Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Who Watches the Watchers?

Much was made, and rightfully so, about the warrantless wiretap program undertaken as part of President Bush's war on terror. (A program that has been defended by the current Obama administration)

That's pretty bad stuff.

Here's something worse: - a group that publishes leaked government and other documents - is currently releasing archives of text messages from 9/11, which can be found here. Many of these private texts predate the actual attacks by several hours, so whoever was collecting them can't even fall back on a 'war on terror' or 'response to the attacks' excuse. Mike Dunford has more:
As the WikiLeaks intercepts page notes, this material is undoubtedly going to be a fantastic resource for anyone who wants a better understanding of how people reacted as events unfolded. However, the mere existence of this archive raises enormous concerns. Where did it come from? Who compiled it, who stored it, and under what authority? Given the scope and magnitude of the archive, it is virtually impossible to believe that any non-governmental group could be responsible.
Big brother, anyone? Of course this kind of warrantless surveillance could never happen in Canada. Never.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Beer is the cure

If you ever find yourself or someone else poisoned by methanol or ethylene glycol and without access to proper medical attention, beer is there for you. This is not as implausible as perhaps you might think as these poisonings cause dozens of fatalities in the US every year. How would these poisonings come about? Ethylene glycol is sweet tasting and is consumed as a substitute for ethanol and is found in antifreeze, and methanol can often contaminate homebrew alcohol aka moonshine. In either of these situations I bet that proper medical attention is not often close at hand.

After ingestion these molecules cause intoxication but are also converted by alcohol dehydrogenase into formic acid, in the case of methanol, and eventually oxalate, in the case of ethylene glycol. These are the actively toxic compounds. Formic acid poisoning can result in damage to the optic nerve and blindness while oxalate causes more general neurological damage followed by general cardiopulmonary depression and renal damage.

If proper medical attention is available fomepizole can be administered. This drug is a competitive inhibitor of alcohol dehydrogenase.

Another competitive substrate for alcohol dehydrogenase, ethanol, fortuitously can be found in therapeutically relevant concentrations in beer.

According to my calculations, the largest assumption in which I think is that you would absorb 100% of the ethanol in your tasty beverage, for methanol poisoning drink 3 beers in the first hour followed by 1 beer every two hours for as long as three days while for ethylene glycol poisoning drink 5 beers right away and maintain that blood alcohol level. These doses are based on 341mL 5% alcohol beers for an average weight guy. Also note that these doses are purely therapeutic and do not include any additional recreational alcohol consumption.

Treatment of methanol poisoning with ethanol.

Treatment of ethylene glycol poisoning with ethanol.


Friday, November 20, 2009

The Safety Song

How our lab safety training should have be done:

Maybe singing and puppets would reduce the open-toed footwear in the lab.

From: The Sounds of Science


Thursday, November 19, 2009

One Benefit of Global Warming

Canadian Tourism Federation Welcome Video from Canadian Tourism Federation on Vimeo.


Say it Ain't So, David Suzuki!

Last week, David Suzuki spoke at a convention for the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors (OAND). Below is a poster for the event.

As mentioned before, naturopathy is an umbrella term that includes several non-science based approaches to medicine, including homeopathy. While I imagine (or hope) that his address at the convention had his usual environmental thrust (I haven't been able to track down a copy online), having a famous and respected scientist and environmentalist speak lends credibility to naturopathy and its pseudoscience. It's a great marketing move by OAND. Not such a great move by Dr. Suzuki. This is not unlike earlier this year when UofT and the SickKids Foundation appeared on a brochure for a conference put on by an anti-vaccine group.

I understand the importance of getting his message out to a wider audience though strangely the poster doesn't include the title of his talk, "The Challenge of the 21st Century: Setting the Bottom Line." Instead Dr. Suzuki is attached to the message, "naturopathic doctors are getting to the root of it," and this will be the take home message for many people. For better or for worse.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ontario Bill 179: New Powers for Magician-Clinicians

Currently moving through Ontario legislature is Bill 179, "An Act to amend various Acts related to regulated health professions and certain other Acts." This bill received it's second reading back in May, with third reading and ultimately royal assent expected in the coming months. Part of the bill is an amendment to the 2007 Naturopathy Act as follows:
The Naturopathy Act, 2007 is amended to provide for the prescribing, dispensing, compounding and selling of drugs and to deal with transitional disciplinary issues during the transition from regulation under the Drugless Practitioners Act to regulation under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 and the Naturopathy Act, 2007.
Yes, similar to a bill that passed in BC, the amended Bill 179 would grant prescribing power to naturopathic practitioners. What is naturopathic medicine? The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), one of two schools in Canada that offer a doctor of naturopathic medicine program has the following definition:
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care that addresses the root causes of illness, and promotes health and healing using natural therapies. It supports your body's own healing ability using an integrated approach to disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention that includes: acupuncture/Asian medicine, botanical medicine, physical medicine (massage, hydrotherapy, etc.), clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine [and] lifestyle counseling.
So naturopathic doctors (NDs) who could be granted prescribing powers include acupuncturists and homeopaths among other non-evidence based practitioners. Call me skeptical, but allowing, for example, a homeopath - somebody whose idea of sound medicine is prescribing a dilution that likely doesn't contain a single molecule of the "therapeutic" compound (i.e. just water) - to prescribe drugs seems like a bad idea. (Hmm. Will they follow homeopathic protocols for prescribed drugs? "Take this antibiotic, but dilute 1060 times first") I'm not alone in being concerned.

