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Eight faculty and staff members from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences will travel to Thailand for a science and research summit this month, according to a University release.

The International Medicine Programs are co-sponsoring a three-day scientific summit with Kohn Kaen University in Thailand that will begin June 27. The summit will connect researchers and encourage faculty members at both universities to work together on immunology, tropical medicine and cures for cancer and HIV. The summit will also include training sessions on regulated research practices.

Faculty at GW and Khon Kaen University have worked together in the past, researching a foodborne liver fluke and its relationship to cancer, Huda Ayas, the associate dean for international medicine and executive director of the Office of International Medicine Programs, said in the release. She said this conference is a chance to further build those relationships.

“Our latest collaboration, the scientific summit, will further benefit faculty and students at GW and Khon Kaen University,” Ayas said.

The SMHS faculty members attending the summit share research interests with researchers at Khon Kaen University, and some faculty have already worked with their counterparts in Thailand, she added.

“We recognize that international research partnerships take time, but are confident that this summit will be a springboard for research collaborations between GW and KKU faculty and a model for future international scientific summits in other countries,” Ayas said.

Ayas, Jeffrey Bethony, a professor of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine at SMHS, and Pewpan Maleewong, a professor of parasitology and the associate dean for research affairs at Kohn Kaen University organized the summit.

David Diemert, an associate professor of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine who will be attending the conference, said in an email that he hopes to establish relationships with colleagues in Thailand.

“KKU investigators are world-renowned for their research on neglected tropical diseases, my area of interest,” Diemert said. “I’m excited to hear more about their latest research and potentially enter into collaborations.”

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A researcher from GW found in a study published this week that students who enroll in certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree programs at for-profit institutions generally experience a decline in earnings and greater debt five or six years after attendance, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Stephanie Riegg Cellini, a professor of public policy and public administration and economics, and Nicholas Turner, an employee of the Office of Tax Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, collected information from the U.S. Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service on 1.4 million students who enrolled at for-profit institutions between 2006 and 2008, according to the article. They found that these students experienced lower earnings relative to their own earnings before enrolling.

“The most compelling result in our study is that, on average, students in certificate programs in for-profit institutions have lower earnings than demographically similar students in public community colleges, who pay a lot less for their education,” Cellini said in an email. “On average, for-profit students experienced declines in earnings after attendance while public sector students experienced earnings gains.”

Cellini added that she became interested in studying the for-profit college sector in graduate school when she saw late-night commercials that promised graduates flexible scheduling and high earnings.

“No one was studying these schools at the time, and I wondered if their claims could be true,” she said in an email. “Back then, there were very little data on these institutions, so it is really exciting to finally be able to look at student outcomes in this sector with a large, representative data set.”

Cellini said they found their results by calculating the difference between students’ annual earnings five to six years before enrollment and their earnings five to six years after attendance. She said this approach helped control some of the students’ unobservable characteristics, like their natural abilities.

“We then compared this after-before difference for students in for-profit certificate programs to the difference for similar public sector students to net out the effects of the Great Recession and other common experiences of students in the years we study,” Cellini said in the email.

The effects of the economic downturn in 2008, which occurred around the same time the study was conducted, is not the only potential issue the researchers point out: Students at for-profit colleges often leave the programs before they complete their degrees, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Cellini said that the results of her research are not very “encouraging” for the for-profit sector and may prompt changes within those institutions.

“We need to take a careful look at the schools in the sector and consider additional regulation for poor-performing institutions,” Cellini said in an email. “We also need to make sure students have adequate information about their future earnings and the debt they may incur if they attend one of these institutions.”

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Researchers from GW, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Georgia found in a new study that conspiracy theories surrounding Zika virus vaccines published on social media can put vulnerable people at risk of not following medical advice, according to Science Daily.

The researchers, including David Broniatowski, a professor of engineering management and systems engineering at GW, used real-time social media monitoring to find conversations about Zika virus vaccines and identify the conspiracy theories being discussed.

“Even though the science is relatively clear, we found many conspiracy theories that could be affecting people’s health-related decisions, such as whether to vaccinate,” Broniatowski told Science Daily. “Unfortunately, the people most affected are from the most vulnerable communities, with little access to the facts.”

The researchers added that health authorities could use this technique to identify and respond to conspiracy theories that could potentially be harmful to public health, cutting the time it normally takes to respond and helping to debunk these conspiracy theories quickly.

