News in a nutshell

This week’s news include another libel case against cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst, the death of an honored chemical ecologist, a call for preventive breast cancer meds, a link between short telomeres and diabetes, good news for fish lovers, a potential clue for a new tuberculosis vaccine, and a very presidential beetle.

Whistle-blower sued…again

Flickr, Bill Bradford

British cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst is being sued for libel for the second time in four years. In 2007 Boston-based NMT Medical, the manufacturer of a heart device that Wilmshurst helped develop, filed suit after the website theheart.org quoted him accusing the company of covering up two unfavorable studies and claiming that the device itself was dangerous to patients. Now, four years later, NMT Medical has formally served Wilmshurst again — this time for speaking with BBC Radio in 2009 about his libel case, claiming that in doing so “he had defamed them to a wider audience,” according to ScienceInsider.

Wilmshurst’s case and a handful of other recent libel accusations in the scientific community are often cited by those seeking to change the UK’s controversial libel laws, ScienceInsider reported. In the United States, a proposed federal law is also being considered that could reduce the threat of defamation accusations against whistle-blowers.

Honored chemical ecologist dies

Thomas Eisner, 81, known for his work on animal behavior, chemical ecology and evolution, died last Friday (March 25) at home in Ithaca, NY, from complications of Parkinson’s disease. A professor emeritus at Cornell University, Eisner was often called the “father of chemical ecology,” along with his Cornell colleague and friend Jerrold Meinwald. Eisner published some 500 scientific articles during his career, as well as nine books — one of which won the Best Science Book in the 2004 Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Louis Thomas Prize for Writing.

Eisner’s research focused on many aspects of insect physiology, ecology, and evolution, including their highly evolved chemical defenses, referring to his subjects as “master chemists,” according to a statement by Cornell University’s Chronicle Online. Among the many accolades he accumulated over the course of his career is the 1994 National Medal of Science, which noted his “seminal contributions in the fields of insect behavior and chemical ecology and for his international efforts on biodiversity.” He also received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement and the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science, as well as the 2008 Carty Award for the Advancement of Science from the National Academy of Sciences.

Breast cancer prevention

Two breast cancer prevention therapies currently approved in the United States should be approved elsewhere in the world and prescribed to at-risk women, according to an international panel of cancer experts who published its recommendation in Lancet Oncology. Just as people with a risk of developing heart disease are given statins, the panel suggests, tamoxifen and raloxifene should be offered to women with a greater than 4 percent chance of developing breast cancer. “The evidence for them is overwhelming,” Jack Cuzick, panel chair and epidemiologist at Queen Mary, University of London, told the BBC.

Telomere-diabetes link

Scientists at The Johns Hopkins University suggest adding age-related diabetes to the list of diseases associated with short telomeres, which already includes cancer and lung disease. Although their insulin-producing beta cells looked healthy, mice with short telomeres had high blood sugar levels and secreted half as much insulin as control mice, according to the study, published recently in PLoS ONE. Closer examination of their beta cells revealed disregulation of p16, a gene linked to aging and diabetes. “This mimics early stages of diabetes in humans where cells have trouble secreting insulin in response to sugar stimulus,” Mary Armanios, a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins, said in a statement. The results suggest that clinicians might be able to one day measure telomere length to detect diabetes risk, she added.

Mercury-laden fish — more good than harm

Wikimedia commons, Akira Kamikura

While many diners steer clear of some fish species to avoid the consequences of ingesting mercury, new research suggests that the heart benefits likely overshadow any such risks. Analyzing people’s toenails, which indicate the levels of mercury absorbed by the body over time, researchers at Harvard Medical School determined that higher mercury exposure didn’t elevate the occurrence of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease. They published their results last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. But the nutrients contained in fatty fish may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, suggesting that the heart benefits from the nutrients may outweigh the risks of mercury exposure, Bloomberg reports.

New TB vax coming soon?

Scientists at Imperial College London discovered a protein that they believe may one day lead to a new tuberculosis (TB) vaccine. TB kills some 2 million people around the world each year, and currently, the only vaccine that targets it is not very effective. But EspC — the newly discovered protein, which is secreted by the bacterium that causes TB — “provokes a very strong immune response, and is also highly specific to Mycobacterium tuberculosis,” Ajit Lalvani, who led the research, told BBC News. “This makes it an extremely promising candidate for a new TB vaccine that could stimulate broader and stronger immunity.”

Roosevelt beetle

Rebecca Dornburg/International Institute for Species Exploration/Arizona State University

Arizona State University researchers have named a new species of beetle after US President Theodore Roosevelt. The beetle, Stenomorpha roosevelti, lives in the dry region of the Chihuahuan Desert that straddles the US-Mexico border, and is covered in thick dark hair. Its name celebrates the100 year anniversary of Roosevelt delivering a speech at the school, then Tempe Normal School, about the importance of government and an educated citizenry in the conservation of Arizona’s natural landmarks. “Naming a new species for President Roosevelt honors his achievements as a pioneering conservationist, naturalist and explorer,” Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU, said in a statement.

Correction: The original version of this article cited a ScienceInsider story that erroneously reported that the first libel suit was brought against Wilmshurst for comments quoted by ‘a Canadian newspaper.’ The publication that quoted Wilmshurst’s disparaging comments about NMT Medical in 2007 was in fact theheart.org, a website owned by WebMD. The Scientist regrets the error.

Related stories:

  • New tool for TB: stem cells
    [7th December 2010]
  • Surprise breast cancer source
    [2nd September 2010]
  • This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

    4 comments

    1. Ellen Hunt says:

      Yeah, yeah. Wake me up when the TB vaccine comes out and works. There have been other vaccine candidates, the best one is from so long ago that it will never get made. Nobody wants to touch anything that was already done.

    2. Mike says:

      Great news this week ! I hope that everyone’s Sunday was great and I hope that they have a great week! I also hope that they have a great April Fool’s Day! That goes for last year and all the other years that I’ve missed.

    3. T S Raman, PhD says:

      “Whistleblower sued again”
      Libel suits against whistleblowers are not limited to the matter on which the whistle was blown. In fact, attacks are not limited to libel suits.
      If the person(s) [including “legal” persons] or entities against whom the whistle has been blown enjoys the protection of the institution, the whistle-blower will be faced with stealthy attacks of all kinds. His co-workers or subordinates will be instigated to file complaints against him. In one case, a lab cleaner made an official complaint that a whistle-blower scientist verbally abused him and physically assaulted him. In another case, a member of the administrative staff of the parent organization, filed a defamation case against a whistle-blower scientist alleging that a newspaper report on administrative fraud in his office was engineered by the scientist. The case was dismissed, but it caused huge financial loss (lawyer fees etc.) and mental anguish to the scientist.
      Also, even if the whistle-blower wins his case vis-a-vis the subject of his whistle-blowing, the administration could destroy his career.
      Therefore, the proposed federal law is not likely to be of much utility for the whistle-blower.

    4. Adam Smith says:

      Presumably he would only be a ‘whistle-blower’ if his claim that the device is dangerous and the company tried to/did cover it up were true. So the obvious question… is it true? If not, he isn’t a whistle-blower, he is just a guy who made up a story and in all likelihood the libel case is just (at least one of them).