This is a Level 1 course so you need to have a reasonable level of English (a Standard Grade or GCSE would be fine). It’s not a cheap course, I’ve taught on several OU courses (although not this one) and they are excellent. You can complete an online quiz to see if you are ready for university level study:
The Open University also offer courses on cardiovascular disease, diabetes and autism. A full list of courses can be found here. They can send you a book of all their courses (including the advanced postgraduate ones), more information is here. Have you taken an OU course? What did you think?
I will be on maternity leave from August 2010. As I maintain this blog and website myself there is no one to take over from me when I’m off. I do have a personal blog at http://understandingscience.co.uk which I will add to as and when I find the time. Obviously I’ll leave the archives up and you are welcome to email me if you are looking for some specfic information.
I’ve just updated WordPress and the website theme, so if you find any links that don’t work, or pages that have broken please let me know.
I will be running more classes and courses in 2011, so if you are interested, please use the contact form to send me an email and I will let you know when they are on (If I don’t know you’re interested then they won’t run, so do get in touch
The opening ceremony kicks off at 12 noon on Saturday the 3rd of July. Speakers for the day include:
1:30 pm Dr Neil Campbell (Cancer Research UK)
2 pm Nesreen Badiozzman (CLAN Outreach Officer)
2:30pm Kathy Kindness (Psychologist Roxburghe House)
3pm Helen Young (Complementary Therapies)
3:30pm Gary Hunt (Cancer Research Aberdeen and North East Scotland)
4pm Susan Sutherland (Macmillan Development Manager North Scotland)
4:30pm Dr Avril Morrison (Understanding Cancer) Yes its me!
On Sunday the 4th of July Dr Heather Wallace from Aberdeen University will be speaking at the closing ceremony, which starts at 11:30 am.
The full programme is here, there is LOADS of other stuff going on so please come along -
My apologies for the lack of posts, I am helping to organise a Relay for Life in Huntly and that is taking up most of my “free” time. If you are in the North East of Scotland, do come along to the Relay it’s on the 3rd-4th of July 2010 in the School Playing Fields from 12 noon on the saturday until noon on the sunday. More details will follow…
Anyway, I’ve come across lots of interesting things, I just haven’t had time to write blog posts about them, so I’ll give you the links and if you can read more if they interest you too.
Firstly Malcolm Gladwells article from the New York Times explaining Why is it so difficult to develop drugs for cancer?, this article is now freely available on Gladwell’s website, its long but informative (you can download a pdf if you find that easier to read/print).
There is another long but interesting post on Science Based Medicine called Certainty versus knowledge in medicine, it raises an interesting point if people think that science is always changing eventually they give up believeing in science at all.
Another study has shown tha the cancer information on Wikipedia is no less accurate than on professional peer-reviewed websites. Although, I can’t help thinking that’s because the people who write on wikipedia probably get their information from the same professionally peer-reviewed websites!
I used to work on IGF-1 so I was interested in this press release from Cancer Research UK showing that women with higher levels of IGF-1 are more likely to develop breast cancer. About 60% of your IGF-1 levels are determined by your genes and about 40% can be altered by what you eat so this study is obviously going to need further research.
Hopefully when I have a bit more time I’ll write about these topics in more depth. I also want to update the Events calendar on the homepage, so if you know of any events coming up please send me an email. Thanks.
There is a recent TED talk discussing how eating certain foods can prevent tumours from attracting a blood supply and growing. As with many things in science, the reality is not that simple, thousands of labs all over the world are working on treatments that aim to stop tumours attracting their own blood supply so called anti-angiogenics (anti means against, angio means blood vessel and genesis means built from scratch (as in Adam and Eve)) You can hear anti-angiogenic pronounced on howoujsay.
Before you watch this talk, I want you to know that anti-angiogenics are not as straightforward as they sound. In some cases using drugs to block blood supply actually MAKES tumours grow, there is more information on the Cancer Research UK website, in a press release called the paradox of cancer drugs gives clue to why some treatments fail and they also have a short article on changing your diet after cancer treatment. There is more recent research published in April this year in Cancer Cell that argues anti-angiogenics alone should not be prescribed as they can cause some tumours to grow faster, even after you stop taking the drug.
