It is no secret that unconscious biases penetrate various realms of society; from hiring decisions (Lebowitz, 2015) to medical care (Blair, Steiner, and Havranek, 2011) and even foul calls in the NBA (Schwarz, 2007).
But what about implicit bias in our everyday lives? Does it really play a role in who we form relationships with, or the way we interact with others, or even the way we perceive a stranger?
Implicit bias refers to attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner, according to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, which publishes an annual Implicit Bias Review . Unlike explicit bias, which reflects the attitudes or beliefs that one endorses at a conscious level, implicit bias is judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control.
Recent claims of overt and covert discrimination on college campuses and in policing raise the question: How does someone’s unconscious reaction to people of a different race, religion or sexuality influence their judgment and behavior? Psychologists and social scientists working within this field do not have a concise answer to explain how implicit bias manifests in everyday life, as it is hard to rule out alternative explanations.
In other words, implicit bias can and does happen, but it is complicated to prove.
“Some biases seem obviously wrong, like treating equally qualified people differently when hiring or promoting,” said Calvin Lai, director of research for Harvard’s Project Implicit. “Every day biases are hard to wrap our heads around because they’re so much more personal, and you can point to other reasons.”
Similarly, structural factors beyond your control might come into play. If most of your friends look like you, or you tend to date people of the same race as you, it could largely be just a reflection of the demographics in your community.
However, research shows that those relationships, along with the interactions and experiences that come from them, are key contributors of implicit biases. These biases begin forming at a young age and are easily reinforced into adulthood through social settings and mass media.
“When you think backwards, what you think is normal is really cultural pressure that pushes you into bias, implicit and conscious,” said sociologist Charles Gallagher, chairman of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at LaSalle University in Philadelphia.
Hanging out with friends that look like you isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if they’re nice people! However, research suggests that implicit biases and stereotypes, both positive and negative, are maintained through persistent lack of contact with others beyond your “in-group,” that is people who share certain characteristics.
The good news? We are not helpless to combat implicit bias. It can be mitigated through intervention strategies, starting with recognizing where it might exist in your life and seeking exposure to people and experiences beyond your regular circles.
Psychologists and social scientist who study implicit bias are working to gather more data with the goal of making people more aware of their unconscious decision-making and its consequences.
Harvard’s Project Implicit features a battery of “implicit association tests” where participants can measure levels of implicit bias around certain topics based on the strength of associations between concepts and evaluations.
“The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a ‘virtual laboratory’ for collecting data on the Internet.”
2015 State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review. (2015). Retrieved from; http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/my-product/2015-state-of-the-science-implicit-bias-review/
Blair, I. V., Steiner, J. F., & Havranek, E. P. (2011). Unconscious (Implicit) Bias and Health Disparities: Where Do We Go from Here? The Permanente Journal, 15(2), 71–78.
Grinberg, E. (2015). 4 ways you might display hidden bias every day – CNN.com. Retrieved from; http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/24/living/implicit-bias-tests-feat/
Lebowitz, S., Jul. 17, 2015, 9, 022, & 2. (2015). 3 unconscious biases that affect whether you get hired. Retrieved from; http://www.businessinsider.com/unconscious-biases-in-hiring-decisions-2015-7
Schwarz, A. (2007, May 2). Study of N.B.A. Sees Racial Bias in Calling Fouls. The New York Times. Retrieved from; http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/02/sports/basketball/02refs.html
In an effort to continually explore the interface between science and business, Tufts Biomedical Business Club recently caught up with Dr. Zach Scheiner, an Associate at RA Capital Management, for a discussion about his experience in the healthcare investment industry.
RA Capital Management is a crossover fund manager dedicated to evidence-based investing in public and private healthcare and life science companies. Prior to his current role at RA Capital, Zach worked as a Science Officer at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where he managed a portfolio of research programs concentrated in translational neuroscience. He holds a BS in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University, and a PhD in Neurobiology and Behavior from the University of Washington.
As an Associate for RA Capital, Zach’s efforts are realized through the team’s core research division, TechAtlas. This division is a scientifically trained team that maps out competitive landscapes in a continual effort to survey the landscape and identify emerging therapeutics and technologies that will reshape how physicians treat disease. The interview is edited for brevity and clarity.
Tell me about the career path that led you to your job. How did you become involved with RA Capital Management?
