Scientists Simplifying Science

Category archive

Poli-Scie

Blogs about Science policies across the world

Science Policy: Shaping the Future

in Poli-Scie by

Editor’s Note: Our lives are blessed with the fruits of science, like that self-driven car which might soon be a regular feature on our streets. If science is so self-sufficient in discoveries then why does science policy matter? Well, what would that artificially intelligent car in your driveway be without a set of instructions to abide by traffic rules and the roads to choose for reaching the destination safely. This is the role of Science policy makers, who serve as the guardians to the use of science, because Science is good servant and a bad master. Neha Bhutani kickstarts a new series on Science Policy at #ClubSciWri. In her first blog she talks about its very definition and the ramifications to  decipher “the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns.” After pipetting and more pipetting, didn’t know this was coming right?- Abhinav Dey

 

 

What is Science Policy?

Science policy can be defined as the organized measures that governments take to promote the development of research in the field of science and technology (S&T) and, in particular, to guide the utilization of research results for the advancement of economic growth and welfare of society. Since 1960s, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is engaged internationally to recognize the important role of S&T in national development, especially, towards creating awareness among public and political leaders of the importance of S&T in the modern world and of the need for more systematic measures by governments to direct and control their use. A 1963 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report stated: “To say that a government needs an articulated science policy is simply to note that there has devolved upon that government a major and continuing responsibility to make choices about issues that involve science.”

Science policy has 2 complementary aspects: firstly, policy for promoting science, i.e., governments’ provisions of an environment that fosters growth of S&T knowledge; and secondly, policy for using science, i.e., the exploitation of this knowledge for the development of the public and society. In this article, I will be delving mostly into the second aspect of science policy, i.e., the use of scientific knowledge for the development of society. This aspect of science policy is essential to fully realize the benefits of society’s investment in science. It can help governments to use the ultimate products of science, which is evidence, to support policies and decision-making.

 

Linking the scientific and public policy communities

Policy-making is a two-way approach between the government and the public; and the policymakers can work at either end. They can work for the legislators or for various societies like the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS), Society for Neuroscience (SfN), etc. Science policymakers serve as a bridge between researchers and  the public- finding ways to translate obscure, often highly technical, scientific issues into something that can be sold as a policy. These professionals have advanced degrees in science and some are just good at advocating for a topic they believe in. What all experts have in common is literacy in science, politics, and economics.

By and large, the field of policy making consists of people coming mainly from two communities the scientific and the public policy communities. Both communities harbor very different cultures and hence do not interact much with each other. The ideal network of a scientific community includes the expertise of the public, private, and academic sectors. Its culture constitutes a high degree of interaction between scientists and engineers based on their knowledge and expertise, rather than position and rank; on peer review and assessment, rather than deference to the authority of their internal organizational. Recognition among scientists and engineers is based on intellectual assessment as judged by their peers, rather than by the superiors in an organization. On the other hand, the culture in many government organizations is based on bureaucracy and hierarchy. The scientific values are consistent worldwide despite cultural differences between populations. These values make the distinctive scientific culture incompatible with the structure of the public sector, hence making the connection between the two communities difficult to maintain.

There is a strong need for the two communities to invest in the improvement of their mutual understanding. However, hurdles exist at various levels. Firstly, students aiming for a career in government or science do not learn much about the other field. The academic curriculum needs to be reviewed to bridge this gap and provide students with opportunities that can aid in the expansion of their knowledge regarding the “other world.” Secondly, academia, which pushes towards specialization, does not give incentives for public engagement and communication. On the other hand, sound policy-making requires broader perspectives. This raises an important question that how can one create values for S&T personnel to interact with the government, and how can bureaucracies be restructured to allow for a freer flow of outside experts in the government machinery. New Zealand has a very good federal funding support for science communication. United States has recently started giving some recognition to public sector work. While in Canada, grant/ fellowship funding agencies do not acknowledge the advocacy and outreach activities, rather they focus only on the publications in peer-reviewed journals. There is an increased need for the role of government departments to provide dual science/policy career paths for their employee scientists. In this regard, there are organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), etc., that are offering fellowships to faculty and post-doctoral researchers. Having said this, although new unique opportunities are opening up for people to make a transition to the field of science policy, one needs to have a healthy dose of scientific expertise and a strong interest in advocacy and outreach.

 

Understanding the role of S&T in policy-making

For a very long time, S&T have helped improve the quality of life by providing better medical care, healthier environments, increased efficiency in industries, secure financial trading, improved food safety, strengthened border security, and providing a stimulating environment. In short, S&T are essential to the economic, societal, and environmental growth of a country.

An expert scientific advice is fundamental to the process of policy-making. It can provide evidence for decisions; confirm the reliability of policy in areas where the evidence is conclusive; define the contours of uncertainty and trade-offs where the likely outcomes cannot be known for sure. Given the challenges faced by the governments, ranging from climate change to poverty issues, it is of utmost importance to have inputs from researchers across disciplines. Evidence-based policies are robust in long term as compared to those designed in the absence of scientific evidence. One can distinguish many functions of scientific evidence in policy-making, such as, regulation and oversight, knowledge creation, knowledge translation, aggregation and interpretation. Such an advice can be trusted because the science behind it is continually subject to criticism and peer review. This promotes the evolution of science and does not let it change from one government to the next. Strengthening the process by which scientific advice contributes to government policy-making is rapidly becoming a characteristic of the richest democracies in the western world.

