In other research, scientists have found that eating up to
two bars of chocolate a day can also help prevent stroke. In a study at the
University of Aberdeen in Scotland, researchers analyzed the snacking habits of
21,000 people older than 12 and found that the odds of experiencing a stroke
fell by 23% in patients who consumed up to 100 g of chocolate—the equivalent of
about two classic Hershey's bars—each day in any form.
Cacao, the primary ingredient in chocolate, is the source of
its stroke-preventing capability. This component of chocolate contains a
reasonable amount of magnesium, which is a crucial macro mineral necessary for
optimal health. This means at least 100 mg of magnesium is required per day to
remain health by assisting in keeping blood pressure normal, cholesterol
balanced and to naturally keep blood from thickening. Researchers in the
Cochrane Hypertension Group found that flavanol-rich chocolate and cocoa
products may have a small but statistically significant effect on lowering
blood pressure by 2 mm Hg to 3 mm Hg in the short term (1).
Furthermore, Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet found that study
subjects who ate the most chocolate, and therefore cacao, had a decreased
report of stroke. Thus, experts believe that the more cacao in a chocolate
product (30% in milk chocolate to 90% in dark chocolate), the more health
benefits the chocolate product will deliver.
In addition, data from the American Academy of Neurology
suggests that chocolate consumption is associated with an acute change in
cerebral vasomotor reactivity, independent of metabolic and hemodynamic
parameters. It also shows that this acute effect may contribute to the observed
relationship between long-term chocolate consumption and stroke risk
Aside from medical responses to chocolate ingestion, a 2015 study published
in the Journal of Nutrition (3)
found that cocoa flavanol supplementation reduces wrinkles and has a positive
effect on the appearance of skin in older women. Korean women between the ages
of 43 and 86 with visible facial wrinkles were recruited to participate in this
double-blind, randomized and controlled trial.
During the study, the cocoa consuming group took a
supplement containing 320 mg of cocoa flavanols, and the control group received
a calorie-matched placebo. After 24 weeks, the women in the group consuming
cocoa flavanols had a reduced appearance of facial wrinkles and improvements in
their skin’s elasticity. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that cocoa flavanol
supplementation may contribute to the prevention of the progression of photoaging.
Chocolate has also been suggested to reduce wrinkles through
less collagen breakdown as a result of cocoa’s ability to reduce stress
hormones. Flavanols also help by protecting skin from UV damage, fighting free
radicals, increasing blood flow, and even by improving skin hydration and
While the medical and cosmetic benefits of chocolate are evident, it is
still not recommended that people consume high amounts of chocolate.
Researchers do not recommend that people start eating several chocolate bars a
week to derive these benefits, for chocolate also possesses some unhealthy
Regular chocolate bars can contain a fair amount of
saturated fat and sugar—both of which can lead to obesity, diabetes, tooth decay
and hypertension. Although there is no established serving size to guarantee
health benefits, chocolate consumers should always choose chocolate with no
extra ingredients or limited extra ingredients, to avoid unnecessary fat and
“Ideally you want to get dark chocolate that is 85% to 90%
cacao,” explains Jamie Logie, author of the book Taking Back Your Health. “But
[this] can be an acquired taste. Starting with 70% helps you build up to that,
and after a while you will learn to love the deep, rich, natural flavor and
won't want to touch a candy bar again!”
It’s officially the time of year when all types of treats
begin to fill tables at holiday celebrations, office parties and family
gatherings. While conventional wisdom holds that desserts can be detrimental to
a person’s overall health, recent studies have reported some sweeter
findings—perhaps justifying that extra piece of chocolate this holiday season.
