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RTI scientists solving forensic, designer drug mysteries

Kerstin Nordstrom, PhD, AAAS Mass Media Fellow, News & Observer

. Credit: Losert Laboratory/Univ of Maryland.

Catching up on my reading this Sunday morning, I’m beaming with pride on the collective accomplishments and coverage of some old friends and colleagues.

Kerstin Nordstrom, a AAAS Mass Media Fellow with the Raleigh News & Observer

, had a nice story on 3 September about the work of Dr. Peter Stout at RTI International. You old-timers will know this non-profit entity as Research Triangle Institute, home to the discoveries of Taxol and camptothecin by Wall and Wani and colleagues.

Kerstin, or Dr. Nordstrom I should say as she holds a PhD in physics, interviews RTI’s Dr. Peter Stout on the institute’s forensic analytical chemistry capabilities with regard to the “designer drug” industry. Yes, here we go again with my long-running commentary on the “synthetic marijuana,” “herbal incense,” “plant food,” and “bath salts” products that have recently taken a direct hit from “Operation Log Jam,” a coordinated, federal operation to shut down the industry.

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Tucson clinical pharmacist does primary diabetes care

Those of you who do chemistry in colleges of pharmacy are used to discussions of how your graduates can truly use their Doctor of Pharmacy training. You’ve probably often wondered why your students spend so much time in clinical pharmacy when more than half of them end up in community pharmacy, a model that has largely kept its sweatshop-like workflow (the “counseling booth” at my local pharmacy has cobwebs for the simple reason that pharmacists cannot be reimbursed for cognitive services.)

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Al Malkinson the Scientist: Eulogy by Dr. Lori Dwyer-Nield

Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD, Associate Research Professor, School of Pharmacy, University of Colorado Denver’s Anschutz Medical Campus; Investigator, Eastern Colorado Veterans Hospital

In this second part of my remembrance of lung cancer biochemical pharmacologist, Colorado’s Dr. Al Malkinson, I’d like to share with readers some recollections by Lori Dwyer-Nield, PhD. I’ve known Lori since my appointment to Colorado’s faculty in 1992 when she had already been a postdoctoral fellow of Al’s. Dr. Dwyer-Nield continued on as research faculty at the CU School of Pharmacy and co-authored over 40 publications with Al.

At Al’s memorial service last Saturday in Boulder, Lori was asked by Al’s wife, Lynn, to eulogize Al on behalf of all his scientific colleagues. Her thoughts were so warmly received that I wanted to share them more widely, especially with members of the scientific community who knew Al but were unable to attend the memorial. Moreover, I had reflected in my previous post how supportive Al was of his women trainees in balancing career and family. This eulogy provides a glimpse into this philosophy of Al’s directly from someone who lived it for over 20 years.

My tremendous thanks go out to Lori for agreeing to share with us this text of her eulogy.

 


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On the loss of a mentor: Al Malkinson, lung cancer researcher, scholar, gentleman

Note to Readers: After reading through my writing here and at my Take As Directed blog between October, 2011, and October, 2012, I’ve decided to submit this post as my entry for The Best Science Writing Online 2013, formerly The Open Laboratory. The 2012 version was published by the Farrar, Straus and Giroux imprint of Scientific American.

While the post details my emotions and recollections over a personal loss, I believe that it best reflects one of my strengths as a science writer: use of a personal story to touch on our own universal experiences as human beings who chose science as our vocation. All of you must have someone like Al Malkinson in your life. And he supported women in science long before special discussions groups on the topic even existed.

Finally, I also feel that my closing discussion — the lost art of the Festschrift — is an issue we must revitalize in modern scientific research. We rarely recognize our mentors and leaders while they are alive. I hope that my writing here motivates me (and you) to take action to formally celebrate the contributions of those who are still with us.


 

Alvin M. Malkinson, PhD. Credit: University of Colorado Denver, Skaggs School of Pharmacy

Those who make the deepest impression on you become the fabric of your being. Think about those who’ve passed through your life and have influenced your approach to science, society, family. . .

