UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on Research
Examining an Economic Expert
By Glenny Brock
Friedrich Hayek's warnings against the dangers of government intervention have won the late economist a new following. But Hayek's views are more complex than many of his fans realize, says UAB philosopher and economist Erik Angner.
Austrian economists are hot these days. In 2010, The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich A. Hayek, which was originally published in 1944, rocketed to the top of Amazon’s list of bestselling nonfiction books—propelled in part by praise from commentator Glenn Beck. Hayek’s warning against the dangers of government intervention has earned him renewed attention in recent years, but his ideology was far more nuanced than many of his fans may realize, says Erik Angner, Ph.D., UAB assistant professor of philosophy and economics, director of the UAB Center for Ethics and Values in the Sciences, and author of the book Hayek and Natural Law (2007: Routledge). Here, Angner offers a closer look at a man who is often described as one of the key economists of the 20th century.
Opposition to Intervention
Unlike many contemporary authors who write about Friedrich Hayek, UAB's Erik Angner (above), says he approaches his subject as a scholar rather than a proponent or critic.
Angner explains that contemporary conservatives like Hayek for his opposition to government intervention in the marketplace. They emphasize three main tenets of his philosophy:
1. Government intervention leads to increased debt and inflation, particularly when the government spends money it doesn’t have.
2. Economic control is, in effect, political control. For instance, monetary policy defined by a central banking authority represents government encroachment on overall freedom.
3. Individual freedom is a precondition for prosperity. “Hayek believed that the price system fulfilled a critical function in society, and the price system only works if people can choose freely what to buy and at what price” Angner explains. Consequently, Hayek opposed government monopolies and price ceilings or floors that limit consumer choice. Moreover, Hayek believed that interference with the price system could be the first step toward government intervention in other aspects of people’s lives.
Exploring the Food-Cancer Connection
By Tara Hulen
Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., R.D.
• Connects the UAB Cancer Center’s basic nutrition science and lifestyle-intervention programs in a translational and interdisciplinary approach
• Conducted some of the largest studies on the links among diet, hormones, genes, and cancer progression; effective lifestyle interventions to improve cancer survivorship; and metabolic/body composition changes in response to cancer treatment
• Serves on boards and panels for the American Cancer Society, several National Institutes of Health standing and ad-hoc committees, and the World Cancer Fund
• Named a Komen Professor of Survivorship
• Holds an undergraduate degree in nutrition science and chemistry from the University of Michigan; a master’s in nutrition from Texas Woman’s University; and a doctorate in nutrition science from Syracuse University
The eye-opening, life-reassessing shock of a cancer diagnosis can also be one of life’s teachable moments. For two decades, that insight—finding hope in the midst of catastrophe—has driven the research of Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., R.D., the new associate director for cancer prevention and control at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and Webb Chair in Nutrition Sciences at the UAB School of Health Professions. She is an international leader in understanding how dietary changes affect cancer survivorship.
Confronted with a diagnosis of cancer, many patients are open to diet and lifestyle changes that can help them get and stay healthy, says Demark-Wahnefried. “There’s a great opportunity in cancer survivorship, because more and more people are surviving their cancer, particularly for breast and prostate cancer, where more than 90 percent of people diagnosed are surviving. We’ve had good success in actually making people better than they were before they had cancer. There are lots of things that can be done.”
It’s especially important to take advantage of this opportunity, she continues, “because although people survive their cancer, they’re at more risk for having a second cancer once they’ve been diagnosed. They’re also at more risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, and other illnesses” due to weakened bodies, pre-existing conditions, genetic predisposition, and other factors.
Understanding the Chemotherapy-Weight Gain Dilemma
Cancer Center director Ed Partridge, M.D., recruited Demark-Wahnefried to UAB in spring 2010 after she had spent three years at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which followed a long research career at Duke University.
It was the chance to work with a renowned Duke researcher that drew Demark-Wahnefried into the field. She became involved in a major study investigating the reasons why women with breast cancer tend to gain weight while on chemotherapy.
This weight gain is a concern, Demark-Wahnefried explains, because 71 percent of breast cancer patients who are diagnosed after menopause are overweight or obese to begin with. And even though the exact nature of the relationship is still unclear, it is apparent that excess weight is harmful to women with breast cancer. “What’s theorized is that body weight affects hormonal levels,” Demark-Wahnefried says. “It also affects adipokines and cytokines, which are inflammatory biomarkers that probably feed the cancer.”
