities. You can view my statement on the legislation here and our thank you letter to the Senator here.  It would be terrific if you would write a letter of support for the legislation and send a message encouraging your Senator to sign on.

There’s more good news to share! The Senate Labor-H bill and accompanying report language were released today.  We are grateful to Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Labor-H Subcommittee Chairman Harkin for helping to conceive of, and agreeing to include, report language to fund a Blue Ribbon Commission on science literacy and public appreciation of science. We’re pleased to have played a role in making this happen but every science advocate deserves credit when federal leaders take a step like this.

In terms of FY15 funding, you may recall that the Senate Labor-H subcommittee proposed NIH be funded at $30.5 billion, a $605.7 million increase, or about a 2% bump over FY14 levels.  The proposed measure also funds CDC at nearly $6 billion, a 3.3% increase from FY14 and funds AHRQ at $373.3 million, a mere .6% increase from FY14.  With the appropriations momentum stalled, rumors are floating around the Hill that the House will soon consider a Continuing Resolution or CR (extending current spending levels) through the election and potentially into December.  Continue reading →

Medical Research: It’s about you and me

collage fact sheetResearch!America’s newest fact sheet series highlights the personal stories of medical research and the importance of increasing the NIH budget in FY15. We hope you will share these fact sheets with your representatives or congressional candidates, or take it with you on Hill or in-district visits. No one who reads these stories can doubt the significance of medical progress. A stronger investment in research is needed now more than ever!

Here are their stories:

What new discoveries are we delaying and missing when we slow the pace of medical and health research?

We’ve made progress. But the funding to sustain it is eroding.

New Opportunities in the Changing Landscape of Prevention

Excerpt of article by Derek Yach, MBChB, MPH, The Vitality Institute, The Vitality Group, LLC, New York, New York and Chris Calitz, MPP, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The focus of medical research has historically been on curative medicine, yielding better drugs, medical devices, and clinical procedures. Prevention science—the systematic application of scientific methods to the causes and prevention of diseases in populations—has yet to receive the necessary investment and support required to reduce the growing burden of largely preventable noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

Human and Economic Burdens of Disease

Recent assessments of the burden of risk and disease found that morbidity and chronic disability account for nearly half of the US health burden.Despite the largest per capita health expenditure of all industrialized nations, the United States has fallen behind peer countries in terms of improvements in population health. Americans reach age 50 with a less favorable cardiovascular risk profile, lung disease is more prevalent and associated with higher mortality, and the death rate from heart disease is the second highest among peer countries. Leading NCD risk factors are unhealthy diets, tobacco smoking, high body mass index, high blood pressure, high fasting plasma glucose levels, physical inactivity, and alcohol use.Many of these risks are amenable to preventive interventions based on behavior change, yet comprehensive action by development sectors across the economy to disseminate evidence-based interventions targeting these modifiable risks is inadequate. Furthermore, knowledge about effective prevention interventions for mental illness and musculoskeletal diseases is limited even as their contribution to chronic disability increases.

Noncommunicable diseases have been cited as major contributors to rising health care costs, which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects will be the primary driver of national debt over the next 4 decades. The greatest increase in health care spending between 2000 and 2011 was attributable to drugs, medical devices, and hospital care, with the cost of treating NCDs estimated to exceed 80% of annual health care expenditure, whereas 3% was spent on public health and disease prevention programs.The National Institutes of Health estimates that 20% of its $30 billion annual budget is allocated to prevention; however, less than 10% is spent on human behavioral interventions that target the major modifiable risk factors.More investment in prevention science could lead to greater health gains at lower cost.

Read the full article here.

Research!America’s response to the Yach and Calitz article in JAMA:

The commentary by Derek Yach and Chris Calitz should be required reading for every federal policy maker.  Preventing disease is the best case scenario, not only for patients, but for taxpayers and the economy.  That’s because reducing the incidence of disease is more than a one-time cost-saving strategy; it actually bends the cost curve and helps individuals lead long, productive lives.  Yet the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which allocates grants to states to reduce the prevalence of NCDs,  has been a perennial target of lawmakers who seek every opportunity to defund it and prevention science as a whole continues to be a low national priority. That’s where advocates come in.  Prevention science is not going to flourish until Washington comprehends the return on investment.  Fighting for prevention science is not just right, it is essential.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Research!America: Rallying more defenders of science

Dear Research Advocate:

In recognition of his many accomplishments as a champion for research, Research!America Chair and former Congressman John Edward Porter was honored by the National Academy of Sciences with the Public Welfare Medal, the Academy’s most prestigious award. This well-deserved acknowledgment of Porter’s tireless efforts to advance innovation and engage scientists in advocacy should motivate advocates to follow his lead and speak up about threats to our nation’s research ecosystem. Read our statement on the award ceremony here.

