Tag: obesity

Bioethics Blogs

Protein Links Gut Microbes, Biological Clocks, and Weight Gain

Caption: Lipids (red) inside mouse intestinal cells with and without NFIL3.
Credit: Lora V. Hooper, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas

The American epidemic of obesity is a major public health concern, and keeping off the extra pounds is a concern for many of us. Yet it can also be a real challenge for people who may eat normally but get their days and nights mixed up, including night-shift workers and those who regularly travel overseas. Why is that?

The most obvious reason is the odd hours throw a person’s 24-hour biological clock—and metabolism—out of sync. But an NIH-funded team of researchers has new evidence in mice to suggest the answer could go deeper to include the trillions of microbes that live in our guts—and, more specifically, the way they “talk” to intestinal cells. Their studies suggest that what gut microbes “say” influences the activity of a key clock-driven protein called NFIL3, which can set intestinal cells up to absorb and store more fat from the diet while operating at hours that might run counter to our fixed biological clocks.

NFIL3 is a transcription factor, a protein that switches certain genes on and off. Earlier studies had focused on its role in immune cells, but a team led by Lora Hooper at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, discovered that NFIL3 is also found in cells in the inner lining, or epithelium, of the mouse small intestine.

Intriguingly, as reported recently in the journal Science [1], they noticed that NFIL3 levels were much lower in the intestines of “germ-free” mice that don’t have any gut microbes.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Creative Minds: Exploring the Role of Immunity in Hypertension

Meena Madhur / Credit: John Russell

If Meena Madhur is correct, people with hypertension will one day pay as much attention to their immune cell profiles as their blood pressure readings. A physician-researcher at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Madhur is one of a growing number of scientists who thinks the immune system contributes to—or perhaps even triggers—hypertension, which increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, and other serious health problems.

About one of every three adult Americans currently have hypertension, yet a surprising number don’t know they have it and less than half have their high blood pressure under control—leading many health experts to refer to the condition as a “silent killer”[1,2]. For many folks, blood pressure control can be achieved through lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, exercising, limiting salt intake, and taking blood pressure medicines prescribed by their health-care provider. Unfortunately, such measures don’t work for everyone, and some people continue to suffer damage to their kidneys and blood vessels from poorly controlled hypertension.

Madhur wants to know whether the immune system might be playing a role, and whether this might hold some clues for developing new, more targeted ways of treating high blood pressure. To get such answers, this practicing cardiologist will use her 2016 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to conduct sophisticated, single-cell analyses of the immune systems of people with and without hypertension. Her goal is to produce the most comprehensive catalog to date of which human immune cells might be involved in hypertension.

Back in the 1960s, animal studies provided the first indication that the immune system might play a role in hypertension.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Don’t Blame Food Stamps for Obesity in America

Tasia Smith: “Politicians and scholars sometimes cast obesity as a problem that largely afflicts the poor. But as most obese adults aren’t poor and most low-income adults aren’t obese, this is a misconception”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

NIH Family Members Giving Back: Toben Nelson

Caption: Toben Nelson (back row, far left) celebrates with his Roseville Raiders after winning Gopher State Tournament of Champions.
Caption: Heather Hammond Nelson

What was Toben Nelson, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who studies the health risks of alcohol abuse and obesity, doing this summer lugging around a heavy equipment bag after work? Giving back to his community. Nelson volunteered as a coach for the Roseville Raiders, a 13-year-old-and-under traveling baseball team that just wrapped up its season by winning the prestigious Gopher State Tournament of Champions in their age group.

In the fall, Nelson will gear up for hoops as the volunteer president of the Roseville Youth Basketball Association, which provides an opportunity for kids in this Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb to take part in organized sports. Nelson says volunteering grounds him as a scientist. It reminds him every single day that his NIH-supported research back at the office affects real lives and benefits real communities like his own.

Nelson is currently studying strategies to prevent alcohol-related injuries and violence. He also works on projects to promote physical activity and prevent childhood obesity. Over the years, he and his colleagues have collected a lot of data on teens and young adults, and they know a tremendous amount about their health status, their behaviors and their risks for excessive drinking or becoming overweight. Still, what’s often missing is a connection to the real faces and unique personalities of young people navigating these formative years.

So Nelson downregulates the keen analytical side of his brain on most evenings around 5:30 p.m.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

We Can and Must Rebuild the Bridges of Interdisciplinary Bioethics

by Darryl R. J. Macer

This editorial is made available on bioethics.net. The editorial along with the target article and open peer commentary is available via tandfonline.com

Although we can argue that bioethics is holistic and found in every culture, and still alive among people of many indigenous communities as well as the postmodern ones, the academic discipline of bioethics as interpreted by many scholars has attempted to burn bridges to both different views and to persons with different life trajectories and training. The bridges between different cultural and epistemological foundations of bioethics have also been strained by the dominance of Western paradigms of principlism and the emergence of an academic profession of medical bioethics.

