Scientists Simplifying Science

Monthly archive

February 2017

In pursuit of a passion in science: Face to Face with Professor Mohan Balasubramanian, PhD

in Face à Face by
Nida Siddiqui (NS)  brings out a journey of a passionate scientist Dr. Mohan Balasubramanian, Pro-Dean at the Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, UK. In this interview, Mohan talks about important aspects one needs to inculcate to become an effective academic researcher and a mentor.

 

Mohan during his Singapore days (Courtesy: NUS Singapore)

NS: How did your journey begin? What was the motivation?

MB: My journey did not start with science, I was interested in sports and I did not get the greatest grades in school. I got into Chemistry because that’s one subject I could pursue with my sports qualification. I was a decent chemist and did quite well.  I did not know an iota of biology and my chemistry degree was with physics and Math. This was the period of early days of biotechnology in India.  Masters in Biotechnology I thought will be an interesting next step.  I wrote the entrance exam and I passed it. It was the first batch of Biotechnology program in India that was done through a national level entrance test. That led me to MS Baroda University, which was my gateway to my career in academic research.

I found genetics and molecular biology very interesting and started interacting with Late Professor Bharat Chattoo, an excellent scientist who had just come back from Switzerland. He was a plant geneticist by training and was busy setting up his lab at Baroda. I did my master’s thesis with him and I found science as a natural extension of chemistry, molecular biology, biochemistry very intriguing.  It was during that time that I got intrigued by genetics and did the first cloning in Baroda. It was very exciting since it was the new era of modern life sciences, especially in India. People were doing microbiology but not molecular Biology. I also made a library from rice. Baroda had a reputation those days of being an intellectually stimulating environment because the microbiology department and the biotechnology program were tightly knit together and classical genetics, phage genetics were taught at a very high level of sophistication and the department inculcated the habit of reading current literature so we would know for e.g., self-splicing RNA (which was my favorite topic by the way). We had a great resource at Baroda. You get to read all the current discoveries almost immediately after they got published. We did not have the equipment and setup but there was enough intellectual framework and by being around Prof. Chattoo and working in his lab it was clear to me this is what I want to do because there were thousands of open questions and the technology was relatively new at that time. So, it was really exciting to go from a chemistry background into molecular biology and all thanks to one person, whose approach to science was so special that 6 to 7 of my classmates  are professors in top places in the world, Vishi Iyer, Head of Life science at UT Austin, Pradeep Kachroo in University of Kentucky, Naweed Naqvi at TLL, Karuna Sampath at University of Warwick, would agree that it was Late Chattoo that got them into science. To me Prof. Chattoo was an institution in himself.

NS: How did you move to Canada next?

MB: I wanted to work on plant biology because in Prof. Chattoo’s lab I worked with plants so I wanted to continue working on plants. I did apply to a few other universities but the University of Saskatchewan gave me a scholarship and that was a huge factor so I went there. At that time, there was a study that got published in Nature (1988) on the discovery of chaperonins (these prevent proteins from misfolding). Chaperonin was the hottest topic in biology during that time and I found Sean M Hemmingsmen to be the best person with whom I can pursue my Ph.D. I approached him and he readily agreed to take me as his Ph.D. student. I was working on two different projects, one on Chlamydomonas and the other on a tobacco plant. I generated a cDNA library here since Baroda had taught me that very early on. Sean had to go to Oxford for a sabbatical to the lab of Paul Nurse. Once Sean returned from his sabbatical he told me that Paul Nurse had done a genetic screen for cell cycle mutants and he gave me some of Paul’s papers and he said Paul is also willing to give all these mutants – “do you want to work on this?” Sean’s lab was primarily a plant biology lab with no expertise in yeast. But he was persistent, “This is a very exciting problem and I would love to get involved, do you want to do it?” I said, “yes, sure.” I read up on all of Paul’s work and those that were coming out from the labs of Leland Hartwell and Marc Kirschner. The topic was really exciting and cutting edge but it was incredibly competitive. I was alone in this lab in Saskatchewan and I decided to work on cell cycle but not on mitosis or S phase which the big labs were pursuing vigorously, but cytokinesis. I cloned three of the cytokinesis genes while I was in Sean’s Lab, tropomyosin, myosin light chain, profilin.We had mutants for these, raised antibodies for two of these, localized one protein which is when I graduated. It is going to be 30 years and I am still fascinated. Visually it is a beautiful problem.  You can see the cell divide, you can see it contracting and the problem keeps us busy even now. That’s how I got into this field of research.

 

NS: Tell us about your postdoc at Vanderbilt, how did you decide this was the right place

 MB: It was very straightforward, I finished my Ph.D. in 1992. I wanted to go to a place where I could take all these genes and continue working on them. Kathy Gould had just set up her lab at Vanderbilt University, she did a postdoc with Paul Nurse. I heard she was hiring and I approached her and told her that I wanted to work on cytokinesis. So, I continued working on the genes I took from Sean’s lab. My colleague Dan Mc Collum and I got very excited with cytokinesis and decided that some of the key proteins in cytokinesis had not been discovered in the Nurse’s screen. So, I carried out another large genetic screen and we got hundreds of mutants defective in cytokinesis and we identified close to twenty different genes and the main motivation was to identify Type 2 Myosin heavy chain. That screen led us to everything – ring positioning, ring assembly, ring contraction. We had a blueprint on how cytokinesis happened. Kathy is a very generous person. When I left her lab she let me take the mutants I isolated. Looking back I realize how incredibly lucky I was to have been associated with very generous mentors during the initial years. Prof. Chattoo taught me the intricacies of molecular biology, Sean allowed me to take my work with me to Kathy’s lab and Kathy allowed me to take what I generated to set up my own lab in Singapore.

 

NS: After your postdoc – Did you have a dilemma: Academia or industry?

 MB: Ever since I saw Prof. Chattoo and the life of pure excitement he led in science, I did not think of anything else but a career in experimental research. Mentoring was another aspect that I loved. In Vanderbilt, I was taking care of undergraduate students in Kathy’s Lab and graduate students from the neighboring labs would also come to me for advice occasionally. People would tell me that I would make a great mentor. Even to this date that is the thing I enjoy the most. Now I have to do administration and so on but to spend time with your younger colleagues and go through the process of discovery is still the most exciting thing for me.

 

NS: Tell us about your transition to Institute for Molecular and Agrobiology, Singapore. What were the challenges during initial years of opening the lab? Have the dynamics of those challenges changed or they are the same?

MB: While I was in Kathy’s lab, I received a phone call from Nam-Hai Chua, who was setting up a new institute in Singapore. He was looking for a fission yeast person and offered me a position. The present generation applies to thirty-forty places, interviews seven-eight, lines up starter packages, but in my case I accepted the Singapore offer immediately. It was one of the best things I did since it was core funded and I did not have to write grants. I did not write grants for 16 years in Singapore and I could work on practically anything I wanted to work. That was an offer you would not want to refuse. Most of the time what happens is, for a starting PI it takes a couple of years to get a grant, you don’t have sufficient manpower to work on your ideas and you are slogging to get your first grant. So, for me walking into an institute and being able to recruit three people was a real luxury. Nobody told me what to do. When you write a grant, you fit the idea to a certain framework, addressing a disease or cultural problem but I could just work and not justify anything to anybody. The only expectation was to do something interesting and publish papers and create new knowledge. It was the easiest path that came in front of me, there was no struggle. I was given the money and asked for the equipment needed and there were technicians who would set up the equipment before I arrived. I also recruited a student before I moved there and he ended up on a paper I published before I even saw him. It worked out great.

