Posted by Jim H on August 5, 2011
Just passing along a great write up via LavaAmp partner Guido, who just moved to Chile to start work on a 6-month grant we won from StartUp Chile. Read the original article HERE. The rest speaks for itself……..
Empowering Citizen Scientists to Do It Themselves
DIY Bio Activists Seek to Improve Health in the Developing World
Chances are you’ve never heard of Chagas disease, unless of course you’re among the 40,000 people infected every year. It usually starts with a visit from The Kissing Bug, a blood-sucker named for it’s odd habit of “kissing” its hosts on the face during the night. The disease can be countered with antiparasitic treatments if caught early, but once it reaches the chronic phase the best you can do is delay or prevent its symptoms. These can include potentially fatal heart weakness or failure, malnourishment, or even dementia and motor impairment. There is no cure.
Diseases like Chagas are common and can have devastating effects in the developing world. There are a number of institutions that work to eliminate these and other health risks in the public interest – governments, inter-governmental agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO), and non-governmental organizations and charities. Many of their efforts have been successful and well known (thank you, WHO, for eradicating Small Pox), but their scale is limited by the amount of funding and political will they can muster. In an attempt to reach some of the more neglected areas of the world, some scientific progressives have begun advocating a less orthodox approach – do it yourself.
The DIY method, now a full-fledged underground movement, is based upon the belief that the average person can not only become equipped to solve their own challenges, but also contribute to the greater scientific community through open data sharing. This requires access to three things that most don’t have – proper equipment, training and opportunities for engagement. While there have been success stories in the States, providing these amenities in the developing world is a greater challenge. To find out whether or not DIYbio can help solve health issues abroad, several pioneers have begun the task of breaking down these barriers.
Equipment and Training
Any biologist will tell you that having the right equipment is essential to their work, but costs can be prohibitive in the developing world. According to Guido Núñez-Mujica, equipment that is already expensive in Western countries is even more so in developing communities due to high shipping and distribution costs. Núñez-Mujica intends to not only bring affordable equipment into remote areas, but make it easy to use as well. He is the co-developer of theLavaAmp, a handheld PCR device based on a concept originally proposed by Nitin Agrawal and colleagues at Texas A&M. PCR, an acronym for Polymerase Chain Reaction, is a method of copying DNA sequences. Until recently, the process required hefty machinery costing several thousands of dollars. Núñez-Mujica’s prototype, built by engineering firm Biodesic, will be no bigger than a cantaloupe, cost only $300-500 and be able to perform a DNA diagnostic in a matter of hours. That means if you get bitten by a Kissing Bug, you can find out if it was carrying Chagas on the spot. In fact, Núñez-Mujica was recently in Venezuela helping people do just that. He hopes that a teenager or hobbyist will be able to use the LavaAmp for everything from diagnosing Chagas to studying crop famine. “Rather than wait for solutions to come to them, [these communities] must be able to take steps themselves, even if those steps seem small.”
Nina Dudnik, meanwhile, seeks to not only bring affordable equipment to developing countries, but also provide much needed training. The difference is that her focus is on universities. Dudnik is the founder of the non-profit Seeding Labs, which collects unused equipment from labs in America and sends it to universities in Africa, Latin America and Asia at affordable prices. They also provide training both abroad and through intensive fellowship programs here in the States. According to Dudnik, their equipment has already been used by thousands of students and has directly lead to over 125 new publications, two new patents and a tool for diagnosing multi-drug resistant tuberculosis – a disease impacting one-third of the world population and an even greater percentage in poor communities.
Having affordable equipment and training is essential, but it doesn’t guarantee engagement. Few in their lifetimes are able to get hands-onexperience with the wonders of science, and even fewer get the chance to create real results. This is where companies likeKeegoTech come in. Their business is built on a microbial fuel cell (MFC) known as the MudWatt. In simple language, it’s a battery that runs on dirt. The technology is still too young to create enough power for practical use, so instead they sell the MudWatt to schools as an educational tool to engage children in science. In doing so, they have discovered that scientific advancement can come from anyone. Says their co-founder, Keegan Cooke, “MFC technology has the potential to become a cheap and reliable way of charging small electronics, but we’re not quite there yet. Scientists don’t yet know the best arrangements of electrode material or organic components to create enough power. So we invite students to experiment with our kit and post their findings on our community site. This has led to some very interesting ideas we never would have thought of.” Cooke’s favorite example is an eighth grader in California named Ricky, who alongside his father was able to double the output of the MudWatt from dirt in a local riverbed – a sample that KeegoTech is now working to analyze. But while they see this approach working in the developing world, their ability to successfully focus their efforts there is still uncertain.
