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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Is “Real” Artificial Blood On the Horizon?

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Blood is indeed the river of life. It carries oxygen and nutrients to all the cells of the body and removes toxic byproducts to keep everything clean and healthy. The cardiovascular system is a closed system in that it constantly recirculates, and like submarines, leaks from the system can be disastrous, and deadly. Blood is also a living, biological material and this makes it very difficult to handle. It must be taken from a living person, treated to prevent clotting, and stored in a manner that prevents decay. The logistics of this are very difficult, particularly when blood is needed in places such as war zones, very remote areas, and even in space. If someone is severely injured and in danger of exsanguinating – – the $10 word for “bleeding to death” – – then rapidly replacing this loss blood is essential. IV fluids and plasma expanders and other assorted intravenous materials can be given to buy time, to keep the volume in the system to an adequate level, and to keep everything circulating, but these materials have a major drawback – – they don’t carry oxygen. So the only life-saving remedy is to replace the blood.

Over the years there have been many attempts to develop artificial blood, a product that would carry oxygen and be logistically more friendly. Something that did not require anticoagulation, refrigeration, and care in its transport and storage. Something that could be carried and stored like a bottle of water. Many of these endeavors have proven to be unsuccessful.

Blood substitutes have traditionally been based on hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying molecule within the red blood cells (RBCs). Products such as HemoPure (made from bovine hemoglobin), PolyHeme (made from outdated human blood), and HemAssist (based on cross-linked hemoglobin) all seemed promising but safety issues arose with each and these have not been completely resolved.

Other forms of “artificial blood” have been based on perfluorocarbon emulsions. These too have faced many problems.

Another problem with blood therapy is keeping a steady and safe supply. There are only so many donors and the blood’s shelf-life is not all that long. If blood could be manufactured so that an adequate and steady supply could be maintained, this would be a giant step forward.

Well, now it seems that manufactured truly artificial blood might be on the horizon. A group at the University of Edinburgh is beginning clinical trials on a process for making red blood cells from stem cells. Since these would be “real” RBCs, the technique holds promise.

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Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Medical History, Medical Issues

 

Book Review: City Of The Sun by Juliana Maio

City of Sun

 

City Of The Sun by Juliana Maio

Greenleaf Book Group

Pub Date: March 9, 2014

ASIN: BOOIX3FF20

389 pages

“. . . a well-written historical thriller.”

Set against the backdrop of Rommel’s North African Campaign and the Jewish community that huddled in Cairo, CITY OF THE SUN is an intriguing look into WWII history. Jews had enjoyed a peaceful existence in Cairo for many years but war changed everything. Will the British stop Rommel short of Cairo? Will the Jews be able to ride out the storm in Cairo or will they be forced to flee to the Sudan, Palestine, or anywhere they might be accepted? And what role will the newly minted and pro-Nazi Muslim Brotherhood play in the unraveling of Jewish life in Cairo?

Mickey Connolly, a US reporter and covert CIA operative, is on the hunt for a Jewish scientist, who is hiding in Cairo, in the hopes of bringing him to the US to work on the developing nuclear program. His endeavors to track down the illusive Erik Blumenthal are mirrored by a master German spy who wants Erik for the same reason—to help build an atomic bomb for the Third Reich. Mickey meets and becomes enthralled with Maya, a beautiful young Jewish woman, who is in limbo—living with relatives, planning an illegal escape to Palestine, and unsure what future lies ahead. Also, unbeknownst to Mickey, Maya is Erik’s sister. The story is a well-written historical thriller. Good characters, wonderful setting, and  a fascinating story, but for me the best part is the look into this little known slice of WWII history.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2014 in Book Review, Writing

 

Crime and Science Radio: When Disaster Hits: Naming The Dead: An Interview With NTSB’s Paul Sledzik

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How does forensic science help us in the aftermath of disasters such as plane crashes, floods, hurricanes and other events that result in mass fatalities?  We find some answers in this episode, when D.P. Lyle and Jan Burke interview Paul Sledzik.

In this episode, he tells us about historical responses to mass disasters, such as the General Slocum disaster of 1904, which caused the loss of over one thousand lives.  He’ll also talk to us about today’s processes for dealing with mass fatality events, the role of forensic scientists in processing mass fatality incidents, and the work done on these sites by forensic anthropologists and other specialists.

Near the end of the interview, we were also able to talk to him a little bit about his work on historical remains belonging to “New England Vampires.”

