Monthly Archives: December 2011

FrogHeart’s 2011 and a selective roundup of my online (international) ‘nano’ colleagues

For the 2010 review I managed to fold my FrogHeart overview into a roundup of Canadian science blogs but this year, there were so many blogs they got one posting all to themselves.

I think I’ll get the numbers part of this out of the way first. Overall, I have almost doubled my numbers (AW Stats) from 25,935 in Dec. 2010 to over 50,000 in Dec. 2011 (I’ll give a more accurate tally once the month is complete). (ETA Feb. 2, 2012: There were 53,488 visits.) My biggest month was November with over 54,000 visits and some 19,489 unique visitors. The numbers did not increase as rapidly as they did in previous years but I guess that’s what happens as your blog gets bigger. I was surprised to notice that major events tended to have an impact. For example, the Arab Spring, the Fukushima nuclear incident, Jack Layton’s death and other important events affected the number of visits (fewer) here. For my annual AW statistic, I’ll have had over 480,000 visits. (ETA Feb. 2, 2012: The final numbers were 482,144.)

As for my Webalizer statistics, they too show that November 2011 was my busiest month with some 78,379 visits. (ETA Feb. 2, 2012: December 2011 was the busiest month with 81, 224 visits.) It’s  not possible to compare this number with my 2010 statistics as my webhosting service missed two weeks of Webalizer statistics in November 2010. My annual Webalizer statistic for visits will be over 727,000. (ETA Feb. 2, 2012: Not sure what happened but my final numbers were 678,078.) As I understand it, my Webalizer statistics include bots, crawlers, etc. that are not included in my AW statistics.

The most popular topic on my blog continues to be nanocrystalline cellulose; every single month this year it has been one of the top 10 keyterm searches. Also popular is the Urbee (a ‘green’ car being developed in Winnipeg, Manitoba) and literary tattoos. Silver nanoparticles and titanium dioxide also pop up with some regularity in the top 10 keyterm searches. Other popular stories include the Lycurgus cup, the ‘nanotechnology protest bombings in Mexico,  the physics of Jackson Pollock, and the annual Brackendale eagle count.

I was able to feature several interviews on this year’s blog:

  • Darren Anderson and Keith Thomas of Vive Crop (formerly Vive Nano) about their company
  • Heather Graves (arts scholar in residence at Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology) about being the 1st such scholar
  • Julie Freeman (visual artist) about her ‘nano’ pieces which were shown in the UK’s House of Lords
  • Dr. Seyed Gh. Etemad about the International Conference on Nanotechnology: Fundamentals and Applications
  • Baba Brinkman (a Vancouver-based rapper) about performing the Rap Guide to Evolution, the only peer-reviewed rap in the world
  • Mark MacLachlan (professor at the University of British Columbia) about his work using nanocrystalline cellulose to create iridescent films
  • Dr. Helen Beady of the Memphis Zoo discussing her nano zoo project
  • Tim Harper, CEO of Cientfica, a consulting firm, about his white paper on global nanotechnology funding and economic impacts
  • Jim Kor project leader and lead designer about the Urbee car
  • Dr. Andrew Maynard commented on Health Canada’s definition for nanomaterials
  • Dr. David Kent, postdoc researcher and blogger at The Black Hole, about his presentation on prospects for science graduates at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference
  • Dr. Tim Meyer, TRIUMF, about his presentation on public outreach and ‘big science’ at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference
  • Dr. Maria DeRosa and her work with aptamers at Carleton University in Ottawa
  • Mike Harcourt, former Premier of BC, former Mayor and Councillor for the City of Vancouver, about his presentation on building stronger communities through innovation at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference
  • Denise Amyot, CEO of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, about her presentation on science culture at the 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

Thank you all for taking the time out of your very busy schedules to respond to my questions. If I’ve forgotten any interviews, please do let me know. (I don’t always remember to tick off the Interview category before I post.)

I did present at one conference this year, Northern Voice (blogging conference held in Vancouver annually) in May 2011 on a Canadian science blogging panel. My panel featured Rosie Redfield (RRResearch), Beth Snow (The Black Hole), and Eric Michael Johnson (The Primate Diaries). I also produced two videos and had a paper (Whose electric brain?) accepted for the 2011 ISEA conference Istanbul, which I was unable to attend but I did raise some funds and hope to use those for a presentation of the paper elsewhere.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle with the El Naschie story (he’s suing Nature for libel in the UK) resulting in some lively discussion about the merits of his case and some soul searching on my part as I try to establish both an open and civil environment here.

Thanks to my international colleagues who inspire and keep me apprised of the latest information on nanotechnology and other emerging technologies:

  • Pasco Phronesis, owned by David Bruggeman, focuses more on science policy and science communicati0n (via popular media) than on emerging technology per se but David provides excellent analysis and a keen eye for the international scene.
  • Nanoclast is on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website and features Dexter Johnson’s writing on nanotechnology government initiatives, technical breakthroughs, and, occasionally, important personalities within the field. I don’t always agree with Dexter but he’s always thoughtful and thought-provoking. He fills in an important gap in a lot of nanotechnology reporting with his intimate understanding of the technology itself.
  • TNTlog is Tim Harper’s (CEO of Cientifica) blog features an international perspective (with a strong focus on the UK scene) on emerging technologies and the business of science. His writing style is quite lively (at times, trenchant) and it reflects his long experience with nanotechnology and other emerging technologies.
  • 2020 Science is Dr. Andrew Maynard’s (director of University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center) more or less personal blog. An expert on nanotechnology (he was the Chief Science Adviser for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, located in Washington, DC), Andrew writes extensively about risk, uncertainty, nanotechnology, and the joys of science. Over time his blog has evolved to include the occasional homemade but science-oriented video, courtesy of one of his children. I usually check Andrew’s blog when there’s a online nanotechnology kerfuffle as he usually has the inside scoop.
  • nanopublic is Dr. Dietram Scheufele’s (University of Wisconsin-Madison) blog. He doesn’t post there as frequently as he did but it’s always worth a visit. His focus is on public opinion, media, and emerging (communication) technologies. He first came to my notice (and many others) with a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting where he discussed the impact that religious and other values have on public opinion on nanotechnology.
  • NanoWiki is, strictly speaking, not a blog but the authors provide the best compilation of stories on nanotechnology issues and controversies that I have found yet. Here’s how they describe their work, “NanoWiki tracks the evolution of paradigms and discoveries in nanoscience and nanotechnology field, annotates and disseminates them, giving an overall view and feeds the essential public debate on nanotechnology and its practical applications.” There are also Spanish, Catalan, and mobile versions of NanoWiki.

