Friday, July 31, 2009

Monoclonal antibodies

I was recently surprised to find out that there are a TON of approved therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are simply clonal antibodies, they all are exactly the same and thus bind the exact same antigen. In the case of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies these are drug targets. And I thought they were just good for western blots and coimmunoprecipitation!
In my defence I was aware of two approved monoclonal antibodies, herceptin and avastin. Both are for cancer treatment, so it makes sense that I would know them. Herceptin targets defective HER2 mitogen receptors that are stuck in the 'on' position, and herceptin is able to stop this activity by binding to these cell surface receptors. Avastin binds to VEGF, thereby preventing VEGF from stimulating new blood vessels to form in growing tumours thus cutting them off from oxygen and nutrients.
This relatively new class of drugs are effective and the market is growing fast, unfortunately they are also extremely expensive. Since they are such big business there are lots of new monoclonal antibody therapies out there. According to wikipedia:
"The current “big 5” therapeutic antibodies on the market: Avastin, Herceptin (both oncology), Humira, Remicade"..." and Rituxan (oncology and AIID) accounted for 80% of revenues in 2006"
But that must mean there are some interesting alternative monoclonals out there, here are a few that are perhaps a bit more unique:
Rituxan is useful for both autoimmune disorders and non-Hodgkin lymphoma because it targets CD20 on Bcells which are producing autoantibodies, in the case of autoimmunity, or are proliferating unchecked in the case of non-Hodgkins.
Palivizumab is a monoclonal that prevensts Respiratory Syncytial Virus infection.
Abciximab blocks platelet activation an thus blood clotting.
Efalizumab binds CD11a and is thus immunosuppressive and used to treat psoriasis, but due to side-effects of this immunosuppression it is being withdrawn from the market.
HCV-AbXTL68 is used in HCV positive patients undergoing liver transplant to prevent infection of the new liver.
Most of the monoclonal antibodies are for cancer or for autoimmune disorders.
Check out the diagram from wikipedia for a quick look at the strategies used to treat cancer with monoclonal antibodies.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No Fly Zone

You may have noticed a new poll at the top of our sidebar. Conversation at the pub last night turned towards urination style - whether you used the underwear fly or went 'over the top' - and now we're asking you. So cast your vote, and leave your reasoning in the comments if you like.

You can also check out this brief documentary about the hazards of the underwear fly (video starts at about 10s):


Monday, July 27, 2009

Should copyrights be abolished in academia?

We've all been exposed to strange situations where we had to ask for permission to use our own figures or data from a paper into another paper, or a thesis etc... And the fact that one can retain copyrights is in my opinion one of the best benefits of some open-access journals. But Steven Shavell thinks we should go even further in this paper:

"The conventional rationale for copyright of written works, that copyright is needed to foster their creation, is seemingly of limited applicability to the academic domain. For in a world without copyright of academic writing, academics would still benefit from publishing in the major way that they do now, namely, from gaining scholarly esteem. Yet publishers would presumably have to impose fees on authors, because publishers would not be able to profit from reader charges. If these publication fees would be borne by academics, their incentives to publish would be reduced. But if the publication fees would usually be paid by universities or grantors, the motive of academics to publish would be unlikely to decrease (and could actually increase) – suggesting that ending academic copyright would be socially desirable in view of the broad benefits of a copyright-free world. If so, the demise of academic copyright should be achieved by a change in law, for the ‘open access’ movement that effectively seeks this objective without modification of the law faces fundamental difficulties."


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Swimming in the Sand

On a toasty summer day, we might head to the beach, stroll across the sand and go for a refreshing dip. For certain lizards in more arid regions they can still take a swim to escape the heat - only they'll be doing it in sand itself.

The latest issue of Science has a paper [subscription required] describing the movement of the sandfish lizard, a desert reptile that can swim through sand, to cool off or escape predators, by wiggling like an eel. Check out the cool vids from the supplementary material:

Video 1: The sandfish burying itself in the sand

Video 2: X-ray cinematography of the sandfish sub-surface locomotion.

