Archive for September 21, 2011

BE GENDER SENSITIVE IN BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH!

September 21, 2011

BE GENDER SENSITIVE IN BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH!

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Gender sensitivity in research has been a long standing practice in the social sciences. This isn’t the case though for the biomedical sciences, most specially with respect to observing sex differences in pharmaceutical drugs.

The inclusion of gender factor into research protocols have been quite a current in the biomedical fields though seemingly slow in response to the challenges. The University of the Philippines – Manila and the Department of Health have been spearheading the advocacy for such new protocols since the late 80s yet, an advocacy that came simultaneously with those for traditional and alternative medicine.

The awareness for such sex-factored protocols have reached global scale to date. Let’s just hope there would be quicker resolutions about the matter, and see diagnostics and medications modified accordingly.

A summary discussion on the subject is shown below.

[Philippines, 21 September 2011]
Source: http://www.scidev.net/en/opinions/biomed-analysis-target-sex-differences-in-research-1.html
Biomed Analysis: Target sex differences in research
Priya Shetty
18 August 2011
Diseases, and drugs used to treat them, behave differently in men and women. Drug development needs to account for this, says Priya Shetty.
That men and women are biologically distinct is obvious, but this is not limited to physical or hormonal differences. Sex is strongly linked both to how diseases manifest themselves — their symptoms and severity, for instance — and to how drugs interact with the body.
Sex differences clearly have implications for biomedical research, especially drug development. Over the past 10–15 years, major research funding institutions such as the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) have encouraged inclusion of these factors into research protocols, and more journals such as the Journal of the American Association of Cardiology are now asking authors to incorporate sex differences into their analysis.
But last December, a cross-disciplinary review [1] of scientific research papers showed that while some progress had been made, the pace has been sluggish, especially in translating the findings from clinical research to practice.
And the need to account for sex differences in research has growing relevance for developing countries, where an increasing number of clinical trials are taking place.
This month, geneticists discovered striking sex-linked metabolic differences between men and women [2], which could affect disease onset and progression. A person’s metabolic profile informs gene expression patterns, which in turn affect chronic diseases that are rising rapidly in poor countries.
Women’s woes
Women tend to be worst affected by research that doesn’t distinguish between the sexes. Through incorrect dosing they have suffered serious side-effects more often than men both during clinical trials and when treated with approved drugs.
Dosing tends to be adjusted by body weight. But the percentage of fat in the body, which is naturally higher for women, also affects how it processes a drug. This is not taken into account in deciding standard doses, or in the information provided on product labels, so women can fare worse after treatment.
Understanding such differences is vital. For instance, in the 1990s, data showed that women under 55 years of age were twice as likely to die after a heart attack than men in the same age group; now, mortality is only slightly higher in women than in men.
This drop in women’s mortality stemmed in part from doctors’ growing awareness that they might not have the same response to drugs like statins. They realised that heart disease can manifest differently in men and women — they may have different risk profiles, symptoms, or treatment needs on admission to hospital.
The roots of this biomedical bias against women seem to start in basic research, the precursor of clinical trials. This type of research has usually used male animals, to avoid the complexities of the hormonal and reproductive systems of female animals, which would require larger sample sizes to achieve a comparable result.
Challenges in action
Research-funding agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the NIH have guidelines to ensure that researchers guard against this bias, and indeed actively try and redress it with targeted research.
But this is hardly an area of focus for biomedical researchers in the developing world, and WHO guidelines tend to focus on different gender issues (such as making trials culturally appropriate for women).
And even where guidelines exist, there are challenges in implementing them. For one thing, since the terms ‘sex’ (which is a biological definition) and ‘gender’ (social) are often incorrectly used interchangeably, many journals and institutions still think of this as a social science issue, particularly since the current focus on the issue stems from women’s rights movements.
Few funders devote any cash to the hard science of underlying biological mechanisms that might explain why men and women respond differently to drugs.
And accounting for sex-specific differences in research protocols, and running the subsequent data through finely-grained analyses that are stratified according to sex, will inevitably lengthen a research project. This can use up precious resources and delay the sharing of potentially useful results.
Focus on women’s health
It is now well established that major diseases such as diabetes, stroke, and several cancers, as well as Alzheimer’s disease, depression and other mental illness, differ in how they manifest, and how they should be treated, in women.
All these diseases are now a significant strain on the health systems of developing countries, and public health scientists expect that this will only get worse in coming years. As countries and donors allocate resources to meet the challenge, they should note that research into chronic diseases will be incomplete if it ignores sex differences.
Personalised medicine, which promises to tailor treatment to people according to their genetic risk profiles and environmental factors, will also need to incorporate biological sex differences.
But the goal is not to provide nuanced disease diagnosis and management for the sake of it — treatment can always be improved, after all. It is to ensure that women’s health is taken seriously.
Researchers must not shortcut around the issues of biological sex differences. Focusing only on implementing health programmes that suit women culturally is not enough. Medical research shouldn’t keep pushing forward without addressing this fundamental flaw.
Journalist Priya Shetty specialises in developing world issues including health, climate change and human rights. She writes a blog, Science Safari, on these issues. She has worked as an editor at New Scientist, The Lancet and SciDev.Net.
References
[1] Oertelt-Prigione et al. Analysis of sex and gender-specific research reveals a common increase in publications and marked differences between disciplines. BMC Medicine doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-70 (2010)
[2] Mittelstrass K, et al. Discovery of sexual dimorphisms in metabolic and genetic biomarkers. PLoS Genetics doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002215 (2011)
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CHINA LACKADAISICAL SERIOUSNESS REGARDING TECHNO-RISKS