In his remarks, Mr. Porter noted that “political judgment should never be allowed to be substituted for scientific judgment.” This point was particularly well-timed as political attacks on science, particularly health services research, continue unabated.

A case study from Louisiana highlights the importance of health research in saving lives. Children’s Hospital in New Orleans had an outbreak of a deadly hospital-acquired infection, mucormycosis in 2008-09. In response to several outbreaks in recent years, the CDC launched new targeted initiatives to help hospitals and health departments share information with the public about hospital-acquired infections.This type of public health work, based on health services research findings, is critical to delivering high quality care, reducing medical errors and protecting patients. Continue reading →

Medical and Health Research Matters


Watch backstage interviews with Research!America’s 2014 Advocacy Award winners talking about the importance of medical and health research to improve health and save lives.

“You don’t have to be a scientist in order to move mountains. People can advocate by running road races, by volunteering, by working towards legislation, it’s all essential, the science and all the rest of it. That’s the only way we are going to get to a point where we have a healthier nation in the future and it is doable,” said Leslie Gordon, MD, PhD, medical director of the Progeria Research Foundation, winner of the 2014 Paul G. Rogers Distinguished Organization Advocacy Award.  The other winners — Dr. Leroy Hood, Dr. Reed Tuckson, Kathy Giusti, Glenn Close, Reps. Frank Wolf and Chaka Fattah — also describe why it’s important for policy makers and the public to champion medical innovation.

The deadline for nominations for Research!America’s 2015 Advocacy Awards is May 23, 2014. Click here to submit nominations.

Few Americans Know Where Elected Officials and Candidates Stand on Government Support for Research and Innovation, New Polling Booklet Reveals

Research!America and partners launch national voter education initiative to elevate the priority of medical progress

ALEXANDRIA, Va.April 8, 2014—Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say it’s important for candidates running for office to assign a high priority to funding medical research, according to America Speaks, Volume 14, a compilation of key questions from public opinion polls commissioned by Research!America. Polling shows that Americans place a high value on U.S. leadership in medical innovation, yet only 12% say they are very well informed about the positions of their senators and representative when it comes to their support of medical and scientific research. www.researchamerica.org/poll_summary.

To help close this knowledge gap, Research!America and partner organizations are launching a national voter education initiative, Ask Your Candidates! Is Medical Research Progress a Priority? Through online and grassroots activities, social media strategies and on-the-ground events, congressional candidates will be urged to share their views on government policies and support for medical innovation conducted in both the public and private sectors. www.askyourcandidates.org.

“Candidates must do a better job articulating their vision for medical progress, clarifying what level of priority they assign to research as a way to assure improved health, well-being and economic security of all Americans,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. “Voters need to know whether their candidates view lifesaving medical research as an imperative or an afterthought.”

During election season, Americans want candidates to talk about medical progress. Nearly three-quarters (74%) say it’s important to know whether their candidates for Congress are supportive of medical and scientific research. Notably, more than half of respondents (53%) do not believe elected officials in Washington are paying enough attention to combating the many deadly diseases that afflict Americans. Continue reading →

World TB Day

PrintToday is World TB Day.

It is a day that gives us each the space to better understand the magnitude of the TB threat, mourn the loss of the more than 1 million people worldwide who die of TB each year, recognize the tragic consequences for their loved ones and for economic stability in impoverished nations, and express gratitude for those who conduct TB research, finance and deploy on-the-ground interventions, and advocate for the resources needed to conquer this vicious killer.

TB is the second most common cause of death from infectious disease, after HIV/AIDS. In 2012, approximately 8.6 million developed TB and 1.3 million died from the disease, with the death rate particularly high among HIV-positive patients.

There is good news on the TB front: infection rates have been falling for a decade and the mortality rate has dropped 45% since 1990. These results are in line with the millennial development goals, which set TB control metrics for 2015. Unfortunately, progress against other targets is lagging, including a slower than hoped for reduction in the prevalence of active TB and highly disappointing results in the diagnosis and treatment of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB).

