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5 must-know leaders in medicine, science and tech

Now more than ever, it is undeniable how integral science and research have become to public health. Nationwide, doctors, scientists and experts are working around the clock to find the most up-to-date and reliable information to prevent and stop the spread of Covid-19.

Here are five must-know women who are shattering ceilings, making groundbreaking discoveries, and spreading public awareness during the global pandemic.

Joy Buolamwini

Joy Buolamwini, founder of Algorithmic Justice League, speaks in New York on March 27, 2019.Bess Adler / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joy Buolamwini is the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League (AJL), a computer scientist and an expert in artificial intelligence bias. Four years ago, when Buolamwini was a graduate student at MIT’s Media Lab, she began looking into the racial and gender disparities in commercially-available facial recognition technologies. Her research culminated in two groundbreaking, peer-reviewed studies, published in 2018 and 2019, that revealed how systems used by Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and others were unable to classify darker female faces as accurately as those of white men—essentially shattering the myth of machine neutrality.

Buolamwini’s research helped persuade these companies to put a hold on facial recognition technology until federal regulations were passed. Through her nonprofit AJL, she has testified before lawmakers at the federal, state and local levels about the dangers of using facial recognition technologies with no oversight.

In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, Buolamwini has called for a complete halt to police using such facial surveillance and is providing activists with resources and tools to demand regulation.

It’s not easy to go up against some of the biggest tech companies when you know they can deploy all of their resources against you. I am still very aware that I am a young Black woman in America. And in the field of AI, the people I was aiming to evaluate held all the purse strings. – Joy Buolamwini

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, left, senior research fellow and scientific lead for coronavirus vaccines and immunopathogenesis team in the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory, talks with President Donald Trump as he tours the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., on March 3, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

Dr. Corbett is a viral immunologist and research fellow in the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). She went viral on social media this spring after news broke that Dr. Corbett, a Black female scientist, was leading the team of researchers working on a Covid-19 vaccine at the NIH.

Dr. Corbett’s passion for science stems from her summer break during high school, when she began working in a chemistry lab at the University of North Carolina. After being paired with Black grad student and future mentor, Albert Russell, she was able to see how it was possible for her to impact science through representation. Dr. Corbett has stressed the importance of mentors and advocates, crediting her boss, Dr. Barney Graham,

Some U.S. doctors flee to New Zealand where the outbreak is under control and science is respected

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media at a press conference ahead of a nationwide lockdown at Parliament on March 25, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Hagen Hopkins | Getty Images

Dr. Judy Melinek knew it was time to make a change when she started fear for her health and safety.

While working as acting chief forensic pathologist for Alameda County in California, she read early reports about a virus in Wuhan, China. By June, after repeatedly sounding the alarm about the need for health workers to have sufficient personal protective equipment, she’d had enough. She also hoped for temperature checks, social distancing and masks, but she noticed that not all of the staff in her office were taking these steps.

And then an email appeared offering her the opportunity to relocate to New Zealand, a country that has reported less than 2,000 coronavirus cases and 25 deaths, drawing widespread praise from around the world for its science-led response. Melinek jumped at the opportunity. 

After a period of quarantine, she’s now living and working in Wellington City, New Zealand. She’s been impressed so far. “There’s a lot more respect for the government and for science here,” she said. 

Melinek is part of a wave of U.S. doctors plotting a move to New Zealand. A spokesperson for Global Medical Staffing, a recruitment group that helps doctors find short and long-term positions around the world, noted that inquiries have increased about relocating to New Zealand from the U.S. as more physician jobs have been affected during the pandemic. In addition, more physicians currently employed in New Zealand who already located are choosing to extend their contracts “because of fewer reported cases of Covid-19,” meaning that there’s a slight dip in open roles. 

Melinek has been open about her decision on social media, and has subsequently heard from half dozen of her peers considering doing the same. She expects the number to keep rising as the pandemic continues. “America will suffer an exodus of professionals to other countries that have responded better, with economies that have recovered faster,” she said. 

In the the United States, where the federal government has largely left the response for the pandemic up to the states, more than 213,000 people have died from the virus. Across the country, some states have largely reopened, despite recent surges in cases. An outbreak that tore throughout the White House has spread to at least 37 people, including President Donald Trump, according to a website tracking the infections. 

New Zealand, by contrast, recently declared victory over the virus after eradicating community spread for the second time. 

In addition, many public health workers and scientists based in the United States say they have faced online harassment and threats while sharing guidance to the public about measures to keep them safe, including masks and social distancing. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has repeatedly praised scientists, and offered empathy to the public at the most trying times, including during the early lockdown. 