 

NS: What were the factors you considered for your next move to UK? When did you know it was time to move?

MB: The 16 years I spent in Singapore was fantastic. During that time we went from a lab that did only genetics and molecular biology to a lab which did genetics, molecular biology, synthetic biology, reconstitution experiments, and biophysics. We could add new dimensions to work with progression in time. 16 years is a long time and you live only once so if you want to do something different you have to make a choice at some point and we took a big risk coming here to Warwick because coming from a core funded institute to a granting system is a challenge. But my feeling was, if I don’t make it in a granting system then my success in Singapore was a fluke. If I do make it in the granting system then maybe I am competitive enough. It was a bit of a challenge that I threw at myself and I think it’s good once in a while, although I would hate to have not succeeded in which case I would be thinking every day why I left my core funded job. But fortunately, it all worked out well.

UK has a very rich tradition of fission yeast research and it is an English speaking country. I chose the University of Warwick because of their core strength in Cell Biology. In particular, I was looking forward to having colleagues like Robert A Cross and Nicholas J Carter who were (and still does) doing a branch of Biophysics which I wanted to incorporate into our research. There were fantastic cell biologists like Andrew McAinsh, Masanori Mishima, Jonathan Millar, Anne Straube and a number of people whom I ranked very highly as scientists and thought that would be an excellent environment to work. I think Rob was the key and his presence made me choose to come to Warwick as opposed to a few other places which also offered me positions.

 

NS: What do you look for in students when you decide to mentor them? 

 MB: I really don’t know except that it works out well in the end. I have trained about 20 students, 16 have graduated, 4-5 of them are already group leaders some of them are associate professors with tenure doing very well. I have had about 20 postdocs of which 7 are PIs, 2 are professors, 1 is a Wellcome senior investigator at Crick. To come back to your question I don’t know, there is a feel I get when I talk to people. You can tell that they care about research. I don’t like people who come and talk about what they expect from their research. Like I want to get a job there, I want 2 Nature papers. I think research is about enjoying the process not waiting for the results. You can tell from talking to some people that they enjoy the process and If you do the process properly you will get something. I don’t have any formula but I have been incredibly lucky that more than a quarter people I have trained are successful group leaders all over the world and many others are doing successful postdocs. It’s not working 6-7 days a week, it’s how much you care about the experiment, how you prepare for the experiment and by being your worst critique. For example, there is a Malaysian student in my lab. She did an internship with me during her undergraduate degree. I asked what’s going on, she said “I see certain things but I did not want to tell you till I repeated this and I did not to want to mislead you”. I thought these are the people I want in my lab because they have high standards, they want to repeat things and it’s important in science to repeat things. For an undergraduate who hasn’t been in a research environment, to come to that mental framework is a feat in itself– To me that’s the kind of people I want in my lab, not someone who tells me that I want to finish my Ph.D. in three years with Nature papers without actually talking about the science. In science, many times it’s the feel that matters. It’s hard to precisely tell what you are looking for but it’s how much you care about science that matters.

 

NS: With the paucity of funds and slowing academic job growth, what do you think Postdocs should do in terms of career advancement? 

MB: There is a big shift in how science is being done, nowadays it’s a lot of collaborative science. When I started my Ph.D., it was very common to pick any of the top journals and find papers that have only 2 authors. There is a first author and the senior author. There were even papers that had one author. This was all possible those days. But if you look at papers now there are too many authors. The problem with that is it takes thirty human years to finish a project and there is a team of people and four joint first authors and a senior author. There aren’t going to be enough jobs. The way science has evolved requires large teams to accomplish the jobs and many of them may not make it because to accommodate that many successful postdocs you need to quadruple the intake. It is only natural since people have to earn a living and have a good quality life. Other options, like an industry job, is becoming more and more common.

There is a problem and what I would like to see is that some of these core-funded institutes to have staff scientists posts and these are for the very best postdocs – a chance to be independent and not with the expectation of running huge groups. People might love to do their own research -have just one technician. The way universities work these days that kind of a post doesn’t exist anymore. That’s one thing that I would like to see. The other is that – it’s nice for big labs to have continuity and there maybe people who do not want to run a lab but would be very valuable for a senior professor who doesn’t have that much time on a day to day basis. These are other options that people can think about. But it is a real problem.

 

NS: How should postdocs prepare for academic job transitions in the current scenario?

 MB: One should be excited about their science and that will be the best way of finding good jobs. You should have curiosity, enjoy the process and read a lot. If these three elements are there, success will come on its own.

 

NS: What are the major criteria one looks at when they hire a new faculty? 

 MB: I should declare that I am a signatory of DORA (The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment). I don’t look at metrics. I read the CV and look at the papers to see what the person has done. If it’s interesting and if they are attacking an important problem, using interesting approaches then that’s the kind of person I would like to recruit. As somebody who heads the Warwick quantitative biomedicine program, funded by the Wellcome trust, We have recruited 2 independent fellows and we will be recruiting more assistant professors very soon and we will use these criteria – good common sense, judgment of science. We won’t fall for metrics because then, only people who work in a few areas which are heavily populated get recruited, and you would not be recruiting people from areas that are not heavily populated and most likely that’s where your major insights are going to come from. You have to look at new exciting opportunities that are very early in development. We will look for people who want to make a difference in science, who have research problems that they are excited about and they think about all the time. We are looking for people who want to solve challenging problems by overturning conventional wisdom, asking big questions and for those who have a passion for science communication to teach the next generation of young students.  As an assistant professor, you should do a good job of putting enthusiasm in undergraduates. We want people who have the enthusiasm of talking about science, about their own research and scientific methods as valuable tools, something they cherish every day. That’s the kind of people we want.

 

NS: What will be your suggestions for the new investigators as they venture out to start their labs?

MB: Be curious. If you want to answer a problem, think quantitative, don’t be qualitative or descriptive. Medicine and Biology are increasingly becoming quantitative sciences. The way surgeries are done now are nothing compared to how they were done 20 years ago. Present day biology will incorporate quantitative data analytics, physical, engineering, chemical sciences to solve its major problems. That’s the way you can create an edge for yourself. Science is a business for smart people. You are trying to understand nature by doing clever experiments and there are thousands of clever people out there so everyone needs to have some edge. If you employ one or two of these other approaches together with your traditional strengths, I think you are likely to succeed in answering those questions.

 

NS: Any final thoughts for students pursuing PhD

MB: Read a lot, be curious, enjoy the process and communicate your science both in writing and orally. Those are the most important things at all levels. You could be sitting right next to somebody in a train and you should be able to explain your science in a simple language which he or she can appreciate.  Success is a very strange word, without these qualities it’s very difficult to answer the questions and if you are able to do that, to me that is a success.

