Category Archives: Global Health

How to stop the Ebola epidemic – Paul Farmer

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From People Power Television

As the death toll from the West African Ebola outbreak nears 1,400, two American missionaries who received experimental drugs and top-notch healthcare have been released from the hospital.

We spend the hour with Partners in Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer discussing what can be done to stop the epidemic and the need to build local healthcare capacity, not just an emergency response.

“The Ebola outbreak, which is the largest in history that we know about, is merely a reflection of the public health crisis in Africa, and it’s about the lack of staff, stuff and systems that could protect populations, particularly those living in poverty, from outbreaks like this or other public health threats,” says Farmer, who has devoted his life to improving the health of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

He is a professor at Harvard Medical School and currently serves as the special adviser to the United Nations on community-based medicine. He has written several books including, “Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues.”

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NIH to test Ebola vaccine in humans

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From the US National Institutes of Health

Trial will evaluate vaccine’s safety

Initial human testing of an investigational vaccine to prevent Ebola virus disease will begin next week by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.

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The early-stage trial will begin initial human testing of a vaccine co-developed by NIAID and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and will evaluate the experimental vaccine’s safety and ability to generate an immune system response in healthy adults.

The pace of human safety testing for experimental Ebola vaccines has been expedited in response to the ongoing Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

Testing will take place at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

The study is the first of several Phase 1 clinical trials that will examine the investigational NIAID/GSK Ebola vaccine and an experimental Ebola vaccine developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed to NewLink Genetics Corp.

The others are to launch in the fall. These trials are conducted in healthy adults who are not infected with Ebola virus to determine if the vaccine is safe and induces an adequate immune response. Continue reading

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Health system needs to prepare for global warming

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Climate change is happening, and with that will come more deaths from heat-related illness and disease, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report, spearheaded and funded by investor and philanthropist Thomas Steyer, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, examines many of the effects of climate change for business and individuals.

“One of the most striking findings in our analysis is that increasing heat and humidity in some parts of the country could lead to outside conditions that are literally unbearable to humans, who must maintain a skin temperature below 95°F in order to effectively cool down and avoid fatal heat stroke,” the report’s authors wrote.

The average will be miserable. When your sweat can’t evaporate, you have no way to moderate core body temperature, and some people will die.

They use a “Humid Heat Stroke Index” that combines heat and humidity levels to measure how close they come to the point where the body is unable to cool its core temperature. So far the nation has never reached that level, “but if we continue on our current climate path, this will change, with residents in the eastern half of the U.S. experiencing 1 such day a year on average by century’s end and nearly 13 such days per year into the next century.”

al sommer300

Dr. Al Sommer (Photo:Francis Ying/KHN

Dr. Al Sommer, the dean emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, was on the committee that oversaw the development of the report.

He says that often overlooked in the current debate about greenhouse gases and climate change is the effect of global warming on individuals and hospitals. Continue reading

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Americans living longer but less healthy lives, UW-led research finds

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IHME stats

Change in leading cause of death in high-income North America 1990-2010

Americans are living longer lives, but we are living out these longer lives with chronic illnesses in large part due to our lifestyle choices, including eating unhealthy diets, failing to exercise, smoking, and using alcohol and drugs, according to research led by researchers at the University of Washington.

In the analysis, the researchers looked the causes of death and disability in 187 countries around the world. The study was led by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A live webcast will be held tomorrow, March 5 from 9 am to 10:30 am PST, in which Microsoft founder Bill Gates, UW President Michael Young, and and IHME Director Dr. Chris Murray help launch a new suite of online data visualization tools.

The webcast can be viewed at http://www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org/gbd/live.

Researchers from more than 303 institutions and 50 countries contributed to the project, called the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010.

US: a “mixed picture”

Analysis of the US health data revealed a “mixed picture” the researchers said: we are living longer but many of us are not enjoying a healthy old age.

The average life expectancy of American women, for example, increased from 78.6 years in 1990 to 80.5 years in 2010, yet only 69.5 of those 80.5 years were lived in good health.

