A state-of-the-art genetic analysis tool has been deployed to Willmar, Minnesota, the heart of the state's burgeoning turkey business. According to an article in Agweek, beginning in 2017 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is implementing new restrictions that change how livestock producers use antibiotics in feed to promote growth. The action is being taken to address growing concerns that antibiotic resistance could threaten public health. Veterinary science professor Tim Johnson is leading the project, which is housed at the U's Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center. According to Johnson, the DNA sequencer "will improve the speed and the resolution of our ability to detect pathogens of the bad bacteria and the bad viruses" by helping researchers understand how pathogens travel and examining "emerging diseases of poultry and other animals to be able to quickly identify what's causing problems." The Consortium is hosting a three-part series on a related topic, Emerging Diseases in a Changing Environment, starting on Jan. 24; learn more and register here.
Last Friday's Board of Regents meeting featured a report from Vice President for Research Brian Herman highlighting that University researchers successfully competed for a record $788 million in externally sponsored research awards in FY16, increased business and industry funding, and launched a record 17 startups. Business and industry (B&I) funding was up 3.6 percent ($2.8 million) from the previous fiscal year, marking the highest total in U of M history. In his report, VP Herman noted, “B&I support has accounted for more than 10 percent of all externally-funded research at the U of M over the past two years and is gaining in importance as federal funding continues to decline.” According to the National Science Foundation survey of research and development — the most accurate list of research expenditures in the US — the University remains 8th among public research institutions for research expenditures in FY15, the latest year for which data is available. The Regents' report was Herman's final one as VP for Research; he is returning to the faculty. In addition to the successes described above, during his tenure Herman has also overseen major changes recommended by an outside review panel to enhance the University’s human research protection program. The Consortium has worked closely with him on that effort, collaborating on a national conference last December and another, two-day research ethics event this coming March.
A new study led by a researcher at Consortium member the Masonic Cancer Center (MCC) provides important new information about the connection between human papillomavirus (HPV) antibodies and five-year survival rates for some types of cancer. The paper, "Immune Response to HPV16 E6 and E7 Proteins and Patient Outcomes in Head and Neck Cancer,” was published in JAMA Oncology; it demonstrates that measuring a patient’s immune response to HPV provides a robust prognostic signal, suggesting that in the future a blood serum test for two specific HPV antibodies may replace traditional pathology testing. Lead author Heather Nelson, PhD, MPH, is co-leader of the Screening, Prevention, Etiology and Cancer Survivorship (SPECS) Program at MCC.
Yesterday's Deinard Memorial Lecture on Law & Medicine was a fitting conclusion to a visionary series. Hundreds of attendees heard from a multidisciplinary panel on the fast-moving, emerging field of patient-led medicine. Prof. Jason Bobe (Mount Sinai School of Medicine) kicked things off by examining the obstacles to broad patient engagement in research, and shared his efforts to empower potential research participants through the Personal Genome Project and Open Humans. Ernesto Ramirez of Fitabase discussed the move toward gathering, analyzing and sharing personal data, and how that has both sparked patient-driven collaborations and led to the development of devices such as the "artificial pancreas," for those with Type 1 Diabetes. Prof. Kingshuk K. Sinha (Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota) broadened the conversation to include business perspectives, such as supply-chain management, that can be used to increase access to new health-care products, and also highlighted some potential pitfalls of self-treatment, such as patients using unproven or dangerous approaches. Prof. Barbara Evans (University of Houston Law Center) wrapped up with remarks about the ways laws and regulations meant to protect patients have, in some cases, served as an obstacle to participation in research. An article about the event from the Minneapolis Star Tribune can be read here.
Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf has been appointed to the National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, Medicine and Public Policy. This is the only committee that crosses all three academies – Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine – and includes the presidents of the three branches. According to their website, “the Committee is charged with the responsibility ‘to deliberate on initiatives for new studies in the area of science and technology policy, taking especially into account the concerns and requests of the President's Science Advisor, the Director of the NSF, the Chairman of the National Science Board, and the chairmen of key science and technology-related committees of the Congress.’” In addition to chairing the Consortium, Prof. Wolf is the McKnight Presidential Professor of Law, Medicine & Public Policy; Faegre Baker Daniels Professor of Law; and Professor of Medicine. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine.
