How biomedical science has shaped medicine

What do the first successful heart transplant, the first synthetic gene, the artificial hip replacement, and the vitamin supplement have in common? They are all life-changing medical breakthroughs that have been discovered and developed as a result of biomedical science. It is thanks to biomedical science that mysteries of the human body are solved and cures to human disease are discovered. It is the backbone for medical advancement, but sometimes, despite its importance, our understanding of the true significance of biomedical science is limited. Biomedical science actually has a long and fascinating history. Hundreds of years ago, in 1538 Andreas Vesalius was one of the first to take a bold but game-changing step to dissect a human body. He made revolutionary discoveries about human anatomy, blood and the nervous system. Later, in 1628, William Harvey made the then radical discovery that blood circulates through the body and identified the heart as the organ responsible for pumping the blood. It is also thanks to biomedical science that advancements we take for granted today were made. In the 1840s scientists discovered that chemicals can be used as anaesthetics, making it possible to perform surgery without pain. In 1895 x-rays were invented. In 1920 Penicillin was discovered. There is also a limited understanding of the role that universities have played in this progress. In many cases they have had a significant part in conducting research that has led to pioneering discoveries. To name just a few, it was at the University of California in 1990 where the technique for test tube fertilisation was developed. At UCLA in 1975, the first durable artificial hip was developed. In 1977 biomedical scientists managed to isolate the gene for insulin, leading to the mass production of genetically engineered insulin to treat diabetes. Understanding health through medical research has been a key endeavour of Newcastle University since 1834. Its world renowned biomedical research strengths have revolutionised the treatment of disease and health care. In fact it is the first institution in the UK to be given permission to pursue stem-cell research. In the last year alone, researchers at the University have made several significant breakthroughs. In March 2014 they discovered that that people born with a rare abnormality of their chromosomes have a 2,700-fold increased risk of developing a rare form of childhood cancer, called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Scientists say the finding could result in better treatment for other types of cancer, as the abnormalities are more common in some types of the illness In the same month another group of biomedical scientists made a unique discovery that could help in the fight against obesity. They identified the seaweeds which are most effective at preventing people from absorbing fat. Their potential as a food supplement which prevents the absorption of fat is now being investigated. More recently scientists were able to restore the ability to grasp with a paralysed hand using spinal cord stimulation for the first time. The discovery opens up the possibility of new treatments within the next few years which could help stroke victims or those with spinal cord injuries regain some movement in their arms and hands. Professor Reg Jordan, CEO and Provost at Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia said: “Modern medicine is constantly evolving and the role of biomedical science is crucial. It is more exciting than ever to be in Biomedical Science in Asia because it is on track to become the biggest pharmaceutical market in the world, with a number of countries in the region evolving as international powerhouses.” This is just one of the reasons that Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed) introduced its Biomedical Sciences (BSc) programme at its state-of-the-art campus in Nusajaya, Johor. The course mirrors the highly successful programme offered at the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, UK, which confers all the degrees. In fact it is even split into two parts, the first comprising two academic years at the NUMed campus, and the second comprising a year-long intensive research project in Newcastle University Medical School in the UK. This allows students real exposure to the discoveries made in the science behind modern medicine and the exciting prospect to shape the future of it in Asia.

