I recently heard about eLife, which is a new journal that has a unique mission and strategy.  If you haven't heard of it, you should check out the 'about' page:

Also, read this article from the Gaurdian.

My lab will certainly be looking for publishing opporunties in eLife and other similarly minded journals as we continue trying to answer questions and solve problems in neuroscience. 





Can Immune System Manipulations Cure Cancer?

Cancer is a disease that is incredibly difficult to fight because it is not foreign in nature- it is comprised of an individual’s own cells. As such, the immune system is much less effective in combating cancer than exogenous threats. But that is not to say it is entirely ineffective, and it may be possible to boost the immune system’s performance by isolating the most useful cells and growing them to great quantities before reintroducing them into the body. Researchers at the NCI have managed to apply this technique effectively against even solid, fully entrenched tumors, and achieve remission in a patient where chemotherapy had already failed. The NCI team isolated cells called “tumor infiltrating T-cells” from their patient, and grew them in massive quantities in their lab. They then infused more than 42 billion of them back into her body, and the cancer went into remission. This provided the researchers enough time to sequence the genome of the cancer cells, and find not only a mutation unique to the cancer, but a specific T-cell that would attack that mutation. When the cancer returned, they injected over 120 billion of these T-cells, forcing all of the widespread tumors into a steady decline that was continuing as of May, 2014.

Unfortunately, this method has only been tried on one patient, and was only accomplished with a very large number of resources. The medical system is simply not equipped to produce tailored treatments such as this for each individual cancer patient. However, it is certainly heartening to know that a patient can be pulled back from the brink, even in late-stage cancer where chemotherapy has proven ineffective. If researchers can streamline the process enough to make it relatively fast and inexpensive, they could find themselves with a treatment to eliminate even the most stubborn of tumors.

Andrew Wilson, Summer Research Intern



California and drug policy

“Do no harm.” That is one of the many things that we take into oath as medical students and possibly one of the most important things to remember during our future career to maintain a trusting patient-doctor relationship, After all, no one comes into the hospital expecting the doctor to make things worse. Yet, this promise of doing no harm becomes more difficult with a communication barrier, more precisely for individuals who cannot read or understand English.

NPR states that California pharmacists are resisting translating medicine labels. The concern raised by these healthcare professionals are the risks for malpractice due to pharmacists not being able to check and catch potential translation error. I could understand this liability issue. I also think someone should really investigate the cost to benefit ratio of putting such labels onto these bottles before we start pointing fingers and asking for a change.

The issue raised in NPR was at the Paul Hom Asian Clinic in Sacramento, actually run by my alma mater University of California, Davis. The clinic targets underserved patients, mainly of Asian descent, that are unable to obtain adequate healthcare due to language barriers and socioeconomic status. I understand that having a translated label for this population would be helpful. In an ideal society with an unlimited budget I would definitely advocate for the translations, but, unfortunately we do not.

Some things to consider before hiring people and putting in dollars to make this happen is for us to evaluate the non-English speaking individuals ease of access to a translator, such as their children or friend that are bilingual. There is also google translate and public libraries with computers for those with no other options. I just used google to translate the phrase “take one tablet after a meal every day for ten days” into Japanese (which I speak fluently) and it was correct. I know this may sound cruel, but with limited resources and time, we should look into the pros and cons before jumping in and spending more money onto something that might have a simpler and cheaper solution. If there is an actual need to justify the effort, then let’s do it! I can help! But like NPR says, this issue is only at the beginning stages and more research should be done.

~Will, Summer Research Intern


Working Toward a Cure for AIDS

Amid recent setbacks in the efforts to find a permanent cure for AIDS, there have been a few bright spots in the form of new patients in whom the virus seems to have been eradicated. Scientists presenting data at the International AIDS conference in Melbourne last week produced two case studies of HIV-positive patients who had received bone marrow transplants as part of cancer treatments, and neither individual currently has detectable levels of the virus. Since both patients are still undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART), they cannot be considered “cured” unless they are removed from ART and the virus does not rebound. With that said, the apparent disappearance of the virus is a very positive sign- in fact, the only known case of HIV being cured occurred after a bone marrow transplant from a donor who had a genetic resistance to the virus. This has been especially heartening to the HIV research community in the face of the recent revelation that the “Mississippi patient”, an infant thought to have been cured of the virus by high-dose ART immediately after birth, has had HIV resurface in her bloodstream.

Bone marrow transplants will never be a viable treatment option for AIDS, as they take an extreme physical toll and have a mortality rate of around 10%. Still, there is a mounting body of evidence indicating that stem cell transplants seem to be able to eradicate HIV reservoirs, and transference of genetic resistance has been proven possible in at least one case. If a less dangerous, less invasive means can be found to wipe out bone marrow HIV reservoirs, we might find ourselves on the path to a cure.

Andrew Wilson, Summer Research Intern



How to Pick a Graduate Advisor as Told by Ben Barres

Graduate school has been on my mind lately. Between studying for the GRE to picking graduate programs to looking into labs I may be interested in joining, the process which will ultimately determine where I will spend more than five years of my young adult life seems daunting. I am looking for advice from people who have been through it, from what I can read online, and from my general experience in two different labs.

My undergraduate research advisor at NC State (shout-out to Dr. Troy Ghashghaei) sent me this article in an e-mail when it came out last fall. I read through it and thought it was brilliant. I recently took another look in the context of graduate school applications and I think this article is a great read for any student interested in graduate school.

Ben Barres, a professor of Neurobiology and Developmental Biology at Standford University, published an article in Neuron entitled “How to pick a Graduate Advisor.” (Barres, 2013) In this article, Barres talks about finding both a good scientific advisor and a good mentor – a task which he thinks can be challenging for a new grad student. Finding the right mix is a key ingredient for becoming a successful scientist. Ben shares his experiences and insights on how to pick a graduate advisor based on mentoring ability and scientific ability. Scientific ability can be measured using the H-index (a measurement based on number of publications and the number of times each has been cited in the literature). Mentorship ability can be measured with a proposed M-index which averages the H-indices of his/her former students. While the process is not perfect, this article is definitely worth a thorough look. I know I will be taking the ideas to heart when I pick my graduate mentor.

For further reading see: Barres, B.A. (2013). Neuron 80, 275–279.