May 16, 2008
NIH Podcast Episode #0058
Balintfy: Welcome to the 58th episode of NIH Research Radio with news about the ongoing medical research at the National Institutes of Health--the nation's medical research agency. . I'm your host Joe Balintfy. Coming up in this episode: a report on factors that influence a premature infant's chances for survival and disability; and a special feature about food allergies. But first, how NCI is encouraging recent grads to look into research. That's next on NIH Research Radio.
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Cancer Research Recruitment
Balintfy: May is still Older Americans Month, but it’s also the time of year when students across the country are graduating from colleges, universities, and high schools. In this report, Wally Akinso shares a perspective on options graduates may be exploring.
Akinso: The graduates are considering future careers, and the National Cancer Institute wants to encourage these graduates, especially African Americans to consider a career in cancer research. Ms. Belinda Locke, Program Director at the NCI’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities, talks about what the NCI has to offer young future researchers.
Locke: “One of the strategic programs that we have on bored is called a Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences. And this has been in place since the late 90s. And we’ve added on to that program other types of what we call funding mechanisms at the NIH that support individuals from the high school level all the way to the junior investigator level as they go through their academic career to become established competitive investigators.”
Akinso: The Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences program offers research grants, awards and supplements in an effort to increase the number of underrepresented minority candidates, emphasizes scientific areas of greatest need, and expand the period of training and career development. Ms. Locke says there are many reasons why African Americans aren’t big players in the cancer research field.
Locke: “I think perhaps we don’t emphasize careers in science in general in our communities as much as we should and specifically in cancer research. And there also is the issue of the long term commitment to education. So there’s maybe not as much emphasis in our communities toward that type of commitment, toward careers in science. They maybe stereotypes that maybe in place concerning what individuals think what a career in research involves. It covers a wide range of perhaps people don’t know about. You can do research in your community, outreach research, behavior research, and all this is counted as research. And there is also an issue also of the visibility of mentors and folks that look like us being in research careers dealing with cancer research issues.”
Akinso: Ms. Locke discusses a collaborative program between the NCI and Historical Black Colleges and Universities, which are known by the acronym HBCUs.
Locke: “With the HBCUs specifically we have a program that is called a Minority Institution Cancer Center Partnership Program. And what that program does is joins the cancer centers with the minority serving institution and in this case a HBCU, so for example in this area we have Howard University joined with John Hopkins University. And we look at the cancer centers typically as research intensive institutions. And we look at the HBCUs or the minority serving institutions as those institutions that really have a large population—so called under represented minority individuals who are in the African American community who are in the academic system that can be trained and exposed to cancer research.”
Akinso: If you’re interesting in the cancer research field, visit crchd.cancer.gov. Click on meet the staff and contact any of the individuals about your interest in the field. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health Bethesda Maryland.
Study Reveals Factors That Influence Premature Infant Survival and Disability
Balintfy: In our next story, we hear how researchers have identified several factors that influence a premature infant's chances for survival and disability. Wally Akinso reports on the scope of this new study.
Akinso: In the study, which was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, over 4,000 infants were observed by researchers. Dr. Rosemary Higgins Program Officer, at the NICHD Neonatal Research Network, discusses the survival and disability possibilities in low weight infants.
Higgins: This is a study that looked at the most fragile of all premature babies, those who were born between 22 and 25 weeks of pregnancy. At birth these babies usually weigh less than a 1,000 grams or approximately 2.2 pounds. Caring for these babies in the neonatal intensive care unit is very difficult. Many will die unfortunately no matter what we do for them. Some will survive without any ill effects. And the remainder in a vast grey area, they survive with some degree of disability.
Akinso: According to Dr. Higgins that disability could be life long, and could range from minor hearing loss to blindness, to cerebral palsy, to profound intellectual disability. Researchers found that physicians and family members may be reluctant to expose an infant to painful life support procedures if the infant is unlikely to survive. In deciding the kind of care to provide, specialists at intensive care facilities traditionally have relied heavily on an infant's gestational age which is the week of pregnancy a premature infant is born. Dr. Higgins lists the factors that play a role in the survival and risk of disability in low birth weight infants.
