Category Archives: Research

Jun 30 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 30

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AHA to Fund Research Network for the Prevention of Heart Disease, Stroke
With a $15 million grant from the American Heart Association (AHA), four major medical institutions are coming together to form a research network with the goal of preventing heart disease and stroke. The Strategically Focused Prevention Research Network Centers will include investigators at Northwestern University in Chicago, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Heart attack and stroke can strike suddenly, and frequently without warning. The best way to reduce premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases and stroke is to prevent the development of the risk factors that lead to these conditions,” said AHA President Elliott Antman, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a senior physician in the cardiovascular division of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, in a release. “Scientists working in these research centers are helping to discover the mechanisms that will allow all Americans to live healthier lives, helping lead us to a culture of health.” Read more on heart health.

Study: One-Third of U.S. Total Knee Replacements ‘Inappropriate’
Approximately one-third of all total knee replacements in the United States are unnecessary and “inappropriate” under a patient classification system used in Spain, according to a new study in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology. Researchers said the findings demonstrate a need for the United States to develop similar patient selection criteria so as to limit the unneeded surgeries. There are more than 600,000 total U.S. knee replacements annually—meaning that approximately 200,000 are unnecessary, according to the study—and from 1991 to 2010 the number of Medicare-covered replacements climbed by approximately 162 percent annually. Read more on aging.

Kids’ ADHD Medications Not Linked to Increase Risk of Substance Abuse
While children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are twice as likely to abuse drugs, the medications prescribed to treat ADHD do not play a role in the increased risk, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. In fact, researchers determined that the combination of behavioral techniques and ADHD medications actually lowers the risk of substance abuse. "Obviously, the medications that are used to treat ADHD have the potential for abuse, but the vast majority of children with ADHD do not develop a substance abuse problem," said Michael Duchowny, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Miami Children's Hospital. "More research has to be done to find out why some children are more susceptible than others." Common ADHD medications include amphetamines such as Adderall or Dexedrine, and methylphenidates such as Concerta, Metadate CD or Ritalin. Read more on substance abuse.

Jun 20 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 20

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Depression Linked to Higher Heart Disease Death Risk in Younger Women
Women age 55 and younger are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, die or require artery-opening procedures if they’re moderately or severely depressed, according to new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Investigators assessed depression symptoms in 3,237 women with known or suspected heart disease who were scheduled for coronary angiography, an X-ray that diagnoses disease in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. After nearly three years of follow-up, researchers found:

  • In women 55 and younger, after adjusting for other heart disease risk factors, each 1-point increase in symptoms of depression was associated with a 7 percent increase in the presence of heart disease.
  • In men and older women, symptoms of depression didn’t predict the presence of heart disease.
  • Women 55 and younger were 2.17 times as likely to suffer a heart attack, die of heart disease or require an artery-opening procedure during the follow-up period if they had moderate or severe depression.
  • Women 55 and younger were 2.45 times as likely to die from any cause during the follow-up period if they had moderate or severe depression.

Read more on heart health.

HUD Provides Additional Funds for Hundreds of U.S. Programs for the Homeless
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced a second round of grants totaling $140 million to nearly 900 local homeless assistance programs for both permanent and transitional housing programs. The grants will fund programs including 436 new local projects aimed at providing permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness. Read more on housing.

NIH Launches Public Website on 3D Printing
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched the NIH 3D Print Exchange, a public website that lets users share, download and edit 3D print files related to health and science. Among other uses, the files can be used to print custom laboratory equipment, as well as models of bacteria and human anatomy. NIH uses 3D printing—or the creation of a physical object from a digital model—to study viruses; repair and enhance lab apparatus; and help plan medical procedures. The 3D Print Exchange also includes video tutorials; a discussion forum; and tools that convert scientific and clinical data into ready-to-print 3D files. Read more on research.

May 19 2014
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Why Thirdhand Smoke Looks to Be a First-Rate Problem

Data on thirdhand smoke—tobacco smoke left on surfaces, walls and floors—was first published in 2009. The data has raised significant concerns that the smoke can linger for months or longer, as well as combine with indoor air compounds to possibly form new carcinogens. In the last few months researchers from the California Thirdhand Smoke Consortium, funded by the University of California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TDRP), have been presenting and publishing data that indicates that thirdhand smoke is linked to serious health risks in animals and humans—though more research is needed to better measure thirdhand smoke constituents and their health impact.

Consortium researchers published the first animal study on thirdhand smoke in January in the journal PLOS One, finding that mice exposed to thirdhand smoke developed a range of medical conditions, including liver damage and hyperactivity. Research published last year, as well as presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society a few weeks ago, finds that thirdhand smoke likely causes damage to human DNA.