In the US, it’s far too easy — and a dangerous mistake — to dismiss the significance of tuberculosis. It is true that gone are the days when TB was prevalent in the US, the days when Americans were quarantined to reduce the infection rate and sent to sanitariums for treatment that sometimes worked…and too often didn’t. But with global travel, TB is entering our country, and with drug-resistant forms of the infection spreading, American lives are at risk. There have even been cases reported of totally-drug resistant TB, which means that resistance has been detected in every known treatment. The implications of an outbreak of totally drug resistant TB in the US are as ominous as they are in developing countries, particularly for those with compromised immune systems.

So what’s next? Our role as a global leader and our identity as a compassionate people underscore the importance of robust American support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as robust appropriations for USAID and other on-the-ground efforts to combat TB. For sake of Americans and the global community, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention must be resourced sufficiently to develop new TB treatments, identify new prevention strategies, and assist in global TB control.

And it is important to acknowledge philanthropic and private sector efforts to combat TB, including the work of RESULTS, the Gates Foundation, and companies such as Johnson and Johnson.

When 1.3 million people die each year from an infectious disease that poses a renewed threat to the United States, waging war against that disease is not an option, it is an imperative.

Statement by Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley on President Obama’s FY15 Budget

The president’s budget does not reflect the potential the U.S. has to advance scientific discovery. While welcome, the minor increases for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Food and Drug Administration diminish our ability to accelerate the pace of medical innovation, which saves countless lives, helps our nation meet its solemn commitment to wounded warriors, and is a major driver of new businesses and jobs. We’re also disappointed with reduced funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. AHRQ and CDC cannot be neglected in the name of deficit reduction, and it is truly disturbing that the president’s budget treats those crucial agencies in that manner. The capacity to improve health outcomes and health care efficiency, stem the explosion in chronic diseases, and protect the security of our nation in the face of lethal, drug-resistant infections and international pandemics all hinge on the expertise and resources available to these agencies. We must expand investigations into cancer clusters, deadly meningitis outbreaks and research crucial to bioterrorism preparedness, not reverse course. These funding levels also jeopardize our global leadership in science — in effect ceding leadership to other nations as they continue to invest in strong R&D infrastructures that have already begun to attract our best and brightest innovators. We simply cannot sustain our nation’s research ecosystem, combat costly and deadly diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, and create quality jobs with anemic funding levels that threaten the health and prosperity of Americans. The administration and Congress must work together to boost funding for federal research and health agencies in FY15 and end the sequester in order to truly meet the level of scientific opportunity.

More African Americans need to participate in clinical trials

Excerpt of an op-ed by David Satcher, MD, PhD, honorary chairman of the African American Network Against Alzheimer’s, former U.S. surgeon general and Research!America’s 2007 Raymond and Beverly Sackler Award for Sustained National Leadership award winner, published in The Washington Post.

DavidSatcher1Every February our society measures its progress in the march toward equality as part of Black History Month. But seldom do we discuss inequality in health, an injustice that continues to plague African Americans.

A whole host of health disparities remains unaddressed, including Alz­heimer’s — a disease that African Americans are two to three times more likely to develop than non-Hispanic whites. This disparity is rooted as much in our cultural heritage as in our genes.

For years, studies have found that African Americans have a profound mistrust of doctors and scientists. Consequently, we participate in clinical trials at far lower rates than other ethnic groups, which helps to perpetuate the sort of disparities seen with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This fear of clinical trials dates to a dark chapter in our shared history: the Tuskegee syphilis experiments.

The Tuskegee study was an infamous clinical experiment in which researchers and the U.S. Public Health Service led African American men with syphilis to believe that they were receiving free medical care while, unbeknown to them, they were being left untreated so scientists could study the effects of prolonged syphilis. After the Associated Press exposed the truth, sparking a public outcry, the U.S. government ended the study in 1972, 40 years after it began.

The 1974 National Research Act set new guidelines for the use of humans in clinical studies. In 1997, the Clinton administration worked with higher education institutions to usher in new training requirements and ethical standards for physicians, researchers and medical students as part of an official apology President Bill Clinton issued on behalf of the nation to the victims of the experiments. While these standards go a long way toward helping to prevent future such experiments, much damage was already done among African Americans.

Read the full op-ed here.

Join NORD in Supporting Rare Disease Day!

Guest blog post by the National Organization for Rare Disorders.

