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Frederick Company Empowering Citizen Scientists to Do It Themselves in Chile

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……..

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Empowering Citizen Scientists to Do It Themselves

Posted by Justin Bourke 20pc on July 22, 2011 · Flag

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

Guido Núñez-Mujica, co-developer of the LavaAmp, speaking at the 2010 BIL Conference in Long Beach, CA (source: 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.


A guide to how the MudWatt works. This cute device has been engaging primary school kids around the country. (Courtesy of Keegan Cooke)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 »

LavaAmp Launched Coast to Coast

Posted by Jim H on November 1, 2009

One reason I have been lame in the blogging department is that I have been working on the LavaAmp™ project.  After SciFoo camp last year, I was asked by Joseph Jackson and Guido Nuñez-Mujica if I  could help them licences this device from Texas A&M.

Guido is from Venezuela and is most interested in infectious disease testng in 3rd world, remote applications.  This is a talk Guido gave at Google shortly before SciFoo camp:

After nearly a year of negotiating with the TAMU tech transfer office (some day I’ll blog about University Tech Transfer offices stifling Innovation and commercialization) in the past 6 weeks we recruited Rob Carlson and Rik Wehbring from Biodesic and a the engineering prototype is built.

A more technical description from Robs blog post:

“The LavaAmp is based on the convective PCR thermocycler demonstrated by Agrawal et al, which has been licensed from Texas A&M University to Gahaga.  Under contract from Gahaga, Biodesic reduced the material costs and power consumption of the device.  We started by switching from the aluminum block heaters in the original device (expensive) to thin film heaters printed on plastic.  A photo of the engineering prototype is below (inset shows a cell phone for scale).  PCR reagents, as in the original demonstration, are contained in a PFTE loop slid over the heater core.  Only one loop is shown for demonstration purposes, though clearly the capacity is much larger.”

So we’re off and running.  Joseph is out at BilPil in San Diego this weekend with the device and hoping to get a little mention in at iGEM Jamboree in Boston, although it’s hard to be in two places at once.

A bit more from Synthesis:  “The existing prototype has three independently controllable heating zones that can reach 100C.  The device can be powered either by a USB connection or an AC adapter (or batteries, if desired).  The USB connection is primarily used for power, but is also used to program the temperature setpoints for each zone.  The design is intended to accommodate additional measurement capability such as real-time fluorescence monitoring.

We searched hard for the right materials to form the heaters and thin film conductive inks are a definite win.  They heat very quickly and have almost zero thermal mass.  The prototype, for example, uses approximately 2W whereas the battery-operated device in the original publication used around 6W.

What we have produced is an engineering prototype to demonstrate materials and controls — the form factor will certainly be different in production.  It may look something like a soda can, though I think we could probably fit the whole thing inside a 100ml centrifuge tube.”

And Attila over at PIMM also beat me to the blog punch.

I need to put together the press release and finish plans for BioBeers on Friday,  put more marketing material in our Business Plan and write up a new proposal for amniotic tissue skin grafts this morning.  Gaining momentum…..

Posted in LavaAmp, Molecular Biology, News, Public/Private Companies, Rants, Scifoo | Leave a Comment »

Next BioBeers, Thursday 9/24

Posted by Jim H on September 8, 2009

It’s been a busy couple of months and I apologize for not posting more frequently, but have to catch everyone up on a few things.

First, if you tired of reading this blog, you may want to check our Dr Robert House’s (one of the 25 CEO’s you need to know in 2009) blog over at DynPort vaccine:  Drugs and Bugs An interesting quote in the most recent post talking about vaccine safety:  “Vaccines are literally the only class of pharmaceutical (using the broadest sense of the term) that is routinely administered to large numbers of healthy individuals”.  I hope we can entice Dr House to attend BioBeers this month.

Oh, and speaking of BioBeers, I created a new LinkedIn group for those not young, hip and computer savvy enough to join the GoogleGroup.  The next BioBeers is Thursday Sept 24th at the Flying Dog Brewery. Our gracious hosts at the Flying Dogs have again agreed to put up with us, even though they have the GonzoFest this weekend.

