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LGBT, NIH, Public Health, Research

Study shows funding for LGBT health research lacking, offers solutions

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients often face a unique set of health risks, including higher rates of hepatitis among gay men and increased risk factors for breast cancer among lesbians. Past research conducted at Stanford highlighted the need to better train future physicians on how to care for the LGBT community. Now findings published in the American Journal of Public Health show national funding for LGBT medical research is also lacking, which is contributing to health inequities for patients.

During the study (subscription required), researchers examined studies funded by the the National Institutes of Health between 1989 and 201 and found 628 pertained to LGBT health issues, which accounts for one-half of one percent of all studies supported by the institute. A significant portion of these studies focused on sexual health matters, including HIV/AIDS, and the majority related to health of sexual minority men. Studies unrelated to sexual health matters accounted for one tenth of one percent of all studies during this time period.

In a release, study authors made the following recommendations to boost funding for LGBT studies and reduce inequalities in care:

  • Establish policies that designate LGBT people as priority populations for research that goes beyond HIV/AIDS and sexual health issues.
  • Increase evidence-based intervention research to improve LGBT and reduce health inequities.
  • Explore new strategies to increase the amount of LGBT health research, including support for diversity among researchers.
  • Support efforts to expand the pool of trained researchers prepared to propose LGBT research projects through training grants, fellowships, career awards and the establishment of LGBT Centers of Excellence.

Previously: Study finds ER avoidance in transgender individuals needing careGay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered health issues not being taught in medical school and A call for more training on LGBT health issues

Aging, Complementary Medicine, Health and Fitness, NIH, Orthopedics, Research

Measuring the physical effects of yoga for seniors

Measuring the physical effects of yoga for seniors

LeslieAs my grandmother marched into her 80s, she would regularly eyeball pieces of furniture before sitting on them. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to get up,” she’d say, in the spirit of fun but with some underlying fear. Even though she and my grandfather stayed active by taking yoga classes at a senior center, and were a neighborhood hit riding their tandem tricycle in matching helmets and T-shirts, declining strength and range of motion with age just made certain everyday movements difficult.

I thought of my grandma while reading about an NIH-funded study from the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles on yoga for seniors. Published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the study quantified the physical effects of seven poses in 20 ambulatory older adults whose average age was 70.7 years. Participants attended hour-long Hatha yoga classes twice a week for 32 weeks. The researchers used biomechanical methods joint moments of force (JMOF) and electromyographic analysis at the beginning and end of the study to measure each pose’s demands on select lower-extremity joints and muscles.

In a Research Spotlight, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine noted:

Findings from the study may be used to help design evidence-based yoga programs in which poses are chosen for the purpose of achieving a clinical goal (e.g., targeting specific joints or muscle groups or improving balance). The physical demands, efficacy, and safety of yoga for older adults have not been well studied, and older adults are at higher risk of developing musculoskeletal problems such as strains and sprains when doing yoga.

Study author Leslie Kazadi, a Los Angeles-based experienced yoga therapist, designed the yoga program with a geriatrician, exercise physiologist/biomechanist, and physical therapist from the research team and taught participants the poses. She told me that standing poses were chosen to target areas of the body that tend to become weak or limited in seniors. Hip stabilizers, for example, help with mobility and balance – and confidence in everyday situations, such as rising from a chair. “What you need to move around in the world is to be strong in your lower body,” Kazadi said. “If you don’t have stability downstairs, then you’re not going to get freedom upstairs no matter what.”

Previously: Exploring the use of yoga to improve the health and strength of bonesAsk Stanford Med: Pain expert responds to questions on integrative medicineExercise programs shown to decrease pain, improve health in group of older adults and Moderate physical activity not a risk factor for knee osteoarthritis, study shows
Photo by NCCAM/RaffertyWeiss Media

Aging, Complementary Medicine, NIH

NCCAM to host Twitter chat on research and complementary health approaches for Alzheimer’s

Save the date (it’s tomorrow) and tune in for a Twitter chat on Alzheimer’s research and complementary health approaches to preventing or managing the disease. Hosted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the chat will feature experts from the NCCAM and the National Institute on Aging answering questions submitted using the hashtag #nccamchat.