The medical uses of chocolate date back as early as 1900 B.C., when it was
first consumed by pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica, such as the Olmec, and
used as a tool for administering foul-tasting medicines. Initially mixed with
spices, this form of chocolate was far from the sweet delicacy that is popular
today. However, by the 16th century, a much sweeter form gained popularity in
Europe. It later fell into question due to its assumed risks based on increased
According to data from Euro-Monitor, Americans will eat
about $18 billion worth of chocolate in 2015—that is roughly 18% of the world's
chocolate. Since so many people indulge in this sweet treat, much research has
been conducted to identify the health effects of chocolate.
Over the years, a number of studies have found that chocolate intake is
correlated with a reduced risk of death by heart attack. High demand for
methods to protect against cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death
in the United States, makes this correlation significant.
One study, published in 2015 in the journal Heart
(http://heart.bmj.com/content/101/16/1279), examined the long-term effects of
diet on human health and concluded that, in patients who ate 15 grams to 100
grams of chocolate a day, risk of heart disease dropped more than in patients
who completely avoided consumption. Of the 25,000 study volunteers, more
reported eating milk chocolate than dark chocolate, which has long been
considered healthier. A primary reason why dark chocolate is regarded as
healthier than milk chocolate is because it contains less milk and sugar and
more flavonoid content.
“Research shows that organic [chocolate] has more
nutritional value than conventional, and that milk chocolate does not provide
the same benefits as dark chocolate. This is not only because of the low cacao
content, but also because dairy in milk chocolate binds with the beneficial
antioxidants,” explained Nichole Dandrea, MS, RD, owner of Nicobella Organics.
Chocolate is linked with reduced cardiovascular risk because
it is full of flavonoid antioxidants, which improve function of the
endothelium, or inner lining of the blood vessels. Chocolate can also improve
arterial function, increasing high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol
and decreasing low-density protein or “bad” cholesterol (1).
Chocolate has also been linked with improved cognition. Research shows that
cocoa consumption significantly improves self-reported mental fatigue and
performance. It contains theobromine and caffeine, which confer the positive
responses and positively influence mood and alertness (2).
People with mild cognitive impairment benefit from the
health effects of chocolate as well. Although flavonoids may have direct
effects on neurons and neurodegenerative brain processes, it is really
chocolate’s ability to heighten insulin sensitivity—affecting blood sugar and
ultimately brain function—that fosters optimal brain health.
Other micronutrients found in chocolate, known as
polyphenols, have prompted the development of a cocoa extract as a natural
remedy to promote optimal brain health. The cocoa polyphenols are believed to
reduce the production and buildup of beta-amyloid and tau proteins that have
been linked to conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (3).
“While the overall goal of many chocolate manufacturers is
to try to identify the best way to have polyphenols maintained in the chain of
production, the work we have been doing is trying to identify mechanisms
through certain polyphenols from different sources, including grape and cacao,
to promote resilience to psychological stress and cognitive degeneration or
impairment,” said Giulio Maria Pasinetti, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology at
the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, in an interview with
ADVANCE. Pasinetti is also the director of biomedical training at the J.J.
Peters Bronx VA Medical Center in New York.
Approximately 20% of people older than 70 experience mild
cognitive impairment, and each year 5% of them will progress to dementia,
according to the University of California’s Berkeley Wellness blog. If
chocolate can help deter cognitive impairment, midlife and older adults may
want to consider increasing their chocolate intake.
“Our work in the next few years hopes to provide the
opportunity for the development of a biological compound to deliver polyphenols
orally and to thereby exert beneficial effects on cognitive function,”
The attrition of lab professionals due to aging and
retirement will open ample opportunities for new technicians and technologists.
The need for diagnostic lab services will continue to increase with the aging
Donning gloves, a protective mask and goggles, they operate
microscopes, study blood samples and analyze tissue samples for normal or
abnormal findings, some even analyzing cells for an indication of a cancerous
growth. This is all in a day’s work for medical laboratory professionals.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth
of 22 percent is expected between 2012 and 2022 for medical laboratory
professionals, a rate that is much faster than the average growth for a career
field. And that number could go even higher.
