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Twitter Townhall @ClubSciWri #AskICMRsoumya on 30th April, 2016

in ClubSciWri/Face à Face/Poli-Scie by

soumya_poster2

Continuing to bringing forth science and healthcare policy makers for an informal discussion with our readers, we now invite Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Secretary, Department of Health Research, India and also the Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Dr Soumya is an expert on tuberculosis research in India and has not only steered research but also generated awareness towards management of this ancient disease, which continues to plague India.

With her recent appointment as a Director General of ICMR, it would be interesting to discuss research and funding policies of ICMR and also have a frank dialogue about the current scenario regarding disease management. So kindly participate in our second twitterchat (#AskICMRsoumya) with Dr. Soumya Swaminathan on the 30th April, 2016 from 11:00 – 12:00 hrs, IST. You can participate in person or post us (email: sciwri2016@gmail.com) your questions/suggestions if unable to make it on the scheduled time.

N.B. Enter the discussion using the following link on 30th April, 11:00 am IST

http://tweetchat.com/room/AskICMRsoumya

TB: the end is near?

in Poli-Scie by

Last week March 24th was observed as World Tuberculosis day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been marking this day since 1997, to not only generate awareness and to mobilise activity by government and public health organisations, but also inspire efforts among researchers and local communities towards ending tuberculosis/TB – billed as one of the top infectious diseases in the world. With anti-TB drugs available since 1948, it is hard to believe that this disease has proven to be a formidable nemesis with alarmingly high mortality rates in the modern world.

Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a bacteria characterised by the special architecture of its mycolic acid-containing cell wall. On inhalation by a susceptible human, the bacteria travel to the lungs where it is ingested by the immune cells called macrophages as a normal protocol of the human body’s defence mechanism against foreign substances. This bacterium is capable of manipulating the human host’s cellular immune response to its own advantage and persist in the form of calcified granuloma/lesion bodies containing macrophage ingested bacteria surrounded and restricted at the site by macrophages and T cells. The bacteria can remain dormant in the lungs for years or decades and in 5-10% of the infected individuals undergo TB-reactivation triggered by a number of pre-disposing factors, mainly lowered immunity. Apart from other biological factors, the vulnerable group is characterised by individuals with organ transplants, kidney dialysis, HIV-infection, etc. Socio-economic factors like poverty, drug abuse, homelessness and depression also form characteristics of the at risk population.

Said to have originated in the horn of Africa and earlier known as ‘consumption’, TB has come a long way to evolving and diverging along with the human race, to becoming a world pandemic claiming ~1.4 million victims in 2014.

Figure: Lienhardt C. et al, Nat Rev Microbiol, 2012;10(6):407-416

The WHO lists countries with high incidence of TB cases as High Burden Countries (HBC)s, which are further classified as

1) TB, when the infection can be completely cured by a 6 month treatment which consists of a 6 month long course involving antimicrobial drugs like rifampicin, isoniazid, pyrazinamide, ethambutol and streptomycin

2) MDR-TB (multiple-drug resistant TB), where the infection is resistant to at least two of the most powerful anti-TB drugs – rifampicin and isoniazid. Resistance to yet more drugs is a dangerous manifestation and is termed as XDR-TB/’extensive resistance to anti-TB drugs’, which is sadly on the rise. The causes for a treatable resistance to manifest into a drug resistance is mainly due to discontinuous treatment due to irregular medical supplies, ignorance and poverty. This is currently an area where action is required, esp. regarding diagnosis in children.

3) TB/HIV, where HIV co-infection complicates an active or latent TB condition. Neither infections make an individual prone to the other, but once co-infected there is a rapid acceleration in the progression of both diseases, hence doubling the fatality rate. This condition requires treatment with anti-TB drugs and anti- retroviral therapy

Given that the bacterial spread is mainly air-borne from human to human (cough, sneeze etc.), and human migration becomes more common with easier travelling options and accessibility, TB is no longer a tropical disease. In fact, the WHO puts the number of infected individuals (latent carriers included) as 2 billion or 1/3 of the world population. Yet, there seems to be a higher concentration of TB cases within certain countries – 80% of TB cases are concentrated in just 22 countries, and India figures as one of them (http://stoptb.org/countries/tbdata.asp).

TB in India

It is not known why some individuals are resistant to TB, however being malnourished/immunocompromised does pose to be a risk factor. Much has been written about the causes of TB and why it is prevalent especially among the poor and the undernourished. But in India, it is not uncommon to hear of TB occurrences in unexpected or non-impoverished circumstances. Coupled with the rising number of MDR-TB and XDR-TB, this presents an alarming situation and could be a great setback to a developing economy.

