Category Archives: Opinions

I am the herd

Signe ÅsbergBlogger: Signe Åsberg,
PhD student at CEMIR

 

In December last year an outbreak of measles started when a family that was not vaccinated visited Disneyland California. I’m currently a visiting graduate student here in Los Angeles and I’d planned to go to Disneyland to get some of that Christmas magic-feeling that the decorated palm trees couldn’t convey.

I never went though. Before I even knew it Christmas had passed, January gone and nearly a hundred persons had been infected with measles after the outbreak that started in Disneyland.

… people who choose not to vaccinate their kids for religious or “personal reasons”

Ei jenter får vaksine. Foto: iStockPhoto

Measles are effectively prevented by vaccination and there is no cost involved (Photo: iStock)

In the following months the disease spread and 2015 is expected to be a record year in the number of cases since measles was declared eradicated in the US in 2000. What I find especially aggravating is that measles are effectively prevented by vaccination and there is no cost involved. The vaccine is part of the vaccination program, as it is in Norway, yet there are several schools and kindergartens in California where dangerously few children are vaccinated. Their parents are mainly wealthy and well educated people who choose not to vaccinate their kids for religious or “personal reasons”. Parents need only a signature from a doctor or other type of health care provider to exempt their kid from vaccination and it seems like this signature is given out too easily.

The debate following the outbreak has to a large extent focused on parents right to choose and there is a strong tradition for valuing freedom of choice in the US. But when it comes to diseases such as measles, polio and whopping cough the parents that «feel vaccination is not for them» are putting more vulnerable individuals at risk. For herd immunity to be efficient against measles at least 95-97% of the population needs to be vaccinated. This is enough to prevent an outbreak and protect those who can’t be vaccinated due to health reasons, such as the very young or old, cancer patients or people with reduced immune function.

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What I love about my job

Signe ÅsbergBlogger: Signe Åsberg
PhD student at CEMIR

This blog post was originally posted on Åsberg’s science blog Furby in the lab

 

Let me give you a list of all the aspects of my job as a PhD student that I love. It really is a great ride but also incredibly difficult and I find myself easily sucked into the dark thoughts of how this will never work out, I’m the worst scientist in history and my project is not worth doing. I think it is time to will myself out of the dark places and focus on what I enjoy:

– First of all I get to think. A lot. Almost all the time, every day. I think, ponder, question, wonder. It’s a privilege.

– I get to look closely at microscopic organisms. I love looking at things. There’s just nothing better than looking at something amazing with your own eyes. I get to see cells, bacteria and even proteins. Or I get to see the light that the fluorophores I attached to those proteins emit when I excite them.

– This brings me to attaching fluorophores to proteins. I’m excited about that. I get to glue molecules together!

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Technology for a better world?

Elisabeth DarjBlogger: Elisabeth Darj
professor in Global Health

 

Last week, the conference Appropriate Health Technology for Low Resource Settings, was held in London. Access to healthcare through technology, development and research was discussed. How to promote health in rural areas, where no doctors, few health workers and no appropriate equipment are available?

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Future health leaders

Stig Arild SlørdahlBlogger: Stig A. Slørdahl
Dean at The Faculty og Medicine, NTNU

 

Last week, the four medical faculties organised a leadership summer school. This was a pilot project to explore whether it can work as a supplement to the teaching we provide for all our students. It was also an experiment to determine the content of a possible summer school.

The summer school took place at the Inter University Centre (IUC) in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The IUC is an international study centre, and an independent institution with 167 member universities in 46 countries. All the Norwegian universities with medical faculties are members.

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The Integrated University Hospital improves patient care

Blogger: Bjørn GustafssonBjørn_Gustafsson_blid_Foto_GeirMogen
Dean of Research, The Faculty of Medicine, NTNU

Last week one of our research groups, led by Professor Duan Chen, published a comprehensive scientific study showing promising results in treating gastric cancer, by blocking the tumor nerve supply. The article was published in the prestigious journal Science Translational Medicine.

From left: The Knowledge Center, Chun-Mei Zhao, Gøran T. Andersen (in the background), Duan Chen bottom right

From left: The Knowledge Center, Chun-Mei Zhao, Gøran T. Andersen (in the background), Duan Chen bottom right (Photo: Helsebygg/Geir Mogen)

The term “translational medicine” involves transferring new knowledge from basic research on for instance cell culture or animal models to practical use in patient care; also coined with the term “from bench-to-bedside”.

