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I can’t think of titles.  I have never been able to think of titles and I am still unable to think of titles.

When I write for SCN, my editor comes up with my titles.  Thought that “It’s a Matter of Attraction” was a clever way to introduce stem cell homing?  It was all thanks to my top notch editor.  I wrote a guest post for a personal finance blog recently.  No revisions to my post – but he didn’t like the title.  Hell – I didn’t like it either!  On my finance blog, one of my posts has the awe-inspiring title of “Indulge Yourself”.  WTF does that even mean?

I also can’t think of fictional names. I suck at coming up with fictional names.  When  I write fiction, my towns have stupid names like “Darcyville” (I hope that’s not a real place) and my characters are generically Annes, Davids and Johns (Except in 8th grade when I went through a Russian phase, and every other male character was “Alexei”.  Ahem…).

And damn it, I procrastinate.  I was supposed to write an intelligent post about new methods of stem cell testing and tissue culture that did not require animal tissues.  And you know what?  I wrote this instead.

//The end.

Updates: Apr10-16

I have a new post up on the Stem Cell Network on the topic of fat stem cells and the use of these stem cells in reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.  It was a better timed post than I had initially expected – just this morning, my “daily deal” email included an offer for a “breakthrough” stem cell skin cream.  Please do not buy this cream.

This terrifying link came though twitter today about a Yale student who died after getting her hair caught in some machinery late at night.  Soooo scary.  It’s a sober reminder to grad students and enthusiastic technicians – never work alone if you can help it.  Yes, I know we all have gone through the 12 hour time points or the 6am cell harvest – but at least let a close friend or roommate know where you are and take every precaution possible. Sadly, this can be as simple has tying back your hair, wearing your PPE and minding your general surroundings.

When I had to work late nights or early mornings in the animal facility, I always went around the room making sure racks and cabinets were locked down.  One of my greatest fears was to be in an animal room, several stories underground during an earthquake when some idiot has left the racks unlocked.  Imagine being crushed by several hundreds of pounds of metal while newly freed rodents roam your body as you lose consciousness. Terrifying.  But perhaps a bit of karma as well.  😛

Now that you all have that lovely picture in mind… Other links

  • This is what I’m getting the bf for Christmas.  What a great idea!
  • I found this post on how to get tenure at a major university incredibly… disturbing and discouraging, especially if you are a student.  Particularly this point:

Don’t worry about teaching, leadership, organizing, etc. I don’t think being good at these things actively hurts you, although I did once hear a senior faculty member say that he was negatively predisposed to candidates who had good teaching evaluations. (He was joking, I think.) Why? Because you’re spending time on something that isn’t research. But generally it won’t hurt, it just won’t help. You will typically be told (as I was) something like “teaching isn’t really important, but if your case is very close, it can help put you over the top.” Everyone agreed my case was very close, and my teaching was among the best in the department; it didn’t help. The point is simple: this stuff is not research.

Bleh.

Because it makes me angry

I’m heading into the final stretch of the “go-back-to-school-for-my-second-degree” experiment and UBC reminds me again of why they piss me off so damn much.  I didn’t take out students loans this time around because when I was young and stupid and financially irresponsible, I racked up almost $40k in student loans.  I don’t want any more.  But I do want my interest-free period while I’m in classes.

So a week ago I went online, filled in my interest-free request for the summer session.  Done.  Right?

I got this message back today:

You have applied for and have been assessed for government student loan funding from Student Aid BC or have applied online for interest-free status for the Summer 2011 session. However, UBC is unable to confirm your enrolment because you are not meeting the minimum loan requirements. The specific error with your registration is that you have more than 10 business days between the end and start dates of your classes in total.

Please keep in mind; to be eligible for loans with during Summer Session you must satisfy all of the following criteria:

*       Enrol in at least 9 credits (audited, wait-listed and withdrawn courses do not count)

*       Enrol in a combination of courses that together form a study period that is at least 12 consecutive weeks long. Individual courses can be shorter than 12 weeks

*       Have no breaks longer than 10 working days between courses

I’m taking 3 classes, for 9 credits which total at least 12 weeks in length.  Otherwise known as a full time course load.  But with the way UBC structures summer terms, there happens to be a break of more than 10 classes between my term 1 classes and my term 2 classes.  AGHHHHHHHHH.

