Stanford programs offer students opportunities to research and practice medicine in Africa

A recent Stanford Report story highlights Stanford’s Center for African Studies and its rapidly-growing research programs and courses in Africa, which have exploded in popularity among students lately. In the story, biology major Laura Hunter shares her experience of working in a medical clinic in Ghana:

Laura Hunter was 35,000 feet above Africa, watching the sunrise over the place she would call home for the next several weeks. The Stanford junior was about to touch down in Ghana to start a fellowship at a medical clinic treating some of the country’s poorest people.

Raised in Seattle and planning to pursue a medical career, the biology major was traveling alone outside the United States for the first time.

Within a few days, Hunter was filling prescriptions, taking measurements of blood pressure, dressing and cleaning sores. Then she started working on a case that has had the biggest impact on her so far – the rehabilitation of a woman who fell from a tree and needs physical therapy to, hopefully, walk again.

“At first, connecting with Assibi was tough … but over time we have been able to make a connection,” Hunter, an African Service Fellow, said in an email from Tamale, Ghana. “Forming that one-on-one bond with a patient and watching her improve has been very rewarding.”

Previously: Stanford residents share stories from volunteering abroad
Photo by Laura Hunter

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Stanford bioethicist Christopher Scott weighs in on today’s human embryonic stem cell ruling

A U.S. appeals court has affirmed (.pdf) the ruling last year by district court judge Royce Lamberth that federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research is legal. Although the decision effectively puts to rest opponents’ arguments that such funding violates the Dickey-Wicker amendment, at least one judge asked Congress for clarification about the power of the federal government to regulate such research.

Bioethicist Christopher Scott, who directs Stanford’s Program on Stem Cells in Society, has this to say about today’s ruling:

This is a major victory for stem cell researchers. It affirms that the National Institutes of Health’s interpretation of the 1996 Dickey-Wicker amendment is reasonable. Importantly, it removes a barrier of uncertainty for stem cell scientists and the patients who stand to benefit from their discoveries. The Obama administration should be congratulated for its assiduous work to guarantee that the president’s policy makes the difference when the rubber meets the road: funding research that could lead to the next generation of treatments and cures.

Scott has previously published research showing that limiting human embryonic stem cell research is likely to also slow research on induced pluripotent stem cells–an alternate way to create stem cells that does not require the destruction of human embryos–because the two fields are so closely intertwined.

Science writer Maggie Fox, writing for NBC news, has posted a nice summary of the issues leading up to today’s decision. But I found reading the actual text (.pdf) of the ruling to be very enlightening. In particular, Judge Janice Rogers Brown (one of three judges who ruled on the case) commented about the Dickey-Wicker amendment:

The challenging—and constantly evolving—issues presented by bioethics are critical and complex. Striking the right balance is not easy and not, in the first instance, a task for judges. What must be defended is “the integrity of science, the legitimacy of government, and the continuing vitality” of concepts like human dignity. Given the weighty interests at stake in this encounter between science and ethics, relying on an increasingly Delphic, decade-old single paragraph rider on an appropriations bill hardly seems adequate.

Previously After the lawsuit, what’s next for stem cell research, Judge Lamberth dismisses stem cell lawsuit and Embryonic stem cell regulation will affect iPS cell research

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NIH releases mobile app to help women identify health risks, maintain a healthy lifestyle

The National Institutes of Health has launched a new mobile application offering women guidance on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and tips for identifying health risks for themselves, as well as their families.

The app is based on the Office of Research on Women’s Health publication A Primer for Women’s Health: Learn about Your Body in 52 Weeks. Available for free in the Apple App Store or via Google Play, the app provides a year’s worth of research-based health information highlighted week-by-week. According to an NIH release:

Questions to ask health care providers, a glossary of health terms, and health screening information and links to additional information from NIH institutes and centers expand the mobile app’s offerings.

Key features of the app are:

  • a personal health section for recording medications, medical conditions, and disabilities
  • a journal feature
  • a personal goal-setting section for health and lifestyle details

A variety of different skins can be applied to personalize the app, and it can be password-protected to help ensure health information remains confidential.