And last month several of the Consortium scholars presented their findings at a tobacco conference n California.

“The potential health risks of what we call thirdhand smoke are only now being studied. This is a new frontier,” said Georg Matt, a Consortium member and psychology professor of at San Diego State University who focuses on policies to protect nonsmokers. “We don’t yet know the degree of risk, but we are already finding that indoor smoking leaves a nearly indelible imprint. We need to find out what risk this pollution poses.”

Read More

Apr 30 2014
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Harvard School of Public Health Special Report: The Financial Crisis as a Public Health Crisis

“Five years after the Great Recession officially came to an end, the United States has yet to fully recover from the economic devastation sparked by the collapse of an $8 trillion housing bubble and the ensuing turmoil that saw global financial systems teetering on the brink of collapse. But while the economic costs of the downturn have drawn the lion’s share of attention, the damage to our bodies could end up far surpassing the damage to our bank accounts.”

Those are the opening lines of a new special report from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), “Failing Economy, Failing Health: The Great Recession’s Toll on Body and Mind,” detailing how poverty and inequality resulting from the economic maelstrom pulled down so many—and what that will mean for public health in the long term.

“Health is a long-run thing, but the methods we use to analyze current data only estimate short-term effects,” says SV Subramanian, HSPH professor of population health and geography. “It may take awhile for the health impact of the Great Recession to kick in, but once it does, it could be dramatic.”

The data is strong on the links between employment and health—people who are unemployed, underemployed or laid off are less healthy and don’t live as long. 

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A 2009 study found that in the 12 months after men lost their jobs in mass layoffs, they saw their chances of dying nearly double. While over time the risk lessened it was still significant two decades later. Another study that same year found that losing a job when a business shuts its doors increases the odds of fair or poor health by 54 percent among workers with no preexisting health conditions while also increasing the risk of new health conditions by 83 percent. The stress of the situation, according to the researchers, heightens the odds of stress-related conditions such as stroke, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and psychiatric problems.

Yet another study, this one in 2010, found that about 4 in 10 Americans with heart disease or diabetes and 1 in 5 with cancer said the stress of the Great Recession made it more difficult to manage their illnesses.

What’s more complex is unearthing the pathways behind why this is the case. The HSPH article outlines some of the mechanisms by which unemployment affects health.

Read More

Mar 27 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 27

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Flu Vaccine Reduces Risk of Child’s Flu-Related ICU Hospitalization by 74 Percent
Receiving a flu vaccine dramatically reduces a child’s risk of flu-related intensive care hospitalization, according to a new study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed the medical records of 216 children age 6 months through 17 years admitted to 21 pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) in the United States during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 flu seasons, finding that the a flu vaccination reduces the risk of being admitted to a PICU by 74 percent. “These study results underscore the importance of an annual flu vaccination, which can keep your child from ending up in the intensive care unit,” said Alicia Fry, MD, a medical officer in CDC’s Influenza Division. “It is extremely important that all children—especially children at high risk of flu complications—are protected from what can be a life-threatening illness." Kids younger than 5 and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or developmental delays are at especially high risk of serious flu complications. Read more on influenza.

CDC Releases Expansive Salmonella Report for Researchers
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released an expansive, first-of-its kind report charting the past four decades of laboratory-confirmed surveillance data on 32 Salmonella serotypes. An Atlas of Salmonella in the United States, 1968-2011, includes data and analysis by age, sex, season and geography down to the county level. The report is available both online and in a downloadable format. Salmonella causes an estimated 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths each year in the United States. “We hope these data allow researchers and others to assess what has happened and to think more about how we can reduce Salmonella infections in the future,” said Robert Tauxe, MD, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “The more we understand Salmonella, the more we can make progress in fighting it all along the farm to table chain.” Read more on research.

GlaxoSmithKline Recalling Alli Non-Prescription Weight-Loss Drug Amid Reports of Tampering
GlaxoSmithKline is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in recalling all supplies of its non-prescription weight-loss drug Alli in the United States and Puerto Rico, after reports that some bottles had been tampered with and may not contain authentic Alli. The drug comes in a turquoise-blue capsule, but the company has received inquiries from consumers in seven U.S. states about bottles containing a range of tablets and capsules of various shapes and colors. Read more on safety.

Feb 6 2014
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How Do We Help People Who Drop Out of Obesity Clinical Trials?

