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Genetics could explain why some people get severe COVID-19

July 21, 2021.  One of the greatest mysteries of the COVID-19 pandemic is why some people fall severely ill while others suffer nary a sniffle. Now, after compiling data from around the world, researchers have determined that the answer seems to lie, in part, in genetics.

"Teams of scientists from around the world shared data as quickly as it was generated, and this data was analyzed almost as quickly as it was shared," said Manuel Rivas, DPhil, assistant professor of biomedical data scientist and PHS faculty fellow who helped lead Stanford's contribution to the analysis. "That's transformative for our understanding of the genetics behind COVID-19 infection. This type of rapid data sharing and analysis hasn't been the model for studying other viruses, but it really should be."

A majority of Americans think children will be financially worse off than their parents, survey finds

July 21, 2021.  The coronavirus pandemic has made parents pessimistic about their children’s future, according to a survey by Pew Research.

More than two-thirds (68%) of U.S. respondents said they think today’s children will be financially worse off as adults than their parents, up from 60% in 2019. Only 32% think children will be better off.

2016 study co-authored by Stanford sociologist and PHS faculty fellow David Grusky, found that only half of those born in 1984 were earning more than their parents, compared to 92% of those born in 1940.

The main reason for the decline is that income inequality dramatically increased over this time period, Grusky explained.

“If the benefits of economic growth had instead been broadly shared, then a large swath of children would be doing better than their parents,” he said.

In order to reverse the trend, that economic success has to reach everyone, he noted.

“It would solve the absolute mobility problem … and a great many other problems facing our country.”

Virus or Bacterium? Rapid Test Pinpoints Infection’s Cause

July 20, 2021.  Runny nose, cough, fever: patients show up in clinics every day with these classic symptoms of respiratory infection. But is the culprit a bacterium, which can be attacked with antibiotics, or a virus, which is harder to target with medication? Often doctors cannot be certain. But researchers say they are closing in on an accurate test that can make the call quickly, right in a physician’s office.

Technology to examine genes’ response to pathogens in a rapid and integrated way was just recently developed, says Stanford University Purvesh Khatri, PhD, associate professor of biomedical informatics and of biomedical data science, and the Center for Population Health Science, faculty fellow. Purvesh Khatri, who was not involved in the study. Amplifying RNA through PCR-based methods, a key analytic step, can now be done in 15 to 20 minutes. Khatri co-founded Inflammatix, a company set to soon release its own rapid test “to tell whether there is an infection and which [pathogen] is likely causing it and also give information about severity.”

Study shows why second dose of COVID-19 vaccine shouldn’t be skipped

July 17, 2021.  The second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine induces a powerful boost to a part of the immune system that provides broad antiviral protection, according to a study led by investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

“Despite their outstanding efficacy, little is known about how exactly RNA vaccines work,” said Bali Pulendran, PhD, professor of pathology and of microbiology and immunology. “So we probed the immune response induced by one of them in exquisite detail.”

He shares senior authorship of the study with Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD, the Naddisy Foundation Professor of Pediatric Food, Allergy, Immunology, and Asthma and professor of pediatrics, and Purvesh Khatri, PhD, associate professor of biomedical informatics and of biomedical data science, and the Center for Population Health Science, faculty fellow. The study’s lead authors are Prabhu Arunachalam, PhD, a senior research scientist in Pulendran’s lab; medical student Madeleine Scott, PhD, a former graduate student in Khatri’s lab; and Thomas Hagan, PhD, a former postdoctoral scholar in Pulendran’s Stanford lab and now an assistant professor at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta.

Just Curious

July 9, 2021.  How a boy who played with fire (and mercury, and bleach) became a bioengineer who brought $1 origami microscopes (and paper centrifuges, and snorkel-mask PPE) to the world.

"All of us have some superpower. I've always felt this is observation for me." -Manu Prakash, associate professor of bioengineering and PHS faculty fellow.

Stanford education professor joins leadership team at California research center

July 8, 2021.  Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) Assistant Professor and PHS Faculty Fellow,  Ben Domingue has been named to a key role on the leadership team of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), joining as faculty director representing the GSE. 

PACE is an independent, nonpartisan research center housed at Stanford, working with scholars from California’s leading universities and with state and local decision makers to bridge the gap between research, policy, and practice at all levels of California’s education system. The center is led by faculty directors at Stanford University, the University of Southern California, the University of California at Davis, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of California at Berkeley.

Stanford researchers offer practical tips to mitigate harm from wildfire smoke

July 7, 2021.  Warnings of another severe wildfire season abound, as do efforts to reduce the risk of ignition. Yet few are taking precautions against the smoke. Stanford experts advise on contending with hazardous air quality.

