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Global Health, Public Health, Stanford News

Should we worry? Stanford’s global health chief weighs in on Ebola

Should we worry? Stanford's global health chief weighs in on Ebola

13717624625_c584569b9b_kAs Ebola rampages across western Africa, Stanford Magazine sat down with Michele Barry, MD, who directs Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health. Barry knows Ebola well: she’s fought it when it appeared in Uganda several years ago.

In the interview, which is posted on Medium as part of an experiment with digital communications methods, Barry shared her surprise at the momentum of the epidemic. The disease has caused more than 2,200 deaths during the past nine months in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen cases of a separate strain double in past week. “I think this goes back to just a very fragmented health infrastructure in the West African countries affected, a lack of personal preventive equipment on the ground and the inability to quickly educate a population that is not health literate,” she said.

Should we be worried of the epidemic spreading stateside? She responds:

I think Ebola easily could be transported here by airplane by an infected patient. The Nigeria outbreak is a result of air transport of an infected individual. But I think we have the facilities to support such patients safely. We have personal protective equipment, easily mobilized mechanisms for decontamination and isolation. I think there is no reason to be worried about it spreading in the U.S.

Barry also recently launched a fundraising campaign to care for sickened healthcare workers. Many doctors and nurses are among the thousands of Ebola casualties, including her colleague who mentored residents in the Yale/Stanford Johnson & Johnson Scholars Program.

Later this month, the Center for Global Innovation in Global Health is hosting a panel discussion that will explore the Ebola outbreak from a multidisciplinary approach. The event will be held on Sept. 23 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Bechtel Conference Center on campus.  Panelists include Barry: Doug Owens, MD, director of the Center for Health Policy in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; Stanford microbiologist David Relman, MD; Stephen Stedman, PhD, Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and Paul Wise, MD, MPH, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford.

Previously: Biosecurity experts discuss Ebola and related public health concerns and policy implications, Stanford global health chief launches campaign to contain Ebola outbreak in Liberia
Photo by: European Commission

Events, Medicine and Literature, Medicine and Society, Patient Care, Stanford News

Abraham Verghese discusses stealing metaphors and the language of medicine at TEDMED

Abraham Verghese discusses stealing metaphors and the language of medicine at TEDMED

Abraham Verghese TEMED

Few of us pay close attention to metaphors used in the language of medicine. Instead, our focus is typically on words relating to symptoms, test results and diagnoses. But as Stanford physician and author Abraham Verghese, MD, explained last week at TEDMED in San Francisco (which was co-sponsored by Stanford Medicine), metaphors, particularly as they relate to medicine, are significant because “they explain our past… [and] share our present and, perhaps most importantly, the metaphors we pick predicate our future.”

Verghese took conference attendees through a “grand romp through medicine and metaphor” during a session titled “Stealing Smart,” which featured seven speakers and their stories on how stealing something from another field, such as the principles of video game design, could improve medicine. As a child with “no head for math,” Verghese was drawn to the written word and developed a love for metaphors. His physical and metaphorical journey into medicine originated with his childhood reading and, as he sheepishly admitted, his reading list “had a certain prurient bias.” In fact, he selected the novel that set the course of his life, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, because the title “had great promise.” Despite it’s lack of salacious content, the book made a lasting impression on Verghese.

He recalled reading about how the protagonist, a boy named Philip who was born with a clubfoot, overcame great adversity to become a physician. The character was intrigued at the variety of patients he meets in the wards of the hospital and marvels at their willingness to open up about their personal lives at a time of distress. In describing the doctor-patient relationship, the author writes, “There was humanity there in the rough.” Those words spoke deeply to young Verghese and “implied to [him] that not everyone could be a brilliant engineer, could be a brilliant artist, but anybody with a curiosity about the human condition, with a willingness to work hard, with an empathy for their fellow human being could become a great physician.” He added, “I came into [the profession] with the sense that medicine was a romantic passionate pursuit. I haven’t stopped feeling that way, and for someone who loved words anatomy was such fun.”