“Shortly after Zika rose to prominence, we were able to track these conversations very quickly using our social media monitoring method,” said Broniatowski, the GW professor, according to Science Daily. “This is a promising approach to the fast response to disease, and could help counteract the negative impact of these conspiracy theories in future.”

The conspiracy theories studied included a claim that the Zika virus vaccine caused microcephaly – a condition in which babies are born with small heads and brains which has been linked the the Zika virus – and that pharmaceutical companies were blaming the Zika virus to profit off the vaccines.

“Once people have made up their minds about something it’s hard for them to change their opinions,” Mark Dredze, a professor from Johns Hopkins University and the lead author of the study, told Science Daily. “I’d find it surprising if this sort of story really had no impact whatsoever, and I can’t imagine it would make people more likely to pursue a healthy response.”

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Researchers at GW earned a $2.1 million grant from the National Institutions of Health to start a phase one clinical trial of a hookworm vaccine in Brazil, according to a press release.

The leading researchers – Jeffrey Bethony, a professor of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine and David Diemert, an associate professor of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine – will partner with the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz in Brazil, the University of California at San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University, as well as the Sabin Vaccine Institute to conduct the trial, according to the release.

“Tropical vaccines are getting a boost at GW,” Bethony said in the release. “We have the capacity to do vaccine clinical trials here and in developing countries. It’s what we’re good at. Besides malaria, there isn’t another group that does this for tropical diseases.”

The researchers will test two existing hookworm vaccines to see if they can create one effective vaccine, Diemert, one of the SMHS professors, said in the release.

“What we need to know is if by combining these two vaccines, the immune response to either of them is impaired,” he said. “We want to know whether there is competition between the vaccines and if there are any safety risks with combining them.”

Bethony and Diemert also received a planning grant from the NIH to vaccinate D.C. volunteers and then infect them with hookworm to test how well the vaccine works – the next step in a clinical trial from last year in which volunteers were also infected with hookworms, according to the release.

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The Office of the Vice President for Research announced a partnership with the University of Rome Tor Vergata Thursday.

Vice President of Research Leo Chalupa signed a collaboration agreement with Fondazione INUIT, University of Rome Tor Vergata Thursday. Chalupa said in an email that the collaboration will create a structure for both institutions to explore joint opportunities for research, especially around cultural heritage and other shared priorities.

Chalupa, who is “mostly fluent” in Italian, said the new agreement with the University of Rome has grown out of longstanding relationships with colleagues in Italy.

“GW is committed to enhancing the global reach of our research enterprise,” Chalupa said. “By collaborating with international partners, GW is building capacity for new research opportunities.”

Chalupa was hired as the University’s first vice president for research in 2009 with goals of becoming a top-tier research institution.

The University of Rome also presented Chalupa with a distinguished professor award and he gave a lecture on the strategies for building university research at the University in Rome, according to a release.

Chalupa said the goal of the partnership is for GW investigators to partner with peers in Italy to secure grants from European Union sources.

“While in Rome I discussed the breadth of research at GW, the university’s international research portfolio, and the establishment of focused university-wide research initiatives,” Chalupa said.

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Researchers at GW’s medical school found that while healthcare providers have become more comfortable treating transgender patients over the past decade, the self-comfort of those professionals is still considered to be low according to a press release.

The study focused on endocrinologists, who often administer hormone therapy to transgender patients.

The researchers surveyed attendees at a conference of clinical endocrinologists and found that one in five endocrinologists said they are “very” comfortable discussing a patient’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Less than half of respondents said they are “somewhat” or “very” competent to provide care to transgender patients.

The Endocrine Society updated its guidelines for providing care to transgender patients in 2009, and researchers said care has improved since then, according to the press release. The majority of survey respondents said they did not have any transgender patients.

Michael Irwig, an associate professor of medicine and a researcher on the study, said in the press release there needs to be more research and exposure on transgender patients and their level of care.

“Progress has been made, but there is still more work to be done,” Irwig said in the release. “The transgender community represents one of the most underserved and marginalized populations in health care.”

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A professor earned a $2.6 million grant to research possible treatment for malaria and tuberculosis.

Cynthia Dowd, an associate professor of chemistry, received a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to lead a team of researchers at five institutions to find possible medications for these lethal diseases, according to a University release.

