Friday, July 29, 2005

London update

The atmosphere in London is pretty eerie at the moment. The eyes of the world seemed to be on London a month ago. What with the Wimbledon tennis championships, the G8 summit, Live8 and then winning the honour of hosting the 2012 Olympics, there was a feeling of euphoria, mixed in with some cynicism (most of my lab colleagues aren’t students and so have to pay council tax, which will be raised to pay for the Olympics). The next day, however, there were a series of fatal bombings on parts of the London public transport system, and since then there have been further failed bomb attempts. There are now almost daily security alerts and evacuations in North London. Over the past month I’ve been cycling around the city and my daily life hasn’t been too disrupted, but on the way to work (Hammersmith Hospital) today I passed a street that had been cordoned off my police. I didn’t stop to wait, but I’ve just heard that it seems armed forces have cornered one of the suspected bombers there. It’s only five minutes away from work and ten minutes from home. Initially it was thought that the 7/7 attacks were the work of a small cell within the UK working independently, but now it seems they were part of a much larger network, with arrests already being made as far away as Egypt and Pakistan. Strange times.

Check out the BBC News site for more details.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Batten down the hatches

News just in of a tornado in south Birmingham. Hang on, a tornado? In the Midlands? Admittedly, before I visited Birmingham last year I though nothing exciting ever happened on the ‘dark side’, but apparently this was quite major. Not as strong as the twisters we regularly hear about in the Caribbean and the southern United States, but still the biggest to hit the region for a quarter of a century.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Another cool pic

And what do you think this is? It's another picture I found on the BBC News wesbite, and was taken by Spike Walker.

Answer: They are tiny kidney stones! Each of them was formed by concentric layers of crystallised calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalate are the commonest type of kidney stones, at least within the UK.

Remember the advice given to people suffering from calcium oxalate stones?
  • Drink plenty of water (avoid dehydration)
  • Avoid foods high in oxalate (chocolate, tea, beer, baked beans, rhubarb...)
  • Restrict sodium and protein in the diet

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Man down

A man was shot killed by armed police yesterday at Stockwell tube station. It was thought that he was involved in the bombings on Thursday, but it’s since turned out he was innocent. The guy (a Brazilian national) was followed from his home by plain clothes officers to the station. He was asked to stop but apparently panicked and fled to a train, where he was shot eight times. I don’t exactly know what happened at the station but I’m pretty scared about the shoot-to-kill policy adopted by the police, especially if more innocent people are killed. That said, you could argue that policies like this need to be implemented to prevent further innocent people dying at the hands of the terrorists.

Friday, July 22, 2005


This massive concert was held on July 2nd in London and in nine other cities throughout the world to campaign for fair trade and debt relief for some of Africa's poorest nations. I was there.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

More violence

Four more bombs on the Underground today. It seems to be a repeat of the events of a fortnight ago. Again there was chaos, and most of the public transport networks within the city were closed for a while. Thankfully the devices only partially exploded, and nobody was hurt.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Look, I'll call you. Ok?

The Psychiatric Hotline:
If you are obsessive compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
If you are dependent, please ask someone to press 2.
If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6.
If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.
If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.
If you are depressed, it doesn't matter which number you press. No one will answer.
If you are anxious, just start pressing numbers at random.
If you are phobic, don't press anything.
If you are anally retentive, please hold.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Riding the Underground

Since the summer’s started I haven’t been using the Tube, London’s metro system, preferring to cycle around the city. It’s actually turned out to be a lot quicker to get around, and I’ve also got (slightly) fitter. I was speaking to my sister about the public transport network, and she’s noticed quite a change in people using the system. Before 7/7 most people preferred to keep to themselves on the Tube, reading, listening to music, staring into space or whatever. It was quite unusual to have a conversation with a stranger. Now though, people are a lot more wary, taking in their surroundings and being a lot more observant of unattended baggage and the like. There’s also been some hostility towards Asian men, especially those carrying a big bag. Some commuters have shouted abuse at them and others have not boarded a carriage with a brown guy, preferring to wait for the next train. I can kind of sympathise with them (most people would, if they’d seen fifty people killed and a further seven hundred injured earlier that month), but it’s brought about what one person has called a path towards ‘a racially segregated form of transport’. I doubt that will last, but it’ll be a travesty whilst it does.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Drug delivery

I've just come across a very interesting paper in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences. There are many different therapeutic proteins and peptides on the market, the most famous of which is probably insulin. However, because they are degraded within the gastrointestinal system they can't be given orally and are delivered via injection. However, groups are now looking at needle-free protein delivery.

This group demonstrate the oral delivery of granulocyte colony-stimulation factor (GCSF), which is used to hasten the recovery of cells in the immune system after chemotherapy. Bai and friends did this by using the protein carrier transferrin as a carrier. Transferrin is resistant to gastrointestinal digestion, and when the group expressed active GCSF as a recombinant fusion protein with transferrin and gave this orally, an increase in neutrophil count was observed. However, if GCSF was given alone no neutrophil increase was noted. When free transferrin was delivered with the transferrin-GCSF fusion protein no increase in neutrophil count was seen, which suggests that the fusion protein is taken up by a transferrin receptor-mediated process. As a review of the paper concludes,
"these results show that a transferrin-based recombinant fusion protein is a promising approach for future development of orally active protein and peptide drugs."
The days of daily injections for insulin-dependent diabetics could well be numbered.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Fighting the flab

I've been cycling into Hospital for the past week, and I'm glad I am. I haven't done much exercise for a long time now, and the ride has made me realise just how unfit I am. It's only about twenty minutes door-to-door, but I can't go all out like I could last year. I'll be working on my fitness quite hard now though. I have to - next Saturday I've arranged to go on a fifty kilometre cycling trip with Kev.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Cool pic

What do you think this is a picture of? The answer is below.

This image, by Keele University's Hilary Hurd, show the gut of a mosquito infected with malaria. Malaria parasites are about to burst from the round sacs. After this the parasites move into the mosquito's saliva, from where it can be transmitted to humans. Pretty neat, huh?

I'm not sure what the progress is in the search for anti-malarials, but I'll try getting up to speed. My grandmother died of malaria in 1999, and with a million others perishing each year, we've got to do something pronto.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Conference delegate?

I've now been in the group for over a week, and made friends with quite a few of the team. And one of them gave me some juicy information yesterday. The main international body for the work I'm doing is the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, their next conference meeting is in May 2006 in Washington state, USA. If I can get enough data for a paper by November 2005, I may have a chance of going. I'm working pretty hard anyway, but from now on I'm going all out.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The first week

Well folks, it's the end of my first week as a grad student. And a fellow student just introduced me to this website, from which I got the comic below. There are quite a few other students in the group and they tell me this is a brilliant observation. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Poster presentation fun


Today was interesting. After the bureaucratic chores of yesterday, today I got to sit in for a neonatal discussion meeting in the morning. That's when cases of newborn babies that appear to have some clinical abnormalities are discussed by a team of obstetricians, paediatricians, radiologists, nurses and researchers. Together they try and come up with the best possible medical management strategy for the little ones. First the doctor primarily responsible for looking after the baby describes the situation and the response of the parents. The rest of the team then asks questions, and if the baby has had some scans then these are talked through by one of the radiologists. After another round of questioning, the group then decides what would be the best step forward. It was a fascinating hour. I got to revise diseases like Sturge-Weber syndrome and Dandy-Walker syndrome, but also learnt about how some parents try and cope with these.

In the afternoon, I went back to South Ken, for a Graduate School of Life Sciences and Medicine poster presentation evening. I only new two other people, and since all the other grad students began at the start of the last academic year, I was the only one without any work of my own. Felt like I right chump. It was definitely worth going though. One very interesting poster was about the capacity of cells within Wharton's jelly to express neuronal cell markers. Wharton's jelly is a connective tissue matrix that surrounds and protects blood vessels within the umbilical cord. Stromal cells from Wharton's jelly appear similar to mesenchymal stem cells. However, the presenter's data suggested that the cells may be multipotential, and could be induced to develop into neuronal and neuroglial cells. The guy argued that if we collected Wharton's jelly during pregnancy, we could have a ready source of neuronal precursor cells, which could be used in certain neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease. Since umbilical tissue is discarded after pregnancy this would eliminate have the ethical and moral dilemma surrounding the use of embryonic tissue as a source of neuronal stem cells. There would also be no problems with tissue rejection, since these would essentially be autologous cells. It's an exciting piece of research and I'm waiting to see what happens.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

I start tomorrow

Hey all

I officially start my doctorate tomorrow. To all intents and purposes though, the first week will mainly be administration. I need to alter my registration with the College which, knowing the efficiency of the Undergraduate Medical Office, might take quite a while. Then I need to get a new swipe card, allowing me access to the labs. Hopefully I'll also be able to see some MRI scans being performed and go up to the neonatal intensive care unit for some time. Other than that, I'll just be getting to grips with the physics of magnetic resonance imaging.

I'll keep you updated.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Indian readers

Just came across this post on the BBC News website. Apparently, Indians read more than any other nationality. According to one commentator though, it's not usually done for pleasure.
"Reading books just isn't a habit with them because they're not into cultural pursuits. It's not a part of their make-up. All they want to do is consume."
So says Venkateshwar Rao in the Sunday Times. Agree? Why, and what do you enjoy reading? I'm currently going through two books: 'MRI: From Picture to Proton' and 'Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'. Not enjoying the latter as much as I'd hoped though. I wasn't expecting to say this, but I think the film is better than the book.