Bio: Trained as a forensic anthropologist, Paul Sledzik began his career at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC, as a museum technician. By the time he departed the museum in 2004, he had become a curator with responsibilities over the museum’s unique and historic anatomical and pathological collections. From 1998 to 2004, he served as the team commander for the Region 3 Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services. In the response to the events of September 11, 2001, he led the DMORT team in the identification of the victims from the crash of United flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Paul joined the National Transportation Safety Board’s Transportation Disaster Assistance Division in 2004 as a medicolegal specialist and in 2010 became the division director. The division coordinates access to information and services to support victim and family members impacted by aviation accidents and accidents in other transportation modes.

He has served as a consultant and advisor to federal and non-governmental agencies on issues of human identification and disaster response. A Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, his scientific articles have appeared in professional journals and textbooks. He has participated in the response to over 30 mass fatality events and transportation accidents.

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2014/02/14/crime-and-science-radio-with-paul-sledzik

LINKS:

National Transportation Safety Board https://www.ntsb.gov

NTSB: Information for Families, Friends, and Survivors https://www.ntsb.gov/tda/family.html

NTSD: Family Assistance Operations: Planning and Policy http://www.ntsb.gov/tda/ops.html

The National Museum of Health and Medicine http://www.medicalmuseum.mil/index.cfm?p=about.index

Federal Emergency Management Agency http://www.fema.gov

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Public Health Emergency/DMORTs: http://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/responders/ndms/teams/Pages/dmort.aspx

New story on study of preservation of DNA in mass disasters http://phys.org/news/2013-09-team-dna-mass-disasters.html

The General Slocum Disaster, New York, June 15 1904 — over 1000 lives lost

General Slocum Disaster information at New York Public Library http://www.nypl.org/blog/2011/06/13/great-slocum-disaster-june-15-1904

“Sinking of the General Slocum” information at The Mariners Museum http://www.marinersmuseum.org/content/sinking-steamboat-general-slocum

General Slocum Disaster information at New York History.Info  http://www.newyorkhistory.info/Hell-Gate/General-Slocum.html

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York, March 25, 1911 — over 140 lives lost

Documentary on YouTube  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCB4SgXRgKg 

History Channel site http://www.history.com/news/100-years-ago-the-triangle-shirtwaist-fire

Centennial program on NPR’s “All Things Considered” http://www.npr.org/2011/03/24/134766737/a-somber-centennial-for-the-triangle-factory-fire 

The Eastland Disaster, Chicago, July 24, 1915 — over 800 lives lost, including all members of 22 families

Eastland Disaster Historical Society description of the disaster http://www.eastlanddisaster.org/disaster.htm

Montage of newspaper photographs of the event on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0Qxy5yAXb4

Eastland Disaster documentary on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZp0kW3O6Uc

“Brief communication: bioarcheological and biocultural evidence for the New England vampire folk belief.” (American Journal of Physical Anthropology)   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8085617

The Great New England Vampire Panic http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-great-new-england-vampire-panic-36482878/?all

 

 

Futuristic Robotic Surgery Is Here

Robotic Device

 

My second Dub Walker thriller HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL dealt with the future of robotic surgery. Future as in way down the road. But now it seems it’s not all that far away. Virtual Incision in Lincoln, Nebraska is working on a very clever device that could make space missions safer. Very cool stuff.

 

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Guest Blogger: EE Giorgi: I Am My Mother’s Chimera. Chances Are, So Are You

For years now the concept of a “genetic chimera” has sparked the imagination of writers: from Stephen King to Michael Crichton, from CSI to The Office. The idea that an individual could harbor his/her own twin is creepy and intriguing at the same time, not to mention it offers the perfect escape from DNA testing in a police procedural plot.

But if you think that “chimeras have been done already,” think again. All fictional works written so far have exploited the concept of tetragametic chimeras, which results from combining two or more genetically distinct organisms. In humans, this happens when two fertilized eggs fuse together during the first hours of life in the womb.

Yet Mother Nature has invented many other forms of chimerism.

Some genetic defects/mutations can lead to individuals with genetically distinct cells in their body. Usually these defects involve anomalies in the number of chromosomes, but there are also asymptomatic cases, like for example animals whose coat is a patchwork of different colors, as in tortoiseshell cats. This type of chimerism is called mosaicism. Contrary to tetragametic chimeras, which originate from two or more individuals fused together, mosaics originate from a single individual. People whose eyes have different colors are also an example of genetic mosaicism.

Tortoiseshell cat (Source: Wikipedia)

Tortoiseshell cat (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Scientists claim that chimeras are much more common than we think. Chances are, you could be your own twin. But how surprised would you be if I told you that you are actually far more likely to be your mother’s chimera than your unborn sibling’s?

