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Even the medical field has bias.

Men.

We have it pretty good. Especially when it comes to our health.

Not only do we get to write the health care legislation, but increasingly, we're getting all the good medical treatment.

We can thank lab animals for this — and the researchers who study them.


For a long time, researchers believed that male animals were better for trials of new medicine.

It was widely assumed that hormone cycles in females would screw up the results.

As a result, currently, over 75% of all lab animals are male.

animal research, studies, gender bias, disease

Lab mouse in a surgically gloved hand.

Image by Rama/Wikimedia Commons/CeCILL.

The problem is, when you test primarily on male animals, you're making medicine that's more likely to be effective for, well, men.

According to a report in New Scientist, researcher Natasha Karp and a team from the U.K.'s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute studied tens of thousands of mice of both sexes. They found that when you switch off genes in male mice, the mice express different traits then when you switch off the same genes in female mice.

If genes express themselves differently depending on the sex of the animal, the researchers found, so do some genetic diseases.

drugs, health, politics, community

Gene therapy: rad as hell.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

The team concluded that "drugs optimized for male animals may be less effective in females, or even cause harm." Of the 10 drugs that were pulled from the market between 1997 and 2001, they explained, eight were riskier for women.

Male animal-bias also means drugs that work better for women might not even make it into testing to begin with.

As with the debate over what constitutes an "essential" health care benefit (according to some hi-larious U.S. senators, mammograms shouldn't), when it comes to "who constitutes a full human," it appears men are the considered default setting, while women are an afterthought.

equal rights, equal representation, experiments, medical advancements

A bearded man looking off into the distance all manly.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

It's a pretty sweet gig for us men.

The thing is, women are half of us. We like them.

As fully formed human beings with lives, free will, hopes, dreams, and so on, it'd be nice if medicine worked better on them when they got diseases.

There's been some progress toward making medical experiments more equitable, at least where human subjects are concerned.

Clinical trials (on humans) used to involve pretty much no women. Now most are 30-40% female, though that still means women are underrepresented.

Thanks to efforts of researchers like Karp and her team, we now know we need to extend that progress to the animal kingdom as well.

"Unless there’s a really good reason not to, we should be using both sexes in biomedical research," Karp told New Scientist.

Male animals, she argued, have traits just as particular as female hormone cycles that make them similarly varied from an ideal "norm."

Ultimately, more comprehensive research benefits us all — men and women.

Better studies lead to more effective medicine, which leads to less sickness and sadness all around.

That's the hope anyway.

The animals of both genders who turn out to help us out with this project deserve a hearty "thank you."

If we start with equal treatment, we might finally get some equal treatment.

This article originally appeared on 06.29.17

Family

Joe Biden delivered a powerful speech about 'the only bipartisan thing left in America.'

'I assure you there’s still a lot of really decent people left in the Congress in both parties.'

For nearly an hour on March 12, 2017, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke to an audience of innovators at South by Southwest about a topic very close to his heart: cancer.

He was there to discuss the newly formed Biden Foundation's Cancer Initiative, something of an outgrowth of the "Cancer Moonshot" task force Biden led during his final year in office.

Former Vice President Joe Biden outlines his cancer initiative at SXSW. Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP.


On May 30, 2015, Biden's son Beau died from brain cancer. He was just 46 years old.

The former Delaware attorney general, Army veteran, and rising star was diagnosed with the disease less than two years earlier, devastating the Biden family and ultimately leading Joe to forgo a run for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president. While Beau's passing may have cooled his father's presidential ambitions, it sparked a laser-focused passion within the patriarch. His charisma, 44 years in public service, and knowledge of Washington bureaucracy made him uniquely qualified to try to help save cancer patients and their families from having to endure heartbreak.

Beau and Joe Biden during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

It seems like there's not a lot Democrats and Republicans can agree on these days. Biden used his SXSW speech to discuss what he called the "only bipartisan thing left in America."

Cancer doesn't care whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, rich or poor, black or white, young or old. It's ruthless, and it's almost certainly touched all our lives in one way or another. It's that type of tenacity that makes fighting cancer something worth setting aside political differences for — and it's been done, even very recently.

On Dec. 13, 2016, President Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law. The bill, which set aside $6.3 billion in funding for things like medical research and drug development, passed the Senate by a vote of 94-5 and the House by 392-26. During his speech, Biden pointed to the bipartisan success of the bill, using it as a sign that, when pressed, we really can come together for the greater good.

"I assure you there’s still a lot of really decent people left in the Congress in both parties," Biden said, noting that Republican Mitch McConnell even moved to name $1.8 billion of the bill's funding after Beau.

Biden speaks at SXSW. Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP.

