Temple Grandin on humane livestock handling and more of this week’s science events

Prttey quiet in town. A good time to get out at the Boston Nature Center, Arnold Arboretum or the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History.  More indoor activity below.


 Last week we checked in on Science by the Pint. This week catch another bar room-based lecture series, this one from the NerdNite group. We can’t say Sh** here and we guess they didn’t’ want to so they’re advertising“Sh*t {Nerds} Say: Just What the Hell is a Snowclone Anyway?” As they say, be there and be square. At Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge.


 Temple Grandin is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She was also the subject of a 2010 film. She’s noted for two things – her work on humane livestock handling practices and her autism. Worth the drive to Worcester.

 Coming up

 Harvard launches its popular Science and Cooking series on September 4. It’s in a building that’s not easy to find, so click on the campus map for Jefferson 250, behind the Science Center off Oxford St. Speakers include two food writers: Dave Arnold of Food Arts and Harold McGee of The New York Times. Free but popular. Get there early.

 For more upcoming event, click on our Google Calendar.


DIY medicine on tap as researchers share their work at this week’s Science by the Pint

Cambridge quiets down in the late summer, but one corner of the Tavern on the Square was buzzing on Tuesday night.  People gathered tightly around five or six tables in the Porter Square pub, chatting away, drinking beer and talking about science. No blackboards here – just the Red Sox game on a giant screen.

The topic for this week’s “Science by the Pint” was “DIY medical technology.” Organized by Harvard students, the monthly gathering invites lay people to share a drink with a researcher.

“You get your very own scientist for a while and you get to bombard them with questions,” said Kelly May, who works in marketing. She usually attends with a group of “kind of geeky” friends.  

At a nearby table, an order of barbeque chicken tenders arrived soon after Jeff Schmitz, who described himself as a computational neuroscientist.  He works at the MIT Media Labs, in part on a project that aims to “break down data silos.”

“We’re taking a lot of data collected passively though cell phones…,” he said. “We’re trying to understand potential markers of disease onset or healthcare problems.”

Read more

Science events in Boston this week: Talks on BPA, sea turtles and DIY medical tech


A dilemma tonight for those who want to better understand science in the news. Three popular programs covering hot topics overlap. But, the Science for the Public event is taped for later airing on the WGBH website “Forum.”  The talk covers “Long-Term Health Threats of BPA and Other Endocrine Disruptors.”  Drs. Ana M. Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein of the Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology at Tufts University School of Medicine will speak.

Also on Tuesday, Dr. Jose Gomez-Marquez will be at the Tavern in the Square in Cambridge’s Porter Square to talk about DIY medical technology. For more details on the event — run by Harvard students as part of their Science in the News program — go to Science by the Pint page.

Finally on Tuesday, the New England Aquarium Harborside Learning Lab offers a talk on “Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica” by Didiher Chacon Chaverri, director of Latin American Programs for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network. Registration required.

All week

The period before classes start tend to be quiet in Boston. So, it’s a good time to take in one the region’s coastal science centers or the many ongoing exhibits in town. Click here for our listing and check back for updates


For the full Nature Boston calendar, click here.

HIV Research: How the Berlin Patient led to the Boston patients

A guest post from Nathalia Holt, Ph.D, an HIV researcher at the Ragon Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her upcoming book, THE BERLIN PATIENTS, focuses on the personal stories of two men “whose HIV infections were cured in distinct yet essentially related ways.” Here, she tells talks to the Boston scientists whose recent findings suggest that — by maintaining antiretroviral therapy — it is possible to eradicate HIV with a standard bone marrow transplant.

In 2010, Dr. Tim Henrich, a fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was looking for a new area of research after a project fizzled out.  He needed one that would span the precarious bridge that connects a fellowship to a faculty position.

“He was looking for something different to do,” Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, director of AIDS research at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, said of his former fellow.

Henrich found his focus in the case of the Berlin patient, Timothy Ray Brown, who received a stem cell transplant from a donor naturally resistant to HIV and has been free of the virus ever since. By separating the components of the Berlin patient’s response, the pair concluded that –even without transplanting HIV resistant cells –it’s possible to eradicate HIV by maintaining antiretroviral therapy. Although preliminarily touted as a cure by some, these results actually teach us key lessons about the future of HIV eradication strategies.

As Kuritzkes puts it: “This is furthering the argument that antiretroviral therapy is fully suppressive.”

The story of the Berlin patient can be traced back to Boston, to a 2008 poster at the retrovirus conference Timothy, diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, received two bone marrow transplants from a donor who had a 32 base-pair deletion in the CCR5 gene, a mutation called Δ32. CCR5 is almost always required for HIV to enter immune cells. People who are homozygous for the Δ32 mutation have natural resistance to HIV. These mutant cells completely repopulated Timothy’s immune system, giving him resistance to clear the virus. Timothy, who had to go off antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 2007, has never gone back on medication.  This is called a “functional cure,” Timothy may or may not have virus hidden in his body, as has been recently debated, but Timothy remains off therapy; cured.

Using the “c-word” when speaking of HIV treatment is something that researchers don’t take lightly, for fear of sparking false hope in patients. Despite this, Timothy’s experience has led to a new path for researchers, including one that led back to Boston.

The Brigham team looked at the separate components of the Berlin case. These included a conditioning regimen, a stem cell transplant, GVHD (graft versus host disease) and mutant, HIV resistant cells. How could each component be isolated to understand their individual effect on the virus? The researchers said they postulated that studying one component, the stem cell transplant, would allow them to characterize how the virus persists. What they found was quite different.