Verghese reveled in the abundance of medical metaphors throughout his training. The prevailing metaphor in anatomy was that of a house, while the overarching metaphor of physiology was that of a machine. When it came to describing symptoms, there was no shortage of metaphors: the “strawberry tongue” associated with scarlet fever, the “peau d’orange” appearance of the breast in breast cancer and the “apple-core” lesion of colon cancer. “That’s just the fruits – don’t get me started on the non-vegetarian stuff,” he joked.

But all of the metaphors noted in his talk are 60-100 years old, and when it came to naming one from more recent times Verghese was at a loss. He said:

In my lifetime, and I suspect in yours, we’ve seen so many new diseases – AIDS, SARS, Ebola, Lyme… We have so many new ways at looking inside the body and scanning the body, such as PET and MRI, and yet, strangely, not one new metaphor, that I can think of… It’s a strange paucity because we are so imaginative. The amount of science that has been done in the last 10 years eclipses anything that was done in the last 100 years. We’re not lacking in imagination, but we may be lacking in metaphorical imagination.

This dearth of metaphor has two consequences, he said. The first is that Congress isn’t funding biomedical research to the level that is necessary to advance new discoveries and treatments. The second is that patients are “not as enamored with our medicine and our science as we might think they should be,” he said. Verghese implored the audience to “create metaphors befitting our wonderful era discovery.” He encouraged those in the crowd and watching the livestream online to accept this challenge, saying, “I want to invite you to name things after yourself. Go ahead! Why not?”

As he closed the talk, Verghese shared the metaphor that has guided his life by saying:

It’s the metaphor of a calling. It’s the metaphor of a ministry of healing. It’s the metaphor of the great privilege we’re allowed, all of us with anything to do with health care, the privilege of being allowed into people’s lives when they are at their most vulnerable. It’s very much about the art of medicine. And we have to bring all the great science, all the big data, all the wonderful things that we’re going to be talking about [at this conference] to bear one human being to another… We have to love the sick. Each and everyone of them as if they were our own. And you know what? They are our own, because we are all humanity there in the rough.

Previously: Abraham Verghese urges Stanford grads to always remember the heritage and rituals of medicine, Inside Abraham Verghese’s bag, a collection of stories and Stanford’s Abraham Verghese honored as both author and healer

Grand Roundup

Grand Roundup: Top posts for the week of Sept. 7

The five most-read stories this week on Scope were:

Skin cancer linked to UV-caused mutation in new oncogene, say Stanford researchers: Researchers here have identified a previously unknown oncogene that drives the development of a common human skin cancer in response to exposure to sunlight.

Proteins from pond scum revolutionize neuroscience: This entry focuses on the work of Stanford bioengineering professor Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, who just won the Keio Prize in Medicine,

What makes a good doctor – and can data help us find one?: At Medicine X last Saturday, ProPublica reporter Charles Ornstein posed to conference attendees an important question: How do you find a doctor? “This is trickier than you think,” he said and proceeded to discuss how data can yield helpful information for those looking for (or assessing their current) physician.

At Medicine X, four innovators talk teaching digital literacy and professionalism in medical school: One of the highlights of last weekend’s Medicine X was “Fostering Digital Citizenship in Medical School,” where four esteemed panelists talked about the innovative programs they’ve put in place at their institutions. The physician-speakers all believe that things like understanding social media and knowing how to build one’s digital footprint are crucial skills for doctors-to-be.

Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscopeManu Prakash, PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering, has developed an ultra-low-cost paper microscope to aid disease diagnosis in developing regions. The device is further described in a technical paper.

And still going strong – the most popular post from the past:

What are the consequences of sleep deprivation?: Brandon Peters, MD, an adjunct clinical faculty member at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, explains how lack of sleep can negatively affect a person’s well-being in this Huffington Post piece.

Research, Sleep, Stanford News

William Dement: Stanford Medicine’s “Sandman”

William Dement: Stanford Medicine's "Sandman"

dement

Sixty years before he would be referred to as the “Father of Sleep Medicine,” William Dement, MD, PhD, got kicked out of a class for dozing off.  One of the world’s foremost sleep experts, Dement is profiled in the current issue of STANFORD magazine, with writer Nicholas Weiler describing how Dement blazed a trail for the field of sleep research and medicine.

