Friday, May 26, 2017

Health and Business Execs Make the Case for NIH Funding

A chalkboard message that reads, "Invest in your health."
Photo credit: Shutterstock
At a time when the White House has been flirting with the idea of slashing billions from the budget of the National Institutes of Health, a group of executives, government officials, and academic leaders recently went to Washington, D.C. to make the case for the NIH’s continued funding.

The meeting, organized by General Atlantic CEO William E. Ford, involved 27 people, including NIH Director Francis Collins, Vice President Mike Pence, nine White House officials, and a cadre of top names in the academic and biotech worlds.

In case you’re not familiar with what the NIH does, it’s basically the largest biomedical research agency in the world. Its team of scientists does research on treating and preventing chronic diseases, curing infectious diseases, using new medical technologies to promote wellness, and healthy aging. The agency also provides grants to researchers at universities and other academic institutions. In other words, the NIH is a pretty important part of the U.S. health infrastructure.

Although Congress granted the NIH a $34 billion budget for 2017, Trump’s proposed “skinny budget” for the fiscal year 2018 (which begins in October 2017) reduces the NIH’s budget by $5.8 billion.

The point the White House visitors were trying to make is that private investment is not an adequate substitute for the NIH’s support for research at colleges and universities. They also said the odds of winning NIH funding for that research are getting slimmer and slimmer because the organization’s budget has stayed flat for years.

The group worries that Trump’s immigration policies are making it harder to recruit foreign scientists as well. University of Texas heart disease researcher Helen Hobbs said her Chinese postdocs are now taking jobs in China rather than staying in the U.S.

“Federal support for fundamental science in academia is the driver of national innovation, leading to new medicines that improve quality of life and longevity and make major contributions to job and economic growth,” said Stanford University President Richard P. Lifton. “Biotechnology took off in this country because of U.S. leadership in federal support for science. Our system is the envy of the world.”

Collins tried to drive the point home by noting how funding the NIH will check two boxes on Trump’s priority list: jobs and the healthcare budget.

Their tag-team approach may have had the desired effect. According to Ford, the two-hour meeting went well. “The members of the new administration we met with were very receptive to our message, and I’m confident that a productive dialogue has begun,” he said.

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative President of Science Cori Bargmann agreed. “The message in the room was heard loud and clear: We need the NIH! And we need it now more than ever,” she wrote in a Facebook post just after the meeting.

People may have emerged from the meeting optimistic, but nobody talked about the elephant in the room—the proposed cuts to NIH’s 2018 budget.

Are the NIH’s funding prospects going to improve because of the meeting?  “I think time will tell,” Collins said.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Signs That a Loved One May Commit Suicide

A man pointing a gun at his head.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 44,193 Americans commit suicide
every year, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. If you’re worried that someone close to you may commit suicide, please check to see if they exhibit any of the following warning signs:
  • Withdrawal from social activities, including reduced contact with friends and family members.
  •  Missing school or work.
  •  An increase in drug or alcohol use.
  •  Sleeping either too much or too little.
  •  Little to no physical activity (e.g. laying in bed all day).
  •  Giving away possessions.
  •  Displaced aggression.
  •  Mood swings.
  •  Talks about suicide.
According to Mental Health America, 80% of people who contemplate suicide show signs of their intentions. But do keep in mind that this is not a one-size-fits-all checklist, meaning that your loved one may only exhibit one of these signs or they may exhibit none of these signs, which brings me to my next point.

If you have an inexplicable feeling that something is wronga gut feeling as some may call ittrust it. Reach out to your loved one and check in on how they’re doing. There’s a good chance that the simple act of reaching out and showing that you care can save that person’s life.

Along that same note, I want to talk about how to properly respond to someone who is contemplating suicide. This person may be direct about their intentions (e.g. “I want to kill myself”) or indirect (e.g. “I hate my life and I wish I’d never been born”). Both comments should be taken seriously.   

Whatever you do, do notI repeat: do notrespond with cynicism or judgment. Statements such as, “you’re being over dramatic” or “you’ll be fine, toughen up” will only push the person more towards suicide. Instead, respond with statements such as, “I’m here for you, you are not alone” or “I care a lot about you and I want to help you in any way that I can.”

To learn more about what you can do to prevent your loved one from committing suicide, visit

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Connection Between Skin and Stress

A young, distressed Asian woman squeezing a pimple on her chin.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
We’ve all been there. It’s right before a wedding, right before a big presentation. It’s right before some huge event and your skin is freaking the hell out. You were fine just a couple weeks ago, but now your face is covered in red spots, pimples, and maybe even a little rash.

Despite the fact that most of us have experienced this phenomenon, studies show that the majority of Americans do not believe that stress has any connection to skin. But that’s all changing, thanks to a new field called psychodermatology.

“Psychodermatology practitioners treat skin the way a psychotherapist treats behaviorby learning how it responds to emotional and environmental stressors and helping to moderate those responses,” says Ted Grossbart, Ph.D.The more we learn about how much emotional and psychological states influence our physical states, and vice versa, the more the line blurs between these categories.”

This revolutionary new medical field is more important given the fact that stress levels are on the rise in the U.S. Yep, that’s right, according to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), average stress levels in the U.S. increased from 4.9 in 2014 to 5.1 in 2015. And that’s on a 10-point scale.

"The common dermatological issues that have been documented to be made worse by stress include acne, rosacea, psoriasis, itching, eczema, pain and hives, just to name a few," says Rick Fried, MD, PhD.

So what can you do to protect your skin in times of stress?

It’s simple: set some time aside to take care of your mental/emotional well being. A lot of people find yoga to do the trick. Others find going on a walk helps them decompress. And yet others will find that simply allowing themselves to kick back, relax, and watch some TV gives them some much-needed relaxation.

But whichever method you choose, make sure that you combine your relaxation ritual with a healthy diet, exercise, and 7-8 hours of sleep each night.