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Applied Human Physiology in Extreme Environments

Blogger: Andreas Møllerløkken Andreas Møllerløkken

 

 

 

The NTNU Barophysiology Group aims to promote safety and minimize the acute and long-term harmful effects of diving and other extreme environmental exposures. Our work covers the topics of both basic and applied research. Through a translational approach, we study animal models to provide novel and comprehensive knowledge of pathophysiological mechanisms. We also use human field and laboratory studies to obtain physiologically relevant data.

This week we arrange a course, “Enjoy the Cold – Health, Protection and Survival in the Cold – Adaptation and risk assessment of human activities in cold environments” in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard. This course aims at giving people who are working and participating in activities related to cold environments proper training and insights on different equipment that exists which can be used to manage the different challenges one faces in the cold environment. Through a combination of lectures, discussions, practical work and use of equipment, the participants will gain an intimate knowledge on how to handle work situations as well as accidents.

Measuring oxygen consumption during field work

Measuring oxygen consumption during field work

The Arctic areas have become regions of global importance because of their enormous natural resources and their strategic position. These northern areas are cold, harsh and hostile to man. Working in them is difficult, expensive and demands high levels of technical, scientific, and physiological expertise. Cold weather exposure can cause immediate health problems. For people with ailments, cold exposure can lead to new symptoms, or aggravate those existing. Cold exposure may also cause pain and disease in healthy subjects.

A number of climatic factors are known to increase challenges related to work in the northern areas, such as temperature, wind, icing, the polar low, uncertain weather forecasts and polar night. In addition to climatic factors, regulation of body temperature is affected by activity, technical protective actions/systems and clothing. The climatic problems connected with activity in the arctic areas are not only limited to equipment and equipment function. Cold is one of the most dangerous environmental risk factors for man. Not only does the cold challenge day to day function in those prepared for such an environment, but if conditions become more extreme, then it may also challenge survival. Although the human body has a physiological control mechanism, homeostasis, to maintain a stable and optimal internal environment independent of a changing external environment, this mechanism is not protection enough in the sub-arctic areas. Man is totally dependent on personal protective equipment, established working procedures and training to perform the work within specified safety and efficiency limits.

 Man is totally dependent on personal protective equipment, established working procedures and training

Increasing development and human activity in the Arctic environment calls for increased research focus on the appropriate applied human physiology in order to increase our knowledge on how the organism adapts to extreme environments.

It is well recognized that cold environments have negative health effects on the human body, but an important question is are there any increased health risks due to the physiological stress and decreased performance associated with survival requirements, for example having to wear heavy protective clothing constantly?

The course participants gets to experience field testing of immersion suits

The course participants gets to experience field testing of immersion suits

As diving is likely to be an important activity in these regions, the long-term health effects for divers who undertake the majority of their work in cold water should also be considered. More knowledge is needed to understand which processes come into play when the body’s ability to adaptation is exceeded, why one human reacts differently to another when exposed to the same environments and stressors, and how we can prepare ourselves to be protected against adverse health effects of exposures to extreme environments both in the short and long term.

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In 1990 the course “Health, Protection and Survival in the Cold” was arranged at Svea, and this was the first course in a series of courses that have been held throughout the years since then. All in all, some 250 persons have participated the course since its beginning in 1990, to get a better understanding of the different elements one meets in extreme environments and how they influence our own physiology.

With the increasing activity in the arctic regions, research within the human physiology and its response in the cold environment is necessary and give bases for our course.

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Barbara McClintock and today’s women in academia

Blogger: Signe ÅsbergSigne-Elisabeth-Åsberg

 

 

 

 

In connection with the International Women’s Day last Saturday, PhD candidate Signe Åsberg has taken a look at women in science – how far we’ve come over the last century, but also how far we have left to go.

