Category Archives: Issues in Science

Strawberries: A Potential to Prevent Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is a booming cancer diagnosis in the United states in the past 20 years. It is usually discovered at late stages thus has a very low survival rate.

In the U.S. somebody dies every 36minutes of this disease. Believe it or not, it is usually caused by persistent heartburn or acid reflux disease.

April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness month. Esophageal Cancer action Network (ECAN) has launched a nationwide public awareness campaign.

Here is a short clip of what Esophageal cancer is and its causes and symptoms.YouTube Preview Image

Yesterday i came across a couple articles from Medindia, Time, The wall street

straberries @ flickr

journal and WebMD, that talked about strawberries having a potential to prevent esophageal cancer based on a preliminary research  by Tong Chen. (a cancer researcher at Ohio State  Comprehensive Cancer Center).

Based on the results from her animal study showing that strawberries had anti-cancer effects, Chen decided to study strawberries as a cancer preventive in humans.  Her study involved a total of 38 participants all from China who were about 55 years old suffering from a mild to moderate dysplasia in the esophagus. 36 participants completed the study and biopsies of the esophagus were taken before and after the study.

These participants were instructed to consume 30 grams of freeze-dried strawberries (powder) in a glass of water twice daily for six months. Out of the 36 participants, 29 of them showed a decreased level of precancerous lesions.

So, Strawberries may be an alternative to prevent esophageal cancer. But this does not mean that we could gulp down pounds and pounds of strawberries to prevent or fight cancer. This research is still at its preliminary stage. There is more research and scrutiny that needs to be done for these findings to be valid.

Laboratory Dye May Become the Next Treatment for Aging

Aging - Bob AuBuchon via Flickr

The laboratory dye “Basic Yellow-1” doesn’t sound all that exciting, but it could be the next “cure” for aging.

Almost all of our cellular functions, from cell division to metabolism, rely on proteins. In order to function properly these proteins must be correctly folded into 3D structures. Sometimes, proteins do not form the proper shapes and they must either be refolded or recycled. As we age the number of mis-folded proteins in our cells increases and they begin to form clumps that clog up our cellular systems. Scientists believe that this build up of junk protein is one of the underlying causes of aging.

Clumps of protein in the brain are thought to be on of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Basic Yellow-1 binds to protein clumps allowing researchers studying Alzheimer’s to visualize these clumps or plaques. However, Nature News reports that they also found that feeding worms an optimal dose of this dye extended their lifespan by 78% on average. They believe that the dye is able to alert the cell of the presence of these harmful groups of proteins.

Our body and cells recognize Basic Yellow-1 as a foreign molecule or intruder, so when the dye binds to the proteins it is essentially marking them as dangerous. It seems that our body’s repair mechanisms aren’t always very successful in noticing these protein aggregates and adding the dye molecule might just jumpstart the removal of these proteins, leading to a longer life.

This research is still in the very early stages. However, drugs related to this dye may someday be available to help extend life. While I think that it is very cool that this lab dye may also function as a clinical drug, what I want to know is – would you take it?

Discovery of a New Particle may change Physics

A recent article on CBC reveals a shocking discovery that could change the world that we know today. Scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois found a new particle that is different from the ones that we are familiar with. This new particle was discovered through the help of the Tevatron particle accelerator. The accelerator data showed an unusually high peak, which after analysis, was determined to be a new particle.

The collision detector found at Fermilab

Particle accelerators try to discover or uncover particles by accelerating them in a chamber. The particles are accelerated near the speed of light, and through these high-speed collisions, scientists hope to gain data that might reveal new particles. The unusual high peak from the accelerator’s data led to the creation of a new particle, called the W boson, and two cones of particles, called hadronic jets.

The new particle created ripples in the scientific community due to the fact that they do not conform to the structure predicted by the Standard Model. Physicists are boggled by this, and this new particle could in fact lead to more research.  However, the scientists at Fermilab are cautious with their findings. They are still waiting for results from Large Hadron Collider and see if the scientists there could reproduce the peak using identical parameters. Also, they are trying to eliminate the fact that this peak could have been achieved by accident – that this wasn’t a ‘fluke.’

If the same results are achieved, the world as we know it might be a little bit more different.

BC killer whales can’t hear each other!

I spent much of 2010/2011 working on a research project so thought that I would use this ultimate SCIE300 blog post to tell you all about it.

Last September, myself and four others in UBC Environmental Science were put on team and instructed to research whatever environmental science topic we wanted. We were all broadly interested in researching some sort of ecological impact of the Gateway Program, BC’s massive plan for highway and port expansions. We spent first semester narrowing in on a more specific area. Eventually, we landed our focus on the impacts of increasing commercial shipping traffic on the Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW). This population is designated as endangered by the Species at Risk Act and has been in decline over the past several decades.

Photo: Minette Layne on Flickr

This semester, we went into a research paper-reading frenzy on everything and anything to do with killer whales, ships, and killer whales and ships in order to find a manageable gap in the understanding of commercial ship impacts on the SRKW we could work to fill. We soon found that the influence of commercial shipping sound in the SRKW critical habitat — area identified as especially important for the well-being of this species — is little understood.

Also at around this time, a lawsuit led by several environmental groups against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) was in the midst of unfolding. Team Enviro had taken DFO to court for failing to protect the SRKW critical habitat (which DFO is legally obliged to protect), and in December 2010, the court ruled against DFO. Noise pollution — along with food availability and toxic pollution — were among the key areas DFO was found to be failing to address. So, knowing that DFO might be considering doing a better job of safe-gaurding the critical habitat, we wanted to conduct research that could inform recommendations to lessen noise impacts on the SRKW.

We got to work using GIS analysis to map out areas of sound influence in the SRKW habitat, identifying spots where the killer whales’ ability to communicate was compromised. In addition, we mapped out noise pollution scenarios under different ship speed limits to see whether the noise level decreased significantly.

In the end, we found that noise pollution is omnipresent in the SRKW critical habitat; the whales are almost never freed from some sort of interference in their communication calls. Additionally, we found that no realistic speed limit reduces noise significantly. What does this mean for the SRKW? Mostly, our research reiterates that DFO has done a poor job in protecting the home of this endangered species. However, we believe that future research into alternate shipping routes and identification of specific months or times of day for shipping that avoid critical killer whale feeding and breeding times and areas could lead to successful SRKW protection.

Our poster we presented to the EOSC faculty. You should be able to read it by clicking on it.

See our blog for more info on our project:-)