However, one must keep in mind the complexities associated with it. As mentioned above, scientific evidence plays a very different role in situations in which the research is conclusive as compared to situations in which there is conflicting evidence. In the first case, evidence can be used to confirm a course of action. However, in the second case, there is a strong need for inputs from researchers as politicians might want to cherry-pick those evidences which support their approach towards policy. It is important for the scientists to proactively advice if they want a voice in policy-making. It is not sufficient to just provide answers to questions that are put in front of them by the decision-makers. They must responsibly anticipate future needs and volunteer their advice on issues that are likely to surface in the future. A “pull” created by the policy demands and a “push” created by the scientific enquiry are necessary to build the relationship between science and government. One should also keep in mind the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation and dialogue, as the scientific expertise leading to the policy process involves many disciplines. Thus, a great deal of knowledge transfer from the scientific and technological communities to the government policy-making process is crucial for policy-making.

While governments are generally supportive of the scientists and their research, they often assess the value of research in terms of their commercial and economic value. This tension becomes daunting when investments in science do not pay off the right away or when money is put into basic research. Presence of conflicting scientific evidence and the inability of the media to distinguish areas in which the scientific evidence is genuinely contestable from those in which one view has clearly and overwhelmingly debunked adds another level of complexity. The tendency of journalists to provide balanced coverage by giving both sides equal time, regardless of the weight of the scientific evidence supporting one side has reinforced a false sense of relativity in policy debates (if ever they happen) about science. It is important for the experts to act as credible referees for those debates. Thus, there is a strong need for the scientists to communicate their work to the public. As Donald Rumsfeld, the former US defense secretary once said, the scientists need to provide “the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns.” This will help build an environment for public debate and in turn help in the process of policy-making.

 

 

 

Acknowledgements: Sayantan Chakraborty (Editing); Ipsa Jain (Featured Image)

 

 

This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

 

 

Transitioning into Science Policy: In conversation with Zane Martin, Ph.D.

in Face à Face/Poli-Scie by

The process of bringing bench side discoveries to bedside not only involves the efforts of scientists and doctors, but also people who serve as a bridge among the researchers, policymakers, and the public at large. These individuals work in areas involving the policies that apply science for the benefit of society in a profession that is colloquially termed ‘Science Policy’. The science policy umbrella is diverse, ranging from scientists working in federal agencies, serving as Congressional staff, or providing science policy guidance for non-profits, academia, or industry. Duties include but aren’t limited to grant management, regulatory oversight, and science communication with policymakers and the public with the goal of progressing science. Every country that pursues scientific research with the aim of bringing the discoveries to the society has people involved in this profession. Although different governments work different, interacting with a science policy professional can always provide an idea of an alternative career for Ph.D. graduates.

Becoming a policy maker or an implementer by itself involves a lot of training (apart from bench work) and persistence. Although the internet provides a lot of resources, the best information can be obtained during a personal interaction with a professional working in this area. Serendipity created an opportunity for me to interview Dr. Zane Martin who gladly obliged to talk about her role in Science Policy and how her efforts during her graduate studies landed her some prestigious science policy fellowships.

SC: Could you tell us about your educational background?

ZM: I attended graduate school at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where I investigated drug discovery techniques for neurodegenerative diseases. While completing my Masters’ thesis in Pharmacology, I synthesized and screened a library of compounds to evaluate their prophylactic/therapeutic efficacy against amyloid-beta aggregation, one of the neuropathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Thereafter, I completed my Ph.D. dissertation in Neuroscience, investigating another therapeutic strategy based on inhibiting a cellular signalling event involved in synaptic plasticity implicated in Parkinson’s disease. Following my Ph.D., I completed a postdoctoral position at the NYS Institute for Basic Research, where I investigated potential therapeutics against tau hyperphosphorylation, another hallmark of Alzheimer’s. During my postdoc, I was awarded the Jeanne B. Kempner Postdoctoral Scholar fellowship to fund my work. Collectively from these studies, I authored several peer-reviewed publications and won travel awards to several conferences to present my work.

SC: What is your current position and what does a normal day at work look like?

ZM: I am currently completing an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Along with the training opportunities that I avail as a recipient of this fellowship, I work at the National Institute on Aging in the Division of Neuroscience. I am involved with the implementation of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act. I help regulate funding through both grant management and by developing resources to help progress science. Examples of resources at the NIH typically involve databases like PubMed, ClinicalTrials.gov, and GenBank. The database I am working on is based on Alzheimer’s preclinical studies with the aim of improving science rigor to increase success in clinical trials.

SC: What motivated you to transition from laboratory science into science policy?

