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News Article | December 30, 2015
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

Marking the passage of kin is among humanity’s most time-honored endeavors. And yet, so often those noted in year-end remembrances are known to us as stars of stage, screen, ballfield, or politics — leaving those who worked behind the scenes to better our world largely unheralded. As we prepare to bid adieu to another calendar year, let us celebrate the outstanding achievements of the following 10 women of science and engineering who left us in 2015. While some may have been underappreciated during their lives, each leaves behind an indelible mark on her field, and a legacy that will ensure improved well-being for our kind, a greater understanding of the animal kingdom, and a more tangible grasp of our place in the cosmos. The planetary science community lost a shining star when American space scientist Claudia Alexander died of cancer on July 11 at the age of 56. In nearly three decades at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Alexander wore many hats, including researcher, project manager, and science evangelist. Most recently, she had been the U.S. project manager for the European Space Agency’s highly fruitful Rosetta mission to the comet 67P-Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Alexander also served as the final project manager for NASA’s Galileo mission — which successfully explored Jupiter and its moons in the 1990s and early 2000s — and as a contributor to NASA’s Cassini mission presently exploring the Saturn system. In addition to her official duties, Alexander took pride in mentoring and writing science fiction stories as a way to engage young audiences and to inspire children to love science and technology. A pivotal figure in the field of nursing whose studies strongly influenced how infants are cared for from their earliest moments, Kathryn Barnard died on June 27 at the age of 77. Barnard is well known for her research on the positive effects of rocking and heartbeat sounds on infants — an insight that led directly to rocking chairs becoming standard items in hospital nurseries and neonatal intensive care units. She established that a mother’s interactions with her newborn can have significant consequences on a child’s social, cognitive, and behavioral development, and she created an influential parent-child interaction scale, which helps to determine whether certain behaviors might impede or support child development. A tireless advocate for improving the care of infants, Barnard had been a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, where she founded the Center on Infant Mental Health and Development in 2001. American ichthyologist Eugenie Clark, known as “the Shark Lady” for her seminal work on the biology and behavior of sharks, died on Feb. 25 at the age of 92. As a researcher, Clark was as adventurous as they come, swimming with schools of poisonous fish, communing with giant squid, and getting up-close-and personal with the sharks she studied in great detail. A zoologist by training, Clark began her career in the late 1940s studying the fish of Micronesia. But sharks soon became her muse, and she developed scuba diving techniques for observing the misunderstood — and, she often said, unfairly maligned — creatures. A longtime professor at the University of Maryland and frequent diver in deep-water submersibles, Clark made numerous shark discoveries, such as the fact that some species can be taught to perform tasks. As a testament to her long and illustrious career, Clark’s scientific works, activities, and awards — including the honor of having several fish species named after her — filled up a curriculum vitae some 20 pages long. A leading Spanish marine biologist and climate scientist, Aída Fernández Ríos was an expert in ocean acidification and anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide in the world’s oceans, especially the Atlantic. Throughout her career she carried out dozens of oceanographic expeditions; authored over 140 papers; and led the Spanish committee of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program on global climate change between 2005 and 2011. Fernández Ríos had been a beloved professor at the Spanish National Research Council’s Marine Research Institute in Vigo, where she was also the director from 2006-2011. This past June her life’s work was honored when she was made a full member of the Galician Royal Academy of Sciences. Fernández Ríos died in an automobile incident on Dec. 23. She was 68. Rose Frisch was a pioneering American scientist in fertility and human development who helped discover the hormone leptin, and who established that low body fat can prevent women from getting pregnant. Frisch earned a PhD in 1940 studying the genetics of fruit flies and spent time on the Manhattan Project during World War II calculating figures for physicist