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I’m somewhat wired this evening with a number of thoughts pinging around my cerebral cortex, not unlike a BB let loose in a corrugated steel shed. A friend was just diagnosed with glioblastoma, possibly stage II, and is scheduled for surgery in just a few hours. He has been otherwise quite fit and healthy, but noticed some odd cognitive disjoints. A scan in the MRI revealed the brain tumor. Scary stuff. The prognosis for gliomas isn’t exactly rosy.

In the 18th or even 19th century, by all rights I would be a wizened old grandmother or even long dead, but in the early 21st century, I mentally view myself as not terribly different in many ways than “me” in my late 20s/early 30s. It is thus a rude shock to find that it is more difficult to regain fitness than it was 20, or even 10 years ago, that the results of my blood tests are not as pristine and perfect as they once were, and I am sometimes taken aback when I see a dowdy matron, crowned aplenty with salt n’ pepper curls, in the mirror’s reflection. But being an old broad has its perks, no doubt about that. Still, the news of my friend gives me pause as mortality taps me on the shoulder during my merry march toward cronehood.

The placeholder, just to whet the appetites of the two or three individuals who might drop by the chimp refuge, is for the following which will be blogged in the near future:

Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Krugman, Odocoileus virginiana, Ixodes scapularis and a garden trowel. Circle the four which belong together.

Pink and blue matter: some bonobic observations of men’s and women’s brains.

I want to be Steve

This essay, “How Quantum Physics Can Teach Biologists About Evolution,”appeared in this morning’s New York Times, and reminded me of this nifty endeavor, Project Steve, described as:

…the National Center for Science Education’s (NCSE) “Project Steve” is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of “scientists who doubt evolution” or “scientists who dissent from Darwinism.”

Only about 1% of scientists are named Steve, or variants thereof like Stephen (Project Steve was named such in honor of the late Stephen Jay Gould) yet thousands of “Steves” have signed on in support of eaching evolution in public schools. [Note added in proof; OK, not “thousands” but around 500 or so “Steves” have signed on; but “thousands” has a nice ring to it.] Unfortunately, I am neither a Stephanie nor a Stefania, so I am not qualified to become a NCSE Steve but I can still get the T-shirt!

One of the FAQ’s of the Project Steve site discusses the noticeable lack of biologists on the creationists’ lists. Of the creationist oriented scientists I have encountered over the years, or perhaps I should further qualify, those scientists who discounted evolution and adhered to the “creation in 6 days” myth, none were biologists or biochemists. Typically they were chemists of the more physical type or “computer scientists” although I think that “scientist” is a loose term for these techocratically hued IT nerds. One guy, a chemist, had written in his various organic chem. texts, “This book belongs to God,” and various bellicose verses taken from the Old Testament. This fellow was a real lord-love-a-duck fundie curiosity.

Check out the National Center for Science Education. I’ll link it to the Refuge. It’s an in-depth resource for defense of teaching evolution in public schools.

The essay in the NYT makes a good point. Most of us practicing scientists have our heads buried in our real work at the bench, and thus the alarm calls warning us of creationist encroachment in our schools are muffled. The concept of theory is often misconstrued by the layman, thus adding niggling doubt to those observing the debate. But the facts remain, evolution is consistent with science, and there are no data supporting “intelligent design” or a whip it up in 6 days Earth. We need to raise our heads from the bench, or onerous midyear reviews if we are scientific management, a.k.a. feline guidance assistants, and speak in one voice. “Evolution! It’s not just a theory. It’s good science!”

On a related note, my younger kid, a performing-arts-drama-queen type, kicked butt on the science section of her standardized state middle school exam. Well, yes, it was just a standardized test, but as I have told her many times, regardless of what one chooses as a vocation, a solid understanding of science and math serves one well in this world,and that includes coursework on evolution.

Big Fat Golden Goose Eggs (also to be found on Cognitive Emesis)

Several thunderstorms of Midwestern caliber recently passed through the Land o’ Ten Thousand Superfund sites, a.k.a. The Gaaah-dun State, which assured that the Saturday morning air, though laden with dripping moisture, was a darned site more bearable than the cloacal conditions in benighted regions of South Florida, at least as described by the Chief Cognitive Emetic. I hauled my jiggling ass out for an early perambulation with the extra motivation of having obtained a good glimpse of my posterior, ballooning toward barnlike proportions, in the expansive mirrors of a friend’s bathroom during a recent visit post-vino.

I know what I need to do to reverse the trend toward buttocks of agricultural outbuilding size. An EFD (Every Fucking Day) plan of lurching bipedal locomotion, and just saying “no” to gorfy junk scattered about at departmental meetings as well as too copious amounts of good food, seem to be the ticket toward decreased adiposity, but only with consistency of these practices over a goodly amount of time. The requirement for this endeavor got me to thinking about the Fattists, oft the brunt of flowery and simultaneously scatological verbosity on this very site, and their rampant braying that the obesity epidemic is a false alarm created by collusion of the medical community and greedy Big Pharma. These ruminations, as inspired by the Campos camp, causes me to come clean and confess the reality of my situation:

I am not the amorphously shaped, menopausal drudge as described above. In truth, I am a reprehensibly wealthy research minion of the pharmaceutical industry. I giggle with glee, digging deep with the heels of my Manolo Blahniks, as I tread up the backs of blue-haired Medicare ladies whilst clambering to my late model Porsche Carrera. There, I rip open my tidy white lab coat, revealing my bosom straining the weft of a snug Juicy T-shirt, legs akimbo beneath my little Prada skirt. I then pull my mane of hair loose from its sensible ponytail. My mouth forms a little pout as I run over various patients and Canadian-bound consumers in search of the bargain basement prescription, on my route to my pied-a-terre in Tribeca. This makes for an ever so bumpy ride after all. I yearn to upgrade my other residence, an all too modest 6 bedroom cottage tucked away in the Hamptons, but that will only come if I, in league with my sinister colleagues, bring forth multiple medications for the obese or even barely overweight. Thus, I am motivated, no, make that hungry to discover the Magic Fat pill which will do a damn slight bit of good, cause multitudes of side effects, but will put reams and reams of dead Presidents in my Gucci pocketbook.

