Notes September 25th

  • 2nd Hand Smoke Bans Reduce Heart Attacks: According to two analyses of combined study data on second hand cigarette smoke, town or community enforced smoking bans reduce heart attacks by 17% after one year, and after three years the number of heart attacks decreases by at least 26%. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology published one analysis. UCSF researchers analyzed the same data and also found a 17% decrease after on year, which after three years became a 36% decrease in heart attacks. The journal Circulation published the UCSF results.

    While states and communities have increasingly enacted smoking bans, the tobacco industry generally rejects regulation. As John Singleton, spokesman for Reynolds American told the Wall Street Journal: "Our current position is to let the market take care of the issue". (09/21/09 "The Case for Bans on Smoking") On this argument however, the tobacco industry's reasoning might be losing sway. Smoking bans are catching on the world over, even in hard to imagine places like the country of Turkey's bars and restaurants.

  • AIDS Trial: New Results, No Answers

    Scientists stopped the last clinical trial of an AIDS vaccine in 2007 when results showed the vaccine increased the HIV infection. They vowed to reconsider their strategy toward AIDS, especially with regards to clinical trials. Scientists postulated that the flush funding environment and political pressures pushed trials forward too quickly. Now the sometimes exasperating path of scientific research has taken a new turn in AIDS research and scientists have a new quandary.

    A recent HIV clinical trial in Thailand testing a combination of two drugs that had previously failed in clinical trials showed tenuously positive results. The US Army, National Institutes of Health, Thai Health Ministry, and Sanofi Aventis collaborated on the trial, giving vaccines to 16,400 volunteers who were not considered high risk. The new project combined AidsVax, an HIV derived protein, with Alvac HIV, a genetically engineered canarypox virus that contains HIV genes. 51 of the vaccinated individuals contracted HIV and 74 of the unvaccinated individuals became HIV positive, which translated to about a 30% prevention efficacy rate. Though this vaccine is a long way from being considered successful, scientists are buoyed by any news that's positive. The trial suggests that this vaccine could be effective if it were improved.

    The quandaries: First, scientists don't understand how two failed drugs add up to something that looks better or vaguely successful. Second, how and why does the combination vaccine prevent the symptoms of AIDS, if it does, without lowering the viral load -- the amount of HIV measured in the bloodstream of infected individuals? Perplexing. More research needed.

    Treatment is expanding but without prevention of HIV transmission, AIDS will remain a losing battle. So for now, "ABC", abstinence, "be faithful" (limit numbers of partners), and condoms, remain the best HIV infection prevention techniques. The good news for researchers maybe is that perhaps AIDS vaccine research has been kept alive.

    Acronym Required wrote previously about AIDS in Preventing HIV/AIDS: Back to the 1980's, New Directions for AIDS Research Funding", Mbeki's AIDS Legacy and Ours, Public Health, AIDS, Mbeki and the Media, Zimbabwe: Hopeful News for HIV/AIDS Prevention?, Burma and AIDS - Politics Rules", South Africa: Peddling Beetroot, Courting AIDS, and others.

    October UPDATE: Further statistical analysis of this trial showed that the results weren't statistically significant.

  • Flavored Tobacco Banned: This week the FDA enacted the law banning flavored cigarettes. The ban does not include menthol cigarettes. Altria Group, formerly Phillip Morris, favors the ban, and not coincidently, is marching ahead with acquisitions to solidify its market leader status in smoke-free tobacco products and also expanding its international tobacco holdings. We previously wrote about the cigarette regulation in The FDA and Cigarettes.

  • FISA in the Obama Administration: With part of the USA Patriot Act up for renewal, the House is debating intrusive pieces of the legislations that allow privacy intrusion by wiretap, allow the government by access to business records, and allow surveillance of "lone wolf" suspects who have no known links to terrorists.

    One of the more controversial features gave the FBI authority to deliver National Security Letters to businesses and demand information about individual customers. The Letter recipients are ordered to be completely mum about receiving the Letters, meaning they can't tell their spouses, never mind their customers. Critics charge the National Security Letters provision of the Patriot Act violates the First Amendment. According to the Washington Independent's coverage of yesterday's House Judiciary Committee Hearing, this provision has been widely used and abused by government officials.

  • Network Neutrality The FCC upheld the principle of network neutrality this week. FCC chairmain Julius Genachowski's "open internet" is now online, along information, public outreach and requests for comments on broadband and the internet. The FCC site is one of the better ones, sharing and soliciting information on broadband and networking as the agency looks to deploy technology more widely and efficiently across the US for uses like healthcare and "telework".

    Of course, in opposition to network neutrality, a coalition of conservative legislators called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), criticized the principle. Not surprisingly, the group opined that "the market" should be allowed to assure openness unfettered by government.

  • PG&E Leaves US Chamber of Commerce: The Northwest energy company PG&E has left the business association, citing the group's refusal to reconcile its rhetoric with the facts of global warming.

  • Born Free: "Nature Communications" will begin accepting submissions to their new open-access "born digital publication" in October 2009. The first issue will be published in 2010. According to the press release from Nature Publishing Group (NPG) "authors will be able to publish their work either via the traditional subscription route, or as open access through payment of an article processing charge (APC)."

    "New Scientist points to a "puzzling passage" in the press release, where NPG explains that the new journal will publish papers from all science disciplines "of the highest quality, without necessarily having the scientific reach of papers published in Nature and the Nature research journals." To understand, New Scientist followed up with Ruth Francis, NPG spokesperson, who said that Nature Communications will, as New Scientist put it, "feature research that is more focused and less generally applicable than work that typically appears in Nature" from "fields that aren't covered by the [Nature] research journals".

    The journal will be peer reviewed, NPG stresses in its press release. It will employ a "rapid, yet rigorous, peer-review process", meaning "efficient peer review with fast publication", that is "rapid and fair publication decisions based on peer review, with all the rigour expected of a Nature-branded journal". So...Nature Communications, not to be confused with "bulk publishing of low-quality papers", which, as we noted, caused such a stir last year. Nature has long explored open-access publishing. We look forward to the new journal.

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