Scientists Simplifying Science

Monthly archive

April 2017

The week that it was – 23rd to 30th April, 2017

in ClubSciWri by
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The week in the scientific community has been hugely highlighted with plans and meetings around ensuring that the March for Science momentum doesn’t fizzle out. And communication of unaltered facts has clearly gathered a lot of attention and has been rightly prioritized. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales launches Wikitribune to provide ‘correct facts’. University of Split, Croatia and Rita Allen Foundation with WGBH could not have been better in timing the announcement of their Summer School in Science Communication and fellowship in science communication, respectively. Plos Pathogens has started a new series – Research Matters – for researchers to write how their fundamental research matters. NASA goes public with its 104,000 pictures, videos and audio files. The European Research Council is actively gathering data from researchers in Europe as well as outside to know how to get the community more engaged in publishing in open access journals. Mozilla has offered paid fellowships for 10 months to train those with ideas in open access science and help them materialize their ideas. Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has joined hands with BioArxiv (the open access repository for life science research from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory). On a local scale, initiatives like Pint of Science and Pune drunk on Science (details available on Facebook, at the moment) are gaining popularity. After all, open access to science is going to be beneficial to all – lay public to entrepreneurs and industrialists.

Another benefit of having science in open repositories will also help in better peer review. The current way of evaluating research is killing the risk appetite among researchers, limiting scientific progress. It becomes imperative to discuss this now as Springer decided to retract 107 of its papers from Tumor Biology for being published with ‘fake reviews’. On the other hand, the field of oncology is also going through one of its most exciting times – Nanoparticle vaccine for immunotherapy, to target multiple types of cancers, developed by researchers at UT Southwestern, is the talk of the town now. And for novices in this area, you can’t miss the overview of the exciting and inspiring development of this field, from Allison and Sharma‘s eyes, the successful couple of the field.

Potentially entrepreneurial ideas are regularly being churned out of IITs, with IIT Madras this time, developing a hand glove to study the hand kinematics – a promise to help detecting the severity of Parkinson’s disease, and also translate the hand movements into speech. An MIT graduate student- an MIT – Tata fellow – is working in Mumbai towards developing ready to use therapeutic food to fight malnutrition in India. WHO is ready to start clinical trials for its malaria vaccine in three African countries. It might now be possible to think of growing premature human fetuses, of 23 weeks and above, outside wombs. If you are buzzing with an idea that can be translated, it might interest you to know that Millipore Sigma has joined hands with LabCentral, a nonprofit startup incubator in Massachusetts.

Despite these, hardships of traditional academicians haven’t changed much yet, with the indecisiveness of a postdoctoral tenure and the heavily unfavorable ratio of academic positions available with the number of applicants for tenure track. The first draft of Trump’s budget for this fiscal year is out, with sizable cuts in biomedical funding. The proposal claims that better planning will ensure achievements aren’t compromised. It has been a year since Germany announced plans to introduce 1000 tenure track positions in academia. University of Göttingen is trying to set an example by inviting suggestions from the current postdoctoral fellows in penning the proposal.

And finally let’s talk of the jobs available around –

  • Immunologists, take note of scientist positions at Biogen, Antibody Discovery, MA, NIBR Biologics Centre, MA, and multiple positions open at CSIR-IMTECH, Chandigarh in areas of therapeutic R&D and drug discovery
  • Electrophysiology experts might want to check the scientist position, at Synapses and Circuits, Roche, Basel, Switzerland
  • Check the exciting scope of ‘designing your own role’ at Chan Zuckerberg Biohub
  • In this age of CROs, know what are the skills that are sought for in a Clinical investigator, and see if the position of Clinical Trial Manager at Celgene suits you.
  • For those interested in advancing and revamping science education, check this interesting postdoctoral fellowship at Yale-NUS College, Singapore
  • Those interested in exploring industrial collaborations while being in academia, take a look at calls from Boehringer Ingelheim for research proposals around GPR68, and an industrial postdoctoral position at Biogen, MA to study neurodegeneration
  • Interested in working on RNA mediated gene regulation? Check the Research Associate position at Cambridge, UK
  • For the non-biologists wanting to transition into biomedicine, Francis Crick Institute is looking for group leader positions in physical sciences
  • For the psychologists among us, there is a lecturer position open at University of Reading, UK
  • For those imaging lovers with commendable interpersonal skills, see if the Microscopy Specialist position at PicoQuant, Berlin, Germany interests you
  • Those without a PhD and wanting to explore industry might want to consider the Scientific Assistant position at the Biorefinery department, Luxembourg Institute of Health

And if you are confused among what to choose from, do consider the possibilities of having multiple careers at once – there are many now who can vouch for its merits.

Nevertheless know the essentials of effective networking from the uber successful in the industry – Chris Fralic talks of his networking stories in the pre-LinkedIn era. And today with technology helping you in your pursuit, you really don’t have to wait for an opportunity to open up to express your will to work with someone – just cold email, the right way though. But at the same time, it has also become more common to have not-in-person interviews. Know how to ensure you make the best impressions on the telecommunication based interviews.

And when this gets too daunting and overwhelming, make sure you are getting enough of that sun. With the regular CSG meets happening all around, here is an interesting outdoorsy and nerdy enough an idea that you might want to consider. Happy May coming soon – we will ensure that you use the summer cheer to the fullest to grow personally and professionally!

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.



The time of philosophers

in SciWorld by

Editor’s Note: With our cameras, we ‘try’ to capture time, well preserved in our sequential snapshots on a daily basis. But have you ever wondered how our consciousness perceives the sense of time and the temporal sequences? Is it a mere birth of our illusionist memories enabling us to differentiate the past, present and thereafter the future? Or maybe time is real and not a product of our mind- well quantified and qualified in the metric sense.

If these questions ever flooded your mind while wrapping up your To Do List, you are at the right place. Do not miss the Sunday Blog at ClubSciWri where Gaston revisits the controversies on the physical nature of time and sheds light on what neuroscientists/philosophers have to say on the enigma of time. – Rituparna Chakrabarti

In the novel A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Within a budding grove), written by Marcel Proust in 1919, Madame Swann says: ¨The soldier is convinced that a certain interval of time, capable of being indefinitely prolonged, will be allowed him before the bullet finds him, the thief before he is taken, men in general before they have to die.¨ Such a high hope also pervades Jorge Luis Borges’ tale El Milagro secreto (The secret miracle), included in the collection Ficciones (Fictions).

Jorge Luis Borges

In this narration, we learn that a writer is going to be executed at 9 am. As he stands in front of the firing squad, thanks to an unexpected intercession, his death is momentarily suspended. First surprised, then grateful, he realizes that the world around him came to a timely pause. The bullets froze halfway during their trip, and the curls of smoke from his last cigar have not yet dissipated. In his mind, however, that fraction of an instant will take a full year. Enough time to revise his entire literary output. Immobile, fixed like a pinned butterfly, he goes through Virgil’s poems. He takes the opportunity to mentally finish a sluggish play that had been waiting for a proper end, but just when he found it, he was fatally shot. It was 9.02 am. Two precious minutes were magnanimously granted, not a second more.

