Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New analysis shows three human migrations out of Africa

Replacement theory 'demolished' - A new, more robust analysis of recently derived human gene trees by Alan R. Templeton, Ph.D, of Washington University in St Louis, shows three distinct major waves of human migration out of Africa instead of just two, and statistically refutes –strongly – the 'Out of Africa' replacement theory.

That theory holds that populations of Homo sapiens left Africa 100,000 years ago and wiped out existing populations of humans. Templeton has shown that the African populations interbred with the Eurasian populations – thus, making love, not war.
"The 'Out of Africa' replacement theory has always been a big controversy,," Templeton said. "I set up a null hypothesis and the program rejected that hypothesis using the new data with a probability level of 10 to the minus 17th. In science, you don't get any more conclusive than that. It says that the hypothesis of no interbreeding is so grossly incompatible with the data, that you can reject it."

Templeton's analysis is considered to be the only definitive statistical test to refute the theory, dominant in human evolution science for more than two decades.

"Not only does the new analysis reject the theory, it demolishes it," Templeton said.

Templeton published his results in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 2005.

He used a computer program called GEODIS, which he created in 1995 and later modified with the help of David Posada, Ph.D., and Keith Crandall, Ph.D. at Brigham Young University, to determine genetic relationships among and within populations based on an examination of specific haplotypes, clusters of genes that are inherited as a unit.

In 2002, Templeton analyzed ten different haplotype trees and performed phylogeographic analyses that reconstructed the history of the species through space and time.

Three years later, he had 25 regions to analyze and the data provided molecular evidence of a third migration, this one the oldest, back to 1.9 million years ago.

"This time frame corresponds extremely well with the fossil record, which shows Homo erectus expanding out of Africa then," Templeton said.
Another novel find is that populations of Homo erectus in Eurasia had recurrent genetic interchange with African populations 1.5 million years ago, much earlier than previously thought, and that these populations persisted instead of going extinct, which some human evolution researchers thought had occurred. The new data confirm an expansion out of Africa to 700,000 years ago that was detected in the 2002 analysis.Alan R. Templeton, Ph.D, of Washington University in St Louis
"Both (the 1.9 million and 700,000 year) expansions coincide with recent paleoclimatic data that indicate periods of very high rainfall in eastern Africa, making what is now the Sahara Desert a savannah," Templeton said. "That makes the timing very amenable for movements of large populations through the area. "

Templeton said that the fossil record indicates a significant change in brain size for modern humans at 700,000 years ago as well as the adaptation and expansion of a new stone tool culture first found in Africa and later at 700,000 years expanded throughout Eurasia.

"By the time you're done with this phase you can be 99 percent confident that there was recurrent genetic interchange between African and Eurasian populations," he said. "So the idea of pure, distinct races in humans does not exist. We humans don't have a tree relationship, rather a trellis. We 're intertwined." ###

Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick 314-935-5272 Washington University in St. Louis

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Blacks who kill whites are most likely to be executed

COLUMBUS , Ohio – Blacks convicted of killing whites are not only more likely than other killers to receive a death sentence – they are also more likely to actually be executed, a new study suggests.

But the findings showed that African Americans on death row for killing nonwhites are less likely to be executed than other condemned prisoners.

David Jacobs

David Jacobs
“Examining who survives on death row is important because less than 10 percent of those given the death sentence ever get executed,” said David Jacobs, co-author of the study and professor of sociology at Ohio State University.“The disparity in execution rates based on the race of victims suggests our justice system places greater value on white lives, even after sentences are handed down.”
This apparently is the first study to examine whether the race of murder victims affects the probability that a convicted killer gets the ultimate punishment, Jacobs said.

He conducted the study with Zhenchao Qian, professor of sociology at Ohio State, Jason Carmichael of McGill University and Stephanie Kent of Cleveland State University. Their results appear in the August 2007 issue of the American Sociological Review.

The study examined outcomes of 1,560 people sentenced to death in 16 states from 1973 to 2002. These 16 states were chosen because they had the complete data that the researchers needed for the study.
Other research has shown that the great majority of those sentenced to death have their sentences overturned in appeal, Jacobs said. But little is known about the factors that lead some condemned prisons to be executed.

There is more than a two-fold greater risk that an African American who killed a white person will be executed than there is for a white person who killed a non-white victim.

“The fact that blacks who kill non-whites actually are less likely to be executed than blacks who kill whites shows there is a strong racial bias here,” Jacobs said. “Blacks are most likely to pay the ultimate price when their victims are white.”

“The fact that blacks who kill non-whites actually are less likely to be executed than blacks who kill whites shows there is a strong racial bias here,” Jacobs said. “Blacks are most likely to pay the ultimate price when their victims are white.”

Hispanics who killed whites were also more likely to be executed than were whites who killed non-whites, the study showed. But the risk of execution were not as strong for Hispanics who killed whites as they were for blacks who killed whites.

