Meet Professor Antonio Vidal-Puig, endocrinologist and Society for Endocrinology Medal winner for 2017. Prof Vidal-Puig is based at the Institute of Metabolic Sciences, Cambridge University and at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, where his outstanding research, focusing on… More
You’ve heard it before:
…The public have the right (and duty, some may say) to engage with science and medicine.
…Public engagement gives your work real-world context and a fresh perspective on what you do.
…If you are applying for funding, get ready to demonstrate your involvement with the public.
The many reasons why you should engage with the public have been listed and discussed plenty of times, so you already know what it’s about. You know it’s essential; you know it’s not just about communicating science, but about having a conversation; you know your audience has a voice and an active role to play – they’re not just spectators.
However, finding the time to dedicate to public engagement is no easy endeavour – even less so considering your already crammed schedule. Besides, interacting with school children and families at a science festival is not everybody’s cup of tea, and the risk of being forced into it can make your public engagement efforts become a ‘tick-box activity’.
But here’s the good news – public engagement comes in many more shapes than you may think. There’s a plethora of sometimes quirky, always wonderful initiatives out there to exemplify that engagement can take fascinating formats.
Even better news for those with overloaded schedules – sometimes it may be more effective to reach your audience remotely, which may allow more flexibility and make your life a little easier! In many cases your target audience won’t be the science fair type, after all, and picking the right medium to engage them is tightly related to the kind of audience they are. Ask yourself – how old are they? Where do they hang out, on- and off-line? What are their interests and motivations? What does their day-to-day life look like? Consideration of these factors is crucial before you embark on any public engagement journey!
Without further ado, here is a list of formats that showcase the many faces of public engagement…
Let your imagination be sparked!
- At schools, colleges, community groups or science / family festivals. A well-known public engagement format for science and medicine, and no wonder – this can be a most gratifying way to participate. Contrary to what some think, people do want to know about your work and can be extremely engaged – you just need to find a way to tap into the curiosity of your particular audience.. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all. You could design an activity or inspire a crowd just by talking about your own journey in STEM and medicine.
- At a music festival, your local mall, the pub or other unlikely places. By taking your activity to a place where people would not expect you can reach very different audiences, and can add an extra layer of fun to public engagement. Guerrilla Science managed to engage festival-goers at Glastonbury by challenging them to prove themselves smarter than a rat.
- At your own workplace. Instead of taking your experience and activities elsewhere, you could invite people to take part in an immersive experience at your institution. Organise a one-off careers event or even start a sustained engagement scheme between your institution and a selection of people. This gives them a chance to see what’s going on behind the scenes and have a feel of the day-to-day life of doctors, nurses or scientists.
- Through public dialogue. As defined by the Research Council UK, public dialogue is a deliberative participatory engagement where the outcomes are used to inform decision-making. An example of this may be organising a focus group with patients in order to decide what the next step of your research should be. These initiatives can go really far –patients can even become the researchers!
- Through broadcast media. Whether it’s an appearance on a TV, radio show or a podcast, this can be an effective way to reach out to the public. Your audience can participate by phone or social media, or there could be an associated event to enable them to have their say. Need tips on how to do TV or to work with journalists effectively? The Society can support you and point you in the right direction for training and useful resources.
- Through written word. If you are a keen writer and enjoy the creativeness of the process you can apply those skills to engage your audience by telling them about your work. Write a blog or become a contributor for a website or magazine and spark a conversation with and amongst your readers.
- By becoming a media ambassador for the Society. Regardless of the medium, collaboration between the worlds of science and journalism enables the responsible and clear reporting of science in the news.
- Through Social Media. ‘Ask me anything’ sessions or Twitter takeovers are a great conversation-based way to engage with people – you just need access to the internet and a Reddit or Twitter account to get going!
- Through art. Art and science aren’t opposites – they are both driven by curiosity, require creativity and both aim to gain a better understanding of the world. Collaborations between science and the arts range from films, theatre and exhibitions to dance, storytelling, comics and stand-up comedy.
- Creating a resource. If you have the creative drive and the crafting skills but define yourself as a ‘behind the scenes’ sort of person, why not creating materials or activities for other people to use? Board games, mobile apps, activities for science festivals – you name it!