ZM: As an AD researcher, I was aware of the potential healthcare havoc we will experience if no treatment strategy for AD is discovered as demographic shifts increase the percentage of the population over age 65. Because of this, I developed a deep respect for the policies that help with the progression of biomedicine for the betterment of our society. The NIH is a global pillar for the worldwide coordination of scientific and healthcare related collaborations to address all global health needs. By including legislation, synergies become established to help pinpoint critical global health challenges, such as finding better treatments for diseases like AD.

SC: What were your approaches to pursue science policy? Did you exploit other resources during your Ph.D. or postdoc tenure to gain skills pertaining to your goals?

ZM: I first got involved during graduate school by participating in advocacy networks in different scientific societies. I attended advocacy meetings and volunteered to help with advocacy events. To increase experience in leadership positions, I was the president of my local Association for Women in Science (AWIS) chapter during my last two years in graduate school, where I organized several local functions and chapter meetings.

During my postdoc, I created a local science advocacy group with the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). My group met with our Senator’s staff to campaign for increased biomedical funding. I also volunteered as an Alzheimer’s Congressional Team Member for the Alzheimer’s Association, where I wrote OpEds for our local paper and met with policymakers to discuss the importance of biomedical funding for Alzheimer’s research.

From volunteering at societies, I found an opportunity to become a science policy intern at the American Brain Coalition (ABC). For this internship, I participated in meetings with the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus to analyse the impact and effectiveness of the BRAIN Initiative. I wrote reports from these meetings for the ABC members, and I provided other material for the ABC website, such as creating a Capitol Hill Toolkit.

I also started a blog to practice writing for different audiences. I wrote about current policy events, such as appropriations proceedings involving biomedical funding, and legislations dealing with climate change and energy, evolution and schools, and vaccination enforcement. This blog led to a consultation gig with AAAS, where I submitted blogs about science policy topics for their MemberCenter website.

I recently completed a Mirzayan Science Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences working in the Board on Life Sciences, Division on Earth and Life Studies. I helped manage projects by organizing expert speakers, panelists and reviewers, selecting the literature to guide the attendees, participating in workshops and webinars, and co-authoring the workshop summaries.

SC: Could you share your thoughts on how can a person who has no experience in science policy transition into such a role?

ZM: First and foremost, complete a Ph.D. program. Ph.D. graduates have a greater advantage because they understand science, and they know how to think critically. Another important suggestion is to network. Volunteer for science societies and nonprofits, and ask for informational interviews from people that interest you. Don’t be shy! You’ll be amazed at how receptive people really are when you reach out. And most importantly: WRITE. Write for multiple audiences. Along with scientific manuscripts, write Letters to the Editor or OpEds for your local paper, blog, submit articles to societies and nonprofits. Finally, don’t get discouraged with rejection. The great thing about science policy is that every person takes a different path to get there. So, if one path doesn’t work, try another.

SC: What are the long-term satisfactions associated with a career in this field?

ZM: I feel more purposeful in this career trajectory. Being a bench scientist is also admirable, but working in science policy is more “big picture” with work potential having a greater impact. Overall, working for the government is highly rewarding because I am serving the society.


About Zane:

I am an AAAS S&T Policy Fellow at the National Institute on Aging – National Institutes of Health, where I help with the implementation of the National Alzheimer’s Plan. I have a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and M.S. in Pharmacology from the University of Texas Medical Branch, and received postdoctoral training at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities. My research career focused on drug discovery strategies to combat Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Follow her on Twitter @ZaneMartinPhD.

About Sayantan:

I’m an IRTA postdoctoral visiting fellow at the National Institute on Aging – National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, USA. Apart from science, I invest my time in networking, writing, organizing events, and consolidating efforts to build a platform that brings together scientists and industry professionals to help spread the perception of alternate careers for life science graduates. Follow me on Twitter @ch_sayantan

 

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

MedNess- At the frontier of Medicine, Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Business

in Poli-Scie/SciBiz/Uncategorized by

Hello and welcome to the biweekly roundup of Healthcare business top stories. Please follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn

MedNess 

BMS’s injectable Opdivo approved by FDA for bladder cancer

FDA approved intravenous use of Opdivo (nivolumab), a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor for the treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma (mUC) who have not benefitted from platinum-containing chemotherapy or in cases where the disease progressed within 12 months of neoadjuvant or adjuvant treatment with platinum containing chemotherapy. Last year, FDA approved Roche’s Tecentriq, a checkpoint inhibitor, for the treatement of bladder cancer.

From the business standpoint, this was much awaited good news for BMS as the Opdivo did not make the cut as first line monotherapy study in non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in 2016. However, Merck’s Keytruda gained FDA approval soon after Opdivo failed in NSCLC study (Fierce Pharma).

