@NIH observes #PRIDE month – How research impacts LGBTQ communities

NIH is observing PRIDE month this June with events on the NIH campus and the ‘telling our stories’ campaign. The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), along with the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office, and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities are bringing awareness this PRIDE month to how research impacts sexual and gender minority communities. See the NIH Director Francis Collins’ statement to NIH staff for pride month below.

Check out the NIH EDI website here for ‘Telling Our Stories’ and more. Or on twitter @NIH_EDI.

Dear Staff,

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is committed to the principles of equal employment opportunity, diversity, and inclusion in our research and workplace.  As part of that commitment, the NIH will be celebrating this year’s Pride Month with a variety of activities that highlight the meaning of including the sexual and gender minority (SGM) community in our work.  The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office, and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities are sponsoring several events that will address key areas of interest in working with SGM populations.  The goal of these activities is to understand, in very specific ways, how research impacts sexual and gender minority communities, and how best to conduct research with and for SGM populations.

The theme for this year’s NIH Pride Month is “Telling Our Stories, Claiming Our Power, Standing in Our Truth.”  This theme reflects our understanding of the importance of storytelling in the biomedical research setting.  In each of the four Pride Month events, we have the opportunity, perhaps for the first time, to look at research from a new and different perspective.

Throughout the month-long celebration, EDI will make available on their website video testimonials and written accounts of members of the NIH SGM community and their allies. Through this campaign, we will have the honor of hearing their stories and learning from their experiences.

Each of us has the ability and the responsibility to learn about, understand, and work for the interests of those groups that invite us and trust us to explore research opportunities within their communities.  I hope that during the month of Pride you will pause to reflect upon the diversity of the SGM population and the importance of including this community in our research and other related activities.  SGM research sits at the intersection of our ongoing commitment to equal employment opportunity, diversity and inclusion, and our mission of turning discovery into health.

For more information on the Pride events happening on the NIH campus, please visit http://edi.nih.gov/pride and follow EDI on twitter and Instagram at @NIH_EDI.

Sincerely yours,

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Director

Harold Varmus knows what makes America great! #SCIENCE #RAawards16 @ResearchAmerica

Research America hosted its annual Advocacy Awards this week, which included honoring Dr. Harold Varmus with its Legacy Award.

Dr. Harold Varmus received the Legacy award for his lifetime commitment to advancing research.  In the 20 years we have hosted advocacy awards evenings, this is only the 4th time we have bestowed the Legacy Award.  I hope you will take a moment to consider the timely challenge Dr. Varmus delivered to us all via his acceptance remarks, in which he refers to science as representing the best of what we have been and must continue to be as a nation.

Dr. Varmus made an amazing speech during his acceptance of the award promoting science and research in America. Can Varmus run for President? He actually knows what makes America great!

NFL meddling in NIH researcher selection?

This is a timely topic since there are some important football games today and it’s almost the superbowl. Last year the NFL donated $30million to the NIH for brain research on the impacts of football. Very necessary since a) there’s a lot of evidence linking brain injury to football and b) the league has been under scrutiny lately because of this. However, it seems as though the NFL may be trying to influence the type of research being conducted. ESPN reports:

Three of the NFL’s top health and safety officers confronted the National Institutes of Health last June after the NIH selected a Boston University researcher to lead a major study on football and brain disease, Outside the Lines has learned.

The new information contradicts denials by the NFL and a foundation it partners with that the league had any involvement or input in the fate of a $16 million study to find methods to diagnose — in living patients — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease found in dozens of deceased NFL players.

Outside the Lines reported in December that the NFL, which in 2012 promised an “unrestricted” $30 million gift to the NIH for brain research, backed out of funding the new study over concerns about the lead researcher, Boston University’s Dr. Robert Stern, who has been critical of the league. In the story, a senior NIH official said that the NFL retained veto power over projects it might fund with its donation, and it effectively used that power in the Stern study. Almost immediately, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy deemed the report “inaccurate.” The league and the foundation both said the league’s overall donation comes with no strings attached.

But Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told Outside the Lines this week that the NFL raised several concerns about Stern’s selection during a June conference call that included Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety; Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, co-chairman of the Head, Neck and Spine Committee; and Dr. Mitch Berger, chairman of the sub-committee on the long-term effects of brain and spine injury.

The NFL alleged that the review process that led to Stern’s selection was marred by conflicts of interest, Koroshetz said. In addition, league officials charged that Stern was biased because he had filed an affidavit opposing the settlement of a lawsuit in which thousands of former players accused the NFL of hiding the link between football and brain damage.

