Friday, December 22, 2006

Get Ready For The New Stem Cell Bill!

From the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research:

December 21, 2006

Dear CAMR Members:

First, let me wish you and your family a joyful holiday season and a Happy New Year. Now is the time to look back on the incredible progress that has been made and ready ourselves for important stem cell work in 2007. We all will need to roll up our sleeves in January and get right to work because we have a lot to accomplish in a very short timeframe next year.

In January, the 110th Congress will be sworn into office. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (what we knew as HR 810 for the past two years) will be reintroduced by our Congressional champions in January with identical language and a new bill number. Getting this bipartisan bill passed and enacted has been identified as a top priority by the new leadership in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. A vote on the bill is expected in both chambers in January. That means we need to reach out to everyone we can as soon as possible.

Now is the time for you to use your local contacts and reach out to your new Representatives and Senators before they are even sworn in. Before they come to Washington, DC they need to know that you expect them to vote in favor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. You will need to be creative, as these new Members might be difficult to locate before January. Perhaps they will be attending local events in your community or opening up a district office. Use every resource you can think of to track them down.
You should also use this time to contact returning Representatives and Senators who may have voted no in the past to convince them now is the time to vote in favor of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

The message for all Members of Congress is this:
"Now is the time to pass and enact meaningful stem cell legislation! The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act will be one of the first bills presented to you for a vote in the 110th Congress and I urge you to vote yes."

You will hear from us as soon as the bill is reintroduced and we will be asking for a huge push in early January to get the word out on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act before the votes.

Thank you,

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bush's Science Policies: Bad For Our Health

There's a very interesting article in the New Yorker that describes how Bush's regressive science policies, based on religious fundamentalism, have hurt Americans in a multitude of ways. It is a long article, so I'll post an excerpt here--

Vaccinations for contagious diseases like measles and mumps are required before a child can enter public school. That won't be the case with the HPV [cervical cancer] vaccine, however. The Bush Administration, its allies on Capitol Hill, and the religious base of the Republican Party are opposed to mandatory HPV vaccinations. They prefer to rely on education programs that promote abstinence from sexual activity, and see the HPV vaccine as a threat to that policy. For years, conservatives have regarded the human papillomavirus as a kind of index of promiscuity. Many abstinence supporters argue that eliminating the threat of infection would only encourage teen-agers to have sex. "I personally object to vaccinating children when they don't need vaccinations, particularly against a disease that is one hundred per cent preventable with proper sexual behavior,'' Leslee J. Unruh, the founder and president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, said. "Premarital sex is dangerous, even deadly. Let's not encourage it by vaccinating ten-year-olds so they think they're safe.'' Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, a family physician and a prominent leader among those who believe that abortion should be illegal, has argued repeatedly in Congress that since condoms can fail, the nation should stop relying on them so heavily. In 2004, he made his position clear when he testified about his experience treating patients who have been infected with HPV: "Studies have indicated for years that promiscuity was associated with cervical cancer.''
You can view the entire article here:

Friday, December 01, 2006

Protect the Environmental Protection Agency!

Dear Eyedoc333,

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun closing its nationwide network of scientific libraries, effectively preventing EPA scientists and the public from accessing vast amounts of data and information on issues from toxicology to pollution. Several libraries have already been dismantled, with their contents either destroyed or shipped to repositories where they are uncataloged and inaccessible.

The scientific information contained in the EPA libraries is essential to the agency's ability to make fully informed decisions that carry out its mission of protecting human health and the environment. Members of Congress have asked the EPA to cease and desist dismantling these libraries.
Please call EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson at (202) 564-4700 either today or Monday and tell him how much scientists rely on data and literature. Urge him to immediately halt the dismantling of the library system until Congress approves the EPA budget and all materials are readily available online.


Union of Concerned Scientists
Scientific Integrity Program

Saturday, November 25, 2006

More Not-So-Correct Predictions

"So many centuries after the Creation, it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value."
Spanish Royal Commission, rejecting Christopher Columbus' proposal to sail west.

"You're planning to make a ship sail against wind and tide by lighting a fire below deck?? I don't have time to listen to that kind of nonsense!"
Napoleon, about Robert Fultons plans to make a Steamboat.

"I believe in the horse. The automobile is merely a passing phenomonon."
Emperor Wilhelm II

"Airplanes suffers from so many technical faults that it is only a matter of time before any reasonable man realizes that they are useless!"
Scientific American (1910)

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."

Attributed to Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

Hat tip to

Friday, November 17, 2006

Family Planning?