The picture was the same for American men who in 2010 lived, on average, to be 75.9 years old – up from 71.7 in 1990 – but only 66.2 of those years are healthy.

Most of the illness and death in the US is caused by relatively few conditions. The top causes of death and disability were ischemic heart disease, followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low back pain, lung cancer, and major depressive disorders.

The analysis also found that the leading causes of death had changed over the past 20 years. Over those two decades,

  • ischemic heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer remained the top three causes of death;
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infection, and colorectal and breast cancers had moved down;
  • and diseases like diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease moved up.

US: Lagging behind

The study found that the US also lagged behind many wealthy and middle-income countries with Americans living shorter lives — and shorter healthy lives — than the residents of many other nations.

For example, men in 39 other countries – including Greece, Lebanon, and South Korea – live longer, and men in 30 other countries – such as Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Portugal – enjoy more years of good health.

American women fare about the same; in terms of life expectancy they are ranked 36th in the world, and in terms of healthy life expectancy they are ranked 35th, the analysis found.

We are doing so poorly because of our lifestyle choices:

  • The number one culprit: a diet that puts us at risk for such obesity-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
  • Number two: smoking, which leads to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, heart disease and stroke.

To learn more:

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Chronic illness and disability becoming world’s leading health challenges – UW-led study finds

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Globe 125X125By Michael McCarthy

We’re living longer, but many of us are living with chronic illnesses that significantly lower the quality of our lives, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Washington.

The survey, called the Global Burden of Disease Study, finds that there has been a major change in the causes and impact of poor health over the past decades, with a shift away from early death to chronic illnesses and disability.

The survey found that since 1970 life expectancy has increased by 11.1 years for men and 12.1 years for women and that deaths among children under age 5 have plummeted, except in subSaharan Africa where childhood mortality remains high.

In general, improvement in life expectancy has been steady, but it slowed in the 1990s largely due to deaths from HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa and alcohol-related deaths in in easter Europe and central Asia.

With our longer life expectancy, the major burden caused by disease is no longer early death but instead chronic illnesses that cause pain and disability, such as arthritis, diabetes and dementia, and psychological disorders, the study concludes.

Change in the leading cause of deaths from 1990 to 2010

Change in the leading cause of deaths from 1990 to 2010 – Click on image for interactive display.

The study was led by University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We’re finding that very few people are walking around with perfect health and that, as people age, they accumulate health conditions,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME and one of the founders of the Global Burden of Disease.

“At an individual level, this means we should recalibrate what life will be like for us in our 70s and 80s. It also has profound implications for health systems as they set priorities,” Murray said.

Dr. Paul Ramsey, chief executive officer of UW Medicine and dean of the University of Washington School of Medicine, said the study will serve as “a management tool for ministers of health and leaders of health systems to prepare for the specific health challenges coming their way.”

“At a time when world economies are struggling, it is crucial for health systems and global health funders to know where best to allocate resources,” Dr. Ramsey said.

The study found that while heart disease and stroke remained the two greatest causes of death between 1990 and 2010, all the other rankings in the top 10 causes changed.

Diseases such as diabetes, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease moved up the list, and diarrhea, lower respiratory infections, and tuberculosis moved down, the researchers report.

Explore the changes with this interactive chart.

And while malnutrition used to be a major cause of illness and death, today poor diet and physical inactivity are to blame for soaring rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke the study found.

“We have gone from a world 20 years ago where people weren’t getting enough to eat to a world now where too much food and unhealthy food – even in developing countries – is making us sick,” said Dr. Majid Ezzati, Chair in Global Environmental Health at Imperial College London and one of the study’s lead authors.

The study appears in this week’s issue of the medical journal The Lancet.

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Group Health Cooperative plans layoffs and cuts – Seattle Times

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Group Health Cooperative must cut $250 million over the next 16 months through layoffs, better cost control and some reorganization at the top, Seattle Times health reporter Carol Ostrom reports in today’s issue of the paper.