Continue reading

Treating asthma by targeting the immune system? – T cells take my breath away! #science #twinning

A new connection between asthma and T cells in the immune system!! Props to my twin brother – one of the authors, and the featured scientist in the NIH video below! More info from the NIAID here – paper in Science Translational Medicine here, and featured summary –  T cell types that take your breath away.

A new study has shown that targeting two immune cells—Th2 and Th17—and their downstream, inflammatory effects is better than targeting just one pathway in the context of asthma. The researchers also show that blocking the Th2 pathway, which is a target of commonly-prescribed corticosteroid drugs, may unexpectedly boost conditions for Th17-driven inflammation. These results clarify how immune cells and their products contribute to asthma, and the work may enable researchers to design and test therapies that target both pathways. The study appears in the August 19, 2015, edition of Science Translational Medicine and included scientists from NIAID, the University of Leicester, and Genentech.

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#Science celebrity who? Inspiring career talk by Tony Fauci!! @NIH @NIAIDNews #scicomm

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In case you missed our tweets, I visited my brother and psgurel at NIH on Friday and crashed a talk by NIAID Director Anthony Fauci (one of our main science celebrities/science crushes). Fauci’s talk was about his career and how he got to each point of it. From growing up in Brooklyn, studying classics in college, researching and treating HIV patients, to dealing with the recent Ebola outbreak, Fauci said you can never see where your career might lead you. He truly is an amazing clinician, scientist, advocate, and communicator of science!

One piece of advice Fauci gave was to always be nice to everyone you meet, because you never know where they may end up (while showing a picture of him and then first lady Hillary Clinton –  he also more or less endorsed her for 2016, haha). I highly recommend trying to see Fauci talk if you can …. maybe he’ll be NIH Director one day 🙂

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US vaccine researcher gets prison time for blatantly faking data – #misconduct #science

In my personal opinion, the prison sentence for Dong-Pyou Han accurately punishes his blatant faking of data and disregard for science as a whole.

A former Iowa State University scientist was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for altering blood samples to make it seem like he’d achieved a breakthrough in creating an HIV vaccine.

Dong-Pyou Han will receive prison time for making false statements in research reports and will have to pay back $7.2 million to the government agency that funded his research. He entered a plea agreement in February admitting guilt in two counts of making false statements.

Han’s made up data wasted A LOT of tax-payer funding, and took money and time away from other REAL HIV vaccine research. Thus holding up a much needed vaccine for his personal ‘gain.’ Let this serve as a lesson to researchers that misconduct and fraud will be punished accordingly. There is no place for this type of fraud in science (especially when there are anti-science groups waiting for any type of ammunition against science and vaccines).

More info here from Nature if you have access.

Awesome @radiolab episode on CRISPR and Cas9 DNA editing!! #science

Check out this podcast episode from Radiolab focusing on CRISPR and its potential applications.

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Out drinking with a few biologists, Jad finds out about something called CRISPR. No, it’s not a robot or the latest dating app, it’s a method for genetic manipulation that is rewriting the way we change DNA. Scientists say they’ll someday be able to use CRISPR to fight cancer and maybe even bring animals back from the dead. Or, pretty much do whatever you want. Jad and Robert delve into how CRISPR does what it does, and consider whether we should be worried about a future full of flying pigs, or the simple fact that scientists have now used CRISPR to tweak the genes of human embryos.

Take a Second and Ask Your Senators to Join the New NIH Caucus – FIGHTING FOR MORE NIH FUNDING! #science

Do you support biomedical research? Encourage your senators to join the new bipartisan NIH Caucus to fight for more NIH funding. GO HERE and take a minute to send an email!! Thanks Society for Neuroscience Advocacy Network for making it so easy!!

Ask Your Senators to Join the New NIH Caucus

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have established a caucus to fight for more NIH funding in the United States Senate.  The NIH Caucus, which includes members of the United States Senate who meet to discuss and pursue common legislative objectives, offers the opportunity to shed light on this important agency and its role in impacting human health. The caucus is working to get new Senators to join and appreciate this important agency.

Please use the form below to email your Senator now and encourage them to join the Caucus today.  It only takes a few minutes and your email will reinforce Sens. Graham and Durbin’s message that NIH funding should be a priority.

It takes less than a minute to send the pre-written email!!!