How can we have a new chief of "Family Planning" at the Department of Health and Human Services who doesn't believe in family planning? From the Washington Post:

The Bush administration has appointed a new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services who worked at a Christian pregnancy-counseling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as "demeaning to women."

Eric Keroack, medical director for A Woman's Concern, a nonprofit group based in Dorchester, Mass., will become deputy assistant secretary for population affairs in the next two weeks, department spokeswoman Christina Pearson said yesterday.

Keroack, an obstetrician-gynecologist, will advise Secretary Mike Leavitt on matters such as reproductive health and adolescent pregnancy. He will oversee $283 million in annual family-planning grants that, according to HHS, are "designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them with priority given to low-income persons."

The appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation, was the latest provocative personnel move by the White House since Democrats won control of Congress in this month's midterm elections. President Bush last week pushed the Senate to confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations and this week renominated six candidates for appellate court judgeships who have previously been blocked by lawmakers. Democrats said the moves belie Bush's post-election promises of bipartisanship.

The Keroack appointment angered many family-planning advocates, who noted that A Woman's Concern supports sexual abstinence until marriage, opposes contraception and does not distribute information promoting birth control at its six centers in eastern Massachusetts.

"A Woman's Concern is persuaded that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness," the group's Web site says.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Great Day for Stem Cell Research in Missouri!

In the aftermath of the Democratic wave yesterday, I wanted to make special mention of the great news from Missouri. Not only did Claire McCaskill (D) win a senate seat, but the citizens of Missouri have voted in favor of Amendment 2, which will strengthen and promote human embryonic stem cell research in the Show-Me state! Rock on Missouri!

I lift a glass of lemonade in celebration!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Interior Design

I received this e-mail from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It looks like another case of Bush appointees at the Department of the Interior redesigning science to suit their needs.

Dear Eyedoc,

On Monday, the Washington Post reported that high-ranking political appointees within the Department of the Interior have rewritten numerous scientific documents to prevent the protection of several highly imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act....

This latest example of the abuse of science centers on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, a civil engineer with no biological training, personally changed scientific conclusions and ordered the agency to refrain from protecting several species under the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act requires the FWS to use the best available science when making decisions regarding what species should be protected under the Act. The documents showing MacDonald's edits and edicts were obtained by several conservation organizations through the Freedom of Information Act. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) brought the documents to the Washington Post in the context of the greater issue of political interference in science.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thanks, Vesti!

I did a radio interview the other day on stem cell research, in response to the recent flap over Rush Limbaugh's shameful comments about Michael J. Fox's ads for political candidates who support stem cell research.

My cyberpal Vesti has posted a thread about this, so I refer you all to his website for your comments. Goodness knows he can use the traffic. [wink]

If you're too lazy to click on the link, I'd be interested to hear your comments about the fallout here.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Berry Good For Your Brain

The latest research from the Salk Institute shows that fisetin, a chemical found in strawberries and other fruits and vegetables, can stimulate long-term memory pathways in mice. This is interesting in terms of the potential for fisetin in memory enhancement in dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. From Science Daily:
Besides strawberries, fisetin is found in tomatoes, onions, oranges, apples, peaches, grapes, kiwifruit and persimmons. While eating strawberries sounds like an enjoyable alternative to popping a pill, Maher [the lead author] cautions that it would take about 10 pounds a day to achieve a beneficial effect, which might prove too much even for the most avid strawberry lovers.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Rules of the Lab

1. When you don't know what you're doing, do it neatly.

2. Experiments must be reproducible, they should fail the same way each time.

3. First draw your curves, then plot your data.

4. Experience is directly proportional to equipment ruined.

5. A record of data is essential, it shows you were working.

6. To study a subject best, understand it thoroughly before you start.

7. To do a lab really well, have your report done well in advance.

8. If you can't get the answer in the usual manner, start at the answer and derive the question.

9. If that doesn't work, start at both ends and try to find a common middle.

10. In case of doubt, make it sound convincing.

11. Do not believe in miracles---rely on them.

12. Team work is essential. It allows you to blame someone else.

13. All unmarked beakers contain fast-acting, extremely toxic poisons.

14. Any delicate and expensive piece of glassware will break before any use can be made of it. (Law of Spontaneous Fission).

hat tip to

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Modified Human Embryonic Stem Cells Can Preserve Visual Function

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a blinding disease of the
retina affecting 1.75 million Americans (1). Vision loss in AMD occurs due to the death of light-sensing cells in the central part of the retina, the area of highest visual sensitivity. In order to test new treatments before trying them in humans, an "RCS rat" was developed by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) that undergoes retinal cell death and visual loss that, in some ways, resembles retinal diseases seen in humans.

