WBEZ | Science http://www.wbez.org/sections/science Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en A Fix for Gender-Bias in Animal Research Could Help Humans http://www.wbez.org/news/fix-gender-bias-animal-research-could-help-humans-114799 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/mouse_gender-15l_wide-42e8b5c91d29dbc7986bf3ef2d1fcc270e3cc534-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>There&#39;s been a male tilt to biomedical research for a long time.</p><p>The National Institutes of Health is trying to change that and is looking to bring gender balance all the way down to the earliest stages of research. As a condition of NIH funding, researchers will now have to include female and male animals in their biomedical studies.</p><p>As late as the 1990s, researchers worried that testing drugs in women who could be pregnant or become pregnant might lead to birth defects, so experimental drugs were mainly tested in men. Research in animals followed the same pattern.</p><p>&quot;There was not the understanding that it really isn&#39;t scientifically appropriate to study men and apply your findings to women. We just didn&#39;t know that back then,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://orwh.od.nih.gov/about/staff/clayton.asp">Dr. Janine Clayton</a>, director of the Office of Research on Women&#39;s Health at the NIH.</p><p>When the drugs this way finally went to market and women took them, sometimes things went wrong. To try to fix the problem, the NIH and Congress&nbsp;<a href="http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/women_min/guidelines_amended_10_2001.htm">required</a>&nbsp;that women and men be included in research involving human subjects.&nbsp;<br /><br />Now, there are&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-13">more women</a>&nbsp;than men participating in clinical trials, at least in studies funded by the NIH. But there&#39;s still a mystery: Why do women still&nbsp;<a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043661806002040">report many more</a>bad reactions to medications than men do?</p><p>&quot;Men and women respond to medications differently. In fact,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d01286r.pdf">one study</a>&nbsp;looked at the drugs that have been taken off the market and 8 of the 10 drugs taken off the market in that particular time period had more severe effects in women,&quot; says Clayton.</p><p>She thinks&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11770389">the problems</a>&nbsp;that women experience when they take medications could stem from how biomedical research is conducted at the earliest stages &ndash; in animals.</p><p>&quot;Eighty percent of drug studies that are done in mice are done in male mice,&quot; says Clayton.</p><p>Studies in mice are important because the results often inform what will be tested in humans.</p><p>It&#39;s not as if people are ignoring female animals because they&#39;re chauvinists. Some researchers say females have been excluded from studies because their hormone cycles can confound the experiments, though the actual variability that the estrus cycle introduces is&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456941">debatable</a>.</p><p>And in some cases, research has been skewed the other way. Male animals are sometimes excluded from studies because they fight with each other, which can complicate results, and because the males sometimes have to be caged separately, which can drive up costs in cash-strapped labs.</p><p>In other cases, studies are done on both male and female animals, but the data on each sex don&#39;t get reported separately.</p><p>All in all, Clayton says, researchers are missing indicators early on about how different bodies would respond to medications. &quot;We&#39;re learning late,&quot; she says. &quot;That&#39;s not the best way to do this. We need to study both sexes throughout the entire research spectrum.&quot;</p><p>So, Clayton and her colleagues drew up&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nature.com/news/policy-nih-to-balance-sex-in-cell-and-animal-studies-1.15195#/b1">a policy</a>&nbsp;starting Jan. 25 that applies to NIH-funded biomedical research starting January 25 on out involving animals with spines. &quot;We&#39;re asking scientists to think about sex, to study both male and female animals in their preclinical research so that we can learn more about both male and female biology,&quot; says Clayton.</p><p>When the policy was first announced, people were pumped about it, says&nbsp;<a href="http://scholar.harvard.edu/srichard/home">Sarah Richardson</a>, a professor at Harvard who studies the history and philosophy of science. &quot;People were like &#39;Absolutely, that&#39;s terrible. Why aren&#39;t they studying female mice?&#39; That was my response, too,&quot; she says. &quot;It was seen as just a straightforward obvious corrective that we have to do.&quot;</p><p>But she and other researchers&nbsp;<a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/112/44/13419">maintain</a>&nbsp;that if the goal is to address women&#39;s health inequities, the policy on animal research isn&#39;t likely to be effective by itself. Mice aren&#39;t people. Richardson also says the focus on animals could distract scientists from the big picture: what happens in real living humans.</p><p>&quot;Women on average, in North America at least, take more prescription drugs than men do,&quot; she says. &quot;Women also go to the doctor more. We all know this &mdash; we cannot get the men in our lives to go to the doctor. They are also for whatever reason more likely to be sensitive to and prone to report feelings of discomfort,&quot; she says. &quot;So, what we thought when we reviewed this literature is, OK, if the NIH is really wanting to address this, we need tons more studies of just those kinds of factors,&quot; says Richardson.</p><p>The NIH put $10 million toward&nbsp;<a href="http://orwh.od.nih.gov/about/director/director_stepping_stones_future.asp">helping labs</a>&nbsp;add sex and gender to their projects. But if they want to figure out health differences between men and women, Richardson says, they need to also put money towards understanding what drives differences in human behavior.</p><p>It&#39;s not always simple to account for sex and gender in research projects, says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nosm.ca/about_us/organization/faculty_affairs/general.aspx?id=1164">Stacey Ritz</a>, an immunologist at McMaster University in Canada who wrote&nbsp;<a href="http://www.fasebj.org/content/early/2013/09/20/fj.13-233395.abstract">a guide</a>&nbsp;on how to do so. &quot;I&#39;ve really struggled with it for many years,&quot; she says.</p><p>She says in most cases it&#39;s pretty straightforward to do a male-female comparison. But there&#39;s a danger in assuming that a difference noticed between male and female animals stems from a difference in their basic biology, rather than because of something else, like how the male animals might have been housed alone while the female animals were housed in groups.</p><p>&quot;That&#39;s one of the things that concern me,&quot; says Ritz. &quot;A lot of times the questions around social dynamics and gender get glossed over and it&#39;s assumed &mdash; especially with animals &mdash; that differences you see between male and female are purely biologically driven,&quot; says Ritz.</p><p>Neurologist&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bri.ucla.edu/people/rhonda-r-voskuhl-md">Rhonda Voskuhl</a>, at UCLA, agrees that mice aren&#39;t going to reveal all the intricacies of why human men and women can have different health outcomes. &quot;There&#39;s no perfect model for the human except for the human,&quot; says Voskuhl.</p><p>But in many cases, she says, animal studies can uncover important findings that can make a difference for people.</p><p>Voskuhl has seen that firsthand. She directs UCLA&#39;s research program on multiple sclerosis. She says for quite a while, researchers didn&#39;t report the sex of animals they studied, though many studied mainly male rats. When they started looking more closely at female animals, they realized the disease progressed differently in them.</p><p>That knowledge has led to findings about how to treat multiple sclerosis in women, including the idea that a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(15)00322-1/abstract">pregnancy hormone</a>&nbsp;could relieve symptoms, an approach that&#39;s in&nbsp;<a href="https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=estriol+AND+%22multiple+sclerosis%22&amp;Search=Search">clinical trials</a>.</p><p>&quot;The point of the story is, you may not think there&#39;s anything there until you study it,&quot; says Voskuhl.</p><p>She says research on animals and humans goes hand in hand. If researchers study and report data for both sexes, that may well dredge up new treatment possibilities in people.</p><p>A similar case came up in&nbsp;<a href="http://www.psych.mcgill.ca/labs/mogillab/paingenetics/lab/">Jeff Mogil</a>&#39;s work studying pain at McGill University in Canada. He says a few decades ago, people primarily studied male animals, which they&#39;d order from a company. The lab he worked in studied both.</p><p>&quot;And because of that I&#39;ve been in a position to see sex differences where other people in my field haven&#39;t simply because they never had female mice lying around,&quot; says Mogil.<br /><br />By studying both sexes, Mogil and his colleagues&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v18/n8/full/nn.4053.html">found that</a>&nbsp;different cells communicate pain in female and male animals. &quot;They experienced pain in the exact same way and to exactly the same degree, but the pain is produced and modulated using different circuits,&quot; Mogil says.