Here's a promotion for a new book on International Humanitarian Law and Terrorism.
Here's a promotion for a new book on International Humanitarian Law and Terrorism.
Regenerative medicine is now one more step down the path. Japanese scientists have now used stem cells to grow mouse teeth in a laboratory. As the cells started to thrive, the cells were put into a mold and grew into teeth. The teeth were then successfully transplanted into the mouths of mice. ScienceDaily has the full story here - a couple of paragraphs are below to prove I'm not making this up.
"FROM STEM CELLS TO WHOLE TOOTH UNITS
Tsuji's team removed two types of stem cells from the molar teeth of mice and grew them in the laboratory. To control the length and shape of the teeth, the cells were placed in a mold, where they grew into entire tooth units.
The entire tooth units were then transplanted into the lower jaws of one-month-old mice. They fused with the tissues and jaw bones around them after about 40 days, Tsuji said. Nerve fibers too could be detected in the new teeth.
Tsuji stressed the importance of finding the right "seed cells" for reparative therapy. In this case, entire tooth units could be grown because the stem cells were taken from molar teeth of mice -- where they later grew into enamel, dental bones and other parts that comprised a regular tooth unit.
In 2010, U.S. researchers created an artificial lung that rats used to breathe for several hours."
Today’s post highlights one of the specific topics described by Professor Cupp: tobacco cost recovery litigation by provincial governments in Canada. The litigation apparently is going well for the plaintiffs, and provides a possible model for cost recovery litigation in other nations, and against other groups of defendants. ITL describes in some detail a cornerstone of the litigation - provincial statutes which provide for and govern the litigation. One of the novel statutes was upheld against a constitutional challenge by big tobacco in an opinion titled British Columbia v. Imperial Tobacco Canada, Ltd., 2005 SCC 49,  2 S.C.R. 473. The decision is here. (Also, fyi, here is a Canadian Supreme Court decision on tobacco advertising legislation).
Professor Cupp's article provides significant analysis of the statutes, the ruling and related points. The article provides good reading for people interested in thinking about new possibilities. New thinking seems needed when one considers that we collectively pay the devastating human and financial prices for legislative failure to control the business of selling carcinogens intended for human ingestion.
A new adventure is underway in my life. I've joined a wonderful group of non-lawyer experts at a national consulting firm known as Gnarus Advisors. The firm was founded by Steve Sellick, an asbestos expert for many quantitative issues, such as modeling claims for many reasons. Steve and I have worked together for years and he is a friend. Over the last four years, Steve has created a national counsulting firm with 40 non-lawyer professionals who are all highly expert (and degreed) in most phases of dealing strategically and analytically with mass tort and environmental claims.
I'm very pleased to join this group - Gnarus has an unmatched breadth and depth of experience. Our hope is that we can work with companies to help them see across all the usual informational and decision-making silos that tend to block unified and forward looking management. We also hope to help clients understand why repetitive claims should just be turned over blindly to an insurer, and to consider creative options. We expect to point clients to outside lawyers who can help them upgrade their defensive and offensive strategies, and we hope to team with a client's corporate counsel to help them look further down the line. The press release below is online here.
ARLINGTON, Va., July 27, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Gnarus Advisors LLC (Gnarus), a leading consulting firm specializing in expert analysis, litigation testimony and business advisory, announced today that the company has opened an office in Chicago. The expansion into the Midwest continues Gnarus' overall strategy of providing broader and deeper levels of expertise for its clients across the country.
Founded in 2007 by Managing Director Stephen Sellick, Gnarus now has more than 40 highly experienced consultants throughout the country. In addition to the new office in Chicago, Gnarus operates from its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and additional offices in Waltham, Massachusetts, Los Angeles and Palo Alto, California.
"The launch of our new office in Chicago extends our geographic presence and provides a strong complement to our existing offices," Sellick said. "Our Midwest expansion includes the addition of a new Director who significantly enhances the depth of our expertise in key areas."
Kirk Hartley joins the firm as a Director to lead the Chicago office operations with a base of nearly 30 years of experience in mass torts, asbestos and environmental issues arising inside and outside of the United States. Hartley's practice at Gnarus will focus on assignments in the growing and changing intersections between science, tort law, corporate law, and insurance. His experience also includes the increasing use of bankruptcies, schemes of arrangement, and corporate use of dedicated funds (or trusts) to resolve or limit underlying contingent liability claims.
"Kirk's expertise in all phases of environmental, asbestos and mass tort claims extends significantly the scope of our expertise in those areas," Sellick said. "We also are pleased to add to Gnarus' knowledge of claims arising overseas because asbestos use and injuries are increasing around the globe, with asbestos-related deaths in Europe still many years short of peaks predicted by researchers."
Gnarus also announced today the addition of Eric Kirschner as a Principal at the firm. Kirschner will be based at Gnarus headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and brings more than 20 years of experience in asbestos, pollution and health hazard (APH) insurance claim analysis and recovery. He has spent time both as a consultant designing, developing and programming numerous financial models and data structures to facilitate APH insurance recovery and as an attorney litigating APH claims. His unique blend of skills and experience deepens Gnarus' ability to help clients efficiently distill the key pieces of litigation management information out of vast amounts of data, and to make forward-looking decisions based on the needed data. Kirschner's expertise and blends of skills also are frequently put to work in the context of insurance claim recovery matters.
"Kirk and Eric are experts in their fields and bring decades of experience to our clients," Sellick said. "I've known and worked with both of them for many years, and they've worked together on past projects. I'm very excited to welcome them to Gnarus as colleagues."
Gnarus has quickly established itself as a leader in the consulting industry. For more information about Gnarus Advisors LLC, the company's team of experts and consultants, and the scope of consulting services that Gnarus provides, please visit http://gnarusllc.com/.
About Gnarus Advisors LLC
Corporations, government agencies and law firms call upon Gnarus Advisors LLC to take on the challenges that arise from litigation, regulation and other sources of risk and uncertainty. Gnarus combines thorough economic analysis and advanced financial modeling with scientific and technical expertise to provide its clients with the resources and support they need across a wide spectrum of industries and disciplines. Gnarus experts and consultants are adept at solving complex business problems, identifying and mitigating risk, and supporting litigation efforts through in-depth research, analysis and quantitative modeling. The Gnarus team is comprised of hard working, experienced individuals who are recognized as leaders in their fields and bring years of academic, governmental and corporate experience to every client the company advises. For more information, please visit: http://gnarusllc.com/.
SOURCE Gnarus Advisors LLC
A group of legal scholars are out with a new book said to provide a comprehensive account of international law as used by the US Supreme Court. There's an ongoing discussion of the book at Opinio Juris, an international law blog. Set out below are excerpts from a blog post by one of the editors; reading a few of the blog posts leaves the impression that the the book is a timely and extensive success.
