Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Davies Cancer Presentation

Saige Sunier
December 20, 2012
Core Biology 1 Honors/ C-Block, Ms. Davies

Current Event Report: Ms. Davies Cancer Presentation:

Ms. Davies graduated from Pelham High School; she continued to Sara Lawrence College where she studied marine biology. This summer she was invited to participate in a Research Program for Teachers at Columbia University, working at Irving Cancer Research Center. Because her father died from kidney cancer Davies was motivated to focus on cancer. Cancer is defined as uncontrolled cell growth. Davies worked with Dr. Ben Tycko, the head of the lab, Dr. Tamas Gonda, and Angelica Cullo, a college student. This team worked with the drug Dacogen (DAC) to try to turn off cancer causing genes. Methylation, or the introducing a methyl group (CH3) to the cytosine of adenine nucleotide in DNA, can turn off genes that cause cancer. This is called hypermethylation, tumor-suppressing genes that help prevent cancer, are turned off. DAC is supposed to remove methylation to help treat the disease. Using this drug, doctors have been able to treat certain kinds of blood disorders, but through this research the hope was to use it to cure pancreatic cancer. Using mice that were already given cancer the hope was to shrink the size of the tumors. The mice were sacrificed and their tumors were weighed compared to the tumors of a control group of cancerous mice that were injected with PBS, or salt water. The mice treated with DAC proved to have tumors that weighed less than the PBS mice. These results were very exciting, the drug worked; however, there was a lot more work to be done.  It still isn’t clear if this drug is harmful to humans, more research has to be done before it can be experimented on people. Questions were raised to be researches such as: where is the methylation happening? what genes are altered by methylation? To try and answer these questions more tests, using chemicals, were done. Davies, and her colleagues, started using two different techniques to try and find answers. These two techniques were immunofluorescence, which included staining antibodies, and using immunofluorescence, which uses fluorescent lights to show wavelengths.  The results from the research showed that a protein, DAZL, in the pancreas is connected to cancer and DAC increases these proteins and helps fight the cancer. All of their research helps increase the knowledge of the drug DAC and helps bring scientists closer to finding a cure for pancreatic cancer.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death, right behind heart disease; it affects everyone everywhere. Most people have either a friends or a family member that has died from, or gotten cancer. This disease has personally affected Ms. Davies. Two years ago, her father was taken by kidney cancer. This motivated her to join the researchers and help find a cure for the deadly mutation. When her father was diagnosed, Davies was very frustrated that she did not understand cancer very well. It is rarely taught in school, that is why, now that she is a teacher at Bronxville High School, she has been trying to get across a lesson in her biology classes. She hopes that this will help other people understand what is happening in the hard times that will arise. Cancer kills thousands of people every year. For a long time scientists have been trying to find a cure. There is no set way to destroy all cancer, fixes are specific to the kind you have. Carcinoma cancer is the most common; it grows in skin and tissue that line the organs. Sarcoma is the rarest and hardest kind of cancer to treat, it grown in bone and muscle tissue. There are other kinds of cancer, all of them hard but not impossible to treat. As said before, there is no specific all out cure to cancer, but the search continues. The research Davies done in the lab this summer helps bring the world closer to another solution to fight this awful disease.

Overall I think Ms. Davies did a great job presenting her breakthrough research. Cancer, and all of the research done to help cure it, is a very complicated subject filled with very complex ideas. When Ms. Davies went into the lab she did not no much about cancer, when she came out at the end of the summer she was an expert. She had an hour to try and relay all that she learned and succeeded through her research. This is a very difficult task. I had a hard time understanding things while they were being said, but when thinking back I understood the basic ideas. Davies did a great job teaching the audience about cancer and about the drug DAC. I found the first part about the cancerous mice and the drug DAC easy to understand. I feel like the other part of the research is harder to understand because it is more complex. The protein dyeing and fluorescent light part of the research was hard to understand. I feel like that part could have been explained better. Overall the presentation was very good and a lot of information was communicated.