In an endeavour to control TB by 2030 (2050 for India), the WHO has published a detailed country-wise TB profile for helping one understand the magnitude of the problem as well as the steps being taken to control TB by the global funding bodies as well as local government expenditure. The report for India suggests that there is more streamlined reporting of TB occurrences now due to mandatory national web-based reporting since 2012. The recent list drawn up for 2016-2022 is a matter of concern points out that India along with Indonesia and China accounts for 43% of global cases (23% individually). where one sees a drop in domestic funding in WHO 2015 TB reports.

Source: http://www.who.int/tb

India is a signatory to the World Health Assembly which endorses the ‘End TB strategy‘ and aims for 50 % reduction in incidence and 75% reduction in TB related deaths by 2025, the ultimate goal being complete eradication of TB. Due to its alignment with poverty- a socio-economical problem, TB proves somewhat complicated to understand and hence difficult to address. Prof Soumya Swaminathan, Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research has been spearheading a movement to bring about awareness about India’s struggle with paediatric and MDR-TB and has previously stated that rising numbers of TB cases are a blot on India’s growth story with the burden disproportionately borne by the poor. Hence elimination of TB does boil down to a great extent, on eradication of poverty.

Meanwhile with the impeding launch of the new drug Bedaquiline, the intense awareness being created by media and the support system provided by various community lead programs show some promise. We plan to shed more light on this issue in the future and hence stay tuned to hear more about Prof Swaminathan’s work and opinions on the current policies regarding TB drugs and whether a TB-free India an achievable target. Do not forget to follow us on Twitter for updates about the tweetchat,

Recommended reading:

About the Author: Kartika Shetty, Ph.D. is a biophysicist specialising in protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions. Her recent focus is drug discovery and development for targeting lymphomas, along with her fellow researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research, London. Kartika is a member/editor of the ClubSciWri team and is an avid science quiz enthusiast. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Science, she has been involved in participating and hosting in quiz events in and around the IISc campus (for reasons unknown, now is restricted to pub quizzes, since moving to the UK ! ).

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Homeopathy Part V: The candy man can!*

in Poli-Scie/That Makes Sense by

Who can take a sunrise

Sprinkle it with dew

Cover it in chocolate

And a miracle or two

The candy man

The candy man can

The candy man can cause he

Mixes it with love and

Makes the world taste good…

Before the establishment of modern pharmacology, superstition drove the selection and use of remedies for maladies that afflicted us. The Greek word Pharmakon, from which the word pharmacology is derived, meant magic charm for treating disease. In those times, the goal of a pharmakon was to get rid of the evil spirits that was thought to be behind diseases and illnesses. We knew very little about the etiology of diseases. With the passage of time, experience, largely based on trial and error, enabled people to differentiate remedies that were useful and actually worked from those that did not work to alleviate symptoms. This lead to certain remedies getting selected and used over others. That was the advent of herbal medicines using plant extracts, to which modern medicine owes a lot.

Further developments in modern pharmacology had to wait for advances in chemistry and physiology. The most important among these were the isolation of pure compounds and discoveries on the etiology of diseases and illnesses. With this, the role of magic and miracle started to fade away from the realm of treating diseases and illnesses.

The first pure drug to be isolated was Morphine, based on the analgesic and euphoric properties of Opium poppy pods that was known for thousands of years. Following this, several other opiates, including Codeine were isolated from the Poppy plant. The identification of the structures of these and other compounds paved the way to convert naturally abundant compounds into rare ones in the laboratory. The availability of pure compounds revolutionized modern medicine and allowed us to ask specific questions about specificity, mode of action and dosage. With this, the role of magic and miracle was nearly eliminated from the realm of treating diseases.

As modern pharmacology became a true multidisciplinary enterprise, it derived utility from advances in other disciplines. But, more importantly, it also contributed to the generation of useful reagents as well as frameworks to interrogate life processes with specificity. Molecules that fall into the broad classes of agonists and antagonists are illuminating examples of this. Thus, modern pharmacology also paved the way to get rid of misconceptions about life such as vital forces and mysterious energies.

In the present day, modern pharmacology is the scientific discipline that deals with the interaction of chemicals with cells, tissues, organs and organisms. With its birth, outcomes of chemical interactions could be rationally correlated to physiological changes that they brought about through their interactions with their molecular targets.  In the present day, advances in synthetic chemistry allow us to make compounds that we desire. In the present day, advances in physiology and modern investigative tools allow us to rationally ask questions and obtain answers on pharmacological effects chemicals have on our body devoid of the noise originating from the impurities in the source material. A shining example is the discovery of Artemisinin, an antimalarial drug that was obtained after screening around 2000 Chinese herbal remedies. The discovery won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine. We are continuously discovering and poised to discover many more drugs from natural sources including ancient herbal remedies and synthesize them in the laboratory.