My interest in biomedical science and research began as an undergrad, when I had several summer research internships and was exposed to a few different fields of research. At the same time I had my first opportunity to teach science classes at a local high school and quickly realized that I also had a passion for teaching. After graduating, I decided to teach middle school science and math for a year (which turned into three) before returning to research and going to grad school.
I attended the Neurobiology & Behavior graduate program at The University of Washington in Seattle. My thesis work focused on the molecular basis of memory and drug addiction. Though I enjoyed my time as a graduate student, by my fourth year I began to realize that the academic career path and spending more years at the lab bench were not for me. I really enjoyed reading primary literature, planning experiments, and reviewing/analyzing data, so as I finished up graduate school I began looking at alternatives where I might be able to incorporate these interests as well as leverage my scientific background in a non-research capacity.
I found a great opportunity at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in San Francisco. CIRM funds stem cell research at institutions throughout California with the goal of advancing promising stem cell based therapies into clinical trials and ultimately to patients. I began as a science writer and quickly moved to a position managing a portfolio of translational research programs. In this position, I worked closely with funded scientists to help set milestones and success criteria, assess progress, and, however possible, facilitate success. In my six years at CIRM I learned a tremendous amount about the drug development process, gained experience reviewing and analyzing data, and developed management skills, all of which have been invaluable in my current role at RA Capital.
My move to RA Capital was the result of my wife being offered an assistant professorship at Brown University. In preparation for the move from one coast to the other I reached out to everyone in my network, including an old lab-mate I had stayed in touch with from graduate school who was now an Associate for RA Capital. I had a long-time interest in biotech investing, nurtured by my dad, and had been learning about this part of the industry in my spare time. Luckily, RA was hiring and the rest is history. For me, RA Capital was a perfect fit. I can put my communication and analytical skills from teaching, grad school and CIRM to good use and I love staying immersed in cutting-edge science while learning more about the investment side of the biotech industry.
What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?
As an Associate with RA Capital, my primary role involves creating dendrograms (mind-maps) of specific diseases or capabilities within the healthcare industry. These comprehensive landscape maps take all the available drugs, both on the market and still in development, and put them into the context of current standard of care and unmet needs. They help our team fully appreciate and contextualize the market potential of assets and companies before making investments. Mapping out a disease landscape is a research-intensive process that involves surveying the literature, meeting with companies with assets in the space, speaking directly to physicians, attending scientific conferences, and analyzing data. The process can take several months to complete but the maps are never truly finished. Therapeutic landscapes are constantly evolving, new data are released and new licensing and acquisition deals are made. Our maps are equally dynamic and a lot of my time is spent staying up to date with the latest news and data coming out in the areas I cover.
In addition to mapping, Associates also join the investment team in diligence projects on specific investment opportunities. Our maps are a great way of contextualizing drugs and their competitors and can help our team identify potential new opportunities but it’s always critical to dig deeper before making an investment. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing all the work I’ve put in researching and understanding a therapeutic space pay off with insights that are potentially investable, or that directly benefit a diligence project.
On a day-to-day basis I also survey industry news and the scientific literature not only to keep up with the science but to search for new investment opportunities that could be licensable for an RA Capital portfolio company or even form the basis for a new company. I also enjoy being involved in the recruiting process at RA and playing a small role in shaping the future of the company.
What is the most rewarding part about your job?
Personally, the most rewarding part of my work is knowing that we are investing in companies that are developing therapies for patients that really need them! These companies often have no marketed drugs and need capital to advance their assets through clinical trials and into the hands of patients. When I think about the work that I do, I know I am helping to identify great science, underappreciated drugs, and promising new opportunities. And I hope that by influencing where RA Capital’s dollars are invested, I’m impacting the whole healthcare ecosystem in a positive way.
What experiences best prepared you for your job?
I think all of my previous work experiences helped prepare me for RA Capital, the first of which was teaching. Communication is such an essential skill and getting an opportunity to develop this early in my career has been a huge benefit. Having controlled a classroom every day for three years definitely makes communicating with colleagues, companies and scientific experts a little easier. Effective communication is a vital part of this job.
The second experience is my time spent as a graduate student. In graduate school I learned how to rigorously analyze data, both my own and from the literature. I developed my critical thinking and analytical skills and the ability to quickly identify key questions, design key experiments, and understand the limitations of a study.