I watched the TED talk and while interesting, I didn’t feel it was that ground breaking. Nothing in it alters the advice to eat a balanced diet and include as many different fruits and vegetables in your diet as you can. Diet can influence cancers that affect epithelial cells, as these are the sort of cells that line your stomach and come in to contact with food. There is not good evidence to suggest that diet affects other types of cancers, in fact in recent years the role of diet has been downgraded. If you are at all interested in this subject read this article called “Diet, nutrition and cancer: Public, media and scientific confusion” in the Annals of Oncology, it clearly sets out the limits of what we know and argues that we are far better off targeting resources at anti-smoking campaigns as tobacco is still responsible for a third of cancer deaths in high income countries. If you want to read the WCRF recommendations on different food types and their role in cancer click here.
Can we eat to starve cancer?
The TED talk by William Li has a long list of anti-angiogenic food. You can read the list here. It includes things like apples, oranges, strawberries, garlic, olive oil and dark chocolate. As I’ve said before, I try and eat healthily but I don’t believe that diet alone will prevent me from getting (or cure me of) cancer. Just as a wearing a seat belt won’t prevent all injuries if you are unlucky enoug to be involved in a car accident. What do you think?
My Dad forwarded me an email called “read the contents below and pass to your friends”. The gist of it was that aspargus can cure cancer. It gives three case studies of people with different types of cancer who were cured by eating asparagus and cites a study done in 1979 that I can’t track down. You can read the full email on the Snopes website if you are interested, it’s called “Stalk Talk”
As soon as I get an email like this, I do a quck google search for the topic and include the word “quack” or “skeptic” in my search, usually within a few minutes you gather enough information to decide if it’s rubbish. If everyone did this then people would stop sending these sort of emails on. Often these things start with a grain of truth and get blown out of all proportion.
*So does asparagus cure cancer? No.
Is asparagus good for you? Yes.
Should you eat a healthy balanced diet that includes vegetables, of course.
Do you expect a healthy diet to protect you from all diseases forever, of course not.
Why am I suspicious of this email? Well for a start the one study it cites is from 1979. Science has changed a lot since 1979, so if it were true, I would expect there to be much more recent research to back this up. Also if it was true, surely we would have some “asparagus based” treatments by now. As an example, it was first shown in the early 1980′s that a bacteria Helicobacter pylori caused stomach ulcers, stomach ulcers are now treated with antibiotics and the two docotors who demonstrated this won a Nobel Prize in 2005. So if we knew in 1979 that asparagus was a cancer cure we’d have some treatments based on it by now, science is slow, but it’s not that slow.
I will comment on one very shaky bit of science quoted in the email:
Asparagus contains a good supply of protein called histones, which are believed to be active in controlling cell growth.
Good grief! Practically everything contains histones (well most Eukaryotes, so that includes animals (including humans), plants, fungi, algae, ameobaes etc.) Histones are proteins that help your DNA wind up into a smaller space. If you imagine your DNA as a thread then histones are like the spool in the middle. Histones probably do have a role to play in controlling what genes are active at a particular time and this will affect cell growth. That’s not to say that eating histones will prevent cancer. Practically everything we eat contains histones and as they are proteins they are broken down in your stomach acid, this is what stomach acid does. If you have diabetes you have to inject insulin into your body because it is a protein, if you ate an insulin pill your stomach acid would break it down and it just wouldn’t work. So believing that eating asparagus is going to control the way your cells divide because it contains histones is daft, because histones are never going to make it past your stomach (and your body is full of histones anyway).
I found a few good posts when I was researching this subject, have a read if you are interested
This is a one hour documentary about how scientific research works. It follows 3 people in the lab of Dr Lawrence Shapiro in New York. It’s a one hour documentary, so make sure you’ve enough time to watch it. It’s a really realistic view of what a career in science is like. This laboratory is looking at the protein AMPK, which is linked to fat metabolism, obesity and diabetes. It’s also possible that AMPK is involved in the growth and survival of some types of cancer cells. The lab in the video is trying to find out the shape (structure) of AMPK. AMPK was discovered in Grahame Hardies lab in Dundee, and they are currently researching its role in cancer.
