Good news in University of Colorado chemical accident
Nov30

Good news in University of Colorado chemical accident

The Colorado Daily reported this evening on a chemical explosion that injured an unidentified PhD student at the University of Colorado Engineering Center in Boulder. Few details are available now but don’t let the photos of the firefighters put you off – the accident could have been far worse. Emergency crews evacuated the University of Colorado Engineering Center this afternoon after chemicals exploded in a beaker and the exploding glass shards cut a 28-year-old doctoral student’s forehead. The student was mixing chemicals in a room in the Engineering Center’s “chemical engineering” wing. No one else was injured, according to Bronson Hilliard, spokesman for CU-Boulder. The student — whose name is not being released — walked himself to Wardenburg Health Center on campus. Glass shards in the forehead tell me that the student was likely wearing appropriate eye protection. My guess is that we could have been reading about a student who was tragically blinded. We send our best wishes to the student and to our colleagues at the CU Department of Chemical and Biological...

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DEA acts on naphthoylindoles and 3-phenylcyclohexanols in synthetic marijuana
Nov28

DEA acts on naphthoylindoles and 3-phenylcyclohexanols in synthetic marijuana

A slightly different version of this post appeared yesterday at my Take As Directed blog. Just before we in the US took off for the holiday, the US Drug Enforcement Agency released notice of “emergency scheduling” of synthetic cannabimimetic compounds currently sold in herbal incense products. Products like K2, Spice, Black Mamba, and pure compounds such as JWH-018 have been a boon for convenience stores, head shops, and internet retailers (not to mention huge, sustained traffic benefits for bloggers.). The complete text of the rule can be found here at the DEA website. Already outlawed in Europe and with various bans in 15 states, these products are now officially viewed by DEA as worthy of “schedul[ing] an abused, harmful, non-medical substance in order to avoid an imminent public health crisis while the formal rule-making procedures described in the CSA are being conducted.” What this means is that the DEA is going to release within 30 days a notice of formal ban of five chemicals – JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol – via temporary assignment to Schedule I, the US classification for drugs with no known medical benefit but that possess high abuse potential or are otherwise unduly harmful. This classification will then make these compounds temporarily illegal to sell or possess for one year (with a possibly six-month extension) while the DEA conducts studies and procedures for formal assignment to Schedule I. The first three compounds carry the eponym for Clemson University chemist emeritus, Dr. John W. Huffman. Neuroscience colleague dr. leigh has two nice posts (part I, part II) on her Neurodynamics blog at Scientopia explaining the action of JWH-018 and the related compounds classified as naphthoylindoles, a class of compounds unrelated structurally to cannabinoids that occur naturally in marijuana but that still bind to the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 to produce a qualitatively similar high. CP-47,497 is another cannabimimetic from another structural class that was actually developed by Pfizer in the 1980s. Cannabicyclohexanol is an analog of CP-47,497, often called CP-47,497 C8 analog, which differs by the length of the aliphatic side chain on the relatively simple 3-phenylcyclohexanol structure. The CP compounds were often found in Spice products sold across Europe before these were outlawed there. One assumes that even compounds not named explicitly will also be banned under the analogs provision (21 U.S.C. 813) of the Controlled Substances Act although this point was not made in the rule released Wednesday. The risk to public health defined in the rule is as follows: JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol share pharmacological similarities with the Schedule I substance THC. Health warnings have been issued by numerous...

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Elegant defense of the humanities by noted structural biologist

This crosspost first appeared on 20 November 2010 at the PLoS Blogs home of my free-range blog, Take As Directed. I’m not in the protein crystallography field. Instead, the way that I came to learn of Gregory Petsko at Brandeis University was via a tweet from literary agent, Ted Weinstein, about an hour ago. Ted’s tweet referred me to an open letter that Dr. Petsko wrote in Genome Biology to the President of SUNY-Albany, George M. Philip. Now referred to as UAlbany, that state university campus announced six weeks ago that they were suspending admissions and eliminating several arts and humanities departments, including French, Italian, Classics, and the Theatre Arts. President Philip himself earned a BA and MA in history from UAlbany and a JD from Western New England College School of Law. He became president of the university in 2009 after having been chief investment officer of the New York State Teachers Retirement System, described in his university bio as “one of the 10 largest public retirement funds in the nation, with more than 400,000 members and managed assets of $105 billion.” Petsko, US National Academy of Sciences member and past-president of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, crafted a simply beautiful defense of the value of broad university education. I’ll just direct you to read it because he is such a clear communicator with a quietly biting wit. In case you don’t have time right now, here’s one paragraph to give you the gestalt – Petsko uses as an example his own monthly column in Genome Biology: One of the things I’ve written about is the way genomics is changing the world we live in. Our ability to manipulate the human genome is going to pose some very difficult questions for humanity in the next few decades, including the question of just what it means to be human. That isn’t a question for science alone; it’s a question that must be answered with input from every sphere of human thought, including – especially including – the humanities and arts. Science unleavened by the human heart and the human spirit is sterile, cold, and self-absorbed. It’s also unimaginative: some of my best ideas as a scientist have come from thinking and reading about things that have, superficially, nothing to do with science. If I’m right that what it means to be human is going to be one of the central issues of our time, then universities that are best equipped to deal with it, in all its many facets, will be the most important institutions of higher learning in the future. You’ve just ensured that yours...