- Through citizen science. Let people become your co-researchers to achieve common research goals, like collecting information on viral epidemiology, self-soothing, protein folding or mapping the human brain.
Public engagement isn’t easy, but that doesn’t make it dreadful, inconvenient or disruptive. Rather, your challenge lies in approaching it creatively. If you have a passion for what you do, there will be a way to channel it into a public engagement activity – you just need to find the right fit for you and your public!
Aida de Heras, Society for Endocrinology Communications Executive.
The Society of Endocrinology is eager to help you drive your career forward and, in line with this, the Practical Skills Grant is an opportunity not to be missed. This grant enables scientists in training to visit other labs to learn new techniques, so that they can return home with an improved skill-set and plenty of research collaboration potential!
Here is the story of Dr Naomi Brooks, Senior Lecturer at the University of Stirling, who is interested in exercise physiology, muscle biology and nutrition. In 2015, she was one of the Practical Skills Awardees and travelled to South Africa to learn a challenging lab technique from world-leading experts…
“My application to the Society for Endocrinology Practical Skills grant was inspired by my previous success in winning a Society Early Career Grant. I chose Prof Kathy Myburgh’s lab, in the Physiological Sciences Muscle Group in Stellenbosch University, South Africa. I was aware that the particular technique I wished to learn was difficult and that the Myburgh Laboratory had detailed knowledge and success with it. I had previously worked with the Myburgh group as a post-doctoral fellow. Since I knew the group and identified the potential for collaboration, the choice to return to Stellenbosch was key for my career at that stage.
Stellenbosch is a beautiful town surrounded by mountains and vineyards. I was there during the spring and the weather was kind, not too hot, which allowed me to walk to work every day from my local accommodation. During my work week I would spend time in the lab, either with colleagues or writing and reflecting by myself. When away from the busyness of academia, I visited local areas and enjoyed the beautiful African outdoors and hospitality, and I still had time to write papers and put ideas together for grant applications!
The Practical Skills Grant enabled me to investigate a number of different methods for stem cell isolation and primary cell growth. I was able to see the technique demonstrated, trouble-shoot and have discussions about the procedure and its applications. As a result of this, the cell culture laboratory at my home institution is currently considering building collaborations with molecular investigators to apply the technique in our labs. I continue to build my personal and laboratory group skill-set to enhance our work, and thanks to this grant I was able to improve my academic opportunities as a researcher able to integrate both applied and basic research. The experience provided me with an integrated understanding of the technique, which will hopefully translate into more research opportunities and encourage my transition into an established researcher in the field.
When I lived in Stellenbosch as a post-doctoral fellow, I volunteered at an orphanage in Kayamandi, the local township. I also started a community exercise programme, which was both a research and a community engagement and development programme. Returning to these places was very special. The exercise programme was still running 5 years later, and was coordinated by those working in the community garden project.
Creating and fostering networks and collaborations, both within the UK and overseas, is very important in the world of academia. I would encourage those wishing to expand their horizons and learn new techniques to apply for the Practical Skills grant; especially amongst those early career researchers, as having “many strings to one’s bow” is important to establish a career.” Naomi Brooks, Senior Lecturer at the University of Stirling.
What would you do with a Practical Skills Grant? Applications close on 31 October 2017, so better start thinking about it!
How can you encourage undergraduate students to specialise and continue in endocrinology? The Society’s Undergraduate Achievement Award enables departments to reward and recognise the outstanding, endocrine-related work of undergraduate students. Successful departments receive £300 per year for three years, to award to students in any way they decide is most effective.
Director of Learning and Teaching at Kingston University Nigel Page tells us about the value of the award to his department, and his former student Nirun Hewawasam talks about how the experience set her off on a career in endocrinology.
“Recognising the talents of our students is vital, and the Society for Endocrinology Undergraduate Achievement Award gives us the perfect opportunity to do just that! This prestigious award has been a great way of encouraging academic excellence and bringing the field of endocrinology to the forefront of our students’ study. We have been able to offer the award to outstanding performances in our final year projects that have a specific endocrine theme. All of our winners from the last three years have felt the award has impacted on their decisions and confidence in being able to go on and successfully develop their careers in endocrinology, and have decided to undertake endocrinology related postgraduate research studies.