It's easy to feel cynical, but Biden offers a bit of much-needed hope for a better world.

"I am optimistic. I’m optimistic about the American people," he said. "Given half a chance, they’ve never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever let their country down. And the core of the Republicans in the Congress and Democrats are good, decent, honorable people being almost artificially separated by a new kind of partisanship. I’m confident we can break through it. I’m confident it can be done."

And if he, a man who has seen just how broken Washington can be, still has faith that our elected officials will do the right thing, that's worth something — isn't it?

Biden speaks at SXSW. Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP.

There are things we must be unwilling to postpone. The fight against cancer, a bipartisan effort, is one of them.

Biden ended his speech by invoking President John F. Kennedy:

"He talked about the effort to go to the moon as a commitment the American people had made and that they were 'unwilling to postpone.' … I am unwilling to postpone for one day longer the things we can do now to extend people’s lives — and so should you be.”

Let's be unwilling to postpone that better world.

Beau and Joe Biden hug at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Watch Biden's full SXSW speech below:

Family

What does bipolar disorder look like? This photographer will tell you.

Bipolar disorder affects over 5 million Americans, but actually living with it is a story in and of itself.

A few months after Danielle Hark had her first child, she fell into a deep depression.

Photo from Danielle Hark, used with permission.

Danielle is a professional photographer and writer. While everyone gets bad moods sometimes, this was different. It wasn't just a bad day or even a bad week. For two years, it felt like a weighted blanket had fallen over her. She had to fight that weight every day. Even simple things like getting out of bed or walking the dog required extra effort.


Meanwhile, her brain was whispering that she was a burden to the people around her. She pushed people away — friends, family, even her husband — not out of disaffection, but out of a misguided desire to save them from having to deal with her.

Eventually Danielle went to a doctor to try to get help overcoming this depression. They had a different diagnosis though: bipolar disorder.

We all have things we have to carry, and mental illness wasn't new to Danielle. She had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety in college. Still, bipolar disorder ... that felt like too much to accept.

"I pushed against it at first," said Danielle. She pictured bipolar people as violent or unstable. "I was like, no, that's not me."

But when Danielle looked closer, the diagnosis perfectly matched her symptoms.

For some of us, "bipolar" probably conjures up images of Two-Face, the half-scarred Batman villain, whose mood can change on a coin flip. But the disorder actually looks a lot more human. Imagine someone suffering from clinical depression, except, every so often, their brain decides to throw an extra wrench into the works.

That wrench is mania. Mania is like the weird, upside-down cousin of depression and it can cause someone to feel jumpy or energetic. Some people feel overly irritable or prone to risky behavior, while others might get a rush of creative ideas.

Danielle will sometimes combine lights and clocks with long exposures to create light paintings like this one. Photo from Danielle Hark, used with permission.

As it turns out, that actually fit with Danielle's experience. Danielle said there were periods, especially when she was younger, that she'd find herself barely able to sleep. Instead, she'd pace around the house, feeling revved up and bombarded by ideas. During those times, she'd be compelled to take pictures, thousands of pictures — not stopping until the camera's SD card ran out. To her doctor, that sounded exactly like a manic episode.

Bipolar disorder sucks, plain and simple. And Danielle isn't alone in having to deal with it.

About 5.7 million Americans have some form of bipolar disorder, sometimes known as manic-depressive disorder.

It affects all races, classes, and genders in equal numbers, though there are actually a few different forms of the disorder. Some people get faster cycles, for example, or might get a milder version of mania called hypomania. Age-wise, it often appears in a person's mid-twenties, but can strike at any point in a person's life.

As for how and why it happens, medicine is starting to figure out both, but slowly.

Photo from Danielle Hark, used with permission.

Research suggests that bipolar might happen when there are changes in how a person's brain processes chemical signals between cells or when there are subtle changes in the wiring between brain regions.

Genetics isn't destiny ... there still needs to be some event or stress in a person's life to trigger the disorder.

As for why it happens? We do know it's at least partly genetic. We've known for more than a hundred years that bipolar disorder can run in families. Today, more than 80 genes have been identified that might contribute to someone's risk level.

This might seem like good news, scientifically, but for a mom like Danielle, it added a whole new layer of stress.

"Many people think that people with bipolar disorder shouldn't have children," said Danielle.

That said, genetics isn't destiny. There have been cases of identical twins, for instance, where one had it but the other didn't. Science suggests that some people who carry the genes may even have special changes in their brain's wiring to help avert the illness.

Experts think that while genes are a major contributor, there still needs to be some event or stress in a person's life to trigger the disorder.