Lastly, at CIRM I learned the process of moving a drug from the lab to the market and everything in between. I also regularly participated in grant review meetings with panels of scientists, clinicians, and patient advocates. These meetings gave me the opportunity to learn what was truly important to each group. While the views and opinions would often vary between the groups, one key takeaway was that for a drug to succeed, doctors have to want to prescribe it and patients have to want to use it. My experience at CIRM taught me to evaluate drugs with the patient perspective in mind; new therapies are worthless unless patients will use them, and sometimes improvements that appear marginal can be very meaningful to patients.
What skills or personal characteristics do you feel contribute most to success in this industry?
Very often, investment firms require that applicants have a background in finance, an MBA, or prior experience in the industry. That is not the case at RA Capital. I wouldn’t say any particular background or degree is required, but there are certainly skills that are critical. Analytical skills, for example. The ability to rigorously analyze data and quickly get to the “meat” of primary literature or a clinical data set is invaluable. Another key skill is effective writing and communication. Much of my day is spent writing and talking. I am continuously expressing my thoughts and providing analysis and it is important to do so concisely and effectively.
In terms of personal characteristics, I would highlight skepticism. Being skeptical is a common trait among scientists due to the nature of research, but this skill is especially important when meeting with companies. Every company is trying to convince us that their assets or data are the best. Skepticism is required to separate the pitch from the quality of the science.
Humility is another important personal characteristic. To put it simply, in something as complicated as drug development, it’s easy to be wrong! There are so many variables to consider, and science changes so quickly; it’s essential to have an open mind and be humble about everything you do not know.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an associate for RA Capital Management?
I think the largest challenge I face is simply the pace of the industry and science itself. There is new data coming out all the time; from company press releases, new primary literature, scientific conferences—the amount of information can be overwhelming. Developing the ability to quickly assimilate and analyze new information is the biggest challenge. But it’s also one of the things I enjoy most about my job. In this field you have to enjoy constant learning and also get good at processing information quickly enough to inform an investment decision. The fast pace is challenging but exciting.
What are some other opportunities within RA Capital Management for scientists aside from the TechAtlas Research Division?
Most opportunities for PhD trained scientists are within our TechAtlas research team. This team is made up primarily of PhD trained scientists in either Associate or Scientific Writer positions. The Science Writers work closely with the Associates as they build the story of their map, acting as a thought partner to develop the key insights for standard of care, unmet needs, and investable opportunities for each disease. As members of the research team gain experience, they can specialize in one of several areas, including early-stage assets, strategic analysis of licensing and partnerships, and equity analysis.
For somebody interested in pursuing this career, what would be your advice to best prepare them?
I would highly recommend that PhD candidates supplement their education in three areas: biostatistics, clinical trials, and FDA regulatory pathways. These topics are not always emphasized or even addressed in many graduate programs. A working knowledge of biostatistics goes a long way; being able to understand statistical pitfalls and the pros and cons of different analyses is invaluable. I would also recommend becoming familiar with clinical trials: the general FDA requirements for advancing drugs into Phase 1 trials and the typical development path for new therapies in your field of interest. Few graduate students get exposed to these areas. I would strongly suggest looking beyond the specific questions of own research project to get an understanding of the broader context: the standard of care for the disease, unmet needs, and competing approaches. If your research isn’t disease or therapy focused, choose a disease of interest or imagine potential applications of your work and research those. Putting new research and data into a broad context is a lot of what we do, so the earlier you can start practicing, the better prepared you will be.
The Team Cathedral Project (TCP) started as a way to support the Cathedral High School athletic department through school physicals and sports medicine game coverage. It has since evolved to include mentorship between the Cathedral High School students and the Tufts medical students with a large focus on education.
Cathedral High School serves students all over the Boston area including Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury, and Hyde Park. They have an amazing 100% success rate in graduating seniors and every graduating senior has earned college admission for the last 12 years straight!
Every year, TCP brings the entire junior class of Cathedral High School to Tufts University School of Medicine where they participate in health care career exploration and even get to visit the anatomy lab.
This year we are hoping to diversify both the types of careers as well as the demographics of the professionals they will be meeting with. As graduate students conducting research in a wide range of topics in biomedical science you would contribute a valuable and outstanding perspective for these students. If you are interested in speaking to the junior class please let me know.
