Tag Archives: genetics

How susceptibility to placebo effect could change research

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: Matt Allworth via Flickr

Photo: Matt Allworth via Flickr

The placebo effect presents quite the conundrum to researchers attempting to discern whether a particular intervention truly offers clinical benefit for patients. Those most susceptible to the effect can feel so much better after a placebo that their “improvement” exceeds that of others taking a chemically active drug.

This problem may slow down the pipeline for new effective drugs, Erik Vance suggests in his recent Washington Post article, “People susceptible to the placebo effect may be keeping us from getting new drugs.” Continue reading

Trade group’s dispute with FDA highlights need to watch for report revisions

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: Lori Greig via Flickr

Photo: Lori Greig via Flickr

The nation’s clinical laboratories have pushed back hard against a proposal by U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2014 that would regulate laboratory developed tests. More than a year later, the disagreement became more heated when the Association of Molecular Pathology (AMP) accused the FDA of fabricating examples in a November report on LDTs.

In the report, “The Public Health Evidence for FDA Oversight of Laboratory Developed Tests: 20 Case Studies,” the agency cited 20 examples of problematic LDTs, saying, “…these products may have caused or have caused actual harm to patients.” We covered this report in a blog post earlier this month.

But that’s just the beginning of the story, as Allison Proffitt, editorial director of BioITWorld, found. Continue reading

A problem with precision medicine: It’s not quite precise – at least not yet

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.

At a conference last year, Michael Laposata, M.D., Ph.D., one of the nation’s best known pathologists, explained how clinical laboratories could deliver more value to patients, physicians, and health insurers. To do so, pathologists and laboratory scientists need to provide more detailed explanations about lab test results because even physicians who order genetic and molecular tests are often confused about the results, said Laposata, chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

When he explains test results to ordering physicians, he frequently refers to an “allele” which is one of two or more versions of a gene, he said. When he does, physicians sometimes ask, “What’s an allele?”

His anecdote is telling following President Obama’s announcement last month that he recommended spending $215 million on the precision medicine initiative. The announcement was correctly hailed as an important and needed investment in medical technology. “Precision medicine” is described by the National Institutes of Health as “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.” Continue reading

Precision Medicine Initiative: Some quick resources

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 AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

The White House has announced its anticipated “Precision Medicine Initiative,” which it describes as an “emerging field of medicine that takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, microbiomes, environments, and lifestyles – making possible more effective, targeted treatments for diseases like cancer and diabetes. ”

Health Journalism 2014 featured a panel about personalized medicine and the presentations from “Getting personal: The medical and ethical challenges of using genetic information” may offer some story ideas and considerations for reporters who are explaining President Barack Obama’s proposal.  Continue reading

How to be smart about socioeconomic status in studies

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health, working to help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or @rojasburke.

Image by Jay Reimer via flickr.

Image by Jay Reimer via flickr.

Medical study authors routinely claim to have “controlled” for socioeconomic status.

That kind of sweeping assertion should set off alarm bells. The authors probably haven’t come close to fully accounting for something as difficult to measure as a person’s place in the hierarchy of self-determination and power, neighborhood quality, working conditions, job security, income and wealth.

To assume otherwise is a mistake that can lead to misleading conclusions.

Consider, for example, a recent study in the journal Nature Medicine describing a genetic variation that might account for lower heart disease survival among African Americans. News coverage of the study caught my attention because whatever role genetics plays in the black/white disparity in heart disease, it’s probably small.

Some researchers have concluded that socioeconomic disadvantage is the most significant root of the problem, not genetic differences. And there is pretty good evidence that the traditional risk factors (diabetes, high blood pressure, lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking) account for all of the difference in heart disease mortality between black and white men in the United States, and most of the difference between black and white women. Continue reading