Even if years have passed since seeing one another, the lessons and attributes of these very special people continue to stay with you. But rarely do we truly get to express to these treasured souls just how much they have meant to us.

My first faculty mentor, lung cancer researcher Alvin M. Malkinson, PhD, passed away last Friday in Boulder, CO, at age 71.

Professionally, Al was Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy, now on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. But if you were fortunate enough to know him, you learned that he was a scholar of the world, lover of the arts, and true gentleman.

I last visited the pharmacy school two years ago and had learned from colleagues that Al had been ill. He apparently deteriorated rapidly during this July and passed from pneumonia secondary to other complications.

I hadn’t been able to get back to Denver last summer or this year but I now realize that wasn’t an excuse not to at least call Al. I always remember Al as a vibrant, worldly soul whose intellectual energy, I thought, was likely to power him for a couple more decades. Alas, he has left us early – far too early – and without some of us being able to say goodbye.

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Colorado College seeks inorganic chemistry prof

Looking for a tenure-track faculty position at a visionary learning institution in one of the most beautiful places in the United States? Do you prefer non-carbon chemistry?

Well, here’s a position for you in Colorado Springs. From The Chronicle of Higher Education:


 

OPEN TENURE-TRACK POSITIONS

Colorado College, a highly selective liberal arts college with an enrollment of approximately 1900 students, seeks to fill five tenure-track positions for Fall 2013 in:

Inorganic Chemistry
Biological Anthropology
Dance Study
Global Christianity/ies
South Asian History I

Information about Colorado College is available at http://www.ColoradoCollege.edu.

Interested applicants should refer to the full job descriptions for each position found on the Faculty Positions page under Employment Opportunities, as they become available. Check the website for job closing date. Ph.D. must be complete or very nearly complete before starting date. Colorado College is distinctive for its modular “Block Plan” calendar. The academic year is divided into eight 3 week blocks. During each block, students take and faculty teach one course at a time, with a maximum enrollment of 25 students per class. Faculty teach six blocks per year.

The college’s unique academic calendar supports experiential learning opportunities such as field trips and service learning and lends itself to other innovative teaching and learning strategies. The college is committed to increasing the diversity of the college community. Candidates who can contribute to that goal are particularly encouraged to apply and to identify the ways in which they would bring diversity to our community.

As an Equal Opportunity Employer, Colorado College welcomes members of all groups and reaffirms its commitment not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin or disability in its educational programs, activities, and employment practices.

 


 

I love Colorado Springs and have had the honor of guest lecturing at CC. Several of my colleagues have sent their kids to CC and they have done splendidly. It’s a tremendous learning environment.

 

DEA jams synthetic marijuana and “bath salts” industry

With all the discord in Washington these days, it’s rare to see several US governmental organizations working together to address a significant public health problem.

This week, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) mobilized Operation Log Jam, an unusual and highly-coordinated action with six other federal agencies aimed to shut down the synthetic designer drug industry in 109 US cities. The products targeted were of two broad classes: 1) synthetic marijuana “incense” products comprised of naphthoylindole cannabimimetic compounds first synthesized by John W. Huffman’s lab at Clemson in the mid-1990s, and 2) “bath salts” or “plant food” products containing the stimulant/empathogen mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) or the stimulant MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone).

This compilation of posts on synthetic marijuana and, to a lesser extent, “bath salts” serves as a good primer on the subject.

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The Colorado shooting suspect: how “smart?”

Apologies in advance to any readers who might be put off by my writing about the science aspects of the Colorado movie theater tragedy. I was a faculty member at the University of Colorado in Denver from 1992 to 2001 and was in the area during the Columbine High School shooting rampage. I also still have some friends out there and feel a personal connection to the place and people who helped launch my independent research career. Nevertheless, I claim no special knowledge of the current inner workings of the University – all of my sources for this and other posts come from publicly-available information sources.

