Drug Discovery: Behind the Molecules in Our Medicine Cabinet

We’ve all come in contact with pharmaceutical drugs in some form or another.  Maybe you take a prescription drug every day to manage a certain health condition.  Perhaps you keep a bottle of Tylenol in your desk for when you feel a headache coming on at work.  Or maybe you’ve seen advertisements on TV for commercial drugs, featuring people relaxing in bathtubs in an open field or a drug’s name sung to the tune of the Jackson 5’s “ABC.”  But have you ever wondered how scientists discovered the exact molecule in the little orange bottle, in your desk drawer or on your TV screen, that does just what it’s supposed to?  To understand the process of drug discovery, let’s follow one drug’s journey from the lab to the pharmacy shelf.   

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Your Diet and Cancer: pHacts and pHiction

This is a companion article to the feature Not so Basic After All: The Role of pH in Cancer Therapy.

Based on your reading of the article above, you may be wondering if an acidic diet can cause cancer, or if you can prevent cancer with a basic diet. While the results of the baking soda study might make it seem that way, science points to a more nuanced reality. 

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Periodic Pandemonium: Exploring Chemistry’s Rule-Breakers

When I tell people that I study chemistry, the response is usually some version of “You must be bright” or “I hated that class” or, put more simply, “Why?”  I’ve grown used to defending my love for chemistry, and I’ve often pointed to its straightforward nature as the source of my affection. I liked that the elements on the periodic table are arranged according to trends in their chemical properties, and that we can infer things about an element’s behavior by its position.   An element’s electronegativity (the tendency to attract electrons), for example, increases as you move from left to right and from bottom to top across the table. The size of the atom, meanwhile, increases from right to left and from top to bottom. In class, I labeled different chunks of the periodic table to signify alkali metals, transition metals, lanthanides, actinides, halogens and other categories of elements with neatly-defined criteria for membership.  As a straight-A student and a type-A personality, I appreciated how chemistry was so orderly, how there was always a right answer.   

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Na-No Thank You? Exploring the Dangers of Commercial Nanoparticles

Ah, a day at the beach. You find the perfect spot near the water’s edge, spread out your towel, slather on some sunscreen, and settle in with a cool drink. You spot a sparkling white boat bobbing in the distance, full of relaxed passengers tanning in the sun.

While this scene is full of idyllic summer imagery, is it also full of lurking danger? I’m not talking about sharks, but rather something much smaller: both the sunscreen you put on and the paint on the boat contain nanoparticles that provide important benefits but can harm both you and the environment around you.

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Blood, Sweat, and… Saliva: How Our Bodily Fluids Can Save Us

Picture a fighter pilot commanding a plane as they engage in aerial combat.  When you think of the greatest threats to the pilot’s safety, you probably think of attacks from other aircraft or the risk of crashing the plane as they swiftly maneuver it between various obstacles.  But what about the potential for harm coming from inside the pilot’s own body?  For example, the stress the pilot is feeling might give him or her a heart attack.  Similarly, their severe dehydration could lead to heat stroke.  Both of these conditions would spell disaster for the pilot.  While often overshadowed by the inherent hazards of weapons and machinery, these ailments pose a very serious threat to the safety of military personnel.  But how can we know if someone is dehydrated or enduring dangerous levels of stress while they’re thousands of feet in the air? Continue reading “Blood, Sweat, and… Saliva: How Our Bodily Fluids Can Save Us”

Glioblastoma: This Cancer is Not a No-Brainer

In the summer of 2018, you probably heard the word “glioblastoma” popping up quite frequently in news reports upon the decline and death of American politician John McCain.  McCain was diagnosed with the aggressive class of brain cancer in July 2017, stopped treatment on August 24, 2018 and passed away the very next day. While this timeline might seem exceptional, the unfortunate reality is that McCain’s experience with glioblastoma is a very accurate representation of the rapid progression of the disease.  In fact, those afflicted by glioblastoma survive on average just over one year upon diagnosis.  Let’s explore what makes glioblastoma so evasive in nature and what scientists are doing to try to increase patients’ lifespans.   Continue reading “Glioblastoma: This Cancer is Not a No-Brainer”