In the 1920’s Barbara McClintock and Harriet Creighton proved that genes for physical traits are carried on chromosomes. By collecting data from fields of carefully bread maize, they had for the first time physical proof that exchanging chromosomal parts are involved in causing variation between organisms. During the 1940’s McClintock continued her ground-breaking work in genetics and in 1951 at a Cold Spring Harbor Symposium summarized her discovery of the transposons, genetic elements that «jump around» on the chromosomes.

X chromosome (Illustration: iStock)

Barbara McClintock studied genetics, but was hampered by her own chromosomes – being female.

The importance of McClintock’s work was however not recognized until the late 1960’s when transposable elements were discovered in bacteria. By that time she had already been fighting for her scientific career for 30 years.

Despite of her scientific reputation, honorary degrees and being the recipient of numerous prestigious fellowships, McClintock faced decades of discrimination. She was denied faculty positions at Cornell University and University of Missouri due to discrimination against women scientists. While being expected to recommend male colleagues to universities like Yale and Harvard, she could not find a research related position herself.

The hostility she experienced as a female scientist was further increased by the disrespect members of the upcoming field of molecular biology showed towards biochemists, bacterial experts and geneticists. She was even described as «just an old bag who’d been hanging around Cold Spring Harbor for years» by a leading molecular biologist. A story by James Watson stand as an awkward symbol of this disrespect: The molecular biologists softball games that took place next to McClintock’s maize fields «all too often» ended in the fields – thereby risking harm to the plants and years of work.

Despite these exceptionally difficult circumstances (by today’s standard) McClintock never left science. When she tried to do so, her network of family and friends worked hard to find her research positions and support her. Eventually at the age of 81 she won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for her work in genetics. Her work was described as «one of two great discoveries of our time in genetics» by the Nobel Committee.

The Nobel Prize and the publicity that followed became a burden for McClintock, but as Sharon B. McGrayne thoughtfully remarks in her book Nobel Prize Women in Science: «Despite the Nobel, McClintock continued her research». She continued her «encyclopaedic» reading and to her death in 1992 remained passionate about all aspects of biology.

Even among the many amazing women in science Barbara McClintock stands out to me as exceptional. Her stamina, her fierceness and love for science and biology is inspirational. Her persistence despite the lack of recognition and difficulty in publishing can be a source of motivation for any PhD student or Post Doc – or even a master’s student.

But, and this is an important but: McClintock dedicated every aspect of herself to her work. She worked twelve-hour days and only scaled down to eight- or nine-hour days in her nineties. Although she maintained selected hobbies there can be no question that science came first in her life. She was an amazing scientist – no doubt – but she is not necessarily a good role model for women in science today.

Women in science are no longer a small group of heroines that work twelve-hour days well beyond retirement. But this does not mean you are any less dedicated – or talented – at your work. Women in science are as diverse as humans anywhere and the loss of women between PhD to PI level (often called the «leaky pipeline») means that academia is missing out on a substantial portion of talented scientists.

As a scientist at an early stage of my career, this came as a surprise to me. No one ever informs undergrads that although women often constitute half, or in some cases the majority, of PhDs they constitute 30% or less of higher ranking positions in universities throughout Europe and the US. I find it surprising that reaching the 30% is considered an accomplishment by most institutions. However compared to the situation a few decades ago it is in fact a major achievement!

I consider myself privileged to be working at CEMIR. On a daily basis I’m surrounded by amazing scientists and a large portion of them are women. To an early stage PhD they are a source of inspiration and motivation but most importantly invaluable mentors in how to do science. With this short note I want to wish everyone at CEMIR, and scientists everywhere, a productive year.

Happy belated Women’s day!

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Improving antenatal care for pregnant women experiencing domestic violence

Blogger: Jennifer J. Infanti Jennifer Infanti

 

 

 

The Faculty of Medicine at NTNU is delighted to welcome four doctors/researchers from Nepal to Trondheim between January 15th and 17th. The visiting delegates are members of an international collaboration of researchers investigating strategies to improve antenatal care for pregnant women experiencing domestic violence in Nepal and Sri Lanka. This research team is led by Professor Berit Schei of The Department of Public Health and General Practice and funded by the Research Council of Norway under its GLOBVAC programme.

Domestic violence is a profound global health problem.