"We also noticed that these competing claims were sometimes difficult to assess because there was no comprehensive account of the Supreme Court’s use of international law throughout its history. This book, International Law in the U.S. Supreme Court: Continuity and Change (Cambridge Univ. Press 2011) seeks to fill that gap. To carry out the project, we were fortunate to assemble a distinguished group of contributors with expertise in international law, foreign affairs law and legal history, each of whom contributed one or more original essays to the book.
The book’s organization is broadly chronological, beginning in Part I with an assessment of the Court’s use of international law from the Court’s inception to 1860. Parts II through IV cover, respectively, the years from the Civil War to the end of the nineteenth century (1861-1900); the first half of the twentieth century through World War II (1901-1945); and the post-war years to the century’s end (1946-2000). Part V examines the leading post-2000 cases in light of historical practice. Although the dividing lines between historical periods are concededly somewhat artificial, the book is deliberately designed to devote substantial attention to the period from the Civil War to the end of World War II, which seems somewhat under-examined by prior scholarship as compared to the Founding era and the modern period.
Within the chronological periods, the book further subdivides the Court’s treatment of international law into substantive categories: treaties, direct application of customary international law, and the use of international law in constitutional and statutory interpretation. For each of the periods before 2000, it also includes a chapter of historical commentary addressed to wider political, legal and social developments. For the post-2000 period, recognizing that it is more difficult to achieve historical perspective on recent decisions, it features more opinionated and provocative essays designed to present a range of reactions to the leading cases."
Everything is relative in the world of injuries and torts. In the US, defendants and plaintiffs jockey back and forth, and lobby for state and federal changes in laws and/or members of the judiciary. But, we do not have outright government censorship or reporters being blocked from investigating. Not so, it appears, in China, when it comes to reporting on defective vaccines. Reports came out in China last year on perhaps 100 children dying from improper vaccines administered in one particular program. Now, reports say that the reporting journalists are facing government crackdowns and are being assigned to non-investigative work. The current story is set out below.
"One of China's leading newspapers has shut down its respected investigative unit, an editor said Tuesday, an apparent victim of a broad clampdown on political dissent and the media.
The sudden move has sparked concern about the future of watchdog journalism in China, which has gained strength in recent years despite a ruling Communist Party censorship system aimed at ensuring favourable media coverage for the government.
Xie Baokang, assistant to the editor-in-chief at the China Economic Times newspaper, told AFP the publication's investigative team -- led by veteran muckracker Wang Keqin -- had been "dismantled."
"The correspondents haven't left, they still work at the newspaper, but in different departments," he said, refusing to comment on the reasons behind the move.
The China Economic Times is published by an institution that comes under the central government but has still managed to push political boundaries, becoming one of the nation's leading watchdog publications.
Wang's report last year on children who fell seriously ill after being given allegedly faulty vaccines in the northern province of Shanxi made waves around the country.
Soon after that story, the paper's editor-in-chief Bao Yueyang -- a keen supporter of Wang -- was sacked.
The Chinese government strictly censors the country's newspapers, broadcast media and the Internet, blocking any information it deems a threat to its authority.
Controls have been further tightened by a heavy clampdown on dissent amid official fears that recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa could spark similar movements in China.
Scores of prominent rights lawyers and activists have been detained in the campaign.
David Bandurski, the Hong Kong-based co-author of a book on investigative journalism in China, said the newspaper's move was a worrying development.
"Wang is the pre-eminent investigative reporter in China, he's symbolic of the whole movement going back to the mid to late 1990s," he said.
"So what happens with this team will reflect on the overall environment for investigative reporting," he said.
Wang -- who just recently offered a positive assessment of the growth in watchdog journalism on his blog -- could not be reached by phone, and did not immediately respond to emails sent by AFP."
An update on the post below regarding Verizon's much touted but lousy 4G wireless modem service for the southwest side of Chicago and its southwest suburbs (specifically, along Metra's commuter rail service known as the Southwest line). The short update is that the 4G service also failed multiple times last night while on Amtrak's NY to DC train in order to get to court in Wilmington, Delaware. The supposedly wonderful 4G modem was put to work as soon as the train left NY's Penn Station, and the signal failed twice between NY and the Metropark stop. And, even when the train was sitting still at the Metropark station, the network would not activate.
There were two more drops off the 4G system between Metropark and Philadelphia. And, the modem could not even figure out that it had been dropped, so I had to trigger it to disconnect when data would not upload. Then another drop in the Philadelphia station. Also, I had to turn the VW Access Manager on and off by hand in order to connect again. Between Philadelphia and Wilmington, the signal was usually 2 bars or less, and there was one more complete drop.
Conclusion? Hold on to your 3G modem. Verizon's people at the store near my home tell me that it no longer sells a 3G modem and instead all new customers are forced to buy a 4G modem even thoughthe service stinks, to use a relatively polite word.
An FYI for Iphone users and modem users thinking about moving to Verizon. My advice - don't bother. Back in March, 2011, I became an Iphone 4 and modem user when I abandoned my AT& T Iphone out of frustration with AT & T's miserable service. Guess what - Verizon is no better in my view.
For the Iphone 4, calls continue to contain lots of words that are lost, and calls completely fail with great frequency. There's no hope of getting a call in my 31st floor office. And, that's still happening after being sent a second phone to replace a supposedly defective first Iphone. I may bring back my reliable old Motorola clamshell and TMobile.
Meanwhile, the 4g Modem is at best frustrating. Every now and then it works very well to bring down lots of data at high speed. BUT of course that's only part of the story. My 3G modem very seldom dropped the signal, but the 4G signal drops very frequently - sometimes 2-3 times per commuting trip on a commuter train from or to Chicago and the Southwest suburbs. I recently had a Verizon tech go through all the settings, but nothing improved. His comment was that the 4g network is not really intended for people who are moving when using the modem. Of course, Verizon's marketing material omits that material information.
So, at least in Chicago, don't expect "better" by moving to Verizon from AT & T, or from 3G to 4G.
My daughters and I now work for Comcast, apparently. Every day my daughters or I get to reset the internet modem at my house. And, that's after I tasked my eldest daughter with standing in line a couple of weeks ago to obtain a new internet modem to replace the prior modem which failed even more frequently.
It's disgusting to observe and feel Comcast's failure to provide anything close to quality service. It's also a testament to the lawyers or others who managed to create a quasi-monopoly clever enough to escape any effective regulation at either the state or federal level. Comcast's lousy service also makes it harder to accept the attractive but apparently illusory claim that consumer service businesses do not require regulation because they must serve customers well in order to stay in business.
I'll forever vote for and contribute to the campaign of the first politician to lead a successful effort to effectively regulate Comcast . One suggestion ? Require Comcast to automatically credit an account $ 5 every time a reset is required after service fails, and require it to automatically issue significant credits after widespread service failures. There needs to be a cost to Comcast for lousy service. Until it has to pay for failure, Comcast will keep externalizing the cost via turning my daughters and me into its unpaid tech personnel.
