Al Malkinson the Scientist: Eulogy by Dr. Lori Dwyer-Nield
Aug16

Al Malkinson the Scientist: Eulogy by Dr. Lori Dwyer-Nield

In this second part of my remembrance of lung cancer biochemical pharmacologist, Colorado's Dr. Al Malkinson, I'd like to share with readers some recollections by Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD. I've known Lori since my appointment to Colorado's faculty in 1992 when she had already been a postdoctoral fellow of Al's. Dr. Dwyer-Nield continued on as research faculty at the CU School of Pharmacy and co-authored over 40 publications with Al. At Al's memorial service last Saturday in Boulder, Lori was asked by Al's wife, Lynn, to eulogize Al on behalf of all his scientific colleagues. Her thoughts were so warmly received that I wanted to share them more widely, especially with members of the scientific community who knew Al but were unable to attend the memorial. Moreover, I had reflected in my previous post how supportive Al was of his women trainees in balancing career and family. This eulogy provides a glimpse into this philosophy of Al's directly from someone who lived it for over 20 years. My tremendous thanks go out to Lori for agreeing to share with us this text of her eulogy.   Al the Scientist by Lori Dwyer-Nield as presented 11 August 2012 at Community United Church, Boulder, CO It’s an honor to speak about Al the scientist.  Al was my mentor and friend for 21 years, and in that time I learned that ‘Al the scientist’ was a complex character.  The more I think about it, though, I realize that Al the scientist was the same person as Al the family man and Al the writer.  We called Al our lab Dad.  I remember when I first interviewed for a post-doc position in Al’s lab, he had me meet with his lab first, and then with him.  That was quintessential Al.  His approach to lab management was egalitarian.  We all had to approve new lab members before he would let them join.  He saw his lab personnel as colleagues and friends, not employees.    In his eyes, the high school student or dishwasher was just likely to come up with the next great idea as anyone else.  And if someone contributed to a study, they got their name on the paper. He cared about each individual.  It didn’t matter if you needed to talk to him about a personal problem or an irksome experiment.  He did his best to help.  He was happy when one of his lab personnel got married, but he loved the babies.  Many mentors discourage having a family, but Al knew that family was important.  He also felt that we needed to have interests outside the lab, and even told one young...

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On the loss of a mentor: Al Malkinson, lung cancer researcher, scholar, gentleman
Aug11

On the loss of a mentor: Al Malkinson, lung cancer researcher, scholar, gentleman

Note to Readers: After reading through my writing here and at my Take As Directed blog between October, 2011, and October, 2012, I've decided to submit this post as my entry for The Best Science Writing Online 2013, formerly The Open Laboratory. The 2012 version was published by the Farrar, Straus and Giroux imprint of Scientific American. While the post details my emotions and recollections over a personal loss, I believe that it best reflects one of my strengths as a science writer: use of a personal story to touch on our own universal experiences as human beings who chose science as our vocation. All of you must have someone like Al Malkinson in your life. And he supported women in science long before special discussions groups on the topic even existed. Finally, I also feel that my closing discussion -- the lost art of the Festschrift -- is an issue we must revitalize in modern scientific research. We rarely recognize our mentors and leaders while they are alive. I hope that my writing here motivates me (and you) to take action to formally celebrate the contributions of those who are still with us.   Those who make the deepest impression on you become the fabric of your being. Think about those who've passed through your life and have influenced your approach to science, society, family. . . Even if years have passed since seeing one another, the lessons and attributes of these very special people continue to stay with you. But rarely do we truly get to express to these treasured souls just how much they have meant to us. My first faculty mentor, lung cancer researcher Alvin M. Malkinson, PhD, passed away last Friday in Boulder, CO, at age 71. Professionally, Al was Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy, now on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. But if you were fortunate enough to know him, you learned that he was a scholar of the world, lover of the arts, and true gentleman. I last visited the pharmacy school two years ago and had learned from colleagues that Al had been ill. He apparently deteriorated rapidly during this July and passed from pneumonia secondary to other complications. I hadn't been able to get back to Denver last summer or this year but I now realize that wasn't an excuse not to at least call Al. I always remember Al as a vibrant, worldly soul whose intellectual energy, I thought, was likely to power him for a couple more decades. Alas, he has left us early...