Human Muscle, Regrown on Animal Scaffolding

Human Muscle, Regrown on Animal Scaffolding

Christian Welch
Core Biology 1 Honors/ C-Block, Ms. Davies

Current Event Report: Human Muscle, Regrown on Animal Scaffolding

Henry Fountain “Human Muscle, Regrown on Animal Scaffolding” The New York Times. The New York times, September 16, 2012

            The Article “Human Muscle, Regrown on Animal Scaffolding” by Henry Fountain is about the amazing new medical technology that can re-grow certain limb muscles.  Dr. Peter Rubin the leader of this discovery explains how this incredible process works. The doctors take out animal scaffolding, and isolate it by scrapping out all of the cells and tissues leaving an intricate web of proteins.  Once this is completed the doctors implanted the scaffolding (or “matrix” as the article calls it), into the body. The body will then break down the new proteins and the nerves send the brain signals to rebuild the site by sending stem cells. Then the cells will turn into muscle cells and slowly reconstruct the area until the muscle is complete. This process isn’t perfect though. It is difficult time consuming and it can only reconstructed one muscle but in reality when someone is hurt as badly as war victims, they new several muscles to be re-grown. This Article focuses on the treatment of one patient who got his left thigh blew off from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. This private named Stg. Ron Strang, lost all his thigh muscles, and even after intensive care and physical therapy he could barley walk. DR. Rubin used Strang as a can in his scaffolding studies and the results were astonishing. The war hero had begun to grow new muscles from the massive divot in his thigh. Now two years later the sergeant can walk easily, run on the treadmill and is thinking about join the police force. Now he says, “If you know me, or know to look for it, you can see a slight limp,” he said. “But everybody else, they go, ‘I would never have guessed.’ ” The difficult part of the procedure is you have to scrape out all of the dead scar tissue in the patients wound or else the scaffolding can work. It needs to be in contact will healthy, living blood cells and tissue to correctly do its job
            This will help society with problems all over the world and let them regain abilities that they didn’t have before. Using this technology doctors can learn more about the human anatomy and try to unlock its mysteries. Now with this information at hand doctors can begin to treat war victims and prevent amputation. This treatment will soon be works on by many people until scientist have mastered the process and can treat and re-build much more than just one muscle. There are millions of untreated patients in the world who could use this medicine to stay alive and with this new information it can change the way doctors help people daily. More people can be saved and live more at ease instead of carrying the burden of pain and suffering from a wound.
            I like reading this article because this was an extremely interesting topic and the author explained the scenarios well. He told all of the medical procedures without losing my attention and in an easy to read way. There was never a time when I got bored while reading this article because of the easy tone of the article and the subject being explained. I have no critiques for this article; the only thing I have to say is that you should read the story yourself. Henry Fountain did a good job at including all the important details about the procedure and how it works. He also included several good quotes that helped portray the scene and how intense the conditions were for these victims. Overall I thought it was a very good article and it told an incredible story about medicine, hope and new discoveries.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Deciphering the Tools of Nature's Zombies

