Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bird Flu

Eight suspected cases of bird flu have been reported in Pakistan, including five members of one family. One relative, who attended a funeral for one of the flu victims in Pakistan and returned to New York, developed flu-like symptoms and went into voluntary quarantine with his son. Tests for exposure to bird flu were negative for both father and son and they are no longer in quarantine. There is more detail on this story at

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 340 people in 13 countries have contracted bird flu since 2003. Sixty percent of the cases were fatal and most could be traced to direct contact with infected poultry. At this point, bird flu has not become a highly contagious, seasonal event. But we certainly need to keep tabs on it.

In April of this year, the Centers for Disease Control announced FDA approval for the first human bird flu vaccine against the H5N1 strain of the virus. According to the FDA:

The manufacturer, sanofi pasteur Inc., will not sell the vaccine commercially. Instead, the vaccine has been purchased by the federal government for inclusion within the National Stockpile for distribution by public health officials if needed.

"The threat of an influenza pandemic is, at present, one of the most significant public health issues our nation and world faces," said Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs. "The approval of this vaccine is an important step forward in our protection against a pandemic."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

News On The Stem Cell Front

I'll bet many of you have read the latest news stories about how skin cells have been coaxed to behave like embryonic stem cells. This is a fascinating study and one that bears follow-up in the months/years ahead.

However, contrary to President Bush's recent comments, these findings do not eliminate the need for human embryonic stem cell research, nor will it end the stem cell debate. In order to prove that these new skin-derived stem cells are as good as, or better than, human embryonic stem cells, direct comparisons must be made between them under a variety of conditions. In order to make direct comparisons, all stem cell types are needed, embryonic and otherwise. To limit further study on skin-derived stem cells alone, it would never allow us to answer the question of which cell type might work best for diabetes, Parkinson's Disease, spinal cord injury, etc.

In no way does this minimize the significance of findings regarding skin-derived stem cells or stem cells derived from other tissue types. But I do think that it's important to ensure that stem cell researchers have access to a wide variety of cell types for future study, including human embryonic stem cells. Let's keep this issue at the forefront and encourage federal funding for all stem cell research.

Friday, November 02, 2007

R.I.P Washoe

Washoe the chimp died on Oct. 30th at the age of 42. She was the first non-human to learn American Sign Language (ASL). She was named for Washoe county, Nevada, where she was raised and trained in ASL. At the time of her death, she resided at Central Washington University.

There was controversy about the project and the claims that Washoe could use 250 ASL signs. Still, the project was groundbreaking in the field of animal communications. Washoe eventually passed on her knowledge of ASL to her adopted son Loulis.

R.I.P. Washoe.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Happy Birthday...Have a Nobel Prize!

It was a great birthday for Gerhardt Ertl. He turned 71 today and was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. His award-winning research involved "surface chemistry", vital to the development of the catalytic converter, and our understanding of the vanishing ozone layer.

Professor Ertl spoke at a live press conference today, "It is the best birthday present that you can give somebody. I was really speechless."

Happy Birthday, Professor Ertl!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Breast Cancer Walk-- A Success!

I participated in today's "Making Strides for Breast Cancer" walk to benefit the American Cancer Society.
You can see from the photo that we had perfect weather for the event. I walked the 3 mile route with a group of about 14 team members, including a couple of toddlers in a stroller. Altogether, there were about 9,000 people who took part in our local walk.

Many thanks to all who sponsored me. I ended up raising over $700 for a very worthy cause.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eye on Climate Change

There is an excellent website with scientific information on global warming:

You'll find a journal club, a blog and a free digital issue of "Nature Reports Climate Change".

Check it out!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

In Memoriam: Elizabeth Olmsted

From the Buffalo News Obituary:

March 5, 1915 — Sept. 6, 2007

Dr. Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted, a pioneer for women in medicine, died Thursday in Millard Fillmore Hospital. She was 92.

She graduated from the University of Buffalo School of Medicine in 1939, becoming Western New York’s first female ophthalmologist.

Throughout her career, she also worked as a military consultant investigating the effects of radar exposure on the eye, invented the diffraction lens used in the treatment of crossed and lazy eyes, authored numerous articles and served as president and chairwoman of local and state professional societies.

Dr. Olmsted was one of the area’s first female pilots, serving as a lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol in the early 1940s. She was a member of the Ninety- Nines, the international organization of female pilots.

Her husband, Ira G. Ross, died in 1991.

A lifelong Buffalo resident and civic leader, she volunteered for several local organizations. Of all her accomplishments, she is perhaps best known for philanthropy.

Throughout the 1990s, Dr. Olmsted contributed millions of dollars to the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to establish a faculty chair in medical information services and to establish the Ira G. Ross Eye Institute. She also donated to the Blind Association of Western New York, renamed in her honor the Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted, M.D. Center for the Visually Impaired, to update its facility to state-of-the-art.

In recognition of her generosity, Dr. Olmsted in 2004 received the Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

She also received the National Conference for Community and Justice of Western New York Lifetime Achievement Award, the Athena Award, UB’s Distinguished Medical Alumna Award and many other honors. In 2003, she received an honorary doctorate in science from the State University of New York.

I had the great pleasure to know Dr. Olmsted. She once told me that when she started out as the first female Ophthalmology resident at the University of Rochester, the male residents refused to sit at the lunch table with her. Eventually, she won them over. She was truly a pioneer in the field.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

Breast Cancer Walk

This year, I'll be participating in the "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" event of the American Cancer Society. Our local walk will be at the end of September. I'm dedicating this walk to the memories of my cousin and my aunt who bravely fought breast cancer during their lives, and in honor of surviving relatives and friends who are an inspiration to us all.