The WEAK case against double-blind peer review – highlighting why we need it!! #science @NatureNews

NATURE this week feature a correspondence from Thomas E. DeCoursey reasoning against double-blind peer review. In my humble opinion his reasoning is flawed…. not unlike the current peer-review structure. To air out my laundry, I support a completely open or double-blind system for manuscript peer review. All of the peer review models have some flaws, but these two seem infinitely better than the current system where authors are blinded to reviewers but not vice-versa.

DeCoursey makes the somewhat legitimate point that it may be possible for reviewers to ascertain who the authors of a manuscript are based on citations. However, there would always be some element of doubt for the reviewer about who the authors are, and there are many cases where this circumstance would not occur.

Then DeCoursey reasons that reviewers need to know who the authors are in order to judge them on their past work…. or something…. wha???

To function in our increasingly competitive research culture, in which misconduct is on the rise, researchers need to be aware of which labs can be trusted and which have a record of irreproducibility. If a highly regarded lab and one with a questionable reputation each submit reports of similar investigations, a good reviewer would be extra vigilant in assessing the less-reliable lab’s study, even though the same evaluation standards would be upheld for both.

Yes, misconduct is on the rise, but this point seems wrong to me on every level. Reviewer’s should be vigilant of misconduct and scientific quality on every paper, regardless of what lab the paper comes from. Plenty of ‘good’ labs have had to retract papers for many reasons, and labs with a history of misconduct have reformed and redeemed themselves with quality papers. In fact, less vigilant reviewers may be to blame when flawed papers from highly regarded labs make it through the review process with glaring mistakes. Any reviewer that is more or less vigilant reviewing a manuscript based on the author’s names is not an impartial reviewer. PARTIALITY is bad when reviewing papers and grants…  Ethics 101 – Conflict of Interest. For the same reason, most journals won’t allow scientists to review a manuscript from within the same institution.

There is a reason double-blind experimental design is the gold standard for experiments and human clinical trials. Just like a reviewer might think he knows who the authors are, a doctor might think he knows whether a patient is receiving placebo, but neither can ever really be sure. Why wouldn’t we want the same type of controls for peer review?

Double-blind peer review removes this crucial quality-control option, opening the way for mediocre and bad labs to clutter the literature with sub-standard science.

#FacePalm…

Maybe I’m jaded, but good reviewers should be screening out sub-standard science regardless of whether they know what lab a manuscript is from or not. This closing statement makes it sound like DeCoursey thinks only the best labs, with the biggest names, and the highest impact factor publications should be publishing… which I hope is not the case (maybe I read into it too much). If it is the case, then that only argues stronger for a double-blind peer review system.

And in closing, a double-blind peer review system would help avoid racist, sexist, or other embarrassing situations like this one, where a reviewer commented that the two female author’s should add a male author in order to strengthen the manuscript. Double-blind peer review erases sexism, racism, nationalism, institutionalism (?), and other discrimination from the peer review process, which is definitely huge plus!

#Science Quotable: Newt Gingrich – Double the NIH budget #unexpected

Even as we’ve let financing for basic scientific and medical research stagnate, government spending on health care has grown significantly. That should trouble every fiscal conservative. As a conservative myself, I’m often skeptical of government “investments.” But when it comes to breakthroughs that could cure — not just treat — the most expensive diseases, government is unique. It alone can bring the necessary resources to bear. (The federal government funds roughly a third of all medical research in the United States.) And it is ultimately on the hook for the costs of illness. It’s irresponsible and shortsighted, not prudent, to let financing for basic research dwindle.

House and Senate negotiators are at work on a budget resolution for the fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1, and the N.I.H. should be a priority. Doubling the institutes’ budget once again would be a change on the right scale, although that increase should be accompanied by reforms to make the N.I.H. less bureaucratic, to give the director more flexibility to focus resources on the most common and expensive health problems, and to place a stronger emphasis on truly breakthrough research.

We are in a time of unimaginable scientific and technological progress. By funding basic medical research, Congress can transform our fiscal health, and our personal health, too.

– Newt Gingrich in a New York Times Op-Ed (see the link for the full op-ed), including nice examples for fiscal conservatives!

The call to DOUBLE the NIH budget from Gingrich is fantastic, even if it is somewhat unexpected. Bipartisan support, including from conservatives, is needed to keep the United States at the top of biomedical research.

As a side note, the call to increase support and funding solely on ‘expensive’ diseases should be dealt with caution. Funding very disease specific research will not necessarily equate with treatments or cures. Scientific and biomedical research has proven time and again that treatments and cures are most likely to come out of more basic scientific studies in unexpected ways.

Shout out to Sam for the heads up!!!