Kylie Kardos                                                                                                    December 10, 2012
Core Biology 1 Honors                                                                                   C-odd, Davies
Current Event Report: Deciphering the Tools of Nature’s Zombies
Zimmer, Carl. “Deciphering the Tools of Nature’s Zombies” New York Times Online. 5 December 2012.
            Scientists have recently found research regarding how parasitic invaders are able to manipulate particular hosts in nature. Viruses, fungi, protozoan’s, wasps, tapeworms, and many other parasites in nature are able to control the brains of their hosts. Deep within the Costa Rica rain forests, a species of spider called Anelosimus octavius lurks around, displaying peculiar and creepy behavior that is a significant part of its normality. These spiders will create a drastically different web than their own for the parasitic wasps living inside of them. Nothing like the spider’s typical web, this web contains a platform with a thick sheet to shield it from the rain. The wasp larva then wriggles to the edge of the platform and spins a cocoon that hangs through an opening kindly provided for the parasite by the spider. These wasps are able to manipulate their hosts into carrying out certain actions like this. When the spider finally dies, with its brain completely taken over by its parasitic invader, out will come the wasp’s larva. Scientists have been researching the process of how these parasitic invaders are able to manipulate their hosts, and they have recently made some remarkable discoveries. In order for the wasp to manipulate the spider, the wasp must have genes that create proteins that alter spider behavior. Recently, scientists have been able to identify this gene in several types of species, such as the baculovirus, which is a virus scattered on leaves in forests and gardens. Luckily for humans, this virus is only dangerous for caterpillars of insect species. When the caterpillar eats a baculovirus-laden leaf, the parasite intrudes on its cells and replicates, manipulating the caterpillar to “climb high.” Once the caterpillar is high in the trees, its body will dissolve, thus launching the viruses on potential hosts below. David P. Hughes of Penn State University has discovered that a single gene referred to as egt is what causes the caterpillars to climb up trees. Egt contains an enzyme, which kills a hormone that signals a caterpillar to stop eating and molt. Dr. Hughes believes that this virus prompts the caterpillar into a “feeding frenzy,” as commonly, gypsy moth caterpillars will come out at night to feed and will then reside near the bottom of trees to hide from predators. However, the zombie caterpillars will continuously search for food.
            Many other parasites manipulate their hosts by moving the neurotransmitters inside their brains. This is how thorny-headed worms send their hosts, which are shrimplike crustaceans known as gammarids, to their death. Gammarids live in ponds, so they usually dive deep into the mud when they feel threatened. However, an infected gammarid will race up to the surface of the pond and will then hang on to an object such as a rock or stem. As baculoviruses go from caterpillar to caterpillar, thorny-headed worms must live in two species - a gammarid, and then a bird. Simune Helluy of Wellesley College researched this suicidal reversal, discovering that the parasites control the gammarid’s brain through its immune system. The parasite creates a strong response from the gammarid’s immune cells, which then set loose chemicals that destroy the parasite. The parasite blocks these attacks and the hosts’ immune system creates a swelling that attacks its own brain. There, it interferes with the brain’s chemistry, producing large amounts of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which influences how neurons transmit signals. Dr. Helluy believes that the rush of serotonin triggered by the thorny-headed worms corrupts the signals traveling from the eyes to the brain. Usually, the threatened gammarid is attracted to the darkness at the bottom of its pond to protect itself. Researchers believe that thorny-headed worms cause their hosts to recognize sunlight as darkness, therefore swimming upwards instead of downwards.
            This article is significant to society because based on the research scientists have gotten and are in the process of getting, we can figure out whether or not humans are prone to being manipulated by parasitical creatures in nature. For instance, some studies have shown that humans can become hosts of Toxoplasma gondi, a single-celled parasite that reproduces in the guts of cats, which shed it in their feces. Humans can become prone to this if they handle contaminated cat litter or if they eat parasite-laden meat. By learning about the process of how these parasites are able to fully take over certain creatures, we can prevent this from happening in the future and can possibly cure certain disorders. According to the article, ‘Dr. Adamo, the co-editor of the journal’s new issue, thinks that this new science of “neuroparasitology” can offer inspiration to pharmaceutical companies that are struggling to find effective drugs for mental disorders.’ “A number of the big companies have given up on their neuroscience labs,” she said. “Maybe the parasites can teach us something.” I chose this article because after just reading the headline, I was immediately captivated and could not stop reading. I think the whole topic of parasites taking over hosts is really fascinating. Before reading this article, I was unaware that that this phenomena was occurring in the world and if someone had told me that there were such thing as zombies in nature, I can honestly say that I definitely wouldn’t have believed them.
            I thought that this article was extremely well written. Although it is long, I found myself hooked throughout the entire article. I believe that there is plenty of evidence that backs up all the points the author makes. I enjoyed learning about all three of the processes that were described in this article in which the parasites took over the three hosts, and I found all to be described well. My only criticism for this article is that I wanted to know more about what would happen if humans were invaded by a particular parasite species and whether or not that could be treated or prevented. One particular point I found to be important was how the author states that, “The way that a parasite goes about changing behavior is not the way a neurobiologist would do it.” Evidence in the article provided that ‘a typical drug focuses on only one type of molecule in the brain while parasites often launch a more broad attack that still manages to cause a specific change in their host.’ Ultimately, though, I enjoyed reading this article, and it left me wanting to know more about parasites and zombies in nature.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Emma Cancer Free.