For more information about participating in your area, here is a link to the event:

If anyone would like to sponsor my walk, please send an e-mail to and I'll send you the link to my donations page.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

African Webcam

There's a very interesting page on the National Geographic website called "Pete's Pond". It's a link to a live webcam of Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana, Africa. At various times of the day, you can see elephants, snakes, lizards, birds, and lions. The sounds of chirping insects and splashing water are very relaxing.

Edit: The tinyurl link isn't working. I'll put it in the comments section, if I can.

Hat tip to Jillan.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Stem Cell Milestone in New York!

This is a press release from Gov. Spitzer's website.

Yours truly will apply for funding as soon as the grants become available!

July 26, 2007

Board to Oversee $600 Million in Funding for Stem Cell Research

Governor Eliot Spitzer today named 11 appointees to serve on the committees that form the Empire State Stem Cell Board. The Board was established to oversee and administer $600 million in funding for the Empire State Stem Cell Trust Fund to promote stem cell research and development.

“The Empire State Stem Cell Trust Fund propels New York State forward in the search for scientific knowledge and advancement, and will enable the world-class academic, research, medical and scientific institutions located here to reach their full potential,” said Governor Spitzer. “The individuals that we are nominating to the Empire Stem Cell Board will help bring thoughtful leadership, scientific expertise, and ethical considerations to the advancement of stem cell research.”

The 2007-2008 Enacted Budget includes an initial appropriation of $100 million and an additional $500 million is provided at $50 million per year for ten years beginning in April 2008. The Fund will make grants for basic, applied, translational and other research that advances scientific discoveries in fields related to stem cell biology. No grants are allowed for any research involving human reproductive cloning.

Lieutenant Governor David A. Paterson said: “New York is responding to the urgent need for a state-sponsored, fully-funded stem cell research program. The appointed members of the Empire State Stem Cell Board represent the best leadership our State has to offer in the stem cell research field. This board will execute our stem cell research program with the highest moral, ethical, and scientific standards. It will play a key role in advancing medical science, bringing hope to people suffering a range of debilitating illnesses. I am proud that we are able to deliver our stem cell program to the people of this state, and I am personally committed to seeing its full, successful implementation. ”

Commissioner of Health Richard F. Daines, M.D. said: "Biomedical research holds great promise for the presentation and treatment of the most devastating diseases and health conditions. Governor Spitzer and Lieutenant Governor Paterson's support for this initiative will position New York as a leader in stem cell research, and will expand the number of New York scientists contributing to this promising field. The caliber of the Empire State Stem Cell Board members is outstanding, and we look forward to working with them.”

The Board includes two committees – the Funding Committee and Ethics Committee – each consisting of 13 members. The Stem Cell Board will be chaired by the Commissioner of Health, Richard F. Daines, M.D. who will also act as a member on each committee. Twelve members are appointed by the Governor with six of those members recommended by legislative leaders. The Funding Committee will make recommendations for the awarding of grants to the Commissioner of Health based upon the analysis and recommendations of an independent scientific peer review process. The Ethics Committee will make recommendations regarding scientific, medical and ethical standards.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Outrageous Politicizing of Science!

Sadly, I must report on another outrageous government intrusion into scientific affairs. Yesterday, Executive Order 13422 went into effect that gives political appointees the final word on federal science regulations. This will promote and foster the continuing climate of political interference of scientists at federal agencies,

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is on the case, delivering letters
to two Senate committee chairs calling for questions to be asked at the confirmation hearings for the nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget.

"We have a corps of highly trained scientists in federal agencies. Why would we want to undermine their expertise and authority?" said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS's Scientific Integrity Program. "This executive order greatly expands the power of the White House to weaken the ability of federal agencies to protect public health and safety..."

Monday, July 16, 2007

Popping in

Hello, fellow bloggers and bloggettes! I've had a number of 12-14 hour days and no time to post a new thread lately. This is what we've been doing--

We're conducting a retinal imaging study to try to improve the diagnosis of a childhood neurodegenerative disease that causes blindness. Visual loss generally is the first sign of the disease, but it is often misdiagnosed for years until seizures begin. The kids are often subjected to many uncomfortable diagnostic tests until a diagnosis is made. Although there is no treatment for the disease, we are hoping that at least an early diagnosis will help families get the right kind of care at an earlier stage. Also, once new treatments are available, we may be able to use our non-invasive imaging as a convenient way to follow improvements during the course of treatment.

Over the past few days, our research team has attended a convention where many affected families are gathered. We rent a suite at the hotel, fly in the research team, borrow equipment from the imaging companies, and recruit study subjects to come up and have their pictures taken. There are no eyedrops and nothing touches the eye. It's been a very successful study, so far! I'm always impressed at how much families want to help us with this research, even though it doesn't directly help them. We couldn't do it without the families.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Chip On Your Shoulder....

Some folks in Australia have come up with "smart clothes" embedded with tiny electronic devices that can monitor your heart and respiratory functions.

The lead scientist of the study, Professor Bruce Thomas explains:

"The wardrobe has a touch screen on the outside and conductive metal bands spanning the hanging rail inside, with wires connecting it to a computer in the base of the wardrobe. When we place electronic hangers, each with their own ID and metal connection, on the rail, it detects the hangers and smart garments incorporating the conductive material and integrated electronics,"
You can imagine that these smart clothes could be refitted for other kinds of monitoring acitivities (Why does the Patriot Act come to mind?):

The smart wardrobe can also be adapted for other uses including the self diagnosis of faulty monitoring equipment; scheduling cleaning and dry-cleaning; a fashion butler to help people accessorise, colour match and select appropriate clothing for special occasions; and for preloading news, music and daily schedules into smart garments.