The study also reinforced findings by Jacobs in previous studies. He found that the likelihood of a legal death penalty was greater in states with higher proportions of black residents, an ideologically more conservative population, and in states where there was greater support for Republican candidates.

In the most recent study, Jacobs finds that execution probabilities increase in states along with the population of African Americans, up to a point. But when the population of blacks reaches about 16 percent of the population, executions start to decrease. Probably at that point, African Americans have enough votes and political influence within a state to reduce the number of executions, Jacobs said.

Various other political and state-level factors also played a role in the use of the death penalty in the states studied. States with more conservative citizens were more likely to execute, as were states that had higher percentages of voters who supported Republican presidential candidates.

“Republican presidential candidates often run on law and order platforms, so it is not surprising that the success of these candidates goes along with support for the harshest punishment,” he said.

“Overall, we found that our justice system is not colorblind, even after offenders are put on death row,” Jacobs said. “White lives are still valued more than black ones when it comes to deciding who gets executed and who does not.”

The study was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Contact: Jeff Grabmeier 614-292-8457 Ohio State University

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fear of Messing Up May Undermine Interracial Contact

Jennifer A. Richeson, Ph.D. Associate Professor Social Psychology Office

Jennifer A. Richeson, Ph.D. Associate Professor Social Psychology Office: Swift 119 Phone: (847) 467-1331 E-mail:

Research Interests: My research focuses on prejudice, stereotyping, and intergroup relations. Broadly speaking, I investigate the ways in which social group memberships such as race, socio-economic status, and gender impact the way people think, feel, and behave. Some current lines of research include: 1) manifestations of racial bias in mind, brain, & behavior; 2) cognitive, affective, & physiological consequences of "managing" a stigmatized identity; 3) contending with subtle v. blatant racial bias; 4) processes of social categorization.
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Democratic consultant Donna Brazile brought home America’s reluctance to talk openly about race in a New York Times article that preceded the Barack Obama speech that now has the whole nation buzzing. In essence, she said in her quote, any serious discussion about race has the effect of clearing a room.

Brazile’s remark and the presidential hopeful’s groundbreaking speech about a subject that politicians generally tiptoe around in public hint at the complexities of race relations in America today. As we approach the second decade of the 21st century, research shows that many Americans feel anxious during interracial interactions whether or not race is even mentioned.

Now a provocative new study from Northwestern University suggests that whites who are particularly worried about appearing racist seem to suffer from anxiety that instinctively may cause them to avoid interaction with blacks in the first place.

“The Threat of Appearing Prejudiced and Race-based Attentional Biases,” by Jennifer A. Richeson, associate professor of psychology and African-American studies and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) at Northwestern, and Sophie Trawalter, post-doctoral fellow, IPR, recently appeared in the journal Psychological Science.
Study participants indicated that they worry about inadvertently getting in trouble for somehow seeming biased. As a result, the study suggests, they behaved in a way that research shows people respond when faced with stimuli that cause them to feel threatened or anxious: they instinctively look at what is making them feel nervous and then ignore it.

In this case, study participants, 15 white college students, indicated that they were motivated to respond in non-prejudiced ways toward blacks primarily for appearance’s sake because of concern about social disapproval -- rather than because of their internal values.

They then took a standard psychological test that measures attention patterns related to anxiety provoking or threatening stimuli. The white students initially focused on images of black faces with neutral expressions, relative to white faces with similar expressions, and then quickly disengaged and paid greater attention to the white faces.

Participants who were selected for the study first had to complete a Motivation to Respond Without Prejudice Scale. Those who were selected had scores that indicated that they were externally, rather than internally, motivated to not appear racially biased. On a one-to-nine scale, they rated their agreement with statements that included: “Because of today’s politically correct standards, I try to appear non-prejudiced toward black people.”

They then participated in a computer test that featured in all the trials a black face and a white face, with either similar neutral expressions or similar happy expressions. Theoretically, they shouldn’t have paid attention to either of the two faces, one black and one white, appearing on either side of the computer screen, because they were told to keep their attention fixated on a cross in the middle of the screen. But, as expected, they inevitably turned their attention to the faces. Because everything happened so fast, however, they weren’t aware that they had paid different amounts of attention to black faces, compared to the white faces.

When a dot appeared on the computer screen where one of the faces had previously appeared, they had to quickly say whether it appeared on the right or the left side of the fixation point. Finding the dot the fastest was an indication that attention had been directed to the face that had just disappeared from the position where the dot was displayed.

For the shorter trials (30 milliseconds) with the neutral faces, study participants tended to find the dot quickly when it was located behind the black face, which tended to be the initial focus of attention. During the slightly longer trials (450 milliseconds), however, the dot-probe test indicated that they tended to quickly turn their attention away from the neutral black face to the white face with the same expression.

“Think of it as initially turning your attention to something that poses a threat or causes anxiety and then ignoring it because you don’t want to deal with it,” said Richeson. “These low-level psychological processes happen dynamically, and our tests indicate that people probably avoided the neutral black faces because they provoke anxiety, not necessarily because of racial animus.”

