Monday, September 28, 2009

Researchers Identify Gene Variant Linked to Glaucoma

An international team, led by researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the National Eye Institute, has discovered gene variants for glaucoma in a black population. The finding could lead to future treatments or a cure for this disease, which leads to blindness in two million Americans each year.

The study by Kang Zhang, MD, PhD, Director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine and professor of ophthalmology and human genetics at the Shiley Eye Center at UC San Diego and J. Fielding Hejtmancik, MD, PhD, medical officer and chief of the Ophthalmic Molecular Genetics Section at the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, along with the Barbados Family Study Group and colleagues in the United States, China and Barbados, will be published in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) the week of September 21.

Kang Zhang, MD, PhD

Kang Zhang, MD, PhD
Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among blacks, affecting close to five percent of the population. The researchers chose to conduct the study in the Afro-Caribbean population of Barbados, where the incidence of glaucoma is double that figure – nearly 10 percent of all residents of the island – and where there is a strong genetic predisposition.

Known as “the silent thief of sight,” glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disease that causes the death of ganglion cells of the retina, resulting in gradual and irreversible loss of peripheral vision. Reducing intra-ocular pressure can slow the progression to blindness, but there is no cure or reversal for glaucoma.
“The cause and progression of glaucoma are poorly understood, although we know there is a strong genetic predisposition to the disease,” said co-author Robert N. Weinreb, MD, Director of the Hamilton Glaucoma Center and Distinguished Professor of Ophthalmology at UC San Diego.

“We have now identified very common gene variants that have a dramatic impact on an individual’s risk for developing glaucoma,” Zhang added. “These gene variants are present in 40 percent of individuals with glaucoma in the Barbados population and explains nearly one-third of their genetic risk for the disease. This study should give us a better handle on earlier diagnoses and new therapies.”

Looking at 249 patients with glaucoma and 128 control subjects, the research built on early studies which scanned the entire human genome. The scientists then homed in on a particular segment of the human genome, and finally localized the gene on chromosome 2.

“Once we understand the specific gene or protein structure that is altered in the disease, we are one step closer to developing gene or stem cell-based therapies to treat glaucoma,” said Zhang. Identifying the gene variants can also provide a more accurate and earlier diagnosis, allowing early intervention to slow glaucoma’s progression.

Additional contributors to the study include researchers at the University of Utah; Yale

University; Stony Brook University; University of the West Indies; Qingdao University, Qingdao, China; Sichuan Provincial People’s Hospital, China; and West China Hospital, Sichuan University.

This work was supported by grants from the National Eye Institute of National Institutes of Health, Research to Prevent Blindness and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. # # #

Media Contact: Debra Kain, 619-543-6163,

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Vice Admiral Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr.

Vice Admiral Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr. had a distinguished naval career as a surface warfare officer and manager. All leaders, civilian and military, officer or enlisted, government service grade or Senior Executive Service could learn the characteristics of effective leadership from Gravely's thirty-eight years in the Navy. There are several notable achievements to his credit including being the first African-American to command a combatant ship, to be promoted to flag rank, and to command a naval fleet. Gravely's life and naval career, spanning from 1944 to 1982, also reflect the improved status of African-Americans in the Navy and in American Society. As a distinguished veteran of World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars, his military service suggests several qualities that a successful leader should possess.

Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr.

Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr.
The first attribute is simply "to be ready." Gravely could not always determine when an opportunity would arise but he made sure that he had prepared himself to be able to respond to it. Obstacles must be turned into opportunities.

For example, when the officers club prevented Gravely from entering, he used the time to complete Navy correspondence courses. The additional education and training helped him become a better officer.
Like any other sailor, Gravely did not like every job the Navy gave him but he did his best in each of them. In that sense, Gravely believed that all jobs were good jobs because they were chances to excel. Regardless of the size of one's command, lead with integrity, professionalism, and care. Gravely was a strategist as he faced more than a few challenges. Instead of being overwhelmed by them or focusing on them, he found creative ways to circumvent them or to accept them and he always strove to learn from his experiences. Gravely never sat on his laurels. He continued to learn and to expand his horizons. His career also suggests that leaders must be realistic and optimistic. While Gravely understood the naval policies designed to limit African-Americans in the Navy, he did not let them limit or discourage him. Another important characteristic is having the right attitude, as well as the appropriate credentials. He believed that success and respect were not given to anyone; they had to be earned. Another attribute of leadership is perseverance. An effective leader has to be committed enough to the cause to focus on the goal.

Despite the difficulties, Gravely enjoyed his naval service. This reminds leaders that it is important to know your job and to do it well but you should not forget to enjoy the work. An effective leader strives to make a positive difference for others and has a genuine concern for others. Good leaders are not born; they are developed and one measure of their success is that they have trained others to be effective leaders.