The response lately to the BioBeers event has been overwhelming!  All kinds of offers to sponsor this and that.  I wish I could get a few more people willing to present their research.  For this event, we’re going to try having the presentations in the conference room adjoining the pub.  This way, the people who would like to hear the presentations can enjoy them in a more intimate setting (probably fit 30-40 people in the conference room).

As in the past, please RSVP to me directly, or by leaving a comment on this post, or via twitter, Tweetvite, LinkedIn group or the GoogleGroup.

I should be able to update everyone on who is sponsoring and speaking, soon.  In the mean time, this video from SciFoo 2009 was published by Nature over the weekend.  One of the stars of the show is my friend and DIYbio colleague and evangelist, Mac Cowell.  Brought back many memories for me from SciFoo ’08

Posted in BioBeer, Blogterviews, Events, Nature, Scifoo | 1 Comment »

When Genotyping gets Personal

Posted by Jim H on August 3, 2009

Many moons ago, from about 1992-95 (Yikes, 16 years ago?), I spent most of my time in a “cold box” toiling over pouring, packing and eluting columns or slopping goo from one centrifuge bucket to the next or wheeling 40 liter tubs of one buffer or the other from the buffer kitchen to the cold box.  Making enzymes, fancy proteins that catalyzed some modification of nucleic acids or other proteins.

One we made quite frequently was DNA Polymerase-I or it’s companion, the “Large Fragment of DNA Polymerase-I” known as the Klenow fragment or simply “Klenow”.    Or maybe it was T7 DNA Polymerase or Taq Polymerase.  The thing about the DNA polymerases we dreaded were not so much the cold box as most cross column (to determine where inthe column development the enzyme was eluted in deference to contaminating activities) as the QC tests.  Most QC tests in those days involved the use of radioactive nucleotides.  Radionuclides are relatively easy to produce, inexpensive and easy to detect.  But the mother of all QC tests was the dreaded Dideoxy sequencing.

Things have changed a lot over the past 15 years in the world of sequencing.  Back then, you might see 200-300 bands if you could pour a large enough gel.  This is useful for small plasmids and viruses and such.  Not really very useful for whole genome sequencing.    But towards the end of the ’90’s a TIGER and Celera jumped into the sequencing game, called the Human Genome Project, pitting these private groups against the NIH.

To make a long story short (you can read more in the linked wikis), Craig Venter’s groups proved victorious and this generated a new Biotech bubble involved in Human Genomics.

Jump ahead to SciFoo ’08.  Some of the Rock Stars in attendance were of the Human Genomic craze, like 23andMe founders Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki, and Harvard’s George Church, amongst others (including me).    This was truely my first real indoctrination into the Personal Genotyping hysteria, as the announcement of 23andMe (funded, in part, by Google) was made just prior to SciFoo ’08.

So when I read about the Personal Genome Project looking for volunteers, I justed straight on-line and registered a few months back.  The project’s goal is to collect 100,000 human phenotypes. The first phase was the so-called “PGP-10” , most of whom are closely related to the project.  I am hoping to get into the PGP-1000, which is the third phase, but I may just make it into the PGP-100, which is the next step in the process.

Check out this cool YouTube, which is part of a documentary being filmed by Marilyn Ness, a two-time Emmy Award-winning documentary producer:

So what should appear in my in box this morning at 10:07 AM?


Thanks for your interest in joining with the PGP to advance personal genomic research! Your eligibility application has been reviewed. Based on the information you provided, you are eligible to continue to the next stage of enrollment!

Part of enrollment involves a Pledge. I will be asked to make a financial pledge and will recruit a community of supporters would be able to contribute over the next 6 months if I am enrolled in the project. Participants will be enrolled without regard to whether a financial pledge is made or the amount of the pledge, but contributions are encouraged and will be used to subsidize the costs of research and related activities.

I have been working on my enrollment forms this morning and through lunch.  I have so many other cool FredCoBio stories I want to cover this week, so stay tuned.

And please, if  you or your organization would like to Sponsor me through the process, do get in touch.  I may take the Google approach and look for micropayments, say like $0.01 per base sequenced.

Posted in News, PGP, Rants, Scifoo | 3 Comments »

SciBarCamp PA Day 2 and Beyond

Posted by Jim H on July 13, 2009

I’ve been trying to find the time to throw up a post about the second day of SciBarCamp, so here it goes.  I am kind of glad I didn’t rush one up on Friday morning since I have found so many more worthy posts from other people, especially some of the pictures.  I forgot to bring my camera, so my pictures were just from my Blackberry, which aren’t bad but really not that good.

Before we get into Day 2, I wanted to share something from the flight in.  I had a window seat on the flight in and it seemed like we were on a Southern approach to SFO.  I was amazed at the seemingly endless “sludge ponds” that lined SF Bay in all colors of the rainbow.  I saw a post this morning on twitter that points to the fact that these are actually “Salt Ponds” and teeming with life.  The post also has a link to view on GoogleMaps

So back to Day 2 of SciBarCamp.  The sessions started right on time at 9:30 AM.  My first session was a OpenSource Health/disease research discussion with Jen McCabe of (among others) and Alexandra Carmichael of

From Alex Pangs Flickr stream

From Alex Pang's Flickr stream

Next up was a discussion with Matt Baggott entitled “WTF, Psychedelics?”  discussing the use of psychoactive compounds in research, primarily MDMA or “Ecstasy”.   Some pretty cool stuff

U-stream of this discussion can be found on Naomi Most‘s most awesome blog post HERE.

Then the last session before lunch was with Dewayne  Hendricks of  There we discussed Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and Buckminster Fullers “World Game“.   Dewayne was a participant in the original World game 40 years ago and recently re-played the game to many of the same prognostic outcomes. I’ll have to tell you, the conclusion’s aren’t that good.

After lunching on an endless supply of delicious Curried dishes, the afternoon sessions were with Naomi Most and DrKiki (aka Dr Kirsten Sanford)  called “Spinning Science”.   Click on the picture to take you to the full Ustream or go to nthmost’s web page for more.

After this session was one by Grad student and WIRED science writer Aaron Rowe & Rick Henrikson: The future of medical technology. I don’t have any pictures form that one, but I would recommend looking through some of the comments on FriendFeed for this and many other sessions.  I think that pretty much every session had one person tweeting or directly inputting on FriendFeed.

My last session was Brian Mallow, the Science Comedian.  Since I’ve already posted about Brina, so I’ll spare you again.  There were many other sessions I missed, as highlighted in an excellent post by Martin Fenner.   There are also a couple of good  Photo albums out there.

Mine is HERE, Naomi’s HERE and Alex Pang’s HERE

One great shot from Alex’s collection is the Group Shot we took at 1 PM:

That evening, while some prepared to head to SciFoo at Google the next day (Pictured Duncan and  Andrew), DuncanandI I headed out with a numbe of other BarCampers to a Singularity University event at NASA Ames.

One of the goals of Singularity is to save 1 billion people in this 9 week course.  They call this the “Humanity’s Grand Challenge”

Suffice to say that they had a number of “Brilliant” people on the panel (pun intended), but I think my time would’ve been better spent in a pub somewhere.  Geesh…

It was an amazing and wonderful week in San Francisco, but I think I’ve had enough of the Left Coast for another year.

Posted in BioBarCamp, presentations, Scifoo | 1 Comment »

Greetings from #scbPA

Posted by Jim H on July 9, 2009

A quick morning post about Day 1 at SciBarCamp Palo Alto.

After an uneventful flight across the contintent on Tuesday, we (my traveling companion in Palo Alto is my new business partner in Gahaga Joseph Jackson)  were bright and early Wednesday in search of coffee on Main Street Palo Alto.

I find it odd that they get so little rain here that most shops are open foyer, without doors and awning and such to keep the rain out.  Also, the weather is odd because it’s so “temperate”, tempertures hovering only a few degrees between 58-63 F all day/night in mid-July.

So we stopped in for a coffee at the University Cafe on University Ave to kill an hour before things got started

Then down the street to the Institute for the Future, our gracious hosts for the two-day event, the same place we held BioBarCamp last year.

In standard BarCamp format, Alex Pang of IFTF made some opening remarks:

Then everyone mingles and discussed topics for sessions (to be held all day today):

Sessions are then posted to a White Board with room assignments and time slots, 1 hour each session:

During all of this session planning, there is a lot of networking and catching up to do with people you only encounter at these sorts of unconferences.  One new person I had a chance to chat with briefly was Chia Hwu from 23andMe who I hope will be giving us more insight  into their recently announced Research Revolution.

I was trying to figure out why my web cam wasn’t working on Ustream.  Still can’t figure it out.  We then had a Keynote Address by Sean Mooney (recently relocated to the Bucks Insititute from Indiana University).  I tried tweeting it and streaming it, but found that so distracting I couldn’t concentrate on the talk.  Excerpts of the keynote stream (via my new friend Naomi Most from PirateCat Radio) can be seen HERE (trying to get this post up and get in a shower, so I won’t embed).  I would also suggest following via the FriendFeed room, which integrates twitter feeds and allows more detailed discussions.

This all wrapped up around 6 PM and we split up into smaller groups for food.  I hung around with the organizers and went right next door for some Sushi at Miyake‘s:

Pictured here are Chris Patil, John Gilby and Brian Mallow.  I like hanging out with these guys because they know how to have fun.  Brian, Joseph and I ended up running into Shelley and her husband and having a couple beers at a nearby pub.  Brian is hilarious. I think he managed to reiterate a good portion of this routine into our pub conversation last night.  Well worth the watch:

Must wrap up and grab a shower now.  It’s going to be another full day of sessions, belly laughs and maybe even a couple beers.  Then NASA Ames is cohosting a Singularity U event called “Humanities Greatest Challenges” .  This is going to be an awesome day.

Posted in BioBarCamp, Events, Funny, Scifoo | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Is Science where IT was 25 years ago?

Posted by Jim H on July 7, 2009

In case you haven’t noticed, my blogging has lately been dragged into the blackhole that has become the Twitterverse.  I spend so much time tweeting and reading interesting articles posted by my followers and friends and scouring my Google Reader RSS feeds to spew forth things I find interesting to the twitterverse.  I am neglecting FredCoBio.

My apologies.

I do promise to be more engaged this week.  I am leaving in the early afternoon tomorow for Palo Alto, CA to attend SciBarCamp.  Silicon Valley, the land of Google and Yahoo.  A Stranger in a Strange Land, me a Biotech guy in The Garden of Eden of IT.

I was just thinking about the way things were 25 years ago in 1984.  The Orwellian era, the first 4 years of Reganonimics.  Man, things were interesting back then.

After graduating a term early from Wittenberg in 84, we moved back between Rochester and Cleveland for a few months looking for work.  Finally, I landed a job selling windows in Rochester which lasted for about 3 months.  The windows were “made” by US Steel.  One of the lines in the canned pitch I spewed was that “if US Steel goes under , we’re all in trouble.”   I quit because I couldn’t stand bilking people for more money in windows than their house was worth, even without windows.  Then I got a contract job at Xerox, another local company in a new concept called “telemarketing”.

I was there about 18 months, from ’84 until ’85.  I was selling photocopiers (when you work at Xerox, you learn not to call them Xerox machines), Xerox Memroywriter Typewriters ( a daisy wheel typewriter/printer with a limited 10-40K of memory ) and this nebulous thing called an “ethernet”.  The idea of an ethernet was invented by Joseph Wilson for a “paperless office” some time in the mid 1960’s.  Our training was primarily composed of watching 16mm movies (probably Kodak film, which had entered the xerography business by his point in time) made by Joseph Wilson explaining how this “ethernet” would revolutionize the modern American office place.  In retrospect, it was fascinating.  At the time, for a 20-something more interested in what soccer match or practice was coming up that afternoon than actual work, it was like “meh”.    I could push more photocopiers and Memorywriter memory upgrades (after using it, most people did realize how much time it really saved to hit the F1 button to type the return address on an evnvelope than to key every stroke) without having to deal with trying to explain how a “paperless office” would make their life simple.  I made good money for the 80’s, but was still selling more than an entire sales branch of 5-6 field reps and only making 1/2 what one field guy would make.  Selling an ethernet installation over the phone was an entirely different issue.  That got under my skin, so I quit and decided to get back to my college training in Biology and Chemistry.

Before I left Xerox, I witnessed the most remarkable thing: a “facimile” transmission (perhaps the first in North America, The Japanese were rumored to have done this already) between Xerox Palo Alto and our building, building 813 on Henrietta Rd.   A single page of typed text took probably 45 minutes to transmit, but think of how much better that was than via US Postal Service back in 1984?

And so, as I prepare to leave my family alone for nearly a week,  I can’t help but to think of the irony of returning to Palo Alto.  I had this moment of transcendental thought perhaps linking those events of 25 years ago with today.  I hope to engage intelligent (mostly 20 something) people in conversations about how we need to be able to explain in common terms how the medical breakthroughs we have been working on for the past  25 years are analogous to the situation of  “IT” ( a term surely not yet invented in ’85) and the state opf science today.  So much ignorance and denial of the potential benefits.  So much misunderstanding of the basics of the art.  And how quickly the art of IT advanced and how bio science is in the same state today.  That people could actually question the nature of life as evolving and dynamic, not fabricated by one of many Gods. That our collective knowledge of biological sciences is still so preliminary because the “hardware” doesn’t exist to exploit it fully.  Geesh, it freaks me out.

So I am going to Palo Alto in the AM, leaving FredCoBio.  As may late, great friend Ian Clarkson used to say (who’s father ained considerable noteriety as a UK trained toxicologist at the U of R who discovereded that methylmercury hydroxide, a by-product of some type of fungal infection of grain silos in Baghdad, was responsible for killing 10’s of thousands of people in the 70’s):  If you’re going to trip, you might as well travel.

And what a Long Strange Trip it’s been.

Posted in BioBarCamp, Blogterviews, General, Rants, Scifoo | Leave a Comment »

Mushroom hunting: Let the Festivities begin!

Posted by Jim H on March 30, 2009

At SciFoo at Google in August ’08 I met Paul Stamets of  One of the many give a ways was his book, Mycelium Running.  I have been obsessed ever since.  I had the opportunity to ask Paul about cultivating morels I have my yard.  I am watching and waiting for my morels to sprout (which is typically 2-5 days after the first heavy rain in April in this region), but in the mean time I am checking out what’s come to fruit after the rains this weekend.  I’ve also propagated some shiitake (which I bought at in the form of plug spawn) and some shaggy parasol mushrooms I picked out of the goat yard in the fall.  I am cultivating these in corrugated cardboard (in one case a pizza box) which I left out over the winter.  The mycelium are running, but I am worried I have some undesirable mold running, too.  Time will tell.

In any event, I put together this enjoyable slide show of my Sunday morning mushroom adventure (updated with music):

Now that I have moved my operations into FITCI@Hood, I hope to take advantage of the Hood Biology department to help me identify some of these fungi.  I bought the National Audobon Societies Field Guide, but I can never make a firm identification.  you don’t want to be making bad taxonomic decisions when it comes to wild mushrooms.  Any experts ut there who would like to start a c”shroom hunting Club?  One interesting thing about Paul is that he was the Ken Kesey & the Merry Prankster’sofficial mycologist.

I think I have blogged his TED talk before, but it’s worth another post

Posted in BioBarCamp, General Biology, prokaryotic, Rants, Scifoo | Leave a Comment »

Happy New Year from FredCoBio

Posted by Jim H on January 6, 2009

I wanted to make the first post of the year not so much of a retrospective on 2008 as “forward looking statement” of things to come in 2009.  Yes, I know it’s already January 6th.  It was nice taking some time off to do a lot of nothing, but things must get done in ’09.

So first a look back at the Top Stories in FredCoBio.  I could try to come up with a “Top 10″, but I think  we’ll just leave it at the “Top 6″ (in no specific order):

1)  BioBeers: My personal highlight, at least.  What started as an idea for a small gathering, borrowed from a group of bloggers in Colorado, turned into a party of 70 some odd biogeeks from almost every Biotech in the County.  I have more people offering to “sponsor” than I can accommodate, but we haven’t exceeded to hospitality or capacity of the Flying Dog Tasting Room, yet.   Stay tuned for the first BioBeers’09 event coming in January.

2)  The Bruce Ivin’s tragedy:  Enough said about this one, event though there is another article in the FNP today releasing autopsy results.  Although deemed guilty by the FBI and most media outlets, the sentiment remains strong that he was innocent and driven to suicide by having his life’s work confiscated and his reputation ruined.  This was a huge national story, broken by the LA Times several days after I had the chance to “break the story” upon hearing of his death at one of our BioBeers events on the day of his death.

3)  Stem Cell expansion in the region:  The growth in the region of the “big guys”, with Lonza breaking ground on a huge new Cell Therapy expansion and Invitrogen making the Executive Way facility Ground Zero for their Cell Culture/Stem Cell research group’s Open Innovation Center.  Also, LifeLine Cell Technology in Walkersville is growing rapidly, with the contract to supply SC lines to ATCC and signing a deal to supply Millipore.  Not to mention some of the great stuff going on at Ft Detrick and the Regenerative Medicine facility being coordinated through FT Detrick Command.

4)  SAIC expansion, another huge plus for FredCoBio.  They’ve already built the new Charles River facility to make the research animals and now another potential 700,000 sq feet of lab space and space for “synergistic partners”.  Can’t wait for this facility to be opened and see what comes of it, aside from a promise for a cure for some forms of cancer within 5 years of opening.

5)  FITCI graduates:  This year things are so slow at FITCI because so many companies got the boost they needed to fly the coop and go out on their own.  I don’t think it’s fair to ignore Akonni , SABiosciences or ImQuest, because they’ve been so successful and boast beautiful new facilities.  But keep your eyes out for HSRL, who just moved up to Thurmont into a refurbished bowling alley and IBT, who won a huge grant (but then moved to MoCo).

6)  SciFoo What an experience, being one of 200 people in the world invited to an “Unconference” at Google.  I continue to build relationships with people I met there and have a number of projects going on with members of the SciFoo campers.  For me, probably one of the most incredible and rewarding scientific ventures of my career.  I was watching some sessions of the Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing via live streams and FriendFeed.  By the way, if you’re not on FriendFeed, you need to be. It aggregates Twitter, your blogs, Reader streams etc.  and those of all your “friends”.  Just be prepared to spend several hours a day reading it.

So that was my quick wrap up of highlights of 2008, but let’s look forward to 2009.

I am aiming to make BioBeers a monthly event this year, starting this month.  I am also planning (perhaps, planning and not promising) to  have a FredCoBioBarCamp.  This is a traditional Unconfernce with no agenda other than talking about science.  We’ll meet to discuss topics on Day 1, and run sessions on Day 2.  I’ll need to find a venue/host and a sponsor for beer and food, but should be doable.  This will likely be a late summer/fall event.  I’d also like to see how much interest there would be in a FredCoBio Golf outing. I know I can get a 4-some just about any day the sun is shining, but maybe a bigger event (something like the old MdBio annual outing) would be nicer.

This year is also going to be the year of Open Science. I am already subscribed and playing around in a couple of DIYbio projects, like Gel Box 2.0 and the Cheap, hand-help PCR machine, not to mention OpenWetWare and stuff.  I am actually going to mingle with the NoVa Biotech scene tonight at an event called Cafe Scientifique in Arlington this evening.

And with so many different stories about how Biotech is going to fall flat on it’s face because of the “market crisis” or how bad 2008 was but how much worser 2009 is going to be and then how Biotech stnocks outperformed every other sector and how the federal Government continues to throw billions and billions of dollars into Ft Detrick.

Ok, to be Fair, Jason Balog stated:

The life sciences industry is no different. Although investment dollars continue to flow into the life sciences industry, the way those dollars are being invested is changing. Money that traditionally supported early stage companies is drying up as investors become more conservative and selective with their investments. The effects include daily stories about small companies downsizing, refocusing or shutting down in some instances. This is not an unusual story restricted to the life sciences industry, nor will the loss of some small companies have a current effect on the life sciences industry as a whole.

Unlike other industries, however, the life sciences industry is becoming increasingly reliant on small companies to be the future innovators, and it is feared that a significant loss of small companies in the life sciences industry now could have a profound effect on the future.

And although I agree with some of his essay, I think he underestimates the power of this region, particularlly due to reliance on federal Government funding, and how resilient we are. I don’t think there is a better place to be in than Frederick County in Biotech in 2009.

And add to that, MedImmune has recently announced plans to hire an additional 800 people in 2009, not just high paying scientific positions, but support people as well.

My only resolution this year is to stop starting new blo0gs.  I have already broken this resolution, as I joined FITCI’s own Rob Galioto in blogging the Innovative Entrepreneurs.  I can’t even spell the word, which either means I am a spell check junkie, never did well in English or maybe I just am one?

In any event, Happy 2009 Frederick County Biotech!  Pitch me a line if you want to contribute to the blog, BioBeers, FCBBC or anything else and thank you all for reading.

Posted in BioBeer, Blogterviews, Business, General, News, Rants, Scifoo | Leave a Comment »

BHAG: “Big, Hairy, Agressive Goal”

Posted by Jim H on December 7, 2008

Be big or stay home, as we used to say in High School.

As I watched “Meet the Press” this morning I was inspired by what I heard at the very end of the interview.

President-elect Barack Obama stated that he wanted to have scientific presentations at the White House while he was the chief resident.

Here’s the transcript from this morning’s broadcast (you can watch the whole interview HERE, on MSNBC):

MR. BROKAW: Who are the kinds of artists that you would like to bring to the White House?

PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Oh, well, you know, we have thought about this because part of what we want to do is to open up the White House and, and remind people this is, this is the people’s house. There is an incredible bully pulpit to be used when it comes to, for example, education. Yes, we’re going to have an education policy. Yes, we’re going to be putting more money into school construction. But, ultimately, we want to talk about parents reading to their kids. We want to invite kids from local schools into the White House. When it comes to science, elevating science once again, and having lectures in the White House where people are talking about traveling to the stars or breaking down atoms, inspiring our youth to get a sense of what discovery is all about. Thinking about the diversity of our culture and, and inviting jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House so that, once again, we appreciate this incredible tapestry that’s America. I–you know, that, I think, is, is going to be incredibly important, particularly because we’re going through hard times. And, historically, what has always brought us through hard times is that national character, that sense of optimism, that willingness to look forward, that, that sense that better days are ahead. I think that our art and our culture, our science, you know, that’s the essence of what makes America special, and, and we want to project that as much as possible in the White House.

So, I am going to write to our Congressman, the honorable Roscoe Bartlett, and see if I can arrange a BioBarCamp at the White House. An “Unconference” like Foo camp.

I’ll let you know how it goes. I the mean time, if you’d like to attend (assuming I am successful), let me know.

Posted in BioBarCamp, bizzare, Events, News, presentations, Rants, Scifoo | 1 Comment »


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