Patterns of attentional biases were eliminated when the faces were smiling. Well-established clinical and cognitive psychology research shows that people process expressions of emotion quickly, and presumably black male faces with smiling expressions did not seem threatening or provoke anxiety.

The article cites a similar study that tested how children with chronic pain responded to pain-relevant words. In short trials, they tended to look at the pain-relevant words, and in the longer trials they avoided them.

Richeson’s study draws from a body of such clinical psychology research on threat and attention. Basically, that research shows that people who have anxiety about various stimuli in everyday life tend to ignore what is stressing them out, unlike people with clinical anxiety, who tend to fixate on what triggers their anxiety.

Richeson stresses in every class she teaches on stereotyping and prejudice that a solution to a problem often presents another problem. Ironically, her study suggests, standards to create a diverse yet harmonious society may unwittingly be encouraging anxious responses toward blacks.

Contact: Pat Vaughan Tremmel 847-491-4892 Northwestern University

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Black VLBW babies in NYC more likely to be born in hospitals with high neonatal death rates

Mount Sinai School of MedicineIn New York City, black babies with very low birth weights (less than 1500 grams, or 3 pounds, 5 ounces) are more likely to be born in hospitals with high risk-adjusted neonatal death rates, according to a Commonwealth Fund-supported study.

White very low birth weight (VLBW) babies are less likely to be born in hospitals with high risk-adjusted neonatal death rates. In fact, only 11 percent of white VLBW babies were born at hospitals with high death rates while 21 percent of black VLBW babies were born at those hospitals
The study, conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, found that if black mothers having VLBW babies gave birth at the same hospitals as white mothers of VLBW babies, death rates for black VLBW babies would fall nearly 5 percent, to a rate of 132 deaths for every 1,000 VLBW births in New York City hospitals. This would reduce the disparity that currently exists between black and white VLBW deaths by 34%.

"It is important to understand why black very low birth weight infants in New York City are more likely to die in their first month of life than white infants. This study tells us that a big part of that difference can be attributed to the hospital where the baby is born," says lead study author Elizabeth Howell, M.D., of the Department of Health Policy at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "It further tells us that we have an opportunity to save the lives of babies and eliminate a significant portion of the black-white gap."

In addition to the disparity in where black and white VLBW babies are born, the authors also found a striking variation in the neonatal death rates for VLBW babies in New York City hospitals. The death rates ranged from 9.6 to 27.2 deaths for every 1,000 births and standardized mortality rates (ratio of observed deaths to actual deaths) ranged from 0.70 to 1.97.

Eliminating the wide variation in death rates could substantially improve the difference in death rates between black and white VLBW babies. In fact, 25 percent of the disparity would be eliminated if the hospitals with the highest neonatal death rates could do as well as the hospitals with an average neonatal mortality rate.

"This study clearly shows that hospital quality is a big part of the reason that very low birth weight babies who are black have such poor survival rates in New York City," said Commonwealth Fund Assistant Vice President Anne Beal, M.D. "These findings hold even when controlling for other factors that contribute to differences in infant mortality. In order to save these babies, we need to find out where the delivery of high quality care breaks down and take steps to make improvements at all hospitals; especially those hospitals with the highest neonatal death rates, which often care for more minority infants."

Researchers reviewed all live births and deaths of infants born in 45 New York City hospitals between January 1996 and December 2001, measuring very low birth weight neonatal mortality rates, or deaths within 28 days after delivery, for the study. They adjusted for outside risks such as prenatal care and the mother's health.

Research funding was also provided by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities.

The Commonwealth Fund is an independent foundation working toward health policy reform and a high performance health system. FULL REPORT BLACK/WHITE DIFFERENCES IN VERY LOW BIRTH WEIGHT NEONATAL
in PDF format.

Commonwealth Contact(s): Mary Mahon Public Information Officer TEL 212-606-3853 cell phone 917-225-2314 Outside Contact Name: Dana Paravati Outside Contact Number: 212-241-9200,

IMAGE CREDIT: Description Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY Source: self-made, Wikimedia Commons. Date: April 22, 2007 Author: Powership

IMAGE LICENSE: I, the copyright holder (Powership) of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible: I (Powership) grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Keeping African artifacts in Africa

A University of Calgary researcher has established the first museum of its kind in Mozambique as a way to help stop the excavation and permanent removal of artifacts from history-rich communities in Africa while engaging the local population in Western and African academic research—two initiatives that should have started long ago, according to U of C archaeologist Julio Mercader and Arianna Fogelman, a Boston University PhD student.

Mercader was inspired to construct the museum, only the second museum in the country’s province of Niassa, after finding a cave located up a steep cliff overlooking Lake Niassa, which contained 1,000-year-old ritual bowls. The bowls were used as ancestral offerings when boys were taken to the cave for circumcision rituals.