Yesterday’s post noted the latest chapter in big tobacco’s many losses in smoking litigation in Florida regarding individual cancers and other injuries. Florida is a real problem for the tobacco industry. So is the Massachusetts Supreme Court's embrace of low-dose CT scans as medical monitoring appropriate for a subset of smokers and former smokers. But, Florida and Massachusetts are just two parts of a much larger global mosaic of tobacco litigation. No doubt that’s why Philip Morris hired David Bernick away from Kirkland & Ellis to move to Switzerland to run its global litigation.
A valuable resource for seeing the global tobacco litigation mosaic is a recent law review: “International Tobacco Litigation’s Evolution as a United States Torts Law Export: To Canada and Beyond?” ("ITL"). Written by Richard L. Cupp, a Pepperdine law professor and tort scholar, the ITL article is freely available on this page of SSRN, and was last updated February 13, 2011. Professor Cupp’s article begins with a broad survey of tobacco litigation, and then moves to some specific examples of and issues in ITL. Today’s post recaps some of the ITL article’s information on the scope of the litigation. Subsequent posts will address some of the specific points identified by Professor Cupp. The easy to read article should be read as a whole to feel the way that tort litigation is spreading globally, and to feel the examples provides as to the wide range of attitudes and outcomes related to ITL in particular, and tort litigation more generally.
As to the broad scope of tobacco litigation, footnote 18 of ITL describes the “government cost recovery” lawsuits brought by a wide range of nations. According to Professor Cupp and his research team and sources, the governments bringing cost recovery suits are many, and:
“include Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Costa Rica, Finland, France, French Guiana, Germany, Greenland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mali, Marshall Islands, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela. See Lawrence O. Gostin, The “Tobacco Wars”—Global Litigation Strategies, 298 J. AM. MED. ASS’N 2537, 2537–38 (2007); Richard A. Daynard, Clive Bates & Neil Francey, Tobacco Litigation Worldwide, 320 BRIT. MED. J. 111, 112 (2000); D. Douglas Blanke, Towards Health with Justice: Litigation and Public Inquiries as Tools for Tobacco Control, WHO TOBACCO FREE INITIATIVE, http://www.who.int/tobacco/media/en/final_jordan_report.pdf (last visited Dec. 24, 2010); M.L. Flores et al., Litigation in Argentina: Challenging the Tobacco Industry, 15 TOBACCO CONTROL 90, 90–92 (2006), http://www.bvsde.paho.org/bvsacd/cd42/90.pdf; Andrew Walker, Nigeria Takes on Tobacco Giants, B.B.C. NEWS (Jan. 14, 2008, 0:23.stm; Mackay & Erikson, supra note 16, at 86–87.
Government medical cost recovery litigation of course is not the same as the Engle-type personal injury litigation brought to obtain compensation for individuals. The ITL article covers both categories of litigation. Thus, footnote 19 of the article recaps the nations where individuals have filed suits for diseases caused by smoking. Footnote 19 states:
“Individual lawsuits against tobacco companies have been brought in numerous countries, some of which include Argentina, Ireland, Israel, Finland, France, Japan, Norway, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Turkey. Daynard, Bates & Francey, supra note 18, at 111. One famous individual case was filed in Norway by Robert Lund who developed lung cancer from working in a smoky bar for fifteen years. See Blanke, supra note 18, at 40. Two other illustrations of these types of cases are Spasic v. Imperial Tobacco and Spasic Estate v. B.A.T. Industries p.l.c., filed in Canada, demanding millions in damages. See Tobacco-Related Litigation in Canada, NON-SMOKERS’ RIGHTS ASSOCIATION 22 (2009), http://www.nsra-adnf.ca/cms/file/pdf/Tobacco_Related_Litigation_in_Canada_ 2009.pdf. As of 2002, there were four private class actions pending in the Canadian Provinces of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. See Blanke, supra note 18, at 40. Class actions have also been filed in Australia against the major Australian tobacco companies. Daynard, Bates & Francey, supra note 18, at 112. Health care reimbursement lawsuits have been filed in the Canadian Province of British Columbia, as well as by the governmental health insurance body in France. Id. at 111. The government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands has brought a health care reimbursement case against international tobacco companies that supply the local market. Id. Other countries, including Guatemala, Bolivia, Nicaragua, reimbursement suits pending in federal court in the United States. Id.”
Big tobacco took another hit in Florida as the state supreme court refused to hear an appeal from an intermediate appellate court decision on a post-Engle trial verdict for $ 28 million. AmLaw's Litigation Daily provides this fairly extensive article by David Bario with myriad links to opinions, past article and briefs.
The key take away? Big tobacco is anxious to undo its prior loss of a "limited issues" phase of a class action trial in Florida. The prior phase 1 class action win for all class members means that current plaintiffs (who were class members) do not have to prove facts already found to be true by the jury which heard the evidence in the phase 1 trial. That phase of the trial focused on industry's actions and the reality that smoking causes cancer in smokers and others. Applying those findings again to new trials makes it easier for class members to win current trials limited to individual issues not considered in phase 1 of the class action trial. Big tobacco hates that outcome, and seeks to undo the prior class action loss.
If big tobacco finds a way to undo to the past, it will change class action law in a meaningful way. Its lawyers now plan to file a cert petition with the US Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see if Justice Scalia once again acts alone to protect big tobacco. The story on Justice Scalia's prior unilateral stay for big tobacco is covered in this prior post.
As science grows, so do patent disputes - especially in the worlds of biotechnology and computers. The Supreme Court of the United States is paying attention, and recently has created a continuing flow of patent appeals from the Federal Circuit court created thirty years ago as a specialized appellate court to hear patent appeals. Some might say the stream of appeals is in part a product of Chief Justice Roberts' desire to provide certainty for businesses (see this prior post for links to relevant articles). Interestingly, the Supreme Court's recent path has included serial reversals of decisions of the Federal Circuit, a perhaps not surprising result.
The Supreme Court's growing interest in patents, the reversals, and even the grants of certiorari (the appeal), raise interesting questions. For example, how cases are selected, when does the US government weigh in, and how the Court decides the cases. Some insights into these subjects are summarized in this new and highly informative post by Kevin Noonan at Patent Docs. The post summarizes a recent discussion of the patent cases by a truly learned panel. The panel was comprised of "former Solicitors General and Assistant Solicitors. [The panel} addressed recent Supreme Court precedent in patent law during the BIO International Convention last month. Moderated by former Federal Circuit Chief Judge Paul Michel, the panel consisted of Seth Waxman, former Solicitor General now at Wilmer Hale; Paul Clement, another former Solicitor General now at Bancroft PLLC; and Thomas Hungar, former Assistant Solicitor General now at Gibson Dunn LLP."