The full article is here:

Ha! And you thought that underwire bra was just.....oh, nevermind.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Wish Me Luck!

It's that time of the season again, when academic researchers all over the country submit their grant proposals for review to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It's a crapshoot these days. The success rate for new proposals sent to NIH hovered around 10% last year. That means 90% of these proposals, translating into months of hard work and brainpower, were trashed. But the way I figure it, if you don't submit a proposal at all, you have a 0% chance of success. It's sort of like the motto of the New York State Lottery-- "You've gotta be in it to win it."

And so, I sent my proposal to NIH on Friday. They've already messed it up by creating a 50 page pdf document of my proposal, but leaving 3 blank pages where my letters of collaboration should be. But, we'll get that straightened out in the next day or two.

The review cycle at NIH is very long. My proposal, submitted June 15th, will receive a score from the review panel in Oct./Nov, and the funding decisions based on scores will be in January. The earliest start date for the project (when the NIH check would arrive) is April 1.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sad commentary...

Thanks to Linda for sending this video:

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Stem Cell Bill Comes Up Again

I received the following letter from the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR):

Dear Eyedoc333,

Attention Friends and Colleagues of Stem Cell Research:

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, S.5, this week. This bill passed the Senate in April 2007 as S.5 but differs slightly from H.R. 3, the version of the bill that passed in the House in January 2007. Because of these differences, the bill must return to the House for approval before being sent to the President. It is crucial that the bill pass with a strong majority. The ISSCR strongly supports S.5 and encourages scientists and health professionals in the United States to add their individual voice.

The ISSCR is encouraging you to contact your representatives to urge them to support this important legislation.

The ISSCR has already sent a letter to every member of the House and Senate on behalf of ISSCR leadership, but it is equally important that individual voices within the stem cell community are heard as well. The letter sent out by the ISSCR is found below the text of this e-mail and may be adapted and used to contact your representatives.

ISSCR's Letter to US Senators in preparation for their vote on S.5:

Honorable Senator / Congressperson
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

April 4, 2007

Dear Senator / Congressperson:

As representatives of the Board of Directors of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), we are writing to urge you in the strongest possible terms to support passage of S. 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007.

Passage of S. 5 would ensure that scientists in the United States can use Federal grant funds to study the many valuable human embryonic stem cell lines that have been developed since August 9, 2001, the date that President Bush announced his stem cell research policy. Indeed, S. 5 is the surest means to accelerate research dedicated to finding better therapies for patients suffering from a wide variety of terrible diseases.

As the primary international organization of scientific, ethical, and clinical researchers in the field of stem cell biology, ISSCR speaks for our many members who study stem cells of all types. S. 5 is consistent with long-standing scientific and ethical positions of ISSCR.

Our scientific opinion is that research on stem cells of all types should be pursued with the goals of reducing human suffering and better understanding human physiology. S. 5 also includes safeguards to ensure that appropriate research practices are followed.

Our strong support of S. 5 is based on the newest research findings presented at our last annual international meeting in Toronto, Canada. New data presented at this meeting demonstrated that many of the human embryonic stem cell lines generated since August 9, 2001 have excellent characteristics, and appear to have substantial advantages for high quality and rigorous biomedical research.

You might hear during the debate about a list of 72 conditions that can supposedly be treated with adult stem cells. We urge you to question the validity of these claims. While adult stem cell therapies are powerful, they are not as wide-ranging as claimed. The range of diseases effectively treated with adult stem cells is still extremely restricted, largely limited to blood disorders and specific cancers. A vote for S. 5 will ensure that all avenues of stem cell research are adequately explored.

We are also concerned that S. 30, a bill introduced by Senators Coleman and Isakson, will siphon votes away from S. 5 and yet not adequately advance the cause of stem cell research. S. 30 will not allow the use of federal funds to study the majority of valuable human stem cell lines. If supported instead of S. 5, Senators Coleman and Isakson's bill would continue the inadequate American Federal policy that is delaying worldwide progress in this vital area of research.

In closing, we remind you that the welfare of millions of people worldwide depends on medical research that can help alleviate the suffering caused by injury and illness. Passage of S. 5 will help to meet this scientific and medical challenge and will also send a message of hope to the many American patients that could be helped by research with new stem cell lines.

Thank you for your attention to this pressing issue. We look forward to a change in American Federal policy so that the very best scientific and clinical research may proceed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Health Alert: Tuberculosis

There's a very nasty strain of tuberculosis that is resistant to many drugs (XDR-TB). It's not all that common (2 cases per year in the US). But unfortunately, an XDR-TB infected patient flew on some commercial airline flights, exposing a number of unsuspecting people to this dangerous disease. The risk of illness to others is low, but the search is on to find people who traveled on these flights with the XDR-TB patient.

This brings up serious questions of how to deal with patients who carry dangerous contagious diseases. Can they be confined against their will? Prevented from traveling? What is the fine line between protecting the public and personal freedom?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Immaculate Conception

A female shark gave birth to two baby sharks the other day at a Detroit aquarium. The interesting part is that the mother shark had not been in the presence of a male shark in over six years! How did it happen?