“Microchimerism refers to a small number of cells (or DNA) harbored by one individual that originated in a genetically different individual” (Gammill and Nelson, 2010).

An individual receiving a donor transplant or a blood transfusion is an example of microchimerism. Yet the most common form of microchimerism happens during pregnancy. There’s an ongoing two-way cell trafficking across the placenta, and these exchange cells can actually proliferate long term in the host’s body: fetal cells can be found in the mother years after she gave birth. In fact, because even spontaneous abortions cause fetal cells to be released into the mother’s body, women who became pregnant but never gave birth can also harbor this form of microchimerism.

Mystery writers are familiar with the “Jane Doe scenario”: an unidentified woman that lands on the medical examiner’s table. One of the many things the ME can learn about this woman with today’s technology is whether or not she was ever pregnant—even if the pregnancy ended with a spontaneous abortion. With a single test the ME can find male DNA in Jane Doe and deduce that at some point she was pregnant with a baby boy. A baby girl can also be detected, but it requires more than one test.

Just like fetal cells can be found in the mother years after she has given birth, the inverse is also true: maternal cells have been found in fetal liver, lung, heart, thymus, spleen, adrenal, kidney, pancreas, brain, and gonads. What’s surprising is that in either case (mother-to-fetus transfer, or, vice versa, fetus-to-mother transfer), the extraneous cells migrate to a certain tissue and, once there, they are able to differentiate and proliferate, acting at all effects as if they were engrafted. One paper found circulating maternal cells in 39% of the study subjects (Loubiere et al. 2006).

But even if you are not your own twin, even if you don’t harbor cells from your mother or your child, even then chimeras are closer than you think. Because we all originated from a chimera: roughly 10% of our DNA is made from viral genes, and how this came to happen is a fascinating story.

A long time ago a virus infected a sperm cell or oocyte of one of our ancestors. Once there, the genetic material from the virus fused with the genetic material of the cell —- that’s an old trick viruses play so they can replicate. Except this particular virus never replicated. The sperm or oocyte was fertilized and became a fetus, and that fetus now carried the bit of viral DNA. The viral genes were “stuck”, no longer able to replicate, and thus effectively silenced.

Finally, the last form of chimerism I would like to discuss is far less known because it belongs to a fairly new field: epigenetics.

Genes are packaged inside the nucleus, some deeply hidden inside, and some exposed so that they can be easily “translated” into proteins. This configuration can change in time, as genes can move from the inside of the nucleus and become exposed, while others previously exposed can become hidden. Life events, changes in the environment or in diet, stress, and traumas can potentially affect these mechanisms, causing some genes to turn on while turning off others.

Epigenetics is the study of all mechanisms that can affect gene silencing (turning the genes “off”) and gene expression (turning the genes “on”). In other words, it addresses the question: what causes some genes to shift from being hidden (silenced) to becoming suddenly exposed (expressed) and other genes instead to suddenly become hidden (silenced)?

The amazing thing is that these epigenetic mechanisms are not encoded in the DNA, yet there have been studies that have shown that epigenetic changes caused by stress or diet can indeed be carried over for the next two-three generations.

You’ve probably guessed it by now: an individual whose cells express distinct genes within the same tissue is called an epigenetic chimera.

From a writer’s point of view, this kind of chimerism lends itself to many more scenarios than the genetic one. For one thing, it is much more complicated to detect as the defects no longer lie in the genes themselves, but rather in which genes are expressed and which aren’t. At the same time, epigenetic disorders can give rise to any sort of dysfunctional phenotypes. And you have a wide range of “life events” that could potentially trigger the “sudden change” in your character(s): viruses can certainly mess up with the cells’ signaling and turn on forgotten genes; an accident or physical trauma can spike new sensations/symptoms (have you ever heard of someone’s sense of smell suddenly spiking after a car accident?); a change in diet/environment; etc.

Vampires and zombies may have been done already. But there’s still a lot of room for chimeras of all kinds.

 

EEGiorgi

EEGiorgi

 

E.E. Giorgi is a scientist, a writer and a photographer. She loves to blog about science for the curious mind, especially the kind that sparks fantastic premises and engaging stories. She has done scientific consultations for writers such as Autumn Kalquist (Legacy Code) and bestselling author Carol Cassella (Oxygen). E.E.’s detective thriller CHIMERAS, a hard-boiled police procedural with a genetic twist, is now available on Amazon.

