Archive for: June, 2014

"Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut" (O'Rourke, P. J.)

Jun 19 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

A twitter exchange with Adian Horner this morning about his post on negative CV's (which is well worth a read), reminded me of one of my old favorite jokes (which is excellent because it involves old and wily animals):

An old and small, let's say wild pig, is hanging out, feeling her age. She suddenly notices a young  leopard bounding towards her, jaws wide open.

The old sow thinks, "Oh, crap, this is not good". She sees an old bone on the ground, picks it up and starts gnawing on it.

Just as the leopard (probably a Millenial) is about to grab her, the pig exclaims loudly, "What a scrumptious leopard! I sure could use another, I wonder if there are any more around here?"

The young leopard hears this, and comes to a screeching halt (as best a leopard can), and dashes off in the other direction. "That was a close one, I nearly lost my life to that old pig".

A monkey, hanging out in the trees overhead (probably a  clever Gen-X), observes the whole thing. "This is good, this is good, I can use this" she thinks. So she goes to the leopard, and tells him the whole story. Needless to say, the leopard is incensed. Incensed, I tell you.  "Let's go back and get that pig", says the monkey to the leopard.

"Climb aboard, monkey" says the leopard, and she does.

The sow sees the two headed back in her direction. She knows she's too old to run. Her knees hurt, her teeth ache. So she turns her back on them, and when they are close enough to hear she says loudly

"Now, where is that damn monkey. I sent him over an hour ago to get me another leopard for dinner?"


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Why I study noses and breathing

Jun 19 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

Baby elephant crossing a river




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The Joys of a Good Lab Group

Jun 18 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

When new people join my lab (sometimes it comes in waves, sometimes just turn-over of one position), I always have the discussion about civility in the lab. It goes something like this:

I spend more awake time in my lab/office than I do in any other single place. (1rst Note: this is NOT true for everyone. I am not advocating it for everyone. It has not always been true of my life. It is now.) I do not want to walk into a lab filled with tension. (2nd Note: my lab group has always been small by the standards of the BSD's around me - 3-6 people, no more than I can be sure of what they are doing, and give them the help they need). I do not ask that you, members of my lab group, be best friends. But I do expect that each will treat everyone with respect and consideration. Violations are taken seriously. If you have a problem, try to solve it. If that doesn't work come to me. If you have a question, come to me. If you have a concern, about the animals, your colleagues, the university, the future of world peach, come talk to me. (3rd Note: it is important to follow up on this one. Be There. Talk to everyone. Frequently). 

The work done in my lab is a team sport. For the most part, people do not go off and do there own projects. The surgeries we do, the live animal experiments we do, require not only happy animals, but at least 3-4 pairs of hands collecting data. I set up a practical exam (anatomy) with a couple who had just broken up and it was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. They did almost nothing but glower at each other for 3 hours.

I tell my peeps this story. Not to warn about intra-lab affairs, but to talk about how bloody hard work gets when people can't work together. So, I have a superb lab group. We've had a set of medical students join us for the summer. These guys  are smart, hardworking, eager to learn, and committed to a summer of research in the best possible. The others in the lab (postdoc /tech /student /colleague) get along incredibly. The biggest issue is whether to go  to a microbrew pub or a wine bar to unwind. We are all exhausted. It has been a very hard set of experiments. Everyone is very tired. Very very tired. This set will be done by Monday. We have 3 weeks before the next set.

How can I tell this is a good group? Everyone, in the midst of their exhaustion is talking about plans for the next set. What to do different. What data from this set is good/bad and what we might need to change to make things better. Everyone is working hard and thinking hard.

I love this group. This is why I am a scientist.

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Botox, Big Business and Research

Jun 16 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

A lengthy article in the NYTimes about the business of Botox sorta buried the most important part of the story. Allergan, the company that makes Botox is under attack from Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a company described as "a serial acquirer of specialty drug makers. Tht is, let's fine good companies, making lots of money, buy them and milk out even more profit. Valaent wants to acquire Botox, because they could make more money moving it (legal address) to Canada, with lower corporate taxes. I'm not so interested in the tax stuff, as the last line of this paragraph: " It also plans to cut jobs and Allergan’s research budget."

Allergan isn't an angel (if you believe in such things) either. They've got a doctor incentive program (sell/prescribe more and get more). They are all about "marketing" drugs.  Their research is about opening new markets for Botox.  Botox for cosmetic uses has all sorts of issues with toxin spreading, balancing need (such as it is) with safety. Allergan has pleaded guilty to misdemeanors of "misbranding" and has had trouble with federal prosecutors over "improper marketing".

But the NYT says it best:

Yet if Valeant took over Allergan, it would cut research spending.

“We do believe we could probably spend a little bit less and still get the same indications,” J. Michael Pearson, Valeant’s chief executive, said of Allergan in a recent meeting with investors.

A little bit less? Please.

I do not think all research is good. I do not think that Allergan's research is necessarily going to discover anything new and wonderful, except more "marketable" uses for existing drugs. But they are nevertheless finding out how their drugs work. I do not think all profit is bad, either. If drug companies didn't make money, they would be developing new drugs. [I do know the various arguments about drug companies making their profits on the back of NIH basic research, but let that one go for now]. The trouble with this situation is that predatory behavior is being rewarded far more than the behavior that generates new drugs, new techniques, new devices.

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Disappointment in Science: Do I really have to be the adult in the room?

Jun 12 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

Sometimes I am proud of myself, for example, when I don't give in to my childish impulses to sass the department chair from hell during our interminable faculty meetings. It only leads to trouble. But there are other times when it is hard work to Do The Right Thing (as Spike Lee would have it).

As I tweeted yesterday (and got lots of wonderful support - thank you peeps), my competitive renewal (which is I think of a competing continuation, because thats the old name, and I am an old farte) did not get scored. When I was younger, I would have left work then, and gone and  cried or huffed and given vent to my unhappiness. I would have eventually drunk a lot of scotch and eaten a lot of chocolate. Now I have too many people depending on me. . My point in tweeting about this is: it is fucking hard to get funded. Even for the bluehairs.  But responding this way wasn't the hardest thing I've done this week.

We had an animal die in surgery. Not a rodent. A large animal. At the end of a very complex surgery. After 5.5 hrs of work. After more than a week of training. It was my fault, I wasn't paying enough attention to the person paying attention to the vitals. I brushed the tech off and keep going. The person at the vitals thinks it was their fault for not being insistent enough. The post-doc thinks it was their fault for not paying attention to everything, because it is their project. But right after it happened, and we were doing the post with the vet, both the assistant and postdoc looked bad. Green-unhappy-about-to-cry-or-puke bad. I wrenched myself out of my feelings and told both of them to go get a cup of coffee and sit in the courtyard and take a moment. I stayed with the vet, as did the medical students (M1's) who were avid to see the autopsy.

Later both came to me to thank me for responding the way I did. They felt that it was OK to make a mistake (despite my insisting it was my mistake/responsibility as head surgeon for that procedure). They also said they appreciated my response. Do PI's really yell at their trainees and techs when they, the PI, does something wrong? WTF? Anyway, I feel wretched about the animal, depressed about the grant but incredibly good about my team.


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testing testing testing

Jun 08 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

I think I'm back on line. I really appreciate the incredible folks at scientopia for helping me sort out the issues.

Meantime, there is lots of stuff rolling around in my head. Between animals, I am sure I will post soon.


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