Hello, readers! I came across a grant opportunity that would be appropriate for my collaborator and our project, and I am pursuing it. Wish me luck. I would much prefer this route of funding to trying something more bizarre.
Hello, readers! I have expertise in a variety of areas dealing with microscopic creatures and molecules, and in 2017 I was inspired to put together a series of topics which would make for an interesting series on science, science literacy, and current controversies like whether GMOs should be trusted, and why people deny climate science. One of the topics I plan to address is the trust people put into “quack” cures and how to differentiate between real research findings and marketing. Unfortunately, a lot of trusting people see key marketing words like “toxin” and “nutrient” and “clean food” and make all sorts of assumptions based on how those words are presented. There is a lot of misinformation circulating about probiotics, for example- people making all sorts of claims which can’t be substantiated without really large and repeated clinical trials.
It is my goal, in this blog (to an extent- I do not post as much as I should) and elsewhere to educate people. I really think that putting all the information I’ve outlined might result in a nonfiction book that will help interest people in these subjects and help arm them against marketing masquerading as science. I am calling the book idea Microcosmos (borrowing from Carl Sagan’s great TV series, Cosmos, which Seth MacFarlane magnificently rebooted several years ago), and yes, I think it would make a terrific TV series which covers more current information about pressing issues, especially those dealing with psychology and biology.
While I think doing basic research is important, I hope that if I produce a book (and, possibly, a set of scripts) that helps educate the general public, and in particular policy makers, I will be helping advance the cause of science literacy and promote more funding for science and science education.
I have not given up on Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria, but I need to do something to either find a grant (this has so far been problematic, mostly because I do not have my own lab), a philanthropist/ venture capitalist (there is the possibility of IP from the project earning money), or to earn money myself somehow that is sufficient to pay for the expenses of the project in its planned next phase. As I have budgeted a significant amount of money toward research, I have to say that I am probably going to have to be flexible and creative in finding ways to fund the project.
Hello, readers! I’m not able to say much about what I am doing now, but I have been working on a number of ideas and getting some feedback on them, as well as thinking of ways to fund the work.
Most of this is way outside the box, and if I’m able to raise funds quickly enough I’ve got enough connections to get this going.
Wish me luck!
I don’t post very often in this blog (alas) and I have noticed sometimes people poke around on this site, presumably because they find it interesting. I’m gratified, but I want to make sure if individuals who are not clinical researchers are looking into scientific literature about probiotics (or any other health issue) that they are equipped with enough knowledge to understand what they are reading.
Here is one paper that will be useful: How to read a clinical trial paper . It’s by Shail M. Govani, and Peter D. R. Higgins, both from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.
As is the case with every microbiome paper I give links to in this site, I don’t actually know these people, but I’m confident that anyone wanting to learn more about how microbiome research (and probiotics) will benefit from giving the paper a quick read.
As for my personal Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria, it is going on- I’ve finished a document that describes work on this project for potential funders, and I’ve also finished a more ambitious document that includes work designed to enhance sustainable agriculture (dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from soils and manure piles, and finding ways to remove insect pests while preserving pollinating species like honeybees).
It’s possible I might be able to work with Dr. Schiestl again in future- he says he would be pleased to work with me again- so if I go to UCLA and there are sufficient funds, I should be able to at least work on my cancer project. Finding partners for the other two projects is pretty easy, the largest question is finding funding.
The best thing about approaching these projects as if they were business projects is that I’ve come up with ideas for products based on the technology that could be developed- if I’m right about how all these systems work. Even if I’m right about one of the three, the intellectual property developed should be worth a fair bit of money to the right industrial partner. The potential return on investment is actually very high! So I am hopeful I can find a private funder who requires less red tape and will allow us to keep our intellectual property to ourselves (every time a grant is evaluated, a whole panel of people judge it and I doubt that every reviewer is able to keep from being influenced by what he or she is reading). It would be wonderful to be the first to claim patentable intellectual property regarding each of these projects.
I’ve been busy putting together something analogous to a business plan, only calling it a “project plan” to show to potential funders of Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria. I’m pretty happy with how it’s shaping up. This week is all about this particular, and very important, project. Once I am finished I will share this with my UCLA collaborator and maybe a few others to get feedback and letters of support for the appendix.
The goal with this is to take the project plan to people more used to looking at business plans than science grants and see if it’s possible to fund the project via philanthropy.
I’ve also stumbled across a terrific plan for a project dealing with agricultural soil bacteria and greenhouse gas mitigation, where my involvement would be minimal- if I manage to find success with Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria I’ll probably try this tactic to fund other projects.
Wish me luck!
Hello, readers- I’m currently on Day Two of an interesting (free!) videocast series from NIH on microbiome studies. You can find more information here.
In other news, I’ve written a hypothesis paper for my ideas stemming from my 2014 and subsequent work on Project: Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria, and I am both refining these ideas, and withdrawing the paper from publication (luckily, it was rejected for lack of data, which is amusing since it is a hypothesis paper, which by definition does not come bundled with much data! I am relieved, though, since this means I can continue on with my plans for this work). I’m not going to say much about my plans other than that I am seeking funding to test the hypothesis myself, probably at UCLA. Today’s sessions at the NIH meeting have been helpful in triggering new ideas, so I may add some new details to the experiments I had in mind.
Some additional news: there’s been a really interesting paper out last year which I only just came across, dealing with soil inoculants that limit greenhouse gas production in agricultural systems: paper here. This links to an idea I had earlier but had no resources to follow up on, and perhaps if my fundraising for my cancer project is successful, I can shunt some money toward work on nosZ+ soil or manure inoculants in North America.
With all the uncertainty about federal funds possibly freezing and potential issues with co-applying for an NIH grant with my UCLA colleague, I’ve been on the lookout for other potential sources of funding. We would not need as much as an R21 grant is capped at, substantially less, in fact, to do some additional preliminary studies- and the work, if successful, would make an advance that would in theory affect many more diseases and disorders, not just cancer.
I’ve found a few promising avenues and am awaiting instructions for how to apply. Real research is so much different from Hollywood movie research, where people are able to do a decade of work in under two hours. I rather wish things could be accelerated, but unless a kind philanthropist is willing to come out of the wings and offer somewhere around $75,000-$125,000 USD to my UCLA collaborator, I am afraid this work will have to stay in stasis while we continue to look for funding.
I am optimistic that these new smaller granting agencies will work out more satisfactorily than a NIH grant application would, though.
[UPDATE: NIH funding does not seem to be frozen for this fiscal year, so it is possible I might be successful with an R21 grant- I plan to approach a variety of labs in the LA area to see who might have time and interest in helping me apply for one, and who might be willing to host me in their lab for a couple of years. This is kind of a long shot, though.]
Hello readers! So I’m happy to report that in July on my vacation I managed to get quite a lot done on two major parts of the grant. We still need to come up with a budget, but the experimental plan and objectives are nailed down! I’m optimistic that we will make the deadline (ostensibly in October, but internal deadlines are sooner). Really all this needs is about one afternoon to put together a budget, then one or two days for someone to fill in all the different boxes and things in the online forms. This has to be done at UCLA, not by me (though I will help with the budget), but I am happy that everything is at a point where it can progress.
Speaking of progression, I am leaving my current full-time job soon and, after a vacation break (probably a lengthy one), going back to school to pick up a certificate in computer science. I’m lucky enough that my husband is willing to support me financially through all that. This means that I’ll have more free time and energy, though nothing can be done with this project until we get more experimental results, and that will require someone to do the work (I can’t afford to unless I am getting paid, and I have no immediate plans to move to Los Angeles to work at UCLA). I’ll be better able to help with the analysis of the data once I have my certificate, and so I’m looking forward to acting as collaborator/bioinformatician in the future, once funding has been achieved and experiments run.
I’ll also have more free time to survey the burgeoning literature for interesting microbiome studies. I have a number of interesting papers which I kept meaning to share for a long time and never quite got around to, and I hope to post a bit more often once I’m on my next vacation.
So, readers, I have fallen off the face of the Earth lately when it comes to maintaining this blog- it’s partly due to increased duties at work combined with illness (it’s a combination which pretty much guarantees the removal of all my spare energy), and it’s partly due to the fact that I’ve been devoting some energy to working on Project Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria.
Specifically, I’ve re-analyzed some data and made some new observations, and all this is going into an NIH R21 grant that I’m writing with my UCLA collaborator. The new planned work is, I think, better than what I had planned before with the team of people I had wanted to work with from not just UCLA, but Duke and Guelph as well. So the work is smaller in scope, in some ways, but should have an impact nevertheless if we manage to pull off the experimental work.
The next grant deadline that we plan to aim for is in the fall- so wish me luck. I’ll be working on this over my vacation in a couple of weeks.
Hello readers: I’ve come across an interesting article from my own home university, the University of Guelph! It’s entitled “Stress and the microbiome: linking glucocorticoids to bacterial community dynamics in wild red squirrels“, and it’s fascinating because (a) wild animals were used, responding naturally to their environments, and (b) it shows a direct link between levels of stress, as measured by faecal glucocorticoid hormones, and the microbiome, which controls so many aspects of one’s health. The paper comes out of the lab of Amy E. M. Newman.
The analysis is a little crude- the authors only looked at diversity of bacteria in faecal samples, not composition of bacteria to find which bacteria changed in abundance with stress- but it’s very clear that the overall diversity of bacteria in the microbiome of the squirrels analyzed in the study (via collection of faecal pellets) dropped when those pellets had higher levels of glucocorticoid hormones (which are an indicator of stress response).
What does this mean for you? Well, it’s clear from many studies that stress negatively impacts your health, and the alteration of the gut microbiome in response to stress probably happens in people as well as squirrels. This may be one more mechanism by which our psyche is connected to our physiological state via the gut-brain axis.