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Potential Landmark Opioid Trial; Joint Society Letter on Academic Espionage; Public Perception of Research; and Other Items of Interest

A U.S. district judge overseeing roughly 2,000 opioid lawsuits by states, counties, and cities cleared the way for a landmark trial by rejecting efforts by pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, and distributors to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims that they contributed to the opioid crisis, reported Reuters.
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Money from the multibillion-dollar settlement that Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, is negotiating will be divided among state and local governments across the country using formulas that take into account opioid distribution in a given jurisdiction, the number of people who misuse opioids, and the number of deaths from opioid overdoses, said the Associated Press.
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Modern Healthcare questioned whether any of the opioid litigation will result in hospitals getting their fair share of the compensation. “If the tobacco settlements of the 1990s are any guide, little will be spent on directly addressing the problem, and healthcare providers will play only a small role in the decisionmaking.”
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A Gallup poll spotlighted how poorly Americans regard the pharmaceutical industry, ranking it last in a list of 25 industries that included traditionally unpopular industries such as banking, oil and gas, the federal government, and the legal field.
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On Wednesday, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration infused another $1.8 billion into opioid response grants administered by states, said Modern Healthcare.
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Doctors are more likely to prescribe opioids later in the day and when they fall behind schedule, reported U.S. News & World Report in coverage of a study published in JAMA Network Open. “These findings support the widespread perception among providers that time pressure to provide a ‘quick fix’ is one reason why opioids are frequently prescribed in the United States,” said Hannah Neprash, PhD, assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study.
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The American Association for the Advancement of Science and a number of other science, engineering, and international education organizations and societies wrote a joint letter to federal research leaders, including Office of Science and Technology Director Kelvin Droegemeier, PhD, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and National Science Foundation Director France Córdova, PhD, urging more restraint in the government’s efforts to counter foreign economic and academic espionage, so as not to cripple America’s research enterprise by ensnaring innocent foreign researchers. “While we must be vigilant to safeguard research, we must also ensure that the U.S. remains a desirable and welcoming destination for researchers from around the world. Finding the appropriate balance between our nation’s security and an open, collaborative scientific environment requires focus and due diligence,” the groups wrote. The AAMC, along with several CFAS-member societies, signed the letter.
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Science covered a memo from Kelvin Droegemeier, PhD, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, that outlined the Trump administration’s science and technology priorities and revealed insights into how Dr. Droegemeier would like to shape federal spending on issues such as climate change.
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Half of Americans believe federal funding for scientific research should be increased, and only 14% say funding should be decreased, said new data from Pew Research Center, but a significant partisan gap is hidden in those numbers, since six in ten Democrats favor an increase, whereas only four in ten Republicans support increased funding.
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Earlier this week, the AAMC served as a sponsor of Research!America’s 2019 National Health Research Forum. The forum brought together leaders in government, the pharmaceutical industry, patient advocacy, academia, and philanthropy to discuss issues impacting medical and health research and public health. AAMC President and CEO David Skorton, MD, joined a panel moderated by Steve Clemons, editor at large with The Hill, about the greatest challenges in medical research and innovation over the past 30 years. The event was livestreamed and Dr. Skorton’s panel begins in the third hour (at the 03:38 minute mark).
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The number of cases of a mysterious respiratory illness linked to vaping has surged in the past week, reported the New York Times, and the Washington Post noted the illness may be a new “worrisome” disease as described in a New England Journal of Medicine article just published. The number of cases of those sickened has doubled in the past week to 450, and reported deaths have increased to at least five, as the CDC has reiterated a warning about vaping that it first issued last week.
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The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a decision by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross approving the sale of Hahnemann University Hospital’s medical residency programs to Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals for $55 million, despite objections from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The article notes that the government has an opportunity to appeal the ruling.
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Cancer now kills twice as many people as cardiovascular disease in high-income countries, reported BMJ.
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After public outrage at last week’s news that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services would start deporting immigrants undergoing lifesaving medical treatment, the agency changed course on Monday and said that it would “complete the caseload that was pending on August 7,” reported the New York Times.
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NPR featured an interview with Paul Spiegel, MD, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who serves as a physician in immigration detention centers. The interview highlighted the ethical conflicts doctors face when the care they want to provide is restricted by their employers — in this case, the Department of Homeland Security — and the substandard care migrants are receiving in detention centers. “[W]e've seen in some detention facilities hygiene has been not acceptable in terms the provision of soap, water and sanitation. And the latest, of course, is concerns that some children have died from influenza. And then recently the Customs and Border Patrol has said that they will not provide influenza vaccines to people in their detention facilities,” said Dr. Spiegel.
