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1.  Anatomy of the Epidemiological Literature on the 2003 SARS Outbreaks in Hong Kong and Toronto: A Time-Stratified Review 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(5):e1000272.
Weijia Xing and colleagues reviewed the published epidemiological literature on SARS and show that less than a quarter of papers were published during the epidemic itself, suggesting that the research published lagged substantially behind the need for it.
Background
Outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases, especially those of a global nature, require rapid epidemiological analysis and information dissemination. The final products of those activities usually comprise internal memoranda and briefs within public health authorities and original research published in peer-reviewed journals. Using the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic as an example, we conducted a comprehensive time-stratified review of the published literature to describe the different types of epidemiological outputs.
Methods and Findings
We identified and analyzed all published articles on the epidemiology of the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong or Toronto. The analysis was stratified by study design, research domain, data collection, and analytical technique. We compared the SARS-case and matched-control non-SARS articles published according to the timeline of submission, acceptance, and publication. The impact factors of the publishing journals were examined according to the time of publication of SARS articles, and the numbers of citations received by SARS-case and matched-control articles submitted during and after the epidemic were compared. Descriptive, analytical, theoretical, and experimental epidemiology concerned, respectively, 54%, 30%, 11%, and 6% of the studies. Only 22% of the studies were submitted, 8% accepted, and 7% published during the epidemic. The submission-to-acceptance and acceptance-to-publication intervals of the SARS articles submitted during the epidemic period were significantly shorter than the corresponding intervals of matched-control non-SARS articles published in the same journal issues (p<0.001 and p<0.01, respectively). The differences of median submission-to-acceptance intervals and median acceptance-to-publication intervals between SARS articles and their corresponding control articles were 106.5 d (95% confidence interval [CI] 55.0–140.1) and 63.5 d (95% CI 18.0–94.1), respectively. The median numbers of citations of the SARS articles submitted during the epidemic and over the 2 y thereafter were 17 (interquartile range [IQR] 8.0–52.0) and 8 (IQR 3.2–21.8), respectively, significantly higher than the median numbers of control article citations (15, IQR 8.5–16.5, p<0.05, and 7, IQR 3.0–12.0, p<0.01, respectively).
Conclusions
A majority of the epidemiological articles on SARS were submitted after the epidemic had ended, although the corresponding studies had relevance to public health authorities during the epidemic. To minimize the lag between research and the exigency of public health practice in the future, researchers should consider adopting common, predefined protocols and ready-to-use instruments to improve timeliness, and thus, relevance, in addition to standardizing comparability across studies. To facilitate information dissemination, journal managers should reengineer their fast-track channels, which should be adapted to the purpose of an emerging outbreak, taking into account the requirement of high standards of quality for scientific journals and competition with other online resources.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every now and then, a new infectious disease appears in a human population or an old disease becomes much more common or more geographically widespread. Recently, several such “emerging infectious diseases” have become major public health problems. For example, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have all emerged in the past three decades and spread rapidly round the world. When an outbreak (epidemic) of an emerging infectious disease occurs, epidemiologists (scientists who study the causes, distribution, and control of diseases in populations) swing into action, collecting and analyzing data on the new threat to human health. Epidemiological studies are rapidly launched to identify the causative agent of the new disease, to investigate how the disease spreads, to define diagnostic criteria for the disease, to evaluate potential treatments, and to devise ways to control the disease's spread. Public health officials then use the results of these studies to bring the epidemic under control.
Why Was This Study Done?
Clearly, epidemics of emerging infectious diseases can only be controlled rapidly and effectively if the results of epidemiological studies are made widely available in a timely manner. Public health bulletins (for example, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the US Centers from Disease Control and Prevention) are an important way of disseminating information as is the publication of original research in peer-reviewed academic journals. But how timely is this second dissemination route? Submission, peer-review, revision, re-review, acceptance, and publication of a piece of academic research can be a long process, the speed of which is affected by the responses of both authors and journals. In this study, the researchers analyze how the results of academic epidemiological research are submitted and published in journals during and after an emerging infectious disease epidemic using the 2003 SARS epidemic as an example. The first case of SARS was identified in Asia in February 2003 and rapidly spread around the world. 8,098 people became ill with SARS and 774 died before the epidemic was halted in July 2003.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified more than 300 journal articles covering epidemiological research into the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, China, and Toronto, Canada (two cities strongly affected by the epidemic) that were published online or in print between January 1, 2003 and July 31, 2007. The researchers' analysis of these articles shows that more than half them were descriptive epidemiological studies, investigations that focused on describing the distribution of SARS; a third were analytical epidemiological studies that tried to discover the cause of SARS. Overall, 22% of the journal articles were submitted for publication during the epidemic. Only 8% of the articles were accepted for publication and only 7% were actually published during the epidemic. The median (average) submission-to-acceptance and acceptance-to-publication intervals for SARS articles submitted during the epidemic were 55 and 77.5 days, respectively, much shorter intervals than those for non-SARS articles published in the same journal issues. After the epidemic was over, the submission-to-acceptance and acceptance-to-publication intervals for SARS articles was similar to that of non-SARS articles.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, although the academic response to the SARS epidemic was rapid, most articles on the epidemiology of SARS were published after the epidemic was over even though SARS was a major threat to public health. Possible reasons for this publication delay include the time taken by authors to prepare and undertake their studies, to write and submit their papers, and, possibly, their tendency to first submit their results to high profile journals. The time then taken by journals to review the studies, make decisions about publication, and complete the publication process might also have delayed matters. To minimize future delays in the publication of epidemiological research on emerging infectious diseases, epidemiologists could adopt common, predefined protocols and ready-to-use instruments, which would improve timeliness and ensure comparability across studies, suggest the researchers. Journals, in turn, could improve their fast-track procedures and could consider setting up online sections that could be activated when an emerging infectious disease outbreak occurred. Finally, journals could consider altering their review system to speed up the publication process provided the quality of the final published articles was not compromised.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000272.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases provides information on emerging infectious diseases
The US Centers for Control and Prevention of Diseases also provides information about emerging infectious diseases, including links to other resources, and information on SARS
Wikipedia has a page on epidemiology (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The World Health Organization has information on SARS (in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000272
PMCID: PMC2864302  PMID: 20454570
2.  The Chilling Effect: How Do Researchers React to Controversy? 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(11):e222.
Background
Can political controversy have a “chilling effect” on the production of new science? This is a timely concern, given how often American politicians are accused of undermining science for political purposes. Yet little is known about how scientists react to these kinds of controversies.
Methods and Findings
Drawing on interview (n = 30) and survey data (n = 82), this study examines the reactions of scientists whose National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded grants were implicated in a highly publicized political controversy. Critics charged that these grants were “a waste of taxpayer money.” The NIH defended each grant and no funding was rescinded. Nevertheless, this study finds that many of the scientists whose grants were criticized now engage in self-censorship. About half of the sample said that they now remove potentially controversial words from their grant and a quarter reported eliminating entire topics from their research agendas. Four researchers reportedly chose to move into more secure positions entirely, either outside academia or in jobs that guaranteed salaries. About 10% of the group reported that this controversy strengthened their commitment to complete their research and disseminate it widely.
Conclusions
These findings provide evidence that political controversies can shape what scientists choose to study. Debates about the politics of science usually focus on the direct suppression, distortion, and manipulation of scientific results. This study suggests that scholars must also examine how scientists may self-censor in response to political events.
Drawing on interview and survey data, Joanna Kempner's study finds that political controversies shape what many scientists choose not to study.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Scientific research is an expensive business and, inevitably, the organizations that fund this research—governments, charities, and industry—play an important role in determining the directions that this research takes. Funding bodies can have both positive and negative effects on the acquisition of scientific knowledge. They can pump money into topical areas such as the human genome project. Alternatively, by withholding funding, they can discourage some types of research. So, for example, US federal funds cannot be used to support many aspects of human stem cell research. “Self-censoring” by scientists can also have a negative effect on scientific progress. That is, some scientists may decide to avoid areas of research in which there are many regulatory requirements, political pressure, or in which there is substantial pressure from advocacy groups. A good example of this last type of self-censoring is the withdrawal of many scientists from research that involves certain animal models, like primates, because of animal rights activists.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some people think that political controversy might also encourage scientists to avoid some areas of scientific inquiry, but no studies have formally investigated this possibility. Could political arguments about the value of certain types of research influence the questions that scientists pursue? An argument of this sort occurred in the US in 2003 when Patrick Toomey, who was then a Republican Congressional Representative, argued that National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants supporting research into certain aspects of sexual behavior were “much less worthy of taxpayer funding” than research on “devastating diseases,” and proposed an amendment to the 2004 NIH appropriations bill (which regulates the research funded by NIH). The Amendment was rejected, but more than 200 NIH-funded grants, most of which examined behaviors that affect the spread of HIV/AIDS, were internally reviewed later that year; NIH defended each grant, so none were curtailed. In this study, Joanna Kempner investigates how the scientists whose US federal grants were targeted in this clash between politics and science responded to the political controversy.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Kempner interviewed 30 of the 162 principal investigators (PIs) whose grants were reviewed. She asked them to describe their research, the grants that were reviewed, and their experience with NIH before, during, and after the controversy. She also asked them whether this experience had changed their research practice. She then used the information from these interviews to design a survey that she sent to all the PIs whose grants had been reviewed; 82 responded. About half of the scientists interviewed and/or surveyed reported that they now remove “red flag” words (for example, “AIDS” and “homosexual”) from the titles and abstracts of their grant applications. About one-fourth of the respondents no longer included controversial topics (for example, “abortion” and “emergency contraception”) in their research agendas, and four researchers had made major career changes as a result of the controversy. Finally, about 10% of respondents said that their experience had strengthened their commitment to see their research completed and its results published although even many of these scientists also engaged in some self-censorship.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, even though no funding was withdrawn, self-censoring is now common among the scientists whose grants were targeted during this particular political controversy. Because this study included researchers in only one area of health research, its findings may not be generalizable to other areas of research. Furthermore, because only half of the PIs involved in the controversy responded to the survey, these findings may be affected by selection bias. That is, the scientists most anxious about the effects of political controversy on their research funding (and thus more likely to engage in self-censorship) may not have responded. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that the political environment might have a powerful effect on self-censorship by scientists and might dissuade some scientists from embarking on research projects that they would otherwise have pursued. Further research into what Kempner calls the “chilling effect” of political controversy on scientific research is now needed to ensure that a healthy balance can be struck between political involvement in scientific decision making and scientific progress.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050222.
The Consortium of Social Science Associations, an advocacy organization that provides a bridge between the academic research community and Washington policymakers, has more information about the political controversy initiated by Patrick Toomey
Some of Kempner's previous research on self-censorship by scientists is described in a 2005 National Geographic news article
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050222
PMCID: PMC2586361  PMID: 19018657
3.  Plagiarism in Scientific Research and Publications and How to Prevent It 
Materia Socio-Medica  2014;26(2):141-146.
Quality is assessed on the basis of adequate evidence, while best results of the research are accomplished through scientific knowledge. Information contained in a scientific work must always be based on scientific evidence. Guidelines for genuine scientific research should be designed based on real results. Dynamic research and use correct methods of scientific work must originate from everyday practice and the fundamentals of the research. The original work should have the proper data sources with clearly defined research goals, methods of operation which are acceptable for questions included in the study. When selecting the methods it is necessary to obtain the consent of the patients/respondents to provide data for execution of the project or so called informed consent. Only by the own efforts can be reached true results, from which can be drawn conclusions and which finally can give a valid scholarly commentary. Text may be copied from other sources, either in whole or in part and marked as a result of the other studies. For high-quality scientific work necessary are expertise and relevant scientific literature, mostly taken from publications that are stored in biomedical databases. These are scientific, professional and review articles, case reports of disease in physician practices, but the knowledge can also be acquired on scientific and expert lectures by renowned scientists. Form of text publications must meet standards on writing a paper. If the article has already been published in a scientific journal, the same article cannot be published in any other journal with a few minor adjustments, or without specifying the parts of the first article which is used in another article. Copyright infringement occurs when the author of a new article, with or without mentioning the author, uses a substantial portion of previously published articles, including past contributions in the first article. With the permission of the publisher and the author, another journal can re-publish the article already published. In that case, that is not plagiarism, because the journal states that the article was re-published with the permission of the journal in which the article is primarily released. The original can be only one, and the copy is a copy, and plagiarism is stolen copy. The aim of combating plagiarism is to improve the quality, to achieve satisfactory results and to compare the results of their own research, rather than copying the data from the results of other people's research. Copy leads to incorrect results. Nowadays the problem of plagiarism has become huge, or widespread and present in almost all spheres of human activity, particularly in science.
Scientific institutions and universities should have a center for surveillance, security, promotion and development of quality research. Establishment of rules and respect the rules of good practice are the obligations of each research institutions, universities and every individual researchers, regardless of which area of science is being investigated. There are misunderstandings and doubts about the criteria and standards for when and how to declare someone a plagiarist. European and World Association of Science Editors (EASE and WAME), and COPE - Committee on Publishing Ethics working on the precise definition of that institution or that the scientific committee may sanction when someone is proven plagiarism and familiarize the authors with the types of sanctions. The practice is to inform the editors about discovered plagiarism and articles are withdrawn from the database, while the authors are put on the so-called black list. So far this is the only way of preventing plagiarism, because there are no other sanctions.
doi:10.5455/msm.2014.26.141-146
PMCID: PMC4035147  PMID: 24944543
scientific research; ethics; citing; plagiarism
4.  Conflicts of Interest at Medical Journals: The Influence of Industry-Supported Randomised Trials on Journal Impact Factors and Revenue – Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(10):e1000354.
Andreas Lundh and colleagues investigated the effect of publication of large industry-supported trials on citations and journal income, through reprint sales, in six general medical journals
Background
Transparency in reporting of conflict of interest is an increasingly important aspect of publication in medical journals. Publication of large industry-supported trials may generate many citations and journal income through reprint sales and thereby be a source of conflicts of interest for journals. We investigated industry-supported trials' influence on journal impact factors and revenue.
