Skip to main content

Potential Research Topics: HEALTH (PUBLIC HEALTH)

This guide will help with settling on a research topic for class.


HEALTH: Alzheimer’s Blood Test
Researchers in Japan and Australia have come up with a blood test for Alzheimer’s
disease that is accurate in finding precursor molecules of amyloid beta, which is one of the
symptoms of the disease. However, finding those precursors does not mean the patient is going to
develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Why is a blood test like this a holy grail for
Alzheimer’s researchers? How did the researchers check their results? What might this mean for
patients who test positive in this test?
SEARCH TERMS: Alzheimer’s disease AND blood test

HEALTH: Nigeria - Deadly Fever Outbreak
An outbreak of Lassa fever has hit Nigeria, with the disease found in 17 of the country’s
36 states. Its initial symptoms resemble other diseases which can lead to misdiagnosis. Lassa
fever can be fatal, as it can become a hemorrhagic disease like Ebola. What are those initial
symptoms? How is the disease transmitted and what actions can help prevent that transmission?
SEARCH TERMS: Nigeria AND Lassa fever

HEALTH: Brain Injury Blood Test
The U.S. Food and Drug Association (U.S. FDA) has given approval for the first blood test
that can help doctors identify traumatic brain injuries. How does this blood test work? What has
been the usual process for diagnosing traumatic brain injuries?
SEARCH TERMS: blood text AND FDA AND traumatic brain injury

HEALTH: Brushing Drug-Resistant Malaria Away
An artificially intelligent computer program has determined that Triclosan, an ingredient in
toothpaste, can be used against drug-resistant malaria plasmodium bacteria. Human researchers
now have to formulate a new medicine based on this knowledge. What does triclosan target in the
plasmodium? How common is drug-resistant malaria and how fatal is malaria as a disease? How
does the computer program work?
SEARCH TERMS: malaria AND triclosan

HEALTH: Bad Flu Season
A strong outbreak of influenza in the United States is the worst in almost a decade. What
states are impacted and which one has been affected the most? What is the strain of flu and why
has the vaccine not been fully effective? What are some of the ways that the flu can be passed
between people and what precautions should be taken?
SEARCH TERMS: (flu OR influenza) AND (U.S. OR US OR United States)

HEALTH: Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa Treatment
It has been announced that a boy who was suffering from a rare, incurable skin disease
called junctional epidermolysis bullosa that kept the outer layer of his skin from fully attaching to the
inner layer was treated with genetically altered skin from his own body. The doctors then used the
altered skin to grow a new skin to attach to his body, successfully treating him. What genetic defect
causes this disease and how did they deal with it? What complications could others with this
disease have that might prevent the use of this treatment option? What is the patient’s quality of life
SEARCH TERMS: junctional epidermolysis bullosa

HEALTH: First Digital Pill to Track Patients
Abilify MyCite is the first digital pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
that will be able to track when a patient has taken the pill. How does the pill work in coordination
with stomach juices? What other information does the digital sensor in this pill convey about the
SEARCH TERMS: digital AND pill AND track*

HEALTH: Gene Therapy for Leukemia
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new gene therapy called
Kymriah for the treatment of certain kinds of leukemia in children and young adults. How does this
new therapy work and how was it developed? What were the most effective previous treatments
previous to Kymriah and how did they develop?
SEARCH TERMS: leukemia AND Kymriah

HEALTH: Parkinson’s Disease Research
Japanese scientists have inserted stem cells into the brains of monkeys that have an artificially-induced form of Parkinson’s disease. 45 to 50 percent of the monkeys had better motor control over their muscles and decreased shaking. This technique will be trialed in humans. However, they do not know what effects this had on the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. Is this a good step forward in research for this disease? What are the non-motor effects of it?
SEARCH TERMS: Parkinson’s disease AND stem cells

HEALTH: Cholera Epidemic
TOPIC:  It is estimated that 200,000 people in Yemen suffer from cholera and that 5,000 more people are infected every day. One-quarter of the recorded fatalities are children. What is cholera and what symptoms are especially deadly? What has put children at risk in Yemen? Why is it difficult to combat the disease?  

