Lessons from the Wakefield Case

So many others have written on Wakefield’s fraud, and considered the role of the press in perpetuating the notion that vaccines cause autism, I wasn’t going to cover it here on ML. But I do think there are a few instructive points from this “lesson” about medical communication and news:

1. People aren’t always rational in their decisions about health care. (This is an understatement.)

On the Value of Open-Mindedness

Three recent stories lead me to my opening topic for the year: the value of open-mindedness. This characteristic – a state of receptiveness to new ideas – affects how we perceive and process information. It’s ...

A Play About the Life and Work of Dr. Rosalind Franklin

Franklin’s story starts like this: She was born in 1920 to a Jewish family in London. She excelled in math and science. She studied physical chemistry at Cambridge, where she received her undergraduate degree in 1941. After performing research in photochemistry in the following year on scholarship, she joined the British Coal Utilisation Research Association (BCURA) and carried out basic investigations on the micro-structure of coal and carbon compounds, and so earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. She was a polyglot, and next found herself in Paris at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimique de l’Etat, where she picked up some fine skills in x-ray crystallography.

You get the picture: she was smart, well-educated and totally immersed in physical chemistry before, during and after WWII. Single-minded and focused, you might say –

On Sergey’s Search (for a Cure for Parkinson’s Disease)

…This goes well beyond a new approach to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

This story, largely based in genomics and computational advances, reflects the power of the human mind, how the gifted son of two mathematicians who fell into a particular medical situation, can use his brains, intellectual and financial resources, and creativity, to at least try to make a difference.

DNA Comes Home, or Maybe Not

Earlier this month employees at most of 7500 Walgreens pharmacies geared up to stock a new item on their shelves: a saliva sampler for personal genetic testing. On May 11, officials at Pathway Genomics, a San Diego-based biotech firm, announced they’d sell over-the-counter spit kits for around $25 through an arrangement with the retailer. A curious consumer could follow the simple package instructions and send their stuff in a plastic tube, provided in a handy box with pre-paid postage, for DNA analysis.

Uncertainty Rules (on Eyjafjallajokull, volatility and a patient’s prognosis)

As pretty much anyone traveling in Europe this week can tell you, it’s sometimes hard to know what will happen next. Volcanologists – the people most expert in this sort of matter – simply can’t predict what the spitfire at Eyjafjallajokull will do next.

It comes down to this: the volcano’s eruption could get better or it could get worse…

Today’s Press on Targeted Therapy for Cancer

Today the NY Times printed the third part of Amy Harmon’s excellent feature on the ups and downs and promise of some clinical trials for cancer. The focus is on a new drug, PLX4032, some people with melanoma who chose to try this experimental agent, and the oncologists who prescribed it to them.

What I like about this story is that, besides offering some insight on the drug itself, it balances the patients’ and doctors’ perspectives; it explains why some people might elect to take a new medication in an early-stage clinical trial and why some physicians push for these protocols because they think it’s best for their patients.

And it provides a window into the world of academic medicine, where doctors’ collaborate among themselves and sometimes with corporations.

Here’s some of what I learned:

Henrietta’s Cells Speak

“One of the ways that I gained the trust of the family is that I gave them information.” (R. Skloot, a journalist, speaking about her interactions with Henrietta Lacks’ family, Columbia University, 2/2/10)

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