This editorial reacts to the points made in the article by Lee, “A Bridge Back to the Future: Public Health Ethics, Bioethics, and Environmental Ethics.” This issue of the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB) includes a number of commentaries on this theme, and challenges readers to reconsider the manner in which they conceive of bioethics, as well as the range of literature and scholars that they consider to as legitimate sources of wisdom. Such a new approach will not only breathe fresh light into the important work of all scholars, students, and teachers, but also offer some fresh references for contemporary policy changes that face us. Let us approach these issues like an ostrich who is taking her head out of the sand after some years of monodisciplinary focus. To be clear, Lee and some others writing here have apparently not had their head in the sand, as the interrelatedness of health and the environment is clear through the examples shared.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

The Age of Designed Babies Arrives

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

In the film Gattaca, a couple desiring to have a child visits their neighborhood geneticist:

Geneticist: You have specified hazel eyes, dark hair and fair skin. I’ve taken the liberty of eradicating any potentially prejudicial conditions. Premature baldness, myopia… alcoholism and addictive susceptibility… propensity for violence, obesity, etc.

Marie Freeman: We didn’t want… Diseases, yes, but– [looks at Antonio]

Antonio Freeman: We were just wondering if it’s good to leave a few things to chance?

Geneticist: We want to give your child the best possible start.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

The Opioid Crisis Changed How Doctors Think About Pain

Williamson has some of West Virginia’s highest rates of obesity, disability, and arthritis — in a state that already ranks among the worst in those categories. An adult in Williamson has twice the chance of dying from an injury as the average American. This is why the opioid crisis is so hard to handle, here and in so many communities: The underlying drugs are often being prescribed for real reasons

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Creative Minds: The Human Gut Microbiome’s Top 100 Hits

Michael Fishbach

Microbes that live in dirt often engage in their own deadly turf wars, producing a toxic mix of chemical compounds (also called “small molecules”) that can be a source of new antibiotics. When he started out in science more than a decade ago, Michael Fischbach studied these soil-dwelling microbes to look for genes involved in making these compounds.

Eventually, Fischbach, who is now at the University of California, San Francisco, came to a career-altering realization: maybe he didn’t need to dig in dirt! He hypothesized an even better way to improve human health might be found in the genes of the trillions of microorganisms that dwell in and on our bodies, known collectively as the human microbiome.

Fischbach is most interested in bacteria living in the human gut, especially the many species that generally live in harmony with us. These microbes produce thousands of small molecules, some so abundantly that they are absorbed into the bloodstream at levels comparable to a drug. Concentrations of these small molecules can vary dramatically from person to person, but researchers still don’t know exactly why.

Fischbach has received a 2016 NIH Director’s Pioneer Award to conduct research aimed at gaining a better understanding of the small molecules made by the human gut microbiome. He will begin by creating a “Top 100” list of its most-abundant molecules. Armed with this information, Fischbach’s team will set about assembling and growing beneficial communities of bacteria in the lab, with the ultimate aim of repopulating a sick person’s gut with a collection of microbes that make health-promoting small molecules.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Widening Gap in U.S. Life Expectancy

Caption: Life expectancy at birth by county, 2014. Life expectancy into 80s (blue), 70s (green, yellow, orange), 60s (red).

Americans are living longer than ever before, thanks in large part to NIH-supported research. But a new, heavily publicized study shows that recent gains in longevity aren’t being enjoyed equally in all corners of the United States. In fact, depending on where you live in this great country, life expectancy can vary more than 20 years—a surprisingly wide gap that has widened significantly in recent decades.

Researchers attribute this disturbing gap to a variety of social and economic influences, as well as differences in modifiable behavioral and lifestyle factors, such as obesity, inactivity, and tobacco use. The findings serve as a sobering reminder that, despite the considerable progress made possible by biomedical science, more research is needed to figure out better ways of addressing health disparities and improving life expectancy for all Americans.

In the new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a research team, partially funded by NIH, found that the average American baby born in 2014 can expect to live to about age 79 [1]. That’s up from a national average of about 73 in 1980 and around 68 in 1950. However, babies born in 2014 in remote Oglala Lakota County, SD, home to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, can expect to live only about 66 years. That’s in stark contrast to a child born about 400 miles away in Summit County, CO, where life expectancy at birth now exceeds age 86.

Earlier studies suggested that Americans living in some parts of the country were living more than a decade longer than others [2].

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Are Incentives Corrupting? The Case of Paying People to be Healthy.

Written by Dr Rebecca Brown

Financial incentives are commonplace in everyday life. As tools of states, corporations and individuals, they enable the ‘tweaking’ of motivations in ways more desirable to the incentiviser. A parent may pay her child £1 to practice the piano for an hour; a café offers a free coffee for every nine the customer buys; governments offer tax breaks for homeowners who make their houses more energy efficient. Most people, most of the time, would probably find the use of financial incentives unobjectionable.

More recently, incentives have been proposed as a means of promoting health. The thinking goes: many diseases people currently suffer from, and are likely to suffer from in the future, are largely the result of behavioural factors (i.e. ‘lifestyles’). Certain behaviours, such as eating energy dense diets, taking little exercise, smoking and drinking large amounts of alcohol, increase the risk that someone will suffer from diseases like cancer, heart disease, lung disease and type II diabetes. These diseases are very unpleasant – sometimes fatal – for those who suffer from them, their friends and family. They also create economic harms, requiring healthcare resources to be directed towards caring for those who are sick and result in reduced productivity through lost working hours. For instance,the annual cost to the economy of obesity-related disease is variously estimated as £2.47 billion£5.1 billion and a whopping $73 billion (around £56.5 billion), depending on what factors are taken into account and how these are calculated. Since incentives are generally seen as useful tools for influencing people’s behaviour, why not use them to change health-related behaviours?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.