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December 19, 2014

Posts in "Research"

December 16, 2014

Lost in Translation: From Medical Journals to News, Avoiding Bad Information

Medical journal articles are a primary source of information on new medical advances and studies but they are usually laden with very detailed caveats and scientific jargon. The process of disseminating the new information to the public takes a circuitous pathway from the journal to media reports. However, an online or newspaper news article about the research study may offer misinformation, which in turn affects the behavior of the public and even other scientists and doctors.  Over time, the cumulative effect of contradictory reports can confuse the public.

A study from the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) examines the process on how health information included studies can be exaggerated in media reports. The report highlights the major role of the press release written to tout a new study to the media, which can also be the original source for erroneous information. The pressures of a fast-paced news cycle, combined university competition and self-promotion largely accounts for any exaggeration of health issues presented to the public.

December 9, 2014

NIH funds robot research to help disabled patients

New projects sponsored by the National Institutes of Health sound more like the plot in a sci-fi thriller, but the agency is hoping that extra funding will help make “co-robotics” – robots that work cooperatively with people in movement and rehabilitation – a reality.

For the third year in a row, NIH is participating in the Interagency National Robotics Initiative, which supports innovative research on assistive robotic technology. Researchers have maintained that the robots could assist patients who have suffered strokes, use wheelchairs or have been diagnosed with autism.

The National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Agriculture Department are also participating in the initiative, which will receive $2.3 million for the projects over the next five years.

“Technology is becoming more and more adaptable in all areas of our life, from GPS in cars to speech recognition technology on smart phones,” said Grace Peng, program director of rehabilitation engineering at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, in a press release. “With these awards, we hope to encourage robotics researchers to think of new ways to apply their technology in the realm of health care.”

One of the projects is designed to help stroke patients regain movement by wearing an exoskeleton robot that can therapeutically move their affected limb. Another project is geared toward children with autism spectrum disorder and would develop a music-based robot to interact with the child in an effort to stimulate their emotional and social activities.

Money for the projects, however, remains contingent upon an availability of funds. The NIH budget has tightened in recent years, and lawmakers continue to seek additional money for biomedical research, CQ Roll Call’s Emily Ethridge reports (subscription).

December 2, 2014

Biohazard Worries Prompt a Ban on Risky Research

A federal moratorium on some research into the transmission of influenza, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and the SARS virus could delay results and drive researchers from the narrow field, the Congressional Research Service concluded in an analysis.

The unusual decision to pause research came in October after a series of safety and security breaches at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involving samples of anthrax and a deadly flu virus. The moratorium addresses so-called gain-of-function research aimed at making viruses more contagious – work that is primarily carried out at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Beyond the immediate pause in research, the biggest ramifications lie in whether the government opts to use moratoria in other scientific areas, CRS stated in its analysis. The government since 2001 has used guidelines to address the risks and benefits and whether existing biosafety requirements do enough to reduce the risk of accidental infection or releases of superbugs.

“The use of a federal funding moratorium may indicate an increased willingness to restrict such research at the federal level rather than relying on a case-by-case analysis of projects at the institutional level,” according to the analysis.

Critics of gain-of-function research question whether enough safeguards are in place, and whether broad dissemination of findings could prompt findings to fall into the wrong hands.

By Paul Jenks Posted at 12:34 p.m.

November 21, 2014

Rule Updates Clinical Trial Data Disclosure; Watchdog Group Questions NIH Role in Research Protection Update

The Department of Health and Human Services today published a notice of proposed rules on reporting requirements for clinical trials on new drug products. The rules clarify requirements on posting clinical trial results on the federal website – The site contains information on more than 178,000 clinical trials and seeks to prevent duplication of trials and can quickly signal concerns about unsafe or ineffective drugs.

The website is a joint project of the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. However, a public watchdog group this week questioned continuing role of the NIH in the development broader looming rules on human medical research protections. The group, Public Citizen, claims that NIH is the largest federal sponsor and conductor medical research on human subjects and involvement in rule revisions poses a conflict of interest.

October 31, 2014

Economist: Economic Woes of Ebola in West Africa; Drug Manufacturers Expedite Work on Vaccines

The Ebola crisis is ravaging the economies of the Ebola stricken West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The Economist magazine this week reports that the World Bank estimates the cost to the region at $33 billion over the next 18 months. Prices of food and some basic products have doubled but some commodity-based businesses have been able to continue to export products.

The Economist also reports on drug manufacturers redoubling efforts to produce an Ebola vaccine. The World Health Organization has partnered with GlaxoSmithKline and a U.S. firm, NewLink Genetics, to expedite work on a vaccine. The drugs will be ready for testing in Africa by the end of the year. Also, Johnson & Johnson announced announced last week that it will begin human trials in January on a separate vaccine.


October 30, 2014

Cleveland Clinic Queries Staff About Medical Advances Expected in 2015

In July, a massive research project by Thomson Reuters scoured all scientific and patent databases and culled a list of 10 possible medical advances possible by 2025. The list included improved detection and prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease and genomic engineering to prevent Type 1 Diabetes.