Borges argued that time could not have possibly stopped because the writer’s thoughts were still flowing: in short, it is our mind that dictates the tempo. Inasmuch as we are consciously aware of ourselves and what surrounds us, time persists. But what time was he talking about? The internal time of the unfinished play, the writer’s life, the external time of the firing squad and the story itself all converge on a multiple epilogue, leaving us to the idea that Death correctly realigns all timelines, closing all books in synchrony. This tale points to a singularity: an apparent divorce might exist between the metric sense of time and its tensed counterpart.

Proust’s novel inaugurated a new direction in storytelling, featuring a low-pace parade of subjective states, where we often find vignettes, psychological studies of characters and reminiscences. These two examples help to illustrate an intriguing idea: do we use our consciousness to sense time? We appear to perceive events unfurling over that canvas which is our conscious experience. Interestingly, we also grasp their temporal sequence. In this essay and its follow-up, we will succinctly revisit two significant controversies on the nature of time and learn what neuroscientists and philosophers have to say on this elusive subject.

La plage de Cabourg (The beach at Cabourg), painted by René Xavier François Prinet (1910).
Most of Within a budding grove takes place on a seaside resort called Balbec, probably inspired by
Cabourg. © RMN (Musée d’Orsay)/ Hervé Lewandowski.

Time recaptured

One of the first attributes that come to mind when we talk about time is the duration of events. In the Vth century, Saint Augustine reasoned that whatever is measured and computed as duration cannot be in the past, because whatever happened, ceased to be and therefore cannot be perceived any longer, nor it can be in the present since the present lacks any duration. To solve this insurmountable problem he invoked memory as the necessary bridge between the two.

In The experience and perception of time (Le Poidevin, 2015) we learn that E.R. Clay and William James coined the term “specious moment”. This interval of time goes from a few seconds to about a minute, and represents a duration of time that is perceived both as present and as temporally extended. However, the concept of presentness is more complicated than it may appear: we can perceive something that is happening right now, but we can also momentarily hold something in our short-term memory and still recognize it as belonging to the past. But then what is pastness, if such a word exists? Pastness could also be encoded in our memory because it is our memory that forms past-tensed beliefs. According to this view, by merely having a memory of something, we could know that that something already happened, lying further away from our “specious moment.” This approach to characterize past events is troublesome because we can also have false memories: we can recall events that never occurred.

Der Entdecker (The discoverer), painted by Siegfried Zademack (2012).

The “specious moment” could, therefore, define a sliding window over which we integrate what goes on in our conscious experience. The contents of this time interval could be safely labeled as our present experience at any given moment and then moved for storage to vacate space for new incoming experiences. Failure in updating this register could probably compromise our common functioning mode. Many authors believed in the “strength of the memory trace” as a way of explaining how the past is engraved: the older the event, the stronger its persistence. But again, here we encounter a problem because recent events can fade more quickly than older ones.

How do we establish a time order of events? In his article, Le Poidevin discusses two alternative explanations. According to D.H. Mellor, the time at which we formed experiences specifies the temporal order of events, following a protocol that would be insensitive to the contents of those memories. Daniel Dennett’s view is exactly the opposite: the brain might establish the right causal order of events, taking account of the content of the experiences and inferring the correct temporal order.

Newton, Leibniz, and Kant

In the early XVIIIth century Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz held a controversy over the fatherhood of infinitesimal calculus. But this was not the only point of divergence: the nature of time would prove to be another intellectual battlefield. In his article Kant’s views on space and time (Janiak, 2016), Andrew Janiak digests Kant’s contributions under the light of the XVIIth century metaphysics and the Newton-Leibniz debate. In this context, if time was real and not a product of our mind, then it had to be a substance in its right or a property of a substance.

Newton believed that time was an actual entity that could be objectively measured, a substance that could persist on its own. Leibniz, on the contrary, thought that time was inherent to objects and emanated from their relations.According to Leibniz, time does not exist independently of objects and is merely a property of them. What was Kant’s take on these two conflicting views? He rejected the absolutist transcendental realism supported by Newton, arguing that time is not a substance because it is causally inert and inaccessible (it cannot be affected by interactions with things) and also imperceptible. He also attacked Leibniz’s version of transcendental realism, claiming that time does not depend on substances for its existence.

Top view: Leibniz’s manuscript sketching the first calculating machine. Bottom: Leibniz’s calculating machine from 1694.

To escape from this gridlock, Kant introduced a groundbreaking concept: time is an a priori intuition. In Kant’s terminology, intuition is an objective, singular and immediate conscious representation that becomes apprehensible right away. For instance, I have a direct conscious intuition of “my laptop” right in front of me, e.g. I can represent it without invoking any accessory bit of information. A concept, however, is something different. Concepts are also objective but general and mediate. To clarify the representation of “my laptop” as a concept, I would need to refer to other concepts like “computing portable device”, “battery operated”, “operator of symbols”, etc. Now for Kant, time is not something objective and real, neither a substance nor the property of a substance; instead it is something ideal, a product of our mind.But is it a concept? He argues that it cannot be a concept because we cannot grasp it by making reference to other concepts that define it; in short, we cannot place it within other classes. Time pertains to a class of its own.

After discussing concepts and intuitions as different types of objective conscious representations, Kant went one step further and reflected on how we get to those representations. He distinguished between an a priori way of representing things, which does not require previous experience, and an empirical way. He concluded that time is an a priori intuition because it is an innate product of our mind and we can represent it without any prior experience of it. This idea was the stepping stone to the development of his philosophical system, known as transcendental idealism.

Einstein and Bergson: Relative time vs. absolute time

In her book The physicist and the philosopher (Canales, 2015), Jimena Canales offers a gripping account of the famous debate on the nature of time held in 1922 between Henri Bergson and Albert Einstein at the Societé Française de Philosophie in Paris. This clash and its ramifications sent ripples through the international community of physicists and philosophers and ultimately led to their alignment on either side of an intellectual rift that would oppose two fundamentally different views on this subject. Canales makes the point that this controversy, that ended with the setback of Bergson’s influence, ushered in a period of expansion of science as a dominant framework to understand our world.

For Bergson, time included aspects that we cannot entirely capture by a materialistic approach such as the one preconized by science. He wanted to overcome Descartes’ mechanical view of the universe and claimed that our subjective experience of time is a necessary part of its study. The mystery of time, which was the fabric of the universe and our lives, transcended any attempt to quantify it; arid science, with its emphasis on clocks and measuring devices, could only grasp it partially. He believed that time was absolute, making itself evident through the constant change of the universe, like an unstoppable vital impulse (élan vital) that traversed all processes. Bergson was not so much interested in clocks: he wanted to know, first of all, why we are obsessed with time and why we created watches in the first instance.

Albert Einstein on a picnic day. Albert Einstein Archives / Princeton University Press

Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, but he would only receive the prize one year later and not for relativity. An internal memorandum of the Nobel Institute later revealed that Bergson’s critique had been central to this decision. Although in 1919 Sir Arthur Eddington had provided experimental evidence supporting Einstein’s predictions that light bends in gravitational fields, relativity was far from being widely accepted. Even the people whose work had been seminal for the development of this theory were skeptical about its implications.

Henri Poincaré, for instance, did not believe that it was revolutionary and indeed took sides with Bergson against materialism and mechanistic philosophies. He was a supporter of conventionalism, a current of thought that maintained that scientists choose one theory in particular just because it is convenient.Einstein’s view was exactly the opposite; he believed that theories were meant to be a model of the Universe and not just a suitable formulation. Likewise, Hendrik Lorentz, who developed the relativity equations together with Einstein, believed that there was a difference between time and space and continued to look for an absolute concept of time.