Methods and Findings
We sampled six major medical journals (Annals of Internal Medicine, Archives of Internal Medicine, BMJ, JAMA, The Lancet, and New England Journal of Medicine [NEJM]). For each journal, we identified randomised trials published in 1996–1997 and 2005–2006 using PubMed, and categorized the type of financial support. Using Web of Science, we investigated citations of industry-supported trials and the influence on journal impact factors over a ten-year period. We contacted journal editors and retrieved tax information on income from industry sources. The proportion of trials with sole industry support varied between journals, from 7% in BMJ to 32% in NEJM in 2005–2006. Industry-supported trials were more frequently cited than trials with other types of support, and omitting them from the impact factor calculation decreased journal impact factors. The decrease varied considerably between journals, with 1% for BMJ to 15% for NEJM in 2007. For the two journals disclosing data, income from the sales of reprints contributed to 3% and 41% of the total income for BMJ and The Lancet in 2005–2006.
Conclusions
Publication of industry-supported trials was associated with an increase in journal impact factors. Sales of reprints may provide a substantial income. We suggest that journals disclose financial information in the same way that they require them from their authors, so that readers can assess the potential effect of different types of papers on journals' revenue and impact.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Medical journals publish many different types of papers that inform doctors about the latest research advances and the latest treatments for their patients. They publish articles that describe laboratory-based research into the causes of diseases and the identification of potential new drugs. They publish the results of early clinical trials in which a few patients are given a potential new drug to check its safety. Finally and most importantly, they publish the results of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). RCTs are studies in which large numbers of patients are randomly allocated to different treatments without the patient or the clinician knowing the allocation and the efficacy of the various treatments compared. RCTs are best way of determining whether a new drug is effective and have to be completed before a drug can be marketed. Because RCTs are very expensive, they are often supported by drug companies. That is, drug companies provide grants or drugs for the trial or assist with data analysis and/or article preparation.
Why Was This Study Done?
Whenever a medical journal publishes an article, the article's authors have to declare any conflicts of interest such as financial gain from the paper's publication. Conflict of interest statements help readers assess papers—an author who owns the patent for a drug, for example, might put an unduly positive spin on his/her results. The experts who review papers for journals before publication provide similar conflict of interest statements. But what about the journal editors who ultimately decide which papers get published? The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which produces medical publishing guidelines, states that: “Editors who make final decisions about manuscripts must have no personal, professional, or financial involvement in any of the issues that they might judge.” However, the publication of industry-supported RCTs might create “indirect” conflicts of interest for journals by boosting the journal's impact factor (a measure of a journal's importance based on how often its articles are cited) and its income through the sale of reprints to drug companies. In this study, the researchers investigate whether the publication of industry-supported RCTs influences the impact factors and finances of six major medical journals.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers determined which RCTs published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the British Medical Journal (BMJ), The Lancet, and three other major medical journals in 1996–1997 and 2005–2006 were supported wholly, partly, or not at all by industry. They then used the online academic citation index Web of Science to calculate an approximate impact factor for each journal for 1998 and 2007 and calculated the effect of the published RCTs on the impact factor. The proportion of RCTs with sole industry support varied between journals. Thus, 32% of the RCTs published in the NEJM during both two-year periods had industry support whereas only 7% of the RCTs published in the BMJ in 2005–2006 had industry support. Industry-supported trials were more frequently cited than RCTs with other types of support and omitting industry-supported RCTs from impact factor calculations decreased all the approximate journal impact factors. For example, omitting all RCTs with industry or mixed support decreased the 2007 BMJ and NEJM impact factors by 1% and 15%, respectively. Finally, the researchers asked each journal's editor about their journal's income from industry sources. For the BMJ and The Lancet, the only journals that provided this information, income from reprint sales was 3% and 41%, respectively, of total income in 2005–2006.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the publication of industry-supported RCTs was associated with an increase in the approximate impact factors of these six major medical journals. Because these journals publish numerous RCTs, this result may not be generalizable to other journals. These findings also indicate that income from reprint sales can be a substantial proportion of a journal's total income. Importantly, these findings do not imply that the decisions of editors are affected by the possibility that the publication of an industry-supported trial might improve their journal's impact factor or income. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest, journals should live up to the same principles related to conflicts of interest as those that they require from their authors and should routinely disclose information on the source and amount of income that they receive.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000354.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Harvey Marcovitch
The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors provides information about the publication of medical research, including conflicts of interest
The World Association of Medical Editors also provides information on conflicts of interest in medical journals
Information about impact factors is provided by Thomson Reuters, a provider of intelligent information for businesses and professionals; Thomson Reuters also runs Web of Science
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000354
PMCID: PMC2964336  PMID: 21048986
5.  Financial Conflicts of Interest and Reporting Bias Regarding the Association between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(12):e1001578.
Maira Bes-Rastrollo and colleagues examine whether financial conflicts of interest are likely to bias conclusions from systematic reviews that investigate the relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain or obesity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Industry sponsors' financial interests might bias the conclusions of scientific research. We examined whether financial industry funding or the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest influenced the results of published systematic reviews (SRs) conducted in the field of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and weight gain or obesity.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a search of the PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Scopus databases to identify published SRs from the inception of the databases to August 31, 2013, on the association between SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity. SR conclusions were independently classified by two researchers into two groups: those that found a positive association and those that did not. These two reviewers were blinded with respect to the stated source of funding and the disclosure of conflicts of interest.
We identified 17 SRs (with 18 conclusions). In six of the SRs a financial conflict of interest with some food industry was disclosed. Among those reviews without any reported conflict of interest, 83.3% of the conclusions (10/12) were that SSB consumption could be a potential risk factor for weight gain. In contrast, the same percentage of conclusions, 83.3% (5/6), of those SRs disclosing some financial conflict of interest with the food industry were that the scientific evidence was insufficient to support a positive association between SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity. Those reviews with conflicts of interest were five times more likely to present a conclusion of no positive association than those without them (relative risk: 5.0, 95% CI: 1.3–19.3).
An important limitation of this study is the impossibility of ruling out the existence of publication bias among those studies not declaring any conflict of interest. However, the best large randomized trials also support a direct association between SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity.
Conclusions
Financial conflicts of interest may bias conclusions from SRs on SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In our daily lives, we frequently rely on the results of scientific research to make decisions about our health. If we are healthy, we may seek out scientific advice about how much exercise to do to reduce our risk of a heart attack, and we may follow dietary advice issued by public health bodies to help us maintain a healthy weight. If we are ill, we expect our treatment to be based on the results of clinical trials and other studies. We assume that the scientific research that underlies our decisions about health-related issues is unbiased and accurate. However, there is increasing evidence that the conclusions of industry-sponsored scientific research are sometimes biased. So, for example, reports of drug trials sponsored by pharmaceutical companies sometimes emphasize the positive results of trials and “hide” unwanted side effects deep within the report or omit them altogether.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although the effects of company sponsors on the conclusions of pharmaceutical research have been extensively examined, little is known about the effects of industry sponsorship on nutrition research, even though large commercial entities are increasingly involved in global food and drink production. It is important to know whether the scientific evidence about nutrition is free of bias because biased information might negatively affect the health of entire populations. Moreover, scientific evidence from nutrition research underlies the formulation of governmental dietary guidelines and food-related public health interventions. In this systematic review, the researchers investigate whether the disclosure of potential financial conflicts of interest (for example, research funding by a beverage company) has influenced the results of systematic reviews undertaken to examine the association between the consumption of highly lucrative sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and weight gain or obesity. Systematic reviews identify all the research on a given topic using predefined criteria. In an ideal world, systematic reviews provide access to all the available evidence on specific exposure–disease associations, but publication bias related to authors' conflicts of interest may affect the reliability of the conclusions of such studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 18 conclusions from 17 systematic reviews that had investigated the association between SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity. In six of these reviews, a financial conflict of interest with a food industry was disclosed. Among the reviews that reported having no conflict of interest, 83.3% of the conclusions were that SSB consumption could be a potential risk factor for weight gain. By contrast, the same percentage of reviews in which a potential financial conflict of interest was disclosed concluded that the scientific evidence was insufficient to support a positive association between SSB consumption and weight gain, or reported contradictory results and did not state any definitive conclusion about the association between SSB consumption and weight gain. Reviews in which a potential conflict of interest was disclosed were five times more likely to present a conclusion of no positive association between SSB consumption and weight gain than reviews that reported having no financial conflict of interest.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that systematic reviews that reported financial conflicts of interest or sponsorship from food or drink companies were more likely to reach a conclusion of no positive association between SSB consumption and weight gain than reviews that reported having no conflicts of interest. A major limitation of this study is that it cannot assess which interpretation of the available evidence is truly accurate. For example, the scientists involved in the systematic reviews that reported having no conflict of interest may have had preexisting prejudices that affected their interpretation of their findings. However, the interests of the food industry (increased sales of their products) are very different from those of most researchers (the honest pursuit of knowledge), and recent randomized trials support a positive association between SSB consumption and overweight/obesity. Thus, these findings draw attention to possible inaccuracies in scientific evidence from research funded by the food and drink industry. They do not imply that industry sponsorship of nutrition research should be avoided entirely. Rather, as in other research areas, clear guidelines and principles (for example, sponsors should sign contracts that state that they will not be involved in the interpretation of results) need to be established to avoid dangerous conflicts of interest.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001578.
The Research Ethics Program at the University of California, San Diego provides an overview of conflicts of interest for researchers and details of US regulations and guidelines
The PLOS Medicine series on Big Food examines the activities and influence of the food industry in global health
A PLOS Medicine Research Article by Basu et al. uses mathematical modeling to investigate whether SSB taxation would avert obesity and diabetes in India
A 2012 policy brief from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity discusses current evidence regarding SSB taxes
The US National Institutes of Health has regulations on financial conflicts of interest for institutions applying to receive funding
Wikipedia has pages on conflict of interest, reporting bias, systematic review, and SSBs (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001578
PMCID: PMC3876974  PMID: 24391479
6.  The Effect of Alternative Graphical Displays Used to Present the Benefits of Antibiotics for Sore Throat on Decisions about Whether to Seek Treatment: A Randomized Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(8):e1000140.
In a randomized trial, Cheryl Carling and colleagues evaluate how people respond to different statistical presentations regarding the consequences of taking antibiotic treatment for sore throat.
Background
We conducted an Internet-based randomized trial comparing four graphical displays of the benefits of antibiotics for people with sore throat who must decide whether to go to the doctor to seek treatment. Our objective was to determine which display resulted in choices most consistent with participants' values.
Methods and Findings
This was the first of a series of televised trials undertaken in cooperation with the Norwegian Broadcasting Company. We recruited adult volunteers in Norway through a nationally televised weekly health program. Participants went to our Web site and rated the relative importance of the consequences of treatment using visual analogue scales (VAS). They viewed the graphical display (or no information) to which they were randomized and were asked to decide whether to go to the doctor for an antibiotic prescription. We compared four presentations: face icons (happy/sad) or a bar graph showing the proportion of people with symptoms on day three with and without treatment, a bar graph of the average duration of symptoms, and a bar graph of proportion with symptoms on both days three and seven. Before completing the study, all participants were shown all the displays and detailed patient information about the treatment of sore throat and were asked to decide again. We calculated a relative importance score (RIS) by subtracting the VAS scores for the undesirable consequences of antibiotics from the VAS score for the benefit of symptom relief. We used logistic regression to determine the association between participants' RIS and their choice. 1,760 participants completed the study. There were statistically significant differences in the likelihood of choosing to go to the doctor in relation to different values (RIS). Of the four presentations, the bar graph of duration of symptoms resulted in decisions that were most consistent with the more fully informed second decision. Most participants also preferred this presentation (38%) and found it easiest to understand (37%). Participants shown the other three presentations were more likely to decide to go to the doctor based on their first decision than everyone based on the second decision. Participants preferred the graph using faces the least (14.4%).
Conclusions
For decisions about going to the doctor to get antibiotics for sore throat, treatment effects presented by a bar graph showing the duration of symptoms helped people make decisions more consistent with their values than treatment effects presented as graphical displays of proportions of people with sore throat following treatment.
Clinical Trials Registration
ISRCTN58507086
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In the past, patients usually believed that their doctor knew what was best for them and that they had little say in deciding what treatment they would receive. But many modern interventions have complex trade-offs. Patients' opinions about the relative desirability of the possible outcomes of health care interventions depend on their lifestyle and expectations, and these “values” need to be considered when making decisions about medical treatments. Consequently, shared decision-making is increasingly superseding the traditional, paternalistic approach to medical decision-making. In shared decision-making, health care professionals talk to their patients about the risks and benefits of the various treatment options, and patients tell the health care professionals what they expect and/or require from their treatment.
Why Was This Study Done?
Shared decision-making can only succeed if patients know about the treatment options that are available for their medical condition and understand the consequences of each option. But how does the presentation of information about treatment options to patients affect their decisions? In 2002, a series of internet-based randomized trials (studies in which participants are randomly allocated to different “treatment” groups) called the Health Information Project: Presentation Online (HIPPO) was initiated to answer this question. Here, the researchers describe HIPPO 3, a trial that investigates how alternative graphical displays of the benefits of antibiotics for the treatment of sore throat affect whether people decide to seek treatment. In particular, the researchers ask which display results in people making a treatment decision most consistent with their values, i.e., in terms of the relative importance to them of the treatment's desirable and undesirable outcomes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Adult Norwegians recruited through a television health program numerically rated the importance of symptom relief and of several negative consequences (for example, side effects) of antibiotic treatment for sore throat on the trial's Web site. Relative importance scores (which indicate the participants' values) were calculated for each participant by subtracting their ratings for the importance of the negative consequences of seeking antibiotic treatment from his or her rating for the importance of symptom relief. The participants were then asked to decide whether to visit a doctor for antibiotics without receiving any further information or after being shown one of four graphical displays illustrating the benefits of antibiotic treatment. Two bar charts and one display of happy- and sad-face icons showed the proportion of people with symptoms at specific times after sore throat onset with and without treatment. A third bar chart indicated symptom duration with and without antibiotics. Finally, all the participants were shown all the displays and other information about sore throat and were asked to decide again about seeking treatment. The researchers found a clear association between the participants' values and the likelihood of their deciding to go to the doctor, and this likelihood depended on which graphical display the participants saw. People shown information on the proportion of patients with symptoms were more likely to decide to visit a doctor than those shown information on symptom duration. Furthermore, first decisions reached after being given information on symptom duration or no information were more consistent with the fully informed second decision than first decisions reached after seeing the other displays.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, for people considering whether to seek antibiotic treatment for sore throat, a bar graph showing the duration of symptoms is more likely to help them make a decision that is consistent with their own values than a bar chart showing the proportions of people with sore throat following treatment. The researchers also found that the bar chart showing symptom duration was preferred by more of the participants than any of the other representations. Whether these results can be applied to other health care decisions or in other settings is not known. However, the researchers suggest that these findings may be most relevant to treatments that, like antibiotic treatment of sore throat, have a short-lived benefit and relatively important downsides.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000140.