A surprising piece of information at this week’s AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference came during a session on what additional evidence is needed to move forward in the prevention and treatment of obesity. Linda Billheimer, PhD, deputy director of the health, retirement and long term analysis office at the Congressional Budget Office, said that one weakness of some obesity clinical trials is that they may not reflect the number of people who drop out during the trial. For example, while a study may show the success rate for 400 participants, it may not account for the number of people who left the trial and have not lost weight—or even gained weight—since their trial participation.

Billheimer noted that retaining patients can be difficult because people who plateau are often frustrated, which can combine with other reasons to lead them to leave.

Attempting to keep participants in the trial can be critical because the modality offered may be a strong opportunity for the participants to lose weight, since the trials often have novel approaches. There is also the support from the clinical trials team. Researchers at the session noted that trial funders might add criteria to the trial on follow up for participants who withdraw to possibly increase participation time among a larger group of patients.

Recent novel obesity trials listed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health on ClinicalTrials.gov include

  • A trial comparing low and high financial incentives for weight loss
  • Using virtual reality to help trial participants work on weight loss
  • Community based obesity prevention among black women
Feb 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: February 6

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PSA Campaigns Uses Pets to Remind Uninsured People of Deadline to Enroll Under the ACA
With research showing that more than 80 percent of Americans are unaware of the March 31 deadline to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Enroll America has partnered with the Ad Council on the launch of a new national campaign to raise awareness, educate and motivate people to enroll. The “Take Care, People” national multimedia public service advertising (PSA) campaign, which is focuses on women ages 18-34, took a somewhat unusual approach when it came to selecting spokespeople: pets. “We needed a familiar face that would stand out amidst all the noise to communicate to all Americans the benefits of enrolling for health insurance in a way that’s entertaining, relatable and easy to digest,” said Creative Director Rodrigo Butori of La Comunidad, which created the PSAs along with Razorfish. “We thought about pets. Why? Two thirds of American homes have pets. They have been the recipient of people’s love and care for ages. So it’s time for them to return the favor. It’s time for pets to take care of people for a change.” Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

PHLR Online Database Brings Together Experts and Peer-reviewed Publications
Public Health Law Research (PHLR), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has launched the new PHLR SciVal Expert Community to allow users to discover existing and emerging evidence on laws and legal practices that improve health, to identify experts in the area and to pursue new collaborations. The searchable database currently includes 240 expert public health law researchers and more than 16,000 of their peer-reviewed publications covering a range of topics, from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs to occupational safety and health, oral health and preparedness. Read more on research.

Study: Healthy Eating on Weekdays the Key to Losing Weight
The key to losing weight and keeping it off may be healthier eating on weekdays rather than weekends, according to a new study in the journal Obesity Facts. Knowing that most people tend to gradually lose weight during the week and then gain it back on the weekends, researchers tracked the eating habits of 80 people ages 25 to 62, having them weigh themselves before breakfast every day for anywhere from two weeks to nearly a year. The study found that everyone experienced weight fluctuations, but that the people who consistently lost weight tended to compensate more strictly during the week for their weekend weight gain, with their weight decreasing immediately on Monday and continuing downward until Friday. "The ones who are big winners are those who lose a little bit of weight from Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday to Thursday," said study co-author Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University. Read more on obesity.

Dec 11 2013
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Recommended Reading: ‘Retweet This’—Researchers See Rise in Use of Twitter to Share Scientific Journal Articles

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The top two tweeted peer-reviewed science articles between 2010 and 2012 were about the effect of radiation on humans, according to a study published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Researchers reviewed 1.4 million articles to determine the most tweeted studies. Runners up in the top 15 of the most tweeted articles included studies on acne in teenagers and the link between physical activity and mortality rates. Nature, a highly regarded journal, received the most tweets: 13,430 Twitter mentions of 1,083 papers.

However, the researchers found that a retweet rate doesn’t necessarily correlate with a high rate of citations for an article in other studies, which is a standard measurement of significance for a scientific study. The most tweeted study—on genetic changes during radiation exposure—was tweeted 963 times but was cited in journals only nine times.

"The most popular scientific articles on Twitter stress health implications or have a humorous or surprising component. This suggests that articles having the broadest scientific impact do not have the widest distribution," said Stefanie Haustein, of the University of Montreal School of Library and Information Science, and a co-author of the study.

Still, the researchers say the increase in tweets that include a link or description of scientific studies is important even if the rates don’t correlate with journal citations. For one thing, the number of scientific researchers on Twitter is still low and “the fact that more and more articles are tweeted [at all] is good news because it helps scientific communication [and] regardless of whether non-scientists are sending this information, it proves that science is an aspect of general culture,” said Vincent Larivière, PHD, a co-author of the study and professor at the University of Montreal, who holds the Canada Research Chair on the Transformation of Academic Communication.

