Tag Archives: cancer

Science Quickies: The Universe In A Single Photo, Pink Leopards, Extreme Face Transplant, and Sexy Newt Kidneys

12 Apr

Neil deGrasse Tyson has a new book out, which states his argument on why funding of space exploration is essential. He also did a recent interview with NPR which is definitely worth listening to. In other astronomy news, new models show that we have several “mini-moons” orbiting around us, from the size of a softball to a washing machine. They are hard to spot, but can occasionally enter our atmosphere, creating a brilliant fireball, according to National Geographic. NASA also recently released a new photo, which is essentially our entire universe in a single photo. It’s absolutely beautiful! According to Huffington Post: “NASA recently unveiled a new atlas and catalogue of the entire infrared sky, which includes more than a half billion stars, galaxies and other objects captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. It is comprised of more than 2.7 million images taken at four infrared wavelengths of light, capturing everything from nearby asteroids to distant galaxies.”

In the world of medicine and public health, a few things caught my attention.
First, a Chinese kid recently sold his kidney in order to raise money for an iPad, and later suffered from renal failure. He only received $3,500 for the organ, which typically goes for $35,000 in the Chinese black market, according to the article.
In a far less depressing story, researched of Lund University in Sweden announced that a vaccine against heart attacks may be available in 10 years. Scientists have discovered a new drug that stimulates the body’s immune system to produce antibodies which prevent heart disease by stopping fat building up in the arteries. Fat buildup can be reduced by 70%, the researchers claim.
A Virginia man has just had the most extensive face transplant in history.

A 1997 gunshot injury left Richard Norris without a chin, nose, teeth, and lips. The face transplant took 36 hours and is the result of a team of 150 medical professionals. According to the article: “Just six days after his surgery, Norris was saying some words, shaving and brushing his teeth. He’s also beginning to get some feeling back in his face.”
Is there a link between burns and cancer? A recent study from the University of Western Australia seems to think so.

A “strawberry” leopard has been discovered in a South African reserve
, the first documented case of its kind. The leading theory is that the leopard has erythrism, which could cause the pink coloration. Also, red-spotted newts have incredibly sexy kidneys. Seriously.  In other news of adorable amphibians, 5 species of frogs have been rediscovered in recent field expeditions on the Congo, including a species of transparent frog. In Indonesia, a new species of wasp has been found, which has several unusual characteristics and is shrouded in mystery.

Boob Quickies

6 Apr

This post was originally about boobs.
And then somehow it grew into some sort of verbose blog monster.

I had set out to write about how my breasts have impacted my life, but that post will have to wait for another day. There has been a lot of controversy in our culture lately regarding women. The concept of being a woman in our culture has been the center of a nasty political war, to the point that even a simple blog post about how awesome boobs are turns into a statement of what it means to be a woman. Honestly, it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. And as a result, I’ve noticed a surge of woman-related content on my usual Internet browsing sites.
This isn’t going to be the deep and reflective post I intended to write. Mostly, it’s because of the research. There is just so much information out there, so many opinion articles, that I really can’t say what hasn’t already been said before. The primary purpose of this blog is to store and share articles that interest me, since I know I will eventually want to refer back to them. So this post is going to be quickie-style.

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of boobs.

(Without boobs, where would be store our kittens?)

First off, the cost of being owning a vagina. Jezebel threw together this nice little article outlining the basic cost of owning a vagina, based on the staffer’s personal experience and drug-store prices. Not incredibly scientific, but enough to give you a ball-park estimate and an average idea of all the items needed for proper maintenance. The list doesn’t include pregnancy costs (though it does include pregnancy test, for those trying and those who have the occasional scare). I suppose it makes sense, if the list is the basics. It inspires me to go through my finances and calculate what its costs for me to maintain my own fabulous lady parts. I already know that bras, at about $75 a piece (+/- $10), typically run me $150 to $225 a year. And eventually I’ll have to start getting breast exams, which are another hefty expense.

SMBC, which always makes me giggle, recently released this delightful gem.

Back to the boobs!
The over-diagnosis of breast cancer is one of those things that a lot of women and feminists are still quiet about, because 1) many of them have had a sister/mother/friend/relative whose life was saved by early detection, and they don’t want to admit that such a case may have been due to over-diagnosis and 2) the medical, social, and political implications are too horrifying to think about.

The road of breast cancer is a very difficult one to endure. Chemo saves many lives, but also takes an incredible physical and emotional toll. Chemo is not “just another drug” that can be handed out like aspirin. Its a detrimental drug which should only be given because the other alternative is death. Additionally, mastectomies are essentially an amputation, and emotionally devastating because of how much importance our culture places on breasts. According to social standards, a huge portion of what it means to be a woman is wrapped up in our breasts, and when one is raised in such an environment, losing a breast can result in a huge psychological toll. Many are still in denial, or trying to come to terms with the concept of breast cancer over-diagnosis. But the reports are still out there, and for the sake of our health and our boobs (which are pretty super awesome), this issue deserves to be  investigated further. Diagnostic techniques are improving, and detecting breast cancer with a single drop of blood may soon be possible. However, on a brighter note, a recent discovery gives us hope in detecting the infamous “triple negative” breast cancer, which is considered the deadliest form of breast cancer.

A few more quickies on breast cancer: The first large-scale U.S.-based study to evaluate the link between an injectable form of progestin-only birth control and breast cancer risk in young women. Stick to the pill, ladies.  There is also a link between long-term estrogen hormone use and breast cancer, and a new breast cancer susceptibility gene, named XRCC2, has been discovered.

I few weeks ago I shared the idea that we should all knit out congressmen a vagina, so they will stay out of ours. The idea was conceived by The Snatchel Project. The Internet loved it! I started seeing crochet and knitted uteruses, vulvas, and cervixes everywhere (Even a uterus lamp). But it’s not the first time woman have used yarn to emulate female anatomy. Knitted tits have been used to raise awareness about breast cancer for years. You can even buy knitted bikini tops.

Today Cracked released a delightful article written by Luke McKinney, “The 7 Most Sexist Things Ever Invented For Boobs.” It’s both horrific and hilarious. I would love to see prototypes of some of these inventions, just so I can giggle in horror.

Political slut quickies: John Stewart explains why the transvaginal ultrasound bill of Virginia has enraged women across the country. Ever since Rush called Sandra Fluke a slut on air, woman have rushing to re-appropriate the word slut. Why? Probably because shame has long been used as a powerful tool to silence women. And there was this controversial Doonesbury comic, which was pulled from several newspapers. (Because it’s okay to call a woman a slut and introduce bills infringing on her rights, but not okay to satirically bring attention to it.)

Also, Elizabeth Banks threatens to bleed all over furniture if women are denied access to the pill, and Rick Perry’s facebook page is now buried with woman asking him about menstruation, and updating him of their flow status.

R2-KT: The Pink Droid

11 Mar

The following was written by Jamie Frevele of The Mary Sue. I love it because it combines all the elements of a good story: cute kids fighting a tragic cancer, which completely tugs at your heart strings, and Star Wars droids, which completely excites one’s inner nerd. And the color pink, because its a freaking awesome color.


While this story isn’t what you’d call recent, it was so touching that we couldn’t ignore it. It’s also very sad, so consider yourself warned. But while it’s a sad story about a little girl’s fight with brain cancer, it’s a great story about how a bunch of Star Wars fans (some in very high places) made that little girl happy while she didn’t feel very well. It’s also an origin story, and we love those. Ladies and gentlemen, allow us to introduce you to Katie Johnson and the droid whose creation she inspired: R2-KT.

Back in November 2004, six-year-old Katie was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She immediately underwent chemotherapy treatment and bravely dealt with all the side effects. One day, in April 2005, when she and her family took a picture by their church, Katie noticed something about one of the big windows on the side of the building: it looked like R2-D2. And that gave her father, Albin, an idea — “[W]hy not build an R2 to watch over Katie as she slept (just like R2-D2 watched over Padme in Episode II)?”

So, the elder Johnson, who happens to be the founder of the 501st Legion, the world’s biggest official organization for Stormtrooper cosplayers that does charity work around the globe, got in touch with the R2 Builders Club to see about building Katie her very own droid. Albin and his older daughter, Allie, aimed to make it pink and name it after Katie (hence R2-KT).

However, the reality was that Katie wasn’t doing very well and time was running out. But the builders rallied and got R2-KT built and delivered a preliminary — but life-sized — model to the little girl’s house.

Sadly, Katie passed away in her sleep the following August. But she got to hang out with her faithful droid for a little while before having to leave it behind. R2-KT was officially completed on July 8, 2006, just over a year after the start date. Now, R2-KT visits conventions, children’s hospitals, and charity events all over the place.

To find out more about R2-KT’s ongoing adventures (and their current St. Patrick’s Day promotion), visit their official site.

A.Theria’s Note: Definitely go visit the site. They have knit R2-KTs. Seriously, how can you not love that?

Science Quickies: The Ocean In Space, High Tech Cows, and Racism Drugs

10 Mar

The largest, oldest body of water has been discovered. It lives in space. No, seriously. Space has oceans now. Beachfront resorts are coming soon.

My thoughts and support are with Phumeza Tisile, a Doctors Without Borders tuberculosis blogger who received some bad news this week.

NPR reports on Claudia, the high tech cow who produces 75 gallons of milk a day, as opposed to the 30 gallons by a normal cow. Moo.

In blood news, scientists have examined the crystal x-ray structure of full length human plasminogen, which provides insight on activation and conversion to plasmin.

Bellicum Pharmaceuticals raises $20M to progress cell transplant and cancer vaccine products.  Further proof that all a research scientist has to do is walk into a room and say “cancer,” and money will be thrown at them.

The Journal of Microscopy is offering their first issue of 2012 free online.

Propranolol, a beta blocker which has made the news often with its effective anxiety treatment, “abuse” in the musical performance community as a “performance enhancer,” and promise as a memory erasing post-trauma drug, is back in the news again, with claims that it can cure racism.

Science Quickies

9 Mar

And now, a round up of articles that I meant to get around to posting, but forgot about or got distracted, and decided that linking them would be way easier instead.

Creating art with sound and sand. Capturing the beauty of acoustic physics.

MIT students can now become pirates. Yaaaaarg.

6 Terrifying Creatures Science Just Discovered. I personally think the devil worm is amazing. Also, the article has a bit of a misleading statement: Cryptococcus gattii, as fellow mycology nerds will know, is not newly discovered. What they’re referencing is a relatively newly discovered strain of C. gattii, reported in 2010.

The newly discovered 42 foot, 1.3 ton ancient snake is actually pretty damn awesome, and I sorta want one. The picture comparing the vertebrae of it vs. an anaconda really shows you how big this snake was.  

Oldest Organism With Skeleton Discovered in Australia. Can we say d’awww?

Simply possessing an extra gene makes adorable lab mice thinner and cancer-free. Not your average cancer research article.

Lower jaw shape reflects dietary differences between human populations. Excuse me as I gratify my inner anthropology nerd.

Behold: The Beauty of The Naked Mole Rat

8 Mar

Robert Gonzalez of io9 wrote a charming article about naked mole rats, which are awesome little creatures that are basically the Betty White of the underworld.

10 Reasons Naked Mole Rats Will Inherit the Earth


Too long have cockroaches been regarded as the heirs to the planet, in the event of a huge cataclysm that drives humans to extinction. Today, we present for your consideration an alternative: the naked mole rat.

The naked mole rat (or NMR, as we like to call it) is an unusual species. It’s a poorly understood species. And it is also a downright unsightly species — to the point that it is almost cute in its unattractiveness. But make no mistake: naked mole rats are extraordinary animals, and these little saber-toothed-sausages are in it for the long haul.

10. Naked mole rats are the ideal underground organism
Let’s start with the basics, shall we? You may have noticed that many of the locations on our list of places to ride out the apocalypse are tunnels, bunkers, and subterranean vaults. Notice a pattern?

Come the end of the world, the safest place will likely be underground. Thanks to a variety of physiological neurological adaptations (which you’ll learn more about below), the naked mole rat has evolved to be one very successful subterranean creature, and, by extension, one of the most ideal post-apocalyptic organisms imaginable.

9. Naked mole rats are masterful bomb-shelter builders
Case in point: naked mole rats know how to build a good bunker. In fact, these rodents travel exclusively below ground. Individual NMR colonies can range in size anywhere from 20 to 300 individuals, but these populations thrive in vast, intricately organized burrow systems that can cover an area equivalent to twenty football fields. There are specialized subterranean chambers specifically dedicated to rearing offspring, storing food, and eliminating bodily waste — there are even major “highway systems” — complete with on-ramps and off-ramps — that allow for more than one animal to travel quickly over vast underground distances.

8. Naked mole rats can run backwards as fast as they do forwards
This might sound like little more than a neat trick, but it’s actually a very practical skill — imagine being able to retreat from a threat while still being able to defend yourself. Naked mole rats can do that. And here’s what’s really cool: this enviable skill is made possible by rows of sensory hairs along their bodies and tails that allow them to “see” while back-pedaling; and said sensory hairs belie another advantageous adaptation:

7. Naked mole rats are “extreme sensory specialists”
That’s what researchers Kenneth Catania and Michael S. Remple call the hairless little rodents in this 2002 PNAS paper, which examines the rodents’ extraordinary brain organization. Their findings suggest that over the course of their evolution, the brains of naked mole rats have been completely overhauled in a way that makes them perfectly suited for subterranean life. For example, note the researchers, the somatosensory cortex in a naked mole rat encompasses virtually the entire region of the brain that is usually devoted to vision. This allows the NMR to dedicate more brain power to a variety of other perceptive abilities. This nightmarish depiction (also borrowed from the researchers’ paper), reflects the percentage of the cortex devoted to a variety of different sensory organs. Good luck finding the eyes.

6. A naked mole rat’s teeth function like a biological swiss army knife
The first thing you’ll probably notice about the image above is that almost a third of the rodent’s somatosensory brain power is devoted to its incisors. As we mentioned earlier, naked mole rats are impressive diggers, but to devote a third of your somatosensory system to digging — and digging only — would be an immense waste of cognitive power. Fortunately, these incisors do more than excavate tunnels. Slow-motion analysis has revealed that mole rats can actually move their lower pair of incisors independently of one another (not unlike a pair of chopsticks). This allows NMRs to interact with one another in a social context, carry and manipulate food and other objects, move and care for their young, and — obviously — feed.10 Reasons Naked Mole Rats Will Inherit the Earth

5. Naked Mole Rats are eusocial
The naked mole rat is one of only two known eusocial mammals on Earth (the other, incidentally, is another species of mole rat); in other words: naked mole rats live in colonies, like ants. Each colony is presided over by a single queen who breeds with a few select males. Eusocial creatures are notoriously gifted at operating as a functional unit that is greater than the sum of its parts, foraging for resources, and looking after their own — three great qualities for a species striving to survive in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

4. Naked mole rats know how to use tools
The naked mole rat’s teeth may be ideal for digging, but all that rooting around is bound to stir up some unpleasant, breathable particles. To help keep their respiratory systems clear, NMR’s have actually been observed placing wood chips or tuber husks behind their incisors and in front of their lips. Researchers hypothesize that this makeshift face mask helps prevent choking, or the inhalation of foreign material. The NMR’s purposeful use of the wood chip during activities that stir fine particulate debris demonstrates its capacity for tool use — a true testament to the species’ intelligence and adaptability.

3. Naked mole rats laugh in the face of cancer
Cancer has never been observed in a naked mole rat, a fact that researchers think may have something to do with a tumor suppressor gene that codes for a protein named p16Ink4a. The p16 protein, like p27 in humans, works by keeping groups of cells (like pre-cancerous growths) in check, and prevents them from proliferating. The difference is that while humans rely predominantly on p27, naked mole rats rely on both. Cell biologist Vera Gorbunova, who identified p16’s function in NMRs, described it as “an additional checkpoint” in the body’s defense against cancer, which sounds like it would be a pretty handy biological asset in a (potentially nuclear-induced) post-apocalyptic scenario. [Picture by Ron Austing]

2. Naked mole rats are the longest-living rodents on Earth
Naked mole rats have been known to live as long as 28 years — decades longer than is typical of other rodents. The key to NMR-longevity has puzzled scientists for years, but one hypothesis states that it has to do with their ability to shut down their already slow metabolisms when the going gets tough — during times of low food availability, or (who knows?) the aftermath of a massive impact event. Researcher Stan Braude, who studies NMRs at Washington University,describes this adaptation particularly well:

“[One way] to think of it is, their gross life span might be 28 years, but their metabolism is going in these short bursts, so maybe the net damage is only 3 or 4 years of net use… They’re living their life in pulses.”

1. The skin of a naked mole rat cannot detect pain — even from an acid burn
Naked mole rats lack a neurotransmitter called substance P that in every other mammal helps relay pain signals from the skin to the central nervous system. They also have mutations in a gene that codes for a protein responsible forregulating their ability to sense the pain of an acid burn. Scientists think that NMRs have evolved these mechanisms of pain tolerance to withstand the highly acidic environments of their underground habitats — but the ability to carry on in the face of pain could prove an invaluable asset when the rest of the world is busy falling to pieces.

Click here to check out the original article. Top image via The Fallout Wiki and DeviantART/justicetoall; eusocial mole rats via; pain-free NMR via; all other image sources cited in-post