This year's Summit will consider the intersection of microbes and our food supply, with eminent thinkers and community partners presenting a wide range of perspectives. The agenda for the first, on-campus day will include cutting-edge research and policy perspectives. The second day will focus on practical applications and will be held at the Landscape Arboretum.
The Consortium conducts original research, serves students and faculty, and advances public dialogue and understanding on emerging issues at the intersection of science and society.
A growing amount of evidence points to the importance of early behavioral interventions in the treatment of autism. However, health professionals typically won't diagnose the disorder sooner than 18 months, and often much later. To help close this gap, a major, national research study is being led in Minnesota by Prof. Suma Jacob, MD, PhD, of Consortium member the Center for Neurobehavioral Development. The study, SPARK, has the goal of collecting DNA and other data from 50,000 people with autism and their family members. An article in MinnPost quotes Prof. Jacob as saying "There have been studies that have shown that there are strong heritable components in autism. . . . What’s exciting about [SPARK] is we know that we need to gather a large number of families with autism to find as many potential connections as possible. We are in the process of collecting that large sample." She cautions, however, "The disorder is different in each individual. . . . Generalizations just don’t fit."
The University of Minnesota has been awarded a five-year, $9 million grant for Parkinson’s research. Jerrold Vitek, MD, PhD, will lead the study, which establishes a prestigious Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson's Disease Research on campus, one of only nine such centers in the nation. An article about the grant in Twin Cities Business Magazine quotes Brian Herman, PhD, the U's Vice President for Research: "I think it puts this university in a very elite class of other major U.S. and international research universities that have recognized expertise." Prof. Vitek's work focuses on the therapeutic effect of deep brain stimulation (DBS), which he likens to "a pacemaker for the brain." Watch a video about the grant and DBS here.
A new declaration by the UN General Assembly is intended to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms. According to National Public Radio, the resolution "requires countries to come up with a two-year a plan to protect the potency of antibiotics. Countries need to create ways to monitor the use of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture, start curbing that use and begin developing new antibiotics that work." While concerns about "superbugs" are widespread in public health circles, it took data showing the potentially catastrophic economic implications of antibiotic resistance to spur this action. One expert, Ramanan Laxminarayan, is optimistic about the outcomes of this campaign, comparing this effort to a similar one begun by the UN about the HIV pandemic; the article notes, "since 2004, there has been a 45 percent drop in AIDS-related deaths in countries supported by global HIV campaigns."
A new, in-depth investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press details the methods by which pharmaceutical companies and their allies weaken and defeat restrictions on opioid access. According to the article, "Deaths linked to addictive drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet had increased more than fourfold since 1999, accounting for more fatal overdoses in 2012 than heroin and cocaine combined." Part one of the two-article series describes "a statehouse playbook of delay and defend that includes funding advocacy groups that use the veneer of independence to fight limits on the drugs," a strategy executed by "an annual average of 1,350 lobbyists in legislative hubs from 2006 through 2015." Part two focuses on similar efforts at the federal level, outlining how drug lobbies "reinforced their influence with more than $140 million doled out to political campaigns. That combined spending on lobbying and campaigns amounts to more than 200 times the $4 million spent during the same period by the handful of groups that work for restrictions on painkillers. Meanwhile, opioid sales reached $9.6 billion last year." The spike in opioid deaths has led President Obama to declare Sept. 18-24 Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week and request $1.1 billion in new funding for treatment programs.