Finally, where one starts does not necessarily have to guarantee where he ends up. Instead of accepting the odds for failure, one can beat the odds by working and studying hard. Gravely began his career as a seaman apprentice at Great Lakes in 1942 and rose through the ranks to become a three star admiral.
090516-N-5549O-086 PASCAGOULA, Miss. (May 16, 2009) Acting Secretary of the Navy the Honorable BJ Penn addresses hundreds of guests during the christening ceremony for the Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Gravely (DDG-107) at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Miss.Secretary of the Navy the Honorable BJ Penn
The newest destroyer honors Samuel L. Gravely who was the first African American to command a warship (USS Theodore E. Chandler); to command a major warship (USS Jouett); to achieve flag rank and eventually vice admiral; and to command a numbered fleet (Third). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O’Brien/Released)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Heart Healthy Home Cooking African American Style

Heart Healthy Home Cooking African American Style With Every Heartbeat Is Life

Good food is one of life’s great joys. And good meals are a shared pleasure at the heart of African American family life and special celebrations. This recipe book brings together many African American favorite recipes, prepared in a heart healthy way, lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium! It shows how to prepare dishes in ways that help protect you and your family from heart disease and stroke. This is important because heart disease and stroke are the first and the third leading cause of death for African Americans. By making small changes in the way you and your family eat, you can help reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Heart Healthy Home Cooking African American StyleThis updated recipe book includes new recipes, along with some of your old favorites. New information on heart healthy food substitutions and food safety is also included. So, make a start today. Give those old favorites a new, tasty, heart healthy makeover. And help keep the heart of your family strong.
DOWNLOAD: Heart Healthy Home Cooking African American Style in PDF Format.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Racial disparities in diabetes prevalence linked to living conditions

The higher incidence of diabetes among African Americans when compared to whites may have more to do with living conditions than genetics, according to a study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study, available online in advance of publication in the October 2009 edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that when African Americans and whites live in similar environments and have similar incomes, their diabetes rates are similar, which contrasts with the fact that nationally diabetes is more prevalent among African Americans than whites.

Researchers from the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine compared data from the 2003 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) with the Exploring Health Disparities in Integrated Communities Southwest Baltimore (EHDIC-SWB) Study. The Baltimore study was conducted in a racially integrated urban community without race differences in socioeconomic status.

Thomas A. LaVeist

Thomas A. LaVeist, Ph.D. is Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Center for Health Disparities Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In recent decades the United States has seen a sharp increase in diabetes prevalence, with African Americans having a considerably higher occurrence of type 2 diabetes and other related complications compared to whites.

"While we often hear media reports of genes that account for race differences in health outcomes, genes are but one of many factors that lead to the major health conditions that account for most deaths in the United States," said Thomas LaVeist, PhD, director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions and lead author of the study.

Some researchers have speculated that disparities in diabetes prevalence are the result of genetic differences between race groups.
However, LaVeist noted that those previous studies were based on national data where African Americans and whites tend to live in separate communities with different levels of exposure to health risks. The EHDIC-SWB study accounts for racial differences in socioeconomic and environmental risk exposures to determine if the diabetes race disparity reported in national data is similar when black and white Americans live under comparable conditions.

"I don't mean to suggest that genetics play no role in race differences in health, but before we can conclude that health disparities are mainly a matter of genetics we need to first identify a gene, polymorphism or gene mutation that exists in one race group and not others. And when that gene is found we need to then demonstrate that that gene is also associated with diabetes," LaVeist said. "On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that behavior, medical care and the environment are huge drivers of race differences in health. It seems more likely that the answer to health disparities will be found among these factors."

Researchers in this study found that within their sample of racially integrated communities without race differences in socioeconomic and environmental factors, prevalence estimates of diabetes are similar between African Americans and whites. According to the study, "Previous research has demonstrated that when African Americans and whites access similar health care facilities their health care outcomes are more similar."

The study's authors said their findings support the need for future health disparities research and creative approaches to examining health disparities within samples that account for socioeconomic and social environmental factors. ###

Additional authors of "Environmental and Socio-Economic Factors as Contributors to Racial Disparities in Diabetes Prevalence" are Roland J. Thorpe, Jr., PhD; Jessica E. Galarraga, MPH; Kelly M. Bower, MSN, MPH, RN; and Tiffany L. Gary-Webb, PhD.

The study was supported by funding from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD), a center of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Contact: Tim Parsons 410-955-7619 Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Young Black Women Prone to Gain More Unhealthy Abdominal Fat than Hispanics, Study Shows

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Black women ages 20 to 29 have increased amounts of unhealthy abdominal and visceral fat than Hispanic women the same age, and young women of both age groups have more as compared to their elders, according to researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and colleagues.

