Monday, May 20, 2019

New Drug Design Strategies - Consider the Patient during Design Process

Photo by on Unsplash

Personalized medicine stands to transform the world we live in today.  Although, what is the difference between the world we live in today and that where Personalized Medicine plays a significant role in the health care system?  Great question.  The lack of an answer is due to the developments of Personalized Medicine by the government agencies (NIH, CDC, FDA, etc.) along with the pharmaceutical industry.

Any mention of the concept of Personalized Medicine in the pharmaceutical industry is worth taking note of.  In a recent article in the trade journal 'Pharmaceutical Technology', a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical giant Amgen commented on the new approach to protein engineering:

"We translate patient needs into protein design requirements during development and engineer in attributes to meet biological performance and molecule stability, which provide improved delivery for desired patient outcomes and improved processing design during manufacturing.  Incorporating patient needs into molecule designs starts with a translation of the target product profile into a quality target product profile followed by application of these targets during selection and engineering of molecules.  This process enables faster and more efficient advancement of novel and effective therapies to patients while improving the overall patient experience," Stevens explains.

Starting with the patient's needs first during the design process is the language that Personalized Medicine is taking shape at the discovery/production point -- in drug design.  The words in the excerpt are encouraging -- the patient is first.

Prior to the change in design methodology, the target was found at the research lab in the university.  Which was then passed onto the drug manufacturer as a possible target of interest.  The pharmaceutical company then looks at the target and sees if any of their propietary ligands (drug delivery molecules -- parts of them) are suitable to bind to the active site of the target.  In the current scheme, the patient's outcome is incorporated at a much earlier stage which is great.  The news is exciting for the future of drug design.

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

"Trade Not Aid" -- A Shout out from Farmers to President Trump again

Photo by elCarito on Unsplash

The current Trade War with China has increasingly added stress to the farmers across America to the point where some are shutting down.  Those who previously voted for him are realizing that the crippling effects of a lack of trade agreement with China represent a clear sign that there is a possible economic Tsunami ahead.  Who will suffer?  America's farmers along with the American consumer at the store purchasing goods which range from clothing to appliances. This is an uncertain time under which the last perception America needs is to have a President who does not possess the skills to solve the problem at hand.

Below are different interviews (excerpts) of various government officials (Senators, Trump administration officials) along with real farmers on the Trade War with China:

The first video has two sections of interest for those interested in the damage and perspectives on the Trade War with China.  First is the interview in the first 1 minute of the video below, where a Trump official admits that the American people will pay higher prices for goods as a result of the lack of trade agreement with China.  Secondly, a farmer is interviewed and expresses outrage that other farmers are not joining him in opposition to the damage done by the Trump administration to farming through the Trade War with China:


In the next video, the popular show 'Morning Joe' hosts interviews with Economist Steve Rattner and others about the direct harm to farmers along with the average American that the current Trade War with China is emerging:

I want to point out that these farming families are indeed 'generational farmers'.  Which means that the farm has been in the family for generations.  What would happen if the farm is lost due to a trading strategy that does not exist in Washington D.C. at the White House?

As the stock market took a fall of 618 points, President Trump speaks to audiences in Washington D.C. at the White House about how great America is position in the current trade negotiations.  Tariffs simply affect the American consumer.  Why?  Because America is importing goods that now cost more.  Where does that extra money come from?  The American consumer since the extra cost to get goods into the U.S. is passed onto the consumer -- as noted in the following excerpt from 'Morning Joe':

Despite President Trump's great remarks about how wonderfully the trade talks are going, the real losses are set to take place on the consumption side of the economy.  The growing unease among Republicans with the lack of Trade plan from the current administration is evident.  These Congressional leaders have to answer to their constituents.  Many of whom are farmers who are bearing a tremendous amount of the blowback from the Trade War with China.

In the following video from CNN, a farmer is interviewed and asked about his changing opinions regarding the success of President Trump and his negotiation skills with the Trade War:

Not surprisingly, event a farmer from Ohio is tired of hearing President Trump use the phrase "Patriot" and is led to believe that the use equates to 'keep your mouth shut' about the failure of negotiations in a trade deal.  This is sad that our President is using a phrase which is reserved for those who serve our country during difficult times along with those whose service is largely unnoticed - on a day to day basis.  Service to our country is not keeping your mouth shut when there is blatant abuse stemming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (White House).