Bioconference, is as the name suggests a biology conference, this one is totally online. It runs on the 2nd and 3rd 0f June. There are a couple of interesting talks Lessons from the Neighbourhood – Understanding how cancer stem cells are regulated by their microenvironment by Justin Lathia and a Personalised Approach to Cancer Biomarker Discovery by Josip Blonder.
Scisurfer does for journal articles what an RSS reader does for blogs. So, if you read a lot of blogs, instead of remembring to click on this News page everyday, you can use an RSS reader (I like Blogbridges or Sage for firefox, lots of people use Googlereader) these readers will tell you when a blog has been updated. Scisurfer does a similar thing but with journal articles. You can log into scisurfer using a googlemail account, so you don’t need a separate username and password.
I didn’t know about this website until today, I read an interesting biography of Dorothy Hodgkin, who was the first person to work out the structure of insulin.
I also enjoyed this post on Judgement Day on Nature Network, if the Naturally Obsessed film has got you thinking about what life is really like in a science research lab, then this post sums up a pretty average day for most scientists. Writing grants, reviewing grants, writing papers and reviewing papers.
That’s the interesting science links I’ve been reading this week and if you know of any more feel free to leave a comment.
Researchers in Residence is a scheme that matches up PhD research students posdocs and schools. The scientist usually spends a week with a school and can lead demonstrations, class discussions, talks about university life etc. I took part in the scheme when I was a student and throughly enjoyed it. They are looking for both schools and researchers to take part. If you’ve any questions about the scheme, ask me, or get in touch with the people mentioned below.
For school teachers
Do you want to engage and motivate your students? Make links with your local university? Provide your students with a young role model – one who is actively engaged in learning themselves? Get your students thinking seriously about careers in science, technology, engineering or maths?
Of course you do! Researchers in Residence can help you do all of this with minimal effort on your part. Researchers in Residence is a school placement scheme that places PhD and post-doc researchers for up to 24 hours of student contact time. The scheme is open to schools right across the UK and is completely free of charge.
Projects can be tailored to suit your needs; for example, targeting gifted and talented students, students doing coursework or National Science and Engineering Week (which is next March). Placements can be flexible, but will often include practical classroom activities, after-school club projects, lunchtime talks, careers advice or support for small groups.
Over 300 placements were organised in schools across the country in 2008/9. The feedback from teachers and their pupils was overwhelmingly positive. If you’ve never tried Researchers in Residence and want to find out more, or if you’ve done it before and want to try it again, register online at www.researchersinresidence.ac.uk or call 0845 365 7470.
We can provide Researchers in Residence banners if you would like to add a Researchers in Residence link to your website. Leaflets for schools are available from: Anthony Hardwicke, Head of Curriculum Development, Association of Science Education, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AA email@example.com Phone: 01707 288521
For research students or postdocs (funded by the BBSRC, Wellcome Trust etc)
Researchers in Residence (RinR) places enthusiastic early-stage career researchers (PhD and post doc researchers) in host secondary schools to inspire 11-19 year olds about their work.
Participation helps researchers to develop transferable skills and meets funders’ public engagement expectations. Placements are flexible and may comprise demonstrations, discussions, career talks or university visits. Training is provided and researchers funded directly or indirectly by one of the seven UK Research Councils or the Wellcome Trust are eligible to apply.
To apply or find out more call 0845 365 7470 or visit www.researchersinresidence.ac.uk.
There have been several interesting stories about new research into breast cancer. Firstly, a local one that I whole heartedly agree with, is a study at Aberdeen University to look at how Vitamin D levels might affect breast cancer. We get most of our vitamin D from the sun (and a bit from oily fish, if you eat it!), a previous study done at the University of Aberdeen has shown that women in Aberdeen are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency than women living in Surrey in the South of England (presumably because they get more sunshine in the summer months). This work is being paid for by money raised in Fraserburgh on the MoonlightProwl, which takes place on the 5th of June. All money raised on the MoonlighProwl is spent locally. It has long been known that the mediterrean diet helps you live longer, but some people have argued that its not the high number of fruits/vegetables/olive oil that is improtant but rather the beneficial effect of long lunches and good weather! Research like this is important if we are to try and understand why cancer rates vary between different countries.