The new research shows that accumulation of abdominal fat that increases risk of type 2 diabetes is greatest in young adulthood for blacks and Hispanics, said endocrinologist Kristen G. Hairston, M.D., M.P.H., lead author of an article published online June 1 by the American Diabetes Association. The study is the first to look at a large minority cohort using computed tomography (CT) scanning to measure longitudinal changes over time in visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue, which are different types of abdominal fat.

Kristen G. Hairston

Kristen G. Hairston, M.D., M.P.H. Assistant Professor, Department Name: Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Appointments: (336) 713-7251, Office Phone: (336) 713-7251, Night Phone: (336) 713-7251, Fax: (336) 713-7255.

Clinic Location: University Internal Medicine at Stratford Executive Park, 500 Shepherd Street, Suite 300, Winston-Salem, NC. Office Address: Medical Center Blvd. Winston Salem, NC 27157-1047.

Email Address:
The study followed 389 blacks and 844 Hispanics ages 20 to 69, men and women, grouped by age in 10-year increments. The researchers took baseline measurements of visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and subcutaneous abdominal tissue (SAT) from 1999 to 2002 with follow-up measurements in 2005-2007. VAT is fat that resides within the abdominal cavity around internal organs and has been linked to metabolic disturbances. SAT is the kind of fat that one can pinch, like “love handles.”

The study found that the young adult age group (ages 20 to 29) had the largest five-year increase in measured adiposity, or fat, regardless of race or gender. The increase in VAT averaged 18 and 12 square centimeters (cm2) among young black and Hispanic women, respectively, and 13 and 7 cm2 among young men. The five-year increase in (SAT) was 89 and 53 cm2 among young black and Hispanic women, respectively, and 76 and 30 cm2 among young men. In general, fat accumulation declined in the older age groups. Abdominal fat accumulation, particularly the visceral type, is significant because previous studies show that VAT changes of this magnitude differentiate those who develop diabetes from those who don’t.

Until this study, this pattern of excessive abdominal fat accumulation in young adults has not been reported using CT-measured “fat depots.”
The findings, however, are consistent with several other studies that used measurements such as body mass index and waist circumference. In this study, abdominal tissue area was measured at the L4/L5 vertebral region by CT.

“Our data may help to further identify unique populations at risk for type 2 diabetes and those for whom behavioral intervention might be most effective,” said Hairston, assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism.

Grants from the National Institutes of Health funded the research. The article, titled “Five-year change in visceral adipose tissue quantity in a minority cohort: The IRAS Family Study,” appears online at It was published in the August issue of Diabetes Care, a publication of the American Diabetes Association.

Media Relations Contacts: Annette Porter,; (336) 716-2416; or Bonnie Davis,; or Shannon Koontz,, (336) 716-4587.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

New Obesity Data Shows Blacks Have the Highest Rates of Obesity

Blacks had 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity, and Hispanics had 21 percent higher obesity prevalence compared with whites, according to researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Greater prevalences of obesity for blacks and whites were found in the South and Midwest than in the West and Northeast. Hispanics in the Northeast had lower obesity prevalence than Hispanics in the Midwest, South or West. The study, in CDC′s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, examined data from 2006-2008. “This study highlights that in the United States, blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately affected by obesity,” said Dr. William H. Dietz, Director of CDC′s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, “If we have any hope of stemming the rise in obesity, we must intensify our efforts to create an environment for healthy living in these communities.”

William H. Dietz, MD, PhD

William H. Dietz, MD, PhD, is the Director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the CDC.
The study uses data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BRFSS is an ongoing, state-based, random-digit–dialed telephone survey of the U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized population aged 18 years and older.

The study found that in 40 states, obesity prevalence among blacks was 30 percent or more. In five of those states, Alabama, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oregon, obesity prevalence among blacks was 40 percent or greater.
For blacks, the prevalence of obesity ranged from 23 percent to 45.1 percent among all states and the District of Columbia; among Hispanics in 50 states and DC, the prevalence of obesity ranged from 21 percent to 36.7 percent, with 11 states having an obesity prevalence of 30 percent or higher. Among whites in 50 states and the District of Columbia, the prevalence of obesity ranged from 9 percent to 30.2 percent, with only West Virginia having a prevalence of 30 percent or more. “We know that racial and ethnic differences in obesity prevalence are likely due to both individual behaviors, as well as differences in the physical and social environment,” said Liping Pan, M.D., M.P.H., lead author and epidemiologist. “We need a combination of policy and environmental changes that can create opportunities for healthier living.”

For this study analysis, CDC analyzed the 2006−2008 BRFSS data. For more information on obesity trends, tables, including an animated map, visit To learn more about CDC′s efforts in the fight against obesity or for more information about nutrition, physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight, visit ####


Contact: CDC Division of Media Relations (404) 639-3286

Thursday, September 17, 2009

JEC Chair Maloney Statement on African American Unemployment

Washington, D.C. - Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its monthly jobs report for August. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Chair of the Joint Economic Committee, released the following statement in reaction to the labor market conditions facing the African American community:

“Today's employment numbers show that although the economy shows signs of recovery, employers are still reluctant to hire,” said Rep. Maloney. “I am optimistic that as more stimulus projects get underway in the coming months, more African Americans will be heading back to work."