Ostrom writes:

Group Health, which insures about 600,000 people in Washington and has annual revenues of $3.5 billion, is aiming to climb back up to a 3 percent operating margin, Armstrong said in a Friday memo to staff, first reported by the Puget Sound Business Journal. The memo noted there had been three years of sharp declines in finances.

“This cannot continue,” Armstrong wrote. “We are better than this, and I am not going to let us have another year like this one.”

To learn more read Ostrom’s article: Group Health announces layoffs, cuts.

 

 

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How much do you know about global health? Take the quiz.

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Seattle has become a major center for global health research, activism and philanthropy.

But how much do you know about U.S. global health activities?

For example, how much of the U.S. federal budget is spent on global health?

Which region of the world receives the largest amount of U.S. government funding for global health?

What is the leading cause of death in low-income countries?

The Kaiser Family Foundation has created a quick 10-question, online quiz on global health to test your knowledge.

Take the quiz.

The answers might surprise you..

Other Kaiser quizzes examining HIV/AIDS, Medicare, Health Reform and the Uninsured are also available.

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HIV virons (green) budding from a white cell -- Photo: C. Goldsmith/CDC

Weekend Reading: Best of the web on health online this week

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Every week, KHN reporter Shefali S. Kulkarni selects interesting reading from around the Web.

Global Post  / PBS NewsHour: Groups Fighting HIV In D.C. Find Lessons In Africa

On a recent day not far from Capitol Hill and the White House, about a dozen HIV outreach workers toting bright yellow duffle bags stuffed with condoms and prevention information stood outside of the Anacostia Metro station. … After a couple of hours, they had handed out hundreds of packs of condoms — and had persuaded 21 people to take an HIV test with an oral swab in a Chevy van parked nearby. “You have to know your status, man. I’d rather be safe than sorry,” said Alvern Harris, 25, as he waited for his results. “What we do is a reflection to the younger generation. If we don’t, they won’t, and that’s another generation’s curse, another generation dying” (John Donnelly and Juliana Schatz, 6/12).

New York Times: Risky Rise Of The Good-Grade Pill

The boy exhaled. Before opening the car door, he recalled recently, he twisted open a capsule of orange powder and arranged it in a neat line on the armrest. He leaned over, closed one nostril and snorted it. Throughout the parking lot, he said, eight of his friends did the same thing. The drug was not cocaine or heroin, but Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that the boy said he and his friends routinely shared to study late into the night, focus during tests and ultimately get the grades worthy of their prestigious high school in an affluent suburb of New York City (Alan Schwarz, 6/9).

New York Times Magazine: How Do You Live Knowing You Might Have An Alzheimer’s Gene?

PET scan of the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease howing a loss of function in the temporal lobe(M)any of these relatives have come together to be part of a large international study of families who carry an Alzheimer’s gene. The study, known as DIAN (for Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network), involves more than 260 people in the United States, Britain and Australia and includes at least 10 members of Doug and Gary’s family. Since 2008, researchers have been monitoring the brains of subjects who have mutations in any of three genes that cause Alzheimer’s to see how the disease develops before symptoms occur. By early next year, DIAN researchers plan to begin a new phase. Subjects will receive one of three experimental drugs that the researchers hope will slow or stop the disease in people otherwise destined to get it (Gina Kolata, 6/7).

American Medical News: Migrant Farmworkers: Medical Care For An Invisible Population

During the summer, internist Bruce Gould, MD, drives to the farm fields that stretch across Connecticut to see his patients. He arrives at night after the migrant farmworkers have finished harvesting tobacco. He examines them behind barns, at picnic tables or in makeshift exam rooms that consist of a folding massage table and a tarp roof. … The doctor helped establish the University of Connecticut’s mobile Migrant Farm Worker Clinic in 1997 to bring medical care to a severely underserved population. From June through October, medical students and physicians affiliated with the university volunteer at local farms, and try to manage chronic diseases, treat infections and mend injuries [Christine Moyer (6/11) - Photo:  John Nyberg].