Discussion topics will include dietary supplements such as ginkgo biloba that have been examined for possible effectiveness in slowing cognitive decline, and mind and body practices for caregivers. Check out the NCCAM’s current resources and Clinical Digest for more information.

Beginning at 1 PM Pacific time on Dec. 18, the conversation can also be followed at @NCCAM and @Alzheimers_NIH.

Previously: “Pruning synapses” and other strides in Alzheimer’s researchHow villainous substance starts wrecking synapses long before clumping into Alzheimer’s plaquesWhen brain’s trash collectors fall down on the job, neurodegeneration risk picks up and Ask Stanford Med: Pain expert responds to questions on integrative medicine

NIH, Research, Science, Stanford News

A new era in scientific discourse? PubMed gets comments

A new era in scientific discourse? PubMed gets comments

typing - smallPubMed, the massive index of biomedical research articles, has begun an experiment: Enabling the posting of comments on the articles’ citations. This might not seem like a big deal, but in this case the comments system, PubMed Commons, is creating a buzz.

Some of the tweets following the Oct. 22 announcement: “PubMed Commons will change the way science works, but I predict a big impact on science bloggers as well” (@Neuro_Skeptic), “Science buzz and criticism gets a powerful boost” (@phylogenomics) and “Seriously get ready for a turbo-charged #PubMed (@AlbertErives).”

It was actually two Stanford professors - biostatistician Rob Tibshirani, PhD, and biochemist Pat Brown, PhD – who got the project rolling. I talked with Tibshirani for an article in Inside Stanford Medicine about the project’s beginnings and what he hopes it will accomplish. For starters, he sees it as a way for readers to note errors in the scientific literature in a place other researchers will see. But he also hopes it will generally expand scientific discourse and build community:

“Science can be lonely,” Tibshirani said. “Just having people talk about your work is nice. Sure it’s nice to have good comments. But it’s nice to have comments at all. At least someone cares enough to read your paper.”

For now, during this expanded pilot phase, only individuals who have published articles indexed in PubMed can make comments or see them. Tibshirani says he’s hopeful the leaders of the National Institutes of Health will decide to allow the general public to see the comments too. More on the how and why of the project as well as the quandary over anonymous comments (yea or nay) in the article.

For a fuller picture of the social media reaction, see this Storify created by Hilda Bastian, a blogger at Scientific American and an editor at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the organization within the NIH that runs PubMed.
Photo by Mike Traboe

Medical Education, Medical Schools, NIH, Science, Science Policy

Medical school leaders to Congress: Stop NIH budget cuts

Medical school leaders to Congress: Stop NIH budget cuts

In a letter (.pdf) to Congress yesterday, nearly 200 medical school deans and hospital CEOs expressed their “grave concern regarding the impact of the continued cuts, especially those imposed by sequestration” on NIH-supported research. The group of leaders, including Stanford’s Lloyd Minor, MD, went on to say:

Sequestration already has resulted in the loss of $1.5 billion from the NIH budget in FY 2013. This reduction comes at the end of a decade that has seen NIH lose more than 20 percent of its purchasing power after inflation. As a result, the percentage of promising research proposals that NIH is able to fund has fallen to less than 17 percent, an all-time low. Furthermore, NIH estimates it will lose a total $19 billion from its budget if sequestration is allowed to continue for the next eight years, delaying progress for patients awaiting the chance for a better

Enacted and proposed cuts in NIH funding threaten current and emerging basic research opportunities across the country, as well as the clinical studies that are essential to bring scientific discoveries from the bench to the bedside. Further, these cuts also will discourage young people from careers in medical research, risking the loss of the next generation of innovators and their ideas.