</p><p>If the same is true in people, that difference could have big implications for a class of painkillers meant to work by blocking the cells that are more active in men. &quot;The prediction would be those drugs simply won&#39;t work at all in women. It&#39;s not that they&#39;ll work better in women and worse in men. It&#39;s that they won&#39;t work in women period,&quot; he says.</p><p>And, he says, if people running clinical trials on that drug didn&#39;t know that it only worked in men, they might look at the trial data, see that it only worked in half the participants, and just ditch it entirely.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/10/464697905/a-fix-for-gender-bias-in-animal-research-could-help-humans?ft=nprml&amp;f=464697905"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Wed, 10 Feb 2016 16:33:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/fix-gender-bias-animal-research-could-help-humans-114799 Tesla Preparing To Charge Into Affordable Car Market http://www.wbez.org/news/tesla-preparing-charge-affordable-car-market-114796 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/tesla_wide-eef662697aaceafda5f95005764fa2d4ca6609b6-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The next Tesla car is expected to be revealed and made available for pre-order next month. And while the auto world is still waiting to see specs and drawings, one thing is already known: the price.</p><p>As promised,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-09/will-the-tesla-model-3-really-sell-for-25-000">Elon Musk tells Bloomberg</a>, the Model 3 will cost $35,000 &mdash; before any incentives.</p><p>Tax credits for purchasing electric vehicles could push the sticker price below the average cost of a new car in America ... maybe. The Model 3 won&#39;t go into production until 2017, and if it&#39;s delayed, the incentives that lower the price might not be available.</p><p>From the beginning, Tesla Motors has had its eye on the average American consumer &mdash; not the super-rich car collector or the early adopter electric enthusiast, but your mainstream buyer who wants a car they can afford.</p><p>It might not have looked that way &mdash; the carmaker&#39;s first model was the luxury Roadster, with a six-figure price tag. The second car, the Model S sedan, has a base price of around $70,000.</p><p>But in 2012, when the Model 3 was just a twinkle in Musk&#39;s eye, NPR&#39;s Sonari Glinton<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2012/09/25/161700525/teslas-big-gamble-can-the-electric-car-go-mainstream/">wrote about Tesla&#39;s dreams for the future</a>.</p><p>&quot;We did, I think, receive some unfair criticism because we had the Tesla Roadster, and people would say, &#39;Well, why are you making this expensive sports car?&#39; As though we somehow felt that there was a shortage of sports cars for rich people or something,&quot; Musk said then.</p><p>&quot;I would try to take pains to say, look, our goal from the beginning has been to drive forward the electric car revolution, and we needed time to refine the technology &mdash; get to version two, get to version three. And really, with version three &mdash; the $30,000 car &mdash; that&#39;s where it becomes mass market.&quot;</p><p>&quot;Version three&quot; has been a long time coming, though. Tesla&#39;s latest release was the Model X &mdash; an SUV that was&nbsp;more&nbsp;expensive than the Model S, not less. (The first Model X cars manufactured were packed with bells and whistles that pushed the price higher still &mdash; the Signature line, the only one available to early buyers,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/30/444721375/tesla-unveils-its-model-x-complete-with-a-bioweapon-defense-button">cost $130,000 and up</a>).</p><p>The Model X was delayed for&nbsp;<a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-tesla-modelx-launch-questions-20150930-story.html">nearly two years</a>, and since it was launched last fall, only<a href="http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2016/01/14/how-many-model-x-units-could-tesla-motors-inc-ship.aspx">a small fraction</a>&nbsp;of the pre-ordered vehicles have been delivered.</p><p>But this March, Tesla is set to reveal its long-promised mass-market vehicle. Musk has<a href="https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/639172302530215936?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">said since 2015</a>&nbsp;that the price would be $35,000, Jalopnik notes.</p><p>The average cost of a new car in America is $31,000,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-09/will-the-tesla-model-3-really-sell-for-25-000">Bloomberg reports</a>. With the nationally available $7,500 electric car tax incentive, Tesla&#39;s Model 3 would be cheaper than average.</p><p>Some states offer additional incentives. In Colorado, where the extra tax incentive is as high as $6,000, depending on the battery size, the price of a new Tesla could conceivably be $21,500 &mdash; cheaper than a new&nbsp;<a href="http://www.toyota.com/camry/">Toyota Camry</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<a href="http://automobiles.honda.com/accord-sedan/price.aspx">Honda Accord</a>.</p><p>But that&#39;s only true if Tesla gets the car to market on schedule,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-09/will-the-tesla-model-3-really-sell-for-25-000">Bloomberg notes</a>.</p><p>The Model 3 is set to go into production in 2017. The incentives &mdash; which are tied to the number of electric cars sold by a carmaker and then phase out over time &mdash; might start to fade out in 2018.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/10/466267066/tesla-preparing-to-charge-into-affordable-car-market?ft=nprml&amp;f=466267066"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Wed, 10 Feb 2016 15:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/tesla-preparing-charge-affordable-car-market-114796 Is It Time To Stop Using Race In Medical Research? http://www.wbez.org/news/it-time-stop-using-race-medical-research-114737 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/racemeds.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="storytext"><p><em>Genetics researchers often discover certain snips and pieces of the human genome that are important for health and development such as the genetic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. And scientists noticed that genetic variants are more common in some races &ndash; which makes it seem like race is important in genetics research.</em></p><p><em>But some researchers say that we&#39;ve taken the concept too far. To find out what that means, we&#39;ve talked to two of the authors of an&nbsp;<a href="http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6273/564.full">article</a>&nbsp;published Thursday in the journal&nbsp;</em>Science<em>. </em></p><p><em>Sarah Tishkoff is a human population geneticist and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Dorothy Roberts is a legal scholar, sociologist, and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania&#39;s Africana Studies department.&nbsp;This interview has been edited for length and clarity.</em></p><hr /><p><strong>How do geneticists use race now, and how does </strong><strong>that cause problems</strong><strong> for science?</strong></p><p><strong>Sarah Tishkoff: </strong>We know people don&#39;t group according to so called races based purely on genetic data. Whenever the topic comes up, we have to address, how are we going to define race? I have never ever seen anybody come to a consensus at any of these human genetics meetings.</p><p><strong>Dorothy Roberts:</strong> That&#39;s because race is based on cultural, legal, social and political determinations, and those groupings have changed over time. As a social scientist, looking at biologists treating these groupings as if they were determined by innate genetic distinctions, I&#39;m dumbfounded. There&#39;s so much evidence that they&#39;re invented social categories. How you can say this is a biological race is just absurd. It&#39;s absurd. It violates the scientific evidence about human beings.</p><p><strong>ST: </strong>But I as a human geneticist wouldn&#39;t want to imply that there are no differences &mdash;but among different ethnic groups, not racial classifications. For example, I&#39;m Ashkenazi Jewish. I have a much higher risk of getting certain genetic diseases that are common in certain Ashkenazi Jewish populations. That was an important question when I was having children.</p><p>There was a drug, called BiDil, that somebody claimed is more effective with African Americans than other race &ndash; which was not true. But there are genes that play a role in drug metabolism. So if a doctor was prescribing drug treatment based on her identification of race she&#39;d say, &quot;You should use drug A because that&#39;s better for people of European descent.&quot; But the patient might not carry the right gene. That might have negative consequences. That might be the wrong treatment for her.</p><p><strong>DR:</strong> Race isn&#39;t a good category to use to understand those differences or the commonalities. It in many cases leads researchers down the wrong path and leads to harmful results for patients. For example black patients who have the symptoms of cystic fibrosis aren&#39;t diagnosed because doctors see it as a white disease.</p><p><strong>So part of the problem is that when we see a high frequency of a medically relevant gene in one racial population, we start to assume that all members of that race have that gene?</strong></p><p><strong>ST:</strong> Yeah, I think that&#39;s right.