Richard Feynman. But her career truly blossomed when she took a research position at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She remained there for the rest of her career, studying swimmers, rowers, ballet dancers, and other athletes to learn how body fat affects fertility and the propensity for diseases such as breast cancer. Frisch died on Jan. 30 at age 96. Canadian-born pharmacologist and physician Frances Kelsey, a hero to many after she refused to approve the sedative thalidomide for sale in the United States, died on Aug. 7 at the age of 101. As a young physician/researcher hired to review new drugs for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the early 1960s, she stood up to industry pressure, and the fact of thalidomide’s approval for sale in more than 20 countries, due to concerns that the drug’s safety hadn’t been properly tested. Her suspicion was vindicated when studies found that taking thalidomide during pregnancy causes serious birth defects. In addition to personal thanks from then-President John F. Kennedy in the form of the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, Kelsey’s contribution ultimately led to a new law requiring drug makers to establish “substantial evidence” of a drug’s safety prior to FDA approval. Kelsey continued working at the FDA for nearly half a century, helping to solidify rules and laws to ensure drug safety for the American people. She was inducted into the U.S. National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000 and this past June was named to the Order of Canada. Anita Kurmann, a Swiss endocrine surgeon who was just beginning a promising career as a research scientist, died suddenly on Aug. 7 when her bicycle collided with a tractor-trailer in Boston. Kurmann, 38, had spent nearly three years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where she intended to develop research skills that would help her establish a research lab in Switzerland. During that time, Kurmann began a partnership with researchers at Boston University’s Center for Regenerative Medicine who were aiming to train stem cells to morph into thyroid tissue. The team’s resulting paper, reported as a “major advance” in tissue biology, was published in October and dedicated to her memory. The study essentially describes how to grow functional thyroid follicles from stem cells — a significant step in the ultimate goal of regenerating damaged or malfunctioning organs. Known to many as the “mother of bone marrow transplantation,” Dorothy “Dottie” Thomas played a key role in developing the treatment of once-incurable cancers such as leukemia. Originally a journalist, Thomas trained as a medical technician in the 1940s so she could work alongside her husband, physician E. Donnall Thomas, who would become world-renowned for researching bone marrow transplantation as a novel treatment for blood disorders. The couple formed a working partnership to which Dottie contributed in every aspect, from background research to bench work to writing, editing, and shuttling papers through publication. The Thomas’s efforts eventually led to a Nobel Prize in medicine for Don in 1990, and a new generation of patients who, thanks to their efforts, could survive cancer. Dottie Thomas went on to serve as chief administrator for clinical research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, where the couple worked for over 30 years. She died on Jan. 9 at age 92. Welsh clinical virologist Margaret Tisdale, an expert in antiviral resistance, died on April 29 at the age of 64. Over her 30-plus-year career at the Wellcome Research Laboratories (now part of the pharmaceutical giant GalaxoSmithKline), Tisdale was known for her work on HIV drug resistance and the optimal use of HIV medications, as well as for leading the development and approval of the anti-inflenza drug Zanamivir, currently sold under the name Relenza. During her tenure as a scientist at GalaxoSmithKline, Tisdale had risen to head of clinical virology, and had also set up the Neuramindase Inhibitor Susceptibility Network, which monitors resistance to circulating flu strains. One of Singapore’s top researchers, bioengineer Miranda Yap died at the age of 67 on Oct. 14, four years after suffering a coma-inducing aneurysm while playing golf. A professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the National University of Singapore, Yap was best known for establishing and directing what is now the Bioprocessing Technology Institute of the Singaporean Agency for Science, Technology and Research. As such, she played a critical role in training Singaporean students as well as more established researchers in biotechnology techniques. In 2006, Yap was named a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and in 2009, she became the first woman to receive the President’s Science and Technology Medal, Singapore’s highest honor in science and technology, from Singapore President S. R. Nathan.