The post is well worth reading for many reasons. Among others, Mr. Noonan's post distills out the views the panel articulated on substantive issues, and the tensions and economic conflicts in patent law. The outcomes will impact the where, when and how of research, investment, and value models for scientists. The outcomes also will impact economic and life and death issues in biotechnology research as scientists and businesses search for treatments for disease, and patent issues impact that process. For example, many assume that next year the Court will here important issues on whether patents are properly obtained for describing the sequences of genes, an issue and case covered in this prior post. There, the government weighed in against such patents.
Cancer made its mark this weekend at a world-stage golf tournament, and the facts illustrate why people can and should demand better on cancer from our national and world leaders. Set out below are some facts and links to places you can easily speak out in advance of a September, 2011 summit of world leaders gathered to address diseases such as cancer.
The scene was a water-side links course as golf crowned a new British Open champion. Both the winner and the runner-up illustrate the widespread scope of cancer. The tournament winner was 42 year old Darren Clark . The love of his life, his wife, Heather, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35, and died of breast cancer at age 39, as described here by Wikipedia. Second place went to Phil Mickelson. The love of his life, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37, as described here.
Is this an odd coincidence? Only sort of. Most of all it is a concrete example of the prevalence of cancer in general, and of breast cancer in particular. According to the American Cancer Society's collection of 2010 data, 1 in 3 women will develop cancer. And, breast cancer in particular strikes so often, as highlighted by the Lynn Sage Foundation and the Susan Komen Foundation. According to this page of the Komen website:
The massive waves of cancers has been called "a public health emergency in slow motion," and it calls for many actions. One cost-free action you can take is to sign this online petition to demand better from world leaders. The petition will be presented at the upcoming UN Summit on NCDs - non-communicable diseases. The petition is a project of Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong.
The summit meeting is this September at UN headquarters in NY. The American Society of Clinical Oncologists and other global groups pf physicians are emphatic that this is a major opportunity to set policy because the meeting wil be attended by numerous national leaders from around the globe. There is hope that President and/or Mrs. Obama will attend.
The summit also is the kind of effort supported by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Harold Varmus, who heads up our National Cancer Institue and won the Nobel Prize (with Michael Bishop) for ground breaking cancer research. He's also savvy and oustpoken, and wrote this great book (The Art and Politics of Science) after he ran the National Institutes of Health during the Clinton Administration. He's also smart enough to say that the world cannot afford the cost of disease, and we need to solve the problems now for that reason alone.
Here's what ASCO had to say; the statement is online here:
CHICAGO – Today at a press briefing, leaders from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), and the American Cancer Society (ACS) announced new efforts to respond to the cancer epidemic occurring in low- and middle-income countries, and called on President Obama and other world leaders to take action at the upcoming United Nations (UN) High-level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), taking place in New York in September.
The briefing took place at the 47th ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago, where cancer doctors from around the world presented and discussed advances in the field that translate into improved care. Panelists provided first-hand perspective on the global state of cancer care, with a focus on the growing cancer burden in low- and middle-income countries, which often have severe shortages of oncologists and very limited access to state-of-the-art cancer treatments, screening services, and palliative care.
“Together, ASCO, UICC, and ACS represent the strength of 30,000 oncology professionals, 460 organizations, and 3 million volunteers around the world who are leading the way to address the cancer crisis,” said ASCO CEO Allen S. Lichter, MD. “The UN Meeting in September presents a monumental opportunity to put cancer on the global agenda. We urge world leaders to help save and improve the lives of millions of people living with cancer or at risk for the disease.”
The Top Global Killers: Cancer and Other NCDs
Each year, an estimated 7.6 million people die from cancer – more than from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. It is estimated that the incidence of cancer will continue to increase during the next decade, from 12.7 million annual cases in 2008 to more than 20 million by 2030, with the majority of new cases occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Cancer and other NCDs, such as diabetes and heart disease, account for a combined 36 million deaths each year, or an estimated 63 percent of all annual deaths worldwide, according to a recent report from the World Health Organization. These global statistics are staggering and represent what UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has called “a public health emergency in slow motion.”
The Opportunity: A UN Summit on NCDs
In September, world leaders will convene in New York for the UN summit, which will focus on the global threat of cancer and other NCDs. This is only the second time in its 65 years that the UN has held such a high-level meeting to address a health topic. In 2001, a UN General Assembly Special Session on the global AIDS crisis led to an unprecedented international response to HIV/AIDS and ultimately resulted in the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
This morning, ASCO delivered to the White House a letter, signed by major U.S. medical societies representing about 300,000 doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, calling on President Obama to personally attend the UN High-level Meeting on NCDs.
In addition, to help shape the upcoming summit, the NCD Alliance, a coalition of four international federations including UICC, has issued a Proposed Outcomes Document that outlines the goals and targets for world leaders to agree upon at the conclusion of the summit. Today, ASCO formally endorsed the proposed outcomes, which will play a key role in deliberations at the UN summit.
A Call to Action for World Leaders and Policymakers
At the press briefing, ASCO, UICC, and ACS voiced their call to action for policymakers of all countries leading up to the UN meeting. The three organizations are actively working to ensure the UN meeting’s success by communicating with the Obama Administration, engaging their memberships in letter writing to ensure attendance of other world leaders, and attending the UN’s informal civil society hearing on NCDs on June 16, where they will have the opportunity to make the cancer community’s voice heard at the UN.
The cancer community is also bringing attention to this issue through the World Cancer Declaration, which outlines 11 targets to be achieved by 2020, including a substantial decline in global tobacco consumption, obesity, and alcohol intake; improved access to care; universal vaccination programs for hepatitis B and human papilloma virus (HPV) to prevent liver and cervical cancer; and increased training opportunities for health care workers on different aspects of cancer control. Approximately 230,000 people have signed the Declaration to date, contributing to reaching the goal of 1 million signatures by September.
“Everyone knows someone that has been touched by cancer, so we urge individuals to take action and sign the declaration,” said Eduardo L. Cazap, MD, PhD, UICC President and ASCO Board member. “In doing so, you are helping bring the cancer crisis to the attention of government leaders who can implement policy changes that will reduce the global cancer burden for future generations around the world.”
In addition, ACS is organizing “We Can, We Should, We Will Conquer Cancer,” a cancer survivor-led event at the United Nations in New York City taking place June 18-20, at which cancer advocates from around the world will share their stories with their UN ambassadors and demand that the UN make NCDs a global priority.
“Cancer affects people from all walks of life, and from every corner of the globe,” said John R. Seffin, PhD, ACS Chief Executive Officer. “Only together can we ensure cancer and other NCDs are recognized as an imminent health challenge, and are seriously addressed as a development, health, and equity issue.”
Continued Commitment in The Global Campaign
Demonstrating its own commitment in the global campaign against cancer, ASCO is undertaking several efforts to improve care globally, and announced today that it is expanding the Society’s International Cancer Corps (ICC) program to Vietnam and Ethiopia, which until recently had only one oncologist serving a nation of 80 million people. Through the program, ASCO member physicians volunteer to provide training on cancer care to medical staff and students in developing countries. The Society plans to extend the reach of the program further to other low-income countries where human resources training in cancer care can have a real and meaningful impact on millions of lives.