From the piece:

When he arrived at Stanford, he set aside most of his research on dreams and shifted his focus to pathologies that affect sleep quality—and to the importance of optimal sleep in our daily lives. “It wasn’t until we realized there were sleep disorders,” he says, that people started paying attention to sleep research. In 1970, he founded the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic, a center dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of these maladies. The clinic was soon inundated by patients complaining of extreme daytime sleepiness due not to narcolepsy or insomnia, but to a recently discovered disorder, sleep apnea, in which the patient’s airway would collapse during sleep, causing him to wake gasping for air hundreds of times each night.

Galvanized by the unexpected prevalence of undiagnosed sleep disorders, Dement spent the next decade working feverishly to raise the profile of sleep medicine as a clinical field. Before long, similar clinics were springing up all over the country, “and they were finding the same thing,” Dement says. Still, it wasn’t until 1993 that the first long-term epidemiological study found that 24 percent of men and 9 percent of women suffer from sleep apnea. Research at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and elsewhere has found strong correlations between sleep apnea and obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease, America’s leading cause of death.

Thanks to his work and the popular sleep class that he has taught since 1971 (more than 20,000 students have taken it!), Dement is well-respected and loved among his peers and students – something captured by this 2008 video.

Previously: Stanford docs discuss all things sleepCatching some Zzzs at the Stanford Sleep Medicine CenterThanks, Jerry: Honoring pioneering Stanford sleep research and Catching up on sleep science
Related: Stalking the netherworld of sleep and Dement keeps last class wide awake
Illustration, which originally appeared in STANFORD, by Gabriel Moreno

Autoimmune Disease, Genetics, NIH, Research, Science

Tiny hitchhikers, big health impact: Studying the microbiome to learn about disease

Tiny hitchhikers, big health impact: Studying the microbiome to learn about disease

I don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated with the idea of the “microbiome.” If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it describes the millions upon millions of tiny, non-human hitchhikers that live on and in you (think bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microscopic life). Although the exact composition of these molecular roommates can vary from person to person, they aren’t freeloaders. Many are vitally important to your metabolism and health.

We’ve reported here on the Human Microbiome Project, launched in 2007 and supported by the National Institutes of Health’s Common Fund. Phase 2 of the project started last fall, with grants to three groups around the country to study how the composition of a person’s microbiome might affect the onset of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as its role in pregnancy and preterm birth. Now the researchers, which include Stanford geneticist Michael Snyder, PhD, have published an article in Cell Host & Microbe detailing what data will be gathered and how it will be shared.

As explained in a release by the National Human Genome Research Institute:

“We’re producing an incredibly rich array of data for the community from the microbiomes and hosts in these cohorts, so that scientists can evaluate for themselves with these freely available data which properties are the most relevant for understanding the role of the microbiome in the human host,” said Lita M. Proctor, Ph.D., program director of the Human Microbiome Project at NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

“The members of the Consortium can take advantage of each other’s expertise in dealing with some very complex science in these projects,” she said. “We’re generating these data as a community resource and we want to describe this resource in enough detail so people can anticipate the data that will be produced, where they can find it and the analyses that will come out of the Consortium’s efforts.”

As I’ve recently blogged, data-sharing among researchers and groups is particularly important for research efficiency and reproducibility. And I’m excited to hear what the project will discover. More from the release:

For years the number of microbial cells on or in each human was thought to outnumber human cells by 10 to 1. This now seems a huge understatement. Dr. Proctor noted that the 10-to-1 estimate was based only on bacterial cells, but the microbiome also includes viruses, protozoa, fungi and other forms of microscopic life. “So if you really look at the entire microbial community, you’re probably looking at more like a 100-to-1 ratio,” she said.

Although thousands of bacterial species may make their homes with human beings, each individual person is host to only about 1,000 species at a time, according to the findings of the Human Microbiome Project’s first phase in 2012.

