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Exploring Citizen Science

Jul 31, 2014, 11:34 AM, Posted by Christine Nieves

Christine Nieves / RWJF Christine Nieves, program associate

I remember the distinct feeling of learning about Foldit. It was a mixture of awe and hope for the potential breakthrough contributions a citizen can make towards science (without needing a PhD!). Foldit is an online puzzle video game about protein folding. In 2011, Foldit users decoded an AIDS protein that had been a mystery to researchers for 15 years. The gamers accomplished it in 3 weeks. When I learned this, it suddenly hit me; if we, society, systematically harness the curiosity of citizens, we could do so much!

This is the spirit behind our recent exploration to learn more about how citizen scientists are addressing some of the most pressing problems in health and health care.

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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 web 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

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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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