Bipolar disorder is chronic, which means, unfortunately, most folks have to come to terms with it being part of their lives forever.

"The real struggle for me was accepting that I have bipolar disorder and accepting that that’s just a small piece of who I am," said Danielle. It's something she has to live with, but it doesn't take away from her identity as a photographer, or a mom, or a wife.

Photo by Danielle Hark, used with permission.

She says that she sees now that the diagnoses aren't meant to be labels, they're meant to be treatment plans. And medications, like lithium and antidepressants, can help, as can doing things like pinpointing and avoiding triggers or stresses and avoiding drugs or alcohol. Certain therapies, like dialectical behavioral therapy, can work too.

Danielle says she's actually found her photography work to be helpful as well. When she's stuck chasing intrusive thoughts, looking through a camera lens helps her focus on what's directly in front of her, breathe, and come back to the present moment.

Photo by Danielle Hark, used with permission.

Thanks to these techniques, Danielle's learned how to not only weather both the manic and depressive episodes, but head them off before they begin.

This is a story about bipolar, but it's also a story about humanity because we all have heavy things to carry.

Sometimes they're external, but sometimes they're internal too — like a brain that just decides to go a bit haywire. And the truth is, bipolar disorder is tough. It sucks. It's a difficult hand that's dealt to a lot of people who don't deserve it.

I wish this is something we could cure right now, but we can't — we can manage, but not cure. As research goes forward, though, we're continually getting better at understanding where it comes from and how to deal with it.

But for now, for this moment, what can we do? We can respect each other's loads.

We can try to practice a little empathy by listening to the stories of people like Danielle. We can help out where we're able. And, hopefully, we can all find a way to carry our own things just a little more lightly.

Imagine you're a scientist on a mission to find a new, lifesaving medication. Where would you look first?

Excuse me, but you haven't seen any Prozac down here, have you? No? Photo from Dave Bunnell/Wikimedia Commons.


Would you put on your khakis and mount an expedition to the deepest Amazon? Look inside the deepest caves and atop the highest peaks?

As it turns out, you might need to start by simply looking up your nose.

Scientists may have just found a new antibiotic ... and it lives in our noses.

Most previous quests for antibiotics started with looking for stuff in the soil or out in the wild. But the human body's pretty wild too. (No joke, we're actually a pretty dense bacterial jungle.)

Describing the human body as a "bacterial jungle" will surprise exactly no parents anywhere. Photo from iStock.

The human body plays host to many different types of bacteria and microbes in what scientists call our "microbiome." This isn't something to be freaked out about, though. These bacteria are mostly harmless. Some even help us digest food or produce vitamins.

Like animals in a jungle, the different microbes that live in us compete with each other.

Different strains or species of bacteria compete for food and living space, and sometimes, they'll attack each other. Imagine a lion and a tiger fighting over hunting area and you'll get the right idea. Only instead of using claws, the bacteria use unique chemicals, trying to drive out competitors and gain the best niche they can.

Unique bacteria-killing chemicals, you say? Hmm... I wonder who would be interested in that?

GIF from "The Professional."

Scientists initially dove into the jungle that is our nasal cavities because of one particular bacteria.

They wanted to figure out the habits of that bacteria, which can sometimes cause antibiotic-resistant infections.

But in the dark recesses of the nasal cavity, they found a competitor instead — a closely related cousin named Staphylococcus lugdunensis. And where they found the lugdunensis, they didn't find the bad bacteria.

Instead, they found that the lugdunensis spits out a never-seen-before chemical that's really, really good at killing other bacteria. The scientists were understandably excited and named the chemical "lugdunin." They also reported their findings in the journal Nature on July 27, 2016.

This is important because we need new antibiotics to fight off superbugs.

A doctor scrubs up before surgery in order to prevent infection. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

The overuse of antibiotics has caused some bacteria to become resistant to those antibiotics, turning them into what are sometimes called "superbugs." And these superbugs can be pretty dangerous. One, known as MRSA, infected over 80,000 people in the United States in 2011.

Guess what lugdunin can kill, though? Yup. MRSA — plus some other potentially harmful infections too. And since we haven't used the antibiotic before, it means superbugs probably can't resist it either.

Interestingly, scientists aren't completely sure how lugdunin works yet. Most antibiotics target delicate machinery inside bacteria in order to shut them down, but lugdunin seems like it might do something else we haven't quite figured out yet.

This discovery is huge, and one day, it could save lives.

Obviously, this discovery is in its very early stages and will need a lot more research before we can figure out whether it's both effective and safe for people to use. But lugdunin could one day lead to new antibiotic drugs.

If we're clever and dedicated and willing to look in some ... unusual places, superbugs could be totally beatable.