Good afternoon coffee lovers

Coffee Mad Scientist

An article in today’s Seattle Times, cites research from one of NWABR’s members – the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center – or as they are often known the “Fred Hutch”.

Apparently, the Hutch has proven a link between coffee intake and DNA. As a person who has some DNA floating around in my coffee circulatory system I definitely think that this must be the case. Coffee does not make me buzz, coffee does not keep me awake and I think my bladder would burst before my caffeine levels ever reached dangerously high levels.

Its good to know that my DNA has allowed the healthy consumption of such unhealthy quantities of this magic elixir.

Real cause to Thank Research.


Ken Gordon

Executive Director

Around the World With IDRI

Dear all
Around the World with IDRI

The Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) is hosting an information evening on Thursday October the 16th about emerging diseases, such as Ebola and chikungunya and also age old diseases such as tuberculosis. As everyone now knows these diseases can so quickly span the globe. This discussion will focus on the rapidity of the spread and what we as individuals, families and communities can do to stop this.

This is a hot topic at the moment and I have shared news of this event with my friends and family because I think it is important that we know about this.

In the developed world there is a belief that because we have access to the most amazing medical facilities that such diseases are not so dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth. A few thousand highly contagious individuals would have the ability to rapidly overwhelm our medical facilities. Even if we had this number of infectious control beds available – this number of incredibly sick people will mean that medical, nursing and other care professionals will be pulled away from their normal day to day work. I may not be a direct victim of Ebola – but if my heart condition cannot be treated – I could easily become an indirect victim of Ebola.

We therefore cannot rely on the traditional health services during such times. A major epidemic is similar to an earthquake in that the message has to be that individuals and families have to be able to look after themselves until such time as authorities can catch up. It is worth using this time when we are not in an epidemic to look at household preparedness.  At the end of this blog I have included a list of items from the American Red Cross that each family should have to help them survive the aftermath of a disaster.

When it comes to epidemics there are a number of other key precautions.  These include minimizing the spread of disease by staying home, and really watching hygiene when someone is sick.  Wash hands, watch for droplet infection, sanitize surfaces and items used by a person that is sick.  Seek medical attention, but call your medical facilities before arriving – some diseases such as measles can remain present floating in the air for several hours after a contagious person has been in a room.  Your medical facilities can help make arrangements to keep all their patients safe.

If, and I fervently hope this does not happen, a disease such as Ebola does take hold in the developed world – then the best defense is to not get the disease.  Everything that we can do to minimize cross infections will become increasingly important and having access to an emergency kit like the one listed below will be a vital part of helping people to stay safe.

This is the suggested items from the American Red Cross that each family should have prepared in case of a disaster:

Water—one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
Food—non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
Extra batteries
First aid kit – Anatomy of a First Aid Kit
Medications (7-day supply) and medical items
Multi-purpose tool
Sanitation and personal hygiene items
Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
Cell phone with chargers
Family and emergency contact information
Extra cash
Emergency blanket
Map(s) of the area
Medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc)
Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
Games and activities for children
Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
Two-way radios
Extra set of car keys and house keys
Manual can opener
N95 or surgical masks
Rain gear
Work gloves
Tools/supplies for securing your home
Extra clothing, hat and sturdy shoes
Plastic sheeting
Duct tape
Household liquid bleach
Entertainment items
Blankets or sleeping bags

Just by the way – I do have one of these kits – but it is out of date.  This will be one of my own tasks this coming weekend ….



Ken Gordon

Executive Director


Reflections from A Community Conversation “For the Greater Good, Please Share Your Brain with Us” September 23rd

On a very wet Tuesday night, members of our community gathered to learn about and discuss a proposed emergency research study to improve survival and neurological function following traumatic brain injury (TBI). Dr. Eileen Bulger, Chief of Trauma at Harborview Medical Center, provided an overview of her team’s proposed research that relies on an Exception from Informed Consent to investigate the effectiveness of tranexamic acid (TXA) when administered in the field by first responders to patients with TBI. TXA is well studied in both animals and people, and has been used for other bleeding conditions since the 1960’s.

Warming their hands around lattes and mochas, Community Conversation attendees discussed the crux of this proposed study: how can researchers conduct the study to hopefully decrease mortality and increase brain function in TBI patients while respecting the autonomy of those who are enrolled?

