Faculty of 1000

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Archive for the ‘FMs’ Category

Is it a cancer drug or not?

Posted by stevepog on 16 March, 2010

The media faces constant criticism from medical specialists and  advocacy groups whenever it trumpets the latest new wonder drug to cure any form of cancer.

Many spurious claims have over the years been splashed across the UK Daily Mail’s front page, prompting backlash from organisations such as the National Health Service, Cancer Research UK and even the appearance of a Facebook group with more than 40,000 members criticising the Mail’s cancer cure/cause agenda.

But the recent news that pharma giant Roche was revising its position on Avastin after the drug failed in a late-stage study, evaluating the blockbuster as a treatment for advanced stomach cancer, was an example of where the stock market, media expectations of a miracle cure and a pharma giant collided.

The Wall Street Journal said the announcement had the effect of:

‘undermining market expectations the drug could reach annual peak sales of more than eight billion Swiss francs ($7.48 billion)’

Roche’s PR team has had the very difficult job of trying to push the share price back up and regain investors confidence. One of their newest stabs at this crisis communications was a release today stating that

‘the eyesight of two patients with a rare condition was saved through the groundbreaking use of the drug Avastin’

At the time of writing, the news is only 20 minutes old so and there is little detail contained on how many people have been involved in trials by Southampton ophthalmologist Dr Andrew Lotery, only to state that his research on treating Sorsby’s Fundus Dystrophy (SFD) has been accepted by US journal Retinal Cases & Brief Reports. The release goes on:

He (Lotery) said it was the first time the drug had been used to treat the rare genetic condition(SFD) which caused the two patients, both in their 30s, to suffer blurred vision and a general deterioration of sight.
Avastin halts the growth of blood vessels and stems bleeding and is commonly injected with good results into the eyes of patients with “wet” age related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of blindness in the western world in people over 50

Avastin has already been trialled successfully in conjunction with chemotherapy in ovarian cancer sufferers so the prospect of another potential target would be welcomed by the shareholders but more importantly, by sufferers of the targeted conditions. But this is a situation where the media needs to tread carefully and wait for stronger research to appear before latching onto another cure-all drug.

New antibiotic treatments for gastric cancer

On another cancer story, Yoshio Yamaoka, an F1000 Medicine faculty Member from Japan, has looked recently at the use of various drugs to treat Helicobacter pylori infection, which often leads to gastroduodenal ulcers, gastric cancer and associated diseases.

While there are positive signs from a large multicenter trial in Japan of H. pylori antibiotics on patients with gastric cancer, Yamaoka warned that practitioners should exercise caution with regard to widespread antibiotic treatment saying,

‘if all infected persons are to be treated, we should consider the increase in frequency of antibiotic resistance and unexpected consequences such as esophageal adenocarcinoma, asthma, and autoimmune disease’


Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Medicine, Random, Science | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Is it a cancer drug or not?

Hair apparent

Posted by stevepog on 8 March, 2010

beware of the bearded man bearing breadfruit

Sometimes there’s a real life-changing thrust to blog posts, that drives at the heart of a pivotal issue in modern society and make people question their motives, passions, opinions or even educational goals.

But seeing as we’re all coming down off a post-Oscars high, let me preempt your own judgement by rating this one as an Inglourious Basterds compared to the Hurt Locker of more worthy blog scribblings.

Actually, it’s really more of a Valkyrie than QT’s latest effort but then Tom Cruise never won any awards for his ability at copying accents (and it obviously wasn’t nominated for the 2010 awards so it’s less zeitgeisty).

Anyway, my point is to direct your eyes to the picture of the man on the left, much-respected Stanford neuroscientist and f1000 Faculty Member Robert Sapolsky.

With a beard that would make Hagrid feel ashamed, Sapolsky must be a delight as a lecturer. He’d also make a great magician with no need for a top hat either.

Sapolsky is a seasoned reviewer for f1000 and contributed a very positive review of a recent paper in Nature which discussed Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour. The crux of the paper was in a press release we put out today but the first emailed responses from journalists focused not on the weighty issues being discussed but of course, the accompanying photo above.

In one reporter’s words, it encouraged her to ask for more information on him as “I’ve been meaning to do somethign (sic) on weirdy beardies for a while”.

This is not the first time we’ve discussed hirsute scientists and our friend Joanne Manaster has a similar penchant (purely scientific) for bearded biologists. But it reinforces once again how much we should respect a scientist who sports this look: if he shows half as much commitment to research as to beard growth, a cancer/malaria/Xbox-related RSI cure is surely not far away.

*it’s ok, I cringed while writing the headline as much as you probably did reading it. To me it felt like the title for a bad 90s C-grade comedy starring a faded stand-up comic.

Then I did an IMDB search (I’m writing this in real-time, so the punchline could be a fizzer) and whaddya know?

It was closest in wording to a bad Canadian comedy flick , a 1912 black and white romantic drama and best of all, the ridiculously titled, Michael Flatley: Eire Apparent, about the most arrogant Irishman to ever pull on a pair of tights. Riverdance fans, I’ll meet you in the car park if you want to take issue with that assessment.

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Journalism, Press Releases, Random, Science | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

When animal activists go too far

Posted by stevepog on 25 February, 2010

We have previously discussed the honorable activities of the Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) and its members, including Dario Ringach whose recent paper on animal activism was highly rated by our reviewers.

AMP send regular email updates to scientists and this item looked at an extremely important issue, so I am reproducing it here in full:


Five members of the Science Blogs community have posted strong commentaries today denouncing the activist targeting of a scientist’s child.

As background, UCLA professor Dario Ringach, one of the organizers and participants of last week’s panel discussion about animal research with AR adherents, and two of his colleagues had protests at their homes a few days in advance of the event. In an after-action communique about the protests, it was stated that activists knew where one of Dario’s children went to school and are planning to stage a protest there.

Janet Stemwedel, a panelist in the UCLA discussion, led the outcry on her widely-respected Adventures in Science and Ethics blog with a post entitled “Time to Get Mad. Time to Speak Up.”
(http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2010/02/time_to_get_mad_time_to_speak.php ) Here is the thrust of her call to action:

“For just daring to stand up and share his view, Dario was targeted for more home demonstrations. And now, activists threaten to bring the demonstration to his children’s schools, to “educate fellow students what their classmate’s father does for a living”.

“Express the view that scientific research is worth doing, plan on your kids being harassed? Is that what we’ve come to? Is this really the society we want to live in?

“If it’s not, we need to stand up and say so, in no uncertain terms.

“Having differing opinions is not a crime. Nobody’s kids should be targeted for harassment because you disagree with their parents. We need to call this behavior out, no matter who does it, no matter what cause they hope to further with it.

“Each time these tactics are the ones that are used, we die a little as a pluralistic society, no matter which side we support. Any member of the public paying attention to such shenanigans should be outraged, and should say so.

“And members of the scientific community especially have reason to oppose these tactics. They reflect, after all, the impression that scientists aren’t really a part of our society, that they’re not really members of our moral community. You can bang on their windows and scare the crap out of their kids, and “normal” people won’t make a peep about it.

“Scientists are normal people, despite their specialized skills and interests. They need to see this bullying for what it is and raise their voices to reject it.

“Scientists, are you mad? Then stand up and say it.”

Four other prominent members of the Science Blogs community have already responded to her call, and other articles are likely to come in following days.   The Science Bloggers are:

PZMyers at Pharyngula:

Orac at Respectful Insolence:

Dr. Isis at On Becoming a Domestic as Laboratory Goddess:

Nick Anthis at The Scientific Activist:

(Please note that some of the posts link to animal rights websites.  If you wish to see what is connected to a specific link and are unwilling to visit activist sites, send us a note.)

How to respond to Dr. Stemwedel’s call to action?   A first step would be to participate in the lively discussion that is continuing in the comment sections of her blog and those of the other writers.  Also, sign the Pro-Test Petition if you have not already  – www.raisingvoices.net – and encourage your family, friends, colleagues and elected officials to do so as well. Consider becoming more involved in outreach about the research message, whether it is to schools or with adults in your community; we have a starter’s guide at www.amprogress.org/advocacy and would be delighted to send you materials and facilitate contacts with other research advocates in your area and with your interests.

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Random | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

More food for thought

Posted by stevepog on 24 February, 2010

By Steve Pogonowski and Bea Downing

Work dramas, late bills, latent childhood trauma: adult life is full of potential for the average person to get stressed and deal with it by ‘comfort eating’.

As discussed in a previous post by Callum, labeled ‘Food for thought’ (hence my segued sequel/blatant rip-off title here), there are ongoing studies starting to appear in the earlier pages of top-ranked journals that look at the psychological, rather than purely physical, causes and effects of weight gain and obesity.

But the fact remains that there is still much to learn about the biological processes resulting from the mental stresses of daily life.

In a recent F1000 Biology Report, Faculty Member Achim Peters from the University of Luebeck and Dirk Langemann of Carolo-Wilhelmina-University looked at recent advances detailing how stress affects neurometabolism and eating behavior.

