News in Brief

Report against chimpanzee research

A report from the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) has called for a dramatic shift away from experimentation on chimpanzees for biomedical and behavioural research, stating that, due to scientific advancements, the practice is now largely “unnecessary”. However, according to the report, some areas of research, such as development of a prophylactic hepatitis C vaccine, may still benefit from using chimpanzees. At present, the United States and Gabon are the only the only countries known to allow invasive research on chimpanzees.

Call for protection of research volunteers

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released a report recommending better protection of research volunteers. According to the Commission, in the 2010 fiscal year, the US government funded over 55,000 projects involving human subjects, but was unable to readily access comprehensive information about the research. The report was requested by President Barack Obama in response to the discovery in October 2010 that, from 1946 to 1948, the US Public Health Service conducted experiments in Guatemala that intentionally exposed thousands of people to sexually-transmitted diseases.

More medical research on pregnant women

A group of physicians, scientists and bioethicists, have joined the Second Wave Initiative, a collaboration of academics which is putting pressure on the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to encourage the inclusion of pregnant women in medical research. Ruth Faden, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and cofounder of the Second Wave Initiative, said: “Pregnancy poses a unique set of health care concerns due to hormonal and metabolic changes. It is vital that we learn more about how a pregnant body reacts to treatment, for the welfare both of women and newborns.”

Teenage use of cigarettes and alcohol hit all-time low

Cigarette and alcohol use by eighth, 10th and 12th-graders are at their lowest point since 1975, according to Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. However, this positive news is tempered by a slowing rate of decline in teen smoking as well as continued high rates of abuse of other tobacco products, marijuana and prescription drugs. The survey results show that more teens use marijuana than cigarettes, and that alcohol is still the drug of choice among all age groups queried.

Rise in multidrug-resistant TB

A new global overview of multidrugresistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) shows record levels, with some countries reporting MDR-TB in more than 65% of TB patients. Cases of MDR-TB have been reported in 80 countries, in some instances in almost 30% of all newly- diagnosed cases.

Link between nuclear power plants and child leukaemia confirmed

A new study from France, published in The International Journal on Cancer (January 2012) confirms results from an earlier German study (KiKK-Study, December 2007), which showed that the incidence of child leukaemia more than doubles near nuclear power plants for children below the age five living within a 5 kilometre radius of the plants, compared with children living more than 20 kilometres from a plant. This is in line with a study by the US National Academy Press, which argues that women and children are at significantly greater risk of suffering and dying from radiationinduced cancer than a man exposed to the same dose of ionizing radiation.

Google monitor a good predictor of flu outbreak

Monitoring internet search traffic about influenza may prove to be a better way for hospital emergency rooms to prepare for a surge in sick patients, compared with waiting for outdated government flu case reports, say researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine. The researchers reported a strong correlation between a rise in internet searches for flu information, compiled by Google’s Flu Trends tool, and a subsequent rise in people coming into a busy urban hospital emergency room complaining of flu-like symptoms.

WHO launches new ethical standards

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a list of 10 ethical standards for health-related research with human participants. Nancy Kass, deputy director of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and a member of the team who put together the new guidelines, said: “It is important that countries, researchers and collaborators know the expected standards for high quality research ethics committees, and have guidance on how to create and maintain them.”

Social media for scientific gains

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Masdar Institute and the University of Southampton are collaborating to tackle the MyHeartMap Challenge, using social networks and crowdsourcing.

Launched by the University of Pennsylvania, MyHeartMap Challenge invites members of the public to submit geo-tagged pictures of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) they see around Philadelphia, to create an effective location database of AEDs.

It is estimated that around 300,000 people die every year in the US from sudden out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, some of which could be prevented through the timely use of a defibrillator. The University of Pennsylvania has observed that the inability to locate AEDs in such emergency situations greatly reduces their lifesaving potential.

Prise money of US$10,000 is being offered to the team or individual that finds and photographs the most AEDs in Philadelphia County before March 13.

Masdar Institute’s computer scientists Dr Iyad Rahwan and Sohan D’Souza, and University of Southampton computational game theorists James McInerney, Dr Victor Naroditskiy and Professor Nick Jennings, will join MIT Professor Sandy Pentland and UCSD Research Scientist Dr Manuel Cebrian, in trying to solve the MyHeartMap Challenge – and they are inviting social networkers to be involved in the activity.

Dr Rahwan said: “Our team will use crowd sourcing to encourage people to report the location of AEDs, to verify other reports, and to recruit new participants. If we win, the money will be split among the participants who helped find defibrillators and the participants who recruited them, with any left-over money donated to charity.” Dr Rahwan recently co-authored a paper with the DARPA Network Challenge winners on their use of social networks to mobilise people to contribute to their team’s efforts. The paper was published in the prestigious Science journal.

The team will use the challenge to test some of their theoretical research on social network mobilisation and incentivisation as well as verification, which adds a new layer of complexity not yet seen in crowdsourcing challenges.

Dr Cebrian said: “To most people social networks are just a way to talk to their friends or share videos. But to scientists, like us, they represent a unique way to form large teams of people to work in a coordinated way to achieve difficult tasks. If we can harness that power of social networks, then we can enlist countless numbers of helpful volunteers to canvass Philadelphia and seek out and verify the AEDs that are currently not geo-tagged, or on any map. This information can later prove to be lifesaving for someone going through sudden cardiac arrest.”