</p><p><strong>DR:</strong> People take what&#39;s a difference in [gene] frequency and turn it into a categorical difference that interprets it as if one race has one gene and another race doesn&#39;t have the gene. You can&#39;t reach the conclusion that because you know someone&#39;s race you know what their genes are. It&#39;s not the case that there are populations where 100 percent, everyone, has those genes&nbsp;and&nbsp;nobody in other populations have those genes. It&#39;s a crude way and unhelpful way of figuring out what the disease risk is.</p><p><strong>ST: </strong>That&#39;s not to say that genetic risk in disease isn&#39;t important. I do think geography is important, and I think that people historically during evolutionary history have adapted to different environments.</p><p><strong>Is it that the science of genetics and the science of human populations are racist? Or is it that the numbers are there and, as a society, we&#39;re interpreting these things in a racist way?</strong></p><p>DR: There is a long history of justifying the subordination of different groups and social groupings based on myths about their biologic or genetic predispositions. It&#39;s not only that there&#39;s scientific evidence that humans aren&#39;t divided into discrete biological categories we&#39;d call races. But there&#39;s also evidence of the harm these biological meanings of race have caused for centuries. It&#39;s one of the reasons why it&#39;s difficult for human geneticists today to grapple with the meaning of race. You can&#39;t talk about race without also considering the history of racism.</p><p><strong>ST:</strong> But modern human geneticists, we&#39;re not trying to say they have a racist agenda. It&#39;s a positive thing to try and increase studies of genetic diversity that may differ across different ethnicities or ancestries.</p><p><strong>DR:</strong> Yes. I&#39;m not trying to say anything about the motivations or what scientists are trying now to do. Our paper is a call for scientists to come up with better ways of understanding human genetic diversity without relying on this antiquated concept of race There is a failure of imagination for people to think, what is there something better that we can use? Let&#39;s develop that.</p><p><strong>Is it that difficult, though? What are the things holding scientists back from developing something better?</strong></p><p><strong>ST:</strong> If I want a grant from the National Institutes of Health, I am required to check off the racial classification according to the U.S. government&#39;s census categories. I study very diverse people from all over Africa, but I believe the classification is African American or Black. I always feel awkward.</p><p><strong>DR:</strong> The NIH guidelines require the use of race in recruiting research subjects. There&#39;s a history of advocating for that in order to increase the participation of minorities in clinical research. Then it gets confusing, because the researchers continue to use these categories in conducting the research. Scientists must conform their research to these admittedly social categories of race.</p><p>ST: One also has to take into account that you need a way to identify your study population. Ideally you want ethnically diverse populations, so obviously you have to have some way of identifying research subjects. And that&#39;s fine. But they don&#39;t need to say based on race. The language and terminology does matter.</p><p><strong>DR: </strong>Except if the research question has to do with investigating the effects of racism &ndash; race as a social category that does affect people&#39;s lives and health and future because of the impact of social inequality. I often get the justification from doctors that &#39;I know it&#39;s crude but it&#39;s the best we have given the limited resources.&#39;</p><p><strong>ST:</strong> To some extent I think that&#39;s true. If a doctor doesn&#39;t have a readily available genetic test to look at ancestry or to look at individual genotypes of that person, race will be their best proxy. But the language matters. We need to move away from racial terminology, particularly in the field of medical genetics. That should just be eliminated. It reinforces the notion that there&#39;s a genetic basis to this classification system. We as scientists have to set an example.</p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/05/465616472/is-it-time-to-stop-using-race-in-medical-research?ft=nprml&amp;f=465616472"><em>&mdash; via NPR</em></a></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 05 Feb 2016 15:18:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/it-time-stop-using-race-medical-research-114737 We Sampled the Gastronomic Frontier of Virtual Reality http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/we-sampled-gastronomic-frontier-virtual-reality-114701 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/flickrMladen Hanzek.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res464920170" previewtitle="Project Nourished's virtual eating gizmos. From left: An atomizer that releases the scents of a food; a virtual reality headset; a a device that mimics the chewing sounds transmitted from a diner's mouth to their ear drums; a cocktail glass with built-in sensors; a utensil that picks up on the diner's movements and integrates them into the virtual reality experience; and a 3-D printed food cube."><div><p>By now, you&#39;re probably tired of hearing about how virtual reality is the next big thing for movies and games. But here&#39;s one you may not have heard yet: that virtual reality could be the next big thing for culinary experiences.</p></div></div><p>Potentially, the technology could help us consume our favorite tastes while avoiding unwanted side effects &ndash; whether food allergens or just extra calories. As someone who has long had a fraught relationship with the rotation of wonders at my local doughnut shop (think seasonal confections like Pumpkin Fool), the idea holds an undeniable appeal.</p><p>&quot;Why is it that the good things are always bad for us?&quot; commiserates designer Jinsoo An. He just might have an unconventional solution to my doughnut problem. &quot;Maybe with virtual reality, that doesn&#39;t need to be the case,&quot; he says.</p><p>An is the brains behind&nbsp;<a href="http://www.projectnourished.com/">Project Nourished</a>, a virtual reality eating experience that aims to let people consume whatever they want, without the downside.</p><p>The idea is to use a variety of methods to trick your mind and palate into thinking you&#39;re eating something different than what&#39;s actually in your mouth. To find out what it&#39;s all about, I visited An&#39;s studio in downtown Los Angeles.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Project Nourished's virtual eating gizmos. From left: An atomizer that releases the scents of a food; a virtual reality headset; a a device that mimics the chewing sounds transmitted from a diner's mouth to their ear drums; a cocktail glass with built-in sensors; a utensil that picks up on the diner's movements and integrates them into the virtual reality experience; and a 3-D printed food cube." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/29/gizmos_wide-1c4e96c253fe8025e290204ce0f40e20878b3913-s800-c85.png" style="height: 348px; width: 620px;" title="Project Nourished's virtual eating gizmos. From left: An atomizer that releases the scents of a food; a virtual reality headset; a a device that mimics the chewing sounds transmitted from a diner's mouth to their ear drums; a cocktail glass with built-in sensors; a utensil that picks up on the diner's movements and integrates them into the virtual reality experience; and a 3-D printed food cube. (Courtesy of Project Nourished)" /></p><p>&quot;We were actually making some sushi last night,&quot; he tells me as we tour the studio&#39;s kitchen. &quot;I can show you some.&quot;</p><p>The &quot;sushi&quot; turns out to be a couple of semi-translucent cubes that have been molded to look like rice. They&#39;re made out of agar-agar &mdash; a vegan substitute for gelatin. Fun fact: Agar-agar is used both in Japanese deserts and by microbiologists in lab experiments. Which is what I was about to become.</p><p>&quot;You&#39;re actually one of the first ones to try this,&quot; An tells me as I sit down for my virtual meal. &quot;You might be the first person outside of our team to try this.&quot;</p><p>Before pulling on the Oculus Rift goggles &ndash; a head-mounted display which shows me a visually simulated environment, including the looks of my food &ndash; I confess to An that my guinea pig status makes me giddy. Then it is time to chow down &mdash; virtually.</p><div id="res464894604" previewtitle="Designer Jinsoo An of Kokiri Lab is the mastermind behind Project Nourished, a virtual reality eating experience. Around 30 engineers, food scientists, chefs and designers have worked with An on the project."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Designer Jinsoo An of Kokiri Lab is the mastermind behind Project Nourished, a virtual reality eating experience. Around 30 engineers, food scientists, chefs and designers have worked with An on the project." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/29/engineer_custom-a4f18954c20a5d5b9df8e50c89c25de9238bac8f-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 232px; width: 310px; float: right;" title="Designer Jinsoo An of Kokiri Lab is the mastermind behind Project Nourished, a virtual reality eating experience. Around 30 engineers, food scientists, chefs and designers have worked with An on the project. (Courtesy of Noah Nelson/Youth Radio)" /></div><div><div><p>&quot;Hello,&quot; says the most soothing computer voice imaginable. &quot;Welcome to Project Nourished. Momentarily, I will guide you through the culinary experience of a lifetime.