Andrew Lemberger
Biology Current Events

            I have just finished ready a very well written and extremely interesting article on the story of a five-year-old girl with cancer who has just turned seven and is cancer free. Doctors at the children’s hospital of Philadelphia achieved this remarkable feat achieved this feat in April of this year and some are calling the work, “phenomenal”.  Emma is a young child suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia and was on the verge of death. With nothing to lose her parents Kari and John decided to give consent to an experimental treatment that had never been done on children before. Doctors then proceeded to inject Emma with a disabled form of the Aids virus in order to reprogram her immune system to fight off cancer cells. At first Emma became very sickly with a fever over 105, which was a expected result, she became swollen to the point of no recognition. With the treatment almost killing her doctors noticed that her level of one of the cytokines, interleukin-6 or IL6 was through the roof.  But then Dr. June one of Emma’s attending physicians remembered a drug that could lower her cytokine levels, his daughter took it for her rheumatoid arthritis. With nothing to lose dr. Stephan Grupp ordered the drug to be given to Emma, immediately results were seen. Emma’s symptoms completely ceased and woke up two weeks later, cancer free.  For me this article is very interesting and warming in that it shows that there is hope for victims of certain forms of leukemia and other cancers. Its always cool to me when I see something so revolutionary being devised on any random day. On may 2nd Emma awoke from her hard fought battle, the hospital staff then gathered and proceeded to sing Happy Birthday, it was her seventh birthday. The relevance of this article to todays world is that this is a sign that maybe someday we will have a full blown marketable treatment for some if not all forms of cancer within my lifetime.  Overall I thought the article was well written and the author provided all the right details and facts in order for someone not in the cancer field to understand.  I really enjoyed reading this article and hope that this breakthrough will lead to greater things.               

Protein linking exercise to bigger, stronger muscles discovered

Jack Boyd
December 9, 2012
Ms. Davies

For an article:
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (2012, December 6). Protein linking exercise to bigger, stronger muscles discovered; Finding might lead to new therapies for muscle-wasting diseases. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 9, 2012, from

Researchers at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute discovered a protein that has the ability to increase muscle mass and muscle power. They were able to isolate this protein which is found in humans and mice. It is most commonly found in the skeletal muscles Such as biceps, triceps, deltoids and many other muscles. After isolating this previously unknown protein, scientists tested it on mice and found that their muscle mass and strength increased more than normal and that the protein could be very beneficial for muscle growth. The protein helps muscle endurance rather than growth. This is significant because it might give researchers the opportunity to synthesize a treatment out of this protein. It would most likely treat muscle atrophy and other related diseases.

This discovery is significant to society because of its potential to cure muscle diseases such as muscle atrophy and be able to help older people whose muscles often deteriorate making it harder for them to accomplish even the most basic tasks. Not only will it help older citizens, it may prove to be quite useful to hospital patients who often endure muscle atrophy after coming off a long period of bed rest and cancer patients, who are the most common victims of muscular diseases like muscle atrophy. Society would be better off as a whole because this protein, when synthesized, may have the ability to help members of society maintain their physical strength and even increase it. This will help society function better as a whole.

This article, while very informative, is very hard to comprehend. I found that it was increasingly hard to understand the language the writer was using. Myself not being an expert on all the different proteins in the human body found myself scouring the Internet for definitions of the terms and names they gave throughout their article. Nonetheless it was a very interesting and informative article providing insight on the development of an important cure for certain muscular diseases whose victims include people of old age, cancer patients, and hospital patients.