Searching for a consensus on how to fix biomedical research

In the US, biomedical research has been suffering for roughly the last decade. There are a number of reasons, including stagnant or declining federal funding, lack of appropriate training for young researchers, excessive regulations that detract from productivity, and issues with intellectual property rights. To remedy these concerns, both individual researchers and entire organizations have invested time and resources into making recommendations to resolve one or more of the perceived issues. So far, however, little progress has been made on any measures that could improve the research environment. To assist in identifying areas where immediate action should be taken, the authors of yet another set of recommendations conducted a meta-analysis of the existing proposals. They were able to identify eight that were endorsed by a majority of scientific community leaders. While the report is useful for figuring out what the consensus solutions are, it brings us no closer to implementing any of them. The researchers systematically searched for post-2012 publications that addressed the sustainability issues in research. They excluded pre-2012 publications because recommendations made in years prior to 2012 were often obsolete. They also excluded publications that only made recommendations that would affect a small subset of biomedical research. After screening out publications that didn’t fit their criteria, they were left with nine reports, which were consolidated into 54 unique recommendations. Of these 54, eight were endorsed by the majority of leading representatives of the scientific community. (Aside from these recommendations, each of the reports contained language emphasizing the need to strengthen investigator-driven research and rigorous scientific training. But those are good ideas even when funding is plentiful.) The eight recommendations all focused on institutional- and federal-level issues. Four of the eight contained some version of a recommendation to increase or stabilize funding for research, researchers, or graduate students. Again, most people in research would like to see that. Two of the eight recommendations appeared to be inconsistent with each other, however. One suggested decreasing the duration of research training, while another argued for simultaneously increasing the breadth of training, so students would gain a broader educational base and the ability to start working sooner. The penultimate recommendation focused on eliminating federal or institutional regulations that increase costs and slow the pace of research. The final recommendation was for institutions and federal agencies to provide more employment for trained scientists. While these recommendations all seem reasonable in an abstract sense, they weren’t all supported with strong implementation strategies or measures to account for the reality of limitations in the federal budget for research. Recommendations related to stabilizing the funding for science included the suggestion of an interagency working group that could generate multi-year funding budget strategies; there was also the suggestion that industry or academic institutions could increase their investment in research. These suggestions seem to be idealistic and unrealistic, given the financial realities these constituencies face at the federal level. With a lot of companies and institutions struggling in the post-recession era, contributing additional funds to research initiatives may simply be impossible for them, as well. Similarly, the recommendation to hire more staff scientists wasn’t backed by a tangible idea on how to find the funding for more staff scientists, so this recommendation would also be hard to implement. The recommendation for hiring of more staff scientists specifies “commensurate” compensation for these positions to attract strong researchers, but doesn’t specify the type of position that would be adequate (i.e. tenure-track research positions only, or research positions with good salaries, etc). Reducing graduate student training was accompanied by the suggestion that it could be done by imposing limits on federal grant length for graduate education, which is a concrete and tangible way to achieve that goal. Universities would either have to push their students through the program faster or face footing the bill for their salaries. While that could be implemented on the federal level, the recommendation to increase the breadth of graduate student training could not. In this case, it was accompanied by the suggestion that institutions should be individually responsible for expanding the coursework. Without incentives or regulations to drive these changes, they’re unlikely to happen. The recommendation to reduce regulations referred to House Bill 1119, which would eliminate some outdated regulations for research. The authors suggest the scientific community advocate for the passage of this bill; however, passing any federal-level bills at all has become notoriously difficult due to partisanship in the Capitol. Without any explanation of how this bill could overcome partisanship, it’s hard to evaluate its chances. Overall, the recommendations made in this article are reasonable in an abstract sense. They seem to address real problems in the field of biomedical research and present solutions that appear to address some of the most salient of them. This strategy may serve to provide some galvanizing focus points for those with the power to influence policy, providing them with the tools to speak to policymakers in consistent and reasonable terms. While that's undoubtedly how the recommendations are intended, the document as a whole is unlikely to rally the research community, given that they don't consider the real-world limitations that can prevent change and don’t recognize the financial realities that may be constraining biomedical research. Therefore, these recommendations may be frustrating to scientists working in the field who encounter these obstacles daily. For those on the ground, ideas that are more grounded in the real-life complications might be a more effective way to move forward.