The Future of DIY BioOrganizations like LavaAmp, Seeding Labs and KeegoTech have begun to demonstrate what can be done when we make it possible for the average person to engage in science. And they are already getting investors. Seeding Labs’ fellowship program in the U.S. is underwritten by Novartis. LavaAmp was recently awarded a $40,000 grant from Start-Up Chile, a program run by the Chilean Ministry of Economy. But the movement is young and unproven, and the likelihood of continued funding remains unsure.
Still Joseph Jackson, one of the premier authorities on citizen science, is undeterred. A key partner in bringing Núñez-Mujica’s LavaAmp to life, he sees potential for the DIY movement to take off in the developing world. “These countries generally have fewer restrictions compared to the U.S., and enough demand for solutions. If we can get past the infrastructure barriers, some of them could become ideal breeding grounds for open innovation.”
Posted in Awards and recognition, Blogterviews, LavaAmp, News, Scifoo | 1 Comment »
Posted by Jim H on June 29, 2011
Not exactly breaking news, but since I was a part of the execution of the project in the capacity of a contractor I think it deserves mention.
via FLUOR web site
Initially written up ON THIS WEB SITE, I found this fascinating interview with Aaron Vernon, Biobeers member (although he’s never attended an event that I am aware of), who was in charge of the overall FMC project.
Posted in Awards and recognition, News | 1 Comment »
Posted by Jim H on May 27, 2011
I just got my copy of the book “Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life“ and it’s a page turner: pithy and fascinating. It also features a couple chapters on my LavaAmp co-conspirators Guido and Joseph. We’re getting some decent free press on this one, that’s for sure. There was a feature last week in The Guardian interviewing Joseph and Guido won us a $40,000 USD grant through Start Up Chile.
From a write up in BoingBoing in April comes this quote: “We reject the popular perception that science is only done in million-dollar university, government, or corporate labs; we assert that the right of freedom of inquiry, to do research and pursue understanding under one’s own direction, is as fundamental a right as that of free speech or freedom of religion,” Patterson writes in A Biopunk Manifesto, a biohacker call-to-arms she wrote last year.
“We have no quarrel with Big Science; we merely recall that Small Science has always been just as critical to the development of the body of human knowledge, and we refuse to see it extinguished.”
That’s a “Two Fer” Meredith. As in fer shure, fer shure……..
Posted in Awards and recognition, Government Funded research, LavaAmp, Molecular Biology, News, Public/Private Companies, Rants | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Jim H on March 8, 2011
I have been a slack blogger since I’ve started tweeting & scouring my RSS feeds, that’s for sure. Fortunately, you can following my twitterverse in the left hand column of this blog or get up off yer ass and get on twitter yourself?!
So, most importantly, the next installation of BioBeers will be on Friday April 8th at Akonni Biosystems in Downtown Frederick! wOOt ! For those not familiar with Akonni, they’re been getting a lot of attention for their rapid DNA extraction system and their rapid, low-cost microarray systems. The street address is 400 Sagner Ave., Suite 300, Frederick, MD 21701. I hereby proclaim anyone from Frederick County that needs a GPS to find it, right next to McCutcheon’s, is automatically un-invited. You know who you are.
Please RSVP via email, LinkedIn or MeetUp
This far I have two confirmed sponsors: Biotech Primer and Chesapeake Insurance/SandySpring Bank. Still room for more. Call or email me if you’re interested in sponsoring.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t do a quick recap of interesting news I have failed to blog about the past 5-6 weeks. Do you see how MedImmune scored $93M in a patent infringement settlement over Synagis, the product produced in Frederick or how BioElectronics is growing too big for their britches? I just wish I could get one of their patches locally and without a prescription.
Also worth a mention is how NCI-Frederick was named one of the Best Places to work as a PostDoc in America.
And the BIG news, which I should have already blogged about, is long-time Biobeers sponsor and advocate, FiberCell Systems being awarded a MIPS Grant for $263K. I even get to be quoted in the article. Johnand I have been working on a seperate project we call the “FiberCell Stem Cell Initiative” for more than two years now. Although it’s not directly related to the MIPS grant, the grant is for a Large Scale system, I am glad to see FiberCell get a grant to help them keep moving in the right direction.
Posted in Awards and recognition, BioBeer, Business, Expansion, Funding Available, Government Funded research, News, Public/Private Companies, Rants | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Jim H on February 7, 2011
Well, OK, it’s really about BioBeers more so than mosquitoes. A friendly reminder, BioBeers at ImQuest Biosciences a week from Friday, Friday February 18th starting at 4:30 PM. I am getting Ribs from RibCity, so if you want some, you should RSVP so I can get the right amount. RSVP’s trickling in thus far and I am giving you multiple choices. You can RSVP by emailing me, leaving a comment or go on the MeetUp or LinkedIn sites (both require FREE registration). And speaking of Spring, we’re in the earl phases of planning a “Ignite Frederick Biotech” session coincident with the Ft Detrick Spring Festival in May, so stay tuned for more details. In the the mean time, not time like the present to read up on those pesky mosquitoes. A good story about scientists working at Ft Detrick who were recently recognized for their contribution to trapping the little buggers, specifically to attenuate infestations in Malaysia causing Dengue fever. Not sure if they are working with the guys who created genetically modified, sterile males for the same purpose, but makes for interesting scientific fodder. Almost as interesting as the tests done at Ft Detrick to prove that some nutter in Ohio made Ricin in his garage from instructions and materials he bought on the internet. Makes you think. Scientific literacy is a good thing, most of the time. Which reminds me, I owe our informed readers a post on the ludicrous accusations about “Cancer Clusters” around the Fort. I’ll save that rant for later…
Posted in Awards and recognition, BioBeer, bizzare, Government Funded research, News, Public/Private Companies | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Jim H on November 30, 2010
Some of you may know that I have been busy doing contract work at MedImmune for the past 14 months or so at the Frederick facility. Well that contract came to a close, but I was picked up by another contractor, Raland Technologies, to work on a different project for MedImmune at their Philadelphia facilities. So, sadly, I won’t be in Frederick as much as I’d like to, but you’ll still hear from me. I am the first official Biotech Ambassador for the Frederick Chamber of Commerce, after all. And even though Raland runs their Maryland operations out of Montgomery County, they also have a major presence in my home town Rochester, NY. Raland made a major announcement just a couple of weeks ago when Raland announced they were awarded grant through the Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Program (QTDP) for their extraordinary development efforts with RxFusion™ , a medical device offering an easier and safer home infusion treatment. I am glad to be a part of their team.
Speaking of major news from Frederick County Biotech, I noted an article in Nature titled “Complex synthesis yields breast-cancer therapy” on my RSS feed yesterday. This is cool in a number of respects. First, coincident with the synthesis of this compound, researchers in Frederick at NCI discovered the compound inhibits a protein component of
The drug eribulin was inspired by a compound from the sea sponge Halichondria okadai. Nature: Yasunori Saito
the cytoskeleton, called tubulin, that is needed to support the rapid growth of cancer cells and is the target of several other cancer chemotherapies, including Taxol (paclitaxel). Second, I spent two weeks in Seattle at the University of Washington round about 1991 working in the lab of future Nobel Laureate Eddy Krebs isolating Okadaic acid (a prolific and potent protein phosphorylator) from this very same species of sea sponge. And what a stinking *effen* mess it was. Let me tell you, if you drag a few kilos of fresh halichondria from deep off the floor of the Pacific, mix it with 20 L or so of Chloroform in a jumbo Warning blender, then extract with 20 L Methanol (all of this in 1991 was done in buckets, on the floor, without any special lab gear like safety glasses or lab coats or Kevlar) while trying not to contaminate my lab partner Joel’s working on this new product he called “Lipofectamine” (which was indeed a multi million dollar product and I think continues to be to this day) because this was going to be the first million dollar product for the newly formed Cell Biology group of Life Technologies. Those were the days.
But I digress in my fond recollections of past glory. What I really, really want to do is to let you know the next Biobeers is almost certainly happening Friday December 17th at Lab Recyclers warehouse on Metropolitan Court (right next to FITCI). And I really, really need everyone to switch over to the new MeetUp site and register. Go here now:
MeetUp costs me about $10 per month, but it’s much better as compared to LinkedIn (which I will continue to maintain, just not set up events and calendar items through that site) for posting news and information and events. I’m trying this as a platform to try to connect us more better than we are today. I’ve started populating the site with the various and sundry seminars happening at Ft Detrick which are freaking free and open to the public!! I’m still working on getting the MeetUp site to link to Ft Detrick web site, but it’s all good.
I’ll have the BioBeers posted on both LinkedIn and MeetUp for the next couple of events, but will force y’all over to MeetUp eventually. Besides, my text file mailing list is getting way too long.
Posted in Awards and recognition, BioBeer, Biochemistry, Business, Funding Available, Government Funded research, Jobs, News, Public/Private Companies, Rants | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Jim H on November 9, 2010
It has been a pretty good year in Fredcobio, I am glad to say, and the end of the year is ramping up to be amazing. Many of you know that I have been working a contract with MedImmune assisting in the validation of the new Frederick Manufacturing Center. That contract ended suddenly 9although it was expected) last week, so now I am back wheeling and dealing and looking at what I am going to do next.
I’ve been neglecting my two start-ups and building on my recent, newly elected status as the
Grand Poobah of Biotech in Frederick first official Biotech Ambassador of the Frederick Chamber of Commerce (which I announced at the last Biobeers). As such, we’ve had a couple of very preliminary meetings with interested parties from the Chamber, OED, FITCI, the City of Frederick and a few other interested partners and I think there are a lot of good things we can do together. Most of these ideas, these delusions of grandeur are just that: ideas. We need to transform our ideas into action and start getting some stuff done.
What do I mean by that? First of all, everyone wants more information about things like funding and where to get it and how much is available, but we also need to start talking more with each other. There are over 50 biotech companies or quasi-government (even “real government”) agencies in Frederick County and we don’t even know what we all do for a living. I’m talking about better networking and business and commerce between just the local companies. Well, that’s a start. What we really need to do is communicate with all of the people at NCI and the various and sun-dried agencies behind the barbed wire fence that is Ft Detrick and find out what they’re doing. Speaking of which, a couple of very newsworth things have popped up on my radar screen over the past couple of days.
One of them is an excellent resource I’ll bet no one is even paying attention to off base, and we should be: Free Lectures at Ft Detrick by various agencies. You can find the whole calendar here: http://is.gd/gS3wv
I used to try to post them, but got tired of doing that and I don’t even think anyone was watching. But as a “for example”, there are at least three different lecture series going on now, the one called CCR Grand Rounds is hosting a lecture Tuesday 11/23 by Frederick R. Appelbaum, M.D. who is the Director, Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center entitled “The Grand Challenges of Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.” How cool does that sound? And did I mention it’s free? Well, not exactly free. I bet some of our tax money is being used somehow. All of the details are here:
Ansd another thing I thought was interesting, passed along by Frank at SAIC-Frederick is this list of qualifying ”Therapeutic Discovery Project Grants” for the State of Maryland from IRS.gov. The list is pretty long, but I think you’ll recognize for names familiar to Fredcobio such as ImQuest, Akonni, BioElectronics and BioAssay Works. Over $48MM in grants awarded to Maryland over the past 2 years, just on this “qualifying” delineation. My memory tells me more than $1.5BB is being spent at Ft Detrick alone this year (a lot of bricks and mortar as well as research).
I almost forgot to mention the next BioBeers date is set: Friday December 10th. I’m going to be improving the blog and likely moving our LinkedIn and Google groups over to a MeetUp platform in the coming weeks. So stay tuned, Fredcobio campers.
Posted in Academia, Awards and recognition, BioBeer, Business, Funding Available, General, Government Funded research, Jobs, News, Public/Private Companies, Rants, Rumors, Stem Cells | 1 Comment »
Posted by Jim H on October 31, 2010
I am always amazed at the breadth and depth of scientific research going down in our own back yard. I bet you didn’t know that this 2007 paper in Science was partially done in Frederick: The Near Eastern Origin of Cat Domestication
A few weeks back I went to Olive’s, on a whim, and ended up chatting with this cat Carlos who works at the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at NCI over a martini or two. Fascinating stuff. The research shows that wildcats (Felis silvestris) were initially domesticated in the Near East, probably coincident with agricultural village development in the Fertile Crescent. Interestingly, cats differ from other domesticated animals in that they seem to provide no real benefit to humans aside from catching rodents in the early grain stores & companionship.
The Science text is a very detailed technical account and is followed up with a more elaborate, “scientifically toned down” article in the June 2009 edition of Scientific American.
Some conclusions of this article
Unlike other domesticated creatures, the house cat contributes little to human survival. Researchers have therefore wondered how and why cats came to live among people.
Experts traditionally thought that the Egyptians were the first to domesticate the cat, some 3,600 years ago. But recent genetic and archaeological discoveries indicate that cat domestication began in the Fertile Crescent, perhaps around 10,000 years ago, when agriculture was getting under way.
The findings suggest that cats started making themselves at home around people to take advantage of the mice and food scraps found in their settlements.
In an article published in PNAS in 2009, the authors delve into the differences between Natural vs. Artificial Selection. Interesting stuff:
We perceive today, as did Darwin, that natural selection is the environmentally driven mechanistic process by which more advantageous traits are, on the whole, passed on to succeeding generations more often than less advantageous traits because of differential reproduction of the individuals possessing them. Sexual selection is a natural process of intraspecific competition for mating rights. Artificial selection, generally the motive force behind domestication, is often equated with selective breeding. This often amounts to prezygotic selection (where mates are chosen by humans) versus postzygotic selection (where the most fit progeny reproduce differentially) as in natural selection. Although natural selection plays a considerable role in the evolution of many traits (e.g., disease resistance) during the animal domestication process, sexual selection is effectively trumped by the human-imposed arrangements of matings and often by the human desire for particular secondary sexual characters. Artificial selection is a conscious, if unintentional, process, and therefore is generally considered to be effected only by humans.
This is exactly the kind of research we’re doing at Ft Detrick that I think would be brilliant to get out to people by a yet to be established mechanism. I wonder if The various agency “partners” at Ft Detrick even track this stuff?
Posted in Academia, General Biology, Genetics, Government Funded research, Molecular Biology, News | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Jim H on July 23, 2010
Just got this email from the Chamber of Commerce. Looks like a good event
Join us for TechConnect:
a special event for the Frederick County BioTech Community!
THURSDAY, AUGUST 12
8:15 to 9:45 a.m.
Presented by the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce
8420-B Gas House Pike, Frederick
Our office is located at the intersection of Gas House Pike & Monocacy Blvd.,
across from Clustered Spires Golf Course.
Enjoy coffee, pastries, and networking with other area BioTech professionals.
An update and Q&A with panelists from Fort Detrick, SAIC-Frederick, Life Technologies, and BNBI.
Featuring presentations by the following Chamber Board Members & Trustees:
COL Judith Robinson
Commander; U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Detrick
Chief Administrative Officer, Treasurer,
and Corporate Vice President of Administration; SAIC-Frederick, Inc.
Dr. Uplaksh Kumar
Director of Operations and Site Leader; Life Technologies, Frederick
Dr. J. Patrick Fitch
Laboratory Director for the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC)
and President of Battelle National Biodefense Institute, LLC (BNBI)
We’re extending an invitation to more than 50 companies, and space will be limited. To register, please call 301.662.4164 x1 or email email@example.com before August 5.
Posted in Awards and recognition, Business, Events, News, presentations, Public/Private Companies | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Jim H on July 8, 2010
Seems like I’ve started every recent post out with an apology for not being more diligent in maintaining this site. A slow day on my contract work at MedImmune gives me the chance to push some of my hidden agenda forward.
I missed out on an opportunity a couple weeks ago to tell all about Kempbio taking the Best New Incubator Company award. I share common lab space with Chris and Kempbio, so I am well aware of how good business has been for them. There was a good feature article in the Gazette and in
Tom Fedor/The Gazette
the Baltimore Citybizlist.
There’s even a mention in “la Tribune” about a recent licensing deal Kempbio made for a transfection reagent:
Polyplus Transfection cède un contrat de licence
La biotech spécialisée dans les vecteurs chimiques de transfert de gènes accorde l’utilisation de son savoir-faire à l’américain Kempbio, basé à Frederick (Maryland). Ce contrat participera à la hausse de 20 % du chiffre d’affaires (2,6 millions d’euros) prévue chez Polyplus en 2010. La start-up strasbourgeoise (27 salariés), qui a réalisé trois levées de fonds depuis 2002, continue d’investir l’essentiel de ses ressources en R&D.
On my home front, things are really starting to take off with the LavaAmp project. Rob Carlson, one of the shareholders with Biodesic LLC, is in DC this week for Meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues he mentions on his blog Synthesis. He just published a book through Harvard Press called Biology is Technology that’s getting us quite a lot of attention. I just got my copy last week and haven’t read it, yet. The reviews are pretty impressive, overall.
Meanwhile, Joseph Jackson, the CEO of LavaAmp, is organizing the Open Science Summit in Berkeley July 29th-31st. He also had a nice feature article published in Xconomy (San Francisco) called “The Open Science Shift“.
While were on the topic, Guido (the other shareholder) is off in Colorado going through training at the Unreasonable Institute. I can’t embed the flash in WordPress, but you can watch his pitch HERE. In a couple weeks, he’ll be off the Oxford to give his TEDTalk, as he was made a TEDGlobal Fellow.
Through all of this, I just arrange the BioBeers events. Speaking of which, I hope to have the next one at the new Riverside Research Park in August (date to be determined). That video on their home screen is awe inspiring. I wish it was embedable. maybe I’ll try to grab a copy. I hope to get in there to get more information about the NCI’s Advanced Technology Partnerships Initiative (ATPI). Here’s a link to the PDF describing the program. It’s up to you, Biotech companies in Frederick, to win some of these contracts! Stay tuned….
Posted in Awards and recognition, BioBeer, Blogterviews, Business, Events, Expansion, LavaAmp, News, Public/Private Companies | 1 Comment »