Jon Harol, laboratory recruiter for Lighthouse Recruiting,
expects a vacancy rate of up to 40 percent in medical labs by 2018 because of
older staff members retiring. Not only does this leave potential for new lab
staff to enter the job field, it gives current laboratory professionals with a
few years of experience under their belt to move up the career ladder as baby
boomers exit the work force, leaving behind their career titles and higher pay
Those same baby boomers are autonomously adding to the aging
population, increasing the demand for medical lab procedures used to diagnose
cancer and other diseases, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This will further strengthen job security for medical lab technicians and
technologists who perform the procedures.
Launching a Lab
When considering this profession, it’s important to know that as with any
job, new hires will likely have to pay their dues.
“Early on in your career you are probably going to end up
working a lot of nights and holidays,” Harol said in an interview with ADVANCE.
“However, if you stick with it you can usually work your way on to a day shift
and be called on to work less holidays.
When employers are looking to hire, they’ll assess whether
someone is right for the job. Similarly, people researching occupations should
ask themselves whether they’re right for this line of work. Valuable qualities
for medical laboratory professionals to possess are an ability to use
technology, attention to detail, dexterity in order to work closely with needles
and other lab equipment and physical stamina, since they may need to lift or
turn a patient in order to collect a sample.
Most entry-level technologist jobs require a bachelor’s
degree, usually in medical laboratory technology or life sciences. An
associate’s degree is usually required to become a medical laboratory
technician. Both types of programs typically include courses in chemistry, biology
Something else to take into account is that a number of
schools and programs are accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for
Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), which assures quality, value and
innovation for healthcare providers, according to its website.
After graduation, some states require a license or certification to secure
employment in the field. Harol finds that states with these requirements, such
as New York, California and Florida, are often most in need for medical
laboratory technologists and technicians due to the added requirement to enter
As a group, medical laboratory professionals make an average
of $47,820 annually. Technologists command higher salaries in the range of $57,000
according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Technicians educated at an
associate’s degree level make slightly less. With job demand for these positions
on the rise, salaries are expected to increase accordingly over the next few
[*Editor’s Note: The
following is a guest blog post contributed by Biju Joseph, PhD, MT(ASCP),
Patient-comfort oriented specimen collection techniques are
vital for clinical laboratories for boosting customer base and revenue generation.
The workflow could be less invasive, less painful blood collection devices and
easy to use collection and transport kits. Multiple easy to use specimen
collection devices and application specific protocols are available in the
market. Pain-free, single use lancets for blood collection and mouth rinse
specimen kits for DNA isolation in place of buccal swabs are typical examples.
Saliva testing has been suggested for several cancers that
include breast cancer and prostate cancer. Clinical laboratories will be forced
to allocate time for switching to much more patient-friendly devices and
collection protocols as they are increasingly available due to the following
1. Home-based testing that was widely used for pregnancy
tests is being adopted for self-monitoring of hemoglobin level.
2. In the near future, patients will be able to self-order a
few tests to begin with, collect the results personally and could review the
results with help from their physician
3. Precision medicine initiatives by the federal government.
The general population will increasingly undergo genetic tests (on their own or
directed by physician) that would help healthy lifestyles, and create awareness
about susceptibility/resistance to specific genetic or infectious diseases. The
revolutionary nature of these changes is evident when we compare this to the
discovery of resistance of sickle red cells to malarial infection based on
clinical symptoms in the past
4. Changes in regulations (i.e., blood glucose monitoring),
re-classified as moderate complexity tests, necessitate use of devices that are
comforting to the patient.
5. Liquid biopsies are entering molecular diagnostics for
cancers due to inaccessibility or significant patient discomfort using the
In molecular testing, avoiding specimen processing for
nucleic acid isolation, though not directly related to patient comfort, could
contribute to guaranteed completion of test and report generation by direct
sample-to-answer testing. This also has potential applications in infectious
disease testing (limited nucleic acid material that could be lost during
extraction), significant time reduction in the generation of results and the ability
to detect multiple pathogens from a single specimen.
