Thursday, December 5, 2013

Science Funding and the Peer Review Process

I've posted a lot on this blog so far about the areas of scientific research in which I've been involved in the past - stem cell biology and cancer research. One thing I haven't talked about, however, is where the money came from to fund that research. Almost all research funding is distributed in the form of grants or awards. A principal investigator (PI) - usually a professor and/or medical doctor - will apply for grant funding which can be used by their lab to purchase supplies and pay student and employee salaries. Undergraduate and graduate students, as well as post-doctoral fellows, can also apply for studentships/fellowships, which cover the cost of their salary over a certain number of months/years. This then frees up additional money in their PI's budget, which can be used to purchase additional supplies, run additional experiments, or hire additional staff. In return for the funding, the PI, student, or fellow is accountable to their funding agency. Usually this accountability takes the form of progress reports, which must be submitted at regular intervals, showing how the funds are being used, and what discoveries have been made using the money. In addition, in every publication that a lab produces (usually in the form of a journal article), there is an acknowledgement section which includes a list of all funding that supported the research being published.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Demystifying Cancer, Part 1: How Does Cancer Start?

Before I start today's post, I wanted to apologize in the delay between posts - I've had a very busy last few weeks, including a trip out of town. However, you can now also follow my science commentary activities on twitter, where I will post shorter science updates between posts.

Anyway, now that I'm back, I wanted to take a break from stem cells for a bit and launch into another series'topic - cancer. I'd love your comments or suggestions as to what aspects of this broad field of science you would most like to learn about; but, for now, here is the first part of my series on the basics of cancer: how does cancer start? 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stem Cells Explained, Part 3: How Do We Know We Have a Stem Cell?

First, before I start, I want to direct you to Euro Stem Cell's wonderful resource on all things stem cell. Their site goes into a lot more detail about the different stem cell types and the specific therapeutic applications of stem cells, but still in very understandable terms. If there are specific therapeutic potentials or stem cell types you're interested in, this is a great place to look them up. (That said, I'm also happy to take topic requests, so if you have any specific questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them!)

Today's topic of stem cell discussion is how we specifically define and identify stem cells. As I've already discussed, stem cells are vaguely defined as the cells which give root to all other cells, including themselves. This is a useful starting definition, but unfortunately the cells in the body aren't quite that clear cut. This is because cells specialize gradually, and it can be hard to tell them apart. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Stem Cells Explained, Part 2: Why Do We Care?

To continue on in our discussion of stem cells, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at why stem cell biology is considered so exciting, both by scientists and in the media. I want to stress that this post is highlighting what we hope is possible; later on, I plan to look in more detail about how many of these hopes are realistic, and on what timeline. However, there are a lot of exciting potential uses for stem cells, many of which that are, in my opinion, under-reported in the popular press.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Stem Cells Explained, Part 1: What Are They?

Stem cell biology has arguably been one of the most controversial topics in biology in the early 2000s. Because it's also the field in which I have done the majority of my professional work, it's a topic I really wanted to start with early on in this blog. I began what I thought would be one post on the basics of stem cells, but it has quickly ballooned into a series, which I will release over the course of the next couple of week. And I'm sure this will just be the start of my coverage on the field. For the purpose of this initial series, though, I thought I would try to explain what exactly a stem cell is, and, possibly more importantly, what stem cells mean in the context of the media articles and advertisements that mention them.

So, what exactly is a stem cell, anyway?

For the purpose of this introduction, I am going to define stem cells as "the cells that make all the other cells". There is a much more precise, functional definition of what makes a stem cell which is used by scientists, and which I will cover later this week. However, for the purpose of today's discussion, this is a good starting point.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Using TB to Fight Cancer: Using One Formerly-Deadly Disease to Fight Another

A friend of mine mentioned to me at dinner a few weeks ago that one of her relatives was undergoing cancer treatment, which involved him being infected with tuberculosis. This immediately peaked my interest, because as a former cancer researcher, I was super curious about how a bacterial infection could help defeat cancer cells. Several hours of research later, this is what I found out: