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Archive for July, 2009

eclipse and twitter

Thinking Twitter? Bird perching on the statue of late Chairman Mao Zedong is silhouetted against a partial solar eclipse in Wuhan, Hubei province July 22, 2009. Reuters

I know… I used to be skeptical about using Twitter too. “Who has the time?” right? Also, I did not think it would be interesting to “tweet” about myself; however, I finally pulled myself from my inertia and gave it a try. I even succeed to beat Oprah to joining Twitter by almost… a day! I am now tweeting for My Lab Your Lab and for Amplinovia.

I do not yet feel pressed to tweet all the time. I tweet for two main reasons:

  • to communicate news and thoughts about science, scientists and about innovation in general, which I feel might be of interest to others. For me, tweeting is an interesting mental exercise. Twitter forces users to distill whatever they want to say in 140 characters or less (including spaces and included URLs). Many times I find it to be a challenge for me to write a message that it is both clear and interesting; however, the direct style of communication is right down my alley and I had already used Twitter as a paradigm of the times to challenge speakers on an innovation panel I recently organized for BIO to convey their main message in one minute or less (hey, I was much more “generous” with words than Twitter! 😉
  • to connect with like-minded people. In spite of its virtual nature, I can attest that Twitter brings together diverse people in real life. For instance, I might have never met Amira, an undergraduate student from U of MD, if it wasn’t for Twitter. Due to our Twitter connection, Amira became a member of My Lab Your Lab, our growing online scientific community, and later she asked me to become a mentor to help with her upcoming major career decisions.

I also use Twitter to gather knowledge and information. I follow people and news outfits that have something relevant to say. I try to encourage yet hesitant people by telling them that one can actually filter the staggering amount of intersecting chatter in the… Twittosphere (?). I would list as main reasons for which I recommend reading others tweets the following:

  • Twitter news are… well up-to-date! Twitter spreads news fast, these can originate either from a phone (e.g., as sms) or from a computer.  Compared to most websites that usually require some techno-savvy people to update content, Twitter updates in real time, as demonstrated by the news immediately spread during the recent events in Iran. I understand that a lot of professional  journalists use it now to get their leads for information.
  • Twitter is also “democratizing” the news and breaking down “walls” and “boxes” – i.e., anybody from anywhere can create or spread the news, no journalistic credentials required! Of course, access to technology (cell phone or computer) is needed… The Twitter crowd is innovating the way we create and  gather our news.
  • Twitter expresses the mood and interests of its global community =“crowd-feeling”? For those seeking patterns and global trends, the column that appears on the right of the Twitter’s homepage shows what the top topics people communicate about at any given time are. Most times I find that the topics are not what I would consider interesting… I think the main problem is that many people who might have something enlightening or interesting to say are not on Twitter yet (!) For instance, at the 2009 Experimental Biology  meeting, attracting 14,000 highly educated and smart registrants, it was pretty shocking to discovera as result of a poll that I was the only attendee using Twitter at a session specifically dedicated to employing Internet 2.0 tools to connect science, health, and the public… As shown by a recent articlein the “Journal of Happiness Studies” (yes, there is a legitimate journal that uses scientific methods to analyze and measure moods in a variety of contexts) the global online written expressions such as those from blogs and on Twitter (in fact a form of “microblogging”) can now be mined and analyzed. I can think of many public health, educational, and business reasons for which this exercise might be helpful.
  • Twitter allows the wide sharing of personal wisdom, knowledge and wit. I think great Twitterers (?) are philosophers and poets of current times. Is an educational collection of the best crafted, deepest, most inspirational messages on Twitter available yet?

In case you are intrigued, Twitter has put on line a very simple to follow “101 course” on how to use it for a variety of “serious” reasons, complete with business case studies. Btw, I have no conflicts of interest… Hey, Tweet me @amplinovia let me know what you think!

P.S. If all this talk about relevant and timely messages did not convince you to try Twitter yet, you might want to check if you favorite places now accept “to go orders” placed on Twitter…

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You guessed it! Location, location, location

A new research study from my Alma Mater, McGill University in Montreal, demonstrates major DNA differences between genes in blood cells and tissue cells of the same individual. Specifically, the researchers found a DNA mutation (of the BAK gene involved in cell death) in the tissue cells harvested from patients, but not in their blood cells. This study and other recent ones challenge the major current assumption under which we have operated for years, i.e. that our DNA is the same in all the cells throughout the body, a specific master template faithfully reproduced in each of us. We are not talking cancer where local mutations are known to occur in tumors. What does this mean for you?

–       As a researcher, therapy and/or diagnostic developer, etc., it means that you will likely have to look in the right place in the body, analyzing “the right” (relevant) cells. This is exciting, as it opens up a lot of potential great discoveries, cures and diagnostics. It is also good news for those who had set up or already work with tissue banks (is anybody reading: much more work needed? are we going to run into the needle in the haystack issue?)

–       As a regulator, decision maker, media, etc. you will have to realize that there is much more to come, so you might want to give it a chance… Many have begun not only to openy question the wisdom of genetic testing to derive disease associations, but to actively block any initiative along these lines.

–        As a patient and consumer of health innovation, you might have to be willing to allow removal of tissues (other than blood) from your body for accurate genetic testing. Only you can decide if that is good for you…

Yet another dimension is being added to “personalized medicine”. The biology of our bodies includes features that are manifested and influence locally and systemically (globally). The genetic information is less global than previously thought. Thus the testing, treatment and care will need to be not only tailored to the individual, but also to the specific tissue/body component affected and targeted for prevention or cure of the disease.

So, coming back to the old tried and true wisdom, when it comes to our most precious piece of real estate, our own body, we will need to chose wisely the location (of genetic testing, treatment, etc.)…

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