September 21, 2011

CHINA LACKADAISICAL SERIOUSNESS REGARDING TECHNO-RISKS

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

The risks posed by technological innovations and interventions have proved to be very fatal for affected stakeholders. This is especially true for China, where techno-risks have been scaling up such as shown by the cases of SARS outbreaks and the gargantuan floods that have buried whole towns.

Among the latest additions to technological risks is the accident involving the bullet train engineered and built by China. Though reputably the world’s fastest, as they are capable of running up to 450 kilometers per hour, the hazard they pose on riders seem to outweigh their benefits at this juncture.

China thus earned the flaks from various quarters within and outside its territorial bounds. The innovation stakeholders of China must take technological hazards more seriously, and shouldn’t wait for more floods to take place before reconsidering new giant projects as huge as the controversial 3 Gorges Dam and the nuclear plants.

Below is a discussion concerning the subject.

[Philippines, 21 September 2011]

Source: http://www.scidev.net/en/features/china-urged-to-take-technological-risk-more-seriously.html
China urged to take technological risk more seriously
Li Jiao
12 August 2011
The recent nuclear scare in Japan has reinforced pressure in China to raise its awareness of the risks of new technologies. Li Jiao reports.
[BEIJING] Like many other countries, China is currently reviewing the safety of its nuclear power programme following the damage caused by Japan’s tsunami to the Fukushima nuclear plant in March, promising that ‘full safety checks’ of existing reactors would be carried out.
Although the government has also suspended approval of future nuclear projects until a new nuclear safety plan is published — currently expected before the end of the year — it is widely anticipated that its construction programme for nuclear power plants will resume at that point.
At the same time, however, the potential dangers highlighted by the Fukushima accident have reinforced growing demands for the country to strengthen its approach to risk management for all types of technological emergencies.
Critics believe that despite some recent signs of progress, there are still serious gaps in the government’s preparedness plans for such situations. They argue that risk evaluation needs to be increased across the board, from areas such as genetically modified (GM) crops to the impact of human-induced global warming on food production.
Their argument is that, too often, safety concerns have fallen victim to cost-cutting and even corruption in the country’s headlong pursuit of economic growth.
As Li Daguang, director of the Science Communication Centre at the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), says: “Generally, China doesn’t consider the potential risks of technology because economic benefit is the top consideration.”
Nuclear power safety
China already has four operating nuclear power plants, with 13 projects involving 27 separate reactors currently under construction. While several are along the coast, others are due to be located near large cities.
The country’s chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, told a climate change policy forum in Canberra, Australia, in March that the Fukushima disaster is expected to lead to new safety measures in the country’s nuclear programme,.
Reflecting this commitment, China will spend about 150 million yuan (US$23 million) this year to carry out the review of the safety of both existing power plants and new ones (in contrast, last year’s budget did not even explicitly mention nuclear safety.)
“Operating plants and plants that are under construction will soon be inspected and reviewed by a group of experts,” Lin Chengge, a senior expert at the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation Ltd and former deputy director of the National Nuclear Safety Administration, told China Daily.
“The results of the inspection will be provided to the government so it can decide if safety improvements are needed.”
Some improvements have already been seen …
The response is becoming a familiar one. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, for example, the government set up an emergency working group under the State Council, the country’s highest administrative body, indicating that it considered the risks associated with the outbreak to be a high political priority.
Further evidence that the government has begun to take technological risks seriously was the creation in 2004 of a risk analysis committee — the first government organisation specialising in evaluating risk — under the Academy of Disaster Reduction and Emergency Management of the Ministry of Civil Affairs and Ministry of Education.
Risk assessment has certainly improved in the last ten years. Modern attitudes towards risk reduction and the concept of risk management have surfaced, and the government has introduced a number of laws and policies, such as emergency measures for nuclear accidents at power plants, and the regulation of emergency public health situations.
… but more is to be done
But not everyone is convinced that this action is sufficient.
Safety expert Bao Ou, of the Institute of Science, Technology and Society at Tsinghua University, Beijing, told SciDev.Net that, until recently, economic benefits had been given precedence over safety issues, adding that defects in technology have only been exposed after accidents have happened.
There are still serious limitations, such as a lack of centralised management for risk as well as a lack of civil participation, Bao adds. She points out that there is still “no special ministry dealing with national risk reduction and management on the Chinese mainland,” and that there are few researchers and institutions specialising in risk.
To rectify this situation, some of the country’s scientists and engineers, for example, have suggested setting up an institute for nuclear safety.
Another area in which concern exists about the lack of research into risks is in the field of GM crops. At the International Biosafety Forum in Beijing in April, for example, researchers urged China to strengthen risk research and evaluation on such crops.
In 2008, the government provided US$3.5 billion in funding for research into GM crops. Out of this sum, however, it has allocated a mere US$1.5 million over the five years for GM risk evaluation and public engagement.
“Although GM risk funding is increasing, it’s far from being enough,” says Wei Wei, an ecologist at CAS’s Institute of Botany, in Beijing. “In particular, ecological risks should not be underestimated.”
Natural risks are also an issue
Other concerns focus on the lack of adequate research into the risks of climate change, despite the fact that water scarcity is affecting 184,000 square kilometres of farmland as the worst drought in half a century grips the country.
It has put the risk of food insecurity back on the agenda, and revealed a lack of investment in agricultural land, says Jiang Gaoming of CAS’s Institute of Botany.
China “should be concerned about the risk in many areas, such as nuclear power, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and droughts,” adds Chen I-wan, advisor to the state-run China Disaster Prevention Association led by the China Earthquake Administration.
Bao told SciDev.Net that China should study the experiences of other countries, set up institutions to research risk management, devise appropriate legislation and adopt effective counter-measures.
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AFRICAN-BUILT SATELLITE BENEFITS NIGERIA, KUDOS!

