Recently in Medicine Category
When I was a research biochemist, I used to enjoy the occasions when I would meet someone new, perhaps in the pub, and they would ask me what I do for a living. Upon hearing the word 'biochemist', you could see their face turn to stone and the panic come over them in a wave as they tried to think of a follow up line that did not involve having to ask what a biochemist is or does. More often than not, this thinking time would rapidly become a tumbleweed moment and I wish I had never said the dreaded B word. Apparently though, if you are a genetic counsellor, rather than a tumbleweed moment, one of the common responses you get is, "so you tell people not to have children then?". And this is how the October Birmingham Café Scientifique started.
Organ donation is always an interesting discussion because it is one of those things that most people, if you were to ask them, do not seem to have an issue with and are generally very supportive of in the UK. And yet we have one of the lowest rates of organ donation in Europe. Why is this? To start to discuss these points, the first thing you need is someone who knows a thing or two about organ donation and the second is a suitable environment for honest and open discussion - welcome to the Birmingham Café Scientifique.
It has been a strange week here at Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum. Without necessarily planning it this way, I seem to have spent a significant amount of time working with neuroscientists and psychologists, which inevitably leads to lots of discussions about the human brain. I have also been electrocuted and attacked by a giant millipede but it is the neuroscience that is actually more interesting.
About 90% of you isn't actually "you". In terms of cell count, a typical human being is outnumbered roughly 10 to one by the microbes that reside in and on their body. You and the microscopic beasts inside you are a complex ecology; mess about with one part, and unexpected things might happen.
When we take antibiotics, we're hammering that ecology, sometimes not for the long-term good of us or the beasts.
There was a truly remarkable article on just this topic in Nature a couple of months ago: "Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria" by Martin Blaser of New York University (Nature 476 pp 393-4; see also article about it in the New York Times.).
Backed by Birmingham City Council and regional universities, the New Optimists Forum is doing a year-long scenario planning exercise looking at food futures for Birmingham 2050. It's all good stuff and will greatly inform the city's long-term strategic decision-making.
This video of Jim Parle talking about food deserts in Brum generated a lot of interest, and Richard Burden MP dropped a line to Sainbury's boss Justin King as a result of various reactions to Ian Nabney's interview about supermarkets and data -- the story of that is told in this Podnosh blogpost.
Then last Tuesday, I sat in on the APPG on Agroecology at the House of Lords, and here's a summary of the brilliant stuff that happened there -- and the opportunities for Birmingham.
No question about it, Birmingham is behind the curve when it comes to food issues. We have nowt like the APPG speakers' stuff: Rosie Boycott's London's Capital Growth, Mary Clear's Todmorden's Incredible Edible and Clare Devereux' Food Matters in Brighton & Hove.
Yet because we've been tardy, we can learn a lot from everyone else. And here's The New Optimists starter-for-ten about the opportunities for Birmingham. . . Among all that, anyone up for:
Finally, here's my take on why it's so important.
Science and the city. Two events yesterday. First, I dropped into the buzz of 150 people, top-notch scientists and ordinary citizens, gathered at the showcase event held at the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, whose Director is Roslyn Bill, one of the New Optimists. There was pure science stuff, high tech stuff -- and the social policy stuff, all bent around enabling thee and me to have a great old age. I approve!
Then in the evening you could have found me and others providing a running commentary under the hashtag #scicap at Science Capital's meeting in the city centre. Science Capital is where scientists, businesspeople and investors meet.
Two brill scientists, both New Optimists, Charlie Craddock and Paul Moss led the first half of the evening. In the second half, Charles de Rohan of The Binding Site took over along with Gordon McKenzie who co-founded Michelson Diagnostics in 2006 after completing his PhD at Warwick.
Bacteria can help kill cancer cells! That's what the headlines said on Monday, but did you know that microbes - the things we are often (wrongly) told to steer clear of - have been known to have an effect on cancer cells for hundreds of years?
It's my job to keep on top of all the news stories about microbiology. So anything about bacteria, viruses, fungi - if you can't see it, I need to know about it.
For over 200 years the Potteries has been home to businesses who have driven forward development of the pottery industry.
So now in the 21st century its no surprise that a specialist materials business from the region is at the forefront of shaping how ceramics can be used as advanced materials for use in new markets.
Stoke-on-Trent based CERAM Research specialises in working with manufacturers to develop new materials that are lighter, stronger or hold advanced proprieties to enable materials to be used in new ways.
They've been working with companies from across the world to develop materials that are used in a wealth of applications including healthcare, aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, energy and environmental products.
At first, their latest development project that will research how ceramics can be used a material for hip replacements, may seem to have fragile chances of success.
But CERAM Research's scientists believe that by fusing one of our most basic materials, ceramics, with high tech science they can transform a brittle material into one that's stronger, lighter and tougher, enabling it to be used in new ways.
Like many millions, I had a medic tell me I had a cancer. Scary, even though I knew the errant cells in my body were highly unlikely to be life-threatening. Like most of those millions, I've lived to tell the tale. And it's in no small measure because of the work of scientists, both boffins in the labs and the clinicians we patients meet.
Broadcaster and journalist Sue Beardsmore introduces ten of them, all working in the West Midlands, in this Kindle book, The New Optimists: Challenging Cancer to tell us why they're optimistic about future cancer treatments. As editor, I can tell you it's an inspiring read.
Last week in Nature there was a very illuminating paper, called "Controllability of complex networks" by Liu, Slotine and -- particularly -- Barabasi.
Albert-Laszlo Barabasi has been in the complexity field for many years, and has brought illumination to many areas, from engineering and natural systems like ecology to complex social systems. (He also writes compellingly good books for the non-scientist.)
The idea of 'controlling complex systems' seems much too general to do any real mathematics with, but the authors of the Nature paper show very clearly that