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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anrJ5t2-7q4

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 http://www.youtube.com to get started.
First, sign up for your free YouTube log-on name here: http://www.youtube.com/signup
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: http://www.google.com/support/youtube/ 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.