Altmetric Blog

December High Five: Big News for Human Health. Bad News for Cheetahs.

Paige Jarreau, 3rd January 2017

Welcome to the final Altmetric High Five for 2016! On a monthly basis, my High Five posts examine a selection of the most popular research outputs Altmetric has seen attention for that month.

The most popular research papers published in December 2016 deliver some big news for human health, including positive results of Ebola vaccine trials and health benefits of eating nuts, and some bad news for cheetahs.


Ebola virus. CDC.

Ebola virus. CDC.

Paper #1. An Ebola Vaccine

Our first High Five paper for December 2016 is “Efficacy and effectiveness of an rVSV-vectored vaccine in preventing Ebola virus disease,” published in The Lancet. The study reports on results of a trial of an Ebola vaccine produced by Merck, rVSV-ZEBOV.

Nearly 300 news outlets covered the study, which was also highly tweeted. The results of the study were reported by news media internationally. Many news outlets featured headlines of a “100% effective Ebola vaccine.” Forbes headlined, “A Christmas Gift For The World. Ebola Vaccine Is 100% Effective In Early Trial.” NPR headlined, “First Ebola Vaccine Likely To Stop The Next Outbreak.” While the true effectiveness of the vaccine is likely not 100%, the findings point to the vaccine being very successful.

“The vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, was developed ten years ago by the Public Health Agency of Canada in conjunction with the United States Army. It was engineered by splicing a protein from the Ebola virus into a vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) that infects cattle and is commonly used in lab studies. The VSV either has no effect on humans or elicits flu-like symptoms such as the headaches and muscle pains experienced by half of the people who received the vaccine. The Ebola protein triggers the production of antibodies.” – Kevin Murnane, Forbes

According to Forbes, “[n]one of the 5,837 people who received the vaccine developed Ebola 10 days or more after they were vaccinated.” For comparison, “[t]here were 10 cases of Ebola among the people who did not receive the vaccine.”

“The vaccine — called rVSV-ZEBOV — hasn’t been approved yet by either the World Health Organization or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That’s predicted to happen sometime in 2018.” – Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR

However, the vaccine still needs to be tested for durability, or how long it can protect someone from Ebola after being administered.

“What is clear is that the vaccine offers short-term protection during outbreaks. And that’s exactly what’s needed to stop the virus from spreading and to keep small outbreaks from getting out of control. For this reason, GAVI — the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization — has already spent $5 million to help finish the development of the vaccine and to stockpile it.” – Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR

More reading:



Doctor at hospital performing operation on woman. India. Photo: John Isaac / World Bank.

Doctor at hospital performing operation on woman. India. Photo: John Isaac / World Bank.

Paper #2. A Woman’s Touch 

Our second High Five paper is “Comparison of Hospital Mortality and Readmission Rates for Medicare Patients Treated by Male vs Female Physician,” published in JAMA in December 2016. The study authors examined “nationally representative data of hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries” and found that patients treated by female physicians had significantly lower mortality rates and hospital readmission rates compared with patients treated by male physicians in the same hospital.

Nearly 200 news outlets covered the study. Some outlets even headlined that “women are better doctors than men.”

“Researchers from Harvard University reviewed the records of 1,583,028 hospital visits among Medicare patients. Within 30 days of arriving at the hospital, rates of death and re-admission were significantly lower when the patient’s doctor was female. […] To explain the discrepancy, the researchers point to past studies that have shown female physicians are more likely to provide preventive care and psychosocial counseling.” – James Hamblin, The Atlantic

“Public health researchers at Harvard found that elderly patients were less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days if treated by female doctors rather than male. The study doesn’t explain why this happens, but prior studies have found that female doctors tend to spend more time with patients, communicate better, and follow clinical guidelines more often than their male colleagues.” – Casey Ross, Scientific American

Some science writers found issues with the study, for example that female doctors could be treating a higher percentage of female patients than male doctors, thus potentially biasing the results. However, the study authors and others find the findings to be robust, even if it’s unclear exactly why patients were found to fare better when treated by female doctors.

Image: Ken Hammond (USDA).

Image: Ken Hammond (USDA).

Paper #3. Changes in Brain Structure for Pregnant Women

Our next High Five paper is “Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure” published in Nature Neuroscience. The study authors examined changes in brain structure pre- and post- pregnancy in first-time mothers and fathers. They found that “pregnancy confers long-lasting changes in a woman’s brain.”

Over 250 news outlets covered the study. The Scientist headlined, “Pregnancy May Remodel the Brain’s Social Cognition Regions.”

Meredith Wadman writes for Science:

“A first-of-its-kind study has revealed that the architecture of women’s brains changes strikingly during their first pregnancies, in ways that last for at least 2 years. In particular, gray matter shrinks in areas involved in processing and responding to social signals. This may mean that new mothers’ brains are more efficiently wired in areas that allow them, for instance, to respond to their infant’s needs or to detect threatening people in their environments.” – Meredith Wadman, Science

“[B]ased on this current study, there is no reason to suspect that these changes alter cognitive ability. It is possible that pregnancy-induced changes in gray matter are an adaptive process that helps women transition into motherhood, but more research is needed to really understand the purpose and consequences of these changes.” – Roheeni Saxena, Ars Technica



Image: Sage Ross, Wikimedia.

Image: Sage Ross, Wikimedia.

Paper #4. A Handful of Nuts a Day…

Our next High Five paper is “Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review” published in BMC Medicine. In an analysis of 20 different studies, researchers found that “[h]igher nut intake is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality, and mortality from respiratory disease, diabetes, and infections.” We got this news just in time for the holidays!

Nearly 200 news outlets covered this study. Gizmodo headlined, “Eating a Handful of Nuts Each Day Could Help You Live Longer.”

“New research published in BMC Medicine is highlighting the impressive health benefits from the regular consumption of nuts such as pecans, hazel nuts, walnuts, and even peanuts (which are technically legumes). Eating just 20 grams of nuts each day was linked to a 30 percent reduction in coronary heart disease, a 15 percent reduction in cancer, and a 22 percent reduction in premature death. Nut consumption was also associated with a reduced risk of dying from respiratory disease and diabetes, although these correlations were weaker and involved smaller sample sizes.” – George Dvorsky, Gizmodo

Who’s ready to go nuts? Just be careful of nut products with lots of sugar and salt (like peanut butter), the study findings suggest.



Image: Joachim Huber, Wikimedia

Image: Joachim Huber, Wikimedia

Paper #5. Endangered Cheetah

Our final High Five paper for December 2016 veers away from our human health theme.
The global decline of cheetah Acinonyx jubatus and what it means for conservation” was published in PNAS on December 27, 2016. The study shows “dramatic declines of cheetah across its distributional range.”

“Establishing and maintaining protected areas (PAs) are key tools for biodiversity conservation. However, this approach is insufficient for many species, particularly those that are wide-ranging and sparse. The cheetah Acinonyx jubatus exemplifies such a species and faces extreme challenges to its survival. Here, we show that the global population is estimated at ∼7,100 individuals and confined to 9% of its historical distributional range. However, the majority of current range (77%) occurs outside of PAs [protected areas], where the species faces multiple threats.” – PNAS, 2016

Over 200 news outlets covered the study. Many of these called for greater conservation awareness and action for cheetah. As a result of the study, experts are calling for cheetah to be listed as “Endangered” rather than “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.

“Given the secretive nature of this elusive cat, it has been difficult to gather hard information on the species, leading to its plight being overlooked. Our findings show that the large space requirements for cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought.” – Study author Sarah Durant, Zoological Society of London and Wildlife Conservation Society, quoted in Forbes article

More reading:

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