Today is 4 July, and it happens to be the 237th birthday of the United States of America. Many Americans will celebrate this historical occasion with a cold beer and lots of bright fireworks (or applied microbiology, biochemistry, chemistry, and physics!). In honor of history, microbiology, and beer, I present another LinkedIn link: Brewer mixes love of paleontology, microbiology, and beer.
I love to find videos or apps that help review or overview essential concepts. I'll have to work on finding & sharing the ones I've found so far, but this one was even better than the one from Pfizer. This is slightly longer, just under 7 minutes, but it's a more complete overview of the immune system. It still isn't perfect, but it's hard to get a good, complete, perfectly accurate overview of an entire system in such a short video. This is one of the best I've seen. I haven't watch the other videos, but I'll be checking them out - watch for updates on the channel here. Why You Are Still Alive - The Immune System Explained
OK, no, this isn't really a Captain Planet themed post, sorry. It is brought to you by LinkedIn. No, they don't sponsor me (but that would be nice!) In reality, it's about combining the study of immunology and genetics. Immgen.org is home of the Immunological Genome Project. The goal is to map the entire immunological genome of the mouse, a common research model for preliminary studies. Before diseases and drugs can be studied in human models, they are studied in mouse or rat models. By mapping the genetic data of the immune system and immune responses of these animals, it may be possible to reduce future animal testing and increase the use of computer modeling instead. It may also increase the understanding of human or animal disease processes, leading to treatments or cures for disorders.
So if you're thinking of future careers, immunology or genetics can combine and lead down similar paths. And if you're opposed to animal research, work like this may someday help eliminate some of the need.
Another video from LinkedIn, this video from Pfizer shares how the immune system creates an inflammatory response and how the response works against the body in auto-immune disorders. The video is less than 5 minutes, and is only the most cursory of discussions, but it's a decent start and might be a semi-decent way to review these concepts if you need it.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I'd been stockpiling articles and posts for daily uploads. This is the first of those, but before I get into that, I want to share where many of these are coming from, because that is, by itself, an incredibly useful professional tool. Recently (between starting the blog and restarting the blog), I joined/became more active on LinkedIn. I found groups there, including groups by interest. Among them are microbiology & immunology groups, and many of the links I will be sharing were discovered when they showed up in my inbox via a LinkedIn group!
This may well be old news to many of you, but I didn't want anyone to overlook useful tools. Finally, remember: employers look at all online and social media when hiring, so be mindful of what you post (or what your friends may be able to post).
Now, with no further ado: A video on how the flu invades the human body. Because light microscopy can't capture viruses, this is an animation, but it is very well done and has explanation with it.
Of letting things get away from me. This is a great example. I don't want to give up, though. I've been stockpiling articles, stories, and links to share, and am working on the best way to upload one a day for when I'm too busy to generate unique content. Thanks for the patience! I am going to add a poll, though:
Is The 5-Second Rule True? is just one of the many videos published by VSauce over at youtube. One of many science bloggers, Michael discusses a given topic from multiple angles in 10 minutes, following so many threads through that one topic. As a result, although the video is 10 minutes long, no one thread lasts more than about minute, allowing him to cover several different ideas all around that one topic in the given time. This one is answering 5 questions from viewers. Another of my favorites is this video, on water. Water is an astonishing molecule, essential to life, and it is because of water that I've opted to go into immunology. In this video, Michael discusses multiple different topics, all related to water, in honor of World Water Day.
While not all of VSauce's videos are science related, they are fascinating and entertaining, even when they aren't.
Metformin, used worldwide to treat Type 2 diabetes (in which the body does not appropriately respond to insulin in the bloodstream, leading to excessive amounts of insulin in the blood), may be one of the most prescribed drugs for this condition. This drug doesn't just treat the insulin; unlike most drugs, this one also helps prevent many of the cardiovascular problems associated with the hormonal imbalances of diabetes. It is also commonly used to treat polycystic ovarian disorder and metabolic syndrome, two disorders still not completely understood. A new study released in Nature Communication this month revealed that when fed in very low doses to middle aged mice, metformin actually did more. This drug seemed to mimic the effects of a low-calorie diet; namely, it increased the lifespan of the mice in the experimental group. However, in higher doses, metformin did enough kidney damage to significantly shorten lifespans - in fact, it shortened lives by more than the lower dose lengthened them.