In addition, ASCO announced it is expanding training courses and workshops that teach cancer management to doctors, nurses, and other health care workers in low- and middle-income countries. This past year, the Society launched a new Train the Trainer program to create a cadre of trainers in cancer management. Twelve South American trainers completed the program in its first year, helping to more rapidly scale up the country’s workforce training.
Looking Toward the Future
With the combined efforts of ASCO, UICC, ACS and other cancer organizations around the world, progress continues to be made in combating this global health crisis. However, the leaders at today’s briefing and others in the cancer community acknowledge that more can be done. As the UN meeting approaches this September, there are many opportunities for individuals and organizations to get involved and help change the future of people living with cancer. For more information and to sign the World Cancer Declaration, visit: http://www.uicc.org/declaration.
Resources to Learn More:
About the American Society of Clinical Oncology
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is the world’s leading professional organization representing physicians who care for people with cancer. With more than 30,000 members, ASCO is committed to improving cancer care through scientific meetings, educational programs and peer-reviewed journals. For ASCO information and resources, visit www.asco.org. Patient-oriented cancer information is available at www.cancer.net
Video-taped depositions create interesting media situations related to mass tort claims. For example, BP's former CEO was deposed in June, 201, and excerpts are now online on YouTube (multiple videos will show up from a search for "Tony Hayward"). Apparently, however, there is a pretrial order purporting to preclude dissemination of excerpts from the depositions. The developments are described here by The Society of Environmental Journalists, which is the host for a website for environmental reporters, and in this related story by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. This Court order purports to require the return of the videos.
The litigants, the lawyers and the Court now face interesting dilemmas. Shall they stir up possible adverse publicity issues by actually forcing YouTube and others to return the videos? Also, should the order be continued or should it be withdrawn as ill-advised, and/or unconstitutional? After all, the public's right to know is usually viewed as compelling in both legal and moral terms.
My bet? No one will force the return of the already leaked excerpts. There will, however, be various kinds of pressure applied behind the scenes to block other "leaks."
Mass tort litigation never was simple. It's becoming even more complex thanks to the Internet and videos.
The international Bar Association is asking lawyers to speak out regarding the oppressive conditions imposed by the military regime in Burma. Set out below is the text of an e-mail circulated to IBA members as a call to action for lawyers to help in obtaining a UN Inquiry Commission into Burma. The bottom of the email identifies specific actions and resources, including providing template letters for lawyers to send to relevant government leaders.
Democracy and freedom require effort. Hopefully lawyers will make a difference.
Smoking imposes a staggering human and financial toll through the cancers it causes. Less well defined and known are the human and financial costs of birth defects caused by smoking during pregnancy. This major new study from the UK helps to define the burden as it comprehensively reviews 50 years of scientific papers, and presents the increased risk levels for numerous, severe birth defects. Here are key excerpts from the ScienceDaily summary of the paper, followed by the more technically worded "results" section of the abstract for the paper. The results section provides the specific odds ratios, which some courts consider important to product liability claims. The full paper is here, and is an "open access" paper, meaning that the full text and tables are available from the journal's website at the link.
"The study, published July 12 in Human Reproduction Update, is the first comprehensive review to identify the specific birth defects (malformations) most associated with smoking.
The authors examined a total of 172 research papers published over the last 50 years, which looked at a combined total of 174,000 cases of malformation alongside 11.7 million controls. The risk was increased by 26% for having a baby with missing or deformed limbs, 28% for clubfoot, 27% for gastrointestinal defects, 33% for skull defects, 25% for eye defects, and 28% for cleft lip/palate. The greatest increase in risk (50%) was for a condition called gastroschisis, where parts of the stomach or intestines protrude through the skin.
The research authors recommend that public health guidance should now be more explicit about the specific malformations associated with maternal smoking, in order to try and reduce the numbers of pregnant women who smoke."
RESULTS Significant positive associations with maternal smoking were found for: cardiovascular/heart defects [OR 1.09, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.02–1.17]; musculoskeletal defects (OR 1.16, 95% CI 1.05–1.27); limb reduction defects (OR 1.26, 95% CI 1.15–1.39); missing/extra digits (OR 1.18, 95% CI 0.99–1.41); clubfoot (OR 1.28, 95% CI 1.10–1.47); craniosynostosis (OR 1.33, 95% CI 1.03–1.73); facial defects (OR 1.19, 95% CI 1.06–1.35); eye defects (OR 1.25, 95% CI 1.11–1.40); orofacial clefts (OR 1.28, 95% CI 1.20–1.36); gastrointestinal defects (OR 1.27, 95% CI 1.18–1.36); gastroschisis (OR 1.50, 95% CI 1.28–1.76); anal atresia (OR 1.20, 95% CI 1.06–1.36); hernia (OR 1.40, 95% CI 1.23–1.59); and undescended testes (OR 1.13, 95% CI 1.02–1.25). There was a reduced risk for hypospadias (OR 0.90, 95% CI 0.85–0.95) and skin defects (OR 0.82, 0.75–0.89). For all defects combined the OR was 1.01 (0.96–1.07), due to including defects with a reduced risk and those with no association (including chromosomal defects).
CONCLUSIONS Birth defects that are positively associated with maternal smoking should now be included in public health educational materials to encourage more women to quit before or during pregnancy.
Lacking an influential religious right wing, Canada is a leader in stem cell research. Indeed, much of the fundamental, early proof of stem cells is credited to Canadian researchers. Here's a Canadian-centric timeline of stem cell discoveries.
Now the Canadians have made another breakthrough stem cell discovery. Specifically, they've found and isolated the stem cell capable of generating the entire blood system. ScienceDaily presents the summary here. The full paper is published in the prestigious journal, Science, and is here.
The lead researcher for this project, Dr. John Dick, is well-known for blood and stem cell discoveries, and cancer research. In 2007, for example, his team made Science (and ScienceDaily) with research work that opened the door to using stem cells to create and track the leukemia process from the very beginning of that form of blood cancer. In January, 2011, Dr. Dick's team built on that work and published in Nature this groundbreaking paper on genetic diversity in leukemias, as summarized here by ScienceDaily. The research proved that in at least the ALL form of leukemia, the tumors are NOT all alike. That is, they are not all one malignant cell endlessly dividing to spew out exact replicas. Instead, at least in ALL leukemias, there are multiple different forms of cancer cells. This discovery helps to explain why chemotherapy sometimes fails to prevent a later relapse - the chemo wiped out one line of cancerous cells but not another.
Finding the ultimate "parent" blood stem cell is important for multiple reasons. One is that it shows the value of new tools. The team used high volume flow cytometry to find the parent stem cell. That tool en essence screens huge volumes of cells to find a specific cell of interest. Improved versions of the tool may allow screening the blood of known of blood cancer patients to find the variant lines of cancer cells. If done post-therapy, that could help determine if every line of cancer cell has been killed.
