Monthly Archives: December 2012

While You Were at the Bench: Week 50

The Cassini orbiter has taken photos of a large river system on Saturn’s moon, Titan.  The European Space Agency and NASA have deduced the image shows flowing water, making this the first photographic evidence of a river system beyond Earth.

German researchers have discovered that to fold long strands of DNA into specific shapes (cylindrical, brick-like and cog-like) requires a specific constant temperature for each design.   This technique has reduced the folding time from days to minutes thus making the possibility of DNA nanotechnology realistic.

A group of chemists has successfully developed a non-toxic organic Lithium ion battery using purpurin to react electrochemically with lithium ions.  Extracted from the Madder root and commonly used as a dye in fabrics, purpurin showed similar charge/discharge properties of other conventional inorganic cathodes without the environmental concerns.

Developmental biologists generally agree that human limbs evolved from fish fins and now new research using zebrafish supports a genetic mechanism.  Researchers from Spain increased the activity of Hoxd13 at zebrafish fin tips, leading to the formation of rudimentary limb structures instead of fins.

New research based on the adhesive properties of mussels has led to the development of a bioadhesive gel that can adhere itself to the inside surface of blood vessels.  This bioadhesive gel could be injected into people with atherosclerosis to help prevent rupturing of blood vessels and subsequent blood clots leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have reprogrammed individual patients’ T cells with an HIV-derived lentiviral vector encoded to recognize CD19 proteins commonly expressed on tumor cells.  In a recent Phase 1 clinical trial, 9 out of 12 leukemia patients receiving the treatment are in remission.    On the downside, the T-virus has been created, which never works out well for citizens of Raccoon City.

Have a Great Weekend!

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Is sensationalization of scientific findings unethical?

Gary Marcus recently published in The New Yorker entitled “Neuroscience Fiction”.  It presents neuroscience as a science littered with inconsistencies and inaccurate data, referring mainly to PET and fMRI brain imaging studies.  As a neuroscientist I take an exception to this.  I am also surprised that Gary Marcus, an author of several scientific papers and a professor of psychology at NYU, does not have a better grasp on how to critically review scientific papers.  The established peer review process is good, but it simply ensures sound scientific technique and interpretation of the data, not independent reproduction of the findings.  Within any of the vast number of scientific disciplines it is easy to find papers that seemingly contradict each other.  This is not something that is neuroscience specific and if you carefully read the papers, including the methods section (gasp), you can often determine the source of their inconsistencies.  When dealing with emotional responses to an image (regularly done in fMRI studies) you can get vastly different responses from two different subjects in the same study where every methodological detail is identical.  For example, one person may see a dog as a soft adorable cuddly animal while another person that was recently bit by a dog could experience intense fear.  Now, if someone else does a seemingly similar study, but uses different images or in a different order or with different thresholds and parameters, it is not surprising that these two studies could yield very different results.  That isn’t to say that something cannot be learned from comparing the studies and outcomes. 

The problem isn’t with neuroscience or science in general.  Scientists must publish and present their results so they can be scrutinized by other scientists, reproduced in an independent lab, and alternate explanations, interpretations, and theories (or further support) can be established.  Problems arise when the findings are sensationalized through irresponsible reporting and the scientist is either not able to or simply does not accurately portray their research to the general public.  Scientists need to learn to be cautious when disseminating their findings to the general public.  They should be careful to emphasize that their new, cutting edge discovery has the potential to do this or lead to that, but that it doesn’t actually accomplish it yet. There is a breakdown in communication between scientist, reporters and the general public and I see it every day on CNN, The New Yorker, and many other popular new sources. 

Tell us what you think…Is this a problem?  What can be done about it?  Should sensationalized findings be considered scientific/ethical misconduct?

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While You Were at the Bench: Week 49

A small clinical trial has demonstrated that colorectal cancer can be detected in patients by analyzing the volatile organic compounds in their exhaled breath with up to 75% accuracy.  While further studies are required to improve the accuracy, this noninvasive screening method could be applied to detecting other types of cancers.

Voyager 1, launched in 1977, has reached the boundary of our solar system and could be the first craft to pass beyond our solar system in months to years.  Despite being 11 billion miles from Earth, Voyager 1 is still able to transmit scientific data albeit 17 minutes delayed.

I can see my house lights!  Click here to check out global composite night time images of Earth in stunning clarity.

Researchers in The Netherlands have discovered that maggot secretions degrade complement proteins thus preventing inflammatory responses thereby helping open sores and wounds to heal faster.  Unfortunately, a topical cream is several years away.

Using tunable plasmonic nanobubbles, researchers at Rice University were able to kill cancer cells while simultaneously performing gene transfer in healthy cells of the same sample.  This rapid procedure can help improve the safety and efficacy of cell and gene therapy or bone marrow transplantation.

First soil samples analyzed by Curiosity indicate water, sulfur, chlorine and carbon on the Red Planet’s surface.  While it is too early to claim organic compounds, the recent success has led NASA to announce another rover sent to Mars by 2020.  No word on sending a rover to Titan. Might it be because the ice is thicker than originally thought?

High levels of dichlorophenols typically found in herbacides and pesticides have been linked to food and other environmental allergens in 64.5% of the study participants.  By the way, did I mention that dichlorophenols are also used in water chlorination.

Extroversion may increase lifespan….at least in gorillas.  An 18 year longitudinal study of 283 captive gorillas has shown that those with high social, play, and curiosity behaviours were linked with increased survival.

Now go get out of the lab and Have a Great Weekend!

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