At Kingston University, this award has allowed us to recognise our most talented students and has helped in getting them to where they are today. In addition, it has been a fantastic way to advertise the work of the Society to our students and many of our undergraduates have taken the initiative to become members.
Each year we have been able to announce the award at our graduation ceremony to parents and guests, which is a real honour! The impact of receiving the award has been very positive to all parties, and is certainly something our students will always take away with them.” Dr Nigel Page, Kingston University.
Nirun Hewawasam joined Kingston University as an undergraduate pharmacology student. As she had a particular interest in type 2 diabetes, her final year project focused on investigating the role of the novel protein SMOC-2 in beta cell growth factor signalling. She received her Undergraduate Achievement Award in July 2014.
“I have always been interested in the field of diabetes, and although my project required a lot of effort and commitment, winning a Society for Endocrinology Undergraduate Achievement Award was highly rewarding and encouraged me to continue in the field of endocrinology. Currently, I am doing a PhD entitled “Intercellular communication and pancreatic islet function in type 2 diabetes” at the University of Roehampton, where I am investigating how two pancreatic islet hormones can modulate islet function and survival in type 2 diabetes. Being a research student has given me a lot of confidence, and being part of life changing research is exciting and fulfilling. So far it has been a great journey full of exciting experiences, including successful moments and hardships, but with rewarding outcomes.
I believe that the Undergraduate Achievement Award contributed to my being awarded my PhD studentship, thereby increasing my career prospects. The award constitutes a great opportunity to encourage any student to undertake a career in the field of endocrinology.” Nirun Hewawasam, Kingston University 2014 Awardee.
Applications for the Undergraduate Achievement Award are open from 14 June 2017 until 15 September 2017. Find out more about how to encourage excellence in your students!
A great opportunity for all endocrinologists is coming up, as it will soon be time to vote for the President Elect of the European Society of Endocrinology (ESE). Professor John Wass, former EFES (now ESE) President and past Society for Endocrinology (SfE) Chairman, urges all SfE members not to miss this opportunity to influence the future of the organisation and endocrinology in Europe:
“I write to encourage all SfE members to vote. SfE has always played a major role in supporting ESE and gains greatly from this collaboration; therefore it is important that SfE members who are also ESE members vote in the upcoming ESE elections. SfE is an affiliated society member of ESE and an active member of the ESE Council of Affiliated Societies (ECAS). ESE runs excellent educational meetings across Europe -including its yearly congress-, provides numerous grants for basic and clinical researchers, produces guidelines, and brings together researchers across Europe and beyond as evidenced by the recent successful application for the Endocrine European Reference Network (ERN). ESE is much bigger than the EU, with members from over 90 countries and affiliated societies from over 45 countries. With Brexit on the horizon, there is no more important time to strengthen our academic and clinical links across Europe through supporting ESE. Please vote – it is important for endocrinology.”
E-vote submissions open until 19 April 2017. Eligible ESE members will be contacted by e-mail with further instructions on how to submit their votes.
Find out more about ESE and the election on the website.
This year, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we reached out to some of the female members who are an integral part of our Society (44% of our membership base!) to find out know what motivates, drives and inspires them, and what their proudest moments are. Notepad in hand, we interrupted their busy schedules to ask them some questions. Here’s what they said:
Dr Anna Crown and Dr Helen Simpson both completed their PhDs whilst starting a family and value the career support they received:
“I think this is an example of how it is possible to achieve a ‘work life balance’ and a reminder to senior colleagues of how important and influential their backing and encouragement can be”, says Anna.
Helen adds, “I frequently thought I would never finish my PhD. I will be eternally grateful for the support received”. Despite the challenges, Helen’s research achieved a citation for Excellence in Published Clinical Research in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Louise Hunter agrees that support is one of the essential ingredients for career success:
“My biggest achievement has been securing my MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship. It made me value the faith others had in me, and taught me the importance of persevering towards a goal!”
Other members value being mentors or good role models. Lisa Shepherd’s proudest moment was becoming SfE Chair of the Nurse Committee, “representing, supporting and educating Endocrine Nurses in the UK. This also led to my becoming one of the founding members of the Federation of International Nurses in Endocrinology.”