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A study in Cell Stem Cell “finds a lack of women among senior faculty at scientific institutions,” reported STAT. Gender parity data was collected from 541 institutions across 38 countries that applied for grants from the New York Stem Cell Foundation. The study found that while more than half of undergraduate and graduate students were women, approximately 40% of assistant professors, 33% of associate professors, and 25% of full professors were women. The foundation intends to provide best practices to improve gender parity.
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CVS won court approval for its $68 billion acquisition of Aetna, reported Bloomberg.
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The Joint Commission issued 13 new standards hospitals will be required to implement by next July in order to prevent the likelihood of hemorrhage and severe hypertension for pregnant patients, reported Modern Healthcare.
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HealthLeaders ran an article that explored 10 ways artificial intelligence can revolutionize primary care by assisting with risk prevention and intervention, population health management, and device integration.
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Providing cultural training to doctors treating refugees can mean the difference between healthy and sick patients, said Side Effects. The piece described how medical schools are adapting to give the next generation of doctors cultural proficiency and quoted AAMC Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer David Acosta, MD. “This new generation has a large interest in getting these experiences, and so medical schools basically are really pushing hard to try to provide those experiences to them,” he said.
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Thirty-nine percent of first-time entrants into New York City homeless shelters received treatment in an emergency department or were hospitalized in the previous year, reported the Wall Street Journal.
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Merrill Goozner, editor emeritus of Modern Healthcare, wrote an editorial that criticized the tactics of pharmaceutical groups and their allies in opposing legislative efforts to curb “balance billing” and called attention to how the practice is inflaming already endemic “financial toxicity” in medicine.
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An op-ed in the New York Times claimed that hospitals are even bigger drivers of high health care costs in the United States than pharmaceutical companies and insurers. The piece was written by Elisabeth Rosenthal, MD, a former New York Times correspondent and editor in chief of Kaiser Health News.
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Keith Corl, MD, an emergency and critical care physician and assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary Critical Care at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, wrote an opinion piece in STAT in favor of returning to the old form of triage, claiming that the new “provider-in-triage” system (created when health care consultants applied Toyota’s model of lean production to health care) ultimately sacrifices medical care for hospital profits.
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The lack of capacity in America’s mental health care delivery systems means many with mental health issues are landing in emergency departments (ED), said AAMCNews in a piece that examined how teaching hospitals are adapting to the trend by “making the ED safer and more comfortable for those with mental health conditions, setting up special emergency psychiatric units, increasing telepsychiatry services, and hiring more staff to accommodate growing numbers of patients.”
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NPR highlighted the conspicuous correlation between America’s poorest neighborhoods and the most severe effects of climate change-induced heat waves.
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JAMA covered the results of research on animals that have translational benefits to humans with neurological disorders, aversions to injections, and blood vessels that don’t carry enough oxygen to their hearts.
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Matthew Bailey, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, wrote an opinion piece in STAT arguing that animal rights activists are on the wrong side in the fight against HIV because “[a]nimal research has been crucial for every major breakthrough in HIV treatment, in part because HIV is very similar to the simian immunodeficiency virus, which infects chimpanzees and macaques.”
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Authorizing consumer apps on your smartphone to retrieve your medical records could lead to serious data abuses because federal privacy protections no longer apply once patient data is transferred to private apps, reported the New York Times.
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More physicians viewed the ACA positively in 2017 than in 2012, reported Health Affairs, with 53% saying in 2017 that the ACA “would turn United States health care in the right direction,” as opposed to only 42% holding that view in 2012.
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The Atlantic explained how the approximately 1,400 Federally Qualified Health Centers, which have their origin in 1960s-era poverty relief programs, have been a lifeline for rural communities struggling with dwindling access to health care and a spate of hospital closures.
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Johns Hopkins Medicine launched the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research to study how hallucinogenic compounds might be useful in treating a range of mental health problems, reported the New York Times.
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A paper that originally appeared in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities and was reprinted by the National Academy of Medicine discussed the “Medical Surprise Anticipation and Recognition Capability,” a framework adapted from an established U.S. military strategy to identify and address surprising events. The paper was co-written by Cato Laurencin, MD, PhD, a university professor and the Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Connecticut.
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“Many clinician interviewers may not have the opportunity or the time to get a sense of who you are or have only briefly glanced over your CV, so the hobbies section is an easy and interesting talking point that many interviewers will latch onto. For this reason, you should prepare a one- to two-minute spiel that goes into what you do, why you do it and how it sustains you,” recommended U.S. News & World Report to medical school applicants.