Furthermore, granting prescription powers to naturopaths will blur the line between naturopathic doctors and their evidence-based counterparts. Prescribing drugs will give NDs an air of legitimacy, making them look like traditional MDs despite not having the same training. What do you prescribe for blocked chi flow? And with different standards for evidence, approach to disease, and diagnosis and treatment philosophy, how do you properly prescribe a drug that has been discovered, tested and approved in the 'traditional' regime. Nevermind the tension this places on pharmacists, whose jobs include evaluating the safety and appropriateness of a prescription (again, from a standard medicine point of view).

If there's a silver lining to this legislation, it's a faint one. Is the ability to prescribe drugs, a privilege several naturopath organizations lobbied to have included in the revised Bill 179, an admission of defeat by NDs? After all, if their methods and treatments are supposed to be effective or even better than 'harmful' standard care why the need to prescribe their 'toxic' drugs? Surely they can't be more effective than botanicals, acupuncture needles and tap water!

And maybe this will put an end to the Pharma Shill Gambit. The Pharma Shill Gambit, in short, is the dismissal of arguments supporting mainstream medicine because the people making them are no doubt on the payroll of the big, bad pharmaceutical industry (for some fine examples, check out a few of the comments here). Since naturopaths will be prescribing drugs, we won't have to deal with that anymore. After all, they'll be in the pockets of Big Pharma too, right? ... Right?

If you have something to say about these changes to the Naturopathy Act, let your MPP know before it passes.

[h/t: Skeptic North via Greg Laden]


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dick in a dish

The team lead by Dr. Anthony Atala at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine as been highlighted on the bayblab before for growing a functioning bladder in a dish. Well they outdid themselves this time by growing a functioning rabbit penis in a dish, and grafting it back on males which conceived with it. Think of the possibilities! The paper is not yet available on pubmed but there is an article here about the discovery:

"Dr Atala's team first created a scaffold using the penis of a rabbit, and removed all the living cells from it, leaving only cartilage. They then took a small piece of tissue from the penis of another rabbit and grew the cells in a lab dish. Dr Atala says the work has taken his team 18 years to complete. "We had to find the right growth factors, the right soup to grow the cells in," he said."

Of note to our female readers, he has also been successful in growing clitoral tissues in the past.


Can you Spot a Fake?

Do you think you can tell when somebody is happy versus just faking it? Can you tell a genuine smile from a forced one? Take this test from the BBC to see how well you do. There are 20 videos of people smiling - some real, some fake - each viewable only once. The differences are subtle, and explained at the end.

How did you do?


Monday, November 09, 2009

Cell Size and Scale

Do you need some perspective on small biological units? How big is a cell compared to a coffee bean? How big is a virus compared to a cell? Now you know qualitatively with this great zoomable window.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Homeopathy in the Hospital


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Cancer Carnival #27

The 27th edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival is now up at MolBio Research Highlights. Go check it out!


Friday, November 06, 2009

Forest ignorance

I have heard horror stories about the devastation in the forests of British Columbia, Canada caused by the Mountain Pine Beetle. I just moved to the West Kootenay region and I was astounded by the amount of dead trees I could see from my window. Picture below.

Not the best picture but in a sea of evergreens there are lots of bright orange coloured trees, to me these looked a lot like dead pine trees and assumed that this was mountain pine beetle damage. Much like that in the picture below.

Of course, I'm wrong, the trees in the previous picture are Tamarack Larch, a deciduous coniferous tree while the bottom picture is of mountain pine beetle infestation. I actually thought that the terms deciduous and coniferous were mutually exclusive taxonomic catagories. My ignorance knows no bounds.


Feces ID

Found this scat in my backyard. This is one of three piles near an apple tree. Any experts out there? I'm thinking it's a large cuddly vegetarian rabbit.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Fruit Bat Blowjobs

This has been making the rounds, but hasn't made an appearance yet on the Bayblab yet.

A recent paper in PLoS ONE has found that fellatio amongst fruit bats increased copulation time. The image, from the paper, shows an artist's rendition of the act. Supplementary info also includes a video of the act - complete with weird soundtrack - if you're into bat porn.