The births have raised questions among scientists as to whether sharks may be able to reproduce parthenogenetically, a mode of reproduction in which the egg is not fertilized....

"Parthenogenesis has been documented in many reptiles," said Sweet. "There are at least five or six species of snakes, and it's been known in salamanders, lizards, and even a breed of turkeys. But any way you look at it, this is strange."

There are possibilities other than parthenogenesis. The Belle Isle white spotted bamboo shark may have been fertilized by a male at a very young age. However, although there have been some random reports of shark species storing sperm for a couple of months or more, six years is a long time, and Sweet thinks in this case it's extremely unlikely.

"We received both of these bamboo sharks from hobbyists, who don't typically keep breeding groups; for one thing their tanks aren't big enough. Usually hobbyists can only buy one egg here and there, and the eggs are typically imported as fertilized eggs. Both the hobbyists who donated these sharks only had one individual. I'm almost dead sure we can rule out long-term sperm storage."

A third possibility is that the Belle Isle bamboo shark is a hermaphrodite, harboring both male and female sex organs, and capable of fertilizing its own eggs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Be good to yourself

A recent study from Duke and Wake Forest Universities shows that the ability to have compassion for oneself plays an important role in overcoming the challenging events in life:

“Life’s tough enough with little things that happen. Self-compassion helps to eliminate a lot of the anger, depression and pain we experience when things go badly for us,” said Mark R. Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke and lead author of the paper, which includes five peer-reviewed studies.

“Rather than focusing on changing people’s self-evaluations, as many cognitive-behavioral approaches do, self-compassion changes people’s relationship to their self-evaluations,” Leary said. “Self-compassion helps people not to add a layer of self-recrimination on top of whatever bad things happen to them. If people learn only to feel better about themselves but continue to beat themselves up when they fail or make mistakes, they will be unable to cope nondefensively with their difficulties.”

Self-compassion involves three components. They are self-kindness (being kind and understanding toward oneself rather than self-critical); common humanity (viewing one’s negative experiences as a normal part of the human condition); and mindful acceptance (having mindful equanimity rather than over-identifying with painful thoughts and feelings).

So, the next time something bad happens, try not to blame yourself too much.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Greetings from Florida!

I'm on the road this week, at a vision research conference in Florida.

Here's an open thread, just to let you know I'm still checking in!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Your Comments Needed!

There's a blog posted at the Buffalo News in which some readers are debating the merits of human embryonic stem cell research. I've weighed in a few times, along with others.

Your comments are welcome.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Chemicals That Block Anthrax

Anthrax survives for long periods of time as spores that can germinate to form new bacteria capable of releasing a potentially deadly toxin. A new research study describes seven chemicals that are able to block the germination of anthrax spores. One of the chemicals, called 6-thioguanosine, was able to prevent the germination of anthrax spores within mammalian cells, thereby blocking infection. The next step will be to test these chemicals for therapeutic potential on anthrax-infected mice. Research teams from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas recently published this report in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Atom Jokes

Two hydrogen atoms walk into a bar.
One turns to the other and says,
"I think I've lost my electron."

The other asks, "Are you sure?"
"Yes," the first says, "I'm positive."

A neutron walks into a bar.
He asks the bartender for a drink.

When it's served, he asks how much it will be.
"For you," the bartender answers, "no charge."

From Lori's humor page:

Monday, April 09, 2007

Federal Stem Cell Bill is Back...

From the Society for Neuroscience:

Dear Eyedoc,

Immediately upon their return from recess on April 10, the Senate will consider the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (S. 5). Please contact your Senators now and urge them to vote YES on S. 5.

The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 (H.R. 810) passed with strong bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate, but President Bush used his first and only veto when the bill reached his desk in July 2006. Similar legislation (H.R. 3) passed the House earlier this year; now the Senate must take up this vital bill.

On April 10, the Senate will debate S. 5 and another stem cell research bill, S. 30. No amendments will be allowed and each bill must receive 60 votes to pass. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act has been modified from the version passed earlier this year by the House of Representatives (H.R. 3) to include language that encourages the NIH to pursue all forms of stem cell research. S. 30 advocates support for adult stem cell research and attempts to define and protect embryos from use in stem cell research.

Therefore, SfN supports the passage of S. 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, the only bill under consideration that will advance federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Please contact your Senators immediately to ask that they vote yes on S. 5. Please visit CapWiz, an online legislative action center, provided to you by SfN:

The Society for Neuroscience

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Repost From Last Year Because It's Funny....

I discovered this silly website a couple of years ago. It's still hysterical and especially appropriate for Easter week-end. It seems that some scientists (apparently with some time to kill in the lab) are conducting laboratory experiments on marshmallow peeps. They have an entire website devoted to their studies.

One particularly cute experiment was "the effect of alcohol and smoking on marshmallow peeps."

First, the peep was exposed to alcohol and did exhibit s
ome signs of inebriation, such as bumping into the walls of the swimming vessel:

Then, the peep was permitted to select a brand of cigarette and smoked without apparent ill effects:

However, when smoking and alcohol were combined, the effects were catastrophic:

Their conclusions: "The synergistic effect of smoking and alcohol in Peeps produces a rapidly exothermic oxidation reaction, leading to a chemical and morphological divergence from the wild-type Peep phenotypes."

The marshmallow peep appears to be an excellent experimental model for the synergistic effects of smoking and alcohol!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Stem Cell Victory in New York!!