In addition, judging from the array of common functions of bacterial genes, if the bacteria are healthy, each individual’s particular suite of species appear to come together to perform roughly the same biological functions as another healthy individual. In fact, researchers found that certain bacterial metabolic pathways were always present in healthy people, and that many of those pathways were often lost or altered in people who were ill.

Stanford’s Snyder will join forces with researchers in the laboratory of George Weinstock, PhD, of the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Connecticut to investigate the effect of the microbiome on  the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Snyder may be uniquely positioned to investigate the causes of the condition. In 2012, he made headlines when he performed the first ever ‘omics’ profile of himself (an analysis that involves whole genome DNA sequencing with repeated measurements of the levels of RNA, proteins and metabolites in a person’s blood over time). During the process, he learned that he was on the cusp of developing type 2 diabetes. He was able to halt the progression of the disease with changes in exercise and diet.

Previously: Stanford team awarded NIH Human Microbiome Project grantElite rugby players may have more diverse gut microbiota, study shows and Could gut bacteria play a role in mental health?

Science, Stanford News, Videos

Science is like an ongoing mystery novel, says Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz

Carla Shatz

We all know that Carla Shatz, PhD, director of the interdisciplinary institute Stanford Bio-X, is a pioneering scientist — her work in early brain development and in Alzheimer’s disease has earned her many accolades. Now she’s being featured in a videos series celebrating women pioneers in science.

I want to say first that it always rankles a bit when people are celebrated as being “pioneering women in XXX”. That makes it seem like if they weren’t women they wouldn’t have made the pioneer cut. Carla is a pioneer period. And also a woman. And gave a great interview.

One interesting point she made had to do with what she wished she’d known before starting a career in science. She said, “If you really like science and you like research, that is the joy and the easy part. The hard part is managing the teams and the research itself – the people.”

She went on to talk about the people who influenced her (her dad) and her first scientific experiment (it had to do with Siamese cats, and initially didn’t work).

When it comes to women in science, her answer was straightforward. She said we need talented people working on critical problems, and women are half the population. Without them, there are fewer people working on these important questions. She also said that she worries about the diminished funding for science driving the best minds (male and female) into other fields.

Her answer to what gets her up in the morning should help lure at least a few of those potential best minds into a scientific career, even with weak funding. She said:

Every day when I come to work I am so excited to be here and go to my lab and do experiments and be with my students. It’s part of an ongoing mystery. I can hardly wait to see the next part of the mystery that is going to be solved.

The series is sponsored by Scientista, which supports women in math and science, The Scientist magazine, Lab Manager and Mettler Toledo.

Previously: They said “Yes”: The attitude that defines Stanford Bio-X and Pioneers in science
Photo be Steve Fisch

Bioengineering, Research, Stanford News, Technology

Proteins from pond scum revolutionize neuroscience

Proteins from pond scum revolutionize neuroscience

pond scum smallI wrote a story recently about a cool technique called optogenetics, developed by bioengineering professor Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD. He won the Keio Prize in Medicine, and I thought it might be interesting to talk with some other neuroscientists at Stanford to get their take on the importance of the technology. You know something is truly groundbreaking when each and every person you interview uses the word “revolutionary” to describe it.

Optogenetics is a technique that allows scientists to use light to turn particular nerves on or off. In the process, they’re learning new things about how the brain works and about diseases and mental health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, addiction and depression.

In describing the award, the Keio Prize committee wrote:

By making optogenetics a reality and leading this new field, Dr. Deisseroth has made enormous contributions towards the fundamental understanding of brain functions in health and disease.

One of the things I found most interesting when writing the story came from a piece Deisseroth wrote several years ago in Scientific American in which he stressed the importance of basic research. Optogenetics would not have been a reality without discoveries made in the lowly algae that makes up pond scum.

“The more directed and targeted research becomes, the more likely we are to slow our progress, and the more certain it is that the distant and untraveled realms, where truly disruptive ideas can arise, will be utterly cut off from our common scientific journey,” Deisseroth wrote.

Deisseroth told me that we need to be funding basic, curiosity-driven research along with efforts to make those discoveries relevant. He said that kind of translation is part of the value of  programs like Stanford Bio-X – an interdisciplinary institute founded in 1998 – which puts diverse faculty members side by side to enable that translation from basic science to medical discovery.

