Sunday, October 04, 2009

Quiet watchfulness

Buttermilk sky,
Layers over the morning sun,
The blue sky, almost October,
Shines a smiling light
So bright.

Life is shifting,
Calm and slow motion,
Of stillness and innerness,
Quiet watchfulness of Sophie and Dori,
Watching over the bed's foot,
Mac at the door.

Thanks to web shots for the image.

Morning sky after the storm

Torrents of rain,
Saturated and flooding,
Many days of misery for many,
Sailing from homes.

Today awakes,
The world, my world,
Powder blue, amost October sky,
Dabs of white painted here.

On the hill, over the city,
Light of morning,
Cast shapes of gold and lemon,
Over sturdy skyscrapers.

Mist low in altitude,
Creates a pattern, a mosaic,
Exhaled air,
Against the vertical.

Thank you to Tim's pictures for the image.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cancer discoveries everyday

An exciting basic discovery in cancer research was communicated yesterday - including in an online story at the BBC: Olaparib is the first successful example of a new type of personalised medicine using a technique called "synthetic lethality" - a subtle way of exploiting the body's own molecular weaknesses for positive effect. In this case the drug takes advantage of the fact that while normal cells have several different ways of repairing damage to their DNA, one of these pathways is disabled by the BRCA mutations in tumour cells. Olaparib blocks one of the repair pathways by shutting down a key enzyme called PARP.

Robert Bazell at NBC says: "All this enthusiasm is based on a small report published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. It focuses on one clinical trial in its earliest stage in 60 patients with breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. Some — but not all — of the patients whose cancers seemed hopeless saw them shrink drastically or disappear. Many avoided the typical side effects — nausea, hair loss — associated with cancer treatment."

Advances on many cancer fronts are coming fast and furiously, so much so it is hard to keep up with them. This is great for patients who are trying to directly treat their cancers without harming themselves while trying.

Thanks to createmotions for the image.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Conversation on Competition in Science

There is some conversation going on in the science world about competition, so you may want to follow this discussion in the NYT this week and last.

What if scientists, instead of rushing to publish or perish, chose to cooperate? Sean Cutler decided to do “a little experiment,” as he calls it, and you can see the results in the forthcoming issue of Science. "I can already anticipate that a lot of people will say, “This is a bad message. You are painting an unflattering portrait of scientists.” To this I respond: Most of the scientists I know are very good, passionate and ethical people who behave. But some don’t, and these unethical types gain an unfair advantage that needs to be addressed so that competitive forces can work their magic most effectively. Good ethics = good competition. They are not in opposition."

John Tierney asks in his NYT blog called TierneyLab: "How widespread do you believe this problem is? Have you seen this sort of unethical competition in your field? Ever engaged in it yourself?"

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Journey to the Center of ....

I just watched Journey to the Center of the Earth where the scientists fall through volcanic tubes... and then saw this story about being sucked into a black hole! This is a great story, so read A. Pawlowski's story on CNN. Thank you to UCLA for the image.

"To be sucked in by a black hole, you need to reach its event horizon, the one-way boundary beyond which nothing can escape. The more massive a black hole, the bigger this point of no return around it, said Jeff McClintock, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Scientists can try to simulate a trip inside with the help of equations in Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which make predictions about black hole behavior, said Andrew Hamilton, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

"Black holes are some of the simplest things in the universe. We think of them as being complicated things because they're described by complicated mathematics," Hamilton said.

"But as a practical matter, they are, in fact, much simpler than the sun, far simpler than stars and infinitely simpler than human beings."
"The same force ripping you apart would also concentrate the view of the universe into a thin band around your waist. It would cause the scene above and below you to appear redshifted, or dimmer, and the light around your waist to become blueshifted, or very bright, Hamilton said.
You may also regret that you only have two eyes. In a strange twist, Hamilton and Polhemus argue that three eyes would be needed to properly judge distances inside a black hole, where space-time is highly curved and our binocular vision would become confused."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Short or Poor Sleep Can Lead to More Eating and Risk of Diabetes

Studies continue to show that sleep curtailment or decreased sleep quality can disturb neuroendocrine control of appetite, leading to overeating, and can decrease insulin or increase insulin resistance, both steps on the road to Type 2 diabetes.