Genital licking roughly doubled copulation time. The researchers aren't sure why the bats engage in fellatio, but offer a few speculations:
"First, genital licking may lubricate the penis or increase penile stimulation, prolonging the duration of copulation. Prolonged copulation might assist sperm transport from the vagina to the oviduct, or stimulate secretions of the pituitary gland in the female and hence increase the likelihood of fertilization. Second, prolonged copulation might be a method of mate-guarding, because the mates would normally segregate after copulation to form unisexual groups which persist throughout the non-breeding season. Third, fellatio may confer bactericidal benefits and assist in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) both to females, and to males that lick their own penis briefly after copulation. Saliva has a protective repertoire that goes beyond antibacterial activity to include antifungal, antichlamydial, and antiviral properties as well. Finally, genital licking may facilitate the detection and identification of MHC-dependent chemical cues associated with mate choice."


Addiction Treatment and Research

There's an interesting conversation going on at Scienceblogs about the politics and funding of addiction treatment and research. Interesting to me, at least, because they in some ways mirror conversations I've had with friends in the past.

It starts with a thoughtful post by Jessica Palmer at BioEphemera who discusses the double standards when it comes to smoking (and here I would probably add alcohol) versus treatment for other substance addiction.
That's why it upsets me that while research to help smokers quit is generally portrayed as necessary and important, increasingly, I'm seeing politicians complain that research to help other drug addicts quit is a waste of money.

Maybe it's because these other addicts are meth addicts, or potheads, or heroin addicts - probably not people you relate to or approve of. That makes it pretty easy for the media to take cheap shots at crack, etc. addicts, and question whether we should waste money trying to help them. [...] We should be leveraging scientific research every way we can to help these people - not throwing them away or taking shots at them because they're "bad," or because we can't relate to them. They're real people. They have families.
Part of the problem, as raised in the comments there, is that drug addiction is often viewed as a moral or personal failing. Worse, watch the video at the end of Jessica's post and notice how the Fox reporter describes a few "crazy" studies. There's some serious othering of the subjects going on. The fight against drug treatment and research is a fight based on race, socio-economic status, sexual preference and gender. It's as though we aren't supposed to care about 'latino pot smokers', 'low income women' or 'homosexual fathers.' (Yes, not all of those studies are drug related, but it demonstrates some of the targets of anti-funding campaigns)

On the subject of the moral failing argument, Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science makes the case for funding research that people don't approve of.
The implication of the view that taking drugs is a moral failing is that if you make this wrong choice, you fully deserve everything that follows from this choice -- and you ought not receive any assistance in undoing the mess that your wrong choice got you into. [...] Science can ask all the questions it wants about drugs, then, but not on our dime. We already know everything we need to know about drugs. Using them is bad ... which must mean only bad people use them. Bad people deserve punishment, so the nasty effects of drug use are entirely appropriate.
She argues that there's already a public cost for the outcomes of drug addiction, so why not move that cost to helping people stop? Further, she makes the argument that the best way to develop good strategies and effective interventions is, duh, scientific research.

Both posts are worth reading, and both are important calls for understanding, compassion and funding dollars.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Call for Posts: Cancer Research Blog Carnival

Don't forget, the Cancer Research Blog Carnival will be appearing this Friday at MolBio Research Highlights. Submit your recent posts for inclusion here. If you don't have a post to submit, it's not too late to start writing!

The Cancer Research Blog Carnival is a monthly round-up of writing on cancer and cancer-related issues from around the blogosphere. Previous editions can be found here.


Various Events for November

November is upon us, and with it there are a few goings-on that our readers may be interested.

First of all, the beginning of November also means the start of Movember and we invite our male readers to throw away their razors and shaving cream and start working on their moustaches. This annual whiskerino aims to raise awareness and money for men's health issues, notably prostate cancer. So start working on those majestic moustaches. Send us your pics at the end of the month and we'll feature them on the blog.

Several months ago, I was in NYC and covered the opening of a new exhibit on Extreme Mammals. That exhibit will be continuing until the beginning of January, if you're in the area, and will be eventually coming to Ottawa in Summer 2011 if you're waiting. This month - November 14 - a new exhibit is opening: Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World. They invite visitors to travel with them on 'the internet of the ancient world'. Unfortunately, I won't be able to make this opening, but it promises to be a cool, interactive experience with many hands-on actvitities and live perfomances.
Visitors will watch live silkworms spinning cocoons in the section devoted to Xi’an; wander through a replica of the desert markets of Turfan, complete with the sights, sounds, and smells of exotic spices, luxury goods, and precious raw materials; meet a life-sized camel model in Samarkand and explore the ancient skills of papermaking and metalwork. In Baghdad, visitors will track the “stars” using a working model of an Arab astrolabe and discover the achievements of Islamic sciences and engineering.
More locally, this week, November 4-7th, marks Fashion CURES a la mode. This is an Ottawa fashion event rasigin money for Ovarian Cancer Canada. Tickets for the runway shows, photo exhibits and after parties can be purchased here.


Brain Teasers

Found these in an article about how IQ is overrated: First one to get all 3 right gets a pat on the back.

"When researchers put the following three problems to 3400 students in the US, only 17 per cent got all three right. Can you do any better?

1) A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

2) If it takes five machines 5 minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

3) In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of it?


"Jack is looking at Anne, and Anne is looking at George; Jack is married, George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?"
yes/no/insufficient information


scary pumpkin