Health Care Disparities The Palliative Power of Understanding Science

Date & Time

Wed, 03/07/2012


Googling or Garbling? (Op-Ed)

“If you don’t have an understanding of science, your health care and that of your family, and many of the key decisions in society, are compromised.”

Dr. Stanley Maloy issued that caveat at the start of his March 7 presentation on “Health Care Disparities: The Palliative Power of Understanding Science.” Maloy, Dean of the College of Sciences at San Diego State University, was the featured speaker at the seventh forum in the 2011-2012 “Exploring Ethics Henrietta Lacks” series.

When patients are baffled by their doctors’ complex medical language, they struggle to understand their diagnoses and comply with treatment regimens. Intimidated and frightened, they become vulnerable to medical mistakes. “This is particularly a problem for underrepresented groups,” said Maloy, who is a principal investigator of a $15-million National Cancer Institute study of cancer disparities in San Diego. “The probability of getting the wrong drug while you’re in the hospital is much, much higher if you are an elderly minority patient.”

Replacing jargon with real-world metaphors can help physicians explain clinical concepts. Maloy gave the example of stem cell therapies that reverse mitochondrial damage caused by heart attacks. In basic terms, the process “gets rid of the harmful trash that kills the cells,” Maloy said. “That makes a lot more sense. You can relate to taking out the trash, and it’s just as scientifically valid.”
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To view a recording of this event, please click here.


Stanley Maloy
Professor of Microbiology and Dean, College of Sciences, San Diego State University

Professor Maloy obtained an MS in Microbiology from California State University, Long Beach, followed by a PhD in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from the University of California at Irvine. After a postdoctoral fellowship in Microbial Genetics at the University of Utah, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) where he progressed from Assistant Professor to Professor of Microbiology. While at UIUC, he served as Director of the University of Illinois Biotechnology Center. In 2002 Maloy moved to San Diego State University as founding Director of the Center for Microbial Sciences. In 2006 he became Dean of the College of Sciences at San Diego State University.

From 2004-2007 Professor Maloy served as President-Elect, President, then Past-President of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). He currently chairs the ASM committee on communicating science to the public, and has served as chair of NIH Study Sections and as a grant reviewer for the NIH, NSF, USDA, NAS, AHA, and international funding agencies. He has participated on many federal advisory groups, and testified before the House Appropriations Committee about federal funding for scientific research. Maloy has consulted with large and small companies, including serving on several Scientific Advisory Boards and as Chief Scientific Officer. He currently chairs the Scientific Advisory Board of Vaxiion Therapeutics Inc. Maloy has organized numerous international courses and conferences in the US, Europe, Latin America, and Asia and is the author of several books including a widely used textbook, and has been honored by several teaching awards.

Professor Maloy has been interested in Scientific Ethics for many years. While at UIUC he started a graduate course on research ethics,  participated in training programs in research ethics at the University of Indiana, and served on several advisory panels for the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.

Maloy’s research focuses on bacterial and phage genetics and physiology, the evolution of infectious diseases, and the development of new antibiotics and vaccines.

Estralita Martin (Moderator)
San Diego State University

Estralita Martin obtained her Ph.D. in Cellular and Developmental Biology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1984 investigating the development and structure of spicules in sea urchin larvae. She did her postdoctoral work at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) studying hormonal control of bone formation before becoming a research endocrinologist at the School of Medicine there and a research physiologist for the VA San Diego Healthcare Center examining the hormonal controls of bone deterioration in spinal cord injury patients. In 1993, while continuing her research at UCSD, she began teaching for the biology department at San Diego State University (SDSU). Along with her teaching responsibilities she was asked to be the interim dean for underrepresented student programs for SDSU’s College of Sciences in 2000. Soon thereafter she became the assistant dean for the College and the director of the College’s Center for the Advancement of Students in Academia (CASA). In this dual role, along with the teaching responsibilities, she is able to help students deal with the nonacademic issues that will interfere with their academic progress, and work with a network of programs designed to provide a pipeline for students interested in becoming academicians, healthcare providers, and researchers.