Tag Archives: research

H5N1 Flu Moratorium: A Pause that Refreshes?

The announcement last Friday of a 60-day moratorium on H5N1 research underscored the controversy swirling around this work.

The moratorium statement, coauthored by the lead pair of airborne H5N1 flu researchers and 37 other influenza researchers from around the world, also highlighted the degree to which these scientists stand behind the importance and safety of airborne H5N1 research.

image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

The statement, published online on Jan. 20 in Science and in Nature, received bylined support from an international group of flu researchers from the United States, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Japan, China, Canada, Germany, and Italy, including staffers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

They said that the airborne H5N1 avian flu research, which first became public knowledge a month ago, “is critical information that advances our understanding of influenza transmission. However, more research is needed to determine how influenza viruses in nature become human pandemic threats, so that they can be contained before they acquire the ability to transmit from human to human, or so that appropriate countermeasures can be deployed if adaptation to humans occurs.”

The authors acknowledged the “perceived fear” about possible escape of the ferret transmissible H5N1 that labs in Rotterdam and Madison, Wisc., created, and they reaffirmed that “these experiments have been conducted with appropriate regulatory oversight in secure containment facilities by highly trained and responsible personnel to minimize any risk of accidental release.”

Finally, the moratorium group explained what they hoped to achieve with their 60-day pause: “We recognize that we and the rest of the scientific community need to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize its possible risks. We propose to do that in an international forum in which the scientific community comes together to discuss and debate these issues.”

An interview that also ran in Science on Friday with Ron Fouchier, the Rotterdam virologist who leads one of these H5N1 studies, quoted him as saying that an international forum will be organized in the next couple of weeks, and that he hopes it will include representatives from the World Health Organization and the U.S. government. In the interview with Martin Enserink, Fouchier said that the idea for the moratorium began with himself, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who independently also produced an air-transmissible H5N1 strain in ferrets, and Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, a flu researcher at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

Fouchier also drew the inevitable comparison between this moratorium and the one called by recombinant DNA researchers prior to their historic 1975 meeting at the Asilomar Conference Center in California.

What seems most notable about the moratorium statement is the number and diversity of the signatories, and their willingness to stand fully behind this work despite the criticisms leveled against it over the past month. The upcoming public forum is something to look forward to.

—Mitchel Zoler (on Twitter @mitchelzoler)

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Filed under Allergy and Immunology, Blognosis, Drug And Device Safety, Family Medicine, Health Policy, IMNG, Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine, Internal Medicine News, Pediatrics, Primary care

At 25 Years, NIAMS Celebrates Progress, But Has a Long Way to Go

It’s been 25 years since the establishment of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and great strides have been made in diagnosis, treatment, and management of numerous conditions, “but you ain’t seen nothing yet,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

Opportunities for medical research have never been as great as they are today, said Dr. Collins, who gave the welcome address for NIAMS’ 25th anniversary at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.

Although prominent researchers in the field agreed that research has come a long way in the past 25 years, they stressed that there is still a long way to go. Currently, the molecular basis for 4,000 diseases is known, said Dr. Collins. “But we have effective treatment for only 200.”

In broad strokes, the day-long event touched on the past, present, and future of major diseases of bones, joints, muscles, and skin – including muscular dystrophies, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus – through panels and discussion involving prominent researchers, physicians, and patient advocates.

“These diseases are chronic, crippling, and common,” said Dr. Stephen Katz, director of NIAMS, in his opening address. “They affect every family in the United States.”

Among the attendees were many researchers and clinicians who said they felt loyalty and appreciation for receiving funding from NIAMS at some point in their career. For some, the progress in the past 2 decades was quite tangible.

“Public investment in osteoporosis research has really changed how we take care of the patients,” said Dr. Sundeep Khosla, president of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. Dr. Khosla, professor at the Mayo Medical School, Rochester, Minn., recalled a time more than 2 decades ago when calcium, vitamin D, and estrogen were the only options he could offer to patients with osteoporosis.

A few years later, bisphosphonates became available, then came anabolic drugs, and now more drugs are in the pipeline. Patient diagnosis also has advanced, he said. Although he agreed that the field still has a long way to go, he was optimistic about more progress. “Who knows what will happen in the next 25 years?” he asked.

There was talk of individualized therapy, balancing research and treatment, and a closer collaboration among scientists, all in the spirit of bringing better diagnosis and treatment to patients.

“We’re in a different world from when all we had was aspirin,” said Dr. Daniel Kastner, a scientific director at the National Human Genome Research Institute. “But what we really want is a cure. And we’re not there yet.”

Naseem S. Miller (@ReportingBack)

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Filed under Allergy and Immunology, Dermatology, Family Medicine, Genomic medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Primary care, Rheumatology, Video

Please Turn On Your Cell Phones

Photo by Sherry Boschert

From a meeting sponsored by the American Diabetes Association in San Francisco.

It’s so routine it’s almost a Pavlovian response — at the start of each medical conference that I cover, the course director asks everyone to please silence their cell phones and pagers. I reach for my iPhone, turn off the sound, and discreetly keep it handy in case there’s some tidbit of news worth tweeting.

But not this time! Dr. Richard M. Bergenstal of the American Diabetes Association asked the hundreds of people at a postgraduate course to turn on their cell phones. He then walked us through the process of sending a text message with the letters “ADA” to 25383, which generates a return text asking the user to confirm that you’d like to donate $5 for diabetes research. The charge shows up later on the user’s phone bill.

Judging by the giggles in the emphatically non-adolescent crowd, this may have been the first text message that many of them have sent via their cell phones. Dr. Bergenstal slyly suggested that they may want to practice their texting chops by texting “ADA” to 25383 again… and again… and again…

It’s all part of the Association’s “Stop Diabetes” campaign, and it’s the first time I’ve seen a medical organization use this modern tool in its public outreach. I think we’ll be seeing more of this.

— Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)

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Filed under Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Family Medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Practice Trends