An article in Atlantic Monthly offers real-world examples of the ways incorrectly classified genetic variants can lead to wrong treatment decisions, and what's being done to address this problem. Heidi Rehm, PhD, describes a patient who terminated her pregnancy when informed her fetus had a mutation that causes heart problems and stunted growth, based on research that was found to be incorrect. Recent scholarship has raised awareness of studies wrongly claiming certain genetic mutations are pathogenic, often based on out-of-date, poorly designed studies or those using data from non-diverse populations. To help scientists grapple with this significant challenge, Rehm is leading the development of ClinVar, an "open database of genetic variants that Nature has billed as a 'one-stop shop for disease genes.'" Rehm described her team's development of ClinVar and other resources for improving the interpretation of genetic variants in a lecture hosted by the Consortium in February, 2015. View the video here.
Consortium faculty member Steven Miles, MD, of the University's Center for Bioethics will be offering a new, 15-week lecture series beginning January 19, 2016. The series, Standards for Research with Human Participants, is designed to foster better understanding and compliance when conducting human participant research. Miles, an eminent bioethicist, will present a broad set of legal and regulatory topics, including informed consent, vulnerable persons, conflicts of interest and research misconduct. Lectures offer succinct overviews of a topic and provide bibliographical links to relevant University, NIH and international standards. Each individual lecture qualifies for Continuing Medical Education (CME) or Continuing Nursing Education (CNE) credits or fulfills Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) requirements. The full series of 15 lectures can be taken for academic credit. For registration details related to all three types of credit, visit the Center for Bioethics website.
A project aimed at developing polyurethane foam that can be recycled has won the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award competition held Dec. 3 at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) in St. Paul. IonE is a Consortium member center that focuses on discovering solutions to Earth’s most pressing environmental problems through research, leadership development, and global partnerships; the $10,000 award recognizes and rewards students and universities for just that type of work. This year’s winning team consisted of four Ph.D. candidates in the University’s College of Science and Engineering. One of the members, Tessie Panthani, noted: “Polyurethane foams are useful and important materials that are utilized in a range of applications including mattresses, seat cushions and home insulation. Unfortunately, the majority of polyurethane foams are derived from nonrenewable resources, do not degrade in the environment, and have chemical structures that preclude these materials from being recycled by melt reprocessing.” The winning team also includes Alex Mannion, Debbie Schneiderman and Marie Vanderlaan.
In 2008, Minnesota voters passed the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to increase the state's sales tax; a good portion (33%) of the resulting funds is meant to "protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams." A post on the Minnesota Public Radio website evaluates whether these new resources have had a positive impact. Jeffrey Peterson, director of Consortium member the Water Resources Center (WRC), notes: "The available data. . . are mixed and difficult to summarize." He refers to water quality variations and fluctuations around the state; the time lag between implementation of new practices and measurable results; and the need to expand the number of watersheds being monitored. Peterson took over the top spot at the WRC in August, 2015 after 15 years in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University.
Several hundred people attended yesterday's conference "Research with Human Participants: The National Debates" at the University of Minnesota, with hundreds more participating by webcast. Renowned scholars and policymakers discussed the complexities of obtaining informed consent, the nuances of conflicts of interest, and the ways those engaged in research can and should build a more robust infrastructure for clinical trials. Keynotes by Jeffrey R. Botkin, chair of the federal Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections (SACHRP) and Scott Y. H. Kim of the National Institutes for Health (NIH) were followed by several moderated panels including extensive question and answer periods. The conference was planned and hosted by the Consortium and sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research with the goal of identifying ways to improve protections for research participants; videos of all sessions will be posted on the Consortium's website the week of Dec. 7.
Dr. Amos Deinard, Jr., a pediatrician on the faculty of the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award from the American Public Health Association – in dentistry. Dr. Deinard is the first non-oral health practitioner to ever receive this award. In the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Deinard is quoted as saying, "I want to see the goal met of every Minnesota child getting oral health care from his or her primary provider, no matter what their financial situation," noting that "doctors and dentists must work together." Deinard is one of three funders for the Consortium's annual Deinard Memorial Lecture on Law & Medicine; fittingly, this year's topic is how to reduce health disparities. To learn more and register, click here.
An editorial in the January, 2016 issue of the American Journal of Bioethics responds to recent football safety recommendations for children and teens from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Dr. Steven Miles of Consortium member the Center for Bioethics, and Dr. Shailendra Prasad, who specializes in family medicine and community health, co-authored the commentary, which states that the AAP guidelines don't go far enough. They cite increased understanding of the dangers of concussion, especially for young people who are more susceptible than adults to long-term damage from head trauma. Miles and Prasad conclude by calling on "the medical community [to] help students, schools and society leave a sport on which the sun is setting."
When President George W. Bush restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in 2001, he wasn't looking to expand state funding of this research, but that's exactly what happened. An article in Kaiser Health News recounts how, after the ban, several states started their own stem cell programs or offered economic incentives to local scientists and companies. While these efforts haven't yet produced any miracle cures because of the amount of research still to be done, Jakub Tolar, director of Consortium member the Minnesota Stem Cell Institute, notes that potential results are worth the wait. “We started on drugs a hundred years ago. Then we went to monoclonal antibodies – biologicals,” he said. “We are now getting ready to use cells as a third way of doing medicine. We are at a historical sweet spot.” The U's Stem Cell Institute was established in 1999, before the ban on research with embryonic cells, and is the world's first interdisciplinary institute dedicated to stem cell research.
Each year, the Consortium awards funding to qualified University of Minnesota graduate and professional students for projects related to the societal implications of problems in health, environment, and the life sciences. The Request for Proposals (RFP) for summer 2016 and academic year 2016-17 is now available. Student organizations may apply for these grants, which total $35,000 with a maximum individual award of $7,000. Awards can include a stipend for research and writing and funds for research supplies, or funding for a program or colloquia. To view examples of successful past proposals, click here.
Proposed new revisions to the Common Rule on research with human participants, which governs federal policy and regulations, include recommendations resulting from a major, NIH grant led by the Consortium. The goal of the revisions is to modernize and strengthen the Common Rule in response to dramatic changes to research over the past 30 years, including the emergence of genomics. The proposed rules cite scholarship, led by Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf, offering guidance to oversight bodies regarding the return of individual research results to participants. Read the recommendations that sparked the proposed policy here.