September 21, 2011

AFRICAN-BUILT SATELLITE BENEFITS NIGERIA, KUDOS!

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

NigeriaSat-X, the first satellite designed and built by Africans, was launched into orbit just recently. This is a milestone event for Africans, so let me express my Big Kudos!

That Africa’s mainstream black peoples are able to design and build satellites totally negates all those defamatory pejoratives cast upon them by bigoted Whites in Europe and America. To recall, the Blacks were stigmatized as “halfway between man and monkeys,” Mandingos who were worthy only of becoming slaves, “brainless Niggers!” and more.

While those days of White domination are way behind us now, with colored Asians leading the way in showing how the West (Whites) can be overtaken in the science & technology fields (2007 was year of technology overtake), too many White folks are still of the bigoted fascistic mindsets in their perceptions of the colored peoples.

At any rate, let the colored peoples notably the Blacks of Africa show their prowess in the different fields of endeavor. As the satellite news below has shown, the Africans have already overcome the cognitive barriers imposed upon them by White enslavement, colonialism and imperialism.

[Philippines, 20 September 2011]

Source: http://www.scidev.net/en/news/nigeria-launches-first-satellite-built-by-africans.html
Nigeria launches first satellite built by Africans
Emeka Johnkingsley
19 August 2011
[ABUJA] Nigeria successfully launched NigeriaSat-X, the first satellite to be designed and built by Africans, into orbit this week (17 August).
NigeriaSat-X was launched along with another small satellite, NigeriaSat-2, from Yasny in southern Russia.
The satellite is the result of a transfer training agreement between Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, a satellite developer based in the United Kingdom. It brought 26 young scientists from NASRDA to work on the satellite for 18 months, under the supervision of experts in Surrey.
NigeriaSat-X will be used for resource management, and for mapping of the country that will feed into food security through crop monitoring, urban planning and disaster management. It will also facilitate the development of Nigeria’s space capability and engineering skills for new technologies.
In a national broadcast, President Goodluck Jonathan praised “the resourceful Nigerians who made this history possible”.
Jonathan, a scientist by training, said: “Today marks another milestone in our nation’s effort to solve national problems through space technologies.”
Nigeria’s national space policy was approved in 2001 and culminated in the launch of the country’s first satellite, NigeriaSat-1, in 2003.
Its 25-year space mission roadmap, approved by the government in 2006, aims to produce a Nigerian astronaut by 2015; launch a satellite built in Nigeria between 2018 and 2030; and be part of the moon mission by 2030.
Oye Ibidapo-Obe, president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, told SciDev.Net: “This is a remarkable feat that puts our nation in the well-deserved rank of scientifically capable countries. It is a glorious day for our country.”
But he added that the country now needs to develop capacity to build satellites locally.
Seidu Mohammed, director-general of NASRDA, said: “This [achievement] showcases the importance of capacity building as it is vigorously being pursued by NASRDA. In light of this, having the required environment, our engineers and scientists can handle any design with little or no supervision.”
Ajayi Boroffice, founding director-general of NASRDA, said: “Capacity building is central to the implementation of Nigeria’s space programme.
“Africa’s scientists and engineers need to rise up to the challenge of developing and applying invaluable space technology to tackle [their] countries’ problems.”
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CLIMATE DATA BENEFITS FARMERS IN SENEGAL

September 21, 2011

CLIMATE DATA BENEFITS FARMERS IN SENEGAL

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Many small planters across the globe are habitués of ecosystems that are replete with ecohazards. Add to that the risks posed by climate change patterns. Results: shrinking incomes, greater uncertainties of survival, possible deaths.

