Better Them Than Me? –Guest Blogger Saradha S.

NWABR features of series of volunteer guest bloggers over the next months who will be documenting programs, speakers and events. We thank each contributor for their time, talent and opinions.

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As a compassionate member of the public, my first professional foray into the much talked about field of bioethics happens next week.  I’m looking forward to a transition from coffee shop talk to finding out what really happens behind the scenes in biomedical research.

I come, as we all do, with questions. Is the scientific community really as unconcerned about bioethics as we make them out to be, or is there something that the public is missing here? While news pieces like this recent one get me thinking about the downside of using animals for research, it also makes me question all the big and small advantages I’ve (or anyone I care about) had from such research on animals, and it leads me to consider a conflict among the research fraternity about the best way to conduct animal research. How does such conflict get resolved? I want the real story.

It’s these and many such musings that drew me to NWABR and the 2015 IACUC conference organized in Seattle this February. I realized there was a lot more I needed to know about ethical research. I’m hoping that the IACUC conference will provide me an opportunity to learn more about how and why we consider our fellow living beings (animals) and how we are responsible to save, protect and treat them and beyond them, how we protect ourselves from disease and suffering. With luck this valuable forum enables our scientific community to interact among themselves and share their best practices to make sure animals are used in the most humane, painless and responsible manner. 

So I’m looking forward to catch a glimpse of the deliberation and debate around research animals and the role of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees gathered here!

Saradha is a Business development professional with international experience in marketing, inside sales and market research.  She brings her MS in Biotechnology with post-graduate studies in business development and several biotech industry internships to bear as a volunteer in the life sciences

Bridging the Gap at UW: A Post-Conference Networking Event and Zebrafish Facility Tour

zebra fish

Zebra Fish

It’s a fun, limited space event for members and attendees. 

It’s all happening on Tuesday February 24th following the 2015 IACUC Conference.  NWABR in partnership with the University of Washington Office of Animal Welfare sponsors the 1st Annual behind-the-scenes look at various components of UW animal care and use program and a guided tour/mock IACUC inspection of one of their state-of-the-art zebrafish facilities. 

You wanted low-key and casual – and here it is, a networking event bringing together IACUC administrators/staff, researchers, educators, leaders, government officials and others who play a role in conducting outstanding service to the research community. It’s a bit of training and touring, a bit of lunch, and an interactive mock-iacuc review.

We’ll exchange ideas that are instrumental in creating a culture of compliance. Our goal is to strengthen IACUC administrative relationships throughout the region, and learn from each other.

If you have an interest in attending, email to Janine at conferences@nwabr.org.

Bring ideas and a notebook. We are stronger when we share ideas, best practices and passion.  We’ll see you there. 

Janine Kennedy

Conference Lead

Northwest Association for Biomedical Research

NWABR Annual Meeting

The Annual Meeting of the members of the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR) was held last week on Wednesday, January 28 2015.

The meeting saw several longstanding Board members stepping down, and each being replaced by new representatives from their organizations.

  • Mark Crane was replaced on the Board by Jamie Kenfield, Manager Business Development at SNBL USA.
  • Lee Schoentrup was replaced by Kim Clary, Director Intellectual Property at IDRI.
  • James Riddle from Fred Hutch was replaced by Lee Strucker, Manager Research Ethics Education at Fred Hutch.

Two long serving Board Members, who are individual members of NWABR, Lynn Rose and Royce Morrison also took this year as an opportunity to step down from the Board. Rose, Morrison and Riddle all noted, though, that while they were stepping down from the Board they all planned to continue to be actively involved with NWABR and its programs.

