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Book Review: The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

If you like science, true history, and an engaging story, pick up the new book by journalist Rebecca Skloot, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and prepare for a great read. I knew nothing about the young black woman whose cells were taken back in 1951 by a scientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital and how those cells have revolutionized modern cell biology and research.

The HeLa (named after HEnrietta LAcks) cells were taken as she lay dying on the “colored” ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital of aggressive cervical cancer at age 30. Everyone who studies basic cell biology has heard of HeLa cells because they were the first human cell line to be successfully grown in culture and they are alive today. HeLa cells were sent to researchers all across the globe and have been used to develop the polio vaccine, viruses, cloning, gene mapping and in-vitro fertilization. Billions of the same immortal HeLa cells are used by researchers fighting cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and diabetes. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Biological Cinematography: Animating The Cells Of Life

The New York Times published an article (with VIDEO) about molecular animators, scientists who can visualize the microscopic segments of life in a professional way:

If there is a Steven Spielberg of molecular animation, it is probably Drew Berry, a cell biologist who works for the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. Mr. Berry’s work is revered for artistry and accuracy within the small community of molecular animators, and has also been shown in museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. In 2008, his animations formed the backdrop for a night of music and science at the Guggenheim Museum called “Genes and Jazz.”

“Scientists have always done pictures to explain their ideas, but now we’re discovering the molecular world and able to express and show what it’s like down there,” Mr. Berry said. “Our understanding is just exploding.”

 

*This blog post was originally published at ScienceRoll*

Synthetic Life Created: The First “Micro-Avatar”

For the first time in history, a living organism has been manufactured with the help of a computer-generated genome. Dr. Jon LaPook reports on the groundbreaking discovery’s widespread implications.


Watch CBS News Videos Online

The First Micro-Avatar

Craig Venter and his team of scientists recently announced that they had created the first “synthetic cell” — a bacterium controlled by genetic material that they had designed on a computer and concocted from four bottles of chemicals. This is the closest thing to creating life that has happened outside of a science-fiction movie. If it doesn’t fire your imagination, then you should fire your imagination.

Basically, what Venter et al did was remove the “brain” (the genetic material that runs the cell) from one species of bacteria (Mycoplasma capricolum) and inserted a new brain — one synthetically created based very closely on the known genetic makeup of a second species of bacteria (Mycoplasma mycoides). The new organism then divided just as a normal cell would and followed the instructions of the new brain. Think micro-Avatar, except that the Avatar’s body morphs into one designed by its new brain. Read more »

A Science-Based View Of The Complexity Of Cancer

[Recently] I participated in a panel discussion at the Northeast Conference of Science and Skepticism (NECSS) with John Snyder, Kimball Atwood, and Steve Novella, who also reported on the conference. What I mentioned to some of the attendees is that I had managed to combine NECSS with a yearly ritual that I seldom miss, namely the yearly meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting.

There are two huge cancer meetings every year — AACR and the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO). AACR is the meeting dedicated to basic and translational research. ASCO, as the word “clinical” in its name implies, is devoted mainly to clinical research.

Personally, being a translational researcher myself and a surgeon, I tend to prefer the AACR meeting over ASCO, not because ASCO isn’t valuable, but mainly because ASCO tends to be devoted mostly to medical oncology and chemotherapy, which are not what I do as a surgeon. Each meeting draws between 10,000 to 15,000 or even more clinicians and researchers dedicated to the eradication of cancer. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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