Using HIV to Cure Leukemia: Mixed Emotions About the Claims

For those who don’t know, I teach a health science research course at a local college. I love teaching this class because I am allowed to give students a foundation in scientific inquiry and build upon this up to current topics in health science like personalized medicine and systems approaches. All this builds up to an article summary the students prepare based upon a journal article of their choosing.

Two of the students pairing up to present a summary of their paper showed me last night a video they found that accompanied the research they were excited about presenting [see below].

First, I was surprised the principal investigator, Carl June, when asked if he was curing cancer, said unequivocally, “Yes”. I understand this is a promotional video produced by GE, but June really took the bait.

I truly recognize the enormous potential this type of therapy has. The week before being shown this video by the students, I gave a short lecture about science and the media. The main point was to be skeptical of the message portrayed by the media. It appears, I need to revisit this subject.

This promotion of research goes beyond the “Hidden DNA Code” press release that went viral as part of the ENCODE project from the University of Washington. Not only was the wording sketchy (using ‘HIV’ to cure leukemia), but the lead researchers are touting curing cancer (leukemia in this case). A very good article about this entire subject can be found here. In small clinical trials, the therapy has found success thankfully. However, the trials have been very small thus far and we are dealing with cancer; the correct term is remission, not cure.

I urge everyone, please do not read medical breakthrough stories and go away with a warm fuzzy feeling. Please take an extra step and dig a bit deeper. You will find the warm fuzzy feeling is not for the present story you just read but from the optimism you (and everyone else for that matter) should feel about the stories to come in the future when the science has been thoroughly tested and the therapy is real.

For ‘Emma’ in the above video and only Emma, today that therapy is real.

Earth: This is Our One Shot, Don’t Blow It

Tomorrow morning, early tomorrow morning, my wife and I are heading to the hospital for a scheduled C-section. I’m going to meet my son. Over the next 20 years or so, my duty as a father is to mould and shape him into an honourable and respectable human being. This is something I do not take lightly for it is one of the purest legacies we leave.

I found myself watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos Episode 13 this evening entitled: Who Speaks for Earth?. I was in awe of the profound and prophetic words and some points stuck with me. First, Sagan spends some time crafting an image of past civilizations with a comparison between the Greeks and Egyptians. With his explanation that Aristotle believed in two groups; Greeks and Barbarians, this concept rationalized the practice of slavery. There was no sense of a collective community to Aristotle. Sagan also explained the city of Alexandria as the first true cosmopolitan city. It was the heartbeat of innovation and discovery. Its library held invaluable volumes detailing observations and methods. It was not until the mob mentality of the religious deemed the library and its possessions as pagan that the library was razed to the delight of local politicians. It was at this point one of the most poignant statements I have ever heard was uttered…

History is full of people who out of fear or ignorance or the lust for power have destroyed treasures of immeasurable value which truly belong to all of us. We must not let it happen again.

Let that sink in….

My first instantaneous thought was of the Koch Brothers. Scientific discoveries do not belong to any one party or country. These discoveries belong to all of us because they tell of our shared kindredship. We are all in this together.

My second thought deals with the conviction Carl Sagan has to calm the rising nuclear storm among world powers, and he does it in blaring subtlety.  He could see the big picture; how all civilization could end within a short, short period of time. Thankfully, these tensions seem to have died down enough that it is not an imminent threat. But, it does remind me a very real, current threat in climate change. Perhaps, this is one reason the Cosmos series was revived.

In my opinion, the threats of climate change are much more dangerous. The outcome would be the same, total destruction, but the impacts are so subtle most don’t catch the trends. Even when all factual evidence points toward environmental collapse in the mid-range future, many do not see it as imminent or requiring even short-term mitigation.

Earth. We were given a beautiful home. Let’s not blow it.

Jumping on the Carl Sagan Bandwagon (And Following the Laws of Physics)

Embarrassingly, I have to admit something. Despite my overwhelming love of science and passion for teaching science to others, I grew up not knowing whom Carl Sagan was. Back story: I grew up in East Tennessee, the son of a mechanic and a bookkeeper. I never even opened one of Sagan’s books until my 30s. I must say, it was my loss.

I have had the privilege of listening to the stories from those who knew Carl Sagan personally. He sounded like such a sweet, endearing person that the world desperately needed and unfortunately still does. By today’s standards, Sagan was a cosmic anomaly harnessing the knowledge from learning, the oration of a great leader, and the passion to spread the wonders of the universe to the masses.

