Study challenges link between antidepressants, autism

SFARIpregTaking antidepressants while pregnant doesn’t boost the risk of autism in the child, according to the largest study yet to search for a link, published 15 November in Clinical Epidemiology. However, the subgroup analyses that question the connection are based on numbers too small to draw a firm conclusion, say several experts. 

[Read more at // December 16, 2013]


Polypill improves adherence but fails to win scientists’ hearts

Nicholas Wald’s flash of insight came about 15 years ago. While recovering from a serious illness at his wife’s family’s house in New York, he watched as his father-in-law swallowed multiple pills each day to treat his cardiovascular disease. “I thought, my goodness, the combined effect of these pills is very large, but the problem is they should have started giving them 30 years ago as a preventative treatment,” recalls Wald, an epidemiologist at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry in the UK.

[Read more at Nature Medicine (paywall) or download PDF // October 7, 2013]

Russian researchers protest against law dissolving Academy of Sciences

Vladimir FortovRussian researchers are vehemently protesting a bill  that would essentially liquidate the venerated Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and replace it with a newly -formed but as-yet poorly-defined body.  The bill was passed its first and second reading on 1 July and 5 July 2013, respectively. It is slated to be signed into law when the Duma resumes session on 10 September. According to Russian law, substantive changes may not be made to a bill after it passes its second reading.

“[RAS] is the main structure of scientific research in the country,” says Alla Valeria Mikhalevich, a protozoologist and micropaleontologist at the Zoological Institute of the Academy in St Petersburg and a member of the St Petersburg Union of Scientists. “This reform will destroy the entire structure of basic science in Russia.”

[Read more at Euroscientist // September 2, 1013]

Multinational resource compiles autism risk factors

A new database pools health registry data from seven countries, dramatically boosting sample sizes for epidemiological studies of autism. The virtual tool, built by an international consortium of researchers, allows them to effectively compare data across populations.

“This is a first for autism,” says Diana Schendel, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Aarhus University in Denmark, who spearheaded the project.

[Read more at (also published on Scientific American online) // August 5, 2013]


Target Practice

Thirty-five years ago, as a fellow at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, Elihu Estey read dozens of protocols for clinical trials of drugs for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). He was particularly drawn to their ‘rationale’ sections, which explain why the therapy is expected to work.

“They all sounded very compelling,” says Estey, now a haematologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “But of course, very few of them worked.”

Since then, researchers have made significant advances in treating many types of leukaemia. However, AML — an aggressive blood cancer that causes white-blood-cell precursors called myeloid cells to proliferate uncontrollably — has remained a tough nut to crack.

[Read more at Nature Outlook (paywall) or download PDF //  June 27, 2013]

Will we ever… eliminate animal experimentation?

LabMouseBBC_pOne of the most, if not the most, contentious issues in science is the use of animals in research. Scientists experiment on animals for a host of different reasons, including basic research to explore how organisms function, investigating potential treatments for human disease, and safety and quality control testing of drugs, devices and other products. Its proponents point to the long list of medical advances made possible with the help of animal research. Opponents believe it is cruel and meaningless, as observations in animals often do not translate directly to humans.

[Read more at BBC Future // June 10, 2013]

Heavy drugs draw heavy interest from pharma backers

It’s an age-old problem in drug development: a compound that seems to exert its desired effects against cells in a Petri dish, but flops in vivo, either in animal models or, later, in humans. One common reason for such failures is how the body metabolizes drugs. Enzymes in the liver can break down molecules quickly, substantially limiting their potency. They might produce toxic metabolites in the process to boot.

If you could fortify the chemical bonds that hold those drugs together, thereby modulating the metabolism of the compound, would they be more efficacious?  A trio of biotech companies has been banking on this prospect for the last decade, and their efforts are starting to trickle into the clinic.

[Read more at Nature Medicine (paywall) or download PDF // June 6, 2013]

The Oligodendrocyte Whisperer

In a darkened room in a fifth-floor Manhattan lab, Valentina Fossati shows off the fruits of her patient labor: a dish of homemade human brain cells. A black headband keeps her long, light hair out of her eyes as she looks down the viewfinder of a microscope. She croons into the plastic petri dish at a clump of cells that has taken her almost two years to goad into existence. As she turns the knobs, they appear. “I love them,” Fossati says. “I talk to them all the time.”

[Read more at Multiple Sclerosis Discovery Forum // May 10, 2013]

Delays in updates to ethics guidelines for research spark concern

CommonRuleNearly two years ago, the US government office that oversees human research ethics launched the first-ever major revision to the so-called Common Rule, the 22-year-old regulation that governs the protection of human research subjects there. But the process set into motion by that agency—the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—is dragging on. And a vocal contingent of bioethicists and researchers say the changes on the table are not enough to fix an outdated and overburdened system, advocating instead for a more fundamental rethink.

[Read more at Nature Medicine (paywall) or download PDF // May 7, 2013]

A little brain training goes a long way

brain trainingPeople who use a ‘brain-workout’ program for just 10 hours have a mental edge over their peers even a year later, researchers report today in PLoS ONE.

The search for a regimen of mental callisthenics to stave off age-related cognitive decline is a booming area of research — and a multimillion-dollar business. But critics argue that even though such computer programs can improve performance on specific mental tasks, there is scant proof that they have broader cognitive benefits.

[Read more at Nature // May 1, 2013]