I've been holed up in my home office in the past few months, willing the winter to disappear but also getting massive cabin fever. All this isolation makes me an awkward human being. (See The Oatmeal on what it's like to work at home.)
The good news is that I'm getting stuff done.
In February, I had a piece in Nature Medicine (subscription required) on experimental vaccines to help treat addiction. These vaccines work by triggering your immune system to detect and sequester drugs -- nicotine or cocaine, for example -- before they reach the brain and tap into its reward circuits. Nicotine vaccines are in late-stage clinical trials, and will probably be the first to get approved.
Cancer vaccines are also hot right now, and I wrote about the career opportunities in this area for NatureJobs. The first cancer treatment vaccine, called Provenge and manufactured by Seattle-based biotech Dendreon, is marketed for the treatment of late-stage prostate cancer. The treatment is expensive ($93,000), but it looks like Medicare plans to cover it. Perhaps for Dendreon, and the many scientists plugging away on their own cancer vaccines, the jobs are here to stay.
For this month's issue of The Scientist, I talked to researchers who are finding new--and sometimes unconventional-- biological indicators of disease. Like analyzing the breath of children to see whether it's possible to pick up early signs of asthma. Or scanning the brains of former athletes for metabolites that signal damaged tissue. Check it out.
At Medscape Medical Students, I have been recruiting physicians and medical students to write and have been doing some writing of my own. In particular, I'm writing for a new series called "Students Are Talking About" which allows me to lurk in the Medscape student discussion forums. (I'm not creepy, I promise!) The latest result of my lurkery is a piece on depression in medical school. (You have to have a subscription to access the article, but signing up is free and easy.) It's not big news that many medical students are depressed or burnt out, as I mention in one of my previous posts, but researchers have really started getting a grasp on how having poor emotional health can affect the education of future doctors.
Addiction, cancer, depression. I just realized that I've been working on some super heavy stuff. Perhaps I need to take on a lighter topic?