African artifacts in Africa“When we saw the wealth of offerings in the cave I thought it was important to create one heritage centre that preserves and promotes local heritage in this part of Mozambique,” said Mercader, an archaeologist at the U of C who has been excavating artifacts in Mozambique since 2003.
“The museum is more than just a repository of ancient artifacts. It’s an interactive centre that makes learning about ancient and modern cultural heritage a part of everyday life,” said Mercader, who chose to house the museum—named Museu Local, meaning “local museum” in Portuguese—in a restored historical building; the first schoolhouse in the district of Lago, a place that has historic meaning for the local population.

More local content for the museum was produced in the summer of 2007 when Mercader’s team travelled to 25 villages near the museum and digitally recorded the oral traditions—personal histories, migration narratives, folktales, songs, etc.—of more than 200 people. The resultant 66 hours of sound and video files are archived and accessible to researchers and visitors.

“My greatest accomplishment has been collecting oral histories from a 150-kilometre stretch of the lake coast,” said Fogelman, who is working towards a PhD in socio-cultural anthropology. “Seeing the looks on people's faces when their stories and songs were played back and being able to share the recordings of one population with another, was extremely gratifying.”
archaeologist Julio Mercader and Mozambican student Mussa Raja

archaeologist Julio Mercader and Mozambican student Mussa Raja
Apart from contributing to the communities cultural heritage, Mercader has made an impact at a socioeconomic level. For more than five years, Mercader has provided Mozambicans with field opportunities as well as laboratory training and formal education in his projects. One example of this is the on-going laboratory training of Mozambican student Mussa Raja, who has been training at a school in Mozambique and at the U of C. Raja plans to pursue a Maste'rs degree in archaeology at the U of C.
“Considering the lack of expert personnel in Mozambique in the field of Stone Age archaeology, this project contributes to fill this gap,” said Raja, who has contributed to the project as an archaeological field assistant and through development work with local communities. “The type of training I’m receiving is essential for the future practice of African archaeology by African scientists.”

Other socio-economic contributions aimed to alleviate some of the extreme poverty that exists in the communities in which Mercader and his team operate include employing local personnel (the security guard and museum manager both live in Niassa) and helping to build local schools and water pumps.

Mercader collaborated with the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane and Universidade Pedagógica, in Mozambique, for this project. The U.S. government has given $35,000 to support this project through the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation, operated out of the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC and separate funding at the U.S. Embassy in Mozambique.

Other supporters and funders include the Mozambique Ministry of Education and Culture; the Smithsonian Institution; the Canada Research Chairs Program; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Committee; Canada Foundation for Innovation; Eduardo Mondlane University; Archaelogy and Anthropology Department; Projecto Lipilichi Wilderness; government and authorities of Niassa; and Direccao Nacional do Patrimonio Cultural e Monumentos.

Contact: Meghan Sired 403-220-4756 University of Calgary

Friday, April 25, 2008

Alcohol and malt liquor availability and promotion higher in African American inner cities

Study begs questions of inner city health

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL – It appears that living in a poor neighborhood with a high concentration of African Americans is associated with greater alcohol availability and promotion – especially malt liquor – according to a recent study by University of Minnesota researchers.

The study found that poor neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans had higher homicide rates and significantly greater numbers of off-premise alcohol outlets, 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor in coolers, and storefront ads promoting malt liquor than other neighborhoods. Researchers also found that the average price of a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor was $1.87, or less than a gallon of milk.

Malt liquor is a concern in inner cities because of its cheap price, high alcohol content, association with heavier drinking, and its link to aggressive behavior that can result in public safety issues, said Rhonda Jones-Webb, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Public Health and principal investigator of the study. The cheap price of malt liquor also makes it especially available to inner-city youth, she added.

40oz malt liquor

Comparison of a regular 12oz longneck beer to a 40oz malt liquor.
The findings were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Substance Use and Misuse.

“We wanted to know the extent to which the alcohol environment in African American neighborhoods — high concentration of alcohol outlets and high availability and promotion of malt liquor – contributes to high homicide rates in those communities,” Jones-Webb said.

Among non-Hispanic males 15 years and older in the United States in 2003, African American males were 12 times more likely than Caucasian males to be victims of homicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study targeted low-income neighborhoods in 10 cities (Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Ana, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri) across the country in 2003. Each city had also been selected to receive federal grants from the government for economic development activities.

Researchers then collected information on homicides in the neighborhoods, compiled information on alcohol licenses, and linked them with the addresses of homicides. Observations were also conducted of the availability and promotion of alcohol and malt liquor in off-premise alcohol outlets in the neighborhoods.

“We need to ask ourselves why high alcohol content beverages, such as malt liquor, are more readily available and highly promoted in poor and minority neighborhoods, and how we can mobilize communities to implement effective policies to restrict their sale and promotion,” Jones-Webb said. ###

The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Contact: Nick Hanson 612-624-2449 University of Minnesota

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Many African-Americans have a gene that prolongs life after heart failure

cardiologists Gerald Dorn and Stephen Liggett

UC researchers recently received a federal grant to fund heart failure and heart disease studies. Back row, from left: Jeffery Molkentin, Jeffrey Robbins, Dr. Stephen Liggett. Front row, from left: Dr. Gerald Dorn, Litsa Kranias.

