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Buddhini Samarasinghe
Attended University of Bath (Undergraduate)
Lives in London
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Buddhini Samarasinghe

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Interview at the Beeb 

So in somewhat happier news to the mess that has taken over my life last week (see my previous public post if you want to know more), today I had an interview at the BBC studios here in London. Despite seeing the building from the outside many many times, I had never actually been inside until today.

The interview was part of a promotional piece for a book that is coming out in a few weeks, written by author Sam Maggs. It is entitled 'Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History'. I am definitely not in that category, but the book also has Q&As with several women in STEM, including myself. I'm not sure when they will broadcast the piece, which should be pretty short (15 mins of me yapping edited down to a minute or two!). Anyway as much as I don't really do cheesy selfies, I had to outside the Beeb just because :)

More info about the book: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/539897/wonder-women-by-sam-maggs/9781524735470/

Press release: http://www.adweek.com/galleycat/sam-maggs-lands-deal-with-quirk-books/122112
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Yay!
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The Evolution of Antibiotic Resistance

One of my favourite things about my job at the MRC is writing about all types of biomedical research, and not just cancer. This week I’ve been digging into the threat of antibiotic resistance, and it is truly sobering to read how bad a problem it is. Coincidentally I stumbled across this fantastic experiment carried out by a team of researchers at Harvard University. It illustrates how antibiotic resistance happens, and more importantly (and scarily!) how fast it happens. I love this experiment for the simplicity behind it, and how illuminating the results are.

✤ To study the evolution of antibiotic resistance, the researchers set up a giant petri dish. This rectangular dish was filled with agar that was dyed black (so that the bacteria could be seen easily) and topped off with soft agar (so that the bacteria could move easily).

✤ The plate was divided up into nine sections for antibiotic concentration. The outmost edges of the plate had no antibiotic, and then the dose was gradually increased until the centre of the plate had 3000 units of antibiotic.

✤ The researchers then put E. coli bacteria on the edge of the plate. These bacteria are able to move, and therefore when they used up all the nutrients in a local area, they spread through a mechanism called ‘chemotaxis’ – the bacteria are drawn towards the chemicals released by the nutrients in the nearby regions on the agar plate. But these nearby regions have antibiotics in them, so only bacteria that have evolved resistance can spread to these regions.

✤ It’s worth noting that the antibiotic starts out at a non-lethal dose, which means that a certain proportion of the bacteria will be able to survive it. Then, as the antibiotic gradually increases, it selects the bacteria that have mutations in their genes that allow them to survive despite ever-increasing concentrations of antibiotic.

✤ The beauty of this experiment is that it is possible to see this happening in the relatively short space of 11 days. What’s more, the researchers were able to sample the resistant bacteria and then sequence the genes to find out exactly how antibiotic resistance evolves.

✤ One of the most common mutations was in a gene known as dnaQ which codes for a protein that helps copy DNA when the cells divide. This protein has proof-reading abilities, but when it is mutated, the proof-reading ‘relaxes’ - resulting in a typo-ridden genome that has immense potential for accumulating more and more mutations very rapidly. In addition to dnaQ mutations, the bacteria also had mutations in genes involved in the folate biosynthesis pathway, which is the main target of the antibiotic used in this experiment.

✤ It’s also worth noting that mutations that increased antibiotic resistance came at a cost – these mutant bacterial strains were smaller due to reduced growth. But as soon as the mutants established themselves in the antibiotic-filled region, compensatory mutations kicked in and they were able to reach normal size.

✤ In the end, the bacteria at the centre of the plate were able to tolerate a dose of antibiotics that was 1000 times higher than that tolerated by the starting bacteria. It’s terrifying to realise how under the right conditions, bacteria can evolve so quickly. It’s also sobering to realise that antibiotics, a discovery that transformed modern medicine, may soon be obsolete thanks to the wide-spread misuse of antibiotics in agriculture and medical settings.

Full text research paper: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6304/1147.full

More writing on antibiotic resistance: https://www.statnews.com/2016/09/12/superbug-antibiotic-resistance-history/ and http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/21/mcr-gene-colistin/
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Gud 
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Wisteria Sanctuary

Kew Gardens is (as many of you know!) my favourite place in London. Today I think I may have found my favourite place within Kew Gardens! This gorgeous pagoda skeleton (not sure what else to call it!) has a vigorous healthy Wisteria wrapped all around it. I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be when the flowers are in bloom, the pale lilac colour adding another dimension to the delicate structure. Enter it through the narrow opening and suddenly you are hidden from the normal foot traffic. The leaves rustle with the wind, and sometimes a few birds chirp amongst the vines. There is a wonderfully comfortable bench to sit on, set on the cool paving stones as you sit and watch the world pass by.

