Sunday, August 24, 2008

Best addresses and more

So, apart from having the best corporate domain name (, street address (1 DNA Way) and stock symbol (DNA), Genentech is also doing some excellent science. Antibodies are used ubiquitously in pretty much any biology involving proteins - commercially available antibodies are supposedly highly specific for their target proteins, although inconsistencies in the quality of reagents is a huge problem. I use them regularly for identification and/or manipulation of proteins, and a paper this month is using antibody-conjugated toxins to kill cancer cells.

Now, this is pretty awesome, and the antibodies approved for clinical use are far better than almost all of the of the commercially available "research-only" types. By "better," what I mean is that they are more specific for their targets - ideally, they would bind to that target and nothing else, i.e. an infinite signal:noise ratio. In practice, this is almost impossible, as there is always some random "non-specific binding," but the clinical antibodies are as close as it gets.

As with all biological molecules, their structure dictates their function. For an antibody, the structure of a certain part will determine what protein it will bind. What this team has done is to engineer changes into another part, without changing the protein-recognizing structure. These changes will allow biochemists to tack various useful things onto the antibody, like cytotoxins or fluorescent tags. This is good news for biology, as the antibodies used in research are not as good as they could be. More developments in antibodies as tools will, in the long run, mean improvements to their protein recognition abilities as interest revitalizes investment, and would overall be a good thing for biological science as a whole.


Some Canadian news:
  • Health Canada flexed its regulatory muscle to clean two natural health products off the shelves. Life Choice Ephedrine HCL is getting yanked for having way too much ephedrine in it, which is not very good for you and is also contaminated by a nasty strain of bacteria(!). Life Choice Kava is getting pulled for liver toxicity, which is also a pretty good reason. Compounds marketed as homeopathic drugs are not always subject to the same quality-control tests as pharmaceuticals, which in this case ended up being a bit scary. Interestingly, the "Standards and Ethics" section of the website for the Canadian Association for Naturopathic Doctors is "currently being updated."
  • Canada comes up short on OECD standards for medical imaging machines per capita. While we have have increased our tally significantly over the last 4 years, we have roughly 12 CT scanners and 6 MRI machines per million people, well-short of the average 15 and 7. The Brazilian working in my lab was told that he could get on a waiting list to have an MRI on his knee here in Montreal, but if he was going back to Brazil in the next 6 months, he would get it done there quicker. To me, this raises serious questions about accessibility to health care in urban centres, let alone the beleaguered rural areas...

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