Down the Rabbit’s Hole

Scientist on Assignment

Department of Physics Blogs
Published: September

Today was a day of prescribed distractions.

I started the day working on an article about domestication. While doing research for it, I got entirely fascinated by the process of domestication. I learned that dogs were domesticated from a now extinct population of Eurasian wolves tens of thousands of years ago. The majority of domestic animals were tamed in the mists of prehistory. Ducks, Cats, honey bees, and even silk worms were domesticated thousands of years ago.

Once I felt that I had a fair grasp on the history of domestication, I immediately decided that I needed to know more about Catholic fasting rules, if I was to continue writing my article (I promise to buy a pint for the first person to make the connection between domestication and Catholic fasting rules in the comments below). I contacted a hand full of Catholic organization to verify the facts that I was working with but none have yet contacted me back.

I finished the article. Read over it and submitted it then immediately jumped into reading a big embargoed paper that is related to my field of research. I’d really like to tell my research group about it but it is embargoed until Thursday.

Embargoing is apparently a common practice in the media. An organization (such as the AAAS in science) will send a list of potential stories out to registered journalists. The journalists will get a press release, some contact information and a date after which they can make the information known (an embargo date). This practice is good for the organizations announcing the press releases because they get a big media push on the release date from many news organizations. It is also good for journalists because they are given some time to do a good job interviewing scientists and putting together a well crafted story. Now that I’ve gotten used to it, I think the embargo system is good for science journalism.

I took a bit of time for some lunch today(my first lunch break since arriving) before heading off to an interview with a cancer company.

We’ve known for some time that cancer is not a single disease but in recent years it has become clearer and clearer that no one tumour is the same. In fact, even within a tumour there is a large community of types of tumour cells and you can’t just treat cancer by treating the most aggressive cells. As a consequence it is very unlikely that any one will ever develop a single cancer drug but rather that complicated cocktails of many different drugs will have to be used. But if everyone is different, how can doctors know the right cocktail?

The company that we met with makes “mice avatars” for cancer patients. Mice avatars are rodents that have their immune system knocked out and a piece of a patient’s tumour transplanted into them.  Since mice reproduce so quickly, soon the company has many surrogate versions of the patient’s tumour on which to test many different drug combinations. It’s a strategy that has worked well in cases when the rate of cancer growth is “just right”.

That was it for my responsibilities today but there was still time left so I got to spend the end of the day searching for interesting and exciting British scientists to potentially profile. If any one has any ideas, let me know.