Guest post by Heather Cassell
I love working in the lab. I’m happiest when I’m pottering about among the bottles and the beakers getting on with my work. Most of my experience has been in multi-group labs of varying sizes; all have generally been good fun to work in, with lots of people to talk to who each have different skills and experiences. This can be very useful when you need any help, especially when you are learning new techniques.
One thing you can rely on happening in the lab at some point, especially a large lab used by many groups, is the appearance of Mysteriously Abandoned Glassware. Usually the bottle, beaker, or flask is unlabelled. If you’re lucky enough to have a label, it’s guaranteed to be so faded you can’t read it. Sometimes the glassware contains a colourless liquid; other times a crystalline material, evidence of the previous presence of now long lost liquid. A common variation of the Mysteriously Abandoned Glassware is the flask/beaker of something that has had Virkon (a pink disinfectant) added to it and left in the sink, again with no label in sight to point us to the perpetrator. Over time, the pink Virkon discolours, but the glassware remains Mysteriously Abandoned.
Over the years, I have realised I have a fairly low mess tolerance (compared to the other people I work with), at least in the lab; my office desk is another matter! I like a clean and tidy bench to work on and the same goes for communal areas, so while others are happy to ignore the things that have been left, I find myself doing something about it. I’m always the one tidying up as I am waiting for the centrifuge to run, or doing other lab jobs (filling up hand towels, checking stock levels, emptying disposal bins…). In the case of Mysteriously Abandoned Glassware, I end up trying to find the owner (often a mystery) then trying to work out what it is.
More often than not, the solution is something fairly innocuous like a buffer (Tris or PBS), which we dilute from concentrated stocks, or an alcohol (ethanol or methanol). After I’ve worked out what it is and how to dispose of it, I’ll send the glassware to be washed or do it myself. Within hours, you can guarantee that someone will come and say, ‘have you seen my [insert common solvent here]? I left it somewhere…’ The lab will stay reasonably tidy for a few days or maybe even a few blissful weeks, before another piece of Mysteriously Abandoned Glassware materialises and the cycle continues.
I’m Heather Cassell (née Stubley). I did a BSc in biochemistry and genetics at the University of Leeds, then I moved to the University of York where I did an MRes in biomolecular sciences followed by a PhD investigating enzyme activity in non-aqueous solvents. I am currently finishing my first postdoc position working as a research fellow in molecular and cell biology at the University of Surrey. The project involves cloning proteins of interest and attaching them to polymers or other nanoparticles then assessing their toxicity and cellular location in liver related cell lines.
I decided to write a ‘life in the lab’ blog strand because I love working as a scientist, especially the time spent in the lab itself – despite the many challenges. It gives me a chance to share my enthusiasm for working as a researcher and all things science-related. I plan to give an early career scientist’s view of life in the lab, balancing work and childcare, procrastination and productivity, research and recreation.
The news was full of the discovery that taking some aspirin every day for ten years could somehow reduce your risk of getting cancer, particularly cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. The stomach bleeding side-effect (for some) and other as yet unknown side-effects aside, I was skeptical from the start, it just looked like a review of reviews where they looked at the idea that taking aspirin for years and years might somehow correlate with not getting cancer. To me, this is like the inverse of so many other studies that purportedly “prove” that such and such an exposure to food, pollution, toxin or whatever will “cause” cancer. Correlation is not causation.
As far as I can tell, the discovery was based on a literature review and not an actual study of the pharmacology and biochemical effects of aspirin itself. Thankfully, NHS Choices magazine, which takes a look at the science behind the headlines seems to agree. “The study was carried out by researchers from a number of institutions across Europe and the US, including Queen Mary University of London. It was funded by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the American Cancer Society. The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Annals of Oncology.” Fine. Good.
But, says NHS Choices: “Several of the study’s authors are consultants to or have other connections with pharmaceutical companies with an interest in antiplatelet agents such as aspirin.” That’s common, and, of course, those involved in pharma research are generally connected to the industry in some way. So, not necessarily a bad thing, there are often what some might refer to as conflicts of interest in biomedical research if these are indeed conflicts here.
More worrying though, and to my mind, the real nub of the problem is what NHS Choices says about the details of the study: “It is not clear that the results are reliable from the methods reportedly used to compile this review. This is because it included studies of varying design and quality, with much of the evidence coming from observational studies, which, while useful, cannot be totally relied on to test the effectiveness of healthcare interventions.”
NHS Choices also criticises the way studies in the review were chosen: “It’s not clear how the studies included in the review were chosen and whether others on the same topic were excluded. It is also not clear whether or not this was a systematic review, where studies are rigorously appraised for their quality and criteria are established for their inclusion.”
That sounds like quite the damning indictment to me and for that reason, I for one am out.
DOI: 10.1039/C4DT01372G, CommunicationVamangi M Pandya, Ulrich Kortz, Sachin Arun Joshi
We have encapsulated the polyoxoanions [P2W18O62]6- and [P2W15V3O62]9- in a self-assembled carboxy-methyl-chitosan (CMC) hydrogel, exhibiting a regular super-structure in water at physiological pH. We performed stability studies as a function...
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