HEALTH: Republican Health Care Bill      
TOPIC: The Republican health care bill is facing controversy in the U.S. Senate as more Republican senators have pulled their support and public polling show it as very unpopular.  What are some of the chief concerns about this bill?  What are supporters of the bill saying in its defense?  How many votes in the senate will the bill need to pass and what is the Republican strategy for getting those votes?
SEARCH TERMS: (Republican OR GOP) AND health care AND (bill OR legislation) 

HEALTH: Malarial Research Breakthrough
Mosquitos offered a choice of untainted blood or blood infected with malaria
overwhelmingly chose the tainted blood to dine on. Swedish researchers believe that malaria
parasites release a substance that mixes with blood and attracts mosquitos. Could this be a step
on the way to an early diagnostic test for the disease? How widespread is malaria and who is most
vulnerable to it? Is there a vaccine for it?
SEARCH TERMS: malaria AND odor

HEALTH: Republican Healthcare Plan
The Republican Party has come up with a broad outline of its healthcare plan to replace
the Affordable Care Act. What information has been released about the specifics of this outline?
What are the reassuring aspects of what is known and what is causing concern?
SEARCH TERMS: Republican Healthcare Plan AND outline

HEALTH: Guinea Worm Disease
There were only 25 reported cases of Guinea worm disease in 2016 and they were located
in only three countries; Chad, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. For the first time, Mali reported no new
cases. In the mid-1980s, there were millions of new cases a year in 21 different countries. The
Carter Foundation has been leading the fight against this disease. How is this disease spread?
What might be different about the disease transmission path in Chad? What has led to its decline?
SEARCH TERMS: Guinea worm disease AND

HEALTH: Changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
President Trump has signed an executive order that makes some changes to the
Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. What changed with the president’s order and
what are his plans for the ACA going forward? What aspects of the ACA does he want to keep and
what does he want to eliminate? What are the Trump administration’s plans for replacing ACA?
SEARCH TERMS: (Obamacare OR ACA OR Affordable Care Act) AND Trump

HEALTH: Cancer Rate Drop
The cancer rate in the United States has dropped 25% since 1991 according to a report by
the American Cancer Society. What reasons have been given for this reduction and also for the
earlier rise that had peaked in 1991? What is the science of how cancer works and what have
been the most promising methods of fighting cancer?
SEARCH TERMS: cancer AND rate* AND 1991

HEALTH: Pregnancy and Neuroimaging
A neuroimaging study in Spain looked at the brains of first-time mothers during pregnancy
and up to two years later. It determined that the pregnancy actually led to physical changes in their
brains. What were the changes they found? Did those changes have any impact on their bonding
with their children?
SEARCH TERMS: pregnancy OR mothers AND neuroimaging

HEALTH: Safety of Newborns
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has revealed that most
states are not meeting the national benchmarks for screening newborns for treatable disorders.
What is the nationally advised benchmarks for screening newborns and why are so many states
not meeting it? What are some examples of how newborns can suffer when the nationally advised
processes are not followed?
SEARCH TERMS: newborn* AND GAO AND report AND screening

HEALTH: Obamacare Rates to Go Up
: The health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act are set to rise in 2017.
What are the expected increases in percentage of cost for the most impacted plans and what is
driving the rise? What can be done to stem the costs and what are the economic and political
issues involved with various ideas that have been proposed to make headway in fixing these
SEARCH TERMS: (Obamacare OR Affordable Care Act) AND (premiums OR rates) AND rise

HEALTH: Opioid Addiction Medication
An investigation by the Government Accountability Office has concluded that opioid addicts
are not being given enough access to the medications needed to overcome their addiction. What
are contributing factors to the extreme rise in opioid addiction in the United States and what is
being done to try to stem it? What are the medications that are helpful to get opioid users to
effectively manage their addictions and what are factors that can limit access to these
SEARCH TERMS: (opioid* OR heroin) AND (Government Accountability Office OR GAO) AND
addict* AND medication

HEALTH: News in the Fight against Cancer
: Research in Great Britain that involved giving patients with cancer immunotherapy drugs led to enough positive results that the remaining patients in the study began to be given the drugs, rather than the placebos they had been taking. Head and neck cancer patients were in that study; another study was being conducted with kidney cancer patients. How do immunotherapy drugs work against cancers? How promising are these results?
SEARCH TERMS: cancer AND immunotherapy

HEALTH: Zika Virus
TOPIC:  The Zika Virus has been declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization. Women who are pregnant or of child-bearing age are being warned not to travel to several countries in both Latin America and the Caribbean where outbreaks have been reported. By the end of 2016, as many as 4 million people could be infected by the virus which is known to cause birth defects. How is the Zika virus transmitted? What attempts are being made to stop its spread? What is the relationship between microcephaly and the Zika virus?
SEARCH TERMS: Zika virus

HEALTH: Co-op Insurance Plan Closings    
TOPIC:  Affordable Care Act co-op insurance plans are closing at an alarming rate.  What problems are they facing that are preventing them from staying solvent?  What states have had the most problems and why?  In what states have the plans done well and why?  What are some of the more compelling ideas offered to fix the problems so many plans are facing?
SEARCH TERMS: co-op insurance AND (Affordable Care Act OR Obamacare) AND (fail* OR closing?)