Professor Karen Chapman has several proud moments: “They have all been every time one of my PhD students or RAs have won a prize or recognition for their research. That’s a wonderful feeling.”
Dr Antonia Brooke was proud to be told by one of her male trainees that she was his role model, and likes to think that she leads by example: “I’m training programme director and Clinical Lead whilst running a household and a family (and being the major breadwinner).”
And acknowledgement never goes amiss – For Professor Maralyn Druce, “my proudest career moment was the first time that anyone sent me a party invitation addressed to ‘Professor Druce’. – That was pretty cool.”
Anna Crown and Karen Chapman have previously contributed to The Endocrinologist, submitting some of their thoughts about women in science. Anna also shared some tips on how to survive endocrinology as a woman with The Endocrine Post.
Be Bold for Change
This year’s International Women’s Day campaign tag line, ‘Be Bold For Change’ prompts all of us to continue to push the agenda for gender parity. So what are our members doing to ‘be bold’?
Here’s some tips on following their example:
- Act as a mentor for men and women
- Share tips on how to juggle responsibilities to achieve a work-life balance (e.g. challenge out of hours career-related meetings)
- Promote women’s networking or leadership events
- Create opportunities for women to discuss the challenges they face in their careers
- Attend inspirational talks or events by successful women in any career path
- Raise the issue of equal representation in boards or committees.
- Recommend or nominate women for committees, talks or chair sessions.
Do you know an amazing endocrinologist you’d like to nominate for a Society Committee? We’d love to hear about them! Find out how to nominate them.
Lisa Shepherd, an Endocrinology Advanced Nurse Practitioner at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and Chair of the Society for Endocrinology Nurse Committee, discusses continuing education opportunities and the value of networking for endocrine nurses.
Endocrinology is a fascinating but complex area and nurses often work in isolation, so opportunities to develop and update their knowledge, benchmark their practice and network with other nurses are invaluable. The Society for Endocrinology Nurse Committee supports a number of strategies that promote networking amongst the Endocrine Nurse community.
Social media is increasingly used to build professional networks, so the Nurse Committee have set up an invite-only group on Facebook for endocrine nurses, which is a fast and easy way for the community to share protocols and information. Nurse Members of the Society also have a Twitter feed where training opportunities, research and nursing practice can be promoted to the wider community.
Face-to-face networking remains an effective means of sharing experience and learning from others, so a ‘nurses lounge’ was recently introduced at the SfE BES conference, to give nurses a dedicated space to meet each other in person. As many nurses are working in isolation it is valuable to provide a variety of opportunities, across different media that encourages endocrine nurses to support and learn from each other.
Endocrine Nurse Update (ENU) is coming up soon. This yearly update is designed by nurses for nurses and offers a varied and active programme of endocrinology topics. I am very excited that this year’s ENU will feature the inaugural Endocrine Nurse Award lecture by winner, Nikki Kieffer. This award was introduced to recognise excellent nursing practice that can be shared to advance knowledge and understanding in the discipline. Nikki is an endocrine nurse specialist at Leicester Royal Infirmary and led the project that developed the Competency Framework for Adult Endocrine Nursing. This project is a great example of nurses working together to share best practice and Nikki will deliver the prize lecture at ENU 2017 in March.
There are also great benefits to networking with other closely related communities and this year, for the first time, ENU will include a workshop run collaboratively between clinician and nurse colleagues, Dr Richard Quinton, Dr Channa Jayasena and Dr Andrew Dwyer. Whether you are a nurse new to endocrinology or a nurse with many years of experience, the ENU programme, in combination with Clinical Update has something to offer all. I hope you can join us at the meeting or follow us online, to learn from your colleagues and share your experience.
Nominations for the 2018 Endocrine Nurse Award are open until 16 June 2017, find out more.
Travel grants are available for ENU 2017, apply before 15 March.
In the final blog post in our series looking back over the endocrinology news you may have missed in 2016, we explore news on the effects of the contraceptive pill, drug pricing and more.
September: Contraceptive pill explains falls in ovarian cancer
It’s generally agreed that the pill offers protection against ovarian cancer. In September we got a better idea of just how strong this effect is, as a study published in Annals of Oncology looked back at the potential cases prevented since the pill was introduced in the 1960s. Between 2002 and 2012, the rate of ovarian cancer fell dramatically in the EU, US and Oceania, with deaths falling 10% in 28 EU countries.