Biomedical Research Analyst to Speak at Animal Wellbeing Symposium

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Threats facing biomedical research and its relationship to animal welfare will be discussed Aug. 6 by Paul McKellips at the fifth annual Symposium on Current Issues and Advances in Food Animal Wellbeing. McKellips, a former vice president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, will deliver his remarks at the event sponsored by the Center for Food Animal Wellbeing, a unit of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. McKellips, whose background includes television, movies and public service, will explain how biomedical research protects the world's population from bioterrorism and state-sponsored biowarfare and the military's role. He has served as a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during his military career. "I am excited that we are able to hear from Mr. McKellips as I believe he will help us better understand the situation with animal care and its impact on the future of world health," said Yvonne Vizzier Thaxton, director for the Center for Food Animal Wellbeing. Other speakers presenting at the symposium include Paul Siegel, Virginia Tech University distinguished professor emeritus of animal and poultry science; Carla Warding, Faces of Farming and Ranching winner for U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance; Lucy Anthernill, U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service humane handling enforcement coordinator; Colin Scanes, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, professor of animal physiology and nutrition; Kate Barger, Cobb-Vantress, Inc., director of animal welfare; Ruth Woiwode, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture post-doctoral fellow; Karen Christensen, Division of Agriculture associate professor and extension specialist, and Rusty Rumley, senior staff attorney at the Division of Agriculture's National Agricultural Law Center. The goal for the Center for Food Animal Wellbeing is to improve animal health, animal handling, food safety and productivity by developing and defining objective measurements of wellbeing including measures of behavior, stress physiology, neurophysiology, immunology, microbiology and production efficiency.

Institute, Google Combine Effort for Biomedical Research

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard is teaming up with Google Genomics to explore how to break down major technical barriers that increasingly hinder biomedical research by addressing the need for computing infrastructure to store and process enormous datasets, and by creating tools to analyze such data and unravel long-standing mysteries about human health. As a first step, Broad Institute’s Genome Analysis Toolkit, or GATK, will be offered as a service on the Google Cloud Platform, as part of Google Genomics. The goal is to enable any genomic researcher to upload, store and analyze data in a cloud-based environment that combines the Broad Institute’s best-in-class genomic analysis tools with the scale and computing power of Google. GATK is a software package developed at the Broad Institute to analyze high-throughput genomic sequencing data. GATK offers a wide variety of analysis tools, with a primary focus on genetic variant discovery and genotyping as well as a strong emphasis on data quality assurance. Its robust architecture, powerful processing engine and high-performance computing features make it capable of taking on projects of any size. GATK is already available for download at no cost to academic and non-profit users. In addition, business users can license GATK from the Broad. To date, more than 20,000 users have processed genomic data using GATK. The Google Genomics service will provide researchers with a powerful, additional way to use GATK. Researchers will be able to upload genetic data and run GATK-powered analyses on Google Cloud Platform, and may use GATK to analyze genetic data already available for research via Google Genomics. GATK as a service will make best-practice genomic analysis readily available to researchers who don’t have access to the dedicated compute infrastructure and engineering teams required for analyzing genomic data at scale. An initial alpha release of the GATK service will be made available to a limited set of users. “Large-scale genomic information is accelerating scientific progress in cancer, diabetes, psychiatric disorders and many other diseases,” said Eric Lander, President and Director of Broad Institute. “Storing, analyzing and managing these data is becoming a critical challenge for biomedical researchers. We are excited to work with Google’s talented and experienced engineers to develop ways to empower researchers around the world by making it easier to access and use genomic information.” “Broad and Google share a culture of collaboration and open access to data,” said David Glazer, Director of Google Genomics. “Google Genomics is helping scientists make genomic information more accessible and useful. By making Broad’s GATK available through the Google Cloud Platform, we hope to accelerate great science.” Broad Institute plans to continue to support and upgrade GATK for all users, both on site and on the cloud, and will continue to offer the software directly. Academic and non-profit users will continue to have free access to GATK just as they do today through Business users will continue to be able to license GATK through the Broad directly. By offering GATK on the Google Cloud Platform, users will have another option that could eliminate the need for labs to develop additional computing infrastructure on site. Broad Institute is a founding host institution of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH), which was established in 2013 to build a shared framework to enable genomic and clinical data sharing while ensuring data privacy and security as genomic research continues to evolve. Google joined the Alliance in early 2014. Services available through the Broad and Google collaboration will be specifically designed to align with existing and emerging GA4GH standards. In keeping with the Broad’s mission to foster openness and innovation, this collaboration will be non-exclusive. Broad and Google will each continue to engage with other community members on genomic projects to empower research worldwide.