Thank you to all my commenters for taking the time to comment about what you found here and to all of my readers for taking the time to check out this blog.

I have been on Twitter (@frogheart) for my first full year (I joined in Aug. 2010) and found it to be a great source of information and entertainment. These days frogheart has over 200 followers and follows some 250 tweeters. Thanks to Ruth Seeley (@ruthseeley) for inviting me to join Twitter and other science tweeters.

2011 roundup and thoughts on the Canadian science blogging scene

Last year I found about a dozen of us, Canadians blogging about science, and this year (2011) I count approximately 20 of us. Sadly, one blog has disappeared; Elizabeth Howell has removed her PARS3C blog from her website. Others appear to be in pause mode, Rob Annan at the Researcher Forum: Don’t leave Canada behind (no posts since May 4, 2011), The Bubble Chamber at the University of Toronto (no posts since Aug. 12, 2011), Gregor Wolbring’s  Nano and Nano- Bio, Info, Cogno, Neuro, Synbio, Geo, Chem…  (no new posts since Oct. 2010; I’m about ready to give up on this one) and Je vote pour la science (no posts since May 2011).

I’ve been fairly catholic in my approach to including blogs on this list although I do have a preference for blogs with an individual voice that focuses primarily on science (for example, explaining the science you’re writing about rather than complaining about a professor’s marking of your science paper).

Piece of Mind is Nassif Ghoussoub’s (professor of mathematics at the University of British Columbia) blog which is largely about academe, science, and grants. Nassif does go much further afield in some of his posts, as do we all from time to time. He’s quite outspoken and always interesting.

Cool Science is John McKay’s blog which he describes this way ” This site is about raising a creative rationalist in an age of nonsense. It is about parents getting excited about science, learning and critical thinking. It is about smart parents raising smart kids who can think for themselves, make good decisions and discern the credible from the incredible. ” His posts cover a wide range of topics from the paleontology museum in Alberta to a space shuttle launch to the science of good decisions and more.

Dave Ng makes me dizzy. A professor with the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia, he’s a very active science communicator who has started blogging again on the Popperfont blog. This looks like a compilation of bits from Twitter, some very brief postings, and bits from other sources. I’m seeing this style of blogging more frequently these days.

The queen of Canadian science blogging, Rosie Redfield, was just acknowledged as a ‘newsmaker of the year’ by Nature magazine. The Dec. 22, 20111 Vancouver Sun article by Margaret Munro had this to say,

A critical thinker in Vancouver has been named one of the top science newsmakers of the year.

“She appeared like a shot out of the blogosphere: a wild-haired Canadian microbiologist with a propensity to say what was on her mind,” the leading research journal Nature says of Rosie Redfield, a professor at the University of B.C.

The journal editors say Redfield is one of 10 individuals who “had an impact, good or bad, on the world of science” in 2011. She was chosen for her “critical” inquiry and “remarkable experiment in open science” that challenged a now-infamous “arsenic life” study funded by NASA.

Rosie has two blogs, RRResearch and RRTeaching. She used to say she wasn’t a blogger but I rather think she’s changed her tune.

Jeff Sharom’s Science Canada blog isn’t, strictly speaking, a blog so much as it is an aggregator of Canadian science policy news and a good one at that. There are also some very useful resources on the site. (I shamelessly plundered Jeff’s list to add more blogs to this posting).

The Black Hole is owned by Beth Swan and David Kent (although they often have guest posters too). Here’s a description from the About page,

I have entered the Post Doctoral Fellow Black Hole… I’ve witnessed a lot and heard about much more and, while this is the time in academic life when you’re meant to be the busiest, I have begun this blog. Just as a black hole is difficult to define, the label Post Doc is bandied about with recklessness by university administrators, professors, and even PDFs themselves. One thing is certain though… once you get sucked in, it appears to be near impossible to get back out.

David, Beth, and their contributors offer extensive discussions about the opportunities and the failings of the post graduate science experience.

Nicole Arbour, a Science and Innovation Officer at the British High Commission Office in Ottawa, Canada, blogs regularly about Canadian science policy and more on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office blogs.

Colin Schultz, a freelance science journalist, blogs at his website CMBR. He focuses largely on climate change, environmental research, space, and science communication.

exposure/effect is a blog about toxicology, chemical exposures, health and more, which is written by a scientist who chooses to use a pseudonym, ashartus.

Mario’s Entangled Bank is written by theoretical biologist, Mario Pineda-Krch at the University of Alberta. One of Pineda-Krch’s most recent postings was about a special section of a recent Science Magazine issue on Reproducible Research.

Boundary Vision is written by Marie-Claire Shanahan, a professor of science education at the University of Alberta. She not only writes a science blog, she also researches the language and the social spaces of science blogs.

Eric Michael Johnson writes The Primate Diaries blog which is now part of the Scientific American blog network. With a master’s degree in evolutionary anthropology, Johnson examines the interplay between evolutionary biology and politics both on his blog and as part of his PhD work (he’s a student at the University of British Columbia).

The Atoms and Numbers blog is written by Marc Leger. From the About Marc page,

I am a scientist who has always been curious and fascinated by how our universe works.  I love discovering the mysteries and surprises of our World.  I want to share this passion with others, and make science accessible to anyone willing to open their minds.

