Monday, November 23, 2009

News on personalized medicine Craig Venter underscores the caution needed when interpreting genetic tests. While variance is almost non-existant for the number and constituency of the base pairs detected, differences in the patterns of gene expression that are used for analysis give rise to significant differences in intepretation of data. Venter finds the data encouraging for the future of personalized medicine but cautions about inappropriate conclusions to be drawn from data in these early stages of personal genome analysis. new company, Generation Health attempts to decipher genetic test results to put risk and benefit into perspective for the patient, the doctor, and the pharmacist. This comes hot on the heels of CVS announcement that they will partner with this company to define the most useful tests that may then become available through CVS pharmacies. However, the main target for Generation Health's research is the health insurance industry. The company hopes to create the compelling evidence that will encourage insurers to get behind genetic testing as a way to target medications, for better health outcomes and to reduce costs. A trick to making sense of genomic/genetic/phenotypic information is going to be the application of a robust data analysis system. News on this seems to have been a bit quiet lately so I'm off on a search to see what's going on...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Niacin scores

A couple of newsy bits today...the drug Zetia appears to be no better than niacin at reducing cardiovascular events in patient with high cholesterol and may even be worse at protecting against plaque build up. Although the small study conducted by Abbott (who make the version of niacin used in the study) cannot be considered definitive, it does create more uncertainty about the use of Zetia and the related drug Vytorin. Despite the news, Merck's shares are on the rise, partly because analysts has expected even worse news with the study, and partly because the NEJM has said the study was flawed. If it was me, I would probably opt for the niacin anyway.
Scientists are hoping to improve the body's ability to take up curcumin, the yellow ingredient in curry that has shown potential to fight several diseases including Alzheimer's, cancer and psoriasis, A recent report shows that encapsulation of the curcumin into liposomes protects the chemical from breakdown during digestion and increases their anti-oxidant activity in rats. Several of my Indian friends swear by the healing actions of turmeric, the bright yellow powder used in curries that is is rich in curcumin. Time will tell whether the rat results translate to humans, but I'm upping my curry intake anyway (any excuse...).
As drug makers put up the price of brand name drugs today, some of these more natural options are looking more and more appealing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Guy goes to Africa

I learned today that my friend and colleage, Guy St Clair is in Nairobi on a knowledge strategizing mission. I must admit, I was a tad envious when I heard the news. I have been a little out of the knowledge loop since my foray into medical education (I know, one would not think medical education would be out of the knowledge loop, but in my experience, strangely, it was) and am anxious to return with renewed vigor and fresh insight. Guy has begun a blog on his adventure, that you can find here: Guy's Thoughts - Sharing my Journey
I am looking forward to following his take on the African experience and also to how the knowledge effort progresses. He inspires me to do more with what I know of this space as I think about where to go next in my career. Over a week ago, I lost my job and have a little time to reflect on where I really need to be making a difference these days. Not that this reflection can take long, mortgage due and all. Nor should it though. I've been thinking about where I really fit for a really long time. The answer has always been there, but not always obvious to me. Where I fit, is the very place there is usually no spot for; ie, in the space between. I love to bridge gaps, reach across disciplines, discover the assumptions that underpin the stories we well ourselves. I suspect for most of us who try to make our place sorting out the knowledge flows that circulate around problem solving and strategy development, there is no clear place to rest our hats in most organizations. Variously, we are placed under strategy, innovation, organizational design, information sciences, libraries, informatics, or even HR. But no matter which part of the organization we work from, we always end up doing the same thing; try to establish the real problem(s) to be solved, determine the necessary understandings to be made, and then set about connecting all the key players that need to know, understand, and eventually do, what needs to be done. It's a fascinating process and I love every bit of it. While knowledge management may have become unfashionable as a term, the concept is needed more that ever as the volume of data increases and the need to translate to usable knowledge becomes more critical. Maybe we need to come up with a new term, one without the baggage that KM drags around. Whatever its name, wherever I end up fitting in an organization, I look forward to helping this field evolve, adapt and continue to make a difference. Now, I just need to find a place to do it....

Friday, November 13, 2009

Back to to the Future--2012

Image courtesy of NASA.

The movie 2010 opens today in theaters across America. For the impressive trailer click here. For a scathing review from a scientific perspective, click here.

I like the trailer, I like John Cusack, I like disaster movies in general so I'm hopeful I'll enjoy this one. I don't expect a whole lot of scientific accuracy however. And why should I? It's a movie. Sure, I will poke fun at the technical impossibilities and the scientific improbabilities just like anyone else with a science background. I will also drive my children crazy, pointing out every continuity error in a movie because that's the kind of thing I notice. I hope there is a good story with a long build-up to death and destruction; there is nothing worse than a too-soon disaster in a disaster movie. I like to see normal life going on with subtle hints of problems that we would normally explain away. Like the cold tap water being slightly warmer than usual, or the occasional clock stopping due to blips in the magnetic field for example. I like to see some people dismiss these initial signs with a genuine head-in-the-sand mentality, while others see dreadful portents in the slightest (and ideally insignificant in a red herring sort of way) happenings. Still others, recognize there is something unusual going on, and quietly prepare themselves for the unknown. In other words, a disaster movie for me, is not about the accuracy of the science (although, the more accurate, the better), but rather about the portrayal of the human reactions. 2010 in itself is hardly based on science. I just picked up a book that I that I can't wait to dig into: The 2010 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth behind the Most Intriguing Date in History. I'll report back on what I find in a later blog.