This week, the Cleveland Clinic simply asked its experts on medical innovations expected in 2015. The clinic’s scientists suggested ten advances, including a new speedy and cost-effective blood testing process, single dose radiation therapy for breast cancer and a dengue fever vaccine.


September 15, 2014

Spreading the Fruits of Federal Medical Research

Federal spending on medical research produces results and the National Institutes of Health periodically seeks to license patents on new discoveries and novel medical research techniques. Today, NIH issued a notice of an exclusive license on cancer targeting compounds and a separate request seeking to license a variety of techniques for HIV research and x-ray imaging, plus a new surgical tool for eye surgery.

Many developing technologies and techniques stem from research funding at NIH or through federal grants. Disseminating the fruits of federally funded research is governed by a law enacted in 1980, which allows for licensing of federal patents to industry. The law (view Congressional Research Service description) gives the title to inventions made with government support to small business, universities or other non-profit organizations and is credited with forging a vibrant biotechnology industry. Federal researchers retain the right to use the new innovations and the licensees are responsible for the often-arduous process of perfecting and developing the new technology.

Earlier this year, (@CQHealthTweet) HealthBeat’s Kerry Young’s monitored the various licensing missives from NIH and reported on the licensing of a technique that uses a rabies virus to develop a vaccine against the Ebola virus.



By Paul Jenks Posted at 3:51 p.m.

September 12, 2014

House Panel Discusses Genetic Research and Prospects for Personalized Medicine

Sept. 10 House Energy and Commerce Hearing

Amid congressional wrangling this week over spending bills and pre-election posturing, a bipartisan group of House Energy and Commerce Committee lawmakers were busy examining options for improving the process for developing and regulating new medical technologies and treatments. The committee on Tuesday hosted a roundtable discussion (view video) with HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, top agency chiefs and leaders from several medical research organizations.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins reminded lawmakers that the U.S. took the lead in mapping the human genome, which has led to new technologies. However, China now provides largest current investment in genomics research. Separately, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and researchers on the panel stressed the need for regulatory improvements to foster the development of personalized medicine, which uses genetic analysis to tailor medical treatments specifically to an individual patient.

By Paul Jenks Posted at 3:46 p.m.
Genomics, Research

September 10, 2014

Mapping the Impact of NIH Funding

The largest discretionary spending component of the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services funds the National Institutes of Health, the primary federal medical research agency. The sprawling NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., belies the fact that 85 percent of the agency’s $31 billion annual budget goes to fund medical research off campus in all 50 states.

A medical research advocacy group, United for Medical Research, this week updated its state-by-state map of NIH research funding flowing to each state and supporting an estimated 400,000 jobs. California and Massachusetts lead in receipt of NIH research grants and the larger states dwarf the totals for Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska. NIH has established an award program that seeks to ship research dollars to 23 states with a poor track record of competing for NIH grant money. However, parsing out medical research outside of the NIH also amplifies the nationwide impact of any reductions in the NIH budget.





August 5, 2014

Ebola Drug Reportedly Shows Promise

Concern about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has prompted a heightened response from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal health agency imposed tight security and safety precautions as the first Americans infected with the virus arrived in the United States from Liberia, where they had been working. Dr. Kent Brantly arrived on Saturday in Atlanta for treatment at Emory University Hospital, and  Nancy Writebol  is due to arrive on Tuesday. CNN reports that both  received doses of an experimental drug.  The report could lead to calls for wider use of the product, which has not been approved for use, based on anecdotal reports about promising results in the two patients.

Full story

July 28, 2014

Retiring Appropriator Seeks to Steady Medical Research Funding

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Harkin. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Tom Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education spending subcommittee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is retiring at the end of the year. Ahead of his departure, the Iowa Democrat has introduced a bill that seeks to steady medical research funding for the National Institutes of Health.

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July 25, 2014

Census Bureau Updates HIV-AIDS Research Library

The U.S. Census Bureau this week announced the annual update of its database of scientific journals and reports on HIV-AIDS research. The agency touts the library as the “most comprehensive resource of its kind in the world.”

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For Alzheimer’s, Drugs Come More Slowly, but Tests on Horizon

The Economist magazine this week points out that efforts have slowed recently in developing drug treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease. However, the article highlights progress in developing tests to identify early indicators of Alzheimer’s.

Full story

July 21, 2014

Measuring Federal Research Performance

Medical research accounts for a large portion of federal research activities and spending. A recent Senate hearing examined broad issues relating to all federal research programs.

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July 17, 2014

FDA Lab With Smallpox Vials Had Other Dangerous Biological Agents

The Food and Drug Administration lab on the NIH campus where six vials of smallpox were discovered also had biological agents causing such diseases including dengue, influenza, Q fever, and rickettsia, government officials have disclosed.

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