In a study led by Dr. Raymond Lund's group at the Moran Eye Center in
Utah (2), human embryonic stem cells were modified to become specialized retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells. These RPE cells were injected into the eyes of RCS rats at an early age, prior to the onset of disease, to see if they could prevent the death of retinal cells over time. For comparison, a control group of RCS rats received an injection of liquid that did not contain RPE cells.

Two weeks after the injections, all groups of animals were tested for
their ability to react to light and generate the electrical signals that indicate processing of visual information. RCS rats receiving RPE injections were better able to detect and process light signals in the retina than were control RCS rats. The cellular structure of the rats' eyes was examined under a microscope. Animals that received RPE injections had fewer retinal cells die over the course of the experiment than control RCS rats. Further analysis showed that the injected human RPE cells partially prevented the death of the rats' own retinal cells. In summary, it appears that human embryonic stem cells may hold promise for new treatment strategies that target blinding retinal diseases such as macular degeneration.


Monday, September 25, 2006

We Interrupt This Blog...

Q. What does DNA stand for?
A. National Dyslexics Association

Hat tip to

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Listeria Hysteria

OK, you keep hearing the scary headline about how "viruses" are being used to treat foods in order to kill bacteria that can cause food-borne illness. I wish reporters would stop using the word "virus". Although technically correct, it's causing unnecessary concern.

Let's back up a bit. Listeria Monocytogenes can cause serious bacterial illness in humans, characterized by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Each year, there are about 2500 cases of "Listeriosis" in the US, resulting in about 500 deaths. A new approach is being taken as a means to reduce the incidence of Listeriosis. It involves a "bacteriophage", an organism that infects and kills bacteria. Technically, bacteriophages fall within the general category of "viruses", but are incapable of infecting humans.

Recently, a bacteriophage has been designed to infect Listeria through thread-like structures called "flagella" (see photo above). Humans have never had and never will have flagella that could be mistaken for Listeria's appendages. The bacteriophage is made specifically to target Listeria, so as not to harm the "good" bacteria that inhabit our digective tracts. I'm hoping that as the correct information comes to light, people will be less leery of this new approach to food safety.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Let's Get Outta This Joint!

Scientists are exploring new stem cell treatments to promote cartilage repair in damaged knees. The cartilage-like meniscus, the knee's shock absorber, is commonly damaged through sports injuries and arthritic disease. Approximately 800,000 people per year in the US have surgery to remove all or part of the meniscus. Fifty-five of these patients are now enrolled in a two-year study at the University of Southern California to determine whether an injection of bone-marrow stem cells can stimulate repair of the meniscus.

Eligible patients, aged 18-60, were enrolled prior to knee surgery.
One week after surgery, some patients received a single injection of Chondrogen (a commercial preparation of adult bone marrow stem cells), whereas others received a placebo injection that contained no stem cells. Knees with and without stem cell treatment were examined by MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to check for meniscus regrowth over time.

This is a double-blind study, meaning that neither the patients nor their doctors will know which injections contained Chondrogen or a placebo until later in the study. The double-blind strategy encourages unbiased interpretation of the results. Early results of the study, funded by Osiris Therapeutics, are expected out in October 2006.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Immunity Challenge

  • "[It] is a judgment of God, sent to punish and humble our sins; and what shall we so evade it, and think to turn it away from us?...God has predetermin'd and fixed the period of every ones that if this time be come inoculation will not save the person's life."
  • "[It is] a judgment on the sins of the avert it is but to provoke him more".
  • "[It is] an encroachment on the prerogatives of Jehovah", who has the right "to wound and smite".

Do these religious statements sound familiar? I thought so. It turns out that they were spoken by theologians almost 300 years ago in opposition to smallpox innoculation.

