This week's news includes the passing of a controversial CDC director, theories on how bin Laden's identity was confirmed by DNA analysis, a new technique for erasing memories, an age-based gender gap in NIH funding, and altruistic robots.
David Sencer linkurl:www.cdc.gov;http://www.cdc.gov/about/history/pastdirectors.htm
Former CDC director dies
David Sencer, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1966 through 1977, died in Atlanta on Monday due to complications with heart disease, according to the linkurl:New York Times.;http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/us/04sencer.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss He was 86.
Sencer coordinated the CDC's effort with international partners to successfully eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. "He said you couldn't protect US citizens from smallpox without getting rid of it in the world, and that was a new approach," William H. Foege, who succeeded Sencer as CDC director, told the NYT. "People in the field got all the praise, but he was the unsung hero."
But Sencer is perhaps better known for his role in the controversial 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign, when he recommended nationwide vaccination against the flu after several cases were identified in New Jersey. More than 40 million Americans were vaccinated, the linkurl:Associated Press notes,;http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hVjIvyG9T03920fn_G_h_zIqtkaQ?docId=c36f9a21088a4e8c88bba138857f7d2f but the epidemic never occurred, and there were dozens of reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, attributed to the vaccine. Sencer also served as New York City's health commissioner during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. He is survived by his wife, Jane, and three children.
Bin Laden's DNA
In addition to visual recognition, Osama bin Laden's identity was confirmed through DNA tests, US officials confirmed on Monday (May 2). linkurl:The Telegraph reports;http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/8488004/Osama-Bin-Ladens-body-identified-by-sisters-brain.html that bin Laden's DNA was matched to a tissue sample from the brain of his late sister subpoenaed by the FBI several years ago. Others speculate that the government already had samples of bin Laden's own DNA, or that samples were collected from his living half-siblings and children. Whatever the source of the DNA, common PCR methods would likely have been used to complete the analysis in a matter of hours, notes Christine Wilcox at linkurl:ScientificAmerican.com.;http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=how-do-you-id-a-dead-osama-anyway-2011-05-02 The strength of a match made between bin Laden's DNA and that of his relatives would depend on how many related DNA samples were available for comparison, and how closely they are related to bin Laden, Allison Williams Dobson, a lawyer and molecular biologist at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill told Nature's blog, linkurl:The Great Beyond.;http://blogs.nature.com/news/2011/05/how_dna_could_confirm_bin_lade.html
Erasing snail memories
New research from the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests doctors may someday be able to erase memories from individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Published in the April 27 issue of the linkurl:Journal of Neuroscience,;http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/17/6421.abstract?sid=2f3a2772-8e6a-4b1c-957c-27ea24031067 scientists erased a painful memory in snails by blocking the activity of a single enzyme. First, the team applied an electric shock to snails, then immediately prodded their midsections. Snails retained this memory, later contracting when touched in the same spot. But when the activity of a long-term memory enzyme called PKM Apl III was blocked, the snails no longer cringed when prodded. "The long-term memory is gone," said senior author, David Glanzman linkurl:in a press release.;http://www.fiercebiotech.com/press-releases/can-traumatic-memories-be-erased What's more, "almost all the processes that are involved in memory in the snail also have been shown to be involved in memory in the brains of mammals," he added, suggesting that the same technique may be applicable to humans with memories they'd like to forget.
Gender gap widens with age
As women get older, they receive a smaller and smaller share of National Institutes of Health grants and awards, according to a new report published in the June issue of linkurl:Academic Medicine.;http://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Abstract/publishahead/Sex_Differences_in_Application,_Success,_and.99852.aspx Specifically, while women received about half of all NIH training grants awarded in 2008, typically awarded to young investigators, they received only 27 percent of R01s, funding supplied throughout careers, and only 18 percent of all P30s, large center grants received by scientists with an average age of 60. The NIH is investigating the reasons, linkurl:ScienceInsider reports.;http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/04/womens-share-of-nih-grants-drops.html
Just because robots are metal doesn't mean they're cold-hearted. linkurl:In a Swiss laboratory,;http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.1000615 inch-long wheeled robots, called "artificial ants," evolved to help each other in a food task, just as predicted by a classic evolutionary rule concerning the emergence of self-sacrifice in the biological world, linkurl:Wired Science reports.;http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/05/robot-altruism/ After searching for discs of "food," the computerized "genes" of successful robots were reshuffled and copied into a new generation of robots. Each robot was also given the option to either share their "food" reward, or hoard it. Time and again, the robots evolved to share at levels predicted by an altruism formula called Hamilton's rule, the researchers report.
Video courtesy of linkurl:Wired Science;http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/05/robot-altruism/
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Nice bacteria finish last;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57667/ [1st September 2010] *linkurl:Making mice forget;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55102/ [22nd October 2008] *linkurl:Gender gap narrows in medical journals;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23994/ [20th July 2006]
Amnesia drugs are primarily of interest to intelligence agencies. There are two major things they want to do with them. \n\nA. Interrogate people using harsh and soft methods and have them remember nothing. \n\nB. Erase memories of interactions with field agents so that they don't have to kill or kidnap in order to protect their agent/asset.
Dr. Sencer will be remembered well for the CDC's effort with international partners under his guidance to successfully eradicate smallpox in the 70s. But his folly in the nationwide vaccination in the US against the swine flu should also teach us a lesson. In the clinical practice a moderate approach may be preferable to an overzealous attempt. The same was proved by the controversial role of various international organizations during the recent oubreak of swine flu in 2009-10.\nvinod Nikhra, M.D.\nwww,vinodnikhra.com