Before the study began, Demark-Wahnefried explains, the clichéd assumption went like this: Women were gaining weight because they indulged in extra comfort foods while dealing with the stresses of chemotherapy. But metabolic tests revealed that women actually eat less when they are on chemotherapy, she says. The culprit is the fatigue caused by chemotherapy, which leads women to become less active; that, in turn, brings about a loss of lean body mass. “When you lose lean body mass, it makes an impact,” Demark-Wahnefried says. “You can’t eat as many calories as you once did.”
The quantity of muscle mass lost was astonishing, she recalls. “The amount we saw just wasting away from these women in one year after diagnosis was comparable to 10 years of normal aging.” Chemotherapy targets quickly metabolizing cells, including muscle, she says, “so it makes sense.”
Exploring a New Way to Combat Genetic Disease
By Troy Goodman
David Bedwell, left, and Steven Rowe are part of a team of UAB researchers studying cutting-edge treatments for cystic fibrosis.
The period in this sentence is not in the. right place Chances are, that didn’t throw you off too much. Human beings are remarkably tolerant of textual trouble; our brains can wrestle meaning out of a sentence in the face of all manner of grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and dropped words. When it comes to reading life’s little instruction book, however, our bodies are as inflexible as a computer program. One little mistake can literally make the difference between life and death.
Errors in the body’s underlying genetic code are at the root of a host of diseases, including cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, sickle cell disease, and many types of cancer. Even though scientists have become very good at tracking down the offending sections of code that cause these conditions, they have been far less successful at finding a way to repair the damage. That’s why an experimental drug being tested in the lab of UAB microbiologist David Bedwell, Ph.D., takes a different approach to tackle one devastating subset of genetic errors. It induces the body to skip over those errors—restoring enough function to make a big difference in patients’ lives.
Weighing Rights and Responsibilities in Medical Research
By Charles Buchanan
Henrietta Lacks was not a doctor. She was a poor African-American tobacco farmer and housewife from Virginia. But she has helped heal untold numbers of people around the world. And she is playing a crucial role in the development of new treatments for everything from cancer and AIDS to genetic diseases.
Before Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, scientists at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University took some of her tumor cells and cultured them; to their surprise, those cells kept growing and dividing, becoming the world’s first immortal cell line, known as “HeLa.” They’re still growing today in laboratories around the world—including UAB—and nearly every biomedical scientist has worked with them. Researchers have swapped HeLa genes, pelted them with radiation and viruses, and launched them into space—studies that have led to the development of common medicines and major breakthroughs including the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping.
Lacks’s cells are one of the most important tools in biomedical science, but she never knew they were taken from her. The cells were removed without her consent, and her family wasn’t told about them for two decades. In the meantime, HeLa became part of a multimillion-dollar industry, yet none of her descendants received any profits; many still can’t afford health insurance. Lacks’s name and medical records also were released without permission, adding to the family’s confusion and mistrust.
UAB Explores Innovative Stroke Therapies
By Jo Lynn Orr
UAB neurologists are using ultrasound to help break up clots in the brain (above) and testing other new treatments to improve stroke care.
In 1947, as tension between Russia and the United States threatened to erupt into nuclear war, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists added a new element to its cover: a stylized clock face with the hands set at seven minutes to midnight. For the past 63 years, the clock’s minute hand has moved back and forth to reflect the imminence of nuclear holocaust.
In the world of stroke care, the countdown to doomsday begins as soon as the brain’s oxygen supply is disrupted, either through a blood clot (ischemic stroke—the cause of 80 percent of strokes) or by bursting blood vessels (hemorrhagic stroke, which accounts for the other 20 percent of cases). Stroke kills more people worldwide than any other disease. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability.
For years, the stroke clock was set at three hours. Patients receiving emergency treatment before that time stood a good chance of recovering significant function; after the three-hour window closed, there wasn’t much hope. But new advances in stroke treatment are steadily pushing open the treatment window and adding precious time back onto the clock. Neurologist Andrei Alexandrov, M.D., and his team at the UAB Comprehensive Stroke Research Center are contributing many of those breakthroughs, developing and testing revolutionary therapies that are effective several hours, days, and even weeks after stroke onset.