One of the hallmarks of research involving human beings is the process of informed consent. The research community, and Dr. Bulger’s team, agrees that this process is critical to ensure that potential volunteers fully understand what their participation might mean and to understand their rights if they do volunteer. But the process of informed consent looks different, by necessity, when patients are unconscious and suffering from TBI. In this study, taking place at 9 other sites in the US and Canada, people who are eligible for the study, not wearing ‘opt out’ medical bracelets, and not accompanied by family members who can be immediately consulted, are automatically enrolled to either the control or study arms. As soon as is practical, patients and family members are informed and given the opportunity to continue participating in the study or not.

The focus of the discussion was partly on the need for advanced community notification, which is required for studies like these. Some thought it was impossible to alert enough of the community (and what constitutes ‘enough’) about the study since it enrolls patients for an unpredictable injury; others were pleased that the research team has worked hard to inform groups at high risk for TBI—cyclists and the elderly. To do: people need to talk to their family and friends about their wishes regarding research and medical treatment so they have a better chance of experiencing research and care according to their wishes.

At my small group table, we spent quite a bit of time wondering if the bar for research conducted under the Exception from Informed Consent was too high. Once he learned that the application process has been over one year, one person exclaimed there is a “greater risk of harm that research is delayed and new treatments are not implemented as soon as possible.” Dr. Bulger countered that there is no such thing as the bar being too high. She emphasized the importance of research standards being unassailable so that people can be assured that the studies are being done at the highest, most trustworthy level.

The discussion was attended by at least three people who had experienced TBI. One was reluctant to agree to the study and was considering an opt-out bracelet. After his concerns were heard by the study team, mainly around a misunderstanding of the inclusion criteria, he decided not to opt out. While attendees can understand the concerns about enrolling someone without their direct consent, many nodded vigorously when one person said, “it really comes down to relationships and trust.”  Read more about this event at UW NewsBeat!

If we, the public, are to have positive relationships and trust with our community researchers and health care teams, then we need proof of maximum personal care, maximum research standards, and maximum contact with those conducting research and our health care. I am hopeful that our readers and research teams have enjoyed this material and I challenge you to attend and/or speak up at a future Community Conversation or other public conversation.

With gratitude,

Jen Wroblewski
Public Engagement Manager

An Uphill Battle for Ground Breaking Research, By Troy Chapman

Advocates for health and biomedical discovery would do well to develop and adopt a compelling communication strategy of their own in the face of an uncertain funding climate for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). On August 12th, Senator Patty Murray and NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins convened a room full of inquisitive professionals concerned about NIH funding. The message delivered: ‘Funding for NIH faces an uphill battle.’ Senator Murray and Dr. Collins, along with President Michael Young of University of Washington (UW), delivered a compelling case for a sustainable approach to NIH funding that limits fluctuations, while enabling the biomedical revolution to take place in our state and nation.

To kick off the discussion, President Young discussed the benefits to our economy resulting from research and development at the UW. For example, Young cited eighteen different spin off companies utilizing UW developed technology of which one-half are biomedical or biotechnology innovations. He touted that those numbers rank UW in the top two or three nationally. Young praised the spirit of UW and set the stage for Senator Patty Murray stating, “We try to take what we do, to make the world a better place.”

Senator Murray reinforced Young’s remarks by reiterating the importance of biomedical research. Murray explained that continued investment by NIH in life science research is a necessary catalyst for economic growth and global competitiveness as well as sustained biomedical discovery and for the advancement of public health. Federal investment in biomedical research is essential, Murray explained, if we are to continue the biomedical revolution in our state and nation as well as keep pace with the investments—and progress—of other nations. For example, the United States’ investment in non-defense R&D spending as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) is seventh from the bottom of the 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The United States’ declining investments in Research and Development (R&D) is troubling, especially considering the increasingly aggressive investments of other nations. China, for example, has increased their investment as much 20-25 percent. Recent data shows that China’s spending on R&D will surpass total U.S. spending by 2022.

In Washington State, biomedical research is no less important to our economy and public health. Murray mentioned that NIH invested $835 million in Washington State in 2013, with investments in R&D totaling $475 million per year with over one-half of the $475 million going toward life science research. She explained that the success of this investment is evident when we consider that there are over 1,300 bioscience companies in Washington that contribute billions of dollars to the economy.

Regardless of worthy research efforts, however, the quest for sustainable funding is an uphill battle. Murray contended that the importance of R&D is not reflected in the Federal budget. She warned that despite her successful efforts to form a bipartisan budget plan with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan—that eliminated some of the sequestration budget cuts impacting NIH—that sequestration will kick in again if elected leaders cannot formulate a deal that replaces sequestration in 2016.

