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Charles Best and Frederick Banting, with one of their research subjects. University of Toronto Archives

This post describes some of the many pathways to scientific discovery. No single model applies to all discoveries, and most discoveries contain elements of different models. I will focus on the field I know best, biomedical research. Biomedical discoveries are usually, but not exclusively, the result of hypothesis- and curiosity-driven “small science”. In contrast, the first report of evidence for the Higgs Boson at the LHC in Switzerland listed over 2500 authors from some 180 institutions, and depended on the construction of a 5 billion dollar supercollider with an annual operating budget of one billion.… Read the rest “THE ART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY”

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Dr. Lyudmila Trut and a human-friendly fox, 1974.

Foxes have a reputation for being elusive, canny, shy. . . in other words, foxy. Wild foxes in captivity are innately aggressive and fearful of humans – not friendly at all. With a great deal of patience, you may be able train one to be more docile, but it would not be a dog-like pet. However, if you have a slightly weird desire for a pet fox that will behave more like a cocker spaniel than a wild fox, you may be able to get one from a genetic research institute in Russia.… Read the rest “The Curious Case of the Friendly Russian Foxes”

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In April 2017 I published a post titled “Why is there so much talk about epigenetics?”. I think I did a pretty decent job explaining what epigenetics is, and why it is such a critically important part of biology. The gist is, that the regulated output of our genomic information depends on epigenetics. This is achieved by specific chemical groups and protein along the chromosomes that control their expression into the proteins and other products needed for the life of a particular cell.… Read the rest “Why there is so much talk about epigenetics”

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Peter Nowell and David Hungerford in 1960

 

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) is not a cancer you hear about very often. That’s not because it isn’t serious — until recently, it carried a frightening prognoses. Until about 2000, newly diagnosed CML patients had a 5-year survival rate of 31%. But we don’t hear much about CML because it is a rare disease, and affects far fewer people than cancers of the breast or prostate, or lung cancer.Read the rest “Chronic Myeloid Leukemia: a Molecular Diagnosis”

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Dr. Brian Druker and Ms. LaDonna Lopossa, one of the earliest patients to benefit from Gleevec

Rob Schick is the Branch Manger of the Baird Wealth Management Group in Portland, Oregon. Most people would probably consider him lucky. For starters, Portland is one of the most desirable cities in the United States to live in. He and his wife have three grown children, one of whom works at the same company. In addition to his success in business, Rob Schick’s efforts on behalf of the Knight Cancer Institute, where he has helped raise millions of dollars for research, were nationally recognized in 2015 by a National Community Service Award from the Invest in Others Foundation.Read the rest “Chronic Myeloid Leukemia: A Molecular Solution”

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The present-day Gila River in the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area in southeast Arizona. 

Both nature and nurture affect human obesity. For some people, and for some populations, the genetic tendency to become obese is not fulfilled because of their environment, the circumstances of their lives. But when those circumstances change, the genetic potential may be realised quickly, and lead to the medical issues that follow from obesity. An example that starkly illustrates this comes from the sunbaked desert south of Phoenix, Arizona.Read the rest “The Gila River People, Victims of Modernity”

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Jesse Owens starting the 200 meter race at the 1936 Olympics. Reproduction of photograph in “Die Olympischen Spiele, 1936” p.27, 1936. 

Coverage of the recent victory of the New Zealand team in the America’s Cup yacht race featured sailboats flying along on their underwater foils at ridiculous speed, speeds reaching more than 50 miles (80 km) per hour. Whether it’s running, or driving a car, or sailing these mutant boats, speed is exciting.Read the rest “Speed Limits”

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It’s a good idea to look critically at any powerful new technology, and the creation of genetically-modified organisms, GMOs, is no exception. Like any new technology, it might have unanticipated, deleterious consequences that outweigh any benefit. Many criticisms of GMO have of course been raised, as a brief interrogation of the internet will show. But unfortunately, the criticisms of GMOs we hear most often are not the most important ones, and the ones that are most important are often not heard clearly.Read the rest “GMO”

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(C57 Black/6 mouse) Attacking cancer with the immune system is one of the most enticing dreams of cancer researchers and oncologists. This dream has floated in and out of the foreground for over a century; as early as the 1890s, such a mechanism was probably responsible for a number of “miracle” cancer cures, even if the immune system was still much of a mystery. Since then, the dream of cancer immunotherapy has offered up promising results, but has never fully revealed itself.Read the rest “Mice and Men”