HEALTH: Zika Virus Emerges
TOPIC: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning pregnant women that they
shouldn’t travel to the Latin American countries that are currently battling the Zika virus. The virus
is thought to be responsible for the surge in children born with microcephaly, a brain defect, in
Brazil. How is the disease spread? Have cases been found in the U.S.? What is microcephaly?
How is Brazil responding to this? How sure are scientists that Zika is the cause of this surge?
SEARCH TERMS: Zika virus OR microcephaly

HEALTH: Experimental Cure for Cancer
TOPIC: Layla Richards was diagnosed with an acute leukemia, had several chemotherapy treatments and a bone marrow transplant all. Her cancer returned. Rather than accept palliative care, her parents asked her doctors if there were any untested treatments that could be tried. There was. She was given a designer immune cell treatment and is now cancer free. What specifically was the experimental treatment she was given? Had this therapy been given to humans before? Is this the breakthrough it seems to be? What is her long term prognosis?
SEARCH TERMS: Layla Richards AND (leukemia OR cancer)

HEALTH: Vaccine Approved
TOPIC:  Mexico has approved a vaccine for the four strains of dengue fever, the tropical disease also known as breakbone fever. Though the vaccine is only 66% effective against all four strains, it is over 90% effective against dengue hemorrhagic fever, which is the most dangerous of the strains. What symptoms give dengue fever its popular name breakbone fever? How dangerous is the fever, especially the three strains with the lower effectiveness rates? Was Mexico right to approve a drug with a lower percentage of success against the most prominent strains? 
SEARCH TERMS: Mexico AND dengue fever AND vaccine

HEALTH: Robotic Legs for Vets     
TOPIC:  The Veterans Administration has agreed for the first time to pay for robotic legs for veterans who need them.  What specifically is the change in guidelines?  Who makes these robotic legs and how do they work?  What 2014 FDA decision helped clear the path for this change?
SEARCH TERMS: (VA OR Veterans Administration) AND robotic legs

HEALTH: Clinical Trial Disaster
TOPIC:  A clinical trial in France goes bad when one participant dies and others suffer brain damage. The Portuguese firm Bial had contracted with a French firm Biotrial to run the tests. Have researchers been able to determine what went wrong for these individuals, while others were taking the drug without problems? Is it ethical to test new drugs on paid volunteers?  
SEARCH TERMS: (Bial OR Biotrial) AND clinical trials AND fatalities

HEALTH: Overuse of Antibiotics     
TOPIC:  The long overuse of antibiotics in the United States has increased the number of antibiotic-resistant bugs.  What is being done to address this problem and what are the most difficult aspects of resolving this?  What are antibiotics and how do they work?
SEARCH TERMS: antibiotics AND overuse

HEALTH: A Victory over Polio  
TOPIC:  The World Health Organization has announced that Nigeria has gone a year without a case of naturally occurring polio. It is no longer a polio endemic country. If it goes three years without cases, Nigeria can be declared polio free. What is polio and how is it transmitted? What is the current treatment for this disease and how is it administered? What are the two remaining endemic countries in the world? How has the progress against polio gone since 1988?
SEARCH TERMS: Nigeria AND polio 

HEALTH: Diagnostic Problems  
TOPIC:  A new report by the Institute of Medicine reveals an alarming rate of medical diagnoses that are either wrong or delivered significantly late.  How was evidence gathered and analyzed for this report and what are these problems with diagnosis attributed to? What does the report say may be adding to the problem?
SEARCH TERMS: diagnosis AND (study OR report) AND Institute of Medicine

HEALTH: Carcinogenic Meats  
TOPIC:  The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that processed meats, and possibly red meat, can cause cancer.  What group under WHO did the research and what did it entail? How does meat cause cancer?  What was the general message to consumers about these findings?  What has been the public reaction to this and what change has been brought about by this new information?
SEARCH TERMS: (World Health Organization OR WHO) AND cancer AND meat 

HEALTH: Nobel Prize in Medicine  
TOPIC:  The Noble Prize for Medicine was given out in early October. Who received the award? What research was being honored? How potentially important was this research? What was notable about the inclusion of a Chinese researcher in this prize?
SEARCH TERMS: Nobel Prize in Medicine 

HEALTH: Global Warming and Health   
TOPIC:  The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Lung Association have both linked global warming to health risks.  What are the specific concerns cited by each organization and how specifically are they saying global warming impacts human health?  What is the history of each organization?
SEARCH TERMS: global warming AND (American Academy of Pediatrics OR AAPA OR American Lung OR ALA)

HEALTH: Zika Epidemic
TOPIC: The zika epidemic continues in Latin America. Where do they think this illness came from? What are some of the new things research has found out about it? How is work on a vaccine progressing? Has the link between zika and microcephaly been proven?

