Here I was, re-opening shop, only to disappear after a week or so. Now I’m moving on, permanently. As in, leaving the business of science writing. Over the last six months or so, my interests have been slowly shifting, and I find myself interested in “science” as a general concept less and less. I’m more focused on business, medicine, and the business of medicine.
I never thought I was particularly good at writing about science and science-related things. I always felt as though there was someone who knew more, someone who could convey my ideas better than I could. I also felt as though it was a relatively new niche. I discovered quickly that I had been mistaken. It is for these reasons that I am no longer going to be writing about science and related interests.
While writing for polyscience.org, I always got the most enjoyment from writing about medicine. Specifically adding commentary to news articles written by journalists whose first area of study was certainly not medicine. In the meantime, I’ve also picked up quite an interest in business, and so it only seemed natural to marry the two ideas.
Thus, On The Pharm was born. I’ve been writing there for a few days, I can honestly say that writing for it does not feel like work. Indeed, it’s more fun than anything else, probably because 1) it’s easier and 2) I don’t have to learn so many ideas from scratch like I did when writing about science as a whole. I can focus on my niche, and that’s what I want to do. I also like the look of the site much better. So without further ado, here is my latest work-in-progress:
Some stuff will be technical, some will be fluffy, some will be business-oriented, and some of it will be tongue-in-cheek. And all of it will likely be informal. I prefer to talk in my posts as though I’m talking to a person, and I hope that comes across, unlike here where I pretended to be an omniscient narrator. I’m writing for it every day (so far), and I have a small backlog of material from the last two weeks, but I’m slowly clearing it out.
I can only hope that it’ll find a niche of readers so I’m not listening to myself echo in cyberspace, because isn’t that what every writer wants? Readers?
[tags]writing, On The Pharm, Pharmacy, medicine[/tags]
Research out of Queen’s University in Canada has come up with some surprising findings: namely that conventional wisdom that terminal patients would rather die at home than anywhere else isn’t nearly as important to them as dying under the care of competent doctors. (Why is it that conventional wisdom turns out to be anything but wise under scrutiny? Hooray scientific discovery, I suppose.)
Dying at home ranked 24th on the list of 28 factors. “[T]o have trust and confidence in the doctors looking after you” and “not to be kept alive on life supports when there is little hope for a meaningful recovery” were the most important to terminally-ill patients. It’s interesting to note that family members rated dying at home 14th on a list of 26 factors. (more…)
I don’t often criticize the pharmaceutical industry, because I am a capitalist at heart, and there are enough other, often ill-informed people out there to do it for me. I don’t begrudge the pharmaceutical industry its high prices on patent medicines. I do think that some of their practices are a little over the top. On the other hand, some of the major players in Big Pharma are considered some of the world’s most ethical companies.
Imagine my dismay, then, when I came across an article that I’d printed out from the New York Times back on February 15 about Avastin, a drug from Genentech that shows significant effect in terminal cancer patients suffering from colon cancer as well as late-stage breast and lung cancer. Avastin will cost upwards of $100,000 a year for treatment. While most patients that take Avastin won’t last a year, that breaks down to over $8,000 a month. (The average colon cancer patient on Avastin takes it for 11 months.) Naturally, insurance companies are reluctant to pay for the medication, and one can hardly blame them. (Contrary to popular belief, most insurance companies are not minting money.) (more…)
Sex is something that most people think about on a minutely basis, but most don’t *really* think about it. From a macroscopic evolutionary view, sex doesn’t really make sense. The amount of effort that males put in to attract females, even outside the human species, is extreme. Sex is expensive in terms of time, effort, and stress. It would be much easier and less expensive from a reproduction standpoint to undergo binary fission, or drop pieces of oneself every time one wanted to reproduce.
Of course we don’t do that, and there are a few explanations as to why this is. (Because it’s “fun” doesn’t apply: that’s an evolutionary byproduct of needing to reproduce.) One hypothesis put forth almost 20 years ago suggests that sex evolved as a way to purge harmful mutations from the population. By shuffling genes “randomly” (mixing chromosomes is anything but random — any sociologist will tell you that), the harmful mutations would be concentrated into a few select individuals who would be weaker and less likely to reproduce, and therefore these mutations would be weeded out through natural selection. (more…)
I was just reading a BBC News report about autism and measuring an autistic person’s intelligence. While I agree with Dr. Mottron’s assessment that real autistic people — those characterized by mental impairment — may be scored unfairly low on intelligence tests, I question his assertion that by recognizing their innate gifts, they can be more productive members of society. While there’s no doubt that some could, I wonder how many. Even in highly-structured and focused jobs like areas of law and science.
Having worked a little bit with autistic children (and those you would think were children) I wonder whether this is actually the case. All jobs require some degree of social interaction, unless you’re someone who runs their own business out of a home (freelance writing, for example), and many of the autistic people I’ve interacted with have a complete lack of social skills.
Though I think if even a handful of autistic people are able to live fuller lives, then Dr. Mottron’s research was worth the time, effort, and expense. After all, who is to say how many people have to be impacted before research becomes worthwhile?
Malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum is one of the leading causes of death in the third world, especially among children. Becoming immune to all of the variations of Plasmodium malaria can take upwards of five years. The reason for this is because of the cloaking capabilities the parasite has evolved over the years. A process called epigenetic silencing allows the Plasmodium to express only one antigenic protein at a time. As there are about 60 genes that can be turned on and off, this means the body must learn to recognize 60 different forms of the same organism.
A distributed computing project out of France aims to tackle drug-discovery for Plasmodium-mediated malaria. Using software developed by the Fraunhofer Institute — the same people that developed the MP3 codec — the project narrows down the list of possible drug candidates to a select few which will be further analyzed by supercomputer.
The project, called Wide In Silico Docking on Malaria (WISDOM) to model 3D structures of proteins from Plasmodium to ligands: the chemical compounds that bind to protein receptors. The massive parallelism was achieved by assigning one ligand to one protein to each node on the grid. Computing the probability of a match can take a few seconds to a few minutes.
The project joins myriad other distributed computing projects in the life sciences, many of which are specifically drug-discovery efforts for diseases ranging from cancer to AIDS to anthrax and even Ebola.
[tags]WISDOM, distributed computing, grid computing, malaria, plasmodium falciparum[/tags]
Some quick morning bullets.
- A UK heart surgeon, Mr. Francis Wells (anyone else find it strange that he goes by the title “Mr.” rather than “Dr.”?) has pioneered a new way of restoring normal mitral valve function by studying the heart diagrams made by Leonardo da Vinci. His technique allows him to avoid some of the drawbacks that current repair operations introduce. Mr. Wells has successfully treated 80 patients with the technique. Three cheers for Leonardo?
- Pathological liars often have anatomically different brain structures which allow them to create complex lies quickly, with relatively little inhibition. Excess white matter in the prefrontal cortex (used for high-level thought) and decreased gray matter (which mediates inhibitions) giving them an edge over anti-social people and normal control subjects.
- Yesterday, I wrote about Gary Olsen, the third “space tourist,” and how calling him simply a tourist was unfair. As a materials scientist, it stands to reason that he’ll conduct experiments on himself. He’ll be investigating space sickness, lower back pain, and be collecting data on microorganisms inside in the ISS.
I find the commentary on Leonardo da Vinci interesting. It’s been said that some of the best doctors come from backgrounds outside medicine: particularly engineering because they bring a different mindset and way of looking at problems with them when they go to medical school. With no formal background in medicine, da Vinci brought an engineering perspective to the table when he looked at the body and drew his illustrations and diagrams. I think it’s all sorts of cool that even today, people are learning from his work.