An important consequence of relativity implied that the time-space frame of a moving object slows down and contracts when measured in the observer’s frame. If we would place a clock in a space rocket and another one on Earth, which clock would give the correct time? Einstein would reply both because time depends on the system of reference and is not absolute, as Bergson maintained. Einstein accepted that we could have a psychological understanding of time, (for instance when we are too anxious or bored), but this was not objective, and therefore irrelevant to its study. Einstein accused Bergson of objectifying psychological aspects of time that are purely mental constructs. Bergson, in turn, stated that by considering a time-space continuum and denying an absolute time, Einstein “was grafting a dangerous metaphysics into his science.”

Other efforts tried to reconcile these two opposing views. Heidegger sketched a possible third way that could overcome this duality. He argued that human life does not happen in time, but rather is time itself. Heidegger incorporated the dimension of “everydayness”, where the time measured by clocks, the time of the Universe would be interwoven with the psychological time, the time of our lives.

Perhaps it would be fitting to end this article in the same way that we started it.Bergson’s vitalism and its emphasis on the psychological intuition of time were a significant influence in Marcel Proust’s writing. Indeed both men shared more than philosophical interests: Bergson married Proust’s cousin.

“The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains.” (Madame Swann in Within a budding grove).


  1. Marcel Proust, A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, Editions Gallimard, 1954.
  2. Jorge Luis Borges, El milagro secreto (en Ficciones), Emecé, 2004.
  3. Le Poidevin, Robin, “The Experience and Perception of Time”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  4. Janiak, Andrew, “Kant’s Views on Space and Time”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy(Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  5. Jimena Canales. “The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the debate that changed our understanding of time”. Princeton University Press, 2015.


Feature image: Pixabay

About the Author: My name is Gaston Sendin, and I am a neurobiologist who is passionate about science communication and the history of art. The sensory systems are particularly attractive to me, because they can be exquisitely tuned to specific features of our world. I have so far used electrophysiological and optical methods to study sensory processing in the zebrafish and in mice, focusing on vision and hearing.

After finishing my studies in Biology at the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina), I went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the International Max-Planck Research School & the University of Göttingen (Germany). Doing research in sensory neurobiology, I was a post-doctoral fellow at the MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge (UK), the Department of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Groningen (Netherlands) and the Inserm-Institute for Neuroscience of Montpellier (France).

Ernesto Llamas: the sketching science guy

in Face à Face/Theory of Creativity by

Sketching Science is a well-known blog amongst the scientist community. Most of the posts relate to the guy who cries after a PCR fails, and stays inside the lab irrespective of weather and time. The wit and humor packed in the sketches have supplemented the constant need for coffee. The blog has become one of the most popular amongst the scientists in a short span of just a year. The main blog does not reveal the identity of the cartoon maker or the model. The first revelation, no, the guy in the images is not the cartoonist. The Sketching Science guy is a lab colleague of Ernesto Llamas, the creator of Sketching Science. Secondly, No, I am not revealing the name of the model (perhaps some other day). On behalf of Club Sciwri, I spoke to Ernesto. Frequently, he uses two tools: the micropipette and the iPad stylus. In this post, he shares with us his beginning, his present, and his future aspirations.

I.J. How did you choose to become a scientist?

E.L.  My father is a psychiatrist and my mother a painter. So, since I was a child, I was surrounded by both science and art. My dad inspired me to go into life sciences whereas my mother was a significant influence to get into the art world. When I was about to finish high school, I heard about Genomics, and I was very keen to study it. However, back then this field was still emerging in Mexico, and only two Universities had this degree. Thus, it was tough to get admitted. I tried, but I was not accepted. Then, I decided to study Biology at the best University of my country, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Moving to Mexico City and studying Biology opened up my mind and horizons. I found my passion for molecular biology.

After becoming a Biologist, I decided to pursue a Masters in Biochemistry. During my Master’s I started working in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. It was the first time I did real experiments using a micropipette. I was very interested in chloroplast biology.

After finishing my Masters, I wanted to move out from Mexico. Science is a career that allows you to travel and meet new people, and interact with them, either via conferences or going to different laboratories. I was very motivated with the idea of studying a Ph.D. abroad. I applied to several places, was rejected by some but finally, I came to Barcelona to the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG). Nowadays, I am still working on plant biology using Arabidopsis as my model. I am in my 3rd year and planning to defend my thesis this year.  I have been able to publish some of my work from my Masters and Ph.D.

I.J. Since when have you been sketching and painting? How did Sketching Science come about?

E.L. Since I was a kid, I have been painting. In my school notebooks, there were sketches and doodles everywhere. I also took some painting lessons where I had the opportunity to learn watercolor and oil painting. Once I joined the university, I did not get much time to paint, sketch or doodling. However, during my Ph.D., I re-discovered my passion for art. I received an iPad as a gift, and I started to using it to take notes, and again, there were digital doodles and sketches everywhere. I was attending to seminars, and while taking notes, I was drawing the speaker, the images, and charts shown in the presentation.

I am a fan of social media; I used so see all the amazing blogs like AsapSCIENCE, PHD Comics, IFLScience, and others. I noticed that many others do not show much visual material about the life of scientists in a research lab. So, I decided to illustrate everyday struggles in a molecular biology lab.

In the beginning, I decided to open a Twitter account, but I did not get much response there, so I started using Instagram and then Facebook back in March 2016. It has been a year since I started and I am very thankful for the help provided by wife, lab mates and the “Sketching Science guy” that give me a hand to recreate the humoristic situations that happen daily in the lab.

Experiments do not always work correctly. Doing science can bring you frustration, but you have to keep working and fix your mistakes. You just have to make fun of your errors and keep going. For example, if your PCR did not work, you just need to laugh about it and try it again, and that is the message I want to spread with my posts.

That’s how it started, and I think it is going well because the number of Sketching Science followers are still increasing.

I.J. How did it evolve into a business?

E.L. I am just starting to transform Sketching Science into a business. It is super hard to manage a business and finish a Ph.D. Right now I am quite busy, trying to write my first author paper and my Ph.D. thesis. Some companies have contacted me to make some advertisement for them, and it is rewarding because my work is appreciated and support me to keep creating content. I am planning to make an appropriate business platform. Once I finish my Ph.D., my plan is to have a proper website with engaging images to communicate science.  I would like to have some sponsored content to create the website and keep Sketching Science’s social networks growing.

But for now, I am just focusing on finish my P.h.D. and is a lot of work. Right now, it’s just my wife and me who are doing this; she helps me with social media and with the upcoming website. To transform Sketching Science into a proper science communication platform will take some time. I will need some funds or financial aid to become a professional.

However, I am looking for post-doc positions right now. But sometimes it is hard to get one. I do want to follow an academic career. Nevertheless, if I do not get a suitable position, I will focus on Sketching Science a 100% and look for other options during the meantime.

Science communication is a relevant thing right now, so I think it’s okay to keep developing Sketching Science and follow a scientific career.

I.J. How supportive is your PI and your institute?

E.L. My PI is very supportive. He knows what I am doing. I also make a lot of cartoons for lab presentations, and I think he likes them. Right now, I am helping him create visuals for reviews and posters. We are also planning to come up with a book. Regarding CRAG, I think most of the people there know that I am the creator of Sketching Science.

