The genomic medicine

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Hi guys,

check this video out. The general scientific director of National Human Genome Research Institute is showing how to purify DNA from Strawberry by using everyday household items. It is absolutely a fantastic idea that clarifies also the basic chemical principle of the DNA. After all purifying DNA is not so complicate!

Dr. Erik D. Green started his pioneering studies for whole genome analysis during his post-doc at the Washington University School of Medicine genetics department. His complete biography can be found here. Dr. Green has recently published a very interesting review on the achievement of scientific community in the field of genomic with the title: “Charting a course for genomic medicine from base to bedside”. He summarizes 5 principal achievements: understanding the structure of the genome, understanding the biology of the genome, understanding the biology of the disease, advancing the science of medicine and finally improving the effectiveness of health care (by the 2020!). Very interesting review full of very usefull link. Enjoy the reading.


Find the mistake in the evolution of man

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Hi dudes,

Last week I was watching a BBC documentary on the evolution of human being and… incredible, in this BBC documentary there is a quite big mistake!!! Who can find it?

As we wrote in our mission we didn’t want to make a classical divulgation blog because often when we try to make think too easier we make them wrong. And here is an example. A little clue? Take the chance to read about the Neo-Darwinists and how they improved our comprehension of evolution (it is particular relevant in the last part of the documentary).

Good luck and give it to try!!!

A funny parody of a real lab problem!!!!

Hi guys!

Here is a very funny video to start your day with a smile!!!!  Scientists are really crazy, sometimes…

Interview Dr Robert D. Newman: How to tackle Malaria.

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In the post of last week, we discussed generally what Malaria is, where is more frequent and in particular we commented a couple of very innovative approaches giving an example of the importance of imagination to successfully tackle difficult scientific problems. Today, I would like to report the more important hits taken from an interview of Dr Robert D. Newman (director of the World Health Organization’s Global Malaria Programme since July 2009) published on WHO website.

In this interview, it is immediately clear that Malaria cannot be approached as WHO previously did with Small Pox or it is doing now for other diseases (look to this post). First of all, all the strategies adopted so far to control Malaria  failed.

Q: There is a long history of efforts to control malaria, from the League of Nations’ Malaria Commission of the 1920s to the abandoned eradication campaign of the 1950s and 1960s. What is different today?

A: First, the tool kit is broader. People know that it’s not going to happen with a single wonder drug or insecticide, but a complicated mix of insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying, better diagnostic testing, better antimalarials and new tools on the horizon. Also, we have realized that no one organization can do this alone. It needs to be a global partnership, as with Roll Back Malaria. The WHO Global Malaria Programme plays a key role in that partnership by setting evidence-based policies, independently tracking progress, designing approaches for capacity building and health systems strengthening, and identifying threats to success and new opportunities for action. But you also need bilateral programmes, nongovernmental organizations and academic institutions. At the centre of everything you have national malaria control programmes, which are much more sophisticated than 20 years ago. So you have a different landscape today.

In second instance, an efficient vaccination strategy is not yet available.

Q: Is there any progress in terms of a vaccine?

A: There is a vaccine called “RTS,S” that is now in a very large phase III trial in 11 sites in seven African countries and will have enrolled approximately 16 000 infants and young children by the trial’s end. We have never had a malaria vaccine get that far. The phase II studies in the target age groups in Africa have shown anywhere from 40–60% protection against malaria in the follow-up period for the trials. It’s very exciting progress, but the efficacy to date is not that of, say, a measles vaccine, which is expected to be at least 90%. If licensed, it would be the first vaccine for a parasitic disease. The WHO Global Malaria Programme and the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals have convened a joint technical expert group that regularly reviews progress on the RTS,S trial, scheduled to finish in 2014. So by 2015 the group will have enough evidence to advise WHO as to whether it should recommend this vaccine for public health use.

In addition, another limitation of Malaria vaccines “RTS,S” is the specificity for the parasite common in Africa but not for the parasite common in other part of the world such as in the sud-east Asia, where Malaria is very common (look at this post). Probably for those reasons WHO change their strategy:

Q: In March 2010 WHO changed its policy and now recommends diagnostic testing for malaria in all suspected cases before initiating treatment. Given the limited availability of quality microscopy, especially in Africa, how will countries achieve this?

A: Over the past few years a constellation of changes has compelled our technical expert group to recommend we move to universal access to diagnostic testing for malaria. Microscopy remains a reliable diagnostic tool but is seldom available. In the past 10 years, we have seen an increase in the availability of rapid diagnostic tests for malaria. Their cost has come down and their accuracy is reported through a product testing programme. In recent years, malaria transmission has dropped, so that in many places we are also saving money, as a typical rapid diagnostic test costs about US$ 0.50 while the average course of an artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) costs just under US$ 1. About a decade ago in Africa fewer than 5% of suspected cases in the public sector were given a diagnostic test, whereas in 2009 diagnostic testing was performed on 35% of such cases.

Therefore, the most efficient therapy we have now to tackle Malaria is the ACT. But, it is actually well know the phenomena of “drug resistance” when a single therapy is use for long time (the same happen for the anti-biotic). Dr. Robert D. Newman explains that this is partially also the case of Malaria.

Q: Your report alerts us to resistance to artemisinins particularly on the Thai–Cambodian border, but also spreading to other parts of the Mekong region. Does that mean that ACTs – the most effective antimalarials to date – will soon be rendered useless?

A: While we have seen the emergence of resistance to artemisinins, we have not seen resistance to ACTs. That’s a very important distinction. When administered as part of an ACT regimen, the partner drug “covers for” the artemisinin by killing the parasites that were not killed by the artemisinin. We have seen problems only in cases where the partner drug was previously used on its own and is no longer effective due to resistance. Right now we have five ACT regimens that are recommended by WHO for treating falciparum malaria. We don’t have ACT resistance per se, so the good news is that the combination, if chosen well, is still working.

Q: Why is there more drug resistance in south-eastern Asia than in Africa and Latin America?

A: Why is the Mekong area known as “the cradle of drug resistance”? Often resistance arises where the drugs were used first and the longest. The Mekong also has a very large private sector and a lot of the market for these drugs is unregulated. In the case of ACTs, artemisinins were marketed alone, and so people might buy a seven-day course but only take the drug for two days, or they may have gone to a shop that sold them a couple of doses. I ascribe most of the problem to early adoption and inappropriate use.

Q: Will resistance to artemisinins spread to Africa?

A: If history is any guide, yes. The global plan I mentioned looks at these scenarios and classifies countries. A tier-one country has confirmed resistance; a tier-two country is one that neighbours or has a significant migrant flow from a tier-one country. Tier three includes everywhere else, including Africa. We are asking tier-three countries to test four to six sites for efficacy and resistance to medicines that are in use there. If every country follows this recommendation, we can respond quickly and mobilize all the resources needed to face the emergency should resistance to artemisinins emerge.

Therefore, more efficient therapies are needed before the drug resistance of Malaria parasites became so strong that we cannot treat anymore people with the disease. And science, responsible to improve human condition, has an important goal to achieve.

2010 in review

Hi Guys! Below is the summary of how our blog is doing. Considering that it is a science blog we did great: 1100 visitors in 3 months and many comments by blog and  by e-mails. This very good result stimulates me in continuing writing and discussing with you all about science, biology and philosophy.

I would like to thank you all for your interest and your participation. So let’s keep discussing about science in our path to the reality!

Summary of Blog Activity

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has 296 steps to reach the top. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2010. If those were steps, it would have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa 4 times.

In 2010, there were 13 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 31 pictures uploaded.

The busiest day of the year was November 23rd with 86 views. The most popular post that day was Lista di cosa piacerebbe ai ricercatori/List of what (Italians) researchers would like.


Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Lista di cosa piacerebbe ai ricercatori/List of what (Italians) researchers would like November 2010
7 comments and 1 Like on,


The idea behind EducereX November 2010


Vaccination: the success over infectious diseases December 2010
8 comments and 1 Like on,


About October 2010


I Wish Everyone Could Experience a Creative Leap November 2010

Ethical issues related to stem cell research

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I want to start this entry in a controversial way and claim that in my opinion there is no major ethical issue related to stem cell research. Of course, there are ways to exploit this field in a bad way but who could give me an example of a research field where this is not the case. Where there are people, there are issues that need to be dealt with, without any exceptions.  As always, we just have to be reasonable! But that is, of course, easier to say than to do. So let me just list some of the reasons why I do not think that stem cell research confronts us with an exceptional bunch of extraordinarily new ethical issues:

–        When it comes to embryonic stem cells, people are concerned about messing with something that could potentially become a complete human being. One has problems to deal with something as “divine” as the embryo. But let me clarify something: a single cell or a clump of cells are not the same as a human being! And being worried about potentials means to be overly sensitive and scholastic. We are always confronted with potentials. Every step we take in daily life is a reduction of potentials and the creation of new ones. So why do we see embryonic stem cell research only as a destruction of a potential human being, rather than the creation of new potentials if all that we are doing is to deal with actual problems, such as the regeneration of a whole organ for a suffering individual? Who’s got more rights? The potential human being whose existence is in no way guaranteed even if the embryo was not touched at all or the actual human being lying in front me that would do anything to improve his condition?

–        Consider the following situation: a child suffers from incurable leukaemia and requires an appropriate bone marrow/stem cell donor to get a last chance to live. Would it pose a big ethical problem if the parents decided to undergo IVF by pre-selecting embryos that perfectly matches the needs of the sick child in order to obtain a perfect donor (given that the whole process of donation is rather harmless and does not represent a major risk for the donor )? I understand that many people would probably feel uncomfortable to immediately give “no” as an answer.  The reason for that might be due to the feeling that the yet unborn child was only meant to be living to serve the needs of another child. But is that really a necessary corollary of the whole situation? People usually have got all kinds of “reasons” to get a baby, some are better and some are worse. But that does not really matter, I think, as long as they do their best to take care and educate their child in the best way they can when it entered their lives. Pure love between a couple might be the noblest reason we can think of to get a child, but the noblest love cannot compensate for the neglect a child has to cope with as soon as the original passionate love fades and the grand idea of getting a child suddenly seems to have been a big mistake. On the other side of the spectrum, getting a child due to purely practical reasons, such as the need for a stem cell donor, does not preclude the amount of love and care a child can experience when born. What I want to say is that no one can ever monitor the love and care that every newborn child actually deserves from their parents, no matter under which conditions it is conceived. In the end, we all have to proof and somehow rely that we are responsible and moral human beings that carry the heart at the right spot! But no ethical system can guarantee that these conditions are ever fulfilled.

I discussed two arguments/scenarios that can be frequently encountered when dealing with ethical issues around stem cell research. There is, of course, much more to discuss but I just wanted to give a short introduction. Our world develops continuously, we have to deal with new situations constantly and therefore it is natural that we find ourselves before situations that raise difficult questions. But this is the case for everything! No two situations are exactly the same. Our moral standards, however, should somehow be stable. What a fruitful discussion should be about is to cover all aspects that need to be taken into account to finally be able to make a good and sensible decision.

Lista di cosa piacerebbe ai ricercatori/List of what (Italians) researchers would like

Lista di cosa piacerebbe ai ricercatori

Vorrei fare una professione che venga considerata una professione

Vorrei  avere la maternità quando sono incinta

Vorrei poter stare in Italia a fare il mio lavoro

Vorrei avere I soldi per curare le malattie altrui, ma anche per pagare il dentista

Vorrei avere I soldi per scoprire energie alternative.

Vorrei essere pagato, anche poco, e solo per pagare le spese della benzina, quando vado ad insegnare

Vorrei poter aprire un conto in banca senza aver bisogno della garanzia dei I miei genitori.

Vorrei avere la possibilità di aprire un mutuo per comprare una casa con mia moglie.

Vorrei poter pagare I contributi prima dei 40 anni.

Vorrei essere considerata prima di tutto una persona e non un arrogante assetata di soldi che viola I valori dettati da Dio.

Vorrei che le banche mi considerassero un lavoratore e non un borsista.

Vorrei poter pianificare progetti più lunghi di 1 anno.

Vorrei poter ridare ricchezza al mio paese che ha speso tanto per darmi un istruzione.


List of what (Italians) researchers would like:

I would like a job that is considered as a job;

I would like to have the maternity leaves;

I would like to stay in Italy;

I would like have funding to cure diseases;

I would like to be paid, although a little bit and just for the fuel, when I teach;

I would like to have funding to discover renewable energies;

I would like to open a bank account without the help of my parents;

I would like to have a pension scheme before the 40’s;

I would like to be considered first of all as a person and not as an arrogant being looking for money that destroys the ethical values defined by god;

I would like to be considered a worker, with a normal job, from the banks;

I would like to plan scientific projects longer than 1 year;

I would like to give back all the resources that my country invested on my education.