On Saturday, March 31, Governor Spitzer, Lieutenant-Governor Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Silver signed off on a long-term package to fund stem-cell and regenerative medicine research in the State of New York, beginning with an appropriation of $100 million for the fiscal year that begins April 1, 2007. The package was voted in as part of the Executive Budget by the full Assembly and Senate this morning. The bill provides for creation within the State Department of Health of an Empire State Stem Cell Board, comprising a Funding Committee and an Ethics Committee, both of which will be chaired by the Commissioner. The Funding Committee will provide for an "independent scientific peer review committee" composed of expert scientists, set standards and scoring criteria, and solicit and accept proposals. More details are sure to follow.

A big thank you to all who devoted so much hard work to the stem cell effort!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Cutting Remarks

Well, it wasn't the best way to start my new part-time job. The other day, I was learning to use a piece of equipment and it attacked my left hand. My new co-workers quickly helped wash and bandage my hand to stop the bleeding. Then, one of them accompanied me to the emergency room so that I had another hand to squeeze while I got stitched up.

After 24 years of working in labs without much more than a paper cut, now this.

You don't realize how much you need both hands until one of them is out of commission.

That's my report for now. Forgive me for the short post, but typing is not the easiest thing at the moment. I'll be OK again soon.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Update on New York State Stem Cell Bills

The efforts to promote stem cell research in New York State continue. We need to try to get the undecided votes to swing our way. I'll be on the phone this week doing my best to promote the cause...

New York State Proposals:

Senate Bill 2104-B, known as the appropriation bill, has a $100 million allocation for stem cell research of all types for 2007.

An Assembly bill A.4308-B (3/10/07) New York State Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine Support Act defines stem cell research and sets up a new governing body to administer grants for funding stem cell research. A pool of $ 500 million would be established.

According to a Zogby poll,
69% of likely voters support New York State funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

To all of my New York State blogpals, and even you out-of-staters: Do everything you can and contact your representatives to voice your approval of stem cell research!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Got Croup?

Croup, Typhoid Fever, and Diphtheria are diseases of the past. But check out heart disease and cancer. I wonder which diseases will top the list in 2090?


Saturday, March 17, 2007

More Good News From the Union of Concerned Scientists

Dear Eyedoc,
I have good news to share with you. On Wednesday, March 14, the House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act 331 to 94, with 229 Democrats and 102 Republicans voting in favor.
This bill would protect the basic scientific freedoms of federal scientists and contractors by giving them the right to expose political interference in their research without retribution—a significant victory in our work to restore scientific integrity to federal policy making.


This legislation is the first of its kind to recognize the need to protect government scientists from interference with their work. The legislation also gives scientists the right to present their research at conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. The Union of Concerned Scientists worked with a coalition of organizations to educate members of Congress about the importance of including scientists under any new whistleblower legislation.
We could not have made the case without you. Representatives Bruce Braley (D-IA) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) spoke on the House floor about the need for scientist whistleblower protection and you were standing behind them. The representatives referenced the UCS surveys of federal scientists, the examples of political interference you have helped highlight, and the scientist statement on scientific integrity you signed—which has now been endorsed by almost 12,000 scientists.

The action now moves to the Senate, which will soon consider similar legislation. UCS will monitor the legislation's progress and let you know when it is most appropriate to weigh in.


The Union of Concerned Scientists

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Organ Donation = Shorter Prison Sentence?

There is a move afoot to offer convicts shorter prison sentences in return for a signed organ donor card. Now, I'm an enthusiastic supporter of (posthumous) organ donation. But there's something about the quid pro quo that doesn't sit well with me.

What do you think?

Am I just being lily-livered?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sphere of Influence

One of the hallmarks of stem cells is that single cells can form spheres under the right conditions: For example, from the breast, they are called "mammospheres".

Last night, I presented my work on cancer stem cells from the retina. One of the attendees came up to me, pointed at my photograph of spheres and said angrily, "Don't call those neurospheres!"

I asked, "Why not?"

Attendee: "Because it doesn't sound right! What does this have to do with the nervous system?!"

I answered, "The retina is part of the central nervous system. It's filled with neurons. I think it's OK to call them neurospheres."

Attendee: "Oh." And she walked away.

OK, you had to be there.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Word Of The Day: Phlyctenule

A phlyctenule is a small whitish bump or blister found on eye. After all of my years working in the field of Ophthalmology, I had never heard of the word until today....

I went to the Ophthalmologist with a "foreign object sensation" in my eye. He found a "phlyctenule". Treatment will be a course of antibiotic drops, 3 times a day, for the next couple of weeks. I will be sans contact lenses until the problem resolves.

Here's looking at you, kid.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Private vs. Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research

This post is for InternetJunkie and the roomie (see last thread).

Stem cell research, as well as other academic biomedical research, is primarily supported by federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Legal restrictions prohibit federal funds from being used to create new human embryonic stem cell lines. As a result of this federal ban, many US stem cell researchers are turning to private funding sources in order to carry out their research.

A research lab that receives both federal and private funds needs to build an entirely separate lab with private funding in order to carry out human embryonic stem cell research. They need two microscopes, one bought with federal money for non-stem cell research and the second microscope bought with private foundation money for stem cell work. Everything, incuding lab notebooks, computers, and pens have to be kept separate for human embryonic stem cell work. Consider this duplication of equipment for an entire lab and the cost becomes prohibitive for all but the most well-funded labs.