The failure to prioritize federal investment in life science research and development is leading to troubling trends, Murray explained. She cited instances of companies closing their facilities and moving overseas, promising studies getting cut short because of a lack of funding, and bright students opting out of the sciences because of a dearth of opportunities. She proclaimed, “You know, if the United States were a business, investments in future economic growth would be the last thing we would try to cut, and that is exactly what research and development is. It is an investment in future economic growth, and I am determined to make sure we keep up with our global economic competitors.” Senator Murray closed by explaining the need for collaboration, compelling story telling, and advocacy that can shift the debate to ensure that federal investments in R&D and, in turn, future economic growth are not considered a line item in the federal budget that is “ripe for cutting.” Murray continued, “The conversations we are having today are so important. We need to share the incredible success stories that can build broader support for investments in innovation and future economic growth.” She ended on the note that these investments are not only important for our economy, but more importantly for the health and well-being of our communities.

Dr. Collins laid out a compelling narrative and built upon Senator Murray’s message to continue sustainable investment in the NIH. Collins highlighted several public health accomplishments over the last 60 years including a near seventy-percent drop in cardiovascular disease and stroke, a one percent per year decline in the number of cancer deaths over the last fifteen years, and the discovery of HIV antiviral drugs that enable a young person who contracts HIV to have a full life expectancy, as well as the promise of potential cures for HIV and the prospect of HIV eradication. Additionally, he discussed several ground breaking technologies, including immunotherapies that prompt a patient’s own immune cells to attack and kill indwelling cancer cells; and advances in whole genome sequencing that are causing a rapid downward cost curve of the technology—from nearly $100 million per genome in 2003, to as little as $1000 per human genome in the near future.

The Director shared the NIH’s attempt to reduce the bottlenecks that increase the time and costs of bringing treatments to the market. For example, he cited the development of human tissue types using pluripotent stem cells. These 3-D dimensional organoides, made up of ten to twelve tissue types, can then be loaded up to biochips, and hardwired with bionodes that are capable of monitoring cellular responses to various test compounds. Essentially, the biochips are a Fitbit for tissue culture cells. This technology could greatly improve the efficiency of drug screening, while reducing the time and costs of bringing a treatment to market. Additionally, one can conclude, the technology may deliver the added benefit of reducing the need for research with animals by gaining more information than can be accomplished with current tissue culture methods. These examples, both the inspiring and daunting, paint what Dr. Collins called a compelling case for a sustainable path forward for NIH funding.

These advances in biomedicine and technology are incredible and there is more work to be done. Dr. Collins discussed antimicrobial resistant bacteria, which poses a serious public health threat and will require a concerted, collaborative effort from the public and private sector. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistant infections are associated with 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses per year in the United States.” Estimated impacts to the economy range as high as $20 billion in excess direct health care costs, and as much as $35 billion in lost productivity.

In fact, the public health threat engendered by Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria has forced President Obama’s hand on the matter. On September 18th, President Obama signed an Executive Order and released the National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. In addition to the National Strategy, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is releasing a report on Combating Antibiotic Resistance, which provides actionable recommendations for researchers and physicians.

The Executive Order directs key Federal departments and agencies to take actions that will combat the growing public health threat and directs federal agencies to implement the National Strategy and to address the PCAST report. According to the White House, “The National Strategy provides a five-year plan for enhancing domestic and international capacity to: prevent and contain outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant infections; maintain the efficacy of current and new antibiotics; and develop and deploy next-generation diagnostics, antibiotics, vaccines, and other therapeutics. The Executive Order: establishes a New Task Force for combatting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria; establishes the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria; improves antibiotic stewardship; strengthens national-surveillance efforts for resistant bacteria; promotes the development of new and next-generation antibiotics and diagnostics; and strengthens international cooperation. Additionally, the Administration announced a $20 million prize that will be co-sponsored by NIH and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, to facilitate, “the development of rapid, point-of-care diagnostics tests for healthcare providers to identify highly resistant bacteria infections.”

antibio-resistance-fun (2)

President Obama’s actions and those of the health care community will be paramount to addressing the public health threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Promising research and the ability to address public health concerns, however, are often delayed due to an uncertain funding climate for life science research. Collins showed the audience a graph depicting the fluctuations in NIH appropriations over the years, which highlighted appropriations variability including a flat line since 2003, and a jarring dip following sequestration. Collins proposed a path forward that allows for long term planning, and explained that had the budget stayed on a 3% growth trajectory since the 1960s we would be essentially slightly better than where we are today, but would have eliminated many of the ebbs and flows that often stifle investments in innovation and research.