Previously: They said “Yes”: The attitude that defines Stanford Bio-X, New York Times profiles Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth and his work in optogenetics, An in-depth look at the career of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth, “a major name in science”, Lightning strikes twice: Optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth’s newest technique renders tissues transparent, yet structurally intact, The “rock star” work of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth and Nature Methods names optogenetics its “Method of the Year
Photo by Tim Elliott, Shutterstock photos

Medical Education, Medicine X, Stanford News

Lloyd B. Minor, Stanford medical school’s dean, shares five principles of leadership

Lloyd B. Minor, Stanford medical school's dean, shares five principles of leadership

Dean_MinorOne of the highlights of this past weekend’s Medicine X was a course – “Navigating Complexity and Change: Principles of Leadership” – taught by our own leader, Lloyd B. Minor, MD. I sat in on the thoughtful and robust discussion, which focused on five principles that Minor developed throughout his career as a scientist, surgeon and academic leader. Students in the class were a mix of ePatients, researchers, entrepreneurs, and physicians, including a neuroanesthesiologist at Yale School of Medicine.

The first principle that Minor introduced was listening and learning, which, he said “underlie success in everything.” He went on to say, “I think a lot of leadership problems and failures come about when leaders are not, first and foremost, good listeners.”

Listening to others in the organization articulate their core values and vision provides a cultural context and helps leaders avoid the pitfall of their viewpoint being seen as counter to the organization’s. It also allows leaders to better understand those who disagree with them, he said. Drawing on his recent experience transitioning from provost and senior vice president of academic affairs of Johns Hopkins University to dean of Stanford’s School of Medicine, Minor explained that holding town hall meetings with Stanford faculty, students and staff were crucial in order to engage the community in charting a vision. “Vision is a derivative from listening and learning,” he told the class.

The next principle Minor discussed was building diverse teams. “Successful organizations thrive on diversity, and building diverse teams is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader,” said Minor. He emphasized that racial, gender and socioeconomic diversity, and diversity of viewpoint, are equally essential. Master Class students were advised to identify their weaknesses and surround themselves with individuals who have different backgrounds and cultural contexts and who possess strengths that can compensate for those weaknesses. In addition, if leaders listen and learn from a diverse team that provides constant feedback then they’ll create more opportunities for collaboration.

Once leaders have built diverse teams, the third principle comes into play: empowering teams. “You need to demonstrate the type of team behavior that you want individuals to exemplify to the rest of the organization,” he said. “That will determine how effective those teams are and enable you to be a better leader.” Among Minor’s tenets for empowering teams are: establishing a system of equitable accountability, allowing people to realize and correct their mistakes, establishing incentives, recognizing individuals or teams’ successes, and developing skill sets.

Minor went on to discuss the principle of managing and leading, stressing the point that while management and leadership have different areas of focus, being an effective leader requires one to be capable in management. “There is nothing that will derail leadership faster than poor management,” he explained. Leaders must not only articulate an organization’s vision and core values and build diverse teams to carry out those actions, but respond in a timely fashion, communicate, organize and coordinate.

Minor closed out his talk by touching on transitions. “This is a principle that is often missed and one that often leads to bad consequences for the individual, as well as the organization,” he explained. Leaders need to take time to reflect on both their transition to subsequent roles and the future of the organization. He warned that failing to carve out time to do so could result the erosion of leaders’ physical and mental health and damage the organization. A common mistake that he spoke to students about is when leaders refuse to let go of their former role and try to do the same job in a new position. To make sure Minor himself remembered to abide by this principle during his transition to Stanford, his wife gave him a business card holder for his desk with a quote from Lord Chesterfield that reminds us that in order to “discover new oceans, you must have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

More news about Stanford Medicine X is available in the Medicine X category. 