Franzmann. Saliva as a diagnostic tool. Special feature. MLO 2015: 47(7);24-25.
After winning the Nobel Prize1
in 2001 for his research in cell division, Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt recently
made headlines for his attempt to prove the existence of foot-in-mouth disease while
speaking at the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ). According to an
article2 from the Guardian, Hunt’s “single-sex
lab” comments were delivered while “addressing a convention of senior female
scientists and science journalists.” The effects of the remarks (seen below)
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” said Hunt at
the WCSJ Conference. “Three things happen when they are in the lab… You fall in
love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they
Hunt partially apologized,3
but his efforts were too little, too late -- as the comments had already gone
viral. An ongoing social media campaign featuring women from many different
fields in the sciences using the hashtag, “#distractinglysexy,”
has become increasingly popular.4
Hunt has since resigned5 from his post
at University College London (UCL) following the social media backlash.
The Guardian article2
mentioned that the statistics for women working in science, technology or
engineering (STEM) are low -- just 13 percent. It also cited the gap in
academia, in which 84 percent of full-time STEM professors are male. In the
clinical laboratory environment, however, the ratio seems to be less severe -- albeit similarly troubling. ADVANCE for Laboratory’s 2014
salary survey pointed to disparaging wage and career gaps when analyzed
based on gender
-- despite an overall female majority.
As laboratory professionals, what do you think about the
perception of women in science-related careers?
The global fight against HIV has improved dramatically in
the past decade, but the results of a recent study could lead to an enormous
change in the way the virus is treated moving forward. An article
from the New York Times noted how the
study was stopped after just two months due to the drastic difference in
outcomes. With those who received immediate treatment with antiretroviral drugs
“53 percent less likely to die during the trial,” the impact of fast clinical
action following a diagnosis was unprecedented.
“This is a defining moment for social justice,” said Michel
executive director of UN AIDS, in the New
York Times article. “People will be scared, saying, ‘Oh, it will be a big
number.’ But this puts an end to the false debate about whether to pay for
While not necessarily in the budget, groups like The Global
Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have been pushing for better
funding in an effort to start treatment more immediately for all patients
internationally – a costly endeavor. According to the NY Times article, New York has recommended immediate treatment
locally here in the Unites States since 2011, as the “several other studies
have shown that people taking their drugs regularly are more than 90 percent
less likely to infect others.” With that said, the story also noted that many
patients are slow to start treatment while they are still healthy given the
reputed harsh side effects of antiretroviral drugs from the 1990s. Fortunately,
with the introduction of tenofovir in 2001, modern drugs have fewer side
“The evidence for this has been building for quite some
time,” said Susan P. Buchbinder, MD, director of HIV prevention at the San
Francisco department of public health, in the story. “But now it’s clear that
people should be offered treatment right away and told why it’s beneficial.”
Current international regulations vary depending on the
respective nation. A normal CD4 count (CD4 cells per cubic millimeter) ranges
between 500 and 1,200, but HIV patients routinely fall under 500 and
“”full-blown AIDS” patients fall under 200. Although it is now being
recommended that treatment starts at a 500 CD4 count, many nations simply don’t
have the funding to start so soon. Due to the undeniable results of the recent
study, there is potential for dramatic improvement of the standards for both
local and international treatment.
As a kid, the concept of humans using nanotechnology was something I assumed was reserved for science fiction, but apparently clinical research has already proved me wrong. According to a recent article from Dark Daily, not only do researcher possess the technology, but they have been studying the effect of nanoparticles in the diagnosis of cancer. The study, led by Nicholas J. Long, PhD, senior author and professor in the chemistry department at Imperial College London, utilizes nanoparticles manipulated to attach themselves to cancer cells in order to allow the presence of a tumor to appear more clearly in MRIs.
