Skin-bleaching: got mercury?
May27

Skin-bleaching: got mercury?

The Minnesota Health Department yesterday issued a warning that skin-lightening cosmetic products sold in the area contain concentrations of inorganic mercury high enough to warrant their disposal as hazardous chemical waste. Details on the warning can be found in this Star Tribune article by Maura Lerner with intern Alejandra Matos (hurray for summer student interns!). State technicians tested 27 products, including 23 creams and four soaps, and found that 11 had mercury levels ranging from 135 to 33,000 parts per million. Federal law permits only “trace amounts,” less than 1 part per million. Ramsey County officials said they became suspicious about the lightening creams when a staffer came across a blog about the mercury dangers. The staffer, who worked with immigrant groups, knew the creams were popular among Somalis and others and thought it was worth checking out, said Zachary Hansen, the county’s director of environmental health. Skin-lightening creams are popular in African nations as well as in some Asian cultures. A truly excellent 2008 review from a group of clinical dermatologists at the University of Lagos College of Medicine appeared in the International Journal of Dermatology. The authors present therein some of the reasons why dark-skinned individuals might use such products: Some of these are to look more attractive; to go with existing fashion trend; to treat skin blemishes like acne or melasma; to cleanse or “tone” the face and body; or to satisfy the taste of ones spouse. Although the men also use the products for the above reasons, some of them claimed they use the creams because their wives use them; and some male marketers of female cosmetics and toiletries claim they use the products to advertise their wares. Some of the men are homosexuals. The habit of bleaching the skin is most rampant among commercial sex workers who camouflage their occupation in the clinic data as “fashion designer” because of the opprobium attached to prostitution. It is noteworthy that even some people who are naturally fair in complexion, still use the bleaching creams to “maintain” the light skin color and prevent tanning or blotches from sunlight. Currently, the Minnesota warning has not yet been associated with any illnesses or toxicity events. However, mercury-containing skin-lightening creams have been associated with typical, inorganic mercury nephrotic syndromes as early as this 1972 BMJ report from Nairobi where the disease was most commonly seen in “young sophisticated African women.” But the risks associated with these skin-bleaching creams are not only due to mercury. More commonly, these products employ hydroquinone (benzene-1,4-diol). A naturally-occurring antiseptic compound – and carcinogenic hepatotoxin – found in the herbal product, uva ursi or bearberry, hydroquinone...

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Cancer Molecular Therapeutics position at Dartmouth
May26

Cancer Molecular Therapeutics position at Dartmouth

About this time of year in the US South, the temperatures are starting to get into the 90s (Fahrenheit) with the humidity climbing steadily. On days like these I turn my mind to scientific conferences that many of us attend or have attended in New England. Serendipity struck yesterday when I received a missive from New England – specifically from my cancer pharmacology and toxicology colleague, Dr Alan Eastman, at Dartmouth Medical School and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. Alan brought to my attention his department’s search for a faculty member in his department. I’ve posted the advert below and encourage anyone working in cancer molecular therapeutics to apply. The department is home to several chemistry-minded translational biologists – think Michael Sporn and Ethan Dmitrovsky – and is situated in an absolutely idyllic setting at a top-tier institution. If you or a colleague are interested in this position, I strongly encourage you to apply. The Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in collaboration with the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Medical School (NCCC) and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center seeks candidates for a tenure-track or tenured faculty position at the rank of Assistant, Associate or Full Professor. We offer the opportunity to join a dynamic group of outstanding basic and translational scientists with a broad range of expertise in cellular and molecular pharmacology and toxicology, in addition to a wide body of internationally recognized investigators across the collaborative Dartmouth community. Our goal is to recruit an investigator and cancer/molecular biologist with expertise in the broadly defined area of molecular therapeutics. This would include (but not be limited to) investigators with strengths in specific areas such as signal transduction, genome maintenance and stability, drug discovery and/or structural biology. NCCC is one of just 40 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers. It emphasizes innovative, collaborative research into the causes and prevention of cancer and has a strong commitment not only to fundamental investigations aimed at understanding the molecular basis for cancer but also to clinical and translational research and the development of advanced interventional therapies for cancer. Dartmouth is located in the Upper Valley area of New Hampshire/Vermont, a vibrant community offering excellent schools and outstanding quality-of-life opportunities in a beautiful rural environment. The successful candidate will have an M.D., Ph.D. or MD/PhD degree(s), an outstanding academic record and a record of securing external funding. The candidate will have access to excellent students from an interdepartmental graduate program and will be appointed to the Faculty of Dartmouth Medical School at a level commensurate with a prior record of academic and scientific achievement. Laboratory space will be located in the recently-renovated Remsen/Vail Buildings which house the...