This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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More than one in ten U.S. babies born prematurely

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By Julie Appleby
KHN staff writer

The United States has a higher rate of babies born too early – and therefore at greater risk of death or health problems – than more than 125 other countries, including Rwanda, Uzbekistan, China and Latvia, according to a report out today.

About 12 percent of U.S. babies are born at 37 weeks or less, according to the report, which found a worldwide range of as few as 4.1 percent of babies in Belarus to as many as 18 percent in Malawi. Full term is considered 39 weeks.

Click to view interactive map and charts

While nearly two thirds of all pre-term births worldwide occur in Sub-Saharan African and Asia, the U.S. rate shows that “this is not just a developing country issue,” says Chris Howson, vice president for global programs at the March of Dimes.

His organization, along with the World Health Organization, Save the Children and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, produced the report. It says about one million pre-term babies worldwide die shortly after birth, while others can suffer lifelong health problems.

Born Too Soon is a joint effort of almost 50 organizations, including the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), an initiative of Seattle Children’s.

“This report sounds the alarm that prematurity is an enormous global health problem that urgently demands more research and resources,” said Craig Rubens, MD, PhD, executive director of GAPPS and contributor to the report.

“Even if every known intervention was implemented around the world, we would still see 13.8 million preterm births each year; we could only prevent 8 percent,” he said.

Maternal risk factors include being under- or over-weight, having diabetes or high blood pressure, smoking, being younger than 17 or over age 40.

Rates within countries can vary widely. In the U.S., for example, the pre-term birth rate for white women in 2009 was 10.9 percent, compared with 17.5 percent for African American women, the report says.

In the U.S. and some other developed countries, pre-term births are also linked with a higher use of fertility drugs, which are associated with mothers carrying twins, triplets or more, increasing the chance of early labor. Some births in the U.S. are also induced early, either because the mother is having health problems or for the convenience of the doctor or mother.

Because pre-term births are costly and dangerous, physician groups, organizations like the March of Dimes and even some employers have ongoing efforts to discourage women and their doctors from scheduling births before 39 weeks, unless there is a health reason to do so. The Obama administration launched a $40 million program in February aimed at reducing the number of premature births, especially elective deliveries.

Those elective early births are also the subject of a March of Dimes education campaign, which says even though the absolute numbers are small, the risk of death for babies born just one to two weeks early is twice as high as for those born at 39 weeks.

Howson says the groups that signed on to the report have made a variety of suggestions for lowering the rate worldwide, ranging from inexpensive injections that can be given to mothers in preterm labor to help develop fetal lungs to encouraging women to have health exams before they get pregnant to check for risk factors.

“A preterm baby indicates a failure in the system,” he says.

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This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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John Wecker

Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute appoints John Wecker president and CEO.

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John Wecker

Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute (PNDRI) announced today that John Wecker, PhD has been appointed president and CEO.

Dr. Wecker was most recently Global Program Leader, Vaccine Access and Delivery at PATH.

PNDRI is an independent non-profit biomedical and clinical research center that focuses on eliminating diabetes and its complications.

The Institute, which has a team of 85 physicians, scientists and technical staff, was founded in Seattle in 1956 by Dr. William Hutchinson, Sr., who also founded the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Before he joined PATH, Dr. Wecker worked for Boehringer Ingelheim, a global pharmaceutical company, where he led pharmaceutical product development teams and championed the company’s efforts to expand access to treatments for HIV/AIDS in the developing world.

During this time he established a program to provide medication for the prevention of mother-child transmission of HIV/AIDS, free of charge to over 120 countries around the world.

Dr. Wecker received his doctorate in Biological Psychology from the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY.

Dr. Wecker succeeds Dr. Jack Faris, who has been serving as acting CEO during the past eighteen months. Dr. Faris will remain part of the PNDRI team as a strategic advisor.

Dr. Wecker will begin at PNDRI on April 23rd.

To learn more:

  • For more information about PNDRI, visit www.pndri.org or call (206) 726-1200.