The declines were particularly marked in countries such as the UK (22%), Denmark (24%) and the USA (18%), where the pill was more widely used after its introduction in the early 60’s.
“There are noticeable differences between countries such as Britain, Sweden and Denmark, where more women started to take oral contraceptives earlier – from the 1960s onwards – and countries in Eastern Europe, but also in some other Western and Southern European countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece, where oral contraceptive use started much later and was less widespread,” said lead researcher Professor La Vecchia.
The effects were also more pronounced in younger and middle aged women compared to older women. “This is possibly due to the fact that women who are middle-aged or elderly now were less likely to use oral contraceptives when they were young,” he added.
Media headlines causing a buzz:
Testosterone could treat prostate cancer (The Times)
Common contraceptive hormone could protect women from flu (The Telegraph)
October: The pill and depression
October was a busy month for reproductive endocrinology. Scientists found evidence that ovaries can grow new eggs and we came a step closer to a male contraceptive injection. However, the story causing the biggest stir was an association between use of hormonal contraceptives and depression. Published in JAMA Psychiatry, the study showed that women who used hormonal contraception were more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant, and to be diagnosed with depression.
In a statement widely covered by the media, Society member Dr Channa Jayasena said: “This study raises important questions about the pill. In over a million Danish women, depression was associated with contraceptive pill use. The study does not prove (and does not claim) that the pill plays any role in the development of depression. However, we know hormones play a hugely important role in regulating human behaviour.”
“Given the enormous size of this study, further work is needed to see if these results can be repeated in other populations, and to determine possible biological mechanisms which might underlie any possible link between the pill and depression. Until then, women should not be deterred from taking the pill,” he added.
Media headlines causing a buzz:
Evidence suggests women’s ovaries can grow new eggs (The Guardian)
Male contraceptive jab ‘effective’, but side effects are common (NHS Choices, Bazian)
Zika virus could cause infertility in men, new study suggests (The Telegraph)
November: Yoyo dieting might not be your fault
While you were at the Society’s 70th annual conference in Brighton, you may have missed a study in Nature that provides some understanding into why people often regain weight after weight loss, and why yo-yo dieting is so ineffective. It appears that stubborn gut bacteria may retain a “memory” of obesity.
Scientists created a yo-yo dieting mouse model, which was cycled from high fat chow to low fat chow continuously, leading to cycles of weight gain and weight loss in the mice.
“As observed in recurrently dieting humans, a preceding obesity-weight loss cycle rendered mice susceptible to accelerated secondary weight gain, even after fully returning to baseline weight,”
The mice which had been on the “yo-yo” diet gained even more weight than mice which had eaten the high fat food the entire time. When the altered “yo-yo” gut microbiome was transferred into healthy mice on a normal diet the mice showed accelerated weight gain, which suggests the altered gut microbiome is causing the accelerated weight gain. So unfortunately, even if you lose weight, your guy microbiome might make it more difficult to keep the weight off – but it is possible! The researchers said that eventually, the microbiome goes back to normal, but this could take months, even years in humans.
Media headlines causing a buzz:
Infections not antibiotics may be tied to childhood obesity (New York Times)
December: Hydrocortisone price hike
This new story really got endocrinologists talking. Actavis, producer of hydrocortisone tablets, has been accused of overcharging the NHS after hiking prices from 70p per pack to £88. The accusation comes one week after Pfizer was given an £84.2m fine for similar price hikes for an epilepsy drug.
In 2008 Actavis gained the right to make generic hydrocortisone tablets which are not subject to price regulation.
“We allege that the company has taken advantage of this situation and the removal of the drug from price regulation, leaving the NHS – and ultimately the taxpayer – footing the bill for the substantial price rises,” said the Competition and Markets Authority senior responsible officer Andrew Groves.
Hydrocortisone is a life-saving drug for patients with Addison’s disease, where the body does not produce enough steroid hormone.
Normally only patent drugs are subject to price regulation. When patents expire, and other companies can create generic versions, the competition between competitors keeps prices low. In this case, lack of competitors meant prices could be elevated.
“This is a lifesaving drug relied on by thousands of patients, which the NHS has no choice but to continue purchasing,” said Andrew Groves.
