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Archive → May, 2011

Skin-bleaching: got mercury?

Not this Mercury (who is actually Liberty misattributed as Mercury) Credit: FunTimesGuide.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Mike Kastan to lead Duke Cancer Institute

Michael Kastan, MD, PhD, will lead the newly-reorganized Duke Cancer Institute. Credit: DCI

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.

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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.

Phew! They did it correctly.

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?


Fingolimod (Gilenya; Novartis) for Multiple Sclerosis

ResearchBlogging.orgA very well-written review of an orally-active drug for multiple sclerosis has just appeared in the April 25th issue of the Journal of Natural Products, a publication of ACS in conjunction with the American Society of Pharmacognosy.

The review, Fingolimod (FTY720): A Recently Approved Multiple Sclerosis Drug Based on a Fungal Secondary Metabolite, is co-authored by Cherilyn R. Strader, Cedric J. Pearce, and Nicholas H. Oberlies. In the interest of full disclosure, the latter two gentlemen are research collaborators of ours from Mycosynthetix, Inc. (Hillsborough, NC) and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. My esteemed colleague and senior author, Dr. Oberlies, modestly deflected my request to post here on the publication of this review.

So, I am instead writing this post to promote the excellent work of his student and first author, Cherilyn Strader. As of this morning, this review article is first on the list of most-read articles in the Journal. This status is noteworthy because the review has moved ahead of even the famed David Newman and Gordon Cragg review of natural product-sourced drugs of the last 25 years, the JNP equivalent of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (the album known for its record 14-year stay on the Billboard music charts.).

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Graduate training: Choosing a n00b vs. a greybeard

An outstanding, open-access resource and community for the beginning scientist and seasoned pro.

I hope that you have been to BenchFly, the brainchild of Dr. Alan Marnett, third-generation chemist and chemical biologist. Founded in Cambridge, MA, in 2009, Benchfly is a highly-functional and beautifully-designed site for the practicing scientist, directed primarily toward those developing their scientific chops (and for more, uh, senior folks looking for a methods tune-up).

Based around a core of open-access instructional video protocols on techniques from how to prepare a sample for NMR to siRNA transfection to how to unlock a jammed Beckman J2-21 centrifuge, BenchFly also addresses cultural aspects of the scientific life with the input of a growing community of interdisciplinary scientists that range from undergraduates to department chairs.

Chemists will fully appreciate the video on how to pronounce “Hoechst” after hearing it mangled by American biologists who use the company’s fluorescent intercalating DNA dyes (solution: ask a German scientist!). And at the conclusion of their nicely-crafted mission and values statement comes this:

We believe the only thing more powerful than Chemistry is Chuck Norris. Period.”

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