Many people have appreciated my ability to explain complex scientific ideas in simple terms, and this is one motivation behind my website, Atoms and Numbers.  I taught chemistry in universities for several years, and I participated in the Scientists in the Schools program as a graduate student at Dalhousie University, presenting chemistry magic shows to children and teenagers from kindergarten to grade 12.  I’ve also given presentations on chemistry and forensics to high school students.  I’m even acknowledged in a cookbook for providing a few morsels of information about food chemistry.

Massimo Boninsegni writes about science-related topics (some are about the academic side of science; some physics; some personal items) on his Exponential Book blog.

The Last Word on Nothing is a group blog that features Heather Pringle, a well-known Canadian science writer, on some posts. Pringle’s latest posting is, Absinthe and the Corpse Reviver, all about a legendary cure for hangovers. While this isn’t strictly speaking a Canadian science blog, there is a Canadian science blogger in the group and the topics are quite engaging.

Daniel Lemire’s blog is known simply as Daniel Lemire. He’s a computer scientist in Montréal who writes one of the more technical blogs I’ve come across and his focus seems to be databases. He does cover other topics too, notably in this post titled, Where do debt, credit and currencies come from?

Confessions of a Science Librarian by John Dupuis (head of the Steacie Science & Engineering Library at York University) is a blog I missed mentioning last year and I’m very glad I remembered it this year. As you might expect from a librarian, the last few postings have consisted of lists of the best science books of 2011.

Sci/Why is a science blog being written by Canadian children’s writers who discuss science, words, and the eternal question – why?

I have mixed feelings about including this blog, the Dark Matter science blog by Tom Spears, as it is a ‘newspaper blog’ from the Ottawa Citizen.

Similarly, the MaRS blog is a corporate initiative from the Toronto area science and technology business incubator, MaRS Discovery District.

The last three blogs I’m mentioning are from medical and health science writers.

Susan Baxter’s blog Curmudgeon’s Corner features her insights into various medical matters, for example there’s her Dec. 5, 2011 posting on mammograms, along with her opinions on spandex, travel, and politics.

Peter Janiszewski and Travis Saunders co-own two different blogs, Obesity Panacea, which is part of the PLoS (Public Library of Science) blogs network, and Science of Blogging (nothing posted since July 2011 but it’s well worth a look).

I don’t have anything particularly profound to say about the state of Canadian science blogging this year. It does look to be getting more populous online and I hope that trend continues. I do have a wish for the New Year; I think it should be easier to find Canadian science blogs and would like  to see some sort of network or aggregated list.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

Making sounds with bones—but not as you might imagine.

Image from slideshow of Transjuicer exhibit in Science Gallery, Dublin, 2011 and John Curtin Gallery, Perth 2010

Christopher Mims in his Dec. 27, 2011 (?) article for Fast Company explains what artist Boo Chapple is doing with her Transjuicer installation of speakers made from bone tissue,

Turned on its head, bone’s response to physical stress can be used to produce music—or at least musical tones. That’s what artist Boo Chapple discovered during the course of a year-long collaboration at the University of Western Australia’s SymbioticA lab, the only research facility in the world devoted to providing access to wet labs to artists and artistically minded researchers.

When Chapple began this project, she knew that extensive scientific literature suggested bone had what are known as piezoelectric properties. Basically, when a piezoelectric material is bent, compressed, or otherwise physically stressed, it generates an electric charge. Conversely, applying an electric charge to a piezoelectric material can change its shape. This has made piezoelectrics the backbone of countless environmental sensors and tiny actuators.

Poring through this literature, Chapple realized that applying a current to bone at just the right frequency should make it vibrate like the diaphragm in an audio speaker. And because bone retains its piezoelectric properties even when it’s no longer living, it should be fairly straightforward to transform any old bone into the world’s most outre audio component.

Because Chapple is an artist and not a technologist, her goal wasn’t to pursue this technique until it yielded a new product. Rather, the point was to accomplish what all good art can: “making strange” otherwise familiar objects.

I first heard about the SymbioticA lab when they showed their Fish & Chips project (the report I’ve linked to is undated) at the 2001 Ars Electronic annual event in Linz, Austria. I never did get to see the performance (fish neurons grown on silicon chips and hooked up to software and musical instruments) but their work remains a source of great interest to me. (I last mentioned SymbioticA in my July 5, 2011 posting where they were scheduled for the same session that I was, at the 2011 ISEA conference in Istanbul.)

Here’s a bit more about the SymbioticA lab at the University of Western Australia (from their home page),

SymbioticA is a research facility dedicated to artistic inquiry into knowledge and technology in the life sciences.

Our research embodies:

  • identifying and developing new materials and subjects for artistic manipulation
  • researching strategies and implications of presenting living-art in different contexts
  • developing technologies and protocols as artistic tool kits.

Having access to scientific laboratories and tools, SymbioticA is in a unique position to offer these resources for artistic research. Therefore, SymbioticA encourages and favours research projects that involve hands on development of technical skills and the use of scientific tools.

The research undertaken at SymbioticA is speculative in nature. SymbioticA strives to support non-utilitarian, curiosity based and philosophically motivated research.

Boo Chapple, a resident at the SymbioticA Lab, had this to say about her installation, Transjuicer, and science when it was at Dublin’s Science Gallery (excerpted from the Visceral Interview),

Do you think that work like yours helps to open up science to public discussion and debate; and does this interest you?

I’m not sure that Transjuicer is so much about science as it is about belief, the economy of human-animal relations, and the politics of material transformation. These are all things that are inherent to the practice of science but perhaps not what one might think of when one thinks of public debate around particular scientific discoveries, or technologies.

While I am interested in the philosophical parameters of these debates, I do not see my art practice as an instrument of communication in this respect, nor is Transjuicer engaged with any hot topics of the moment, or designed in such a way as to reveal the technical processes that were employed in making the bone audio speakers.

The work being done at the SymbioticA lab is provocative in the best sense, i.e., meant to provoke thought and discussion.

