HeLa T-shirt and button design contest
Mar24

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: 1. Two sets of buttons, both 1-inch diameter (2.54 cm), with the words: a. “Thank You #HeLa” or “I Love #HeLa” centered, and b. “I [heart] HeLa” centered both with the text of the URL, henriettalacksfoundation.org, around the bottom rim of the button The font can be of your choosing. 2. A black T-shirt using the following HeLa immunofluorescence image on the front with accompanying text, “Thank You HeLa” and the reverse with “henriettalacksfoundation.org” on the back. Once again, the font can be of your choosing. What would be lovely is to have the three cells in the center as the primary graphic with the other cells ‘shopped out. However, we’re totally open to whatever design wizardry strikes you. Update: some folks have asked about whether the image needs to be the exact photo of the cells or whether they can be an artistic rendering of the cells using the photo as a model.  Absolutely – use your artistic license and show us what you’ve got! If you wish to offer your assistance, you may send your graphics files to me via Gmail to abelpharmboy. The reward for the selected images will be a T-shirt with said design and a personally-inscribed (by Rebecca, not me) first-edition hardback version of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks . Yes, I am so challenged as to not even be able to figure out how to make circular text around a button template. Hence, I simply want to be in a position to just hand off the image files to a printer and get our promotion items printed without me fumbling around with Photoshop and a billion different fonts. Thank you for considering helping out with this effort. If you have any questions, you can comment below, Gmail me at abelpharmboy, or tweet me @davidkroll. The Henrietta Lacks Foundation...

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Molecular Target for Thunder God Vine
Mar21

Molecular Target for Thunder God Vine

This post appeared originally last Friday for my monthly gig at Science-Based Medicine. Thunder 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. As an aside for my non-chemistry readers (and I’m sure my chemist readers will correct me): Epoxides are chemically reactive groups composed of an oxygen atom bonded to two carbons; the constraints of this triangular structure and the electrons on the oxygen favor the opening of this ring and attack of other atoms such as sulfur, often present in regulatory regions of enzymes. Dare I say that the Wikipedia entry gives a pretty nice primer. The reactivity of epoxides also makes these compounds highly useful intermediates in industry, particularly in the manufacture of ethylene glycol antifreeze and industrial paints and adhesives (e.g. epoxy resins). Conventional wisdom would drive most scientists to take one look at triptolide and say that this stuff is a royal mess – so chemically reactive that it couldn’t possible have a specific cellular target. It’s probably too “dirty” –...

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Quinetta Shelby “exhibiting the utmost class” in finishing at DePaul
Mar10

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

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. One can never know what occurs in promotion and tenure committees, especially at institutions with heavy teaching loads such as DePaul. Shelby held a prestigious NSF Career grant but even my commenters here were mixed as to whether her publication productivity was acceptable (here and at my crosspost). Since Christmas time or so, I hadn’t heard much more about Dr. Shelby’s case despite having some contact with her supporters and trying to get an interview with her. But I was pleased yesterday to receive the following comment at my Take As Directed blog from a person claiming to be a DePaul chemistry student taking class with Dr. Shelby this semester. I’m unable to verify that this student is indeed from DePaul but the comment did come from a Chicago IP address: I’m a student at DePaul and have taken General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry with Dr. Shelby. I’ve never met anyone so enthusiastic to teach. She is extremely approachable and more than willing to help students with the course material when they stop by, even if it’s not her office hours. It was easy to tell how disappointed she was that she didn’t get tenure. It’s unfortunate that she won’t be returning because of this, but very understandable. You wouldn’t even know that she’s not returning next year because she continues to teach as she always has, exhibiting the utmost class by not letting this [faze] her. I honestly think Dr. Shelby will continue to do wonderful things with her career, and that DePaul is really losing out on a great professor. She embodies a true example of a hard-working, caring, and FAIR teacher. Assuming the veracity of the commenter’s identity, this account describes exactly how one should conduct themselves in the face of adversity. Of course, chemistry students were not responsible for Shelby’s tenure...

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NIH biosketch change as “Kick Me” sign?
Mar04

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. Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea, one that has been commented upon by my scientist-blogger colleagues, DrDrA (Twitter) at Blue Lab Coats and DrugMonkey (Twitter) at Drugmonkey blog. DoubleDoc’s post is particularly noteworthy because she includes a 2008 letter she wrote to NIH’s Dr. Vivian Pinn, Director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health, on how such a consideration would work toward leveling the playing field for women grant applicants. DrugMonkey’s post cites a comment from Cath@VWXYNot? that such a policy has been in place for some time at the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). Before I start getting mansplaining about how this policy favors women unfairly – because any deviation from the time-honored system of white...

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DEA already admits defeat on synthetic marijuana ban?
Mar02

DEA already admits defeat on synthetic marijuana ban?

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. In anticipation of yesterday’s final rule, synthetic marijuana marketers had already been reformulating their products with compounds not named in this rule but existing among the portfolio of retired Clemson University organic chemist, John W. Huffman – namesake of the JWH compounds. (The compound most commonly cited by readers and commenters at my blogs is JWH-250.). As I understood the DEA’s authority, sale of these products containing apparently still-legal compounds could still potentially be prosecuted. Well, in a story from Minnesota Public Radio, a DEA spokesperson is already apparently admitting defeat in response to retailers who are stocking products free of the five named compounds: [Last Place On Earth shop owner Jim] Carlson said that with about 210 similar chemicals available, the manufacturers will try to keep one step ahead of the government “Unfortunately he is correct,” said Barbara Carreno, a DEA spokeswoman in Washington, who confirmed Tuesday that many suppliers are offering retailers products with new chemicals. “There are many of these substances and we chose five common ones because we don’t have the resources to study all of them.” Hmmm. Really? As we’ve also discussed here, several states including North Carolina have put forth legislation that exhaustively bans potentially hundreds of analogs of synthetic cannabimimetics. While the DEA limited their rule to five, it seems odd to me that they are saying, “Oh well,” when they seem to have the authority to apply the rule to related compounds. After all of the quibbling and delay since the DEA first announced its intention to enact this rule last November, is anyone else confused by this throwing up of...

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