On finding the parent stem cell itself, the finding offers a start towards developing more forms of regenerative medicine to save the lives of cancer patients. Today's stem cell (bone marrow) transplants are the original form of regenerative medicine as the immune system is wiped out and then regenerated from the transplanted cells. The procedure imposes a significant risk of death, and a stunning burden on the body and mind of cancer patients, albeit today's patients suffer and die less than did patients transplanted in past decades. And, there is the ceaseless problem of finding donor cells, a challenge made even harder by today's increased ethnic diversity. So, for today, preserving cord blood is/should be a "no brainer" for any financially capable family, and registering to donate bone marrow is painless, easy and one of the few ways each of us can physically contribute to trying to save lives. This "New Year's resolution" post outlines the how and why of cord blood preservation and bone marrow registration, with links to relevant agencies and services.
For the future, Dr. Dick and others hope to find ways to use the parent stem cells to regenerate non-cancerous forms of the myriad forms of blood cells, and to help treat other blood diseases. Here are key excerpts from the ScienceDaily summary:
"Dr. Dick works out of UHN's Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI) -- the venerable institution where stem-cell science began in 1961 with the original discovery of Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch -- and McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine with the next generation of stem-cell scientists focused on developing better and more effective treatments for heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and spinal cord injury.
The 1961 Till and McCulloch discovery quickly led to using stem cells for bone marrow transplantation in leukemia patients, the most successful clinical application so far in what is now known as regenerative medicine and a therapy that is used to treat thousands of patients annually around the world.
"Ever since stem-cell science began," says Dr. Dick, "scientists have been searching for the elusive mother lode -- the single, pure stem cell that could be controlled and expanded in culture prior to transplantation into patients. Recently scientists have begun to harness the stem cells found in the umbilical cord blood; however, for many patients a single donor sample is not large enough to use. These new findings are a major step to generate sufficient quantities of stem cells to enable greater clinical use and thus move closer to realizing the promise of regenerative medicine for patients."
Along the way, scientists have indeed mapped many vital signposts regarding stem-cell subsets and specialization. Last year, Dr Dick's team reported isolating the more specialized progenitor cells that lie downstream of the stem cell. This latest discovery was enabled by hi-tech flow cytometry technology: a process that rapidly sorts, sifts and purifies millions of blood cells into meaningful bins for scientific analysis. Now, stem-cell scientists can start mapping the molecular switches that guide how "normal" stem cells behave and endure, and also characterize the core properties that distinguish them from all other blood cell types.
This discovery is the one Dr. Dick has personally been seeking ever since 1988 when he developed the first means of studying human blood stem cells by transplanting them into immune-deficient mice, research that was also published inScience. "Back then, our goal was to define single human stem cells. With advances made in technology, twenty-three years later, we have."
Reputation risk is real. Indeed, reputation can collapse in a relative instant. Think Rupert Murdoch this week. Indeed, his News Corp entity has now been sued by shareholders due to the hacking fiasco.
Also think more broadly about the many politicians who struggle with the reality that image does in fact matter. For example, there was John Edwards with his $400 haircuts - not exactly the stuff of the common man. Now, erstwhile budget cutter Paul Ryan has his image waterloo with two $ 350 bottles of wine. See this and this story about an observant business professor discovering Ryan at dinner and noting that he and his friends were drinking $ 350 bottles of wine with fellow fiscal conservatives (very wealthy ones). Now Mr. Ryan is embarrassed because of the disconnect between perception of his actions, and his website's effort to foster a reputation as a humble, financially disciplined money manager:
He is the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, where he works to bring fiscal discipline and accountability to the federal government. He is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy, Social Security, health care and trade laws. (emphasis added).
This post of a few days ago focused on some groundbreaking work referred to as "museumomics" - that is, using hairs from old museum samples of animals to obtain DNA for sequencing to see what animal genomes looked like in the past. The global scope of the team was impressive, as were the bios for all of the team leaders. But, stunning is the word that comes to mind for the bio for one of the leaders - Vanessa Hays of the Venter Institute. So, the bio for Ms. Hays is pasted below, and is online here at the J. Craig Venter Institute. The institute website is worth a browse too.
I especially enjoyed the story of Ms. Hays convincing Archbishop Desmond Tutu to become the first South African to allow sequencing of his genome.
Published by Genomic Medicine.on 10 November 2010 in
Geneticist Vanessa Hayes does not think small nor move slowly—from completing her post doc in six months (the US National average is 3 to 7 years) to completing the first South African Genome Project in 2010 with her goal set on defining the extent of human diversity in all populations, she is on a mission. Just 11 years outside her post doc she has the credentials of someone who has been in science much longer. Her work and talent has taken her to remote regions of Southern Africa, all over Australia, Europe, the U.S. and now to the J. Craig Venter Institute with her appointment as Professor of Genomic Medicine at the San Diego facility.
Of Cartoons and Men…
Born and raised in South Africa, Vanessa first headed a laboratory near Cape Town to investigate genetic susceptibility to HIV/AIDS after earning a Ph.D. in 1999 in Medical Genetics at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. After three years at the University of Stellenbosch she moved to Sydney, Australia to become group leader of Cancer Genetics first at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and later at the Children’s Cancer Institute of Australia. During those years she began two major cancer research projects that continue today. One is a study to assess how ethnicity impacts prostate cancer risk and outcomes by genetic profiling men with and without prostate cancer from different ethnic and geographical locations (initially South Africa and Australia). “I believe in going to the extremes of phenotypic diversity to understand genotype – for example the clinical disparities of prostate cancer in Africa compared to non-African populations has not been adequately explored,” she said explaining that the genetics of ethnic diversity is one of her main research interests. “We don’t always have clear clinical definitions to describe phenotype, but genomics can help to define disease,” she added.
This cancer research then led her to what might seem like an unlikely suspect–the Tasmanian devil. The inspiration for a much beloved Looney Toons character and the largest carnivorous marsupial indigenous to Australia, Vanessa became acquainted with the devil when learning that it was a good model for human cancers. She partnered with Stephan Schuster of Pennsylvania State University to sequence the animal using next-generation (gen) sequencing, in turn establishing the then first next-gen sequencing research laboratory in Australia. By establishing a Tasmanian devil genome, she and her team were able to define the extent of dwindling genetic diversity within the devil population as a result of an unusual infectious facial cancer. The hope is that this information and tools developed will be used for the insurance breeding program, which has been established by Australian authorities to save this iconic species from inevitable extinction within the next decade.
