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Archive → March, 2011

HeLa T-shirt and button design contest

Wanna put your mad Photoshop skillz to a good non-profit cause?

Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, (and I) need your help for scientist give-away items to support The Henrietta Lacks Foundation. Scroll down to the end of the post for information on the Foundation’s mission or just click here.

I’ll be at the 102nd Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Orlando during first week of April and will be manning a booth to promote the Foundation to raise awareness about our mission and, hopefully, cultivate philanthropy among individuals and companies who may care to support the cause (Disclosure: I am a non-compensated member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors).

We want to offer two types of promotional items that are beyond my graphic design skills:

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Molecular Target for Thunder God Vine

This post appeared originally last Friday for my monthly gig at Science-Based Medicine.

ResearchBlogging.orgThunder god vine may not be a useful herbal medicine but the compounds isolated from it are fascinating – if not as medicines, then most certainly as laboratory tools. Nature Chemical Biology recently published an article where a research team from Johns Hopkins, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Drew University in New Jersey, has determined the molecular mechanism of action of triptolide, an unusual triepoxide compound from the plant.

Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F, or thunder god vine, is known as lei gong teng in Chinese traditional medicine and has a history of use as an anti-inflammatory herb. As with many traditional medicines, usage patterns do not necessarily indicate scientific validity. In fact, a Cochrane review published just last month on herbal therapies for rheumatoid arthritis indicated that the efficacy of thunder god vine was mixed. More concerning is that the herb had significant adverse effects in some trials, from hair loss to one case of aplastic anemia.

Nevertheless, the herb’s components have been studied since the 1970s for since they also appears to kill tumor cells in culture with nanomolar potency and have immunosuppresant activity in animal models. The group of the late natural products chemist at the University of Virginia, S. Morris Kupchan, first identified the unusual structures of triptolide and tripdiolide from Tripterygium wilfordii as described in this 1972 paper from the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Cytotoxic activity toward tumor cells in culture was used to guide the chemical fractionation of extracts. The unusual presence of three consecutive epoxides in the structures of both compounds led Kupchan to hypothesize later in Science that they target leukemia cells by covalent binding to cellular targets involved in cellular growth.

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Quinetta Shelby “exhibiting the utmost class” in finishing at DePaul

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Quinetta Shelby (far left) and her student assistant Elizabeth Sisler (far right) attracted the interest of Trustee James Czech, Father Holtschneider and Trustee Connie Curran on their exploration into helping medicines work more effectively. (Photo and caption from DePaul Newsline Online, 13 July 2009)

Academics who live on principle and persevere through adversity with dignity and pride may not always finish first, but their strength of character earns respect.

We wrote last November about the case of Dr. Quinetta D. Shelby, a DePaul University chemistry professor denied tenure. Although a university appeals panel recommended to the DePaul president, Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, that the decision be overturned because of “numerous procedural violations” at the department level, the decision was left to stand. In the controversial aftermath, a group of faculty came out to support Dr. Shelby claiming that she and other minority faculty members were denied tenure because racism. During this past academic year, tenure was denied to six faculty: two African-Americans, two Asian-Americans, and two Latino professors. In contrast, no white faculty members were denied tenure this year.

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NIH biosketch change as “Kick Me” sign?

Will deviating from TheOneTruePath of academic science result in penalties during NIH grant review?

I say “no.” But a non-scientific poll of researchers at GenomeWeb.com says otherwise.

Last month, NIH grantees learned that the US medical research agency will now allow grant applicants to include in their biosketch any explanations for a reduced productivity due to career disruptions – read: gaps in one’s publication record. The 16th February announcement, NOT-OD-11-045, reads in large part:

The NIH is aware that personal issues can affect career advancement and productivity. Such considerations have shaped the implementation of the Early Stage Investigator Policy (see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/new_investigators/index.htm).

That policy permits Principal Investigators to describe personal factors that may have delayed their transition to research independence. Such factors can occur at any point in a scientist’s career and include family care responsibilities, illness, disability, military service and other personal issues.

This modification of the Biographical Sketch will permit Program Directors/Principal Investigators and other senior/key staff to describe personal circumstances that may have reduced productivity. Peer reviewers and others will then have more complete information on which to base their assessment of qualifications and productivity relevant to the proposed role on the project.

Beginning with applications submitted for the May 25, 2011 and subsequent receipt dates, the biosketch instructions will include a modification of the personal statement section to remind applicants that they can provide a description of personal issues that may have reduced productivity. The revised instructions for the personal statement are shown below and should appear in applications toward the end of March:

Personal statement: Briefly describe why your experience and qualifications make you particularly well-suited for your role (e.g., PD/PI, mentor) in the project that is the subject of the application. Within this section you may, if you choose, briefly describe factors such as family care responsibilities, illness, disability, and active duty military service that may have affected your scientific advancement or productivity.

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DEA already admits defeat on synthetic marijuana ban?

Which is/are now illegal in the US?

For those following our most persistent story of the last year or so, you’ve already heard that the US Drug Enforcement Administration declared as controlled substances five synthetic cannabimimetics present in “herbal incense” products such as K2 Spice, Mr. Nice Guy, and Blaze. These compounds include JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol.

With respect to our chemistry audience here, I discussed on New Year’s Eve how the DEA has authority to also regulate “analogues” [sic] of compounds that have been assigned to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This amendment to the act gives the DEA latitude to prosecute the sale, use, and possession of chemical analogs or compounds pharmacologically-similar to those explicitly listed as controlled substances. What authority decides what’s an analog or not is still a mystery to me and was the subject of that post.

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Terra Sig In the News (Hi, Mom!)

For Mom: The author and his best friend, circa 1967

Apologies for the quick note of narcissism but, hey, Mom will be proud of this.

Our continued examination of the legal highs industry brought us attention from the online arms of TIME and Nature Chemistry.

First, science writer and author, Maia Szalavitz, wrote last week at TIME Healthland about the bans by US states being placed on synthetic cannabimimetics and stimulants (think Spice herbal incense and bath salts, respectively). Early in our days here at CENtral Science, Maia interviewed us for her article and photogallery on natural products and the unusual origins of drugs. She’s since revisited with us for the legal highs story.

I had a chance to meet her in person at the recent ScienceOnline meeting in Research Triangle Park and have been really impressed with her science writing on topics ranging from human relationships to substance abuse treatment myths. Before her time at TIME, she was one of the very few writers of high scientific rigor at The Huffington Post. Keep an eye on her at TIME Healthland and Twitter (@maiasz) as the Charlie Sheen trainwreck unfolds. Szalavitz is also the co-author – with Bruce Perry, MD, PhD – of the 2010 book, Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered (Amazon link).

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