A PLoS Medicine Editorial discusses this trial and the results of another HIPPO trial that are presented in a separate PLoS Medicine Research Article by Carling et al.; details of a pilot HIPPO trial are also available
The Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making (a US-based nonprofit organization) provides information on many aspects of medical decision making
The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center provides information to help people make health care decisions through its Center for Shared Decision Making
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute provides information on patient decision aids, including an inventory of decision aids available on the Web (in English and French)
MedlinePlus provides links to information and advice about sore throat (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000140
PMCID: PMC2726763  PMID: 19707579
7.  Deep impact: unintended consequences of journal rank 
Most researchers acknowledge an intrinsic hierarchy in the scholarly journals (“journal rank”) that they submit their work to, and adjust not only their submission but also their reading strategies accordingly. On the other hand, much has been written about the negative effects of institutionalizing journal rank as an impact measure. So far, contributions to the debate concerning the limitations of journal rank as a scientific impact assessment tool have either lacked data, or relied on only a few studies. In this review, we present the most recent and pertinent data on the consequences of our current scholarly communication system with respect to various measures of scientific quality (such as utility/citations, methodological soundness, expert ratings or retractions). These data corroborate previous hypotheses: using journal rank as an assessment tool is bad scientific practice. Moreover, the data lead us to argue that any journal rank (not only the currently-favored Impact Factor) would have this negative impact. Therefore, we suggest that abandoning journals altogether, in favor of a library-based scholarly communication system, will ultimately be necessary. This new system will use modern information technology to vastly improve the filter, sort and discovery functions of the current journal system.
doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00291
PMCID: PMC3690355  PMID: 23805088
impact factor; journal ranking; statistics as topic; publishing; open access; scholarly communication; libraries; library services
8.  The Impact of Monitoring HIV Patients Prior to Treatment in Resource-Poor Settings: Insights from Mathematical Modelling 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(3):e53.
Background
The roll-out of antiretroviral treatment (ART) in developing countries concentrates on finding patients currently in need, but over time many HIV-infected individuals will be identified who will require treatment in the future. We investigated the potential influence of alternative patient management and ART initiation strategies on the impact of ART programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods and Findings
We developed a stochastic mathematical model representing disease progression, diagnosis, clinical monitoring, and survival in a cohort of 1,000 hypothetical HIV-infected individuals in Africa. If individuals primarily enter ART programmes when symptomatic, the model predicts that only 25% will start treatment and, on average, 6 life-years will be saved per person treated. If individuals are recruited to programmes while still healthy and are frequently monitored, and CD4+ cell counts are used to help decide when to initiate ART, three times as many are expected to be treated, and average life-years saved among those treated increases to 15. The impact of programmes can be improved further by performing a second CD4+ cell count when the initial value is close to the threshold for starting treatment, maintaining high patient follow-up rates, and prioritising monitoring the oldest (≥ 35 y) and most immune-suppressed patients (CD4+ cell count ≤ 350). Initiating ART at higher CD4+ cell counts than WHO recommends leads to more life-years saved, but disproportionately more years spent on ART.
Conclusions
The overall impact of ART programmes will be limited if rates of diagnosis are low and individuals enter care too late. Frequently monitoring individuals at all stages of HIV infection and using CD4 cell count information to determine when to start treatment can maximise the impact of ART.
Using a stochastic model based on data from Africa, Timothy Hallett and colleagues find that starting HIV treatment based on regular CD4 monitoring, rather than on symptoms, would substantially increase survival.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed more than 25 million people since the first case in 1981, and about 33 million people are currently infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. HIV destroys immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte), leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-positive individuals died within 10 years but in 1996, combination antiretroviral therapy (ART)—a mixture of powerful but expensive antiretroviral drugs—was developed. For HIV-positive people living in affluent, developed countries who could afford ART, AIDS then became a chronic disease, but for those living in low- and middle-income countries it remained a death sentence—ART was too expensive. In 2003, this lack of access to ART was declared a global health emergency and governments, international organizations, and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in developing countries.
Why Was This Study Done?
The roll-out of ART in developing countries has concentrated so far on finding HIV-positive people who currently need treatment. In developing countries, these are often individuals who have AIDS-related symptoms such as recurrent severe bacterial infections. But healthy people are also being diagnosed as HIV positive during voluntary testing and at antenatal clinics. How should these HIV-positive but symptom-free individuals be managed? Should regular health-monitoring appointments be scheduled for them and when should ART be initiated? Management decisions like these will determine how well patients do when they eventually start ART, as well as the demand for ART and other health-care services. The full range of alternative patient management strategies cannot be tested in clinical trials—it would be unethical—but public-health officials need an idea of their relative effectiveness in order to use limited resources wisely. In this study, therefore, the researchers use mathematical modeling to investigate the impact of alternative patient management and ART initiation strategies on the impact of ART programs in resource-poor settings.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers' mathematical model, which includes data on disease progression collected in Africa, simulates disease progression in a group (cohort) of 1,000 HIV-infected adults. It tracks these individuals from infection, through diagnosis and clinical monitoring, and into treatment and predicts how many will receive ART and their length of survival under different management scenarios and ART initiation rules. The model predicts that if HIV-positive individuals receive ART only when they have AIDS-related symptoms, only a quarter of them will ever start ART and the average life-years saved per person treated will be 6 years (that is, they will live 6 years longer than they would have done without treatment). If individuals are recruited to ART programs when they are healthy and are frequently monitored using CD4 cell counts to decide when to start ART, three-quarters of the cohort will be treated and 15 life-years will be saved per person treated. The impact of ART programs will be increased further, the model predicts, by preferentially monitoring people who are more than 35 years old and the most immunosuppressed individuals. Finally, strategies that measure CD4 cells frequently will save more life-years because ART is more likely to be started before the immune system is irreversibly damaged. Importantly for resource-poor settings, these strategies also save more life-years per year on ART.
What Do These Findings Mean?
As with all mathematical models, the accuracy of these predictions depends on the assumptions built into the model and the reliability of the data fed into it. Also, this model does not estimate the costs of the various management options, something that will need to be done to ensure effective allocation of limited resources. Nevertheless, these findings provide several general clues about how ART programs should be implemented in poor countries to maximize their effects. Early diagnosis of infections, regular monitoring of patients, and using CD4 cell counts to decide when to initiate ART should all help to improve the number of life-years saved by ART. In other words, the researchers conclude, effectively managing individuals at all stages of HIV infection is essential to maximize the impact of ART.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050053.
Information from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS.
Information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on global HIV/AIDS topics (in English and Spanish)
HIV InSite, comprehensive and up-to-date information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS from the University of California, San Francisco
Information from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV and AIDS in Africa and on HIV/AIDS treatment and care, including universal access to ART
Progress toward universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment, the latest report from the World Health Organization (available in several languages)
Guidelines for antiretroviral therapy in adults and adolescents are provided by the World Health Organization and by the US Department of Health and Human Services
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050053
PMCID: PMC2265759  PMID: 18336064
9.  Pretreatment CD4 Cell Slope and Progression to AIDS or Death in HIV-Infected Patients Initiating Antiretroviral Therapy—The CASCADE Collaboration: A Collaboration of 23 Cohort Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(2):e1000239.
Analyzing data from several thousand cohort study participants, Marcel Wolbers and colleagues find that the rate of CD4 T cell decline is not useful in deciding when to start HIV treatment.
Background
CD4 cell count is a strong predictor of the subsequent risk of AIDS or death in HIV-infected patients initiating combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). It is not known whether the rate of CD4 cell decline prior to therapy is related to prognosis and should, therefore, influence the decision on when to initiate cART.
Methods and Findings
We carried out survival analyses of patients from the 23 cohorts of the CASCADE (Concerted Action on SeroConversion to AIDS and Death in Europe) collaboration with a known date of HIV seroconversion and with at least two CD4 measurements prior to initiating cART. For each patient, a pre-cART CD4 slope was estimated using a linear mixed effects model. Our primary outcome was time from initiating cART to a first new AIDS event or death. We included 2,820 treatment-naïve patients initiating cART with a median (interquartile range) pre-cART CD4 cell decline of 61 (46–81) cells/µl per year; 255 patients subsequently experienced a new AIDS event or death and 125 patients died. In an analysis adjusted for established risk factors, the hazard ratio for AIDS or death was 1.01 (95% confidence interval 0.97–1.04) for each 10 cells/µl per year reduction in pre-cART CD4 cell decline. There was also no association between pre-cART CD4 cell slope and survival. Alternative estimates of CD4 cell slope gave similar results. In 1,731 AIDS-free patients with >350 CD4 cells/µl from the pre-cART era, the rate of CD4 cell decline was also not significantly associated with progression to AIDS or death (hazard ratio 0.99, 95% confidence interval 0.94–1.03, for each 10 cells/µl per year reduction in CD4 cell decline).
Conclusions
The CD4 cell slope does not improve the prediction of clinical outcome in patients with a CD4 cell count above 350 cells/µl. Knowledge of the current CD4 cell count is sufficient when deciding whether to initiate cART in asymptomatic patients.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
More than 30 million people are currently infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Most people who become infected with HIV do not become ill immediately although some develop a short flu-like illness shortly after infection. This illness is called “seroconversion” illness because it coincides with the appearance of antibodies to HIV in the blood. The next stage of HIV infection has no major symptoms and may last up to 10 years. During this time, HIV slowly destroys immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte). Without treatment, the immune system loses the ability to fight off infections by other disease-causing organisms and HIV-positive people then develop so-called opportunistic infections, Kaposi sarcoma (a skin cancer), or non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a cancer of the lymph nodes) that determine the diagnosis of AIDS. Although HIV-positive people used to die within 10 years of infection on average, the development in 1996 of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART; cocktails of powerful antiretroviral drugs) means that, at least for people living in developed countries, HIV/AIDS is now a chronic, treatable condition.
Why Was This Study Done?
The number of CD4 cells in the blood is a strong predictor of the likelihood of AIDS or death in untreated HIV-positive individuals and in people starting cART. Current guidelines recommend, therefore, that cART is started in HIV-positive patients without symptoms when their CD4 cell count drops below a specified cutoff level (typically 350 cells/µl.) In addition, several guidelines suggest that clinicians should also consider cART in symptom-free HIV-positive patients with a CD4 cell count above the cutoff level if their CD4 cell count has rapidly declined. However, it is not actually known whether the rate of CD4 cell decline (so-called “CD4 slope”) before initiating cART is related to a patient's outcome, so should clinicians consider this measurement when deciding whether to initiate cART? In this study, the researchers use data from CASCADE (Concerted Action on SeroConversion to AIDS and Death in Europe), a large collaborative study of 23 groups of HIV-positive individuals whose approximate date of HIV infection is known, to answer this question.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers undertook survival analyses of patients in the CASCADE collaboration for whom at least two CD4 cell counts had been recorded before starting cART. They calculated a pre-cART CD4 cell count slope from these counts and used statistical methods to investigate whether there was an association between the rate of decline in CD4 cell count and the time from initiating cART to the primary outcome—a first new AIDS-defining event or death. 2820 HIV-positive patients initiating cART were included in the study; the average pre-cART CD4 cell decline among them was 61 cells/µl/year. 255 of the patients experienced a new AIDS-related event or died after starting cART but the researchers found no evidence for an association between the primary outcome and the pre-cART CD4 slope or between survival and this slope. In addition, the rate of CD4 cell count decline was not significantly associated with progression to AIDS or death among 1731 HIV-positive, symptom-free patients with CD4 cell counts above 350 cells/µl who were studied before cART was developed.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that knowledge of the rate of CD4 cell count decline will not improve the prediction of clinical outcome in HIV-positive patients with a CD4 cell count above 350 cells/µl. Indeed, the findings show that the rate of CD4 cell decline in individual patients is highly variable over time. Consequently, a rate measured at one time cannot be used to reliably predict a patient's future CD4 cell count. Because this was an observational study, patients with the greatest rate of decline in their CD4 cell count might have received better care than other patients, a possibility that would lessen the effect of the rate of CD4 cell count decline on outcomes. Nevertheless, the findings of this study strongly suggest that knowledge of the current CD4 cell count and an assessment of other established risk factors for progression to AIDS are sufficient when deciding whether to initiate cART in symptom-free HIV-positive patients.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000239.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on treatments and treatment guidelines
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on treatments for HIV and AIDS, when to start treatment, and the stages of HIV infection (in English and Spanish)
Information on CASCADE is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000239
PMCID: PMC2826377  PMID: 20186270
10.  Our silent enemy: ashes in our libraries 
Scholars, scientists, physicians, other health professionals, and librarians face a crucial decision today: shall we nourish the biomedical archives as a viable and indispensable source of information, or shall we bury their ashes and lose a century or more of consequential scientific history? Biomedical books and journals published since the 1850s on self-destructing acidic paper are silently and insidiously scorching on our shelves. The associated risks for scientists and physicians are serious—incomplete assessment of past knowledge; unnecessary repetition of studies that have already led to conclusive results; delay in scientific advances when important concepts, techniques, instruments, and procedures are overlooked; faulty comparative analyses; or improper assignment of priority.
The archives also disclose the nature of biomedical research, which builds on past knowledge, advances incrementally, and is strewn with missteps, frustrations, detours, inconsistencies, enigmas, and contradictions. The public's familiarity with the scientific process will avoid unrealistic expectations and will encourage support for research in health. But a proper historical perspective requires access to the biomedical archives. Since journals will apparently continue to be published on paper, it is folly to persist in the use of acidic paper and thus magnify for future librarians and preservationists the already Sisyphean and costly task of deacidifying their collections.