Videos should be free to access, but may require Quicktime.

[h/t: Why Evolution is True, who also includes a neat paper about tiger moths who 'jam' the sonar of predatory bats]


Friday, July 17, 2009

Fly me to the moon

This is a pretty cool, if Flash heavy site: We Choose the Moon.

This month is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the above site recreates the event for "real-time" (that is, real time minus 40 years) tracking of the mission, with video, images and audio (including astronaut chatter) from 1969.

It's a neat way to let those of us who are too young experience that exciting piece of history.

At the same time, you can check out the NASA gallery featuring current photos of the landing site from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera that reached lunar orbit late last month.

[h/t: Bad Astronomy]


Monday, July 13, 2009

F@$!ing Pain

I cut my finger with a knife last week. Nothing major, though on weekend inspection it looks like the knife went straight through. It hurt like hell though, and the first word out of my mouth when it happend was, "Fuck!" This was probably followed by a string of other colourful language.

I don't think that's an uncommon reaction, and it might not be a useless one either: A study to be published next month explores the impact of swearing on pain tolerance. In the experiment, undergraduate students were asked to submerge their hands in icy water (the only type of pain tested) and either swear or use non-profane words. The blog Neurophilosophy has more:
The researchers measured how long the participants kept their hands submerged in cold water, and asked them to rate the amount of pain they felt. Their heart rates were also recorded after they had submerged their hands in room temperature water as well as after the submersion in cold water. Contrary to their hypothesis, they found that swearing actually reduced the amount of pain felt. The participants kept their hands submerged in the cold water longer for longer, and also reported experiencing less pain, when they repeated a swear word than when they repeated a word describing a table. Swearing was also associated with increased heart rate.
It's uncertain whether this would apply to other types of pain, or if the severity of the word increases its effectiveness (bonus points for creative combos?) but next time you stub your toe or get a papercut try it out. It couldn't hurt.




Thursday, July 09, 2009

Hot tub rash

After the pinkeye outbreak of 2007 the lab now has a hot tub rash outbreak. The Pseudomonas folliculitis happens when the pseudomona bacteria infects hair follicles, and it usually resolves itself within 2 weeks. For some reason it seems to have only affected some individuals and not others. All of them were female. Any idea why?

At least no-one had a prostate infection, unlike this poor sap:
"A previously healthy 38-year-old white male presented to the emergency room with a 10-hour history of fevers, chills, and significant suprapubic pain. He also complained of dysuria and feelings of incomplete emptying after voiding. He denied any history of sexually transmitted diseases, recent urinary tract infections, or genitourinary trauma. He did mention having sexual relations with his wife three times the previous week in a newly purchased hot tub. His wife was asymptomatic."

"P. aeruginosa can survive in a variety of moist environments due to its minimal nutritional requirements and growth temperature range (4 to 42°C) (1). Although inhibited by chlorine levels in water of 2 to 3 ppm, P. aeruginosa can multiply to densities of 104 to 106 organisms/ml when levels drop to <1>4). These characteristics allow it to multiply in hot tubs, where chlorine levels are rapidly dissipated by the warm temperatures (39 to 40°C) and aeration (4). Hot tub use has been linked to P. aeruginosa folliculitis and more-serious infections, including pneumonia and those involving the urinary tract (cystitis, prostatitis, and urosepsis) (2, 3, 5-7)."


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Rapamycin update

Since some of us in the bay are interested in the translational inhibition activity of rapamycin I thought I would point out an excellent piece at not exactly rocket science reflecting on some new data on rapamycin's effects on aging in mice. Very interesting. The original article at Nature. There are also some great links in the article.


Friday, July 03, 2009

Cancer Carnival #23

Welcome to the 23rd edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival! Most of our readers are probably either recovering from Canada Day or gearing up for Independence Day, but there's always time for some science in between.