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Dr. Larry Corey

Hutchinson Center President Larry Corey Elected American Academy of Art and Sciences Fellow

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Dr. Larry Corey

Dr. Larry Corey, M.D., president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Academy is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies and independent policy-research centers.

The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

Dr. Corey has led the Hutchinson Center since January 2011 and has held other leadership positions there since 1996, first as head of infectious disease sciences in the Clinical Research Division and later as senior vice president and co-director of the Center’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division.

Dr. Corey is an expert in virology, immunology and vaccine development. His research has focused on herpes viruses, HIV and other viral infections, particularly those associated with cancer.

He also is principal investigator of the Hutchinson Center-based HIV Vaccine Trials Network, an international collaboration of scientists and institutions that combines clinical trials and laboratory-based studies to accelerate the development of HIV vaccines.

Dr. Corey is a professor of laboratory medicine and medicine, adjunct professor of pediatrics and microbiology, and holder of the Lawrence Corey Endowed Chair in Medical Virology at the University of Washington. He is also an infectious disease physician at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Dr. Corey is the Hutchinson Center’s second president to be elected to the Academy. Yeast geneticist Lee Hartwell, Ph.D., a 2001 Nobel laureate, was elected in 1998. He led the Center from 1997 until 2010.

Corey is among 220 leaders in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, arts, business and public affairs who have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 2012 class of fellows.

Since its founding in 1780, the Academy fellows have included: George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the eighteenth century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nineteenth, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the twentieth.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony Oct. 6 at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

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PATH names Steve Davis president and CEO

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Davis

Seattle’s global health organization PATH announced today that Steve Davis has been appointed president and CEO.

In his new position Davis will oversee PATH’s annual budget of $305 million, a staff of nearly 1,200, and a portfolio of projects based in PATH offices in 22 countries.

PATH projects include the development of an affordable meningitis vaccine, improved screening and treatment for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and low-cost filters for safe drinking water.

Davis comes to PATH  from McKinsey & Company, where he was global director of social innovation.

In that position, Davis led a global team that consults for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), governments, and the private sector, with a focus on global health and development, research and development, and Asia and Africa.

Previously, Davis was a long-term CEO of Corbis, a global digital media leader, and served as interim CEO of the Infectious Disease Research Institute, a nonprofit biotech working on vaccines, diagnostics, and drug discovery for infectious diseases of poverty.

His previous experiences also include serving as interim director of PATH’s India program, practicing law with K&L Gates, and working on refugee and human rights issues.

Mr. Davis earned his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, his master’s degree from the University of Washington, and his juris doctor from Columbia University.

Davis will join PATH on June 11 and be based at PATH’s Seattle headquarters.

He succeeds former president and CEO Dr. Christopher J. Elias, who led PATH through significant growth for ten years.

Dr. Elias left PATH in January to become president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Gonorrhea bacteria - Photo CDC

New drugs needed to combat drug-resistant gonorrhea, warn scientists

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Some cases of gonorrhea in the U.S. may soon be incurable unless new drugs can be found to combat emerging strains that are resistant to existing “last line of defense” antibiotics, scientists warn in an article in this week’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

“It is time to sound the alarm,” said Dr. Judy Wasserheit, vice chair of the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington, who wrote the article with Dr. Gail Bolan of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. P. Frederick Sparling of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill.

Gonorrhea bacteria - Photo CDC

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that can infect the genital tract, throat and anus.

There are more than 600,000 cases of gonorrhea a year in the U.S., making it one of the most common reportable infections in the country.

Untreated, gonorrhea can cause a number of serous complications, including infertility, a chronic painful pelvic condition in women called pelvic inflammatory disease, and ectopic pregnancy, a serious complication in which the fetus develops in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus.

In rare cases, the bacteria can travel through the bloodstream and infect joints, heart valves and the brain.

The bacteria that causes gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, has a history of quickly acquiring the ability to resist antibiotics. In the 1940s it became resistant to sulfa drugs, in the 1980s to penicillins and tetracyclines, and by 2007 to flouroquinolones.