New Zealand

Coronavirus pandemic and election-year politics collide, eroding trust in science

The positive development immediately became entangled in election-year politics, with President Trump repeatedly making false and exaggerated claims about the new therapeutics. He called them a cure, which they’re not. He said he was about to approve them — a premature promise given that the FDA’s career scientists are charged with reviewing the applications.

This has been the 2020 pattern: Politics has thoroughly contaminated the scientific process. The result has been an epidemic of distrust, which further undermines the nation’s already chaotic and ineffective response to the coronavirus.

The White House has repeatedly meddled with decisions by career professionals at the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other science-based agencies. Many of the nation’s leading scientists, including some of the top doctors in the administration, are deeply disturbed by the collision of politics and science and bemoan its effects on public health.

“I’ve never seen anything that closely resembles this. It’s like a pressure cooker,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview.

Trust has been damaged by White House intrusions and the FDA’s own mistakes. Earlier this year, the agency granted emergency authorization to hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug wrongly touted by Trump as a treatment for covid-19, then reversed course when it became clear the medication could cause dangerous complications. In August, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn drew sharp criticism for inaccurately describing the benefits of convalescent plasma, statements for which he later apologized.

Millions of Americans have embraced some version of a conspiracy theory that imagines the pandemic as a wildly exaggerated threat, or even an outright hoax, pushed by politically motivated scientists and the mainstream media to undermine the president. This is a form of science denial that leads many people to refuse to wear masks or engage in social distancing.

Scientists, meanwhile, worry that the politicization of the regulatory process could undermine the rollout of a vaccine even if it is approved by career professionals at the FDA. This is shaping up as a communications challenge for the government: Many people will want to know who, exactly, is greenlighting a vaccine.

“If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely,” Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), the Democratic nominee for vice president, said in Wednesday’s debate with Vice President Pence. “But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”

Moments later Pence said it is “unconscionable” for Harris “to undermine public confidence in a vaccine.” He added, “Stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

The scolding by Pence was remarkable given that Trump has repeatedly framed the vaccine effort in terms of the November election — including just hours before Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate, when he came close to accusing his own government’s scientists of trying to delay a vaccine.

“We’re going to have a great vaccine very, very shortly. I think we

Trump hosts first public event since COVID-19 diagnosis, says virus will ‘disappear’ with ‘science, medicine’

President Trump hosted a gathering with reportedly somewhere between 300 and 400 people in attendance on Saturday on the South Lawn of the White House, marking his first public event since he was hospitalized after contracting COVID-19 last week. It’s been just two weeks since a crowd gathered in the Rose Garden for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, which experts believe may have been the catalyst for a coronavirus outbreak that affected both the Trump administration and Republican senators.

Trump was scheduled to speak Saturday for about 30 minutes, but wound up only utilizing 18, an unusual instance of efficiency for the president, who is known for going on tangents that go far beyond the scope of his planned marks. His voice reportedly sounded “a touch hoarse,” but he showed no outward signs of illness and said he was “feeling great,” The Associated Press reports.

During his speech, Trump said the coronavirus “is going to disappear” largely thanks “science, medicine,” and “the American spirit.” That’s a familiar line for the president, although this time the optimism appeared based in his belief that newly-developed therapies, rather than wishful thinking, would lead the charge.

The event was not billed as a campaign rally, but the president’s rhetoric suggested otherwise. Read more at Axios.

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Medical College of Wisconsin CEO on science, academic medicine during COVID

Dr. John Raymond Sr. has served as president and CEO of the Milwaukee-based Medical College of Wisconsin since July 2010. It’s the nation’s third-largest private medical school, and its more than 1,600 faculty physicians constitute one of the largest medical groups in a state where COVID-19 cases have surged in recent weeks. Raymond talked with Assistant Managing Editor David May about lessons learned during the pandemic and priorities for the months ahead. The following is an edited transcript.

MH: Can you talk about Wisconsin’s COVID-19 caseload? It’s recently been one of the nation’s hot spots for surges in new cases.

Raymond: Like many parts of the Midwest, Wisconsin is experiencing rapid community spread of COVID-19, especially in the north central and northeastern regions of the state. In addition to a surge of new cases, the positivity rates and the reproductive numbers and measures of contagiousness are very unfavorable. So this indicates a large and growing burden of disease. Data posted (on Sept. 30) by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services showed that every county of the state had either a high or very high burden of disease. And more than half of the counties had a trajectory that was unfavorable.