Higgins: We found that 27 percent of these babies will survive without any ill effects on the brain or nervous system. We also found that certain other factors combined with the gestational age provided incite in how they might fair. And these factors included being female, being from a single birth rather than a multiple birth, having a higher birth weight, and if the baby's mom receive steroids prior to the baby being born.
Akinso: Dr. Higgins says the findings offer new information to physicians and families considering the most appropriate treatment options for this category of infants.
Higgins: This information is offered as evidence to help physicians and parents make very difficult decisions. This is the largest source of information on survival of extremely low birth weight infants. And it is available on the web form. The web form can be used as a reference for outcome data for a certain set of circumstances in providing information to families. However every baby is an individual and deciding what kind of care to provide is best done by the family and the health care team. There's really no substitute for good medical judgment here and all treatment decisions need to be made on a case by case basis. This web tool offers additional information to families and physicians who may be unfortunately in this situation of having to make a medical decisions.
Akinso: Physicians and parents may access the online tool by visiting www.nichd.nih.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
Balintfy: When we come back, an update on the state of research on food allergies.
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Balintfy:Last week was the 11th Annual Food Allergy Awareness Week, a time set aside to increase the public's awareness of food allergies and the potential challenges they pose. An NIH leader took the time to make this special statement:
Fauci: Hello, my name is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health and I am here to briefly discuss with you food allergies.
In the United States, approximately 6 to 8 percent of children under age 4 and nearly 4 percent of adults have a food allergy. In an average week, two or three otherwise healthy Americans will lose their lives due to allergic reactions to foods.
Food allergies, aside from having potential life-threatening consequences, also can affect an individual’s nutritional status, development, and quality of life, and these burdens disproportionately affect children. For children and their families, severe food allergies are accompanied by a fear of future serious reactions and the stigma of avoiding common foods, particularly in schools and social settings where too often others do not appreciate the seriousness of the allergy.
Allergic reactions to foods occur when the immune system over-reacts to food proteins, triggering reactions that can range from itchy hives to difficulty breathing, cardiovascular collapse, and a life-threatening systemic process known as anaphylaxis. Approximately 30,000 cases of food-induced anaphylaxis occur in the United States each year, leading to as many as 200 deaths.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, known as NIAID, is the nation’s primary supporter of food allergy research. We fund a broad research program in allergy and immunology that helps us to better understand the human immune system and how, in some people, certain foods trigger an allergic reaction. NIAID also supports clinical studies that are trying to find ways to influence the body’s immune system so that it no longer triggers allergic reactions. NIAID-supported scientists and doctors are exploring new immune-based approaches to prevent food allergies in children at high risk for developing them.
Little is known about why only some people develop food allergies, but research is providing insights into this question. For example, NIAID supports an observational study that has enrolled more than 400 infants who have allergies to milk or eggs. Most will lose their allergies to milk and eggs within a few years, but some will develop allergy to peanuts. This study will examine the immunologic changes that accompany these reactions.
The relationship between asthma and food allergy is being examined in a second study conducted by a network of NIAID-funded scientists. A third NIAID-supported study is testing whether feeding a peanut-containing snack to young children at risk of developing peanut allergy can actually prevent its development.
NIAID is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to address challenges of conducting food allergy clinical research to ensure safe, effective, and ethical designs for these clinical trials, many of which need to be conducted in young children and infants.
Importantly, NIAID is also working with a variety of partners, including professional societies and patient advocacy groups, to develop comprehensive clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergies. These guidelines will greatly benefit clinicians, and these benefits will ultimately be passed on to patients, and their families.
While we have made much progress in understanding food allergies and in raising public awareness of how to manage them, many challenges remain. NIAID will continue to increase research to understand food allergies, to bring new scientists into this area of study, and to develop and evaluate novel approaches to treat and prevent food allergies.
Our goal is to reduce the burden of food allergy and thereby enhance the health and quality of life of millions of people affected by food allergies in the United States and abroad.
Balintfy: Thank you Dr. Fauci. And for more information about food allergies, visit the NIAID website at www.niaid.nih.gov.
Balintfy: That’s it for this episode of NIH Research Radio. Please join us again on Friday, May 30th when our next edition will be available for download. I'm your host, Joe Balintfy. Thanks for listening.
NIH Research Radio is a presentation of the NIH Radio News Service, part of the News Media Branch, Office of Communications and Public Liaison in the Office of the Director at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services.