The NIH plans to launch a similar app for men’s health in the near future.

Previously: Diagnosing ear infections using your iPhone? Not so far-fetched, Stanford medical residents launch iPhone app to help physicians keep current on research and School of Medicine alumni association partners with Doximity to test first-of-its-kind smartphone app
Photo by Jeffrey Pott

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Sully Sullenberger talks about patient safety

Who could forget the live pictures on CNN? A US Airways passenger plane floating majestically on the Hudson. It looked like some giant bird, wings spread, just effortlessly ambling along. But it was far from that. Nearly four minutes after take-off as the aircraft climbed to 3,000 feet, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had radioed the LaGuardia tower announcing that he had hit a flock of birds, “lost thrust on both engines” and was heading back to the airport. We all know what happened next. Sullenberger, unable to make it back to field, ditched the Airbus 320 into the Hudson. Miraculously, all 150 passengers aboard survived. Leer más “Sully Sullenberger talks about patient safety”

Should local residents be worried about West Nile virus?

Those of you near Stanford may have heard the local news that Santa Clara County is spraying pesticide to control an unusually large hatch of summer salt marsh mosquitoes in and around the Palo Alto Baylands park. This saltwater marsh at the south end of the San Francisco Bay is providing an unusually good hatching ground for the mosquitoes because of a breach in a tide wall that normally controls marsh water levels, as a press release from the county’s Vector Control District explains:

A breached tide wall in the Palo Alto baylands has created ideal conditions for the breeding of the mosquitoes by allowing water levels in the basin to rise and fall. SCCVCD has been closely monitoring the development of mosquito larvae, and current field conditions are producing continued egg-hatch. Recent adult “fly-offs” have created considerable discomfort for residents and businesses in nearby areas.

Of course, news about hungry mosquitoes prompts worries about West Nile virus, especially in light of media coverage such as today’s New York Times piece about the West Nile outbreaks in Texas.

To clarify whether local salt marsh mosquitoes pose a health risk, I called Russ Parman, a spokesman for the county Vector Control District. West Nile isn’t a big issue with the salt marsh mosquitoes, a species called Aedes dorsalis, Parman said, because mammals are their target meal. In contrast, the Culex mosquitoes that transmit West Nile bite both birds and humans, carrying the virus from its natural reservoir in birds to human hosts. (There are many other mosquito species, too – California has about 50 different types of mosquito.)

Instead, the problem with Aedes is that they’re big and vicious. “They’ll bite you right through your blue jeans,” Parman said. Leer más “Should local residents be worried about West Nile virus?”

Pediatric social worker discusses the emotional side of heart transplants

Speaking of heart transplants, Mary Burge, a pediatric heart transplant social worker at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, was on Talk of the Nation yesterday. In case you missed the segment, Burge discussed her work helping parents process the news that their child will need a new heart and providing support for families before and after the procedure.

She also commented on how getting a new heart can be a particularly emotional experience – more so than other types of transplant procedures -because of how the organ is viewed culturally: Leer más “Pediatric social worker discusses the emotional side of heart transplants”

One family – and five children with same serious heart disease

It’s difficult to imagine having a seriously ill child – let alone five of them. But for a couple in Oregon, this is their reality: Each of their five children suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy or symptoms that can lead to the condition.

NBC got word of the story this summer and is now following the family as 8-year-old Lindsey Bingham awaits a heart transplant at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. (The eldest Bingham child, Sierra, had a successful transplant here six years ago.) Reporter Sandy Cummins recently blogged about the family and had this to say of her initial visit with them:

The Binghams are an impressive family. As we dined in the hospital cafeteria, I was struck by Stacy Bingham’s patience with her other kids, her sense of calm, and by Jason’s laser focus on helping his children. Megan, 11, asked lots of great questions about the production process. They’re not attention-seekers and agreed to be interviewed for two reasons:  In the hope that it will help their children and that it will inspire people to become organ donors. Leer más “One family – and five children with same serious heart disease”