An intriguing method of preventing smallpox was being studied to see if material taken from cowpox sores or even smallpox lesions could be used prevent the deadly smallpox disease. Then, just as now, religious zealots tried to impose their own morality on disease; it was a punishment from G-d. To interfere with this punishment, would cause further anguish and death. It took a smallpox epidemic in Montreal to cause a shift in attitude:

In 1885 a smallpox epidemic broke out in Montreal, Canada. Almost everyone was vaccinated except the Catholic population there. When the authorities tried to force vaccination on their Catholic citizens, they were met with opposition that threatened to become violent. Rather than explaining to their parishioners the benefits of vaccination, the catholic clergy tolerated and in some cases even encouraged the behavior of the laity. A priest of St. James Church said in a sermon that, "if we are afflicted with smallpox, it is because we had a carnival last year, feasting with the flesh, which has offended the Lord; is to punish our pride that God has sent us smallpox." One religious newspaper even went further, telling the Montreal Catholics to take up arms rather than submit themselves to vaccination. Instead the catholic ecclesiastical authorities in the city called on their people to make certain devotional exercises, to hold a procession with an appeal to the Blessed Virgin and to use the rosary as specified. Needless to say the Catholic population in Montreal suffered many needless deaths from smallpox until the proper measure was finally enforced.

We see this same kind of opposition pattern today in the case of a human papilloma virus vaccine, designed to prevent cervical cancer. Vaccine opponents fear that innoculation will lead to sexual promiscuity. We hear others define AIDS as a punishment for sin. I long for the day when disease is seen by all as a bane of biology rather than measure of morality.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Vote for "Science Idol"

The Union of Concerned Scientists has a cartoon contest. All 12 of the finalists will be featured in a 2007 calendar. Vote for your favorite cartoon here:

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fighting Terror at Home

Dear Eyedoc333,

A terrorist group called the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) recently took credit for driving a UCLA scientist to leave behind his research employing non-human primates. Like many others in the biomedical research community, this scientist and his family were terrorized at their home for months.

Acts of violence, intimidation, and harassment against researchers have a chilling effect on animal research everywhere. As such, passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is more critical now than ever. This legislation would allow federal authorities to help prevent, better investigate, and prosecute individuals who seek to halt biomedical research through acts of intimidation, harassment, and violence.

Visit CapWiz, an on-line legislative action center, provided to you by the Society for Neuroscience:
(apologies--for some reason the link doesn't seem to work!)

Thank you in advance for your participation!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stem Cells: Try, Try Again

There's a new method for creating human embryonic stem cell lines that involves removal of one single cell from a human embryo. The hope was that this method would overcome the objections of the "life begins at conception" crowd by creating new stem cell lines without harming the embryo from which they were derived. Unfortunately, there are continued objections:

"It is widely believed that one cell of a very early embryo may separate and become a new embryo, an identical twin," said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

For this reason, the possibility of an identical twin being able to form from the single cell removed from the original embryo, the new method is still objectionable to the hard-liners. It is unclear whether the new method will be eligible for federal research funding. Don't hold your breath...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Filling In

Above, you see an image of "cutting edge" dental work, accomplished without anaesthetic or even dental insurance! This is a 7-9,000 year old human tooth that shows signs of drilling with sharpened points of flint. In a village called Mehrhgarh, in present-day Pakistan, ancient villagers underwent these dental procedures in teeth that, half the time, had no apparent signs of decay (whereas some teeth did have cavities). It is unknown whether any sort of filling was used to protect sensitive areas. The drilling was not thought to be for decorative purposes, since none of the holes were located in visible locations at the front of the mouth.

Could it be....PULP fiction?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Not-so Accurate Predictions...

"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."

--Popular Mechanics, 1949

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
--Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."
--Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction".
--Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

"But what ... is it good for?
--Engineer at IBM, 1968

commenting on the microchip.

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
--Bill Gates, 1981

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer
in their home."

--Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder
of Digital
Equipment Corp., 1977

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be
considered as a means of communication.
The device is inherently
of no value to us."
--Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"The wireless music box has no imaginable
commercial value. Who
would pay for a message
sent to nobody in particular?"

--David Sarnoff's associates in response
to his urgings for
investment in the radio in the 1920s.

"The concept is interesting and well-formed,
but in order to earn
better than a 'C,'
the idea must be feasible."

--A Yale University management professor
in response to Fred
Smith's paper proposing
reliable overnight delivery service.

(Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
--H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Quit Bugging Me!

Morgellon's Disease is described by patients as the appearance of multi-colored fibers on the skin, accompanied by the sensation of crawling bugs. There is a debate as to the nature of this disease. Some physicians feel that it is "delusional parasitosis", in which patients imagine that bugs are crawling on them. Biopsies of skin lesions do not show any known pathogens, yet 90% of these patients test positively for the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease. Antibiotic treatment and even the antipsychotic drug Risperidone have been used, with some measure of relief. Yet, the underlying cause of this disease remains unknown.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Super-Size Me!