Stress increases the brain’s demand for glucose and, in some people, causes comfort eating and weight gain due to a weak sympathoadrenal response.

Under stress, the brain’s metabolic rate – and glucose demand – shoots up by 12%. Two mechanisms then come in to increase glucose availability to the brain: brain-pull and storage-push. Brain-pull mechanisms increase the percentage and amount of energy that the brain can withdraw from the blood across the blood-brain barrier, while storage-push mechanisms increase blood-glucose levels to flood the system with energy.

During periods of chronic stress, the stronger storage-push response results in the blood being loaded with energy. When the brain’s demand for glucose falls, the storage-push is still releasing glucose into the blood. The remaining glucose is mopped up by insulin and stored as fat.

Peters and Langemann said:

“Evidence accumulates that the stressed mind can choose a metabolic coping strategy by switching its supply mode from brain pull to ‘comfort eating’.”

Chronic stresses in adult life, such as job-related demands and difficulty paying bills, may weaken the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system. In adults with depression and anxiety, weight gain and the risk of obesity were increased in a dose-response fashion with the number of episodes of these common mental disorders.

Problems can also strike earlier in life: early-life stress and juvenile trauma result in long-lasting changes in the activity of the autonomic nervous system and body weight. Prenatal psychosocial stress exposure is associated with hyperinsulinemia in later life, a strong predictor of weight gain and a typical marker of brain-pull inefficiency.

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Eight f1000 Faculty Members elected to Institute of Medicine

Posted by rpg on 1 December, 2009

We’d like to congratulate the new members and foreign associates of the US National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM). Election to the IOM is considered one of the highest honours in the fields of health and medicine, and recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health.

In particular, we salute the following f1000 Faculty Members:

We hope that you will join us in wishing them well with their new role.

I’m pleased to see Russ Altman on this list. As you may or may not know, Russ won the Science Blogging Challenge 2008; a competition I devised for Nature’s London Science Blogging Conference to get ‘senior’ scientists blogging. His (ex-)student, Shirley Wu, is an excellent and established blogger in her own right.

Back to the IOM:

“It is a great pleasure to welcome these distinguished and accomplished individuals to the Institute of Medicine,” IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg said,

“Each of these new members stands out as a professional whose research, knowledge, and skills have significantly advanced health and medicine and who has served as a model for others. The Institute of Medicine is greatly enriched by the addition of our newly elected colleagues.”

The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences and is unique in its structure as both an honorific membership organization and an advisory organization, and is internationally recognized as a resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on health issues.

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Helping the poorest countries get access to science knowledge

Posted by stevepog on 17 November, 2009

Scientists can sometimes be unfairly labeled as not caring about anything apart from their lab, grant applications and drug patents.

So it’s heartening that one of our important causes – offering free subscriptions to institutions in developing countries – gains such a positive response from Faculty Members and the recipients of free subscriptions.

Faculty Members (FMs) who submit regularly are given the opportunity to nominate an institute of their choice in a developing country for free access to f1000.

One of our Plant Biology FMs, Dr John Patrick from the University of Newcastle, Australia, sponsors the Universidad Central “Marta Abreu” de las Villas in Santa Clara, Cuba. He praised the program:

“Ready access to contemporary  scientific knowledge is a recognised major impediment for the developing world to reach sustainable self-sufficiency.  The F1000 sponsorship initiative offers a powerful instrument to bridge this unacceptable divide.”

Our recipients have been just as impressed – Gabriela Echaniz from the National Institute of Public Health, in Mexico said:

“I just want you to know how useful your service has been for all researchers that work here. Not being able to get subscriptions for many regular publications that we use for our research, your help has been invaluable. We appreciate very much your work and hope to be able to keep the subscription for many years.”

Some of our sponsored universities and institutes include:

  • University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji (Linda Amos)
  • Centre de Biotechnologie de Sfax, Sfax, Tunisia (Charles Auffray)
  • International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia (Seth J Davis)
  • al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty, Kazakhstan (Sheila McCormick)

Our  sponsorship initiative, which extends upon the free access we already provide to institutions in the poorest countries (via HINARI),  and the global Research4Life program looks to be having an impact.

Statistics released at the World Conference of Science Journalists in July showed a six-fold increase  in research output by scientists in the developing world since 2002. A great result from a program that will continue to reduce the research divide between rich and poor countries.

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On being systematic

Posted by rpg on 16 November, 2009

Over on another planet blog Darren Saunders asks what is an Associate Faculty Member (AFM).

