Thursday, October 30, 2008

I explored a rather grim topic for the LA Times Health section -- whether suicide might increase as the economy falls. Two recent deaths in Los Angeles were seemingly triggered by large financial losses (in one case) and home foreclosure (in the other). In fact, people rarely, if ever, commit suicide over one bad event. Studies have shown that some 90% of suicides occur in people with mental disorders (which makes them preventable by treating mental illness).

I told a scientist's story on the Nature (subscription only). While studying a factor involved in immunity, Peter Creswell discovered one pathogen -- food-borne Listeria -- that turns the factor into a traitor, benefitting bug over host.

For Skidmore's alumni magazine, I found out why seven alums work in the same office at NYU Langone Medical Center. One of them, boss Andrew Rubin, has found Skidmore grads to be his best source of motivated, ambitious employees. By recruiting at Skidmore, Rubin has also found a way to give back to his alma mater.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My LA Times article this week considered the science behind the claim that energy drinks, packed with caffeine, sugar, and supposedly active botanicals, might lead to substance abuse. The so-called gateway hypothesis says that certain "soft" drugs such as marijuana or alcohol are stepping stones to using harder and more addictive drugs. Energy drinks, such as Red Bull, Wired, Boo-Koo, and Fixx, have been linked to drinking more booze and to abusing prescription stimulants such as Ritalin.

I also have a short article in Parenting magazine about finding math in everyday children's activities, everything from playing tea party and building block towers to singing the ABC’s and putting away toys. Most of us think of math as counting and addition tables -- what educators call "math facts" -- but that’s not all it is. Concepts such as sequencing, categorizing, and patterns lay the groundwork for much of the math that kids will encounter in school.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

For the Authors page of Nature this week (by subscription only), I profiled Gerard Evan of the University of California San Francisco who has a research paper in the same issue. Evan shared the story behind the research -- about an anti-cancer mechanism which was too good to be true -- giving credit to a postdoctoral fellow in his lab who had a cool tool and the initiative to apply it.

I wrote several articles for Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Medicine, which included profiles of new faculty members, a patent for screening new vaccines, and a new NIH-funded center for research on allergic diseases. A back-page story featured two researchers who collaborate on campus, but took time off this summer to explore different paths: one hiked across England, the other biked across America.