Media headlines causing a buzz:
Some baby teething toys may contain hormone-disrupting chemicals (Washington Post)
Prostate cancer sufferer ‘cured’ by blasting tumours with testosterone (The Independent)
Following on from part one of our three blog posts, we look at some endocrinology-related news stories you may have missed in the months between May and August 2016.
May: 3-D printing life
3-D printing human organs isn’t just exclusive to the TV show Westworld, it’s also new science. In May this year, scientists from Northwestern University in the U.S successfully implanted mice with fully functional 3-D printed ovaries. The results were presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting ENDO 2016 in Boston.
The mice went on to deliver healthy babies, had normal hormonal cycles allowing them to nurse their offspring, and their offspring were able to produce healthy babies of their own.
The researchers used a digital “plan” to make a 3-D printer print the structure layer by layer using gelatin (derived from collagen) as a scaffold. They then implanted human-derived oocytes into the structure. Researchers next hope to test the technique in pigs, before moving onto humans.
“We hope to one day restore fertility and hormone function in women who suffer from the side effects of cancer treatments or who were born with reduced ovarian function,” said lead author Monica M. Laronda.
Media headlines causing a buzz:
Common diabetes drug may raise risk of developing cancer (The Telegraph)
Psoriasis linked to higher risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes (Nature World News)
Scientists successfully made sperm-like cells from human skin cells (The Science Explorer)
Is obesity contagious? (Daily Mail)
On the potential of androgens (Wall Street Journal)
June: Give breast cancer patients letrozole for 10 years
Women with early stage hormone receptor positive breast cancer may benefit from treatment using hormone suppressor letrozole for 10 years, rather than the standard 5. A study presented at the Oncology Society’s annual meeting, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that women who took the aromatase inhibitor for ten years were 34% less likely to have a return of breast cancer, or occurrence of new breast cancer.
HR positive breast cancer, the most common type, can be fuelled by hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone. Aromatase inhibitors inhibit the enzyme aromatase, preventing the conversion of androgens to oestrogens, and the subsequent fuelling of breast cancer.
“Aromatase inhibitors are now readily available around the world and therefore our results will further improve the outcome of women with breast cancer globally. It will help tens of thousands of women. It will have an enormous impact,” said the lead author Dr Paul Goss.
The drug did not affect overall survival rate, but Goss comments that this is because the drug did not prevent the cases of recurrence outside the breast, which most often causes death.
The drug is known to increase osteoporosis, with 14% of women in the treatment group and 9% in the placebo group suffering fracture.
“It’s really bone versus breast cancer, is what it really comes down to,” said Dr Carey of the University of North Carolina. The treatment may not be for everyone, but could be beneficial for patients who are at high risk of breast cancer recurrence and who are likely to tolerate the side effects of the therapy.
Media headlines causing a buzz:
New rules to regulate Europe’s hormone-disrupting chemicals (The Guardian)
Bone hormone boosts exercise (Nature)
July: Vitamin D supplements advised for everyone
The lack of sun in the UK is a downer, but it also has real effects on our health. In May, Public Health England advised that everyone aged one and over needs 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day in order to maintain healthy muscles and bones.
One in five people in the UK have low levels of vitamin D, which in children can lead to rickets, and in adults can lead to bone weakness and pain, and is also linked to other health problems.
In winter we don’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and it is difficult to get enough from natural food sources such as oily fish and red meat. The recommendations came from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) following an intensive review.
“SACN was right to say that we can’t rely on sunshine in the UK to meet the vitamin D requirements. That’s a major and important change. It’s a big step forward that this is now officially recognised,” said Adrian Martineau from Barts and the London School of Medicine.
Media headlines causing a buzz:
Male hormone reverses cell aging in clinical trial (Science Daily)
Cravings for high-calorie foods may be switched off by new food supplement (Imperial College London)
August: Caster Semenya in the Rio Olympics
The world’s media attention turned once again to Olympian Caster Semenya, who this August won Gold at the women’s 800m race in Rio. In 2009, the 18 year old athlete was greatly scrutinised after she improved her personal best by 7 seconds in 9 months. She was subject to gender testing and barred, ensuing scientific and ethical debate.