India on target to be verified as polio-free

India, which was once recognised as the world’s epicentre of polio, appears to have interrupted wild poliovirus transmission, completing one year without polio since its last case on 13 January 2011.

If all pending laboratory investigations return negative, in the coming weeks, India will officially be deemed to have stopped indigenous transmission of wild poliovirus. The number of polio-endemic countries, those which have never stopped indigenous wild poliovirus transmission, will then be reduced to a historical low of three: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

In 2011, Afghanistan and Pakistan both saw alarming increases in polio cases, and poliovirus from Pakistan re-infected China, which had been polio-free since 1999. In Africa, active polio transmission continues in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, with outbreaks in West and Central Africa in the past 12 months reminding the world that, as long as polio exists anywhere, it remains a threat everywhere.

Global health leaders paid tribute to the Government of India for its leadership and financial commitment to the polio eradication effort, and to the millions of vaccinators, community mobilisers, Rotarians, parents and caregivers who have supported polio eradication for more than a decade. The scale of the eradication effort in India is mind-boggling: each year, more than 170 million children under the age of five are vaccinated in two national immunization campaigns, with up to 70 million children in the highest-risk areas vaccinated multiple times. The whole effort requires nearly a billion doses of oral polio vaccine annually.

India’s achievement in stopping polio will save hundreds of thousands of children from lifelong paralysis, or death, each year and will prevent a recurrence of Indian-origin polio outbreaks in countries as diverse as Angola, Bangladesh, Nepal, Russia and Tajikistan.

“India’s success is arguably its greatest public health achievement and has provided a global opportunity to push for the end of polio,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is in full emergency mode and focused on using this momentum to close this crippling disease down. Stopping polio in India required creativity, perseverance and professionalism – many of the innovations in polio eradication were sparked by the challenges in India. The lessons from India must now be adapted and implemented through emergency actions to finish polio everywhere.”

According to Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director, the key to India’s remarkable progress has been the Indian government’s comprehensive polio eradication programme that has enabled sustained high immunisation coverage in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which have high rates of poverty, high population density and poor sanitation and infrastructure. Rotary International president Kalyan Banerjee, said: “India is undoubtedly the biggest domino to fall in the polio eradication effort.”

In response to India’s achievement, the global polio eradication effort now focuses on improving the implementation of emergency operations plans in Chad, Nigeria and Pakistan. Success depends on local ownership and accountability at all levels of government and international partners.

Canon acquires Dutch medical imaging specialists

Canon Europe has strengthened its offering in the medical imaging arena by acquiring Netherlands-based medical solutions specialist Delft Diagnostic Imaging (Delft DI). Delft DI specialises in two business areas: innovative medical software solutions for sharing digital images and medical records; and digital X-ray imaging systems, systems integration and service of a wide variety of customised complete solutions for radiology departments.

Delft DI has been an important distribution partner for Canon digital radiography systems for over ten years in The Netherlands and Belgium. Building on this partnership, where Delft DI already incorporates Canon digital radiography products in their services, this business will become a platform for developing future digital radiography services.

Ryoichi Bamba, president and CEO of Canon Europe, said: “Canon has identified medical imaging as an important focus area for future growth, and we believe this investment and expansion of the medical business will bring new opportunities to build on our success in the digital radiography and eye care sectors to date. We are excited about the solutions and services we can bring to the market together with Delft DI for the benefit of our customers and ultimately patient care.”

Guido Geerts, CEO of Delft DI, added: “We have enjoyed a good relationship with Canon as a distribution partner and we are delighted to now be extending this relationship. We are proud to become part of the Canon Group and believe this will also bring benefits for our customers.”

Following the completion of the acquisition, Delft DI will become a subsidiary of Canon Europa NV. Medical Imaging Group, will join the board of Delft DI. Delft Imaging Systems, currently a subsidiary of Delft DI, will become a separate company, and will no longer be part of Delft DI group.

Second term for Dr Margaret Chan

Dr Margaret Chan was nominated by the World Health Organisation's Executive Board for a second term as directorgeneral. Director-General is WHO's chief technical and administrative officer and oversees the policy for the Organisation’s international health work.

This nomination will be submitted for approval to the 65th World Health Assembly, scheduled to meet in Geneva from May 21 to 26 2012. If confirmed by the World Health Assembly, Dr Chan's new term will begin on 1 July 2012 and continue until 30 June 2017.

WHO’s Member States were given the opportunity to propose candidates between 4 July and 15 November 2011. Dr Chan was the only candidate put forward by the Executive Board. Dr Chan presented her vision of the Organisation’s challenges and priorities to the Executive Board, which then agreed that her nomination be forwarded to the World Health Assembly.

Dr Margaret Chan, from the People's Republic of China, obtained her medical degree from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. She joined the Hong Kong Department of Health in 1978.

In 1994, Dr Chan was appointed director of health of Hong Kong. In her nine-year tenure as director, she launched new services to prevent the spread of disease and promote better health. She also introduced new initiatives to improve communicable disease surveillance and response, enhance training for public health professionals, and establish better local and international collaboration. She managed outbreaks of avian influenza and of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

In 2003, Dr Chan joined WHO as director of the Department for Protection of the Human Environment. In June 2005, she was appointed director, Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response, as well as representative of the Director-General for Pandemic Influenza. In September 2005, she was named Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases.

Dr Chan was elected to the post of Director-General on 9 November 2006. Her current term runs through June 2012.


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