NORD_Logo_2012February 28 is Rare Disease Day – a time to show support for the 30 million Americans, and millions more around the world, living with rare diseases.

Only a few hundred of the nearly 7,000 rare diseases have approved therapies. Many are not being studied at all by medical researchers.

Often, patients – or parents of patients – feel that nothing will be done unless they raise the money, recruit the researchers and fuel the search for their own lifesaving treatment. They find themselves in a race against time, since rare diseases tend to be serious and many are life-threatening.

To promote awareness of these and other rare disease challenges, the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) hosts a national website where all patient advocates can find ways to show their support for Rare Disease Day.  Continue reading →

US Biomedical Research: We Must Reverse a Decade of Neglect

Excerpt of an op-ed by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation President Claire Pomeroy, MD, published in the Huffington Post.

PomeroyAs an HIV physician, I began my career early in the AIDS epidemic before effective antiviral medications existed. I held my patients’ hands as they cried when receiving their diagnosis and I went to their funerals. I saw hope in their eyes when new antivirals became available. And when protease inhibitors were licensed and “triple therapy” became the norm, I could help patients plan how they would live, rather than how they would die. Scientific breakthroughs happened only because of our nation’s commitment to biomedical research, but this power of research to make lives better is at great risk.

The decline of U.S. prominence in global biomedical research is upon us: The National Institutes of Health budget has been flat for 10 years and lost 25 percent of its purchasing power, sequestration cut $1.7 billion from the 2013 NIH budget and the 2014 budget is $714 million less than the level approved for 2013, the federal government shutdown prevented enrollment of patients into clinical studies and delayed clinical research protocols, and next generation researchers are taking ideas and talents to other countries. The U.S. sits on the sidelines as nations such as China and India increase research investment by nearly 20 percent while the U.S. drops by 5 percent.

The government’s failure to ensure significant ongoing support for biomedical research undermines the future of science and health in our nation and threatens a strategic driver of the economy. The call to action is clear: The research community must increase advocacy, develop novel research partnerships, and create new opportunities for young researchers.

Read the full op-ed here.

World Cancer Day

Today is World Cancer Day. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for nearly one of every four deaths. Today, the American Cancer Society, the American Association for Cancer Research  and many others organizations are joining forces to raise awareness and dispel misconceptions about cancer, while encouraging policy makers to make cancer research a national priority.

What can you do?

  • Call and email your representatives.
  • Make some noise. Join the conversation on social media using hashtags #cancerresearch, #WorldCancerDay, #cancer and #curesnotcuts.
  • Take a look at the list of World Cancer Day events for more ways to get involved.

Did you know? Over the past 40 years, mortality rates for childhood cancer have been reduced significantly, dropping 66% during this time period due to early detection techniques and treatment. Learn more, here.

Federal funding for cancer research is in steady decline. Now is the time to tell your representatives that funding for cancer research is not a luxury but a MUST for improving Americans’ health. We need cures not cuts!

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Promising process; disappointing progress

Dear Research Advocate:

The omnibus appropriations bill about to become law demonstrates that bipartisanship and pseudo-regular order is achievable. We won’t know for sure if we have true “regular order” until Congress proceeds through the FY15 appropriations process in a timely manner — something that hasn’t happened for many years. The importance of regular order is that the public’s interests are heard from in hearings, and every Member of Congress participates in priority-setting instead of only having the opportunity to cast a single up-or-down vote. Regular order is worth working toward, since at least one priority we all care about did not fare well in the omnibus.

The omnibus has failed to fund NIH at a level that fully reverses the impact of sequestration on the agency’s baseline funding level, much less establishes a growth trend that can fully unleash the potential inherent in the sequencing of the human genome and other research breakthroughs. As Drs. Paul Stoffels and Alan Leshner make crystal clear in an op-ed in Politico Magazine, we can’t settle for “better than sequestration.” If our nation wants to thrive, we need to grow our investment in science. Between 2010 and 2013, U.S. federal investments in science fell to less than 1% (.82%) of the economy. That’s the lowest it’s been in 50 years! As you know, this comes at a time when foreign nations are rapidly ramping up their R&D programs and taking a page from our playbook. Remember that global competitiveness in medical research is a pivotal determinant of our global economic competitiveness overall. We aren’t just talking about the future of our scientific enterprise, we are talking about the future of our economy. Are we truly willing to cede leadership in global R&D? (See also our statement cited in The Hill and other media outlets, as well as my interview today with UDC.) Continue reading →