Forum On Climate Change
Aug30

Forum On Climate Change

Nearly 200 people attended the ACS Forum on Science & Consequences of Climate Change on Monday, Aug. 23, during the Boston national meeting. The forum was sponsored by the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement (CEI) and was an ACS Presidential Event. It was moderated by Charles Kolb, president and CEO of Aerodyne Research and chair of CEI. The forum was one component of CEI’s review of the ACS position statement on global climate change. Position statements must be reviewed every three years, and the statement on climate change is one of four being reviewed this year. To this reporter, the disconnects that are manifest in discussions of climate change were in full blossom on that Monday. Earlier in the day, I had read an op-ed piece in the New York Times, “Disaster at the Top of the World,” by Thomas Homer-Dixon, a professor of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, in Waterloo, Ontario. Homer-Dixon opens his essay with observations from a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker plying the Arctic Sea, where temperatures are rising twice as rapidly as on Earth generally. He writes: “Globally, 2010 is on track to be the warmest year on record. In regions around the world, indications abound that earth’s climate is quickly changing, like the devastating mudslides in China and weeks of searing heat in Russia. But in the world’s capitals, movement on climate policy has nearly stopped.” Homer-Dixon argues in his essay that climate change may not be a gradual process that humans can easily adapt to and that a “devastating climate shock” may well be delivered in a very short time period. He maintains that nations should be preparing plans to deal with such a climate crisis. In Boston, two speakers at the forum, Michael McElroy, a professor of atmospheric and environmental sciences at Harvard University, and James McCarthy, a professor of biological oceanography at Harvard, presented, first, a primer on climate change and, second, an examination of anticipated climate-change impacts. An ACS colleague who sat through these first two talks with me commented, “How can you possibly listen to these two talks and not be convinced that this is a serious problem?” The third talk, by John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center and a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and Alabama’s state climatologist, made an effort to answer that question. Christy is not a climate-change denier, but he is skeptical of the predictions of many atmospheric models that project significant increases in Earth’s temperature if atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise, and he presented a number of studies that he said...

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Lunch And Talk Of Cannibalism
Aug25

Lunch And Talk Of Cannibalism

“As it happens, there are an estimated 100,000 murderers in this country who got away with it in the past 30 years,” said Michael Capuzzo when quoting world-renowned forensic psychologist Richard Walter. “And they’re walking around free.” Capuzzo, author of the new book “The Murder Room,” was speaking at ACS’s Division of Chemical Information (CINF) luncheon on Tuesday at the national meeting. The book, released on Aug. 10, follows the Vidocq Society, an exclusive crime-solving organization that meets on the third Thursday of each month in Philadelphia. Walter and the other modern-day sleuths who belong to Vidocq are “like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” Capuzzo said. “Most of them come from the U.S.” but also Interpol, Scotland Yard, and other agencies, he added. They are forensic chemists, polygraph experts, and ex-FBI agents. And they solve cold-case homicides over lunch. “They have four courses and a headless corpse for dessert,” Capuzzo joked. Police officers or detectives present cases to them, and the detectives offer suggestions. Sometimes, they will even form a small investigative group of their own to pursue the case further. And it’s not unheard of for them to discuss cannibalism and other disagreeable subjects during their sessions. “They’re just so authentic,” Capuzzo said. “They’re great detectives. They care deeply.” And they use words and phrases such as “chap,” “gobsmacked,” and “my dear boy.” “They’re not these tough guys on CSI going around with the latest technology,” Capuzzo said. So what does this have to do with CINF? “I think we’re all pattern seekers here,” Capuzzo said during the luncheon. “I recognize people who seek patterns in everything.” According to its website, CINF fosters the sharing of expertise in science informatics, information technology, and librarianship. And the Vidocq Society, named after the 18th-century French detective Eugène François Vidocq, certainly shares its expertise in finding patterns in scientific information. “They get many requests, and they really only have time to consider one per month,” Capuzzo said. In 20 years, they have considered 300 cases or so, and in 80 or 95% of those cases, the society figured out whodunit, he added. “Of course, going from that to a conviction is very difficult,” Capuzzo said. In about 20 cases, they’ve made huge differences in putting people in jail. In the words of Walter: “Can I catch them all? No. Can I catch a few and maybe save some people some pain? Perhaps. Can I pass on some values and standards and knowledge of good and evil that each generation can share with the next? Perhaps I can do that...