As was pointed out, the popular opinion that the President and his administration does not have any trading strategy.  Their only strategy is to bully the Chinese into 'caving in' -- which as we know is not very likely.  China will play the long game.  Remember China owns a significant amount of the U.S. debt -- which means we owe them.  In the coming months, a solution needs to be arrived at.  Escalating a Trade War with China only amounts to the U.S. taxpayer paying a greater amount (more money) for goods which were previously sold at a cheaper price in stores before President Trump decided to get us into this trade mess.  Hopefully, someone is Washington D.C. has a plan worth implementing and has the political will to get through to the President to talk reason into the current situation.  Stay tuned!

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

More Congressional Hearings on PFAS, when can Americans expect Action Taken by Regulators?

Photo by Alex Kondratiev on Unsplash

If the title seems a bit confusing, so does the fact that more hearings are occurring on the class of chemicals which are pervasive across parts of the United States -- particularly around specific Military installations.  Congress is hearing more on PerFluorinated Alkyl Substances this week to determine what action needs to be taken according to 'Politico Energy:'

PFAS-PALOOZA GETS UNDERWAY: The legislative push around PFAS begins in earnest today with a hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Environment and Climate Change subcommittee on a range of bills that would direct everything from drinking water and air regulations for the toxic chemicals to guidance for firefighters on how to minimize risks from firefighting foam containing PFAS.
As lawmakers push for regulation, a key fault line will be whether to require EPA to set limits for individual chemicals or the entire class of PFAS chemicals. The more than 5,000 chemicals in the family share a strong carbon-fluorine bond that causes them to linger in the environment and human bodies, but they haven't all been studied thoroughly or shown to cause harm, as Annie Snider reports this morning.
House Democrats, public health advocates, and some Republicans with contamination in their districts have pushed for a class-based approach, arguing that it's the only way to truly address such a large class of chemicals. But industry has fiercely opposed it, saying that the chemicals vary widely and that a "one-size-fits-all" approach will stifle innovation — an argument already being echoed by some Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Expect the debate to heat up further with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introducing a bill in the upper chamber today that would require EPA to set an enforceable drinking water limit for the entire class of compounds within two years. Presidential hopeful Gillibrand has called for a ban on all PFAS and said in a statement introducing the bill that EPA has "failed to do what is necessary" to protect families from toxic chemicals like PFAS

First, remember last summer when Congress intervened and started to take an interest in the Trump administration's attempt to cover the problem up.  Here are two blog posts on that coverage - here and here.  After which a conference was held by the Environmental Protection Agency to explore the dangers of this class of chemicals.  During the meeting, reporters were thrown out and not allowed to cover the discussion - which caused an appropriate outrage by the Press

All of this started when the Trump administration released a health report through the Department of Health and Human Services, which tried to downplay the dangers of the well-known class of dangerous chemicals.  More can be found from the government agencies at the Environmental Protection Agency's web page -- click here.

The hearing in the House is shown below (in full):

As of this morning, the news from above has progressed to the following by 'Politico Energy':

SENATE TEES UP PFAS ACTION: A more targeted approach to tackling contamination from toxic PFAS chemicals is taking shape in the Senate, compared to a set of sweeping bills that have been taken up by the House. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is preparing a hearing on six bills for next week.

The hearings are promising that meaningful legislation is on the horizon.  At the very least, these hearings give the public the sense that there is still a responsibility on the part of Congress to protect the American people against harmful chemicals entering the water system and the environment.  Taking responsibility and seeking some solution is the first step toward a better world.  No Congress of politicians is perfect.  But the hearings are evidence of change toward a better solution for the American people are coming soon.  Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Food is not addictive, but is filled with Addictive Drugs -- Engineered Chemicals to Elicit Addiction

Photo by Edward Guk on Unsplash

One of the toughest addictions which I have faced is that of giving up 'fast food' eating.  Am I cured of eating 'fast food'?  No.  Have I dramatically reduced eating out at 'fast food' venues - YES.  Since then, my diet has changed along with the associated weight loss one would expect.  Further, I have a different preference for food.  Why?  I am not craving the chemicals -- additives which are as powerful as drugs which manufacturers insert into the 'fast food' recipe.