Some quick facts from the August Jobs Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
· The unemployment rate for African American workers is now at 15.1 percent, up 6.2 percentage points from the start of the recession in December 2007.

Carolyn B. Maloney

Carolyn B. Maloney
· The share of African Americans with a job has dropped 5.0 percentage points over the recession to 52.8 percent. The last time the employment-to-population ratio for African Americans was this low was August 1984.
· The unemployment rate for African American males 20 and over is 17.0 percent, 8.8 percentage points higher than at the start of the recession. This means that more than 1 in 6 African American men, age 20 or over, is unemployed and actively searching for work. And African American men are more likely to be unemployed for a longer period of time.
The median duration of unemployment for African American men is 21.8 weeks, much higher than the median duration of 15.6 weeks for white men.
· The unemployment rate for African American women age 20 and over has risen 4.8 percentage points since the start of the recession to 11.9 percent.
· Unemployment among minority teens is especially high –1 in 3 African American and Hispanic teens are unemployed. That compares with 1 in 4 for white teens

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Black patients have lower rate of survival after in-hospital cardiac arrest

Compared with white patients, black patients who have an in-hospital cardiac arrest are significantly less likely to survive to hospital discharge, having lower rates of successful resuscitation and postresuscitation survival, although much of this survival difference was associated with the hospital in which black patients received care, according to a study in the September 16 issue of JAMA.

"Survival following in-hospital cardiac arrest represents a unique opportunity to examine racial disparities in medical care and outcomes. In-hospital cardiac arrest is an emergency condition tightly linked to processes of care and for which there is little debate regarding clinical appropriateness of treatment in eligible patients," according to background information in the article. "Racial differences in survival have not been previously studied after in-hospital cardiac arrest, an event for which access to care is not likely to influence treatment."

Paul S. Chan, M.D., M.Sc.

Paul S. Chan, M.D., M.Sc. Specialty: Cardiology, Office Information: Cardiovascular Consultants, P.C. 12330 Metcalf Avenue, Suite 280 Overland Park, KS 66213 816.931.1883. 20 N.E. Saint Lukes Boulevard. Lee's Summit, MO 64086. 816.931.1883
Paul S. Chan, M.D., M.Sc., of Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City, Mo., and colleagues used data from the National Registry of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (NRCPR) to examine whether racial differences exist in survival for patients with in-hospital cardiac arrest. The study included 10,011 patients from 274 hospitals who underwent defibrillation for a cardiac arrest. The average age in the study population was 67 years, 6,021 were men (60.1 percent), and 1,883 were black (18.8 percent).

Several patient and hospital factors differed by race, including white cardiac arrest patients being older and more likely to be male; black patients were more likely to have ventricular fibrillation as their initial presenting arrest rhythm, were sicker at the time of cardiac arrest (higher rates of renal insufficiency, diabetes mellitus, central nervous system depression, acute stroke, pneumonia, sepsis, major trauma, and requirement for hemodialysis),
and were more likely to be admitted to a hospital unit not monitored, to a hospital with greater than 500 beds, and in the southeastern United States.

The researchers found that black patients had a 27 percent lower overall rate, and a 12 percent lower absolute rate, of survival to hospital discharge, compared with white patients. "These unadjusted survival differences by race were, in large part, attributable to black patients being more likely to receive treatment at hospitals with worse outcomes."

These differences narrowed after adjusting for patient characteristics and for the hospital to which the patient was admitted. "However, further adjustment for hospital process variables did not meaningfully [diminish] residual differences, and black patients remained 10 percent less likely to survive to hospital discharge," the authors note.

"Lower rates of survival to discharge for blacks reflected lower rates of both successful resuscitation (55.8 percent vs. 67.4 percent for whites) and postresuscitation survival (45.2 percent vs. 55.5 percent for whites)," they write. "The racial difference in postresuscitation survival was eliminated after multivariable adjustment, and was largely explained by the hospital site at which patients received postresuscitation care."

"Collectively, these findings suggest that strategies to eliminate racial disparities in survival after in-hospital cardiac arrest are not likely to succeed unless they are accompanied by successful identification and implementation of interventions that improve resuscitation survival in those poorly performing hospitals in which black patients are more likely to receive care." ###

Contact: Kaitlin Staniforth 816-932-2826 JAMA and Archives Journals

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Socio-cultural, genetic data work together to reveal health disparities

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When it comes to health disparities between different groups, how society sees people in terms of race might play a greater role than genetics, according to a new University of Florida study.

The study also showed that taking stock of socio-cultural factors might improve our understanding of how genes influence individual health — regardless of race.

