Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Missed Opportunities

The pharma/biotech blog world is buzzing about Andrew Grove's rant about the pharma industry. Derek Lowe, at In the Pipeline does an excellent job explaining much that is wrong with Mr. Grove's logic, so I don't see any reason to add my comments. However, I will share one funny moment from my morning read through my inbox: not long after I received a message from a coworker linking to Mr. Grove telling pharma that (among other failings) they don't try to learn from their mistakes, I received another message telling me about the ongoing analysis into the torcetrapib debacle. If this doesn't constitute trying to learn from a mistake, I'm not sure what would.

What I find most sad about the whole thing is that there may well be something the pharma industry could learn from the semiconductor industry, but now we'll never know about it, because Mr. Groves couldn't be bothered to learn how the industry he was critiquing actually works. Heaven knows that the pharma industry could use some bright ideas right now, so it is too bad that this opportunity has been missed.

I got one other interesting tidbit in my inbox today: a link to the BBC writeup on a study that found a gene that determines whether or not breastfeeding will have a positive impact on a child's IQ. Or rather, whether or not NOT breastfeeding will have a negative impact, since really, we evolved to breastfeed. It has long been known that, on average, breastfed babies end up with a slightly higher IQ than formula fed babies. (I want to emphasize the "on average" bit- the differences aren't huge and I'm sure that there are plenty of very smart people who were fed formula as babies.) Now the FADS2 gene has been identified as determining whether or not the breastfeeding choice impacts IQ. The FADS2 protein is involved in metabolizing fatty acids. It was previously known that certain fatty acids are important to brain development, and their presence in breast milk has been hypothesized to be the reason that breastfeeding is linked to higher IQ.

All in all, this is a nice, neat story. Since 90% of the population have the allele that apparently makes the baby susceptible to an IQ boost from breastmilk, it doesn't change the standard advice that "breast is best". There are a heap of other benefits to mom and baby in addition to this one, too- ranging from fewer ear infections for the baby to faster weight loss for the mom.

So why don't all mothers breastfeed? I think it is because breastfeeding is surprisingly hard for the first time mom. The baby knows how to suck, but not necessarily how to feed, and the mom doesn't really have a clue how to help. You're worn out from delivery, suddenly sleep-deprived, on a wild hormone ride that makes you cry for no apparent reason, and now you can't even feed your baby. You thought breastfeeding would come naturally, and the people around you just want you to feed that baby so it will stop crying. All of this makes it easy to give up on breastfeeding. This is a shame, because once you get through the hard bit at the beginning, breastfeeding is a wonderful experience. Not only is it good for you and the baby, but it feels good, too. My advice to new moms is: don't be discouraged that it is harder than you thought it would be. It is no reflection on you as a mother, and doesn't mean you don't have enough milk or "can't" breastfeed. Almost all women can breastfeed- afterall, that is what breasts are actually designed to do. Get help from a lactation specialist, the La Leche League, or a support group (most hospitals seem to run these now). Don't miss out on this opportunity.

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