It's also been far too long since I posted a photosphere! 
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I travelled through much of mediterranean Spain at the right time of year once and it was just drop dead gorgeous for wisteria then...
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How to Read a Medical Research Paper

Biomedical research is a field that touches all our lives at some point or another. Through it, we have identified new ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat most of the diseases that affect us. As such it is unsurprising to come across people who have various opinions about the accuracy of these discoveries. By confusing large-scale data with personal anecdotes, by mistaking peer-reviewed research with pseudoscience, the waters are made muddy until even undecided fence-sitters become needlessly skeptical thanks to the "well we must teach the controversy!" stories.

All this has led to an unprecedented epidemic of anti-science rhetoric, where overwhelming scientific consensus is regarded with suspicion. Vaccines, genetically modified food, diet, nutrition, chemotherapy, vitamins, supplements, acupuncture, 'cupping' (thanks Michael Phelps)...the list is endless. Matters aren't helped when newspapers overhype findings to increase circulation or clicks - CANCER CURE FOUND or DIABETES VACCINE SORTED or TRUMP MANIA CURED (I wish) or whatever.

So how do you decide for yourself, without being misled by snake-oil salesmen trying to sell their latest elixir or inexperienced journalists trying to get more clicks? Unfortunately academic jargon means reading the original research paper isn't easy unless you have a science background. Assuming the paper isn't behind a paywall and you actually get your hands on a copy, how do you begin to make sense of it? How do you know whether it's legit, so to speak?

It's all the more heartbreaking when patients, who have so much at stake, can end up endangering their health because of false promises. Open access research means more people can access research papers, but that doesn't necessarily mean the research itself is accessible.

Today I stumbled across an awesome, interactive, free to use website that guides people through the process of reading a scientific paper. It teaches you the things you should look out for, such as;

Is the paper peer-reviewed?
Who carried out the research?
Who funded it?
Was it reviewed by an ethics committee?

If it's paid for by a tobacco company and it says smoking doesn't cause lung cancer then you should rightly be very suspicious!

It also teaches you the difference between a review or meta analysis vs an individual study, and whether it's good for basing decisions on. It even goes on to explain clinical studies, and how you should evaluate them before deciding actually no, organic kale juice can't cure cancer...

Check it out - http://www.understandinghealthresearch.org/
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I really liked you third headline example.
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A Series of 'Lasts'

As I approach my last day working at Cancer Research UK (July 22nd!), I anticipate my time will be filled with 'lasts'. The last time I will interview a scientist. The last time I will write an update on our latest research. Most of these will be sad and filled with nostalgia, but I am looking forward to the last time I have to endure a meeting that mentions the word 'strategy' or 'relationship management' more than 37 times (heh).

Today I had what I think will be my last meeting with donors. Every so often, I get to travel to different locations in the UK and give a talk about the latest advances in cancer research to older people. These events are aimed at people who may be thinking about leaving money in their will as a gift, and my role is to explain how medical imaging has changed the way we understand and treat cancer. It's a really fun talk, filled with videos and pictures, and often times people learn things that they really had no idea about.

I was in Swindon today, and after the event as people were leaving, a lady stopped and spoke with me. She said that her sister had died of lung cancer a few years ago, and it was a really difficult time for her. She mentioned how she has avoided talking about or listening to anything to do with cancer, as it was too painful for her. She said she was unsure about attending the event today, but she was glad she did because she learned so much about some really awesome science. She finished by thanking me for making a difficult topic less scary, and then said "science really is the key for understanding cancer, and that's how we can remove the fear that comes with it".

Public speaking isn't something I enjoy - it's always something I have to make myself do because I hate being in the limelight. But this exchange was a powerful reminder of why it's worth the pain. Because I feel like in some small way, by helping people understand what cancer is and what we can do about it, we can help break down the stigma and fear that comes with it.
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Nice
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Psychedelic Therapy

I had a fascinating conversation this morning with Sam Wong, about using psychedelic drugs like LSD and MDMA for therapy. These drugs help patients going through mental health therapy, by helping them reconnect with their feelings and the traumatic experiences in their lives.

Psychiatry as a field has largely become a palliative care effort - current drugs numb feeling, helping people manage their symptoms and function with their lives without really addressing the root causes of their trauma. Psychedelic drugs on the other hand, used under carefully controlled settings, allow patients to process their feelings and overcome toxic thought-patterns to gain new perspective. It's sad that the War on Drugs has demonised psychedelic drugs to the point where both society and psychiatry view them as unsafe and/or kooky. If you'd like to learn more, watch the video or read Sam's full article on

Mosaic science: http://mosaicscience.com/story/psychedelic-therapy

Hangout link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9NmXsnasEo
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+John Condliffe Haha! Ah I wish, but I definitely don't have that sort of clout with the Google folk! Thank you for your kind words, I am really happy about the new job! :-)
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Me too

My head is reeling from the information overload over the past 24 hours. By now many of you would have seen the linked article, calling out an abuser in our community. I'm writing this to say, I believe the authors, I believe the other victims who have come forward, because he did this to me too. I blocked him about 3 years ago and I thought it was just me he did this to but I am heartbroken to see that there are others he similarly abused. It's terrifying to read that article and see the same thing he did to me done to others. I can't even begin to explain what that it feels like.

Scott and I worked a lot on Google Hangouts back in 2012/2013. He was a really good friend at first, and as we got close he talked a lot about his problems. I felt really sorry for him. Now I realise how I was manipulated, I feel sick. I even invited this guy to my wedding - ugh.

Towards the end of 2013, as I was unemployed and living off savings while waiting for immigration paperwork to join my husband in the UK, Scott told me how he can't pay rent and how he doesn't have any money for food. I offered to lend him some money but he refused, but kept talking about how worried he is. Eventually he said yes and I lent him $1500 from my savings. A few weeks later he needed more money for something else (textbooks I think) so I again lent him another $1500. He said he would pay me back in a month or so when his student loans came in.

Meanwhile because I was so bored waiting in Sri Lanka for my immigration paperwork, I started writing more and more science posts. Scott invited me to partner on his website Know the Cosmos and I happily agreed, expecting us to be equal partners. But it turns out I ended up doing the bulk of the writing for free while he didn't really contribute much. It stopped feeling like a partnership and we fought a lot. Eventually I successfully pitched my Hallmarks of Cancer series to Scientific American and he was livid. That's when the emotional abuse really started. Constant arguments and put downs. He would say things like how naive and stupid I was for giving away my writing for free to Scientific American, how this is not the way to do it etc. It's partly why I wrote this post (https://goo.gl/jJwu7q) to address him and anyone else who questioned my decision to write it for free.

Things just reached a point where we could no longer work together. I remember the last Google Hangout we did together where just before we were supposed to go on air, he yelled at me about something I had done wrong. I was on the verge of tears that whole time, it was awful. But by that time I had moved back to the UK and thanks to a stronger support network around me, I was able to remove him from my life. Before that I sent him several emails asking for my loan back, but he never replied. I gave him a week and then I blocked him on all social media, considering the $3,000 as the price I had to pay to have him out of my life.

I am horrified that there are so many other victims. +Chad Haney  has a post here (https://goo.gl/UqISLJ) listing some of the others who have come forward. Please share this out, and please warn others. I had no idea he kept doing this after me, and I wish I had said something sooner rather than waiting until now.

I'm going to leave comments open while I am around but lock comments when I am away because I don't want derails from Scott-apologists.

H/T to +Pamela L. Gay and +Rugger Ducky for bringing this to my attention.
Update as of 16:03 Eastern Time on 19th September 2016:
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Wow! Ive been following him for a long while reading only the tech stuff that pops up in my notifications, things related to black holes and such. I had know Idea of his extreme sociopathic traits. And as asked, I shall no longer invoke his name. 
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Beautiful London

It's been a month since I started my new job at the Medical Research Council and I really really like it so far! Perhaps the best part is the amazing view I get to see every morning from the window near my desk. And yes, I actually have my own desk, I no longer have to "hot desk".