The amount of food you eat in a serving seems to be linked to the size of your eating utensils. A group of nutritionists received invitations to an ice cream social and were not told that they were to be part of an experiment on food serving size. They were given different sized spoons and bowls and then asked to serve themselves. The results were intriguing....

...Researchers believe their findings result from the human perceptual tendency to judge object sizes based on comparisons with neighboring items. Participants in the study, for example, served themselves 31 percent more ice cream when they were given a 34-ounce bowl instead of a 17-ounce bowl. Their servings increased by 14.5 percent when they were given a 3-ounce spoon instead of a 2-ounce utensil. When given both a large spoon and big bowl, they served themselves 56.8 percent more. Yet they were unaware of the greater ice cream quantities.

This study comes from the Georgia Institute of Technology and will appear in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Blink of an Eye

Latest studies show that the retina can transmit signals to the brain as fast as an ethernet connection! It seems that the human retina can transmit visual data at approximately 10 million bits per second. In comparison, an ethernet connection can transmit information between computers at speeds of 10 to 100 million bits per second. Study co-authors are McLean and Freed from Penn and Segev and Berry from Princeton. This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

On A LIGHTer Note....

"Photons have mass ?!? I didn't even know they were Catholic..."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

From the Union of Concerned Scientists

I received this e-mail from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
UCS distributed this survey to 5,918 FDA scientists to assess the state of science at the agency, and nearly 1,000 responded. The results paint a picture of a troubled agency: hundreds of scientists reported significant interference with the FDA's scientific work, compromising the agency's ability to fulfill its mission of protecting public health and safety. Among the more troubling findings:

Almost one in five (18 percent) responded, "I have been asked, for non-scientific reasons, to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or my conclusions in an FDA scientific document."

More than three in five (61 percent) respondents know of cases where "Department of Health and Human Services or FDA political appointees have inappropriately injected themselves into FDA determinations or actions."

Less than half (47 percent) think that the "FDA routinely provides complete and accurate information to the public."

Two in five (40 percent) said they could not publicly express "concerns about public health without fear of retaliation." More than a third (36 percent) did not feel they could do so even in the confines of the agency.
Independent science is important for the workings of the FDA and other federal agencies. Without impartial science, the FDA is stymied in its job. The health and safety of everyone will suffer as a result of the Bush administration's heavy-handed control of regulatory decisions based on politics rather than hard science.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


So, Bush has finally vetoed his first bill, the stem cell research enhancement bill HR 810, passed by both the Republican House and Senate. In doing so, Bush turns his back on potentially life-saving research for diabetes, Parkinson's Disease, spinal cord injuries, and many other afflictions. It's maddening to live in a country with so many resources and opportunities, only to have legitimate science repressed and vilified with lies and deception. This has to be the most anti-science government in the history of our country. Let's use this setback as a springboard for our efforts in November to reclaim the House and Senate!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Call Your Senators to Support the Stem Cell Bill!

Dear Eyedoc,

Senate Debates H.R. 810 TODAY Take Action!

Last chance to call your Senators

As you know, H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, is being considered on the Senate floor starting today, July 17 and will continue until the vote is held on Tuesday, July 18. Between now and the time of the vote, we need your help!
Regardless of where you live and even if you have contacted your Senators previously, please call your senators and ask them to vote in favor of H.R. 810. Keep the Senate phones ringing with pro-patient messages and ask that your Senators vote YES on H.R. 810. We need the strongest Senate vote possible to send a clear message to the White House that the majority of Americans support medical research and this important legislation.

Already during the debate, several senators have stated that adult stem cells have cured Parkinson's disease. This is absolutely false. If there were a therapy to halt the progression of this unrelenting disease, the millions of Parkinson's patients, caregivers and their physicians would be pursuing that treatment right now. Sadly, the facts show that we have NOT found a cure, or adequate treatments for Parkinson's, using adult stem cells or otherwise.

H.R. 810 Debate Schedule:
Monday, July 17: The Senate debate will continue until 9 p.m. (Eastern Time)

Tuesday, July 18: Debate from 10 a.m. until 3:45 (with an hour break for lunch around noon.)