“Our aim is to help doctors spot something that might be cancerous much more quickly,” explained Long in the Dark Daily piece. “That would enable patients to receive effective treatments sooner, which would hopefully improve survival rates from cancer. ”
The story described the nanoparticles as coated in a protein that finds and adheres to cancer cells. Once these are found, they “self-assemble, aggregating into larger particles that show up well under MRI.” Despite the undeniable potential this technology has in the identification of cancers, however, there are still a lot of important questions to be answered. For example, scientists are unclear on the best size relative to their toxicity to the human body or how to improve the signals sent out by the tiny particles.
“We’re now looking at fine-tuning the size of the final nanoparticle, so that it is even smaller but still gives an enhanced MRI Image,” said Juan Gallo, PhD, of the department of surgery and cancer at Imperial College London, in the Dark Daily article. [“] If it is too small, the body will just secret it out before imaging. But too big, and it could be harmful to the body. Getting it just right is really important before moving to a human trial.”
Although the study is in its early phases, currently using mouse models, and the researchers still have a lot of work ahead of them, the plan is to be able to start human trials within three to five years. The article noted the study as an important example of multiple specialties working to improve cancer diagnostics in their own fields. The impact of success with the nanoparticles could have a substantial, long-term impact on the role of clinical laboratory professionals and pathologists, as well as radiologists and imaging professionals.
Thanks to the quick evolution of improved genetic sequencing
capabilities, the concept personalized medicine has changed the way clinicians
and physicians are thinking about patient treatment. Traditionally, the trial
and testing period for clinical drugs going through the FDA approval process
can be challenging, lengthy and exhausting for all parties involved –
especially the patients. A recent article
from the New York Times highlighted a
new approach to drug prescriptions for cancer patients focused more on their
individual genetic mutations than the specific type or origin of the cancer
According to the article, Erika Hurwitz, a patient with a
rare white blood cell cancer, was treated with a drug typically reserved for
melanoma patients and somehow recovered despite the odds. The new technique,
referred to as “basket studies,” involves screening patients for mutations and
applying drugs that target those specific mutations regardless of the drug’s
intended use or what part of the body the cancer has affected. Not only have
these “blanket studies” been applied in individual healthcare facilities and networks,
but the federal government has stepped in to continue the research with a
screening program to be introduced in the spring.
Introduced fairly recently as the accessibility and price of
genetic sequencing became reasonable, “Basket studies” are typically smaller
and without control groups. The studies
have produced results in the extreme on either end of the spectrum, having both
dramatically improved patients and shown no effect at all. Despite the
black-and-white nature of the results, the article noted the drastically higher
response percent of the new approach – a response rate of 50-60 percent as
opposed to 10-20 percent in traditional studies, according to Richard Pazdur,
MD, of the FDA in the NY Times story.
The NY Times story
noted the Memorial Sloan Kettering study, which included Erika Hurwitz, saw
several patients respond positively to the melanoma drug, but not everyone’s
results were so successful. One stomach cancer patient, Eleni Vavas, entered
the study, but didn’t respond to the drug. She passed away in July.
A combination of the continued national debate over the
connection between autism and vaccines -- despite the hypothesized link having long-since been disproved
-- and events like the measles
outbreak spawning from Disneyland have led to a lot of vaccination-related
headlines recently. Diseases like measles, which had been almost completely
eliminated, have only resurfaced lately after movements in opposition of
vaccinations became popularized. While many U.S. citizens consider vaccines to
be perfectly safe and effective, there is also a growing population leaning the
One particularly hard to digest piece of information,
according to a piece from the
Guardian, is that the millennial generation
is actually the largest contributor to this expanding group -- specifically,
“21% of people 18 and 29 believe in a link [to autism].” A different pole from
TIME also had younger generations more inclined to support the idea that
vaccines aren’t safe (though just 15 percent as opposed to 21 percent). Being a
Millennial and having written
about it somewhat extensively, I can certainly identify with the Guardian
author’s similar situation and point-of-view.