Putting Africa on the Genetic Map
In early 2010 Vanessa embarked on another collaborative effort with Schuster’s lab, this one to help get African populations represented in genetic databases and reap the benefits of human genomics research. The initiation of the South African Genome Project was a key step in helping to define the extent of human variation, the relevance to assessing disease risk, and the response to various medicines. The effort was conceived out of Vanessa’s frustration in earlier studies with African populations when she found a complete lack of African reference genomes and susceptibility gene array profiles in existing databases. Africa, believed to be the birthplace of mankind with the oldest populations, offers a much greater diversity than found in individuals of European decent. Another issue with the existing databases was that the little African genetic data represented in early 2010 was based on one population – the Yoruba people from Nigeria. Demonstrating that the Yoruba people are clearly not representative of the majority of the over 500 different linguistic groups in central to southern Africa, Vanessa was determined to change the face of European-driven genomic research.
Ingenuity and perseverance led Vanessa to knock on the door of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He was, she knew, a critical step needed to gain access to a potential treasure trove of South African genetic data. She made her case directly to the Archbishop in front of a room of advisors who told him not to participate in a genetic study. However, much to her surprise, Tutu agreed to be the first South African to have his genome sequenced. Vanessa believes he did so, against the advice of his advisors, because he knew the importance of this type of research to the people of his country. The Archbishop’s participation was both critical and significant as he represents not only the Bantu linguistic group to which 80% of the South African population belongs, but he is also a survivor of TB, polio, and prostate cancer. The researchers were able to correlate his genetic markers (genotype) potentially associated with disease susceptibility with his family and medical history (phenotype), providing valuable information about the Bantu people. Vanessa and her team also sequenced the complete genome and three exomes (protein-coding genes only) from four individuals representing diverse ethnic groups of what are known as the Kalahari Bushmen. Bushmen (or San) is the term for the click-speaking hunter-gatherers who inhabit the Kalahari Desert, which spans parts of Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. Her studies, published in Nature in 2010, showed that two different linguistic groups of Kalahari Bushman were as genetically divergent as Europeans and Asians. Some found this finding surprising, however, the extent of the diversity should not be surprising considering these Bushman represent the oldest living lineage of modern humans.
By this time in 2010 Vanessa decided she had reached the technological limits of her research in human genomics in her current position in Australia. She was searching for a place to expand her capabilities, particularly in next generation (gen) sequencing and bioinformatics. She was interviewing last spring in Melbourne at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research where Dr. Craig Venter happened to be giving a keynote lecture. The JCVI was not on her radar at the time as she had several job offers within and outside Australia, but Craig was able to convince her to come to work with him and the team at JCVI.
Sleep is overrated
The sequencing of Archbishop Tutu was only a start to Vanessa’s plans in human genomics research. She is continuing to expand her work with indigenous groups in Africa. Much like the aspirations (and accomplishments) of her new boss, she claims a ‘modest’ goal: “To define the extent of human diversity that exists globally so we can have a true picture of variation that human genomes have and to help make sense of that variation by linking genotype to phenotype.” Phenotype cannot only mean disease conditions (associated with genes) but also evolved behaviors. For example, how the Bushmen are able to go for a week without water in the desert climate is a phenotype that may be encoded in their genes. Understanding the genetic basis for disease and behavior in different populations will certainly be a challenge, but clearly Vanessa is a person who thrives when presented with challenges.
Vanessa’s limited spare time revolves around her family, including two children — each born on different continents — who keep her busy with the latest goal to teach mom how to surf! A keen soccer player in Australia, she has turned to a new adventure since her move to San Diego, kickboxing. She says she doesn’t get much sleep, particularly little in the past three years, but at least now she’s working mostly on U.S. time rather than two opposite time zones.
If she had time for another career, “it is hard to think of another career as I am doing exactly what I love, combining my passion for the rich-diversity of people from Southern Africa (and globally) from whom we have so much to learn, with the speed and dynamics of everyday life of 21st century science. What better place to combine these two worlds than here at JCVI.” Vanessa hopes via her new position to understand and educate others about the breadth of human genetic diversity existing in populations worldwide
What's the cost to corporations for bad choices ? The question comes back to mind for a couple of reasons. One is the much publicized decision that a 168 year old newspaper will close because of bad choices made during the watch of Rupert Murdoch, a media baron with both financial and political agendas. The ethics issues for his newspaper were long-simmering, and the company reportedly paid to settle some civil claims back in 2009. The issues remained in the public eye, and then recently exploded. Now the affair threatens to materially hurt the political chances of Britain's current leadership because some of the acts occurred during the private career of a current government spokesperson, as described here in the NYT. In short, the claims are that the individual paid off Scotland Yard police officers for information, and allowed phone hacking to develop stories.
Another reminder arrived in May in the form of a $322 million verdict in asbestos litigation involving use of drilling mud - an asbestos-containing product using in oil drilling. The verdict included punitive damages of $300 million. The $ 300 million amount likely will be reduced on appeal under current law on punitive damages, as is briefly described here, and the verdict may be suspect for other reasons. But, regardless of what happens on appeal in a couple of years, the "ask" to settle those cases is now some multiple of the prior price. The defendants now face tough choices as to how they respond.
Plainly the cost varies for bad choices. it's also plain that the cost of bad choices can be multiplied exponentially by public opinion and attention. The exponential loss (or gain) can emerge when public opinion crosses a "tipping point," to borrow the phrase and analysis made famous by author and observer Malcom Gladwell. How companies respond to crisis is crucial, as illustrated by Richard Levick's latest book, The Communicators: Leadership in the Age of Crisis. Both books are well worth reading - and rereading - for anyone involved in "mass tort" litigation.
Who knew ? An appellate court in Australia apparently blazed a trail by approving use of Facebook for service of process in a case where the defendants could not be located for traditional service of process. And, yes, that tactic apparently was suggested by young lawyers. Good for them - it is a logical extension of publication notice, and/or nailing a summons and complaint to the front door of a home.
For the specifics, see this article from the February 2009 Louisiana Bar Journal (Volume 56, No. 5) by Eric M. Liddick, a Louisiana lawyer. I learned of that article through a DRI publication that just came out this week. Also note that this online article says that a different Australian court refused to approve using Facebook to serve process.
And, there's more. According to this Herbert Smith article, a New Zealand court also approved using Facebook for service of proces. The same article also says that a UK court approved using Twitter for service of process.
Eternit and asbestos are in the news again in Italy as the Eternit trials move forward. Set out below is the full text of this article which picks up from Italian press stories. Note that Italy allows the joinder of criminal and civil claims into one proceeding, a practice exactly opposite of the practice in the United States. The Italian prosecutor seeks 20 years of jail time for some of the senior executives for recklessly endangering the health of workers at manufacturing plants producing asbestos-containing products.
A court in Turin on Monday requested jail terms of 20 years against a Swiss billionaire and a Belgian baron in the biggest ever trial over asbestos-related deaths, judicial officials said.
Stephan Schmidheiny, the former Swiss owner of the Eternit construction firm, and Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, a top shareholder from Belgium, are being tried in absentia.
