Showing posts from 2014

Penn researchers interview HIV-positive adolescents in Botswana to better understand the factors affecting adherence to antiretroviral treatments

Of the more than three million children infected with HIV, 90% live in Africa. As HIV-positive children become adolescents, it is important that antiretroviral treatments are maintained to protect their own health, as well as to safeguard the adolescents from developing resistant strains of HIV and to prevent infection of other individuals.
HIV-positive adolescents’ adherence to these treatments has been identified as a public health challenge for Botswana. However, the assessment tools testing psychosocial factors that are likely associated with poor adherence have been developed in Western countries and their constructs may not be relevant to African contexts. A new study published in PLOS ONE by Penn researchers Elizabeth Lowenthal and Karen Glanz described the cultural adaptation of these assessment tools for Botswana.
The psychosocial assessments investigate factors that may affect adolescents’ adherence to antiretroviral treatments. As Lowenthal summarized, “one of the key reasons…

Penn researchers identify novel therapeutic target for kidney cancer

Purdue professor Dr. Sanders responds to commentary about his Ebola interview with Fox News

Last month I analyzed the media coverage of Ebola in a post where I dissected an interview between Fox News reporters and Dr. David Sanders. I was recently contacted by Dr. Sanders, who wished to clarify a few issues that I raised in my article. The purpose of my post was to demonstrate how the media sometimes covers scientific issues in ways that exaggerate and oversimplify concepts, which can potentially mislead non-scientist citizens.
I stated that the way Dr. Sanders described his research sounded a little misleading. I intended to convey how I thought an average non-scientist listener might interpret the dialogue. However, Dr. Sanders points out that he was careful with his wording to avoid possible confusion. He explained, “as you have pointed out, one says one thing, and the media (and the Internet) render it as something else.  I would just like to point out that I carefully stated that Ebola can ENTER human lung from the airway side; I never said infect.  I also try to avoid…

Penn researchers identify neurons that link circadian rhythms with behavioral outcomes.

Our bodies evolved to alternate rhythmically through sleep and wake periods with the 24-hr cycle of the day. These “circadian rhythms” are controlled by specific neurons in the brain that act as molecular clocks. The experience of jet lag when we change time zones is the out-of-sync period before the brain’s internal clock re-aligns with the external environment.
How does this molecular clock work in the brain? Decades of research have uncovered that environmental signals, such as light, are integrated into a circadian clock by specific neurons in the brain. However, little is understood about how these circadian clock cells drive biological effects such as sleep, locomotion, and metabolism. A study by Penn researchers published earlier this year in Cell has discovered critical neural circuits linking the circadian clock neurons to behavioral outputs.
The researchers used the fruit fly Drosophila as a model organism because like humans, they also have circadian rhythms, yet they ar…

Fox News demonstrates both good and bad ways to cover Ebola

Some news outlets, including Fox, have been wildly spreading fears about Ebola. As an example of both good and bad ways that the media covers science, let’s take a look at a recent clip from Fox News in which they interview Dr. David Sanders about the possibility of Ebola virus mutating to become airborne-transmissible (right now it is only spread by direct contact!)

Their story is titled "Purdue professor says Ebola 'primed' to go airborne." Here is a link to the video.
I’ll start off with the good things:
1) Dr. Sanders did a good job explaining that Ebola is not airborne right now, but there is a "non-zero" probability that Ebola might mutate to infect the lungs and become air transmissible. And this probability increases as more people are infected. 2) The newscasters did a good job of accurately recapping what he was explaining without blowing it out of proportion.
Now for some bad things:
1) Quite obviously, the scare-you-into-clicking-on-it title. First o…

At the interface of science and society - a career fostering public interest in science at The Franklin Institute.

Everybody loves science museums. Their fun and interactive way of presenting science reconnects you with your childhood self, when you were curious, when you wondered, and when you were so amazed that you could only manage to say, “Wow!” But what is it like to work at a science museum?
On Wednesday, we hosted Jayatri Das, PhD, to describe her career engaging the public with science as the Chief Bioscientist at The Franklin Institute. As you would expect, her transition from the lab into the museum was cultivated by a strong interest in outreach and teaching. After receiving her PhD from Princeton, she gained experience as a Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Fellow developing programs for the Marian Koshland Science Museum in Washington, DC. Following a short post-doctoral appointment, she landed a position with The Franklin Institute, an opportunity that she partly ascribes to fortuitous timing, as PhD level positions at museums are rare.
In her job she embraces a new…

Bioethics/Policy Discussion - Storage and Weaponization of Biological Agents (Biosafety)

This summer has seen a surge in discussion over biosafety. Should we still be storing smallpox? Is the risk of bioterrorism greater now in the post-genomic era? Should we artificially increase virulence in the lab to be prepared for it possibly occurring in the environment?
On Tuesday the Penn Science Policy Group discussed the issue of biosafety as it relates to potential uses of biological weapons and risks of accidental release of pathogens from research labs.
The idea of using biological weapons has existed long before cells, viruses, and bacteria were discovered. Around 1,500 B.C.E the Hittites in Asia Minor were deliberately sending diseased victims into enemy lands. In 1972, an international treaty known as the Biological Weapons Convention officially banned the possession and development of biological weapons, but that has not ended bioterrorist attacks. In 1982 a cult in Oregon tried to rig a local election by poisoning voters with salmonella. Anthrax has been released multip…