Mainly I’m pissed off because if the break had been at the beginning or at the end of the summer, there would be no problem and I would get some interest relief.  But just because the break is in the middle, I don’t get any interest relief, despite still taking the correct number of credits and class hours in total.

For anyone who’s interested in a career in bioinformatics:

There’s only ONE more VanBUG meeting this season and it’s happening Thursday April 14 at 6pm. Instead of a seminar style meeting, they’re doing a Bioinformatics Career Panel. Career panels are a great way of finding out what you could do with your degree, whether you are just starting out, have not started yet, or are contemplating a career change. I wish I had gone to more career panels when I did my first degree in biology.

The bioinformatics panelists include Benjamin Good (Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation), Inanc Birol (Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre and School of Computing Science, Simon Fraser University), Anthony Fejes (Zymeworks) and Phil Hieter (Michael Smith Laboratories, University of British Columbia).

Consider asking questions about the technology that is used, what education is required for the field, what programming languages are most frequently used, and where the field is headed 5, 10, or 15 years from now. Or ask what their favourite flavour of ice cream is, I don’t care. 🙂

If you’re shy, you can submit questions prior to the event by emailing: dev@vanbug.org

I’ve been bad this year and only made it to a few VanBUG sessions, but I’m definitely going to be at this one!

Directions and original poster can be found on the VanBUG website.

Fish, kidneys and stem cells

Teleost fish are unique in that they are able to regenerate many different types of tissues throughout their lives, including cardiac, retinal, and renal (kidney) tissues.  Many of these regenerative abilities occur through the action of stem-cell like populations.  Identifying stem cells in fish may help researchers identify analogous cells in human tissues. 

The ability of some fish to regenerate renal tissues is particularly interesting because there is currently no known kidney or nephron (the functional unit of kidneys) “stem cell” in humans.  A recent paper looked at using zebrafish to try to identify nephron stem cells. 

To find out more, check out my latest post for the Stem Cell Network.

Beer, sausage and stem cells

I’m going to Germany in the summer and thought I might get some work done while I’m there.  In between the requisite eating and drinking of course.

If anyone hears about any interesting stem cell related research coming out of Germany, please let me know or send the link to the paper!  I would love to contact researchers for a meet and greet and do a little write-up about their work.  I’ll be in and around Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich over three weeks.

RECOMB2011 fail

So I originally planned on writing a quick post promoting RECOMB2011, a conference focusing on computational molecular biology occurring later this month in Vancouver, BC.  I sent the conference organizers an email asking if they had any stem cell related abstracts being presented, explaining that I wrote for a large stem cell organization on stem cell related topics and events.  I also mentioned that I was a programmer/developer who was interested in computational biology.

No response.

I’m a little miffed to say the least.  I included a link to the Stem Cell Network and everything!  If they were not interested or they did not have stem cell topics as part of their conference, a simple “No thanks” would have been sufficient.

Fail.  No link for you!

The ongoing debate over shark fin soup continues in California with proposed legislation which aims to curtail the import of fins and prevent the brutal practice of “finning”. Currently, it is illegal to bring in sharks without the fins, but a loophole exists which allows for the import of fins from countries such as China and Mexico, where animal protection legislation is lax or non-existent. If passed, California would join Hawaii in the efforts to prevent shark fins from making it into the soup bowl.  The New York Times recently reported on the issue from California, bringing to light many different viewpoints from the Asian community.

I admire many of the opinions expressed by many of the first generation Americans quoted in this article. It is hard to go against family tradition, especially notoriously traditional Asian families. The concerns they express – environmental and ethical – are backed by science and fact. Finning is cruel and wasteful. Finning not only causes the pain of amputation but also condemns the animal to die slowly, either from suffocation or from being defenselessly picked apart by opportunistic scavengers. Ecologically, the removal of the top ocean predator would be devastating in terms of balance.