Our plea for conversion to acid-free paper is accompanied by an equally strong appeal for more rigorous criteria for journal publication. The glut of journal articles—many superficial, redundant, mediocre, or otherwise flawed and some even fraudulent—has overloaded our databases, complicated bibliographic research, and exacerbated the preservation problem. Before accepting articles, journal editors should ask: If it is not worth preserving, is it worth publishing?
It is our responsibility to protect the integrity of our biomedical records against all threats. Authors should consider submitting manuscripts to journals that use acid-free paper, especially if they think, as most authors do, that they are writing for posterity. Librarians can refuse to purchase journals published on acidic paper, which they know will need restoration within a few decades and will thus help deplete their budgets. All of us can urge our government to devise a coordinated national conservation policy that will halt the destruction of a century of our historical record. The battle will not be easy, but the challenge beckons urgently. The choice is ours: we can answer the call, or we can deny scientists, physicians, and historians the records they need to expand human knowledge and improve health care.
PMCID: PMC227429  PMID: 2758179
11.  The Cost and Impact of Scaling Up Pre-exposure Prophylaxis for HIV Prevention: A Systematic Review of Cost-Effectiveness Modelling Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(3):e1001401.
Gabriela Gomez and colleagues systematically review cost-effectiveness modeling studies of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for preventing HIV transmission and identify the main considerations to address when considering the introduction of PrEP to HIV prevention programs.
Background
Cost-effectiveness studies inform resource allocation, strategy, and policy development. However, due to their complexity, dependence on assumptions made, and inherent uncertainty, synthesising, and generalising the results can be difficult. We assess cost-effectiveness models evaluating expected health gains and costs of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) interventions.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a systematic review comparing epidemiological and economic assumptions of cost-effectiveness studies using various modelling approaches. The following databases were searched (until January 2013): PubMed/Medline, ISI Web of Knowledge, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination databases, EconLIT, and region-specific databases. We included modelling studies reporting both cost and expected impact of a PrEP roll-out. We explored five issues: prioritisation strategies, adherence, behaviour change, toxicity, and resistance. Of 961 studies retrieved, 13 were included. Studies modelled populations (heterosexual couples, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs) in generalised and concentrated epidemics from Southern Africa (including South Africa), Ukraine, USA, and Peru. PrEP was found to have the potential to be a cost-effective addition to HIV prevention programmes in specific settings. The extent of the impact of PrEP depended upon assumptions made concerning cost, epidemic context, programme coverage, prioritisation strategies, and individual-level adherence. Delivery of PrEP to key populations at highest risk of HIV exposure appears the most cost-effective strategy. Limitations of this review include the partial geographical coverage, our inability to perform a meta-analysis, and the paucity of information available exploring trade-offs between early treatment and PrEP.
Conclusions
Our review identifies the main considerations to address in assessing cost-effectiveness analyses of a PrEP intervention—cost, epidemic context, individual adherence level, PrEP programme coverage, and prioritisation strategy. Cost-effectiveness studies indicating where resources can be applied for greatest impact are essential to guide resource allocation decisions; however, the results of such analyses must be considered within the context of the underlying assumptions made.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year approximately 2.5 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Behavioral strategies like condom use and reduction of sexual partners have been the hallmarks of HIV prevention efforts. However, biological prevention measures have also recently been shown to be effective. These include male circumcision, treatment as prevention (treating HIV-infected people with antiretroviral drugs to reduce transmission), and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), where people not infected with HIV take antiretroviral drugs to reduce the probability of transmission. Strategies such as PrEP may be viable prevention measure for couples in long-term relationships where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative (HIV serodiscordant couples) or groups at higher risk of HIV infection, such as men who have sex with men, and injection drug users.
Why Was This Study Done?
The findings from recent clinical trials that demonstrate PrEP can reduce HIV transmission have led to important policy discussions and in the US, Southern Africa, and the UK new clinical guidelines have been developed on the use of PrEP for the prevention of HIV infection. For those countries that are considering whether to introduce PrEP into HIV prevention programs, national policy and decision makers need to determine potential costs and health outcomes. Cost-effectiveness models—mathematical models that simulate cost and health effects of different interventions—can help inform such decisions. However, the cost-effectiveness estimates that could provide guidance for PrEP programs are dependent on, and limited by, the assumptions included in the models, which can make their findings difficult to generalize. A systematic comparison of published cost-effectiveness models of HIV PrEP interventions would be useful for policy makers who are considering introducing PrEP intervention programs.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers performed a systematic review to identify published cost-effectiveness models that evaluated the health gains and costs of HIV PrEP interventions. Systematic reviews attempt to identify, appraise, and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a given research question by using explicit methods aimed at minimizing bias. By searching databases the authors identified 13 published studies that evaluated the impact of PrEP in different populations (heterosexual couples, men who have sex with men, and injection drug users) in different geographic settings, which included Southern Africa, Ukraine, US, and Peru.
The authors identified seven studies that assessed the introduction of PrEP into generalized HIV epidemics in Southern Africa. These studies suggest that PrEP may be a cost effective intervention to prevent heterosexual transmission. However, the authors note that funding PrEP while other cost-effective HIV prevention methods are underfunded in this setting may have high opportunity costs. The authors identified five studies where PrEP was introduced for concentrated epidemics among men who have sex with men (four studies in the US and one in Peru). These studies suggest that PrEP may have a substantial impact on the HIV epidemic but may not be affordable at current drug prices. The authors also identified a single study that modeled the introduction of PrEP for people who inject drugs in the Ukraine, which found PrEP not to be cost effective.
In all settings the price of antiretroviral drugs was found to be a limiting factor in terms of affordability of PrEP programs. Behavioral changes and adherence to PrEP were estimated to have potentially significant impacts on program effectiveness but the emergence of drug resistance or PrEP-related toxicity did not significantly affect cost-effectiveness estimates. Several PrEP prioritization strategies were explored in included studies and delivering PrEP to populations at highest risk of HIV exposure was shown to improve cost-effectiveness estimates. However, the extra costs of identifying and engaging with high-risk populations were not taken into consideration. The authors note that the geographic coverage of identified studies was limited and that the findings are very dependent on the setting which limits generalizability.
What Do these Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that PrEP could be a cost-effective tool to reduce new HIV infections in some settings. However, the cost-effectiveness of PrEP is dependent upon cost, the epidemic context, program coverage and prioritization strategies, participants' adherence to the drug regimen, and PrEP efficacy estimates. These findings will aid decision makers quantify and compare the reductions in HIV incidence that could be achieved by implementing a PrEP program.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001401.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has information on HIV/AIDS
aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment, and has a section on PrEP
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including HIV prevention
AVAC Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention provides information on HIV prevention, including PrEP
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has information on PrEP
The World Health Organization has a page on its WHO-CHOICE criteria for cost-effectiveness
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001401
PMCID: PMC3595225  PMID: 23554579
12.  Biotechnology awareness study, Part 2: Meeting the information needs of biotechnologists. 
The second part of the biotechnology awareness study focused on health sciences libraries and how well they are meeting the needs of biotechnologists working in the study's nine medical centers. A survey was conducted over a three-month period to assess the demand for biotechnology-related reference services at nine libraries and the sources the librarians used to answer the questions. Data on monographic and current serial holdings were also collected. At the end of the survey period, librarians were asked for their perceptions about biotechnology research at their institutions and in their geographic areas. Their responses were compared to the responses the scientists at the nine schools gave to the same or similar questions. Results showed few biotechnology-related reference questions were asked of the librarians. The recorded questions dealt with a range of biotechnology subjects. MEDLINE was used to answer 77% of the questions received during the survey period. More detailed notes in MeSH and a guide to online searching for biotechnology topics were suggested by the librarians as ways to improve reference service to this group of researchers. Journal collections were generally strong, with libraries owning from 50% to 87% of the titles on a core list of biotechnology journals compiled for this study. All libraries subscribed to the five titles most often cited by the scientists surveyed. Generally, librarians were unaware of the biotechnology-related research being done on their campuses or in their geographic areas.
PMCID: PMC225484  PMID: 1998819
13.  Uptake of Workplace HIV Counselling and Testing: A Cluster-Randomised Trial in Zimbabwe 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e238.
Background
HIV counselling and testing is a key component of both HIV care and HIV prevention, but uptake is currently low. We investigated the impact of rapid HIV testing at the workplace on uptake of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT).
Methods and Findings
The study was a cluster-randomised trial of two VCT strategies, with business occupational health clinics as the unit of randomisation. VCT was directly offered to all employees, followed by 2 y of open access to VCT and basic HIV care. Businesses were randomised to either on-site rapid HIV testing at their occupational clinic (11 businesses) or to vouchers for off-site VCT at a chain of free-standing centres also using rapid tests (11 businesses). Baseline anonymised HIV serology was requested from all employees.
HIV prevalence was 19.8% and 18.4%, respectively, at businesses randomised to on-site and off-site VCT. In total, 1,957 of 3,950 employees at clinics randomised to on-site testing had VCT (mean uptake by site 51.1%) compared to 586 of 3,532 employees taking vouchers at clinics randomised to off-site testing (mean uptake by site 19.2%). The risk ratio for on-site VCT compared to voucher uptake was 2.8 (95% confidence interval 1.8 to 3.8) after adjustment for potential confounders. Only 125 employees (mean uptake by site 4.3%) reported using their voucher, so that the true adjusted risk ratio for on-site compared to off-site VCT may have been as high as 12.5 (95% confidence interval 8.2 to 16.8).
Conclusions
High-impact VCT strategies are urgently needed to maximise HIV prevention and access to care in Africa. VCT at the workplace offers the potential for high uptake when offered on-site and linked to basic HIV care. Convenience and accessibility appear to have critical roles in the acceptability of community-based VCT.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Since the first case of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) was reported 25 years ago, AIDS has become a major worldwide epidemic, with 3 million people dying from it in 2005. AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which is usually spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner. HIV damages the immune system, leaving infected individuals unable to fight off other viruses and bacteria. HIV infections can be treated with drugs know as “antiretrovirals,” and in an effort to deal with the global epidemic, world leaders have committed themselves to providing universal access to these drugs for everyone who needs them by 2010. Unfortunately, although access to antiretrovirals is rapidly increasing, so is the number of people infected with HIV. Last year, there were about 5 million new HIV infections, suggesting that more emphasis on prevention will be needed to halt or reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS. An important part of prevention is testing for HIV infection, but globally only 10% of people who need testing can access it. And even where such services are available, few people use them because of the stigma attached to HIV infection and fear of discrimination.
Why Was This Study Done?
There is limited understanding about the factors that determine whether an individual will decide to have an HIV test. Yet, to reduce HIV spread, as many people at risk of infection must be tested as possible. Previous studies on VCT—a combination of voluntary testing and counseling about the implications of HIV infection and how to avoid transmitting the virus—have indicated that the convenience of getting the test, whether the test is directly offered, and the attitude of staff supplying it are all very important. In this study, the researchers asked whether providing VCT in the workplace could improve the “uptake” of HIV testing in Africa, where the HIV/AIDS epidemic is most widespread.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified businesses with occupational health clinics in Zimbabwe, a country where 25% of adults carry HIV, and divided them into two “intervention” groups. Employees at half the businesses were offered “on-site VCT”—pre-test counseling followed by same-day on-site rapid testing, results, and post-test counseling. Employees at the other businesses had the same pre-test counseling but were offered a voucher for an HIV test at an off-site testing center and a later appointment to discuss the results—so-called off-site VCT. Everyone had the same access to limited HIV care should they need it. Although half of the employees at the on-site VCT businesses took up the option of HIV testing, only a fifth of employees at the off-site VCT businesses accepted vouchers for testing, and only one in five of these people actually used their voucher. This means that on-site VCT resulted in about 12 times as many HIV tests as off-site VCT. In both interventions, most of the people who accepted testing did so soon after entering the study and very few people were tested more than once. Finally, people 25 years old or younger, manual workers, and single people were most likely to accept testing in both interventions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results suggest that on-site VCT in the workplace might be one way to improve uptake of HIV testing in Africa from its current low level and that providing VCT intermittently might be as effective as continuous provision. Importantly, say the researchers, the results of their study show that a relatively minor change in accessibility to testing can translate into a major difference in test uptake. This may hold true in non-occupational settings. However, these observations need to be repeated in more businesses and other settings, including those where there is no linked HIV care, before they can be generalized. Also, this study reports on the acceptability of this approach to providing VCT, but not on its impact on HIV prevention. As such the results do not indicate whether workplace VCT prevents HIV spread as effectively as other ways of delivering VCT. This will require research investigating how HIV incidence among HIV-negative employees and the partners of HIV-positive employees are affected by different VCT strategies.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030238.
• United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases factsheet on HIV infection and AIDS
• United States Department of Health and Human Services information on HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention, and research
• US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on HIV/AIDS
• UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) information on political issues related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the 2004 UNAIDS/World Health Organization policy statement on HIV testing
•  Aidsmap: information on HIV and AIDS provided by the charity NAM, which includes the latest scientific and political news
• MedlinePlus encyclopedia entry on HIV/AIDS
Voluntary counseling and testing for HIV has the potential for high uptake when it is offered on-site at the workplace and linked to basic HIV care.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030238
PMCID: PMC1483908  PMID: 16796402
14.  Towards evidence based medicine for paediatricians 
In order to give the best care to patients and families, paediatricians need to integrate the highest quality scientific evidence with clinical expertise and the opinions of the family.1Archimedes seeks to assist practising clinicians by providing “evidence based” answers to common questions which are not at the forefront of research but are at the core of practice. In doing this, we are adapting a format which has been successfully developed by Kevin Macaway‐Jones and the group at the Emergency Medicine Journal—“BestBets”.
A word of warning. The topic summaries are not systematic reviews, through they are as exhaustive as a practising clinician can produce. They make no attempt to statistically aggregate the data, nor search the grey, unpublished literature. What Archimedes offers are practical, best evidence based answers to practical, clinical questions.
