Monthly Archives: March 2017

The beclowning of the executive branch

By Daniel W. Drezner Fewer than a hundred days into the Trump administration, there are two, actually three, competing narratives about how the government is being run. The first narrative is the Trump administration’s claim that things are running so, so smoothly. A brief glance at the poll numbers suggests that not many people are buying this, so we can […] …read more

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The hottest field in cancer research depends on funding Trump wants to cut

By Carolyn Y. Johnson

The patients’ entrance at the National Institutes of Health. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Nearly two decades ago, a pair of Boston scientists worked on an idea that had failed so many times it had been pushed to the fringes of cancer medicine: the idea that the body’s immune system could be unleashed against tumors.

Immunotherapy had been proposed as an idea for 100 years, but nothing had worked. We cured a lot of mice, but no people,” said Gordon Freeman, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Not only was it not trendy, it was in low esteem. No company was aggressively funding immunotherapy — it just didn’t have much appeal.”

As a seemingly fringe endeavor, the initial work wouldn’t have been possible without federal support — much of which came, as it happens, from a research institute that is devoted not to cancer but to allergies.

“It was really the NIH grants, from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that really supported this work at that point in time. The funding was absolutely critical,” Sharpe, a professor of comparative pathology at Harvard Medical School, said. “The hope was, if we got a basic understanding of the molecules involved, that could then translate to different types of therapy.”

Science is, by its nature, about unraveling things we don’t yet understand, and Freeman and Sharpe’s work — along with others — laid the intellectual foundation for what has rapidly become the hottest area of cancer medicine. Multiple pharmaceutical companies licensed the patents that emerged from their research, and they helped spur development of a new type of cancer drug that unleashes the immune system on cancer cells, also releasing what Freeman calls “a tsunami of scientific enthusiasm — and pharmaceutical enthusiasm.” Today, there are more than 800 clinical trials targeted …read more

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McDonald’s just announced one of its biggest menu changes in years

By Caitlin Dewey

A Quarter Pounder burger. (Courtesy of McDonald’s Corporation via AP)

McDonald’s announced a major change to the Quarter Pounder today: By next year, it will contain fresh — rather than frozen — beef patties.

The announcement comes after a year of pilot tests at locations in Dallas and Tulsa. The switch to fresh meat has been hyped as the chain’s “most drastic menu change in decades.” It comes in response to consumer demands for fresher ingredients — which has seen many turn to brands like Wendy’s and Five Guys, which advertise the fact that their burgers are never frozen.

[The one way fast food may actually be ‘good’ for you]

But while “fresh” may appeal to consumers, it also carries risks — risks made apparent in the infamous E. coli outbreak at Chipotle. When the investment firm Nomura surveyed 27 franchisees representing 200 McDonald’s locations during fresh beef trials last summer, several expressed concerns about increasing the risk of foodborne illness by switching from frozen to fresh.

“If we do not handle the meat perfectly there is the opportunity for bacterial invasion of our product,” one wrote.

“An uncaring employee [could do] something that puts the entire system at risk,” said another.

Chains like McDonald’s have traditionally minimized these risks through highly standardized, centralized systems that limit the number of people who can accidentally contaminate food or mishandle it in a way that leads to pathogen growth. Produce is chopped in central kitchens where it can be tested for microbes and — crucially for McDonald’s next big step — burgers arrive frozen, a state which retards E. Coli growth. They are stored in freezers until the moment they go on the grill, and those grill tops will not release until the patty has been on …read more

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