Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Fight Against Cancer 2016

My cancer research PI recently told us to pay close attention to vice president Biden’s speech at the annual American Association for Cancer Research meeting. Biden announced his moonshot initiative, the plan to stop cancer dead in its tracks. Many of the current problems with cancer research were outlined, and a proposal to provide the aid researchers need was made. The world has reached a new stage in the fight against cancer. Precision medicine has allowed scientists break walls they never could before. We can finally find genetic mutations in patients that allow better treatments options, but this is only the beginning. Biden wants to press the fast forward button on cancer research.
Funding plays an important role in research, and when the vice president tells you he is there for you—it really lifts some weight off your shoulders. Biden stated that he would like to increase the accessibility for funding, so that scientists can get started on the projects they have in mind as soon as possible. He also believes that many scientists are not being rewarded for thinking outside of the box, and that most projects which are funded, end up being studies that do not move forward in an innovative way. Biden believes that the key is to realign the incentives for cancer research. Funding however is not the only problem.
The problem is the scientific research infrastructure. Scientists pay money to conduct research, get results, then submit them to academic journal databases. The journals then decide whether the research is worthy enough to be published in their journal. There is also a waiting period which can span anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. The best part is once it is published, the journal pretty much owns your data. Anyone who wants to find your results will have to pay a hefty price to gain access to it. This creates a big dilemma, how can we expect to find a cure for cancer, when a single paper could take this long to make its way to the public. Scientist thrive on the opportunity to make connections using the overall movement of research. Biden believes the cure to this problem might to create database clouds, so that patient’s data is readily available for anyone conducting trials. Scientists all over the world sharing data.
“ In the US, the combined value of government, non-profit, and university-funded research in 2013 was over $158 billion—about a third of all the R&D in the US that year. Publishers acquire this research free of charge, and retain the copyrights, even though the public funded the work. Researchers aren’t paid by publishers for their research as it’s sold piece-by-piece or by subscription through academic journals. The reviewers who evaluate the research aren’t paid either. so we pay for it and then we have to pay again if we want to read it. There’s no way anyone can know what research and data can reveal unless we set it free.”
There are only a couple problems with the data cloud proposal. One is making sure the cloud is encrypted so that all patient data is safe from hackers, and the other is actually recruiting patients. Recruiting cancer patients is a tremendously difficult task. Most of the time patients will have only months of life left when diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Imagine spending your last 6 months of life undergoing tests everyday. Another burden is the financial hardship associated with cancer. The trial that you may be eligible for could be thousands of miles away, away from home, family, etc.
We must also consider the stigma associated with undergoing any medical research trial. Patients don’t like feeling like lab rats, specially when they are down to the last couple months of life. Properly educating patients on the benefits of cancer research, and the prestigious role they play as patients undergoing treatment, need to be communicated to the general public. Providing incentives for patients, and increasing the amount of test centers is a crucial step.

Biden's moonshot proposal will raise a lot of awareness regarding the fight against cancer. He outlines his full support for cancer research, and this is just another step towards ending the fight against cancer. The only problem one can think of is the fact that Biden’s term as vice president is slowly coming to an end. It will be interesting to keep an eye on what Biden plans to do in the coming years.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Medical Revolution

            For many years the field of medicine has utilized the one size fits all approach for ridding people of their aches and pains. Physicians have looked at the patient population as a whole. Although in many cases this approach has been successful, studies show a new type of medicine called precision medicine is the way of the future. Precision medicine focuses on the patient as an individual. Factors such as genetics, lifestyle, environment all play a role in treatment. This movement will allow physicians and researchers to fine tune their treatment options. In 2015
““I'm launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes — and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.” - President Obama 2015 State of the Union”
            Genetics play a big role in medicine. We can now sequence a patient’s genome and use it as a reference to find potential diseases one may be susceptible to. This also aids in giving the patient the right type of medication and treatment plan. In many cases one medicine may work better than the other. Utilizing genetic information will change how physicians treat patients because it offers a solution to patients who may be unresponsive to certain drugs.
            Lifestyle and patient health go hand in hand. The way the patient lives his or her life will ultimately contribute to their overall health. This factor takes into account variables such as smoking, drinking, eating habits, exercise, and sleep. By collecting these variables physicians can look at individual patients and determine the best course of action to take when deciding on a treatment plan. Every patient lives their lives in a different way, and being able to monitor these lifestyle variables will allow the patients to be much more precise and focused on the actual problem.
            The patient’s environment can determine a lot about the susceptibility to certain diseases. By learning the types of environmental variables a patient is exposed to physicians can have a better idea of learning which areas may harbor more or less toxins. For example, living in an industrial area may cause an increase in the susceptibility of developing lung cancer some time in life.

