Sunday, 25 July 2010

Will you get cancer?

Have you ever wondered how some people who smoke heavily all their lives never get lung cancer, yet someone who never smokes (except passively maybe) does?

Firstly, we've all been saturated with food and drink advertisements that boast they contain this and that anti-oxidant, but what about the oxidant that we're being told to be so "anti" about?  Well, "oxidative" stress relates to damaging reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can, amongst other things, cause mutations in your DNA that ultimately lead to carcinogenesis.   Smoking cigarettes increases the amount of ROS in the body - hence the well known fact that smoking is linked to lung cancer.  Check out the video below (straight from YouTube) to help you visualise oxidation and how anti-oxidants work.

So, again, why then do some people suffer from lung cancer when others don't?

One explanation may lie with the activity of the verbosely named enzyme "8-oxoguanine DNA glycosylase", or OGG for short.  OGG acts to repair damaged DNA by removing the most common mutagenic base byproduct, 7,8-dihydro-8-oxoguanine, caused by the oxidative damage of guanine (one of the four bases that make up your DNA and RNA).  A potentially significant relationship has been found between OGG activity and the prevalence of lung, head and neck and also colorectal cancers and adenomas.  Accordingly, individuals who developed lung cancer demonstrated lower OGG activity than controls who did not, noting particularly that the link to lung cancer was not cigarette smoking alone.  In fact, non-smokers with low OGG activity were of a similar risk to developing lung cancer as smokers with high OGG activity, however, those individuals at the greatest risk were smokers with low OGG activity.

Interestingly, when comparisons of OGG activity were made between "at diagnosis" of head and neck cancer and "at post-successful treatment", it was found that the activity remained at an approximate constant level.  This suggests that in head and neck cancer, OGG activity is not an effect of the cancer.  Opposingly, however, OGG has been found to actually increase in colorectal cancers, which must suggest that OGG activity is not a constant in all cancers, but sometimes upregulated, perhaps in a vain attempt to reduce tumour advancement.

Variations in the OGG activity, known as the phenotype (observable physical or biochemical outcome), are considered to be related to the individuals genotype (genetic makeup) based on the three possible combinations of Ser326 and Cys326 allele pairing.  The effects of just two alleles combine to create a phenotype and studies, investigating cancer of the larynx and lung, have found the Ser326 allele to correlate with higher OGG activity when compared to the Cys326 variant. These studies also describe how the allele combinations of Ser/Cys and Cys/Cys are significantly linked to increased risk of developing cancer, particularly amongst heavy smokers and moderate to heavy alcohol drinkers, but do not change the risks for former to moderate smokers/alcohol drinkers.  With this in mind, therefore, it is believed that studying the OGG activity itself is more effective than genotyping because it measures the true effect in vivo.  The significance of the Ser/Cys genotypic combinations must not, however, be disparaged.

I've been searching for details on whether the OGG activity test is actually available now either on the NHS or privately, but have not been able to find any.  I'm guessing that if it is not, there are probably some continuing NHS financial issues preventing it's implementation or some big-wig is refusing to give it the time of day.

Why is this test not out there?

This test marks the way forward to preventing, not treating cancer; a paradigm for future tests for other cancers that can predict predisposition on a bespoke, personal level.  Do you not think it would be comforting to know you had a Ser/Ser combination of alleles?  Alternatively, imagine knowing you were definitely in the "high risk" group for developing lung cancer, would you be put off smoking then (if not intuitively already, of course)?  Anti-smoking campaigns are not enough, we need to make it personal for the individual because everybody if different!!

Your body may be trying to tell you something.  Wouldn't you like to know?

Other useful and informative links:

When the proposal of the OGG test hit the news:

For the NHS's take on the evidence:

For a detailed description of how OGG activity is measured: (if you are unable to access the full paper, email me at and I will happily send you the pdf file)

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Stupid Scientology?!

Yesterday an incredible twitter trend emanated from the story of a Councillor based in Wales (John Dixon) who, over a year ago, tweeted:

"I didn’t know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off."

....and now he faces disciplinary action in what was deemed a breach of the code of conduct for local authority members.  This decision led to Jack of Kent proposing the retweeting of the tweet in question, together with the twitter hashtag link of #StupidScientology to show support for Mr Dixon (which was, and remains, overwhelming!!)

So, what's your views?

If you're not au fait with the whole meaning of Scientology, here's a great video to clear things up for you and then maybe you can decide if you agree that Scientology is stupid or not....

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Facebook ghosts

There was an article published yesterday in the New York Times that discussed the management of Facebook user accounts after they had passed away (see here).  Apparently, as the article explains, more and more over 65 year olds are signing up to the social networking site.  Due to this age group having the highest mortality rate, this brings an increasing number of deceased members that, in fact, appear very much alive and available to make new friends on the website. 

So what is the impact of this?

The article describes the effect this had on one user who became quite unsettled after the "reconnect with" tool on her homepage posted her deceased friend.  In light of this, Facebook are trying to establish a tool to recognise patterns of reduced activity and to scan profile pages for regular posts of "RIP", "Missing You" and the like, in order to deactivate the account or reinstate it as a tribute page in order to prevent any more upset.  This is proving relatively difficult to regulate with many faux posts from jokers.  It is inevitable that if Facebook simply provided an action button that allowed users to identify a deceased user, complete misuse would flood the network.  There is mention of getting relatives or friends to fill out forms coupled with proof of death but facing these issues, Facebook, which was created to be fun, would suddenly become quite solemn and serious. Back to the drawing board....

So why don't users simply delete their deceased friend from their account?   Even the impact of that would be quite distressing, as though a simple click of a button erases the single remaining connection, one that holds so many memories within documented small talk and photo albums.  This is proving a sensitive dilemma but is certainly one that has to be attended to.

When Facebook was launched in February 2004, founders Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes would have had no idea just how successful their creation would become.  Presently, with over 500 million users worldwide, completely out popularising its rival MySpace, together with billions of pounds in worth, Facebook now induces the launch of the new movie "The Social Network" depicting how it all began. 

Facebook is a prime example of what can become of a simple initial idea....people thinking!!.  I just hope one day I have an amazing idea....

Meet Foxy

I think it's time to share a hobby of

This is Foxy.  He's always got so much energy and is very active so it was difficult to get an unblurry shot of him.  Then I had a brainwave, all I had to do was hold his toy where I wanted him to look.  Job done!!  Look at this for concentration....

Done with Dyson!!

Right, that's it....the Dyson is out to get me!!   

I'm not a big fan of housework at the best of times and I like to get it over and done with as quickly as possible.  Tell me, why on earth has my Dyson got a fan at the front that blows out air, thus whirl-winding dust bunnies away from the sucky-uppy-vacuum-thing?  I spent a good five minutes of immense determination trying to catch said dust bunnies, but after clocking about 2 miles playing the chasing game, many curses later and with an increasing body temperature petering on a dangerous level, I gave up.  Instead, I picked them up and delivered them to the turbines of pain myself....yes, I got rapped on the fingers whilst doing this (what a douche!!).  I cursed again.

After cooling down I proceeded to vacuum the living room but after somehow managing to bash the Dyson into my bare foot and, in close succession, running over the same foot, I cried out the loudest silent "didn't hurt" scream.  I figured enough was enough and I said to myself "sod this, I'm going to blog".

Science is REAL

I saw this on twitter this morning and I loved it....

Magic, Magnets or Illusion?

Have you ever heard of the Magic Hill in the Cooley Mountains, County Louth in Ireland?

Years ago when my mum was telling me stories of her trip to Ireland, one in particular fuelled my interest and it was the one about this hill.  Apparently, as the name has hinted, it is a very extraordinary hill because things roll up the hill as opposed to down the hill.  I was not convinced, yet my mum continued to explain how, when the handbrake of the car she was travelling in was off and the car was sitting at the bottom of the hill, it rolled up!!

Not too many years later, but with the story still burning a hole in my head, I went to find out for myself.

It turned out to be quite a quaint little hill, much smaller than I had imagined - one quick change of a song on your car's music system and you would miss it - in fact, we only noticed it when we saw a car in the opposite lane ride over it, stop and travel backwards up the hill so I guess we were lucky to find it.

I was a passenger in the car and remained unconvinced when the driver took off the handbrake and we rolled up....I wasn't feeling it, so I got out of the car.  I purposely took a bouncy ball with me to do the "roll up the hill" test with something that couldn't be rigged - yep, it's true I'm anal about evidence-based theories in all context.  The locals, I noticed, had painted a discreet line to mark where the "magic" began and there was another one at the hump of the hill, to indicate where it ends, so it actually turned out to be just half a hill of magic anyway *tuts*.  I digress.  So, back to the ball....what happened next was incredible.  I placed the ball on the line at the bottom of the hill and the damn thing rolled up!!  I tried it many times, as well as pouring my water on the line too just to check and, again, the ball rolled up and the water ran up!! I then decided to walk up the hill with my eyes closed and it really did feel like I was walking down!!

So what's going on?

Some people say its magnetic, others an optical illusion, but would a magnetic force really make me feel like I was walking down the hill?  Maybe it is an optical illusion, it is amazingly convincing if it is, the fact that your eye level, when looking at people up the hill, is lower than theirs when you're at the bottom is just too weird to get your head around if they are, in fact, meant to be lower!! Confused?!

This hill is not the only one in the world like this according to this wiki page devoted to them....I'd be very interested to hear what you think or know about these!!  What's your take on it all?

Saturday, 17 July 2010

and so it begins....

So here I am, I've actually started blogging!! To answer your question of what this is all about, I attended two meetings this week, Wesminster Skeptics on Monday, with speaker Simon Perry and the Science Blogging Talkfest on Thursday, with the amazing panellists Petra Boynton , Mark Henderson, Jon Butterworth, Alok Jha, Andy Lewis and (my personal favourite) Ed Yong.

From these events I learned of the power of blogging and it has intrigued me.

Take Simon's example of Joanne Jordan, the medium whom he investigated. Through his lengthy blogging and insatiable campaigning "against pseudo-science and other nonsense" he remains the dominating figure of a google search result enquiring about Jordan and, with many other "adventures in nonsense", has brought awareness of many other such practices to audiences of all flavours. Prior to hearing what Simon had to say, I had no idea how many "bad fish" slipped the net, I genuinely thought that each Chinese remedy store or chiropractor that claimed to treat illnesses through their methods, were allowed to advertise this - despite my disbelief in their verisimilitude claims - but step up Simon Perry and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and, evidently, they're not!! Simon is a great figure in the world of skeptics and encourages important activism to protect the vulnerable consumer. By Wednesday, I was part of a team, helping Simon in his campaign against another company that had placed themselves into the ASA's remit. Blogging amazing!!

I admire the work of Simon and it is a virtue to actively seek out companies or individuals who make false claims about their products and to have them removed. On the other side, I also do agree that skepticism can turn into aggression and can make a person just appear a total arsehole....a fine line to be wary of!! Note to self: don't be an arsehole about it!!

Thursday's Talkfest had mixed reviews, I assume there were varied expectations, some met, some not. I, however, didn't know what to expect. I thought I would be in over my head with only journo, sci-blogger and highly intellectual types attending....and I was right, but there also were many people from other backgrounds too. For me, there were some great points raised such as why the panellists blog, the difference between writing for yourself and at the mercy of editors, whether bloggers should get paid or not and also the encouraging comment from Ed Yong about not letting anyone tell you that blogging is pointless or trivial!!

I'm currently studying a part-time MSc course in cellular pathology and as part of it I have just begun my research project. As a twitter member (@dellybean) I have begun to write mini blogs (the infamous 140 characters per tweet) about my progress (and setbacks as experienced yesterday) and I'm getting a kick out of it. I also realised I have a lot of jibba jabba in my head that I like to talk about so I just figured, why not blog? After the week I've had, it didn't seem much of an epiphany, it was more an obvious next move that's been biting me in the ass for some time now.

So what do I want from this blog? Honestly, I would love it to become a place where I can generate people's comments of concurrence, conflicts and even ideas that I would never have conceived alone. I want it to open the way I think about matters that interest me....if it's on here, I'm interested so please comment!!