What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Thursday, April 15, 2021
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Monday, December 14, 2020
December 14, 2020
How did that COVID-19 vaccine happen so fast?
Years, even decades of research brought us to yesterday, the initial rollout of a vaccine for COVID-19, the most disastrous public health calamity in modern times.
In layman's terms, the Pfizer vaccine is all about genetics, DNA, and cell biology. The vaccine utilizes our genetic processes and what they do...which is to create life in our bodies and in all living things. We lay people have known about genetics since high school, when we studied a little bit about Gregor Mendel and his experiments with peas. Mendel discovered the basic principles of heredity and laid the mathematical foundation of the science of genetics.
What James D. Watson and Francis Crick discovered by 1953, and which revolutionized biology and medicine, was how each of our 30 trillion cells (except for mature red blood cells) is able to pack inside its nucleus the 20,000 genes that serve as the instruction manual for us and for all living things.
DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is the material from which the 46 chromosomes in each cell's nucleus are formed. DNA contains the codes for the body's approximately 20,000 genes, which govern all aspects of cell growth and inheritance. Watson and Crick discovered that DNA has a double helix structure--two intertwined strands resembling a spiraling ladder. A gene is a distinct section of that DNA and contains the codes for producing specific proteins involved in our body function. In a very short-handed description, genes send information to single-strand structures called messenger RNA (messenger ribonucleic acid). It is the messenger RNA that leaves the cell's nucleus and begins the process of protein building, the essential work of life.
What the scientists and doctors at Pfizer accomplished was to harness the messenger RNA of the Corona-19 virus, which is the active agent of the of the corona virus. The scientists made a synthetic copy of the virus's messenger RNA instead of using a section of living, or dead, virus as has been typically done in previous vaccines. Also, it has been reported that the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are less risky to the body and easier to make in mass doses...qualities much needed in an unprecedented pandemic.
As noted scientist and Nobel laureate Leon Cooper said, our investment in basic scientific research must be generous and ongoing. Advances that led to the creation of the personal computer, for example, relied on previous research on transistors, which relied on previous research in basic physics. Had the revolution in our understanding of genes and cellular biology not stood where it is, these vaccines, providing hope to a despairing world, would not have been possible.
FYI -- There's a basic explanation of DNA, genes and cells in my book, "Healing the Brain: Stress, Trauma and Development" by David Balog.
Start reading it for free: https://a.co/9IsS8pG
Can we settle the election selection, please?
Today is the meeting of the Electoral College, the appendix of our election system. Not in one place, but in 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia, the electors, for whom votes were actually cast on November 3rd, will gather in a pro-forma manner and choose our president. It appears that Joe Biden will speak after the electors cast their votes.
It all used to be so easy, before Donald Trump. He continues his dangerous game of contesting the legitimacy of president-elect Biden and for his own selfish benefit, refuses to concede the election. The next stop on Trump's train wreck is the joint meeting of the Senate in the House of Representatives on January 6th, where the electoral votes will be officially counted and certified. And there's where Trump and his anti-democracy Gunga Dins will fight the certification of the electors, a process ironically (and worse) overseen by Vice President Mike Pence. While he is certain to fail again, Trump has delivered more mayhem on democracy and distrust in the system, both now and for the foreseeable future. A final kick as he walks out the door.
By the way, one of Biden's electors meeting at the state capitol in Albany, New York, will be Hillary Clinton.
Sunday, December 13, 2020
Monday, November 2, 2020
For 12 years I worked as an editor at the Charles A. Dana Foundation in New York City. My office was at 745 Fifth Avenue which is significant because next door was 725 Fifth -- Trump Tower. I saw Trump himself from time to time while walking around on my lunch hour. He was always surrounded by a team of men in dark suits and dark personas being lectured by their leader. They'd gather at the nearby GM Plaza, where the men would cower and Trump would bloviate. (I hid nearby twice to get a flavor of his tone.)