The European Genome-phenome Archive of human data consented for biomedical research

The European Genome-phenome Archive (EGA) is a permanent archive that promotes the distribution and sharing of genetic and phenotypic data consented for specific approved uses but not fully open, public distribution. The EGA follows strict protocols for information management, data storage, security and dissemination. Authorized access to the data is managed in partnership with the data-providing organizations. The EGA includes major reference data collections for human genetics research. The technical ability to identify regions of the human genome that harbor variants influencing disease risk is one of the most important recent advances in genomics. Many studies use large disease cohorts, including the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium1 and the UK10K project. At the same time, the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) is generating the complete genomes of matching tumor and normal samples for a number of cancers in an effort to understand the genomics of the disease. Published genetic variants are collated in fully public resources such as the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) Catalog of Published Genome-Wide Association Studies2 or Ensembl3. In addition to public variants, individual-level genetic and phenotypic data or summary statistics from the research projects are often required for replication4, meta-analysis5 and many other secondary uses, such as methods development6 or use as control samples7. However, these data must be processed, archived and transferred in a manner that respects the consent agreements signed by the study subjects8. This often means that data can only be provided to bona fide researchers and used for specific research aims9. The existing public data archives that provide unrestricted access to data are incompatible with these requirements, and the EGA was thus launched in 2008 by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) to support the voluntary archiving and dissemination of data requiring secure storage and distribution only to authorized users. Recently, the EGA has expanded from an exclusively EMBL-EBI project to a collaboration with the Centre for Genome Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, Spain, in what may be a first step toward a larger distributed network of data archiving and dissemination services. Both EMBL-EBI and the CRG are publicly funded organizations, and the former is an intergovernmental organization formed by a collection of mostly European member and associate member states. Since the launch of the EGA, researchers from around the world have deposited and accessed data from over 700 of its studies of various types (Fig. 1 and Table 1). These studies vary from large-scale array-based genotyping experiments on thousands of samples in case-control1, 10 or population-based11, 12 studies to sequencing-based studies designed to understand changes in the genome, transcriptome or epigenome in both normal tissue13 and various diseases such as cancer14, 15, 16. As a result, the EGA has grown from about 50 TB to 1,700 TB during the last 4 years.

Inventing Biomedical Prototypes

There’s an old adage in the aviation industry that pilots make the best airplane design engineers. Having a spatial sense of a cockpit and knowing how controls feel and how the airplane responds is invaluable when building the next Dreamliner. The same is true in the biomedical device industry. A design that works in a CAD drawing or on a lab bench may not be successful in a physician’s hands. That’s why Duke University is putting biomedical engineers into the clinic. “We already had a good design class to teach students how to build functional medical device prototypes, but it didn’t give them the chance to define their own design problem,” said George Truskey, the R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Professor of Biomedical Engineering and senior associate dean for research. “So we got a small grant from the National Institutes of Health to enhance the design experience. Our BME 590 biomedical device innovation class was one result.” The class kicked off in the fall of 2012 and has been churning out ideas for biomedical devices ever since. The curriculum focuses on teaching seniors and graduate students how to come up with ideas for new inventions and—in subsequent courses—how to move them through the development process.