I.J. Why do you think visual media is relevant in science communication?

E.L. So, a text is not very inviting. I am more a visual person. I believe that a colorful and balanced image is more exciting and inviting. For instance, when I see a post on Facebook with an attractive image, I automatically click the link attached to the picture and I read the article. Definitively, posting visual content on social networks, it’s a powerful tool to communicate science nowadays.

I.J. How has been your personal experience juggling a Ph.D. and a Facebook page?

E.L. When I started I was posting one drawing per day. Every day was tough, so now I create one once in a week. I am busy most of the week; I try to make something during nights, or in the train on my way to the Institute. Particularly, I work mostly during weekends creating stuff for Sketching Science. Designing the sketches somehow releases my stress.

I.J. What kind of feedback do you receive from your followers?

E.L. I have had some great responses for some of my posts. Some months ago, I made a post about the PCR protocol, and one follower recreated the whole set of sketches taking photos of himself. For the post “Summer is coming” another fan sent me a picture of him wearing the same lab coat, shirt, gloves, and sunglasses just like the Sketching Science guy! It is nice to see how people recreate some of my work.

Albus Dumbledore said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” On behalf of the scientific community, I thanked Ernesto for bringing the much need break from the cycles of frustration.


About the author

Ipsa Jain is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing. She posts on Facebook and Instagram as Ipsawonders.

Dr. Neha Bhudha edited the article.





Transitioning as an Editor at Cell Press: Face-to-Face with Colleen Brady

in Face à Face by

Scientific conferences are major networking events for scientists at various stages of their careers. Some find collaborators, some find career development opportunities, but nevertheless everyone builds their network. I met Colleen in a Keystone meeting while presenting my poster and it was nice to know that she is an Emory alumnus. We discussed science not only in experimental aspects but also in her career as a scientific editor. Not only did she agree to share her career transition story, she also introduced me to a treasure trove of similar stories from editors at Cell Press with advice for those wanting to be an editor as well as perspectives from different editors who give their background and reasons for becoming an editor. In this Face-to-Face interview with Colleen Brady (CB), we will learn how her editorial career path to Cell Press shaped-up while honing her science communication skills as a bench scientist at Stanford and Harvard universities.- Abhinav Dey (AD)

AD: Please tell us about your academic background?

CB: Before coming to Cell Press, I completed a postdoc at Massachusetts General Hospital and a PhD in Cancer Biology at Stanford University.  My training included some breadth beyond one technique or system, which was helpful preparation for academic editing.  As a PhD student, I studied the transactivation functions of the tumor suppressor p53 using mouse and cell model systems.  As a postdoc, I learned the zebrafish system and studied retinal regeneration using chemical biology screening techniques.  I also enjoyed teaching as both a student and a postdoc, which helped build my communication skills.

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

CB: I spend much of my time reading and evaluating science.  Our team meets almost every day to have an editorial meeting where we discuss manuscripts under consideration, including newly submitted manuscripts as well as those that have undergone peer review.  For new manuscripts, we read them and consider them within the framework of our journal and in the context of previous publications.  We consider the strength of the data as well as the level of conceptual advance over previously published work and whether the overall manuscript aligns with our journal’s scope.  When we decide to send a paper for peer review, I investigate potential reviewers with expertise in the key areas of the paper. After peer review, I synthesize the reviewer feedback along with our original editorial assessment to determine the best course for the manuscript.  I spend a portion of each day writing decision letters and responding to author inquiries and appeals.  My job also includes other activities such as going to conferences and visiting labs, where I can learn about the latest research, meet people in our community, and help scientists decide whether or not to submit their paper to our journal. These meetings can also help us identify topics for potential review articles. Editors also work on committees with the aim of improving the way we publish science.  For example, a lot of committee work went into our new methods format called STAR methods.  I wasn’t part of that committee, but maybe I’ll be involved in our next big project.

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

CB: I enjoy thinking and communicating about science,  and my original career plan was to be a professor at a small liberal arts school.  Partway into my postdoc, curiosity led me to a “meet the experts” session at a conference, where I joined the group of a scientific editor.  I didn’t know what to expect, but she planted a seed that this might be an interesting career for me.  A year later, when I saw a job opening at Cell Press I decided to apply.  The interview process convinced me that I would enjoy the work, and when I got the job I was happy to accept it.

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

CB: The traditional academic training in a PhD and postdoc provides many of the skills needed for editing.  Reading and thinking critically about a broad spectrum of science is key to this job.  Changing model organisms and topic areas required a significant amount of research reading when I started my postdoc.  My lab colleagues had diverse projects, and I tried to ask them critical questions about their work and think of key experiments that might advance their findings.  Journal clubs and helping my mentors evaluate papers for journal peer review were other structured ways I worked on these skills.  In fact, I always suggest that people interested in editing should try to get some experience by helping his/her mentor with peer review.

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

CB: The interview process for an editorial position always includes some written and verbal exercises intended to both expose the interviewee to editorial-style work as well as to test his or her aptitude for evaluating manuscripts.  I took these very seriously, and found them fun.  On my CV, I highlighted my strong academic training, prior communication-related work, and publication record.

AD: What are the long-term goals associated with a career in this field?

CB: There are many different trajectories that a career in editing could lead to. The most obvious option is to remain in editing and become a senior editor or even Editor-in-Chief of a journal.  Other editors develop an interest in a different role in publishing.  I have also seen people leave for jobs in academic science as program managers or to work as grant writers.  Scientific expertise, decision making skills, and strong communication skills can lead to many different possibilities.  Being an editor can be a great way to stay involved in science without a job at the bench.

We thank Colleen for sharing her experience with us and we wish her success in her upcoming endeavors.

Colleen Brady was interviewed by Abhinav Dey.
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Featured image source: Pixabay

In the #MarchForScience: Just Imagine

in That Makes Sense by

Of the weird things I have on my bucket list, one has always been being part of a protest. Filmy that I am, the vision of me marching and shouting slogans has always seemed immensely appealing. Maybe it’s the idea of being a part of something bigger than me, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. But it would definitely make for an interesting experience and a good story. Today, I sort of fulfilled that wish. Today, I marched for science.

Today, I marched for science.

Technically speaking, this wasn’t the first march I’ve attended. A couple of months ago, I braved the cold winter weather to participate in a small local march in support of Planned Parenthood and women’s rights it stands for. It was a lot like a traditional protest with people standing out on the road waving signs. People passing by in cars, enthusiastically honking to show support or else pointedly staying silent. And then the actual march, led by a police car to clear the traffic, while we shout out catchy (hopefully) slogans, the tail end of the group often a beat or two out of sync with the front. Then comes the traditional group photo at the end of the march, words of encouragement, a plea for continued support by the organizers and then we disperse. It was a fun experience, with the quintessential satisfaction that comes with standing up for a cause that matters. But if you asked me what concrete goal was achieved by that march, in all honesty, I wouldn’t have an answer.

But changing the world is a tough job.

