Category Archives: Covering medical studies

Investigating the health impacts of fracking

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Pia Christensen/AHCJ

The fracking controversy has been high profile in recent years, and tempers are short on all sides of the subject. Some groups see natural gas and the process used to extract it – hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – as a boon to energy production in the U.S., while others see it as a pernicious threat to people and the environment.

As shown in this New York Times interactive infographic, fracking (sometimes called “unconventional gas drilling”) is a complicated process. It involves high-pressure injection of fluids into natural gas reserves that lie thousands of feet underground, trapped in layers of shale. In addition, there’s a landslide of conflicting information and anecdotal evidence.

So, as a reporter, how do you sift through the various interests and pull out a story that is relevant to your community?

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Pew releases survey on interaction between scientists, public

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

On Sunday, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey on the interaction between scientists, the media and the public. The survey revealed how scientists engage with the public, and how different demographics view scientific issues.

Image by  Andrew Huff via flickr.

Image by Andrew Huff via flickr.

Pew released the report in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the findings were presented at the AAAS 2015 Annual Meeting on Sunday. The report included feedback from 3,784 AAAS scientists, and it is the second in a series of surveys canvassing both scientists and the American public on the interface of scientific data and public understanding.

“How Scientists Engage the Public,” reveals that most scientists – 87 percent – feel they should participate in the public policy process and in relevant debates about science and technology. Not surprisingly, almost all of them said they engaged on some level with journalists or members of the public.

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SuperAger brains distinctly different than those of peers

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Why do the brains of some older adults look very different than those of their peers? Scientists at Northwestern University say the answer may explain why these elders don’t suffer the same cognitive decline that affects other seniors.

Image by  Allan Ajifot via flickr.

Image by Allan Ajifot via flickr.

These so-called “SuperAgers,” all age 80 and older, have memories as sharp as those of healthy people 30 years younger, according to a small study by researchers from the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. This is the first study to quantify brain differences of SuperAgers and normal older people.

When compared with people of similar ages, the “brain signature” of SuperAgers have a thicker region of the cortex; significantly fewer tangles — a primary marker of Alzheimer’s disease – and a substantial supply of von Economo neurons, which are linked to higher social intelligence.

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Reporter shares lessons learned about questioning conventional wisdom

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo" Parveen chopra via Fickr

Photo” Parveen chopra via Fickr

“The decision to remove wisdom teeth often seems like a routine part of young adulthood. But more people are starting to ask whether it’s always necessary,” Elise Oberliesen told readers of the Los Angeles Times in a recent story.

“Those who oppose automatically taking out those four teeth say “watchful waiting” is a better path because the teeth and surrounding gum tissue might remain normal, making costly surgery unnecessary,” she wrote. Continue reading

Vapor from e-cigarettes triggers changes to cells in lab study

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Jonny Williams via Flickr

Photo: Jonny Williams via Flickr

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes are growing in popularity among American adults, and while some states restrict their use by minors, nearly 1.8 million American middle and high school students reported using them one recent year, a federal study found.

The battery-powered devices work by vaporizing a liquid solution that users inhale. They are sold in various flavors, including mint and chocolate, and typically contain nicotine as well as a propellant to create the vapor. Continue reading

Questioning the wisdom behind removing third molars

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo" Parveen chopra via Fickr

Photo: Parveen chopra via Fickr

Americans spend about $3 billion annually getting wisdom teeth removed. But some experts are now questioning whether the procedure is always necessary, Elise Oberliesen recently reported in a story for the Los Angeles Times.

“Those who oppose automatically taking out those four teeth say ‘watchful waiting’ is a better path because the teeth and surrounding gum tissue might remain normal, making costly surgery unnecessary,” Oberliesen writes.

The four back teeth, also known as the third molars, generally erupt in young adulthood. But they sometimes only partially break through the gum. The teeth can become impacted because there’s not enough room in the jaw. Impaction can lead to decay, inflammation, the formation of cysts and other problems. Continue reading

Journalists’ coverage of prenatal screening uncovers big gaps in what we know about genetic testing

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by mahalie stackpole via Flickr

Photo by mahalie stackpole via Flickr

Last month, journalists from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting raised serious questions about prenatal genetic screening tests, saying physicians and patients may not fully understand the results of these tests for fetal abnormalities.

In their reporting, the journalists exposed a symptom of what may be a bigger problem: the proliferation of genetic tests without a full understanding about what such testing can and cannot do. Even health insurers have struggled to understand how to pay for new genetic tests.

The stories also pointed out that federal regulators are wrestling with how to classify genetic tests. Many of these tests fall into the category of what pathologists call lab-developed tests or LDTs. These tests are not regulated by the FDA, as the NECIR journalists reported. In October, the FDA proposed regulating these tests as medical devices and clinical laboratories are pushing back, saying such regulations could interfere with the practice of medicine.

We’ll address these issues one at time. Continue reading

Posts about Ebola, oral health, ethics and data among year’s top reads

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

As we close out 2014, take a look back at the most popular Covering Health posts of the year:

Thanks for reading and contributing ideas and comments this year!

Grant will allow comprehensive tracking of journal retractions

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Adam Marcus

Adam Marcus

Ivan Oransky

Ivan Oransky

A $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation will be used to create a database of retractions from scientific journals, extending the work done by  Adam Marcus and AHCJ Vice President Ivan Oransky on their Retraction Watch blog.

The grant was awarded to the Center for Scientific Integrity, a nonprofit organization set up by Marcus and Oransky. Continue reading

Pucker up: Research into kissing may help with future bacterial therapies

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Dutch researchers have concluded that during a 10-second French kiss, partners exchange an average of 80 million bacteria.

Their study, “Shaping the Oral Microbiota Through Intimate Kissing,” was recently published in the journal Microbiome.

The researchers conducted their investigation with the help of 21 human couples visiting Amsterdam’s Royal Artis Zoo on a summer day in 2012. They administered a questionnaire on the kissing habits of each partner in each couple and collected samples of tongue and salivary microbiota from each participant before and after a “controlled kissing experiment.” Then they offered a probiotic yogurt drink containing marker bacteria to one of the partners in each couple prior to a second French kiss to quantify the number of bacteria exchanged.

Photo: Marin Wibaux via Flickr

Photo: Marin Wibaux via Flickr

The findings suggest that a shared microbiota is able to develop in the mouths of partners. While collective bacteria in saliva were eventually washed out, those on the surface of the tongue were able to find “a true niche, allowing long-term colonization,” the researchers wrote.

“French kissing is a great example of exposure to a gigantic number of bacteria in a short time,” lead researcher Remco Kort of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research said in a story published online by the BBC. “But only some bacteria transferred from a kiss seemed to take hold on the tongue.

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