 

The battle of patents: bad news for Teva Pharmaceuticals

Genric drug maker giant: Teva Pharmaceuticals lost the patent challenge in U.S. District Court, safeguarding their star drug Copaxone against generic competition. Copaxone, approved in 1996, became the most prescribed drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. The patents protecting Copaxone against generic competition expired two years ago for 20mg dose. Novartis and Momenta launched their 20 mg alternative (Glatopa) in 2015. To recuperate, Teva launched a 40 mg formulation of Copaxone. However, this week, U.S. District Court invalidated Teva’s last and fourth key patent protecting 40 mg Copaxone from generic drug competition. Teva lost other 3 patents last year (Madison.com).

Trump pledges to bring drug costs down

Pharmaceutical industries were told by Trump that the drugs should be manufactured in the USA and the foreign countries buying US manufactured drugs should pay “fair share”. These changes in addition to “better innovation” will help bringing prices down for the US patients (CNBC).

MedNess from MedPol: Amgen CEO Robert Bradway announced that soon nearly 1600 jobs will be added. Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted that Trump’s policies could help Amgen recover their stocks by 23% in the next 12 months (CNBC)

MedPol

US President’s executive order on immigration: the aftermaths

This is not a political blog, but the executive order has a very significant impact on the scientific, medical and healthcare community. In the following paragraphs, I will brief you with the sectors that have been affected.

  • NRMP issues the statement for the upcoming Match

Nearly 260 people from seven nations affected by travel ban, applied through National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) for medical residency in the USA (Association of American Medical Colleges, AAMC). Both the applicants and the hospital programs are concerned and affected by the travel ban. However, NRMP has urged the programs and the applicants to be discrete in their decisions that are in the interest of healthcare. The official statement issued by NRMP on their website states, “The medical education community must support all international medical graduates and their families during these difficult times. As for the current Match cycle, NRMP encourages applicants and programs to make the best decisions they can under current circumstances. For its part, NRMP will be liberal in granting waivers to applicants and programs if they cannot meet their respective Match obligations because of the effects of the Executive Order” (NRMP.org).

  • Dark times for the US hospitals and patients from seven nations affected by travel ban

Ill patients scheduled for treatment at the USA’s premier healthcare centers, John Hopkins Medicine and Cleveland Clinic are uncertain of their treatment options. Hopkins is taking a step ahead by either urging the patients to postpone their travel or sending their staff abroad for their treatment (STAT News)

We wrap up our biweekly MedNess and MedPol news section. Have a great weekend!

Image source: https://unsplash.com/search/medicine?photo=nss2eRzQwgw

Twitter Townhall @ClubSciWri #AskICMRsoumya on 30th April, 2016

in ClubSciWri/Face à Face/Poli-Scie by

soumya_poster2

Continuing to bringing forth science and healthcare policy makers for an informal discussion with our readers, we now invite Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Secretary, Department of Health Research, India and also the Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Dr Soumya is an expert on tuberculosis research in India and has not only steered research but also generated awareness towards management of this ancient disease, which continues to plague India.

With her recent appointment as a Director General of ICMR, it would be interesting to discuss research and funding policies of ICMR and also have a frank dialogue about the current scenario regarding disease management. So kindly participate in our second twitterchat (#AskICMRsoumya) with Dr. Soumya Swaminathan on the 30th April, 2016 from 11:00 – 12:00 hrs, IST. You can participate in person or post us (email: sciwri2016@gmail.com) your questions/suggestions if unable to make it on the scheduled time.

N.B. Enter the discussion using the following link on 30th April, 11:00 am IST

http://tweetchat.com/room/AskICMRsoumya

TB: the end is near?

in Poli-Scie by

Last week March 24th was observed as World Tuberculosis day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been marking this day since 1997, to not only generate awareness and to mobilise activity by government and public health organisations, but also inspire efforts among researchers and local communities towards ending tuberculosis/TB – billed as one of the top infectious diseases in the world. With anti-TB drugs available since 1948, it is hard to believe that this disease has proven to be a formidable nemesis with alarmingly high mortality rates in the modern world.

Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a bacteria characterised by the special architecture of its mycolic acid-containing cell wall. On inhalation by a susceptible human, the bacteria travel to the lungs where it is ingested by the immune cells called macrophages as a normal protocol of the human body’s defence mechanism against foreign substances. This bacterium is capable of manipulating the human host’s cellular immune response to its own advantage and persist in the form of calcified granuloma/lesion bodies containing macrophage ingested bacteria surrounded and restricted at the site by macrophages and T cells. The bacteria can remain dormant in the lungs for years or decades and in 5-10% of the infected individuals undergo TB-reactivation triggered by a number of pre-disposing factors, mainly lowered immunity. Apart from other biological factors, the vulnerable group is characterised by individuals with organ transplants, kidney dialysis, HIV-infection, etc. Socio-economic factors like poverty, drug abuse, homelessness and depression also form characteristics of the at risk population.

Said to have originated in the horn of Africa and earlier known as ‘consumption’, TB has come a long way to evolving and diverging along with the human race, to becoming a world pandemic claiming ~1.4 million victims in 2014.