I did not know then that my boss at the Dana Foundation, William Safire, had close ties to Trump and was part of the infamous "favor bank" of city power brokers. In this club, no money was exchanged -- just deeds that advanced the interests of members. I've read that Safire's original, big favor to Trump was to help get his marginally qualified sister appointed to a federal judgeship. In the process, Safire held the young Donald's hand as he gained entry into the New York and DC Republican power elite.
Having now witnessed and experienced Trump and Trumpism for four years, I can say they mirror the experiences I had under Safire. My emotions sunk on Trump's inauguration day and fell therafter.
Through cronyism, William Safire came to be chairman of the influential Dana Foundation in 2000. Dana had a large commitment to the cause of brain research. I began work there in 1995.
Safire, who died in 2009, described himself as "the vituperative right-wing scandal monger" for the New York Times. He was probably more well-known as the Sunday language columnist for the Times Magazine. Former speech writer for President Richard Nixon (Safire was responsible for the term "nattering nabobs of negativism" -- actually delivered by Vice President Spiro Agnew), he traded in slash-and-burn, transactional relationships, just like Trump. (If you doubted Safire's loyalty to Richard Nixon, you need only stroll by the life-sized, autographed picture of the disgraced ex-president hung outside Safire's office. To Safire, Nixon did nothing wrong in the litany of scandals and crimes called Watergate. Nothing.)
Safire was hired by the Times when the paper realized it needed a right winger to counter the enlightened voices of Anthony Lewis, Russell Baker, Tom Wicker, Howell Raines, and others.
Like Trump, Safire fabricated and inflated his public image. At the Times, by 1978 Safire was about to be fired for lack of reader interest when he reinvented himself as a "journalist" (for which he had no training…his biography said only that he "attended Syracuse University"). As a marketing pitch man for Maytag Appliances, Safire met then-Vice President Nixon at the "Kitchen Summit" with Khrushchev in the Soviet Union.
The first victim of his "hatchet journalism" was Bert Lance, President Jimmy Carter's first budget director. Having helped push Lance out the door, as was his pattern, Safire later claimed that the two had become friends and colleagues. Safire also had a direct line to the office of the Israeli prime minister to feed and receive political dirt on world leaders. In the run up to the Iraqi War, Safire was stirring the pot of lies about Saddam Hussein's weapons program in his column. He also advocated for the discredited Times reporter Judy Miller, who promoted the theory of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, later found to be based on inaccurate information from the intelligence community.
In one memorable meeting at Dana, Safire recounted how on Meet the Press, in his avuncular tone, he tried with the help of host Tim Russert, to patch things up with Bill Clinton after having called Hillary Clinton a congenital liar. On the air, Russert offered Safire a pair of oversized boxing gloves, which if he signed, Russert said he would get Bill Clinton to sign as well, as a symbol that, again all was well. The president, an enraged Safire told us, "refused to sign the gloves and returned them unsigned to my office." Red with anger, Safire indicated that this was all you needed to know about Bill Clinton.
Like Trump, Safire was penurious and a deadbeat. My freelance writers and designers had routinely been paid upon submitting a bill when he decided to "stretch them out," needlessly, to 30-days payment. The move strained freelancers' ability to budget their finances and added extra stress on me and my fellow Dana editors. And it was needless pain because Dana was a wealthy non-profit: Safire controlled an endowment just short of $400 million.
Donald Trump has shown astonishing indifference to the deaths and suffering of Americans in the pandemic, to the massive numbers of families without jobs and income, and to the children and families at our borders, emotionally scarred for life. Similarly, his patron, Safire, was called by his own treasurer "the cheapest man in the world." In the aftermath of 9/11, Safire authorized a paltry one-time contribution of $50,000 to the Times Fund for the Neediest New Yorkers. This at a time when New York corporations and individuals were making much larger contributions, financially and in-kind, to a devastated city.
Safire and Trump created desultory, mean environments where women were objects to be used in sexual relationships. Aside from being morally objectionable, these arrangements (in Safire's case with women on staff) created favoritism and distrust among the staff as we tried to figure who was in favor and who wasn't. I was ordered to spy on one such woman by another who had become my boss.
Finally, Trump and Safire shared a total lack of pathos, or empathy. Instead they valued loyalty, especially blind loyalty. Safire told us directly that we were to be available to him at any time. He asked for and received our cell phone numbers. He threatened to fire staff not willing to sacrifice themselves and their family life to his irrational, erratic needs. One colleague, the intensely smart and capable Barbara Rich, saw no other option but to surrender to monstrously long hours and work demands. Each year, I watched as she managed to get only four days away of her four-weeks of vacation time (which usually included a three-day holiday weekend). A proud liberal and one-time campaigner for Robert F. Kennedy, she felt it necessary to accede to Safire's views by reading far right-wing Web sites such as the dreadful Drudge Report. Barbara was the only experienced journalist at the Foundation and she admitted she felt debased as Safire called her his chief "flak."
A breast cancer survivor, Barbara resumed smoking to deal with the stress. I winced as she kept adding projects and travel to her workload. One day, I watched her, ashen, break up with her partner by phone. She died of a stroke far too young a few years ago.
I resisted his work demands as long as I could, but when asked to write and edit a book on an insanely short schedule of six weeks, I knew I couldn't pull all-nighters and give up my personal life. My partner, Fred, and I had just built a weekend house and I couldn't bear the thought of him there alone while I stayed in the city indefinitely.
The worlds that Trump and Safire created were harsh and heartless. When I quit the Dana Foundation in 2006, it was very painful and career-damaging. I left a job that as a gay man I felt comfortable in because of the access I had to smart, intellectually, and sociably able colleagues. My work, despite the stresses, had a high "psychic reward" I never was able to replace.
The consequences of Trumpism, so similar to "Safireism," cut deep. They derailed lives, and ruined the health of workers. We used to joke that we wrote about the stress hormone cortisol as oceans of it flowed past our offices. If you wanted to maintain your relationship with him, or your job, the key was being able to call him "Bill." It signaled an obeisance, a surrender to his views and world, at least superficially. I could and would not do it.
How did Safire ultimately gain and maintain his power and influence? Much in the same way that Trump does it. Safire exploited a very basic principal of human behavior, something I learned from the brain scientists at the Dana Foundation: Fear is our most powerful emotion. Anybody in the advertising world knows this basic fact and exploits it to the maximum extent. Those who abhorred Safire's right-wing views, nevertheless glommed on to him to avoid his wrath, which could be terrifying. He could offer a word of slight praise and then five minutes later be in your face physically shaking with rage, irrationally and often misguidedly. Much like other men on the high-end of the corporate ladder, Safire had an imposing physical presence: he was quite tall and physically intimidating. He was another arrogant CEO, who in the words of my colleague Barbara Rich, was "looking for redemption from this world and not going to get it."
The "boss," as one especially maltreated secretary called him, also exploited another biological principle, phototropism, the basic tendency of plants...and humans...to bend toward a light source. He preyed on anyone's desire to be near power. He name-dropped his celebrity connections, (one being Monica Lewinsky) to remind you of the access he had created and to those who wanted to get that access (or a gift from the money he controlled) he readily offered a carrot. Oblivious to his audience, he once announced in a meeting that he was going to tell us everything we were dying to know about Monica. He had no clue that he was speaking to New York liberals and we did not want to hear his tawdry details, including information about the blue dress. I began to hate Amtrak trips to his office in Washington and I literally got depressed from the city and the atmosphere I experienced there.
Under Donald Trump, our country has gone down the same life-draining path. Particularly during the isolation induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by Trump's incompetence and indifference, rates of depression, isolation and despair are now sky-high across America.
We won't fully realize how bad it's been until it ends -- both Trump's rule and the pandemic.
It took me years to recover from my traumatic experience on the periphery of America's power center. It eroded my self-confidence and self-image. It ended a writing career in which I took great pride.
I hope America fares better after Trump and recovers much more quickly. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I'm pulling for you.