Miller R.,Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies
World Development | Year: 2017

There is growing empirical support that poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy can lead to permanent fetal adaptations that affect health throughout a child's life. Most of the evidence stems from evaluating the impact of extreme prenatal deprivations due to atypical events such as droughts or floods. However, less is known about the magnitude of effects due to more normal variations in food availability. This study estimates the impact of prenatal exposure to seasonal food scarcity on the evolution of childhood health for a cohort of Ethiopian children born in 2001-02. A novel measure of seasonal exposure was constructed based on reported months of relative food scarcity in the local community collected shortly after birth. While exposure was found to have little effect on child height at age one, a larger and statistically significant negative impact emerges by age eight and strengthens by age twelve. Effects in early childhood also appear to be latent from the view of parents with little evidence of remedial investments in exposed children after birth. We conclude that mild prenatal nutritional deprivations could have significant impacts on long-term health and well-being even if effects are small or unobserved in early childhood. This implies caution against the common use of birth and early-life outcomes as the sole evaluation tools for mild prenatal insults or interventions. Overall, results highlight that in addition to the effects of severe famine conditions identified in many studies, more typical variation in prenatal food availability can have lasting impacts on health in the developing world. © 2017 Elsevier Ltd.


Seltzer J.A.,University of California at Los Angeles | Friedman E.M.,Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies
Journals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences | Year: 2014

Objectives. Coresidence is one way that middle-aged offspring assist vulnerable, aging parents. This study investigated which characteristics of widowed mothers and adult children predict coresidence. When coresidence occurred, the analysis explored how individual children's characteristics were associated with their coresidence with the mother. Method. Survey data from adults 53-54 years old in 1993 (N = 2,324) and a random sibling reported about their living situation, other siblings, and their mother, median age 80. Results. Logistic regressions revealed that mothers in poor health, who were older, and who had a daughter were more likely to live with a child. Among coresiding families, results from discrete choice conditional logit models showed that widowed mothers were more likely to live with an unmarried son than an unmarried daughter. Married children were less likely to coreside than unmarried children, but married daughters were more likely than married sons to coreside. Past receipt of financial help from parents was not associated with coresidence. Coresidence was more likely for those with a close relationship with the mother. Discussion. The discussion considers coresidence as an intergenerational transfer and its importance for the contemporary aging society. Data are needed on characteristics of all offspring to test theories about parent-child relationships. © The Author 2013.


Merdad L.,Harvard University | Merdad L.,King Abdulaziz University | Hill K.,Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies | Graham W.,University of Aberdeen
PLoS ONE | Year: 2013

Background: Over the past several decades the efforts to improve maternal survival and the consequent demand for accurate estimates of maternal mortality have increased. However, measuring maternal mortality remains a difficult task especially in developing countries with weak information systems. Sibling histories included in household surveys (most notably the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS)) have emerged as an important source of maternal mortality data. Data have been mainly collected from women and have not been widely collected from men due to concerns about data quality. We assess data quality of histories obtained from men and the potential to improve the efficiency of surveys measuring maternal mortality by collecting such data. Methods and Findings: We used data from 10 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) that have included a full sibling history in both their women's and men's questionnaires. We estimated adult and maternal mortality indicators from histories obtained from men and women. We assessed the completeness and accuracy of these histories using several indicators of data quality. Our study finds that mortality estimates based on sibling histories obtained from men do not systematically or significantly differ from those obtained from women. Quality indicators were similar when comparing data from men and women. Pooling data obtained from men and women produced narrower confidence intervals. Conclusion: From experience across nine developing countries, sibling history data obtained from men appear to be a reliable source of information on adult and maternal mortality. Given that there are no significant differences between mortality estimates based on data obtained from men and women, data can be pooled to increase efficiency. This finding improves the feasibility for countries to generate robust empirical estimates of adult and maternal mortality from surveys. Further we recommend that male sibling histories be collected from all sample households rather than from a subsample. © 2013 Merdad et al.


