Research Picks – February 2017

Cracking down on counterfeit pharma

An examination of the counterfeit drug supply chain in India points to several critical points intervention at any of which might allow regulatory authorities to break the chain more effectively than current law enforcement efforts. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least one in ten pharmaceutical products being sold around the world is counterfeit. This represents a serious risk to public health given that such illegal products lie beyond the usual safety regulations and quality controls. This black market has a turnover in the hundreds of billions of dollars and no area of human disease and so-called wellness and lifestyle are absent from the itinerary of fake products from Alzheimer’s disease and asthma to vitamin and weight loss drugs. In analyzing the dynamics of this black market in India, Sanjay Bhushan of Deemed University in Agra points to how triggering a composite crackdown on the counterfeit drugs supply might address the problem.

Bhushan, S. (2017) ‘System dynamics modeling-based analysis of combating counterfeit drugs supply chain in India‘, Int. J. Emergency Management, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp.19-49.

Avoiding senior depression

Estimates suggest that one in ten seniors suffer from depression and suicides are common in this age group in the USA. Social isolation, loss of independence, despair, physical and mental impairment are often blamed. Given that senior living communities often exist as “walled gardens” where non-residents are essentially kept away, there is an urgent need to enrich the lives of residents in a meaningful way with tasks and wider community involvement that includes younger people too. Depression and suicide risk might be mitigated by such initiatives, according to Ryan DeSmith and Mohammad Gharipour of Morgan State University, in Baltimore, Maryland. Moreover, programs aimed at boosting physical and mental activity, stimulating the mind, and reducing the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of many older people in such communities should be a focus. This should reduce the incidence of depression and suicide risk and hopefully allow many more seniors to live a happier retirement.

DeSmith, R. and Gharipour, M. (2016) ‘Elderly depression in senior care facilities: primary causes, effects, and mitigation‘, Int. J. Behavioural and Healthcare Research, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp.42-57.
Heavy metal cosmetics

Researchers in Egypt have used gamma ray spectrometry and CR-39 solid state nuclear track detection to study how much radioactive metal is present in six common brands of face powder and eye liner (kohl) for the first time. Their work revealed the present of uranium-238, thorium-232, and potassium-40; as well as the radioactive gas 222-radon. However, it should be noted that the natural occurrence of metals in rocks, soil and water causes them to be present in the manufacture of pigments and other raw materials used in many industries, including the cosmetics industry. Thankfully, activity concentrations were below what are considered the safe exposure limits to these elements. Of greater concern perhaps is the presence of non-radioactive, but nevertheless toxic, heavy metals in common marketplace cosmetics including arsenic, cadmium, lead, strontium, and other metals.

Abdel-Ghany, H.A. and Ragab, F. (2016) ‘Studies of radioactive contaminations and heavy metal contents in cosmetics‘, Int. J. Low Radiation, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp.181-197.
Peer instruction on Twitter

Researchers have investigated whether or not the micro-blogging platform, Twitter, might be a useful tool to use in peer instruction. Twitter is one of the most widely used social networking platforms and has found application in many areas from business marketing to news gathering. Educators too are hoping such tools might give their efforts a boost and in the context of peer instruction, wherein students assist each other with didactic tasks rather than relying entirely on tutors, Twitter might fund utility as a so-called backchannel service to mediate such activity. The case study reported suggests that perception and appreciation varies widely among students particularly with respect to peer feedback. As such, it may emerge that more traditional approaches might be better suited to providing feedback in peer education setups than this social networking system for many students.

Luo, T., Dani, D.E. and Cheng, L. (2016) ‘Viability of using Twitter to support peer instruction in teacher education‘, Int. J. Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments, Vol. 4, No. 4, pp.287-304.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.