OECD reports on nanomaterials but no Canadian participation

Given that most of my information about Canada’s efforts with regard to nanomaterials and their safety and regulation comes from OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) documents, I was a little dismayed to see that Canada had not participated in a couple of recent initiatives.

The lack of participation is understandable with this initiative, Information gathering schemes on nanomaterials: Lessons learned and reported information, as it involves voluntary report schemes (Canada’s reporting scheme wasn’t voluntary). From the Dec. 21, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

This document (pdf) presents lessons learned from information gathering surveys carried out by OECD countries and summarises non-confidential business information and statistics on nanomaterials. It includes useful information on how to design/implement information gathering surveys and the most commonly used nanomaterials along with use patterns and volumes used among OECD countries.

One of the objectives of the OECD Project on Co-operation on Voluntary Schemes and Regulatory Programmes on Nanomaterials is to gather information on the lessons learned from countries that have completed information gathering initiatives, and summarise non-confidential business information and statistics on nanomaterials reported, to provide insight on global market activity.

Eight countries participated in this initiative:

  • Australia
  • Czech
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Japan (2 programmes)
  • UK
  • USA

Here’s what they were reporting about (from the report),

5. Eight (8) countries (including 2 programmes from Japan) reported information under Part B of the Questionnaire on the types, volumes and uses of nanomaterials in their country. Fifteen (15) different categories of nanomaterials were reported by three (3) or more countries, twelve (12) of which have been identified in the Sponsorship Programme, including: aluminum oxide, cerium oxide, fullerenes, iron, iron oxide, multi-walled carbon nanotubes, nanoclay, silica/silicon dioxide, silver nanoparticles, single-walled carbon nanotubes, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide. Carbon black, silicates and pharmaceutical actives were also reported by three (3) or more countries, while a number of other nanomaterials including dendrimers, which are included in the Sponsorship Programme and polystyrene were reported by less than three (3) countries.

6. Of the fifteen (15) most commonly reported nanomaterials, titanium dioxide was reported by the most number of countries (7 countries) and by the most number of companies/institutions (43 companies/institutions). Zinc oxide, silver and silicon dioxide were also reported by a number of different countries and companies/institutions. Most companies worked with nanomaterials in volumes of less than 10 kg/yr (106 companies), and the next most common volume reported was over 1000 kg/yr (28 companies). The nanomaterials used at these volumes included; titanium dioxide (9 companies), carbon black (5 companies), silicon dioxide (5 companies), aluminum oxide (3 companies), zinc oxide (3 companies), iron oxide (2 companies) and cerium oxide (1 company).

7. It would appear that most companies/institutions from countries that collected and reported additional information, such as the availability of information on fate and exposure, physical chemical properties, human toxicity/ecotoxicity data, and risk management, had some data available and did have risk management measures in place. The information most likely to be available for the fifteen (15) most commonly reported nanomaterials was on physical chemical properties (reported by 51 companies/institutions) with the least amount of information available for ecotoxicity (reported by 33 companies/institutions). Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide were the two nanomaterials reported to have the most amount of information available overall. (p. 13)

The next bits I found interesting were information about quantities of nanomaterials used by various companies and about how well informed they about risks and toxicity,

54. Most companies worked with nanomaterials in volumes of less than 10 kg/yr (106 companies), the next most common volume reported was over 1000 kg/yr (28 companies). The nanomaterials used at these volumes included titanium dioxide (9 companies); carbon black (5 companies) silicon dioxide (5 companies), aluminum oxide (3 companies), zinc oxide (3 companies), iron oxide (2 companies) and cerium oxide (1 company).

55. As a general observation, for the countries that collected and reported additional information, such as the availability of information on fate and exposure, physical chemical properties, human toxicity/ecotoxicity data, and risk management, it would appear that most companies did have some data available and did have risk management measures in place. The most available data for the fifteen (15) most commonly reported nanomaterials was on physical chemical properties (reported by 51 companies/institutions in total for all fifteen nanomaterials combined) followed by human toxicity data (reported by 45 companies/institutions). Data was least likely to be available on fate and exposure (reported by 39 companies/institutions) and ecotoxicity data (reported by 33 companies/institutions).

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide were the two nanomaterials reported to have the most amount of information available overall. Also for the fifteen (15) most commonly reported nanomaterials, 137 companies/institutions reported risk management measures in place.

This report all of 53 pages of it consists mostly of tables and while the data is interesting the response rate was relatively low overall so it’s not entirely clear how generalizable the information is. As well, I do know census data that is gathered under a voluntary scheme is considered less reliable than other data. I don’t know if that applies in this situation but I strongly suspect it does.

The other OECD report that was released roughly round Dec. 21, 2011 was the National activities on life cycle assessment of nanomaterials. From the Dec. 21, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

This document (pdf) provides a snapshot of information on national activities on the life cycle assessment of nanotechnologies provided by OECD countries. As a “living document”, it is expected to be updated as new information becomes available.

The compilation includes information from: Austria, Finland, Germany, Korea, Poland, the United Kingdom, United States [US], the European Commission, as well as from the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC).

Listed are a series of national programmes by each government. They do not provide an exhaustive list, for example, the US provided information mostly about EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)  projects but nothing about any FDA (Food and Drug Administration) projects.

On another note, I can’t tell from the description if the OECD is going to make the changes dynamically or if they will reissue the document, which means I don’t understand what they mean by ‘living document’. That terminology seems a little odd since the notion of updating information in a timely fashion is not new. For instance, Hansard has to be corrected immediately as it is a record of what took place in Parliament. When I worked in the library, we got corrections and updates regularly and were expected to immediately add those changes. We did not call Hansard a ‘living document’ (where did this term come from?) even though it was under constant revision.

I could better understand this term if the changes were being made dynamically, i.e., changes are instantly registered in all the copies of the document so that each time I click on the link I have the latest version.