&quot;</p></div></div></div><p>Inside the goggles I see a little table overlooking a Zen garden. On the table is a plate with a tiny cube of sushi rice that looks like the one An showed me back in the real world. And then, I actually smell sushi.</p><p>That smell is thanks to the blast of an atomizer, a device usually used to mist medicine. Here, it&#39;s repurposed to create a smell redolent of sushi restaurant. Finally, it is time to take a bite.</p><p>It tastes like fish.</p><p>Of course, it&#39;s all an illusion &mdash; one put together with the help of restaurateur Nguyen Tran.</p><p>&quot;We found that the two defining flavors of sushi&mdash; at least for the American palate &mdash; [are] ginger and wasabi,&quot; Tran says. &quot;And the minute we put those in there and layered on top of just the simple flavor of dashi, rice and seaweed, it was exactly like sushi for us.&quot;</p><p>Well, not <em>exactly&nbsp;</em>like eating sushi. The flavor is there, and at least at first, so is the texture. But past the first bite, the agar-agar starts crumbling into a sandy mush.</p><div id="res464895099" previewtitle="The Pumpkin Fool from Santa Monica, California's Sidecar Doughnuts &amp; Coffee is a ring of delicious evil, and reporter Noah Nelson's personal downfall. If only its gastronomic virtues could be bundled into a virtual, guilt-free version."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="The Pumpkin Fool from Santa Monica, California's Sidecar Doughnuts &amp; Coffee is a ring of delicious evil, and reporter Noah Nelson's personal downfall. If only its gastronomic virtues could be bundled into a virtual, guilt-free version." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/29/doughnut-a7f3b2e61bc80c7fab871e5e0ff54589a04ec53c-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 232px; width: 310px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" title="The Pumpkin Fool from Santa Monica, California's Sidecar Doughnuts &amp; Coffee is a ring of delicious evil, and reporter Noah Nelson's personal downfall. If only its gastronomic virtues could be bundled into a virtual, guilt-free version. (Courtesy of Noah Nelson/Youth Radio)" /></div><div><div><p>Right now, Project Nourished requires a touch of suspension of disbelief. But designer An sees it as an evolving &quot;open canvas&quot; for experimentation.</p></div></div></div><p>&quot;Which means we can insert nutrients and take away nutrients. You can change the behavior of the food however you want &mdash; that&#39;s what&#39;s so magical about this. It turns food into a piece of code,&quot; An says.</p><p>So maybe one day we could pack all the nutrition I need into a virtual, guilt-free Pumpkin Fool donut. Until then, I guess you know where you can find me.</p><div><hr /></div><p><em>Noah Nelson is a reporter for&nbsp;<a href="http://turnstylenews.com/">Turnstyle</a>&nbsp;News &mdash; tech and culture coverage from&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/29/464885833/www.youthradio.org">Youth Radio</a>.</em></p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/29/464885833/we-sampled-the-gastronomic-frontier-of-virtual-reality"><em>&mdash; via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 04 Feb 2016 13:02:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/we-sampled-gastronomic-frontier-virtual-reality-114701 Babies with Genes from Three People Could be Ethical, Panel Says http://www.wbez.org/news/babies-genes-three-people-could-be-ethical-panel-says-114697 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/mito.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res465425864" previewtitle="Scientists have the ability to use DNA from three adults to make one embryo. But should they?"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Scientists have the ability to use DNA from three adults to make one embryo. But should they?" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/02/03/mitochondrial-dna_smaller_custom-fb176511e729ec1b8f5859b663af5ea602c4ab81-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 518px; width: 620px;" title="Scientists have the ability to use DNA from three adults to make one embryo. But should they? (A. Dudzinski/Science Source)" /></div><div><div><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This post was updated Feb. 3, 2016, at 12:25 pm to include a statement from the Food and Drug Administration and a comment from Mark Sauer.</em></p></div></div></div><p>Would it be ethical for scientists to try to create babies that have genetic material from three different people? An influential panel of experts has concluded the answer could be yes.</p><p>The 12-member panel, assembled by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, released a 164-page&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nap.edu/catalog/21871/mitochondrial-replacement-techniques-ethical-social-and-policy-considerations">report</a>&nbsp;Wednesday outlining a plan for how scientists could ethically pursue the controversial research.</p><p>&quot;The committee concludes that it is ethically permissible&quot; to conduct such experiments, the report says, but then goes on to detail a long list of conditions that would have to be met first.</p><p>For example, scientists would have to perform extensive preliminary research in the laboratory and with animals to try to make sure it is safe. And then researchers should initially try to make only male babies, because they would be incapable of passing their unusual amalgamation of DNA on to future generations.</p><p>&quot;Minimizing risk to future children should be of highest priority,&quot; the committee writes.</p><p>The report was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/10/09/229167219/proposed-treatment-to-fix-genetic-diseases-raising-ethics-issues">requested&nbsp;</a>by the Food and Drug Administration in response to applications by two groups of scientists in New York and Oregon to conduct the experiments. Their goal is to help women have healthy babies even though they come from families plagued by genetic disorders.</p><p>A statement issued by the FDA immediately after the report&#39;s release raised questions about whether the FDA would permit the research to move forward.</p><p>The FDA email praised the &quot;thoughtful work&quot; of the panel and said the agency would be &quot;reviewing&quot; the recommendations. But it noted that the latest federal budget &quot;prevents the FDA from using funds to review applications in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include&quot; changes that could be passed down to future generations. As a result, the email says, any such research &quot;cannot be performed in the United States&quot; at this time.</p><p>The researchers pursuing these experiments welcomed the panel&#39;s conclusions.</p><p>&quot;I think it&#39;s a great step in the right direction,&quot;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.columbiaobgyn.org/doctor/mark-v-sauer#.VrFk2bIrLIU">Mark Sauer</a>, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University who is a member of one of the teams, said of the National Academies report in an interview before the FDA issued its statement</p><p>Sauer called the report more of a &quot;yellow light&quot; than a &quot;green light,&quot; because of the long list of caveats and cautions. But that is &quot;better than a red light,&quot; he says.</p><p>&quot;Most importantly to us is that it allows the work to continue to hopefully produce children without these disorders,&quot; Sauer says.</p><p>But Sauer said he was disappointed when he learned of the FDA&#39;s response.</p><p>&quot;Politics as usual often gets in way of progress,&quot; Sauer said in a subsequent email. While the FDA statement would cause &quot;undue delays&quot; in his research, he added that he hoped it wouldn&#39;t permanently &quot;necessarily halt the efforts.&quot;</p><p>Critics of the research, meanwhile, say the number of women who could benefit from the experiments is so small that it&#39;s not worth crossing a line that&#39;s long been considered off-limits &mdash; making genetic changes that could be passed down for generations.</p><p>&quot;The possibility of what you could call &#39;mission creep&#39; is very real,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.geneticsandsociety.org/article.php?id=2081">Marcy Darnovsky</a>, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a watchdog group based in Berkeley, Calif. &quot;People are talking about going forward not just with this but with the kind of genetic engineering that will produce outright genetically modified human beings.&quot;</p><p>Once that happens, Darnovsky says, &quot;I think you get into a situation of where some people are genetically enhanced and other people are the regular old variety of human being. And I don&#39;t think that&#39;s a world we want to live in.&quot;</p><p>The goal of the research is to help women carrying diseases known as&nbsp;<a href="http://mitochondrialdiseases.org/mitochondrial-disease/">mitochondrial disorders</a>, which are only passed down by women through defects in the genetic material in their eggs.</p><p>Specifically, the defects are in a type of genetic material known as&nbsp;<a href="http://www.umdf.org/site/pp.aspx?c=8qKOJ0MvF7LUG&amp;b=7934627">mitochondrial DNA</a>.</p><p>Unlike the DNA that most people are familiar with &mdash; the 23 pairs of human chromosomes that program most of our body processes and traits &mdash; mitochondrial DNA consists of just 37 genes inside mitochondria, which are structures inside cells that provide their energy.</p><p>Mitochondrial disorders range from mild to severe. In many cases there is no treatment, and the affected child dies early in life after suffering progressive, debilitating symptoms.</p><p>Scientists want to create eggs free of mitochondrial defects by removing the defective mitochondrial DNA. It would be replaced with healthy mitochondrial DNA from eggs donated by other women.</p><p>The British government recently&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/02/03/383578221/u-k-lawmakers-allow-scientists-to-attempt-dna-transplants">approved</a>&nbsp;such experiments in that country.</p><p>But this remains&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/11/10/360342623/combining-the-dna-of-three-people-raises-ethical-questions">controversial</a>, not only due to the fact that the resulting children would have DNA from three people. Because the transplanted DNA could be passed down for generations, critics fear it could accidentally introduce errors into the human gene pool that could create new diseases.</p><p>They also worry it would set a precedent that could open the door to creating designer babies, in which parents can pick and chose the traits of their children.</p><p>Because of such concerns, making any change in DNA that could be passed down for generations has long been considered off-limits.</p><p>The committee report acknowledged that making babies with DNA from three different people could have &quot;psychological and social effects&quot; on the offspring, including issues about their &quot;conception of identity.&quot;</p><p>In addition, the committee acknowledged the possibility that it could lead to attempts at genetic &quot;enhancements.&quot;</p><p>Such work would raise thorny regulatory issues, the committee noted. For example, the federal government is prohibited from funding research that involves destroying human embryos. As a result, &quot;even an agency request&quot; for data from such research in support of FDA approval &quot;could well be controversial,&quot; the report says.</p><p>Nevertheless, the committee says the potential benefits make the work worth pursuing with careful oversight.</p><p>Moreover, the FDA could at some point even consider letting experiments proceed to try to create female babies if certain criteria are met, the report said, including the production of &quot;clear evidence of safety and efficacy from male&quot; experiments and signs that it would be publicly acceptable.</p><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/03/465319186/babies-with-genes-from-three-people-could-be-ethical-panel-says?ft=nprml&amp;f=465319186"><em>&mdash; via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 04 Feb 2016 10:20:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/babies-genes-three-people-could-be-ethical-panel-says-114697 A Controversial Rewrite For Rules To Protect Humans In Experiments http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-edition/2016-01-26/controversial-rewrite-rules-protect-humans-experiments-114616 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/common-rule-1_wide-cb2bc35fe5dfc2b8ae28a87caa34400de5003723-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Throughout history, atrocities have been committed in the name of medical research.</p><p>Nazi doctors&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005168">experimented</a>&nbsp;on concentration camp prisoners. American doctors let poor black men with syphilis go untreated in the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.tuskegee.edu/about_us/centers_of_excellence/bioethics_center/about_the_usphs_syphilis_study.aspx">Tuskegee study</a>. The&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/id/41811750/ns/health-health_care/t/ugly-past-us-human-experiments-uncovered/#.VlSF-dKrTcs%20">list</a>&nbsp;goes on.</p><p>To protect people participating in medical research, the federal government decades ago put in place strict rules on the conduct of human experiments.</p><p>Now the Department of Health and Human Services is&nbsp;<a href="http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/education/training/nprmwebinars.html">proposing</a>&nbsp;a major revision of these regulations, known collectively as the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/commonrule/">Common Rule</a>. It&#39;s the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/commonrule/">first change</a>&nbsp;proposed in nearly a quarter-century.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;re in a very, very different world than when these regulations were first written,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/about/menikoffbio.html">Dr. Jerry Menikoff</a>, who heads the HHS Office of Human Research Protections. &quot;The goal is to modernize the rules to make sure terrible things don&#39;t happen.&quot;</p><p>Many of the revisions are long overdue and would significantly improve oversight of scientific research, say researchers, bioethicists and officials who oversee human research studies.</p><p>But many of the updates are also triggering intense debate and criticism.</p><p>The new rules are too complex and too vaguely written in many places, says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.primr.org/newED/hurley/">Elisa Hurley</a>, executive director of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research, a nonprofit organization in Boston. As such, she says, they could cause confusion for volunteers and researchers. It&#39;s a &quot;flawed attempt&quot; to improve things, Hurley says.</p><p>After hearing such criticism and receiving numerous requests to give the public more time to study the proposed revisions, the HHS office&nbsp;<a href="https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/11/25/2015-30122/federal-policy-for-the-protection-of-human-subjects">announced</a>&nbsp;Tuesday that it was extending the public comment period by 30 days &mdash; to Jan. 6.</p><p>One change that some object to would require scientists to obtain explicit consent from patients before using their blood or tissue for research. The requirement aims to prevent a repeat of what happened to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.lacksfamily.net/">Henrietta Lacks</a>. She was an African-American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. Cells taken from her cervix were used without her consent to produce a research cell line that has been kept alive in labs around the world ever since.</p><div id="res457246857" previewtitle="A color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph shows HeLa cells, which are commonly used in biomedical experiments. The research cell line was derived from cervical cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lacks in 1951."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="A color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph shows HeLa cells, which are commonly used in biomedical experiments. The research cell line was derived from cervical cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lacks in 1951." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/11/24/hela-cells-8cf3e7dd5d66a862748a0c9b58708744507617a8-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="A color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph shows HeLa cells, which are commonly used in biomedical experiments. The research cell line was derived from cervical cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lacks in 1951. (Science Source)" /></div><div><div><p>Researchers and companies use these cells in a wide range of research, including the development of new drugs. Neither Lacks nor her family consented to this use.</p></div></div></div><p>Under the new rules, scientists would only be able to do research on biological specimens from people who explicitly agree to it: &quot; &#39;I&#39;m OK with that. I&#39;m OK with future research studies taking place using the leftover portions of my tumor or blood,&#39; &quot; Menikoff says.</p><p>But some scientists argue that in most cases the new requirement would create unnecessary red tape that would significantly impede important research.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s now going to be much more onerous to get this tissue that otherwise would just go in the trash,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/dermatology/our_experts/garza_luis.html">Dr. Luis Garza</a>, a Johns Hopkins University dermatologist who uses foreskin from circumcisions for a variety of experiments. &quot;It&#39;s creating barriers for working on human tissue, which is what we need to do to solve human disease.&quot;</p><p>Another revision would expand the number of studies that would have to follow the rules. All scientists who get federal funding would be required to adhere to the rules for every experiment they conduct, even those that aren&#39;t funded directly by the government.</p><p>Other changes are designed to make some research easier, such as conducting large studies involving multiple institutions. Right now, independent panels known as institutional review boards, or IRBs, oversee studies in each location where people volunteer. Under the proposed rules, one centralized IRB could run an entire multicenter study.</p><p>&quot;It is all one study,&quot; HHS&#39; Menikoff says. &quot;So basically the same ethical rules apply to all of the subjects in the study.&quot;</p><p>He says the issues raised by any given study are pretty much the same at one study site compared to another site, so that duplicate ethical reviews can be eliminated. He and other researchers say the proposed change would help get new cures to patients more quickly.</p><p>But some advocates and bioethicists worry that streamlining study reviews in this way would undermine protections for volunteers, especially studies involving many sites, says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.citizen.org/Page.aspx?pid=5140">Dr. Michael Carome</a>, who heads Public Citizen&#39;s Health Research Group, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.