laurie-breen

Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.

What to Know About World Autism Day

Monday, April 2nd, 2018 is the 11th annual World Autism Day. Around the world, buildings and landmarks with shine will blue lights to raise awareness and increase recognition of those who live with autism. This will be followed by a month-long program of autism-friendly events that aim to foster acceptance and understanding. Light it Up Blue The Light it Up Blue initiative was started in 2010 by Autism Speaks. Last year, buildings, landmarks and businesses turned their lights blue to raise awareness. Over 170 countries participated on all 7 continents. While many view this day as an important way to raise awareness for autism, the initiative has engendered some controversy, with criticisms being aimed at the language of pathology used by Autism Speaks, as well as their financial standing as a charity. Many people, especially families of autistic children, would prefer to spread a message of acceptance for all who may be neurologically atypical, not just click-and-share social media “awareness.” Empowering Women and Girls with Autism Over at the United Nations, the General Assembly has adopted a resolution to observe World Autism Awareness Day with the message of “empowering women and girls with autism,” to focus on the way ways that gender dynamics and gender discrimination intersect with disability. Their resolution noted that women with disabilities have a lower rate of employment than both women without disabilities and men with disabilities. The...

With Data From “All of Us” NIH Launches Ambitious Data Repository

This month the National Institute of Health (NIH) launched the beta portal for “All of Us,” a project that aims to capture health data from over a million Americans. Born out of President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative, the data collected through “All of Us” will include not just health records or test results, but also lifestyle choices and, most importantly, genomic and biological data analysis to help fuel future medical research. What is precision medicine? Precision medicine, a term that is sometimes used interchangeably with “personalized medicine,” is a medical model that encourages healthcare professionals to customize treatments to the individual patient. Precision medicine takes into account the patient’s unique environmental and biological situation, in addition to the patient’s presenting symptoms. With this information, the healthcare professional may create a treatment plan that is tailored to that specific person, instead of using a standard treatment that is thought to work for the “average” patient. Why 1 Million? The All of Us program is specifically geared to be a broad and diverse program. Minority communities are often underrepresented in medical research, as most research populations tend to be homogenous, specifically white and male (Oh et al, 2015). All of Us aims to correct the gap in research data by aiming for a study population that better reflects the rich diversity of America. Researchers hope that this data will feed into...

Harnessing Brainwaves to Treat Dyslexia: Fact or Fiction

Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disorders in America, but also one of the most mysterious and under-diagnosed. Estimates put the rate of dyslexia in the U.S. at 10%, but because it often goes undetected, the rate may be as high as 17% of the population. Dyslexia may be detected even before a child learns to read, if she is exhibiting behaviors such as struggling to learn rhyming words or to develop letter recognition at the same rate as her peers. However, there are interventions and strategies that can be implemented at any age. With such a high incidence rate, it’s understandable that neuroscientists are searching high and low for the causes and effects of dyslexia. Although there have been incredible advances in research around learning disorders it is still unclear just how brainwaves are associated with the brain activity used for reading. Over the last two decades, researchers have used MRIs and fMRIs to monitor the activity of a dyslexic brain. They have found that in dyslexic patients, the areas typically used in reading, writing, visual recognition, or often a combination of all of these, are underdeveloped. But with intensive training or tutoring, other areas of the brain can essentially grow to compensate for these underdeveloped areas. Thus, in young students with intensive reading tutoring, we can see an improvement in their symptoms, similar to how...

Tracking the Flu, One Thermometer At A Time

Since 2014 Kinsa has been promoting and developing their smart thermometers – a thermometer that links to your smartphone, allowing patients, parents or other healthcare professionals to record and track their temperature data over time. With this year’s record-breaking flu season, Kinsa’s smart thermometer has achieved critical mass, with Kinsa reporting up to 25,000 readings per day. With all this real-time data, Kinsa is claiming to be able to track flu season faster and more accurately than public health authorities, such as the CDC. Once your child has registered a temperature, Kinsa’s smartphone app gives helpful tips about how to treat and manage fever. But who else now knows that your child is sick? A happy side effect of having 500,000 smart thermometers in American households is a glut of data about who has a fever and where. Kinsa has a very savvy marketing team, and the company is monetizing not only their devices, but also their data. For example, Kinsa has created a school program, called “FLUency,” to market the devices to schools and parents. The FLUency program includes a school-specific app for parents to share symptoms, such as if their children are exhibiting coughing, sore throat, earache, etc. Kinsa has also developed “Kinsa Insights,” a reportal that sells access to Kinsa’s anonymized data, with the promise that Insights clients are getting the data directly from sick households, before...

