News in Brief

New painless way to treat chronic cardiac arrhythmia

A high-amplitude, and often painful, electrical shock is the only currently available method for treating certain cases of chronic cardiac arrhythmia. But now a new technique using much weaker impulses has been developed by an international team of physicists and cardiologists. Tested in vivo, it has proved effective in restoring heart rhythm in animals suffering from atrial fibrillation, the most common type of arrhythmia worldwide. Even though the technique has yet to be tried on human patients, these encouraging initial results could lead to the development of painless defibrillation methods. These results were published in Nature, 14 July 2011.

Diabetes videos help people make lifestyle changes

New videos to help people make lifestyle changes and cope with the demands of diabetes were announced by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP). The series of three-to five-minute videos address topics such as setting goals to improve health, living with diabetes, finding the support you need, as well as segments on diabetes prevention and physical activity. Your Diabetes Info

New biosynthetic material can be used to replace damaged tissue

Biomedical engineers at Johns Hopkins in the US have developed a new liquid material that in early experiments in rats and humans shows promise in restoring damaged soft tissue relatively safely and durably. The material, a composite of biological and synthetic molecules, is injected under the skin, then “set” using light to form a more solid structure, like using cold to set gelatin in a mold. The commuresearchers say the product one day could be used to reconstruct soldier’s faces marred by blast injuries. The researchers caution that the material, described in a report in the 27 July 2011 issue of Science Translational Medicine, is “promising”, but not yet ready for widespread clinical use.

Johns Hopkins takes top spot again

For the 21st year in a row, The Johns Hopkins Hospital has taken the top spot in U.S.News & World Report’s annual rankings of American hospitals, placing first in five medical specialties and in the top five in 10 others.

New paediatric infectious diseases journal

Oxford University Press (OUP) will partner with the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (PIDS) to publish the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (JPIDS). This new quarterly journal will be will be dedicated to perinatal, childhood, and adolescent infectious diseases. It will be a high-quality source of original research articles, clinical trial reports, guidelines, and topical reviews in an essential publication that will span from bench to bedside.

Vaccine for 300,000 Kenya children

A July 27 media report says UNICEF plans to vaccinate more than 300,000 children in Kenya in an emergency programme designed to prevent an outbreak of polio and measles as refugees stream into northern Kenya from famine-hit Somalia. Jayne Kariuki from UNICEF was quoted as saying that four northern Kenyan regions were to be targeted along with Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp.

International definitions for multidrug resistant bacteria

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have to come together to address the issue of the need for harmonised definitions to describe and classify bacteria that are resistant to multiple antimicrobial agents. The group have created a standardised international terminology with which to describe acquired resistance profiles in Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus spp and others. The definitions are published in Clinical Microbiology and Infection and are openly accessible. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-0691.2011.03570.x

Parents refuse polio vaccine for kids

According to an AP report hundreds of parents in northern Nigeria are refusing to allow their children to be vaccinated against polio. Authorities said noncompliant parents would be prosecuted.

The refusal came during a four-day campaign in July to vaccinate some 6 million children in northern Nigeria which has recorded two cases of polio this year and hampers global efforts to completely eradicate the disease. 

US Appeals Court rules in favour of patenting isolated genes

In a ruling that has far reaching implications for the privatisation and ownership of genetic material, the US Appeals Court ruled on 30 July 2011 that isolated genetic material can be patented. Two judges of the three-judge panel ruled in favour of patent rights, which went against a lower court ruling last year involving a company called Myriad Genetics, which ruled that genes cannot be patented because they are “products of nature”.

According to the Appeals Court ruling, Myriad’s basic patents on isolated BRCA1 and BRCA2 sequences were valid because they applied to “isolated DNA”, or complementary DNA (cDNA), not DNA as found in the body.

The genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are used to identify mutations that carry a high risk for breast and ovarian cancer

Isolated DNA is DNA that has been removed from its native cellular and chromosomal environment and has been manipulated chemically to produce a molecule that is different from that which exists in the body.

Myriad came out with a statement saying they were pleased with the ruling. “Isolated DNA and cDNA are patent-eligible material as both are new chemical matter with important utilities which can only exist as the product of human ingenuity.

“Furthermore, we believe this decision is in the best interests of the agriculture, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, as well as the hundreds of millions of people whose lives are bettered by the products these industries develop based on the promise of strong patent protection.”

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with the advocacy group PUBPAT of New York City, supported the case against Myriad and said the decision was a “blow” to keep scientific research free from legal restrictions.

PUBHAT said the ruling effects the validity of patents now held on approximately 4,000 human genes. Approximately 20% of all human genes are patented, including genes associated with Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, colon cancer, asthma and many other illnesses.

“The ruling is a blow to the idea that patent law cannot impede the free flow of ideas in scientific research,” said Chris Hansen, a staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “Human DNA is not a manufactured invention, but a natural entity like air or water. To claim ownership of genetic information is to unnecessarily block the free exchange of ideas.”

The patents granted to Myriad gave the company the exclusive right to perform diagnostic tests on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and to prevent any researcher from even looking at the genes without first getting permission from Myriad.

ScienceInsider quoted Robert Cook- Deegan, director of the Center for Genome Ethics, Law & Policy at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, as saying the ruling is “a very interesting decision” that’s likely to lead to further legal action: “I wouldn't be surprised if both sides appealed to the Supreme Court.”

The US Appeals Court ruling

Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices launched

CSC has launched its Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices with the mission of monitoring worldwide trends, conducting regional and multi-country studies, and evaluating emerging operational practices and technologies that have the potential to improve performance of healthcare industries around the world.

CSC says that by merging trends and experience across geographies, and tapping its expertise in the United States, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), CSC’s new endeavour will offer healthcare providers the tools to learn about, and capitalise on, best practices no matter where they are developed.