 

About Mohan Balasubramanian:

 

 

 

 

 

Mohan Balasubramanian graduated in chemistry from Madras University in India and pursued a post-graduate program in microbiology and Biotechnology in Baroda, India. He carried out his Doctoral research at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, where he initiated his study of cell division in fission yeast. Following post-doctoral research at Vanderbilt University, USA, where he furthered his study of cell division, he joined the Institute of Molecular Agrobiology Singapore in 1997 and the Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory Singapore in 2002. He moved to The University of Warwick, UK in 2014.

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/med/research/biomedical/balasubramanianlab/

Edited by Ananda Ghosh

About Nida Siddiqui:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nida is currently pursuing final year Ph.D. at the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology, University of Warwick, UK. She completed B.E., Biotechnology from Sir MVIT, Bangalore, India. Following which she worked as a Junior Research Fellow in MRDG, IISc, Bangalore for a period of 2 years.

(https://www.linkedin.com/in/nida-siddiqui)

Featured Image: Pixabay

This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The week that it was- 20th to 26th Feb, 2017

in ClubSciWri by
  • 905355_10151596679531703_715804033_o.jpg?fit=2048%2C1360

Different career options – academic and non academic, transitioning from the former to the latter, the key skills to further your career and the best places to find your dream job – all this and more that CSG members have been discussing over the last week.

While UK still remains a coveted option for many Indian under and post-graduate students there are also Indian private universities coming up that are research and not teaching based.

Ernst and Young don’t think so and won’t bother with degree classification anymore as their entry level criteria.

As the world sees a turn in the political ideologies in many parts, do scientists have to ‘justify’ their research more clearly and more often than ever? Harvard University is trying to help scientists to communicate better.

New places come up on the world map where getting funding is still easier than the rest of the known places for doing science. India also eases it for IIT, Madras and colleges affiliated with Calcutta University in India to get more PhD students. But are the funds going to suffice to have permanent scientific staff positions in the coming years to utilize all the resources spent in training this scientific personnel?

For those interested in academic jobs, see how to write your resumes effectively.

Puzzled with how to put forth your ideas effectively on powerpoint. Look no further and get some really cool templates.

Find a repository of different non-academic career options that you can consider. Check what it takes for each one of these and which one suits you.

And for those who would want to move out of academia into industry, do they need an MBA to top up their PhD degrees?

A week long course for you to get MBA-styled case-based teaching to understand the culture and infrastructure of life science companies.

Industries are getting more interested in ‘givers’. Who are these people and how do industries identify them?

Here is a list of the current openings:

Happy working and networking! CSG is looking forward to an enthusiastic week ahead.

About the author:

Somdatta Karak works with Club SciWri as a project co ordinator and Corporate Liaison. She is a doctorate in neuroscience from Georg August University, Göttingen, Germany and has been a Teach for India fellow (2014-16). She loves putting her analytical skills to build newer and more sustainable solutions, enjoys traveling and communicating and takes every opportunity to expand her horizon.

You can reach her here.

 

 

 

Got fat ? Let’s migrate !

in Reporting from the Lab by

Targeted cancer therapy, for the most part, focuses on restricting the uncontrolled growth of a tumor. While these treatment strategies have been successful during the early stages of cancer, there is a constant need to identify treatment options for tumors that have undergone metastasis i.e. the tumor cells have dispersed from their primary site and localized to other organs of the body. In a recent study published by Nature, Pascual et al have shed some major insights into the process of metastasis and identified a fatty acid receptor, CD36 as a potential target to impair metastasis.

The researchers  generated tumors in mice by injecting them with oral carcinoma cell lines and patient-derived cells. These cells were stained with a fluorescent label dye, which diminishes with every dividing cancer cell. They were able to identify slow dividing dye-retaining cells as well as rapidly dividing dye-negative cells in the tumors that developed. A transcriptome analysis, to identify differences in the gene signature of these two populations, showed an enhancement of genes involved in metastasis and lipid metabolism in the slow dividing dye-retaining cells. CD36, a cell surface receptor and a crucial component for lipid uptake and metabolism, was one of the top implicated genes in their data analysis. Cell surface receptors communicate with specific molecules in the extracellular environment and transmit signals within the cell, which consequently dictates cellular processes.

How does CD36 affect metastasis? Interestingly, loss of CD36 in mice reduced the ability of tumors to penetrate to other organs by 80-100% while it did not affect primary tumor formation. Consistent with its requirement for metastasis, antibodies that block the CD36 receptor significantly inhibited metastasis in mice without affecting the size of the tumor. Furthermore, the expression of the cell surface receptor, CD36 was greatly increased when mice were fed with a high-fat diet. In a series of subsequent experiments, the authors concluded that the metastatic potential of tumors is increased with a high fat diet in a CD36 dependent manner.

There are several aspects of this study that are interesting.

This work shifts the paradigm of cancer metastasis theories where tumor cells are believed to undergo a transition from an adhering epithelial cell to a migratory mesenchymal cell (EMT) to invade distant sites. These CD36 expressing cells did not exhibit a mesenchymal gene signature. While further experimentation is required to link CD36 and EMT, it is conceivable that these processes are independent of each other to facilitate metastasis. A detailed mechanism of how CD36 initiates and regulates metastasis remains to be determined.

A high fat diet, which included palmitic acid (an essential component of palm oil) enhanced metastasis in a CD36-dependent manner in these mice. Palm oil is a key ingredient in several food products including Nutella. A press release early last year claimed that the breakdown products of palm oil are potentially carcinogenic, therefore correlating Nutella consumption with cancer risk. While these correlative studies require further scrutiny, validation, and support by causation studies in humans, it is imperative to understand the impact of an EXCLUSIVE high-fat diet on health.

The constantly evolving landscape of cancer research has witnessed the discovery of promising molecules to combat the most aggressive forms of the disease. A majority of these molecules are immuno-oncological targets that enhance the anti-tumor immune response and prevent tumor spreading. In 2016, the FDA approved two drugs, Bristol Myers-Squibb’s Opdivo for metastatic head and neck squamous carcinoma and Genentech’s Tecentriq for metastatic non-small cell lung carcinoma. Both these drugs regulate the immune checkpoint PD-1 and PDL-1 respectively. Some other drugs in the pipeline include Bristol-Myers Squibb and ASLAN pharmaceuticals’ ASLAN002, an inhibitor of the receptor tyrosine kinase, RON. RON regulates immune surveillance and its activation enhances tumor metastasis. Innate Pharma‘s, anti-CD73 blocks the enzyme, CD73 whose function contributes to the generation of an immunosuppressed and pro-angiogenic tumor microenvironment. What makes the fatty acid receptor CD36 unique, so far, is that it exclusively affects metastasis without affecting primary tumor formation. While its cross talk with the immune system remains to be investigated, CD36 represents a novel class of potential anti-metastatic targets that requires further validation. Targeting CD36 by itself, or perhaps in combination with the other aforementioned drugs, might have the potential to treat some of the most aggressive forms of tumor and subsequently have a positive impact on patient lives.