A lot of innovative research in our country occurs in publicly funded academic labs, where intellectual freedom is given free reign. My own research program has benefited from both federal and private funding. Private funds given to academic labs often mean the difference between survival and ruin. At the same time, private funds often have strings attached, such as how the money can be used (eg. no salary support for personnel, no equipment, etc.). That said, I think there is a place for both public and private funding for biomedical research. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. But I beg to differ with anyone who would suggest that private funding is enough to make up for the lack of public funds for biomedical research, and stem cell research specifically.

Biomedical research in the US has been hurt badly by inadequate funding. The success rate for federal research grants from the National Institute of Health is sinking to below 9% this year. My own NIH grant application scored within the top 14% and was not funded. These federal grants are critical for the success of this research. Are there strings attached to federal money? Sure. Namely, that you are expected to share your discoveries with other academic laboratories in a coopera
tive way, unlike private companies that can keep proprietary secrets for years, only releasing the product when it's a probable money-maker. Meanwhile, if the information had been shared publicly at an earlier state, so much more progress could have been made using that freely-available information.

As a result of the lack of federal research dollars, we see the following:

Labs are being shut down for lack of funds.

Many bright American scientists are leaving the US and moving to countries where they can accomplish their work without so many restrictions.

Other countries, such as Australia, UK, Israel, etc. are getting ahead of us in the stem cell field.

The delay in research, due to lack of adequate funding, leaves many people waiting all that much longer before potential treatments can be made available. How much longer do we keep them waiting?

Monday, February 19, 2007

First Round of Stem Cell Grants in California!

The first CA state stem cell grants are awarded in California! At the site below, you can see Governor Schwarzenegger of CA, scientist Bob Klein and stem cell advocate Don C. Reed at a press conference on CA's recent $40 million to fund embryonic stem cell research, more than NIH provides for embryonic stem cell research for the entire country.

It looks like New York is not far behind...

Albany Times Union
Feb. 18, 2007

Spitzer shows leadership in stem cell research

First published: Sunday, February 18, 2007
Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposed budget includes $100 million to o jump-start stem cell research and other cutting-edge science in New York. This represents a historic first step in what can and should be a concerted effort to make the state a critical center of stem-cell research. The key to this ambitious effort will be embracing an effective private-public partnership. The results could be stunning, both in their clinical implications and their economic impact.
Stem-cell science -- human embryonic stem cell research, in particular -- represents the most important and promising area of scientific endeavor in the effort to help the millions of Americans affected by the worst diseases of our time.

Equally promising is a cutting-edge technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, in which the DNA of an unfertilized, unimplanted egg is replaced with the genetic material from a donor. The donor's DNA can be obtained, for example, from a simple skin biopsy. If the patient has a particular disease, such as diabetes or Parkinson's, this technique allows for the creation of disease-specific embryonic stem cell lines. These lines could allow scientists to "reverse engineer" diseases and greatly improve our understanding of how they develop and affect the body -- knowledge that is key to developing better treatments and cures.

State money will serve as a tremendous force in moving stem cell science forward far more rapidly, but it will not provide a total solution to the urgent need for funding. Private philanthropy will continue to play a critical role by creating cutting-edge research programs, helping to establish proof of concept and getting them off the ground.

Private funding can be nimble in a way that even the most enlightened government agency cannot. It can be the catalyst, starting programs that can then be scaled up with the benefit of an infusion of government funding. In addition, private funding sources are able to support research programs the government cannot or will not fund.

The combination of public and private dollars focused on the most advanced scientific research has the potential to be enormously powerful. We are poised to create a fertile environment in New York for the world's best scientists and, in the process, provide a significant economic boost to regions in dire need of new industry. Governor Spitzer has planted a flag in the name of scientific and fiscal progress. All New Yorkers affected by disease and disability must show their support for his bold plan.

Right now, there are scientists engaged in human embryonic stem cell research here in New York. They, like their colleagues in places like Boston and San Francisco, have their hands tied by a federal policy that has eliminated government funding for this work, with the exception of research using a few approved stem cell lines that were created using outdated techniques. We are losing a generation of scientists. Young men and women coming out of medical school and doctorate programs have no incentive to pursue stem cell research, despite the fact human embryonic cell research offers the greatest hope for medical advances in our time.

The initial funding proposed by Governor Spitzer -- envisioned as the first element of a larger $2.1 billion state effort to drive stem cell and other innovative research -- sends a clear message to young people here and around the world that advanced scientific research is vital, that we, as a society, believe in it, and that New York is a place where they can forge a career using scientific knowledge for the betterment of humankind.

Susan Solomon is the CEO and co-founder of the New York Stem Cell Research Foundation.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007

Gene Therapy Treats Autistic Disease in Mice

There's good news coming out of a British laboratory that studies Rett Syndrome, a severe form of an autistic disease that affects mostly girls:
The study, reported on-line by Science Express today, suggests that the mutant gene, MECP2, can successfully be replaced. Healthy genes were administered to mice bred to be born with the Rett syndrome gene.

Researcher Professor Adrian Bird, of Edinburgh University, Scotland, said: "Like many other people, we expected that giving MeCP2 to mice that were already sick would not work. "The idea that you could put back an essential component after the damage to the brain is done and recover an apparently normal mouse seemed farfetched, as nerve cells that developed in the absence of a key component were assumed to be irrevocably damaged. "The results are gratifyingly clear, though, and must give hope to those who are affected by this distressing disorder."

The four week treatment eradicated tremors, restored breathing to normal and restored mobility and steady gait to the animals.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

You Oughta Be In Pictures!

