Now Viewing: Public health

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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The Case for Journeying to the Center of Our Social Networks

May 5, 2014, 11:07 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

James Fowler James Fowler, Professor of Medical Genetics and Political Science at UCSD

James Fowler is Professor of Medical Genetics and Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. His work lies at the intersection of the natural and social sciences, with a focus on social networks, behavior, evolution, politics, genetics, and big data. Together with RWJF grantee Nicholas Christakis, Fowler wrote a book on social networks for a general audience called Connected.

By James Fowler

In recent weeks, much has been made of David Lazer’s finding that Google’s Flu Trends tracker seriously missed the mark in its measurement of flu activity for 2012-2013—and in previous years, too. For those who don’t know, Flu Trends monitors Google search behaviors to identify regions where searches related to flu-like symptoms are spiking.

In spite of Flu Trend’s notable misstep, Lazer still believes in the power of marrying health and social data. In discussing the results of his study, he has maintained Google Flu is “a terrific” idea—one that just needs some refining. I agree.

And, earlier this month, Nicholas Christakis, several other colleagues, and I—with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—published a new method offering one such refinement. Our paper shows that, in a given social network (in this study’s case, Twitter), a sample of its most connected, central individuals can hold significant predictive power. We call this potentially powerful group of individuals a “sensor group.”

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Faces of Public Health: Daniel Zoughbie

Jan 27, 2014, 12:00 PM, Posted by Deborah Bae

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We have evidence from the work of Nicholas Christakis and others that our health is influenced by our social network—our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. With Microclinic International, we’re learning how and why health behaviors are spread socially and how to best harness social networks to manage chronic disease and improve health. Learn more in this NewPublicHealth interview with Daniel Zoughbie, PhD, MSc, of Microclinic International.

Princeton Students Study Health Care in Urban New Jersey

Dec 9, 2013, 12:30 PM, Posted by Christine Nieves

Princeton students at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen Princeton students at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. From left to right: Emma Tucher, Lawrence Chang, Colleen O'Gorman, Gwen Lee, Richard Lu, Daniel Kim, Mina Henaen, Azza Cohe, Justin Ziegler, Arfan Sunny and Jordan Shivers. Photo by Richard Lu.

Recently, I heard through our grantee at Princeton University that a group of students was organizing a weeklong trip to meet with people working to improve health care in urban New Jersey. The students asked to meet with program staff at the Foundation to get recommendations regarding people to meet and key questions to ask, and we obliged. After their trip, we wanted to hear how things had gone, so I reached out via email. I found their curiosity energizing, and hope you do, too.

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Exploring Medical Conspiracy Theories

Sep 18, 2013, 11:00 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

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It’s easy to laugh off conspiracy theories. But what if studying them could tell us something new and important about what drives people’s health behavior?

Eric Oliver hopes to do just that. A professor of political science at the University of Chicago, Oliver has studied the origins and impact of political conspiracy theories. Now, with Pioneer’s support, he’s turning his attention to the realm of health, investigating medical conspiracy theories and how they influence people’s habits and decisions.

The Pioneer web team recently interviewed Oliver about his research; here’s an edited transcript of that exchange. You can also learn more about the grant here.

Pioneer: You've heard the old expression, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn't mean they aren’t out to get you.” Are conspiracy theories by definition always wrong?

Eric Oliver: They are not wrong per se. Conspiracies do sometimes occur (think of Nixon and Watergate). But as a researcher, I try to remain decidedly agnostic about the truth claims of conspiracy theories. Lily Tomlin once quipped, “What is reality but a collective hunch?”, and I generally agree that knowledge is socially constructed.

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