On April 22, at the Experimental Biology 2009 meeting in New Orleans, a panel of leading sleep researchers describes recent and new studies in this fast growing field. The session is part of the scientific program of the American Association of Anatomists (AAA).

Short sleep, poor sleep: novel risk factors for obesity and for type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Eve Van Cauter, University of Chicago, is a specialist in the effect of circadian rhythms on the endocrine system and has conducted several studies in which short-term sleep restriction damaged the body’s ability to regulate eating by lowering levels of leptin, the hormone that tells the body when it has had enough. In the AAA symposium, Dr. Van Cauter describes other recently published studies from her group, one showing that only three days sleep disruption is sufficient to increase insulin resistance in humans (thus causing the body to need higher levels of insulin) and a large epidemiological study showing that short sleep over a five year period causes an increase in systolic blood pressure.

Energy metabolism during chronic sleep deprivation: sleep less, eat more, don’t gain weight, yet show signs of progression toward diabetes.

Panel member Dr. Michael Koban, Morgan State University, reports a new study in which sleep restriction in rats led to glucose intolerance, a prediabetic state in which the blood glucose remains higher than normal after glucose challenge. Significantly, this is the first rodent study of sleep deprivation in which there was no association between glucose dysregulation and weight gain.

The researchers believe that extending sleep restriction will produce more pronounced glucose intolerance in which glucose levels do not return to normal levels for a longer period, thus providing more evidence that not sleeping enough could lead to diabetes in humans. The researchers also are looking for mechanisms to explain the change in metabolism related to sleep deprivation and the dissociation between weight gain and glucose dysregulation and insulin resistance.

Stress-related behaviors and hormone changes after prolonged sleep deprivation – and environmental factors that appear to modify them

Dr. Deborah Suchecki, Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo, describes how prolonged sleep deprivation activates the neuroendocrine stress response, as measured by increased blood levels of the stress-related hormones adrenaline, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and corticosterone. Earlier studies have shown that sleep restriction in animals can gradually change brain and neuroendocrine systems in ways similar to those seen in stress-related disorders such as depression, while epidemiological studies suggest that sleep restriction may be an important risk factor for cardiovascular and other diseases linked to stress.

CNS changes after chronic sleep deprivation have role in both food intake and metabolism.

Dr. Gloria Hoffman, also of Morgan State University, presents studies that explain the role of the central nervous system pathways in stimulating feeding and causing metabolic changes associated with progression to diabetes. Specifically, increased production of the neurotransmitter neuropeptide Y and decreased production of proopiomelanocortiini products in the hypothalamus explain the hyperphagic response.

Although the CNS’s role in regulating metabolic rate is not well understood, she believes that histamine might be involved. Histamine neurons not only affect the maintenance of wakefulness but also are regulators of peripheral metabolism. In sleep deprived rats, elevations in the glucose to insulin ratio were positively correlated with an increase in histamine expression that raises the possibility that a dysregulation of histamine function during impaired sleep might serve to trigger metabolic and other changes leading to diabetes.

The scientists agree that as sleep curtailment becomes more common in industrialized countries it becomes increasingly important to understand how limited or poor quality sleep produces changes that can lead to obesity and diabetes, both epidemic in the developed world. More and more scientists are jumping on board with these lines of investigation, says Dr. Hoffman, and there is an increased demand for information on the part of health professionals and members of the general public, many of whom consider themselves sleep deprived.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kids Like Fruits and Veggies When Given a Chance

The good nutrition news is that children in poor, rural parts of the Lower Mississippi Delta are a lot more willing to try fresh fruits and vegetables than generally believed, even by their parents or the kids themselves. The bad news is that such foods are often in short supply in an area where gas stations and convenience stores are the closest places to buy food and where growing family gardens has given way to long work commutes by parents – and that the situation is growing worse with a worsening economy.