The trial is a mass civil action in which some 6,000 people are seeking damages over the deaths of around 3,000 people who worked at or lived near Eternit's plants in Italy.
The prosecution requested the maximum sentence of 12 years imprisonment and demanded eight more years be added on the grounds that asbestos can trigger ailments decades after exposure.
"I had never seen such a tragedy.... It has affected several regions in our country, employees and residents. It is still sowing death and who knows how much longer it will continue to do so," prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello said.
The prosecution's five-year inquiry determined that the two executives were effectively responsible for Eternit's Italian operations at the time of the contaminations in the 1970s, a claim rejected by the defence team.
The pair are accused of causing an environmental disaster and failing to comply with labour safety regulations.
Victims' groups welcomed the heavy sentences requested by the Turin court.
"We are satisfied, this is the result of a 30-year struggle for justice and health during which we never gave up hope," said Bruno Pesce, who heads an association representing victims from two of Eternit's northern plants.
"The fact that this trial was undertaken (in December 2009) was already a huge victory but now the prospect of justice being done is starting to take shape," he told AFP.
The fibrous crystal mineral is primarily used as building insulation for its sound absorption and resistance to fire, heat and electrical damage but exposure to it can cause lung inflammation and cancer.
A verdict could be handed down at the end of the year.
Museumomics ? Scientists using hairs from old, stuffed animals from museums to obtain historic DNA samples of a species, and then running advanced new sequencing software to compare past genomes of the species to current genomes. And, it's not just an idea but rather it is happening now, as described below. (Does Jurassic Park of 1993 come to mind - this is not the exact same premise, but ...)
The scientists ? As is so often true these days, it's a global team. As described by ScienceDaily, "[the team, led by Stephan Schuster, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State University; Webb Miller, a professor of biology and computer science and engineering at Penn State University; and Vanessa Hayes of the Venter Institute in San Diego, includes other scientists at institutions and universities in Australia, Denmark, and the United States. The results of the study will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." Reading the bios of the team leaders illustrates the significant depth and breadth of their knowledge. As to the reference to the Venter Institute, that is indeed a reference to the institute created Craig Venter of the Human Genome Project.
The science? Summarized here by ScienceDaily, it's a new science journal article on using museumomics to try to help thwart extinction of the Tasmanian devil. The point is to find genetically diverse animals before starting a breeding program. In short, pick the right breeding animals, as best we can tell, by comparing the genomes of current animals to prior generations of animals.
Implications ? Consider the litigation possibilities of studies looking backwards at the genomes of various species, including homo sapiens. For example, consider a study of museum samples of bald eagles and other birds. Suppose museumomics could track and show the genomic changes caused over time by DDT. This online article from Duke provides a simple summary of some of the impacts of DDT. The massive overall impact for eagles was described in this 1982 Science article by James W. Grier. DDT also caused non-genomic changes, as described in this 2009 article by Silva et al.
Perhaps museumomics also will put an end to Fox "News" publishing stories (e.g this 2006 story) that seek to distract attention away from the reality that DDT caused massive harm. The headline from Fox ? "Bald Eagle - DDT Myth Still Flying High."
Read the key excerpts below to see the working scale of the museumomics as applied to the Tasmanian Devil.
Schuster also said that a significant and defining part of the team's project was the ability to generate extra-long genetic sequences using a special genome-sequencing technology that, at the time the scientists performed the research, had not yet been released publicly. "This technology, developed by Roche Diagnostics and 454 Life Sciences, allowed us to assemble a mammalian genome from scratch," Schuster said. "The longer stretches of DNA or "long reads" were particularly critical to develop a full understanding of the genetic makeup of such a unique species."
Some "conservatives" decry "activist" judges who take the law into their own hands. For example, here, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah criticized activist judges. And, the same conservatives often are fond of stating that the federal government exercises too much power, and that state law needs to be given far more respect. Here's Senator Hatch talking that talk. So, what should these conservatives say when a Supreme Court Justice goes way out on a limb and acts alone to protect big tobacco against paying a state court judgment ?
The question arises because last fall, Justice Scalia took it on himself to issue - alone - this opinion to protect big tobacco against paying out money while it asked the Supreme Court to grant a discretionary appeal. SCOTUS blog's story from last fall is here. Now, the Court has reversed Justice Scalia, as described online here, and pasted below. Apparently the Justice's views are his own, and not the views of the Court.
Enjoy Independence Day !
WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Antonin G. Scalia exercised a rarely used power last fall to let Philip Morris USA and three other big tobacco companies delay making multimillion-dollar payments for a program to help people quit smoking.
Scalia, a cigarette smoker himself, justified acting on his own by predicting that at least three other justices would see things his way and want to hear the case and that the high court then would probably strike down the expensive judgment against the companies.
This week, the court said he was wrong about that.
On a court that almost always acts as a group, Scalia single-handedly blocked a state court order requiring the tobacco companies to pay $270 million to start a smoking cessation program in Louisiana.
The payment was ordered as part of a class-action lawsuit that Louisiana smokers filed in 1996. They won a jury verdict seven years ago.
Scalia said in September that the companies met a tough standard to justify the Supreme Court's intervention.
"I think it reasonably probable that four justices will vote to grant certiorari," Scalia said, using the legal term to describe the way the court decides to hear most appeals, "and significantly possible that the judgment below will be reversed."
Not only did the justices say Monday they were leaving the state court order in place, there were not even four votes to hear the companies' full appeal.
And the court provided no explanation of its action.
Scalia said through a court spokeswoman that he also had no comment on the matter.
Robert Peck, the Washington-based lawyer representing the Louisiana smokers at the Supreme Court, recalled thinking Scalia had made unwarranted assumptions about the case.
"I was really rather surprised he would issue the stay," Peck said of Scalia's order blocking the judgment from taking effect.
The case went to Scalia because he oversees the 5th Circuit, which includes Louisiana.
Justices have the authority to act on their own to issue an order that blocks another court's decision from taking effect, often in cases that are being appealed to the high court.
But in recent years they rarely have done so.
The last time a justice acted alone in similar circumstances was in 2006, when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy blocked a court order to remove a giant cross from a public park in San Diego while the matter remained under appeal.
The cross case still is working its way through the courts.
Thomas Goldstein, a Washington lawyer and close observer of the court, said: "This was a very rare and unusually assertive ruling by a single justice. The later briefing in the case seems to have persuaded the court, and maybe even Scalia himself, not to get involved."
In issuing his order, Scalia noted national concern over the abuse of class-action lawsuits in state courts and raised concerns about the companies' legal rights.
He said that without delaying payment, the companies might not be able to recover all their money if they ended up winning in the Supreme Court.
The other companies in the case are Brown and Williamson Holdings Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co.
A Louisiana appeals court had a different take on the subject of delay, noting that the plaintiffs are aging and dying at a significant rate.
One of the two named plaintiffs, Gloria Scott, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2000 and died in 2006.