The health effects of wildfire smoke are well-documented in research by Kari Nadeau, director of Stanford’s Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research, and Mary Prunicki, the center’s director of air pollution and health research.

Economist Marshall Burke, associate professor of Earth system science in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, and faculty fellow, Center for Population Health Sciences, has studied the toxicity of wildfire smoke from an environmental justice perspective. Leakier structures in less economically advantaged communities allow more particulate matter to travel indoors, Burke explained during a May presentation at a Stanford symposium on energy and water in the West.

Racial, ethnic disparities in COVID-19 vaccination coverage

July 1, 2021. New joint research by Stanford Health Policy and the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that at the pace of vaccination, 65% of people ages 12 and older in the United States would be at least partially vaccinated by July 4 -- but for Hispanic and Black people, rates are lower.
The researchers wrote in their study, which was published by the foundation, that vaccination rates among Black and Hispanic people have lagged behind those of white people, largely a result of access and logistical barriers, as well as concerns about safety and potential side effects.
Marissa Reitsma, a graduate student, PHS and lead author on the study, noted vaccine data by race and ethnicity are inconsistently reported across states, making it hard to monitor vaccine equity. 

Why eliminating the SAT would not help Black or Hispanic students

June 29, 2021. But if we abolish the SAT, we will lose our best measure of the academic skills of high school students, while doing exactly nothing to improve the skills of Black and Hispanic students. That problem will remain whether we measure it or not.
A study by Benjamin Domingue, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Medicine and faculty fellow at the Center for Population Health Sciences, Stanford University, and Derek Briggs of the University of Colorado estimated that students who receive coaching increase their math scores by only 11 to 15 points and their verbal scores by only 6 to 9 points, compared with otherwise similar students who receive no coaching.

Dr. Ami Bhatt thinks cancer is worth fighting everywhere

June 29, 2021. Through her NGO Global Oncology, Global Health and Center for Population Health Sciences, Faculty Fellow Dr. Ami Bhatt is fighting cancer in places it has been historically ignored. Starting with a national campaign against preventable cervical cancer in Nigeria, she is on a mission to bring recent cancer advancements to every corner of the globe.

Adding key ingredient to vaccine may stimulate broad protection against viruses

June 25, 2021.  Supplementing a vaccine with a substance that enhances immune responses could provide protection against a broad range of viruses, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford co-author, Purvesh Khatri, PhD, associate professor of medicine and of biomedical data science and faculty fellow at the Center for Population Health Sciences is part of this study.

Climate change linked to longer allergy season in Bay Area, Stanford study finds

June 18, 2021.   Air levels of pollen and mold spores in the San Francisco Bay Area are elevated for about two more months per year than in past decades, and higher temperatures are to blame, a Stanford Medicine study has found.

The study’s lead author is Bibek Paudel, PhD, research fellow at the Sean N. Parker Center and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and postdoctoral research fellow with the Center for Population Health Sciences.

San Diego Group Repurposes Sleep Apnea Machines to Help India Fight COVID-19

June 11, 2021.   India has been devastated by a catastrophic second wave of the virus, overwhelming hospitals and already suffering from a dire lack of oxygen and ventilators while other parts of the world are transitioning from COVID-19 to recovery mode I’m out.

“You can’t build a medical ventilator in your garage, but you can do this in your garage,” said Dr. Sakya Tripathy, a biomedical engineer, while holding a donated CPAP machine. “It’s in most homes, and when assembled with tubes and masks, it’s a very good and cheap ventilator. It’s a very interesting and innovative solution to very complex problems.”

 Manu Prakash, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering of Stanford University, a roommate at Tripathy University, said at the start of the pandemic that CPAP and BiPAP sleep apnea devices would be reused for non-invasive ventilators at his Bay Area Institute. Developed a cost-effective idea.

Maternal care and race: ‘Birth equity is where a whole life starts’

June 8, 2021.   The United States has the highest maternal death rate of any wealthy nation, and the proportion of women who experience severe, nonfatal childbirth complications has nearly tripled since 1993.

"We all deserve to be able to expect equal treatment when we receive medical care," said Stanford epidemiologist Stephanie Leonard, PhD, whose research -- featured in the article "Childbirth's unequal burden" -- has helped illuminate how pregnant and birthing women are not equally treated.

Stanford explainer: Social cost of carbon

June 8, 2021.   Carbon emissions not only are causing widespread and potentially irreversible damage to the environment but also may have significant impacts on the economy. Here, Stanford University economists Marshall Burke (faculty fellow at the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences) and Lawrence Goulder explain one tool for understanding those impacts: the social cost of carbon. Burke and Goulder describe what the social cost of carbon is, how it is calculated and used in policymaking, and how it relates to environmental justice.

