Stephen writes:

This sounds like it’s right up the TWiV comment alley. Stars include the Cochrane Collaboration and Ben Goldacre.


Stephen writes:

Dear Twivsters,

I wanted to give my reactions to the last TWIV and the discussion of reforming science. First, as someone who spent time in the humanities, we had similar problems accepting too many graduate students, though we were more concerned to make sure everyone could be paid throughout their studies. But in other ways we were luckier than the sciences—I almost feel privileged now that my department got free cleaning, free electricity, even free office space. And salaries came from the university. Okay, maybe job prospects were far worse. But that comparison just makes much of what grants are required to pay sound even more absurd.

Second, as someone with a number of friends who are young scientists, it seems like the role of staff scientists in science reform deserve more coverage. It’s easy to see this as a less wanted career path—especially when, as you discussed, many established PIs are afraid of their domains shrinking. But I know some young scientists, and I doubt they’re outliers, who would happily avoid the traditional PI career path in favor of staff scientist type positions where they can spend more time at the bench and less time worried about grants—avoiding the bait and switch of science education. From what I hear these positions are rarely advertised. They’re more likely to be offered to post docs who have been around a while, rather than to people specifically motivated to have that kind of position.

It’s warming up here after a cool and overcast week; it should reach 24 degrees tomorrow. More importantly, wind is abating; it was regularly gusting over 30 miles per hour earlier this week.



Ben writes:

Hi Twiv,

Many thanks again for your amazing podcast! I’ve been with you since the beginning, and have written in a few times. (I’m looking forward to more Urban Agriculture episodes as well! The first one was amazing.)

First, it sounds like several of you may be infected with the love of flying, which can be quite expensive. When I was in college, I learned to enjoy cigarettes. Then, I developed a taste for cigars beyond my budget, thus losing my appreciation for cigarettes, as well as my ability to finance my tobacco habit. I thus lost my tobacco habit. As the years have gone by, I’ve come to be grateful for that. (Note: I now believe I am fortunate to have a variant of the nicotine receptor that renders me less susceptible to nicotine addiction than many, so your mileage may vary.)

Well, I fell in love with helicopters. I find those subtle birds far more fascinating than fixed wing aircraft. They are also much more expensive, and in many contexts, less practical. I have to date indulged in only one lesson. I think they may play a role for me analogous to cigars. So anyhow, if any of you find your addiction to flight getting the better of you, then I suggest you give helicopters a spin.

I was just listening to some back issues of the journal of immunology’s podcast, when I came to realize that PTX3 (secreted by murine and human immune and respiratory epithelial cells) is a competitive inhibitor of influenza hemagglutinin. This made me realize that anytime we consider a drug target, we should first ask if the idea has perhaps already occurred to evolution. Our medicine should, I imagine, aim to compliment those tricks which evolution  has already considered. If we instead do something redundant, I imagine the in vitro results might look good yet the in vivo results may disappoint (even with good PK), simply because the typical untreated virulence is already being moderated by the strategy that our treatment is pursuing.

Supposing the PK of tamiflu is good (and that seems like such a basic issue that I’d certainly hope it was confirmed early in development), perhaps the reason tamiflu doesn’t work is due to redundancy with some not-yet-discovered trick of our innate immune system?

Are there any general lab or bioinformatic strategies for detecting such accidental redundancy, short of large-scale clinical trials powered to confirm efficacy? I bet this is a common problem.

In general when it comes to any medical intervention, I figure we should modestly start with the question of why we think we know better than evolution. I think sometimes we really do, but very often, I think we don’t. This is a philosophy however that I don’t often hear.




Charley writes:

Dear Mr. Racaniello,

Thanks for the great work you & Mr. Despommier do on TWIV & TWIP.  I’m an engineer by training and have always been an amateur scientist.   My primary interest is insects, particularly myrmecology.  Studying parasites of insects led me to TWIP; it is by far my favorite podcast.   TWIP led me to TWIV which is also fascinating.

In light of the current Ebola outbreak, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the “big picture” of the probability of a dangerous global viral outbreak.  I realize we are much more mobile than we were in, for example, the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak.  But also our healthcare tools and systems are more responsive.  It is very hard for someone as ignorant as me to speculate as to where the viral arms race now stands.

Regardless whether you choose to address that or not, I want you & Mr. Despommier to know that your podcast work is very much appreciated; I know it takes effort to put together & record the podcast and you have many choices about where to apply your time and talents.  Thank you.

Best regards

Melissa writes:

Good afternoon!

I have started listening to your podcasts and have a very layman’s level of understanding of viruses and the immune system.  Given the recent ebola outbreak in Africa, I am wondering why they can’t use the Reston Ebola virus to make a vaccine of some sort given that this strain doesn’t make us sick? Thanks!


Jon writes:

Crowd attacks Ebola treatment center in Guinea

CONAKRY, Guinea — A crowd angry about an Ebola outbreak that has killed 86 people across Guinea attacked a center where victims were being held in isolation, prompting an international aid group to temporarily evacuate its team, officials said Saturday.

The violence took place in the southern town of Macenta, where at least 14 people have died since the outbreak emerged last month. The mob who descended upon the clinic accused Doctors Without Borders health workers of bringing Ebola to Guinea, where there had never previously been any cases.

Some young people threw rocks at the aid workers, though no one was seriously hurt, said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders.

“We understand very well that people are afraid because it is a new disease here,” Taylor said. “But these are not favorable working conditions so we are suspending our activities.”

Patients are continuing to receive treatment from Guinean health ministry personnel, Taylor said.

Guinea’s government swiftly condemned the attack, saying that Doctors Without Borders and other international aid groups are key to stopping the spread of Ebola.

“The international community has rapidly mobilized to help us in these difficult moments with considerable medical support and specialists on the ground at the disease’s epicenter,” the statement said. “That’s why the government is calling on people to stay calm and allow our partners to help us eradicate this epidemic.”

There is no cure for Ebola, which causes fever and severe bleeding, and up to 90 percent of patients die from the strain of the virus that has been detected in Guinea. Some patients are held for observation, and then transferred to another area if they are confirmed to have Ebola.

Confusion about the process has prompted misinformation in this remote corner of Guinea. Resident Kolie Martin accused doctors of transferring patients to the isolation ward who had not tested positive for Ebola.

“As soon as someone is brought here, they don’t try to figure out whether he is sick or not, they just transfer him directly to the sick ward. So it’s them who are killing the people who are in good health,” Martin said.

A total of 86 people have died so far from Ebola in Guinea and two other confirmed deaths have been reported in neighboring Liberia. Authorities in Mali are also investigating three suspected cases of Ebola, and they have sent samples overseas for testing.

Experts say that Ebola is carried by fruit bats living in West Africa, and that it could have been transmitted to a human who ate a bat or another animal that had bitten by a bat. Health officials emphasize it can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is infected. But that hasn’t stopped fear and misinformation from spreading.

In Guinea, passengers aboard a crowded bus fled at the sight of an elderly man who vomited, fearing he was ill with Ebola. In Mali, people protested in the neighborhood where the suspected Ebola patients were being isolated, fearing their presence.

An Air France flight from the Guinean capital that landed in Paris on Friday was briefly quarantined after the crew discovered indications that a passenger had been sick in the toilets. After medical checks on board the flight, the 180 passengers and 11 crew members were released, Air France said.



Lawrence, KS

Joseph writes:

Dear Titans of TWIV,

A listener pick for this week:

The notion that mutations allowing efficient propagation in eggs (or for that matter in cell culture) might be incompatible with full vaccine efficacy has been a theoretical concern for a long time, but this is the first demonstration of the problem in the field of which I am aware (it is very possible that I am not fully informed).

But one more good reason among many to consider alternative vaccine technologies.



Phil  writes:

NIH NIHOD video about “Emerging Disease or Emerging Diagnosis” – public outreach video from NIH.  I can’t find what NIHOD stands for, but it’s apparently their YouTube channel


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