I can be reached at: Meagan.Alvarado@tufts.edu
The field trip will be held on Wednesday February 3rd, 2016 and we would need the speakers to be available from about 11am-12pm.
The Charlton Lectureship, named in honor of Mr. Earle P. Charlton, has been held annually since 1975. This celebrated lectureship has evolved over the years to include a student poster competition. Held in conjunction with the lectureship, the poster competition is a platform to recognize outstanding research work being done by Tufts graduate, medical, dental, and veterinary students. The Charlton Poster Competition and Lecture are sponsored and hosted by the Academic Research Awards Committee of the Tufts University School of Medicine.
This year’s lecture was held on October 27, 2015, in the Sackler DeBlois Auditorium. The 2015-16 Charlton Lecturer was delivered by Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD. Dr. Lee obtained her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of California in San Francisco (1973) and an MBA at the Wharton School of Business (1984).
Dr. Lee is the John H. Ware 3rd Chair for Alzheimer’s Research, and directs the center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Lee’s work was instrumental in demonstrating that tau, α-synuclein, and TDP-43 proteins form unique brain aggregates with a central role in numerous neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The poster competition was held on October 26, 2015 with finalists competing again the following morning. Students with similar levels of training are evaluated with their peers:
Sackler Senior Category: Sackler biomedical PhD students in years 4 and above, MD/PhD students in Sackler years 4 and above, and Sackler CTS PhD students
1ST PLACE – Kevin Goncalves, CMP
Angiogenin promotes hematopoietic regeneration by dichotomously regulating quiescence and expansion of stem and progenitor cells
2ND PLACE – Jennifer Shih, NRSC
Partial genetic deletion of the astrocytic glutamate transporter GLAST disrupts organization of the cerebral cortex and causes network hyperexcitability
3RD PLACE – Brian Lin, CMDB
Neuronally committed progenitors can dedifferentiate, become multipotent, and generate nonneuronal cell lineages following injury
Sackler Junior Category: Sackler PhD students in years 1-3, MD/PhD students in Sackler years 1-3, and Sackler MS students
1ST PLACE – Joseph Sarhan, IMM
Basal levels of Interferon β Regulates Necroptosis in Macrophages
2ND PLACE – Danish Saleh, NRSC
Kinase activities of RIPK1 and RIPK3 are required for GNB-induced IFN-I synthesis
3RD PLACE – Payel Ghatak, GENE
Digital ELISA Based Ultrasensitive Strategy to Detect microRNAs at Subfemtomolar Concentration.
Professional Category: All Medical, Dental, and Veterinary Medicine students and MD/PhD students in TUSM years 1 and 2.
1ST PLACE – Mary Tam, Medical
The HBP1 Gene: A Pre-clinical Model for Genetic and De novo epilepsies
2ND PLACE – Seda Babroudi, Medical
A Novel Compound, Membrane-Tethered E2, Selectively Activates the ER Rapid Signaling Pathway – Implications for Vascular Benefit
3RD PLACE- Marianna Papageorge, Medical
Cyst Aspiration of Endometriomas Prior to In-Vitro Fertilization
Congratulations to all participants, finalists, and award winners.
First awarded in 1901; The Nobel Prize is widely regarded as the most prestigious award available in the fields of physiology or medicine, chemistry, physics, economics, and literature. Nobel Prizes are awarded annually in recognition of outstanding academic, cultural and/or scientific advances. Each Nobel Laureate receives a Nobel Foundation medal, a diploma, and a sum of money, which is decided by the Nobel Foundation. As of 2012, each prize was worth approximately $1.2 million (USD).
This year, Nobel prizes in the fields of physiology or medicine and chemistry were awarded for: discoveries concerning a novel therapy against malaria and infections caused by roundworm parasites; and mechanistic studies of DNA repair, respectively.
Novel Therapies for Parasitic Infections
Diseases caused by parasites have plagued humankind for millennia and constitute a major global health problem. In particular, parasitic diseases affect the world’s poorest populations and represent a huge barrier to improving human health and well-being. This year’s Nobel Laureates for the field of physiology or medicine developed therapies that revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases. The Nobel was awarded ½ to Youyou Tu and ¼ each to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura.