Here's another idea from New Yorkers for the Advancement of Medical Research:

Dear Eyedoc333,

Tell President Bush (and the rest of the world) how you feel about the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act!
You can be a media star -- and we're going to tell you how, with a little help from our friends at YouTube. Now is your chance to create a short video asking President Bush not to veto the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.

If you're a YouTube veteran, you already know how the system works, so go ahead and get started! Dig out your video camera or find a friend who can record you for a minute or two telling President Bush not to veto the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.
Here's a sample "script" of what you could say: "Congress -- please pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. And, this is a message for President Bush -- do the right thing and don't veto the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Nearly three-quarters of Americans support embryonic stem cell research, and you need to do the right thing. I'm an American voter and I'm asking you to sign this bill into law when it lands on your desk. Don't deny us the hope of better treatments and cures."

Here's an example of a video that has already been posted:

Please feel free to personalize your video message, if you'd like, but you don't have to give your name or geographic location if that makes you uncomfortable. What's most important is that you say what you think and let your voice be heard.

If you're new to YouTube, go to to get started.
First, sign up for your free YouTube log-on name here:
Once you have an account, you can upload your video(s) simply by doing the following:

Click "Upload Videos" in the upper-right-hand corner of any YouTube page.
Enter as much information about your video as possible, including Title, Description, Tags, and Category. The more information you include, the easier it is for users to find your video. Please use the words "stem cells," "President Bush," and "politics" wherever you can, so that when people do searches on YouTube around these words, your videos will come up. You may also use your state name, and any other relevant words that will help your video come up when people search YouTube.

Click the "Go upload a file" button.
In the next window, click the "Browse" button to locate the video file on your computer or camera plugged into your computer. Select the file you want to upload. When asked if you want your video set to Public or Private, choose Public. Click the "Upload Video" button.

YouTube Tech Support can be found here: It's easy to do, and we hope that you will take advantage of this free resource to let your voice be heard! Please feel free to forward this email to your family, friends, and colleagues asking them to upload a video, too. The more videos we get telling our side of the story, the better -- we need to send a message to Washington to let them know why this bill is important.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Stem Cells in New York

It looks like Governor Eliot Spitzer is going ahead with his campaign promise of encouraging stem cell research in New York State. This is significant in light of the anticipated second presidential veto of federal support for stem cell research. Here is the press release that I received from NYAMR (New Yorkers for the Advancement of Medical Research), a group that advocates for stem cell research:

Statewide Coalition of Health Advocacy, Academic and Citizens’ Groups Lauds Spitzer-Paterson Administration on Proposed Funding of Stem-Cell Research

New York, January 31 – New Yorkers for the Advancement of Medical Research (NYAMR) applauds Governor Eliot Spitzer and Lieutenant-Governor David Paterson on their proposal to include significant funding for regenerative medicine, including research involving stem cells, in the Executive Budget for the fiscal year that begins April 1.

“This proposal represents faithful and forthright delivery on an important campaign promise,” said Robin Elliott, Chair of NYAMR and Executive Director of the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. “New Yorkers – all of us, but especially those of us who live with disabling diseases that may benefit from state-sponsored research on stem cells and related issues – are grateful for this, and we congratulate our new leaders.”

As a statewide coalition of 46 health-advocacy groups, academic research centers and citizens’ organizations, NYAMR is committed to ensuring that the Administration’s proposal succeeds in the Legislature and is passed into law, permitting funds to flow to support some of the best ideas in potentially life-saving scientific research.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Stem Cell Controversy at Buffalo Church

It seems that the latest stem cell debate has crossed the line of civil decency in a church:

Political confrontation in Buffalo church for NY lawmaker

January 24, 2007, 2:14 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Buffalo congressman Brian Higgins walked out of a Catholic church service Sunday after a deacon berated him during a sermon for the lawmaker's recent vote supporting stem cell research. The public tongue-lashing came during morning Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic church, where deacon Tom McDonnell criticized the Democratic lawmaker. Higgins, who was baptized and married in that church, walked out with his wife and son.

"Leaving was the appropriate thing to do," the two-term lawmaker said Wednesday, adding that he apologized "to the good people of St. Thomas Aquinas for their having been subjected to this whole, unfortunate and avoidable mess... Those people deserved much better."

The pastor of the church, the Rev. Art Smith, offered an apology from the pulpit after the congressman left, the Buffalo News reported in Wednesday's editions. Higgins was criticized by McDonnell for voting earlier this month for a bill that would allow federal funding for research involving stem cell lines derived from surplus embryos created in fertility clinics.

Should the deacon publicly point out every "sinner" known to him in the sanctuary of the church? Could he have approached the Congressman privately, away from his family, to express his disappointment about the vote? And then we have this follow-up article from today's Buffalo News:

Anti-abortion group says cleric ‘did his job’


News Staff Reporter


The Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee on Wednesday hailed a deacon who criticized Rep. Brian Higgins during Sunday Mass in St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. Deacon Tom McDonnell’s rebuke of the Buffalo Democrat for voting for federal funding for embryonic stem cell research led Higgins to walk out of the church during his sermon.

“God bless the deacon a thousand times. He did his job. If every bishop, every clergy member of all faiths did their jobs, we wouldn’t have the shedding of innocent life in our country,” said Stacey Vogel of the Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee. The anti-abortion group’s position was in stark contrast with the phone calls and e-mails at Higgins’ Buffalo and Washington offices, which were running in his favor by a nearly 4 to 1 ratio, according to a staff member.