Figure: Lienhardt C. et al, Nat Rev Microbiol, 2012;10(6):407-416

The WHO lists countries with high incidence of TB cases as High Burden Countries (HBC)s, which are further classified as

1) TB, when the infection can be completely cured by a 6 month treatment which consists of a 6 month long course involving antimicrobial drugs like rifampicin, isoniazid, pyrazinamide, ethambutol and streptomycin

2) MDR-TB (multiple-drug resistant TB), where the infection is resistant to at least two of the most powerful anti-TB drugs – rifampicin and isoniazid. Resistance to yet more drugs is a dangerous manifestation and is termed as XDR-TB/’extensive resistance to anti-TB drugs’, which is sadly on the rise. The causes for a treatable resistance to manifest into a drug resistance is mainly due to discontinuous treatment due to irregular medical supplies, ignorance and poverty. This is currently an area where action is required, esp. regarding diagnosis in children.

3) TB/HIV, where HIV co-infection complicates an active or latent TB condition. Neither infections make an individual prone to the other, but once co-infected there is a rapid acceleration in the progression of both diseases, hence doubling the fatality rate. This condition requires treatment with anti-TB drugs and anti- retroviral therapy

Given that the bacterial spread is mainly air-borne from human to human (cough, sneeze etc.), and human migration becomes more common with easier travelling options and accessibility, TB is no longer a tropical disease. In fact, the WHO puts the number of infected individuals (latent carriers included) as 2 billion or 1/3 of the world population. Yet, there seems to be a higher concentration of TB cases within certain countries – 80% of TB cases are concentrated in just 22 countries, and India figures as one of them (http://stoptb.org/countries/tbdata.asp).

TB in India

It is not known why some individuals are resistant to TB, however being malnourished/immunocompromised does pose to be a risk factor. Much has been written about the causes of TB and why it is prevalent especially among the poor and the undernourished. But in India, it is not uncommon to hear of TB occurrences in unexpected or non-impoverished circumstances. Coupled with the rising number of MDR-TB and XDR-TB, this presents an alarming situation and could be a great setback to a developing economy.

In an endeavour to control TB by 2030 (2050 for India), the WHO has published a detailed country-wise TB profile for helping one understand the magnitude of the problem as well as the steps being taken to control TB by the global funding bodies as well as local government expenditure. The report for India suggests that there is more streamlined reporting of TB occurrences now due to mandatory national web-based reporting since 2012. The recent list drawn up for 2016-2022 is a matter of concern points out that India along with Indonesia and China accounts for 43% of global cases (23% individually). where one sees a drop in domestic funding in WHO 2015 TB reports.

Source: http://www.who.int/tb

India is a signatory to the World Health Assembly which endorses the ‘End TB strategy‘ and aims for 50 % reduction in incidence and 75% reduction in TB related deaths by 2025, the ultimate goal being complete eradication of TB. Due to its alignment with poverty- a socio-economical problem, TB proves somewhat complicated to understand and hence difficult to address. Prof Soumya Swaminathan, Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research has been spearheading a movement to bring about awareness about India’s struggle with paediatric and MDR-TB and has previously stated that rising numbers of TB cases are a blot on India’s growth story with the burden disproportionately borne by the poor. Hence elimination of TB does boil down to a great extent, on eradication of poverty.

Meanwhile with the impeding launch of the new drug Bedaquiline, the intense awareness being created by media and the support system provided by various community lead programs show some promise. We plan to shed more light on this issue in the future and hence stay tuned to hear more about Prof Swaminathan’s work and opinions on the current policies regarding TB drugs and whether a TB-free India an achievable target. Do not forget to follow us on Twitter for updates about the tweetchat,

Recommended reading:

About the Author: Kartika Shetty, Ph.D. is a biophysicist specialising in protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions. Her recent focus is drug discovery and development for targeting lymphomas, along with her fellow researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research, London. Kartika is a member/editor of the ClubSciWri team and is an avid science quiz enthusiast. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Science, she has been involved in participating and hosting in quiz events in and around the IISc campus (for reasons unknown, now is restricted to pub quizzes, since moving to the UK ! ).

This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Homeopathy Part V: The candy man can!*

in Poli-Scie/That Makes Sense by

Who can take a sunrise

Sprinkle it with dew

Cover it in chocolate

And a miracle or two

The candy man

The candy man can

The candy man can cause he

Mixes it with love and

Makes the world taste good…

Before the establishment of modern pharmacology, superstition drove the selection and use of remedies for maladies that afflicted us. The Greek word Pharmakon, from which the word pharmacology is derived, meant magic charm for treating disease. In those times, the goal of a pharmakon was to get rid of the evil spirits that was thought to be behind diseases and illnesses. We knew very little about the etiology of diseases. With the passage of time, experience, largely based on trial and error, enabled people to differentiate remedies that were useful and actually worked from those that did not work to alleviate symptoms. This lead to certain remedies getting selected and used over others. That was the advent of herbal medicines using plant extracts, to which modern medicine owes a lot.

Further developments in modern pharmacology had to wait for advances in chemistry and physiology. The most important among these were the isolation of pure compounds and discoveries on the etiology of diseases and illnesses. With this, the role of magic and miracle started to fade away from the realm of treating diseases and illnesses.