The format of Archimedes may be familiar. A description of the clinical setting is followed by a structured clinical question. (These aid in focusing the mind, assisting searching,2 and gaining answers.3) A brief report of the search used follows—this has been performed in a hierarchical way, to search for the best quality evidence to answer the question.4 A table provides a summary of the evidence and key points of the critical appraisal. For further information on critical appraisal, and the measures of effect (such as number needed to treat, NNT) books by Sackett5 and Moyer6 may help. To pull the information together, a commentary is provided. But to make it all much more accessible, a box provides the clinical bottom lines.
Readers wishing to submit their own questions—with best evidence answers—are encouraged to review those already proposed at www.bestbets.org. If your question still hasn't been answered, feel free to submit your summary according to the Instructions for Authors at www.archdischild.com. Three topics are covered in this issue of the journal:
Does neonatal BCG vaccination protect against tuberculous meningitis?
Does dexamethasone reduce the risk of extubation failure in ventilated children?
Should metformin be prescribed to overweight adolescents in whom dietary/behavioural modifications have not helped?
REFERENCES
1. Moyer VA, Ellior EJ. Preface. In: Moyer VA, Elliott EJ, Davis RL, et al, eds. Evidence based pediatrics and child health, Issue 1. London: BMJ Books, 2000.
2. Richardson WS, Wilson MC, Nishikawa J, et al. The well‐built clinical question: a key to evidence‐based decisions. ACP J Club 1995;123:A12–13.
3. Bergus GR, Randall CS, Sinift SD, et al. Does the structure of clinical questions affect the outcome of curbside consultations with specialty colleagues? Arch Fam Med 2000;9:541–7.
4. http://cebm.jr2.ox.ac.uk/docs/levels.htm (accessed July 2002).
5. Sackett DL, Starus S, Richardson WS, et al. Evidence‐based medicine. How to practice and teach EBM. San Diego: Harcourt‐Brace, 2000.
6. Moyer VA, Elliott EJ, Davis RL, et al, eds. Evidence based pediatrics and child health, Issue 1. London: BMJ Books, 2000.
How to read your journals
Most people have their journals land, monthly, weekly, or quarterly, on their desk, courtesy of their professional associations. Then they sit, gathering dust and guilt, for a period of time. When the layer of either is too great for comfort (or the desk space is needed for some proper work), the wrapper is removed and the journal scanned. But does how people read reflect their information needs or their entertainment requirements?
It is not uncommon to find people straying from the editorial introduction to the value added sections (like obituaries, Lucina‐like summary pages, and end‐of‐article fillers) rather than face the impenetrable science that sits between them. I think that this is probably unhelpful, and would urge readers to do one more thing before placing the journal in the recycling. Scan the table of contents; if it mentions a systematic review or a randomised trial, then read at least the title and the abstract's conclusions. If you agree, pat yourself warmly on the back for being evidence based and up‐to‐date. If you disagree, ask if it will make any impact on your clinical (or personal) life. If it might, run through the methods and quickly appraise them. Does it supply higher quality evidence than that you already possess? If it does, it's worth reading. If it doesn't, don't bother too much.
There are new innovations which might aid the tedious task of consuming research effort. The on‐line Précis section of the Archives provides a highly readable version of the contents page to whet one's appetite. Finally, it's worth mentioning that evidence based summary materials (like Archimedes, or Journal Watch) are always worth reading—and if you didn't think that you wouldn't be here, would you?
PMCID: PMC2082933
Archimedes; evidence based medicine
15.  Cancer Screening: A Mathematical Model Relating Secreted Blood Biomarker Levels to Tumor Sizes  
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(8):e170.
Background
Increasing efforts and financial resources are being invested in early cancer detection research. Blood assays detecting tumor biomarkers promise noninvasive and financially reasonable screening for early cancer with high potential of positive impact on patients' survival and quality of life. For novel tumor biomarkers, the actual tumor detection limits are usually unknown and there have been no studies exploring the tumor burden detection limits of blood tumor biomarkers using mathematical models. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to develop a mathematical model relating blood biomarker levels to tumor burden.
Methods and Findings
Using a linear one-compartment model, the steady state between tumor biomarker secretion into and removal out of the intravascular space was calculated. Two conditions were assumed: (1) the compartment (plasma) is well-mixed and kinetically homogenous; (2) the tumor biomarker consists of a protein that is secreted by tumor cells into the extracellular fluid compartment, and a certain percentage of the secreted protein enters the intravascular space at a continuous rate. The model was applied to two pathophysiologic conditions: tumor biomarker is secreted (1) exclusively by the tumor cells or (2) by both tumor cells and healthy normal cells. To test the model, a sensitivity analysis was performed assuming variable conditions of the model parameters. The model parameters were primed on the basis of literature data for two established and well-studied tumor biomarkers (CA125 and prostate-specific antigen [PSA]). Assuming biomarker secretion by tumor cells only and 10% of the secreted tumor biomarker reaching the plasma, the calculated minimally detectable tumor sizes ranged between 0.11 mm3 and 3,610.14 mm3 for CA125 and between 0.21 mm3 and 131.51 mm3 for PSA. When biomarker secretion by healthy cells and tumor cells was assumed, the calculated tumor sizes leading to positive test results ranged between 116.7 mm3 and 1.52 × 106 mm3 for CA125 and between 27 mm3 and 3.45 × 105 mm3 for PSA. One of the limitations of the study is the absence of quantitative data available in the literature on the secreted tumor biomarker amount per cancer cell in intact whole body animal tumor models or in cancer patients. Additionally, the fraction of secreted tumor biomarkers actually reaching the plasma is unknown. Therefore, we used data from published cell culture experiments to estimate tumor cell biomarker secretion rates and assumed a wide range of secretion rates to account for their potential changes due to field effects of the tumor environment.
Conclusions
This study introduced a linear one-compartment mathematical model that allows estimation of minimal detectable tumor sizes based on blood tumor biomarker assays. Assuming physiological data on CA125 and PSA from the literature, the model predicted detection limits of tumors that were in qualitative agreement with the actual clinical performance of both biomarkers. The model may be helpful in future estimation of minimal detectable tumor sizes for novel proteomic biomarker assays if sufficient physiologic data for the biomarker are available. The model may address the potential and limitations of tumor biomarkers, help prioritize biomarkers, and guide investments into early cancer detection research efforts.
Sanjiv Gambhir and colleagues describe a linear one-compartment mathematical model that allows estimation of minimal detectable tumor sizes based on blood tumor biomarker assays.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Cancers—disorganized masses of cells that can occur in any tissue—develop when cells acquire genetic changes that allow them to grow uncontrollably and to spread around the body (metastasize). If a cancer (tumor) is detected when it is small, surgery can often provide a cure. Unfortunately, many cancers (particularly those deep inside the body) are not detected until they are large enough to cause pain or other symptoms by pressing against surrounding tissue. By this time, it may be impossible to remove the original tumor surgically and there may be metastases scattered around the body. In such cases, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can sometimes help, but the outlook for patients whose cancers are detected late is often poor. Consequently, researchers are trying to develop early detection tests for different types of cancer. Many tumors release specific proteins—“cancer biomarkers”—into the blood and the hope is that it might be possible to find sets of blood biomarkers that detect cancers when they are still small and thus save many lives.
Why Was This Study Done?
For most biomarkers, it is not known how the amount of protein detected in the blood relates to tumor size or how sensitive the assays for biomarkers must be to improve patient survival. In this study, the researchers develop a “linear one-compartment” mathematical model to predict how large tumors need to be before blood biomarkers can be used to detect them and test this model using published data on two established cancer biomarkers—CA125 and prostate-specific antigen (PSA). CA125 is used to monitor the progress of patients with ovarian cancer after treatment; ovarian cancer is rarely diagnosed in its early stages and only one-fourth of women with advanced disease survive for 5 y after diagnosis. PSA is used to screen for prostate cancer and has increased the detection of this cancer in its early stages when it is curable.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
To develop a model that relates secreted blood biomarker levels to tumor sizes, the researchers assumed that biomarkers mix evenly throughout the patient's blood, that cancer cells secrete biomarkers into the fluid that surrounds them, that 0.1%–20% of these secreted proteins enter the blood at a continuous rate, and that biomarkers are continuously removed from the blood. The researchers then used their model to calculate the smallest tumor sizes that might be detectable with these biomarkers by feeding in existing data on CA125 and on PSA, including assay detection limits and the biomarker secretion rates of cancer cells growing in dishes. When only tumor cells secreted the biomarker and 10% of the secreted biomarker reach the blood, the model predicted that ovarian tumors between 0.11 mm3 (smaller than a grain of salt) and nearly 4,000 mm3 (about the size of a cherry) would be detectable by measuring CA125 blood levels (the range was determined by varying the amount of biomarker secreted by the tumor cells and the assay sensitivity); for prostate cancer, the detectable tumor sizes ranged from similar lower size to about 130 mm3 (pea-sized). However, healthy cells often also secrete small quantities of cancer biomarkers. With this condition incorporated into the model, the estimated detectable tumor sizes (or total tumor burden including metastases) ranged between grape-sized and melon-sized for ovarian cancers and between pea-sized to about grapefruit-sized for prostate cancers.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The accuracy of the calculated tumor sizes provided by the researchers' mathematical model is limited by the lack of data on how tumors behave in the human body and by the many assumptions incorporated into the model. Nevertheless, the model predicts detection limits for ovarian and prostate cancer that broadly mirror the clinical performance of both biomarkers. Somewhat worryingly, the model also indicates that a tumor may have to be very large for blood biomarkers to reveal its presence, a result that could limit the clinical usefulness of biomarkers, especially if they are secreted not only by tumor cells but also by healthy cells. Given this finding, as more information about how biomarkers behave in the human body becomes available, this model (and more complex versions of it) should help researchers decide which biomarkers are likely to improve early cancer detection and patient outcomes.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050170.
The US National Cancer Institute provides a brief description of what cancer is and how it develops and a fact sheet on tumor markers; it also provides information on all aspects of ovarian and prostate cancer for patients and professionals, including information on screening and testing (in English and Spanish)
The UK charity Cancerbackup also provides general information about cancer and more specific information about ovarian and prostate cancer, including the use of CA125 and PSA for screening and follow-up
The American Society of Clinical Oncology offers a wide range of information on various cancer types, including online published articles on the current status of cancer diagnosis and management from the educational book developed by the annual meeting faculty and presenters. Registration is mandatory, but information is free
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050170
PMCID: PMC2517618  PMID: 18715113
16.  Insights into the Management of Emerging Infections: Regulating Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Transfusion Risk in the UK and the US 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(10):e342.
Background
Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is a human prion disease caused by infection with the agent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. After the recognition of vCJD in the UK in 1996, many nations implemented policies intended to reduce the hypothetical risk of transfusion transmission of vCJD. This was despite the fact that no cases of transfusion transmission had yet been identified. In December 2003, however, the first case of vCJD in a recipient of blood from a vCJD-infected donor was announced. The aim of this study is to ascertain and compare the factors that influenced the motivation for and the design of regulations to prevent transfusion transmission of vCJD in the UK and US prior to the recognition of this case.
Methods and Findings
A document search was conducted to identify US and UK governmental policy statements and guidance, transcripts (or minutes when transcripts were not available) of scientific advisory committee meetings, research articles, and editorials published in medical and scientific journals on the topic of vCJD and blood transfusion transmission between March 1996 and December 2003. In addition, 40 interviews were conducted with individuals familiar with the decision-making process and/or the science involved. All documents and transcripts were coded and analyzed according to the methods and principles of grounded theory. Data showed that while resulting policies were based on the available science, social and historical factors played a major role in the motivation for and the design of regulations to protect against transfusion transmission of vCJD. First, recent experience with and collective guilt resulting from the transfusion-transmitted epidemics of HIV/AIDS in both countries served as a major, historically specific impetus for such policies. This history was brought to bear both by hemophilia activists and those charged with regulating blood products in the US and UK. Second, local specificities, such as the recall of blood products for possible vCJD contamination in the UK, contributed to a greater sense of urgency and a speedier implementation of regulations in that country. Third, while the results of scientific studies played a prominent role in the construction of regulations in both nations, this role was shaped by existing social and professional networks. In the UK, early focus on a European study implicating B-lymphocytes as the carrier of prion infectivity in blood led to the introduction of a policy that requires universal leukoreduction of blood components. In the US, early focus on an American study highlighting the ability of plasma to serve as a reservoir of prion infectivity led the FDA and its advisory panel to eschew similar measures.
Conclusions
The results of this study yield three important theoretical insights that pertain to the global management of emerging infectious diseases. First, because the perception and management of disease may be shaped by previous experience with disease, especially catastrophic experience, there is always the possibility for over-management of some possible routes of transmission and relative neglect of others. Second, local specificities within a given nation may influence the temporality of decision making, which in turn may influence the choice of disease management policies. Third, a preference for science-based risk management among nations will not necessarily lead to homogeneous policies. This is because the exposure to and interpretation of scientific results depends on the existing social and professional networks within a given nation. Together, these theoretical insights provide a framework for analyzing and anticipating potential conflicts in the international management of emerging infectious diseases. In addition, this study illustrates the utility of qualitative methods in investigating research questions that are difficult to assess through quantitative means.
A qualitative study of US and UK governmental policy statements on the topic of vCJD and blood transfusion transmission identified factors responsible for differences in the policies adopted.
Editors' Summary
Background.
In 1996 in the UK, a new type of human prion disease was seen for the first time. This is now known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Prion diseases are rare brain diseases passed from individual to individual (or between animals) by a particular type of wrongly folded protein, and they are fatal. It was suspected that vCJD had passed to humans from cattle, and that the agent causing vCJD was the same as that causing bovine spongiform encephalopathy (or “mad cow disease”). Shortly after vCJD was recognized, authorities in many countries became concerned about the possibility that it could be transmitted from one person to another through contaminated blood supplies used for transfusion in hospitals. Even though there wasn't any evidence of actual transmission of the disease through blood before December 2003, authorities in the UK, US, and elsewhere set up regulations designed to reduce the chance of that happening. At this early stage in the epidemic, there was little in the way of scientific information about the transmission properties of the disease. Both the UK and US, however, sought to make decisions in a scientific manner. They made use of evidence as it was being produced, often before it had been published. Despite this, the UK and US decided on very different changes to their respective regulations on blood donation. Both countries chose to prevent certain people (who they thought would be at greater risk of having vCJD) from donating blood. In the UK, however, the decision was made to remove white blood cells from donated blood to reduce the risk of transmitting vCJD, while the US decided that such a step was not merited by the evidence.
