Parkinson’s researcher avoids jail after fraud conviction

Former University of Queensland (UQ) Parkinson’s researcher Caroline Barwood has been given a 2-year suspended sentence after being found guilty of fraud by a Brisbane jury, according to Retraction Watch. She was found guilty of five of the seven charges laid against her. “Earlier this year, Bruce Murdoch, a former colleague of Barwood’s at [UQ], pleaded guilty to 17 fraud-related charges, and earned himself the same sentence. In Barwood’s week-long trial, the court heard that she was previously in an intimate relationship with Murdoch. Both left the UQ in 2013.” One fraud charge against Barwood was related to obtaining a scholarship from the Lions Medical Research Foundation. Earlier in 2016, The Australian reported that UQ had returned part of a $300 000 grant. The other charge was a result of including her name on two studies without justification. Barwood, 31, was found to have tried to obtain up to $700 000 for a 2009 study about Parkinson’s disease that never took place. Two of the three charges of attempted fraud included trying to obtain funds by applying to early career fellowships. The other was for dishonestly trying to earn a travel grant of $2000 to travel to a conference and present an article. UQ Vice Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said in a statement that: “The University has been complimented for its proactive and open stance on this matter and I’m pleased that proceedings have now reached an end. UQ has ongoing educational programs to inform researchers of their obligations under University policy and the Australian Code for Responsible Conduct of Research to conduct their research with responsibility and integrity, and I am confident that the vast majority of our researchers take research integrity very seriously.”

Bariatric surgery for teens: short term pain for long term benefit

Weight-loss surgery can help severely obese teens keep off the weight, but may not be cost effective, at least in the shorter term, according to United States scientists in a study published in JAMA Surgery. The expensive and risky surgery was not cost effective over 3 years, according to the authors, but it could become cost effective over 5 years. Results from the recently published Teen-longitudinal assessment of bariatric surgery study – in which the researchers created a model to compare two strategies for the management of severe obesity in adolescents: no surgery and bariatric surgery – showed that in the no surgery strategy, patients remained at their initial body mass index (BMI) over time. In the bariatric surgery strategy, patients were subjected to risks of perioperative mortality and complications as well as initial morbidity, but also experienced longer term quality-of-life improvements associated with weight loss. Of the 228 patients included in the analysis, the average age was 17 years, the average BMI was 53, and 171 patients (75%) were female. A willingness-to-pay threshold of $100 000 per quality-adjusted life-years was used to assess cost effectiveness. The researchers found that while bariatric surgery was not cost effective over a 3-year time horizon, it could become cost effective if assessed over a time horizon of 5 years. “As evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of bariatric surgery continues to accrue for the adolescent population, it will likely become a more accepted and commonly used therapeutic option. Our analysis indicates that it can also be cost effective when assessed over a relatively short time horizon. Longer term studies that track quality of life, weight loss, comorbidity resolution, and health care costs are needed to confirm our findings.”

Psychiatric risks for teen boys with heart problems

Higher resting heart rate and higher blood pressure in late adolescence were associated with an increased risk in men for the subsequent development of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia and anxiety disorders, according to a new article published by JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers from Finland and Sweden used register data for more than 1 million men in Sweden whose resting heart rate and blood pressure were measured at the time of military conscription (average age 18 years) from 1969 to 2010 to examine whether differences in cardiac autonomic function were associated with psychiatric disorders. Analyses based on up to 45 years of follow-up data suggested that men in their late teens with resting heart rates of above 82 beats per minute had a 69% increased risk for later OCD, a 21% increased risk for schizophrenia and an 18% increased risk for anxiety disorders compared with those whose resting heart rates were below 62 beats per minute. The authors reported similar associations for blood pressure. Lower resting heart rate and blood pressure were associated with substance misuse disorders and violent behavior, the study also reported.

Lung “on a chip” latest weapon in smoke injury research

Researchers from Harvard University in the US have developed an “airway-on-a-chip” that supports living bronchiolar epithelial cells from normal or diseased human lungs. They have used this technology to recreate and analyse the effects of smoking at the molecular, cellular and tissue level in order to understand the damage occurring in normal and engineered lung tissues from patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The research was published in Cell Systems. The airway-on-a-chip devices are made of a clear flexible rubber the size of a computer memory stick. Bronchiolar epithelial cells are cultured in a top channel, where air can pass over them, and fed through a bottom channel, which acts as a vascular system. The cells differentiate and specialise on the chips, produce mucus and develop cilia – hair-like extensions that beat in concert to push mucus out of airways. The chip is paired with a microrespirator and a smoking machine that acts as a mouth that can take a puff of a cigarette, exhale it and breathe normal air in and out over the chips between puffs. Software determines, among other variables, how many puffs the smoking machine takes per cigarette and how many breaths between puffs. The authors showed that when exposed to smoke, the airway-on-a-chip experienced changes in oxidation-reduction pathways and gene expression profiles that matched those found in human smokers. Using automated image processing, they also showed that on chips exposed to smoke, cilia in some areas beat normally, but in other areas beat at much reduced rates, providing insights into what happens in smokers’ lungs. To test the versatility of their system, the researchers also tested the effects of e-cigarettes. They found less evidence of changes in oxidation–reduction pathways, but similar changes in cilia beat patterns. The authors plan to go on to use the chips in pre-clinical studies to identify potential therapeutic targets for COPD. They are also hoping to develop more elaborate chips that would include other types of cells found in airways including immune cells, to more closely mimic human-level responses.


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As a GP I'd rather refer my patient to a respiratory specialist than do spirometry in my practice
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