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Racism charged in DePaul chemistry tenure denial
Nov21

Racism charged in DePaul chemistry tenure denial

Organometallics chemist and NSF CAREER awardee, Dr. Quinetta D. Shelby, has been denied tenure in the Department of Chemistry at DePaul University even after an institutional appeals committee determined that her negative departmental review was flawed. According to a note at Inside Higher Ed on Thursday: Supporters of Quinetta Shelby released documents Wednesday suggesting bias in her tenure denial at DePaul University. Shelby is the only black faculty member in the chemistry department at the university, and while she was rejected by her department, a university appeals panel found that she was treated unfairly. Among other things, the appeals panel found that her department changed policies after the review started, refused to consider some of her publications and awards even though they met criteria that had been established, and seemed to focus on minor negative issues in otherwise positive portions of her tenure file. The “numerous procedural violations” raised significant questions of fairness, the appeals panel found, suggesting that the negative departmental recommendation be set aside. The Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, DePaul’s president, has declined to reverse the decision. This year, Shelby was one of a group of six persons not granted tenure at DePaul: two African Americans, two Asian-Americans, and two Latino professors. No white faculty were denied this year. Conflicting reports from Rev. Holtschneider and the faculty indicate that minority faculty tenure rates have historically been either equal to or lower than those for white faculty. Admittedly, judging individual tenure decisions from afar can be unscientific, particularly since neither the released documents cited above or DePaul’s Department of Chemistry promotion and tenure document(s) can be accessed online. But Shelby’s case in particular has the aroma of injustice. A diverse group of supporters – yes, even older, bespectacled and bearded white dudes (video here) – came to her side in a press conference on Wednesday noting that issues of racial bias have been going on for at least five years. The lack of higher administration action on the “numerous procedural violations” cited by the appeals panel also smells bad. Moreover, Holtschneider’s comments in the Fox Chicago interview are disappointing in that he says, “we have a committee of faculty working on that right now, so we make sure that what happened in one year at DePaul never happens again.” How about examining why this happened in the first place before you jettison Dr. Shelby? But, then again, Father Holtschneider is fine. DePaul trustees just granted him a six-year contract extension on November 4th. Here’s what we can find out about Professor Shelby. She earned her BS from the University of Chicago and PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign....

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Apixaban trial halted, eight others continue

After writing this week about the new, direct-acting antithrombotic drugs that threaten to replace the stalwart anticoagulant, warfarin, comes news that the joint BMS/Pfizer development of apixaban has hit a snag. From Jonathan Rockoff and Kathy Shwiff in the Wall Street Journal: Pfizer Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said they’ve halted one the key trials for an experimental blood-thinning drug that is one of their brightest pipeline prospects, though other pivotal studies remain on course. The phase III study of apixaban was examining whether the pill reduces the incidence of strokes or heart attacks caused by coronary heart disease, but early results indicated it didn’t while raising the risk of bleeding. The companies said they had acted at the recommendation of an independent data-monitoring committee. All patients will be taken off the drug and the results evaluated and made public, the companies added. Eight other trials of apixaban are ongoing in other patient populations. Mechanistically, apixaban is most similar to rivaroxaban (Xarelto, Bayer/J&J) a direct Factor Xa inhibitor discussed this week at the American Heart Association meeting. Rivaroxaban exhibited efficacy similar to warfarin in reducing clots of atrial fibrillation patients but had caused fewer spontaneous bleeding episodes. A careful examination of the opposite effect of apixaban in patients with coronary heart disease will be essential to understanding whether this is a function of the drug (relative to rivaroxaban) or peculiar to the patient populations...

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