Two presentations drawing from a multi-year nutrition research program in Delta summer camps and schools were presented on April 19 at the Experimental Biology 2009 meeting in New Orleans as part of the scientific program of the American Society for Nutrition. The ongoing research program is being conducted under the direction of research nutritionist Dr. Beverly McCabe-Sellers, US Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service, Little Rock, Arkansas, and is part of the Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit (OPRU) headed by Executive Director Dr. Margaret Bogle.

The research arm of the Delta OPRU works with local communities to understand obstacles to better nutrition in the Lower Delta (including rural parts of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi), which leads the nation in the rising prevalence of obesity in both adults and children.

The challenge to having more fruits and vegetables in the diets of youngsters is not their unwillingness, she says, nor is it necessarily the admittedly low income in the area. Potato chips are not inexpensive, but the children often had small bags of them for every meal. The largest challenge, she believes from her experience, is the difficulty in obtaining quality fresh produce at a reasonable cost in these rural areas far away from distribution centers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Found for Pancreatic Cancers

Finally some promising news about pancreatic cancer, one of the most fatal cancers, due to the difficulties of early detection and the lack of effective therapies: Johns Hopkins University pathologist Akhilesh Pandey has identified an epidermal growth factor receptor aberrantly active in approximately a third of the 250 human pancreatic cancers studied.

In a presentation April 18, at Experimental Biology 2009 in New Orleans, Dr. Pandey explained why this finding and related work in his Hopkins laboratory is promising in terms of both a new treatment for a large subset of pancreatic cancers and a potential blood or urine screening tool that might eventually do for pancreatic cancer detection what biomarkers like prostate-specific antigen levels have done for prostate cancer. His presentation was part of the scientific program of the American Society for Investigative Pathology.

Personalized treatment. Phosophorylated epidermal growth factor receptor (pEGFR), the receptor identified by Dr. Pandey, is closely related to HER-2, a growth factor receptor found and used as a drug target in a subset of breast cancers. After he found and profiled the pEGFR activated in the pancreatic cancers, Dr. Pandey realized the same receptor had been found by other researchers to be activated in a subset of lung cancers. And, most promising, an EGFR inhibitor named erlotinib already has been through the long and complex Food and Drug Administration approval process and is in use for treatment of these specific lung cancers.

But would the drug work in pancreatic cancers? Dr. Pandey’s group moved from studies of human cell lines to studies in mice in which human pancreatic tumor cells with activated EGFT had been placed. The tumors began growing. But when treated with erlotinib, they began to shrink. Other tumors without activated pECFR showed no response.

The promise – and the challenge – of using pEGFR is that of personalized medicine, says Dr. Pandey. Obviously a growth factor receptor that is activated only in a subset of all pancreatic cancers cannot be a one-size-fits-all target for treatment. Earlier studies in other laboratories and clinical trials already had tried EGF inhibitors as a treatment for pancreatic cancer and concluded that they did not work. When Dr. Pandey’s collaborators allowed them to re-examine their samples, they found that the only case in 12 cases that had responded to the EGF inhibitor was the only case with an activated EGF receptor. Dr. Pandey would like to see other researchers go back and re-analyze their data, separating patients with and without the activated receptor, and then determining the success rate. He believes it would tell a different, more hopeful story.

Screening for pancreatic cancer. Dr. Pandey’s other goal in his research is to use mass spectrometry to find additional markers of pancreatic cancer in the tumors themselves but also in blood and urine, which would avoid the problems of invasive biopsies. As a first step, his team has gone through the scientific literature to create a compendium of several hundred proteins and genes reported to be overexpressed in pancreatic cancers, making them excellent candidates for further study. The compendium already is being used by a consortium of investigators who are developing antibodies against the 60 most promising targets.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Brain Waves Synchronicity

Scientific American continues to produce the best coverage of science and the mind. The story on musicians and how they sync efforts is interesting. Thank you to Movietome Beta for the image of the album by The Police called Synchronicity.