There was some sales training on this subject last week and I sat in, so I should know. I’ve also been re-writing the FAQs for the new f1000 website and have just realized that there isn’t an FAQ relating to AFMs there, either. (Meta: how many times does a question have to be asked before it becomes ‘frequent’?) So, let’s have a stab at explaining it.

As you may or may not know, what Faculty of 1000 does is publish short reviews of the scientific (currently biology and medicine) literature. How this works is through our eponymous Faculty of over 5000 top scientists and medics, all over the world. These people are principle investigator level or higher. When they read a paper that they consider interesting, important, or otherwise worthy of wider recognition they write a review (or ‘evaluation’), assign a score (or rating) to the original article, and submit it to our editorial team (usually via a web interface). The piece is then edited in the usual way, coded to appropriate sections (i.e. sub-disciplines), and published on the website at f1000biology.com or f1000medicine.com, depending on the specialty of the contributing Faculty Member.

This system has been pretty successful for a few years now, and we know that people really like the service (because they tell us!). It lets scientists and medics see very quickly what’s happening in their own field, and rapidly get at what’s considered important in other communities (whether simply out of interest or because they’re moving into unfamiliar territory). Identifying important papers quickly and easily gauging the opinion of a field easily are not trivial tasks: f1000 is intended to help everyone, from students through to vice-chancellors, achieve this.

Critically, choice of articles to review is left entirely to the Faculty, and may come from any journal. Any journal: even the Harvard Business Review. Naturally there are a high proportion of articles from the usual suspects—Nature, Cell, NEJM, etc.—although about 80% come from ‘second tier’ or less popular journals (he says, desparately avoiding the ‘I’ word).You might expect this, seeing as certain journals review editorially before a paper goes anywhere near peer review, and actually are quite successful at it.

In a sense, we don’t care about the providence of the articles reviewed at f1000. If they’re good, we want to know (and ‘good’ means 1-2% of the current eligible literature). However, there are a lot of journals publishing good stuff, and how do we know we’re scanning the right ones if we’re just leaving it to serendipitous reading by the Faculty?

Enter the Associate Faculty. Currently about a thousand Faculty Members have one or more Associates: less senior members of their lab or practice (which can mean anything from a post-doc to a PI in their own right). Once a month we send these Associates a table of contents from two journals: one general, one ‘specific’; both self-nominated. The Associate checks the table against their own reading, and selects articles that they have already read that they will review. They also let us know if there are any articles that they think should be reviewed but that they will not do themselves: these then go into a ‘pot’ which we send (a couple of weeks later) to Associates who haven’t committed to producing a review that month.

When the Associate commits to reviewing an article, it’s pretty much between them and their Faculty Member as to how it’s handled. Sometimes the Associate will do the bulk of the writing, other times the Faculty Member will. In either case, the full Faculty Member has to approve the evaluation and has final say—they are the corresponding author.

We cover, at the last count, about 660 journals in this fashion. We’ve asked the Faculty to tell us what journals they think should be scanned in this scheme, and eventually we’ll be covering over a thousand different journals. This does not mean that we won’t be evaluating articles outwith this ‘core’ of journals: Faculty Members have complete freedom to evaluate papers regardless of where they are published. Our Associate Faculty help them identify the good stuff, and we help them to choose by providing the tables of content with a selection system (somewhat arcane, but we are working on it). The buzzphrase is ‘systematic and comprehensive’: we’re certainly systematic and are working on the comprehensive.

Hope that clears some things up for Darren.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The drugs don’t work

Posted by rpg on 2 November, 2009

As you might know, there’s a bit of an ongoing furore over government policy and the role of advisors. In brief, Professor David Nutt has been fired for advising HM Government according to scientific research, rather than (as far as I understand it) according to political dogma. Two other advisors have quit in sympathy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more follow.

We’re keeping an eye on this at f1000 because Professor Nutt is one of our Section Heads, responsible for the organization and oversight of the Section (in this case Substance Abuse at f1000 Medicine). Our take in the office is that David Nutt is 100% right and the government is 100% wrong in this case, and things are going to get very interesting because of a growing breach between government policies and scientific evidence. We’re not getting party political here, but recent US history shows us how bad things can get when policy gets out of step with evidence.

I could say a lot more, but I’m about to go and prepare to get on a ‘plane for a conference in South Carolina. Fortunately two of my favourite haunts already have excellent commentary on the matter: Erika Cule at Nature Network has some core links and background, and Bill Hanage froths at the mouth in a funny and intelligent way over at the LabLit blog.

And now, I must fly. Be good!

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