End of the world

Biology                                                                                                                                                                 Spencer Cox
Current events #2                                                                                                                                           12/8/12

For this current events report I listened to a seminar from Dr. Scott Calvin about why the world will not end in 2012.  This seminar was about the various reasons why the world will not end in 2012 despite others beliefs based on the Mayan calendar which ends on the date December 21st 2012.  In this seminar Dr. Scott Calvin thoroughly explained the various reasons behind why the world will not end in 2012.  The reason that I believe was the most popular and questioned was about asteroids.  What many people do not know is that we have already found all the asteroids that could cause damage to the earth and we are able to tell very far ahead of time whether or not they will hit the earth.  This wipes out one of the most common beliefs that the earth will be hit by an asteroid.  The second and most scary end of the world scenario explained was a solar flare.  A solar flare is when the sun releases a massive amount of rays that can destroy electronics.  The thing about this is that it hasn't occurred in over two hundred years and we would have twenty four hours notice before it would occur.  It's also very easy to deal with because in order to counteract it all you have to do is turn off the power around the world for a day and wait for it to pass so that it would cause no damage.  Its due to the fact that scenarios that could cause the most damage to the earth and could kill the most people.  Essentially the seminar summed everything up by giving facts the proved that the world will not end anytime soon. 

The relevance of this article to what is currently happening in the world is the fact that December 21st 2012 is approaching very quickly and many people were very curious including myself about what the verdict was about what was going to happen on this date.  Furthermore the fact that there is a lot of controversy and different opinions surrounding this topic and making it a very touchy subject for some people just like stem cell use. 

I personally believed that this seminar was flawless.  There was nothing that wasn't supported or backed up by research and facts that make the seminar more strong due to the fact that there was nothing that wasn't true being taught and explained to us in this seminar, all key points were covered and nothing that was presented in the seminar was just a theory.  

End of the World

Andrew Dent                                                                                                 December 10, 2012
Bio C odd                                                                                                      1Mrs. Davies

"Is the World Going to End." End of the World. Multipurpose Room, Bronxville. 14 Nov. 2012. Lecture.

            This was a presentation that took place at the school. A teacher from Sarah Lawrence College came to talk about if the world was going to end on December 21, 2012. He decided that the world not going to end and that the world was not going to end for a few reasons. For one her compared it to the last time we thought the world was going to end in 2k. He said that we were all afraid on that date because it was the beginning of a new century and that scares most of us. December 21, 2012 is the beginning of the new century in the Mayan Calendar and most people think that because nothing happened in the last event that something must happen this one.  He went on to talk about the Mayan Calendar and that how right it has been about a lot of thinks. Also he said that down in New Mexico Mayans are still alive using this system and calendar. 
            This topic is a large discussion going on around this time. Many people are afraid this is the end of the world and that many bad things are going to happen in the next month. As a result many people are making drastic decisions that are not good for society so this idea that the world is not going to end and many people should not get worried.  I chose this article because this is a relevant discussion that interests me. Also I believe that the world isn’t going to end so I like o hear what others have to say about it.
            I think this was overall a good presentation. For one I liked how he got the group engaged in the topic and also how he knew what he was talking about and liked it. From what I saw I did have any real complaints. Although when he would ask questions he would really listen what the people have to say. Also I think he did really give proof about how many things he talked about, he pretty much said it. All in all I think it was a good presentation. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Me, Myself, Us

This article is about a huge discovery that flipped biology upside down.  This discovery changed what many people know the human body to be.  This new discovery shows that in the human body the ratio from bacteria to cells is 10:1.  "A healthy adult human harbors some 100 trillion bacteria in his gut alone."  Scientists have discovered that these bacteria have surprising effects on obesity, malnutrition, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, autism, and many other diseases.  This is related to both obesity and malnutrition because of the kind of bacteria you have.  Having bad bacteria can lead to both of these things.  He shows this by testing his theories on twins.  When feeding them equal nutrition 50% of the time 1 twin would be well nourished and the other would be malnourished.    By altering the bacteria inside a person scientists can now fix malnutrition.  Dr. Nicholson discovered that high blood pressure is also related to this new view on science.  The formic acid in the gut microbes causes high salt absorption in the kidneys leading to high blood pressure.  So once again by altering bacteria scientists may be able to fix this.  By using this same strategy many new problems may also be fixed.

I think this article is very important to society because of all the new views on human health.  I think that this will help cure many diseases in people and make the world a better place.  I chose this article because I was very interested about how knowing that we have so much bacteria would affect our society.   