Senator’s View: To remain global leader, U.S. must invest in biomedical research

America always has led the world in biomedical research and innovation. We are the country that led the international effort to map the human genome, helped discover the structure of DNA and brought the world everything from medical gloves to electric hearing aids to adhesive bandages. Medical innovation is not uniquely American, but it is something that has always set us apart. Today, however, we find ourselves at a crossroads. While the United States remains the largest global spender on research and development, our investments are flat-lining while other countries like China are rapidly catching up. If we are going to maintain our spot as a leader in innovation, and if we are going to finally unlock cures for cancer and treatments for Alzheimer’s, we need to boost our investments in biomedical research — like the cutting-edge work done at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The national nerve center for that research is the National Institutes of Health, or NIH. The NIH long has been the bedrock of our nation’s biomedical innovation. NIH supports research in every state across the country. A remarkable 145 NIH-supported researchers have brought home 85 Nobel Prizes. These great minds — 6,000 at the NIH campus and 300,000 spread out among 2,500 institutions, including several in our state — advance science that spans the spectrum of medical discovery. That means everything from basic lab research on the building blocks of the body to final-stage clinical trials where patients in need of new options can test groundbreaking treatments. This research not only leads to breakthrough treatments and life-changing cures, it also stimulates our economy and creates high-quality jobs. In Minnesota alone, $509 million from NIH funding supports more than 9,000 jobs and produces over $1 billion in economic activity every year. Nationally, every dollar in NIH funding produces more than $2 in local economic growth. And yet our country’s commitment to funding NIH has failed to keep pace with the innovation and imagination of our researchers. Consider this: As a percentage of the total federal budget, the government currently spends two-thirds less on research and development than it did in 1965. When factoring in inflation, NIH’s purchasing power has declined by 22 percent in the past decade alone. That is not a recipe for maintaining our leadership in the 21st century.

Canada and Israel to fund joint biomedical research

Canadian Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced that his country is teaming up with Israel on the new Canada-Israel Health Research Program, a seven-year program expected to cost $35 million that will fund as many as 30 joint research projects in biomedicine. The initiative will start with a focus on neuroscience. The program is a partnership between Israel’s Azrieli Foundation, Canada's International Development Research Centre, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Israel Science Foundation. Projects funded by the program will include collaborations among trainee researchers from middle-income and low-income countries in order to promote those nations' scientific capacity. "Canada and Israel are renowned for excellence in health research, particularly in the neurosciences," Oliver said, Yedioth Ahronoth reported. "The Canada-Israel Health Research Program harnesses the collective energies of our two great nations to pursue basic biomedical research aimed at improving health outcomes for Canadians, Israelis, and people throughout the world. I am pleased to note that researchers in developing countries will have an opportunity to contribute to these research endeavors as well.” Oliver’s announcement, made on behalf of Canadian Health Minister Rona Ambrose, was joined by Israeli Ambassador to Canada Rafael Barak; Dr. Naomi Azrieli, chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation; Dr. Jean Lebel, president of Canada's International Development Research Centre; and Dr. Alain Beaudet, president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Marcos financial adviser backs Imelda’s claim

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Providing students with collaborative learning experiences and global opportunities has always been a hallmark of the biomedical engineering department, and this semester, six Penn State biomedical engineering (BME) seniors were given the opportunity to participate in two global capstone projects -- without even leaving the University Park campus. The idea of a global capstone program that would engage groups of students remotely was developed in the fall of 2014 when Margaret Slattery, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and director of the biomedical engineering undergraduate program, traveled to Shanghai, China to meet with faculty representatives from Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU). During their time together, Slattery and SJTU faculty discussed the importance of global learning experiences and the lasting impacts they provide to students. It was noted, however, that these opportunities are not viable for every student. “Study abroad opportunities offer students a tremendous number of benefits, however, they can also be very cost and time prohibitive,” Slattery stated. “For those reasons, they are not ideal for every student. We were interested in developing a method that would allow all interested students to take part in a global experience, one that did not necessitate travel.” With this goal in mind, Slattery and the SJTU team created a collaborative model that would allow teams from both universities to work remotely on a shared project throughout the semester. The model was adapted, largely, from the existing capstone senior design structure, and teams of three students from each university were formed. Teams were also assigned an on-site faculty mentor and a company sponsor. In the spring of 2015, two pioneering projects were launched. The first project, sponsored by the company LifeRiver of China, has challenged students to successfully combine two pieces of existing equipment; a DNA extraction machine and a PCR machine into a combined bench top model. The hope for this hybrid diagnostic tool is that it will allow doctors to efficiently diagnose diseases with limited human intervention. The students’ role in this project has been to focus on data transfer between the two machines and ensure the output provides clear diagnostic results. BME students working on the project included Tomoko Bowser, Kiki Gordon and Staci Sutermaster. The team agreed the logistic challenges involved with the project were the hardest part of the experience. “Communication was definitely our biggest challenge,” Sutermaster said. “We communicated primarily through bi-weekly Skype meetings, the application WeChat and through traditional email. Issues such as internet connectivity, time zone differences and software incompatibilities all caused stumbling blocks we wouldn’t have experienced with a typical capstone project.” The second project, sponsored by TCP Innovation and Design, a United States company closely associated with the biomedical innovation group at Penn State Hershey, challenged students to find “out-of-the-box” solutions to deploy a colonoscope in patients with c-difficile. Penn State students involved in this project included Sarah Cosgrove, Adam Gordon and Kaylyn Hannon. The group agreed that communication challenges were also the hardest obstacles to overcome. The students communicated in English while working on the project, with many SJTU students choosing the global project experience to enhance their own foreign language skills. “We had to be very succinct in our communication,” Gordon said. “We had to be conscious of our storytelling and limit our use of “slang” and other literary devices when describing our process.” Though challenges existed, both teams are grateful for their experience. “The best part of this project was gaining different perspectives in problem solving,” Bowser said. “We approached the project as engineers while the SJTU students took a different approach and dissected the project in a very analytical, scientific way. That, in turn, led us to discover new possibilities that we would not have thought of otherwise.” All six Penn State students involved in the global projects this semester plan to utilize their experience moving forward. Several cited that they would be working in international markets after graduation while others planned to travel abroad and seek international employment. “The skills I learned working on the global capstone will certainly carry over into my future,” Cosgrove said. “Without a doubt it was an invaluable experience.” With the success of this year’s global capstone experiences it is likely the BME department will provide additional global opportunities for learning and collaboration in the future.

Biomedical research: Believe it or not?

It’s not often that a research article barrels down the straight toward its one millionth view. Thousands of biomedical papers are published every day. Despite often ardent pleas by their authors to “Look at me! Look at me!,” most of those articles won’t get much notice. Attracting attention has never been a problem for this paper though. In 2005, John Ioannidis, now at Stanford, published a paper that’s still getting about as much as attention as when it was first published. It’s one of the best summaries of the dangers of looking at a study in isolation – and other pitfalls from bias, too. But why so much interest? Well, the article argues that most published research findings are false. As you would expect, others have argued that Ioannidis’ published findings themselves are false. You may not usually find debates about statistical methods all that gripping. But stick with this one if you’ve ever been frustrated by how often today’s exciting scientific news turns into tomorrow’s de-bunking story. Ioannidis’ paper is based on statistical modeling. His calculations led him to estimate that more than 50% of published biomedical research findings with a p value of < 0.05 are likely to be false positives. We’ll come back to that, but first meet two pairs of numbers’ experts who have challenged this. Round 1 in 2007: enter Steven Goodman and Sander Greenland, then at Johns Hopkins Department of Biostatistics and UCLA respectively. They challenged particular aspects of the original analysis. And they argued we can’t yet make a reliable global estimation of false positives in biomedical research. Ioannidis wrote a rebuttal in the comments section of the original article at PLOS Medicine. Round 2 in 2013: next up are Leah Jager from the Department of Mathematics at the US Naval Academy and Jeffrey Leek from biostatistics at Johns Hopkins. They used a completely different method to look at the same question. Their conclusion: only 14% (give or take 1%) of p values in medical research are likely to be false positives, not most. Ioannidis responded. And so did other statistics heavyweights. So how much is wrong? Most, 14% or do we just not know?