Why Was This Study Done?
This researcher wanted to understand more clearly why the UK and US ended up with different policies: what role was played by science, and what role was played by non-scientific factors? She hoped that insights from this investigation would also be relevant to similar challenges in the future—for example, as many countries try to work out how to control the threat of avian flu.
What Did the Researcher Do and Find?
The researcher searched for all relevant official government documents from the US and UK, as well as scientific papers, published between the time vCJD was first identified (March 1996) and the first instance of vCJD carried through blood (December 2003). She also interviewed people who knew about vCJD management in the US and UK—for example, members of government agencies and the relevant advisory committees. From the documents and interviews, the researcher picked out and grouped shared ideas. Although these documents and interviews suggested that policy making was rooted in scientific evidence, many non-scientific factors were also important. The researcher found substantial uncertainty in the scientific evidence available at the time. The document search and interviews showed that policy makers felt guilty about a previous experience in which people had become infected with HIV/AIDS through contaminated blood and were concerned about repeating this experience. Finally, in the UK, the possibility of blood contamination was seen as a much more urgent problem than in the US, because BSE and vCJD were found there first and there were far more cases. This meant that when the UK made its decision about whether to remove white blood cells from donated blood, there was less scientific evidence available. In fact, the main study that was relied on at the time would later be questioned.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that for this particular case, science was not the only factor affecting government policies. Historical and social factors such as previous experience, sense of urgency, public pressure, and the relative importance of different scientific networks were also very important. The study predicts that in the future, infectious disease–related policy decisions are unlikely to be the same across different countries because the interpretation of scientific evidence depends, to a large extent, on social factors.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030342.
National Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance Unit, Edinburgh, UK
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pages about prion diseases
World Health Organization variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease fact sheet
US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke information about prion diseases
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030342
PMCID: PMC1621089  PMID: 17076547
17.  A study on literature obsolescence and core journals’ cost-benefit in citations of the ‘Scientific Medical Journal of Ahwaz’ 
Introduction:
One of the methods of identifying core and popular resources is by citation evaluation. Using citation evaluation, the librarians of the Acquisition Department can use quantitative methods to indentify core and popular resources among numerous information resources and make serious savings in the library's budget, by acquiring these core resources and eliminating useless ones. The aim of this study is assessing literature obsolescence and core journals’ cost-benefit in citations of the ‘Scientific Medical Journal of Ahwaz’.
Materials and Methods:
This study is a descriptive and cross-sectional survey that uses citation analysis. Sampling is objective sampling from all documents from years 1364 (1985) to 1385 (2006), and the population comprises of 6342 citations of the articles published in ‘Scientific Medical Journal of Ahwaz’. Data collection is done through referring to the original documents and the data is analyzed using the Excel software, and for descriptive and analytical statistics the cost-benefit formula and Bradford law formula are used.
Results:
Findings showed that the average citation for each document in the ‘Scientific Medical Journal of Ahwaz’ was 15.81. The average citation to international sources was 14.37, and the average citation to national sources was 1.44. The literature obsolescence of Farsi documents in this study was 15 years, while it was equal to 20 years for English documents. The highly cited Farsi journals were (sorted based on citation in descending order): ‘Scientific Medical Journal of Ahwaz’, ‘Daroudarman’, ‘Nabz,’ and ‘Journal of Medical School, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences’. The highly cited English journals were (sorted based on citation in descending order): ‘Pediatrics’, ‘The New England Journal of Medicine’, ‘Gastroenterology’ and ‘Medicine’. All of these four journals are part of the ISI database and have good impact factors in the Journal Citation Reports (JCR). Also their cost-benefit was reasonable based on the frequency of their use.
Conclusion:
The authors of the investigated journal were more inclined to use international references. The resources used by the authors of this journal are relatively obsolete and the authors ought to use more up-to-date resources. The subscription for high citation English and Farsi journals is still available in this university. Also the authors of this journal have used accredited ISI journals as their resource, which is a sign of the credibility for the ‘Scientific Medical Journal of Ahwaz’.
doi:10.4103/2277-9531.139672
PMCID: PMC4165098  PMID: 25250359
Bradford Law; citation analysis; core journals; cost-benefit; literature obsolescence; Scientific Medical Journal of Ahwaz
18.  A Study of Innovative Features in Scholarly Open Access Journals 
Background
The emergence of the Internet has triggered tremendous changes in the publication of scientific peer-reviewed journals. Today, journals are usually available in parallel electronic versions, but the way the peer-review process works, the look of articles and journals, and the rigid and slow publication schedules have remained largely unchanged, at least for the vast majority of subscription-based journals. Those publishing firms and scholarly publishers who have chosen the more radical option of open access (OA), in which the content of journals is freely accessible to anybody with Internet connectivity, have had a much bigger degree of freedom to experiment with innovations.
Objective
The objective was to study how open access journals have experimented with innovations concerning ways of organizing the peer review, the format of journals and articles, new interactive and media formats, and novel publishing revenue models.
Methods
The features of 24 open access journals were studied. The journals were chosen in a nonrandom manner from the approximately 7000 existing OA journals based on available information about interesting journals and include both representative cases and highly innovative outlier cases.
Results
Most early OA journals in the 1990s were founded by individual scholars and used a business model based on voluntary work close in spirit to open-source development of software. In the next wave, many long-established journals, in particular society journals and journals from regions such as Latin America, made their articles OA when they started publishing parallel electronic versions. From about 2002 on, newly founded professional OA publishing firms using article-processing charges to fund their operations have emerged. Over the years, there have been several experiments with new forms of peer review, media enhancements, and the inclusion of structured data sets with articles. In recent years, the growth of OA publishing has also been facilitated by the availability of open-source software for journal publishing.
Conclusions
The case studies illustrate how a new technology and a business model enabled by new technology can be harnessed to find new innovative ways for the organization and content of scholarly publishing. Several recent launches of OA journals by major subscription publishers demonstrate that OA is rapidly gaining acceptance as a sustainable alternative to subscription-based scholarly publishing.
doi:10.2196/jmir.1802
PMCID: PMC3278101  PMID: 22173122
Scholarly publishing; open access; Internet; peer review
19.  Update in Women’s Health 
ABSTRACT
INTRODUCTION
The aim of this clinical update is to summarize articles and guidelines published in the last year with the potential to change current clinical practice as it relates to women’s health.
METHODS
We used two independent search strategies to identify articles relevant to women’s health published between March 1, 2007 and February 29, 2008. First, we reviewed the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and journal indices from the ACP Journal Club, Annals of Internal Medicine, Archives of Internal Medicine, British Medical Journal, Circulation, Diabetes, JAMA, JGIM, Journal of Women’s Health, Lancet, NEJM, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Women’s Health Journal Watch. Second, we performed a MEDLINE search using the medical subject heading term “sex factors.” The authors, who all have clinical and/or research experience in the area of women’s health, reviewed all article titles, abstracts, and, when indicated, full publications. We excluded articles related to obstetrical aspects of women’s health focusing on those relevant to general internists. We had two acceptance criteria, scientific rigor and potential to impact women’s health. We also identified new and/or updated women’s health guidelines released during the same time period.
RESULTS
We identified over 250 publications with potential relevance to women’s health. Forty-six articles were selected for presentation as part of the Clinical Update, and nine were selected for a more detailed discussion in this paper. Evidence-based women’s health guidelines are listed in Table 1. Table 1Important Women’s Health Guidelines in 2007–2008: New or UpdatedTopicIssuing organizationUpdated recommendations and commentsMammography screening in women 40–4917ACPIndividualized risk assessment and informed decision making should be used to guide decisions about mammography screening in this age group.To aid in the risk assessment, a discussion of the risk factors, which if present in a woman in her 40s increases her risk to above that of an average 50-year-old woman, is provided in the guidelines. In addition, available risk prediction models, such as the NIH Web site calculator (http://www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool/) can also be used to estimate quantitative breast cancer risk. This model was updated in 2008 with race-specific data for calculating risk in African-American women.18The harms and benefits of mammography should be discussed and incorporated along with a woman’s preferences and breast cancer risk profile into the decision on when to begin screening. If a woman decides to forgo mammography, the decision should be readdressed every 1 to 2 years.STD screening guidelines19USPSTF and CDCRoutine screening for this infection is now recommended for ALL sexually active women age 24 and under, based on the recent high prevalence estimates for chlamydiaIt is not recommended for women (pregnant or nonpregnant) age 25 and older, unless they are at increased risk for infection.STD treatment guidelines20CDCFlouroquinolones are NO longer recommended for treatment of N. gonorrhea, due to increasing resistance (as high as 15% of isolates in 2006).For uncomplicated infections, treatment of gonorrhea should be initiated with ceftriaxone 125 mg IM or cefixime 400 mg PO and co-treatment for chlamydia infection (unless ruled out with testing). Recent estimates demonstrate that almost 50% of persons with gonorrhea have concomitant chlamydia infection21.STD = sexually transmitted disease, NIH = National Institutes of Health, ACP = American College of Physicians, USPSTF = United States Prevention Services Task Force, CDC = Centers for Disease Control
doi:10.1007/s11606-009-0917-9
PMCID: PMC2686759  PMID: 19259751
women’s health; osteoporosis; preconception counseling; HPV vaccine; obesity; cardiovascular disease
20.  The Effect of Elevated Body Mass Index on Ischemic Heart Disease Risk: Causal Estimates from a Mendelian Randomisation Approach 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(5):e1001212.
A Mendelian randomization analysis conducted by Børge G. Nordestgaard and colleagues using data from observational studies supports a causal relationship between body mass index and risk for ischemic heart disease.
Background
Adiposity, assessed as elevated body mass index (BMI), is associated with increased risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD); however, whether this is causal is unknown. We tested the hypothesis that positive observational associations between BMI and IHD are causal.
Methods and Findings
In 75,627 individuals taken from two population-based and one case-control study in Copenhagen, we measured BMI, ascertained 11,056 IHD events, and genotyped FTO(rs9939609), MC4R(rs17782313), and TMEM18(rs6548238). Using genotypes as a combined allele score in instrumental variable analyses, the causal odds ratio (OR) between BMI and IHD was estimated and compared with observational estimates. The allele score-BMI and the allele score-IHD associations used to estimate the causal OR were also calculated individually. In observational analyses the OR for IHD was 1.26 (95% CI 1.19–1.34) for every 4 kg/m2 increase in BMI. A one-unit allele score increase associated with a 0.28 kg/m2 (95 CI% 0.20–0.36) increase in BMI and an OR for IHD of 1.03 (95% CI 1.01–1.05) (corresponding to an average 1.68 kg/m2 BMI increase and 18% increase in the odds of IHD for those carrying all six BMI increasing alleles). In instrumental variable analysis using the same allele score the causal IHD OR for a 4 kg/m2 increase in BMI was 1.52 (95% CI 1.12–2.05).
Conclusions
For every 4 kg/m2 increase in BMI, observational estimates suggested a 26% increase in odds for IHD while causal estimates suggested a 52% increase. These data add evidence to support a causal link between increased BMI and IHD risk, though the mechanism may ultimately be through intermediate factors like hypertension, dyslipidemia, and type 2 diabetes. This work has important policy implications for public health, given the continuous nature of the BMI-IHD association and the modifiable nature of BMI. This analysis demonstrates the value of observational studies and their ability to provide unbiased results through inclusion of genetic data avoiding confounding, reverse causation, and bias.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Ischemic heart disease (IHD; also known as coronary heart disease) is the leading cause of death among adults in developed countries. In the US alone, IHD kills nearly half a million people every year. With age, fatty deposits (atherosclerotic plaques) build up in the walls of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients. The resultant reduction in the heart's blood supply causes shortness of breath, angina (chest pains that are usually relieved by rest), and potentially fatal heart attacks (myocardial infarctions). Risk factors for IHD include smoking, high blood pressure (hypertension), abnormal amounts of cholesterol and other fat in the blood (dyslipidemia), type 2 diabetes, and being overweight or obese (having excess body fat). Treatments for IHD include lifestyle changes (for example, losing weight) and medications that lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. The narrowed arteries can also be widened using a device called a stent or surgically bypassed.
Why Was This Study Done?
Prospective observational studies have shown an association between a high body mass index (BMI, a measure of body fat that is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared; a BMI greater than 30 kg/m2 indicates obesity) and an increased risk of IHD. Observational studies, which ask whether people who are exposed to a suspected risk factor develop a specific disease more often than people who are not exposed to the risk factor, cannot prove, however, that changes in BMI/adiposity cause IHD. Obese individuals may share other characteristics that cause both IHD and obesity (confounding) or, rather than obesity causing IHD, IHD may cause obesity (reverse causation). Here, the researchers use “Mendelian randomization” to examine whether elevations in BMI across the lifecourse have a causal impact on IHD risk. Three common genetic variants—FTO(rs9939609), MC4R(rs17782313), and TMEM18(rs6548238)—which have the largest single genetic variant associations with BMI were used in this study. Given that gene variants are inherited essentially randomly with respect to conventional confounding factors and are not subject reverse causation, use of these as instruments (or proxy measures) for variation in BMI as a risk factor (as opposed to measuring BMI directly) allows researchers to comment on whether obesity is causally involved in IHD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed data from two population-based studies in which adults were physically examined and answered a lifestyle questionnaire before being followed to see how many developed IDH. They also analyzed data from a case-control study on IDH (in a case-control study, people with a disease are matched with similar people without the disease and the occurrence of risk factors in the patients and controls is compared). Overall, the researchers measured the BMI of 75,627 white individuals, among whom 11,056 already had IDH or developed it, and determined which of the BMI-increasing genetic variants each participant carried. On the basis of the observational data, every 4 kg/m2 increase in BMI increased the odds of IDH by 26% (an odds ratio of 1.26). Using a score derived from the combination of the three genetic variants, the researchers confirmed an association between each BMI increasing allele and both BMI (as expected) and IHD (0.28 kg/m2 and an odds ratio for IHD of 1.03, respectively). On average, compared to people carrying no BMI-increasing gene variants, people carrying six BMI-increasing gene variants had a 1.68 kg/m2 increase in BMI and an 18% increase in IHD risk. To extend this and to essentially reassess the original, observational, relationship between BMI and IHD risk, an “instrumental variable analysis” was used to examine the causal effect of a lifetime change in BMI on the risk of IDH. In this, it was found that for every 4 kg/m2 increase in BMI increased the odds of IDH by 52%.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings support a causal link between increased BMI and IDH risk, although it may be that BMI affects IDH through intermediate factors such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes. The findings also show that observational studies into the impact of elevated BMI on IHD risk were consistent with this, but also that the inclusion of genetic data increases the value of observational studies by making it possible to avoid issues such as confounding and reverse causation. Finally, these findings and those of recent, observational studies have important implications for public-health policy because they show that the association between BMI (which is modifiable by lifestyle changes) and IHD is continuous. That is, any increase in BMI increases the risk of IHD; there is no threshold below which a BMI increase has no effect on IDH risk. Thus, public-health policies that aim to reduce BMI by even moderate levels could substantially reduce the occurrence of IDH in populations.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001212.