A story noted above on the measles outbreak from the LA
Times noted the importance of adult immunizations now more than ever, as
“Adults pose a greater risk than children of passing on the disease because
they travel and come into contact with more people.” It went on to note that
some adults have not been fully vaccinated, due to a second dose only being
recommended in 1989, and that there should be more “checkpoints between
kindergarten and adulthood” in order to prevent these individuals from slipping
through the cracks – this is especially relevant in educational organizations,
where it’s important for both students and teachers to have been properly
Nonetheless, the TIME article brought up the interesting
concept of “Herd immunization,” which relies on “92-95%” of a population to be
vaccinated in order to safeguard the community. At present, “vaccination rates
in the U.S. hover around 91%.” Although this isn’t necessarily a bad number, it
could always be better and the recent upsurge in groups coming out against
vaccinations could potentially lead to more troubling numbers.
As laboratory professionals, what are some of our readers’
thoughts on the subject?
The electronic cigarette has been hailed as a significantly
safer alternative to regular cigarettes, delivering nicotine through vapor
rather than smoke, but little is known about their potential side long-term
effects. An NPR article
took a look into recently findings regarding formaldehyde in the “E-Cigs.” A
form of the “known carcinogen” was discovered in the vapor by researchers.
“We found this form of formaldehyde at significantly higher
concentrations than even regular cigarettes [contain] – between five[fold] and
fifteenfold higher concentration of formaldehyde than in cigarettes,” explained
David Peyton, PhD, a professor at Portland State University, in the NPR story.
Peyton went on to point out that formaldehyde contributes to
the development of lung cancer. Although the chemical was observed at the
highest voltage levels when using the electronic devices, it was also noted
that, when used a lower levels, there was no presence of formaldehyde. In the
article, George Conley, a representative from the American Vaping Association,
reasoned that E-cigarettes are not typically used at these high levels. He
continued, comparing it to the way steak can be overcooked cooked.
“If you hold the button down for 100 seconds, you could
potentially produce 100 times more formaldehyde than you would ever get from a
cigarette,” he said in the article. “But no human vaper would ever vape at that
condition, because within one second their lungs would be very uncomfortable.”
The article noted that Peyton “hopes the government will
tightly regulate the electronic devices,” but the FDA is still assessing the
situation. Regardless of different positions surrounding the regulation of
E-cigs, there seems to be a need for a better understanding and subsequent
regulation of the devices. The extent to these regulations, however, could be
up for debate.
Between the attention attracted by the 2014 movie, “Still Alice,” and
the release of new studies, Alzheimer’s disease has been a prominent topic of
conversation lately. For patients and their families, the symptoms are all too
familiar, and the origin is largely a mystery. An article
from NPR recently discussed one possible cause of the disease.
In a study examining MRIs of patients “experiencing mild
problems with thinking and memory,” researchers noticed the presence of leaky
blood vessels in the Hippocampus. Upon further investigation, the researchers
realized that the blood vessels in the hippocampus become “leakier in all
people as they age,” but this is more evident in Alzheimer’s patients. Later
studies on the autopsied brains of dementia patients confirmed “a breakdown in
the blood-brain barrier,” which allows toxins to leak into the brain, damaging
cells and tissue.
“This study gives patients and families hope for the future,
hope that detecting leaky blood vessels early will provide the opportunity to
stop dementia before it starts,” said Roderick Corriveau, PhD, program director
at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, in the NPR
After focusing on the hippocampus, it was discovered that
the blood-brain barrier in Alzheimer’s or Dementia patients was 50 percent more
permeable that in those of the average, healthy brain. These studies provided further evidence of
the role of vascular damage in Alzheimer’s disease. The NPR article went on to
note the use of pericyte cells, “which help prevent blood vessels in the brain
from leaking,” as a potential treatment.
