Supersize me and the fake food hypothesis

Is there any sense of genetic studies aiming at an association with body mass index? Will there ever be a public health strategy or any medical intervention based on a genetic marker?
I am recalling what Christoph – a friend of mine at medical school and a now professor for child psychiatry – once told me when he was working on his thesis about anorexia: “You only need to weight them for a diagnosis”. As there are now lots of weighing machines out there, there are plenty of DNAs (intended for different outcomes!), which might be a reason of the 5946 “obesity and gene” papers.
Will this help anybody? I fear, that responsibility is even shifted to “poor genes” (of course I acknowledge that there might be gene nutrient interactions – Paul Soloway wrote a nice essay on that). My view – developed with my wife over many years – is that that the obesity epidemics is largely an environmental trait of poor eating habits, wrong orientation on dress models and not enough physical activity. I recall also Professor Walter Willett – who has been my former advisor in Nutritional Epidemiology – that things can be quite simple. Check for his “Low Glycemic Index” on the web, find a sports club for biking, jogging or walking, concentrate on eating and use small spoons and forget about diets.
There is long-standing discussion, how the body signals by “being hungry” that something is missing (sorry, only 1 historic reference). Of course this works also in non-humans: Have you ever seen supersized animals? My guess is, that the well developed and unconscious food recognition process is largely fooled by pre-processed food that contains additives changing appearance, taste and smelling. So, you have now heard the first time about the fake food hypothesis. I do not believe so much in voluntarily overeating – it seems much more an involuntary repeated intake to find someting useful.
Coming back to our start: Imagine that
drugs that can block hunger (as we now learned the search for required food ingredients) and imagin that the developed world continues to eat their currently preferred food: Everybody will then need a professional nutrionists to balances his/her daily intake. So, we better save tax payer money for these BMI-gene studies. Yea, yea.

Conflicts of interest

Obviously this has been a problem in the past as nearly all journals now require to sign a conflicts of interest form. Of course I always have conflicts of interest and hesitate what should I report in these forms – that I want to get rich? Or that I want to be famous? Having a pathological interest of self-portrayal? At least the good thing of these conflicts of interest statements is that I finally know how much I can ask for when being invited for a lecture ;-) It seems that some people are even eager to disclose their financial involvement (ebay-like).
On the other hand, what worries me more that the conflicts of interest statement are getting routine now and are rather worthless if not done very carefully. For example lets have a look on two recent nature genetics papers: A paper accepted on 6 Jan 2006 on ichthyosis: “The authors declare that they have no competing financial interest”. Same gene, now atopic dermatitis, accepted on 24 Feb 2006 “The authors declare that they have no competing financial interest”. Same gene, again atopic dermatitis, other population, accepted on 11 May 2006: “A. Irvine has patent shares related with the filaggrin gene. The rest of the authors have declared that they have no conflicts of interest”. Again same gene, ichthyosis and atopic dermatitis, accepted on 23 May 2006: “W.H. Irwin McLean and Frances J. D. Smith have filed patents related to genetic testing for filaggrin and therapy systems aimed at this gene.” Alan D. Irvine and W.H. Irwin McLean are listed as authors on all 4 papers. So, ADI and WHIM may have decided to file a patent following their two nature genetics paper (which would not be possible in Germany, but is probably possible in the UK). BUT – why is the declaration of WHIM missing on the 11 May paper? Why is the ADI declaration missing on the 23 May paper?
Conflicts of interests: I have never met these authors before and I have no commercial interest in that topic, yea, yea.

Nightmare

An anonymous reader at slashdot writes that AOL released search logs of 657,427 users “AOL has released very private data about its users without their permission. While the AOL username has been changed to a random ID number, the ability to analyze all searches by a single user will often lead people to easily determine who the user is, and what they are up to. The data includes personal names, addresses, social security numbers and everything else someone might type into a search box.” The German Green Party already filed a legislation proposal that companies and institutions will need to inform their clients about such accidents. This seems to be very important also for genetic data. Yea, yea.

Link farms

There is an upsurge of so-called “impact augmentation papers” – authors review only papers published in their own journal. Imagine your are an editor. You have published last year 100 articles, 50 are not being cited at all, 45 are being cited 3 times, 4 articles are being cited 20 times. Your papers are being cited 215 times, divided by 99, voila your impact is being 2.17, not too bad (although it would be fair to say that you had picked up only 4 nice papers). Lets go – send out an email to a buddy to write an impact augementation paper – “the year in retrospect in our famous journal”. Lets say, this paper now cites all your orphan papers, in total 85 articles. So your overall impact is 215+85 / 99+1 = 3.0. Wow, an increase of nearly one point by just one paper! Did ICI Thomson notice that? Nay, nay.

A hitch in the glitch of the switch

The CD14 / allergy story never ends – after many years and numerous contradictory reports. A new comment in the AJRCCM concludes that “further research is required” – at this time “research into the area of gene-by-environment interaction where large-scale studies, advanced assessment of environmental exposure of and experimental investigations of interactions are needed”. Is there any sense with neverending loops (except playground for hamster)? Nay, nay.

Resurrection or reanimation of old myth?

JCI has a paper about resurrection of vitamin D deficiency (more about the author at 1, 2 and 3). The author uses references 46-59 to underpin his opinion that rickets has again become an epidemic. These references are from 1992, 1984, 2005, 2000, 1987, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1989, 2001, 1998, 2001, 1987, 2006. So nothing really new – no prospective study, no systematic survey, just a few isolated reports. Sure, that there might be a rickets problem in a selected areas or in minority groups, but there is no world-wide epidemic. He argues also that many (if not all) studies show “low” serum 25-OH-D3 values. Is this chasing a phantom? A more systematic study concludes that rickets in Africa is more a disease of calcium deficiency. The JCI article is particular poorly written when it comes to immunological effects; asthma is misquoted from the Camargo study (which is subject of my review at Pediatric Allergy. Nay, nay.

Gastric Acid

German news magazine SPIEGEL ONLINE writes of an ongoing trial in Berlin where 1 to 6 month year old newborns are given some kind of “oral LPS vaccination”. You might know my opinion about LPS and will therefore understand my hope that newborn gastric acid pH will prevent them from any LPS side effect. Yea, yea.

Happy Birthday WWW

Slashdot Accommodate Students writes “The BBC is amongst those reporting that the World Wide Web has turned fifteen. However, 6 August 1991 is not the only date claimed as the ‘birthday of the intern.” There is nothing to compare with that scientific evolution. Did Herrmann Hesse think of the internet when writing his “Glasperlenspiel”? Yea, yea.

PLoS ONE – a wikipedia like publishing system?

PLoS ONE may revolutionize science communication. Have a first look at www.plosone.org. As they write: “Be one of the first to appear in this new Open Access 2.0 online forum—and qualify for a great low pre-launch price. We’ll peer review your work and publish it online as soon as possible so that it can start a conversation within the community that will enhance scientific progress.” Will it still be traditional, 1:1 translated publishing system? Or can we even edit any text? What about lists of open questions? And a true synopsis – like the one theologians use to compare the four canonical gospels? Yea, yea.