I write this disclaimer because Marisol Bello (@Marisol_Bello) and Dan Vergano (@dvergano) have an intriguing article today at USA Today on the relative level of specialized intelligence of the Colorado shooting suspect. The suspect was one of six students on a NIH neuroscience training grant – called a T32 Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional National Research Service Award, or just T32 or NRSA. The specific grant that supported the suspect for his first year of graduate school at University of Colorado Denver is described here at the publicly-accessible NIH RePORTER database.

An “institutional” training grant?
These are training grants awarded to institutions, not specific students, that are noteworthy for having an excellent and comprehensive training environment for predoctoral students. The institutions awarded these grants then have the discretion to appoint the candidates for grant support.

This NIH notice (NOT-OD-12-033) describes the support given to each student appointed to the training grant: a stipend of $22,032 per year (to which Colorado adds to bump it up to $26,000), “training related expenses” of $4,200/year to cover things like health insurance, another $4,200/year to host laboratories to offset the costs of laboratory supplies, and 60% of the trainee’s tuition and fees up to $16,000/year (to which most schools add to completely cover tuition.)

Being appointed to one of these institutional training grants is generally considered to be less prestigious than winning an individual NRSA. These individual grants are awards given to the student’s mentoring professor based on the individual research project and training environment of the individual host laboratory, in addition to institutional considerations.

Still, institutions are judged on the quality of the students they appoint to institutional NRSAs. So, the Colorado shooting suspect had to meet some minimum undergraduate GPA and standardized GRE test scores.

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Did theater shooter use lab address to procure regulated hazardous substances?

This post probably belongs on The Safety Zone blog but I was struck by a comment just made during a news conference in Aurora, Colorado, this afternoon. Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates noted that over the last four months “the suspect had a high volume of packages to both his work and home address.” Oates indicated that these shipments may account for the large amount of ammunition and booby-trap incendiary devices currently being disarmed in the suspect’s apartment.

Work, of course, was the neurosciences PhD program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus. According to The Scientist, the suspect had done at least two laboratory rotations with faculty in the Department of Pharmacology. (Note: The websites for both the interdisciplinary neuroscience program and the pharmacology department are closed to public access to protect personal contact information for faculty.

While we don’t yet know the precise identity of the explosives in the suspect’s Paris Street apartment building in Aurora, I hypothesize that he took shipments at work of the more eyebrow-raising chemicals. As CU laboratory staff are likely questioned about the suspect’s year in the PhD program, I wonder if anyone might have accidentally opened one of his packages and asked who ordered the [flammable and/or explosive compound].

On a personal note, my heart goes out to the victims of the shootings, their families and other loved ones. I also have immense respect for all of the first-responders and medical staff who have been tending to the victims. I spent ten years of my career at the CU Health Sciences Center in its old location in Denver and have several friends and colleagues in basic science and clinical departments at the Aurora campus. My heart aches for all.
 


 

Update 5:12 pm EDT: I just saw a tweet from Matthew Keys, Reuters Deputy Social Media Manager, quoting Chief Oates as saying there was, “[n]o evidence that shooting suspect had access to “dangerous materials” at Colorado medical school.”

Update 12:21 pm EDT, 22 Jul – Gillian Flaccus and Nicholas Riccardi at AP have confirmed my suspicions:

The University of Colorado said Sunday it was investigating whether mass shooting suspect James Holmes used his position as a graduate student to order materials for the potentially deadly booby traps that police said they found in his apartment.

Holmes, 24, got deliveries over four months to his home and school, authorities have said.

The university is looking into what was received at the school to assist police, said spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery.

 

Update 9:00 pm EDT, 23 Jul – Officials from the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus held a press conference earlier today to discuss issues of campus security and some questions about the former student. This is the official summary from the University press office. I’m surprised that no one from the national media asked why the campus is called “Denver” when it is fully in Aurora and in another county.