</p><p>It&#39;s unlikely one IRB can &quot;adequately understand the local context, local ethical issues, the quality of the facilities and the credentials of the practitioners,&quot; he says. &quot;That one IRB is unlikely to have sufficient knowledge of all those sites.&quot;</p><p>The proposal would also exempt many studies that don&#39;t pose physical risks. Examples include projects that only involve asking subjects questions and answers &mdash; things like surveys and in-depth interviews. The idea is to get rid of unnecessary bureaucratic hoops for harmless research, Menikoff says.</p><p>But this change is raising fears, too.</p><p>&quot;I think that&#39;s a major step backwards that, as far as I&#39;m concerned, takes us back into the dark ages,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.einstein.yu.edu/faculty/6401/ruth-macklin/">Ruth Macklin</a>, a bioethicist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.</p><p>Those kinds of studies &quot;are not physically invasive, but they may be intrusive,&quot; Macklin says. &quot;There are forms of harm that are not just physical harm.&quot;</p><p>Probing people about sensitive subjects, such as whether they&#39;ve had an abortion or have been physically or sexually abused as children, can trigger strong emotional reactions, potentially causing psychological distress, Macklin says.</p><p>Menikoff disputes whether the changes would put anyone at risk. But he says the government will consider all the feedback it gets before changing the rules.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/11/25/456496612/a-controversial-rewrite-for-rules-to-protect-humans-in-experiments?ft=nprml&amp;f=456496612"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Tue, 26 Jan 2016 10:52:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-edition/2016-01-26/controversial-rewrite-rules-protect-humans-experiments-114616 More African-Americans Are Learning Their Roots with Genetic Testing http://www.wbez.org/programs/all-things-considered/2016-01-25/more-african-americans-are-learning-their-roots-genetic <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/dnatest.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Tracing your genealogy has become a popular hobby in the United States. More than 1 million people around the country have taken these tests. Shows like PBS&#39;s&nbsp;<em>Finding Your Roots</em>&nbsp;have shown the public how much information you can find out about your family tree with a simple DNA test.</p><p>It might be surprising that genetic sleuthing has become part of pop culture, but it probably isn&#39;t so shocking that this has become particularly important to one demographic. African-Americans of all different backgrounds were intentionally divorced from their ancestral stories by the slave trade and all that followed.</p><div id="con464181626" previewtitle="Book Edition Information"><div id="res464181658" previewtitle="The Social Life of DNA"><div><p>Author and Columbia sociology professor Alondra Nelson&#39;s new book&nbsp;<em>The Social Life Of DNA</em>&nbsp;looks at the interest in genetic ancestry tracing from the African-American community.</p></div></div></div><p>In an interview with NPR&#39;s Michel Martin, Nelson considers how this technology is changing the way many African-Americans see themselves and their place in the American story.</p><p>Interview highlights below contain some web-only answers. Click the audio link above to hear the whole interview.</p><div><hr /></div><h3>Interview Highlights</h3><p><a href="http://www.npr.org/books/titles/464181585/the-social-life-of-dna-race-reparations-and-reconciliation-after-the-genome"><img alt="The Social Life of DNA" src="http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/t/the-social-life-of-dna/9780807033012_custom-7f8b6d0faf53e58462abcb39fd65ac70dcf1735b-s400-c85.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 310px; float: right; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome by Alondra Nelson" /></a></p><p><strong>On African-Americans&#39; skepticism of medical testing</strong></p><p>How does a community that had really been the object of scientific and medical scrutiny for generations &mdash; with really negative outcomes &mdash; come to see science and technology as a positive thing, or something that can be used for self-knowledge and liberation? That was a question for me as well.</p><p>And what I discovered over the course of this decade of research is that people find the stakes are really high, but they also find that the benefits are really high for communities. ...</p><p>Many people talk to me about living their whole lives wanting to know who they were, in the sense of who they were before the slave trade, who they were with regards to African ancestry. And to have this as a prevailing question for your whole life means that if you can find something that might help you answer that question, that it might be worth making the leap, despite that history.</p><p><strong>On using the DNA technology for those seeking reparations for slavery</strong></p><p>This is a moment where genetic technology is being used for an endeavor that many African-Americans had tried to accomplish for decades and generations: reparations. And they&#39;re using genetic technology which has not always historically been a friend to black communities if we think about the legacy of eugenics for example. And they&#39;re using this to try to get freedom and restitution for black people.</p><p>So it&#39;s an interesting case in that it&#39;s &ndash; to the best that I could discern &ndash; it&#39;s the first time that genetic ancestry testing is introduced in a civil case. ... It continues the long drumbeat for reparations in American society by generations of people &ndash; a drumbeat that comes again in 2014 with the publication of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/">Ta-Nehesi Coates essay</a>&nbsp;in<em>&nbsp;The Atlantic</em>. And because genetics is thought here to pose a new answer to a very old and longstanding question in black political culture.</p><p><strong>On her own test results</strong></p><p>Part of what I learned in the course of doing the research is that I am an outlier in this regard. Many of the people I spoke to &ndash; whether they were 25 or 65, had lived their whole lives wanting to know where in Africa their ancestors were from. ...</p><p>I was well aware of the ritual and performance of the reveal. So I thought to myself if I&#39;m gonna do this I&#39;m gonna do it in a big public way &ndash; in a reveal. ...</p><p>When the chief science officer of the African Ancestry Company announced my results as being an inference to the Bamileke people at Cameroon, things just sort of went from there. I didn&#39;t have to perform so much because everyone was just so happy and enthused about the results for me. It was a very emotional experience.</p><p><strong>How she felt when learning about her heritage</strong></p><div id="res464182729"><div>&nbsp;</div></div><p>I had no idea what the result was going to be. I found it informative and interesting. So it was a bit surreal, and it was fun.</p><p>But it was actually more meaningful to my mother, who right away &ndash; like so many of the people that I interviewed in my book &mdash; within I would say, within a couple of weeks my mother calls and says &quot;I met a lady from Cameroon at church and she&#39;s Bamileke,&quot; and then she was at the dinner table &ndash; this was a few years ago. And this past Thanksgiving she was at our table with her husband and her son, she&#39;s part of our family now.</p><p><strong>On the future of genetic testing</strong></p><p>The industry is continuing to grow, it shows no signs of stemming. I think this will continue to happen as people will continue to make meaning and stories and relationships and new connections out of the evidence. I think that that space that you describe as on the one hand being knowledgeable about the technology or science at times being the enemy of black communities. On the other hand, being a friend. So friend or foe.</p><p>I think that&#39;s actually not a bad place to be. I think that&#39;s our contemporary modern condition for all of us.</p><p>You see it with the Black Lives Matter movement. The very technology that&#39;s used to surveil young activists, has also been turned against police authorities and the state to advance that political agenda.</p><p>So we&#39;re living in a moment that is the social life of DNA and is the social life of technology. It&#39;s very much the driver of who we are and what we do. I think having that critical, nuanced perspective that maybe we could say is particular to or comes out or has a particular inspiration in the experiences of black people who come to often science and technology with this critical perspective, is I think not a bad place to be in this historical moment.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2016/01/24/464181490/more-african-americans-are-learning-their-roots-with-genetic-testing?ft=nprml&amp;f=464181490"><em> via NP</em></a></p></p> Mon, 25 Jan 2016 14:01:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/all-things-considered/2016-01-25/more-african-americans-are-learning-their-roots-genetic What a Difference a Drug Makes in the Fight Against River Blindness http://www.wbez.org/news/what-difference-drug-makes-fight-against-river-blindness-114569 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/river1.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res462954066" previewtitle="Bondi Sanbark, the chief in Beposo 2, says his village used to be full of blind men led around by boys — but that began to change when a new drug was distributed."><div id="res462953406" previewtitle="Albert Tamanja Bidim, a community volunteer, distributes ivermectin, the tablet that fights river blindness, in the Ghanaian town of Beposo 2."