Visit from Nepal

At the Obstetrics & Gynaecology Department at St. Olavs Hospital. From left to right, the people are: Dr. Rajendra Koju, Dr. Sunil Kumar Joshi, Dr. Chanda Karki, Dr. Meena Thapa. (Photo: Jennifer Infanti)

The guests from Nepal include Dr. Chanda Karki, Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Principal (Dean) of Kathmandu Medical College and Teaching Hospital (KMC); Dr. Meena Thapa, Associate Professor of Obstretics and Gynaecology at KMC; Dr. Sunil Kumar Joshi, Associate Professor in the Medical Education Department at KMC; and Dr. Rajendra Koju, medical doctor at Dhulikhel Hospital and Associate Dean of the Kathmandu University School of Medical Sciences.

Domestic violence is a profound global health problem, posing significant risks for the physical, sexual and psychological health and well-being of women and children in particular. Domestic violence crosses all geographic, economic and cultural barriers and borders. Despite the significant risks of domestic violence for poor health, rigorously conducted research on the interventions, services and policies that work best to prevent and respond to domestic violence is limited.

Visit from Nepal

The four guests from Nepal are standing or sitting from left to right as follows: Dr. Sunil Kumar Joshi (standing), Dr. Chanda Karki, Dr. Rajendra Koju, Dr. Meena Thapa. (Photo: Jennifer Infanti).

In addition, addressing such a widespread public health challenge requires cooperative actions and solutions which bridge many sectors of society – for example, governments, non-profit organisations, researchers, and health care. Professor Schei’s project strengthens the formal partnership of NTNU and Kathmandu University to advance such a cross-cultural exchange of skills, knowledge and experiences to tackle domestic violence.

The visiting doctors/researchers from Nepal will have the opportunity to meet with some of Trondheim’s service providers for victims of domestic violence during their stay, including the Sexual Assault Care Centre team at St. Olavs Hospital, staff at the Trondheim Crisis Centre, and victim support officers and investigators at the police station. In addition, they will be sharing their experiences in obstetrics and public health in Nepal at various meetings and seminars at St. Olavs hospital and NTNU.

Visit from Nepal

Dr. Chanda Karki is speaking at the podium. (Photo: Jennifer Infanri)

Importantly for the research project, the visit will allow time to further develop two PhD proposals – the funding from the Norwegian Research Council for this project will allow two students from Nepal to complete PhD degrees at NTNU over the next three years. The doctoral projects aim to develop culturally and contextually sensitive screening tools to identify pregnant women experiencing domestic violence in antenatal care settings in the Kathmandu area of Nepal. In addition, the PhD students will each develop training and education interventions to support health care professionals in their work with victims of domestic violence. The goal of the interventions is to improve the safety of pregnant women by either reducing the recurrence of abuse or mitigating its impact and consequences.

Professor Schei’s study aligns with the strategic efforts of the Faculty of Medicine at NTNU and St. Olavs Hospital to build competency in the field of global health. The Faculty will benefit from the skills and knowledge of health care practitioners from other countries. With Norway’s population becoming increasingly multicultural, this will help us prepare for patients coming to the hospitals from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, contributing to a more culturally responsive health care system.

 

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Fred Kavli, philanthropist and entrepreneur with links to NTNU, dies at 86

Fred Kavli, a businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist whose support for basic scientific research has had a major impact on the research landscape in three continents, has died at 86.

Kavli died peacefully in his home in Santa Barbara on Thursday November 21, according to the Kavli Foundation, the institution he founded in 2000 to support his philanthropic work.

– Fred Kavli was an extraordinary human being with special visionary qualities. We are proud to represent his alma mater, and happy that we can carry his vision forward through the work of the Kavli Institute, said Gunnar Bovim, Rector of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

Kavli foran Hovedbygningen på NTNU Gløshaugen, 2007. Foto: Steinar Fugelsøy, Adresseavisen/NTNU Info

Kavli at NTNU, 2007. Photo: Steinar Fugelsøy, Adresseavisen/NTNU Info

Kavli graduated with a degree in applied physics in 1955 from the Norwegian Institute of Technology, one of NTNU’s predecessors.  His philanthropic work through the Kavli Foundation has had a substantial impact on NTNU, particularly when the university’s Centre for the Biology of Memory was selected in 2007 to be the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience.

