While You Were at the Bench: Week 42

Here we go again.   Hisashi Moriguchi from the University of Tokyo has admitted to lying about a breakthrough procedure for transplanting cardiac stem cells into humans.  Moriguchi sent a draft of the manuscript to a Japanese newspaper and was scheduled to give a talk in New York on the procedure when co-authors alerted media that no such experiments or procedures had ever taken place.

*** Update 10/21/12:  Hisashi Moriguchi was fired from the University of Tokyo on October 19th, 2012***

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute have completed a 40 year longitudinal study of over 1 million people and determined artists and scientists are more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than other professions.  I wonder if the shifts in mood can be correlated to changes in government funding cycles?

Who says crowd sourcing doesn’t work?  Amateur scientists Robert Gagliano and Kian Jek discovered the first planet with four suns by using data from the Kepler telescope.  Data was made available to the public by the crowd sourcing group Planet Hunters.

University of Michigan researchers have shown that Apollo moon rock samples from the lunar regolith contain hydroxyl ions.  Varying isotope compositions of these hydroxyl ions indicate solar winds have the ability to plant water molecules on moons, planets, and asteroids that do not have an atmosphere.

By analyzing oxygen isotopes from fossils, researchers have determined that Earth’s equatorial temperature rose to 50-60 degrees Celsius at the start of the Triassic Era.  These extreme temperatures created a lengthy 5 million year dead zone where life mostly grew in higher latitudes.  Hopefully, we are not on a similar path with the record setting temperatures we have been experiencing this year.

Is your portfolio diversified?  Economists at Warwick Business School have examined daily closing prices of stocks comprising the Dow Jones Industrial Averages and determined that diversification does not protect your portfolio during market volatility.  This may lead to new portfolio management strategies to prevent future losses during financial crises similar to the events in 2008.

And congratulations to “Fearless” Felix Baumgartner who became the first person to free fall faster than the speed of sound when he jumped from a space capsule 128,097 feet above the Earth’s surface.  I am happy to see that he did not end up like ensign redshirt in the latest Star Trek Movie.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Five Things You Might Not Know About RateMyPI.com

Did you know….

You can create a membership for free?  This allows you to search and review scientists.

You can review any researcher you have ever worked with, not just your principal investigator?  This includes labmates, committee members, and other colleagues.

You can review researchers not found in our database?  Simply go to the “Submit a Review” tab, enter the name of the researcher to be reviewed and if their name does not appear, click on “add new name”.

Your reviews are anonymous?  Your name or member profile does not show up on your submitted reviews.  

You can claim reviews written about you?  You can associate reviews with your profile by viewing the review and clicking on the “This is me” button.

So, what’s stopping you from letting other know the great researchers you’ve worked with?  Review someone today at RateMyPI.com!

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While You Were at the Bench: Week 41

And the Nobel Goes To…….

Physiology or Medicine: Sir John B.  Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent

Chemistry:  Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka for studies of G-protein coupled receptors.

Physics:  Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems.

A big congratulations to all the recipients….now go enjoy that warm, sunny December Swedish weather.

Researcher’s at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts have reported a link between dietary intake of Mercury during pregnancy and increased susceptibility to ADHD in their children.  Sources of Mercury include Tuna, Swordfish, and Shark thus making it difficult for pregnant women to obtain the health benefits of fish without simultaneously increasing levels of environmental toxins to their unborn child.

Doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, implanted human CNS stem cells into four young boys suffering from Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease; a disease where myelin does not form leading to severe developmental set backs.  A year later, myelination was increased, motor function improved in 3 out of 4 boys, and no signs of tumorigenesis was observed, which paves the way for larger clinical trials to treat this disease.

University of Washington researchers have proposed a concept to contain the million-degree plasma necessary for creating a fusion reaction.  This is a critical component for building the international tokamak nuclear fusion reactor located in Cadarache, France.

Researchers at Weizmann Institute of Science have experimentally observed quantum effects in chemical reactions by merging beams of excited atoms at 0.01 Kelvins.  At these ultra low temperatures, atomic bond formation proceeds faster than expected, which may help to explain interstellar chemical reactions.

The first ever historical evidence of predator behavior in spiders was captured in a 110-million-year-old piece of burmese amber.  Great, I can sleep easier knowing that spiders will never evolve beyond creepy status.

By analyzing mitochondrial DNA from bones of the extinct New Zealand moa, researchers have determined that the half-life of DNA is 521 years.  Scratch “cloned dinosaur” off my Christmas list :(

Have a great weekend.  I’ll be enjoying mine in New Orleans for the Society of Neuroscience annual meeting.  Looking forward to seeing you there.