The Best 2018 Diets (And The Worst 2017 Diets)

Every year we start with the best intentions: “This is the year I’m going to exercise more, eat better and lose weight.” But now that we’ve rung in another new year, you might be wondering why your efforts in 2017 fell short. Whether you went Paleo, tried the Dukan Diet or cut out nearly everything that makes life worth living with the Whole30 Program, you might have found that the latest fad diets didn’t live up to their promises. Worst Diets of 2017 The worst diet of 2017, as ranked by U.S. News, was Whole30. For 30 days you are required to avoid all sugar, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, grains, legumes and dairy. If you follow the 30 day program to the letter, it’s highly likely that you’ll lose weight. But as an overall health and wellness strategy, it falls far short of its claims to “change your life forever.” Nutritionists have slammed Whole30 for making outsized claims with no scientific support. By avoiding dairy, legumes and grains, you are cutting out a lot of essential nutrients, such as vitamin D and calcium. It is severely restrictive, and doesn’t help the dieter build a long-term strategy for a healthy lifestyle, which is the best way to improve your health. Following closely behind Whole30 was the Dukan Diet and Paleo. The Dukan diet was also criticized for being too restrictive with...

Why we STILL Don’t Have a Male Contraceptive

The first female pharmaceutical contraceptive pill was approved by the FDA in 1960. That’s 57 years ago! With all the advances in medical research, why do we still not have a pharmaceutical contraceptive for men? Too Much Risk with Too Little Reward Surely there are many men who would love to have the sort of agency over their reproductive capacity that women have had for nearly 60 years. However, for-profit pharmaceutical companies allocate their research funds to the most profitable ventures, such as cancer medications or those that treat heart conditions. Although some non-profit and governmental groups, such as the NIH, are funding contraceptive research, they tend to look for a private-sector partner to share the financial burden of Phase 3 clinical trials. In addition to liability and profit concerns, the female contraceptive pill has about a 91% effectiveness rate; a male pill would have to be at least close to that range to be a viable option, and even worse, the marketing team would have to start from scratch. Image: Syringe by Zaldylmg / CC by 2.0 Men Just Can’t Take the Heat The most promising research into a pharmaceutical option has been hormonal contraceptives. In fact, researchers published a 100-person clinical trial in 2016 that showed that an injectable hormone treatment suppressed sperm concentration in 95.9% of the patients, with a pregnancy rate of 1.57% among their female partners....

The Flu Shot: It’s Not Just About You

It’s that time of year again. The powers that be (a.k.a. the CDC) have hedged their bets on this year’s flu vaccine components, and they will be encouraging patients to get vaccinated before the end of October, so that the body has plenty of time to develop resistance before flu season sets in. For the 2017-2018 flu season, the CDC has recommended that three-component flu vaccines contain the following: – an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (updated), – an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus, and – a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus. Four-component vaccines are recommended to contain a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus. In a deviation from previous years, the CDC recommends against using a nasal spray flu vaccine, also known as the live attenuated flu vaccine (LAIV) due to concerns about effectiveness. Sure, a shot can be a few seconds of pain, but it’s better than being laid out for days if you do contract the flu. For the first time, the CDC has approved a true cell-based candidate vaccine virus, in addition to those traditionally produced using fertilized chickens’ eggs. Many medical practitioners will likely get the flu vaccine, but how do we encourage more patients to get it too? Because the flu is not a reportable disease, the CDC uses modelling to estimate the number of infections each year. They currently estimate that in the U.S., the number of cases has been somewhere between 9.5 million and 35.6 million every year...

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