December 2007 Issue

• Bio-Medical Research Wired
• Racial Disparities Seen in Chemo Care
• Health Briefs: New Target for Breast Cancer


Bio-Medical Research Wired

By Ilene Raymond
December 15, 2007

Earlier this year, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), one of the largest private funders of biomedical research in the U.S., reached a deal with the publisher Elsevier. HHMI agreed to pay $1500 per manuscript in return for which Elsevier will deposit HHMI work within six months of its publication onto PubMed Central (PMC), the digital archive of biomedical and scientific literature maintained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Both sides lauded the deal: Elsevier makes money; HHMI work is eventually accessible to doctors, scientists and interested lay people.

But not everyone is pleased with the new arrangement between Elsevier and HHMI. In June, a response to the deal from The Rockefeller University Press entitled "How the Rich Get Richer" scored the agreement. Two reasons cited were a “clear potential for conflict of interest when a publisher stands to benefit financially by publishing papers from a particular organization” and an “undermining of efforts to persuade commercial publishers to make their content public after a short delay, by rewarding them for not doing so.”

To examine the question of the Elsevier-HHMI deal and the general question of Open Access, we turned to OA expert and advocate Dr. Peter Suber, senior Research Professor at Earlham College in Indiana. Suber is the Director of the Public Knowledge “Open Access” Project and Senior Researcher at Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition(SPARC). He blogs on the subject of OA can be found at Open Access News.

What started your interest in OA?

In 1995 or 1996, I started putting my print publications online and immediately started receiving serious comments from serious readers, many more than I'd received over the previous 10 years when these articles were merely in print. I realized that the Internet was a serious tool for scholarship.

Can you define Open Access (OA)?

Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.

Within OA, there are two types, green and gold.

Yes. With green OA, authors deposit their work in an OA archive or repository. Repositories do not themselves provide peer review, but authors can deposit articles that were peer-reviewed somewhere else. Authors may also deposit unreformed preprints. Gold OA is provided by peer-reviewed OA journals, for example, the journals of BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science.

Despite a study cited on your blog about the ease of depositing papers, less than five percent of biomedical researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health voluntarily submit their papers to PubMed Central.

Yes. The NIH asks its grantees to deposit peer-reviewed manuscripts based on NIH-funded research in PubMed Central, but fewer than 5% of NIH grantees are complying with the request. One reason is that the NIH has made it clear that deposit is not required and that there will no consequences whatsoever for non-compliance. Another reason is that NIH grantees are very busy people and with no time for steps that are not required.

Can you explain your objections to the Elsevier-HHMI agreement?

Yes. Basically, HHMI is paying Elsevier for green OA, when it's unnecessary for anyone to pay anyone for green OA. Paying for gold OA is understandable and justifiable. But when one pays for gold OA, one gets immediate OA and OA to the published edition of the article. Despite its payments, however, HHMI is only getting delayed OA and OA to unedited manuscripts. It seems to be paying for little more than the physical job of making the deposit, which costs pennies per paper, not thousands of dollars per paper.

HHMI was buffaloed -- it had more power than it realized in dealing with Elsevier. It could have had green OA for free, or it could have had gold OA for something close to what it's paying now.

• For more details on Suber's analysis of the deal - see his article, Paying for Green Open Access.

How nervous are traditional journal publishers about the spread and impact of OA?

Some of them are very nervous. They fear that the rising volume of OA will trigger cancellations. I can't say they're wrong to worry; the rise of OA might really have that consequence. But I can say that so far the evidence is against them. The one field that might serve as a test case is physics, in which the level of OA archiving approaches 100%. But in physics, publishers of subscription journals report no cancellations attributable to OA archiving --none in the 16 years since the launch of arXiv. Today, then, the publisher fear is both groundless and contradicted by the evidence from physics.

You will agree that certain non-OA high profile journals – such as the New England Journal of Medicine -- have a prestige that present OA can’t match.

