February 23, 2007

Gender in Cancer Science. Two quick points for discussion on a boring Friday afternoon.

It's been known for a while now that increased exercise decreases women's breast cancer risk. However, in the January 2007 edition of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention (I'm sure everyone here has a subscription), a group of German researchers discovered that only household activity had a significant effect on breast cancer risk. Occupational and recreational exercise made absolutely no difference. The study looked at over 200,000 women of varying ages, demographics, and nationality, so it's hard to really argue with many of their methods. And, like many Epidemiology studies, don't really give an explanation as to why this could happen.

This whole thing seems fishy to me, as I don't see why mopping floors would have an different effect on the body, then say, walking up stairs. Maybe it's the cleaning product? And I'm not sure it has much to do with the male-dominated science industry -- the main author on the study is a woman.

On another note of issue is the recent news that Merck will stop lobbying for mandatory support of its new HPV vaccine, Gardasil. Human papillomavirus has many subtypes, but the sexually transmitted kind has been linked to cervical cancer. Merck seems to be afraid of the fundamentalist backlash -- getting this vaccine would, of course, only encourage young women to engage in promiscuous sex, as there would no longer be any reason not to. Never mind the fact that this may prevent nearly 7,000 women a year from getting cervical cancer (note: this is my own rough number, figuring % vaccine success and # of new cases/year).

Is there any reason I'm missing as to why you wouldn't you give your daughter an HPV vaccine? Why don't elected governmental representatives have the courage to stand up for what's right? If this was a vaccine for a male-dominated disease, would the government treat it differently? Though it's really unfair that increased sexually activity seems to diminish the prostate cancer risk. Girls get it rough sometimes.

February 19, 2007

FOOD: Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

I modified this recipe from Real Simple magazine. Pretty tasty. Since lentils are so small and have a relatively high surface area, the dried beans take less than an hour to cook and soaking isn't necessary. Just spill them out on a cookie sheet for a quick rinse and to make sure that you didn't get any pebbles or chunks of dirt. The original recipe called for fresh thyme and basil, but i didn't have any and used half the amount of dried herbs. If anything, increase the amount of the sweet potatoes. they're the best part. Good with beer and cornbread, as shown in Figure 1.

4 leeks, white and light green parts only
1 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained (Not sure if i drained this or not. Can't see how a little tomato juice would hurt anything.)
6 cups water (for maximum tastiness, I used half water and half veggie broth)
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup brown lentils
1/2 tablespoon dried leaves
1/2 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan (optional)

Slice each leek in half lengthwise, then slice each half into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons (about 2 cups). Place in a large bowl of cold water and swish to remove any grit. Drain and pat dry.

Remove the stems from the kale. Stack the leaves on top of one another and slice them crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips; you'll need 3 cups.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, breaking them up with a spoon, for 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Stir in the kale, sweet potatoes, lentils, thyme, salt, pepper, and basil (if using). Simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Spoon into individual bowls. Sprinkle with the Parmesan (if using).

Serves: one metric ton. If you need to freeze it, omit the cheese.

February 5, 2007

Still no baking soda volcanoes. (Science fair part II)

So day #2 didn't take long. The winners from last week, along with winners from another school presented their topics with a 10-12 minute Powerpoint presentation. I was in the Physical science category, and got to see some diverse projects from the effects of fly ash in concrete to effects of antioxidants on cholesterol. I was pretty impressed for the most part. How many times in high school did any of you have to present results to a panel of 2-3 scientists? I would have had some pretty bad jitters, I think.

So we were in and out in about an hour with a few breaks to jam free chicken salad sandwiches and Baked Lays down my pie hole. These private school kids know how to host an event.

The whole thing got me thinking about how much I enjoy teaching. I loved giving the kids pointers on how to approach certain problems. And that it's okay not to know the answer to a question. You just have to have a decent idea of how to find the answer. I'm not sure I would be the best in a classroom situation for that very reason. Too many open book tests. But I may try to start tutoring at some point, possibly when I feel comfortable enough in my current job that I could sacrifice a few hours.