Journal article:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/

v541/n7635/full/

nature20791.html

Additional newsfeed :

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/

v541/n7635/

nature20791/metrics/news

https://www.worldwidecancerresearch.org/blog-post/

new-research-links-major-component-of-palm-oil-to-cancer-spread/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/

2016/12/161207132117.htm

http://healthmedicinet.com/i/preventing-cancer-spread-

mouse-study-points-to-fat/

https://www.centerwatch.com/drug-information/fda-approved-drugs/

therapeutic-area/12/oncology

http://www.aslanpharma.com/drug/aslan002/

http://www.innate-pharma.com/en/pipeline/

first-class-anti-cd73-checkpoint-inhibitor-program

Photo source: Shutterstock

Edited by Abhinav Dey.

About the author 

Radhika completed her PhD from Cornell University and is currently a Postdoctoral fellow at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her research interests have centered around oncology and neuroimmunology. Among other things, she is striving to effectively communicate scientific discoveries to the community.

 

 

 

 

Transitioning to an Editorial job @Nature Medicine: Face-to-Face with Javier Carmona

in Face à Face by

I met Javier in a recently concluded Keystone meeting in Big Sky, MT. The meeting organizers had created an app for the participants to interact online. I found Javier on the app’s database as a participant from Nature Medicine and I reached out to him. He was kind enough to find time and discuss the nuances of a career transition into science editing. He agreed for a Face-to-Face interview with me and appreciated our efforts in helping the postdoctoral community identify their calling from the multitude of careers in science.  Javier (JC) started his studies at the University of Navarra and received a degree in Biology from the Autonomous University of Madrid. In 2013, he obtained his Ph.D. after working in Manel Esteller’s Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program in Barcelona. Javier continued his research as a postdoctoral fellow in the group of José Baselga at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where he studied the mechanisms of resistance to therapy in patients with breast cancer. In 2016 he joined Nature Medicine as an Assistant Editor. Despite having a background in biomedicine, he has a myriad of scientific interests, and occasionally writes about different topics on the blog Mapping Ignorance . Javier is also an editor at Science Seeker where he selects top posts in the fields of medicine and general biology. You can follow him on Twitter @FJCarmonas.- Abhinav Dey (AD)

AD:    Please tell us about your academic research background?

JC: I studied biology at University of Navarra and I specialized in cell & molecular biology. As an undergraduate I did some rotations in different labs, and towards the end I started collaborating regularly in a laboratory at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre, in Madrid (Spain) where I eventually completed my PhD. In my grad school, I worked on cancer epigenetics with a focus on identifying DNA methylation biomarkers for cancer diagnosis. I also got involved in many collaborations and got exposed to several different research areas –definitely an enriching experience!  After completing my PhD I started a postdoc at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), in New York (USA), which lasted two and a half years. My postdoctoral research focused on breast cancer biology and tyrosine-kinase receptor signaling in relation to therapy resistance.

AD:    What motivated you to transition from laboratory science into scientific editor?

JC: As I considered my long-term career, I wanted to explore alternative paths to academic research that would, however, allow me to stay in touch with science. After considering different options, I realized that the world of scientific editing was the perfect one. This was because it’s a great opportunity to keep learning about the latest scientific advances on many different areas of research, which was exactly what I was looking for.

AD:   How did you train yourself into science editing? What resources during your Ph.D. or postdoc tenure served useful towards achieving your goals?

JC: Being trained in different areas of research and getting involved in different projects provided me with a broad view of scientific research and allowed me to create relationships with researchers in other fields. Also, being able to identify the main message when hearing a talk or reading a paper and detecting strengths and weaknesses –while participating in lab meetings and journal clubs-, are important skills that became very useful when I transitioned career paths. Lastly, towards the end of my postdoc I started to collaborate as a free-lance writer for different science blogs where I wrote about scientific advances; this helped me to develop my science communication skills.

AD: Can you share 5 most important skills that you highlighted in your CV/interview during the job application process?

JC: I think having a broad view of scientific research; a critical view and analytical capacity; showing ability to interact with people from different backgrounds; and being enthusiastic and open-minded about learning new concepts and ideas, are important skills in this type of job.

AD: As an editor at Nature Medicine, what does a normal day at work look like?

JC: Most of the time is devoted to reading scientific manuscripts that are submitted for consideration to the journal. As the editor responsible for cancer biology, I handle most of the manuscripts in this area; however, we also have editorial meetings every week in which we discuss those manuscripts we consider of highest interest, so I get to hear about manuscripts from other research areas, including neurobiology, cardiovascular research, infectious disease, etc. In addition to evaluating manuscripts, we also attend scientific meetings on many different topics. These are great opportunities to interact with researchers as well as to hear the most recent scientific discoveries.

AD: How do you achieve work-life balance?

JC: I think it’s important to maintain an equilibrium between work and life-out-of-work, and so I try to make time to practice sports as often as I can –either running around central park or leaving the city to do some hiking or skiing. Also, in a city like New York the cultural offer is huge, so we try to enjoy as much as possible the concerts and exhibitions going on at all times. And of course, traveling, either for a weekend or for longer times when possible, it’s a great way to disconnect and enjoy the time off.

********************************

We thank Javier for sharing his experience with us and we wish him success in his upcoming endeavors.

Javier Carmona was interviewed by Abhinav Dey. Abhinav is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of PhD Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs and ClubSciWri

(https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhinavdey)
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

 

Featured image source: Pixabay

Robert Hooke and the microscopic world

in Theory of Creativity by

This series highlights dead ol’ scientists, who went against the grain and started something cool. Most of them faced opposition to their ideas and beliefs, but they made some fundamental discoveries.

 

Illustrations by Leslee Lazaar

 

I am a neuroscientist, who is passionate about communicating science using visual art. I use illustrations, graphic design, infographics, collages and photography to condense complex scientific concepts into stylish and attractive visuals.

I have a PhD in Neuroscience from National Brain Research Centre (India) and post-doctoral research experience from Harvard Medical School (Boston, USA).

Apart from contributing content to many science blogs and magazines. I have authored a science book  for young adults called “The Five Senses”

Buy it here –  http://www.amazon.in/Five-Senses-Reference-Guide/dp/8184770340

You can reach me at leslee.lazar@gmail.com

MedNess-Pill for Alzheimer’s?

in ClubSciWri/SciBiz/Uncategorized by

Hello and welcome to yet another exciting week of MedNess. We bring the news from medicine and healthcare with greatest impact. It seems like; year 2017 will be the year of neurology! It is just the second month of the year and treatment strategies for various neurological disorders are making headlines.

Merck halts Phase 3 study on Alzheimer’s drug- another setback for amyloid theory

Clinical trials on Verubecestat- a small molecule BACE 1 and BACE2 inhibitor were called off after an interim analysis on Phase 2/3 studies did not show promising results. The analysis team concluded that there was “virtually no chance of finding a positive clinical effect”. However, another trial on patients with early symptoms of Alzheimer’s will continue. It has been speculated that the drug was too weak, or was dosed inadequately or the disease had progressed too far in patients for the drug to show concrete effect. The failure of this trial is another blow to the famous “amyloid theory”. According to this theory, the amyloid plaques are believed to be cause of the disease. Verubecestat is a beta secretase inhibitor. This disappointing cessation of clinical trial came months after Eli Lilly’s Alzheimer’s drug; Solanezumab failed in Phase 3 clinical trials in November last year. Unlike Verubecestat, Solanezumab targets plaque rather than beta secretase enzyme. This brings in disappointment not only for the patients but also for the researchers. The evidence suggests that once the disease has advanced and patients have established dementia, the removal of amyloid plaque might not yield effective outcome.

