Uprooted: tree communities threatened by great winds


We’ve all seen images on the news of the aftermath of a storm. Branches, and sometimes whole trees, lying forlorn on the ground amongst a jumble of debris. But while the news focuses on the human impact of these events, there’s also the ecological impact to consider, as a paper published in BMC Ecology earlier this year investigated.

‘A tree that refuses to dance will be made to do so by the wind’ – so the African saying goes, but the wind can be a fearsome force that won’t be satisfied with mere swaying of branches.

The wind, at times a cool welcome breeze on a hot day and at others an almighty tyrant blowing great billowing gales. At least …

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Encouraging walking through changing our surroundings


A study published at the end of July in International Journal of Health Geographics suggests that changes in the built environment can increase how far a person will walk to get somewhere. So why should we be bothered about getting people walking?

Walking is a big part of my life. Not only do I love getting out to the countryside for a good old ramble, I walk as much as I can in the city (which, for me, is usually London). This wasn’t always the case. A few years ago, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to walk to work, for example. I just opted for the quickest journey time – bus, tube, whichever was faster.

That all changed when I …

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Spotlight on breast cancer: progress, challenges and controversies


Breast cancer – the most common type of cancer affecting women – is often thought of as a single disease. However, mounting evidence suggests that there are multiple subtypes, all of which occur at different rates, have varying levels of aggressiveness, and respond to different types of treatment.

One of the better understood subtypes is HER2-positive breast cancer, defined by high expression of the HER2 protein. Women with HER2-positive breast cancer are often treated with targeted therapies such as trastuzumab, which has dramatically improved survival rates from HER2-positive breast cancer in the past decade.

Progress in treating HER2-positive breast cancer

In a Q&A podcast published in BMC Medicine to launch our Spotlight on breast cancer

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The power of pictures. How we can use images to promote and communicate science

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We’ve all heard the cliché, “a picture tells a thousand words”, but there is real value in using images to promote scientific content. Images help us learn, images grab attention, images explain tough concepts, and inspire.

Why do we love images so much?

We are very visual creatures. A large percentage of the human brain dedicates itself to visual processing. Our love of images lies with our cognition and ability to pay attention. Images are able to grab our attention easily, we are immediately drawn to them. Think about this blog, for example: did you look at the words first, or the image?

We process images at an alarming speed. When we see a picture, we analyse it within a …

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Ebola – what is it, and how do you recognize it?

The Ebola Virus. Photo Credit: Cynthia Goldsmith Content Providers(s): CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith

Reports over the rapid spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa are rife, and fears are growing that the virus could spread to other continents. We spoke to Greg Martin, Editor-in-Chief of Globalization and Health to get some answers about what Ebola is, how it presents, and what to do if you suspect a case. Dr Martin is Consultant to the World Health Organization.

What is your experience of Ebola?

I was working as a medical student in 1996 when a nurse, Marilyn Lahana, was treated for Ebola virus by the unit I was connected to. Marilyn had contracted the disease from a doctor who had flown into Johannesburg from Gabon for treatment. You can hear more about this …

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Another hurdle for researchers from the EMA?

Image attributed to David Morris

Earlier this week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) released a draft policy update on access to the data from the EudraVigilance database, which seems to imply they want the right to censor scientific work that uses the data.

Managed by the EMA, EudraVigilance is the European database that holds all information on suspected side effects that have been reported for medicines authorized in Europe. It is one of the greatest resources for adverse drug reaction data, receiving over one million reports of suspected side effects a year, and used in the continuous safety monitoring of medicines in Europe.

Within medical evidence, the importance of analyzing adverse drug reactions cannot be underestimated. New medicines see their way to the public through …

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On a personal note: cancer genomics and personalized medicine

Special issue GB cover-page-001

When I was three years old my grandma passed away after a long fight with cancer. I should disclaim quickly: it never affected me greatly, since I was too young to remember anything. I know, though, that that experience was a gruelling one for my mum, who cared for our grandma during the therapy – battle with cancer ain’t pretty in general, and it was even worse then.

It would of course be easy to blame the health system of the communist regime in which we lived at the time but the truth is that the treatment strategy was pretty much the same all over the place: surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy. It doesn’t work? Let’s try harsher treatment. And the understanding …

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How do we ensure we use new technology appropriately?

Tatsumi et al

The field of imaging and diagnostics is constantly advancing, with new technologies and innovations regularly being introduced. In this changing environment, how do clinicians ensure they keep up, and that their patients are receiving the right services? In this guest post, Rosa Sicari, co-Editor-in-Chief of Cardiovascular Ultrasound introduces a new ‘How I do it’ article series to help tackle these challenges.

Today echocardiography is one of the most widely used diagnostic tests in cardiology. Largely due to its cost-effectiveness, its high clinical yield, the ability to assess anatomy and function, contractility and coronary flow reserve, and heart valve status, all in the same sitting; and, most importantly, an ease of communication as it is performed by the cardiologists who translate …

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A way forward for quality peer review


Writing in BMC Medicine last week, one of our Medical Editors, Jigisha Patel, made a case for training and specialization in peer review. With kind permission from The BMJ, here we republish a piece by Jane Feinmann which takes a look at the article’s recommendations.

This article first appeared on The BMJ blogs.

Blind faith that the publication of medical research in peer reviewed journals elevates a study to the status of “the evidence,” and therefore “the truth,” may be on the wane among those in the know. But for the public, and a vast number of doctors, this “naïve and misplaced” credulousness persists.

According to Dr Jigisha Patel, medical editor of BioMed Central, this idea must be challenged. Writing in

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Tackling neglected tropical diseases with the power of community

The beginnings of schistosomiasis in the body. (Image courtesy of Yale Rosen.)

It is one of the great success stories of the last 25 years that research has developed effective and simple treatments for patients suffering from many of the infectious diseases associated with poverty. However, if the late 20th century was about developing treatments, the early 21st has become about how to deliver them efficiently.

Public health systems around the world are notoriously weak, and developing a simple community intervention lacks the glamour of discovering a groundbreaking new vaccine. In his recent interview in Biome, José Belizán, Editor-in-Chief of Reproductive Health, pointed out that only six percent of the biomedical research budget in his native Argentina is dedicated to public health research.

However, awareness is growing, and with it comes the …

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