It’s an issue that has often been debated in my house. If you choose, for a moment, to play the devil’s advocate, you can easily question the utility of such a one-off act. It’s not a pessimistic viewpoint, just realistic. You can shout out slogans for a full day. All the opposing party has to do is block their ears and ignore you and all the effort is wasted. If a person’s mind is made up then it’s not very likely that a few slogans, no matter how catchy, will change that; especially since they know that our view towards them is pitiful at best and antagonistic at worst. Maybe a few people who are undecided might hear us and change their mind, but that’s a slim chance. I know, this sounds super pessimistic. But changing the world is a tough job. Hell, changing the opinion of even one person is a tall order, then imagine what it would take to change the world! But if I truly think that marches are a hopeless endeavor, then why go today?

A few months ago, I waged a teeny tiny war with a stranger on Facebook. A “facebook friend” of my colleague posted an anti-vaccine article on his wall and I decided to help set him straight. Of all the debates around science, vaccines are the one issue where the skepticism is almost entirely without foundation and the benefits are unquestionable. I went on with the task determined to be polite, direct, concise and precise in my arguments. I wanted to debate in a way that would not seem like an attack but rather a calm rebuttal of the fallacies in his argument. We had a couple of back and forths, at the end of which, predictably, nothing was achieved. I failed to change his opinion. But somehow I still felt good about it.

Science and Facts are worth the fight.

For once, I felt like I had done my duty as a scientist. I stood up to someone, to defend the facts. It didn’t change his mind, but his misinformation did not go unchallenged. My dissent officially marks his post and there’s some measure of satisfaction in that. And it’s not just strangers. Even in my own family, close family in fact, there are many with opinions which are not based on evidence and logic. For years, I have been supportive of the bad experiences that have informed these opinions. But I realize now that I am doing them a disservice by keeping what I know to be facts from them. Running away from a debate just because it takes effort and might be futile is not excusable. The goal may be to win, but a loss doesn’t lessen the value of the fight. Science and Facts are worth the fight.

Which is why today I marched for science. I know what some of you might say to this. Didn’t I just write a whole paragraph about marches being futile? To be completely honest, going in to it, all I expected was for it to be a fun personal experience. I spent an evening making posters with colleagues. It promised to be a good time with fellow scientists supporting a worthy cause.  But being there actually made me realize how much more it represented.

There was something really magical in the atmosphere, something very powerful about so many people gathered to send out a positive message rather than shouting slogans against something or someone.

March for Science, inspired by the women’s march in January, started out relatively small. But over the past couple of months, the idea spread across hundreds of cities in the US and across the globe to march in support of science to mark Earth Day. In Boston, where I attended, the march had appropriated the massive Boston Commons for the event and it was filled with thousands of men, women and children all carrying colorful and witty posters in support of the cause. My favorite part of the evening was just watching the people around me. There was something really magical in the atmosphere, something very powerful about so many people gathered to send out a positive message rather than shouting slogans against something or someone.

More than anything else, I was in love with the idea of the Kids zone. I think it was a brilliant idea by the leadership of the march. Organizations from across the city had set up stalls to engage children in activities. There were kids blowing beautiful smoke rings in the air, learning to inject medicine into teddy bears and small girls building structures using straws. Looking at all the excited, engaged faces took me back to a lecture I recently attended by a famous professor at Brown, who is deeply engaged in public outreach. He spoke of his own childhood; how as a kid there was no need for anyone to push him into science. The space race in the US and good science programming on TV, was more than enough to spark the imagination of his entire generation. Finding a way to light that spark for the current generation, would probably be much more effective than countless debates. And today at the march, I felt as though I could see that happening.

Be it on stage or in the activities around it, the march found a way to give voice to people of all ages, genders, abilities and ethnicities. The inclusivity and diversity in the event gave it the personal connection that so many other scientific events completely lack. I imagine news channels all over the world covering the event, showing examples of so many diverse people and cultures successfully represented in science. I imagine this image sticking with kids, giving some child somewhere the hope to dream big. I imagine those kids at the march, going home and torturing their parents by asking them endless questions and insisting on building bigger and better things with straws. I imagine scientists and educators looking at the crowd around them and realizing, maybe for the first time, the number of people they could positively impact if they choose to step out of the lab more often; how dire the need for their participation and help actually is.

After all, the best things in life come from the power of our imagination.

I probably sound silly, imagining away in a manner only John Lennon would appreciate. For all my talk, I don’t know if this will make me do more outreach in the long term. But it gave me hope. Hope, that even if we don’t change the administrative policy for science in the short-term, that we would have ignited the minds of the people today. Hope that events like this would give us a future generation that might learn from the mistakes we made. It might be foolish and optimistic, but for once I am content to indulge myself. After all, the best things in life come from the power of our imagination.

Edited by: Abhinav Dey, PhD and Sayantan Chakraborty, PhD

About the author:


Namrata Iyer has completed her PhD from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and is currently working as a Postdoctoral research associate at Brown University, Rhode Island. Her current research focuses on the interactions between the gut microbiome and the host immune system. Her interests include teaching and writing. This blog has been posted previously in her personal blog (


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



The Patent Chronicle

in Sci-IP by

(April 25th, 2017) Your weekly dose from the world of patents. The Patent Chronicle is led by Syam Anand, who has been at the core of CSG’s development and an entrepreneur himself. This section is your go to destination every week for a capsule dose on the hottest happenings in the patent world. Syam has clinically dissected out every news on the decision, the background and the impact. He is also in the process of building his scicomm team for this section. If you would like to come aboard, mail him at

India sees high patent growth

Source: India Innovation Trend Report from Clarivate Analytics, a leader in Patent Analytics reports that India scored the highest growth of 26 percent in terms of published patents amongst the countries analyzed. These include China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Reason: Clarivate identified the following main reasons

  1. Government initiatives;
  2. Increasing number of R&D centers being opened by MNCs as well as Indian corporations; and
  3. Indian companies realizing the importance of patent protection in different geographies.

Impact: Polymers and plastics, computing, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications accounted for two-thirds of the published patents indicative of strength in these areas. Encouraging signs are present that the trend will continue and make India competitive in the global market.

Read more here and here


Dow wins huge infringement suit against Nova

Decision: A Canadian court ruled that Nova Chemical Corp. has to pay Dow Chemical Co. all the profits it earned by infringing on Dow’s Canadian patent on garbage bags and packaging materials. The ruling judge also came up with a formula that will guide the accountants at Dow and Nova how to determine the Nova’s profits from selling the infringing products.

Reason: Nova sold products for a long time that was covered by Dow’s patent claiming that their method is based on another polymer and did not infringe Dow’s methods patent. The litigation dragged on for several years, during which Nova made substantial profits.

Impact: This is the first time “springboard” damages have been awarded by a Canadian court on infringement. “Springboard” damages are assessed from actual accounted profits made by the infringer during the period of infringement. Backed by the verdict, Nova will pay Dow a substantial amount, which by some accounts is close to a billion dollars. Nova will stop making and selling packaging materials with their SURPASS polymer.

Read more


Snap buys an app patent for $7.7 million

Decision: Snap of Snapchat fame buys a geofilter app from Mobli for the huge sum.

Reason: Snapchat wanted to keep Facebook away from acquiring the patent. $360 million out of Snap’s $400 million profit was made from geofilters. Had FB acquired the patent, it would have wiped out Snap’s profits from geofilters.

Impact: Geofilters are location-speific photofilters that can be used for advertising. Snap did not have a geofilter app in their collection. Therefore, this becomes a sensible acquisition for Snap. This deal also sets a new trend for software app market wars between the giants in social media, $7.7 million being the highest sum paid for an Israeli firm for a software app. Mobli was lagging behind its competitor, Instagram. This comes as a decent win for Mobli.