Being able to collect this data also opens new avenues to research. The only question left to answer is how can we really collect this data? Many mobile app developers are paving the path for precision medicine. They hope to utilize the many tools such as “Apples Research Kit” framework gives developers, and create a health data collection app. In the grand scheme of things, they expect the application to collect important lifestyle variables which may, in one way or another, lead to streamlining the workload of physicians, and help raise the standard of care. Variables such as hours of sleep, amount of exercise, and levels of stress, may be helpful in determining the overall health of a patient before a full diagnostic check up can be conducted by a physician. Other variables which may be of interest to researchers can be integrated as well, allowing researcher and physicians to come together and narrow down on creating the best possible treatment plan available. Precision Medicine truly is the future.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

You Talkin’ to Me

It seems as though Robert De Niro may soon find himself outside the “Circle of trust”.
The Anti Vaxxers are making another come back-- and De Niro is all for it. Recently it was announced that the not so reputable Andrew Wakefield is screening his new film , “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” at the Tribeca Film Festival. Just another well established platform for Anti-Vaxxers to stand on as they aimlessly falsify scientifically proven facts, in an attempt to rid the world of its greatest cure. The only true catastrophe, is the harm this film will inflict to society.
                                    Vaccines have been saving lives since in the 18th century. Chances are anyone you know who is still alive at this exact moment has been vaccinated for more than a handful of diseases. It is without a doubt proven, that vaccines keep us and our future generations safe. The act of getting vaccinated was always thought of as a social norm, that is up until Mr. Wakefield (no longer referred to as doctor) altered his research data to favor his own idiotic beliefs. Wakefield single handedly created the infamous conspiracy theory linking autism to vaccines. The scientific community was outraged, and from that day on, Wakefield could not even be trusted to wash a high school chemistry labs used beaker set.
                  With Wakefield exposed as a fraud, it seems completely ignorant for Robert De Niro to actually support such nonsense. De Niro claims that opening the floor to open conversation on the topic of vaccines will lead to a deeper insight and understanding of the possible link to autism. Of course this mindset also completely ignores the fact that the link is 100% non-existent. If De Niro really wants to make a contribution towards curing autism, he should spend time speaking with scientists instead of entertaining the thoughts of a man who the world has labeled as a fraud  
                  This is not the first time a documentary has set out to dissuade us from the truth. Food Inc is just another example. One by one Americans fell to the powers of the Anti-GMO activists. The truth is there will always be some sort of propaganda targeting those who just do not know any better. I mean of course the outliers, those waiting for the next best conspiracy theory to share on their Facebook feed.  The only defense society has left for itself against the mindless opinions of those who prioritize their own opinions over logic, is education. It is only when one has developed a firm grasp on the laws and logic surrounding an idea, that they can truly begin to analyze the opinions of others being communicated with them.  
                   Although De Niro finds solace in the idea of hearing what the anti-vaccine community has to say, he completely ignores the detrimental effects this may inflict upon society. Documentaries are very popular outlets for ideas to spread amongst people because they give reputable individuals a voice to share their beliefs, but where do we draw the line? Some things are better left unsaid, society does not need to be plagued with the ideas of a demoted scientist. A high power stage like the Tribeca film festival, should belong to individuals we can trust, and sadly Wakefield and De Niro are falling far outside the circle.  
                  Don’t get me wrong, De Niro is not all bad. He is probably one of my favorite actors, but there comes a time where one must stay in his or her own lane. If De Niro truly understood how vaccines work, he probably would not promote the idea of launching the documentary. A man with so much influence, needs to be educated in the concepts he is trying to promote, otherwise he is not just misleading himself, but the public as well.