I like the description on Wikipedia on synchronicity: Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events which are causally unrelated occurring together in a supposedly meaningful manner. In order to count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance. The concept does not question, or compete with, the notion of causality. Instead, it maintains that just as events may be grouped by cause, they may also be grouped by their meaning. Since meaning is a complex mental construction, subject to conscious and subconscious influence, not every correlation in the grouping of events by meaning needs to have an explanation in terms of cause and effect.

Jordan Lite's 60-Second Science blog, says, "Ever wonder how musicians manage to play in unison? Credit their brain waves: they synchronize before and while musicians play a composition, according to new research. German scientists report in BMC Neuroscience that they measured the brain waves of eight pairs of guitarists using electroencephalography (EEG) while they played a modern jazz piece called Fusion #1 (by Alexander Buck). The researchers found that the guitarists' brain waves were aligned most during three pivotal times: when they were syncing up with a metronome, when they began playing the piece and at points during the composition that demanded the most synchrony."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Intellectual Property Rights - Legal Stays Busy

Since I work in the medical discovery world I like to keep up with the business side of innovation, and this one hits home on a big issue of intellectual property rights for the new century.

Newsweek's Michael Heller covers the troubles in "Innovation Gridlock- Today's inventors need to put together many bits of intellectual property. Too bad they are all patented."

[Image from Vaugn Merlyn]

Newsweek writes, the first decade of the 21st Century has seen startling advances in biology. Scientists have cracked the genomes of humans and many plants, animals and microbes. They've uncovered new cellular processes affecting inheritance of diseases. Likewise, investment in biotech research and development has been steadily increasing. So what happened to all the lifesaving cures that were supposed to come our way as a result?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

No Doubt Facinating - the Life of a Savant

Scientific American is providing an interesting read this week with an interview with Daniel Tammet, a person SA says is an autistic savant. Read more. Also, while looking I came across this doctor who studies savants: Darold Treffert. He discusses Tammet here and many savants here. Photo credit.

Evidently the world has been aware of Tammet since 2004 when he one the Pi contest -Tammet's web site.

Good quote: "My brain has developed a little differently from most other people’s. Aside from my high-functioning autism, I also suffered from epileptic seizures as a young child. In my book, I propose a link between my brain’s functioning and my creative abilities based on the property of ‘hyper-connectivity’. "

Daniel Tammet is the author of two books, Born on a Blue Day and Embracing the Wide Sky, which comes out this month. He’s also a linguist and holds the European record for reciting the first 22,514 decimal points of the mathematical constant Pi. Mind Matters editor Jonah Lehrer chats with Tammet about how his memory works, why the IQ test is overrated, and a possible explanation for extraordinary feats of creativity.

LEHRER: Your recent memoir, Born on a Blue Day, documented your life as an autistic savant. You describe, for example, how you are able to quickly learn new languages, and remember scenes from years earlier in cinematic detail. Are you ever surprised by your own abilities?

TAMMET: I have always thought of abstract information—numbers for example—in visual, dynamic form. Numbers assume complex, multi-dimensional shapes in my head that I manipulate to form the solution to sums, or compare when determining whether they are prime or not. For languages, I do something similar in terms of thinking of words as belonging to clusters of meaning so that each piece of vocabulary makes sense according to its place in my mental architecture for that language. In this way I can easily discern relationships between words, which helps me to remember them. In my mind, numbers and words are far more than squiggles of ink on a page. They have form, color, texture and so on. They come alive to me, which is why as a young child I thought of them as my “friends.” I think this is why my memory is very deep, because the information is not static. I say in my book that I do not crunch numbers (like a computer). Rather, I dance with them. None of this is particularly surprising for me. I have always thought in this way so it seems entirely natural. What I do find surprising is that other people do not think in the same way. I find it hard to imagine a world where numbers and words are not how I experience them!