Subramanian S.V.,Harvard University | Corsi D.J.,Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies | Subramanyam M.A.,Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar | Smith G.D.,University of Bristol
International Journal of Epidemiology | Year: 2013

There has been an increased focus on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in India, especially on cardiovascular diseases and associated risk factors. In this essay, we scrutinize the prevailing narrative that cardiovascular risk factors (CVRF) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) are no longer confined to the economically advantaged groups but are an increasing burden among the poor in India. We conducted a comprehensive review of studies reporting the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and CVRF, CVD, and CVD-related mortality in India. With the exception of smoking and low fruit and vegetable intake, the studies clearly suggest that CVRF/CVD is more prevalent among high SES groups in India than among the low SES groups. Although CVD-related mortality rates appear to be higher among the lower SES groups, the proportion of deaths from CVD-related causes was found to be greatest among higher SES groups. The studies on SES and CVRF/CVD also reveal a substantial discrepancy between the data presented and the authors' interpretations and conclusions, along with an unsubstantiated claim that a reversal in the positive SES-CVRF/CVD association has occurred or is occurring in India. We conclude our essay by emphasizing the need to prioritize public health policies that are focused on the health concerns of themajority of the Indian population. Resource allocation in the context of efforts to make health care in India free and universal should reflect the proportional burden of disease on different population groups if it is not to entrench inequity. © The Author 2013; all rights reserved.


El Arifeen S.,International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research | Hill K.,Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies | Ahsan K.Z.,University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill | Jamil K.,USAID | And 2 more authors.
The Lancet | Year: 2014

Background Bangladesh is one of the only nine Countdown countries that are on track to achieve the primary target of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 by 2015. It is also the only low-income or middle-income country with two large, nationally-representative, high-quality household surveys focused on the measurement of maternal mortality and service use.Methods We use data from the 2001 and 2010 Bangladesh Maternal Mortality Surveys to measure change in the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and from these and six Bangladesh Demographic and Health Surveys to measure changes in factors potentially related to such change. We estimate the changes in risk of maternal death between the two surveys using Poisson regressionFindings The MMR fell from 322 deaths per 100 000 livebirths (95% CI 253391) in 19982001 to 194 deaths per 100 000 livebirths (149238) in 200710, an annual rate of decrease of 56%. This decrease rate is slightly higher than that required (55%) to achieve the MDG target between 1990 and 2015. The key contribution to this decrease was a drop in mortality risk mainly due to improved access to and use of health facilities. Additionally, a number of favourable changes occurred during this period: fertility decreased and the proportion of births associated with high risk to the mother fell; income per head increased sharply and the poverty rate fell; and the education levels of women of reproductive age improved substantially. We estimate that 52% of maternal deaths that would have occurred in 2010 in view of 2001 rates were averted because of decreases in fertility and risk of maternal deathInterpretation The decrease in MMR in Bangladesh seems to have been the result of factors both within and outside the health sector. This fi nding holds important lessons for other countries as the world discusses and decides on the post-MDG goals and strategies. For Bangladesh, this case study provides a strong rationale for the pursuit of a broader developmental agenda alongside increased and accelerated investments in improving access to and quality of public and private health-care facilities providing maternal health in BangladeshFunding United States Agency for International Development, UK Department for International Development, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


Subramanian S.V.,Human Development and Health | Huijts T.,Radboud University Nijmegen | Avendano M.,Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies
Bulletin of the World Health Organization | Year: 2010

Objective: To assess the value of self-rated health assessments by examining the association between education and self-rated poor health. Methods: We used the globally representative population-based sample from the 2002 World Health Survey, composed of 219 713 men and women aged 25 and over in 69 countries, to examine the association between education and self-rated poor health. In a binary regression model with a logit link function, we used self-rated poor health as the binary dependent variable, and age, sex and education as the independent variables. Findings: Globally, there was an inverse association between years of schooling and self-rated poor health (odds ratio, OR: 0.929; 95% confidence interval, CI: 0.926-0.933). Compared with the individuals in the highest quintile of years of schooling, those in the lowest quintile were twice as likely to report poor health (OR: 2.292; 95% CI: 2.165-2.426). We found a dose-response relationship between quintiles of years of schooling and the ORs for reporting poor health. This association was consistent among men and women; low-, middle- and high-income countries; and regions. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that self-reports of health may be useful for epidemiological investigations within countries, even in low-income settings.