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Do you remember your PhD defense?
May02

Do you remember your PhD defense?

A new and already-dear friend is defending her doctoral dissertation tomorrow. I remembered that I had written a post awhile back on my feelings about my own defense, and how my perceptions at the time didn't measure up to reality. The timing of this repost also coincides with the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival just posted at Neurotic Physiology, written by another remarkable woman scientist friend of mine, Scicurious. The theme of that carnival is "imposter syndrome" - the broad pathology of self-doubt that one is somehow not qualified for one's career. I should have submitted this post for that carnival because it falls into that category. So, for what it's worth, I'm reposting my feelings in 2008 from the 19th anniversary of my dissertation defense. (How quaint to see that I was using a Palm Treo back then!)   This post appeared originally on 13 November 2008 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata. For whatever reason, I woke up really depressed and exhausted today - pretty much for no reason, I think. I checked my schedule on my Treo - today marks 19 years since my dissertation defense. I remember being really depressed throughout writing my dissertation thinking, "is this all I have to show for this many years of public support for my training?" My defense was on a Monday so I spent most of Sunday practicing my seminar in the room where I'd give it - it sucked so badly that I couldn't even get through it once. When the time came, it was the most incoherent performance I had ever given or ever would. I was a blithering idiot during my oral exam. There was a great deal of laughter in the room as I stood outside in the hall. How in the hell did they give me a Ph.D.? Several of my friends, and even those who were not exactly friends, said it was the best talk I ever gave. One of my committee members took his turn during the questioning to note this was one of the clearest dissertations he had read in awhile. I picked him specifically because he was outside of my field but was a scientist who I respected greatly and continue to admire. I was the first graduate student of my mentor - he was promoted with tenure six months later. Funny, the difference in my perception and reality. It still wasn't great - I only got two papers out of it. One was in a pretty decent journal, although not Cell, Nature, or Science. I ended up with a few postdoc offers, several in great institutions that...

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Cristy Gelling: Pittsburgh Postdoc, Premier Poet
Apr11

Cristy Gelling: Pittsburgh Postdoc, Premier Poet

I just received a nice bit of news from my alumni Facebook page of the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop which I took last summer with C&EN colleague, Lauren Wolf. Turns out that our classmate Cristy Gelling has been recognized by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) as the editor's choice winner of their "Science in Stanzas" poetry competition. The competition was launched by Angela Hopp, Editor of ASBMB Today, and to recognize the other types of creativity possessed by scientists attending the upcoming Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego starting next weekend (April 21-25). The judges were themselves rather accomplished poets and humorists in science. Gelling's lovely poem is entitled, "Consistent with this, cell extracts from the iba57Δ strain showed virtually no aconitase activity (Fig. 2A)," and is only slightly longer than the title. Cristy is currently a postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh studying alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. She's been in the States since she earned her PhD at the University of New South Wales, Australia, in 2008 for work on a maturation factor in iron-sulfur enzymes like aconitase. Gelling also blogs at The Blobologist and was recently named an editor for ScienceSeeker.org, a curated aggregator of the best in science blogging. So as to drive as much traffic as possible to the ASBMB site, I am telling you to go to the link here to read Cristy's work of art. And while you're at it, go to these links to see and read the works of all of the prize winners: First place: Lost in Translation, Andrew Brown Second place: Angiogenesis, Cheryl Ainslie-Waldman Third place: Ode to the Lab, Jesus Manuel Ayala Figueroa Honorable mention: Song of Sanger, Gail S. Begley Honorable mention: How ... Understanding, Karen...

