Health & Medicine

100% Efficacy for Improving Quality of Life in Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients?

This post deviates from our normal posts.  It is not about careers.  It is not directly about science and research.  But it is about results.  I recently attended a conference and had the pleasure of attending a talk by Dan Cohen about the use of music as an aide to improve quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.  Music is able to accomplish this by engaging the whole mind and body.  Dan Cohen gave several examples of success stories, but one of the more powerful was Henry.  As you can see in the video, Henry was unresponsive, irritable, depressed, and at times didn’t even recognize his own daughter.  After just a few sessions of listening to music that was personalized for him, not just songs from his generation, but songs he actually used to listen to and enjoy, Henry became animated.  He began to sing and dance and he became responsive to questions and engaging. 

While Dan was not an especially polished speaker, his message was clear…personalized music is more effective than any medicine currently on the market at increasing quality of life for people with dementia.  This is a sentiment that is echoed by many, including Dr. Oliver Sacks who authored Musicophillia and Dr. Peter Davies who has been instrumental in the development of several drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease (such as Aricept).  The Music and Memory program has been implemented in over 60 nursing home/adult care facilities across North America since its inception 7 years ago and every single one of them has continued the program.  My question is this…why is this inexpensive (the cost of iPods, earphones, and music-if they are not donated) and easily implemented (just find out what music they like and download it on the iPod) program not established in every adult care facility in the world?  In the US alone there are over 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease and an estimated cost to/on society of ~$200,000,000,000/year.  Add to that the cost to bring an Alzheimer’s drug to market.  Now think about the efficacy of that drug.  Add in patient compliance and potential side effects.  Is there really any comparison?  The Music and Memory program can be implemented now with almost immediate results and added benefits of decreasing depression, disruptive behaviors, and anxiety. 

Modern medicine has been wonderful at extending our lifespan.  Unfortunately, this is often accompanied by debilitating diseases and poor quality of life.  As the holiday season is upon us, why don’t we get involved and do some good.  If you get a new iPod, why not donate your old one to Music and Memory ?  Better yet, start a donation center in your city and bring Music and Memory to people in your community.  Let’s see if we can make a difference worldwide.

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So you want to be a medical science liaison?

As more and more PhDs are being pumped out, funding diminishes, and it becomes harder (or less desirable?) to obtain faculty positions, many scientists are making the switch to industry to pursue a career as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL). 

We recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Samuel Dyer, who has over 12 years of experience as a Medical Affairs professional and is the Chairman of the Board of the Medical Science Liaison Society.  Below is an account of the interview. 

RateMyPI.com: What exactly is a MSL?  

Dr. Dyer: MSLs (also known as Medical Liaisons, Medical Managers, Regional Scientific Managers, Clinical Liaisons, and Scientific Affairs Managers) are members of the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, Clinical Research Organization (CRO) and other health-care industries that have advanced scientific training and academic credentials generally consisting of a doctorate degree (Ph.D., PharmD., M.D.) in the life sciences.  MSLs help to ensure that products are utilized effectively, serve as scientific peers and resources within the medical community, and are scientific experts to internal colleagues at companies.  However, the primary purpose of the MSL role is to establish and maintain peer-peer relationships with leading physicians, referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s), at major academic institutions and clinics.

RateMyPI.com: In your opinion, what is the most rewarding aspect of being a MSL?

Dr. Dyer: Being at the forefront in the latest in clinical medicine and being able to be a part of something that can actually improve patients lives.

RateMyPI.com: Do you have any advice for young researchers interested in becoming a MSL?

Dr. Dyer: I always advise those looking to break into the MSL role to apply to only those roles in which match your scientific expertise and where you can position yourself as an expert.  For example, if you focused on a specific area within Oncology during your Ph.D. DO NOT apply to roles that are within CNS.  In other words focus on those roles that highlight and match your experience with the needs of the role.  Applying to roles that are not within your Therapeutic Area of expertise or that you have no experience in that particular disease is a complete waste of time and I can almost guarantee your CV will not be reviewed.

RateMyPI.com: What do you foresee as the biggest challenges facing MSLs in the next 5-10 years?

Dr. Dyer: There are numerous global regulatory changes that will be implemented over the next several years including the Sunshine Act here in the U.S. that will have an impact on the MSL role and the pharmaceutical industry in more general.  I also believe that as the role continues to grow, how the MSL is utilized and how to measure the ROI (Return on Investment) will be an ongoing challenge.

RateMyPI.com: You recently launched the Medical Science Liaison Society, can you please tell us a little more about it?

Dr. Dyer: The MSL Society is a Non-Profit organization exclusively dedicated to serving as this voice and advancing the global MSL career!  The MSL Society provides resources for those interested in the MSL role, as well as, professional growth and development opportunities for current MSL Managers and individual MSLs.  Some features of the MSL Society are live conferences featuring prominent speakers where members can interact and share ideas, training for experienced MSLs and candidates who want to break into the role, knowledge-sharing, educational materials, networking opportunities, and career services.

RateMyPI.com: How can The Medical Science Liaison Society help researchers trying to make the transition from academia to a MSL position?

Dr. Dyer: One of the ways to break into the MSL role is to be part of the MSL community.  Joining the MSL Society will enable you to interact with, communicate with, and network with MSLs and be part of their professional community without actually being an MSL yet.  The society will also provide numerous very valuable resources to understanding the MSL role and how to speak the language of the role during interviews.  It will provide a way, during your job search, to be on the inside, rather than being on the outside looking in and be able to position yourself as an expert even when you don’t have MSL experience.  This is the essential way to address the lack of MSL experience obstacle.

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How Safe is GM Food?

What are the health effects of eating genetically modified food? 

That’s the question Séralini and colleagues sought to answer by studying rats fed Round-up tolerant genetically modified (GM) corn (with and without 0.1 ppb Roundup in water) for a period of two years.

Publishing their findings on September 19, 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology, rats fed GM corn had shorter life spans, severe liver and kidney damage, and developed large mammary tumors compared with control rats. 

This study has become a media firestorm both in the European Union and the United States.  The French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has requested that the National Agency for Health Safety review the study.  Austria has asked the EU to reconsider their approval process for safety of genetically modified food.  And, in the US, this research has provided strong support for California’s Proposition 37, an initiative to place labels on genetically modified food, something that is already required in at least 50 countries. 

But all might not be as it seems.   This study has come under criticism for several reasons.  First, the type of rat used, Sprague Dawley, is susceptible to developing mammary tumors when their diet is not properly controlled.  Second, the number of control rats used was low (n=20 males and females; 10 per sex) to draw definitive conclusions.  Third, rats fed the largest percentage of GM corn, had less severe symptoms compared with the lowest percentage group. 

Despite hundreds of peer-reviewed feeding studies supporting the safety of GM food, Séralini and colleagues have lumped GM food into cigarette smoking or bisphenol A consumption. 

Now, the question becomes not is GM food safe to eat, but rather how valid is this study?

Tim Worstall has provided an interesting argument to the topic.  Harlan, the provider of rats used in this study, has used genetically modified corn in their rat chow for the last ten years.  If GM corn was increasing the formation of tumors and causing liver and kidney necrosis in laboratory animals, scientists and veterinarians would have noticed these health concerns years ago.  Tim suggests we use common sense when examining the conclusions drawn from this study. 

Regardless, the media coverage following this study will help sway the court of public opinion against GM food.  As for myself, I agree with Tim.

Update: October 4, 2012
The European Food Safety Authority has determined that a French study supporting the toxic effects of genetically modified corn was poorly designed and therefore does not support the conclusions made in the paper. The authors have until October 12th to address concerns raised by the agency.

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