Read more


Sanofi and Regeneron faces infringement over their Atopic Dermatitis drug

Decision: Amgen sued Sanofi and Regeneron for infringement over their Atopic Dermatitis (AD) drug Dupilumab (Dupixent),

Reason: Amgen’s subsidiary Immunex has a patent protecting the development of IL4-receptor antibodies. Amgen believes that Dupilumab, a monoclonal human antibody against IL4 and IL3 receptors, infringes the Immunex patent.

Impact: Dupilumab is a rapidly evolving blockbuster for Sanofi and Regeneron that was approved by FDA recently. It had showed efficacy against AD and holds a lot of promise for asthma and other diseases based on the biological mechanism it targets. If they lose, it will be a big loss for Sanofi and Regeneron, as some of their trials for other indications center around Dupilumab. Sweeping claims covering broad biological mechanisms are however difficult to litigate and win in courts. Therefore, it remains to be seen is Amgen’s contention will find support in the court.

Read more

Bellus Health’s patent for Chronic Cough lead compound

Decision: USPTO grants Bellus Health a patent for their lead compound for treating chronic cough.

Reason: BLU-5937 was deemed novel and useful by the patent office. Compound BLU-5937, related imidazopyridine compounds, and pharmaceutical compositions containing these compounds are covered by the patent. They are potent, and selective antagonists of P2X3 receptors located on airway sensory neurons that are hypersensitized in chronic cough.

Impact: Bellus Health is a company focused on developing treatments for diseases with high unmet medical needs. With this win, Bellus Health could attract the resources needed to develop the lead molecule into a drug. Bellus holds the license to develop BLU-5937 from NEOMED who had it assigned to them from AstraZeneca. The P2X3 antagonist program was initiated by AstraZeneca scientists in Montreal.

Read more

Read more about Bellus




About the author:


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.

Featured Image source: Twitter

Blog design: Abhinav Dey

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



MedNess: At the Frontier of Healthcare Business/ March For Science- Special Report

in Medness/SciBiz by

Cover Design: Ipsa Jain

Hello everyone and welcome to MedNess: At the frontier of healthcare news. The month of April was pretty crucial for Gilead Sciences and Novartis. Read below to find out more.

Also, this issue of MedNess is special as we are covering a report on March for Science from Club SciWri’s “Reporting from the lab” led by Radhika Raheja, Ph.D. Why are we covering March for Science on MedNess? Science affects us; the scientists, science affects our decisions and perspectives..still need more reasons? Check out our section on March for Science.

To stay on top of major scientific advancements, subscribe to ClubSciWri (

Gilead’s NASH candidate clears early proof concept study

Gilead Sciences presented the first clinical trial data for GS-0976, an acetyl–CoA carboxylase inhibitor in patients with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) at the 2017 International Liver Congress. The results are very preliminary but hopeful.

Gilead acquired GS-0976 from Nimbus Therapeutics in a billion-dollar deal last year.

This chronic liver disease affects around 15 million Americans. It is manifested by fat deposition in the liver and can cause scarring and liver fibrosis leading to liver failure (FierceBiotech, SeekingAlpha).

The clinical trial consisted of only 10 patients treated with 20mg dose OD for 12-weeks. GS-0976 blocked the formation of new fat in the liver by 29% and reduced liver fat by 43%. There was also a statistically significant decline in liver stiffness, marker for liver fibrosis, from 3.4 to 3.1kPa.

MedNess: Although on Friday, April 21, 2017, we did not see Gilead stocks soaring after the news, based on 19 analysts polled by TipRanks, majority approve buying Gilead stock while 7 maintain a hold and 0 recommend selling (SmarterAnalyst).

 FDA issues new warnings against the use of opioids in kids and nursing mothers

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a consumer safety alert on April 20, 2017, ordering major label changes on prescription drugs containing codeine and tramadol. Codeine is found in some prescription pain, and cough medicines and some over-the-counter cough medicines and tramadol is found in some prescription pain medicines. The opioid drugs are metabolized rapidly by children which can lead to breathing problems.

The FDA listed 15 medications and their generics that will be affected by this warning ranging from J&J’s Tylenol with codeine and Ultracet with tramadol, Vertical’s ConZip with tramadol, and Allergan’s migraine medication Fiorinol with codeine (

FDA approves Roche’s Tecentriq as first line treatment for certain patients with advanced bladder cancer treatment

Roche’s Tecentriq gained accelerated approval from the FDA as a first-line treatment in patients with advanced bladder cancer who are ineligible for cisplatin chemotherapy. Tecentriq was earlier approved for treatment in patients with advanced or metastatic bladder cancer whose disease worsened within one year of standard chemotherapy.

MedNess: This immunotherapy was approved earlier for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer ( The current approval enables label expansion of this immunotherapy. As per Zacks ranking list, Roche stocks are strongly recommended for buying (

Novartis’ CAR-T CTL019 receives FDA “Breakthrough” Tag for the treatment of most common form of lymphoma

Novartis received the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Breakthrough Therapy designation for CTL019, an investigational chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy. Last month, CTL109 received the breakthrough designation for the treatment of r/r B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in pediatric and young adult patients.

This is the second indication for which CTL019 has received this designation for relapsed/refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) for the treatment of adults who have failed two or more prior therapies.

The Breakthrough Therapy designation is based on data from the multi-center Phase II JULIET study. The results from JULIET study are expected to be presented soon (

MedNess: Novartis is competing with Kite Pharma over CAR-T therapy. Kite already has breakthrough designations for DLBCL, transformed follicular lymphoma (TFL) and primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma. After the announcement, Kites shares dropped by 1% and Novartis’s by 0.3% (FierceBiotech)

MedNess # March for Science by Radhika Raheja Ph.D

While we look at FDA approvals and how they affect pharmaceutical companies, it is important to acknowledge the science coming out of academic institutions that steers translational discoveries. Here is a brief report on how science impacts lives and why it is necessary to support scientific research.

Reporting from outside the lab – #marchforscience #Boston

This week we are not ‘Reporting from the lab” but from outside the lab where most of the excitement was happening. Thousands of scientists all over the world took to the streets to “March for Science” on April 22, usually observed as Earth Day.

Why do we march for science? We march for science because “ Science is real, denial is deadly”, “ No science, no beer”, “ Progress in science = progress in humanity”, “Climate change is real” and several other reasons. Here in Boston, the research community in the Longwood medical area marched under the motto “ Science is good for your health“. Our rally kick-started with a lineup of extremely eloquent speakers, faculty, students, patients and the Dean of Harvard Medical School (HMS) who spoke about the impact of science on our lives and the ramifications that reckless changes in science policy can have on all of us.

Why do we march for science? Science gives us the opportunity to give back to the community. The Dean for Students at HMS, Fidencio Saldana, emphasized that science affects all of us. “Science is for people who want to invest in the future of our children” he said, as science education creates awareness, teaches our children to think critically, ask questions and creates opportunities for them in the future. Fidencio Saldana ended by saying that there is, “too much at stake for us to remain silent anymore”. On a similar note, Senan Ebrahim, an MD-PhD student at the HMS reminded us, “to raise our voices and speak the truth, because we are blessed with knowledge and it is our responsibility to act on it and share it.” It is our duty to leave behind a legacy of advanced engineering, improved medical care and to safeguard the future for young and bright scientists.