Media Credit: University of Cincinnati Medical Center Public Relations
About 40 percent of African-Americans have a genetic variant that can protect them after heart failure and prolong their lives, according to research conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and collaborating institutions.

The genetic variant has an effect that resembles that of beta blockers, drugs widely prescribed for heart failure. The new study offers a reason why beta blockers don't appear to benefit some African-Americans.

"For several years a controversy has existed in the cardiovascular field because of conflicting reports about whether beta blockers helped African-American patients,"
says senior author Gerald W. Dorn II, M.D., professor of medicine, associate chairman for translational research and director of the Center for Pharmacogenomics at Washington University.

"By mimicking the effect of beta blockers, the genetic variant makes it appear as if beta blockers aren't effective in these patients," he explains. "But although beta blockers have no additional benefit in heart failure patients with the variant, they are equally effective in Caucasian and African-American patients without the variant."

Co-author Stephen B. Liggett, M.D., professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of its cardiopulmonary genomics program says the discovery adds to the accumulating evidence that genetic differences contribute to the way people respond to medications and should encourage the use of genetic testing in clinical trials to identify people who can benefit from therapy tailored to their genetic makeup.

About 5 million people in the United States have heart failure, and it results in about 300,000 deaths each year. Beta blockers slow heart rate and lower blood pressure to decrease the heart's workload and prevent lethal cardiac arrhythmias.

While Caucasians with heart failure participating in clinical studies of beta blockers have shown clear benefit from the drugs, the evidence for benefit in African-Americans has been ambiguous. The current study, reported online April 20, 2008, in Nature Medicine, identified one particular race-specific gene variant that seems to account mechanistically and biologically for these indeterminate results.

The gene codes for an enzyme called GRK5, which depresses the response to adrenaline and similar hormonal substances that increase how hard the heart works. Adrenaline is a hormone released from the adrenal glands that prompts the "fight-or-flight" response — it increases cardiac output to give a sudden burst of energy.

In heart failure, decreased blood flow from the struggling heart ramps up the body's secretion of adrenaline to compensate for a lower blood flow. Overproduction of the hormone makes the weakened heart pump harder, but eventually worsens heart failure.

Beta blockers alleviate this problem by blocking adrenaline at its receptor in the heart and blood vessels. GRK enzymes mimic this effect by serving as "speed governors" that work like the governor in an engine to prevent adrenaline from over-revving the heart, says Dorn.

The researchers — including three equally contributing co-authors: Liggett, Sharon Cresci, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Cardiovascular Division at Washington University and a cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and Reagan J. Kelly, Ph.D., at the University of Michigan — found that 41 percent of African-Americans have a variant GRK5 gene that more effectively suppresses the action of adrenaline than the more common version of the gene. People with the variant gene could be said to have a natural beta blocker, Dorn says. The variant is extremely rare in Caucasians, accounting for its predominant effects in African-Americans.

The researchers showed that African-American heart failure patients with this genetic variant have about the same survival rate even if they don't take beta blockers as Caucasian and African-American heart failure patients who do take beta blockers.

"That doesn't mean African-Americans with heart failure need to be tested for the genetic variant to decide whether to take beta blockers," Dorn says. "Under the supervision of a cardiologist, beta blockers have very low risk but huge benefits, and I am comfortable prescribing them to any heart failure patients who do not have a specific contraindication to the drug."

"This is a step toward individualized therapy," Cresci says. "Medical research is working to identify many genetic variants that someday can ensure that patients receive the medications that are most appropriate for them. Right now, we know one variant that influences beta blocker efficacy, and we are continuing our research into this and other relevant genetic variants."

The human heart has two forms of GRK: GRK2 and GRK5. The researchers meticulously searched the DNA sequence of these genes in 96 people of European-American, African-American or Chinese descent to look for differences. They found most people, no matter their race, had exactly the same DNA sequence in GRK2 or GRK5. But there was one common variation in the DNA sequence, a variation called GRK5-Leu41, the variant that more than 40 percent of African-Americans have.

To determine the effect of the GRK5-Leu41 variant, the team studied the course of progression of heart failure in 375 African-American patients. They looked for survival time or time to heart transplant, comparing people with the variant to those without. Some of these patients were taking beta blockers and some were not.

In patients who did not take beta blockers, the researchers found that those with the variant lived almost twice as long as those with the more common version of the GRK5 gene. Beta blockers prolonged life to the same degree as the protective GRK5 variant, but did not further increase the already improved survival of those with the variant.

"These results offer an explanation for the confusion that has occurred in this area since clinical trials of beta blockers began," Dorn says. "Our study demonstrates a mechanism that should lay to rest the question about whether beta blockers are effective in African-Americans — they absolutely are in those who don't have this genetic variant."