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Bad news for Bionovo and herbal drug development
Mar11

Bad news for Bionovo and herbal drug development

A pharmacognosy colleague contacted me on Friday morning with word that the botanical drug development company Bionovo was closing its chemistry group. Well, the news is actually worse as judging from this 8 pm Friday press release: Bionovo, Inc. (OTC Link Platform: BNVI.PK) today announced that it will need to obtain substantial additional funding to achieve its objectives of internally developing drugs. The Company reduced its workforce by over 90%. The remaining management of the Company will receive reduced cash compensation until either adequate financing can be obtained or the Company is sold.  The Company can not make any assurances about either of these events.  As previously announced, management and the board of directors are continuing to explore strategic options for the Company.  Management is currently reviewing the status of the ongoing clinical trial for Menerba. The Company does not currently have adequate internal liquidity to meet its cash needs.  If sufficient additional funds are not received in the near term, the Company may not be able to execute its business plan and may need to further curtail or cease operations. Bionovo has been the rare superb example of a company that's been trying to develop FDA-approvable drugs based on Chinese traditional medicine. Led by Isaac Cohen, a UCSF guest scientist and Doctoral of Oriental Medicine, and chief medical officer, Mary Tagliaferri, Bionovo took a hard, science-based approach to identifying herbal extracts for cancer and women's health issues. Cohen and colleagues at UCSF and elsewhere examined Chinese herbal medicines for their biochemical and cellular effects based upon their traditional use. Some of their early work was with a molecular endocrinology physician-scientist Dale Leitman, then at UCSF. Leitman has a solid track record in the transcriptional regulation of estrogen receptor-beta (ERβ), particularly by natural products such as soy isoflavones. Leitman led the group that reported in 2007 that a 22-herb extract, Bionovo's MF101 (Menerba), had selective ERβ agonist activity with the potential for treating menopausal symptoms without increased risk of breast cancer. This extract advanced to Phase III trials last October. Even more interesting to me was Bionovo's extract of Scutellaria barbata (BZL101, Bezielle). Given the recent enthusiasm in searching for drugs that targeted the aerobic glycolysis phenotype of many cancers, BZL101 was exciting because it had these effects in cell culture and was formulated into an oral preparation with good bioavailability. (I should make the disclaimer here that my wife, a former Duke University breast oncologist, enrolled patients in a Phase I trial of BZL101 and was co-author of a 2008 ASCO abstract on the results. However, she received no personal compensation for this work and we have never...

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Drugs of Abuse Tag-Team at Skeptically Speaking
Dec20

Drugs of Abuse Tag-Team at Skeptically Speaking

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Canadian radio host Desiree Schell for her wildly-successful show, Skeptically Speaking. The episode on which yours truly appears can be accessed here. Launched in March 2009, the show airs live on Sunday evenings at 6 pm Mountain Time on UStream where one can discuss the show and asks questions by live chat. The show also includes a previously recorded segment with another scientist and is then edited and distributed for rebroadcast to stations and networks across North America. The shorter pre-recorded segment where I appeared to speak about my most popular topic of the last two years on this blog, synthetic marijuana compounds. I'm not entirely guilty of self-promotion here because I primarily wanted to mention that the first two-thirds of the show - the live part - was an interview with my neuropharmacologist friend, Scicurious, author of The Scicurious Brain blog at the Scientific American blog network and Neurotic Physiology at Scientopia. Sci has a gift for offering laser-sharp science in a hip, conversational manner. Here's how the Skeptically Speaking team describes the show: With humour, enthusiasm and a lot of curiosity, Skeptically Speaking guides you through the fascinating world of science and critical thinking. We interview researchers, authors and experts to help listeners understand the evidence, arguments and science behind what’s in the news and on the shelves. A basic understanding of science, combined with a little bit of skepticism, goes a long way. Note: The term “skepticism” may be new to you. If that’s the case, click here. During her 40 minutes Sci gave a terrific primer on the classes of drugs commonly used, and abused, recreationally. My pre-recorded part was edited into the now-available podcast (Show #142, 27.5 MB) at around 41:10. But do download it and listen entirely to Sci's part. Our segments ended up being quite complementary owing to the careful eyes and ears of host Desiree Schell and producer/editor K.O. Myers. Although I know Sci, I hadn't known that she was to appear live until after my recording. I rarely like listening to my own voice (unlike many professors) but this one is a keeper primarily because it's more for the general public rather than just us scientists. In fact, Des tells me that she interviews from the standpoint of the listener she envisions driving home in their car. And for those of you attending ScienceOnline2012 here in North Carolina next month, you'll get to meet Schell and hear her lead a morning session on Friday 20 January with Julia Galef of Rationally Speaking on the pros and cons of science podcasting. Go to this...

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