There has been a widely reported study, which has discovered more genes that increase your risk of breast cancer, the story has been covered by the BBC and the research was published in the journal Nature Genetics. One thing to note is that this study looked at people with a family history of the disease (less than 1/20 cases of breast cancer are linked to genes, the vast majority happen by “chance”) and the 13 gene variants they discovered only account for about 8% of inherited breast cancers. Obvisouly the more we know about all types of cancer, the more likely we are to develop better treatments, but this research is unlikely to change anything in the clnic for some time. Having said that, it is a large well conducted study that looked at thousands of women with a family history of breast cancer (around 4,000). As always, to get a better understanding of the numbers, have aread of Behind the Headlines – Breast cancer, new genetic clues.
Cancer Research UK have a good blog post about triple negative breast cancer, that is breast cancer that doesn’t respond to durgs like tamoxifen or herceptin. Finally, new research is starting to explain why some women don’t respond to herceptin even though they overexpress the Her2 molecule. As you can see there is lots of research going on and lots more that needs to be done.
So many things to blog about, so little time! I’ve found some good (free) resources for biology teaching. Firstly there is the “Cancer Biology – Open Educational Resource“. It is an online module produced in conjunction with the University of Bath, there is all sorts of good stuff there, online tutorials on apoptosis and tumour suppressors. Self test questions, PowerPoint presentations, ebooks, even a virtual lab based practical on DNA damage! If you want to learn more about how scientists study cancer then this is a great place to start. This website led me to the biology section of BookBoon.com.
Bookboon have several interesting textbooks, I had a look at the “Introduction to Cancer Biology” and “Kinetics for Bioscientist“, both are available online for free. The books aren’t as high quality as you would expect from a publishing house but are a good starting point. The books contain adverts, but they are no more annoying than what you get in your average magazine or newspaper.
The Open University have also released a “Virtual Laboratory” where you can carry out SDS-PAGE, western blotting, investigating intracellular signalling pathways and carry out immunoelectron microscopy. You are going to need a good background in biology (1-2 years of a degree course) before this would make sense to you but it is a very good resource (I know because I’ve used it) and is available on Jorum. Click on “View” on the bottom right to get an overview of the resources and materials.
Another good resource recently released is “Sense about Statistics” produced by the “Sense about Science” charity, I’ve already recommended one of their other publications, called “What’s the Harm?” in my post on “science and evidence based medicine“ Sense about Statistics was reviewed in the Times last month, arguing that rather than viewing all statistics as lies, we are far better to understand how the numbers work than resort to guess work and voodoo. I couldn’t agree more.
Finally, if textbooks are your thing, don’t forget Pubmed’s Bookshelf. There are loads of textbooks here including classics such as Albert’s Molecular Biology of the Cell, Stryer’s Biochemistry, Lodish’s Molecular Cell Biology, Brown’s Genomes and Kaufe’s Cancer Medicine. Far easier than carrying the books around and much easier to search than flicking through each book in the library.
In the run up to the UK election, I thought it was worth posting this link from the Times, Are you likely to have a scientist as an MP? Short answer. No. Only one candidate standing in this years election is an active research scientist and perhaps not surpringly, they are in Cambridge. In the last parliment only 27/650 members had a science degree.
Ben Goldacre has an interesting post about cancer stories and the election in a post called “Evidence Based Voting” which is worth a read. Apparently the Daily Mail had a story about 15 cancer drugs that had been rejected by NICE, when in fact 10 of them HAVE been approved. All this does make you wonder about what you read in the papers.
The chances are, whoever gets in, will make large cuts to the science budget. Of course you could always vote for the science party…
Relay for Life Huntly, is taking place on the 3rd-4th July 2010. The event raises money for Cancer Research UK and last year’s was great fun. We will have a large information marquee, with information on local cancer support charities. If you would like a stall at the event, please contact me, the more the merrier!