Other institutions collaborating in the study are the University of Cincinnati, Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Missouri, Kansas City.

Liggett SB, Cresci S, Kelly RJ, Syed FM, Matkovich SJ, Hahn HS, Diwan A, Martini JS, Sparks L, Parekh RR Spertus JA, Koch WJ, Kardia SLR, Dorn II GW. A GRK5 polymorphism that inhibits beta-adrenergic receptor signaling is protective in heart failure. Nature Medicine April 20, 2008 (advance online publishing).

Funding from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute supported this research.

Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Media Assistance: Gwen Ericson Assistant Director of Research Communications (314) 286-0141 WEB: Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Increasing robotics education and research for African-American students. VIDEO

Rplay is a project to create an online video game with which users can remotely control robotic dogs to play soccer. The purpose of the project is to gather learning data for the dogs, so they can eventually be taught to play the game on their own.
robotics research dog

Fetch! Roll over! Shoot! Score! Soccer requires strategy, cooperation, some basic skills, and lots of practice. It’s an ideal testing ground for robotics research, as mechanical competitors learn how to play the game.
Brown joins alliance to increase robotics education and research

Brown University has joined the Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact (ARTSI) Alliance supported by the National Science Foundation, in an effort to boost the number of African-American students pursuing computer science and robotics.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University has joined forces with more than a dozen research universities and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to promote robotics and computer science education for African-American students.
The Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact (ARTSI) Alliance will develop outreach programs to encourage African-American students at both the K-12 and college levels to pursue careers in computer science and robotics and will provide mentoring programs for undergraduates. The Alliance also will provide development activities for HBCU faculty who teach computer science and robotics courses. ARTSI is funded by a three-year, $2-million National Science Foundation grant.

At Brown, the program is spearheaded by Chad Jenkins, assistant professor of computer science. “The aim is to develop and strengthen pathways from HBCUs to major research universities for minority students who want to pursue graduate degrees in computer science,” Jenkins said. “Robots are a great way to inspire students because they are interactive and fun but also pose intellectually deep challenges.”

During the summers of 2008 and 2009, Jenkins will bring an undergraduate HBCU student to campus for a research internship. Students will develop software applications that will allow robots to more effectively interact with humans, a major research focus in Jenkins’ laboratory. African-Americans now account for just 4.8 percent of almost 2 million U.S. computer and information scientists, a job category that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will be among the fastest growing occupations over the next decade.

“To advance computing technology and robotics, we need as many great minds in the field as possible,” Jenkins said, “so it is critical to draw in dedicated and interested students, whether they choose to work in academia or the commercial sector.”

HBCUs participating in ARTSI are Spelman College, Hampton University, Morgan State University, Florida A&M University, Norfolk State University, Winston-Salem State University, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and the University of the District of Columbia.

They are joined by research universities including Brown, Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh, Georgia Institute of Technology, Duke University, University of Alabama and University of Washington that will provide research internships, mentoring opportunities and lesson plans and materials. Corporate partners include Seagate Technology, Microsoft, Apple, iRobot and Juxtopia.

Activities will include:
  • academic-year student research activities at HBCUs;
  • summer internships for HBCU students in research university labs;
  • an annual student research conference and workshop;
  • local outreach at middle and high schools serving minority populations in each HBCU's community;
  • national outreach through an ARTSI web portal, currently under development.;
  • “viral marketing” through student-produced robotics videos on YouTube that showcase the achievements of ARTSI-affiliated students and faculty.
For more information, visit

Contact: Wendy Lawton 401-863-1862 Brown University

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

LSU spotlights strong African American marriages VIDEO

Study fills gap in positive research on African American families

BATON ROUGE – Loren Marks, assistant professor of human ecology at LSU, along with several colleagues, published one of the only studies hallmarking positive, long-lasting African-American marriages. The study, “Together, We Are Strong: A Qualitative Study of Happy, Enduring African American Marriages,” will be published in “Family Relations” in April.

“This all started about five years ago, when two of my students came up to me after class to ask me a question I couldn’t answer,” said Marks. “They asked me why there wasn’t any research done on strong, marriage-based black families like the ones they came from.”

According to the study, scholars tend to view African American families through what is known as a “deficit perspective,” a manner that emphasizes problems and negatives. “We felt it was time that someone stepped up and researched the many solid, long-lasting African American marriages that are out there,” said Marks.

This qualitative study, which relies on in-depth interviews rather than numerical data, was based on discussions with 30 African American married couples identified across the country. Four key themes rose out of the interviews:

1. Challenges to African American Marriages

Approximately one-half of African Americans – and 24 out of the 30 interviewed couples – live in inner-city neighborhoods typified by poverty, deficient schools, unemployment, street violence and high levels of stress. It is difficult to get married and stay married in such an environment.

2. Overcoming External Challenges to Marriage

Due to their stability, these marriages serve as a primary source of support for those around them. “Knocks of need,” or calls for financial, emotional and social support, come to these couples in a seemingly disproportionate amount. The couples’ household incomes weren’t high by national standards but they typically had more liquid assets than their neighbors – at least until they shared.