Higgins said his relationship with St. Thomas Aquinas Church, where he was baptized and married, is “very deep, very meaningful and very long.” He apologized earlier for the congregation’s having to be subjected to criticism of him during the morning Mass. “The lesson here is that the Catholic Church has enough problems and should take greater care before allowing nonpriests to use the church as a forum to advance what clearly was a political agenda,” Higgins said. “I think the letters and e-mails speak for themselves and show the inconsistencies in what the church leaders have said,” he added. One of the callers to his office, Marie Fitzgerald, a 45-year member of St. Thomas Aquinas parish, told The Buffalo News she was appalled by what happened.

“I think it was terrible the way [the Mass] was done. It’s an embarrassment to Brian and to a lot of a parishioners who were there,” Fitzgerald said. She said she held the Rev. Art Smith, the church’s pastor, partly responsible. “I think he’s the boss, and I think he should have put a stop to it,” Fitzgerald said. She also said McDonnell owes the congregation an apology. “I think he should make a public apology to all of us and to Brian in particular,” Fitzgerald said. Vogel said she did not understand why anyone would be rallying to the congressman’s side. “You shouldn’t care so much about Brian’s feelings so much as Brian’s salvation,” Vogel said. She also said the clergy owed McDonnell an apology for any criticism of him for “doing his duty” and said her committee would be giving him an award at its fall dinner.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Polio Success Story

A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health looked at the economic impact of the first 50 years of polio immunization, from 1955 to 2005. They found that the US has benefited from the polio vaccine, with a net savings of over 180 billion dollars.

The researchers, Professor Thompson and Dr. Radboud Duintjer Tebbens, a research associate at HSPH, estimated the costs and the effectiveness of historical polio vaccination strategies. They found that the U.S. invested over $35 billion between 1955 and 2005 and will continue to invest billions into the future to pay for polio vaccination. They estimated that these historical and future investments translate into over 1.7 billion vaccinations that prevent approximately 1.1 million cases of paralytic polio and over 160,000 deaths, thus saving Americans hundreds of billions of dollars in treatment costs.

One positive impact of this study is that it illustrates the huge economic savings that can come from such a successful public health initiative. Score one for biomedical research!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Soup's On!

It's a cold winter's day here. Would anyone care for some soup?

Hat tip to the John Crerar Library exhibit on scientific humor:

Thursday, January 11, 2007

All Stem Cells, All The Time...

The House passed H.R. 3 today, known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Unfortunately, it looks like there are not enough votes to override Bush's veto. Here is a report on today's news from the Houston Chronicle:

The House voted to expand government-financed embryonic stem cell research Thursday, but for the second time in two years lawmakers were unable to muster enough votes to overcome a promised presidential veto. Still, the 253-174 vote was a high watermark in the stem cell debate, drawing advocates closer to the two-thirds vote threshold needed to override President Bush's objections.

With stem cells offering hope for major health care cures, lawmakers on both sides of the issue punctuated the debate with poignant personal stories and clashed over the ethics of the science. Addressing "those who do not have the will to stand up against a presidential veto," freshman Rep. Zach Space, D-Ohio, described his 16-year-old son's battle against juvenile diabetes and wondered aloud what awaited him as an adult. "This research represents the only meaningful hope for a cure in my son's lifetime," Space said.

Embryonic stem cells hold the promise of medical breakthroughs because they have the ability to become any tissue in the body. But the research typically involves the destruction of frozen embryos created for in vitro fertilization, a step that stirs passions over the beginning of life.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., blind in one eye, said she would benefit from stem cell science to replace a detached retina. But she said the federal government should emphasize research into adult stem cells, not those derived from embryos. "Killing human life does not have to be accomplished to create efficacious treatment for people and diseases," she said.

The legislation would lift Bush's 2001 ban on the use of federal dollars spent on deriving new stem cells from fertilized embryos. Bush vetoed similar legislation last year and actor Michael J. Fox elevated the issue into prominence with political ads during last fall's congressional elections. Democrats credit that issue, among others, for helping them drive Republicans from power in Congress.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Update on the Stem Cell Bills

I promised to keep you updated on the status of reintroduction of the stem cell bills. Here is the latest:

From the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) :

Dear Eyedoc333,

We wanted to give you an update on House and Senate activity on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act in the 110th Congress. On January 5th both chambers convened for business and Members of Congress had an opportunity to introduce legislation for the first time this year. Among the bills introduced were HR 3 and S 5, the House and Senate versions of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. The House has scheduled HR 3 for floor consideration next Thursday 11 January. The Senate will likely take the bill up late this month. The Senate is planning a joint hearing with the Senate Labor-HHS-Ed Appropriations Subcommittee and Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee around the 3rd week in January. Details for that hearing are not yet available.

Given the prompt Congressional action on these bills, your immediate and continued efforts to reach all Members of Congress, especially the new Members, and urge their support for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, are critical.

You can find phone numbers and email addresses for elected officials on :

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Stem Cell Stocks Rising

With the new stem cell bill coming up in Congress, I find this fascinating:

Shares of biotech companies working on stem cell-related therapies surged Thursday as Democrats in Congress prepared to promote once again legislation that would increase government-funded research in this area.


Ask yourself this--Why is it that biotech stocks are rising despite the fact that the new bill promotes federal funding for stem cell research? Could it be that the new bill would benefit private companies as well? You bet! The National Institutes of Health have funding programs for both academic labs and small businesses. And on top of that, even the larger pharmaceutical companies rely on academic studies, funded by the feds, to assist them with their own research. This new bill is good for business. This is a bill that even corporate America can support.