Why do we march for science? Science gives us hope when we are afflicted with disease. This was further exemplified by the stories of patients and doctors on the innovative cures for various diseases including sickle cell anemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, neuroblastoma, lymphangioleiomyomatosis that have saved lives, thanks to fundamental scientific research conducted in laboratories within Boston and the nation. In order to continue fostering the promise of scientific discoveries, it is important to ensure our voices are heard. “Scientific research is one of the fundamental pillars of our society, … this is not a fight for our livelihoods, this is a fight for human lives “ said Elorm Avakame, an MD/MPH student at Kennedy School of Public Health.

Why do we march for science? “We march because we are facing a threat to humanity “. The proposed budget cuts within federal agencies like the National Institute of health itself will be dramatic as it has an annual budget of $32billion and propels scientific progress not only in the United states but in the world. “Such budget cuts, if applied, will have tragic consequences that will haunt us for generations, destabilize our economy and pose an existential threat to America’s preeminence as a world leader in biomedicine”, said George Daley, Dean of HMS. He also added that NIH funding supports over 380,000 jobs nationwide and over 31,000 jobs in the state of Massachusetts alone. Research funded by the NIH drives an economic activity of over $65 billion a year. “Scientific progress, scientific discovery is an enduring symbol of what is best and what is most noble about this great nation. Cutting biomedical research funding will eviscerate our ability to relieve suffering here and around the world. It threatens the very core of our mission”.

Boston plays a historic role in creating and nurturing some of the best scientists and physicians trained to alleviate human suffering caused by disease. Nearly half of new cancer drugs in the last 5 years emerged from the hard work and curiosity of scientists in the laboratories at Harvard University funded by grants from the National Institute of Health. In this era of phenomenal advancements in science, it is terrifying to envision the therapeutic landscape for various diseases without support for scientific research.

It was a cold, rainy day in Boston, with temperatures as low as 3oC (37oF) , yet this did not deter the spirit of the students, scientists, physicians, patients and people whose lives have been positively impacted by science to get out and stand up for science. We marched to reaffirm the importance of science and how it benefits our lives, our country, and our planet. We marched because science truly matters!

About the Authors:

Imit Kaur is a freelance medical writer, editor and an active science blogger. She pursued her PhD in Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry from University of Utah. She is experienced in the field of oncology, hematology, pharmacology, nanotechnology and drug development.


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.



The week that it was : 17th – 22nd April, 2017

in ClubSciWri by

This week on CSG we celebrate Earth’s Day and assert our support and integrity towards ‘Science’ while endorsing the worldwide ‘March for Science’. Our cover-page for CSG and the Weekly updates this week is an illustration by Ipsa Jain, specially for the March for Science enthusiasts.

Zika vaccination reaches clinical trails in India

Scientists in Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech develop a novel vaccine using inactivated virus of the African strain (MR 766). The vaccine showed 100% efficacy against both the Asian and African Zika species in animal studies and is due for Phase 1 clinical trail in India next month.

Yet another reason to do a PhD in India

UGC approves a proposal to consider any period spent in active service during a PhD in India to be accounted as teaching experience for young graduates aspiring to apply for vacant faculty positions around the country. for Science

Scientists across the globe march in unison demonstrating their support their support towards the scientific community. Follow blogs and articles by people across the world as they five an account of their experience in various places such as Göttingen , USA and more.More updates and shares on March for Science are published on the CSG Facebook page using the hashtag #marchforsceince

CSG: the new Hogwarts in the scientific world

Hitesh Verma rightly deemed CSG, as the Hogwarts for the young PhD graduates, as Ananda has kindly compiled various initiatives in a post. Various articles on our page this week would benefit aspiring reviewers, consulting enthusiasts, MS –aspirants and other alternatives to a post-doc. Additionally eLife has complied a series of interviews with recent PhD graduates in early stages of their Science-related careers about how research helped them get where they are.

A lot can happen over coffee… or maybe Easter eggs!!

As the week began with an Easter Monday, we’ve had various initiatives for meet-ups in NYC and Bay area. Kindly respond to participate or to initiate meet-ups in your city or country and let the CSG family grow. Gottingen CSGians have gone a mile ahead with their hiking adventure to network over Easter while NYC-CSG had a very motivating coffee chat with Dr. Jun tang about his career transition as a Research analyst at Cancer Research Institute (CRI), Clinical Accelerator and Venture Fund.

Story of the week

This week’s inspiring scientist is Nobel Laureate Eric Betzig. Read on to know his association with microscopes, being labelled a physicist/chemist/biologist and how he deals with Nobel limelight.

More power to women…

As John Hopkins areto screen The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and this inspirational quote re-iterates the value of self-respect, we have an eye-opening read on how women are discriminated in leadership roles and how you need to walk to off-beaten path and be different to achieve your dreams and discussion following the article on our Facebook page.

Postdoctoral positions 
In host-microbiota interactions
At MD Anderson Cancer Centre
In ImmunoOncology at NIBR
In Oncology Discovery at Johnson and Johnson

At the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in Science communication research

Other Opportunities

Some of the opportunities advertised this week were

The Schwarzman Scholars Application is live!! (Contact Nikhil Gupta for help with your applications)
IISc AANA National Conference 2017

Bloggers with fresh ideas for American Society of Cell biology (Contact : Sushama Sivakumar )
Expert Scientific Writer position. Email :

Deputy Scientific Editor for their membership magazine Infocus

Life Science consultant at Navigant Consulting

Have a good week ahead  🙂

About the author

Nisha Peter is a recent PhD graduate from Genome Damage and Stability Centre,UK and is now working as Research Fellow at Sussex Drug Discovery Centre,UK. Her research interest involves cell biology (I’ve spend a lifetime admiring mitotic cells during my PhD!!) and oncology. She works for Club SciWri as a freelance writer to pursue her love for “words”. Apart from being bench scientist she actively participates in science communication events, enjoys teaching, globetrotting and experimenting with music.


Unity in diversity – Göttingen’s March for Science

in Poli-Scie by
  • March-for-science-1-1.jpg?fit=2453%2C3468

Göttingen, the city of science, is not called so for nothing at all. In nineteenth century, seven professors from Göttingen university, now popularly called Göttinger Sieben, dared standing up against the Kingdom of Hanover, protesting against the alteration of the constitution. Inspired by them the Göttinger Achtzehn, a group of 18 nuclear scientists from the city stood against the Adaneuer government to stop propagation of nuclear weapons in 1957. Clearly the university here has always kept itself connected with politics, contributing in shaping the policies and creating Germany as a liberal country.

Today, on 22nd April, 2017 it stood by its tradition where the Göttingers took to a peaceful demonstration to March for Science. Starting at around 10 am, the march gathered around 2000 Göttingers – a huge, diverse, international crowd ranging from university students, researchers, politicians, media personnel and science supporters outside academia. The reasons for their participation varied widely – for funding, evidence-based policy making to creating a collaborative space between researchers, advocating for open science and to create access to scientific research for public.

Yuko Maeda, one of the organizers of the event said, “Science is a core democratic value. I stand up for communication of science. The discussion should not around the facts (that we get from science), but rather what do we do with those facts.” The President of the university, Prof. Ulrike Beisiegel emphasized on the importance of people understanding the philosophy and process of science, dealing with hypothesizing, experimentation, analysis and validation. On similar lines, Prof. Quadt, a particle physics researcher himself, reminded the audience of the famous quote by Richard Feynman – “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” He aptly reminded the audience the importance of pursuing global science, relating with the advances in particle physics, a field that has largely benefited from international collaborations. A Turkish academician, who lost her research position for being a part of Academics for Peace petition in Turkey, and now staying in exile in Germany, emphasized on the needs of ensuring a world that embraces diversity. And the Minister for Science and Culture in the state of Niedersachsen, Ms. Gabriele Heinen-Kljajić, who was present for the event, expressed solidarity for the threatened researchers and journalists worldwide.

And if you are still apprehensive of what an amalgamation of science and politics should look like, take a look at the pictures from the event. Remember that this is a March for Science, not for scientists. It is a global march that can affect all of us, as mankind. And science cannot keep itself away from politics, for then you risk not being a part of the policy making.

Illustration: By Ipsa Jain

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.

FDA Breakthrough A’La CAR-T: Medness Focus on Novartis CTL019

in Medness by

What’s the big news?

Novartis announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accepted the company’s Biologics License Application (BLA) filing and granted priority review for CTL019 (tisagenlecleucel-T), an investigational Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy, in relapsed and refractory (r/r) pediatric and young adult patients with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). This is the first BLA submission by Novartis for a CAR-T. The priority review designation is expected to shorten the anticipated review time by the FDA.

What’s even bigger?

On April 18 (2017) CTL019 received the FDA granted breakthrough therapy designation for the treatment of adults with relapsed and refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma who failed two or more prior therapies. Read more

What is ALL?

Image reference

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Each part of its name tells you something about the cancer itself:

    • Acute: Often fast-growing, requires early detection and treatment. Without treatment, bone marrow cells developmentally impaired, resulting in an unhealthy bone marrow filled with proliferating abnormal lymphocytes.
    • Lymphoblastic: Affects the lymphocytes of a patient’s white blood cells. Alternative term is lymphocytic.
    • Leukemia: Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells.
  • Most common cancer in children, but it can also occur in adults of all ages (bimodal age distribution, with peaks at 3-7 years and 65 years of age).
  • Clinical presentation is nonspecific:
    1. fever;
    2. infection;
    3. bleeding;
    4. bone pain;
    5. lymphadenopathy;
    6. CNS involvement.
  • Disease classification based on evaluation of cells derived from a bone marrow or tissue biopsy. Clonal cells may be B cells (B-precursor lineage, 75%) or T cells. There are three main different ALL subtypes as follows:
    1. Pre (precursor) B cell ALL – most common in adults
    2. Mature B cell ALL – identified by particular genetic changes
    3. Pre (precursor) T cell ALL – more likely in young adults and more common in men
  • Management involves
    • remission induction with combination chemotherapy.
    • intrathecal chemotherapy is indicated for all patients to prevent CNS relapse.
    • Post-remission, patients undergo 1-3 years of maintenance therapy to eliminate residual disease.
    • Read more


What’s the history ?

  • CAR T-cell therapy, may appear to be overnight success, has a long experimental history.  Chemist and immunologist, Zelig Eshhar, developed the first CAR-T cells at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel in the late 1980s. In 1990, Eshhar took a year-long sabbatical, joined Steven Rosenberg at the National Institutes of Health, and prepared CARs that targeted human melanoma. “We designed CAR T cells to overcome a number of problems in getting T cells to attack cancer,” says Eshhar. The problems being a tumor’s ability to escape immune recognition by preventing the major histocompatibility complex molecules and the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment.

  • CTL019 first developed by the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) by Carl June‘s group (link to original NEJM paper). Read more.
  • In 2012, Novartis and Penn created a global collaboration to advance research, develop and then commercialize CAR-T cell therapies, including CTL019, for the investigational treatment of cancers. Through the collaboration, Novartis holds the worldwide rights to CARs developed with Penn for all cancer indications. In March 2017, Novartis announced that the FDA accepted the company’s Biologics License Application filing and granted priority review for CTL019 in the treatment of r/r pediatric and young adult patients with B-cell ALL.


What is the science behind it?

  • CAR-T therapies exploit the capability of a patient’s immune system to fight their disease, (sometimes referred to as “fifth pillar” of cancer treatment).
  • Therapy involves engineering patients’ own immune cells to recognize and attack their tumors (popularly known as Adoptive Cell Transfer).
  • Renier J. Brentjens, MD (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) describes it like “giving patients a living drug.”


What was the outcome of the clinical trials?

  • The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) study (link) showed disappearance of all signs of cancer (a complete response) in 27 of the 30 patients treated. 19 out of 27 are still in remission
  • The NIH Pediatric Oncology Branch study (link) 14 of 20 patients had a complete response with 10 of them receiving successful stem cell transplant and remain cancer free.
  • The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer center (MSKCC) clinical trial study (link) 14 of the 16 participants showed complete response and 7 eligible patients got stem cell transplant staying cancer-free.
  • The NCI-led study (link) showed “Of 15 patients, eight achieved complete remissions (CRs), four achieved partial remissions, one had stable lymphoma, and two were not evaluable for response”. This showed the “effectiveness of treating chemotherapy-refractory B-cell malignancies with anti-CD19 CAR T cells”.
  • Novartis clinical trial (ELIANA) evaluating efficacy and safety of CTL019 (with study enrollment having occurred across 25 centers in the US, EU, Canada, Australia and Japan) found that 82% (41 of 50) of infused patients achieved complete remission.
  • The second global CAR-T trial, JULIET, following the Novartis ELIANA study, led FDA to confer Breakthrough Therapy Designation for Treatment of Adult Patients withrelapsed and refractory (r/r) diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). The findings from JULIET are expected to be presented at an upcoming medical congress.

What are some of the doubts?

  • CAR-T, which induces an extreme immune response that attacks cancer cells, can create a cytokine storm leading to extreme side effects like high fever.
  • CAR-T might need the best – and presumably the most highly-paid – doctors and healthcare teams to ensure patients can manage the side effects.
  • The laboratory process of extracting immune system T-cells from each individual patient and altering the DNA to create chimeric antigen receptors will create additional costs (totaling upto $500,000-750,000 to treat one patient). Health providers might not be ready to foot the bill.
  • Initial failures from competitor Juno Therapeutics have created doubts on Novartis pulling out of the study. Novartis has previously backed out of large research programs like RNA interference.

What should the patients and their families know?

  • CTL019 is an investigational therapy- safety and efficacy profile not yet established.
  • Access to investigational therapies only available through carefully controlled and monitored clinical trials.
  • No guarantee that CTL019 will ever be commercially available anywhere in the world.

MedNess Quotient

After the announcement, Novartis shares were little changed but the shares of the company making CTL019 raw materials, Oxford BioMedica, rose by more than 4.5 percent. Alternatively, Kite Pharma, Novartis’ rival in CAR-T race, also submitted a rolling application for their chimeric antigen receptor T cell candidate. Rolling applications are allowed for promising new drugs. Kite’s application could be accepted early putting behind Novartis’. Therefore, the winner of the CAR-T race will set the price of the therapy and subsequently the stocks (Reuters and Nasdaq).

References and additional reading:


Featured image source: Twitter

Disclaimer: This blog is strictly for news and information. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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