Since the premier of the new production of Cosmos, listening to everyone talk of Sagan makes him sound like a god, but he was something even more great. Carl Sagan was a genuine, compassionate human being. He saw the big picture, even though it is too often clouded by politics and special interests, as what it was; our collective, solitary home among the vast cosmos. Our home has problems that must be addressed and these problems will continue to grow without intervention. Sagan knew a curious, enlightened society could be a force for change.

I wish I had known Carl Sagan, knowing how he has touched the lives of those who encountered him. Neil deGrasse Tyson has had enormous shoes to fill by assuming the role of navigator through the Cosmos. It is our turn to do our part as science communicators to ensure Sagan’s legacy rekindled is not in vain.

Mother Nature’s Chuckle: The Language of the Universe is not English

Miraculous opportunity for self-reflection.

 

There it is. Our home. To us it seems like such a huge place where we will never meet all our neighbors. A place where we live our daily lives consumed with news and opinions from all directions. We work. We play. We do silly stuff like fight wars or think we are the best at this sport or that.

Now look at the picture. Could you spot ‘us’ without the circle? As the dominant species on our planet, we think we are on top. We can explore our Moon. We can travel to our neighbor planet with robots. It is said the human brain is the most complex piece of matter in the known universe.

All Mother Nature can do is chuckle.

As the above image easily shows, it is all about perspective. Our grandeur is self-inflated. Despite the best efforts and actions of us on Earth, Mother Nature will always have the upper hand. She gives us room to explore. She allows us to make strides, great and small. But inevitably, she always reminds us we can not walk confidently on our journey. Stellar threats are all around; invisible until the time of their death in our black or blue sky. Prehistoric mass extinctions to modern day injuries and destruction in Russia last year.

Mother Nature does not speak any of our earthly language. She only speaks the language of the universe. The language we wish to learn through our research and study. The language we long to understand for it will tell us our true history…from the beginning.

On this International Women’s Day, remember, we are all very important to ourselves. However, our great Mother still laughs at us.

 

 

 

Purple and Nine: Helping Encourage Teen Girls Into STEM Fields

I will let the creators tell you their story. If you would like to contribute, please click here.

What am I doing here?

Welcome to Indiegogo, if this is your first time. We are raising money to get a series of 12 Purple and Nine, a web series designed to be FUN and to get girls excited about technology. You can see the pilot here, on our Gallery page. Just click the Gallery tab if you haven’t seen the pilot.
We’re asking you to help us do a whole series of 12 because, honestly, we can’t afford to do that on our own. We aren’t a big-budget studio. We are just two ladies who are sick of what’s on TV. Like you, apparently. I mean, you are visiting here because you think Purple and Nine is better for your kids than what they’ve been watching on TV, right?
We wanted to maintain great content. We felt the best way was to ask the public to vote for Purple and Nine by chucking in the price of a movie ticket. Is that too much to ask?

About Purple and Nine

Purple and Nine is a web series cartoon about two girls who solve their problems through technology. We are planning 12 webisodes of 5-minutes each, and in each episode the girls have hilarious adventures with technology.

We want girls to dream big, and the way to do that is to show them examples they relate to. Purple and Nine are girls who enjoy tech, but also like fuzzy animals, music, and cool jewelry. Well, at least Purple does. Nine doesn’t care so much about what she wears or what people think of her. She just wants to save the world, and she’s glad Purple is her best friend, because Purple is good at inventing things.

Purple and Nine

  • Shows technology as a means to solve problems, from a personal scale (fix a broken toy) all the way up to a global scale (clean energy).
  • Features multi-faceted characters who are great role models for our children.
  • Doesn’t have evil villains. We have enough problems in the world to write fantastic plots without evil villains who must be conquered through violence.
  • Is fun and funny and entertaining (not edutainment!).
  • Illustrates that there are many forms of self-expression for girls and women.

In every episode the girls try to solve problems, like helping a classmate who keeps falling asleep in class, helping kids in distant villages get electricity using solar power, etc. They deal with both local and global issues, using a variety of technologies. The episodes are fun, and involve a whole lot of trial and error — to prepare our kids for the reality that most of what we try isn’t successful the first time. All the featured inventions either exist or are in development, and all of the plot twists are funny and unexpected. In fact, quite a lot of the inventions are funny and unexpected in and of themselves. I mean, it is pretty funny to zap your friend awake in class whenever his breathing rate slows. Isn’t it? The friend didn’t think so, and Purple and Nine had to find a better solution.