As for Canada’s lack of participation in this second initiative, that too seems a bit odd in light of past efforts.

Turmeric, healing, and nanotechnology

Turmeric gives its distinctive yellow colour to the type of curry we always ate at home. All these years later, it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that turmeric has healing properties. From the Sept. 13, 2011 news item on,

Curcumin, the main component in the spice turmeric, suppresses a cell signaling pathway that drives the growth of head and neck cancer, according to a pilot study using human saliva by researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“This study shows that curcumin can work in the mouths of patients with head and neck malignancies and reduce activities that promote cancer growth,” Wang [Dr. Marilene Wang, senior author and professor of head and neck surgery] said. “And it not only affected the cancer by inhibiting a critical cell signaling pathway, it also affected the saliva itself by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines within the saliva.”

Unfortunately, the amounts used in cooking are not sufficient for a cancer inhibiting effect,

To be effective in fighting cancer, the curcumin must be used in supplement form. Although turmeric is used in cooking, the amount of curcumin needed to produce a clinical response is much larger. Expecting a positive effect through eating foods spiced with turmeric is not realistic, Wang said.

There is a bit of a downside to the type of supplement they used in this study,

The curcumin was well tolerated by the patients and resulted in no toxic effects. The biggest problem was their mouths and teeth turned bright yellow.

As you might expect, the next study will be for a longer period,

The next step for Wang and her team is to treat patients with curcumin for longer periods of time to see if the inhibitory effects can be increased. They plan to treat cancer patients scheduled for surgery for a few weeks prior to their procedure. They’ll take a biopsy before the curcumin is started and then at the time of surgery and analyze the tissue to look for differences.

“There’s potential here for the development of curcumin as an adjuvant treatment for cancer,” Wang said. “It’s not toxic, well tolerated, cheap and easily obtained in any health food store. While this is a promising pilot study, it’s important to expand our work to more patients to confirm our findings.”

There have been two feature articles on Nanowerk about curcumin, its healing properties, which extend beyond treating head and neck cancer, and patents during fall 2011. From the Sept. 8, 2011 article, Nanotechnology-enhanced curcumin: Symbiosis of ancient wisdom of the East with modern medical science [Note: I have removed citation notes],

Turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) is the shining star among the cornucopia of traditional medicinal plants. It has a long history of usage in traditional medicine in India and China. Ancient Indians have known the medicinal properties of turmeric, thus curcumin, for several millennia.

The cultivation of turmeric plants began in Harappan civilization in 3000 BC and Susruta Samhita, dating back to 250 BC, highly recommends use of an ointment based on turmeric for relieving food poisoning effect. Turmeric was introduced to China from India by 700 A.D. and has been said to be long used as a medicinal herb. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicines internally as a stomach tonic and blood purifier, and topically in the prevention and treatment of skin diseases.

In the scientific literature there is a large body of evidence showing that curcuminoids exhibit a broad spectrum of biological and pharmacological activities including anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, anti-mutagen, anti-cancer and detox properties. Curcumin’s unique ability to work through so many different pathways with its extraordinary antioxidant and anti-inflammatory attributes can have a positive influence in combating almost every known disease.

Extensive studies carried out by researchers around the globe have clearly demonstrated curcumin’s great potential as a thercurcuminapeutic agent, and have paved the way towards conducting clinical trials for a variety of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular, neurological and gastrointestinal disorders, multiple sclerosis, diabetes type II, skin diseases, cystic fibrosis, cataract etc.  [Note: There is also an extensive discussion of cancer treatment included in this article.]

Here are the active components (as understood by scientists currently),

The bio-active polyphenol component of turmeric is curcumin, also known as diferuloylmethane (C21H20O6), with an ability to prevent and cure diseases. Turmeric contains about 2-5% curcumin alone. Commercial curcumin contains three main types of curcuminoids, i.e., curcumin (diferuloylmethane or”Curcumin I” about 77%), demethoxy curcumin (“Curcumin II” ∼17%) and bis demethoxy curcumin (“Curcumin III” ∼3%)). Curcumin (diferuloylmethane renders its bright yellow color to turmeric. In addition to natural curcumin, several analogues of curcumin have been synthesized and studied. These include tetrahydrocurcumin (antioxidative), 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzoic acid methyl ester (HMBME), aromatic enone and dienone analogues, metal chelates of synthetic curcuminoids etc.

There has already been one court case regarding a curcumin patent,

Recently, turmeric came into the global limelight when the controversial patent “Use of Turmeric in Wound Healing” was awarded, in 1995, to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, USA. Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) aggressively contested this award of the patent. It was argued by them that turmeric has been an integral part of the traditional Indian medicinal system over several centuries, and therefore, is deemed to be ‘prior art’, hence is in the public domain. Subsequently, after protracted technical/legal battle USPTO decreed that turmeric is an Indian discovery and revoked the patent.

I wonder if this will set a precedent for other herbs and plants that are associated with specific cultures or indigenous groups as part of their healing tradition. Much of our modern pharamcopoeia is derived from traditional healing plants and the people who shared that knowledge have not shared in the benefits that large pharmaceutical companies have reaped.

Back to the curcumin and the issue of low bioavailability (in Wang’s study mentioned earlier, patients were given 2 tablets totaling 1000 miligrams of curcumin and it seems that was done once),

In practice, only very low or undetectable levels of curcumin can be achieved in blood by oral administration of curcumin. The low bioavailability of curcumin has been attributed to its very low aqueous solubility, tendency to degrade in the gastroinenstinal tract in the physiological environment, high rate of metabolism, and rapid systemic elimination. The low bioavailability of curcumin has so far limited its medical use. It has been suggested that a person is required to consume large doses (about 12-20g/day) of curcumin in order to achieve its therapeutic effects on the human body. That means one has to swallow 24 to 40 curcumin capsules of 500mg each. These doses are considered to be too high, and therefore, not feasible to be incorporated in clinical trials due to unbearable after-taste to the palate, possibility of giving rise to nauseatic feeling and perceived toxicity issues.