The time is ripe to ask chemists, biochemists, microbiologists, geneticists, physicists or any other person who has a reasonable background and training in science, or just plain common sense, a simple yet critical scientific question- can you imagine diluting an extract containing Artemisinin in water or alcohol and then magically come up with a sugar pill that will cure Malaria with the same efficacy as a more concentrated dose of a purified preparation of Artemisinin would? I doubt anyone could. But the homeopathic doctor- the Candy man- can! Because apparently, he also mixes a miracle or two and also love and makes it tastes good too.

If a conspiracy exists in the medical field that needs to be discussed and condemned by the scientific community, it is not the one purportedly run by Allopathy and modern pharmacology against Homeopathy, but rather the one waged by Homeopathy against herbal medicines right from the inception of Homeopathy- as I have alluded to in the Part IV of this series. As it stands now, almost 80% of homeopathic remedies are herbal remedies mixed with miracles and made to taste good. Where they are not, they are no different from herbal medicines or Allopathic medicines. Yet, by naming a remedy “Homeopathic”, it allows practitioners of this branch of medicine to sidestep regulatory guidelines that require labeling of actual compositions and active ingredients that even practitioners of herbal medicine and supplements are required to follow.

*Here is a link to the kid’s song “The candy man can” and the lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIPGyKGuWeA

Authored by Dr Syam Anand, PhD (Indian Institute of Science, IISc; Post-Doctoral research, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Faculty, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Founder and US Patent Agent, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC, Ardmore, Philadelphia USA). Syam has over 20 years experience in diverse areas of Science with domain knowledge in Life Sciences and Intellectual Property. Dr. Anand is also an inventor and budding entrepreneur. A rationalist, Dr. Anand enjoys science at all levels and advocates the use of scientific methods for answering all questions and solving all problems and make common people curious and interested in understanding their worlds.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/syamprasadanand

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Twitter Town Hall @ClubSciWri #AskVijayDBT on February 21st 2016

in ClubSciWri/Face à Face/Poli-Scie by

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In the last one month of ‪#‎ClubSciWri‬, we have witnessed some of the best articles/write-ups/interviews on this forum. Now we are moving into the next stage as we are introducing interviews with policymakers. In first of such series, we are hosting a twitter townhall with Vijay K VijayRaghavan. We will discuss about DBT’s policy on academic/industrial opportunities for post-doc/PhD. You can send your questions to @ClubSciWri twitter handle, post here on FB or best join the live chat on 21st February 11.30 AM- 12.30 PM (IST).

@ClubSciWri Proudly hosts Twitter town hall with @DBTIndia Prof. @kvijayraghavan send your question at ‪#‎AskVijayDBT‬

Homeopathy Part IV: Surely you were not joking, Mr. Hahnemann*

in Poli-Scie by

SCIWRI8

Once upon a time- about 220 years ago to be more precise- people lived “happily ever after”, taking things mostly for granted… even as their happy lives were intermittently challenged and frequently terminated by many diseases of unknown etiology… afflicted people seeking relief through anything and any means possible- chemicals, herbal extracts, prayers, “pagan” practices, just enduring what cannot be cured, you name it… names for diseases and explanations and cures, a dozen for a dime… a rare few with seemingly divine intuitive powers conjuring up cures… the afflicted mostly not caring about explanations and cures, instead how it felt afterwards… instant gratification ruling the roost… the main goal for both the afflicted and those who cured them-instant gratification… many of the afflicted knowing the rare few who had explanations and cures… picking and choosing based on their beliefs and comfort levels… therapies working magically and mysteriously… theories abounding without needing much for proof or principle… success stories stemming from personal experiences… the effective cures for afflictions and the afflicted becoming grand stories of success… success and failures spreading by word of mouth… the risky cures that ended up with worse consequences enough to put someone out of business… strengthened and weakened by beliefs, doubts, personal opinions, explanations and prejudices as the words spread… pharmacology still very very far from becoming a science… waiting for advances in physics, chemistry and biology to find reliable, rational and dependable foundations to build on. Around that time lived a genius who had a vision and conjured up a simple solution that combined the ingredients and beliefs in vogue into a sellable cocktail of remedies. The ingredients were chosen from medicines that often caused unwanted side effects in people who took them, as doses were random and subjective and impurities were rampant. The beliefs were chosen from the magical and miraculous properties of medicines and the divine status accorded to anyone capable of providing a cure for the affliction and the afflicted. The simple solution: mix the ingredients with beliefs, until the ingredients were diluted and the side effects were gone and the beliefs were strengthened and hope of a cure established. The genius used that cocktail for curing many ailments. Word soon spread that unlike the medicines used by others, the medicines made by this genius never killed anyone and cured many. Word also spread that one could cure entire villages and towns of any malady without much of any starting material as the more you diluted something that was rare and hard to obtain, the more potent it became. Surely you were not joking, Mr. Hahnemann!