Consider high blood pressure, a complex disease governed both by genetic and environmental factors. Not only was social classification better than genetic-based ancestry at predicting disease status, it also brought to light a link between a particular gene and blood pressure that was not apparent when only genetic ancestry was considered.

Connie Mulligan, Ph.D.

Connie Mulligan, Ph.D. Title : Associate Professor of Anthropology and Associate Director of the UF Genetics Institute

Interests : Human genetic variation, genetics of complex disease, New World/Asia colonization, ancient DNA.

Clarence Gravlee , Ph.D.

Clarence Gravlee , Ph.D. Title: Assistant Professor

Interests: Medical anthropology; social inequalities in health; ethnicity, race, and racism; human biological variation; cultural dimensions of psychosocial stress; social network analysis; cognitive anthropology; qualitative and quantitative research methods
The study, to be published Wednesday (Sept. 9) in the journal PLoS ONE, is the first to rigorously combine both socio-cultural and genetic data to simultaneously test the relative contributions of each to racial inequalities in health.

"What's really groundbreaking is that we've got both types of data and they're of equivalent sophistication," said co-author Connie Mulligan, Ph.D., an associate professor of anthropology and an associate director of the UF Genetics Institute.

The results suggest that previously reported associations between genetic ancestry and health might be accounted for by socio-cultural factors related to race and racism, and not necessarily to genetic differences between races. It also suggests that including socio-cultural factors can strengthen genetics studies and help reveal how social inequalities can lead to biological differences.

"We have to take seriously the way race shapes people's experiences, the environments they live in and their life chances," said lead author Clarence C. Gravlee, Ph.D., an assistant professor of anthropology at UF. "In day to day life, people often assume that race exists as biology. Most anthropologists and geneticists reject that idea and see race instead as a cultural construct. The point of our paper is that race is so embedded in our society that it affects biology by shaping the types of environments that people live in."

How social and or genetic factors drive racial inequalities in health and the role of race in genetic and biomedical research are the source of much controversy and study. Some scientists see race as useful for pinpointing gene-based susceptibility to complex diseases, but others caution that looking at race from a purely genetic standpoint can mask social causes of racial inequalities.

"We have to look at these in a way that will allow us to tell the whole story, not from one side or the other," said Jay Kaufman, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health at McGill University and author of the upcoming book "Racing in Circles: Myths about Genes and Race in Biomedical Research." Kaufman was not involved in the UF study.

In general, members of racial minorities in the United States suffer poorer health, and more die prematurely compared with their white counterparts. African-Americans are three times more likely than whites to die from high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.
"The sheer scale of inequalities in sickness and death deserves our attention," Gravlee said. "Researchers have an obligation to explain the origins of these inequalities and to identify social factors that could be targeted for policy change."

To examine the link between African ancestry and blood pressure, the UF team studied 87 adults in Puerto Rico, using two variables for which "race" is often used as a surrogate: genetic ancestry and social classification.

Genetic ancestry was assessed using gene variants that show large frequency differences among groups from different continents. Social classification was assessed by observers to estimate how people are perceived in everyday life in terms of skin pigmentation, or "color" (pronounced coh-lohr). The researchers found that the three major "color" categories had overlapping genetic ancestry, and that there was a strong link between "color" and blood pressure, but not between genetic ancestry and blood pressure.

Next, they looked at whether taking account of social factors changed our understanding of genes thought to affect hypertension. When only genetic ancestry was considered, no association was evident between candidate genes for hypertension and blood pressure. But when "color" and socio-economic status were included in the analysis, a significant association between the gene variant and blood pressure was uncovered.

"One of the important points here is that you can have an association between two biological variables like genetic ancestry and blood pressure, but it could be that the social and cultural implications of having African ancestry is what is driving this association," Gravlee said.

Health differences could arise from differing stresses people face based on how society sees and treats them.

"There's no doubt about the fact that perceptions matter," Kaufman said. "This article reinforces the idea that if you don't pay attention to how people are perceived you miss a big chunk of the story."

The researchers found that the group of people who carried the associated genetic variant also contained multiple categories of "color" and socio-economic status. When these different socio-cultural categories were separated, the protective effect of the genetic variant became evident.

"What's exciting about our study, is that we can show the value of including socio-cultural data by revealing a genetic association that would otherwise have been missed," Mulligan said. "This is important in convincing other researchers that it is worthwhile to include nongenetic data in a genetic study rather than simply controlling for nongenetic factors." ###

Contact: Czerne M. Reid 352-273-5814 University of Florida

Friday, September 11, 2009

James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980)

James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980).

Owens attended The Ohio State University only after employment was found for his father, ensuring the family could be supported. He was affectionately known as the "Buckeye Bullet" and won a record eight individual NCAA championships, four each in 1935 and 1936.

At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Jesse Owens, the son of Lawrence County Alabama sharecroppers, Henry and Emma Owens, achieved international fame by winning four gold medals: one each in the 100 metres, the 200 metres, the long jump, and as part of the 4x100 meter relay team. and shattered Adolph Hitler's claim of Aryan superiority. His victory transcended athletics; the 110,000 Germans in Olympic Stadium cheered him on, and often stopped Owens on the streets of Berlin for an autograph or picture. Four years after his death, a street outside the Olypmic Stadium was named in his honor.

James Cleveland 'Jesse' Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980)

James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) PHOTO: Public Domain Clipart
In 1976, Jesse Owens was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush posthumously awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor for "an unrivaled athletic triumph, but more than that, a triumph for all humanity."

Battling Discrimination at the 1936 Olympics--An Unsent Letter.

This letter (Page 1) (Page 2) from NAACP leader Walter White to Jesse Owens urges him not to participate in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, which was under Nazi rule, but it was never sent.
In the letter, White writes: "The very preeminence of American Negro athletes gives them an unparalleled opportunity to strike a blow at racial bigotry and to make other minority groups conscious of the sameness of their problems with ours . . . But the moral issue involved is, in my opinion, far greater than immediate or future benefit to the Negro as a race. If the Hitlers and Mussolinis of the world are successful it is inevitable that dictatorships based upon prejudice will spread . . ."

The U. S. did send an Olympic team to Berlin, and Owens was its star, winning four gold medals.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

High school put-downs make it hard for students to learn, study says

URBANA – High-school put-downs are such a staple of teen culture that many educators don't take them seriously. However, a University of Illinois study suggests that classroom disruptions and psychologically hostile school environments can contribute to a climate in which good students have difficulty learning and students who are behind have trouble catching up.

"We need to get away from the idea that bullying is always physical. Bullying can also include verbal harassment, which can be just as damaging and detrimental to student learning," said Christy Lleras, a U of I assistant professor of human and community development.

The study used data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study and included 10,060 African American, Latino, and white tenth graders in 659 U.S. high schools. It is one of the first to look at the national incidence of verbal harassment in public and private high schools, she said.

Christy Lleras

Christy Lleras, a professor of human and community development, says that ability grouping, a pedagogical tool for sorting students into different academic tracks based on their perceived academic ability, is a “net-loss” practice that not only impedes the literacy of lower-grouped minority students, but also doesn’t substantially strengthen the reading ability of higher-grouped minority students. | Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
"In looking at whether students felt safe at school, students' fear for their physical safety was actually pretty low. But 70 percent of the students said they were bothered by disruptions in their classroom, and one in five students said that they were often put down by their peers in school," she said.

Lleras came to three interesting conclusions as she reviewed the data. One was that smaller, private, and more affluent schools do very little to protect students from verbal abuse.

"I assumed that the sorts of school environments that protect students from physical harm would also protect students from emotional harm, and that was not the case. These 'safe' schools are not significantly reducing the likelihood that students will experience harassment by their peers," she said.

This was especially true for adolescent boys. The results showed that boys experience verbal harassment from peers more often than girls, particularly if they are in private schools, Lleras said.

Lleras also found that African American high-school students who thought of themselves as very good students were more likely to experience verbal put-downs from their peers, but only when they were in high-minority schools.
Why would high-achieving African-American students in high-minority schools face more verbal harassment? Lleras doesn't believe it can be entirely attributed to the oppositional culture hypothesis—namely, that high-achieving minority students are more likely to be negatively sanctioned by their peers for their efforts than white students.

She speculates that verbal put-downs in these schools may be a coping strategy that students use when they don't have the skills to do the work and have little hope of acquiring them in their academic environment.

"When high-achieving minority kids are put down by their peers, it can contribute to a climate in which lower-achieving kids fall farther and farther behind and must struggle to catch up. This hostile school climate isn't a cause of the racial achievement gap--we see evidence of the achievement gap well before middle school--but it contributes to it," she said.

"Sadly, verbal harassment is just one more thing these students have to deal with, and as long as we accept it because it's not physical bullying, we're doing a grave disservice to the kids who need non-disruptive and focused learning environments the most," she said.

The study was published in the Journal of School Violence. ###

Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer 217-244-2827 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Office of Naval Research's Rear Admiral addresses diversity with HBCU presidents

ARLINGTON, Va. - Saying America's future depended on its ability to compete in the global marketplace, the U.S. Navy's Chief of Naval Research addressed a gathering of presidents of historically black colleges and universities on Sept. 1 in Washington, D.C. He told them "in order to maintain the health of the defense science and engineering workforce, we must continue to engage every bright young mind that has the capability to help us invent the future."