                              Do we have a pill to cure Alzheimer’s? Some quick facts:

  • Alzheimer’s is an irreversible brain disorder causing cognitive impairment
  • More than 5 million Americans are expected to suffer from Alzheimer’s
  • Sixth leading cause of death in the USA
  • No new drug has been introduced to provide symptomatic relief or to halt its progression since last decade

Picture source: https://unsplash.com/search/brain?photo=rmWtVQN5RzU

There are couple of drugs at various stages of trial that are being tested under the amyloid plaque hypothesis. These drugs either act on the plaque or beta secretase enzyme (BACE inhibitor) or available as amyloid immunotherapy. These candidate drugs are from Biogen, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Amgen and Novartis. Apart from BACE inhibitors, hopes are also high for Axovant’s intepirdine. Intepirdine is believed to improve cognitive symptoms by targeting receptor 5-HT6 that stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter. Interestingly, intepirdine was abandoned by GSK in 2010. The drug failed when compared to placebo. However, one study showed tangible effect on cognitive symptom when intepirdine was paired with the approved Alzheimer’s drug Aricept.

MedNess: Merck’s stock suffered severe blow after the announcement of cessation of clinical trial. On the contrary, shares of Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, Biogen and Roche, the fellow Alzheimer’s drug makers, increased. (Fierce Biotech, Business Insider, STAT news, The Boston Globe)

Axovant’s nelotanserin passes phase 2 study for Lewy body dementia

Axovant Sciences declared successful completion of phase 2 study of nelotanserin. The company is now setting its foot forward for phase 3 study that is expected to initiate later this year. Axovant Sciences reported preliminary results from the first small group of 11 patients.

Lewy body dementia or LBD is the second most common form of dementia. The hallmark characteristic of this form of dementia is the build up of abnormal proteins i.e. Lewy bodies thus affecting cognition, movement, behavior and alertness.

The study included patients with either LBD or Parkinson’s disease dementia. These patients experienced frequent hallucinations as assessed by mini mental state examination (Pharmaceutical Business Review)

CRISPR battle of patents: The Broad institute and MIT wins!

The scientists who first demonstrated the use of most powerful gene editing technology in biotech suffered a major blow on Wednesday, February 15, 2017, in their fight to gain exclusive rights on their invention. CRISPR gene editing system has revolutionized the field of biotechnology enabling scientists to make changes in DNA. Jennifer Doudna, a UC Berkely biochemist and her European collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier first published this gene editing technology in prokaryotic system (type of bacterial system) in 2012 in Science. UC Berkely and University of Vienna filed for U.S. patent in March 2013. There were 155 broad claims to the CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Feng Zhang, a biologist at the Broad Institute, demonstrated the use of this technology in eukaryotic cells (type of plant cells, animal cells and human cells). The Broad Institute filed their patent in 2013; months after Berkeley group filed their patent. Since the patent claims by Broad Institute were fewer than Berkeley’s, the Broad Institute’s patent was issued on April 15 2014 through accelerated approval while Berkeley group is still awaiting their approval. After the Broad Institute was granted their patent, UC Berkeley filed an interference claiming that the Broad Institute should not have been granted the patent since Doudna’s and Charpentier’s CRISPR research outlined in 2012 paved the way for Zhang’s research in eukaryotic system. The Broad Institute argued that the research was not obvious and the patent claims from both the institutes were different. The federal Patent Trial and Appeal Board ruled out UC Berkeley’s claims and sided with the Broad Institute. With this decision, UC Berkeley plans to move forward with their patent application, which if approved, will provide them right on the use of CRISPR on all cells. This would also mean that if the technology will be employed commercially, the companies would have to get licenses from both the Broad and the Berkeley group.

MedNess: The patent decision in the favor of the Broad institute increased the stocks of Editas Medicine by 30%. Editas Medicine licenses Broad’s patents for human genetic disorders. (Fierce Biotech, STAT News, The LA Times, NPR, Wired)

Are pharmaceutical industries in favor of Trump’s FDA pick? The story so far….

Donald Trump is pushing deregulation of FDA in order to accelerate the drug approval process. His ideology: drug costs are higher, drug approval process through FDA takes forever, drug companies are involved in “unfair foreign trade”, drugs should be manufactured in the USA and finally, drug companies should add the innovation factor for the better cure of the diseases. This recipe will work in favor of patients to bring the overall drug costs down and patients can have quicker access to the newer agents. Not to forget, drug manufacturing in the USA brings back jobs and the “fair trade” promotes revenue generation. This all sounds good, except, the pharmaceutical industries have opposing views. The most common complaint of every patient and every healthcare researcher is the never-ending drug approval process by the FDA. So suddenly, when we might be able to overcome this hurdle, why is everyone (read the researchers, pharmaceutical companies and informed patients) so anxious? The truth is bitter sweet. Even though we rant over the FDA, we still knew, the FDA has best interests at heart and such a tight screen is probably important for the safety of the patients. In addition, a 2011, study found that the FDA usually approves cancer drugs before Europe does. Moreover, the researchers at Yale found the FDA’s drug review is at least a month faster than Europe’s or Canada’s.

The pharmaceutical industries on the other hand are concerned about the high drug costs. In addition to the limited patient safety, deregulation in the FDA might not provide enough time for pharmaceutical companies to justify high costs of the drugs to patients and to insurance companies. The pharmaceutical companies will not be able to account for high costs of the drugs owing the limited safety and efficacy analysis that ultimately affects both the patients and the companies. President Trump said last month he has a “fantastic person” lined up for the role of the FDA commissioner. A survey conducted by Mizuho Securities of drug company executives indicated that 72 percent agreed Scot Gottlieb should be Trump’s pick to head the FDA. Until then, we all wait! (Reuters, The New York Times, Forbes)

 

              

The week that it was – 13th – 19th Feb, 2017

in ClubSciWri by

What an exciting week, with the CRISPR battle leaning towards Broad for the time being, and ISRO launching 104 satellites in one go! CSG couldn’t have been a silent watching space in the meanwhile. Let’s have a look into what our members have been up to in the last week.

What does it mean for UC’s appeal for the patent or for the rest of the users of CRISPR technology?

As we keep on adding more and more man-made objects in the space, do we also chance that they backfire? Or do we have solutions to mitigate them already?

USA sees further cuts in academic tenure track positions. Private investments get state funding boost on the other hand.

Princeton and other universities join hands to challenge Trump administration’s executive order to ban immigration from seven Muslim majority countries.

Jobs aren’t secure anymore. Don’t wait till you lose a job before you start looking for a new one.

As India tries to develop attractive programs to retain and regain its scientifically trained population, are the efforts still sufficiently good?