We are pleased to announce a funding opportunity for graduate and professional students on all University of Minnesota campuses. Each year, the Consortium provides funding for intramural projects related to the societal implications of problems in health, environment, and the life sciences. Grants will be awarded in the spring 2017 for work during the summer 2017 and academic year 2017-18. Student organizations may apply for these grants. A total of $35,000 is available 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. This funding initiative aims to encourage work on the broad societal implications of problems in health, environment, or the life sciences. Proposals for student-initiated programs or colloquia will also be accepted. The Request for Proposals (RFP) and application materials may be found here. Deadline for submission is Monday, February 13, 2017. Awards will be announced by the end of March. If you have questions, please contact Audrey Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-626-5624.
In the early 1980s, during the initial throes of the AIDS epidemic, a flight attendant named Gaetan Dugas came to be identified as "Patient Zero" because he was represented in popular culture as the person who brought HIV to North America. A recent study published in Nature used genomic data to map the spread of HIV during that time, demonstrating conclusively that Dugas was not the North American index case as previously depicted. An analysis of the case by Greg Clinton explores "the spectacle of disease narratives, not only what they emphasize, but what they tend to obscure." Drawing on the groundbreaking work of Priscilla Wald and others, Clinton describes how epidemiological narratives, most famously that of Typhoid Mary, are "typically bound up with literary concerns, such as the assignment of 'hero' and 'villain' status to a person or group." He argues for consumers to apply "critical consciousness" to such media-driven spectacles, resisting the all-too-human temptation to passively absorb narratives that assign meaning, "even if that meaning is false and only serves to perpetuate fear of the Other." Read the entire article here.
"Would you trust an algorithm to help you with a medical diagnosis?" This question is posed by Christina Farr of Fast Company in her discussion of a collaboration between University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and General Electric with the goal of finding out what Big Data approaches to diagnosis can – and can't – accomplish. The two organizations will be partnering for the next three years to "develop a set of algorithms to help radiologists distinguish between a normal result and one that requires further attention." Knowing the medical community will be skeptical about such machine-learning approaches, not to mention the lack of appropriate regulation for a diagnosis by a non-human, Michael Blum of UCSF notes, "There is a lot of concern from the public and from clinicians that we’ll be developing things to replace doctors. These developments will be focused on supporting clinicians and in developing safer workflows." Read the entire article here.
A recent article in MIT Technology Review examines why men have so few contraceptive choices. Despite a spate of news items with headlines like "Men can’t handle side effects from hormonal birth control that women deal with every day," a World Health Organization-sponsored study demonstrated that injectable hormonal birth control for men had significant negative consequences, including "one participant’s suicide and serious side effects in others, including depression." Prof. Gunda Georg, head of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Minnesota, is quoted as saying she is "'not at all hopeful' that hormonal contraceptives for men will make their way to the market given the number of abandoned efforts and potential side effects. Instead, Georg’s lab is studying a non-hormonal male contraceptive option, an investigational drug called gamendazole that stunts the development of sperm. The immature sperm fragments are reabsorbed into the testis, the male organ that produce sperm, and never make it to the semen."
Last night, Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), addressed the annual Biopharma Congress in Washington, DC. His talk was titled "The Need to Partner on Drug Innovation, Access and Cost." In it, Slavitt addressed what he called "pervasive" cost increases, noting: "Despite all the attention it has generated this year, Mylan’s Epipen is not even on our top 20 list for either high price increases or spending overall in 2015." Rising public outcry and state-level budget crises have led to congressional hearings about the reasons behind spiraling prices; the issue has been especially prominent during the current presidential election. Slavitt cautioned conference attendees, the majority of whom work in the pharmaceutical industry, that he's no longer comfortable defending Big Pharma. He noted that in the past, "I didn’t want this industry to be defined by its worst actors. . . but the more data that’s revealed, the more bad actors you find, and I’m telling you now: it’s too many." What is to be done? According to Modern Healthcare, despite policy positions held by both major-party candidates, significant change is unlikely because of the power of the pharmaceutical industry and ideological divisions in the legislative branch.