Collins concluded that the case for a sustainable and concerted approach to funding the NIH and, thus, R&D is very strong. With sustained investment, society awaits lifesaving cures and technological advancements that have the potential to improve the health care system, lower long-term costs, cure diseases, sustain our economic competitiveness, and improve societal well-being. In addition, investments in biomedical discovery enrich diverse career opportunities for those with scientific training including journalism, communications, education, law, policy and more.

NWABR encourages its readers to take note of the upcoming federal budget debate that will fundamentally determine the path forward for the NIH and life science research. Among many competing priorities, it is clear that federal investment in the NIH and, in turn, biomedical discoveries and innovations deserve high priority. Benefits from research are many, and the costs of a lackluster investment in research are great. Grassroots advocates and supporters of biomedical research should share their compelling stories with their friends and family and engage the community in this discussion. Life science research needs a sustainable and predictable funding climate at the NIH. This mean that the looming threat of sequestration needs to be eliminated by striking a sustainable bipartisan budget that accounts for inflation and growth, while addressing our long-term national deficits. NWABR stands ready to share compelling stories and support the life science research community in this discussion.

Thank you,

Troy Chapman

Open Source 3d Printed Prosthetics

Good morning everyone

I heard a great story on KUOW this morning about Ivan Owen a co-creator of a design that allows users to submit their measurements and then print a prosthetic hand!

You can hear the story at and look for the story “How to print a hand from home”.

Owen originally designed a program to allow a parts to be printed in a 3d printer for a person that needed a prosthetic hand. Normally such hands costs tens of thousands of dollars and they are often out of the reach of people who need them the most. Once the first design was completed he made the code available to the open source community and the program has now been tweaked so that people can include their palm and arm measurements to allow a correct sizing of the design for each person’s unique body.

They can then print out the various components on a 3d printer and following some assembly start using their new hand. In the story Owen recounts how a teenager printed a hand for a friend at their local public library.

If you are interested in printing a hand – or just seeing lots of photos of very happy kids go to Owen’s site:


Ken Gordon
Executive Director
Northwest Association for Biomedical Research

NIH Funding and Biomedical Research

Good morning all

There is a great story on NPR this morning about the impact on research of reductions in NIH funding.

The story this morning by Richard Harris and Robert Benincasa details the boom and bust environment created by major changes to NIH funding.

Amongst other things the story notes that the NIH funding in the past has driven the development of innovation in biomedical research and the current cuts have meant that labs – and the potential developments associated with those labs – are both closing and all of the hard won knowledge is being lost.

Adding salt to the wounds of lost funding, the article also refers to those scientists who are still working in the field only doing so because of the inordinate amount of time that key researchers are spending on fundraising.

I love fundraising – but I am also not a brilliant scientist. Taking such people away from their core work is such a crying shame for the entire field.

NWABR lost its own NIH funding in 2013 with the commensurate loss of amazing staff and institutional knowledge. The rebuilding process is hard and after over a year we are starting to regain some of the traction that was lost. The NPR story shows that this is an all too familiar story across the United States. The organizational, human, research and community costs of these losses is incalculable.

I am going to enjoy this series of stories as the roll out over the next week.

Update 9/10/14. Part two of the series rolled out today. This part focusses on scientists being lost to the industry and the world of science because of the funding crunch. Here it here.

Take care.

Ken Gordon
Executive Director
Northwest Association of Biomedical Research

Fold-it and Ebola

During this last summer NWABR provided two summer camps for high school students. Each of these camps had a biomedical research focus. One focused on DIY science and the other focused on Proteins.

The Protein camp was hosted at the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering. One of the components of this camp was to introduce students to a computer game call Fold-it. This free game allowed students to practice building and manipulating 3D models of proteins – so that they could better understand diseases and treatments.

We have had the pleasure over the summer of watching these really smart students use this programs to undertake manipulations that ultimately can lead into the development of new approaches to disease.

The Fold-it program was highlighted in the a Seattle Times article on August 25, 2014. The article highlights how approximately 500 of the registered more than 300,000 Fold-it gamers have designed theoretical proteins that could be instrumental in developing ways to reduce the impact of the Ebola virus.

At NWABR we are excited that high school students attending the Protein camp are at the cutting edge of such important science and medical breakthroughs.


Ken Gordon
Executive Director

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