Food Additives?

The subject makes me think about a podcast I was listening to around a year ago.  It was an interview of an investor on Wall Street -- an employee of a large bank who day trades.  She was directed to change her investment strategies one year by her boss.  Her new focus was primarily on the food industry.  A subject about which, she knew very little.  Over time, after digging into the fundamentals, she began to realize that the 'fast food' industry chooses to use chemicals (colorings, additives, etc.) which are not healthy for the average consumer.

More importantly, she found that the same 'fast food' chains in European countries have substituted the harmful chemicals with a safer (and healthier) alternative at the request of the consumers.  Imagine what I was thinking at the moment listening to the interview?  

My jaw dropped while I was running on the indoor track at the university at which I work!

Suddenly I realized that the food manufacturers have a choice to find a healthier alternative if pressed to do so.  Although, if no one pushes them to change, the status quo (i.e., unhealthy) remains the day to day operative methodology.   Which is sad to say.

Recently, I ran across a blog post on Medium titled "Stop calling food addictive" in which a similar revelation regarding the additives to 'fast food' recipes by food manufacturers:

It’s true that rats, monkeys and humans show addiction-like behaviour when exposed to highly palatable, calorie-dense foods, sometimes even preferring them to drugs such as cocaine. But I’ve come to see that nearly all the foods that elicit addictive behaviour share one thing in common: they have been significantly altered or enhanced through manufactured flavour chemicals and ingredients — also known as drugs.
Quite simply, food is not addictive; drugs are addictive. And food companies are putting drugs in our food. The correct name for this problem is food additive addiction, or perhaps refined food addiction.
Was anybody living 200 years ago addicted to food? I have never come across an account of an apple addiction, a cashew addiction, or a salmon addiction. But were people living 200 years ago addicted to alcohol, tobacco, or opiates? Of course. That’s because each of those substances has inherently addictive properties, containing a specific psychoactive compound that causes intoxication, dependence or withdrawal. Such addictive substances rarely occur in nature, and are typically created through processing.
Commercially sold cookies now share many of the same reward-giving properties as crystal meth. That’s because they contain highly palatable and highly profitable ingredients, often forms of sugar or salt. These are not your grandmother’s salt and sugar — they are complex formulations engineered by food scientists to be irresistible. They’re psychoactive compounds that meet the definition of an addictive substance.
For example, forms of salt have been developed that dissolve far faster than normal and deliver a jolt to the brain. These resemble natural salt no more than crack cocaine resembles the coca leaf.
If we were to remove the engineered flavor chemicals from our processed food, it wouldn’t sell — it would be edible, but not highly palatable, and certainly not addictive.

The author brings up valid points of argument as to why food is so addictive.  Which mainly lies in the design of the food by the food manufacturers.  As a chemist, I am always interested in the design of food by these large corporations.  To be able to make a 'Big Mac' the same in the United States as in the desert of Kuwait is no small feat.  These foods are highly engineered.  The chemists have outdone themselves with the knowledge of perfection.

Recently in the news, Burger King has released the first plant-based veggie Whopper -- which is made out of plant-based ingredients -- No Actual Meat.  Imagine perfecting a veggie Whopper to taste identical to the actual Whopper which is made with Real Beef?  The chemistry behind the process and knowledge is impressive.  I often wonder what the day to day job of a food chemist is at Mc Donald's Research Corporation or Burger King University?  Must be amazing.

The food is equivalent to the knowledge of tobacco by the Tobacco Industry.

Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS)

In the article, the author did mention the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) which has the following description on the Wikipedia page below:

The Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) is a 25-point questionnaire, based on DSM-IV codes for substance dependence criteria, to assess food addiction in individuals. The scale was released in 2009 by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.[1]
It was found that the brain mechanisms in people with food addiction were similar to those in people with substance dependence, such as drug addicts.[2] While there is currently no official diagnosis of "food addiction", the YFAS was created to identify persons who exhibited symptoms of dependency towards certain food. Foods most notably identified by YFAS to cause food addiction were those high in fat and high in sugar. A self-reported standardized tool was created by a Yale researcher, Ashley Gearhardt, to determine those individuals at high risk for food addiction, regardless of weight.[1]

The subject of food addiction is difficult to tease out and controversial in nature.  Although, each of us can agree on the fact that 'fast food' can be easily addictive over time.  In fact, any food item can be addictive over time if enough pleasure is derived from eating it.  'Fast Food' has won the test of time in terms of addictive consumption which is why this story is emerging.

The food manufacturers need to be gathered into a room to discuss the problem and the link to society's obesity epidemic which is associated with our love for 'fast food.'  Although that might require such corporations to admit to 'spiking' food with addictive compounds (chemicals), which promote consumption and mimic other favorite meals.  Just think how would such a corporation change the recipe from a meat-based burger to a plant-based burger without altering the chemical composition to keep the taste the same?

Questions like those above are a large part of why I love chemistry (science in general).  My intellectual appetite is never a need.  I can always find digestible and satiable information (data) to satisfy my intellectual thirst or appetite.  Over time, with technology changing along with consumer tastes changing, change is inevitable in the 'fast food' arena.  To come clean about additive compounds which drive consumption and sales.  The data is in the hands of these corporations.  The impetus is on the public to not only demand change to a healthier alternative, but also to the data which shows the health data.  Until we get there, we will be at the mercy of these corporations.

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Which light is harmful to our eyes? Quora taught me which was.

Quora is an interesting website where people can ask any type of question that is occupying their minds.  Questions will inevitably be answered by a professional or another person who might not have professional experience but is still offering advice based on experience and education.  I have enjoyed answering science questions along with random relationship questions too.

There are questions which I choose not to answer.  Especially if the previous answer is sufficient or better than the answer I may provide.  Below is one such example question which was posted on Quora.

"Which light is harmful for eyes?"

An example of a question which I was requested to answer was the following: "Which light is harmful for eyes?"   The answer is shown below.

The source of light is not relevant; it is the quantity of light that matters. Extremely intense light from a welding flash, or from the sun is harmful.
However it is important to recognize the often confused difference between HURT and HARM. There are many activities which will tire your eyes and make them hurt, but HARM is when permanent damage occurs. This is really only as described above.

The person who provided the answer above was a professional ophthalmologist (eye doctor).  Instead of answering the question, I chose to learn from the other answers provided.  Which is interesting since I do not have to answer every question asked of me.  On the flip side, I can learn from the question and answer.  I love learning.

Quora is a great website to learn from.  At the very least, the question and answers provided are a great opportunity to start a journey toward learning a greater amount about a given subject.  Simply by reading the question and answer might spark a learning journey that was previously not thought possible.  Enjoy and keep learning while asking questions about life.

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Friday, May 10, 2019

FDA is failing at detecting salmonella cases at processing plants across the U.S.

Photo by Walter Otto on Unsplash

The American public relies on federal regulators to keep the food which is produced in the United States and imported/exported, safe for the public who will eventually consume it.  What happens when the regulatory agencies do not fulfill the promise as shown in the news when a disease outbreak occurs?  Evidently, not much.  Otherwise, the incentive to keep food pathogen-free would be a higher priority.  Recent news shows this to be the case which is cause for concern moving into the future.

According to a recent news brief in 'Politico Agriculture,' the Food and Drug Administration's regulatory staff are failing at detecting salmonella in ground turkey and chicken:

TRACKING POULTRY'S SALMONELLA PROGRESS: New USDA data shows more chicken processors met federal salmonella standards in 2018, while ground turkey plants took a step backward, Helena reports.
Significant portions of the poultry industry are still not meeting the Food Safety and Inspection Service's performance standards, which effectively set a cap on the percentage of samples per plant that test positive for salmonella. (The limit is 13.5 percent for ground turkey processors and 25 percent for ground chicken plants, for example.)
— Turkey trouble: The FSIS data shows more than 46 percent of ground turkey plants did not meet this standard last year, including 68 percent of larger plants (up from 47 percent in 2017).
— Nearly 66 percent of whole chicken plants reached USDA's highest level of compliance, or Category 1, a significant improvement over 2017.