I really think what scientists are working on now is phenomenal.  I think that these scientists have changed biology forever and have ventured even further into a new realm in medical science.  I think the article was very well written and the author stated all ideas clearly.  I enjoyed reading about how this would affect our society today and in the future to come.  Overall I thought it was a well written, interesting article that will change our world forever.   

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cancer Presentation

Ms. Davies, a graduate of Pelham Memorial High School and Sarah Lawrence College, attended a summer research program for science teachers this year, 2012, at Columbia University. When matched with a lab, Ms. Davies chose to research cancer. Scientifically speaking, cancer is defined as uncontrolled cell growth or abnormal cell division. As a result of her decision, Ms. Davies was placed in the Irving Cancer Research Center where she worked with Dr. Ben Tycko, Dr. Tamas Gonda, and Angelica Cullo. In their lab, they worked with a medicine called Dacogen (Dac) that is currently being used to treat certain blood cancers. They tested whether or not it can also treat pancreatic cancer. Dac is supposed to lower the amount of methylation, or the addition of a methyl group (CH3) to the cytosine or adenine of DNA. In hypermethylation, tumor-suppressor genes, which help prevent cancer, are turned off. In hypomethylation, oncogenes, which contribute to cancer, are activated. Both forms of methylation are conducive to cancer, yet are not just as simple as on-off switches. To test if the Dac would succeed in demethylyzing the DNA of those with pancreatic cancer, Ms. Davies and her colleagues performed a test involving mice bred with this illness. Some of the mice were treated with the Dac, while the others were injected with PBS, or salt water, to serve as a control group. After a couple weeks, the mice were sacrificed and the pancreas of each was removed. The heavier the pancreas, the more cancerous, so it was a great discovery to find that the Dac-treated pancreases were much lighter than the PBS-treated ones. The Dac had worked! However, it is still unknown if it will work this same way on humans. From this experiment, several questions to be researched arose, such as, “Where is the methylation happening?” as well as, “What genes are specifically being altered by the Dac treatment?” To attempt at tackling these questions, Ms. Davies used two main research techniques. One is called immunohistochemistry, which involves staining, and the other is immunofluorescence, which involves using a laser confocal microscope to take pictures showing wavelengths. From her extensive work, many new questions were brought on, creating much room for future study. Ms. Davies will be returning to the Columbia program next summer to continue with further research.
            The conclusions formed from Ms. Davies’s research and where the studies can go from here provides hopeful promise in defeating cancer, which would greatly affect humanity. Cancer is the second leading cause of death (heart disease is number one), so clearly, finding a cure would positively impact the lives of millions. In fact, one of the sole reasons Ms. Davies chose to research cancer is because her father had died of kidney cancer. At the time, she felt quite helpless since she knew so little about the disease. Another reason she chose this research path is due to the fact that cancer affects so many people, yet is rarely taught in school. This is why it is currently Ms. Davies’s goal to integrate the subject of cancer into her Core Biology and Living Environment classes. Other steps she is preparing to take to spread her research includes presenting it at the Partners in Science Conference in San Diego this January 2013. Finally, Ms. Davies would also like to “continue testing different macrophage markers to distinguish macrophage types.” Macrophages are a type of white blood cells. They are a normal part of one’s immune system, but only some are considered “good guys,” while the others are bad and can contribute to cancer. So much can be done from here in this entirely new field of science, all of which offers newfound hope in a cure for cancer.
            Ms. Davies’s did a great job at presenting her information. Cancer is a complex topic filled with many technical points and facts. Despite this, Ms. Davies was very successful in explaining her discoveries, giving a good break down of complicated ideas. I still did find some things a bit confusing. However, this is understandable because Ms. Davies’s had the difficult task of taking all that she learned from spending eight weeks at the Columbia summer program and trying to explain it to a crowd that knows almost nothing about the subject in under an hour. She was quite successful in doing so, which really impressed me. In my opinion, the parts about the process of methylation and the Dac experiment on mice were very well explained, as I found them pretty easy to follow from Ms. Davies’s descriptions. Throughout the presentation, I was genuinely interested. It was definitely very informative, and I learned a lot.