Immediately following debate, the Senate will vote on the 3 bills in the package individually, with the last vote being H.R. 810. H.R. 810 vote is expected at approximately 5:15 p.m.
Call your senators and tell them that H.R. 810 is the ONLY pro-patient bill that offers hope to millions of Americans, including people fighting Parkinson's disease and their families.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Telekinesis: A Moving Story

How would you like to move objects with just your own brainpower? Scientists at Cyberkinetics have developed a "neuromotor prosthesis", a computer chip that is implanted into the human brain that can translate thoughts into action. So far, one paralyzed patient has learned to draw simple shapes, play a video game, and adjust the channel/volume on a television, using only his thoughts. One can imagine great promise for this new technology that could bring greater independence and safety for paralyzed individuals, with possibility of controlling all kinds of electronic devices with just a thought.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Here's Lookin' at You, Kid

Are you the sort of person who can "forget a face"? Prosopagnosia, or face blindess, is the inability to distinguish between different faces (except the most familiar ones). Those afflicted try to compensate for their confusion by focusing on details of voice, gait, clothing or hair color to identify people. A German research group, headed by Dr. Ingo Kennerknecht of the Institute for Human Genetics at the University of Muenster, has discovered that face blindness can run in families and appears to have a hereditary component.

Now, who did you say you were again?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hawking Science

"I didn't fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition, like Galileo"
~Stephen Hawking joking about a comment by Pope John Paul II who stated that scientists should not study the origins of the universe, as it was "G-d's work".

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Stem Cells Behaving Badly

What do cancer cells and the developing embryo have in common? The answer is "a whole lotta genes"! My own work and those of my colleagues in the stem cell field show that there are a number of similarities between cancer and embryos. It seems that some cancers--leukemias, brain tumors, and eye tumors show subsets of stem cells that resemble cells from embryos. This is important because these "cancer stem cells" are the ones believed to be responsible for spreading tumors to distant sites and resisting chemotherapy drugs. It only takes one cancer stem cell behaving badly to propagate tumors that will not respond to chemo. By studying the behavior of these cancer stem cells, we can develop new treatments to kill tumors more effectively.

Food for thought: If there are stem cells in tumors that have the potential to develop into a human being, are the fundamentalists going to argue against surgical removal of malignant tumors in order to save the "potential human life" therein?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Cross to Bear

Published: July 1, 2006

ROME, June 30 — Scientists who engage in stem cell research using human embryos should be subject to excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, according to a senior Vatican official.

Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, who heads the group that proposes family-related policy for the church, said in an interview with the Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana published Thursday that stem cell researchers should be punished in the same way as women who have abortions and doctors who perform them.

"Destroying an embryo is equivalent to abortion," said the cardinal. "Excommunication is valid for the women, the doctors and researchers who destroy embryos."

It was unclear if the pope supported the position, and the Vatican did not return calls for comment. But such blunt remarks from a powerful cardinal just a week before the church convenes a meeting to discuss the topic could foreshadow a hardening of Vatican policy on the issue, experts said.

Monday, June 26, 2006

International Society for Stem Cell Research

I'm off to Toronto on Wednesday for the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. It's always an interesting few days of scientific exchange, networking and a bit of fun. On Wednesday evening, there's a public forum on stem cell research, which is always well-attended. The exhibitors will provide us with free tote bags, pens, mouse pads, and plush animals.

But I'm especially interested in our keynote speaker, Dr. John Polanyi. It should be interesting!:

Nobel Laureate John Polanyi is a faculty member in the chemistry department at the University of Toronto. His research is on molecular motions in chemical reactions in gases and surfaces. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986.

Polanyi is a fellow of the Royal Societies of Canada (F.R.S.C.), of London (F.R.S.) and of Edinburgh (F.R.S.E.), and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Rome, and the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada (P.C.) and a Companion of the Order of Canada (C.C.).

He was a founding member of both the Committee on Scholarly Freedom of the Royal Society and the Canadian Committee for Scientists and Scholars, an international human rights organization of which he is president. Additionally he was the founding chair of the Canadian Pugwash Group in 1960, and has been active for 40 years in International Pugwash. He has written extensively on science policy, the control of armaments and peacekeeping. He is co-editor of a book, The Dangers of Nuclear War, and was a participant in the recent Canada 21 study of a 21st century defense posture for Canada. He was co-chair (with Sir Brian Urquhart) of the Department of Foreign Affairs International Consultative Committee on a Rapid Response Capability for the United Nations.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Plagiarism Story-- A Happy Ending

Back in March, I told you about a group in India that had plagiarized an entire article of mine and republished it in another journal. It was a cut-and-paste job of the worst kind. They not only copied my text, but the actual figures, as well.

After over two months, there is finally an update: The plagiarized article has been retracted. Three of the four plagiarists sent me an apology, stating that they were very surprised to find out that the fourth author had done such a terrible thing. When I asked about an apology from the fourth author, there was no further response. All four authors are banned from submitting articles to the journal until further notice. The case has been sent to the Indian Ophthalmological Society for further review.