Subramanyam M.A.,University of Michigan | Kawachi I.,Human Development and Health | Berkman L.F.,Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies | Subramanian S.V.,Human Development and Health
PLoS Medicine | Year: 2011

Background: Economic growth is widely perceived as a major policy instrument in reducing childhood undernutrition in India. We assessed the association between changes in state per capita income and the risk of undernutrition among children in India. Methods and Findings: Data for this analysis came from three cross-sectional waves of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 1992-93, 1998-99, and 2005-06 in India. The sample sizes in the three waves were 33,816, 30,383, and 28,876 children, respectively. After excluding observations missing on the child anthropometric measures and the independent variables included in the study, the analytic sample size was 28,066, 26,121, and 23,139, respectively, with a pooled sample size of 77,326 children. The proportion of missing data was 12%-20%. The outcomes were underweight, stunting, and wasting, defined as more than two standard deviations below the World Health Organization-determined median scores by age and gender. We also examined severe underweight, severe stunting, and severe wasting. The main exposure of interest was per capita income at the state level at each survey period measured as per capita net state domestic product measured in 2008 prices. We estimated fixed and random effects logistic models that accounted for the clustering of the data. In models that did not account for survey-period effects, there appeared to be an inverse association between state economic growth and risk of undernutrition among children. However, in models accounting for data structure related to repeated cross-sectional design through survey period effects, state economic growth was not associated with the risk of underweight (OR 1.01, 95% CI 0.98, 1.04), stunting (OR 1.02, 95% CI 0.99, 1.05), and wasting (OR 0.99, 95% CI 0.96, 1.02). Adjustment for demographic and socioeconomic covariates did not alter these estimates. Similar patterns were observed for severe undernutrition outcomes. Conclusions: We failed to find consistent evidence that economic growth leads to reduction in childhood undernutrition in India. Direct investments in appropriate health interventions may be necessary to reduce childhood undernutrition in India. © 2011 Subramanyam et al.


Ertel K.A.,Human Development and Health | Berkman L.F.,Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies | Buxton O.M.,Brigham and Women's Hospital
Sleep | Year: 2011

Study Objectives: To advance our understanding of the interplay of socioeconomic factors, occupational exposures, and race/ethnicity as they relate to sleep duration. We hypothesize that non.Hispanic African/Caribbean immigrant employees in long-term health care have shorter sleep duration than non-Hispanic white employees, and that low education, low income, and occupational exposures including night work and job strain account for some of the African/Caribbean immigrant-white difference in sleep duration. Design: Cross-sectional Setting: Four extended care facilities in Massachusetts, United States Participants: 340 employees in extended care facilities Measurements and Results: Sleep duration was assessed with wrist actigraphy for a mean of 6.3 days. In multivariable regression modeling controlling for gender and age, African/Caribbean immigrants slept 64.4 fewer minutes (95% CI: -81.0, -47.9) per night than white participants; additional control for education and income reduced the racial gap to 50.9 minutes (-69.2, -32.5); additional control for the occupational factors of hours worked per week and working the night shift reduced the racial gap to 37.7 minutes (-57.8, -17.6). Conclusions: This study provides support for the hypothesis that socioeconomic and occupational characteristics explain some of the African/Caribbean immigrant-white difference in sleep duration in the United States, especially among health care workers.


Corsi D.J.,Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies | Subramanian S.V.,Harvard University
International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease | Year: 2014

We describe the relationship between socio-economic status and current bidi or cigarette smoking among Indian men aged ≥15 years. The prevalence of bidi smoking was 13.7% (95%CI 13.3-14.1) and that of cigarette smoking was 6.3% (95%CI 6.1-6.6). Bidi smoking was concentrated among the socio-economically disadvantaged, while cigarette smoking was common among men with higher status occupations and greater levels ofeducation and household wealth. This suggests that I ndia has not transitioned to the later stages of the tobacco epidemic, and underscores the need for prevention and control strategies adapted to current patterns of consumption across socio-economic groups in India. © 2014 The Union.

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