Public Release:  AAAS president calls to restore American health system

Cites European 'Whitehall Study' as a model

American Association for the Advancement of Science

DENVER, CO - "It is time to seek a National Commission to Restore the American Health System," neuroscientist-physician Dr. Floyd E. Bloom said today during the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2003 Annual Meeting, where he delivered the prestigious AAAS President's Lecture.

Exemplary social science research-such as the European "Whitehall Study" and a recent, 25-year followup report-should serve as a model for researchers seeking to advance human welfare world-wide through improved medical care, Bloom said. Socially focused research such as the U.K.-based Whitehall Study, which investigated correlations between education, status level in the British Civil Service and health outcomes, promise far more immediate advances than the widely anticipated transition to genomics-based health care, he added.

As the world's largest general scientific society, AAAS will seek to help define the requirements for a U.S. national commission, and call upon the President and the Congress to create it, Bloom told attendees at the meeting.

The American health system faces an array of crises, said Bloom, chair of the Department of Neuropharmacology at the Scripps Research Institute of La Jolla, California, and former editor-in-chief of the AAAS journal, Science. Among the urgent problems now confronting the U.S. health system, Bloom cited soaring health-insurance premiums; personnel shortages in some specialties; the constraints of managed health care; paperwork burdens; and archaic information-management methods. At the same time: "The threat of war, and the imposition of mass casualties from any new acts of terrorism could prove calamitous for the U.S. medical community's ability to care for the ill."

Medical-liability reform legislation-proposed 16 January by U.S. President George W. Bush as a step toward making health care more affordable and accessible-is "laudable, but insufficient," according to Bloom, co-editor of The Dana Guide to Brain Health (www.dana.org). "Limiting payments for pain and suffering caused by medical errors will not prevent pain and suffering from those errors," he added.

Genomics-based health care, though often described as a miracle on the horizon, is likely to be expensive, and will require many more years of research before new options are available to patients and their doctors. Thus, Bloom concluded: "The puzzles of better health promotion and disease prevention may be approached more rapidly and effectively through intensified social science research, rather than by awaiting the expected evolution of gene-based explanations and interventions based on future genetic discoveries."

Social science approaches may be especially useful for addressing diseases arising from complex genetic environmental interactions, Bloom added. Effective social science strategies have included, for example, health campaigns in specific populations at risk for certain diseases; and studies of the correlation between various illnesses and socio-economic status, education, occupation, and other factors. For example, the Whitehall Study, conducted by Sir Michael Marmot of University College London and colleagues, examined mortality rates over a 10-year period among male British Civil Servants. Men in the lowest grade, including messengers and doorkeepers, had a three-fold higher mortality rate, the researchers found. Further, having a lower status was also linked with an array of risk factors, including less leisure time for physical activities, higher blood pressure and obesity. A subsequent study by Marmot's group offered further insights regarding stress and other factors.

"Such approaches may be immediately applicable to a large fraction of the World Health Organization's top ten public health threats," Bloom noted.

Bloom, who received his medical degree in 1960 from the Washington University School of Medicine, is the author of more than 600 publications, including the seminal work, The Biochemical Basis of Neuropharmacology. His latest work, The Dana Guide to Brain Health, is the first comprehensive home reference to brain health. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his contributions to science, including the Janssen Award in the Basic Sciences and the Pasarow Award in Neuropsychiatry. He has also been named a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is a member of the Institute of Medicine.

The neurosciences, as a subset of biomedical sciences, have matured to the extent that researchers are now ready to assess the use of animal models for studying human neuropsychiatric diseases such as Alzheimer's, Bloom said at the AAAS meeting. "Modern molecular methods of genome analysis are suggesting new testable targets for drug development in fields such as schizophrenia and depression," he noted. "But," he added, "such eventual solutions are not likely to be realized quickly."

To read a biographical summary on Bloom and watch a short video clip, see http://www.aaas.org/ScienceTalk ---> video clips.

From the science of snow skiing to medical research and biosecurity, and from the future of the American west to growing environmental threats worldwide, the 2003 AAAS Annual Meeting offers something for scientists of all stripes-and for students, too.

The world's largest interdisciplinary scientific gathering, the AAAS Annual Meeting is expected to draw some 6,000+ individuals from all over the world to Denver, Colorado. Attendees include leading scientists, policymakers, educators, students and the public, as well as an estimated 1,000 press registrants from 30 countries.

Along with the AAAS President's Lecture, delivered by Bloom, program highlights for 2003 include sessions investigating environmental threats to the world's oceans, the vast American west and global climate. Other sessions will focus on issues ranging from the tiniest structures of matter in the nanoworld to the grand organization of intergalactic space. Overall, AAAS Annual Meeting symposia address science, technology, engineering and education, as well as national and international scientific policy.

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Advance interviews with Dr. Floyd E. Bloom possible upon request.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves some 265 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

MEDIA NOTE: Dr. Bloom will deliver the AAAS President's Lecture during the AAAS Annual Meeting in Denver, at the Colorado Ballroom of the Denver Marriott, at 6:30 p.m. Mountain Time Thursday, 13 February. Press registration for the meeting is located in the Colorado Convention Center, C-101.

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