I am guessing that as the days get shorter I'll be able to catch more sunrise and sunset photos. Stay tuned! 
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+Buddhini Samarasinghe​ your experience in corporate houseshit has done you well. I failed to implement meetless Fridays, to at least have one day without meetings, but Saturday became the day until numbskull realized everyone was there on Sat morning, and started holding meetings then (he thought bringing donuts was a grand justifier).
Only delaying his schedule provided enough rationale to avoid his wasteful hours of pontificating.
Good luck, have fun, and realize the benefits of failure.
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The perils of being your own doctor

ALS is a devastating disease. As with any diagnosis for this sort of disease, it is rarely straightforward or quick. From the first suspicious symptom to the first doctor's visit, and then to the myriad of diagnostic tests, followed by visits to the specialists...all interspersed with that awful waiting process in between.

This article is an incredibly well-written account of what it was like for a doctor who noticed ALS symptoms in himself. I love how his writing is filled with empathy and observations of what the process is like, and how his own thought process so closely mirrors the anxiety that the rest of us non-medics can have. Well worth a read!

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/aug/04/perils-being-your-own-doctor-als
The Long Read: When an experienced physician became convinced he had ALS, none of the specialists he consulted could persuade him he was perfectly healthy
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There's an excellent book (I read while pregnant, which was helpful!) called Patient From Hell. (He notes that his doctors actually appreciated his active participation in his cancer treatment, and that he wasn't a horrible patient!)

I'll just leave it at that! Also an excellent read for the same reasons!
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Rainy Referendum

It's been such an awful campaign leading up to the EU Referendum here. Fingers crossed for Remain, because it's an obvious choice for an immigrant like me living in the UK. In true British spirit it's been raining non-stop all day too.

EDIT: I'm not really in the mood to argue about the referendum, I've seen enough 'commentary' about it to last a lifetime so if the comments on here do descend down to that I'll be closing it. My vote, and my reasons for voting the way I did is not up for debate. Thank you.
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Welp that was good news to wake up to. Clearly a campaign based on hate, racism, and fear works. Americans, please take note - President Trump may be next. Still keeping comments switched off because I rea;;y can't babysit it today.

Buddhini Samarasinghe

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Changes

Phew - it's finally official, I think. Contracts have been signed and sent away - in just under two months time I will be starting a new job working as a science writer at the Medical Research Council. Cancer has always been such a personal topic for me (and was one of my prime motivators for working at Cancer Research UK) but I am excited about being able to write about all types of biomedical research, not just cancer. Adjusting to corporate life since I left academia has been 'challenging' at the best of times, but hopefully getting a little bit closer to the science will be a welcome change!
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+Chad Haney I did :) It's awesome!
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The Joy of Rachmaninoff

I'm not sure how long this video link will stay up for, but this is a fantastic BBC documentary about Rachmaninoff's music, well worth watching if you have an hour or so to spare. Presented by Tom Service who follows the story through Russia, visiting key landmarks that were important in Rachmaninoff's career, it's full of fascinating anecdotes about the life of someone who was deeply devoted to his music. And of course, the music is beautiful, filled with nostalgia and sentimentality. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcEHZIEYorM
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Thanks for sharing this, I must have missed this when it aired, +Buddhini Samarasinghe! It's actually blocked here in German for music rights reasons, but I found a way to get around that. Some time ago the BBC did a fantastic "The Story of Music" documentary series from Howard Goodall that was amazing as well.
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Buddhini's Collections
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Science Communicator
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Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Currently
London
Previously
Hawaii - Glasgow - Bath - Colombo - Memphis
Story
Tagline
Molecular Biologist & Science Communicator
Introduction
I am a molecular biologist and a passionate science communicator. I love engaging the public with current research in the life sciences. Where possible, I use original, open access research papers and I describe the science minus the jargon! 

I am the author of a series of articles in Scientific American, titled "The Hallmarks of Cancer". These jargon-free articles explain the molecular mechanisms that underlie cancer development. 

I am also involved in science outreach through broadcasts on YouTube. I also have side interests in photography, technology, travel, baking, good conversation and food! 

  • I am a strong advocate of science. Therefore I will on occasion write about 'controversial' topics like global warming, vaccination, evolution, pseudoscience and science policy. Beyond a certain point, I will not debate topics that the vast majority of scientists agree on. 
  • I respond to questions on science. Engagement is a vital component of science outreach, and if the topics I write about interest you, I encourage you to join the ensuing discussion!
  • I encourage conversations on my posts. To that effect I maintain the right to ask anyone who joins in to keep the discussion on topic, and not attack others already engaging on the post. 

Education
  • University of Bath (Undergraduate)
    Molecular and Cellular Biology, 2002 - 2006
  • University of Glasgow (PhD)
    Veterinary Parasitology, 2006 - 2010
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