Therefore, to achieve the maximum response of this potentially useful chemopreventive agent, a number of approaches such as the use of adjuvants like piperine, synthetic analogues, chelating of curcumin with metals, combination with other dietary agents etc. have been investigated. Nanotechnology-based novel strategies are being aggressively explored worldwide to enhance curcumin’s bioavailability and reduce perceived toxicity as they offer several other additional benefits such as improved cellular uptake, enhanced dissolution rates, excellent blood stability, controlled release functions, multifunctional design, enhancement in its pharmacological activities (e.g. antioxidant and antihepatoma activities) etc.

This article and the Dec. 22, 2011 article, Nanotechnology-enhanced curcumin – literature and patent analysis, on Nanowerk were both written by Dr. Yashwant Mahajan (by himself for the Sept. 8  article and with Ratnesh Kumar Gaur for the Dec. 22 article), Centre for Knowledge Management of Nanoscience and Technology (CKMNT). There is more detail about the nanotechnology-based strategies to increase bioavailability in the Dec. 22, 1011 article,

These approaches include solid-lipid nanoparticles, nanosuspension, nanoemulsion, cyclodextrin curcumin self assembly, hydrogel nanoparticles, curcumin-phospholipid complex and curcumin incorporated within polymer nanoparticles. The figure below shows these various nano-based approaches for drug delivery of curcumin in the form of a pie chart and this survey is based on 124 relevant patents for the period from 2001 to 2010. As depicted in this pie chart [in the article on Nanowerk] polymer nanoparticles play a dominant role (34%) followed by curcumin nanoemulsion (20%), nanosuspension (13%), phospholipids complex (12%), cyclodextrin curcumin self-assembly, hydrogel NPs and SLNs in decreasing order. The polymer nanoparticles-incorporated drug delivery systems are further subdivided into various classes of polymers such as generic polymers, liposomal, PEG, micelle, PLGA, and as can be seen, generic polymers, liposomal, PEG and micelle play a dominant role in decreasing order.

Curcumin is still being patented but it seems the focus on delivering curcumin more efficiently for therapeutic use,

The analysis reveals that Laila Pharmaceuticals Private Ltd., Chennai, India is the world leader with 8 patent applications to their credit and their main focus is on nanoemulsification of curcumin and its derivatives. Second in the ranking are Johns Hopkins University, USA, and University of North Texas, USA with 7 patent applications each to their credit and their inventions are directed towards use of polymer nanoparticle encapsulated curcumin and curcumin loaded with PLGA-nanoparticles, respectively. The analysis has also revealed that R&D institutes, universities and only a few small bio and pharma companies such as Laila Pharmaceuticals, Magforce Nanotechnologies, Bioderm Research, Nano Cutting Edge Technologies etc. are involved in the patenting activity.

I did check out the Centre for Knowledge Management of Nanoscience and Technology (CKMNT) where Dr. Mahajan works and which was launched in 2009. From the About Us page,

CKMNT was launched on 1st April 2009 at Hyderabad by the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI) as one of its project centres. The centre has been set up to foster the exchange and dissemination of advanced technological knowledge and expertise to meet the needs of the nanoresearchers, industry, policy makers, financial institutions and venture capitalists. CKMNT has been partially funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt. of India in a project mode and would help in fulfilling the objectives of the Nano Mission of DST.

The Centre’s team is made up of metallurgy and chemical engineering experts, none of whom seem to have worked in medicine or health care, which makes this interest in turmeric a little surprising.

Brackendale eagles 2012

For a change I’m writing about the annual eagle count at Brackendale (in BC, Canada) before it happens. For those who are unfamiliar with the Vancouver area, Brackendale is approximately 70 km north of the city.

This next eagle count, the 26th annual will take place on Jan. 8, 2012. From the Brackendale Art Gallery calendar page,

The Grandfather of all Eagle Festivals gets underway for the 26th time January 8, 2012 with the annual Brackendale Winter Bald Eagle Count.

Since 1986, volunteer counters have been setting out on foot, raft or kayak, binoculars in hand, to 22 different counting areas along the Squamish, Cheakamus and Mamquam rivers and their tributaries on a Sunday morning in early January.

The main purpose of the count is as a scientific window, the results of which are sent to BC Wildlife Service. But the Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival also brings awareness of the greater conservation issues and ecological imperatives that sustain this habitat for bald eagles.

“In the past 26 years, we have seen many changes and events come to pass that have continually reinforced our goal to preserve and enhance the unique natural phenomenon that is the Eagles of Brackendale,” says Thor Froslev, proprietor of the Brackendale Art Gallery and festival organizer since its inception. “Over the past few years we have become extremely concerned with our salmon populations. Chum salmon in particular are the lifeblood of our food chain and their declining numbers needs to be evaluated and understood so we can act appropriately.

“There are likely many reasons for this population decrease. It could be the detrimental effects of fish farms in our coastal waters or localized impacts in our estuary and rivers. Without education and awareness, without the scientific data to understand the influences on the ecosystem, catastrophic and incremental, without the dedication of so many volunteers and advocates, we would likely not have salmon, bear and these spectacular raptors in our area…it’s all connected. The eagle festival is our community’s way of continuing to be aware of our collective impacts as human beings on our natural world.”

The Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival runs throughout January at the Brackendale Art Gallery, 10 minutes north of Squamish, 30 minutes south of Whistler, 45 minutes north of Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway. Festival events include the Art of the Natural World Lecture, Art and Concert Series.

Media Opportunities:
Join in the count by raft or foot. Please contact Thor Froslev at 604.898.3333.

Annual Eagle Count: Sun January 8 – Counters meet at the Brackendale Art Gallery 8am. Gallery open to the public 9am-10pm

As usual there will be events celebrating eagles throughout the month. From Brackendale Art Gallery’s Festival page,

Lecture Series:

Sun. January 15, 8pm – Rant ‘n’ Rafe
A fireside chat with Thor’s favourite pundit Rafe Mair.

