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Cate Swannell
Med J Aust 2015; 203 (8): 309. || doi: 10.5694/mja15.n1019
Published online: 19 October 2015

New collaboration for NHMRC and Americans

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) reports that it has opened a joint funding round with their American counterparts, the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of the United States Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Under this collaboration, the NHMRC will provide funding to support Australian researchers to participate in The BRAIN Initiative, which was announced by President Obama in 2013. “It is hoped that the research conducted through The BRAIN Initiative will lead to more effective treatments and methods of prevention for brain conditions such as dementia, autism, epilepsy, depression and Parkinson’s disease”, the NHMRC statement read. The NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso said: “Both the NIH and the NHMRC believe that the ambitious goals of The BRAIN Initiative can best be attained by collaborating across both disciplinary and geographic boundaries. Over the past four decades Australian researchers have collaborated more with researchers in the US than in any other country.”

Missing microbes may point to asthma risk

NPR reports that a new study published in Science Translational Medicine shows that the composition of microbes living in babies’ guts may play a role in whether the children develop asthma later on. “The researchers sampled the microbes living in the digestive tracts of 319 babies, and followed up on the children to see if there was a relationship between their microbes and their risk for the breathing disorder … the researchers report that those who had low levels of four bacteria were more likely to develop asthma by the time they were 3 years old. To further test their theory, the researchers gave laboratory mice bred to have a condition resembling asthma in humans the four missing microbes. The intervention reduced the signs of levels of inflammation in their lungs, which is a risk factor for developing asthma.” The bacteria are from four genuses: Lachnospira, Veillonella, Faecalibacterium and Rothia.

“Predatory” journals publish 400k papers in 2014

Retraction Watch reports that a new analysis by BioMed Central shows that in 2014 so-called “predatory” open-access (OA) journals published around 420 000 papers, up from 53 000 in 2010, appearing in 8000 active journals. “Predatory” OA journals allegedly sidestep publishing standards in order to make money from article processing charges (APC). “Lately, most predatory journals are published by smaller publishers, which maintain between 10 and 99 titles”, Retraction Watch wrote. “The average APC was US$178, and most were published within 2–3 months after being submitted. Predatory journals have made the news — this year, The International Archives of Medicine was delisted from the Directory of Open Access Journals after it accepted a bogus study claiming chocolate had health benefits within 24 hours. In 2013, the same author behind that chocolate study, John Bohannon, tricked more than half of a sample of 300 OA journals to accept fake papers submitted under a fake name and institution. Last year, the Ottawa Citizen tricked a cardiology journal into publishing a paper with a garbled blend of fake cardiology, Latin grammar and missing graphs, for the price of US$1200.”

Cut and paste “tattoo” monitors health 24/7

An inexpensive wearable patch that continuously monitors vital signs for health and performance tracking has been developed by engineers in Texas, Futurity and Engadget report. The “tattoo” is manufactured via a repeatable “cut-and-paste” method that cuts production time from several days to only 20 minutes. “After producing the cut-and-pasted patches, the researchers tested them and discovered they picked up body signals that were stronger than those taken by existing medical devices, including an ECG/EKG, a tool used to assess the electrical and muscular function of the heart. The patch also conforms almost perfectly to the skin, minimising motion-induced false signals or errors. The wearable patches are so sensitive they may be worn to more easily maneuver a prosthetic hand or limb using muscle signals.”

Social network for doctors and their case photos

A new photo-sharing social network called Figure 1 is gaining popularity with doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical workers, Wired reports. “Figure 1 is educational, engaging, and privacy-obsessed.” Anyone can join, but only health care professionals can comment on photos, which, says Wired, “keeps the discourse focused and professional”. The app is also heavily moderated. An image will be blocked if it doesn’t pose some kind of medical question. The app is very careful about patient privacy. “Every time anyone uploads an image, the first thing they do is fill out a consent form. Figure 1 has an algorithm that automatically obscures faces, and tools that let the user erase any pixels containing names, dates, or any other identifying details.” Figure 1 also strips away all the metadata before the picture gets uploaded. No data collection, over 500 000 users and so far, no ads. “Some of the pictures are straight up medical oddities. But just as often, users post because they are stumped and looking for a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, nth opinion.” The app is available from the iTunes App Store, Google Play and figure1.com.

  • Cate Swannell


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