The American Heart Association provides information about IHD and tips on keeping the heart healthy, including weight management; it also provides personal stories about IHD
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about IHD, including information on prevention and personal stories about IHD
Information is available from the British Heart Foundation on heart disease and keeping the heart healthy
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute also provides information on IHD (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to many other sources of information on IHD (in English and Spanish)
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001212
PMCID: PMC3341326  PMID: 22563304
21.  Patient Adherence to Tuberculosis Treatment: A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(7):e238.
Background
Tuberculosis (TB) is a major contributor to the global burden of disease and has received considerable attention in recent years, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where it is closely associated with HIV/AIDS. Poor adherence to treatment is common despite various interventions aimed at improving treatment completion. Lack of a comprehensive and holistic understanding of barriers to and facilitators of, treatment adherence is currently a major obstacle to finding effective solutions. The aim of this systematic review of qualitative studies was to understand the factors considered important by patients, caregivers and health care providers in contributing to TB medication adherence.
Methods and Findings
We searched 19 electronic databases (1966–February 2005) for qualitative studies on patients', caregivers', or health care providers' perceptions of adherence to preventive or curative TB treatment with the free text terms “Tuberculosis AND (adherence OR compliance OR concordance)”. We supplemented our search with citation searches and by consulting experts. For included studies, study quality was assessed using a predetermined checklist and data were extracted independently onto a standard form. We then followed Noblit and Hare's method of meta-ethnography to synthesize the findings, using both reciprocal translation and line-of-argument synthesis. We screened 7,814 citations and selected 44 articles that met the prespecified inclusion criteria. The synthesis offers an overview of qualitative evidence derived from these multiple international studies. We identified eight major themes across the studies: organisation of treatment and care; interpretations of illness and wellness; the financial burden of treatment; knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about treatment; law and immigration; personal characteristics and adherence behaviour; side effects; and family, community, and household support. Our interpretation of the themes across all studies produced a line-of-argument synthesis describing how four major factors interact to affect adherence to TB treatment: structural factors, including poverty and gender discrimination; the social context; health service factors; and personal factors. The findings of this study are limited by the quality and foci of the included studies.
Conclusions
Adherence to the long course of TB treatment is a complex, dynamic phenomenon with a wide range of factors impacting on treatment-taking behaviour. Patients' adherence to their medication regimens was influenced by the interaction of a number of these factors. The findings of our review could help inform the development of patient-centred interventions and of interventions to address structural barriers to treatment adherence.
From a systematic review of qualitative research, Munro and coauthors found that a range of interacting factors can lead to patients deciding not to complete their course of tuberculosis treatment.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Every year nearly nine million people develop tuberculosis—a contagious infection, usually of the lungs—and about two million people die from the disease. Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, bacteria that are spread in airborne droplets when people with active tuberculosis sneeze or cough. Tuberculosis can be cured by taking several strong antibiotics daily for at least six months but many patients fail to complete this treatment because the drugs have unpleasant side-effects and the treatment is complicated. In addition, people often feel better soon after starting treatment so they stop taking their tablets before all the bacteria in their body are dead. Poor treatment adherence (poor compliance) means that people remain infectious for longer and are more likely to relapse and die. It also contributes to the emergence of drug-resistant tuberculosis. To help people complete their treatment, the World Health Organization recommends a strategy known as DOTS (directly observed treatment, short course). As part of this strategy, a health worker or a tuberculosis treatment supporter—a person nominated by the health worker and the patient—watches the patient take his/her antibiotics.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although DOTS has contributed to improved tuberculosis control, better patient compliance is needed to halt the global tuberculosis epidemic. Treatment adherence is a complex behavioral issue and improving treatment outcomes for tuberculosis (and for other diseases) requires a full understanding of the factors that prevent people taking medicines correctly and those that help them complete their treatment. In this study, the researchers have done a systematic review (a study in which the medical literature is surveyed and appraised using defined methods to reach a consensus view on a specific question) of qualitative studies that asked patients, carers, and health workers which factors contributed to adherence to tuberculosis treatment. Qualitative studies collect non-quantitative data so, for example, a qualitative study on tuberculosis treatment might ask people how the treatment made them feel whereas a quantitative study might count bacteria in patient samples.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched electronic databases and reference lists for qualitative studies on adherence to tuberculosis treatments and also consulted experts on tuberculosis treatment. They carefully read the 44 published papers that met their predefined inclusion criteria and then used a method called “meta-ethnography” to compare the factors (themes) associated with good or bad adherence in the different studies and to synthesize (reach) a consensus view of which factors influence adherence to tuberculosis treatment. The researchers identified eight major factors associated with adherence to treatment. These included: health service factors such as the organization of treatment and care; social context (family, community and household influences); and the financial burden of treatment. Finally, the researchers interpreted the themes that emerged from the studies to build a simple model that proposes that adherence to tuberculosis treatment is influenced by four interacting sets of factors—structural factors (including poverty and gender discrimination), social context factors, health service factors, and personal factors (including attitudes towards treatment and illness).
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings of this systematic review of qualitative research on patient adherence to tuberculosis treatment are inevitably limited by the quality and scope of the original research. Consequently, further studies into patients' understanding of tuberculosis and its treatment are needed. Nevertheless, the findings and the model proposed by the researchers indicate that patients often take their tuberculosis medications under very difficult conditions and that they cannot control many of the factors that prevent them taking their drugs. So, although current efforts to improve adherence to tuberculosis treatments emphasize instilling a willingness to take their medications into patients, this systematic review suggests that more must be done to address how factors such as poverty and gender affect treatment adherence and to tailor support systems to patients' needs. Most importantly, it indicates that future interventions should involve patients more in the decisions made about their treatment.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040238.
MedlinePlus has an encyclopedia page on tuberculosis (in English and Spanish)
See the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease fact sheet on tuberculosis
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a variety of fact sheets and other information resources on tuberculosis
World Health Organization has produced the 2007 Global Tuberculosis Control report (in English with key findings in French and Spanish), information on DOTS (in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic and Chinese), and A Guide for Tuberculosis Treatment Supporters
See the brief guide to systematic reviews, published by the British Medical Journal
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040238
PMCID: PMC1925126  PMID: 17676945
22.  The Potential Impact of Male Circumcision on HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e262.
Background
A randomized controlled trial (RCT) has shown that male circumcision (MC) reduces sexual transmission of HIV from women to men by 60% (32%−76%; 95% CI) offering an intervention of proven efficacy for reducing the sexual spread of HIV. We explore the implications of this finding for the promotion of MC as a public health intervention to control HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods and Findings
Using dynamical simulation models we consider the impact of MC on the relative prevalence of HIV in men and women and in circumcised and uncircumcised men. Using country level data on HIV prevalence and MC, we estimate the impact of increasing MC coverage on HIV incidence, HIV prevalence, and HIV-related deaths over the next ten, twenty, and thirty years in sub-Saharan Africa. Assuming that full coverage of MC is achieved over the next ten years, we consider three scenarios in which the reduction in transmission is given by the best estimate and the upper and lower 95% confidence limits of the reduction in transmission observed in the RCT.
MC could avert 2.0 (1.1−3.8) million new HIV infections and 0.3 (0.1−0.5) million deaths over the next ten years in sub-Saharan Africa. In the ten years after that, it could avert a further 3.7 (1.9−7.5) million new HIV infections and 2.7 (1.5−5.3) million deaths, with about one quarter of all the incident cases prevented and the deaths averted occurring in South Africa. We show that a) MC will increase the proportion of infected people who are women from about 52% to 58%; b) where there is homogenous mixing but not all men are circumcised, the prevalence of infection in circumcised men is likely to be about 80% of that in uncircumcised men; c) MC is equivalent to an intervention, such as a vaccine or increased condom use, that reduces transmission in both directions by 37%.
Conclusions
This analysis is based on the result of just one RCT, but if the results of that trial are confirmed we suggest that MC could substantially reduce the burden of HIV in Africa, especially in southern Africa where the prevalence of MC is low and the prevalence of HIV is high. While the protective benefit to HIV-negative men will be immediate, the full impact of MC on HIV-related illness and death will only be apparent in ten to twenty years.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Africa is the continent most affected by HIV/AIDS, and it is important to consider all possible means of reducing the spread of HIV infection. Male circumcision has been a tradition in many parts of Africa for hundreds of years. Boys who are circumcised usually have it done in late childhood or their early teenage years. It was noticed some years ago that those African groups in which circumcision is routinely done on all boys have fewer cases of HIV/AIDS than are found in groups where circumcision is not a tradition. This finding gave rise to the idea that circumcision might give a degree of protection against HIV, though it was recognised that some other, unknown difference between these groups of people might actually be the important factor. In 2005 a trial was reported from the Orange Farm area of South Africa, in which uncircumcised men were offered the chance to be circumcised. The men who agreed were divided at random into those who had the operation straightaway and those who were to have it two years later. During the next 18 months, the number of new cases of HIV infection was much higher amongst the men who had not been circumcised. Circumcision did therefore seem to offer a measure of protection against infection. This protective effect was estimated at being about 60%. Similar trials are under way in other parts of Africa but there are no results available from them at this stage.
Why Was This Study Done?
If the level of effectiveness of circumcision suggested by the South African trial is correct, then, as one part of a range of measures to reduce the spread of HIV, it would seem logical to encourage the practice of male circumcision. It would be useful to have an estimate of just how many new cases could be prevented and how many lives would be saved by the promotion of male circumcision. Calculations would have to allow for various factors, such as the present level of HIV infection, which varies from one country to another, and the fact that many men are already circumcised.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This research did not involve collecting any new data. The researchers used mathematical modelling to make calculations. They based their model on data from the Orange Farm trial and on information from various sub-Saharan African countries on the proportion of men who are circumcised and the proportion who are HIV-positive. They made the assumption that if circumcision is intensively promoted, all men in those countries will be circumcised in 10 years time. They calculated the number of new cases that would be prevented and the lives that would be saved in ten years, 20 years, and 30 years time. Their best estimate is that with the promotion of male circumcision, two million cases and 0.3 million deaths will be avoided in ten years time. Over the following ten years, according to the researchers' model, a further 3.7 million cases and 2.7 million deaths would be prevented. Most of the initial impact would be in men, but the reduction in the number of HIV-positive men would in time also lower the risk of women becoming infected. Overall, on the basis of these calculations, male circumcision would reduce the rate of infections by about 37%—both female-to-male and male-to-female transmission. The size of the impact would vary from one country to another; it would be greatest in southern Africa where HIV infection rates are high and circumcision rates relatively low compared with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Male circumcision alone cannot bring the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa under control. Even circumcised men can become infected, though their risk of doing so is much lower. However, the researchers call for the promotion of male circumcision to become a major part of AIDS control programmes. Their results are based on the findings of just one study (the Orange Farm trial), and it will be important to repeat the calculations when further studies have been completed.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030262:
• The Orange Farm trial was published in PLoS Medicine. Several articles discussing the trial were also published in the same issue of the journal
• The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has information about the state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and prevention strategies worldwide. It produces an annual report and has documents on a wide range of topics
•  AEGIS is the world's largest searchable database on HIV and AIDS.
• Many organizations provide information on AIDS prevention—for example, the Terrence Higgins Trust
• The World Bank's Global HIV/AIDS Program has a report about male circumcision and HIV infection
A modelling study, based on one trial plus national figures for current prevalence of HIV and of male circumcision (MC), found increasing MC in Africa could produce major fall in HIV prevalence in 10-12 years.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030262
PMCID: PMC1489185  PMID: 16822094
23.  Reporting Bias in Drug Trials Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration: Review of Publication and Presentation 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(11):e217.
Background
Previous studies of drug trials submitted to regulatory authorities have documented selective reporting of both entire trials and favorable results. The objective of this study is to determine the publication rate of efficacy trials submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in approved New Drug Applications (NDAs) and to compare the trial characteristics as reported by the FDA with those reported in publications.
Methods and Findings
This is an observational study of all efficacy trials found in approved NDAs for New Molecular Entities (NMEs) from 2001 to 2002 inclusive and all published clinical trials corresponding to the trials within the NDAs. For each trial included in the NDA, we assessed its publication status, primary outcome(s) reported and their statistical significance, and conclusions. Seventy-eight percent (128/164) of efficacy trials contained in FDA reviews of NDAs were published. In a multivariate model, trials with favorable primary outcomes (OR = 4.7, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.33–17.1, p = 0.018) and active controls (OR = 3.4, 95% CI 1.02–11.2, p = 0.047) were more likely to be published. Forty-one primary outcomes from the NDAs were omitted from the papers. Papers included 155 outcomes that were in the NDAs, 15 additional outcomes that favored the test drug, and two other neutral or unknown additional outcomes. Excluding outcomes with unknown significance, there were 43 outcomes in the NDAs that did not favor the NDA drug. Of these, 20 (47%) were not included in the papers. The statistical significance of five of the remaining 23 outcomes (22%) changed between the NDA and the paper, with four changing to favor the test drug in the paper (p = 0.38). Excluding unknowns, 99 conclusions were provided in both NDAs and papers, nine conclusions (9%) changed from the FDA review of the NDA to the paper, and all nine did so to favor the test drug (100%, 95% CI 72%–100%, p = 0.0039).