*(This is last in a “preface” to this series. Look forward to a critical analysis of Homeopathy remedies in principle and in practice in the remainder of this series).

About the author: Dr Syam Anand, PhD (Indian Institute of Science, IISc; Post-Doctoral research, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Faculty, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Founder and US Patent Agent, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC, Ardmore, Philadelphia USA), has over 20 years experience in diverse areas of Science with domain knowledge in Life Sciences and Intellectual Property. Dr. Anand is also an inventor and budding entrepreneur. A rationalist, Dr. Anand enjoys science at all levels and advocates the use of scientific methods for answering all questions and solving all problems and make common people curious and interested in understanding their worlds.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/syamprasadanand

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Homeopathy Part III: You may tinker. You may not violate.

in Poli-Scie by

SCIWRI8

The physical world follows some inviolable laws that were discovered using scientific methods. By physical world, I mean the world that can be sensed and perceived and objective measurements and interpretations made and shared with clarity. Irrespective of affiliations and disciplines and also WITHOUT contradictions, these laws serve as the foundation for any scientific enquiry. These laws are dependable because they have not contradicted applications in one field AGAINST another field. These laws have been repeatedly used to explain and predict with near certainty the interactions that exist in our physical world. It is only with these laws that the outcomes of manipulations of matter or energy can be reliably predicted and understood, and new discoveries about the physical world itself made, subject to the usual expense of time and intellect associated with scientific methods.

Science is not its infancy anymore to allow one discipline that contradicts everything else to bring it down. No discipline can any longer work by some mysterious principle that we do not know yet that will bring down everything else known in science in its entirety and solely in favor of that discipline the moment it is discovered. Common sense should tell us that such a wish or hope is scientific fallacy. This is because the INHERENT PROPERTIES OF MATTER AND ENERGY REMAIN THE SAME WHETHER WE ARE AWARE OF IT OR NOT, MEASURE IT OR NOT OR INCORPORATE IT IN OUR CALCULATIONS OR NOT. Because of this, one will never ever be able to find a mysterious principle that works for solely for one artificially created section of the physical world to the exclusion of every other artificially created discipline- whether it is allopathic medicine, traditional medicine or homeopathy or even prayers.

Clearly, in the case of Homeopathy, the carriers are inert and have been shown to not undergo any changes in their electronic configurations. One theory that water carries memory from the mother tincture was published in a top scientific journal- Nature- and later retracted, as the results could be never replicated. When it was published, it was done with a request from the Editor of the journal to the readers to “suspend judgement” until it could be replicated by others as the editor himself knew that it was contrary to everything else we know. In the author’s own words the observed effect was “like agitating a car key in the river, going miles downstream, extracting a few drops of water, and then starting one’s car with the water”. No kidding! The plain question is whether we should entertain fallacies such as this. As scientists we know the rational standards we apply while reviewing manuscripts and grant proposals. We should ask why many of us are willing to suspend judgment, when we subject a homeopathic remedy to rational analysis or use it to cure an ailment.

It could be argued that the inert carriers mediate their roles purely through an energy currency. For medical use, chemicals can be made to accept, store and release a finite amount of energy at a later time. In order to do this, energy has to be provided from some source that forces the chemicals to acquire a different state. Medical use of chemicals relying of changes in energy states has to exploit those occurring over large time scales due to the practical time demands of manufacture, marketing and consumption. Therefore, the types of energy that can be tapped to achieve this are limited. The types of energy that can have an observable impact on matter are also limited to a certain range of the light spectrum. These are established physical and chemical laws from which there is no escape and as such limitations for exploiting energy as a medium for storing information in drugs while they are manufactured for therapeutic use later on. Even if we were to narrow down to such a form of energy, irrespective of its nature it has to be universally applicable. The common sense question is how could it be that a traditional medicine that shows a dose response shows a reverse dose response as soon as it becomes a homeopathic remedy? Through friction and dilution? Don’t we mix and shake things regularly in other fields? For Homeopathy to enter the realm of science, it cannot have a wholly separate set of rules that contradicts everything else including traditional medicine.

