Harvard Chan School and Apple launch women’s health study

Harvard Chan School and Apple Launch Women's Health StudyThe Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Apple, and the National Institutes of Health on November 14 launched the Apple Women’s Health Study, a large-scale longitudinal study led by a team of researchers at Harvard Chan School that aims to advance understanding of menstrual and gynecological health.

This first-of-its-kind study will shed light on women’s overall health needs across the lifespan and has the potential to become the largest and longest-running longitudinal study focused on women’s health.

“Treating the menstrual cycle as a vital sign, such as heart rate or blood pressure, could lead to the earlier detection of many health conditions, both gynecological and systemic, as well as a better understanding of women’s reproductive health and health needs overall,” said study researcher Shruthi Mahalingaiah, assistant professor of environmental reproductive and women’s health at Harvard Chan School. “We are uniquely poised to translate this data into discovery that will lead to better awareness and empowerment around women’s health issues on a global scale.”

Users can enroll and participate in the study by downloading the Apple Research app, available on iPhone on the App Store. Read more

Overcoming misinformation about childhood vaccines

Overcoming misinformation about childhood vaccinesWith misinformation and mistrust about vaccines on the rise, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy as one of the year’s 10 global health threats. At the Harvard Chan School, Gillian SteelFisher, senior research scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management, recently spoke on a panel at the United Nations about these challenges. She says that while most parents in the U.S. vaccinate their children when they have the chance, pockets of mistrust and fragile confidence remain. To address this problem and prevent it from spreading, SteelFisher adds, social media companies and public health professionals must do more to halt the spread of misinformation. “For a long time, the public health message about vaccinations has been simply, ‘Hey, we have this great service for you, and you should take it,’” she says. “But at this point, we need to listen to people’s concerns and address them respectfully, so that we can protect and build trust in the health system and in vaccines.” Read more

Hypertension poorly managed in low- and middle-income countries

Health systems in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are poorly prepared for the increasing caseload of people with high blood pressure. More than two-thirds of those afflicted go without treatment, according to a new study led by researchers at the Harvard Chan School, in collaboration with colleagues from more than 40 institutions around the world, including several ministries of health. The study examined household survey data for 1 million people living in 44 LMICs and found that less than half of those with high blood pressure are properly diagnosed. Among those with the condition, only 30 percent are treated and only 10 percent have the disease under control. Senior author Lindsay Jaacks, assistant professor of global health and population, says that the findings suggest an urgent need for population-level prevention, “especially policies that get salt and trans fat out of the food supply, promote fruits and vegetables, reduce air pollution, and address excessive consumption of tobacco and alcohol.” Read more

Industry-sponsored vaping research uses Big Tobacco’s playbook

Industry-sponsored vaping research uses Big Tobacco’s playbookElectronic cigarette company JUUL, creator of disposable pods considered a major driver of a recent 9 percent surge in youth vaping, appears to be following the tobacco industry’s playbook in its sponsored research efforts, according to Andy Tan, assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at the School. He recently co-authored a Lancet article evaluating the scientific integrity of research from the company’s JLI Science, and gave it low marks in seven of eight categories, including transparency and independence. JUUL’s research—and the way it is used to boost public relations and lobbying actions—warrants further scrutiny, says Tan. He adds that, as with the tobacco industry, vaping-industry-funded research can shape entire fields of study, diverting attention away from research that shows harms and undermining actions intended to protect the public’s health. Read more

GCD Becomes MET

In October, the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases became the Department of Molecular Metabolism. The switch to the new name was made to more accurately reflect the identity and strengths of the department, Dean Michelle A. Williams said in an announcement to the School. She wrote, “The Department’s faculty are dedicated to the mission of discovering the root causes of the major noncommunicable diseases—metabolic diseases, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases—through basic science research, in order to improve public health.”

When cells reach their breaking point

For cells, effectively managing stress can be the difference between life and death. But why some cells master the art of stress management while others succumb to the pressure isn’t well understood. Researchers led by Quan Lu, associate professor of environmental genetics and pathophysiology at the Harvard Chan School, recently shed light on the process that allows cells to bounce back from periods of intense stress and return to a healthy state. They found that when cells overexpressed the gene L3MBTL2—meaning they made more of the proteins that the gene codes for—the cells had a higher threshold for stress and didn’t self-destruct. The findings, Lu says, could lead to new drug targets for a range of ailments, including diabetes, cancers, and neurodegenerative disorders. Read more

PTSD linked to increased risk of ovarian cancer

PTSD linked to increased risk of ovarian cancerWomen who experienced six or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in life had twice the risk of developing ovarian cancer compared with women who never had any trauma exposure, according to a new study from researchers at the Harvard Chan School and the Moffitt Cancer Center. The findings indicate that having higher levels of PTSD symptoms, such as being easily startled by ordinary noises or avoiding reminders of the traumatic experience, can be associated with increased risks of ovarian cancer for decades. The study also found that the link between PTSD and ovarian cancer remained for the most aggressive forms of ovarian cancer. Lead author Andrea Roberts, research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health, says, “In light of these findings, we need to understand whether successful treatment of PTSD would reduce this risk, and whether other types of stress are also risk factors for ovarian cancer.” Read more

Curbing the use of “forever” chemicals

Curbing the use of "forever" chemicalsFor decades, the manufactured chemicals per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) have been used to enhance the performance of products from nonstick cookware to firefighting foam. But researchers from the Harvard Chan School and elsewhere now link PFASs—known as “forever” chemicals because they persist in the environment and in human bodies—to serious health problems in children. As co-director of the STEEP (Sources, Transport, Exposure & Effects of PFASs) research group, a partnership with the University of Rhode Island, Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan, is building a body of evidence on the risks of PFASs. He has found that children with elevated levels of PFASs in their blood were less capable of producing antibodies following routine vaccinations. While PFASs face increased regulation in the European Union, action has been slow in the U.S., Grandjean says, noting that some of the chemicals are simply being replaced with newer formulations that have not been tested. Read more

Amy Roeder

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