The event already has 21 teams registered, we are having a food village and lots of entertainment on the day, so even if you aren’t taking part in the Relay (which is a WALK by the way, not a run), then it’s still worth a visit. I am also putting together a list of speakers, so if you are a cancer researcher (in the Aberdeen or Dundee area) and fancy giving a short (15 minutes) talk, please get in touch with me, I’d love to hear from you (and it doesn’t matter if you are not funded by CRUK). Also if you support people with cancer and want to promote your charity or organisation, please get in touch. You can email me using the contact form, or phone me on(01466) 66 81 88.
I’m also on the look out for student demonstrators, to take part on the day, so if you are looking for some science communication experience this could be the event for you!
PS There is also a Relay for Life Huntly page on Facebook if you are looking for the latest updates
Fashions come and go in science as they do in any other industry. New experiments are “trendy” and “hot” and are soon replaced by the next big thing. If you don’t work in science, it’s easy to think that science should be rational and above such petty concerns, but the life science industry is big business and labs invest large sums of money in new techniques.
I’d like to draw your attention to a video on YouTube about cancer research. It is produced by the American Association of Cancer Research and it is in part, an advert for the American Association of Cancer Research and (the US) National Cancer Institute. Most of the statistics relate to research in America, however, it is well worth a watch and does raise some very thought provoking statistics. (You can mute the soundtrack if it annoys you, it doesn’t add anything to the video)
I’d like to comment on a few of the statistics raised and give a UK perspective on them.
“Only 3-4 % of adults with cancer participate in a clinical trial (in the U.S)”
The situation in the UK is a lot more encouraging, partly because we have the benefit of a National Health Service, which makes co-ordination of trials much easier. In the UK about 12 % of people with cancer take part in a trial, for more information on this topic read the following blog post from Cancer Research UK
“now 12 per cent of all patients diagnosed with cancer get involved in trials”.
As a basic scientist, the statistics that struck me were:
17,590 p53 papers, but as of yet there are no drugs in use in the clinic as a result of this research (that’s not to say there won’t be drugs in the future, but it does highlight the difficulty of turning lab research into treatment).
The situation is similar for another well studied gene, ras, with 10, 000 published research articles and no drugs currently available.
The fact that half of all published papers focus on 10 % of all genes doesn’t worry me in the slightest, these are the genes we know most about because they are most likely to be important. In an ideal world, with unlimited money of course we’d like to study all genes equally, but there isn’t an endless supply of money (or scientists) so it makes sense to focus the resources on the genes that are most likely to have a medical impact.
It’s also amazing to think that the 1st human cancer gene was only isolated in 1982 (and now we know of over 500) this brings home just how much we HAVE discovered in the past 25 years. Likewise the increase in cancer genome sequencing is immense, in 2008 only one cancer genome had been sequenced and now 100 have, more importantly, the cost of sequencing is dropping all the time.
Do I think cancer research is worthwhile? yes I do, despite appearances, we ARE making progress, not as fast as we’d like and I don’t believe any one organisation or conference is going to discover an amazing “magic bullet”, but lots of little bits of hard won information DOES add up to a lot of progress and in time we will reap the benefits of this research. What did you think of the statistics, please feel free to leave a comment below.
I have written about cancer fatigue before. Fatigue can affect people with any type of cancer and at any stage of treatment, having said that there is actually very little research and practical support available. Fatigue is tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest and it can be very hard to explain this to other people. If you are looking for more information on fatigue, a good place to start is some of my earlier posts:
How your thoughts and feelings can influences fatigue and links to support groups and courses
This information is all very well, but how do you explain fatigue to someone who has never had it? Many people think that if you “have a long lie” or “get an early night” you will cure fatigue. Other people think that if you “have a break” or give up some of your normal activities you will recover from your fatigue. In many cases this is simply not true. Doing too much certainly makes fatigue worse, but resting doesn’t necessarily make it better. Sometimes, you will come across the view that if your fatigue isn’t lifting then you must be depressed. Certainly depression can cause fatigue and treatment for depression can ease fatigue, but this is not the whole story. Explaining this to your close friends, family and GP can be very difficult.