Rear Admiral Nevin P. Carr Jr., whose office provides the science and technology needed to maintain the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps' technological war-fighting dominance, was among more than 1,200 participants attending the 2009 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference. Held from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, the White House-sponsored event attracted federal, state and local agencies interested in invigorating the relationship between the surviving 105 HBCUs and the government.

Admiral Nevin P. Carr, Office of Naval Research

Caption: Admiral Nevin P. Carr, Chief of Navy Research addresses HBCU pesidents at a gathering in Washington D.C.

Credit: U.S. Navy. Usage Restrictions: None.
For the Office of Naval Research, that relationship dates back to 1985 with initial funding for research at HBCU institutions, Carr said in his speech. In 1989, a dedicated program was established, supporting undergraduate and graduate students at five HBCUs. In 1992, investment increased to $6 million annually, then rose to $10 million in 1994. Through the mid-90s to 2002, ONR supported programs at 22 schools, among them HBCUs, and provided educational support for hundreds of deserving students.
Ninety percent of those students graduated on time with undergraduate degrees in science and engineering, and 80 percent went on to get master's degrees.

"Today, our HBCU programs include the summer faculty research program, the research and education partnership program, and the research partnership program--all directed towards increasing the participation of HBCU institutions in naval science and technology," Carr said. "We do this because we need to attract every bright young mind we can to a career in science and technology."

According to the National Science Foundation, only 31 percent of U.S. graduate students pursue degrees in science and engineering. As of 2004, only 35 percent of those graduates were from under-represented populations, such as African-American, Hispanic and Asian.

Carr's presence at the event underscored ONR's commitment to building the Navy's future force through investment in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics pipeline. The rear admiral was among distinguished speakers that included CIA Director Leon Panetta, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.

"Shifting demographics in the U.S. means we must focus our attention on reaching out more to diverse communities," Carr said. "The demographic trends are well established and clear.No single segment of any population can provide the needed capacity. We need to tap the entire crew." ###

About The Office of Naval Research

The Department of the Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological war-fighting dominance. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in S&T with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning, and nearly 1,000 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel.

Contact: Peter Vietti 703-588-2167 Office of Naval Research

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pancreatic cancer affects blacks at higher rates

PHILADELPHIA – Regardless of risk factors linked to pancreatic cancer, such as smoking and body mass index (BMI), blacks experienced higher rates of pancreatic cancer death than whites.

"Reducing overweight/obesity and smoking will help reduce pancreatic cancer overall, as well as prevent other diseases," said Lauren D. Arnold, Ph.D., M.P.H., postdoctoral research associate in the department of surgery at Washington University in St. Louis.

"We still have a long way to go towards understanding pancreatic cancer disparities."

Results of this cohort study are published online in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Lauren D. Arnold, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Caption: Lauren D. Arnold, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a postdoctoral research associate in the department of surgery at Washington University in St. Louis.

Credit: Lauren D. Arnold, Ph.D., M.P.H. Usage Restrictions: None.
Pancreatic cancer is a rapidly fatal disease that is challenging for researchers to study and treat. Because there are no good screening tests and symptoms do not often appear until the disease has spread, Arnold said that most people die within two years of diagnosis.

Statistically, pancreatic cancer claims the lives of black Americans more so than whites — between 2001 and 2005, blacks had a 32 percent higher death rate, according to background information in the study obtained from the National Cancer Institute statistics.

Arnold and colleagues examined risk factors for pancreatic cancer and separately evaluated them among black and white participants.
Using data from the Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II), they assessed whether these risk factor patterns explained differences in incidence and mortality. CPS-II is a longitudinal study that originally enrolled more than one million participants in 1982. Participants provided information such as race/ethnicity, medical history and health habits. The researchers tracked cancer deaths in the CPS-II and evaluated the outcomes.

Regardless of gender and race, findings showed that smoking was the biggest risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Increasing risk of pancreatic cancer was associated with increasing BMI. When considered by race, blacks had a 42 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer death compared to whites.

Excess risk of disease remained, even when the researchers eliminated all other risk factors from the calculation.

"We hoped to find that by accounting for known and suspected pancreatic cancer risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes and BMI, and by looking at this in the context of race and gender, we'd be able to explain the higher rates of pancreatic cancer in blacks," Arnold said. "Unfortunately, we were unable to explain these differences."

Maria Elena Martinez, Ph.D., M.P.H., said although differences in risk factor patterns were shown, overall, they did not account for the pancreatic cancer mortality rates evident by race. Martinez is the Richard H. Hollen Professor of Cancer Prevention at the University of Arizona, director of the Cancer Health Disparities Institute at the Arizona Cancer Center, and an editorial board member for Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

"The results most certainly point to the need for additional work to explain these racial disparities in risk of pancreatic cancer," she said. "Factors other than those assessed by the researchers may be responsible for the disparities. These can include unidentified lifestyle and/or environmental factors, genetic factors or unique gene-environment interactions."

