Friday, November 21, 2014


The World's Cutest picture
 The World's most beautiful picture
 Almost the World's cutest picture
A picture that makes me kind of sad
Trapped inside by foul weather and gloom, I have been passing time by actually reading all of the ridiculously expensive Wall Street Journal that appears in my driveway each morning.   Normally I just read the front section, then search for a sports story – and then quickly cast the whole thing in my recycle box while feeling vaguely guilty for wasting so much money and so many trees.  However, today I discovered something that may be of interest to many of you, especially those among you who are certain that Big Pharma is ripping us off.  It is a Journal  blog, named “Pharmalot”, which deals with all manner of stuff regarding big drug companies.  Today’s column is a discussion of why some people say it cost an average of $2.7 billion to bring new drugs o market, and why lots of people feel that’s baloney.  It’s worth reading, if you have time to burn.  To read Pharmalot, just request it under that name on Google.
The main reason for this blog is to post some nice pictures to tide you over while I’m in transit.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Reading to Simon Hunsinger
Last week’s paper edition of The Economist contained three bio-related articles that you might enjoy.  The first is a painless discussion of how simple prokaryote cells (e.g., bacteria) may have evolved into the more complex eukaryotic cells that make up us and nearly everything else.  The second asks you to review your heartfelt but perhaps unreasoning distrust of GMO foods, and the third answers that age-old human question: “Which is more complicated the brain or the testicle?”  You may have to “join” the Economist to see these articles but don’t despair – it is easy, and free.
Here are the web addresses:
It is very cold in Bellingham these days, and my shingles give me an excuse to stay inside and watch football.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Where the heck is this?
Looks like the Appalachians, but was she ever there?
From time to time over the last several years I have mulled over the collateral problems that arise from attempts to detect various cancers in their early – usually most curable – stage.  At first glance, early detection would seem to be an unmitigated blessing - it saves lives.  And it would be an unmitigated blessing if these “early warning” tests were 100% reliable, but of course they’re not.  False positives are inevitable (these are human procedures, after all), and false positives almost inevitably give rise to needless worry and expense.  Sometimes these collateral difficulties can be so severe that august bodies like the USPSTF recommend against the procedure except under special circumstances (see my first prostate cancer blog:
 and a good many – probably too many – follow-ups).  Because of these cautions, any advice that can lower costs and reduce anxiety is welcome.  So – AARP brings you this piece of wisdom, courtesy of Linda’s sister Carolyn.   All women should read it; you never know when it will come in handy.
8. Follow-up ultrasounds for small ovarian cysts
Many women receive repeated ultrasounds to verify that ovarian cysts have not become cancerous, but current research says that these tests aren't necessary. For one thing, premenopausal women have harmless ovarian cysts regularly. For another, about 20 percent of postmenopausal women also develop harmless cysts.
"The likelihood of these small simple cysts ever becoming cancer is exceedingly low," says Deborah Levine, chair of the American College of Radiology Commission on Ultrasound and a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School.
In postmenopausal women, only cysts larger than 1 centimeter in diameter need a follow-up ultrasound. For premenopausal women, who typically have benign cysts every month when they ovulate, cysts smaller than 3 centimeters aren't even worth mentioning in the radiologist's report, says Levine.
The quotation above is #8 on this list, but the other 9 are worth reading, too.
My shingles are better, and the Seahawks pulled it out.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Us, somewhere warm
A long time ago
As you know, I am a little skeptical about the role of diet in health, and especially in cancer prevention (& cure).  Maybe I should do some serious  reconsideration.
I say this because three articles published recently make a good case for the role of a “good” diet in the prevention of epithelial ovarian cancer.  They were “retrospective” statistical studies, based on very large data sets.  By “retrospective” is meant that a group of people are followed over many years, via questionnaires, lab tests, etc., and when they finally die (or funding for the study runs out!), the investigator traces back to see how each life was led, and what resulted.  Thus, say 100,000 women were followed for fifteen years.  Of these, 300 died of ovarian cancer.  These 300 are: “matched” with 300 women who didn’t contract the disease – “matched” in the sense of similar age, race, ethnic background, economic circumstances, etc..  Then the question is asked: “Is there a conspicuous lifestyle difference between the two groups?”  Or something like that.  Inevitably, fancy statistics are applied. 
So, what are the results?   Well, it appears that diet does matter.  The “flavonoids” in black tea come in for special commendation.  They also are found in citrus fruit.  Fats, refined grains, and alcohol are to be cast into outer darkness – except for red wine, which is good.   The advice, in a nutshell (and I quote):  “In any case, your best bet is probably to maintain a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.  But you already knew that, didn’t you?”
Here are the articles”
Just so you know: The Seahawks are trailing, and my shingles still hurt like hell.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Cairo, central market
You could get lost in there and never be seen again!
Here is a depressing little article about ovarian-cancer drugs:
It is depressing because it failed, and even more so that it aimed so low.  The goal was to extend “progression-free survival” to a statistically significant degree.  No mention of overall survival, no mention of cure.  More money , time and talent  down the rat-hole.


Friday, October 31, 2014


On Santorini, mid 80s
Man was it hot!

It is with great pleasure that I present Dr. Carol Hanchette for your admiring attention.  My enthusiasm has two sources.  First, Dr. Hanchette is an Geological Scientist, not a Biochemist or M.D.  Second, she is engaged in research that will further Clifton Leaf’s (and my own) priority – to “preempt” ovarian cancer.  Dr. Hanchette is using the techniques of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis to determine whether or not proximity to pulp and paper mills is associated with an enhanced prevalence of ovarian cancer.  She is on the faculty of the University of Louisville, in the department of Geography and Geosciences.  Dr. Hanchette is one of eight successful applicants for the Marsha Rivkin Center’s Pilot Study grants.  The award is $75,000, for one year.  For many of the biological cancer studies I have followed, $75K would barely cover the cost of feeding the lab animals, but for an earth scientist it is a considerable chunk of change.  Spend it wisely, Dr. Hanchette.

Apparently Dr. Hanchette has preliminary data suggesting a spatial correlation between ovarian cancer and pulp mills.  A systematic GIS study clearly is the way to rigorously test the hypothesis that the two in fact are related.  Then harder questions arise: (1) is the correlation one of cause and effect, or is it more complicated?  For instance, it is possible (although astronomically unlikely)  that the increased ovarian-cancer incidence arises because women living near pulp mills drink unusually high quantities of hard liquor, in order to be able to ignore the smell, and the booze is to blame?   And then, of course, once the cause-and-effect is established the biochemist must step in:  (2) How does a pulp mill cause ovarian cancer, and what can be done about it.

Dr. Hanchette obtained her PhD from the University of North Carolina.  She describes herself as a Medical Geographer.  Much of her previous work seems to involve environmental effects on the prevalence of prostate cancer.  Currently she is an Associate Professor.  One hopes that, with the results of this study in print and validated, she quickly is promoted to Full Professor, with a substantial raise. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Linda, thoroughly be-catted
The malevolent beast glaring at you is Murphy.
The fuzz ball in the foreground is Whiskers.
I am quite resigned to the fact that Google will soon rule the entire external world of humankind.  Resigned, not enthusiastic – Now I learn that they have their eyes on our internal world as well; stuff in or bathed by our personal bloodstreams.  About this I am enthusiastic, but skeptical.  Their plan seems a bit “Pie in the Sky-ish” to me, but what do I know?  It never is prudent to bet against Google.
Here is what the purportedly are preparing to do.  They will create a nanoparticle with a magnetic core.  (I blogged about nanoparticles previously: 4/12/2012 I also know that it is possible to produce such magnetic  particles, from a talk I once heard at the Hutch.)  They will then coat this particle with some kind of antibody – say, one for gloming onto ovarian tumor cells exclusively.   Next they will package these nanoparticles in a pill, and turn them loose inside our bodies.  After a suitable time they will summon them back (to a magnet attached to the body – the wrist is mentioned), and interrogate them.  Voila!  If you have ovarian cancer the magnetic nanoparticles will drag them to the collection point, and – if properly calibrated – the presence of OVCA will become known.  Sounds good!  It also sounds like black magic.  And, of course, expensive.
Don’t expect this technology any time soon.  They (Google) are pointing for clinical trials in five to seven years.  Maybe they will lose interest and divert their attention to ending war, disease, bad weather, and traffic jams instead.  Right now I hear that they are developing a car that even an octogenarian can drive safely.