The team analyzed peripheral blood samples from two HIV+ patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who underwent hematopoietic stem cell transplants for treatment of lymphoma. Unlike the Berlin patient’s donor, the cells were not resistant to HIV. However, similar to Timothy’s experience, the donor cells homed to the patients’ bone marrow and then, over time, replaced the patients’ own immune cells. Unlike Timothy, the conditioning regimen the two patients received was minimal, meaning that they were able to continue on ART throughout the transplant.

The researcher said they were surprised to find that the latent virus (that pool of HIV unreachable by standard therapy) became undetectable following the transplant and has remained so for 2 and 3.5 years for each patient respectively. The investigators believe that by keeping the patients on ART, the donor cells were protected from HIV. These donor cells then repopulated the patients’ immune systems, effectively clearing the virus. This data was announced, to an excited audience, at the recent International AIDS Conference held in Washington, DC.

There are several reasons why this approach won’t work for most HIV+ individuals. First, receiving an allogeneic bone marrow transplant is not a trivial procedure. It carries significant morbidity and mortality risk; approximately 30% of patients receiving allogeneic transplants do not survive. As Henrich himself says, “If you don’t need a bone marrow transplant you shouldn’t get a bone marrow transplant.” Secondly, as neither of these patients has gone off therapy, we can’t be sure that the virus won’t rebound when the suppressive drugs are stopped. Lastly, while Timothy Brown has undergone lymph node, brain, and gut biopsies to measure hidden reservoirs of HIV, these two patients have not been similarly analyzed. We can’t yet know what burden of latent virus may be lurking in those tissues known to harbor HIV, or even how important these hidden reservoirs are.

This study is valuable because of what it tells us about the potential for eradicating the virus with antiretroviral therapy While not everyone can get a bone marrow transplant, this study provides direct evidence that latent virus can be eradicated. Kuritzskes and Henrich, who is now faculty, are evaluating two more HIV+ patients with the same therapy. In addition, they’re carefully considering interrupting ART for the two current patients in order to investigate the durability of their unique HIV-free outcome.

Whether it be through stem cell transplant, ZFN-mediated gene therapy, or novel agents, such as HDACi, capable of reactivating latent virus, it’s an encouraging time to be researching the virus, and, more importantly, to be living with HIV.




Vacation science happenings: Bugs and how we kill them

Lots of summer fun in the woods events for kids this week: Start with Mass Audubon, which has sites across the state. If you’re traveling, check out our recommendations for New England’s Science museums.  For more, check out our full calendar.


The Harvard museusm offer some evening talks this week, starting Monday with “Arachnophilia: Adaptation, Survival and Reproduction in the

Spider Kingdom”With nearly 40,000 species described worldwide, spiders are one of the most dominant and adaptable life forms on earth. But spiders face an array of new challenges to their survival, including agricultural pesticides, the loss of forest cover,  and urbanization. In this illustrated talk, biologist Marashetty Seenappa of Bangalore University will discuss the evolution and biodiversity of arachnids, with a special focus on the spiders of India.” Read more

Traveling in New England? Check out a science museum

Diving bell at Seacoast Science Center

Summer travelers are likely to end up near one of the zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, national park or planetariums that dot the planet. Click on Nature.com’s worldwide science museum map to find one.

Or zoom in on New England, where the Boston Museum of Science  is only the start. The Cape Cod Natural History Museum is great for both sunny — see hiking trails — and rainy days. On Friday, kids can walk through an inflatable whale. Plenty for adults too– including an archeology project and library. Home to the Wing Island Bird Banding Station.

Head into Cambridge for the MIT museums, with ongoing exhibits on holograms and a local invention – the Polaroid. Another exhibit focuses on  Berenice ,Abbott, a photographer hired b MIT in the 1950s to “document the principles of physical science – mechanics, electromagnetism, and waves. “For post visit burgers, try the nearby “Miracle of Science.” with a menu modeled after the periodic table. Just up the Mass Ave., find the elegant Harvard Museums of Natural History, with its glass flowers and  21-million specimen zoology collection.  On Saturday, Kim Todd will give a talk about her book Sparrow which “explores the complex history, biology, and literary tradition of the sparrow.”

The Museum of Comparative Zoology is currently comprised of 12 faculty-curators, and five emeriti, who oversee and contribute to 12 specific departments in the museum, including Biological Oceanography, Entomology, Herpetology, Ichthyology, Invertebrate Paleontology, Invertebrate Zoology, Malacology, Mammalogy, Marine Invertebrates, Ornithology, Population Genetics, and Vertebrate Paleontology.

Or head to the water for the New England Aquarium, the New Bedford Whaling Museum or one of the smaller sites, like the Seacoast Science Center in Rye New Hampshire, as pictured here.

View Science Museums in a larger map


View Science Museums in a larger map

Science in Boston this week: Sharks, beetles and slide rulers


The ITER project, under construction in France, is an international effort to “demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion power.” Carlos Alejandre,. ITER Deputy Director-General, speaks at 2  MIT on the “safety characteristics of ITER (and by extension of fusion) … and their possible impact on people and the environment.” The event comes as the MIT fusion project — the Alcator C-Mod – is facing shut down, in part, to free up  U.S. funds for ITER.  More on that debate at Nature News and on MIT specifically, here at Nature Boston.


The state Department of Conservation and Recreation offers an update on  Asian Longhorned Beetle. They note that  infestations have resulted in the loss of millions of trees and offer latest how to help to protect Boston’s trees.


Can’t make it to London? Come to Cambridge for the after hours, Second Friday Slide Ruler Olympics at the MIT Museum: “Once you have mastered the basics, join your friends and family in an exciting relay race to test your skills!.”Also on Friday, the Sharks, Arts and Conservation event wraps up the “Jaws Fest” on Martha’s Vineyard. The weeklong tribute celebrates the movie, which was filmed on the island.

For more, check out our full calendar.