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Minority Student Success with NOBCChE
May24

Minority Student Success with NOBCChE

In 2005, more than two-thirds of the American scientific workforce was composed of white males. But by 2050, white males will make up less than one-fourth of the population. If the pipeline fails to produce qualified nonwhite scientists, we will, in effect, be competing against the rest of the world with one hand tied behind our backs. This statement came from a superb L.A. Times op-ed in early 2010 by Irving R. Epstein is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of chemistry at Brandeis University. I’ve used this quote and article for the last two years at the international ScienceOnline science communicators meeting held annually here in North Carolina. In his piece entitled, “The Science of Science Education,” Epstein argues why – and how – we can better educate and retain underrepresented students in the sciences. In describing how he set up his HHMI-supported project, Epstein gave us some interesting background on why students from underrepresented backgrounds have tended to underperform in STEM coursework relative to other groups: The most promising approach I came across was developed by Uri Treisman at UC Berkeley in the late 1970s. Treisman wanted to understand why, over a 10-year period, there was not a single year in which more than two black or Latino students at Berkeley received grades of B-minus or better in first-term calculus. He set up a study to follow 20 African American and 20 Chinese American students with comparable socioeconomic backgrounds. His findings defied the stereotypes. Treisman demonstrated that several widely held assumptions — that black students were less motivated or less prepared or had less family support — could not explain their lower grades. His conclusion was that “the black students typically worked alone” while “the Chinese students learned from each other.” Epstein goes on to say that he partnered with The Posse Foundation to create a HHMI program at Brandeis. Each year, ten African American students are recruited at the high school level to provide group activities and a college “boot camp” introduction that prepares them for the kind of rigor and collaborative efforts required to succeed. Epstein reported that in the 2009 cohort, all but one of the students passed introductory chemistry with six of them passing with honors. These kind of collaborative, partnering activities are those that I find very important at my university, a historically-Black college/university (HBCU) whose student body is roughly 80% African American with other underrepresented groups who may be first-generation college students and/or from low-income backgrounds. In addition to helping these students take advantage of tutoring and encourage group learning, I also find it important for students to engage with professional...

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Mike Kastan to lead Duke Cancer Institute
May16

Mike Kastan to lead Duke Cancer Institute

The NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center at Duke University has just announced that Michael Kastan, MD, PhD, will become its new executive director. Kastan currently serves as director of the cancer center at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, a position he has held since 2004. A well-respected physician-scientist, Kastan oversaw St. Jude becoming the first pediatric cancer hospital to receive NCI comprehensive status. A start date for Dr. Kastan was not apparent from the press release. Kastan’s move to Duke comes at a critical juncture for the cancer treatment and education enterprise at the University. The Duke Cancer Institute is the entity resulting from a reorganization of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center in November 2010: By uniting hundreds of cancer physicians, researchers, educators, and staff across the medical center, medical school, and health system under a shared administrative structure, the DCI will offer unprecedented opportunities for teamwork among the scientists in our labs and caregivers in our hospitals and clinics. Central to the new organization is the anticipated February, 2012 completion of a new, seven story cancer research and treatment tower at the center of the medical campus. As an investigator, Kastan is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work in the early 1990s that revealed the tumor suppressor protein, p53 (TP53), in the DNA damage and cell cycle arrest response. These studies not only revealed how loss of p53 could contribute to tumorigenesis but also established mutant p53 as an anticancer drug target. Of pride and relevance to readers of this blog is that Kastan, a high ranking research and patient care administrator, was originally trained as a chemist. From the Duke press release: Kastan grew up in Charlotte, N.C., and earned a degree in chemistry in 1977 as a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He won the prestigious Venable Medal in UNC’s Department of Chemistry in 1977. He then graduated from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., and trained in pediatrics at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md. He remained at Johns Hopkins until 1998, when he joined St. Jude as chairman of the department of hematology/oncology. Yes, a CHEMIST! And from a great chemistry department to boot! I had the pleasure of working with Mike for a few years in the 1990s at the Molecular Biology in Clinical Oncology Workshop of the American Association for Cancer Research. I couldn’t be more excited about him joining the Research Triangle scientific community. Most noteworthy to me is that the press release contains a range of enthusiastic comments about Kastan from both within and outside of Duke. The excitement, I think,...

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Capitalization guide for academic degrees
May13

Capitalization guide for academic degrees

It’s University Commencement season, a time of great celebration but also one for confusion over capitalization (or capitalisation for my UK colleagues). I don’t have a style guide in front of me (bad professor!) so I turned to Teh Googles. The first search return that made sense to me comes from the University of South Carolina: Official college degrees when spelled out. Bachelor of Fine Arts, but bachelor’s degree Master of Philosophy, but master’s degree The major when it appears as part of the degree. Bachelor of Science in Computer Science However, lowercase the major when it follows the word degree. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science. However, checking other sources I’m finding conflicting information that degrees should never be capitalized unless they follow a person’s name (Associated Press Stylebook): David John Kroll, Bachelor of Science in Toxicology Other sources are conflicting on the use of apostrophes: bachelors or bachelor’s. Come to think of it, I should have used university commencement in the first line of this post. University Commencement should be used to refer to the one at my university. Right?...

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