 

The inspiration came because the founders, Rebecca and Miriam, wanted to encourage more women to become high-tech entrepreneurs, like themselves. But to do that, we had to inspire girls at a young age. The role models on TV fall short.

Making animation is expensive!

Why do all the movies and shows have the same plot? Because it’s expensive and the big studios only want to bet on a “sure thing”. To make something creative like Purple and Nine is “risky” for them, but easy for us. I mean, if you help us by donating, it will be easy. That’s because we’ll be beholden to you, our sponsors, not to advertisers who want to sell beauty products or pink accessories.

  • Each episode costs about $12K in out-of pocket expenses.
  • At $250K we’ll be able to make an app that will allow kids to submit their own content and play with the characters.
  • With enough backers, we will show the big studios there is an audience!
  • We have great prizes including original artwork from the series, and even a 3D printed model of the Ferret from the series!
  • We love Nine, so all of our prizes are multiples of 9. You can contribute any amount you like, though, starting at a dollar.

 

 

 

The Impact

By contributing, you will be ensuring our children have access to great content that expands their career choices and piques their curiosity.

  • More girls in STEM means more people working on problems like cures for diseases, awesome apps, clean energy, food technologies, and preservation of our earth.
  • Your support sends a message to the media: We want healthy images of girls and women in the media. Even if you don’t contribute money, watching the the video and sharing it with friends sends a message to the media that we want quality.
  • We are building a community for girls and women in tech and entrepreneurship. Join us..

 

 

Seriously, you’re asking me to give you money for your business?

Yeah, I know it sounds lame. We couldn’t come up with anything better than “ask people to pay for great videos”, at least at the beginning. We aren’t using the money for our salaries. We’re using the money for the production costs. We hope it will be a business, but we aren’t expecting that to happen for at least a year. Until then, we are hoping for your help.

Other Ways You Can Help

Spread the word!

  • Watch the pilot episode of Purple and Nine!
  • Send it to anyone with girls (and boys) who would enjoy the video!
  • Share it on your social networks! Remember, we have Spanish and Chinese dubbed versions, so spread the word worldwide.
  • Write about it on your blog!
  • Use the Indiegogo share tools!

 

 

It Doesn’t Add Up!

How are we going to make 12 episodes on $50,000? We aren’t. If a million girls view Purple and Nine, we believe that we’ll be able to find corporate sponsorship or other organizations to get involved. If we raise only $50,000, we can promise only 5 episodes. That’s why our stretch goal is $100,000 for the whole season. Beyond that, some of us can make Gangly Sister our full-time jobs.

Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

How to Submit to Abstract 2.0

I’m very glad to finally initiate Abstract 2.0. I hope this resource will be of great help to anyone willing to utilize it.

For now, I have set up a separate website for the submission and archiving of abstracts by those who contribute. The website is  http://abstracts.sciofrelief.com.

Here is an example of a re-written abstract:

Colleen T. O’Loughlin, Laura C. Miller, Albert Siryaporn, Knut Drescher, Martin F. Semmelhack, and Bonnie L. Bassler (2013) 110:17981–17986, doi:10.1073/pnas.1316981110

 A quorum-sensing inhibitor blocks Pseudomonas aeruginosa virulence and biofilm formation

 Quorum sensing is a way a bacterium communicates to the cells around it to regulate behavior of the community as a whole. This process occurs in harmless bacteria as well as pathogens. One such pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, uses quorum sensing to attack its host in a concerted effort by all the cells present and to control how the cells ‘stick’ together once infecting the host. In an effort to prevent P. aeruginosa attack and infection, researchers tested synthetic molecules to identify those which block cells from receiving the attack message. One such molecule, meta-bromo-thiolactone (mBTL), succeeded in blocking the message and protected a roundworm model system and human lung cells from dying due to infection. The paper also discusses how mBTL works at the molecular level. The results from this study could help control complications in cystic fibrosis and hospital infections due to contaminated equipment.

Abstract 2.0 Is On: Help Wanted

I have sat on this long enough. It’s not like a have anything else going on right now (except the birth of a son in a  month, syllabus to write, classes to prepare, evaluations to do, data to journal, …). Introducing:

Abstract 2.0

Here are the details presently. I and anyone willing to help will scour the journals of our respective fields and choose those we feel need to be disseminated to the larger public. In a short synopsis (abstract if you will), an overview of the article and why it is important will be written and deposited here. Details will be worked out on how to submit the abstracts in the near future.

Now is the time to act (or later if now is not convenient)!