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
August 27, 2020
DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases
Researchers have developed a neurologically acting protein and tested it in laboratory studies. In mice, the experimental compound ameliorated symptoms of certain neurological injuries and diseases, while on the microscopic level it was able to establish and repair connections between neurons. This proof-of-principle study suggests that biologics, which act on neuronal connectivity, could be of clinical use in the long term.
Researchers from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), UK and Japan have developed a neurologically acting protein and tested it in laboratory studies. In mice, the experimental compound ameliorated symptoms of certain neurological injuries and diseases, while on the microscopic level it was able to establish and repair connections between neurons. This proof-of-principle study suggests that biologics, which act on neuronal connectivity, could be of clinical use in the long term. The results are published in the journal Science.
The human brain's neuronal network undergoes life-long changes in order to be able to assimilate information and store it in a suitable manner. This applies in particular to the generation and recalling of memories. So-called synapses play a central role in the brain's ability to adapt. They are junctions through which nerve signals are passed from one cell to the next. A number of specific molecules -- known as "synaptic organizing proteins" -- make sure that synapses are formed and reconfigured whenever necessary.
An artificial protein
An international team of researchers has now combined various structural elements of such naturally occurring molecules into an artificial protein called CPTX and tested its effect in different disease models. To this end, the compound was administered to mice with neurological deficits that occur in similar fashion in humans. Specifically, the tests focused on Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injury and cerebellar ataxia -- a disease that is characterized primarily by a failure of muscle coordination. All these conditions are associated with damage to the synapses or their loss. The study was a collaborative effort by experts from several research institutions, including the DZNE's Magdeburg site, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in UK, Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, and, also in Japan, Aichi Medical University.
Easing symptoms of disease
"In our lab we studied the effect of CPTX on mice that exhibited certain symptoms of Alzheimer's disease," said Prof. Alexander Dityatev, a senior researcher at the DZNE, who has been investigating synaptic proteins for many years. "We found that application of CPTX improved the mice's memory performance." The researchers also observed normalization of several important neuronal parameters that are compromised in Alzheimer's disease, as well as in the studied animal model. Namely, CPTX increased the ability of synapses to change, which is considered as a cellular process associated with memory formation. Furthermore, CPTX was shown to elevate what is called "excitatory transmission." This is to say that the protein acted specifically on synapses that promoted activity of the contacted cell. And finally, CPTX increased the density of so-called dendritic spines. These are tiny bulges in the cell's membrane that are essential for establishing excitatory synaptic connections.
Further research by the study partners in the UK and Japan revealed that application of CPTX to mice with motor dysfunction -- caused either by spinal cord injury or pathological conditions similar to cerebellar ataxia -- improved the rodent's mobility. And at the cellular level, the drug was shown to repair and promote excitatory synaptic connections.
A molecular connector
CPTX combines functional domains present in natural synaptic organizing proteins in a unique way. The compound was designed to act as a universal bridge builder for excitatory connections between nerve cells. Where two neurons meet, either in adhesive contact or actually in synaptic connection, CPTX links to specific molecules on the surfaces of both involved cells, and thereby either triggers the formation of new synapses or strengthens already existing ones.
"At present, this drug is experimental and its synthesis, the credit for which goes to our UK partners, is quite demanding. We are far off from application in humans," Dityatev emphasized, who in addition to his research at the DZNE is also a member of the Medical Faculty of the University Magdeburg. "However, our study suggests that CPTX can even do better than some of its natural analogs in building and strengthening nerve connections. Thus, CPTX could be the prototype for a new class of drugs with clinical potential." Application would be in disorders that are associated with impaired neuronal connectivity. "Much of the current therapeutic effort against neurodegeneration focuses on stopping disease progression and offers little prospect of restoring lost cognitive abilities. Our approach could help to change this and possibly lead to treatments that actually regenerate neurological functions. Based on the principles we have used in designing CPTX, we thus intend to develop further compounds. In future studies, we want to refine their properties and explore possible therapeutic applications."