CSC Healthcare is a large multinational company that provides technology-enabled solutions for the public and private healthcare sectors around the world.

Commenting on the initiative, Mark Roman, president of CSC’s Global Healthcare Group, said: “While many aspects of healthcare payment differ among countries, the goals of safe, efficient and high quality care are universal – and technology is a critical component of delivering on these imperatives. “CSC’s expertise in technology, and our position as a global leader in the healthcare market, enables us to deliver key insights and uncover tools and services for use by our clients around the world. We are pleased to create a formal home for our thought leadership activities, which will allow us to share what we learn with the industry.”

Dr Harald Deutsch, vice president, CSC Healthcare EMEA, added: “As the healthcare landscape across EMEA continues to change, it is increasingly important to provide our customers with credible industry intelligence to enable them to make better informed business decisions.”

Reports from the Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices

New Open Access journal set to redefine online scientific publishing

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust are lending their support to a new, top-tier, open access online journal for biomedical and life sciences research. The journal’s name is not yet decided.

According to a press statement, all research published in the journal will help “extend the boundaries of scientific knowledge”. A team of highly regarded, experienced and actively practicing scientists will ensure fair, swift and transparent editorial decisions followed by rapid online publication.

The decision to create a new journal follows a meeting of the three organisations last year at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus where a number of leading scientists agreed that there was a need for a model of academic publishing that better suits the needs of the research community.

Dr Robert Tjian, President of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, says: “The message from the research community was clear: we are fortunate to have many excellent journals, but there is need for a different, more appropriate and efficient publishing model.”

Professor Herbert Jäckle, Vice President of the Max Planck Society, says: “A journal which aims to represent and publish the very best research outcomes needs an editorial team of experienced – and, crucially, actively practicing – scientists. It must also be editorially independent of those who provide the financial support.”

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, says: “We will attract the most outstanding science for publication by establishing a journal in which researchers have confidence in robust editorial decisions taken by their scientific peers. This will be a journal for scientists edited by scientists. The ethos of the journal will be to avoid asking authors to make extensive modifications or perform endless additional experiments before a paper can be published.”

The journal will employ an open and transparent peer review process in which papers will be accepted or rejected as rapidly as possible, generally with only one round of revisions, and with limited need for modifications or additional experiments.

As the journal will only exist online, it offers an opportunity to create a journal and article format that will exploit the potential of new technologies to allow for improved data presentation. The journal will be an open access journal, i.e. the entire content will be freely available for all to read, to reproduce and for unrestricted use. This open access system will also enhance opportunities to share content and to more directly engage the reader.

Nurses around the world are called on to take part in Care Challenge

Nurses around the world are being called on to participate in an online international initiative called ‘Care Challenge’. The project which aims to connect nurses around the world is an initiative of “Connecting Nurses” and is in the form of a contest, accessible from a dedicated website where nurses can submit their ideas, vote for and engage in conversation about other nurses’ ideas.

Developed by Sanofi in collaboration with nurses’ organisations, the Care Challenge provides a unique platform to develop an interactive online nursing community where members can share information and education with others in the field and nominate colleagues for an award in nursing excellence.

This recognition programme is open to licensed nurses anywhere in the world. There will be a total of 20 awards for the best ideas, which will offer a great opportunity to develop the initiatives further and give them global recognition.

The programme is expected to bring a range of other benefits to nurses such as improving recognition of the nursing community by giving them a stronger voice and stimulating dialogue within the international nursing community.

There are two categories in the recognition programme, “Helping Hand” and “Nurse in the Limelight”. A jury will choose 10 winners from each category. Ten winners in the “Helping Hand” category will receive 3,000 Euros to support their projects’ continued success, and 10 winners in the “Nurse in the Limelight” category will be prominently featured on the Care Challenge website with a professionally produced video of their innovations.

Registered nurses can sign up at “Care Challenge”

Graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging

More than 1 billion people in 19 countries are now covered by laws requiring large, graphic health warnings on packages of tobacco, nearly double the number of two years ago, when only about 547 million people were covered in 16 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in July in its third periodic report on the global tobacco epidemic.

Burkina Faso, Nauru, Pakistan, Peru, Spain and Thailand are among the latest countries to ban smoking in indoor public spaces and the workplace. Chad, Colombia and Syria are the latest countries to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. And Turkey has recently opted to offer tobacco users comprehensive help to quit.

Mexico, Peru and the United States of America become the latest countries to require the large, graphic warnings on cigarette packaging, which are proven to motivate people to stop using tobacco and to reduce the appeal for people who are not yet addicted.

The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2011 also examines anti-tobacco mass-media campaigns, finding that more than 1.9 billion people live in the 23 countries that have implemented at least one strong campaign within the last two years.

“We are pleased that more and more people are being adequately warned about the dangers of tobacco use,” says WHO Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, Dr Ala Alwan. “At the same time, we cannot be satisfied that the majority of countries are doing nothing or not enough. We urge all countries to follow the best practices for reducing tobacco consumption and to become Parties to, and fully implement, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

Requiring large, graphic health warnings is among the six demand reduction measures recommended by WHO. The other measures involve: monitoring tobacco use; protecting people from tobacco smoke; helping users quit; enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and raising taxes on tobacco.

Of the world’s more than 1 billion tobacco smokers, more than 80% live in low- and middle-income countries and up to half will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease.

This year, the tobacco epidemic will kill nearly 6 million people. More than 5 million of them will be users and ex-users of smoked and smokeless tobacco and more than 600,000 will be nonsmokers who were exposed to tobacco smoke. By 2030, tobacco could kill 8 million people a year.

The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2011


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