As noted in the excerpt above, the food coming out of food processing plants need not be 'pathogen-free' which is surprising on one hand.  Normally, a typical American would think that any tainted poultry would be rejected.  The true inspections are usually underperforming the average American's expectation.

Of course, the average American has little clue as to the regulatory guidelines on such food coming out of the food processing plants.  Which is why I show the excerpt above.  The importance of properly handling the poultry or other meat or food is of great importance.  With the relaxed atmosphere at the regulatory agencies which has been promoted by President Trump, the duty falls on each of us to be extremely vigilante in cooking and handling our food at each step.

Education is the key to success.  Change might be slow at either the regulatory agency or poultry processing plants, but at least each of us can take immediate action to protect ourselves from harm and possibly getting food poisoning.  Reach out to your elected representative and express your concern about the relaxed nature of the regulatory system.  Ask what improvements are possible and under what timeline?  Take the time to learn about the issues and possible solutions.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Where is the News Update on the 1 Million Wells across the Midwest which were Flooded?

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

Flooding across the midwest last month has taken a large toll on the agricultural community.  In fact, some say much worse than the current U.S. - China trade war which is concurrently happening.  According to one report, the flooding has caused significant delays in barges carrying goods down the Mississippi River:

CHICAGO, April 25 (Reuters) - Farm supplier CHS Inc has dozens of loaded barges trapped on the flood-swollen Mississippi River near St. Louis - about 500 miles from the company's two Minnesota distribution hubs.
The barges can't move - or get crucial nutrients to corn farmers for the spring planting season - because river locks on the main U.S. artery for grain and fertilizer have been shuttered for weeks. High water presents a hazard for boats, barges and lock equipment.
Railroads have also been plagued by delays from winter weather and flooding in the western Midwest, further disrupting agricultural supply chains in the nation's bread basket.
The transportation woes are the latest headache for a U.S. agricultural sector reeling from years of slumping profits and the U.S.-China trade war, and they threaten to cut the number of acres of corn and wheat that can be planted this year.

The shipments impact the quality of the fertilizer among other parameters needed to ensure a healthy season of crops.  Agricultural companies are taking a massive hit on their bottom line.  Flooding across the Midwest has caused major concern for investors who try to determine the value of the company based on agricultural output.

As if that were not enough of a blow to the farming sector, many wells across the midwest were flooded during the massive storms which have now resulted in groundwater contamination by runoff from nearby farmland:

S.T. LOUIS (AP) — More than 1 million private wells that supply drinking water in mostly rural parts of the Midwest could face the risk of contamination from floodwater, posing a health concern that could linger long after the flooding subsides.
Major flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and several smaller waterways has inundated states in the middle of America, from the Canadian border south to Kentucky. The National Weather Service has warned that with snowmelt in northern states only beginning, the threat of additional flooding persists well into spring. 
The high water and swift current carries raw sewage from overburdened treatment plants, animal waste and pesticides from farm fields, and spilled fuel.
“Whatever was on the land is in the water now,” said Steve May, assistant chief of the Missouri Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology.
Contaminated water can carry bacteria such as E. coli that can cause gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems and neurological disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infants, young children, pregnant women, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable.
The National Ground Water Association, a trade group for the industry that includes well systems, said there are 1.1 million private wells in 300 flooded counties in 10 states: Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Kentucky.

The process of recovery starts with input (financial aid) from the federal government.  Over the past month, the recovery has started to begin with public education to farmers and farming corporation.  Events like the webinar I hyperlinked.

The potential damage from flooding like that seen across the Midwest over the last few months is incomprehensible.  Obviously, the immediate threat is to the drinking water for millions of people.  Where are they supposed to get water from?  Why are we not hearing about the crisis out in the west?  The contaminated wells are not easily cleaned and need to be brought to the attention of other Americans.  These problems should be an opportunity to highlight the need for proper infrastructure spending and government support.  Instead, the story of flooding has taken a back seat to news about other significant problems which remain unchanged. 

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