Tag Archives: medicine

Science and Activism – Why Can’t We Be Friends?

By: Rose Eveleth

As most of the bloggers here are future scientists, I thought it might be interesting to bring up an issue making headlines recently.  Dr. Janet D. Stemwedel explains in a short (albeit quite biased) blog post what Dr. Dario Ringach – formerly at UCLA – has had to endure recently as a researcher working on experiments that use animals.  In short, activists have come to his house, beat on his doors and windows, and intimidated his family and friends.  Dr. Ringach resigned from UCLA when they provided neither support, nor protection.  In the past few weeks, activists have adopted a new plan to attack Ringach’s family.

The LAist confirms that the animal rights activists plan to go to Dr. Ringach’s children’s school to protest and “educate fellow students what their classmate’s father does for a living.”  They have protested at his home before, and now they are going to his children’s school.  One activist writes, “we’ll just tally up the kids as collateral damage, a small price to pay for all the attention it’s getting now.”

Scientific research has long been viewed from afar by “everyday citizens” as suspicious, fraudulent, and perhaps immoral.  What those people in lab coats do is mysterious, confusing and sometimes scary.  This is the same sentiment that causes doubt of every scientific finding, from relativity, to climate change.

Citizens have the right to ask questions and demand transparency in science.  It has become increasingly clear that good science cannot be done without some kind of accountability and reporting mechanism to the people.  Animal rights activists have the right to demand structures in the scientific world that defend animals from misguided research, and yes, such research certainly does happen.  Does that mean they should terrorize a child’s school?  No.  But it does bring up some interesting questions, very salient to the writers here on this blog.

How much responsibility do scientists have to explain themselves to the public?  Is that what science journalists, public information officers, the Discovery Channel, or this blog is for, or is there more.  Many of the arguments that doctors and PhD’s are citing in response to Animal Rights groups is that if they knew how much good animal testing did for medicine they would surely think twice.  If they understood the science behind the experiments, the long term goals and the current success stories.  It is so easy for scientists to say “if only they understood the science, then they would understand.”  Yet none of these scientists appears ready to explain that science to the activists.  Is that not part of the scientist’s job description?

There are certainly bright spots.  At UCLA, they recently had a panel to discuss, civilly, the issue of Animal Research.  The sponsoring group, Bruins for Animals, is saddened to hear that some activists are harassing children and researchers, saying on their website “Some appear determined to continue with their attempts at interfering with this fresh direction the debate is taking.  In a move that defies logic, these activists are now suggesting that children are legitimate targets of their protests.”

It is my hope that the new generation of activists is more like Bruins for Animals, willing and ready to sit down and talk about what the problems are and how to fix them, and perhaps, in the end, realizing that differences of opinion are not just healthy, but important.  If no one questioned science, no good science would get done.  But please, stay away from the children.

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Cleft Lip and Palate Reconstruction

By: Sonya Chitra Subash

What is a cleft lip and palate? Most commonly signified by a ‘harelip’, or slight gaping holes in the roof of the mouth, cleft lip and palate is a benign genetic birth defect affecting approximately one in every seven hundred children born in accordance to the Cleft Lip and Palate Association. Asians are the most affected, while African- Americans are least affected. Research being conducted by the Cleft Lip and Palate Association is still in progress to understand the main underlying reasons. For the births occurring in developed countries, a simple set of procedures is enough to fix this nonfatal defect. However, in developing countries, a child born with such a minor disfigurement is subjected to life as an outcast without proper treatment. They are shunned from the community, subjected to taunting, rejected for job opportunities, abandoned by family members, subjected to witchcraft rituals, and sometimes attacked and killed.

How does this defect occur? Sometimes during embryonic development, the upper lip and the roof of the mouth do not fuse properly. This typically happens during the first six to ten weeks of gestation. The physical severity of this birth defect can range from a minuscule to notch in the upper lip to a large groove. The severity of the physical deformity can also lead to complications with the ears, nose, and mouth. Ear infections will occur more often (due to the inability of the muscles of the palate to open the Eustachian tubes that allow for the middle air to drain, causing a rapid collection of fluid), and speech pathologists are often needed to help the child with speech development.

What is the treatment? The treatment to cure and better the quality of life is simple. Surgery to close the lip and palate together is not life threatening, and oral maxillofacial surgeons provide surgeries to fix this.

One surgical technique used is ‘bone grafting’. A small portion of bone is extracted from the patient’s hip, ribs, leg, or head and is placed in the cleft area (the bone protected by the upper lip) to introduce great support for un-erupted teeth that will grow as the child’s mouth develops after the surgery. This is usually most effective if the patient is five to six years old during the treatment. The added bone will make the gum appear more natural, and help increase the strength of the pre-maxilla (the front part of the roof of the mouth).

Older people affected have a lesser chance of having a perfectly symmetrical gum, but dentists can perform procedures using prosthetic teeth. Metallic dental bone implants are also used-the proper treatment will vary per patient. However, the cost of these procedures can be expensive, especially for those afflicted in developing countries where resources are scarce.

How can I help? There are many specialists in the US available for help with cleft palate reconstruction, and many organizations that travel to developing countries are available to aid. One organization, Operation Smile does humanitarian work with volunteers and dental specialists every year. Mission trips continually leave from the US, and anyone can help in some way. Smile Train, another organization, is in constant need of donations to keep funding its mission trips as well. We often underestimate, or don’t necessarily think about, the value of a smile. In developing countries it is worth more than it is here in the US, and volunteers are always needed to help aid these missions.

Information regarding sources and organizations in this article can be found at the following websites:

Cleft Lip and Palate Association: http://www.clapa.com/

Operation Smile: http://www.operationsmile.org/

Smile Train: http://www.smiletrain.org/

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