While this is not a cure for the disease, it is certainly a
step in the right direction. By more fully understanding one of the causes of
Alzheimer’s disease, researchers, clinicians and physicians can be more aware
of warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. As such, they can begin
While the Ebola outbreak continues to impact much of West
Africa, it appears to be starting to fade at last. According to a recent article
in the New York Times, healthcare
companies GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Merck have will be introducing vaccines for
the Ebola Virus for testing in Liberia. The estimated 18,000 volunteers
predicted to take part in the trial in two weeks will receive either a vaccine
from one of the two companies or a placebo.
“This has been an unprecedented effort for everyone involved,”
commented Andrew Witty, GSK’s chief executive, in the NY Times story.
The article went on to discuss some of the potential
obstacles facing the trial. Although the decreased occurrence of Ebola is great
news overall, it could also impact the results regarding the effectiveness of
the vaccines as the disease diminishes. In order to avoid compromised results, the
need to introduce a greater number of participating volunteers to the trial,
expanding its reach outside of Liberia to Sierra Leone, was mentioned.
Regardless of whether or not there are enough Ebola cases,
the data provided from the study combined with existing data from animal
testing “could be enough for the vaccines to win regulatory approval from the
United States.” The article continued, noting that, even if the vaccines are
available too late given the downwards trends of this particular outbreak,
there will be others for which they will be available in the future.
Additionally, a trial for ZMapp, “a drug for patients already infected with the
virus,” will also apparently be starting soon.
The Ebola outbreak has ravaged West African countries as the
rest of the world has frantically searched for effective testing, treatments
and possible cures. The latest information on potential vaccines and drugs
ready for human trials could be good news for the individuals in danger of
being infected in current – and future -- Ebola outbreaks.
It’s no big secret that being exposed to radiation can cause cancer. As humans, we rely on radioactigve materials and manufacture technologies to harness that power for our benefit, but that doesn’t keep accidents from happening. According to an article from Newswise, a recent study published in Stem Cells not only examined the effects of radiation on stem cells, but also hypothesized on how to “reprogram” the cells to prevent potentially negative repercussions like the development of cancer.
“It’s about evolution driven by natural selection,” said James DeGregori, PhD, investigator and molecular genetics professor at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and School of Medicine respectively, as well as senior author of the study. “In a healthy blood system, healthy stem cells out-compete stem cells that happen to have the C/EBPA mutation. But when radiation reduces the health and robustness (what we call ‘fitness’) of the stem cell population, the mutated cells that have been there all along are suddenly given the opportunity to take over.”
The C/EBPA mutation mentioned in DeGregori’s quote refers to potentially life-threatening result of radiation exposure. According to the article, radiation put hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) at risk of differentiating unless a mutation in the C/EBPA gene was present, allowing them to remain stem cells while the other MSCs would die off. With no competition from the unhealthy HSCs damaged by radiation, the C/EBPA cells would multiply rapidly causing cancer. Despite this risk, DeGregori went on to explain that “an infusion of healthy HSCs after radiation exposure would likely allow the healthy blood system to out-compete the radiation-exposed HSC with their ‘programmed mediocrity’ (increased differentiation) and even HSC with cancer-causing mutations,” essentially allowing the body recalibrate its levels of healthy HSCs to prevent the spread of the cancer.
“If I were working in a situation in which I was likely to experience full-body radiation, I would freeze a bunch of my HSCs,” continued DeGregori in the Newswise story. “But there’s also hope that in the future, we could offer drugs that would restore the fitness of stem cells left over after radiation.”
The battle against cancer has seen a lot of progress as clinical scientists and researchers have uncovered the many impacts of molecular diagnostics. In the case of leukemias and other blood cancers, however, the possibility of reprogramming cells to prevent the spread of cancerous cells stands as an important step in fighting the disease.