Theranos is history, but big blood testing breakthroughs are coming post-Covid

June 7, 2021.   Medical researchers say within a few years major breakthroughs in blood testing technology that use immune system response and genetic analysis to identify disease quickly and cost-effectively will be on the market.

While neither the FDA nor any European regulators have approved these kinds of gene-based pathogen detection systems, Purvesh Khatri, an associate professor at the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection and Department of Medicine, and faculty fellow at the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences, Khatri, who is helping launch a related commercial venture, says they’re coming soon. “In the next year or two, there will be several that will be available on the market.”

Stanford’s Dr. Latha Palaniappan Helps Measure Impact

June 4, 2021.   Dr. Palaniappan is a diabetes expert and researcher at Stanford Medical Center, and the founder of its Center for Asian Health Research & Education (CARE), who is focused on the study of diverse populations, chronic disease, and prevention. Given the alignment of her research and Arogya’s mission, she is spending her sabbatical this year with Arogya World.

India has the greatest number of people with diabetes. Arogya’s programs, including its Healthy Workplaces, mDiabetes, MyThali, and Healthy Schools, all focus on helping people make healthy lifestyle changes to prevent diabetes. Dr. Palaniappan and her students will study the impact of these programs including how digitization can affect change. The use of contactless mobile technology, such as text messaging has been shown to be successful in affecting self-reported behavioral changes. And, as Dr. Palaniappan says “digitization makes chronic disease prevention efforts more scalable.”

Toolmakers aim to untangle fundamental challenges in neuroscience

June 3, 2021.   But two groups of Stanford researchers are tackling these long-standing problems head on. As part of the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute’s Big Ideas in Neuroscience program, they are forging new technologies and connections between disciplines that have the potential to transform the field:

The Neuro-Omics Initiative is bringing to bear new technologies to bridge long-standing gaps in understanding between molecular and systems-level descriptions of the brain, while the Stanford Brain Organogenesis Program is developing new laboratory models of human brain circuits to allow the field to study the human brain’s unique development — and how its complex circuits go awry in neurological and psychiatric disease.

Joining the effort are a multi-disciplinary team of collaborators, including machine learning expert and faculty fellow with the Stanford Center for Population Health SciencesJure Leskovec, PhD, evolutionary and organismal biologist Lauren O'Connell, PhD, and bioengineer and developmental biologist Bo Wang, PhD.

Do College Application Essays Favor the Wealthy?

June 3, 2021.   Everyone has heard that the SAT and ACT correlate with family wealth. Wealthier students generally attend high schools that are focused on the college application process, and many offer special programs for students to stretch their skills. Wealthier students can afford to hire SAT or ACT tutors and to take the tests as many times as possible.  

So what are colleges to do?

Inside Higher Ed posed that question to the authors of the paper, AJ Alvero, Sonia Giebel, Anthony Lising Antonio, Mitchell L. Stevens, Benjamin W. Domingue of Stanford, assistant professor, Graduate School of Education, and faculty fellow with the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences, and Ben Gebre-Medhin of Mount Holyoke College. They provided a joint answer:

"While individual lab members necessarily have their own points of view, we all agree on the following:  Read More Here>>

The environmental case for remote working

June 3, 2021.   Anyone searching for a silver lining to the pandemic should look to the clear, blue skies above them. A reduction in pollution worldwide has been an unintended benefit of the lockdowns and stay-in-place orders imposed to control the spread of COVID-19.

The fall in pollution during China country’s lockdown in January and February “likely saved 20 times more lives in China than have currently been lost due to infection with the virus in that country”, calculates Marshall Burke of Stanford University’s Department of Earth System Science and faculty fellow at the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences, as reported in Forbes in March. He adds: “The fact that disruption of this magnitude could actually lead to some large (partial) benefits suggests that our normal way of doing things might need disrupting.”

Countering decades of racism in medicine

June 3, 2021.   Race and health in the United States are traditionally intertwined and, often, it's at the expense of people of color. Recent public health data makes that abundantly clear: People in Black and Latino communities are more likely to be exposed to, contract and die from COVID-19. African Americans have the highest mortality rate for all cancers when compared with any other racial or ethnic group. When compared with white adolescents, Indigenous American and Alaska Native adolescents are 30% more likely to be obese.

Food as medicineLisa Goldman Rosas, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology and population health and of medicine and associate faculty director, community engagement, PHS, is testing the power of leafy greens in a study designed to determine whether healthy foods can mitigate chronic disease risk. Goldman Rosas and others are collaborating with local sustainable farmers to connect people at high risk for chronic disease with weekly boxes of vegetables and recipes to prepare them.

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