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RWJF Pioneering Ideas Podcast: Episode 5 | Conspiracy Theories, Microbiomes & More

Jul 30, 2014, 12:00 PM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

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Welcome to the fifth episode of RWJF’s Pioneering Ideas podcast, where we explore cutting edge ideas and emerging trends that can help build a Culture of Health. Your host is Lori Melichar, director at the foundation.

Ideas Explored in This Episode

Conspiracy Theories (1:44) – What in the world can belief in conspiracy theories tell us about health and health care? A lot, as you’ll hear in this fascinating conversation between RWJF’s Brian Quinn and University of Chicago political scientist and RWJF grantee Eric Oliver. For more on this story, see this blog post from Brian; and don’t miss The Onion’s send-up of Eric’s research.

How Can We Measure a Culture of Health? (18:45) – Alonzo Plough, our Chief Science Officer and Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Learning riffs on the challenges and opportunities when it comes to measuring culture change.

Microbiomes and Design (26:25) – We sit down with microbiome scientist Jessica Green to hear the results of her latest research at the intersection of biology and environmental design. Explore early ideas about the huge ways tiny microbes might one day help create a healthier world. To learn more visit microbe.net, a rich website of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Microbiology of the Built Environment program led by Jonathan Eisen.

Exploring Sleep Health (32:25) – Harvard economist Sendhil Mullinaithan, author of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, talks about the importance of getting more people to recognize the ripple effect of sleep on our mental and physical wellbeing.

Connect About This Episode

Visit Lori Melichar's Culture of Health blog post to read more about understanding the root causes of sleep health and to weigh in on the issue. Tell us: If you are a sleep champion, what are your secrets? Why do you think we aren't getting enough sleep?

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What's Next Health: A Primer On Epigenetics

Jul 16, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Nancy Barrand

Randy Jirtle Photo courtesy of Duke University Medical Center

Each month, What’s Next Health talks with leading thinkers with big ideas about the future of health and health care. Nancy Barrand, RWJF’s senior adviser for program development, hosted Randy Jirtle, senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison McArdle Laboratory, for a fascinating discussion about his work in epigenetics. Randy’s pioneering work in this field holds far-reaching implications for understanding and addressing the interplay between our genes and our environment. Randy answered follow up questions from Nancy to help lay out the basics behind epigenetics and what it might mean for our work moving forward. (Randy’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.)

Nancy Barrand: What is epigenetics?

Randy Jirtle: Epigenetics simply means above the genetics, and it refers to the study of heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in the DNA sequence. So we now know that chemical modifications of the DNA, and the histones the DNA wraps around, actually determine whether genes are functional or not functional. These chemical modifications can be caused by environmental factors that we are exposed to, such as the nutrients we eat—or those our mother ate—or stress at critical junctures in our development.

Understanding how a single epigenetic change can totally disrupt the action or expression of a gene is providing us for the first time with information that will ultimately allow people to prevent diseases and conditions from ever happening, rather than just treating them after they occur.

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Meet the MCAT Competition Winners

Jul 9, 2014, 12:00 PM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Khan Academy MCAT competition video

Rishi Desai, Medical Partnership Program Lead at Khan Academy, works to help Khan Academy connect people to quality information about health and medicine. He is currently a pediatric infectious disease physician, and previously spent two years as an EIS officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

By Rishi Desai

About two months ago we launched two competitions to find talented individuals that could help us by making videos, creating questions, or writing articles for the 2015 Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The 2015 MCAT is different from the previous MCAT exam because it will include new content in areas like psychology and sociology. To help students get ready for this new exam, Khan Academy has partnered up with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Association of American Medical Colleges, and so far we have put together a collection of 500 videos and 600 practice MCAT questions.

The competitions were a tremendous success and we found 12 video competition winners and 20 question and article writing competition winners.

Meet our winners and learn about why they decided to participate in the competition. 

 

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Personal Health Data Goes to the Doctor

Jul 9, 2014, 9:15 AM, Posted by Christine Nieves, Steve Downs

Open mHealth Logo

Since the advent of the stethoscope, information-gathering technology has been helping doctors and other medical professionals improve patient health. Over the past decade, RWJF has funded a series of projects that suggest helping patients track and share data with their clinicians can strengthen the patient-clinician partnership and improve health outcomes. It makes sense that giving clinicians access to patient-tracked health data can improve the health of individuals and communities. As simple as the concept may sound, though, unlocking personal health data for clinical purposes has proven quite challenging. 

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New Microbiome Health Research Puts the ‘Cell’ Back in Cell Phone

Jun 24, 2014, 12:13 PM, Posted by Deborah Bae

WNH Jessica Green infographic

What’s Next Health guest Jessica Green, founding director of the BioBE (Biology and the Built Environment Center), visited RWJF last year to discuss the health implications of the microbiome—the invisible collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and archaea that live on, in and all around us. Watch Jessica’s What's Next Health interview to learn more about microbiomes in the built environment and how that knowledge can be used to design spaces and buildings to create a healthier, more sustainable world.

During her visit, Jessica led an educational workshop where staff swabbed their fingers and mobile phones to learn about the relationship between the microscopic communities living on both. The findings from that educational workshop turned out to be quite interesting, and ultimately led to a study published today in the journal PeerJ. Senior Program Officer Deborah Bae caught up with Jessica to learn more about her research.

Deborah: When we hear the term microbe, many of us think about germs that cause disease. So what is the microbiome, and why is it important in promoting health?

Jessica: Twenty years ago, when I was an environmental engineering student, I learned that microbes were pollutants or contaminants, and were something that you wanted to eliminate, particularly in the indoor environment. And we know from history that being in a very unclean, unsanitary environment kills people. What we’ve learned more recently is that for every human cell, we have up to ten bacterial cells and even more viruses living on the human body. There's a rising consensus that aspects of this microbiome can be beneficial to human health. Some of these microorganisms help our immune system function, ward off pathogens and infections, and microbes in our gut may be even linked to the way that we think and feel.

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