Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mean girls, it's not just a white thing you know.

Ok, maybe I do like to pick on "should this really be a study?" studies. I should have some compassion, I did get my Ph.D. on "A kinetic analysis of the novel states of the human formyl peptide receptor". Really. You can look it up if you want.

A grad student is studying the phenomenon of "mean girls", something we have all had experience with. She is studying in particular the fact that this is not just a white girl thing, apparently girls of other races do it too...

Hellooo. Didn't you see "Bring it on"? Yeah, probably not. I have the excuse of being mom to two pre-teen girls. So I can see bad movies and not look the worse for it. Both of my daughters are navigating the "mean girl" waters nicely. My problem is getting them to recognise that often they are the "mean girls".

She is also going to study this phenomenon in older women. I think the best thing about growing up is when we work out that we don't need that kind of interaction anymore. This weekend I won't be blogging as I am walking with thousands of women (and a few extraordinary men) in the Breast Cancer 3-day. I will be walking 60 miles over the weekend. I did this walk last year and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The part that moves me the most is being thanked by women who have survived cancer, and families who have lost someone to it. It makes walking 60 miles seem trivial.

Here's to growing out of the "mean girl" stage.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dude... it's really not that big a deal.

Like I said earlier I'm not attached, but then I'm not in Prague this week settling the "is Pluto really a planet?" debate.

You know, there are other battles on the planet that we should probably be paying attention to... hell, lets pay attention to the one that might actually get resolved this decade.

Check this out, the battle is heating up - these normally stoic scientists are interrupting each other, generally getting huffy [committee member Richard Binzel of MIT told the delegates: "You can vote based on physics, or maybe you have some preconceived idea of what a planet should be."] and now they have to go into closed session to determine whether Pluto gets to stay in the club.

Please, what's the big deal? We've gone decades with this ambiguous definition of a planet, why be so exclusive? Of course, they are scientists, and we scientists do tend to be hard-core about some things. We tend to think that what we do is describe things as they really are. Oh come on, we make up this crap, just like everyone else. And although it may make no sense, physics-wise, to keep Pluto a planet, it is a sentimental thing. Oh yea, I'm a scientist, I have no sentiment.

But then, when I asked my daughter, she said it really is a big deal to ask her to memorize another two or three (maybe more) planets. Although she did come up with this... (said with a whatever attitude) My Very Excellent Mother Can't Just Serve Up Nine Crusty Pizzas...Xena.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The other sensory organ...

One of the things you will find out about me if you associate with me long enough, is my fascination with the immune system. The immune system is the element of the body that makes legitimate the adage "what doesn't kill you just makes you stronger".

Since I was in graduate school, I have followed the work of those in the field of Neuroimmunomodulation. A really big word that suggests that the immune system and our brain are intimately involved in each others workings. For those of you not in this line of work, that may seem obvious; however, once you are trained as a biomedical scientist you tend to think of the body as several systems working independant of each other. It makes it easier to study them. So those who study the connections between the brain and the immune system have often been relegated to the controversial or fringe sections of the party.

I tend to think of the immune system as a sensory organ for the brain. The brain doesn't get out much, it's pretty difficult to get past the skull and getting into the brain through the blood is highly regulated by the blood-brain-barrier. So if there really is a mind-body connection like so many of us granola types believe, the brain's gotta be getting it's information from somewhere. One place to look is for ways that the central nervous system and the immune system could communicate.

A recent Harvard study explains how a molecule that until now has been relegated to the immune system, plays an important role in the brains ability to make new connections. Something important only if you want to remember things. Not bad for a molecule thought only to train immune cells who to kill. This study is important because any molecule involved in regenerating neural pathways - say after an injury - is a hot topic (think Christopher Reeves). Of course I (and a few others) would think "what is a respectable immune protein doing in that neck of the woods?"

But even cooler than that (yes, I have been called a nerd for this kind of enthusiasm), immunological synapses (pretty picture too) - structures that were thought to reside only in the brain - have been found in the body. Of course it could be that my brain just looks for these connections cause I want to see them.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Unbelievable... TV dulls pain

This may come as a shock to those who have never owned (or seen, or been around) a television, but apparently watching tv is distracting enough that it can be called analgesic... it dulls pain.

It takes me back to those nights when I would watch 4 Tivo'd episodes of "24" in a row, just to forget that I didn't want to do my assignments and couldn't bear the thought of going back to work the next morning. 'Course having a beer always enhanced the experience I was going for... hmmm, maybe they should study the analgesic effects of beer...

Now, you may get the sense that I'm a little cynical; I am concerned about the kinds of studies that get funded, especially when funding is so hard to come by these days.* Actually, I can't help but pick fun at studies that maybe should remain anecdotal.

There is something good to say about this study, however; using tv as an analgesic for small children undergoing routine procedures (blood draws) is a cheap, non-invasive and apparently effective way to decrease the stress of the procedure. Finding another use for tv besides "babysitter" is laudable. Not that I do that, by the way.

* This study was performed in Italy, not in the U.S.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ceres, welcome to the cool kids table.

I'm not attached or anything, so I thought expanding the definition of a planet to include all objects big enough to be round was pretty cool.

Yes, it is a compromise between the hard-core planetologists - who insist that only objects that were involved in the formation of the solar system should be defined as planets - and the lay person - who cannot part with the idea that our beloved Pluto isn't really a planet.

It's a simple scientific definition of what a planet is, but it makes our solar system a whole lot more complex.

For instance... did you know that there is a planet - albeit a dwarf one - between Mars and Jupiter?! How cool is that? And were not sure yet, but there may be more dwarf planets in the asteroid belt. And what about Pluto and Charon (formerly known as the moon of Pluto)? They actually make up a binary planetary system! And apparently there are a whole schlew of planets - maybe hundreds - in the reaches beyond Pluto that include the recently found 2003 UB313.

Maybe it's just me, but I've got a new found interest in the solar system. It's like when I learned to ride the bike and found a much bigger world beyond my own little neighborhood.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

This is the start of a discourse.

What?! Aren't there enough blogs out there talking about science? Of course there are, but I don't write any of them. So here's mine.