The Board was also delighted to welcome three new member representatives to the Board. The new Board members are:

  • Richard Burrows – Senior Veterinary Sciences Technologist, BMS/Zymogenetics
  • Kari Koszdin – Veterinary Medical Officer, Veterans Affairs – VA Puget Sound Healthcare System
  • Lorraine McConnell – Director of the Office of Research Integrity, Portland State University

The Board terms of the following Board Members came up for renewal at the Annual Member meeting and the following Board Members were reelected for a further two year term:

  • Juan Cotto, Fred Hutch
  • Bob Ennes, University of Washington
  • Judy Fenyk-Melody, Amgen
  • Cami Gearhart, Quorum Review
  • Charlotte Shupert, Individual Member and Evisions, Inc./Cayuse Research Products and Services
  • Sally Thompson-Iritani, University of Washington
  • Cheryl Weaver, Benaroya Research Institute
  • Ben Wilfond, Seattle Children’s

In part because of the number of Board changes the Annual Board meeting confirmed the existing officers, as follows:

  • Ms. Cheryl Weaver be reappointed as Board President.
  • Ms. Cami Gearhart be reappointed as Board Vice President.
  • Mr. Todd Myers be reappointed as Board Vice President.
  • Ms. Jennifer Hansberry be reappointed as Board Secretary.
  • Mr. Bob Ennes be reappointed as Board Treasurer.

Dr. Judy Fenyk-Melody will hold an Executive Position, as provided for in the Bylaws, as the Immediate Past President of NWABR.

During the Annual Meeting Executive Director, Ken Gordon, presented the Annual Report on the Board’s operations. Board President, Cheryl Weaver, presented a report on the Board’s new Strategic Plan and its vision for the future of the organization.

The meeting highlighted the ongoing importance and relevance of NWABR’s mission – promoting the public’s trust in biomedical research and its ethical conduct. Highlights noted included:

  • Educational activities with over 700 students participating in Bio Expo, a Middle School science competition and life science focused summer camps.
  • Community activities with important and timely public discussions and speaking engagements covering topics from vaccinations, to epidemics, to genetic testing and care at the end of life.
  • Three highly successful conferences for members and life science communities that focus on the care of animal and human research participants and the protections for research, research facilities and research staff.

MIddle School

Middle School Essay Winners participating in a hands-on science activity of chromatographic filtration

Outreach

Middle School student isolating strawberry DNA at Burien Community Center

 

Why do parents choose not to vaccinate?

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Readers of this blog will know that I have written several times about vaccinations.  I have become increasingly frustrated about the low rates of vaccinations and the sense that some people are essentially putting their heads into the sand on this important issue.  If I was forced to stake out a position then I think my underlying view was not dissimilar to the above New Yorker cartoon that has been circulating on Facebook.

There were two items on NPR this morning that discussed why, even in the face of the current Measles outbreak, parents are still failing to vaccinate their children.  Both items endeavored to understand the psychology of this resistance.  The first article by Jon Hamilton shares the story of a Mom who chose not to vaccinate her daughter because she felt that there was a risk of Autism and conversely very little risk from disease.  She was also in a group that she referred to as the  “crunchy mums” who questioned “mainstream medicine and things that aren’t natural”.

For such parents they perceived no downside risk of not vaccinating and conversely vaccinating would in essence break a covenant with the “natural” way of being that they aspired to.  In the case of the Mom in this story her daughter was subsequently diagnosed with Autism.  Because her daughter had not been vaccinated at the time of the diagnosis it was clear that there was some other as yet unknown cause for this disorder.  The Mom also kept talking through the issues with her pediatrician and over time, after becoming aware of the Autism diagnosis, made the decision to vaccinate her daughter.

The second article was by the amazing Shankar Vedantam.  Vedantam was doing a follow up story to an earlier study that showed that espousing the health benefits of vaccines to parents, that did not trust vaccines, actually made them less trusting of science and vaccines.

For these parents trying to debunk their beliefs about vaccines had the perverse result of reinforcing those beliefs.  Vedantam suggests that the way to work with these parents is to spend time trying to build a relationship with them and to truly understand their fears.  It seems to me that the pediatrician in the first story epitomized this kind of philosophy by working with the mum over a long period of time, and by keeping that relationship and the discussion open, was finally able to help the Mom get to a space where vaccinations became the right decision.