In the age of readily available genetic sequencing, the
overabundance of data has been noted around the globe. As big data solutions
become more common and diverse, the concept of data sharing has been a focal
point of discussions regarding the future of research. A recent release from the
National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the introduction of a final
Genomic Data Sharing (GDS) policy. The GDS will replace the previous standard,
the Genome-Wide Association Studies’ (GWAS) data sharing policy.
“Advances in DNA sequencing technologies have enabled NIH to
conduct and fund research that generates ever-greater volumes of GWAS and other
types of genomic data,” said Eric Green, MD, PhD NHGRI director, report
co-author and co-chair of the trans-NIH committee that developed the GDS
policy, in the release. “Access to these data through dbGaP [Database for
Genotypes and Phenotypes] and according to the data management practices laid
out in the policy allows researchers to accelerate research by combining and
comparing large and information-rich datasets.”
According to the NIH release, as well as another
article from the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC), one of
the major concerns facing the new policy was assurance of patient privacy. In
order to alleviate these concerns, the new policy requires a two-tiered system
to ensure both anonymity for the donors and a wide variety of use for the
information available to researchers. The data must be de-identified, and
researchers are expected to obtain informed content prior to releasing that
information for further research. Additionally, scientists are encouraged to
obtain the broadest possible permissions in the potential sharing of patient
“Everyone is eager to see the incredible deluge of molecular
discoveries about disease translated into prevention, diagnostics, and
therapeutics for patients,” continued Kathy Hudson, PhD, NIH deputy director
for science, outreach and policy, in the NIH release. “The collective knowledge
achieved through data sharing benefits researchers and patients alike, but it
must be done carefully. The GDS policy outlines the responsibilities of
investigators and instruments that are using the date and also encourages
researchers to get consent from participants for future unspecified use of their
Genomic data represents the future of medicine. With the NIH’s
new data sharing policy, researchers will now be afforded less restricted access
to data, while patients can rest assured that their individual privacy remains
secure. By standardizing and increase the ability to share important genetic
information, research can excel both locally and abroad, taking into account
larger statistics for research and fostering collaboration between researchers.
All of the phlebotomists are probably cringing at the term I
used in the headline, but it seems germane considering the overwhelming number
of comments the ADVANCE editorial staff has received since the launch of our
2014 Salary Survey. (If you haven’t yet
completed the survey, time is running out! Go to http://laboratory-manager.advanceweb.com/Web-Extras/Online-Extras/The-2014-Laboratory-Salary-Survey.aspx)
Although we haven’t yet tabulated or released results, I am
saddened by many of the comments. In past surveys, many noted they felt the pay
was not on par with the amount of responsibility and level of importance that
clinical laboratory professionals of all levels have, and this year’s survey is
no exception. What is different, however, is the number of individuals who
noted they would not recommend the profession to others, or who wouldn’t have
gone into the profession had they known what they know now.
“Techs are underpaid, overworked and underappreciated, and
yet we are expected to be experts in all areas of lab medicine, serve as
consultants, perform administrative work, train new hires, conduct competency
assessment, etc. Although I love my work, if I had it to do all over again, I
wouldn't choose laboratory technology. Unfortunately, for all of the above
mentioned reasons I cannot recommend the profession to young people,” writes
And another notes: “I enjoy my job as a medical technologist,
but I am planning to leave the field within the next few years. This is due to
the fact that I have a high level of responsibility (antibody ID and selecting
compatible units for patients) but still make less than an RN with a A.S.
degree. We are also understaffed at my facility, with me being the only Blood
Bank technologist on the nightshift. The position has become highly stressful
and completely underappreciated in the healthcare setting. I am finishing my
Masters of Science, then moving to a job that is less stressful and better
There are still a handful of you who do enjoy the work you
do (thank you for those comments, too!), but it seems you are in the minority.
So how do we change this? How can this profession rally together to positively change
the perception and financial compensation for the critical role you play in