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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.

Medical Researchers Raise the Red Flag on Gun Violence Research Funding

By Laurie Breen   In a JAMA Research Letter likely intended to draw political attention, authors David E. Stark and Nigam H. Shah compared data on gun violence with other leading causes of death and questioned whether adequate funding was being given to research on gun violence, considering the high rates of death from gun violence in the U.S.     Although research into gun violence is not directly banned, a congressional appropriations bill from 1996 stated that no funding allocated for injury prevention or control at the CDC “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Supporters argued that a gun is not a disease and therefore falls outside the realm of the CDC, ignoring the fact that the CDC already has an Injury Prevention & Control Center. The authors argue that this ban has had a knock-on effect for all funding of gun violence research, as government agencies and institutes seeking funding will steer clear of the subject, from fear of running afoul of the appropriations ban and risking the loss of funding.   Image: Source   The letter’s authors reviewed CDC mortality statistics from 2004 – 2014. They identified the top 30 causes of death and allocated each to a Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) term. Then, for each MeSH term, the authors queried the number of Medline publications from 2004-2015 and also turned to the...

U.S. Rate of Birth Defects from Women with Zika

By Laurie Breen   In early 2016, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the creation of the National Zika Pregnancy Registry to track and collect information in the United States and its territories on women who tested positive for possible Zika virus. By June of that year the CDC was reporting 265 pregnant women were being monitored in U.S. States and 216 in U.S. territories.   Image: Source   As these pregnancies progress, researchers are carefully monitoring the birthing outcomes for these women to identify the rate of birth defects. Reports from other countries have varied, showing risk rates from 1% up to 13%. Published in JAMA, Honein, Dawson & Peterson reviewed 442 completed pregnancies who had lab results showing possible Zika infection, and found that 6% of the fetuses and infants had birth defects potentially related to Zika infection, with similar overall results when comparing symptomatic and asymptomatic women. The most common birth defect was microcephaly with brain abnormalities, and a few had various brain abnormalities without microcephaly.   Image: Source   However, there were no reported birth defects among infants or fetuses whose only exposure to Zika virus occurred in the 2nd or 3rd Trimester, but when women presented symptoms and were infected in the first trimester, the risk of birth defects rose to 11%.   The researchers concluded that this evidence strongly...

Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Science

By Laurie Breen   We’re now in the first week of the New Year, so how are those resolutions coming along? These life hacks, based in behavioral research, can help you reach and maintain your goals to succeed in 2017.     Plan Ahead Avoid unhealthy, impulsive decisions by planning ahead whenever possible. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that if consumers ordered their groceries 5 or more days in advance, they tended to spend less and order more healthy foods. Similar effects were found among students who were asked to order their lunches a week in advance versus ordering them at the time of consumption.   Read More: “A behavioral decision theory perspective on hedonic and utilitarian choice”   Image: Source   Keep Good Company The influence of peers on the behavior of individuals has been well documented, but it’s important to find peers who are going to help you succeed – not enable you to fail. Researchers Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton looked at co-workers who were given treadmill desks, and found that if employees were given access to the usage statistics of their co-workers, they tended to perform only as well as their least successful co-worker.   Similar results were found in a study that looked at savings habits – when employees were given information as to how much their peers were putting away...

Gender Wars in the Hospital

When it comes to medical school, studies have shown that both age and gender have an influence on performance in medical school, with older women having an edge over both men and younger women.   Now a new study has brought the gender war to the hospital ward. Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers have shown that patients may be better off when treated by a female physician, raising the age-old debate of man versus woman and sparking discussion as to how gender differences can play out in a clinical setting. Image: Source   Reviewing a large sample of over 1.5 million hospital visits made by Medicare patients (65 and older), researchers examined the rates of readmission and mortality to discover that within 30 days of arriving at the hospital, those treated by a female physician had significantly better outcomes, even when controlled for a broad range of variables, including type of medical condition and severity.   The study has caused a stir with physicians, reporters and commentators all weighing in with various theories to account for the difference in performance. In their paper, Tsugawa et al suggest that female physicians may adhere to clinical guidelines more closely, but others, such as Parks and Redberg, in an accompanying editorial, point to studies which show that female physicians may have longer visits with patients, communicate in a patient-centered manner and...

So, You Want To Be A Research Clinician?

  Stay Current To be competitive in the medical research arena, it’s essential to keep up to date with the current research. Read as much as you can about current research that is coming out, not just in your own field of interest, but also in breaking medical and technology news. Use these strategies from The Almost Doctor’s Channel’s guide to Staying Up to Date on Research in Your Field to keep the news and information flowing straight to your newsfeed.   Publish or Perish Start writing now. Write Letters to the Editors of peer-reviewed journals if you read something that piqued your interest. Get involved in student publications or online blogs. You can even send emails to authors whose research you’re interested in, as this information is often published along with their work. Getting your name out there, and having it show up on a Google search, will prove that you are not only dedicated to medicine, but that you’re able to write about it too.   Cultivate Mentors and Collaborators Make connections with everyone around you. Attend Office Hours, meet with your advisors and find out the special interests of not just your professors, but their RAs and TAs too. Connect with your peers. While medical school can, at times, be ultra-competitive, someday you will all be doctors and you never know who might end up in...

Solving the Zika Puzzle

While the Olympic Games at Rio have closed and the Northern Hemisphere heads into winter, researchers in laboratories around the world continue to urgently pursue a vaccine for the Zika virus, which has had devastating effects on those people infected with the virus in more than 60 countries and territories.   Image: Source   Despite various mosquito control efforts, the race to the solve the  puzzle is a race to find the vaccine. Zika vaccine researchers are relying heavily on three decades of HIV vaccine research infrastructure that could quickly pivot to Zika research and expedite Phase 1 clinical trials. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has announced five Phase 1 clinical trials that have commenced or will begin shortly.   To gather data on the epidemic, in January the National Institutes of Health (NIH) expedited the review process for research programs into Zika in January, and by August had awarded 16 grants. This data is urgently needed to assess the spread of the virus and its effects. The Zika in Infants and Pregnancy study was launched in June to track potentially 10,000 pregnant women in endemic countries, a collaboration with the Brazilian Ministry of Health.   Researchers agree that solving the Zika puzzle will require unprecedented collaboration between researchers around the globe. Eager to avoid the mistakes of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s when...

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