And this has also been exacerbated by the need to quarantine healthcare staff, who either have active infections or who have confirmed exposure. In many cases, especially in rural parts of states, the staff is the bottleneck. You can create surge capacity for ventilators, ICU beds and hospital beds, but if you don’t have enough staff to take care of the patients, that’s a real problem.

MH: Initial reporting was that the universities were a part the problem, but what about the rural areas? Is there a general theory about what’s happening?

Raymond: We had well over 100,000 students, returning to school; most of the universities in Wisconsin had some form of in-person classroom activity that began in early September and late August. So for the first week in September, when the surge really was beginning to be apparent in Wisconsin, most of the cases were associated with young people in the 18-24 range. There was a very, very significant spike in cases. What was interesting though, is the spike wasn’t limited just to counties that had a large university; we were seeing community spread in addition to the return of thousands of students. And we believe that was in part due to long-term (pandemic) fatigue, some skepticism about the utility of wearing a masks and a lot of gatherings and relaxation of social distancing around the Labor Day holidays.

MH: Given all that’s transpired, what have your doctors and affiliated hospitals learned during this pandemic?

Raymond: Like other parts of the country, we now know much better how to triage and provide supportive care for patients with COVID-19. And there are some moderately effective therapeutics that we can strategically deploy to help us. Just the level of comfort in taking care of novel coronavirus has increased significantly.

We’ve been

Decisions Will Be Made on Science Alone

Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Eric J. Topol, MD: Hello. I’m Eric Topol, editor-in-chief of Medscape, and I have the privilege today to interview Dr Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the FDA. So, Stephen, welcome. It’s great to have you with us.

Stephen M. Hahn, MD: Well, Eric, it’s great to be here. I appreciate the invitation. And I’m looking forward to our conversation. These are really important topics for the country.

Topol: No question. Just as a way of background. Dr Hahn came on as commissioner of the FDA in December. I don’t think he knew exactly what he was getting into. He has an amazing background. Undergraduate at Rice and Temple for medical school. We actually shared some history at the University of California, San Francisco, where he did his medical residency. He was also trained at NIH in oncology. He went on to have an illustrious career. He was at the University of Pennsylvania where he was chair of the radiation oncology department, and from there he moved to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he was the chief medical executive. So, quite a pedigree background, Steve, that got you ready for this tough mission ahead.

Hahn: Thank you.

Topol: It’s remarkable how we came together. We didn’t know each other until I sent you a very tough letter back on August 31 about the convalescent plasma decision. Little did I know that it would be a blessing because it would bring us together. Dr Hahn was kind enough to get in touch with me and we’ve actually become friends. I’ve developed immense trust in him and his efforts. We’re going to get into that with respect to vaccines and monoclonal antibodies today.

Let me start off, Steve, with the acronym of the day: EUA. Can you tell us what that is and how it’s become kind of center stage in the midst of the pandemic?

Hahn: Eric, first of all, when you sent the letter — I have to tell you, I learned this in medicine: You run toward friction and you talk to people about things. I very much appreciated your communicating with me. And I feel the same way. So thank you.

It’s hard to believe that EUA, or emergency use authorization, has become part of the lexicon of the United States, maybe the world. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we received this authority from Congress to issue EUAs to allow for medical products to get into the hands of providers and patients before the full set of data were available that we would normally use during our regular approval process.

There are two important points of EUA. One is that, from a treatment or a therapeutic point of view, the standard is “may be effective.” There has to be evidence that something may be effective. We have to have data behind that.

The other one is

As Trump hails Regeneron treatment, his administration tries to block the science it used

President Donald Trump has been celebrating the dose of experimental monoclonal antibodies he was given last Friday, saying he thinks it helped him vanquish his coronavirus infection in record time.



a sign on the side of a building: A logo sign outside of the headquarters of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in Tarrytown, New York on November 21, 2015. Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***


© Kristoffer Tripplaar/SIPA/Sipa USA/AP
A logo sign outside of the headquarters of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in Tarrytown, New York on November 21, 2015. Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***

“It was incredible the impact it had,” he said in a video he tweeted Thursday.

What he didn’t say is that the treatment was developed using technology his administration has worked for four years to ban.

It has to do with abortion politics, and the science of using human tissue to test and to make medicines. Regeneron’s therapy indirectly relied on tissue taken from an abortion.

Trump’s base, of course, is strongly against abortion rights and his administration acted quickly to reverse many Obama era policies — including policies that moved forward scientific research involving human fetal tissue.

