News in a nutshell

Cholera spreads in Haiti

Five cases of cholera have been documented in Port-au-Prince, raising fears that a rural outbreak of the disease could spread into the post-earthquake slums in the capital city, according to the Boston Globe. Cholera in rural areas of Haiti has already killed 250 people and sickened more than 3,000. If measures to keep the disease out of the sprawling tent camps don’t work, “the worst case would be that we have hundreds of thousands of people getting sick at the same time,’’ Claude Surena, president of the Haiti Medical Association, told the Globe.

Lancet disputes WHO malaria stats

Scientists and the World Health Organization are going head-to-head in a dispute over disease estimates. A study published last Thursday (October 21) in The Lancet argues that the WHO greatly underestimates the number of annual malaria deaths in India. The study, based on field interviews of families and friends of people who died and reviewed by physicians, estimates 125,000 and 277,000 deaths due to malaria in India each year, up to 18 times higher than the WHO estimate of 15,000 deaths, the Wall Street Journal reports.

But the WHO is challenging the paper’s methodology: “Malaria has symptoms common with many other diseases and cannot be correctly identified by the local population,” WHO’s India representative Nata Menabde said in a statement Thursday. “The findings of the study cannot be accepted without further validation,” she added.

Hospital closes cancer trials

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center temporarily closed 285 cancer trials to new patients last week after auditors found that researchers were not properly submitting data to oversight committees. Audits from the Food and Drug Administration and the Dana-Farber Cancer Center identified lapses such as late submission of documentation of severe adverse events in some trials. All trials are currently continuing with previously enrolled patients, and a few trials have already re-opened, the Boston Globe reports.

More suspicion after retractions

Questions about the work of a star Harvard stem cell biologist continue to emerge. A researcher at Children’s National Medical Center raised concerns about the work of Amy Wagers — who recently retracted a high-profile Nature paper — two years ago, Retraction Watch blog reports. Terence Partridge at Children’s challenged a 2008 Cell paper from Wagers’s lab that claimed to identify a new class of muscle precursor cells that reversed some of the effects of muscular dystrophy in a mouse model of the disease, stating the data did not support the paper’s claims. Cell’s reviewers shouldn’t have approved the paper, Partridge told Retraction Watch. Wagers’s team responded to Partridge’s comments, published in Cell, stating that Partridge “seems to disregard direct evidence” and that the model he used to re-analyze their data was flawed.

Other editors are keeping an eye on the situation: Robb Krumlauf, editor-in-chief of Developmental Biology, which published a 2009 abstract by Wagers, “intends to monitor the matter closely,” he told Retraction Watch.

Running boosts stem cells

Endurance exercise like running not only tones muscles but actually increases the number of muscle stem cells, according to a study published in the October issue of PLoS ONE. Rats that ran at least 20 minutes a day over 13 weeks showed a 20 to 47 percent increase in mean number of muscle stem cells, Tel Aviv researchers reported. The finding could be a clue as to why exercise seems to ameliorate the effects of aging, wrote the Daily News & Analysis.

No clones for dinner?

The European Commission has proposed a five-year ban on animal cloning for food production, the agency announced last Tuesday (October 19). The proposed ban is expected to be approved by the EU soon. Numerous reports from the European Food Safety Agency state that meat and milk from clones are as safe for human consumption as any other meat and milk. But food safety is not the issue at hand, EU Health and Consumer Commissioner John Dalli told Reuters. “The issue is animal welfare,” he said. Cloned animals have a high incidence of deformity, vulnerability to illness and premature mortality, Food Safety News reports.

Related Stories:

·  High-profile paper retracted
[15th October 2010]

· Haiti’s health
[1st August 2010]

· FDA: Clone it, then eat it
[28th December 2006]

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One comment

  1. Terence Partridge says:

    Regarding the Retraction Watch article.
    My criticism of the earlier Cell Paper from Wagers’ group asserted only that they had seriously misinterpreted their data and had not included appropriate controls to justify their main claims. None of my criticisms were based on any model or on any statistical analysis, so I am mystified by their rebuttal which does not address any of the criticisms I actually did make.