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Albert Tamanja Bidim, a community volunteer, distributes ivermectin, the tablet that fights river blindness, in the Ghanaian town of Beposo 2." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/13/img_1748-43_custom-62ef3265dba7463a42e611db754f65f519b9c4dc-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="Albert Tamanja Bidim, a community volunteer, distributes ivermectin, the tablet that fights river blindness, in the Ghanaian town of Beposo 2. (Jason Beaubien/NPR)" /></div><div><div><p>One of the problems with river blindness is that it doesn&#39;t kill you.</p></div></div></div><p>It&#39;s a nasty disease that causes agonizing itching, disfigured skin and, in the worst cases, blindness. River blindness is a parasitic infection transmitted by black flies that breed in rapidly flowing bodies of water. The worms burrow under your skin and eventually wiggle across your pupils, destroying your vision. But because the disease usually isn&#39;t fatal, health officials in cash-strapped tropical countries have slotted it lower on their to-do lists than malaria, TB, cholera, AIDS and other life-threatening diseases.</p><p>Indeed, the World Health Organization categorizes river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis, as a &quot;neglected tropical disease.&quot;</p><p>But over the past three decades, much of the world has made steady progress against the debilitating condition. And much of the credit for that progress is linked to ministries of health introducing the drug&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a607069.html">ivermectin</a>. Mass distributions of ivermectin tablets have sent onchocerciasis rates plummeting.</p><p>The village of Beposo 2 in central Ghana is one of those places.</p><p>Local chief Bondi Sanbark says his village used to be full of blind men being led around by young boys. But that started changing after Ghana changed its strategy in the battle against the disease in the late 1980s. Up to that point, Ghana had been using insecticides to try to kill the black flies that carry the river blindness parasite. The new strategy goes after the parasites inside people. The government treats entire villages, every year, with a drug called ivermectin that kills the offspring of the parasites, which cause the blindness and also can infect others.</p><div id="res462954066" previewtitle="Bondi Sanbark, the chief in Beposo 2, says his village used to be full of blind men led around by boys — but that began to change when a new drug was distributed."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Bondi Sanbark, the chief in Beposo 2, says his village used to be full of blind men led around by boys — but that began to change when a new drug was distributed." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/13/img_1715-42_custom-21695f01d73c4d40969227d769b6f8e18aa8f08c-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 350px; width: 620px;" title="Bondi Sanbark, the chief in Beposo 2, says his village used to be full of blind men led around by boys — but that began to change when a new drug was distributed. (Jason Beaubien/NPR)" /></div><div><div><p>The mass ivermectin campaigns are now treating roughly 4 million Ghanaians a year, or more than 15 percent of the population. And the strategy is paying off.</p></div></div></div><p>No one has gone blind in Beposo 2 for years, says Sanbark.</p><p>Beposo 2 was founded around the time of Ghana&#39;s independence from Britain in 1957. The town is a half-hour&#39;s drive from the Pru River, where the black flies that carry the river blindness parasite swarm. Its founders wanted to get away from the river and from onchocerciasis. But they couldn&#39;t escape the reach of the flies.</p><div id="res462966651"><div>&nbsp;</div></div><p>The situation was better here away from the river, but people got sick with what they refer to as &quot;oncho.&quot; Since the introduction of ivermectin, onchocerciasis infections still occur in Beposo 2, but now they&#39;re much milder than in the past. The disease has been sharply curtailed in many parts of Africa and is on the verge of elimination from the Americas.</p><p>But even ivermectin isn&#39;t perfect.</p><p>Ivermectin doesn&#39;t actually kill the roundworm parasites that cause onchocerciasis. The drug is only able to kill the offspring of the parasites, the baby larvae. It&#39;s the spreading of hundreds of thousands of these immature worms through a person&#39;s body that causes the disease. Unfortunately, the parasite can live in a person&#39;s body for up to 15 years. So to suppress the spread of the parasites, entire villages have to be treated with ivermectin year after year in logistically complicated campaigns.</p><p>The distribution campaigns require armies of volunteers.</p><div id="res462953523" previewtitle="A volunteer shows the four ivermectin tablets he's about to give a woman for her yearly dose."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="A volunteer shows the four ivermectin tablets he's about to give a woman for her yearly dose." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/01/13/img_1687-41_custom-3d31964802147025d00764351dc1a927727869a2-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 474px; width: 620px;" title="A volunteer shows the four ivermectin tablets he's about to give a woman for her yearly dose. (Jason Beaubien/NPR)" /></div><div><div><p>&quot;This job is&nbsp;soooo&nbsp;difficult,&quot; says Albert Tamanja Bidim, the drug distribution volunteer in Beposo 2. Once a year he has to track down every resident of the village and give them the proper number of ivermectin tablets. He carries a long stick, a white bottle of pills and a handwritten ledger with all the villagers&#39; names in it. The markings on the stick indicate how many pills a person should get. Bidim holds it up next to a boy to determine what dosage to give him. Kids under 90 centimeters, roughly 3 feet tall, and pregnant women don&#39;t get any out of safety concerns. The dose varies from one to four tablets, washed down at once, for taller kids and adults.</p></div></div></div><p>Bidim doesn&#39;t get paid for this work but takes the job very seriously.</p><p>&quot;If the person is not here, and I know how many tablets the person will take, I will keep it for him,&quot; Bidim says. &quot;Sometimes, maybe if he has traveled or went to the farm, I&#39;ll keep the tablets until he gets back.&quot;</p><p>This process of volunteers pounding on doors and passing out ivermectin happens all across Ghana in villages prone to river blindness.</p><p>&quot;We have about 5 million Ghanaians at risk of onchocerciasis,&quot; says Dr. Nana-Kwadwo Biritwum, who heads the neglected tropical disease program in the Ghana Ministry of Health.</p><p>He says the annual distribution campaigns are a major undertaking. &quot;We go in with millions of tablets, every year, to treat every community.&quot;</p><p>Many of the villages hardest hit by river blindness are in remote, inaccessible parts. &quot;It takes a lot of work, a lot of resources,&quot; Biritwum says.</p><p>Onchocerciasis is less neglected than some other neglected tropical diseases in that a major pharmaceutical company has made it its cause celebre.</p><p>For decades, Merck has made an unlimited amount of ivermectin available for free under the brand name Mectizan. International aid groups including the World Bank,<a href="http://www.sightsaversusa.org/">Sightsavers</a>&nbsp;and the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cartercenter.org/health/river_blindness/index.html">Carter Center</a>&nbsp;have helped fund the distributions.</p><p>Ghana is seeing the results. Some villages have gone from having 70 to 80 percent of adults testing positive for onchocerciasis 25 years ago to just 2 to 3 percent today.</p><p>Ghana is now talking about trying to wipe out the disease by 2020. Biritwum at the ministry of health says before the arrival of ivermectin, that never would have been possible.</p><p>Ivermectin&#39;s incredible impact on river blindness and other roundworm infections also caught the eye of the Nobel committee. The 2015 prize for medicine went to William Campbell of the U.S. and Satoshi Omura from Japan for discovering the drug (a third honoree did work on malaria). The Nobel committee said, &quot;This year&#39;s Nobel Laureates have developed therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases.&quot; And the impact of their work can be clearly seen in villages like Beposo 2 in Ghana.</p><h3><em>Join Us For A Twitter Chat On River Blindness</em></h3><p><em>Want to know more about river blindness? Dr. Neeraj Mistry, the managing director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases,&nbsp;<a href="http://bit.ly/1PtfeEd">will be taking your questions on Twitter</a>&nbsp;on Friday, Jan. 22, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET. Leave your questions in a comment below, or tweet them to&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/nprgoatsandsoda">@NPRGoatsandSoda</a>&nbsp;with the hashtag #RiverBlindness.</em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 22 Jan 2016 10:59:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what-difference-drug-makes-fight-against-river-blindness-114569 Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain Aren't the Same Thing http://www.wbez.org/programs/takeaway/2016-01-14/your-paper-brain-and-your-kindle-brain-arent-same-thing-114487 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/RTR2KOTX.jpg" alt="" /><p><div><p>Would you like paper or plasma? That&#39;s the question book lovers face now that e-reading has gone mainstream. And, as it turns out, our brains process digital reading very differently.