Science Insider took another look yesterday at the effects of the budget sequestration on research. After describing the potential harms of the NIH’s recently announced 5 percent budget cut - “part of a larger pattern of declining funding over the past decade” – reporter Jocelyn Kaiser points out another troubling aspect of sequestration:
NIH leaders say that the sequester’s most severe effect is the chilling message it sends to young scientists. In testimony last week, [NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD,] quoted a former student who is finishing a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She’s seen her role models struggle with funding. “I can’t erase the fear that this is my future,” Collins quoted her writing.
“We’re putting an entire generation of U.S. scientists at risk,” Collins warned. “If they go away, they won’t come back.”
The importance of the physician-scientist is the focus of a new Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine. Writing that an increasing number of MDs have moved away from the laboratory and into clinical practice, and calling the shortfall of new physician-researchers a “national, if not global, concern,” Michael M. Gottesman, MD, outlines how the National Institutes of Health is working to reverse the trend. And he notes that the awarding of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (which went to Robert Lefkowitz, MD, and Stanford’s Brian Kobilka, MD, both trained in cardiology) “should remind us of the critical role that clinician-scientists have played in formulating the seminal concepts that govern modern biomedical science.”
For those who have read about studies involving zebrafish and wondered how such a tiny fish can help advance research on human health, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, has your answer. From a post yesterday on the NIH Director’s Blog:
…Well, it turns out that more than 75% of the genes that have been implicated in human diseases have counterparts in the zebrafish. So, if we discover a mutation in a human, we can make the corresponding mutation in the zebrafish gene—and often get a pretty good idea of how the gene works, how the mutation causes havoc, and how it causes disease in humans. We can even use the zebrafish to test potential drug candidates, to see whether they can alter or fix the symptoms before moving on to mice or humans.
I wrote yesterday about the Twitter stream launched by NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, to call attention to the real-world effects of the budget sequestration on biological research in labs across the country. Today the agency detailed for the first time the way it plans to carry out the mandatory cuts, including funding fewer new and competing grants and trimming the budget of existing awards. From an article in Science Insider:
As a result, NIH expects to fund 8283 new and competing research grants this year, a drop of 703, according to this table. That number firms up the “hundreds fewer” awards that NIH officials warned of earlier this year. Including ongoing (already awarded) grants that are ending, the total number of research grants will drop by 1357 to 34,902 awards. The decline “reflects the fact that NIH’s budget is being shrunk due to the new budget and political reality, which is bad news for researchers and the patients they are trying to help,” says Tony Mazzaschi of the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C.
Individual institutes are also announcing their plans for cuts, the article says.
Here’s a developing social media story of interest to scientists, clinicians and the general public. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, kicked a hornets’ nest on Twitter earlier today with a tweet asking researchers to describe the direct impact of the U.S. budget sequestration, which began in March, on their research and lives. He asked respondents to use the hashtag #NIHSequesterImpact. The responses (some of which I’ve included below) are fascinating and depressing:
Having a relative with type-1 diabetes makes you 15 times as likely as other people to get the disease, in which the body inappropriately destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. But unlike the more common form of diabetes, type-2 diabetes, physicians don’t know how to prevent type 1 diabetes from developing in at-risk individuals.
To find out, they’re studying family members of type-1 diabetes patients. The large, multi-center research effort, called Type-1 Diabetes TrialNet, screens these folks for the presence of antibodies that recognize “self” tissues and could act as markers of diabetes vulnerability, and invites individuals who have the autoantibodies to take part in diabetes-prevention research. Stanford and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital are among the 18 clinical centers participating in TrialNet research.
The big news at TrialNet is that, starting today, the first part of the screening process is moving online. Volunteers used to have to participate in a screening event or come to a trial center to be screened, but many people live far from these centers. At the TrialNet screening website, people can now answer a short set of questions to find out if they’re eligible for TrialNet’s research and give consent to participate in screening. After the online questions are complete, eligible volunteers will receive a kit in the mail that they can take to a local lab for a free screening blood test.
Researchers hope this online process will make it easier for more people to participate in type 1 diabetes research. TrialNet must screen more than 20,000 relatives of people with type 1 diabetes each year to reach its scientific goals, according to an National Institutes of Health press release about the new online screening.
There has been a lot of interest in the Stanford studysuggesting that aspirin reduces the risk of melanoma in women; dermatologist Jean Tang, MD, PhD, spent much of her day today discussing the findings with reporters from NPR and the three networks’ evening news programs. Earlier, in a 1:2:1 podcast, Tang talked about her work and described the importance of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), from which she and her co-investigators pulled their data:
The Women’s Health Initiative was funded by the National Institutes of Health and American taxpayers’ dollars… This was a huge investment of taxpayers’ dollars, and it has incredibly paid off, [producing] many published papers and, more importantly, many important messages and conclusions about the health of American women.
Women were enrolled [in the WHI] to reflect the multi-ethnic population of the U.S. So American Indians are represented, Mexican-American women are represented, black women are represented. You are never going to get the richness and diversity of the women represented in this database anywhere else in the world.
DNA may be the main building blocks of the body, but researches are starting to discover that RNA, which transports genetic information within a specific cell, could hold greater potential in understanding a wide range of diseases and developing novel therapeutics.
This recently posted National Institutes of Healthvideo offers a great primer explaining how some RNA, known as extracellular RNAs (exRNA), can travel through bodily fluids and alter cells at a distance. The NIH Common Fund’s Extracellular RNA Communication program is currently investigating how exRNAs control cell behavior. By doing so, researchers hope to develop methods for detecting disease earlier and to create new treatment options, such as harnessing exRNAs’ communication power to turn a diseased cell into a healthy one.
In the study, researchers randomly surveyed 2,500 students with an average age of 16 years. Among the participants, 34 percent said they had consumed alcohol in the past month and 26 percent reported binge drinking. However, a significant portion of those who admitted to drinking were not questioned, or counseled, by a doctor, according to an National Institutes of Health release:
“While more than 80 percent of 10th graders said they had seen a doctor in the past year, just 54 percent of that group were asked about drinking, and 40 percent were advised about alcohol harms,” says lead author Ralph W. Hingson, Sc.D., M.P.H., director of NIAAA’s division of epidemiology and prevention research. He adds that, among students who had been seen by a doctor in the past year and who reported drinking in the past month, only 23 percent said they were advised to reduce or stop drinking. The findings are now online in the February issue of Pediatrics.
The researchers also reported that students who said that they had been asked about their drinking were more likely to be advised about alcohol. Nevertheless, among the 43 students who said that they were drunk six times or more in the past month and who said they had been asked about their drinking by a doctor, about 30 percent were not advised about drinking risks, and two-thirds were not advised to reduce or stop drinking.
The findings are notable in light of past research showing that just a two- or three-minute intervention during doctor visits can go a long way in combating underage drinking.
The Connector will keep readers informed of the office’s activities, trainings, educational resources and funding opportunity announcements, as well as podcasts and videos of conversations with engaging behavioral and social sciences. These include:
Dr. Andrea Gielen on “The Science of Injury Prevention Research”
Dr. Charlene Quinn on the promise of mobile health technologies in managing diabetes
Dr. Brian Wansink on “mindless eating,” why we eat more than we think
In addition, the blog include commentaries from Robert Kaplan, PhD, director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. Kaplan plans to explore a range of topics on the blog including mHealth, systems science, dissemination and implementation research and the NIH Toolbox. He also will discuss achieving better population health through improved dissemination of evidence-based interventions.