Especially involved are human embryonic stem cells, made using days-old embryos, usually taken from fertility clinics. They’re left over from when couples make extra fertilized eggs and then do not need them. In the past, this tissue was also sometimes taken from abortions.

People against abortion rights oppose both uses, as does the Trump administration. The US Department of Health and Human Services has stopped the National Institutes of Health from obtaining any more fetal tissue for research and has set up a board that has virtually stopped it from funding any academic groups that use it.

The federal government cannot stop private industry from using fetal tissue and Regeneron supports its use.

Video: Study: Most hospitalized Covid-19 patients have neurological symptoms (CNN)

Study: Most hospitalized Covid-19 patients have neurological symptoms

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While Regeneron did not directly use human fetal cells to make the monoclonal antibody treatment given to Trump, it did use cells derived from an abortion in the Netherlands back in 1972 to make the targets for its antibodies — the mimics of the coronavirus’ spike protein.

Monoclonal antibodies home in on specific targets. To fight coronavirus, they are engineered precisely to attack the spike protein used by the virus to grapple onto cells. To make sure their antibodies were working right, Regeneron needed to use laboratory facsimiles of this spike protein, and for that, they used the fetal cells.

Scientists have used this batch of cells, called the HEK-293 cell line, for close to 50 years for all sorts of experiments. It’s one reason these embryonic stem cells are so valuable. They have a kind of immortality and flexibility that other cells do not. It’s why scientists fight so hard to keep access to this research, despite the efforts of anti-abortion activists.

“Research using such stem cells allows Regeneron to model complex diseases, test new drug candidates and can help unlock new scientific insights that ultimately could lead to the discovery of new treatments for people with serious diseases,”

Nobel prize in medicine awarded to US-UK trio for work on hepatitis C | Science

Two Americans and a British scientist have been awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for their groundbreaking work on blood-borne hepatitis, a health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer around the world.

Harvey J Alter at the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland, Charles M Rice from Rockefeller University in New York, and Michael Houghton, a British virologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, were honoured for their joint discovery of the hepatitis C virus, a major cause of liver disease.

The award may prove controversial as Houghton recently turned down a major prize because it excluded two co-workers at the pharmaceutical firm Chiron who helped him identify the virus. In 2013, he refused the Canada Gairdner international award sometimes known as the “baby Nobel” because it did not recognise the work of his former colleagues George Quo and Qui-Lim Choo.

After reluctantly accepting the prestigious Lasker award in 2000, Houghton, who received his PhD from King’s College London in 1977, said his co-workers did not get the recognition they deserved and decided “I really shouldn’t do this any more.”

David Pendlebury, a citation analyst at Clarivate, a scientific data firm, said he was surprised the Nobel committee made the award knowing it would be problematic. “There’s no question about the importance of this work and the worthiness of this prize, but one assumes the Nobel committee tries to avoid controversy where possible,” he said.

The difficulty, he said, threw into high relief the perennial issue of the Nobel’s rule of three, where no more than three researchers can be named for discoveries that have often been team efforts.

The award, announced on Monday by the Nobel assembly from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is worth 10m Swedish kronor (£870,000), to be shared among the winners.

At a press briefing after the announcement, Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel committee, told reporters he had told Alter and Rice the news by telephone but had not reached Houghton. Alter said he ignored the phone twice when it rang before 5am local time. “The third time I got up angrily to answer it and it was Stockholm. It’s a weird experience,” he said. “It’s the best alarm clock I’ve ever had.”

The scientists’ work transformed the understanding and treatment of hepatitis C. The virus infects more than 70 million people, with 400,000 dying each year from related conditions such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

In the 1940s, doctors knew there were two main types of infectious hepatitis. The first, transmitted by the hepatitis A virus, spread via contaminated food and water and tended to have little long-term impact on people. The second, spread by blood and body fluids, was more insidious. Patients could be silently infected for years before serious complications emerged – liver cancer and liver scarring known as cirrhosis.

Researchers discovered hepatitis B in the 1960s, but it quickly became clear that it was not the only cause of the

Are non-stick pans safe? | Live Science

Spending each morning at the kitchen sink scraping at the charred remains of breakfast gets tedious after a while. Non-stick cookware may seem like an appealing alternative — but is it safe?

Usually when people inquire about the safety of their non-stick cookware, they’re talking about Teflon, said Suzanne Fenton, a reproductive endocrinologist at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina. Also known as polytertrafluoroethylene (PTFE), this clear plastic is used to coat metal pots and pans, giving them a waxy, easy-to-clean surface — and for decades, scientists have debated whether it’s safe for cooking.