What makes this study different from previous studies that explored differences in relationship to risk for pancreatic cancer is that this study comes from a large group of cancer-free individuals and examines their risk of developing pancreatic cancer over a long period of time.

Arnold noted one limitation with this study is that higher death rates from an illness in certain populations may be the result of limited or no access to health care. However, past studies have shown that problems with access to health care might not be causing the higher pancreatic cancer death rates in blacks; blacks and whites are both usually diagnosed in relatively late stages of disease, which makes treatment difficult and survival low.

"Our data do not explain what is causing these disparities, but we hope it encourages researchers to continue looking for reasons why blacks develop and die from pancreatic cancer at higher rates than whites," Arnold said. "Clinicians who have patients with a family history of pancreatic cancer or other risk factors for the disease should communicate the benefits of losing weight and quitting smoking, if anything, to help reduce their risk of pancreatic cancer." ###

The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes more than 28,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and nearly 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field.

Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes six major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; and Cancer Prevention Research. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

Contact: Tara Yates 267-646-0558 American Association for Cancer Research

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Patient-doctor communication is worse for blacks than for whites, study finds VIDEO

CHAPEL HILL – Black patients with high blood pressure experience poorer communication with their doctors than white patients do, a study led by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher has found.

"This is an important finding because poorer communication is associated with worse patient satisfaction, adherence to therapy and blood pressure control, which in turn may lead to worse disease outcomes for black patients compared to white patients," said Crystal Wiley Cené, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

The study is published in the September 2009 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Caption: Dr. Crystal Wiley Cené from the UNC School of Medicine discusses her study, which shows that how physicians communicate with their patients has an impact on overall satisfaction, quality of care and health outcomes.

Credit: Video produced by Stephanie Crayton of UNC Health Care. Usage Restrictions: None.
Cené, a native of Sneads Ferry, N.C. and a graduate of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, led the study while completing a fellowship in general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md.

In her study, Cené and colleagues analyzed audio recordings of patient visits with their primary care physician as part of a study of interventions aimed at improving patient adherence to high blood pressure therapy.
The larger study was led by Cené's mentor, Lisa A. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., a Hopkins professor who earned her M.D. at UNC in 1988. Cooper is also the corresponding author of Cené's article.

Previous studies have shown both that patients in poorer health report having worse interpersonal communication with their doctors, and that black patients report poorer patient-doctor communication than white patients.

Cené's study was designed to examine whether having uncontrolled blood pressure, in addition to being black, had a greater negative impact on patient-doctor communication than just race alone.
Crystal Wiley Cené, M.D., M.P.H., University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Caption: Crystal Wiley Cené, M.D., M.P.H. is a researcher at University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Credit: UNC School of Medicine. Usage Restrictions: None.
Participants in Cené's study included 226 high blood pressure patients and 39 physicians from 15 primary care practices in Baltimore. Coders listened to recordings of the patient visits and measured several outcomes. These included, but were not limited to, the length of visits and the number of statements devoted to the communication functions of biomedical exchange, psychosocial exchange and rapport building.

The results showed that the black patients had shorter office visits, less biomedical and psychosocial exchange and less rapport building with their doctors than white patients. These differences were statistically significant for psychosocial exchange and rapport building but not for biomedical exchange. Blacks with uncontrolled high blood pressure fared somewhat worse than blacks whose blood pressure was controlled by medication, whereas there were no significant differences among whites based on blood pressure control status.

The researchers found that for each outcome blacks, regardless of whether their blood pressure was controlled or not, had worse communication with their doctors than whites, regardless of the white patients' blood pressure control. The only exception was for an outcome called "patient positive affect," which is a sum of ratings of patients' interest, friendliness, engagement, sympathy and assertiveness behaviors. For this outcome they found that blacks with uncontrolled blood pressure had less positive affect than any of the other groups.

"It seems that in general blacks talk less overall to their physicians than white patients," Cené said. "As a result, communication about specific topics occurs less often. There are several possible reasons why they may talk less to their physicians -- they might not trust the physician or feel that they are 'disconnected' from their doctors, for whatever reasons. This lack of communication by black patients may in turn make their physicians talk less to them." Cené said.

"We believe there also may be an 'unspoken subtext' that occurs in visits between patients and doctors that influences the communication that occurs during the visit," Cené said. "It's possible that black patients are more likely to pick up on that 'unspoken subtext' and it alters their communication with their doctor. This might explain why we found that black patients had less positive affect towards their doctors than white patients. Essentially they are more sensitized to 'cue' into things that the coders could not easily capture just by listening to the audiotapes."

The study concluded that patient race was more important than blood pressure control status in determining the quality of patient-doctor communication and recommended the testing of interventions designed to improve patient-doctor communication as a way to reduce racial disparities in the care of patients with high blood pressure. ###

Contact: Tom Hughes 919-966-6047 University of North Carolina School of Medicine