In 2011 the IAAD created a policy requiring women with especially high testosterone levels take hormone supressing drugs in an effort to control their testosterone levels under the threshold of 10nmol/L. The ruling was suspended for two years due to lack of evidence of the real benefits of high natural testosterone on performance.
Semenya’s performance has once again revived the debate on hyperandrogenism, gender and what constitutes fair play at the Olympics.
The BBC recently summarised the case the following way:
“But there is a catch-22 which may haunt her all the same: if Semenya runs as well as she can, destroying the field, mangling that old record, it could end her career as it stands at the same time.
For what greater indication of unfair advantage could there be, when the IAAF is trying to buttress its case, than a victory unlike anything history has ever seen before?”
Media headlines causing a buzz:
Mystery of the female orgasm may be solved (The Guardian)
Sleep ‘resets’ brain connections crucial for memory and learning, study reveals (Nature Communications)
2016 will go down as a landmark year in history. Amongst endless grant applications, journal submissions, clinics, lab work, teaching and everything else, you would be forgiven for not having enough time to read the news. But as the year winds down and you have a little more time to yourself, check out our top picks of endocrine news stories in 2016. In part one of three blog posts, we look at the period between January and April.
January: Man flu
Flu season has well and truly begun, and along with it, man-flu season.
It’s a common belief that colds hit men harder than women. Whether men simply exaggerate their suffering or actually experience worse symptoms is a subject of much debate. In February, research from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore revealed that the dreaded ‘manfluenza’ may not just be a product of our imagination. The culprit? Oestrogen – or, rather, men’s lack of it.
The study, published in the American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
revealed that woman may be protected from the worst of the flu by the female sex hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen dramatically slowed the replication of the influenza virus in nasal cells from women, but not men.
The biology is uncertain, but researchers believe it could be linked to oestrogen receptor Beta, which affects more than 30 genes involved in cell metabolism, slowing down viral replication. These receptors are sparsely present in male cells and may explain why oestrogen offered no protection in men’s nasal cells.
“If women are taking oestrogen-like hormones for other reasons, an added benefit might be less susceptibility to influenza during the flu season,” Klein says.
Media headlines causing a buzz this month:
New guidelines for treatment of severe primary adrenal insufficiency symptoms (Endocrine Society)
February: To gel or not to gel
For decades, men have been using testosterone gel with the hope it will improve their libido, energize and rejuvenate them. Some enthusiasts even label is the elixir of life. But so far there is very little data on the short term effects of testosterone supplementation on men’s health, and no long term data. Whether the decline in wellbeing is causally linked to low testosterone is unclear.
In February, the issue became clearer when a study revealed that testosterone has very modest effects on sexual function in older men who have very low testosterone. The landmark study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is the largest randomised trial on testosterone replacement so far.
The men in the study reported “improved their sexual function, mood and depressive symptoms, and perhaps walking,” according to lead author Peter Snyder, an endocrinologist from the University Of Pennsylvania Perelman School Of Medicine.
The study did look at a specific group of men, all aged over 65, and all with particularly low testosterone (<9.5nmol/L).
“The findings don’t apply to younger men, or men with borderline low testosterone,” said Society for Endocrinology member Professor Frederick Wu.
So while we can’t say testosterone supplementation will make men feel young again, it might help in a small subgroup of older men who have low testosterone.
Media headlines causing a buzz this month:
A step closer to understanding fertilization (EurekAlert)
March: Winter babies
Maternal vitamin D is particularly important for babies born in winter, according to a study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.
We know from observational studies that mothers who have higher levels of vitamin D during pregnancy tend to have babies with higher bone mass. Until now, there have been no randomised placebo controlled trial to see if supplementing pregnant women with vitamin D can actually improve bone mass in their babies.
In this study more than a thousand women between 14 and 17 weeks pregnant either took a placebo, or vitamin D for the remainder of their pregnancy. When the researchers looked at the group as whole, they found no effect of maternal vitamin D supplementation on babies bone mass compared to placebo. However, amongst babies born in winter, maternal vitamin D supplementation did improve bone mass.
“Babies’ bones strengthen during the last stages of pregnancy. Since sunlight is our most important source of vitamin D, mothers’ levels of vitamin D tend to drop from summer to winter,” said Professor Nicholas Harvey from the University of Southampton.