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The winners of the 2020 Breakthrough Prizes were announced. Each winner will receive a $3 million award and a televised presentation. The prizes, considered the “Oscars of Science,” celebrate the "important, primarily recent, achievements in the categories of fundamental physics, life sciences, and mathematics" because these disciplines "ask the biggest questions and find the deepest explanations."
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Applications are being accepted for the AAMC Nurturing Experiences for Tomorrow’s Community Leaders (NEXT) Award, which provides funding to develop or enhance a learning opportunity for students and trainees that addresses local community health needs. Applications are due Oct. 1.
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The AAMC will host a webinar Sept. 12 to explore the public health framework for firearm injury prevention and the need for federally funded public health research focused on gun-related morbidity and mortality. The webinar will also cover efforts in progress to enhance research, education, and targeted injury prevention initiatives. The webinar will be led by Ronald M. Stewart, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery at UT Health San Antonio, and medical director of the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma.
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R. Kevin Grigsby, AAMC senior director of Member Organizational Development, was interviewed in the Faculty Factory podcast series that’s available now for download. The Faculty Factory works toward building a community of leaders in faculty development to share tools, resources, and encouragement for faculty members, schools, and institutions.
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J. Edward Hartle, MD, has been named executive vice president and chief medical officer of Geisinger. Dr. Hartle previously served as chair of Geisinger’s Medicine Institute and has been a physician at Geisinger since 1995.
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The University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine made three new leadership announcements: Timothy Baker, MD, has been appointed senior associate dean for academic affairs; Melissa Piasecki, MD, previously executive associate dean and senior associate dean for academic affairs, will take on an expansion of her role as executive associate dean; and Lisa Calvo, MD, will serve as interim associate dean for medical education.
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Charles Dimitroff, PhD, has been named executive associate dean for research, director of the Translational Glycobiology Institute at Florida International University, and professor of translational medicine at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. Dr. Dimitroff previously served as an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School.
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Gregory Antione, MD, has been named associate dean of clinical affairs and chief medical officer at Morehouse School of Medicine. Dr. Antione served as chief of staff at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
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Mark Kaplan, PhD, has been appointed chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Indiana University School of Medicine and director of basic science in the Brown Center for Immunotherapy, effective Jan. 1. Dr. Kaplan is the Billie Lou Wood Professor of Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Christine Albert, MD, MPH, has been named founding chair of the new Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heat Institute at Cedars-Sinai. Dr. Albert is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Arrhythmia Prevention at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
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Vivian Gahtan, MD, has been named professor and chair of the Department of Surgery at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and Loyola University Medical Center. Dr. Gahtan previously served as professor and vice chair for academic development in the Department of Surgery at State University of New York Upstate Medical University.
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Daniel Dawes, JD, has been named director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute and associate lead for government relations at the Morehouse School of Medicine. Dawes is an elected fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine and has served on several boards, commissions, and councils focused on improving health outcomes and elevating health equity in the United States.
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The Seattle Times “Careers” section profiled Ben Wilson, one of about 300 certified health care simulation operations specialists worldwide, who toils away in classrooms and clinical settings prepping medical mannequins to behave as human and lifelike as possible. He reports that the best part of his job is the knowledge that he’s positively affecting the lives of people who will require hands-on health care down the road, which sounds like a great perspective since, he says, much of his day is spent actively making mannequins bleed, vomit, and, of course, be born again and again, in the case of baby mannequins.
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Could it just be a giant eel? The Washington Post covered the work of geneticist Neil Gemmell, a professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand who has been surveying the world’s most famous body of water for DNA evidence of the Loch Ness monster, or more likely something else. Professor Gemmell notes his ulterior motive in the article: “I am unashamedly using the monster as a way to attract interest so I can talk about the science I want to talk about,” he said.
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And finally, in other slimy news, truth seems stranger than fiction, given that a region derided in recent history as a “swamp” is now home to a brand-new species of bloodsucking leach. Smithsonian researchers recently identified Macrobdella mimicus in the Washington, D.C., region. On the plus side, it’s not just any old run-of-the-mill leach; it’s a medicinal leach, perhaps coming soon to a pharmacy near you.
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Find more news items on AAMC's Research Clips page, and visit the CFAS Resources page for an archive of the previous four editions of CFAS News as well as our People of Academic Medicine page, which features a running list of academic promotions, appointments, and departures.

Your comments and news tips are always welcome. Please email them to Eric Weissman at eweissman@aamc.org.

Eric Weissman
Senior Director, Faculty and Academic Society Engagement
AAMC
eweissman@aamc.org
www.aamc.org/members/cfas

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