Is industry-academia collaboration the sustainable model to follow? Can it also ensure a safe and stimulating environment for fundamental research?

Take advantage of the growing pool of skills and experience that come with the increasing number of CSG members, as they come together to advise and help you design your resume appropriately for your job applications. Take a look at few of the opportunities open around.

CSG wishes you all a fruitful week ahead.

About the author:

Somdatta Karak works with Club SciWri as a project co ordinator and Corporate Liaison. She is a doctorate in neuroscience from Georg August University, Göttingen, Germany and has been a Teach for India fellow (2014-16). She loves putting her analytical skills to build newer and more sustainable solutions, enjoys traveling and communicating and takes every opportunity to expand her horizon.

You can reach her here.

 

 

 

From Bangalore to Boston-IISc Igem 2016

in SciWorld by

Many articles have already been written about research and the intricacies of a life in it. Most of them, though, are from the perspective of graduate students; written by graduate students themselves, or people reminiscent of their time in graduate school. This is probably because that is when a person generally evolves from a student into a researcher, and it is during this transition that the properties of life in research become more stark. The entire point of the IISc undergraduates participating in the iGEM competition was to shift this frame slightly to the left in the timeline. All of us were under the impression that the researcher in us, though far from being developed, has already started developing. iGEM, to us, was a path to verify this rather ambitious speculation of ours.

The IISC IGEM TEAM 2016 in BOSTON lead by Arunavo

iGEM stands for International Genetically Engineered Machines (I never really understood why the ‘i’ is in lowercase, but in defense of the ‘i’, ‘I’ never really ventured to determine the reason). As the name suggests, it is an international synthetic biology competition, mostly for undergraduates, though some high-school and over-graduate teams also participate in their respective categories. It started out as an effort from MIT to standardize plasmid backbones. Most people who do wet-lab work regularly in biology, would have faced this problem — “I have my gene of interest in plasmid A, and I want to put it downstream of some other gene in plasmid B. I need restriction enzymes m, n, o, and p for this relatively simple exercise, but there is no enzyme ‘q’ in the lab! Now all I have to do is get a quotation for it from the vendors, wait for about 6729 years for it to arrive while I finish a few more seasons of my favorite TV series, and lament after 20867 years how excruciatingly long a PhD in Experimental Biology takes to complete.” The next time a similar experiment needs to be performed, suddenly enzyme z is out of stock and the same sequence of events repeats. Instead, if most plasmids come with cut sites of a specified (and very small) set of restriction enzymes, having those in stock will be sufficient to do most research work. iGEM started an attempt to make a library of plasmids with specific cut sites (which, certainly, should not be present in your gene insert), and develop/validate this library either by using or improving the pre-existing plasmids (known as BioBricks), or making a new plasmid that fits the library criteria. Possibly the reason for the target participants being undergraduates, was because a failure for them is much less costly (with no PhD thesis at stake!), and because of this, they often tend to explore improbable regions, with hidden answers.

ABHIJEET KRISHNA in one of his moods

Like most student initiatives, the idea of forming an iGEM team came to us one day, over junk food, late at night, in our first semester at IISc. Arunavo, being a YouTube-phile, had come across a video of the formation of the iGEM team of King’s College, London, and suddenly, we thought, “Why can’t we have an iGEM Team?”. The next day, we went and talked to our instructors, who were pretty interested at the prospect, and took an active interest in discovering what the competition was and why it is worth participating in. But, like most sudden peaks of academic excitement and interest that originate in one’s hostel room, it died away soon. Thankfully, our instructor (Dr. Narmada Khare) had not forgotten about the conversation we had, and one day, while conversing with a PhD student at NCBS (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore), she came to know that this PhD student, known to her colleagues as Chaitra Prabhakara, was a member of the IIT-Madras iGEM team in her undergraduate days. Both Narmada and Chaitra considered the formation of an IISc iGEM Team a possibility, and Chaitra came and gave us a talk about her experience with the competition. That was the activation energy we needed, and a team suddenly formed out of thin air, comprising of 21 students (of course the number is not exact; all I can say is that it is of the same order of magnitude as the original number!). Anyone with any interest in biology was willing to help.

Aiswarya-You can tell she is the no nonsense person in the group

As many would have noticed in their personal life, or in the dynamics of academia around them, in the initial days after formation, the number of members in an undergraduate team follows a roughly exponential decay, until it hits a threshold number. Interestingly this threshold is often a number which is practically the minimum requirement of calling a collective a team. It finally settled down to the four of us — Abhijeet, Arunavo, Shreyas and I (Prabaha). Actually, at a point of time, the team was practically two people — Arunavo and Abhijeet, because Shreyas and I were busy discovering our startling incompetence at even starting to solve an assignment anytime before ‘the-night-before-the-deadline’. Now, since both of us were taking a lot of courses, once we solved an assignment at the last minute, the next day was always the last minute for some other assignment/test. Eventually, this oscillation in the number of members settled down, and the four of us consented in each other’s calling ourselves part of the IISc iGEM Team, which was still to be recognized by the authority – the Undergraduate Department.

Sreyas making the most of the Halloween

The next step was the rate determining step — convincing the authority of the existence and legitimacy of the first team from our college. No one had any problem with undergraduates trying out original research; after all, the entire objective of the UG program was to promote exactly this! But, the problem is, there exist factors like intellectual property rights, and many more words, whose exact definitions still elude me, which noobs like us had not exactly accounted for (to be truthful, we had, but iGEM was open source — a philosophy we wanted to be a part of, but the authority was still getting used to). Also, $!

The team and the mentorDr. Srinath T

After multiple discussions, Prof. Umesh Varshney, the UG Dean at that time told us one of the most encouraging things we had heard, “You people take care of the science, and we adults will handle the bureaucracy”. What more does an undergraduate need? We had spent almost one and a half years, discussing among ourselves, and getting our ideas validated (generally rejected) by Chaitra, Sachit (another PhD student from NCBS) and our biology instructors in finally coming up with an original idea that was interesting, and could be verified in the time window (roughly the summer time). But research needs funds, and though the UG department had funds, it was allocated for specific purposes. We discovered a competition called iBEC that was being organized by DBT (Department of Biotechnology) for the very first time that year, for Indian iGEM teams. The teams had to submit a grant proposal, and a select few teams would receive financial aid up to an amount of Rs. 10,00,000. We got the complete Rs. 10,00,000 that we had asked for. The UG department loaned us the registration fee (~Rs. 4,00,000), because the iBEC results were to be announced after the deadline to register for iGEM, and thus the IISc iGEM Team was officially established, lead by Prof. Deepak Saini from the MRDG department (Molecular Reproduction, Development, and Genetics) and Prof. Umesh Varshney, the contemporary UG Dean. We even took in 3 of our juniors — Aiswarya, Aneesh, and Ayan, so that next year’s team got a head start.