Link to Blog: http://chimerasthebooks.blogspot.com/

Link to book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JI6UNPE

Chimeras Cover

Previous Posts on Chimerism:

 

Q&A: How Could My Sleuth Recognize a Chimera?: https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/qa-how-could-my-sleuth-recognize-a-chimera/

Organ Creation and Harvesting: Reality Imitating Art: https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/organ-creation-and-harvesting-reality-imitating-art/

Guest Blogger: Elena Giorgi: Deep DNA Sequencing: https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/guest-blogger-elena-giorgi-deep-dna-sequencing/

Human Chimerism: Mindboggling DNA Tests Gone Wrong-Guest Blogger: https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/human-chimerism-mindboggling-dna-tests-gone-wrong-guest-blogger/

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in DNA, Guest Blogger, Medical Issues

 

ITW’s 2014 Thriller Awards Nominees

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We’re thrilled to announce the finalists for the 2014 ITW Thriller Awards:

BEST HARDCOVER NOVEL

Linda Castillo – HER LAST BREATH (Minotaur Books)

Lee Child – NEVER GO BACK (Delacorte Press)

Lisa Gardner – TOUCH AND GO (Dutton Adult)

Stephen King – DOCTOR SLEEP (Scribner)

Owen Laukkanen – CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE (Putnam Adult)

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child – WHITE FIRE (Grand Central Publishing)

Andrew Pyper – THE DEMONOLOGIST (Simon & Schuster)

 

BEST FIRST NOVEL

Gwen Florio – MONTANA (Permanent Press)

J.J. Hensley – RESOLVE (Permanent Press)

Becky Masterman – RAGE AGAINST THE DYING (Minotaur Books)

Jason Matthews – RED SPARROW (Scribner)

Carla Norton – THE EDGE OF NORMAL (Minotaur Books)

Hank Steinberg – OUT OF RANGE (William Morrow)

Dick Wolf – THE INTERCEPT (Harper)

 

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOVEL

Allison Brennan – COLD SNAP (Minotaur Books)

Kendra Elliot – BURIED (Montlake Romance)

Susan Elia MacNeal – HIS MAJESTY’S HOPE (Bantam)

Jennifer McMahon – THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND (William Morrow Paperbacks)

Nele Neuhaus – SNOW WHITE MUST DIE (Minotaur Books)

Michael Stanley – DEADLY HARVEST (Harper Paperbacks)

 

BEST SHORT STORY

Eric Guignard – “Baggage of Eternal Night” (JournalStone)

Laura Lippman – “Waco 1982” (Grand Central)

Kevin Mims – “The Gallows Bird” (Ellery Queen)

Twist Phelan – “Footprints in the Water” (Ellery Queen)

Stephen Vessels – “Doloroso” (Ellery Queen)

 

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

Ashley Elston – THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING (Disney-Hyperion)

Mari Mancusi – SCORCHED (Sourcebooks Fire)

Elisa Nader – ESCAPE FROM EDEN (Merit Press)

Cristin Terrill – ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (Disney-Hyperion)

Allen Zadoff – BOY NOBODY (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

 

BEST E-BOOK ORIGINAL NOVEL

Rebecca Cantrell – THE WORLD BENEATH (Rebecca Cantrell)

J.G. Faherty – THE BURNING TIME (JournalStone)

Joshua Graham – TERMINUS (Redhaven Books)

James Lepore and Carlos Davis – NO DAWN FOR MEN (The Story Plant)

Luke Preston – OUT OF EXILE (Momentum)

 

Congratulations to all the finalists!

The 2014 ITW Thriller Award Winners will be announced at ThrillerFest IX, July 12, 2014, at the Grand Hyatt (New York City.)

Very special thanks to:

Joshua Corin, Awards Committee Chair

Anthony Franze, Awards Coordinator

Jeff Ayers, Awards Coordinator

And all the 2014 ITW Thriller Awards Judges

 

Carla Buckley

ITW Board of Directors, Vice President, Awards

 

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Writing

 

Cat DNA Solves Another Homicide

TINKER

TINKER

 

Tinker doesn’t look like a snitch. But then again, neither did Snowball. Snowball is a very famous cat. It was Snowball’s DNA that led to the solution of a 1994 murder and it represented the first time cat DNA had been used to solve a crime.

From HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS:

FORENSIC CASE FILES: SNOWBALL THE CAT

In 1994, Shirley Duguay of Prince Edward Island disappeared. A few days later her corpse was discovered in a shallow grave along with a leather jacket, which was soaked with her blood and dotted with white cat hairs. Her estranged husband, Douglas Beamish, owned a white cat named Snowball. DNA in blood taken from Snowball matched that of the cat hairs found at the burial site, proving that those hairs came from Snowball and no other white cat. Beamish was convicted, marking this case the first time that animal DNA was used to gain a conviction.

Tinker has now followed suit in a very interesting case from Britain.

 

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