Today, treatment with a class of antibiotics called cephalosporins is considered the most reliable option, but resistance to this class of drugs is on the rise both abroad and in the U.S., raising concerns that doctors here will soon begin seeing cases they cannot cure.

Untreatable cases have not yet been reported in the U.S., but they have appeared in Asia and Europe and a worrying number of strains in the U.S. are showing signs of resistance to cephalosporins.

Resistance to one of the cephalosporins has risen 17-fold in the U.S. over the past few years, Dr. Wasserheit and her colleagues write, increasing from just 0.1 percent of cases in 2006 to 1.7 percent in the first part of last year.

Resistance has been increasing even faster in the western U.S., reaching 3.6 percent of all cases last year and 4.7 percent of cases among men who have sex with men.

Although higher doses may overcome the ability of these strains to resist cephalosporins for a time, Dr. Wasserheit and her colleagues write, urgent action is needed now to prevent the spread of these strains and to develop new treatments.

“There is much to do, and the threat of untreatable gonorrhea is emerging rapidly,” they conclude.

 To learn more:

  • Visit the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus information page on gonorrhea.
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World AIDS Day

Top 10 myths about HIV vaccine research

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By Dr. James Kublin
Executive director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network

Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day, and to mark the occasion the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, which is headquartered at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, would like to debunk the top 10 myths about HIV vaccine research.

Myth No. 1: HIV vaccines can give people HIV.

HIV vaccines do not contain HIV and therefore a person cannot get HIV from the HIV vaccine. Some vaccines, like those for typhoid or polio, may contain a weak form of the virus they are protecting against, but this is not the case for HIV vaccines. Scientists make HIV vaccines so that they look like the real virus, but they do not contain any HIV. Think of it like a photocopy: It might look similar, but it isn’t the original. In the past 25 years more than 30,000 volunteers have taken part in HIV vaccine studies worldwide, and no one has been infected with HIV by any of the vaccines tested – because they do not contain HIV.

Myth No. 2: An HIV vaccine already exists.

There is no licensed vaccine against HIV or AIDS, but scientists are getting closer than ever before to developing an effective vaccine against HIV. In 2009, a large-scale vaccine study conducted in Thailand called RV144 showed that a vaccine combination could prevent about 32 percent of new infections. Researchers are starting to understand why this vaccine combination worked and how to improve upon it.

Researchers around the world continue to search for an HIV vaccine that is even more effective. Leading this effort is the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, the largest publicly funded group of HIV vaccine researchers in the world. The HVTN is an international effort to find a safe and effective vaccine to stop the spread of HIV. It is funded by the U. S. National Institutes of Health.

Myth No. 3: Joining an HIV-vaccine study is like being a guinea pig.

Unlike guinea pigs, people can say yes or no to participating in research. All study volunteers must go through a process called informed consent that ensures they understand all of the risks and benefits of being in a study, and those volunteers are reminded that they may leave a study at any time without losing rights or benefits. The HVTN takes great care in making sure people understand the study fully before they decide whether or not join. All HVTN research adheres to U.S. federal regulations on research, as well as the international standards for the countries in which it conducts research.

Myth No. 4: A person must be HIV positive to be in an HIV vaccine study.

Not so. While some research groups are conducting studies of vaccines that might be used in people who are already infected with HIV, the vaccines being tested by the HVTN are preventive vaccines. They must be tested on volunteers who are not infected with HIV.

Myth No. 5: Vaccine researchers want study participants to practice unsafe behaviors so they can see whether the vaccine really works.

Not true. The safety of study participants is the No. 1 priority of HIV vaccine researchers and study site staff. Trained counselors work with study participants to help them develop an individual plan on how to keep from contracting HIV. Participants also are given supplies such as condoms and lubricant as well as instructions on how to use them properly. HIV efficacy trials enroll thousands of participants over several years, and with even with the best counseling some participants will still become infected through their risky behavior. Changing human behavior is never easy; after all, many people still smoke, even though it is widely known that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. An AIDS epidemic would not exist if prevention was as simple as counseling people to change their risky behavior.