If we were to assume that during potentisation, some form of energy mediated the transfer of the remedial properties of mother tincture to the inert carrier, the question remains how this energy simultaneously eliminated the side effects? If this were to happen with such specificity with thousands of remedies that homeopaths use for different ailments, we will also have to assume that nature selected and conserved a common chemical signature for the desirable effects and another one for the side effects for all these thousands of remedies that is also specifically recognizable and transferable without loosing information through two inert carriers. The probability of this happening in nature could be in the neighborhood of finding a single molecule of the mother tincture in a 200C dilution!

A simple test to verify whether homeopathic remedies get more potent as they get diluted would be to attempt to overdose on a homeopathic remedy that started off with a toxic material. Expectedly, a PubMed search turned up nothing. Therefore, I thought maybe I should experiment it on myself. Thankfully I did not have to spend on homeopathic remedies as this experiment has been already done in different parts of the world with expected results. Hundreds of people who took these challenges called “10:23, Homeopathy, there is nothing in it” survived without any effects of the “drugs” and proved that one cannot overdose on properly made homeopathic medicines. Apparently, here is a class of medicines from which one can never overdose. If one cannot overdose, there is no meaning in a dose or potency or remedy. Thus, homeopathy is contradicting everything fundamental in all other scientific disciplines including traditional medicine.

The Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council recently concluded that “there is no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy works better than a placebo” after subjecting 1800 peer reviewed manuscripts that studied the efficacy of homeopathic remedies for a variety of medical conditions to their expert committees review (National Health and Medical Research Council. 2015. NHMRC information paper: Evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions. http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/ attachments/cam02a_information_paper.pdf). Their remarks were scathing: “People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness. People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner and in the meanwhile keep taking any prescribed treatments”.

Insane ideas should be welcomed in science and subject to further tests and validation. Fallacies that contradict every established principle should be rubbished as such. Evidence and testable hypotheses are fundamental requirements for entertaining ideas. Homeopathy lacks evidence. Its hypotheses contradict everything else we know. When exploiting science for anything, it is essential to remember that we can tinker, but we cannot violate.

Syam Prasad Anand, PhD

Founder, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC

Ardmore, Philadelphia, USA

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The young supervisors

in Poli-Scie by

Kandinsky

 

My former advisor Professor Ram Murty is visiting IISER Pune.  While he was waiting in front of the coffee machine, a cleaning staff member helpfully asked him if he was here for a PhD interview (he has probably been given directions to do so to any unrecognizable person as our Main Building is full of PhD aspirants nowadays).  After he started laughing, the cleaning person apologized and withdrew.  Prof. Murty later said to me, “Maybe life is giving me another chance to do a PhD. This time, you become my advisor.” Later, my student joined us and we took him to a room where we asked him a lot of questions that kept him on the board for 4+ hours.  This happens to be the room where we interview our PhD candidates – so, the jokes continued!

On a more serious note, he mentioned that he started supervising his first PhD student almost 10 years after finishing his PhD.  From what I hear, in USA and Canada, faculty members usually don’t take students until they get tenured, nor are they expected to.   Supervision of multiple students happens at an even later stage.  On the other hand, in India (at least at research and teaching institutions), faculty members seem to start supervising much earlier in their careers.  This is especially true for new institutes, which by default mostly get very young faculty and which have to build a PhD programme.  At some of the new institutes, especially new IITs, even people with contractual appointments have started working with students.  It is highly likely that the contractual appointments will be made permanent, but what is remarkable here is that these members are less than three years past their PhD.

Questions for readers:

1)   Is it a good sign that the demand for PhD in India is as high as to require faculty to start supervising at a relatively younger age? Or is it something to worry about?

2)   I am of course thinking from a Mathematics-centric viewpoint. Perhaps, it is more common in the experimental fields to start supervising at a much earlier age and in much larger numbers.  If you are an academic, what is the trend in your field at your institute or university?

3)   This also raises another question.  How important are students for your research programme?  Again, observing my experimental colleagues, it seems they really want to take students to work on their projects.  Am I mistaken?

 

About the Author: Kaneenika Sinha is an assistant professor in mathematics at IISER Pune. Her research interests are in analytic number theory and arithmetic geometry. She blogs about life in Indian academia at http://academic-garden.blogspot.com and tweets at @kaneenikasinha.