“The trial has given us the first evidence that supplementing mothers with vitamin D during pregnancy counteracts the seasonal drop in maternal vitamin D levels and may help to ensure good bone development in these winter births,” he added.
Media headlines causing a buzz this month:
April: “If it’s not a cancer, let’s not call it a cancer”
In one of the biggest endocrine stories 0f the year, a type of thyroid tumour is no longer classified as a cancer. As it turns out, certain types of tumours are encapsulated in impenetrable tissue and should not be classified as cancer. The tumour, known as encapsulated follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma (EFVPTC), makes up 10-20% of all thyroid cancers diagnosed in Europe and North America.
Previously, people diagnosed with the non-threatening condition would have their entire thyroid removed, undergo treatment with radioactive iodine, and have regular check-ups for the rest of their lives. EFVPTC involves small abnormal lesions in the thyroid gland which look like cancer, but are completely contained by a fibrous capsule and unable to spread.
A group of 24 pathologists, two endocrinologists, a thyroid surgeon and a psychiatrist reviewed a hundred cases of patients with EFVPTC, who had the capsules removed but no further treatment. After 10 years, all patients with encapsulated tumours were cancer free.
The move means thousands of patients world-wide will be spared the diagnosis of cancer, avoiding excessive treatments and the psychological trauma of cancer diagnosis.
The new name for the lesion is NIFTP or “Nift-P” which stands for non-invasive follicular thyroid neoplasm with papillary-like nuclear features”. Pretty Nifty.
Media headlines causing a buzz this month:
New hormone regulates glucose (Nature)
Pancreatic cell transplantation: a breakthrough for type 1 diabetes? (Medical News Today)
Hormone Therapy for Prostate Cancer Tied to Depression (NYTimes Blog)
The Journal of Molecular Endocrinology is the only Society-owned basic science journal dedicated to looking at hormones at the cellular and molecular level. In a series of blog posts, we look back at some of the most cutting-edge research published by our members in our journals. This first piece was written by Douglas Gibson (@douglasagibson), a postdoctoral research at University of Edinburgh.
Remember that members can now publish in JOE, JME and ERC free of charge!
We often think of hormones as ‘male’ or ‘female’ because of how they shape the features we associate with each sex. So androgens – the ‘male’ hormones – might make you think of ‘manly’ things like body hair, muscles and deep voices, but what if I told you that they play an important role in women becoming pregnant too?
It’s difficult to separate androgens from their macho reputation, particularly when examples of androgen excess in women, such as in athletic doping, also produce masculinizing effects. Despite this, androgens have long been known to be important in controlling many processes in female physiology. Indeed, androgens can be detected at significant concentrations in the blood of women and in some cases may even exceed those of men! However, although androgens are abundant in the blood they are usually only activated in specific tissues when they are needed. In this clever way they don’t have widespread and uncontrolled effects.
One surprising place where androgens were recently found to be activated is inside the womb. Every month, the structure of the womb lining – known as the endometrium – is reorganised to create an environment that can support and sustain pregnancy. However, without the right hormonal signals, the endometrium will not provide the conditions required for a fertilised egg to implant.
Recent studies have found that hormones produced inside the womb play a pivotal role in the early stages of pregnancy. It was previously thought this vital role was carried out solely by hormone signals from the ovary but new research has found that ‘male’ hormones (androgens) help to prepare the womb lining to encourage a successful pregnancy.
In our study, we wanted to understand how the signals inside the womb lining affected the early stages of pregnancy. In fact, we found that androgens can act in two key ways; by acting as a direct signal in the womb but also by being converted into ‘female’ hormones (estrogens) in the early stages of pregnancy. We found that estrogens within the womb signal to cells that control blood vessel development which is essential for promoting exchange of nutrients between mother and baby.
So amazingly, androgens seem to provide a delicate balance to control key changes in the womb in pregnancy. However as fewer of these key hormones are produced as women age, this could partly explain why some older women find it difficult to conceive. Our research is now focussing on how changes in the availability of androgens can affect the way the womb lining prepares for pregnancy. We hope to be able to apply this new understanding to improve fertility treatments which in the future may mean that older women seeking motherhood may have a better chance of successfully conceiving.