Experts tend to agree that Teflon itself isn’t a problem. The coating itself is considered non-toxic. Even if you ingest small flakes of it, it passes right through you. But some experts are concerned about what happens when Teflon gets too hot. “When pans are overheated, that PTFE coating begins to disintegrate,” Fenton told Live Science. As Teflon breaks down, it releases a host of toxic gases. In rare instances, breathing in these chemical fumes can cause polymer fume fever, a condition characterized by a high fever, shortness of breath and weakness. These gases also deadly to birds — lightbulbs coated in Teflon have wiped out poultry houses. Of particular concern is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), one of the chemicals released when Teflon pans heat up. Long-term exposure to PFOA is linked to a host of conditions from cancer to thyroid disease, Fenton said. 

Related: What makes something fireproof?

Not all researchers think that people need to worry about their Teflon pans breaking down. Some point out that no studies have specifically analyzed the long-term effects of Teflon pans on humans. Instead, these studies focus on the health-effects of Teflon’s chemical byproducts, like PFOA. Much of the data on these toxins come from cases of environmental exposure — such as drinking water or factory settings, where exposure levels are much higher than they would be from non-stick cookware. “Generally speaking, nonstick pans are not dangerous,” said Kyle Steenland, a professor of environmental health at Emory University in Atlanta.

Steenland and other scientists also argue that people don’t cook at high enough temperatures for these chemical reactions to take place. “Now, if you burn your pans for an hour at high heat, it [Teflon] will break down,” “But that will be the least of your problems because your house will be on fire.” 

However, research suggests pans can easily reach a temperature hot enough to disintegrate Teflon. One group of researchers in Canada published a 2001 study in the journal Nature, in which Teflon broke down at 680 degrees Fahrenheit (360 degrees Celsius). For context: a Teflon-coated pan can reach 750 F (399 C) if left for eight minutes at high heat on a stovetop, according to a 2017 article published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research. And at lower temperatures, Teflon coating still breaks down over time, according to a 1998 article published in the journal Polymer Degradation and

Why You Should Vote for Science in the 2020 Presidential Election

Photo credit: Dan Saelinger
Photo credit: Dan Saelinger

From Prevention

Women have always considered many factors when voting, but this election, health care is top of mind. “I say it all the time now: ‘Vote health care, vote health care, vote health care,’” says Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN), a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, DC. So much of our health is affected by what our elected officials do: Getting affordable insurance, contraception, and screenings depends on this, as does having access to doctors who understand the unique ways in which conditions like heart disease affect women. Reproductive rights and racial disparities in the system are likewise on the ballot. “It’s more important than ever that women support people who prioritize women’s health,” says Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a rep from New York who is retiring after more than 30 years. “We cannot take that for granted.”

Legislating for Women’s Health

In some ways, the link between government and well-being is clear. Medicare and Medicaid are federal programs that help millions of women, and we know that the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a.k.a. Obamacare) expanded insurance coverage. “The ACA was particularly transformational for women,” says Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who represents the area around New Haven, CT. The law eliminated co-pays for birth control, mammograms, and annual visits; made it illegal to charge women higher premiums (as had been standard practice); and forced companies to cover preexisting conditions. “Those ‘conditions’ had included pregnancy, breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, and more,” she says.

But a lot more is going on in government that concerns women’s bodies. For instance, Congress directs how much the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends each year to research breast cancer, autoimmune disorders, reproductive health, and more, says Susan F. Wood, Ph.D., director of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health. Sometimes elected officials make women’s health a priority, as they did in the 1990s, when hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a 15-year study that examined how hormone replacement therapy, diet, and certain supplements impacted postmenopausal health. When legislators don’t focus on women’s needs, important research (such as on endometriosis, which affects one in 10 women but about which little is known) goes unfunded. And it’s the President who appoints the executives who run those agencies, as did George H.W. Bush when the WHI was started, and who nominates Supreme Court justices, who decide the fate of many health laws.

Choices like these that are made behind closed doors may feel distant, says Sarah Christopherson, policy advocacy director for the NWHN, “but the consequences can be life-or-death.” A recent study in Women’s Health Issues found that states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA had fewer maternal deaths than those that didn’t, with non-Hispanic Black mothers benefiting most. Maternal mortality is one of many areas in which Black women fare worse than white ones—something elected representatives could address by funding research