Image courtesy: Suvasini Ramaswamy

Notes from ClubSciWri: This blog is a re-post from the author’s previous blogpost from May (2015) at http://academic-garden.blogspot.com

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Homeopathy Part II: Basics

in Poli-Scie by

SCIWRI8

Homeopathic remedies are made by succussion, which is nothing but repeated shaking-albeit following some directions. An extract or a compound or an element believed to have remedial property(ies) is diluted 1:100 with water or alcohol that act as inert carriers. The first round of succussion that is marked 2C ends in a 100-fold dilution of the starting material. Successive 1:100 dilutions make 3C, 4C and 5C and so on and so forth. For a homeopathic remedy marked 30C, the dilution is 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000 (one followed by 60 zeroes). Remedies that are marked 200C are sold as those possessing more potency. There are other systems for marking potencies and dilutions, but they all follow the same logic- dilution of the original material into an inert carrier. Remedies are sometimes titurated, prior to succussion. Tituration is nothing but grinding of the remedy with sugar of milk (lactose).

The stated objectives of succussion are mainly three. One, through friction and dilution with an inert vehicle, the remedial properties in the original material-referred to as mother tincture, is transferred to the inert vehicle. Two, by reducing the quantity of the original material by dilution with the inert vehicle, the side effects of the original material are avoided. Three, the remedial properties in the “crude state” become awakened in this process. Apparently, all this lead to potentisation, essentially causing more diluted concoctions of the remedial material to become more potent with respect to the beneficial effects and less potent with respect to the side effects. Therefore one test for the fundamental working principle of homeopathic remedies is whether more and more diluted concoctions of the remedial material actually show more and more increased responses attributable in some way to the starting material present in mother tincture.

The most potent dilutions such as 30C do not contain even a single molecule of the starting material in a homeopathic remedy. Thus, chemically the remedies are composed entirely of inert carriers. Therefore, a test for another working principle in Homeopathy is whether the inert carriers used to make Homeopathic remedies, can by any chemical means:

1. Accept and store specific properties of a remedy in the time scales necessary for pharmacological use.

2. Amplify and store the signal it acquired from the mother tincture through successive rounds of dilution.

3. Selectively acquire the desirable qualities of the mother tincture from a mix containing both desired and unwanted side effects.

4. Retain the integrity of the acquired signal during ingestion and translocation to sites of action within our bodies.

5. Transfer the signal with specificity to molecular targets that reside within different locations in our bodies.

Since the inert carriers used are water and alcohol, it provides us with a firm foundation to answer the above questions.

It is alleged that Homeopathy and immunization works on similar principles. They do not. One, in immunizations, you need at least a few molecules of the immunogen to be present to trigger a response against the immunogen. The homeopathic equivalent of a vaccine will be 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 diluted immunogen in adjuvant. Such a mixture would not elicit any response from our immune system other than one against just the adjuvant. Even a million fold dilution of an immunogen would not elicit a useful immune response against an immunogen, simply because sufficient amounts of immunogen would not be present in the diluted mixture. Two, in immunizations, the response elicited by a 1:1000000 dilution of an immunogen will be lesser than that elicited by a 1:100 dilution of the same immunogen. Contrary to this, a 1:1000000 dilution of a homeopathic remedy is believed to be more potent than a 1:100 dilution of the same remedy due to potentisation of the remedial properties during the dilution process.

Homeopathy holds that the interactions of the remedies are “not in any way material or mechanical”, and instead attributable to some “dynamic energy”. Therefore, it prompts us to seek answers beyond chemistry we normally are acquainted to. Is it possible that energy transactions as opposed to transactions mediated by exchange of matter is the mystery behind Homeopathic remedies? Possible. Therefore, one could ask whether water or alcohol can accept any kind of specific ‘signals’ or ‘signatures’ from a remedy in the form of some form of energy during this process, store it and later on release it with specificity to a target located within our body. Irrespective of the mechanism, the more potent dilutions of homeopathic remedies SHOULD still show increased responses attributable in some way to the starting material present in mother tincture.

Therefore, the key to asking whether Homeopathic remedies can work as proposed or by some hitherto unknown mechanism is to figure out if we can formulate a potential mechanism based on known and measurable properties and behavior of matter and energy. If not, we can invoke the involvement of mysterious forces science has not discovered yet. Irrespective of the underlying mechanism, the more potent dilutions of homeopathic remedies SHOULD still show increased responses attributable in some way to the starting material present in mother tincture to be accepted as science.

On the contrary, if Homeopathy is entirely dependent on the use of placebos, its practitioners should clearly state so. An explanation that if placebo is effective, use extra strength placebo without stating as much, amounts to medical fraud. This is because in this scenario, the highest dilutions of homeopathic remedies that are supposed to be more potent would NOT show increased responses attributable in ANY way to the starting material present in mother tincture. The bare minimum requirement for using a specific remedial composition in a recommended dose for a specific ailment that could support the medical use of homeopathic remedies would not be met. If this is the case, we have sufficient reason to call Homeopathy bogus and not belonging to the realm of science.