So the problem remains, how do you explain fatigue to others? The very best resource I’ve found is called the Spoon Theory. If you only click on one link in this post this is the one to click, you’ll find it on the website http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com (there is also a pdf version if you want to print it). The website has gone a bit over the top with marketing (you can buy posters, key rings, spoons, as well as a range of “cancer sucks” merchandise etc). But the basic information and the idea is good and I recommend you read it.
Do you know of any other resources that help explain fatigue to others? If so please leave a comment below. Thanks.
A few things have caught my interest this week, including this research on kidney cancer. A very early study has shown that two proteins in your urine (called aquaporin-1 and adipophilin) may act as markers of kidney cancer. This study only looked at 42 people with kidney cancer, so it will need to be repeated with an awful lot more people to see if it is true (or not).
If you are looking for general information on kidneys or kidney disease then the Edinburgh Renal Unit (EdRen) is a great place to start. Kidney Research UK has a lot of good information, including information on kidney cancer. About 2% of cancers in the UK are kidney cancers and it tends to affect people between 50-70 years old, the exception to this is Wilm’s tumour that usually affects children in the first 5 years of life.
The report itself is interesting (although the website is pretty dire). The report is made up of a collection of quotes, from people in all walks of life NHS care. The quotes were written in 1949, 1997 and 2008. The common theme seems to be how people’s expectations have changed, although it is clear that there was no “golden age” when everything was perfect.
Some of the quotes (about 14%) are written by people who have worked (or are working) in the NHS, which gives an interesting perspective. Changing attitudes to medical research are discussed in Part II (on Page 47).
If you like this sort of thing you should also check out the excellent UK site, Healthtalkonline or the American site Narrative Matters (a dire website with great content).
P.S. In case you are wondering, MO stands for Mass Observation, it comes up in the report quite a lot.
For years charities such as Cancer Research UK and the World Cancer Research Fund have been telling us that between a quarter and a third of cancer could be prevented by changes to our diet and lifestyle. Obviously both charities have something to say on the EPIC report and both are worth a read, you can read the Cancer Research response here and the WCRF on here. However, the best blog post I’ve read on this subject is on Respectful Insolenence and is written by an American breast cancer surgeon and research scientist called “Eat your fruit and veggies?”
So what did the study show? Eating fruit and veg does decrease your risk of cancer, slightly. The more fruit and veg you eat the more this risk is decreased. A 3% decrease in risk would prevent 7,000 deaths a year in the UK.
Do Fruit and Veg Decrease your risk of Cancer? Data from EPIC Trial
What do I think? I think it’s important not to confuse the effects of eating fruit and veg on cancer risk with the effect of obesity on cancer risk. Being obese tends to increase your risk of cancer. People who eat more fruit and veg are less likely to be obese, so even if the protective effect of the fruit and veg is not as great as we’d like, it’s better to eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight, than not to bother at all.
Basically this research hasn’t changed my opinion, as I wrote last year in a post called “Scientists keep changing their minds…”, I don’t expect that wearing a seat belt will keep me save from all road accidents but I still wear a seat belt every time I’m in a car. Likewise, a healthy diet is not going to protect me from developing all types of cancer, but it’s a good place to start.
The BBC are running a series of programs as part of their “World of Wonder“, focusing on science. There is a new, three part series starting on BBC4 tonight called “Beautiful Minds“. The (short) series focuses on three UK scientists and shows how their scientific discoveries changed how we think about science. The first program is about Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a physicist who discovered pulsars. The BBC4 site, also has a list of links if you want to follow up any information in the program.
Her story is interesting for several reasons, she is a graduate of Glasgow University and discovered pulsars while working as a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. Her supervisors were awarded the Nobel Prize for her discovery, but she was not. Since then she has worked at the University of Southampton, University College London and The Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. She has also worked for the Open University. As well as being scientist Jocelyn Bell is a Quaker, so I’m looking forward to her observations on the role of science and religion.
The program will be available on iplayer and is repeated several times, on BBC until the 12th of April 2010, so hopefully you’ll be able to catch it.
UCAN, the local charity that supports people with urological cancers (kidney, bladder prostate and testicular) are looking for sponsors for a race night to be held in Aberdeen Northern Hotel on Friday the 16th of April 2010. The event is being organised by the Rotary Club of St Machar and they are looking for everything from a £600 for a main event sponsor to a ticket at the race night for £12.50. If you can help out, or know someone who can, please look at the UCAN Upcoming Events website for more information.
What chemicals are causing the problem, the research looked at acrylic fibres, nylon fibres and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from petroleum. You can read the abstract for the article at Occupational and Environmental Medicine “Post menopausal breast cancer and occupational exposures” although you have to pay to read the full article.
This research serves as a reminder, if you use chemicals at work, make sure you follow the proper procedures as you could be affecting your health years down the line.
There is a nice feature in Wired magazine about “The Genome Revolution”, it is ten years since all the genes in a human were first mapped. The article is called “10 years on ‘the genome revolution is only just beginning‘”. There are a few quotes in the article that particularly struck me
The Human Genome Project — the Collins-led governmental side of the genome-sequencing race, with Venter leading the private side — commenced only when the cost of reading DNA finally approached $1 per unit, or $3 billion for a whole genome. A comparable genome sequence now costs less than $10,000. What took years to complete can be done in a day.
It is true the cost and speed of sequencing is falling all the time and the further it falls the more it will be used. This is a good thing and can only help us learn more about the science of the human body. So just what have we learned from the human genome sequence?
the genomic age has produced significant medical advances. Analyses of gene disturbances in cancer tissues have produced several promising drugs. Testing for breast cancer mutations is now common. Individual response to about a dozen drugs can be predicted. And even if the big picture isn’t yet clear, researchers have thousands of new gene targets, each a providing a foothold on the path to understanding.
Obviously we would like to have effective drugs for all types of cancer and we clearly have a long way to go. It is true that testing for mutations in breast cancer is now mainstream but we don’t have similar tests for other types of cancer. Working out who will (and won’t) respond to drugs is also a huge area of research and one that could have a huge impact on how treat cancer (and other diseases) in the future.
If you want to read more about the history of the genome sequencing project and the future for new developments then check out the Nature special edition (which is available online for free) called “The human genome at ten“
Prescription charges in Scotland will fall to £3 from tomorrow (the 1st of April 2010). If you live in Wales or Northern Ireland then prescriptions are already free. It is planned to phase out prescription charges in Scotland by 2011. If you live in England you still have to pay £7.20.
Not everyone in Scotland has to pay for their prescriptions, there is a leaflet called “Help with Health Costs” that gives more information on who is exempt and how to apply. In the last three-quarters of the year 66 million prescriptions were dispensed in Scotland. You might not know that drugs in Scotland are approved by the SMC (the Scottish Medical Consortium), an equivalent body in England is called NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence).
In November 2009 and January 2010 I wrote about the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate Report that criticised the standards of cleaning at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. A follow up inspection was carried out on the 17th of February 2010 and a report of their findings has been published today (the 29th March 2010). The follow up inspection looked at Wards 12, 14, 31,32,45, Ear Nose and Throat and the High Dependency Unit.
What is new? The report says that the senior charge nurse on each ward are responsible for their own wards environment and they can ensure that it is cleaned to an acceptable standard. The report does say that the senior charge nurse should be given the power to report faults with the building directly to estates. Mattresses also need to be checked for cleanliness. On the down side, almost all waste is going into clinical waste bins (which is admittedly better than clinical waste going into normal bins) but it would be better if non-hazardous waste went into regular dustbins and clinical waste went into clinical bins/sharp bins as appropriate.
Overall, things seem to be getting better, but as always, if you are in the hospital and you don’t like what you see, complain.
I’m sorry for the lack of posts over the past few weeks. I’ve not been well and as this is a one man operation, there is no one to cover for me. Anyway, things are back to normal around here so, if you’ve any topics you’d like me to cover, please send me an email using the contact form.
I have some more details about events going on in and around Aberdeen for National Science and Engineering Week (12th to 21st March 2010). All are open to anyone (though you may have to register in advance for some events).