Sharing of climate data to the planter stakeholders could somehow dissipate any possibility of greater risks and damages. Information channels and data access are among the parameters that ought to be checked as enabling measures on the ground in aid of our small or marginal planters.

Senegal is among the developing countries that is addressing the challenges to data sharing and access in the area of climatology, that could then benefit farmers in the short run.

The update report on the Senegal precedent is shown below.

[Philippines, 20 September 2011]

Source: http://www.scidev.net/en/features/how-climate-data-is-bringing-benefits-to-senegal-s-farmers.html
How climate data is bringing benefits to Senegal’s farmers
Emeka Johnkingsley
11 August 2011
The InfoClim project, which distributes climate data to local communities, has helped Senegalese farmers adapt to climate change. SciDev.Net investigates.
Smallholder farmers have years of experience in assessing how climatic conditions, particularly rainfall, affect their crops. But as the climate changes, that knowledge — often gathered over a lifetime — may no longer be valid.
As a result, vulnerable farmers need help to adapt or fine-tune their practices. But as climate monitoring and research become more sophisticated, the gap between the technology and farming communities is getting wider.
A project in Senegal is now helping to bridge that gap.
The InfoClim project collects climate information and shares it with vulnerable populations, particularly farmers, to help them adjust their sowing, cultivation and other dates to suit the current climate.
The project’s advisors begin by analysing data from the Centre for Ecological Monitoring (CSE) in Dakar and its partners to assess the probability of climatic events.
These partners include Senegal’s National Meteorological Agency, which collects seasonal forecasts, and the Senegalese Agricultural Research Institute (ISRA), which contributes information on adapted crops. The Laboratory for Atmospheric Physics at the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar provides local climate models and scenarios.
Sharing knowledge
The scientific data are then shared with communities through four well-equipped regional ‘observatories’. Local people trained by the project use community radio stations and meetings to pass the climate information to farmers.
Innocent Butare of the Senegal office of Canada’s International Development Research Centre, which funded the InfoClim project, said the pilot project was intended to understand how to disseminate scientific information on adaptation to climate change to rural communities and local decision-makers.
The project provides farmers and local communities with climate data and soil statistics, and helps them share their knowledge to improve planting practices and ensure better yields.
Members of community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local decision-makers have learnt how to use agro-meteorological data to assess different options for adapting to climate change.
These include changing planting dates, using drought-resistant seeds, diversifying crops and planting perennial crops, improving water and soil management, fighting soil erosion, developing agro-forestry, integrating crops, livestock and trees, and finding alternative sources of income.
The success of the project has depended on building reliable networks between researchers and rural communities to share information on climate change.
“The project allowed the sharing of views on climate change and [highlighted] the importance of access to the information as a means of strengthening the capacity of rural communities to adapt to this phenomenon,” said Butare.
“We also involved people from the local administration, local political decision-makers, community-based organisations and NGO representatives,” said Butare. “Those forums are still working after the end of the project.”
Local planning
The three-year research project, which started in 2008, was due to end in December 2010 but was extended by six months, spreading across four communities: Fandène, Notto Diobass, Taiba Ndiaye and Thiès. Other regions of Senegal are now asking for similar projects to help them.
Butare added that the project, funded to the tune of more than US$443,000, is a good example of how local decision-makers can use scientific information to integrate climate-change concerns into local development plans.
Amadou Sall, project leader of InfoClim, told SciDev.Net that the project had showed that adaptation at the local level is a condition of success for a national policy of adaptation to climate change.
Ibrahima Thiao, programme coordinator at the Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations of Senegal, said that InfoClim is one of the few innovative projects that provides opportunities for farmers, technicians and scientists to discuss common issues within a well-defined environment.
“Apart from the know-how, which the project inculcated in the partners, it scores a major point in securing the commitment of scientists and technicians to provide answers to farmers whenever they have questions about climate change as it relates to their work.
“It built the confidence of farmers by enhancing their knowledge and equipped them with the skills to be able to translate scientific and technical information into simple and understandable messages. Farmers want accurate information about the climate events that affect their crops,” said Thiao.
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Come Visit E. Argonza’s blogs & website anytime!

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