science funding


Indie science

Transitioning to scientific independence from the tribal world of government-sponsored biomedical research is not easy. The stars have to align in your personal life. For example, having a supportive spouse who will quit their job and move across the country with you. Alas, searing curiosity alone cannot pay the bills. You’ll need a day job, or better yet a complementary, part-time consulting gig that leaves you enough time to do professional-grade science. Even after all that, you’ll still need a place to do the experiments – and of course a way to pay for it.

Putting the Bench Next to the Bedside: Laurence Cooper, MD Anderson Cancer Center

Guests:

Laurence Cooper, MD, PhD, MD Anderson Cancer Center

Bio and Contact Info

Listen (4:55) When clinical science and bench research is one and the same

Listen (10:40) Single cell genomics enabling next level of immunotherapy

Listen (5:00) Marrying immunotherapy with gene therapy - Four clinical trials

Listen (4:18) Is this a new model for drug development?

Listen (8:30) Why has the war on cancer taken so long?

Laurence Cooper is one of those rare MD and PhD hybrids-what he calls a "'super nerd." Specializing in immunotherapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Cooper is a pediatric oncologist with a very important resource: he also runs a laboratory where he's able to study the basic biology underlining his patients' cancers.

"Clinical science and bench research are one and the same," he affirms in the interview.

This concept is nothing new. But that a doctor is able to treat his patients with therapy developed in his own laboratory is very rare.

Today's show with Dr. Cooper is the final program in our series on single cell genomics. He explains how the new tools for looking at and manipulating individual cells are transforming immunotherapy. Today, treatment for childhood leukemia has become much more targeted and way less toxic.

And Dr. Cooper is not limited only to naturally occurring stem cells in a donor to transplant to his patients. With genetic engineering, his lab is able to create or reengineer specific cell types for transplant. Currently the lab has four clinical trials going which enable Dr. Cooper and his team to treat his own patients with the latest therapies that are developed in the lab.

This marriage between the clinic and the lab is a powerful example of the translation of biomedical science. Could it be a model for drug development?

That depends a lot on funding, concedes Dr. Cooper. His lab is funded by MD Anderson, but also in large part through NIH grants. The interview ends with a discussion on funding for the "war on cancer" with a provocative comparison to the "war on terror."

On 9/11, 3,000 people died. Yet every two days, that many people die from cancer. Dr. Cooper wonders why "the outrage of 9/11 has not yet translated into outrage of still having 3,000 people die every two days."

We hope to have Dr. Cooper back on the program soon as part of our series on the "war on cancer."

Podcast brought to you by: Fluidigm - The leader in single-cell genomics and maker of the C1™ Single-Cell Auto Prep System. The path less traveled just got easier.

Why We Must Focus on Aging as a Disease: Brian Kennedy, Buck Institute

Guests:

Brian Kennedy, PhD, CEO and Professor, Buck Institute

Bio and Contact Info

Listen (3:55) Why are so few researching aging?

Listen (4:50) The promise of rapamycin

Listen (5:01) US in danger of losing our edge

Listen (5:46) Lifespan vs. healthspan

Listen (4:45) A shift in public awareness

Listen (8:50) Aging still not designated a disease by FDA

Each day we read about breakthroughs in research on cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's, and a host of other diseases. But would our precious research dollars be better spent going after the aging process itself? Brian Kennedy says yes.

He's CEO of the Buck Institute, the nation's first independent research organization devoted to 'geroscience,' or research on aging. In today's program, Brian shares his thoughts on the institute's recent successes and challenges.

"Most people think of aging as a natural process that can't be changed," he says in the interview, "but we've realized in animal models it's pretty easy to manipulate aging. We can slow aging in everything from yeast to worms to mice."

Brian acknowledges that there are pretty big barriers for aging research, such as the current funding crisis in the U.S. and the fact that the FDA still does not recognize aging as a disease. Still, without sounding too over the top, Brian is confident that a much needed paradigm shift is happening on this topic.

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."

Alzheimer's a "National Emergency:" Larry Goldstein

Guests:

Larry Goldstein, PhD, Director, UCSD Stem Cell Program
Bio and Contact Info

Listen (2:50) Three stem cell projects

Listen (8:41) Single cell genomics some really cool technology

Listen (4:26) Alzheimer's will not be treated with a single drug

Listen (7:38) Alzheimer's a national emergency

Listen (2:59) Making a case for science funding

Listen (3:38) Thoughts about CIRM

Larry Goldstein came up quickly on the list for our series on Single Cell Genomics. Little did we know he would come on the show and make such a passionate case for biomedical research funding in general, and particularly for Alzheimer's. Early in the show Larry describes how he is using the "unbelievable, really cool technology" of single cell genomics in his lab. Director of UC San Diego's Stem Cell Program, Larry is using stem cells to study ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), Alzheimer's, and Neimann Pick Type C, a rare pediatric disease. Larry says that Alzheimer's has become a "national emergency."

"In the United States, the annual cost to the healthcare system of Alzheimer's disease is somewhere between $200 and $250 billion," he says in today's show. "The entire NIH appropriation is $30 billion." He goes on to point out that the amount of the NIH budget for Alzheimer's research--our only hope for alleviating the burden of the disease on the healthcare system--is $500 million. "The ratio of cost of research to cost of care is terrifying….This is insanity! We're bleeding money and doing next to nothing to stop the bleeding."

How is Larry making his case for Alzheimer's research and basic science in general? And what are his thoughts on CIRM (California Institute for Regenerative Medicine)? Goldstein is as eloquent a speaker as he is passionate.

UCSC Up To More than Bioinformatics

UC Santa Cruz is well know in our field for their part in the Human Genome Project.  Led by David Haussler, the bioinformatics group there released the first working draft of the human genome sequence on the web, leading shortly to the UCSC Genome Browser, an essential open resource for biomedical science.  This was followed up last year by the launch of the  Cancer Genomics Hub (CGHub), a large-scale data repository for the National Cancer Institute. 

Is Big Science Worth It? Debating the Brain Activity Mappping Project

The bad boy columnist for the life sciences is at it again. Bill Frezza is an unabashed libertarian venture capitalist based in Boston who pens a regular column over at Bio-IT World called the Skeptical Outsider. Though he’s invested in our industry, he’s undeterred from disparaging things the industry holds sacred, such as the War on Cancer or the Human Genome Project. He is emboldened by two major influences. First, he had some success in the IT industry and sees important lessons there for the life sciences.

Debating ENCODE Part II: Ross Hardison, Penn St.

Podcast brought to you by: See your company name here. - Promote your organization by aligning it with today's latest trends.

Guests:

Ross Hardison, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Penn State University Bio and Contact Info

Listen (3:39) ENCODE has provided valuable data

Listen (3:36) Lineage specific selection

Listen (6:50) Looking for specific biochemical activities that are important

Listen (9:28) It's not so simple as big science vs small science

Listen (4:08) Have the critisicms changed your mind at all?

Listen (4:11) The debate itself a great outcome

In an earlier show, we interviewed Dan Graur and Michael Eisen about the ENCODE project, a massive research undertaking to further characterize the human genome. It’s been done by over 400 researchers at a cost of over $400 million. Both of the guests were quite critical of the published findings of the project and of big projects like this in general.

To represent the ENCODE project we're joined by Ross Hardison, a professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State University and a collaborator on the ENCODE project from the beginning. Ross says he is delighted with the debate about how much of the genome is functional that the Graur paper has excited. And he makes a strong argument that the ENCODE team was focused on specific biochemical activities, and that these are important. He says Graur's charge on our previous show that the project might have called 100% of the genome functional because all DNA replicates, "just silly." He also says that Graur's and Eisen's rants about Big Science don't mean much to him. He considers himself a researcher funded by RO1's just as they are. It's not as simple as Big Science vs. Small Science. What was the goal of ENCODE and are they reaching that goal, we ask Hardison in Part II of Debating Encode.

Debating ENCODE: Dan Graur, Michael Eisen

Podcast brought to you by: See your company name here. - Promote your organization by aligning it with today's latest trends.

Guests:

Dan Graur, PhD, Professor, University of Houston Bio and Contact Info

Listen (4:45) Active does not equal functional

Listen (3:44) ENCODE claims play into the hands of creationists

Listen (2:24) Big Science never accomplished anything

Listen (3:01) ENCODE should have claimed that 100 percent of genome is funtional

Listen (2:19) Why the strong tone?

Michel Eisen, PhD, Associate Professor of Genetics, Genomics and Development at University of California, Berkeley Bio and Contact Info

Listen (3:54) 80% claim, silly and disingenuous

Listen (3:30) Scientists responsible not the press

Listen (2:23) Is there an appropriate tone for scientific publications?

Listen (9:02) Big Science is a fundamental shift to Soviet style

Listen (4:56) BONUS: Why are you not happy with the White House response to Open Access Petition?

Last week, Twitter went ablaze with the hashtag #ENCODE. ENCODE (the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) is a massive, multi-phase research project costing over $400 million done by over 400 researchers. Project findings, published last September in more than 30 scientific papers, were centered around the claim that though 80% of the genome doesn’t contain genes, it still plays a role in health. The media was quick to pick up on such a claim. The headline "Death of junk DNA" went around the world. Even Science Magazine was quick to issue the Eulogy for Junk DNA.

Now, a group led by Dan Graur, a professor from Houston University, have just published a paper criticizing the ENCODE project and their findings. The Graur et al critique is the third major paper to do so, but went more forcefully after the ENCODE claim that the genome is 80% functional. There were lots of tweets supporting the scientific validity of the Graur paper, but expressing disappointment with it's tone.

We're joined first on today's program by Dan Graur. If you didn't pick it up from the title of his paper (On the Immortality of Television Sets), Dan is an hilarious speaker, and leaves nothing to guesswork as to his position. He is clear on what constitutes "functional" in his view and replies to the charge that his tone was over the top mean.

We're joined next by Michael Eisen, the co-founder of PLOS, for a third party take. Eisen is equally blunt in his answers. He is heavily critical, not only of the ENCODE publications (agreeing more with Graur's definition of "functional"), but also of the ENCODE project in general. When asked about the appropriate tone for a scientific publication, Eisen answers, "the truth." He further surmises that the strength of Graur's tone is more than venom for one claim, paper, or even project. It is a frustration with the NIH over their priorities. A biology professor himself at UC Berkeley, Eisen feels that Big Science projects such as ENCODE and the recently announced brain mapping project are a fundamental shift that threatens molecular biology research in America.

We reached out to some leaders of the ENCODE project but unfortunately were not able to schedule any of them in time for today’s show. We hope to have one of them on soon.



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