Previously: Senate proposes to increase NIH’s budget in 2014, NIH director on scaring young scientists with budget cuts: “If they go away, they won’t come back” and Sequestration hits the NIH – fewer new grants, smaller budgets
Via Association of American Medical Colleges

Aging, NIH, Orthopedics, Technology

Support for robots that assist people with disabilities

Support for robots that assist people with disabilities

As if medical research funding wasn’t tight enough, now scientists must compete with robots for grants. Wait… I have that wrong. The National Institutes of Health recently announced the awarding of $2.4 million over the next five years for projects with robots. (The humans are still in charge of the studies.)

Now that that’s cleared up, let’s talk about the robots. As part of the second year of the National Robotics Initiative – a shared project of multiple federal agencies to design “co-robots” to improve mobility and functioning in people with disabilities – the NIH is funding three projects.

One is a co-robotic cane that can aid the visually impaired by sensing information about the environment and relaying it to its user. Another is a co-robotic active catheter for heart procedures.

And my favorite, the novel platform for rapid exploration of robotic ankle exoskeleton control, is a wearable robot. People with impaired mobility or strength from aging or due conditions such as cerebral palsy or spinal cord injury may be assisted by this device. Researchers from North Carolina State University and Carnegie Mellon University will test robotic control methods in patients recovering from a stroke to improve the product’s design.

Previously: Biotech start-up builds artful artificial limbs

In the News, Neuroscience, NIH, Stanford News

NIH announces focus of funding for BRAIN initiative

NIH announces focus of funding for BRAIN initiative

Monday was a big day for President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative -  a ten-year, 100-million dollar research plan designed to advance technologies related to mapping and understanding how the human brain works. Since the initiative was announced in April, several aspects of brain function have been identified as potential focal points for the project.

Now, the National Institutes of Health has said they will direct their $40 million budget for the BRAIN Initiative towards research that investigates multi-cellular brain circuits and systems. This announcement was made yesterday, after the NIH director approved the research proposal by the BRAIN Working Group.

From a New York Times story:

Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the N.I.H., who accepted the report and its recommendations, said that he had asked the group, led by Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University and Bill Newsome of Stanford, to think big, and that it would be the job of the N.I.H. to make actual spending decisions.

Dr. Bargmann agreed that the overall goal of figuring out “how circuits in the brain generate complex thoughts and behavior” was not something to be tackled with the $40 million that the N.I.H. hopes to have for 2014.

“You can’t do all of that in year one, you can’t do all of that with $40 million, and you can’t do all of that at N.I.H. either,” she said.

The report recommends that the N.I.H.’s immediate goals should be to develop new tools to investigate both animal and human brains and to accomplish basic, but so far elusive, goals like determining how many different types of neurons there are, what they do and how to study them. It proposed nine high-priority research areas, all of which could take many years and involve other agencies and institutions. But the report, said Dr. Collins, is “a great blueprint for getting started.”

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Previously: BRAIN Initiative and the Human Brain Project: Aiming to understand how the brain worksBrain’s gain: Stanford neuroscientist discusses two major new initiativesCo-leader of Obama’s BRAIN Initiative to direct Stanford’s interdisciplinary neuroscience instituteExperts weigh in on the new BRAIN Initiative and A federal push to further brain research

NIH, Research, Stanford News

Stanford team awarded NIH Human Microbiome Project grant

Stanford team awarded NIH Human Microbiome Project grant

As part of the second phase of the Human Microbiome Project, begun in 2007, the National Institutes of Health has awarded three grants for research projects over the next three years, and Stanford researchers are among the recipients.

A release notes that the trillions of microbes living on skin and other locations of the body constitute a normal human microbiome, and that this phase of the project funds research examining how and why alteration of it at various body sites promotes diseases:

Of the three projects, one joint project by research teams between Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis will examine the microbes in the gut and nose and determine how alteration in certain microorganisms (for example during viral infections) may trigger the development of diseases such as diabetes. They will use several ‘omics’ approaches, including genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics to follow the dynamic changes in the microbiome and in the host over time.

Geneticist Michael Snyder, PhD, is a principal investigator of the Stanford/Washington University study.

