Yesterday, Feb 1 2016 the Worldwide Health Organization declared a state of emergency caused by the sudden and explosive spread of the Zika virus throughout Central and South America. This is especially worrying as there is currently no vaccine or treatment available for the Zika virus. What started as a obscure news story a month ago has quickly become a very relevant and very disturbing headline, especially due to the link between the virus and microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurological condition leading to small heads and underdeveloped brains in newborns. There are many pictures of the effects of microcephaly floating around the net recently due to the virus, and although it isn’t a guarantee that a child will contract the disorder, it does seem to drastically increase the chances of the condition. Although the link between the two hasn’t been scientifically proven yet, there is a strong enough belief that there is a correlation between the two that some countries have even gone so far as to advise their citizens to delay pregnancy until the situation is more under control. That’s some scary shit right there. I feel like this is the first 5 minutes of a zombie movie when they start throwing all the fake news stories on the screen showing the beginnings and initial spread of some crazy virus that wipes out a population.
Obviously things aren’t all that bad at this time, but it is still enough to really make one stop and think about investing in some industrial strength bug spray/mosquito nets. The good news is now that the WHO is taking the situation seriously, hopefully things will take a turn for the better with regards to prevention and treatment of the virus. Unfortunately for those who have been infected, the truth is that when this story began to develop there weren’t many in the medical world that took the initial threat seriously, something that WHO has since addressed the issue now that the threat has shown such an outrageous and explosive growth.
Either way, I may be delaying any Caribbean vacations for the time being.
In the wake of several celebrities dying from cancer recently, namely David Bowie, and Alan Rickman. I though I would take a moment to talk about what cancer is and why finding a cure is more complicated than it sounds. First let me start by saying that I am actually a cancer researcher, I wake up everyday go to work, put on my lab coat on and work to cure cancer, so it is safe to say that I have some knowledge on this subject (that being said I’m going to keep this simple). Half of all men and a third of all women in the United States will get cancer. Stop, now read that sentence again. Sounds high doesn’t it, but I would bet anyone of us knows at least one person, if not a family member, who has had one form of cancer or another. With these statistics being as high as they are it is amazing to me the number of people who don’t know the first thing about cancer. So today I want to give a brief explanation of what cancer is and why curing it is a bitch. Most of us are aware that the cell is the basic building block of life. An easy way to think of a cell is to imagine it as a little machine it takes in nutrients and preforms basic tasks that keep it alive and when the time comes it multiplies and/or dies off depending on what type of cell it is. There are so many cells in the human body that the number is virtually astronomical, and all these cells are super efficient at their jobs, more efficient than best computer on the market. Even so sometimes errors are made, these are called mutations. These mutations can be the cause of many diseases, but when we talk about cancer we are mainly talking about mutations in the cells growth. Specifically the things that tell a cell to stop multiplying or tell it when to die. These signals come from the cells DNA which for all intensive purposes is the brain of the cell, and that is where these mutations occur. As a result these cells grow larger than they should and multiply more rapidly than they should and no longer do the work that they should be doing. Soon they grow into a large mass that is called a tumor. These can be hazardous in multiple ways not the least of which is just getting in the way. They can block blood flow or clog your lungs or intestines, they also muscle out normal cells that are working properly leaving the body with not enough workers to preform essential tasks like breathing. Now here is the hard part, every persons DNA is different and therefore every persons cancer is different. There are also many different areas of the body that can get cancer and each one of these is unique as well. Finally there are many different types of mutations that can occur and often there are multiple mutations present in a single tumor. That is the crux of the problem with finding a cure, there isn’t just one type cancer there are many many types and each will require its own unique cure. Good news is your chances are much better now than they once were and there are people working everyday trying to improve your odds.
For the first time in history, scientists believe they have discovered the neural networks that are directly linked to intelligence in the human brain. These networks are collections of specific genes that are attributed to things such as memory, attention span, and reasoning. Even more importantly than their discovery is the knowledge that we may have located the “master switches” that regulate these links. Hopefully through careful study we can learn how to open and close these switches in order to help enhance human cognitive ability in the future. Although things are still early in the game at this point, researchers are hopeful that this is the step towards some huge breakthroughs in the future.
For the full article, click here.
Here is the link to the actual study found in Nature Neuroscience.
It’s a fact of our modern world that as time goes by there is more and more information to be preserved about ourselves and our known universe. At the beginning of time it was stored on cave paintings, then etchings, paper, and now computers. As our information has become more and more dense we have had to come up with better and more efficient ways in which to store it. But with so MUCH info, what is the best way to do it? There aren’t enough hard drives in the world, and even if there were by the time we got all of our information on there we would have to immediately replace them with a newer, bigger model do to the exponential increase in what we know (it’s called the information age for a reason). Luckily, it looks like mother nature has already taken care of it for us. Enter Researchers Robert Grass and Reinhard Heckel, two scientists who are working on a way to convert all known information into DNA. Think about that for a second, we could fit it all inside the same basic DNA that we have floating around inside our bodies right now. Basically you are a walking super computer so hey, pat yourself on the back! Follow the link to the video on how they are doing it!