 

Then began a stream of failed experiments, with one or two successful ones in between, and the not-very-uncommon waiting periods for enzymes to get delivered (I know that the entire point of iGEM was to avoid this very thing, but one or two of the iGEM prescribed restriction enzymes were not the most commonly used ones in our labs). But that is all known to anyone who has done science; most people reading this article can teach advanced courses on failed experiments, and I am just a beginner. The challenging hurdles we faced, other than the scientific ones, were the non-scientific ones. I won’t be surprised if someone now shouts, “10 points from Ravenclaw for stating the obvious”, but what one needs to understand is that we had no idea about how to solve the non-scientific ones. The registration fee ensures the recognition of the existence of the team, and the shipment of a collection of pre-existing BioBricks; it does not cover for anything else! When the team goes to present at the Giant Jamboree (the event at which the teams present their work) another registration fee for each team member had to be paid, and that, again, covered nothing else. We had to arrange for our own lodging, food, and travel. We needed to raise more money for that, the amount promised by DBT was not even close to sufficient!

Thus, in addition to spending sleepless nights in the UG bio labs doing experiments, we started thinking about how to get more money. Our professors promised to manage the money, and even help us get it, but we had to come up with the sources. We jotted down the list of funding agencies that help startups, successful startups that might be interested in our work, people who might help us point towards a source of money, and started emailing any and everyone. One day I was talking to Kuldeep from MBU (Molecular Biophysics Unit), a PhD student I worked with in my first summer, lamenting about the soup we were in, and he told me about the existence of a Facebook group called Career Support Group (CSG), comprising largely of IISc students and alumni. I thought that this group might help stranded IISc students going abroad get a place to stay. It took me some time to discover that the pre-stated description of CSG was as complete as calling a university a place with classrooms.

Imagination has no bounds

The first post I made on the Facebook page was requesting the members to allow the team members to stay at their apartment(s) for the duration of their stay. The response was overwhelming! Many people offered us a place at their apartment, but it was not limited to that. Dr. Selvaraj Nataraja from the group proposed that we try crowd funding, so that we could book an apartment for the entire team, and gave us a seeding amount of $300. Dr. Ananda Ghosh, the founder of the group contacted us and advised us to campaign in the group — regularly post about who we are, what we are trying to do, about the program we are a part of, about the Jamboree and the associated opportunities and exposure, etc. In addition to learning to do science, we started learning people skills, and the methods of pitching and funding one’s research endeavors. Finally, after campaigning, we asked the CSG members to help us in organizing the fundraising, and Dr. Kushagra Bansal (an IISc alumnus, and currently a Postdoc at Harvard) took up the responsibility of collecting the money for us. Once again CSG surprised us with its response and within a week, we had raised enough money to book an apartment for the duration of our stay.

In the meantime, we were trying other avenues to get funding for our travel and sustenance, and we managed to convince the IT, BT and S & T department of the Karnataka Government that our project was worth funding and got a grant worth Rs. 6,00,000 (toward consumables) from them. Also, we had applied for the Indian Alliance (Wellcome-DBT) travel grant, which is generally meant for PhD students, but surprisingly, we got that grant too! IISc-AANA (Alumni Association of North America) also agreed to make payments for the rest of the predicted amount of money required. Finally, we had all the money we needed. All that was left was the science.

If one tries to track the evolution of the answer to the question “What exactly are we trying to show?” in a project, often, the trajectory takes massive downward leaps along the axis of ambition. Our case was not much different. Our idea made sense, the genetic circuits made sense, the two modules we made also made sense, and so did the expected crosstalk between them. The only thing that did not make sense was the amount of time all the experiments we designed were taking to perform, and the astounding number of parameters that cause failures and delay work by days — reasons like “The liquid nitrogen we brought this morning has evaporated” or “The glycerol in the polymerase caused the entire PCR mix to precipitate (it took us a good part of a month to discover that that was what was going wrong with our PCRs; also, some wells in the PCR machine were not working!)”. Finally, when the week before our date of travel arrived, we had got both the modules to work independently, but did not have time to show the effects of combining both of them in a cell. We decided to present what we had done, and that in itself involved new scientific work, but were dissatisfied at the fact that we did not quite live up to our soaring ambition.

The Award

Finally, Abhijeet, Arunavo, Aiswarya, Srinath (instructor), Shreyas and I headed towards USA to present the work of IISc-UGs to the world. All of us were so relieved at the last minute completion of experimental work and documentation, it did not occur to us that we should be feeling excited about where we were going and what we represented.

None of us had ever visited Boston, but we did not feel any degree of alienation when we reached, on account of Dr. Kushagra Bansal and Dr. Gajendra Dwivedi (another CSG member in Boston) picking us up from the airport. That night, all of us enjoyed the placid, dreamless sleep brought on by exhaustion from the journey. The next day, all of team but I explored Jamaica Plain while I went to meet a professor I had mailed about the coming summer. The meeting was fruitful, the trip not only enabled us to present our work but also got me a funded project for the next summer at Harvard. On that same day, Dr. Selvaraja took us all to dinner; at this point, Boston was almost a home away from home. It was after the dinner that we realized that we had a significant portion of our presentation to complete, thanks to some experimental success right before our departure. In addition to the content, the design of the presentation was crucial; a brief look up of past years’ winning presentation revealed style was almost as important as content and delivery. And thus began a highly awkward yet effective process of outsourcing the design to India; a couple of our peers — Prokash and Sai had volunteered to draw the figures and design the layout of the presentation respectively. Another realization struck us on the night of the dinner – the poster needed significant revision; it has too much text and too few illustrations. We sat through most of that night annotating the pdf version of the poster with the changes and mailed it to Sai to implement. We needed the poster on the very next day!

We made the poster deadline (thanks to a nearby Kinko’s and the design team’s efficiency) and rehearsed the presentation in a room set up very similar to the way the presentation hall would be. We realized some visibility problems (some of the text was too small) and headed back home. Further changes were mailed to the exhausted design duo and we continued with a flurry of rehearsals during the next day and a half that finally culminated in our actual presentation. It went well, except for some unrehearsed time allotments to the different presenters. A wave of relief washed over all of us. Only 2 more days of poster presentations and we would know the result of our year and a half of blood, sweat and tears. We ended up winning a Bronze medal in the competition (not to be mistaken as the third prize; many gold, silver and bronze medals are given out, somewhat like the Olympiads). We had also contributed to something called the ‘InterLab Studies’ where volunteering iGEM teams across the world perform a particular prescribed experimental protocol, and produce robust statistically significant data. The theme for 2016 was standardizing fluorescence quantification. When we attended the InterLab committee’s presentation, we heard some ‘IISc iGEM Team’ had suggested a correction to the experimental protocol, that had reduced the error margins by 100x. “Must be a team of astoundingly brilliant students”, we thought.

We also spent a significant amount of our time watching other teams present. A trend we observed about the teams whose work was extremely elaborate (a large fraction of these teams eventually went on to win lots of awards) was the significant role of graduate students and Postdocs – some of these teams had up to 20 such researchers acting as mentors in addition to the PIs. And suddenly it hit us — a group of more experienced grad students, along with us charged-up UGs, could have hastened the lengthy process of troubleshooting our protocols, saving us precious time. Research requires both innovation and experience and the latter we lacked.