HEALTH: Opioid Epidemic
TOPIC: President Obama has prioritized fighting the overdosing epidemic due to use of opioids: a class of drugs which includes prescription pain medications and heroin. In 2014, over 28,000 deaths occurred due to opiate overdoses. What approaches are being sought to address the epidemic? What treatments are currently available for those who suffer from addiction?
SEARCH TERMS: opioid OR opiate

HEALTH: Yellow Fever Fears
TOPIC:  Although the Zika virus and the fever its causes is getting most of the publicity; yellow fever, also spread by mosquitos, seems poised to make a big return to the world stage. There is an epidemic in Angola, outbreaks in other African countries and both Peru and China have reported cases of it. It is thought there is not enough vaccine doses for the size of the endangered population. What is the World Health Organization being urged to do to help with the vaccine shortages? What are the symptoms of yellow fever and how fatal is it?  
SEARCH TERMS: yellow fever AND WHO

 HEALTH: E-Cigarettes  
TOPIC:  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is extending its regulations on tobacco products to include e-cigarettes and cigars as well as hookah and pipe tobacco.  What are these new regulations and why are they being added?  What are is the history of tobacco regulations in this country?
SEARCH TERMS: e-cigarettes AND (FDA OR Food and Drug Administration)

HEALTH: Superbug  
TOPIC:  After a superbug in the form of an antibiotic-resistant strain of e-coli was discovered recently in Pennsylvania, the CDC and Pennsylvania authorities have been working together to learn more about this type of bacteria and how it can be avoided and treated.  What do the findings of this superbug suggest about the future of antibiotics as medical treatment and what are some plans for dealing with these types of discoveries in the future?
SEARCH TERMS: antibiotic AND (superbug OR e-coli) AND resistant

HEALTH: Assisted Suicide
TOPIC: Canada has passed a law allowing physician assisted suicide, though with some restrictions around eligibility. One of them is a residency requirement. What other requirements are in the law? How does this law compare with the way other countries, and those U.S. states where it is legal, deal with those seeking termination of their lives?
SEARCH TERMS: Canada AND assisted suicide

HEALTH: Vaccination Campaign
TOPIC: Public health authorities in the Philippines are looking to vaccinate 1 million school children against the dengue fever. This disease is spread by the same mosquito that spreads zika. What are the symptoms of dengue and which symptom has contributed to a common name for it? How effective is the vaccines being used in this campaign? How widespread is this disease and how many people are estimated to be affected annually?
SEARCH TERMS: Philippines AND dengue AND vaccinations

HEALTH: Unacceptable Air Quality
TOPIC: A new report by the American Lung Association has found that over half of the U.S. population is living in potentially dangerous air pollution. How was the study done and what did the report say about the quality of U.S. air in the future and why? What places were the most dangerous and what were the least and why?
SEARCH TERMS: American Lung AND population AND air AND pollution

 HEALTH: Cancer Breakthrough
TOPIC: Researchers combined the RNA of cancer with nanoparticles of fat to create a vaccine for
that cancer. It has been tested on mice and on three skin cancer patients with good results and it is
hoped that it can be used for all types of cancer. How does this treatment work inside the body?
What other recent research involves cancer and fat? How excited about this breakthrough should
we be at this stage of research?

HEALTH: Soda Tax
TOPIC: Philadelphia is the first major U.S. city to adopt a tax on soda. What are the properties in
soda that doctors warn are unhealthy? What has been the reaction from the public in Philadelphia
regarding the tax and what are the most compelling arguments for and against it?
SEARCH TERMS: soda AND tax AND Philadelphia

HEALTH: Fraudulent Vaccines
TOPIC: Vials marked as imported childhood vaccines were found to contain only saline solutions in Jakarta, Indonesia, prompting violence against a doctor. Parents have been urged to see their doctors to determine if their children need to be re-vaccinated. How long had these vaccines been produced and sold? Who has been arrested for their roles in this scheme? How did this come to light?
SEARCH TERMS: Indonesia AND vaccines AND scandal

HEALTH: Zika in Florida
TOPIC: Florida investigators are looking into four Zika cases where the people were not travelling. What is the critical information that this investigation is trying to uncover? What is the Zika virus and what are ways it can spread?

HEALTH: Vaccine Anniversary
TOPIC: The human papilloma virus vaccine (HPV) was administered for the first time 10 years ago in Australia. It is the first vaccine against a form of cancer, targeting cervical cancer and some cancers of the throat. It is now in use in 130 countries and has succeeded in halving the number of new cases worldwide. Why is it controversial in some countries, including the U.S.? What has been the results of its use in Australia, the country where it has been the longest?
SEARCH TERMS: (HPV OR human papilloma virus) AND cervical cancer

HEALTH: Marijuana Classification
TOPIC: The US Drug Enforcement Agency will continue to classify marijuana as a dangerous drug. Its use leads to a high potential of abuse and use for medical purposes continues to be questionable. What have been the perspectives of a number of governors about medical use of marijuana? What challenges do medical researchers face in developing clinical studies to test the validity of marijuana use as treatment for chronic illnesses?
SEARCH TERMS: (marijuana OR pot) AND classification