Sun. January 22, 8pmHerring’s Revival & Survival
Jonn Matsen & Douglas Swanston in Conversation.

Sun. January 29, 8pm
Chum populations on the Cheakamus River and beyond
Fisheries biologists Don McCubbing & Caroline Melville share their research and observations, histories and trends of chum in the Cheakamus River.

Concert Series:
Tickets @ Xocolatl & BAG [Brackendale Art Gallery?]

Fri. January 6, 8pmMarc Destrubé & Friends
This Mozart Quintet of internationally renowned musicians featuring Destrubé Farran James, Joanna Hood, Steve Creswell and Joanna Blendulf is unforgettable performance not to be missed.

Sat. January 14, 8pmBrighter Lights Thicker Glasses
An outstanding acoustic trio of John Palmer, Brian Samuels and Michael Dunn will have everyone tapping their toes.

Sat. January 28, Dinner 7pm, Concert 8pm
WingDing! Valdy & the Eagle Band, BAG favourite once again closes the Festival.

School of Art:

Jan 16 & 18 and Jan. 23 & 25  (Mon./Wed.)  7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Intuitive Watercolour Workshop with Pat Robinson – This four-night workshop explores an intriguing art form using flowing and melding colours, stunning backgrounds and images. $150 includes supplies.
For more information see  Brackendale Art Gallery School of Art

Eagle Art Show:
Featuring paintings and photographs by renowned West Coast Artists including: Norman Rich, George Blumel, Roy Hamaguchi, Ed Dubois and Ken Lubas.

Just in case you’ve forgotten what an eagle looks like, here’s one from the Wikipedia essay on eagles,

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2005 (I believe it was employee Steve Hillebrand who took the picture in 2005.)

While you’re making plans for 2012, you may want to include some eagle counting in your future. Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël!

Microneedles from Tufts University

Here’s some very exciting news from Tufts University in a Dec. 21, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Bioengineers at Tufts University School of Engineering have developed a new silk-based microneedle system able to deliver precise amounts of drugs over time and without need for refrigeration. The tiny needles can be fabricated under normal temperature and pressure and from water, so they can be loaded with sensitive biochemical compounds and maintain their activity prior to use. They are also biodegradable and biocompatible.

I have previously written about a micro needle project at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Nov. 9, 2011 posting and about Mark Kendall’s nano vaccine patch on more than one occasion, most recently in my Aug. 3, 2011 posting.

This new drug delivery project surprised me; I didn’t realize that horesradish could also be a drug,

The Tufts researchers successfully demonstrated the ability of the silk microneedles to deliver a large-molecule, enzymatic model drug, horseradish peroxidase (HRP), at controlled rates while maintaining bioactivity. In addition, silk microneedles loaded with tetracycline were found to inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, demonstrating the potential of the microneedles to prevent local infections while also delivering therapeutics.

“By adjusting the post-processing conditions of the silk protein and varying the drying time of the silk protein, we were able to precisely control the drug release rates in laboratory experiments,” said Fiorenzo Omenetto, Ph.D., senior author on the paper. “The new system addresses long-standing drug delivery challenges, and we believe that the technology could also be applied to other biological storage applications.”

If we’re all lucky, it won’t be too long before syringes are a museum item and we’ll be getting our medication with far less discomfort/pain and, in some cases, fear.

MinutePhysics science videos

You never know where you’re going to get your next link to a science video. I found a reference to MinutePhysics science videos on a tweet from Michael Ausiello (editor of TVLine) about one of his publication’s articles. From the Dec. 22, 2011 article by Sheryl Rothmuller for TVLine,

Minute Physics Henry Reich’s weekly series serves up science in an easy-to-digest format that leaves you counting the days until the next episode is unleashed. Simple cartoon drawings and clear narration is the recipe for this informative (and fun!) webseries. In the latest installment, learn why neutrinos are the “vampires of physics.” Way better than watching the latest Twilight trailer for the 15th time.

Here’s the neutrino episode,

You can find the other 25 episodes here.

Grand Challenges, point-of-care diagnostics, and a note on proliferating bureaucracies

Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $21.1 M grant over three years for research into point-of-care diagnostic tools for developing nations. A Canadian nongovermental organization (NGO) will be supplementing this amount with $10.8 M for a total of $31.9 M. (source: Dec. 16, 2011 AFP news item [Agence France-Presse] on

At this point, things get a little confusing. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a specific program called Grand Challenges in Global Health and this grant is part of that program. Plus, the Canadian NGO is called Grand Challenges Canada (couldn’t they have found a more distinctive name?), which is funded by a federal Canadian government initiative known as the Development Innovation Fund (DIF). Here’s a little more from the Who We Are page,

In the 2008 Federal Budget the Government of Canada announced the creation of the Development Innovation Fund (DIF) to “support the best minds in the world as they search for breakthroughs in global health and other areas that have the potential to bring about enduring changes in the lives of the millions of people in poor countries.” The Government of Canada is committing $225 million over five years to the Development Innovation Fund.

The Development Innovation Fund will be delivered by Grand Challenges Canada working with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). As the Government of Canada’s lead on the Development Innovation Fund, the International Development Research Centre will draw on decades of experience managing research projects and ensure that developing country researchers and concerns are front and centre in this exciting new initiative. The initial activities of the Development Innovation Fund will be in global health.

Grand Challenges Canada is a unique and independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people in developing countries by integrating scientific, technological, business and social innovation both in Canada and in the developing world. Grand Challenges Canada works with the International Development Research Centre, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and other global health foundations and organizations committed to discovering sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing health challenges. Grand Challenges Canada is hosted by the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, University Health Network and University of Toronto.

So if I understand this rightly, the Canadian federal government created a new fund and then created a new NGO to administer that fund. I wonder how much money is required administratively for this NGO which exists solely to distribute DIF. I’m glad to see that someone is getting some money for research out of this but it does seem labyrinthine at best.