Previously: ‘Omics’ profiling coming soon to a doctor’s office near you?Cultivating the human microbiomeContemplating how our human microbiome influences personal health and Top 10 1:2:1 podcasts for 2012

In the News, Neuroscience, NIH, Stanford News

BRAIN Initiative and the Human Brain Project: Aiming to understand how the brain works

BRAIN Initiative and the Human Brain Project: Aiming to understand how the brain works

Less than four months ago, Stanford neurologist William Newsome, PhD, received a phone call that could alter the next decade of his professional career. Francis Collins, MD, PhD, the director of the National Institutes of Health, called to tell Newsome that President Barack Obama wanted him to co-chair a ten-year project designed to advance our understanding of the brain and the technologies used to investigate it.

The project is called the BRAIN Initiative, and Newsome and co-chair Cornelia “Cori” Bargmann, PhD, of The Rockefeller University, have an ambitious research plan for the next ten years. Yesterday in Nature, Alison Abbott explained how the BRAIN Initiative and the European Commission’s Human Brain Project are similar, and how the aims of these projects span three major areas of neuroscience: measuring the brain, mapping it, and understanding how it works. She wrote:

Although the aims of the two projects differ, both are, in effect, bold bids for the neuroscientist’s ultimate challenge: to work out exactly how the billions of neurons and trillions of connections, or synapses, in the human brain organize themselves into working neural circuits that allow us to fall in love, go to war, solve mathematical theorems or write poetry. What’s more, researchers want to understand the ways in which brain circuitry changes — through the constant growth and retreat of synapses — as life rolls by.

Reaching this goal will require innovative new technologies, ranging from nanotechnologies to genetics to optics, that can capture the electrical activity coursing through neurons, prod those neurons to find out what they do, map the underlying anatomical circuits in fine detail and process the exabytes of information all this work will spit out. “Think about it,” says neuroscientist Konrad Kording of Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. “The human brain produces in 30 seconds as much data as the Hubble Space Telescope has produced in its lifetime.”

The goals of these projects are daunting. But to Newsome, as Abbot explains, the ultimate objective isn’t to unlock every mystery of the brain within ten years – it’s to navigate research so that someday we can.

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Previously: Brain’s gain: Stanford neuroscientist discusses two major new initiativesCo-leader of Obama’s BRAIN Initiative to direct Stanford’s interdisciplinary neuroscience instituteExperts weigh in on the new BRAIN Initiative and A federal push to further brain research

In the News, NIH, Science, Science Policy

Senate proposes to increase NIH’s budget in 2014

Senate proposes to increase NIH's budget in 2014

During this time of federal budget woes, it’s refreshing to get at least a little good news on the topic. As reported by Nature’s newsblog yesterday, a U.S. Senate subcommittee has recommended that the National Institutes of Health’s budget be upped in 2014, from just over $29 billion to around $31 billion. Meredith Wadman writes:

…The increase would include $84 million new dollars for Alzheimer’s disease research at NIH’s National Institute on Aging and $40 million for the much-watched Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative announced by the White House in April.

The Senate panel would also quintuple, to $50 million, funding for the Cures Acceleration Network, an effort by NIH’s new translational medicine centre to speed bench discoveries to the bedside. And the bill would extend to other agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services a requirement that is now operative only at NIH: that researchers deposit their taxpayer-funded manuscripts in a publicly accessible database.

Though, as Wadman writes, these budget plans are “far from a done deal,” the Senate’s support for the agency is encouraging:

Senator Barbara Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who chairs the full committee, made it clear at a press event yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, that she plans to go to the mat for NIH, which under recent sequester cuts lost $1.55 billion of its original 2013 budget of $30.8 billion.  Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s transfer of $173 million in NIH 2013 funds to other agencies in the department added to the damage.

“We want to say ‘no’ to the slash and crash of reckless cuts to American biomedical research,” she declared against a backdrop of white-coated medical researchers who had gathered to emphasize the impact of sequestration on NIH-funded scientists.

Previously: NIH director on scaring young scientists with budget cuts: “If they go away, they won’t come back”, Sequestration hits the NIH – fewer new grants, smaller budgets,
NIH director polls Twitter for real-world responses to budget cutbacks, A federal push to further brain research and As budget sequester nears, a call for Congress to protect funding for scientific and medical research

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