3. Resolving Intramarital Conflict

Like all relationships across racial and economic boundaries, each couple reported arguments, disagreements and generally being “different” from one another, but they found ways to work through their conflicts.

4. Unity and the Importance of Being Equally “Yoked”

90 percent of the couples interviewed were actively religious in the same church. Only three of the couples did not regularly attend church, instead choosing to spend Sundays home together. However, the single common factor found was that every couple was in agreement about their religious views, whatever they might be. The couples referred to this as being “equally yoked.”

“The goal of the study was to tell the stories of real people, facing real challenges and struggles, but who pull together in their marriages and continue to make it through,” said Marks. “We want young people, black and white, to see that strong, happy marriages do exist but that they don’t look like the movies. These marriages involve work, sacrifice, patience, unselfishness and commitment. It is tough, but it is possible.” ###

Contact: Loren Marks 225-578-2405 Louisiana State University

Contact Ashley Berthelot LSU Media Relations 225-578-3870

Monday, April 21, 2008

Trust between doctors and patients is culprit in efforts to cross racial divide in medical research

Study shows lingering doubts and fears hamper research participation by African Americans

More than three decades after the shutdown of the notorious Tuskegee study, a team of Johns Hopkins physicians has found that Tuskegee’s legacy of blacks’ mistrust of physicians and deep-seated fear of harm from medical research persists and is largely to blame for keeping much-needed African Americans from taking part in clinical trials.

In a report to be published in the journal Medicine online Jan. 14, experts in the design and conduct of medical research found that black men and women were only 60 percent as likely as whites to participate in a mock study to test a pill for heart disease. Results came from a random survey of 717 outpatients at 13 clinics in Maryland, 36 percent of whom were black and the rest white.

Participants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Photograph of Participants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Image courtesy Public Domain Clip Art
The survey is believed to be the first analysis showing that an overestimation of risk of harm explains why blacks’ participation in clinical trials has for decades lagged that of whites. The results come at a time of increased recognition of racial differences in disease rates and treatments. Researchers point out that some kidney diseases, stroke, lung cancer and diabetes all progress more quickly in blacks and kill more blacks than people of other racial backgrounds.
“There is enormous irony that without African-American subject participation in clinical trials, we are not going to have tested the best therapies we need to treat African Americans,” says study senior researcher, Hopkins internist and epidemiologist Neil R. Powe, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A. “So long as the legacy of Tuskegee persists, African Americans will be left out of important findings about the latest treatments for diseases, especially those that take a greater toll on African Americans and consequently may not have ready or equal access to the latest medicines.”

The infamous Tuskegee study, named after the Alabama town where its participants lived, enrolled several hundred sharecroppers, mostly poor, illiterate blacks, into a study they believed would help treat their syphilis infections. Instead, health care workers denied them available drugs to cure the disease in a secret plan to study the “natural course” of unchecked syphilis. The health care workers were predominantly white.

The government-sponsored experiment ran for 40 years until a leak to the press exposed the deception and the study was shut down in 1972. The resulting public outcry and federal clampdown led to the establishment of federally regulated committees at all American academic centers, so-called institutional review boards, to oversee how clinical studies are designed and to ensure informed consent of all patients.

When the Hopkins researchers probed the perceptions and beliefs behind the decision to participate or stand back among their survey subjects, they found that blacks harbored a strong distrust for physicians when compared to whites:

* 25 percent of blacks thought their physician would be willing to ask them to participate in a study even though the study might harm them, while only 15 percent of whites thought the same;

* 28 percent of blacks, but 22 percent of whites, felt their physician would willingly expose them to unnecessary risk;

* 58 percent of blacks, and 25 percent of whites, thought that physicians use medications to experiment on people without the patient’s consent;

* 8 percent of blacks did not feel comfortable about questioning their physician, while 2 percent of whites were similarly inhibited.

When researchers removed respondents who had feelings of distrust toward physicians from the analysis, the numbers of blacks and whites willing to participate in medical research became the same, at roughly a third of those asked.

“Our results strongly suggest that the problem is the lack of trust and that it may be fixable by communicating better with patients and taking actions that improve mutual respect and understanding,” says Powe, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of its Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research.

What is not known, says Powe, is how much of the problem is anchored in blacks’ mistrust of society in general and how much of it is influenced by interactions with physicians.

Powe adds that historically low numbers of minority physicians might also play a role in fostering mistrust. Currently, he points out, 12 percent of the U.S. population is black, but only 4 percent of physicians are black. Other studies done by the Hopkins team show that having a physician from the same race fosters patient trust and improves health care satisfaction scores. At Hopkins, the percentage of black medical students since 2000 has ranged between 8 percent and 11 percent.

Joel B. Braunstein, M.D., a research fellow at Hopkins who led the study, says the responsibility for improving the situation rests with physicians and medical schools to reduce the disparity “for the benefit to all of our patients, not just African Americans, but also for medical science in general.”