Meanwhile, this story has been a great ice-breaker at the stem cell conferences!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Designer Genes

What about a test that can screen an embryo for hundreds of potential genetic mutations? Some may consider this a scary development. I think it goes a long way toward preventing a number of devastating inherited diseases...

LONDON, June 19 (UPI) -- A revolutionary test developed by British scientists will allow human embryos to be screened for thousands of genetic mutations before implantation. Known as pre-implantation genetic haplotyping, the technique dramatically reduces the risk of passing on inherited diseases, according to a report Monday in The London Times. Current methods permit screening for about 200 inherited defects but the new procedure developed at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London will work for thousands of heritable conditions, most of which are too rare or complicated to be pinpointed by existing means. It will also help families at risk of diseases that usually afflict only boys, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and hemophilia. Professor Peter Braude, who supervised the research team, said the test would give thousands more couples that carry genetic illnesses the chance to have a healthy baby.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Keeping Abreast...

It's time for my annual mammogram tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Update: After much smooshing and prodding, I was sent away with a clean bill of health!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I Got Rhythm...

LONDON, June 13 (UPI) -- A British philosopher at the London School of Economics is drawing criticism from abortion opponents by opposing the "rhythm method," a report says. The New York Times said Luc Bovens argues in the Journal of Medical Ethics that couples who use the rhythm method to avoid pregnancy may be more at risk of producing underdeveloped embryos.

The rhythm method refers to the practice of couples preventing pregnancy by avoiding sex during the woman's most fertile time of the month. If this is correct, he writes, "millions of rhythm method cycles per year globally depend for their success on massive embryonic death," the Times said.

Bovens asserts that those concerned about early embryonic death should be just as worried about the rhythm method as they would be over other forms of contraception. Bovens's comments have drawn controversy in the United States and Britain from abortion opponents who advocate the rhythm method, or what is commonly known as natural family planning, the Times said.

Fertility experts say that although there are implications to its validity, there is little evidence to support Bovens's assumption.

Isn't it interesting when the fundies' faith in "the rhythm method" is questioned? What if Luc Boven's theory is true and the rhythm method leads to more miscarriages? Will the next step will be to advocate abstinent marriages? Oy!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tonight, Dear. I Have a Headache.


"Our study suggests that sexual desire and migraine headaches may be influenced by the same brain chemical," said Timothy Houle, Ph.D., lead author and research assistant professor of anesthesiology. "The results support the idea that migraine, as a syndrome, is associated with other common phenomena. Understanding of this link will help us to better understand the nature of migraine and perhaps lead to improved treatment."

The research, involving 68 young adults from Chicago, will appear in an upcoming issue of Headache, published by the American Headache Society, and already is available on line.

The objective of the study was to examine the relationship between migraine headache and self-reported sexual desire. There is evidence of a complex relationship between sexual activity and headache. Both sexual desire and migraine headache have been linked to levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that also plays a role in depression. An excess of serotonin may be associated with decreased libido, and migraine sufferers are reported to have low system levels of the brain chemical. Serotonin has also been found to play a role in migraine attacks.

"Considering the circumstantial evidence linking both migraine and sexual desire to serotonin, we wanted to explore whether the two phenomena are actually related," said Houle.

The researchers hypothesized that abnormalities in the serotonin systems of migraine sufferers may influence their sexual desire. Because high levels of serotonin are associated with low sexual desire, and migraine sufferers have low levels of the chemical, it was predicted that they would report higher levels of sex drive.

The study involved 68 participants who reported having at least 10 headaches a year. Their mean age was 24 years. Participants underwent interviews to diagnose their headache type -- either migraine or tension -- and filled out a 14-item questionnaire to measure sexual desire.

Males reported levels of sexual desire that were 24 percent higher than females. Migraine sufferers reported levels of sexual desire that were 20 percent higher than those suffering from tension headaches. Females with migraines had levels of sexual desire similar to males who had tension headaches.

"The study demonstrated that migraine patients in general may experience higher levels of sexual desire than others," said Houle. "They appeared to be aware of this, rating their sex drive as being higher than others their age and gender."

He said the results suggest that a serotonin link may be implicated in both migraine headaches and sexual desire.

"This opens the door to consider other phenomena that have a similar neurochemical basis," he said. For example, there is an increased prevalence of depression in people with migraine, which is also theorized to be modulated by serotonin.