Youyou Tu is recognized for her discovery of Artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates for patients suffering from Malaria. William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura are recognized for their discovery of Avermectin, the derivatives of which have radically lowered the incidence of River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, as well as showing efficacy against an expanding number of other parasitic diseases. These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually.
The discoveries of Artemisinin and Avermectin have fundamentally changed the treatment of parasitic diseases. Malaria infects close to 200 million individuals yearly. Artemisinin is used in all Malaria-ridden parts of the world. When used in combination therapy, it is estimated to reduce mortality from Malaria by more than 20% overall and by more than 30% in children. For Africa alone, this means that more than 100 000 lives are saved each year. Today the Avermectin-derivative Ivermectin is used in all parts of the world that are plagued by parasitic diseases. Ivermectin is highly effective against a range of parasites, has limited side effects and is freely available across the globe. The importance of Ivermectin for improving the health and well-being of millions of individuals with River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, primarily in the poorest regions of the world, is immeasurable. Treatment is so successful that these diseases are on the verge of eradication, which would be a major feat in the medical history of humankind.
The discoveries of Artemisinin and Avermectin have revolutionized therapy for patients suffering from devastating parasitic diseases. Tu, Campbell, and Ōmura have transformed the treatment of parasitic diseases. The global impact of their discoveries and the resulting benefit to mankind are truly unfathomable.
The cells’ toolbox for DNA repair
Each day our DNA is damaged by UV radiation, free radicals and other carcinogenic substances, but even without such external attacks, a DNA molecule is inherently unstable. Thousands of spontaneous changes to a cell’s genome occur on a daily basis. Furthermore, defects can also arise when DNA is copied during cell division, a process that occurs several million times every day in the human body. The reason our genetic material does not disintegrate into complete chemical chaos is that a host of molecular systems continuously monitor and repair DNA.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar for having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information. Their work has provided fundamental knowledge and insight into how a living cell functions.
In the early 1970s, scientists believed that DNA was an extremely stable molecule, but Tomas Lindahl demonstrated that DNA decays at a rate that ought to have made the development of life on Earth impossible. This insight led him to discover a molecular machinery, base excision repair, which constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA.
Paul Modrich has demonstrated how the cell corrects errors that occur when DNA is replicated during cell division. This mechanism, mismatch repair, reduces the error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousand fold. Congenital defects in mismatch repair are known, for example, to cause a hereditary variant of colon cancer.
Aziz Sancar has mapped nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA. People born with defects in this repair system will develop skin cancer if they are exposed to sunlight. The cell also utilizes nucleotide excision repair to correct defects caused by mutagenic substances, among other things.
These Nobel Laureates have provided fundamental knowledge and insight into how a living cell functions. Their respective breakthrough discoveries have been applied and used for the development and advancement of novel cancer treatments.
The Central Square Theater in Cambridge houses two award winning and professional theater companies; The Nora Theatre Company and The Underground Railway Theater. This vibrant hub of theatrical, educational, and social activity, is where artists and audiences can come together to create theater that is both vital and captivating to the community.
Live performances for the month of November include:
Einstein’s Dreams (ending Nov. 14th)
Switzerland, 1905: A modest, newly-married patent clerk struggles to make ends meet while re-conceiving time. What happens when Albert Einstein completes his Theory of Relativity? Absurd, comic, and poetic, Einstein’s Dreams captures the poignancy of the human condition. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, Underground Railway Theater reunites the original 2007 world premiere cast, adapted by director Wesley Savick from the novel by Alan Lightman.
Copenhagen (ending Nov. 15th)
Copenhagen, 1941: Two brilliant physicists – fast friends from enemy nations – famously confront each other at the height of WWII. This award-winning psychological mystery unravels what transpired on that fateful night. Werner Heisenberg and his mentor Niels Bohr meet again in the afterlife, goaded by Bohr’s wife, Margrethe. Who will remember the truth that changed the course of history? Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the Atomic Bomb, Eric Tucker cracks open Michael Frayn’s contemporary classic play.
Arabian Nights (beginning Nov. 27th)
Become enchanted by the power of storytelling one final time! The Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater revive their award-winning production of Dominic Cooke’s Arabian Nights. Based on One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of folk tales from the Middle East and Asia, Arabian Nights is rich with suspense, romance and hilarity—stories irresistible for all ages, and at its heart, the power of the imagination to heal, inspire, and transform.