New Podcast “Check Yo Genes Before You Wreck Yo Genes”

Straight Outta Biology Class

As you can see from the picture and title, I decided to go all in with the theme for this month, DNA repair. No big deal, just Nobel Prize winning material. In this February 2016 episode of Science Sound Bites with Dr. Cristel Camacho, a postdoctoral fellow at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, we look at why DNA repair is important and how when the process malfunctions, it could have dire consequences, mainly cancer. Episode #17, “Check Yo Genes, Before You Wreck Yo Genes” can be found here at the cure4kids website (Thanks Kate!).

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Also, sorry for missing out on a new episode for January. December was a busy month of job searching but I am pleased to say that it was fruitful. Starting in July, I will be an Assistant Professor in Immunobiology at the University of Arizona (bring on the cacti!!).

Cheers, and have a good month.



State of the Scientific Union 2016: A New Hope

one does not simply

Science is as much about healing and understanding the world around us, as it is about giving people inspiration so they can whisper to themselves, “wow, anything is possible!”

Last year, I gave my first State of the Scientific Union Address. It was a rally cry to get scientist to communicate more with the public. It was a hope that scientists along with the public could sway the powers that be and inject much needed life lines to not only continue valuable research, but to also start studying new areas that will affect us in the future.

Along with many scientific organizations like AAAS and ASBMB, as well as more scientists engaging with the public through personal communication, blogs, and other social media, I think the tide is beginning to turn.

Recently, a bipartisan success story has injected 2 billion extra dollars into the NIH representing a more than 6% increase. This is significant! Especially considering since 2003, it has increased less than 12% (or less than 1% per year). If accounting for inflation, that “12%” increase is actually a 22% decrease (1, 2). This is crazy when you consider what the the NIH has done for human health and if you don’t care about people, here is what the NIH does for the economy.

This money represents a new hope, a new commitment, and a new conversation about the importance of biomedical research in this nation (sometimes optimism is a good thing to have). It represents good things for me as well such as a 41% increase since 2013 (and likely more to come) in my ability to get a new grant to fund my research as a new principal investigator my soon to be laboratory at the University of Arizona in Immunobiology where I will study new and novel ways to combat infectious diseases.

This money will support so many new initiatives in studying the black box between our ears (the brain), understanding how our DNA can prevent person A from getting sick, but not person B, and trying to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria (1,2). You can hear about some of these new directions from the Director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins talk about here in this Science Sound Bites Podcast Episode (episode 11).

The president wants us to cure cancer. While that claim might underestimate the magnitude tasks (there is not just one cancer), with advances like this one maybe we can convert the cells to something harmless. That discovery combined with new advances in epigenetic mapping of things that make us us, and a new tool called CRISPR (pronounced like crisper) becoming more main stream to study how genes (and the proteins they encode) work, we are gaining ground not only in the fight against cancer(s), but all diseases.

However, our work is not done and our fight is far from over. We as scientists must continue to keep open lines of communication with the community, adults and children. We want people to say “what if I cured…” and go on to cure it! We all must dream bigger and work together better. We as a people have made it this far, with more support, anything will be possible.



I Need a Weapon Stronger Than Facts (Debunking Bad Science)

tell me again about your scientific source

I’m tired people, I’m really tired. I’ve gone off about vaccines quite a few times, trying to convince people vaccines are safe and should be used (1,2,&3). Honestly it isn’t the writing about it that takes the time and makes you tired, nor is it the arguing. It is how it creeps into your head when you are idle. You find your mind drifting, how can these people really think that vaccines are hurting people. These days my mind drifts about a lot of what’s going on in the world, but that is a story for a different blog.

But really, what more can I say to them?

Misinformation spreads faster than the illnesses the vaccines are trying to curb. It’s like whack-a-mole. Toward the end of the game after you put your token in, three or four would go up at a time and only knew I had two hands (which was effectively one because the mallet was so big in my hands). Also, the payout was never good, what am I going to get with three tickets?!?! I really don’t need another plastic pirate eye patch.

Shaming doesn’t work, as it rarely does and you end up looking worse. News of outbreaks doesn’t work. Pictures of kids with the diseases don’t work. Speaking from my scientific background doesn’t work. Trolling their Facebook page doesn’t work. The facts generated by that data I give them are just no match for that friend of a friend of a friend. But this isn’t The Oracle of Bacon, this is real life where real sources should be used.

When it comes down to it, I need a weapon stronger than facts.

Because fighting for cures is one thing (races, vigils, and awareness ribbons are great), but it is exhausting fighting to even fight for the opportunity to find cures. It is exhausting fighting against the people who believe we have all the answers, but think we hold them to watch people die. It is exhausting fighting against people who reject the cures we find only to spread lies of what we do, which they know nothing of.

They argue to prove that the science is wrong with no understanding of the real problem. They do it to win. They do it to make scientists look dumb. They shift the argument to do so which makes it difficult for people who deal in facts and expressing trends of data to keep up. Here is a great example of that principle.

I fight to save lives. WE fight to saves lives. If I am preaching to the choir then the choir needs to SING LOUDER. I have seen the pictures of bad infections in the most vulnerable group. Children. Google the pictures if you dare. We can stop that, and MUCH more. No one needs that grief or heart break. Fighting the spread of misinformation takes away from fighting disease. People walk miles and miles for the help you openly refuse.

So what do we do? What is a weapon stronger than the truth?

Perhaps a different approach is needed versus an fact assault. We need to ask the questions, not try to answer them all. Maybe if they can realize that they don’t have the real answers, then they might seek the answers or the facts. Maybe it is possible to ask questions to give information.

So as a starting point, before truly engaging, ask a person,

“Are there a set of facts (or anything under the sun) that I could present to you that would change your mind?”

This has to be the first question, because if the answer is no, you need to be able to move on because it will be lost cause to engage. Your sanity might depend on it, otherwise you are back to playing whack-a-mole for another eye patch or worse yet, the back scratcher (some of those are more useless than candy corn, shots fired).

A reasonable person should say yes or at the very least they don’t know. If either, ask what it would take and hopefully then, you can at least have a discussion. At the very least, they might be open to it. Maybe the new heard immunity can be against those that refuse to even look or consider facts and continue to speak from ignorance. (Wait, am I still talking about just vaccines?)