Zombieism’s closely related cousin

Most people would presume the safest place to survive the imminent Zombie apocalypse would be in an underground bunker. This erroneous conclusion has led to the untimely death of a large number of soft-shelled clams – admittedly not by Zombieism itself, but its closely related cousin: transmissible and highly contagious cancer.

Copyright Bailey PeckHemic neoplasia, a leukemia-like disease, is a fatal cancer subtype in soft-shelled clams with varying prevalence and fatality rates along the Atlantic coast of North America. The highest incidence is near New Bedford Harbor, MA, an EPA superfund site with high levels of carcinogens in the sediment and water column. Recently, Metzger et al. (Cell, 2015) discovered that hemic neoplasia is not caused by viral infection as previously thought, but by cancer cells traveling from clam to clam. This was evidenced by identical clonal genotypes found in clams separated by hundreds of miles. These cancer cells were also shown to have unique genotypes compared to the matched non-cancer tissue, suggesting a single origin of the cancer cells rather than novel somatic mutations.

Hemic neoplasias are not unique to soft-shelled clams, but occur in many other bivalve species including mussels, cockles and oysters. However, transmission methods in these species have not yet been investigated. Given that transmissible cancers had previously only been described twice before, researchers now find that transmissible cancers may be more widespread than previously thought.

This just gives us die hard Zombie apocalypse preppers one more thing to worry about. If we don’t go by fungal infection,by a parasite, or even through some virus unearthed and revived due to global warming (thanks for that fear Ng et al., 2014), now we have to worry about dying the same way as 8.2 million people worldwide each year – cancer.

Edited by Chris Givens, Nicole Baker, and Erinn Brigham

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This article was co-published on the TIBBS Bioscience Blog.

Inaugural Science Fail Monday: Filter Fail

filterfail-rage-face-300x300For weeks, I struggled to produce a successful harvest of lentivirus. I needed to transduce my pancreatic cancer cell lines with shRNA targeting my gene of interest. This is a common protocol in my lab, and I had never experienced difficulty accomplishing this task before. Now, I was unlucky beyond all reason. My plasmids were the correct sequence and intact. My transfection reagents were brand new. My packaging cells were boastfully glowing red with the mCherry from my cDNA transfection control. Yet, once harvested, no virus would infect my target cells, and my experiments were aggravatingly halted. With the despair only known to the senior graduate students living with that chasm of unfathomable emptiness in their innards, where that terrible voice whisper-shouting, “YOU’LL NEVER GRADUATE,” echoes brutally, I attempted my protocol once more. I stared hopelessly at the box of Whatman Puradisc PES 25mm, 0.20 micron syringe filters and… wait, what? 0.20 micron? These are supposed to be 0.45 micron. Are you kidding me?! For weeks I had harvested viral supernatant with a filter that had pores too small. I was extracting the virus right out of my supernatant, never to reach my target cells. Curse you, Whatman Puradisc PES 25mm, 0.20 micron syringe filters. Curse you.

PEER EDITED BY Chris Givens AND Erinn brigham

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This article was co-published on the TIBBS Bioscience Blog.

Introduction and Invitation to SWAC’s Monthly Seminar Series

SWAC’s First Monthly Seminar:


Lauren Neighbours, PhD, RAC

Wednesday, April 29th at 5:30 PM

Bondurant Hall, Rm. G074


     In my fourth year of graduate school, I decided that I did not want to pursue a career in basic research. Once I began exploring different career options at networking events, job fairs, TIBBS-sponsored events, and through reaching out to people at companies in the Triangle area, I discovered regulatory medical writing. I had never heard of regulatory writing before, but the prospect of working to assist companies overcome the hurdles associated with navigating clinical trials, gaining FDA approval, and bringing a potential therapy to market such that it could help improve the health and lives of patients, sounded both challenging and rewarding. Without networking and connecting with people in the industry, I would have never considered translating the problem solving and communication skills I’ve acquired in graduate school into anything other than basic research. This newfound career passion, along with the relief I felt at identifying what it was I wanted to do with my forthcoming PhD, inspired me to delve into the world of science writing.  Science writing is a broad term that encompasses myriad career options, all of which involve interpreting, organizing, and disseminating high-level scientific data and concepts in a way that inspires trust and understanding between scientists and broad audiences.

     I would like to facilitate this career discovery process for others at UNC who are interested in writing and communication, and provide easier access to some of the resources that I initially struggled to find for myself. As Vice President and co-founder of the newly formed Science Writing and Communication Club (SWAC) at UNC, I am extremely pleased to be able to invite science writers and communicators to speak to UNC graduate students and postdocs at our monthly seminar series. Throughout the year, SWAC will host speakers with backgrounds in various science writing disciplines, including regulatory affairs, journal editing, educational science writing, marketing, etc. I am excited for people to explore these different career trajectories and have the opportunity to connect with people in the industry.

     We will be kicking off our seminar series with Lauren Neighbours, PhD, RAC on Wednesday, April 29th at 5:30 PM in Bondurant Hall, Rm. G074. Lauren earned her PhD from the UNC Department of Microbiology & Immunology where she studied the role of Toll-like receptors in arthritogenic alphaviruses, in the lab of Mark Heise. During her time in graduate school, Lauren was involved in several science writing activities, including editing for both American Journal Experts and the Journal of Clinical Investigation, in addition to writing articles for UNC Endeavors. Currently, she works as a clinical research scientist at Rho, Inc, a contract research organization (CRO) in Chapel Hill that guides companies through the clinical trials process, FDA approval, and marketing new therapies. If you are interested in learning more about working for a CRO and regulatory medical writing, please attend SWAC’s inaugural seminar! This meeting is open to both members and non-members. Additionally, if you’d like to stay updated on future SWAC seminars, please follow SWAC’s blog posts or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn! If you have an idea for a blog article, please visit our website and contact us!

Rho, Inc: http://www.rhoworld.com/

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This article was co-published on the TIBBS Bioscience Blog.