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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Encapsulated cell technology for vision, Stem cell registry and the IgNobels!

  Neurotech, a biotech company, has created a product called an ECT (encapsulated cell technology) that can be implanted in the eye to assist with disorders such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.  This capsule contains cells that would release therapeutic factors over a long time.  The capsule concept is not new.  It has to be designed to allow nutrients and oxygen to pass in and wastes and therapeutic factors to pass out, but keep the cells cloaked from the immune system.  It's been attempted for the islets of Langerhan's, the endocrine portion of the pancreas that secretes insulin (the part attacked by the immune system in type 1 diabetes).  Visit the story at one of my favorite bioengineering sites, MedGadget.  If you like new medical technologies or just like sitting in awe at how clever people are, then this site is completely addicting!


UMass Medical school has put online a hESC (human embryonic stem cell) registry.  According to the press release "The ISCR provides an online resource of information on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) to the academic and private sector biomedical research community and to the public. Envisioned as a “one stop shop” for hESC information, the site details the properties and potential applications of specific hESC lines and includes information about obtaining the cells and a catalog of references related to each hESC line." You can read more here.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the important things in life, that we forget about those things most unimportant. (haha!) Sigh, such is what happened with me.Thinking so much about midterms for the students and the Nobel prize awardings, I completely overlooked the IgNobel prizes this year.  No need to go on and on about this as you can read it anywhere, but I at least want to highlight a few of the awardees, taken from the IgNobel website:

NUTRITION PRIZE. Massimiliano Zampini of the University of Trento, Italy and Charles Spence of Oxford University, UK, for electronically modifying the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is.

BIOLOGY PRIZE. Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert, and  Michel Franc of Ecole Nationale Veterinaire de Toulouse, France for discovering that the fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than the fleas that live on a cat.

MEDICINE PRIZE. Dan Ariely of Duke University (USA), Rebecca L. Waber of MIT (USA), Baba Shiv of Stanford University (USA), and Ziv Carmon of INSEAD (Singapore) for demonstrating that high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low-priced fake medicine..

ECONOMICS PRIZE. Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan of the University of New Mexico, USA, for discovering that professional lap dancers earn higher tips when they are ovulating.

PHYSICS PRIZE. Dorian Raymer of the Ocean Observatories Initiative at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, and Douglas Smith of the University of California, San Diego, USA, for proving mathematically that heaps of string or hair or almost anything else will inevitably tangle themselves up in knots. This one was published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).  I remember when it came out in late 2007.  It is actually quite interesting!!

I have more stem cell stories for later.  Until then...Kindly,


Thu, October 23, 2008 | link 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pleonastic confusion and a couple of comments to make my day!

I pride myself on having a large vocabulary, and maybe if I don't use all the words I know, I tend to at least recognize them.  But yesterday I encountered a word I don't recall seeing before. In a French translation textbook was a discussion about the pleonastic ne. I knew immediately what they were referring to, but felt this strange unease at looking at this new word (it's English, not French). There was no "hook to hang it on" so to speak, in my brain, so it wandered aroundin there for several minutes as I tried my usual exercise of "what is this an example of?"  and conversely, "what is an example of this?" (small to big, big to small, simply put) to no avail. I then realized the problem was that I kept trying to turn it into "neoplastic", a term used quite often in my field, at which point I started laughing and found another nerd who uses the term neoplastic often in order to share the "joke". Even funnier was the fact that I had been just giving lectures that day using the term "pleomorphic" and could not make the connection!

Let's improve your vocabulary today:

Pleonastic: adjective form of pleonasm, meaning "use of more words than needed" EX: "free gift" or "see with one's eyes".  For the "ne" in French, it refers to this superfluous addition of that "word" mostly in written documents, without grammatical meaning. Another thing to wrap my head around!  Add to the fact that this was also in the chapter reviewing the grammatical concept of the subjunctive and you can imagine I wanted to go to a happier place, (which for now is sitting under my Mamma Mia! poster in my office--I'm easy to please).

Pleomorphic: Having more than one form, or sometimes just an unusual form deviating from the norm.

Neoplastic: characterised by neoplasm, which is an abnormal tissue that grows by cellular proliferation more rapidly than normal and continues to grow after the stimuli that initiated the new growth cease.  Can be benign or malignant.

I assisted in conducting an interview yesterday and was giving a tour of my lab space and talking about the students when the candidate exclaimed: "It is clear you LOVE your students! That's so good!".  Even though I knew this about myself, I was really happy to have it expressed out loud.  Hopefully all of you students know it, too! You guys are the best!


Speaking of students, some faculty and students participated in a trivia bowl last night sponsored by BMES (Biomedical Engineering Society).  It was a lot of fun!  Of the professors, I arrived first and then Ken from our department arrived just on my heels.  The two guys in charge thanked us for coming, saying they were glad that some faculty were willing to join them even though we look, to quote,  "only about two years older than they do"!  That's awesome.  Maybe not so much for Ken, but for me, I'll take it! I might start a tally of the number of times I get called (or asked if am) a grad student!  Thanks Mom and Dad for good genes...and for my little secret....exfoliation....feel free to steal the secret!  However, I know I looked "old" one day when someone asked if I was a post-doc!  Oh no! ha ha! (A photographer told me when I was 15 that I am the kind of person that looks older when they are young and then young when they get older.  Frozen in time, it seems.)

Anyway, us professors totally won!  More precisely, "Team Ken" totally won.  Ken's a great guy and now we know where to go when a trivia master is needed.  Not that I didn't get some right (phosphorus, serotonin, Pentacost (but slow on the buzzer), and knew the answers to things that others were asked, or that the other profs beat me to, but that is cool). Truth be told, I'm a visual person and do much better at Pictionary--as an artist and guesser!

Looking to visit a youtube channel? You can visit mine, although there are none of my videos up yet...but soon, I promise.  It's called, you guessed it, joannelovesscience . You'll find some of the "shotgun histology" and some of the periodic table of elements vids there (so good!) and some extras about the Nobel prize and the Large Hadron Collider.  You thought you were going to see my fav music videos?  Not quite! I would except I don't want to get in trouble for using copyrighted stuff, and all angst ridden people would be in excruciating pain from all the positivity in the music!

Kindly, Joanne

Wed, October 22, 2008 | link 

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