Myth No. 6: Now that there are pills that can prevent HIV infection, an HIV vaccine is no longer necessary.

HIV-negative people who are at high risk can take antiretroviral medication daily to try to lower their chances of becoming infected if they are exposed to the virus. This type of therapy – called PrEP, short for PreExposure Prophylaxis – has been shown to be effective among those at high risk. However, it has not yet been recommended for widespread use. PrEP is unlikely to be an option for everyone because the pills are expensive and are not always covered by insurance, may cause side effects, and not everyone has access to them. Remembering to take a pill every day is also challenging for some people. The most effective way to eliminate a disease is by using an effective vaccine. It was a vaccine that eliminated small pox and has almost eliminated polio. Most likely it will be an HIV vaccine that eliminates HIV from the world. Vaccines are an effective, affordable and practical option.

Myth No. 7: An HIV vaccine is unnecessary because AIDS is easily treated and controlled, just like diabetes.

While treatment for AIDS has dramatically improved over the last 30 years, it is no substitute for prevention. Current HIV medications are very expensive, and there are also many side effects. Sometimes people develop drug resistance and have to change the regimen of pills they take. Access to these drugs for the uninsured in the U.S. and those in the developing world is also very limited.

Myth No. 8: The search for an HIV vaccine has been going on for a long time and it’s just not possible to find one that works.

The science of HIV-vaccine development is challenging, but scientific understanding continues to improve all the time. In just the past two years there have been promising results from the RV144 study in Thailand as well as exciting laboratory work, such as the discovery of new broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV. HIV is a powerful opponent, but scientists are constantly learning from one another and using advanced technology to fight it. Science has come a long way in the 30 years since AIDS was discovered. In comparing preventive HIV vaccine work to other vaccine development, the time it has taken is not so surprising; the polio vaccine took 47 years to develop.

Myth No. 9: Vaccines cause autism and just aren’t safe.

This is not true. Numerous studies in the past decade have found this claim to be false. The British doctor who originally published the finding about vaccines and autism has since been found to have falsified his data. There is actually no link between childhood vaccination and autism. It is true that vaccines often have side effects, but those are typically temporary (like a sore arm, low fever, muscle aches and pains) and go away after a day or two. The value of protection to vaccinated individuals and to the public has made vaccines one of the top public health measures in history, second only to having a clean water supply.

Myth No. 10: People who aren’t at risk don’t need an HIV vaccine.

A person currently may not be at risk for HIV, but life situations can change along with disease risk. Such a vaccine also may be important for one’s children or other family members and friends. By being knowledgeable about preventive HIV vaccine research, a person can be part of the solution by educating friends and family about the importance of such research and debunking the myths that surround it. Even if a person is not at risk, he or she can be part of the effort to find a vaccine that will hopefully save the lives of millions of people worldwide.

To learn more or find out how to get involved in an HIV vaccine study, please visit www.hvtn.org

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Petri Dish

State’s life sciences sector grows despite recession

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Despite a recession, the number of jobs in Washington state’s life sciences sector rose 9 percent from 2007 through the first quarter of this year, according to a report released at the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Associations (WBBA) 2011 Governor’s Life Sciences Annual.

WBBA President Chris Rivera said the upbeat report on state’s life sciences industry was “conservative” — but added there were challenges that threatened the sector’s growth, including burdensome regulation and increased competition from competitors both here in the U.S. and abroad.

The report “Trends in Washing’s Life Sciences Industry 2007–2011”, which was prepared for WBBA by the Washington Research Council, found that the life sciences was now the fifth largest employment sector in the state, after transportation and equipment manufacturing, agriculture, software, and food and beverage manufacturing.

The sector, which does not include hospitals and other health services, employs 33,519 individuals directly, whose employment, in turn, supports as many as 57,000 other jobs indirectly for a total of nearly 91,000 overall, the report said.