Conclusions
Many trials were still not published 5 y after FDA approval. Discrepancies between the trial information reviewed by the FDA and information found in published trials tended to lead to more favorable presentations of the NDA drugs in the publications. Thus, the information that is readily available in the scientific literature to health care professionals is incomplete and potentially biased.
Lisa Bero and colleagues review the publication status of all efficacy trials carried out in support of new drug approvals from 2001 and 2002, and find that a quarter of trials remain unpublished.
Editors' Summary
Background.
All health-care professionals want their patients to have the best available clinical care—but how can they identify the optimum drug or intervention? In the past, clinicians used their own experience or advice from colleagues to make treatment decisions. Nowadays, they rely on evidence-based medicine—the systematic review and appraisal of clinical research findings. So, for example, before a new drug is approved for the treatment of a specific disease in the United States and becomes available for doctors to prescribe, the drug's sponsors (usually a pharmaceutical company) must submit a “New Drug Application” (NDA) to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The NDA tells the story of the drug's development from laboratory and animal studies through to clinical trials, including “efficacy” trials in which the efficacy and safety of the new drug and of a standard drug for the disease are compared by giving groups of patients the different drugs and measuring several key (primary) “outcomes.” FDA reviewers use this evidence to decide whether to approve a drug.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although the information in NDAs is publicly available, clinicians and patients usually learn about new drugs from articles published in medical journals after drug approval. Unfortunately, drug sponsors sometimes publish the results only of the trials in which their drug performed well and in which statistical analyses indicate that the drug's improved performance was a real effect rather than a lucky coincidence. Trials in which a drug did not show a “statistically significant benefit” or where the drug was found to have unwanted side effects often remain unpublished. This “publication bias” means that the scientific literature can contain an inaccurate picture of a drug's efficacy and safety relative to other therapies. This may lead to clinicians preferentially prescribing newer, more expensive drugs that are not necessarily better than older drugs. In this study, the researchers test the hypothesis that not all the trial results in NDAs are published in medical journals. They also investigate whether there are any discrepancies between the trial data included in NDAs and in published articles.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified all the efficacy trials included in NDAs for totally new drugs that were approved by the FDA in 2001 and 2002 and searched the scientific literature for publications between July 2006 and June 2007 relating to these trials. Only three-quarters of the efficacy trials in the NDAs were published; trials with favorable outcomes were nearly five times as likely to be published as those without favorable outcomes. Although 155 primary outcomes were in both the papers and the NDAs, 41 outcomes were only in the NDAs. Conversely, 17 outcomes were only in the papers; 15 of these favored the test drug. Of the 43 primary outcomes reported in the NDAs that showed no statistically significant benefit for the test drug, only half were included in the papers; for five of the reported primary outcomes, the statistical significance differed between the NDA and the paper and generally favored the test drug in the papers. Finally, nine out of 99 conclusions differed between the NDAs and the papers; each time, the published conclusion favored the test drug.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the results of many trials of new drugs are not published 5 years after FDA approval of the drug. Furthermore, unexplained discrepancies between the data and conclusions in NDAs and in medical journals are common and tend to paint a more favorable picture of the new drug in the scientific literature than in the NDAs. Overall, these findings suggest that the information on the efficacy of new drugs that is readily available to clinicians and patients through the published scientific literature is incomplete and potentially biased. The recent introduction in the US and elsewhere of mandatory registration of all clinical trials before they start and of mandatory publication in trial registers of the full results of all the predefined primary outcomes should reduce publication bias over the next few years and should allow clinicians and patients to make fully informed treatment decisions.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050217.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by An-Wen Chan
PLoS Medicine recently published a related article by Ida Sim and colleagues: Lee K, Bacchetti P, Sim I (2008) Publication of clinical trials supporting successful new drug applications: A literature analysis. PLoS Med 5: e191. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050191
The Food and Drug Administration provides information about drug approval in the US for consumers and for health-care professionals; detailed information about the process by which drugs are approved is on the Web site of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (in English and Spanish)
NDAs for approved drugs can also be found on this Web site
The ClinicalTrials.gov Web site provides information about the US National Institutes of Health clinical trial registry, background information about clinical trials, and a fact sheet detailing the requirements of the FDA Amendments Act 2007 for trial registration
The World Health Organization's International Clinical Trials Registry Platform is working toward setting international norms and standards for the reporting of clinical trials (in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050217
PMCID: PMC2586350  PMID: 19067477
24.  Methods of Blinding in Reports of Randomized Controlled Trials Assessing Pharmacologic Treatments: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(10):e425.
Background
Blinding is a cornerstone of therapeutic evaluation because lack of blinding can bias treatment effect estimates. An inventory of the blinding methods would help trialists conduct high-quality clinical trials and readers appraise the quality of results of published trials. We aimed to systematically classify and describe methods to establish and maintain blinding of patients and health care providers and methods to obtain blinding of outcome assessors in randomized controlled trials of pharmacologic treatments.
Methods and Findings
We undertook a systematic review of all reports of randomized controlled trials assessing pharmacologic treatments with blinding published in 2004 in high impact-factor journals from Medline and the Cochrane Methodology Register. We used a standardized data collection form to extract data. The blinding methods were classified according to whether they primarily (1) established blinding of patients or health care providers, (2) maintained the blinding of patients or health care providers, and (3) obtained blinding of assessors of the main outcomes. We identified 819 articles, with 472 (58%) describing the method of blinding. Methods to establish blinding of patients and/or health care providers concerned mainly treatments provided in identical form, specific methods to mask some characteristics of the treatments (e.g., added flavor or opaque coverage), or use of double dummy procedures or simulation of an injection. Methods to avoid unblinding of patients and/or health care providers involved use of active placebo, centralized assessment of side effects, patients informed only in part about the potential side effects of each treatment, centralized adapted dosage, or provision of sham results of complementary investigations. The methods reported for blinding outcome assessors mainly relied on a centralized assessment of complementary investigations, clinical examination (i.e., use of video, audiotape, or photography), or adjudication of clinical events.
Conclusions
This review classifies blinding methods and provides a detailed description of methods that could help trialists overcome some barriers to blinding in clinical trials and readers interpret the quality of pharmalogic trials.
Following a systematic review of all reports of randomized controlled trials assessing pharmacologic treatments involving blinding, a classification of blinding methods is proposed.
Editors' Summary
Background.
In evidence-based medicine, good-quality randomized controlled trials are generally considered to be the most reliable source of information about the effects of different treatments, such as drugs. In a randomized trial, patients are assigned to receive one treatment or another by the play of chance. This technique helps makes sure that the two groups of patients receiving the different treatments are equivalent at the start of the trial. Proper randomization also prevents doctors from controlling or affecting which treatment patients get, which could distort the results. An additional tool that is also used to make trials more precise is “blinding.” Blinding involves taking steps to prevent patients, doctors, or other people involved in the trial (e.g., those people recording measurements) from finding out which patients got what treatment. Properly done, blinding should make sure the results of a trial are more accurate. This is because in an unblinded study, participants may respond better if they know they have received a promising new treatment (or worse if they only got placebo or an old drug); doctors may “want” a particular treatment to do better in the trial, and unthinking bias could creep into their measurements or actions; the same applies for practitioners and researchers who record patients' outcomes in the trial. However, blinding is not a simple, single step; the people carrying out the trial often have to set up a variety of different procedures that depend on the type of trial that is being done.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers here wanted to thoroughly examine different methods that have been used to achieve blinding in randomized trials of drug treatments, and to describe and classify them. They hoped that a better understanding of the different blinding methods would help people doing trials to design better trials in the future, and also help readers to interpret the quality of trials that had been done.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This group of researchers conducted what is called a “systematic review.” They systematically searched the published medical literature to find all randomized, blinded drug trials published in 2004 in a number of different “high-impact” journals (journals whose articles are often mentioned in other articles). Then, the researchers classified information from the published trial reports. The researchers ended up with 819 trial reports, and nearly 60% of them described how blinding was done. Their classification of blinding was divided up into three main areas. First, they detailed methods used to hide which drugs are given to particular patients, such as preparing identically appearing treatments; using strong flavors to mask taste; matching the colors of pills; using saline injections and so on. Second, they described a number of methods that could be used to reduce the risk of unblinding (of doctors or patients), such as using an “active placebo” (a sugar pill that mimics some of the expected side effects of the drug treatment). Finally, they defined methods for blinded measurement of outcomes (such as using a central committee to collect data).
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers' classification will help people to work out how different techniques can be used to achieve, and keep, blinding in a trial. This will assist others to understand whether any particular trial was likely to have been blinded properly, and therefore work out whether the results are reliable. The researchers also suggest that, generally, blinding methods are not described in enough detail in published scientific papers, and recommend that guidelines for describing results of randomized trials be improved.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030425.
James Lind Library has been created to help patients and researchers understand fair tests of treatments in health care by illustrating how fair tests have developed over the centuries
ClinicalTrials.gov, a trial registry created by the US National Institutes of Health, has an introduction to understanding clinical trials
National Electronic Library for Health introduction to controlled clinical trials
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030425
PMCID: PMC1626553  PMID: 17076559
25.  Adherence to HAART: A Systematic Review of Developed and Developing Nation Patient-Reported Barriers and Facilitators 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(11):e438.
Background
Adherence to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) medication is the greatest patient-enabled predictor of treatment success and mortality for those who have access to drugs. We systematically reviewed the literature to determine patient-reported barriers and facilitators to adhering to antiretroviral therapy.
Methods and Findings
We examined both developed and developing nations. We searched the following databases: AMED (inception to June 2005), Campbell Collaboration (inception to June 2005), CinAhl (inception to June 2005), Cochrane Library (inception to June 2005), Embase (inception to June 2005), ERIC (inception to June 2005), MedLine (inception to June 2005), and NHS EED (inception to June 2005). We retrieved studies conducted in both developed and developing nation settings that examined barriers and facilitators addressing adherence. Both qualitative and quantitative studies were included. We independently, in duplicate, extracted data reported in qualitative studies addressing adherence. We then examined all quantitative studies addressing barriers and facilitators noted from the qualitative studies. In order to place the findings of the qualitative studies in a generalizable context, we meta-analyzed the surveys to determine a best estimate of the overall prevalence of issues. We included 37 qualitative studies and 47 studies using a quantitative methodology (surveys). Seventy-two studies (35 qualitative) were conducted in developed nations, while the remaining 12 (two qualitative) were conducted in developing nations. Important barriers reported in both economic settings included fear of disclosure, concomitant substance abuse, forgetfulness, suspicions of treatment, regimens that are too complicated, number of pills required, decreased quality of life, work and family responsibilities, falling asleep, and access to medication. Important facilitators reported by patients in developed nation settings included having a sense of self-worth, seeing positive effects of antiretrovirals, accepting their seropositivity, understanding the need for strict adherence, making use of reminder tools, and having a simple regimen. Among 37 separate meta-analyses examining the generalizability of these findings, we found large heterogeneity.
Conclusions
We found that important barriers to adherence are consistent across multiple settings and countries. Research is urgently needed to determine patient-important factors for adherence in developing world settings. Clinicians should use this information to engage in open discussion with patients to promote adherence and identify barriers and facilitators within their own populations.
An analysis of qualitative and quantitative studies found consistent barriers to adherence to HIV therapy across multiple settings and countries, ranging from access to medication to problems with complicated regimens.
Editors' Summary
Background.
The World Health Organization has estimated that in 2005, about 38 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS; the mortality caused by HIV/AIDS is very high. Antiretroviral drugs are effective at controlling the disease and extending life span. However, it is important for people to stick to the drug regimens exactly in order to keep levels of HIV low, prevent it from becoming resistant to drugs, and stop the illness from progressing. However, many people find it very difficult to take antiretroviral drugs precisely as they should. There is already some evidence from research studies on the reasons why this is the case. There are two different research approaches taken by these studies: “qualitative” methods, which try to find out about attitudes and behaviors using focus groups, interviews, or other techniques; and “quantitative” methods, which try to find out about peoples' opinions and experience using surveys with set questions for the participants to answer, and then count the different responses.
Why Was This Study Done?
The investigators wanted to put together all of the available evidence from published research studies (called doing a “systematic review”) on which factors affected people's adherence to antiretroviral drugs. They wanted to do a systematic review because it is thought to be a very rigorous way of appraising all the available evidence (although there is considerable debate about the value of using such a method to analyze the results of qualitative research).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The study team searched biomedical literature databases as well as conference abstracts and research registries using a defined set of search queries. They screened all the scientific papers they found; those reporting results of original research into factors affecting antiretroviral adherence were then analyzed in more detail. 84 relevant studies were identified, of which 37 used “qualitative” methods (focus groups, interviews, open-ended questioning) and 47 used “quantitative” methods (surveys). Most of these studies had been carried out in the developed world. Then, the researchers extracted the factors affecting adherence from the original studies, which could be either “positive” factors (helping adherence) or “negative” ones (making adherence more difficult). They classified the factors into four key themes: “patient related” (e.g., seeing positive results, fear of disclosure, being depressed); “beliefs about medication” (e.g., faith in how well the drugs worked, side effects); “daily schedules” (e.g., using reminder tools, disruptions to routine); and “interpersonal relationships” (e.g., trusting relations with health-care provider; social isolation).
  Many barriers to adherence were common to both developed and developing settings. Some factors were unique to the studies conducted in the developing world, such as financial constraints and problems with traveling to get access to treatment. Fear of disclosure was an important barrier identified in many of the studies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers combined the results of many different studies and identified factors that help or obstruct adherence to antiretroviral treatment. By identifying influences common to the different settings, greater weight can be placed on the factors that were identified. Only 12 of the studies included in this research were from the developing world, where the majority of HIV/AIDS patients live; hence more work is needed to examine and address the factors influencing antiretroviral adherence in these parts of the world. This study provides researchers and health policy makers with a starting point for changes that might help to ensure greater adherence to antiretroviral treatment.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030438.
Medline Plus information on AIDS medicines (Medline Plus is a service of the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health)
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS has information about the state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic worldwide
The World Health Organization has an HIV/AIDS program site providing comprehensive information on the HIV/AIDS epidemic worldwide
The World Health Organization pages on antiretroviral therapy
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030438
PMCID: PMC1637123  PMID: 17121449

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