Well, perhaps I have slightly exaggerated my appearance and my financial situation. “Dowdy matron” suits me just fine, and as for my salary, I can’t complain but in this affluent neck of the woods, I ain’t among the rich. But unfortunately, I know all too well that the industry is pursuing drugs for obesity, but not for the reasons that the Fattists claim. Big Pharma has not concocted the obesity epidemic with their partners in crime, the medical establishment, but rather, in its typical voracious fashion, seized upon the trend toward decreased physical activity and burgeoning gullets as a large (pun intended) market opportunity.

Although we bench monkeys would like to think that good science drives discovery research, and in fact this is not an uncommon event, the pecuniary creatures in market analysis have in the past decade or more, increasingly worked their wiles earlier and earlier in the stages in the drug discovery process. “Good science” is not always first and foremost in marketing’s greedy mindset. Consequently, many pharma companies have research efforts directed toward obesity. Woe to those who do not. Other than the niche-directed biotech boutiques, to remain “competitive,” obesity targets must be on the research docket {Aside: “targets” meaning discreet biochemical entities such as enzymes and receptors which have potential to be affected pharmacologically.} Now, in terms of pure science, I have to admit there’s a certain degree of “Ah ha!” coolness to some of the targets related to obesity. The “Ah ha!” factor is an especially seductive influence in a scientist’s work. Hours of tedium are whittled away in experiments for that moment of discovery. I suspect that little spurts of dopamine are released at those moments, tickling the reward centers of the brain, and thereby making the process addictive. For example, interesting enzymes involved with fatty acid metabolism and certain GPCRs, which appear to regulate satiety, represent potential, and challenging, targets. {Second aside: GPCRs = G-protein coupled receptors; remember this, my comrades in emesis, since I may very well use this term again in subsequent verbal vomitus.} But those of us grizzled old veterans, as tempted by the “Ah ha!” factor as we might be, know the pitfalls of bringing forward drugs for chronic indications, and certainly obesity falls into the latter category.

For drugs that treat chronic conditions, for example, high blood pressure or arthritis, the safety of the meds is of great concern. The patient takes these drugs daily for months or years, more likely, so adverse side effects are not particularly tolerable, in contrast to a cancer patient who bears the brunt of cytotoxic chemicals coursing through his or her system in the effort to drive back tumor growth although a thought-trend in oncology is to approach cancer as a chronic state. Unfortunately, with the rush to market certain cox-2 inhibitors, safety and proper direction of the drug toward its intended patient group, went out the window. The Vioxx debacle, in my opinion, was a wake-up call to both the pharma industry and the FDA, but that’s the subject for another screed. Drugs cost a fucktacular amount of money to bring to market, and the proper trials to determine efficacy and long term safety of a potential obesity drug (let’s not forget Fen-phen; I’m sure Wyeth would like to forget it) will add significantly to this cost. All in the name of what? A 10-20% weight loss versus placebo?

One Friday evening at the local watering hole, a group of us shlub scientists were lamenting the research efforts directed toward obesity. One of the sr. chemists working on an obesity target, himself a moderately portly fellow who was scarfing down pizza and drinking beer like the rest of us, opined that his intellectual blood, sweat and tears were being spilled on a hypothetical pill which a 300 pound person would swallow, only to lose a walloping ten pounds as a result, then sue the manufacturer when his or her stools take on the ballistic strength of an AK-47 or when once pliant skin becomes an infected, arid wasteland due to some pharmacologically induced fuckup in fat metabolism. All of us gathered around that pub table recognized that yes, there exists a population of the morbidly obese who quite likely have some genetic variant predisposing them to the condition, but this population of folks does not exactly represent a billion dollar market. To a person, we investigators each believed that diet and exercise are first line treatments for most garden-variety obesity.

So to the Fattists who believe that the pharma industry wants you to be fat, well, to an extent you are right since your obesity shines like a golden egg to the devils in pharma marketing. However, let me assure you, many of us who actually try to discover drugs wish you’d just walk, bike, swim or run more, and eat less, so we can direct our attention and our “Ah ha!” cravings toward drugs to treat cancer, infectious disease, immune disorders, neurological disease, and such.

Sailing in uncharted waters (from June 26, 2005)

Although I am nearly braindead this evening as the result of a long drive from Cambridge MA to Princeton NJ, I am compelled to plaster my first ever yammerings in my brand new little piece of blogdom.

Blogs cause shivers to trill and skitter along my spine like nervous, neural-sheathed shrews. Blogs are inherently so public, and although I consider myself a gregarious sort, my tendency is to nurture and to guard my own, and others’, privacy. But such scruples be damned! It’s the Golden Age of Self-Absorption so…

Avast, ye scum! Monsters be here!