The one most directly relevant to cancer is a talk by Dr Marianne Nicolson, a consultant medical oncologist with NHS Grampian. It is being held in the Suttie Centre at Foresterhill on Friday the 12th of March from 3-4 pm and is called “Quality MOdern Treatment on Study”. In fact, there are events running at the Suttie centre all day on Friday 12th March, you need to register and you can read more about the tours and talks on the Clinical Research Facilities Public Open Day website.
Cancer Research UK carry out a survey every year to see how much people know about both cancer prevention and cancer screening and the work of the charity itself. I received a paper copy of the survey in the post this morning, but you can save a stamp and complete it online. You will be asked if you want to donate £2 a month to Cancer Research UK (but obviously you don’t have to).
I though I’d point out that National Science and Engineering Week starts, next week and runs from the 12th to the 21st of March 2010. You can find out more here. There are a couple of events in Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire, on the 13th of March there will be some events on at the new shopping centre, Union Square and Science at the Lighthouse in Fraserburgh. On the 20th of March there will be family discovery days at Satrosphere and the Maritime museum. For more information see the events database.
Moray Science Festival is also running now from the 2nd to the 6th of March, there are a whole range of family activities on the 6th of March at Moray College in Elgin. There are a whole range of free drop in events, hopefully it won’t be snowing! Caithness Science Festival and the Hebridean Science festival also run in March, there is more information on the STEM North website (scroll down to STEM events).
The chart shows whether there is good, conflicting or poor evidence for taking a specific food supplement. The size of the circle shows how popular a supplement is (based on Google hits). The height of the circle shows whether the evidence for taking it is good, conflicting or poor (the higher the circle the better the evidence). If you click on the diagram and then move your mouse over to the right hand side of the screen you can select the medical condition you are interested in. I chose cancer, so what does it show?
If you look at supplements and cancer there is strong evidence that beta-glucan and selenium are helpful (they are near the top) however, selenium is much more popular than beta-glucan as it has a much larger circle. You might be wondering why selenium also appears lower down the table, I need to investigate the studies in more detail to find out why. The circle at the top relates to “chemotherapy” and the one lower down to “cancer”, I’m not sure if they mean chemoprevention rather than chemotherapy?
Why do I like this chart?
It is based on a huge amount of data, over 1,500 abstracts, just to create one graph! It uses high quality studies found in pubmed and Cochrane (see my earlier post on “Where do scientists look for information on the web“). It only looks at studies in humans (not cells in a dish in the lab) and these studies need to be large, placebo controlled, this means the data is as reliable as it can be. Furthermore the information that the chart is based on is freely available, online, so you can follow it up yourself.
The author also has a book out so if you want to see a whole range of data presented this way have a look.
As an aside, I first saw data displayed in this “moving circles” format in a TED talk by Hans Rosling called “Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen“, this talk is about how people perceive the developed/developing world and how if you actually look at the data this world view is far too simplistic. This talk is well worth watching, it was recorded in 2006 and has been updated several times (the updates are good too). The talk discusses health in the broadest sense and argues strongly that data should be made publically available. Please watch it.
The Ig Nobel awards are given to research that makes you laugh and makes you think. It takes place at Dundee University on Saturday the 13th of March at 6pm. The event is open to the public and tickets are free (but you need to book in advance). You can book tickets online (under “Other Free Lectures“)
This years topics include:
how your underwear could save you from certain death,
why you should always keep a look out for flirtatious ostriches,
how to avoid problems when using with the word ‘The’,
who invented and wore the World’s first false nose AND
the best way to avoid sword-swallowing injuries from the author of the penetrating medical report “Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects.”
If you can’t make it to Dundee then the event is being streamed, live, to the Kings College Conference centre in Aberdeen, again, tickets are free but you need to book in advance and be in your seat by 5:45 pm! It looks like being a good evening.
As this website is a one man operation (well,woman), I'll be on maternity leave from August 2010.
I won't be updating the blog or running courses during this time, but if you are interested in attending a course in 2011, do use the contact form to send me an email and I'll let you know as soon as I have one planned.