It's true that the most prestigious journals today tend to be conventional, subscription-based journals. But it's not true that OA journals can't match that. All OA journals are new, and it takes time to develop prestige. Many OA journals are excellent from birth, but still need time to develop prestige in proportion to their excellence. All the factors that create quality and prestige in a journal --eminent editorial boards, rigorous peer review, excellent submissions-- are available to OA journals. There's no doubt that in time the best OA journals will match the prestige of the best conventional journals.

What’s the future for OA?

We're seeing more OA repositories, more OA journals, more OA policies at funding agencies and universities, and more participation from researchers. The benefits are clear for both authors and readers. OA increases an author's audience and impact and it lowers access barriers for readers. Publishers are making a mistake to bet against the Internet, and we're seeing more and more of them experiment with forms of OA themselves.

An important sign of the times is that, this week, the Senate will vote on a bill (www.earlham.edu) to strengthen the NIH policy and make it mandatory for NIH-funded researchers to deposit their peer-reviewed manuscripts in PubMed Central.

• For more on OA see: Six Things That Researchers Need to Know About Open Access.

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December 2007 Issue

Racial Disparities Seen in Chemo Care

Ilene Raymond
15 December 2007

While black women are less likely to have breast cancer, several studies reveal that they are more likely than white women to die from the disease.

A number of factors contribute to this disparity in outcomes, including tumor biology and socioeconomic factors related to health care access and the patient-physician relationship.

A recent study suggests that one contributing factor may be that black and poor women may receive nonstandard chemotherapy treatments, as opposed to standard published regimens. This translates into lower doses of chemotherapy for the minority women.

Researchers at the University of Michigan examined records from 957 participants, with 845 (88%) treated with published standard regimens, and 112 (12%) receiving nonstandard regimen. Black women and those of lower socio-economic status were more likely to receive the less aggressive, nonstandard treatment.

“We aren’t calling these doctors racists,” says Jennifer Griggs M.D., M.P.H., an Associate Professor of Breast Oncology in the Department of Hematology and Oncology in the Division of Medicine in the University of Michigan and lead author of the study.

“Physicians may be making well-meaning assumptions, such as that poorer patients may have less social support than better educated or well-off patients. In such cases, doctors may feel that lower dosages are ‘benevolent” since patients may experience fewer and less troublesome side effects.”

Chemotherapy is often based on such ‘split decisions’ about on much a patient might be able to tolerate, notes Griggs.

Complicating the issues are findings that black women and women with less education tend not to challenge or question doctors about treatment options, and often tend to end the treatments before they are concluded.

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December 2007 Issue

New Target for Breast Cancer

Ilene Raymond
15 December 2007

Researchers have discovered that a molecular switch in the protein making machinery of cells is linked to one of the most common forms of lethal breast cancer worldwide. The discovery by researchers at NYU School of Medicine could lead to new therapies for the cancer, called locally advanced breast cancer (LABC).

LABC may account for 50 percent or more of breast cancers among women in developing countries, and 30 percent of breast cancers among socially disadvantaged and minority women in the United States. This type of cancer is defined by a large tumor that is about 2 inches or larger in diameter, about the size of a plum, when first diagnosed.

“The shows that an unusual molecular switch occurs that is essential for the development of these large tumors. We think that this switch could be a target for new therapies,” says Dr. Robert Schneider, lead author of the study, published in the journal Molecular Cell.

The new study found that two molecules were unusually abundant or “overexpressed” specifically in locally advanced breast cancers. Further analysis revealed that the molecules orchestrated a switch in the use of messenger RNA, a kind of ferry service that carries information for making proteins. The switch permits the selective expression of proteins that are required for tumors to carry out angiogenesis, the process of developing a blood supply. It also enables tumors to grow to a large size and to progress.

“The identification of the molecular switch and its importance for development of locally advanced breast cancer reveals realistic targets for the development of new therapeutics to block tumor angiogenesis and progression in breast and possibly other cancers,” says Dr. Schneider.

For more please see www.NewsWise.com

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