Category Archives: Science

CIHR Reverses Drug Trial Policy

Canada’s national funding agency for health sciences, CIHR, made a controversial move to cancel a policy that required full public disclosure on results from drug trials. Without full disclosure of study results, the public may not be privy to important early details about drugs that may be ineffective or worse, significantly toxic. Transparency, a necessity for gathering evidence and truth in making healthcare related decisions, is believed to have been further undermined by the lobbying efforts of Canada’s pharmaceutical corporations. CIHR has increasingly drawn fire for its closeness with industry, having appointed last year an executive from Pfizer to their national board. Quoting Sir Iain Chalmers, co-founder of the U.K.’s respected Cochrane Collaboration research body: “It seems to me that CIHR has decided that it’s going to put my interests and the interests of other patients behind those of industry…. I think that’s tragic.”

The full article by the National Post is available here.

MacGyver would be proud: Possible 3 cent HIV test.

Literally, an HIV diagnostic kit made from tape and paper.  Seriously, if there was also a mention of a paper clip in there, I’d haf expect MacGyver to be a co-author.

Anyway, here’s a quote from the blog post over at Discover Magazine:

A new device smaller and cheaper than a postage stamp could be used to diagnose diseases in developing countries, Harvard researchers report. The sophisticated microfluidic diagnostic devices, called microPADS, are made out of little more than paper and sticky tape and cost about three cents each. “The starting point with us was asking, ‘What’s the simplest, cheapest [material] we could think of?’ … And that was paper,” [The Scientist] said co-author George Whitesides. (read more)

For those who prefer the technical jargon, this was recently published at PNAS, but I’ve copied the abstract below:

“This article describes a method for fabricating 3D microfluidic devices by stacking layers of patterned paper and double-sided adhesive tape. Paper-based 3D microfluidic devices have capabilities in microfluidics that are difficult to achieve using conventional open-channel microsystems made from glass or polymers. In particular, 3D paper-based devices wick fluids and distribute microliter volumes of samples from single inlet points into arrays of detection zones (with numbers up to thousands). This capability makes it possible to carry out a range of new analytical protocols simply and inexpensively (all on a piece of paper) without external pumps. We demonstrate a prototype 3D device that tests 4 different samples for up to 4 different analytes and displays the results of the assays in a side-by-side configuration for easy comparison. Three-dimensional paper-based microfluidic devices are especially appropriate for use in distributed healthcare in the developing world and in environmental monitoring and water analysis.”

Whoa… This is what HIV looks like. Amazing how devastating this tiny thing can be.

This amazing model (which was also included in the 2010 best Science Visualization Images) can be found here with many others. In particular, when you go to the site, click the “label” button for a quick primer on the different structures on the virion.

LINK: Visual Science HIV Image

Guardian article on challenges with HIV drugs for children.

Here’s a quick news piece by Sarah Boseley at the Guardian:

The first major study of [HIV} drug resistance in young people, which looked at 1,000 European children born with HIV, raises questions about the suitability of anti-retroviral drugs for the young.

Drugs fail because the virus becomes resistant to them. This can happen if people take them erratically or stop taking them. Resistance sets in with adults, but more slowly.

But part of the problem, say Nathan Ford and Alexandra Calmy, is that the drugs available are not tested on children or turned into formulations that are easy for children to take. The doctors work for Médecins sans Frontières, which treats some of the 2 million children living with HIV, who were infected during childbirth – most of them in the developing world. Half of the children born with HIV die before their second birthday, they point out.

LINK: HIV study claims one in eight children resistant to drugs. (Thanks for link, Richard!)
LINK: Risk of triple-class virological failure in children with HIV: a retrospective cohort study (Lancet paper)

Time lapse video of woman with HIV/AIDS

Here is a powerful advertisement from the Topsy Foundation. It was one of the winners at TED’s “Ad’s Worth Spreading” contest, which is generally worth checking out.

This particular video does a great job (with a lovely twist at the end) at showing the effectiveness of HIV antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). There’s also a followup video you can view that checks in on the woman (Selinah) as well as chatting with the folks behind the video.

Although I realize that the ARVs have been made possible by the work done in the pharmaceutical industry, and that there is a chance that Topsy’s programs are facilitated by kind donations from the same industry, it’s still a pity that there isn’t a more sustainable system for the provision of such drugs to developing countries. Pity that these sorts of medicines are usually priced way too high for individuals like Selinah, which is why so many go untreated and so many die. Pity also that laws like Bill C-393 (which aim to explore different ways to create that sustainable market and lower that price) were being deliberately stalled in government so as to guarantee not being passed.

That kind of unfortunate reality deserves a megafacepalm.