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From Pisces To Prodrugs: An Obesity Story
Aug25

From Pisces To Prodrugs: An Obesity Story

When it comes to obesity, the drug race between Arena's lorcaserin, Vivus's Qnexa and Orexigen's Contrave is at the forefront of folks' minds these days. But yesterday at the ACS National Meeting in Boston, I sat in on part of a session in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry that gave me a broad overview of other strategies for developing treatments for obesity. I heard a neat story from Donald L. Hertzog of GlaxoSmithKline that I thought I'd share. GSK is focusing on the melanin concentrating hormone receptor protein as a target for obesity drugs. When I read the abstract, I thought I'd made a mistake. What in the world could the pigment melanin have to do with obesity? It turns out there's a fascinating connection. Researchers first found melanin concentrating hormone, a cyclic 19 amino acid peptide, in salmon. As you might expect, it plays a role in pigmentation of fish scales. In humans, however, the hormone doesn't play a role in skin pigmentation. It's made mostly in the human brain, in regions such as the hypothalamus. "When you see something released in the hypothalamus alarm bells should go off- because it could be important in feeding," Hertzog said. That turned out to be the case. Researchers soon found that levels of the hormone go up during fasting in mice. And that mice lacking the receptor for the hormone were not only lean, they were resistant to diet induced obesity. GSK set out to make molecules that block melanin concentrating hormone receptor-1 as potential treatments for obesity. They found a promising molecule in GSK282254, which not only inhibited the receptor but as Hertzog put it, had "a lot of areas to get your hands on" for making analogs. When the GSK team replaced a simpler aromatic ring on GSK282254 with a bicyclic thienopyrimidone ring system, they saw a 15-fold boost in potency for inhibiting the receptor. After several more rounds of optimizing, they discovered GW856464, a compound that eventually made it to human clinical trials for treating obesity. Unfortunately, the molecule didn't reach its site of action efficiently when taken orally. So GSK went back to the drawing board to find a way to improve the drug's properties. They decided to try a prodrug approach-temporarily masking part of the drug candidate with a functional group that the body's own enzymes will remove. Sure enough, when the team tacked the amino acid valine onto a hydroxyl group of GW856464, they made a prodrug with almost 6-fold higher bioavailability. This prodrug was selected for preclinical evaluation as a potential clinical candidate. Plenty of obesity drug strategies exist- it'll be interesting to...

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A Meeting-within-the-meeting
Aug25

A Meeting-within-the-meeting

I've attended ACS national meetings as both a graduate student and a reporter, and though those are two very different meeting experiences overall, there is a common thread-- the ACS meeting is so big you sometimes feel a little overwhelmed. Where do you begin to find the cool science? How can I even attempt to network in a sea of faces? This week I had the pleasure of hanging out with the folks in the Division of Chemical Toxicology. And I think these folks have mastered fostering an intimate environment at a big conference. Here are a few of the highlights of my experiences and the division's programming: The division has only one session running at a time, and it only has programming in the fall. I showed up to three events- their Young Investigators talks, their session on food-drug interactions, and their poster sessions. The sessions were held in small rooms and were well attended. And folks asked plenty of questions after all the talks. Speakers in a session asked each other questions. And there was plenty of interaction between organizers and program chairs for the division- the scientists were from academe and industry, and I also met a few government lab researchers in the division as well. The young investigators talks and the evening poster session were judged by leading researchers in the division. A $500 cash prize was up for grabs. The poster session was in a smaller room, with free food (it arrived late but did eventually got there!). Professors made the rounds and asked questions to poster presenters, who were a mix of postdocs and grad students. (This reminded me of the National Organic Symposium I attended last year). Folks stayed until the end to hear the $500 winner announced, including professors. (I can't find the cocktail napkin where I scribbled the winners' names. But I will contact the division folks for that info and update.) UPDATE 8/27: Here are the winners' names and affiliations (Congrats everyone!): Graduate oral presentation: Winner: Yan Zhong (Advisor: Stephen Hecht; University of Minnesota) Post-doc oral presentation: Winner: Kok-Seong Lim (Advisor: Peter Dedon; Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Graduate posters: First: Sankha Basu (Advisor: Ian Blair; University of Pennsylvania) Second: Anna Urban (Advisor: Lisa Peterson; University of Minnesota) Third: Linlin Zhao (Advisors: James F. Rusling and John B. Schenkman; University of Connecticut) Post-doc posters: First: Plamen Christov (Advisor: Carmelo Rizzo; Vanderbilt UniversityGreg Thatcher; University of Illinois) Second: Janel Warmka (Advisor: Lisa Peterson; University of Minnesota) Third: Wan Chan (Advisor: Peter Dedon; Massachusetts Institute of Technology) I love the excitement of a packed session in a big lecture hall, like the...

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C&EN Picks for #acs_boston Wed. 8/25
Aug25

C&EN Picks for #acs_boston Wed. 8/25

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