Read the full study.

Oct 24 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 24

HHS: $8M in Research Grants to Support Hurricane Sandy Recovery
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded more than $8 million in research grants to support the long-term recovery of areas of the country damaged by Hurricane Sandy in late 2012. The grants, which are part of the Hurricane Sandy Recovery and Rebuilding Supplemental Appropriation Act of 2013, will go toward research on issues such as community resilience; risk communications and the use of social media; health system response and health care access; evacuation and policy decision making; and mental health. “We hope the grants provide a catalyst for the scientific community to put more emphasis on the study of recovery from disasters; much more research is needed to support decision making in the long-term recovery process and ultimately to improve resilience,” said Nicole Lurie, MD, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response. “We anticipate that the findings not only will help community leaders make evidence-based decisions about recovery plans and policies in affected areas but also that the knowledge gained can improve resilience across the entire country.” Read more on disasters.

NIH, CDC Launch National Registry on Sudden Deaths in the Young
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention have come together in the launch of the Sudden Death in the Young Registry. The registry will catalogue conditions such as heart disease and epilepsy in order to help researchers better understand the issues and establish future research priorities. According to the NIH, up until now there have not been agreed upon standards or definitions for reporting these deaths, which has impeded efforts to determine the best prevention efforts. "The sudden death of a child is tragic and the impact on families and society is incalculable," said Jonathan Kaltman, MD, chief of the Heart Development and Structural Diseases Branch within the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "This registry will collect comprehensive, population-based information on sudden unexpected death in youths up to age 24 in the United States. It is a critical first step toward figuring out how to best prevent these tragedies." Read more on research.

Mother’s Smoking During Pregnancy Increases Infant’s Risk of Infections, Death
Mothers who smoked during pregnancy are more likely to have children who are at increased risk for hospitalization and death during infancy, according to a new study in the journal Pediatric Infectious Diseases. The study analyzed hospital records and death certificates of approximately 50,000 Washington state infants born between 1987 and 2004. Researchers say a weakening of the child’s immune system may be responsible for the heightened risk. "We've known for a long time that babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy are at high risk for serious medical problems relating to low birth weight, premature delivery and poor lung development," said lead author Abigail Halperin, MD. "While respiratory infections have been recognized as a common cause of these sometimes life-threatening illnesses, this study shows that babies exposed to smoke in utero [in the womb] also have increased risk for hospitalization and death from a much broader range of infections—both respiratory and nonrespiratory—than we knew before.” Read more on tobacco.

Oct 18 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 18

CDC Flu Reports to Resume Later Today
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported late yesterday that it has resumed analysis of influenza surveillance data and testing of influenza laboratory specimens collected during the 16-day government shut-down. An abbreviated FluView report summarizing the data for the most recent week (October 6-12) will be posted on Friday, October 18. At a later date, reports summarizing influenza surveillance data for September 22-October 5 will also be posted. Weekly Friday posting of the full FluView report for the 2013-2014 season will begin again on October 25. In the United States, flu season typically runs September through April and both private doctors and public health clinics currently have large supplies of this year’s flu vaccine on hand. Find a flu shot in your neighborhood by using the Health Map Vaccine Finder, run by Boston Children’s Hospital. Read more on flu.

Brain May Flush Out Toxins During Sleep
A new study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health finds that a good night’s rest may literally clear the mind. The study, conducted in mice, showed—for the first time, according to the researchers—that the space between brain cells may increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours. The researchers say that suggests a new role for sleep in health and disease. The study, published in Science, shows that during sleep a plumbing system called the glymphatic system may open, letting fluid flow rapidly through the brain. The researchers studied the system by injecting dye into the cerebrospinal fluid of mice and watching it flow through their brains while simultaneously monitoring electrical brain activity. The dye flowed rapidly when the mice were either asleep or anesthetized, but barely flowed when the same mice were awake. The researchers also inserted electrodes into the brains of the mice to directly measure the space between brain cells and found it increased by 60 percent when the mice were asleep or anesthetized. Researchers say the applications may apply to general health as well as have implications for neurological disorders. Read more on research.

New Report Offers Suggestions for Creating Healthier Neighborhoods
Again and again, research shows that our environment—where we live and what behaviors it fosters—has a profound impact on our health. Realizing this, a new report from the Prevention Institute offers interviews with fifty leaders in multiple sectors, including transportation, housing and public health on how to create healthy, safe and equitable neighborhoods. The goal of the report, Towards a 21st Century Approach: Advancing a Vision of Prevention and Public Health, is to spark an active and ongoing national dialogue about the subject. It was made possible through funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more on smart growth.