Man makes his microbes into research study

Richard Sprague keeps samples of his own feces, in the family freezer, so he can send them to a Stanford University laboratory. Some days he tries to improve his sleep by swallowing potato starch to feed a certain population of microbes in his gut. Lately, he’s been studying his brain acuity every morning to see if changes in his diet can influence it.

A 52-year-old father of three and an ex-Microsoft manager who lives on Mercer Island, Sprague is a volunteer, among thousands of others, in a movement called “citizen science.” Read more at Seattle Magazine.

Citizen science – Many hands make research work

Read the full story in August issue of Alaska Beyond magazine.

Seattle area resident Laura James spends many hours each year piloting an underwater exploration robot beneath Puget Sound waves to count sea stars, many of which are experiencing “sea-star wasting syndrome.” The syndrome, which has caused extensive die-offs from Alaska to Mexico, may start with a deflated appearance, unnatural twisting and lesions and rapidly progress to loss of arms, softening of tissue and death.

Groupthink fail in cancer research

Ten quotes from the wonderful book “The Truth in Small Doses,” by Clifton Leaf.  If I’ve selected carefully, they’ll convince you to read it yourself. The book is subtitled, “Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer – and how to win it.” Many people have already written reviews in The New Yorker and Scientific American.


1.A groupthink pushes tens of thousands of physicians and scientists toward the goal of finding the tiniest improvements in treatment rather than genuine breakthroughs.


2. So, 50.7 percent of the FDA’s cancer drug approvals from 1990 to 2002 were based on the fact that the drugs in question shrank tumors for at least a month.

Moving genomic targets

3. Individual patients often have widely variant mutations in different cells within the same tumor – or within multiple tumors in their bodies.

Grants gone wrong

4. The seemingly immutable nature of the grant-getting pecking order is not just a quirky phenomenon. It reveals something important about the medical-research funding process itself: it suggests the system is not as purely “science driven” or merit-based as it has been held up to be.

Fleeing from risk

5. Drug companies argue that patent lives are too brief, leaving little time for earning back their investment on each approved drug, which they say discourages risk-taking and innovation.

Patients as heroes

6. By January of 2007, the consortium [created by Kathy Giusti – a myeloma survivor] had ramped up to thirteen member research institutions and had collected and networked a thousand fragile blocks of fresh tissue from myeloma patients.


7. Denis Burkitt’s journey to discovery is more than a remarkable feat of medical sleuthing. .. In its simplest form the model is to let scientists follow questions wherever they might lead, to let them learn as they go.


8. As that (cancer) culture became ever more shaped by the frenzy of grantsmanship, publication and bureaucracy, as it became ever more fearful of risk-taking, it lost its collective sense of urgency to solve the cancer problem. We must find it again.


9. We must build a common language and research infrastructure that can help transform tens of thousands of separate laboratory fiefdoms into a critical mass.