It's still an interesting result, and it's worth remember that studying animal models allow us to discover which paths are worth pursuing in human models, with all the risks that entails, in a safer, faster, more humane manner.
In the history of the Nobel Prize, a total of 4 people have won the prize more than once. Linus Pauling is one of those four people. He won the award in Chemistry in 1954, and then again for Peace in 1962. This makes him one of only two people to have won the award in two unrelated fields (Marie Curie being the other). He's also the only person not to have shared his prizes - these prizes were not shared with other scientists (as with the discovery of the structure of DNA, credited to Watson & Crick) or humanitarians. Pauling's work is credited with having helped found both the fields of quantum chemistry (think about our understanding of the atom, and how that shapes our comprehension of how chemistry functions - for instance, that bonds are about the sharing or exchange of electrons) and molecular biology, or the application of chemistry to the biological sciences and the exploration of biology on the molecular level - including his own search for the structure of DNA. In fact, it was Pauling who discovered the secondary structure of proteins - alpha helices and beta pleated sheets.
Pauling's genius in the fields of chemistry and biochemistry in the beginning of his career makes his approach to dietary supplements, starting with vitamin C, even more surprising. In this article from The Atlantic, Dr. Paul Offit discussed Pauling's views on vitamins, minerals, and other supplements. The problem, it turns out, isn't that there aren't any studies examining the impact of these supplements. No - given Pauling's faith in them, multiple studies were done - the support for the claims being made simply didn't exist. No matter how much Linus Pauling wanted extra-dietary vitamins to be panaceas, the evidence from studies repeatedly demonstrated that not only were these supplements not helpful, some can actually be harmful.
The distinction between extra-dietary supplements and what is consumed in food is apparently important. The problems seen from consuming supplements as pills, tablets, or other dosage forms can be avoided if the nutrients instead come from dietary sources. In other words, instead of taking an iron supplement, consuming red meat, green vegetables, and nuts is safer.
All of this just demonstrates that it is important to rely on repeatable, measurable evidence rather than our gut instincts when exploring science. Even geniuses can be lead astray.
I know there was a gap: Physics was a little more difficult than I anticipated. I'm working on building a log of posts and articles, along with a schedule so that the site will update even when I'm busy so that this will be less of a problem. Let's call it growing pains?
One of the greatest mysteries in life is death. In an attempt to understand what occurs in the last moments of life, scientists study the lives and deaths of animals, looking for clues that might be applicable to larger organisms. One such study, in London, examined worms. This article, from The Conversation & Ars Technica, discusses the finding: a blue light signaled the death of the worm. While in some cases, delaying the blue light could also delay death, it appeared it didn’t work in all cases. More details can be found at the link.
My husband shared this TEDMed talk with me tonight, and I wanted to share it with you, along with Dr. Attia's blog. It takes courage for doctors to deviate from traditional wisdom or the accepted dogma and consider new approaches to existing problems. However, I've found that, in my own personal experience, the evidence he seems to be describing is accurate: I've found that eating more whole grains and fewer refined carbohydrates is far better for me and my diet than any low-fat approach ever attempted (low-fat seems to always actually result in higher cholesterol for me, meaning that my body compensates for the lower dietary intake by raising the production, indicating an internal imbalance that diet alone can't correct). I'll be following Dr. Attia, and I hope to have more information for you in the months and years to come.
The NIH recently announced a pilot program to help speed up drug development. Most drug development focuses on finding new molecules or compounds to treat existing disorders. The new program is looking for researchers to find uses for existing compounds, hopefully reducing both the cost and time involved in developing new drugs.
In Tbilisi, Georgia (the country, not the state), Dr. Revaz Adamia is trying something different in the war against bacteria: instead of using antimicrobial drugs, he's treating infections with a special class of viruses instead. Why use viruses? The class in use, bacteriophages, target only bacteria, not the human infected. As a result, the virus infects and kills the infection that was making the patient sick. When the bacterial infection is gone, the virus, now without a host, dies off.