</p></div><div><div><p>Manoush Zomorodi, managing editor and host of WNYC&#39;s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/shows/newtechcity/" target="_blank">New Tech City</a>, recalls a conversation with the Washington Post&#39;s Mike Rosenwald, who&#39;s researched the effects of reading on a screen.&nbsp;&ldquo;He found, like I did, that when he sat down to read a book his brain was jumping around on the page. He was skimming and he couldn&rsquo;t just settle down. He was treating a book like he was treating his Twitter feed,&quot; she says.</p><p>Neuroscience, in fact, has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards &quot;non-linear&quot; reading &mdash; a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;They call it a &lsquo;bi-literate&rsquo; brain,&rdquo; Zoromodi says. &ldquo;The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don&rsquo;t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.&rdquo;</p><p>So what&#39;s deep reading? It&#39;s the concentrated kind we do when we want to &quot;immerse ourselves in a novel or read a mortgage document,&rdquo; Zoromodi says. And that uses the kind of long-established linear reading you don&#39;t typically do on a computer. &ldquo;Dense text that we really want to understand requires deep reading, and on the internet we don&rsquo;t do that.&rdquo;</p><p>Linear reading and digital distractions have caught the attention of academics like Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t worry that we&rsquo;ll become dumb because of the Internet,&rdquo; Wolf says, &quot;but I worry we will not use our most preciously acquired deep reading processes because we&rsquo;re just given too much stimulation. That&rsquo;s, I think, the nub of the problem.&rdquo;</p><p>To keep the deep reading part of the brain alive and kicking, Zomorodi says that researchers like Wolf recommend setting aside some time each day to deep read on paper.</p><p>And now that children are seemingly growing up with a digital screen in each hand, Wolf says it&rsquo;s also important that teachers and parents make sure kids are taking some time away from scattered reading. Adults need to ensure that children also practice the deeper, slow reading that we associate with books on paper.</p><p>&ldquo;I think the evidence someday will be able to show us that what we&rsquo;re after is a discerning &lsquo;bi-literate&rsquo; brain,&rdquo; Wolf says. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s going to take some wisdom on our part.&rdquo;</p><p>UPDATE: Many of you have asked about the original research in this article. Here are a few resources: Wolf explained her research in an&nbsp;<a href="http://niemanreports.org/articles/our-deep-reading-brain-its-digital-evolution-poses-questions/" target="_blank">essay for Nieman Reports</a>. Ziming Liu at San Jose State University&nbsp;<a href="http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/00220410510632040" target="_blank">found that when we read on screens we spend more time browsing</a>&nbsp;and scanning, performing &quot;non-linear reading.&quot; For an even deeper read, here&#39;s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.abc-clio.com/ABC-CLIOCorporate/product.aspx?pc=F1679C" target="_blank">Liu&#39;s 2008 book</a>&nbsp;on the subject. Anne Mangen at the University of Norway found that&nbsp;<a href="https://www.academia.edu/7868162/Mangen_A._et_al._2014_._Mystery_story_reading_in_pocket_print_book_and_on_Kindle_possible_impact_on_chronological_events_memory._Conference_paper_presentation_IGEL_The_International_Society_for_the_Empirical_Study_of_Literature_and_Media_Turin_Italy_July_21-25" target="_blank">readers retain plot elements better when they read in print instead of on a Kindle</a>.&nbsp;But a<a href="http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0083676" target="_blank">&nbsp;study in PLOS</a>&nbsp;found that reading e-ink is a lot like reading on paper in terms of visual fatigue.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-09-18/your-paper-brain-and-your-kindle-brain-arent-same-thing" target="_blank"><em> via The Takeaway</em></a></p></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 14 Jan 2016 15:40:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/takeaway/2016-01-14/your-paper-brain-and-your-kindle-brain-arent-same-thing-114487 Researchers Say DNA From Veterans Could Revolutionize Medicine http://www.wbez.org/news/researchers-say-dna-veterans-could-revolutionize-medicine-114482 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/8175242839_9c85661b4d_z.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The nation&#39;s veterans are being asked to contribute DNA for the largest genetic research project in history.</p><p>What could be the biggest genetic research project in history is underway in a surprising place: the roughly 1,700 medical facilities run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.</p><p><em><a href="http://americanhomefront.wunc.org/post/researchers-say-dna-veterans-could-revolutionize-medicine" target="_blank"><strong>Listen to the Story</strong></a></em></p><p>The Million Veterans Program, which recently logged its 400,000th participant, aims to collect blood samples from a million veterans in the next couple of years. Scientists say genotyping the samples--essentially &#39;bar-coding&#39; bits of DNA to isolate differences in people&#39;s genetic makeup--could predict a person&#39;s likelihood for getting a particular disease and lead to personalized pharmaceuticals.</p><p>&quot;I think this is revolutionary for medical science,&quot; said Dr. Timothy Morgan, lead researcher of the program at the V.A. Hospital in Long Beach.</p><p>Earlier genetic studies in the United States have had sample sizes of around anywhere from 5,000 to 200,000 patients, but none has ever attempted anything like a million patients before.</p><p>The Million Veterans Program started when geneticists working for the VA realized they were sitting on a treasure trove of potential data. While most Americans switch medial providers from time to time, the roughly seven million veterans who use the V.A. generally enter its healthcare system at a young age and stay in it until they die.</p><p>&quot;What the V.A. has that nobody else in the world has is a very powerful medical records system,&quot; Morgan said.</p><p><img alt="The V.A. Medical Center in Long Beach, Cal. is one of roughly 1700 medical facilities where veterans are being asked for DNA samples." src="http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/wunc2/files/styles/medium/public/201601/Lbva.jpg" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="The V.A. Medical Center in Long Beach, Cal. is one of roughly 1700 medical facilities where veterans are being asked for DNA samples.KELVIN KAY, WIKIPEDIA COMMONS" /></p><p>With the Million Veterans Program, researchers using the system could decide they want to look at genetic markers for a disease like prostate cancer or diabetes. They&#39;d query the electronic records and find perhaps tens of thousands of cases. They&#39;d then be able to run the corresponding genotypes through software to look for similarities at certain positions along the DNA strands.</p><p>Those strands that are contained in the database--the mere 0.02 percent of our genes that vary from person to person--are also the ones that could reveal why one person gets sick while another does not, Morgan said.</p><p>Finding the exact genes related to that various could lead to targeted studies on how to prevent and treat many diseases.</p><p>Dr. Pragna Patel, a human geneticist and professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, said the pie-in-the-sky goal is to get to personalized drugs.</p><p>&quot;We&rsquo;ve been practicing medicine as a one size fits all,&quot; she said. &quot;But really there&rsquo;s enough precedence now to show that different individuals respond quite differently to drugs.&quot;</p><p>And veterans specifically represent an optimal group to study--despite the fact that they skew heavily male, Patel said.</p><p>&quot;They represent a cross-section of the U.S. population in terms of ethnic ancestry. So, that&rsquo;s important,&quot; she said. &quot;And they&rsquo;re afflicted with the same common ailments such as heart disease, depression, emphysema as the general populace is. And so the information gained from studying them can be applied to everybody.&quot;</p><p>The key is recruiting enough veterans to participate. On a recent Thursday,&nbsp;Lesley Sim took up her customary position outside the blood lab at the V.A. Long Beach Healthcare System, armed with a clipboard and her sales pitch: &quot;All we&rsquo;re asking from you is a one-time blood sample today and for you to mail back a survey whenever you get the chance to fill it out.&quot;</p><p>Sim generally averages about 16 new recruits a day.</p><p>&quot;Most people are open to doing it because they know they&rsquo;re helping future health care and future veterans,&quot; she said.</p><p>On this particular day, Keliven Galloway, a former Marine who twice deployed to Fallujah, agreed to give her his blood for entry into the database. He told Sim he was happy to help.</p><p>Flipping through the survey questions that accompany the sign-up, he chuckled.</p><p>&quot;&#39;What best describes the color of your skin without tanning?&#39; That&rsquo;s the first time I&rsquo;ve heard that,&quot; he said.</p><p>And with that, he might become one in a million. The Million Veterans Program hopes to reach its recruiting goal by the end of 2018.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://americanhomefront.wunc.org/post/researchers-say-dna-veterans-could-revolutionize-medicine" target="_blank"><em>via The American Homefront Project</em></a></p></p> Thu, 14 Jan 2016 11:38:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/researchers-say-dna-veterans-could-revolutionize-medicine-114482