Overall, the experience was extremely valuable, not only in enabling IISc to put out better iGEM teams in the years to come but also in providing us undergrads a taste of all aspects of research, not limited to the science of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prabaha Gangopadhyay is an undergraduate from Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, India. Year: 3rd, Major: Biology This is what he has to say “I like learning about mechanisms underlying the existence of life. I find myself comfortable in the overlap of theoretical and experimental biology, because of the extreme interdisciplinary nature of the area, and being at IISc has allowed me to explore it. I am interested in doing my final year project, and eventually my PhD, in Neuroscience. Other than science, I love literature, classical music, and, like any other undergrad, food!”

You had the Right to Remain Silent

in Sci-IP by
Editor’s Note: Silence is Golden, isn’t it? After reading #ClubSciWri’s Sunday Blog from Syam Anand, you will realize how the complications in the patent war on CRIPSR-Cas9 have resulted from the statements made by parties whose vested interests are at stake. So next time when you have a plan to cash your intellectual crop, look before you speak! –Abhinav Dey 

The patent system adopted by the constitution of the United States of America, is a pursuit to protect the rights and liberties of the individual vis-à-vis the interests of the state and the community it serves. It puts down common sense rules and laws to bestow privileges called patents to rightful inventors for a limited amount of time. Is it perfect? No. Is it good? Yes. Can it be improved? Certainly! Are the concerned people working to improve it? Yes.

Before the patent system, one should understand that we mostly had monopolies bestowed upon individuals based on the whims and fancies of the royals or whoever ruled. That was hardly democratic. The idea of the patent system (Venice had one of the oldest) was to put in place a democratic setup with weights and balances. Further, it meant to incentivize inventions and spur economic activity by stating rights and liabilities in commerce. From time to time, weights piling up on one side upset the balance. That is a natural consequence and the system usually adapts. It is a pursuit and not a static state.

One of the ways the changes for the better (at least that is the idea) happen is through amendments to old laws and passing new laws that replace old ones. Most of the wisdom that drives changes is derived from case law. Patent rights are often fought hard in the USPTO after a patent is granted and beyond that in the judicial system. Why? Because the outcomes have huge economic consequences- real jobs, real lives and real advancements in science and technology are at stake. There are aspects of the patent law that the USPTO can rely on to decide rights. For the aspects of the law beyond the USPTO’s gambit, the judicial system helps to decide rights and liabilities.

The title is a quote taken from Miranda rights, legally required to be read to any person in the United States of America by law enforcement personnel before they are interrogated to preserve the admissibility of their statements against them in criminal proceedings. The full version is

“You have the right to remain silent.

Anything you say will be used against you in a court of law.

You have the right to an attorney during interrogation;

if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you”.

Much like criminal law, things that you say and do before and after filing a patent can affect your case. This could be anything- interviews, opinions, articles, conference talks, abstracts, emails…anything of which there is a record that can be accessed. Having a record can be as good or as bad as having no record. To top it all, you do not have a right to an attorney, when it comes to patent law. You will have to afford one yourself. Many of these aspects are technology-neutral. That is the key here- the technology and the finer details matter, but not in the way one would normally think.

In that sense, the CRISPR patent war that is going on currently in the USPTO (United States Patents and Trademark Office) is not unique. There are many cases prior to this that asked whether inventive step(s) were involved in taking something from one system and making it work in another?

The tests are simple:

  • Can an ordinary person skilled in the art (in this case a molecular biologist) have taken the system that Doudna disclosed in her patent application be practiced in the system that Zhang ALSO disclosed in his application without further experimentation?
  • Are there admissions that Doudna made (anywhere in any form of which there is a record) that incriminates herself in the sense that the invention was just an idea and the enablement (guarantee that it will work as described) was not present at the time of application?
  • Did Zhang enable the invention before Doudna did although she described the idea first?

If Doudna incriminated herself, making statements that it is not easy to move the system from prokrayotes to eukaryotes, but still has proof that she none the less did this successfully in eukaryotes, before Zhang did, she wins.

Does this mean that everyone has to license from the winner in this case? Not really. They have to license only in the countries were Broad Institute or UC Berkeley has pursued patents and obtained rights. Elsewhere, everyone can have fun with CRISPR-Cas9 and make money or go broke. Probably, even more so in countries where patent protection is lax.

About the author:

Syam

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

About the illustrator:

Ipsa Jain is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing.

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The week that it was 4th Feb – 11th Feb

in ClubSciWri by

Although we are in the shortest calendar month, CSGians continue to make every moment count with their active participation and enriching discussions in the forum. I’ve cherry-picked some of the discussion and highlights from the past week in this post.

America’s ‘Trump’ card predicts a crackdown

USA biotech industries dread a crackdown with a travel ban for seven muslim countries and changes to the scope of H1B visa. It was sigh of relief when the court , recently rejected the travel ban, emphasising the place of judicial authority in constitutional democracy. Along the same lines, CSGian Soumya Roy Chowdhury summarised taxes and returns for the benefit of J1 visa holders.

When Disease disrupts a Degree

CSGians applaud the courage of graduates who fought medical emergencies such as cancer while surviving a PhD, in a compilation of true stories by Jyoti Madhusoodanan. Although a supervisor’s support is of utmost importance in these situations, many issues such as financial insecurity and PhD-related anxieties have haunted these survivors as they shuttled between the lab and active treatments.

We’ll beat Cancer together

While the notorious Salmonella (food-poisoning bacteria) shrinks tumours in mice , T-cell therapy with chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) is developing as promising new alternative in cancer immunotheraphy.

Love thy neighbours…

Nerdist published the ‘Chart of Solar Explorations‘ depicting graphically the very many journeys we’ve undertaken as a planet to get to know our ‘neighbours’ in the universe. On the other hand, Sathguru Management Consultants plan to initiate the Innovation in Food and Agriculture Fund (IFAF) to feed the multitudes on our planet.

The Science Filmfare 2017

The AAAS 2017 Science Showcase is in town for those interested in screening of science films and conversations with award-winning film-makers and scientists.

 

 

Resume Roadmap

CSG this week shared enormous posts listing do’s and don’ts for freshers to help them apply for their dream job. Some of the interesting ones were a list of no-no’s for industrial resumes, advice on tackling experience expectation, networking tips to face a room full of strangers and a prep recipe before you head-start the job-hunt.

Preparing your way ahead : Sign-posts and more

CSG members engaged in a detailed discussion of how to deal with a difficult but big-wig bosses in academia while CSGian Smita Salian Mehta encourages people who have successfully made their career transition to pull up their socks and keep paving their way ahead.

Funding Opportunities 

Funding agencies open applications for research in Europe, UK(Newton International Fellowship), India (SERB) and more (Marie Curie). Please contact Venkateswarlu Kanamarlapudi (UK) and Nikhil Gupta  (SERB) for advise if you wish to apply. Women leaders in science are invited to join hands with international network of talented women and graduate students to apply for AACR travel grant.

Together we stand….

In response to new expectations and changes put forth by Trump’s administration, hashtags such as #actuallivingscientist and #dresslikeawoman continue to trend on Twitter. Come and join the new social media vibe to promote our scientific community. CSGians are also requested to participate in a poll to gauge the relevance of CSG in your scientific career.

Have a great week ahead

Nisha Peter

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