Syam Prasad Anand, PhD

Founder, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC

Ardmore, Philadelphia, USA

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Homeopathy- Bogus or Science? Part I

in Poli-Scie by

SCIWRI8

This is first in an upcoming series of articles stemming from discussions on Homeopathy within the IISc Career Support Group (a FB group).

BACKGROUND: The recent statement from Nobel laureate Prof. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan that Homeopathy is bogus was disliked and received with skepticism by a majority of people. The main reason invoked was that we still do not know much about the world we live in, so we do not know how homeopathic medicines work. Another one was that it has been here for a long time. Therefore, it should be working. Having millions of followers was also a reason for skepticism. A major reason was also that many people have personal experiences of success with homeopathic cures. Finally there was also something that is common to all forms of Pseudoscience- skepticism stemming from cultural aspects. In the case of homeopathy it took many forms. One, there is a conspiracy by successful groups or nations or cultures. In the case of Homeopathy, the Big Pharma selling allopathy drugs and “western culture”-although Homeopathy began in Germany- are conspiring against it. Two, one should not question a “belief system” (in this case homeopathy) because it is contrary to another belief system (allopathy). Three, Prof. Venkatraman was insensitive when making those remarks. None of the above should be a yardstick to ask whether something belongs in the realm of science.

It is difficult to cope with evidences that could negate ones own perceptions. It is also difficult to reconcile cultural beliefs with rational thoughts. However, in the grand scheme of scientific advancement, it is important that we as trained scientists take a stance against pseudoscience and debunk it. This series of articles attempts to rationally discuss whether Homeopathy belongs in the realm of real science. Although it has been successful as a discipline for a long time, Homeopathy has also been controversial as its basic tenets contradict both common sense and fundamental laws of the physical world that cannot be violated. Although it contributed some ideas to pharmacology and immunology in their early stages, while the other subjects moved on and grew in strength with solid theoretical frameworks and testable hypotheses, homeopathy lags behind in that respect 220 years since its inception. Homeopathy still does not have a solid theoretical framework that does not violate known physical and chemical laws and does not negate common sense.

For some time, homeopathy has been seeking science’s permission for legitimacy, evidenced by publications that support efficacy of homeopathic medicines and patents that protect intellectual property related to homeopathic medicines. Therefore, the big question is whether homeopathy is based on scientific method. One should also ask whether one should accept theoretical principles that are contrary to everything else that is known up till now? If one has to consider those principles, is there evidence in support of them? Because many aspects of life are still a mystery, are the current advancements in our understanding of the physical world sufficient or not to consider a place for a questionable and controversial practice in the realm of science? If the original tenets of Homeopathy are wrong, can we dig up something contemporary and solid in support of Homeopathy that does not contradict the physical world? If so, what could be that mystical aspect that would make homeopathy tick? The answers to these questions will address whether Homeopathy is bogus or not.

One could enjoy a garden that is beautiful without asking or believing about fairies at the bottom of it. However, when it is claimed that fairies at the bottom make the garden tick, the fairies and the garden are seeking scientific legitimacy. In that spirit, I welcome you to read, comment, debate and reach your own conclusions from the articles in this series.

 

 

About the author: Dr Syam Anand, PhD (Indian Institute of Science, IISc; Post-Doctoral research, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Faculty, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Founder and US Patent Agent, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC, Ardmore, Philadelphia USA), has over 20 years experience in diverse areas of Science with domain knowledge in Life Sciences and Intellectual Property. Dr. Anand is also an inventor and budding entrepreneur. A rationalist, Dr. Anand enjoys science at all levels and advocates the use of scientific methods for answering all questions and solving all problems and make common people curious and interested in understanding their worlds.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/syamprasadanand

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Transitioning to a tenure track faculty position in the USA

in Poli-Scie by

SCI WRI6

 

First of all, a disclaimer: I have a background in materials science and I am in Mechanical Engineering Department. My perspective may be more skewed towards engineering than life sciences. However, I expect a lot of information in the academic recruitment process to be similar across the board in the USA (except the jobs that include clinical component). I would skip the obvious things here such as importance of networking, meeting people at conferences and doing thorough research about the department where you are applying.

 

Only a small number of tenure track faculty positions open up in top research universities. These positions are advertised in specific areas of need and the areas of research are clearly described in the position announcement. One exception to this may be cluster hiring or large hiring programs, which intend to recruit multiple people with high qualification. In any case, the position description will clearly state the research areas that are desired. Synergy with the existing research directions of the department is extremely important. It is important to understand the needs specified in the advertisement before applying. In case of any ambiguity, feel free to contact the department head or the recruitment committee chairman to ask if your profile falls within the areas of needs that they have in mind for that position. They will welcome this communication.