Houle said future research should focus on whether a cluster of migraine characteristics or symptoms can serve as markers of an altered serotonin system. Although the current study was not able to address whether the link may apply to middle-age or older adults with migraines, Houle said the finding appears to be quite general and is likely to be found in older patients as well.

Co-researchers were Lara K. Dhingra, Ph.D., from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Thomas A. Remble, M.A., from Rush University Medical Center, Lori A. Rokicki, Ph.D., in private practice in Toledo, Ohio, and Donald B. Penzien, Ph.D., from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

DNA Shoah Project

There's a fascinating project designed to identify Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The DNA Shoah project, founded by Syd Mandelbaum and Michael Hammer, is a DNA database of those who lost loved ones in the Holocaust. DNA from the database can be compared with human remains found recently in Poland and Germany. The database will also be used to help reunite Holocaust orphans, who were sent abroad during the war, with other family members who survived.

Once again, we see the power of DNA.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Win, Place or Show?

Idaho Gem and Idaho Star are identical cloned mules. They were created from a fetal sibling of a former champion racing mule named Taz. Although they share the same DNA, the two clones have trained separately for two years. They are going to be racing head-to-head today in a test of nature vs. nurture. Which one will win? Will they tie? It should be interesting!

Idaho Gem took third place and Idaho Star finished seventh in a 350-yard (meter) race against six naturally bred three-year-old mules at the Winnemucca Mule Race, Show & Draft Horse Challenge in Winnemucca, Nevada.

New link:

Friday, June 02, 2006

Political Science

Do you have an editorial cartoon idea related to scientific integrity (like the one above, for example)? If so, send your entries to the following website:

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Behold, a female robot created in Korea:

"EveR-1 is designed to resemble a Korean female in her early 20s, according to a KITECH press release. Fifteen motors underneath her silicon skin allow her to express a limited range of emotions, and a 400-word vocabulary enables her to hold a simple conversation.

The android weighs 110 pounds (50 kilograms) and would stand 5 feet, 3 inches (160 centimeters) tall—if she could stand. EveR-1 can move her arms and hands, but her lower half is immobile."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Rationalizations of a Chocoholic

WHEELING, W.Va., May 25 (UPI) -- A West Virginia professor has good news for chocoholics -- eating chocolate improves memory, reaction time and cognitive ability.

Dr. Bryan Raudenbush of Wheeling Jesuit University led the study, "Effects of Chocolate Consumption on Enhancing Cognitive Performance," Reliable Plant reported. He found that subjects who had consumed either milk chocolate or dark chocolate 15 minutes before they were tested performed better than those given carob or nothing at all.

"These findings provide support for nutrient release via chocolate consumption to enhance cognitive performance," Raudenbush said. He plans to present his findings at a professional conference this summer.

As if we needed any more reasons to eat chocolate....
I spoke with a nutritionist this week-end who eats chocolate every day. She considers chocolate as "the tip of the food pyramid. But without the tip, it wouldn't be a pyramid!".

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Blistering Attack on Shingles

WASHINGTON, May 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has licensed a new Merck & Co. vaccine that reduces the risk of shingles.

Zostavax is licensed for those over age 60. About one-fifth of the population is believed to develop shingles.

The disease of the nervous system is caused by the chicken pox virus, varicella-zoster, which lies dormant in the nervous system for decades after an attack. Symptoms include painful blisters that can last for weeks.

"This vaccine gives health care providers an important tool that can help prevent an illness that affects many older Americans and often results in significant chronic pain," said Dr. Jesse L. Goodman -- Director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research -- in an FDA news release.

Zostavax was tested in a trial involving 38,000 subjects and found to reduce the risk of shingles by about half in those over 60. The risk reduction was greatest for those age 60 to 69.

Since people who get shingles have already been infected with the varicella zoster virus, this vaccine seems to inhibit the virus from coming back out of dormancy.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Monkey Business

There's a story in the Science section of the New York Times today that describes an exciting new discovery in AIDS research. It seems that the primate version of the HIV virus (SIV) has been found in chimp droppings in the forests of Cameroon, Africa. This is important because, for the first time, the virus has been discovered in chimps outside of the laboratory, in their natural habitat. The prevailing theory of chimp-to-human transfer of SIV/HIV is that it occurred in West-Central Africa. African hunters ate infected monkeys and eventually carried the virus to Kinshasa, Congo, where the first human case of AIDS was documented in 1959. The virus spread from there to cause havoc worldwide.

More studies need to be done to fully convince the conspiracy theorists that HIV was not a government program designed to wipe out specific segments of the US population.