In general, life science jobs are well paid, with an annual average wage of $77,490, compared to the state’s average private sector wage of $48,519 a year.

Overall, the sector adds $10.4 billion to the state’s gross domestic product of $340.5 billion in 2010.

Official portrait Washington State Gov. Chris Gregoire

Chris Gregoire

In her address to the conference, Gov. Christine Gregoire said collaboration has been the key to the success of the state’s life science sector.

“Our growing life sciences sector is built on three strong pillars: our educational institutions, our private businesses, and our nonprofit organizations,” she said, which “unlike many around the world are all working together.”

Gregoire cited a number of promising programs designed to support the sector, in particular small start ups, but warned that cuts to education due to the budget crisis threatened the sector.

“We cannot afford to continue to compromise our education system in this state and yet expect that we be on the cutting edge of the knowledge economy,” she said.

Speaker Highlight: Eli Lilly CEO John Leichleiter

Eli Lilly CEO John Leichleiter told the conference that while the U.S. Life sciences and biopharmaceutical sector was the “envy of the world” the sector is “facing today nothing short of a innovation crisis.”

Leichleiter blamed the high cost of research and development, burdensome regulation at home, and increased competition abroad, particularly from China and India.

Leichleiter noted that it now takes $1.3 billion to develop a new drug. At the same time, due to expiration of patents for a large number of top-selling drugs, the industry faces the loss of $150 billion in annual revenue. This means there will be less to invest in “next generation of medicines,” Leichleiter said.

These and other pressures are forcing a “wave of defensive consolidation” among “arge cap pharmaceutical companies, resulting in a “dwindling number of entities capable of taking a discovery to a medicine.”

At the same time,  China and India are “producing more scientists and engineers than we are and are intensely focussesing on developing their innovation capacity,” Leichleiter said.

Leichleiter proposed five policy remedies:

  1. Improve science and math literacty by improving K througn 12 education.
  2. Immigration reform that “allows and encourages top scientists to choose to work in the U.S.”
  3. Strong and sustained federal support for research: Medical research is a long process, he noted, “the funding must be consistent, predictable and sustained” in order to attract researchers and keep them engaged.
  4. Tax reform: Lowering corporate tax rates to the 20 to 25 percent range, more in line with the rates seen in competitor nations.
  5. Regulatory reform: Make drug approval quicker and more predictable and that better balances risks against potential benefits. “The pressure on regulators is to err on the side of avoiding risks, when some patients might accept those risks for the treatments potential benefit,” he said.

University of Washington President Michael Young echoed Gregoire’s and Leichleiter’sconcern about the effect state and federal budget cuts may have to the education system.

Young argued that there were three elements needed for a successful regional high-tech sector: an “innovative, imaginative business community that is willing to take risks”, a university that included “economic development in its mission,” and a supply of well-trained, “entrepreneurial students.”

That third leg was under threat due to budget cuts to public education, he warned.

WBBA also announced 2011 winners of their Innovation Award.

Seattle Genetics was recognized for its work on Adcetris (brentuximab vedotin), approved for the treatment of patients with relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma, and for the treatment of patients with relapsed systemic anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

Amgen was recognized for the FDA approval of Prolia (denosumab) for the treatment of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis at high risk for fractures, as a treatment to increase bone mass in women at high risk for fracture receiving adjuvant aromatase inhibitor therapy for breast cancer, and as a treatment to increase bone mass in men at high risk for fracture receiving androgen deprivation therapy for non-metastatic prostate cancer.

“Success in today’s economy is most directly tied to a region’s ability to grow, retain and attract human capital,” Young said.

Young argued that reason why the U.S. has been able to thrive as as the world economy have evolved from an economy based on first, agriculture, then industry, then services and now knowledge, was that it had an economic and regulatory environment that allowed businesses to adapt, a cutting-edge research infrastructure, and the “mechanisms for the best and the brightest to rise to the top,”

“The mechanisms that has allowed the best and the brightest to rise to the top have been the universities,” Young said, particularly the public universities, which educate the vast majority of America’s young.

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