Previously: Stanford Medicine X 2014 kicks off todayCountdown to Medicine X: 3D printing takes shapeCountdown to Medicine X: Specially designed apps to enhance attendees’ conference experience and Countdown to Medicine X: How to engage with the “no smartphone” patient
Photo by Stanford Medicine X

Biomed Bites, Research, Science, Stanford News, Videos

Studying the drivers of metastasis to combat cancer

Studying the drivers of metastasis to combat cancer

Today we’re launching Biomed Bites, a weekly series created to highlight some of Stanford Medicine’s most compelling research and introduce readers to promising scientists from across the basic and clinical sciences.

One might not think there’s much of a connection between grapes and cancer cells, but Amato Giaccia, PhD, has found some similarities. “The tumor microenvironment is very analogous to the microenvironment you would have in Napa Valley, where different types of grapes grow in different areas depending on the richness of the soil and the different climate and weather that exist,” explains the Stanford radiation oncologist and cancer biologist in the video above. “In a similar matter, tumors require different environments for them to be able to grow and… metastasize.”

Giaccia and his colleagues study the genetic and epigenetic regulators of metastasis, and their work could lead to the development of therapeutics that inhibit or eradicate the process, which contributes to 90 percent of cancer-related deaths. “Understanding the drivers of metastasis and how to best target them is going to have a major impact on cancer survival and mortality in the future,” Giaccia says.

Learn more about Stanford Medicine’s Biomedical Innovation Initiative and about other faculty leaders who are driving forward biomedical innovation here.

Previously: Cellular culprit identified for invasive bladder cancer, according to Stanford study, Potential anti-cancer therapy starves cancer cells of glucose and Nomadic cells may hold clues to cancer’s spread
Photo in featured entry box by Lee Coursey/Flickr

Health Policy, Public Health, Stanford News

Defining a “public-health emergency” in an age of complex health threats

Defining a “public-health emergency” in an age of complex health threats

MHE_-_KBH_Brandvaesen_-_HAZMAT_3aWhen chemicals used in coal mining were spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia in January, the governor declared a state of emergency the same day. When the H1N1 influenza virus was discovered in 2009, President Obama declared a national public-health emergency. In both cases, people were willing to comply with government orders (don’t drink the water, speed up vaccine production) in order to get an impending health threat under control.

But what happens when the health threat isn’t imminent? Or if it has no clear end-point? In a perspective piece in the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Stanford public-health law scholar Michelle Mello, PhD, JD, and her co-authors delve into just such questions. They describe Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s unusual step in March to declare a public-health emergency in order to control the state’s recent opioid-addiction epidemic – 40 people had died from heroin overdoses in four months. The move allowed public-health authorities to take several steps to address the problem, including monitoring prescription use and release funds for addiction treatment. Few states have taken such drastic steps to control drug use problems, though, and it raises questions about what exactly constitutes a public health emergency. In the piece, the authors write:

Patrick’s unusual invocation of emergency public health powers, which are traditionally reserved for infectious disease outbreaks, natural disasters, or acts of terrorism, offers an opportunity to consider some important questions. Should widespread injuries, such as those caused by opiates or motor vehicle crashes, be viewed as public health emergencies? Should chronic health conditions such as hypertension or obesity be similarly categorized? When should normal lawmaking processes, and the typical rights afforded to individuals and entities, be suspended to protect public health?

Although there may be benefits – drawing public attention to an important problem, access to critical funding sources, even mustering military personnel (for example, the National Guard was deployed to deal with the Elk River chemical spill) – there are drawbacks as well. Emergency powers give the government unprecedented leeway, as the authors note, they “sit largely outside the ordinary structures of checks and balances.” The authors go on to describe some of the pitfalls of declaring public-health emergencies:

Most important, concerns about due process are amplified when emergency orders restrict individual freedoms and property rights. The notion that highly coercive measures such as mandatory blood tests, quarantines, or property seizures could be imposed for common threats without democratic procedures and full due process offends our constitutional values. The lack of clear triggering thresholds for terminating emergency powers is particularly troubling, creating the possibility that critical legal protections might be suspended indefinitely.

Government officials rarely invoke public health emergencies, partly due to their out-sized power. The authors note, though that Patrick’s invocation “sets a troubling precedent” for a power that should be used with caution.

Photo by hebster

Stanford Medicine Resources: