Just received word that the funding my colleagues and I have applied for was not awarded- there was a two stage process in obtaining the funding and we did not move on to the next stage. I was expecting this, as the program was quite competitive (and they did mention literally thousands of entries), but it is disappointing nevertheless. I am hopeful that I’ll find a way, even through non-traditional means, to fund our work in future, though.

Have a great day!

Hello readers! I apologize, I haven’t added a link to a good research article in quite a long time.

This one, by Christian Jobin, was published earlier this year in Science. It’s essentially a summary of more detailed work that is referenced in the article, and I include it because the language is plainer than those works. Here is the link to the article: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6371/32.long. If you can’t download it for free from your library, try contacting the author to see if he will share a PDF (it is ridiculous the prices journals charge for paywalled articles, especially since authors are not only not paid, they often pay page charges for publication).

Essentially, the article describes work demonstrating that different cancer immunotherapies can be altered in the presence of different species of gut bacteria. We are not yet at a “This bug helps cancer immunotherapy, and this bug is bad for it” stage- and it is possible that an assortment of bacteria can all do similar things and have analogous effects on the human immune system. Right now we are at the stage of finding out a signal in one study for bug X and a signal in another study for bug Y, but people do not actually know what it is exactly about bugs X and Y that cause them to exert their effects. I have one hypothesis, others have other hypotheses, often supported by some data, and it will take another decade of research before we are past the kind of probiotic blitzing you see with fecal microbiome therapy (just replace everything) to the kind of targeted, very specific therapies designed to exert specific effects that some unscrupulous marketers are already claiming to sell.

It’s also very likely that a person’s genetic makeup influences all of this, as does their diet. So predicting the effects of any given bug X probiotic delivered to a human gut is right now not reliable- anyone claiming they can do this is probably trying to sell you something. Don’t buy it.

Most people reading this site probably want to know what they can do to help their immune system fight off disease, or stay healthy. I would argue that eating well (lots of fresh veggies, not too much processed meat, a reasonable amount of fibre, not too much sugar and fat), exercising, getting enough sleep, minimizing stress, and, if you want a probiotic, a dairy or nondairy yogurt containing live cultures is probably good enough for most people. I can’t really recommend a probiotic product, though lots of them are on the market and some might have been clinically tested by now. Most of them can’t hurt you, if used as directed, and if your immune system is not severely compromised, so talk to your doctor about giving one a try.

Unfortunately the granting agency I had found which we had submitted an LOI to did not choose for us to pursue the application further, and so it’s back to the drawing board. Luckily, I came across an opportunity with a large pharmaceutical company that, while competitive, seems even better than the last one. It’s due fairly soon and lucky for me, I have most of the materials for the initial application (it is again a two-stage process) ready to go.

It’s rather frustrating to me that this effort is taking so very long to take off. I’m almost certain that the ideas I had, which were novel and fresh in 2013-2014, are going to be thought of in parallel by other, better funded researchers with labs, and I’m losing the chance to work on them at all the longer this drags out.  I guess that’s just how things go, but it frustrates me to no end. How much amazing research is sidelined or neglected because a researcher with a good idea couldn’t raise the money?

I’m very happy to report that my collaborators and I have submitted a letter of intent (the first stage in the application process) for a basic grant from the Human Frontier Science Program. I am hopeful that they will let us proceed to the next stage. This would be badly needed funding for three years of work, so this is a big deal for this project.

My fingers are crossed- please cross yours on our behalf as well.

Update

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.

 

Update

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.

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.

Greetings, readers!

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 a substantial amount of cash 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.