 

Most well recognized research universities receive anywhere from 50 to 200 applications for one position. Selecting one person out such large number is a big challenge for the committee. Applications are usually received from all over the world. Applications are not rejected simply because a candidate is not located within the geographical boundaries of the USA. In fact, people from Canada and many European countries get hired on faculty positions. The disadvantage for Indian applicants is that the academic system in India is different and candidates may not have exposure to the rigor of faculty positions that the USA universities expect, for example, writing grants or mentoring other students.

 

Just think statistically, out of a large pool of over 100 applicants, at least 8-10 would be highly qualified, in the right research area, and will present a strong research and teaching statement.

 

A single question that can help you prepare for the interview is: What is your one signature scientific achievement from your Ph.D. work and another one from your postdoc research? Successful candidates will always have a crisp two line answer to this question and then a short explanation for the committee members who are not exactly from the same field. Common problems in the answer to this question are: too long and too technical descriptions. You can always ask at the end of your answer if they would like more details. Clarity and conciseness is very important at this stage.

 

The second important question is that how your research program as an assistant professor will be different from your PhD and postdoc advisor’s program. This is where you may want to bring back your signature scientific achievement and build upon it. Think of it this way: if you have three PhD students in your startup package, what will be their PhD problems on day 1 of your job. This line of thought should guide your statement of research.

 

Some of the common observations in CVs of Indian applicants that should be avoided:

  • Marks of 10th and 12th grades
  • Father’s name, occupation and address
  • Multiple email addresses and phone numbers
  • Passport number
  • Occasionally: category (General, SC/ST, OBC…), SSN
  • A large number of irrelevant softwares: Windows, DOS and Linux operating system (not sure what to do with these in a faculty position that has focus on metal casting)
  • Unnecessary use of boldface words, random use of uppercase in sentences, use of multiple font colors
  • Also avoid long abstracts of a large number of different projects. CV is a snapshot or a list of your achievements, it should not have unnecessary detailed descriptions
  • This is not needed in CV for academic positions

 

Useful tips:

  • Find a mentor before you start your search. A senior person in academia who has recruiting experience will be great to have on your side to advice
  • Include the name of your PhD and postdoc advisors as referees. It is not a requirement but not having them as referees raises a red flag. If you do not want them to have your referees, have a strong explanation
  • Do not have unrelated people as referees who have not worked with you. Certainly no friends! If one of your referees does not seem to be strongly related to you, include an explanation on why you have included them
  • Ask someone to proofread all your documents for formatting and language. Simple formatting inconsistencies will not kick you out of the initial pool, but when pool is down to a few highly qualified candidates, perception becomes important
  • If you are in the shortlist and have phone or onsite interviews scheduled, setup mock interviews with your mentor, PI of your lab, or other colleagues
  • List only equipment and techniques that you have really used and are proficient in using. There is no benefit of having a long list in your CV

 

Finally, some general observations: a lot of successful candidates are those who are already in the mindset of a faculty member despite being a postdoc or even PhD student. So what will help: in the last year of your PhD, start helping your professor in writing grant proposals, preparing annual reports for his funded projects, making his presentations for grant review meetings. I have come across plenty of students who argue that this is waste of their time and not their job. Surely, it is not their job, but it is the job that they aspire to get and nothing else can train them and put them in the mindset of a faculty member, which is critical for preparing for an interview. Similarly, postdocs should try to think of new problems to write proposals and try to mentor PhD students. Yes, you still have to work hard for that one major signature achievement; there are no shortcuts!

 

About the author: Dr. Nikhil Gupta graduated with B.E. from MNIT Jaipur and M.E. in Metallurgy from IISc Bangalore in 1998. He received Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 2003 in Mechanical Engineering. He is now an Associate Professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at New York University and is the director of the Composite Materials and Mechanics Laboratory. His research is focused on developing lightweight advanced composite materials with high damage tolerance under dynamic loading conditions. In addition, his group is also studying bones and soft tissues for understanding injuries sustained under dynamic loading. Dr. Gupta has authored over 130 journal and book chapter publications and over 125 conference and invited presentations.  His research has been covered in videos produced by Discovery Channel, Scientific American, Reuters and articles published by National Geographic, Scientific American, American Ceramic Society, Wards Auto, and numerous popular news outlets.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/nikhil-gupta-37085867

Photo source: Abhinav Dey

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