The first pure drug to be isolated was Morphine, based on the analgesic and euphoric properties of Opium poppy pods that was known for thousands of years. Following this, several other opiates, including Codeine were isolated from the Poppy plant. The identification of the structures of these and other compounds paved the way to convert naturally abundant compounds into rare ones in the laboratory. The availability of pure compounds revolutionized modern medicine and allowed us to ask specific questions about specificity, mode of action and dosage. With this, the role of magic and miracle was nearly eliminated from the realm of treating diseases.

As modern pharmacology became a true multidisciplinary enterprise, it derived utility from advances in other disciplines. But, more importantly, it also contributed to the generation of useful reagents as well as frameworks to interrogate life processes with specificity. Molecules that fall into the broad classes of agonists and antagonists are illuminating examples of this. Thus, modern pharmacology also paved the way to get rid of misconceptions about life such as vital forces and mysterious energies.

In the present day, modern pharmacology is the scientific discipline that deals with the interaction of chemicals with cells, tissues, organs and organisms. With its birth, outcomes of chemical interactions could be rationally correlated to physiological changes that they brought about through their interactions with their molecular targets.  In the present day, advances in synthetic chemistry allow us to make compounds that we desire. In the present day, advances in physiology and modern investigative tools allow us to rationally ask questions and obtain answers on pharmacological effects chemicals have on our body devoid of the noise originating from the impurities in the source material. A shining example is the discovery of Artemisinin, an antimalarial drug that was obtained after screening around 2000 Chinese herbal remedies. The discovery won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine. We are continuously discovering and poised to discover many more drugs from natural sources including ancient herbal remedies and synthesize them in the laboratory.

The time is ripe to ask chemists, biochemists, microbiologists, geneticists, physicists or any other person who has a reasonable background and training in science, or just plain common sense, a simple yet critical scientific question- can you imagine diluting an extract containing Artemisinin in water or alcohol and then magically come up with a sugar pill that will cure Malaria with the same efficacy as a more concentrated dose of a purified preparation of Artemisinin would? I doubt anyone could. But the homeopathic doctor- the Candy man- can! Because apparently, he also mixes a miracle or two and also love and makes it tastes good too.

If a conspiracy exists in the medical field that needs to be discussed and condemned by the scientific community, it is not the one purportedly run by Allopathy and modern pharmacology against Homeopathy, but rather the one waged by Homeopathy against herbal medicines right from the inception of Homeopathy- as I have alluded to in the Part IV of this series. As it stands now, almost 80% of homeopathic remedies are herbal remedies mixed with miracles and made to taste good. Where they are not, they are no different from herbal medicines or Allopathic medicines. Yet, by naming a remedy “Homeopathic”, it allows practitioners of this branch of medicine to sidestep regulatory guidelines that require labeling of actual compositions and active ingredients that even practitioners of herbal medicine and supplements are required to follow.

*Here is a link to the kid’s song “The candy man can” and the lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIPGyKGuWeA

Authored by Dr Syam Anand, PhD (Indian Institute of Science, IISc; Post-Doctoral research, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Faculty, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Founder and US Patent Agent, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC, Ardmore, Philadelphia USA). Syam has over 20 years experience in diverse areas of Science with domain knowledge in Life Sciences and Intellectual Property. Dr. Anand is also an inventor and budding entrepreneur. A rationalist, Dr. Anand enjoys science at all levels and advocates the use of scientific methods for answering all questions and solving all problems and make common people curious and interested in understanding their worlds.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/syamprasadanand

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Twitter Town Hall @ClubSciWri #AskVijayDBT on February 21st 2016

in ClubSciWri/Face à Face/Poli-Scie by

12721775_10208624152064772_2010228726_n

In the last one month of ‪#‎ClubSciWri‬, we have witnessed some of the best articles/write-ups/interviews on this forum. Now we are moving into the next stage as we are introducing interviews with policymakers. In first of such series, we are hosting a twitter townhall with Vijay K VijayRaghavan. We will discuss about DBT’s policy on academic/industrial opportunities for post-doc/PhD. You can send your questions to @ClubSciWri twitter handle, post here on FB or best join the live chat on 21st February 11.30 AM- 12.30 PM (IST).

@ClubSciWri Proudly hosts Twitter town hall with @DBTIndia Prof. @kvijayraghavan send your question at ‪#‎AskVijayDBT‬

Homeopathy Part IV: Surely you were not joking, Mr. Hahnemann*

in Poli-Scie by

SCIWRI8

Once upon a time- about 220 years ago to be more precise- people lived “happily ever after”, taking things mostly for granted… even as their happy lives were intermittently challenged and frequently terminated by many diseases of unknown etiology… afflicted people seeking relief through anything and any means possible- chemicals, herbal extracts, prayers, “pagan” practices, just enduring what cannot be cured, you name it… names for diseases and explanations and cures, a dozen for a dime… a rare few with seemingly divine intuitive powers conjuring up cures… the afflicted mostly not caring about explanations and cures, instead how it felt afterwards… instant gratification ruling the roost… the main goal for both the afflicted and those who cured them-instant gratification… many of the afflicted knowing the rare few who had explanations and cures… picking and choosing based on their beliefs and comfort levels… therapies working magically and mysteriously… theories abounding without needing much for proof or principle… success stories stemming from personal experiences… the effective cures for afflictions and the afflicted becoming grand stories of success… success and failures spreading by word of mouth… the risky cures that ended up with worse consequences enough to put someone out of business… strengthened and weakened by beliefs, doubts, personal opinions, explanations and prejudices as the words spread… pharmacology still very very far from becoming a science… waiting for advances in physics, chemistry and biology to find reliable, rational and dependable foundations to build on. Around that time lived a genius who had a vision and conjured up a simple solution that combined the ingredients and beliefs in vogue into a sellable cocktail of remedies. The ingredients were chosen from medicines that often caused unwanted side effects in people who took them, as doses were random and subjective and impurities were rampant. The beliefs were chosen from the magical and miraculous properties of medicines and the divine status accorded to anyone capable of providing a cure for the affliction and the afflicted. The simple solution: mix the ingredients with beliefs, until the ingredients were diluted and the side effects were gone and the beliefs were strengthened and hope of a cure established. The genius used that cocktail for curing many ailments. Word soon spread that unlike the medicines used by others, the medicines made by this genius never killed anyone and cured many. Word also spread that one could cure entire villages and towns of any malady without much of any starting material as the more you diluted something that was rare and hard to obtain, the more potent it became. Surely you were not joking, Mr. Hahnemann!

*(This is last in a “preface” to this series. Look forward to a critical analysis of Homeopathy remedies in principle and in practice in the remainder of this series).

About the author: Dr Syam Anand, PhD (Indian Institute of Science, IISc; Post-Doctoral research, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Faculty, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Founder and US Patent Agent, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC, Ardmore, Philadelphia USA), has over 20 years experience in diverse areas of Science with domain knowledge in Life Sciences and Intellectual Property. Dr. Anand is also an inventor and budding entrepreneur. A rationalist, Dr. Anand enjoys science at all levels and advocates the use of scientific methods for answering all questions and solving all problems and make common people curious and interested in understanding their worlds.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/syamprasadanand

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Homeopathy Part III: You may tinker. You may not violate.

in Poli-Scie by

SCIWRI8

The physical world follows some inviolable laws that were discovered using scientific methods. By physical world, I mean the world that can be sensed and perceived and objective measurements and interpretations made and shared with clarity. Irrespective of affiliations and disciplines and also WITHOUT contradictions, these laws serve as the foundation for any scientific enquiry. These laws are dependable because they have not contradicted applications in one field AGAINST another field. These laws have been repeatedly used to explain and predict with near certainty the interactions that exist in our physical world. It is only with these laws that the outcomes of manipulations of matter or energy can be reliably predicted and understood, and new discoveries about the physical world itself made, subject to the usual expense of time and intellect associated with scientific methods.

Science is not its infancy anymore to allow one discipline that contradicts everything else to bring it down. No discipline can any longer work by some mysterious principle that we do not know yet that will bring down everything else known in science in its entirety and solely in favor of that discipline the moment it is discovered. Common sense should tell us that such a wish or hope is scientific fallacy. This is because the INHERENT PROPERTIES OF MATTER AND ENERGY REMAIN THE SAME WHETHER WE ARE AWARE OF IT OR NOT, MEASURE IT OR NOT OR INCORPORATE IT IN OUR CALCULATIONS OR NOT. Because of this, one will never ever be able to find a mysterious principle that works for solely for one artificially created section of the physical world to the exclusion of every other artificially created discipline- whether it is allopathic medicine, traditional medicine or homeopathy or even prayers.

Clearly, in the case of Homeopathy, the carriers are inert and have been shown to not undergo any changes in their electronic configurations. One theory that water carries memory from the mother tincture was published in a top scientific journal- Nature- and later retracted, as the results could be never replicated. When it was published, it was done with a request from the Editor of the journal to the readers to “suspend judgement” until it could be replicated by others as the editor himself knew that it was contrary to everything else we know. In the author’s own words the observed effect was “like agitating a car key in the river, going miles downstream, extracting a few drops of water, and then starting one’s car with the water”. No kidding! The plain question is whether we should entertain fallacies such as this. As scientists we know the rational standards we apply while reviewing manuscripts and grant proposals. We should ask why many of us are willing to suspend judgment, when we subject a homeopathic remedy to rational analysis or use it to cure an ailment.

It could be argued that the inert carriers mediate their roles purely through an energy currency. For medical use, chemicals can be made to accept, store and release a finite amount of energy at a later time. In order to do this, energy has to be provided from some source that forces the chemicals to acquire a different state. Medical use of chemicals relying of changes in energy states has to exploit those occurring over large time scales due to the practical time demands of manufacture, marketing and consumption. Therefore, the types of energy that can be tapped to achieve this are limited. The types of energy that can have an observable impact on matter are also limited to a certain range of the light spectrum. These are established physical and chemical laws from which there is no escape and as such limitations for exploiting energy as a medium for storing information in drugs while they are manufactured for therapeutic use later on. Even if we were to narrow down to such a form of energy, irrespective of its nature it has to be universally applicable. The common sense question is how could it be that a traditional medicine that shows a dose response shows a reverse dose response as soon as it becomes a homeopathic remedy? Through friction and dilution? Don’t we mix and shake things regularly in other fields? For Homeopathy to enter the realm of science, it cannot have a wholly separate set of rules that contradicts everything else including traditional medicine.