This solution is an alternative to the increasing problem of antimicrobial resistance. Many bacteria are increasingly resistant to the drugs used to treat patients infected with them. The most well-known case of resistance is MRSA, or Methicillan-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that frequently causes skin and respiratory infections or food poisoning. Resistant bacteria no longer respond to the drugs once used to treat infections, making treatment of patients increasingly difficult.
Yesterday, I drove to my local donor center, went through the short screening that determines if I’m healthy enough to donate, and then gave blood. My blood type, O-, is known as the “universal donor”, meaning it can be safely donated to anyone in an emergency, without having to check the recipient’s blood type first. (I, on the other hand, can only safely receive O- blood, so while my blood can be safely donated to everyone, my body is very picky about what it will accept.)
Because I’m a universal donor, when the waiting period between donations is up (it takes 56 days for red blood cells to replenish themselves), I often get a phone call or email encouraging me to come in. I rarely need it - I make sure, when I leave, that I note when I’ll be eligible again, set a reminder in my calendar, and then work it into my schedule. But I still get the reminders - less than half of the population can safely donate, and not enough of us do.
That lack of volunteer donors creates a problem: the demand for blood often exceeds the supply. Science has been seeking an answer to this problem for decades, including producing synthetic blood products. However, nothing has replaced human blood... until now.
Actually, that’s not even really fair to say. Scientists in Scotland have gotten permission to pursue human trials of a synthetic blood product, but this product still has a human source. Grown from human stem cells, it takes a source of immature, not-yet-differentiated blood cells, clones them, and then mass produces blood from this stem cell line. Nor are these the controversial embryonic stem cells - these come from adult donors.
So this synthetic blood has an entirely human source, but is then mass produced outside of a human body. Before it can be widely accepted in hospitals around the world, it must go through rigorous testing, and this is the step being carried out now in Scotland. The first human trials have been approved. This means that healthy men and women will be given the new blood product and monitored. As long as there are no adverse reactions, testing will continue.
I’m certain there will always be a need for donors like me. But the fact that we may have a viable alternative means that maybe, someday, people need never die from a lack of safe blood again.
It is similar to an ISBN, which serves to uniquely identify books, but uniquely identifies electronic documents. It must be purchased, registered, and maintained. Thus, any document with a DOI is more likely to come from a reputable source.
Science is forever growing as we continue to search and explore. In an article published in Ophthamology, a new body part was described that will require textbooks to be re-written and that is already changing the understanding of certain disorders. Thanks to electron microscopy and donated corneas, a new layer in the human cornea, part of the eye, was discovered. Named for it's discoverer, Dua's layer is the final layer of the cornea and was found after each layer of cells in the cornea were separated by puffs of air and scanned individually.
Electron microscopy fires electrons over the surface of or through a sample, able to discern images as small as 50 pm. Most light microscopes, by contrast, are limited to images no smaller than 200 nm, or 200,000 pm.
This time from The Scientist. Seriously, this is only good news. Thanks to Paula A. for the link to this article! (I may interview her for a future article - she is part of my inspiration to become an immunologist, because she's the first one I've ever known!).
In a demonstration of just how deeply entrenched science and medicine are in our everyday lives, an article in the Wall Street Journal today announced an important decision from the US Supreme Court: Human Genes cannot be patented. This has been hotly contested: those arguing for patent have argued that the research and development done with the genes is costly, and without the protection of patents, it is likely to go unfunded. Those arguing against patent have pointed out the flaw of patenting a gene carried by millions of people (or even just a few), and worse, the trouble that is caused when a carrier of a gene seeks treatment for their condition, only to find out their own genetic code is locked under patent protection.
I, personally, am an advocate of openness and freedom. I believe that keeping medical research like this locked under patent is absurd, and often hinders advancements in treatment. I will note, however, that I am not currently employed by any researchers, and thus I am not bound by any such privacy agreements myself. I can understand if a scientist's work and livelihood is dependent on funding and thus on signing privacy agreements. I may find them absurd, but at the end of the day, pragmatism still has its place.
Still, I think this was a victory for the open exchange of ideas. What do you think? Will this be a boon to medicine? Should it have ever been in question?