In contrast, many of the arguments put forth by their elders seem petty if not downright foolish – the notion that we should be free to eat whatever we want, whatever the cost; the idea that tips for waiters would decrease without shark fins for soup; and so on. Pitted against damning evidence that the shark populations is on the brink of disaster, it is hard to find any respect for this viewpoint.

Many groups have used “culture” as reasons for continuing destructive practices – usually in relation to hunting and eating. The whale hunt is another example. Though perhaps less vicious and less wasteful, it ignores the fact that we are still willfully eating species into extinction. We forget that our technological advances and our incredible ability to kill and destroy efficiently has far outstripped that of our long ago ancestors. And for what? A small bowl of soup, gained at the expense of an animal left to die for lack of appendages?

I love Carl Zimmer.  I think he’s one of those people who just really get it… and not only does he get it, but he explains things in a way that makes other people get it.

Recently, he published an article on the Loom discussing whales and cancer, based around a recent review published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.  The basic premise of cancer works like this:

  • Over time, cells make mistakes in DNA replication
  • Mistakes accumulate and eventually, mistakes will affect some vital process
  • This causes cancer

This stands to reason then, that the more cells you have and the longer you live, the more mistakes you will have, and the higher likelihood that you will have cancer.

But if you looked at blue whales, they’re HUGE.  They have a lot of cells and they can live a long time.  Indeed, according to calculations, half of all blue whales should have colorectal cancer.  By the time they reach middle age, ALL of them should be cancer-ridden.  And that’s only one type of cancer!

However, this is not the case.  Indeed, across all studied species, including humans with our often-poor health choices, cancer occurs at a rate of about 30%.  So mice, with their rapid metabolism and short life spans, get cancer at the same rate as whales, with their much slower metabolism and longer life spans.

This suggests that larger animals have evolved mechanisms against cancer that have held it at the approximately 30% mark – regardless of cell number, age or size, which is contradictory to the current paradigms of cancer as a statistical inevitability.  And if that is so, we would be better off studying how larger animals cope with cancer rather than looking at cancer in mice.

That is not to say that we should suddenly be breeding captive whales for laboratory-style research – but so little is known about the health of these animals in the first place, despite the popularity of sea mammals as aquarium entertainment.  A well sequenced genome would be the first informative step – The authors suggest studying the genome to look at differences in cancer defenses among related species with a wide range of sizes, such as whales and dolphins.  Learning more about their health and biology of these animals may yield interesting new avenues in both human health research and animal veterinary medicine.

Zimmer ends his article eloquently:

“But such an undertaking would have to overcome a lot of inertia in the world of cancer research. Cancer biologists don’t look to big animals as models to study–which is one reason there’s not a single fully-sequenced genome of a whale or a dolphin for scientists to look at. For most cancer researchers, mice are the animals of choice.

But if we want to find inspiration for cancer-fighting medicines, mice are the last animal we’d want to consider. It’s like learning how to play baseball from a bench-cooler at a Little League game, when Willie Mays is waiting to dispense his wisdom.”

Again, find the original article at The Loom.

Vacations are over-rated

If I were a boxer, there would be some damn epic music playing right now because… I’m baaaaack!  🙂

After a 2 month hiatus, I’m feeling the itch again, as yes, I do have more stuff to say about science and damn it, people are going to listen!  Or at least read and perhaps click on a link once in a while.  I was also partially inspired to come back due to my impending employment in a microbiology lab doing bioinformatics work over the summer. I’m really excited about this opportunity and hopefully I’ll be learning lots.

While I have not been writing for AlbinoMouse, I have been busy writing!  Please check out my current venture, The Outlier Model.  It’s a blog written with my partner about personal finance and living simply.  I’ve also been writing for the Stem Cell Network on homing and attraction in hematopoietic stem cells and news and events in ESC policy.  I’ll be updating AlbinoMouse more regularly again, so please come back and visit.

Cheers – I missed you!