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Kickstarting Your Career: Crowdfunding for Scientific Research

Christopher Columbus spent 7 years convincing private investors and heads of state to fund his idea of finding a faster trade route to the East Indies.  As research scientists, we’re not much different than Columbus.  Instead of requesting court with Kings and Queens, we propose ideas to government agencies that allocate funding to academic researchers.  But, as governments around the world are looking for ways to reduce spending, grant funding is becoming more and more difficult to obtain.  This leaves young investigators floating in a never ending sea of postdoctoral positions.   Even well funded researchers are looking for alternative sources of financial support in order to fill the downtime between the 12-18 month R01 grant cycles. 

Popularized by such sites as Kickstarter, crowdfunding has become a main source of financial support for entrepreneurs with ideas ranging from clothing lines to social media.  Unfortunately, Kickstarter prohibits projects for health and medicine, making the site useless for academic researchers.  To fill this gap, Petridish, iAMscientist and MedStartr have come online in the past 6 months.  These sites are devoted to helping academic or not for profit tenured, postdoctoral and graduate scientists obtain funding for their research ideas.  Simply propose a research idea, upload video and photos describing your proposal, set a minimum funding requirement and use your social media network to alert your colleagues. 

It’s too early to determine how beneficial crowdfunding is for scientific research, nevertheless, using these sites has several pros and cons that research scientists (especially young investigators) need to consider.


High Benefit to Time Ratio

Crowdfunding sites state a good proposal can be created in 1-2 hours and successfully funded projects receive their financial support in 90 days.  Compare this with the numerous sleepless nights preparing an R01 grant that will take approximately 18 months before funding is received.  Even if your online proposal doesn’t meet its minimum funding requirements, the amount of time spent is miniscule compared to submitting grants to the NIH or NSF.

Building Your Network

Building a network of colleagues and peers is essential to career development.  At the very least, crowdfunding can provide an additional forum to discuss your research ideas.  This allows like-minded individuals to connect and collaborate on projects, which may lead to employment opportunities down the road.

Corporate Sponsorship

Many research scientists are turning into entrepreneurs to develop their ideas beyond the lab bench.   Crowdfunding provides unique opportunites for corporations to back potential ideas.  This can lead to corporate partnership that provide resources for product scale-up and distribution.  In other words, helping you take your product from development to market in considerably less time at reduced costs.


Minimal Funding

To date, most of the successfully funded projects on MedStartr, Petridish and iAMscientist have received fewer than $10,000 USD.  A small drop in the bucket compared to a R01 grant.  Don’t expect crowdfunding to provide you with enough money to land a tenure-track positon.  You’re still going to need to rely on government support to run your own lab.  But, crowdfunding might be just what you need to take your research in a new direction.


You take a big risk proposing ideas on social media sites.  Since the majority of projects don’t reach their funding goals, it’s easy for well funded researchers or corporations to run with your idea and claim it as their own.  If applicable, you may want to consider obtaining copyright or trademark licenses prior to posting to crowdfunding sites.

Since crowdfunding in academic research is an extremely new concept, some potential conflicts also exist that need to be considered.

Overhead Fees

Do laboratory overhead fees apply to crowdfunded sources?  I don’t know the answer this, but I have a feeling if crowdfunding becomes commonplace in research science, academic institutions are going to want their cut — potentially 50%.  While graduate students and postdoctoral researchers don’t have to worry about overhead fees, this could quickly change if scientific crowdfunding increased in popularity.

Property Rights

As a young investigator, all the equipment you use or data that you collect is “owned” by the principal investigator.   What happens when a young investigator uses crowdfunded sources to buy laboratory equipment to support their research needs.  Who owns that piece of equipment?   What happens when you leave that laboratory to continue research elsewhere?  Does that equipment come with you?  After all, it was YOUR proposal that was funded.  But I’m willing to wager some PI’s and maybe even the academic institution would lay claim to that piece of equipment.  This is something that you should discuss before posting your crowdfunding proposal.      

Scientists are generally slow to adopt new ideas, but in this tough fiscal climate, we need to consider all avenues of public or private support.  For young researchers, crowdfunding provides a unique opportunity to support your own research ideas while learning how to manage a budget.  Although government funding will be needed, at least in the foreseeable future, to land coveted tenure-track position, successfully crowdfunded proposals can give you a leg-up on your competition.

Has anyone tried crowdfunding to support their research endeavours?  Let the other readers know your thoughts on the process.

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