Kicking things off this month, we have PalMD following up on his Cancer 101 posts (some of which were featured previously in the Cancer Carnival) with Cancer 202 - Radiation Therapy. In it he briefly discusses the basics of radiation treatment including its effects on normal tissue and how to target a tumour.
Radiation is a powerful tool in medicine, but like any tool, whether it be a knife or a pill, it must be wielded properly and ethically. The best medicine combines good science, compassion, and ethical behavior to help people. Radiation therapy is one of medicine's most sophisticated techniques, and must be used only by certain experts. It's also really cool.
PalMD does a great job of explaining the basics in an easy to understand way. If you missed any of the other posts in this series, check them out here.

Next up, MolBio Research Highlights sends us some blogging on peer reviewed research. The topic? Cancer Stem Cells. Francisco Barriga is inspired by three recent papers and tries to make sense of it all with a nice review of current thinking and controversy.
[D]uring the last years there has been a lot of controversy regarding the existence, function and clinical implications of cancer stem cells. This confusion stems (no pun intended) from the lack of clarity in the field nowadays, arising mainly from misconceptions regarding the origin and function of these cells. On top of all of this is the confusion derived from media-hype and some not-so knowledgeable scientific journalists.
Francisco clears up some of this confusion with a summary of the cancer stem cell hypothesis and discussion of unresolved issues in the field.

Cancer stem cells are always a hot topic, and Alexey at Hematopoiesis discusses some ways that existing drugs can affect CSC populations.
Recently, anti-cancer activity of some well known drugs was discovered, which was shown to rely on targeting of cancer stem cells (CSC). Explanations for some very effective anti-leukemic drug combination were recently found in the laboratories. I’ll give you some examples of “from-bed-to-the-bench” translation coming from leukemia clinic.
Three drugs, and their possible uses, are examined.

Over at Scienceblogs, there has been some discussion about NIH funding strategies, and whether they're too conservative. Mike the Mad Biologist draws our attention to a New York Times article that laments the lack of progress in cancer cures and wonders if more money should be put into high-risk, high-reward projects. Orac comments on the same article, asking "Are we playing it too safe in cancer research?" and the Mad Biologist continues his analysis of the culture of caution at the NIH.

Finally, there were celebrity deaths in the news last week with one, Farrah Fawcett, losing her battle with cancer at the age of 62. While it was overshadowed by other events, she did get some attention with some raising awareness about anal cancer, some retrospective and discussions with her oncologist.

That's it for this month. Next month is our the Cancer Research Blog Carnival's 2nd anniversary, so start writing those cancer posts, and submit them here. We always need hosts as well, so if you're sick of seeing the carnival here on the Bayblab, email us to sign up for a future carnival. For older editions, visit the Carnival Homepage.

And don't forget, the Cancer Research Blog Carnival now has subscription options; you can follow by email or RSS feed. An aggregated feed of credible, rotating health and medicine blog carnivals is also available.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Preeclampsia and oral sex

So I'm teaching cardiovascular anatomy and physiology right now, which is funny because Rob is teaching the drugs for that system in pharmacology at the same time. I was reading up on preeclampsia, which is a type of hypertension that can develop during pregnancy, looking for hypotheses for causes. I'm doubly interested because I've recently stumbled upon a potential regulatory protein which could be associated with the disease. To make a long story short there is definitely a strong immune involvement, and a problem in the placental interface although the details are surprisingly not well fleshed out (to an outsider anyways). I was also somewhat amused to find out that there is a putative protective role of oral sex and swallowing of seminal fluids for preeclampsia. The idea being that HLA and HLA-derived peptides may tolerize the mother to the foreign antigens of the fetus in the same way that we tolerize other food-related antigens passing through the gut. While this paper certainly isn't definitive, a correlation at best, the treatment has few side effects, so might as well err on the safe side:

"we investigated whether sHLA antigens are present in seminal plasma. Using a specific ELISA we detected sHLA class I molecules in seminal plasma. The level varied between individuals and was related to the level in plasma. Further studies showed that these sHLA class I molecules included classical HLA class I alleles, such as sHLA-A2, -B7, -B51, -B35 and sHLA-A9. Preliminary data show lower levels of sHLA in seminal plasma in the preeclampsia group, although not significantly different from the control group."