Gooood morning, Santiiiiago!
Dec02

Gooood morning, Santiiiiago!

I love my blogs and my readers. Last Friday morning, I had the delight of Skyping in to a medical school bioethics class at Universidad Finis Terrae to discuss the virtues and pitfalls of animal research. I was contacted earlier in the week by an email from Xaviera Cardenas, a first-year medical student at this university in Santiago, Chile, who was looking for an international scientist to hold forth on this topic. Readers of CENtral Science know that any novel chemical you synthesize must undergo some animal testing before it can be used in people. This is not our choice as individuals but, instead, a requirement of our regulatory authorities. Despite advances with in vitro technologies, testing in a limited number of rodent and non-rodent species is absolutely required. I spoke specifically to the class about my service on NIH study sections where we take very seriously the review of vertebrate animal use in research. No matter the quality of the science, grant awards can be specifically withheld due to inattention to the five requirements to justify and assure responsible and humane use of vertebrate animals for research and testing. I'm a real stickler for use of the minimum number of animals, a number that is carefully determined using power calculations based on the minimum expected change in a biological outcome. Researchers must assure that animals will be managed by a highly-qualified veterinarian with attention to avoiding or minimizing any pain and suffering. Because research animals cannot give informed consent, I sometimes see research animal protocols getting more scrutiny that human clinical trial protocols. Xavi and her class asked me about these and other issues during our 20 minute visit last week. Her professor played the role of devil's advocate by dressing up as a beagle but, unfortunately, a photograph was not made available to the blog. I asked Xavi to share her recollections on the experience. She's very kind and her English is definitely superior to my Spanish. Thanks, Xavi, for the chance to speak with your class. And don't worry, I'll be down sometime to experience the wines of Chile!   The power of internet Xaviera Cardenas Has anyone thought how can you be in two places at the same time? It sounds perfect for a sci-fi novel implying teleportation… or evil twins. But last Friday, David was able to comfortable be in his house and at a presentation in Santiago, Chile without stepping on a plane. That Friday morning was pretty hectic for most of the students who were at the Bioethics class imparted by Universidad Finis Terrae. It was our final class in which we...

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NCCU Dinner with Discoverers: Chemist, Dr. Mansukh Wani
Nov05

NCCU Dinner with Discoverers: Chemist, Dr. Mansukh Wani

The NCCU Eagles RISE program is a NIH/NIGMS research education program for which I serve as principal investigator at North Carolina Central University in Durham. When I moved to the Research Triangle area, I had the opportunity to work as a pharmacologist with the late Dr. Monroe Wall and Dr. Mansukh Wani, scientists who with colleagues discovered the anticancer compounds, taxol and camptothecin. I first came to know of Dr. Wani while I was a graduate student in 1987 while attending a DNA topoisomerase chemotherapy conference at NYU in Manhattan. To be honest, I was too nervous to even introduce myself to this legend of natural products chemistry. Almost 25 years later, I am now blessed to call him a family friend. One of the other joys I have is sharing the now 86-year-old Dr. Wani and his story with my students. Here's a recap of our visit with him as posted on our NCCU Eagles RISE blog:   On the evening of October 26th, we had the remarkable pleasure to have dinner with Dr. Mansukh Wani, Chemist Emeritus of RTI International (formerly Research Triangle Institute). Together with his longtime collaborator, the late Dr. Monroe Wall, Dr. Wani and colleagues isolated and determined the structures of the anticancer drugs Taxol and camptothecin. Taxol has been a mainstay in the treatment of breast and ovarian cancer while camptothecin gave rise to two, semi-synthetic FDA-approved drugs: topotecan (Hycamtin) and irinotecan (Camptosar). For these discoveries they received numerous awards culminating in the naming of the RTI Natural Products Laboratory as a National Historic Chemical Landmark of the American Chemical Society in 2003. The landmark application was led by Dr. Nick Oberlies, now in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Nick and I reformulated the application and supplementary historical information into a 2004 review article in the Journal of Natural Products (DOI: 10.1021/np030498t) In this interview for an Indian publication in the Research Triangle, Dr. Wani shares what it was like to move to North Carolina in 1962. He graciously accepted our invitation to tell these and other stories to us at Sitar Indian restaurant, a Durham favorite. Rather than recap his discussion of his career, we thought it would be more valuable to share with you student insights from their evening with this remarkable, warm, and humble man. From Adama Secka, M.S. Candidate, Pharmaceutical Sciences: Wednesday, October 26th 2011 will be a day that I will always remember for the rest of my life; I met the most incredible man in our science world. He was most genuine, kind, patient, and supportive - I mean he is...

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Bryostatins: Panacea?
Oct24

Bryostatins: Panacea?

