Wednesday, January 12, 2011

increasing women in neuroscience

The Department Chair Training to Increase Women in Neuroscience (IWiN) is scheduled to meetin in Tucson, at the University of Arizona this April.  The workshop, funded by the National Science Foundation's ADVANCE program, is a three-year program aiming to increase the number of women on neurosciences faculty.  The participants of these workshops expect to leave them with tools to implement recruitment and advancement plans for women within their universities, and to disseminate the information they have gained in "echo" workshops at their institutions.

The IWiN workshops will be hosted in 2011 and 2012 at two of the graduate schools at which I may be a [woman] student at the time... depending on how interviews go at the end of this month.  Three of my four choice graduate schools are already participants of the ADVANCE program, which is not too shabby except that the missing institution has a ratio of approximately 1:3 women to men and does not facilitate an equity program in research.

I mention the IWiN workshops in response to a recent article in the New York Times discussing a nice array of statistics about the paucity of tenured female faculty, and women in the upper administrative echelons of science in general.  This was summarizing a study based out of UC Berkley.  The statistic that I thought was deserving of further attention in the New York Times report was this one:
"Tenured male scientists are considerably more likely to be married with children than tenured female scientists — 73 percent for men versus 53 percent for women. The report noted that among tenured science professors, women are nearly three times more likely to be single without children than men — 25 percent to 9 percent."
 The Berkeley article itself furthers this discussion beautifully, and as a woman weighing the possibilities of children and eventual faculty tenure (albeit, we're talking about ten years down the line), I highly recommend a read and consideration of the original research article:
Mary Ann Mason, Marc Goulden, Karie Frasch (2010). Keeping Women in the Science Pipeline Focus on Workplace Flexibility

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

in indirect support of the hygiene hypothesis

A recent study out of the University of Michigan Medical School suggests that the stomach bacterium Helicobacter pylori protects against inflammation caused by Salmonella in a mouse model of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

This is surprising for two reasons: 1) IBDs occur primarily in the colon while H. pylori is active in the stomach, and 2) the H. pylori bacterium is regarded as dangerous gut flora and typically treated with antibiotics to avoid the development of stomach ulcers.

The findings of Higgins et al are equally unsurprising given the light that has been shed on helpful bacterial/parasitic gut balance by the Hygiene Hypothesis.  The Hygiene Hypothesis suggests that a modest intestinal hookworm population may stave off the excessive inflammatory response inherent to Crohn's disease, Lyme disease, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions.  If this parasite whose reputation is built from its roles in epidemic illnesses in countries where sanitation is poor can, in small doses, help defend inflammatory diseases, then why couldn't the H. pylori bacterium as well?

There are currently no reports of an additive or destructive effect of both H. pylori and hookworm on gastrointestinal inflammation in humans, although it would be quite telling to see the results of their coincidence.  Patients from many H. pylori studies have been excluded from reports because they also shown signs of hookworm-related anemia (Vijayan et al 2007, as an example).  But this scientists wonders, because humans evolved almost symbiotically with both of these flora, if all of our immune systems would be better balanced were we not to wipe them both out completely.

A few thoughts from Dr. Higgins, one of the Salmonella study's researchers, can be found in an interview here.
Higgins PD, Johnson LA, Luther J, Zhang M, Sauder KL, Blanco LP, & Kao JY (2010). Prior Helicobacter pylori infection ameliorates Salmonella typhimurium-induced colitis: Mucosal crosstalk between stomach and distal intestine. Inflammatory bowel diseases PMID: 20976712