Of course the only problem with this is that it does take a long time and the current Measles outbreak is building so quickly that we know that some innocent children will be hurt.

On that somber note – have a great day.

Regards

Ken Gordon

Executive Director

Brown Fat to the Rescue

Insulin_leptin convert white to brown fatAs many of you might remember from your animal development lessons, mammals are born with brown fat, a type of fat that stores energy and releases that energy as heat–which is very handy in creating body heat for critters that cannot generate heat by shivering.  So cool (or hot, as the case may be)!  As mammals get older, brown fat is greatly reduced unless they are hibernating mammals. Mammals are then sidled with white fat, which many of us have come to know as love handles and muffin tops and in most cases just adds to our growing overweight and obesity epidemic.

Published today in The Scientist and in Cell, researchers Dodd et.al. in Australia have demonstrated a strong, if not causative relationship, between the conversion of white fat to brown fat through the hormones leptin and insulin.  These hormones have long been associated with metabolism, hunger and satiety and weight, but until now were not understood in this mechanism. Here is how it works: appetite suppressing neurons in the hypothalamus receive information from blood-borne leptin and insulin, telling the rest of the body, including fat tissue, that “we’re satisfied.”  In the lab, mouse models were designed such that genes were disabled for two phosphatase enzymes that dim the responsiveness of these hypothalamic neurons to leptin and insulin.  These mice converted white to brown fat and did not gain weight when fed a high-fat diet, unlike mice without the double gene knockout.

It will be interesting to study this mechanism in people, though we can’t use the same study design–genetic engineering isn’t possible in this way with humans.  That being said, I just might sign up for a Phase II trial on this work.  I’d be very enthusiastic about having more brown fat and less white fat!

Best regards and happy browning,

Jen Wroblewski

Helping vaccines to go viral!

Good afternoon

An article in the New York Times earlier this week talked about an initiative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to try and excite the world about creating, funding and encouraging vaccinations.

The Foundation has created a web site The Art of Saving a Life and has commissioned 30 artists to prepare works that focus on some aspect of vaccinations and the pressing need to bring this life saving technology back into the mainstream.

The above image by Mia Farrow (Photo Credit: UNICEF/NYHQ2007-0450/Pirozzi) inspired her contribution to the project.

A Seattle Times opinion piece this week railed against the anti vaccination mentality in some affluent communities in the United States.

It is just bizarre that the richest foundation in the world is trying to raise vaccines as vital (viral) issue, and the richest communities in our world are also driving down the vaccination stats and in doing so are putting all of our communities at risk.

I am not sure if these works of arts are the catalyst for the making this change – but I need to give props for the effort.

Have a great weekend

Ken Gordon

Executive Director

A new way to test efficacy of drugs

Good morning

An article on NPR this morning discusses how the use of a bed of radiated mouse cells helped human cancer cells thrive in the lab.  Dr. Richard Schlegel was having trouble running in vitro (test tube) tests on human cancer cells, as the cells would quickly degrade and die in the lab.  Placing the human cells on a bed of irradiated mouse cells and with a compound that regulates cell growth has allowed these human cells to thrive.

With thriving cancer cells in the lab, Dr. Schlegel and his team at Georgetown University Medical Center have then be able to much more easily test other drugs that can slow down or stop the growth of cancer cells.  A surprise finding already is that a drug used to treat malaria (a form of artemisinin) appears to be an effective in killing cervical cancer cells.

This finding, in turn, has allowed the commencement of a human drug trial targeting women with precancerous cervical cells.

This technique that allows for thriving test cells in the lab, whilst still very early in its development, could dramatically speed up the process of taking promising drugs out of the lab and allowing for their effective use in both human and animals.

Regards

Ken Gordon

Executive Director