– Fred has had an enormous impact on our lives. It is because of his vision that we have been able to conduct science as we wanted to do, and it is because of Fred that the institute has grown and become so successful, said Edvard Moser, director of NTNU’s Kavli Institute. – Fred’s beliefs in long-term investments and the power of basic science were unmatched. We will do our best to carry on his vision. He has established a secure foundation for that, through the establishment of the institute as well as the enormous support we get through the Foundation. The support of the Foundation serves as a model for other philanthropic organizations.

– It was with great sadness that we received the news that Fred had passed away, said Stig Slørdahl, dean of the university’s Faculty of Medicine. – Fred was a man with great vision, and even greater generosity, wisdom, creativity and a deep inner drive.

Kavli was diagnosed with cancer, about a year ago. He is survived by two children, and nine nephews and nieces.

After receiving his degree from NTH in 1955, Kavli moved to Canada and eventually the United States, where he became a naturalized citizen and established the Kavlico Corporation in Los Angeles in 1958. The company eventually became one of the world’s largest suppliers of sensors for aeronautical, automotive and industrial applications. The company’s products are found in such landmark projects as the SR-71 Blackbird and the Space Shuttle.

Kavli established the Kavli Foundation in 2000 after divesting his interests in Kavlico. Based in Southern California, the Foundation today includes an international community of basic research institutes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics.

The Foundation has also established and supported an international program of conferences, symposia, endowed professorships, and other activities. This includes being a founding partner of the biennial Kavli Prizes, which recognize scientists for their seminal advances in three research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

Kavli was awarded an honorary doctorate from NTNU in 2008.

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Global health in Trondheim

Blogger: Elisabeth DarjElisabeth Darj

 

 

 

On the first of September I started my work as the first professor in Global Health at NTNU and I have now been asked to present myself. I’m most honored to have this job opportunity and it has been two intense, interesting and exciting months. My office is at Department of Public Health and General Practice.

I am a Swedish obstetrician and gynecologist and have been working clinically for many years. Simultaneously I have always been engaged in education and research. While employed at Uppsala University in Sweden I have taught medical students, midwives, nurses and biomedical assistants among others.

My research profile is in obstetrics and gynecology, but for more than ten years I have focused on reproductive health in low income countries, mainly in East-Africa, where I have supervised PhD and Master’s students. I have conducted research in women’s health from different angles: maternal health and mortality, support in the post-partum period, abortions, violence against women and children, adolescents’ reproductive health, infectious diseases, such as STI/HIV and health systems. I am now involved in a project at NTNU on violence against women in Nepal and Sri Lanka, and have applied for funds for other projects with others.

Mother and child participating in a research project  in rural Tanzania. (Photo: Elisabeth Darj)

Mother and child in Tanzania

Global health is defined as health issues that transcend national boundaries and call for research and actions to improve health for all, irrespective of where we live. “Collaborative international research and action for promoting health for all”. As health is influenced by politics, society, culture and the environment, solutions to health problems not only reside within health systems, but also elsewhere. I have already met a lot of people in Trondheim with strong interests in global health who are engaged in different research projects in various faculties. In the medical faculty there are well-established cooperations and projects in Nepal, Sierra Leone, Malawi and South-Africa. I recently lectured to a large group of medical students and almost all of them had been travelling outside Europe. They showed knowledge and great interest in global health and in solutions to challenging issues. So I think it is timely that the medical faculty has now decided that Global Health shall be included in all education.A new two-year international Master’s program in global health will be developed, which is exciting and challenging, and I’m sure it will benefit research and education.

Furthermore, we wish to increase collaboration with other faculties, institutions, HiST and other actors. At the moment, we are updating the global health program that already exists for medical students. Two weeks ago there was the annual Global Health Day, held for the fourth year, and showing a growing interest in the topic with, now almost 200 participants. There were many stimulating presentations during the day, focusing on two main themes; our technological and educational possibilities from Norway to influence the health situations in low-and middle income countries, and opportunities to meet other researchers and teachers.

NTNU’s vision «Knowledge for a better world» and the medical faculty’s vision «Health for a better world» is comprehensive and relevant to the global world we live in, in Trondheim and elsewhere. Last but not least, I would like to thank all for the warm reception I have received in my new inspiring job.

 

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