I just had the delightful pleasure of participating in the C&EN Advisory Board meeting late last week. Among the outstanding C&EN writers and editors at the DC headquarters, I got to meet several others who are stationed around the US and the world. One of these new friends based in New Jersey, Bethany Halford, has this week's C&EN cover story on the marine natural products, the bryostatins. These complex compounds were originally studied for anticancer activities but, as Bethany tells us, are now showing promise in animal models of Alzheimer's disease. And while Bethany tells us that the first bryozoan source of these compounds was collected in 1968 from Gulf Specimen Co., she resisted the urge to tell us that the company is in Panacea, Florida. (Here's a definition and etymology of panacea.) Go forth and read. References: Halford, Bethany. Chemical & Engineering News 89(43): 10-17 (24 October 2011) Cover story - The Bryostatins' Tale Profile on George (Bob) Pettit - Pioneer: Undersea Treasure Hunter Natural product drug development - Drug Development: Taking the Long...

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Norman R. Farnsworth, grandaddy of medicinal plant research, passes at 81
Sep13

Norman R. Farnsworth, grandaddy of medicinal plant research, passes at 81

Professor Norman Farnsworth, a true giant of pharmacognosy research, left us on Saturday night in Chicago. Farnsworth was Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the institution where he made his mark over the last 41 years studying the medicinal properties of agents from natural origins. In 1982, he established the UIC Program for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical Sciences, a model for today's interdisciplinary research programs.  Farnsworth also led the UIC/NIH Center for Dietary Supplements Research has been the most productive and continuously-operating center of its type in the US. A decorated Korean War veteran, Farnsworth received his B.S. in pharmacy from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in 1953 and his PhD in pharmacognosy from the University of Pittsburgh. He remained at Pitt on faculty until joining UIC in 1970. Farnsworth was truly a seminal figure in medicinal plant chemistry and biology, serving as a founder of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP) and the Society for Economic Botany, both in 1959. He was still a graduate student when he served as the first vice-president and second president of the ASP. Farnsworth had also served for the last 35 years on the editorial board of the Journal of Natural Products, the premier journal of the discipline from the American Chemical Society. He later founded the German-based journal, Phytomedicine, with another outstanding scientist, his longtime University of Munich colleague, Dr Hildebert Wagner. Word of his passing circulated among research collaborators over the weekend but I wanted to respect the institution's press office until something official came out late yesterday afternoon. The good folks at the American Botanical Council led with this lovely retrospective - a sampling: A larger-than-life figure, Norm Farnsworth was rarely seen without his trademark Marsh-Wheeling cigars in his mouth, even long after he was forced to give up smoking. As venues allowing smoking in public places diminished over the past two decades, Prof. Farnsworth would often be seen in a restaurant or public area with one of his cigars in his mouth, even after being admonished by waiters who told him that smoking was not permitted. Farnsworth would point out the obvious fact that he was not smoking, that the cigar was not lit, and would continue to keep the cigar in his mouth, seeming to relish the opportunity to keep walking up to the line, but not exceeding it. He was highly-respected and admired in life and now remembered fondly by his former students, mentees, and friends. Often seen as brash and outspoken, frequently critical of other scientists and institutions which to him...

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1st Anniversary at CENtral Science!
Aug25

1st Anniversary at CENtral Science!

Many thanks to all of you, Dear Readers and C&EN editors and staff, I have been writing here for one year. Last August 24th, we moved the Terra Sigillata blog here after its purgatory in indie WordPress land following four years at ScienceBlogs. The announcement came at the a ACS Medicinal Chemistry Lunch-and-Learn session on pharmaceutical and chemistry blogging led by Carmen Drahl at last year's Boston meeting. the setting seemed appropriate for the launch because I was on the panel with two of my own blogging idols, Derek Lowe of In the Pipeline and Ed Silverman of Pharmalot. In my inaugural post here last year, The Right Chemistry, I expressed my sincere thanks to Carmen and C&EN Online Editor Rachel Pepling for taking in this wayward blogger. Although I am technically a biologist, I have appreciated since my undergrad days that chemistry was central to moving forward in this field. As a pharmacologist whose previous pseudonym acknowledged Journal of Biological Chemistry founder, John Jacob Abel, I have always appreciated that my field would not be here without the efforts of synthetic chemists. So, I hope that in the past year I have brought you a biologist's view of - and reverence for - the discipline of chemistry. I should also note that while Carmen and Rachel are my personal heroes, my extended family at C&EN have also been instrumental in helping me develop as a science writer. Amanda Yarnell has been a constant source of advice and inspiration, offering freely of her time to a guy who isn't even on staff. I had the delightful pleasure of spending a week with Lauren Wolf at the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop and have been very impressed by how she has worked so hard to go from being a laser chemist to crafting engaging pieces in the neurosciences. C&EN Editor-in-Chief, Rudy Baum, was kind enough to spend one-on-one time with me at the ACS Boston meeting encouraging me in both my writing and chemical education and diversity in chemistry efforts. Lisa Jarvis keeps me keen on pharma & chemistry business with early morning tweets and I often finish the day interacting with Jyllian Kemsley on the Left Coast. Then there are also folks like Linda Wang who remind me that we actually did meet when I write to congratulate them on a great feature and say that I can't wait to meet them. Carmen even hosted me for a nice visit to the C&EN HQ at ACS in Washington when I was lecturing at Johns Hopkins for Mary Knudson's faculty writing class earlier this year. Good and patient folks like Stu...

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