“Drug resistance is so rampant that we need to design new ways to treat these diseases. This is one way to keep the issue in the spotlight,” Dowd said in the release. “The fact that the NIH is putting funds into this research on infectious diseases is very significant.”

The research will examine molecules that stop a specific biochemical reaction, which can otherwise fight the pathogens that cause these diseases. Dowd’s lab will be in charge of the molecule design and chemical synthesis in the study, according to the release.

NIH, Washington University in St. Louis, George Mason University, Saint Louis University will also have labs involved in the research. The other institutions will run tuberculosis and malaria testing.

Ben Vinson, the dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said in the release that Dowd’s research is an example of institutions working together to “improve public health on a global scale.”

“We applaud researchers like her who see the value of collaboration across institutions, sharing resources and brain power to better the world,” Vinson said.

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Lifesaving drugs are in short supply in emergency rooms across the U.S., according to a team of GW researchers.

The study, which was published in the Academic Emergency Medicine journal found that drug shortages have quadrupled in emergency rooms across the country over a eight-year period.

The researchers, who were affiliated with the Milken Institute School of Public Health, the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the University of Utah School of Medicine, analyzed data from the University of Utah Drug Information Service for the years 2001 to 2014. Over the 13-year timeframe, 1,798 drug shortages were reported and 52.6 percent of the shortages were for lifesaving interventions. Ten percent of those were for drugs with no substitute.

“Many of those medications are for life-threatening conditions, and for some drugs no substitute is available,” Jesse Pines, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at GW, said in a release. “This means that in some cases, emergency department physicians may not have the medications they need to help people who are in serious need of them.”

The researchers report that the emergency room shortages dropped from 2002 to 2007, but 435 percent more shortages appeared from 2008 to 2014. As the emergency room drug shortages quadrupled since 2008, 393 percent of those drugs lacking were used as a direct lifesaving intervention.

The study attributed the shortage to manufacturing delays, supply and demand issues and issues with raw materials, but 46.6 percent of shortages were for undetermined reasons.

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The University increased its total research spending in fiscal year 2014 by more than $25 million according to data from the National Science Foundation.

GW spent more than $227 million on research and development in fiscal year 2014, landing in the 15.3 percentile of universities included on the list. The University also jumped six places to No. 92 out of the 632 academic institutions ranked. GW has doubled its total of research expenditures since fiscal year 2009.

The total includes the amount spent on research out of the University’s own budget and the amount covered by grants, from both federal and private sources.

The University’s ranking has fluctuated over the years, hitting No. 98 in fiscal year 2010 before sliding for the next two years. The amount spent has increased steadily nearly every year except fiscal year 2012, when that total dropped by roughly $1 million.

GW was outspent by eight of its peer institutions, including Boston, Duke and Northwestern universities, but ranked higher than six other peers like Georgetown and American universities. Johns Hopkins grabbed the top spot with more than $2.2 billion spent on research.

Research spending has increased University-wide in the past few years as part of a greater effort to boost GW’s research profile, despite cramped federal budgets. Last year, research expenditures grew by 11 percent, more than administrators had expected.

December 11, 2015 at 9:41 p.m.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Johns Hopkins spent $2.2 million on research last fiscal year. They spent $2.2 billion on research. The Hatchet also failed to clarify that the research data came from fiscal years, and not calendar years. We regret these errors.

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Biological researchers have published the first draft of the Tree of Life, which links the evolutionary histories of close to 2.3 million named species of microbes, plants, and animals, according to a University release.

GW is one of 11 institutions to contribute to the new project, which was led by Karen Cranston, a research scientist at Duke University. It is the first complete compilation of all species, and will include data from smaller and previously published trees of life. It is now available online to browse and download.

The project will not be “static,” but rather “will develop tools for scientists to update and revise the tree as new data come in,” according to the project’s website website. The researchers say this will most likely be an important attribute, considering that when researchers started the project three years ago, there were only 1.8 million species recognized.

Keith Crandall, director of the Computational Biology Institute, brought a $350,000 grant to assemble the tree with him to GW in 2012. He said in the University release that compacting the pieces of evolutionary history into one database would be essential to further biological research.

“Now, we have a framework to take advantage of previously splintered knowledge joined through the OpenTree project into a single Tree of Life,” Crandall said in the article.

Christopher Owen, a post-doctoral scientist at GW also working in the Computational Biology Institute, was also a co-author of the draft.

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