Braunstein, now a consultant to scientists and investors starting up biomedical companies, recommends, aside from the personal strengthening of relationships between physicians and patients during check-ups, more institutional programs, such as cultural competency programs. He says community projects to promote interaction of academic medical center staff with local neighborhood and business groups might also help.

“The academic medical system exists to help people through discovery and testing of new treatments, and unless people - regardless of race - see research conducted on all types of patients and through their own eyes, they won’t necessarily believe it,” says Powe, whose team plans further research into what types of intervention - physician or patient training, or various community programs - work at improving trust in physicians.

Results from the survey, in which a total of 1,440 people of all races were asked to fill out a questionnaire while they waited for a regularly scheduled check-up, were later broken down so that only the views of blacks and whites could be compared. Every patient was asked by a physician, either white or black, to participate in the mock trial, but only after an in-depth explanation of the risks and benefits involved in joining, including the type of drug under study, possible drug side effects, study length and rules for participants. It was after this vigorous process of simulated informed consent that patients were asked to join up and to explain their rationale for participating or not participating. ###

The study, which took place from April to October 2002, was made possible with funding support provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Other investigators in this research were Noëlle Sherber, M.D.; Steven Schulman, M.D.; and Eric Ding, Sc.D.

For additional information, go to:

Contact: David March 410-955-1534 Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Study: weight-loss tips differ in African-American, mainstream magazines

Malcolm X Boulevard, Lenox Ave.

Malcolm X Boulevard, Lenox Ave. Image courtesy Public Domain Clip Art
Magazines catering to African-Americans may be falling short in their efforts to educate readers about weight loss, a new University of Iowa study suggests.

African-American women's magazines are more likely to encourage fad diets and reliance on faith to lose weight, while mainstream women's magazines focus more on evidence-based diet strategies, according to the study by UI researcher Shelly Campo, published in a recent issue of the journal Health Communication.
"Three-quarters of African-American women are considered overweight or obese, compared to one-third of all U.S. women," said Campo, an assistant UI professor with appointments in community and behavioral health in the College of Public Health and communication studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "African-American magazines tend to embrace a mission of advocacy for the African-American community, but if you're not covering evidence-based weight-loss strategies, you're not really helping your community."

Campo and co-author Teresa Mastin, an associate professor in the Department of Advertising, Public Relations, and Retailing at Michigan State University, analyzed 406 fitness and nutrition articles published between 1984 and 2004 in three major African-American women's magazines -- Ebony, Essence and Jet -- and three popular mainstream women's magazines -- Good Housekeeping, Better Homes and Gardens, and Ladies' Home Journal.

The magazines suggested many of the same weight-loss strategies, but mainstream magazines were twice as likely to suggest eating more whole grains and protein, smaller portions, and low-fat foods. Relying on God or faith was suggested by 1 in 10 weight-loss stories in the African-American magazines, but in almost no weight-loss stories in the mainstream magazines.

Fad diets were promoted as legitimate strategies in 15 percent of weight-loss stories in the African-American magazines, compared to only 5 percent in the mainstream magazines. Fad diets, defined as diets that may work in the short term but often do not result in sustained changes, included the Dick Gregory Bahamian Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Hilton Head Diet, and the Atkins Diet.

Mainstream magazines offered more strategies per article than African-American magazines. And, while mainstream magazines increased fitness and nutrition coverage during the second decade as the severity of the obesity epidemic unfolded, African-American magazines did not.

"The study clearly points to a need for public-health advocates and advocates of the African-American community to push their media to increase coverage of overweight and obesity health issues," Campo said.

The research is a companion study to previous work Mastin and Campo published in the Howard Journal of Communications in Oct. 2006. The first study showed that food and nonalcoholic beverage ads outnumbered fitness and nutrition articles 16 to 1 in Ebony, Essence and Jet between 1984 and 2004. The 500 ads were primarily for foods high in calories but low in nutritional value, Campo said.

In the new paper, Campo and Mastin note that both types of magazines tend to place responsibility for weight loss on the individual, rather than examining environmental and economic factors that make weight loss difficult. More than 83 percent of strategies focused on behavior changes, while less than 7 percent focused on environment. For example, magazines recommended eating well and staying active, but rarely addressed issues like availability and cost of healthy food, recreational opportunities in communities, or existence of school- or work-based fitness programs.

"Both genres are highly guilty of over-reliance on individual strategies," Campo said. "We blame individuals too much for circumstances that are not entirely within their control. We know people living in unsafe neighborhoods are much less likely to exercise. And fast food is cheap compared to fresh fruit and vegetables. To tell a poor person that they made a bad choice because they couldn't afford the salad fixings raises some ethical concerns."

African-Americans represent at least 90 percent of the readership of Ebony, Essence and Jet, but 11 percent or less of Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping and Ladies' Home Journal. The magazines were selected for the study because of their large circulation and longevity over the 20-year period.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

Contact: Nicole Riehl 319-384-0070 University of Iowa