On a happier, more productive now, here’s the type of research this money will be used for (from the news item),

“Imagine a hand-held, battery-powered device that can take a drop of blood and, within minutes, tell a healthcare worker in a remote village whether a feverish child has malaria, dengue or a bacterial infection,” said Peter Singer, head of Grand Challenges Canada which is partnering with the Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s charitable organization on the project.

In this last year I have posted a few times about similar projects for handheld diagnostic devices, in my Aug. 4, 2011 posting ‘Diagnostics on a credit card‘ and in my Feb. 15, 2011 posting ‘Argento, nano, and PROOF‘. There’s a lot of interest in these devices whether they’re intended for use in developing countries or not.

I have tracked down the Dec. 15, 2011 news release from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to get more details about this specific project,

The grants announced today are part of the Point-of-Care Diagnostics (POC Dx) Initiative, a research and development program with the goal of creating new diagnostic platforms that enable high-quality, low-cost diagnosis of disease, and also facilitate sustainable markets for diagnostic products, a key challenge in the developing world. This first phase of the POC Dx Initiative is focused on developing new technologies and identifying implementation issues to address the key barriers for clinical diagnostics in the developing world.

They also give some examples of projects that will be receiving funding from this grant,

Examples of projects receiving funding:

  • Seventh Sense Biosystems, a company located in Cambridge MA, is developing TAP—a painless, low-cost blood collection device which aims to allow easy, push-button sampling of blood. This simple collection process would reduce training requirements and enable diagnostics closer to the point of need.
  • David Beebe and researchers at the University of Wisconsin are developing a sample purification system that seeks to better filter and concentrate biomarkers from patient samples. This system will be designed for use in impoverished settings.
  • Axel Scherer of the California Institute of Technology, along with collaborators at Dartmouth College, will develop a prototype quantitative PCR (qPCR) amplification/detection component module—a low cost, easy-to-use technology that can rapidly detect a wide range of diseases.

There’s additional detail about grantees in the Grand Challenges Canada Dec. 16, 2011 news release,

One grantee, Bigtec Labs in Bangalore, India, has already developed a handheld analyser called a mini-PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) machine capable of identifying malaria from a DNA fingerprint.

―A colleague here one day was ill with what he thought was food poisoning,” said

B. Chandrasekhar Nair, Director of Bigtec Labs. “We ran a blood sample through our mini-PCR and it turned out to be malaria.‖ Immediately treated, the colleague returned to health within a week.

With its CAD $1.3 million grant, Bigtec will use nano-materials to develop a sophisticated filter to concentrate pathogen DNA from samples of blood, sputum, urine, or nasal and throat swabs. Once concentrated, the DNA can be processed and illnesses identified in the mini-PCR.

The innovative projects receiving funding include:

 Dr. Dhananjaya Dendukuri from Achira Labs in Bangalore India, and Dr. Nandini Dendukuri from McGill University in Montreal are developing a piece of silk that can be used as a cost-effective and simple diagnostic for blood and urine samples. Called Fabchips (Fabric Chips) the woven diagnostic has the added benefit of providing jobs to local artisans and being environmentally friendly.

 Dr. David Goldfarb, a Canadian working in Botswana, is testing a simple, rapid, easy-to-use swab for the detection of diarrheal disease in the developing world.

 Dr. Wendy Stevens from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa is testing new point-of-care technologies for the integrated management of HIV and TB treatment to encourage equity, affordability and accessibility to treatment.

 Dr. Patricia Garcia at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Peru will look at ways to overcome social and commercial barriers to delivering point-of-care diagnostic tests aimed at improving maternal and child health – two of the UN‘s Millennium Development goals for 2015.

There’s a full list of all the grantees (Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and links to videos here.

Here’s a sample video of Dr. Dhananjaya Dendukuri to get you started,

Congratulations to the researchers!

DARPA and the Panopticon

Before I get to DARPA’s (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) new spy satellite, here’s a brief description of the Panopticon from the Wikipedia essay,

The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.

Although the Panopticon prison design did not come to fruition during Bentham’s time, it has been seen as an important development. It was invoked by Michel Foucault (in Discipline and Punish) as metaphor for modern “disciplinary” societies and their pervasive inclination to observe and normalise. Foucault proposes that not only prisons but all hierarchical structures like the army, schools, hospitals and factories have evolved through history to resemble Bentham’s Panopticon. The notoriety of the design today (although not its lasting influence in architectural realities) stems from Foucault’s famous analysis of it.

Building on Foucault, contemporary social critics often assert that technology has allowed for the deployment of panoptic structures invisibly throughout society. [emphasis mine] Surveillance by closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in public spaces is an example of a technology that brings the gaze of a superior into the daily lives of the populace. Furthermore, a number of cities in the United Kingdom, including Middlesbrough, Bristol, Brighton and London have recently added loudspeakers to a number of their existing CCTV cameras. They can transmit the voice of a camera supervisor to issue audible messages to the public. Similarly,critical analyses of internet practice have suggested that the internet allows for a panopticon form of observation. ISPs are able to track users’ activities, while user-generated content means that daily social activity may be recorded and broadcast online.

And now,  DARPA’s new satellite as described by Nancy Atkinson (Universe Today) in a Dec. 21, 2011 news item on Physorg,

“It sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake” could be the theme song for a new spy satellite being developed by DARPA. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s latest proof-of-concept project is called the Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE), and would provide real-time images and video of any place on Earth at any time — a capability that, so far, only exists in the realm of movies and science fiction. The details of this huge eye-in-the-sky look like something right out of science fiction, as well, and it would be interesting to determine if it could have applications for astronomy as well.

It’s not here yet (from the news item),

The MOIRE program began in March 2010 is now in the first phase of development, where DARPA is testing the concept’s viability. Phase 2 would entail system design, with Ball Aerospace doing the design and building to test a 16-foot (5 m) telescope, and an option for a Phase 3 …

You can read more about the MOIRE program here and about Universe Today here.