If we were to assume that during potentisation, some form of energy mediated the transfer of the remedial properties of mother tincture to the inert carrier, the question remains how this energy simultaneously eliminated the side effects? If this were to happen with such specificity with thousands of remedies that homeopaths use for different ailments, we will also have to assume that nature selected and conserved a common chemical signature for the desirable effects and another one for the side effects for all these thousands of remedies that is also specifically recognizable and transferable without loosing information through two inert carriers. The probability of this happening in nature could be in the neighborhood of finding a single molecule of the mother tincture in a 200C dilution!

A simple test to verify whether homeopathic remedies get more potent as they get diluted would be to attempt to overdose on a homeopathic remedy that started off with a toxic material. Expectedly, a PubMed search turned up nothing. Therefore, I thought maybe I should experiment it on myself. Thankfully I did not have to spend on homeopathic remedies as this experiment has been already done in different parts of the world with expected results. Hundreds of people who took these challenges called “10:23, Homeopathy, there is nothing in it” survived without any effects of the “drugs” and proved that one cannot overdose on properly made homeopathic medicines. Apparently, here is a class of medicines from which one can never overdose. If one cannot overdose, there is no meaning in a dose or potency or remedy. Thus, homeopathy is contradicting everything fundamental in all other scientific disciplines including traditional medicine.

The Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council recently concluded that “there is no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy works better than a placebo” after subjecting 1800 peer reviewed manuscripts that studied the efficacy of homeopathic remedies for a variety of medical conditions to their expert committees review (National Health and Medical Research Council. 2015. NHMRC information paper: Evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions. http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/ attachments/cam02a_information_paper.pdf). Their remarks were scathing: “People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness. People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner and in the meanwhile keep taking any prescribed treatments”.

Insane ideas should be welcomed in science and subject to further tests and validation. Fallacies that contradict every established principle should be rubbished as such. Evidence and testable hypotheses are fundamental requirements for entertaining ideas. Homeopathy lacks evidence. Its hypotheses contradict everything else we know. When exploiting science for anything, it is essential to remember that we can tinker, but we cannot violate.

Syam Prasad Anand, PhD

Founder, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC

Ardmore, Philadelphia, USA

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The young supervisors

in Poli-Scie by

Kandinsky

 

My former advisor Professor Ram Murty is visiting IISER Pune.  While he was waiting in front of the coffee machine, a cleaning staff member helpfully asked him if he was here for a PhD interview (he has probably been given directions to do so to any unrecognizable person as our Main Building is full of PhD aspirants nowadays).  After he started laughing, the cleaning person apologized and withdrew.  Prof. Murty later said to me, “Maybe life is giving me another chance to do a PhD. This time, you become my advisor.” Later, my student joined us and we took him to a room where we asked him a lot of questions that kept him on the board for 4+ hours.  This happens to be the room where we interview our PhD candidates – so, the jokes continued!

On a more serious note, he mentioned that he started supervising his first PhD student almost 10 years after finishing his PhD.  From what I hear, in USA and Canada, faculty members usually don’t take students until they get tenured, nor are they expected to.   Supervision of multiple students happens at an even later stage.  On the other hand, in India (at least at research and teaching institutions), faculty members seem to start supervising much earlier in their careers.  This is especially true for new institutes, which by default mostly get very young faculty and which have to build a PhD programme.  At some of the new institutes, especially new IITs, even people with contractual appointments have started working with students.  It is highly likely that the contractual appointments will be made permanent, but what is remarkable here is that these members are less than three years past their PhD.

Questions for readers:

1)   Is it a good sign that the demand for PhD in India is as high as to require faculty to start supervising at a relatively younger age? Or is it something to worry about?

2)   I am of course thinking from a Mathematics-centric viewpoint. Perhaps, it is more common in the experimental fields to start supervising at a much earlier age and in much larger numbers.  If you are an academic, what is the trend in your field at your institute or university?

3)   This also raises another question.  How important are students for your research programme?  Again, observing my experimental colleagues, it seems they really want to take students to work on their projects.  Am I mistaken?

 

About the Author: Kaneenika Sinha is an assistant professor in mathematics at IISER Pune. Her research interests are in analytic number theory and arithmetic geometry. She blogs about life in Indian academia at http://academic-garden.blogspot.com and tweets at @kaneenikasinha.

Image courtesy: Suvasini Ramaswamy

Notes from ClubSciWri: This blog is a re-post from the author’s previous blogpost from May (2015) at http://academic-garden.blogspot.com

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Go to Top
%d bloggers like this: