Tiny machines

It’s been a while since I posted, so I thought it was about time I wrote something. And what better to write about, than what I spend every day working on!

If you studied biology in school may remember this: DNA RNA Protein.

Proteins do almost everything in the cell. Anything you can think of, a protein does it.

Generate energy? Protein.

Shuttle things around? Protein.

Repair damage? Protein.

At any one time, a cell has tens of millions of proteins, all working to keep the cell healthy and functioning as it should. It’s a mind-boggling operation, and it is happening in every one of your cells right now. When you consider that you have trillions of cells (there are more cells in your hand than there are people on earth!), the staggering complexity is difficult to grasp.

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Talking science with the public (part 1)

I have had the pleasure of helping organize the Pint of Science NL festival over the last 2 years. The festival takes place from May 20th to 22nd this year, and we will have at least 85 scientists talking about their work across 8 cities in the Netherlands. All the information can be found via this link.

PoSAs part of a speaker’s package we put together for the festival, I wrote a few things about how people can make their presentations more engaging for the public. Explaining complex science is sometimes a difficult thing to do, so below are a few suggestions to help scientists make their public talks as good as their scientific ones! Continue reading

Alternative medicine and cancer survival (Part 2)

My last blog post was about alternative medicine in cancer treatment. That piece was about patients who refuse all other treatment, and thankfully that is still a relatively rare occurrence. Usually, patients use alternative medicine alongside their regular treatment. As a result, studying patients who refuse all regular treatment isn’t necessarily the most informative thing.

Because of this distinction, researchers from Yale decided to have a look at patients who do this, and they published their results this month. It is not encouraging reading. Continue reading

Alternative medicine and cancer survival

I often wonder just how much I annoy people when the topic of alternative medicine (alt med) comes up. In general, if someone says something I don’t agree with, I let it slide. When it comes to alt med, however, I don’t seem to have the same restraint. It’s unfortunate really, as it comes up surprisingly often, and my position comes across as pretty extreme.

People ask “What’s the harm?”, and point out that “Even if it doesn’t do anything, people feel better having tried it”. I empathise with this position, but completely disagree. The point I try to make is that if we accept the use of alt med, we legitimize it, making people more likely to choose it over conventional medicine.

Alt med banner smaller

The focus of this post is cancer patients who put all their trust in alt med. While it’s true that most people use alt med alongside real medicine, the popularity of, and belief in, the alt med movement means that it is inevitable that some people will ignore mainstream medicine in favour of alternatives.

Unfortunately this does happen, and it happens regularly enough for us to study it. A few months ago, researchers from Yale published a paper looking into the outcomes for cancer patients who chose alt med over conventional treatment.

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Disparities in cancer survival

In my last post I published some good news about cancer survival rates, so I thought it was important to highlight a big problem with our recent success against this disease. This issue is flagged up in a study published at the end of January.

It addresses the fact that the gains we have made in cancer diagnosis and treatment are very unevenly spread around the world. To analyze this is greater detail, the scientists studied the differences in survival in different countries, and the results are somewhat predictable.

If, for example, you are an Australian or American with breast cancer, you have a 90% chance of surviving. If you are Indian however, you only have a 66% chance.

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Are cancer rates rising?

Cancer is so prevalent in life now that it is easy to think that the rates are skyrocketing. However, the numbers don’t back this up. In actual fact, we are slowly but surely advancing our response to the disease, and recently published data underlines this progress.

The publication was the annual report of the American Cancer Society. In that article, they compile all the recent data to see what trends there are in cancer rates and deaths.

The report delivers some good news.

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Ultra-processed foods and cancer

This story was all over the news today:

“Ultra-processed foods may be linked to cancer, says study”

The Guardian, 15th Feb. 2018

The news comes from a French study that looked into whether cancer was associated with highly processed foods. As usual, the question is whether the actual results of the study warrant the hysteria currently playing out in the media? (Spoiler: the answer to that is almost always an emphatic NO!) Continue reading