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

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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.

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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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A Brazilian Rainforest in Kew

Kew Gardens in London is currently having an orchid exhibition on, and I finally had a chance to check it out today. Inside a tropical greenhouse, filled with lush orchids and bromeliads of stunning colours, it was a lovely escape from the grey dreary winter weather. It was also a chance for some macro shots of interesting flower shapes and colours - I haven't really had a chance to enjoy photography for quite a few months now!

Showing until the 6th of March 2016, it's definitely worth a visit. More details here: http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/whats-on/orchids
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Awesome
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How does neuroblastoma evade immune cells?

✤ Neuroblastoma is a rare type of solid tumour that affects infants and very young children. It grows from nerve cells left over from development in the womb. Normally these cells vanish once they have done their job, and the reasons why they persist and carry on dividing in rare instances to become a cancer remain a mystery.

✤ One of the intriguing features of neuroblastoma is that the tumour creates an environment where the immune system is suppressed. Cancer cells often send out molecules to suppress the immune system, so that they can remain undetected within our bodies.

✤ Which is why immunotherapies, that can 'wake up the immune system', have so much promise. But first, we have to understand exactly how cancer cells suppress the immune system, so that we can develop those new immunotherapies.

✤ Our immune system is made up of many different types of cells. The most important is type of cell is known as a T-cell. T-cells can act as the soldiers of the immune system, actively engaged in ‘search and destroy’ missions looking for harmful disease-causing enemy cells. Unfortunately cancer cells can ‘hide’ from T-cells by sending out molecules that put these T-cells to sleep, through a process known as immunosuppression.

✤ But what are these molecules, and how do they cause immunosuppression? And most importantly, how can we exploit this knowledge to develop therapies that can re-activate these T cells?

✤ Researchers at the University of Birmingham have found that a molecule called arginine might be involved. Arginine is an amino acid normally found within our cells, and is broken down by an enzyme called arginase. The team discovered that neuroblastoma cells produce a lot of arginase enzyme. It means that in the environment surrounding neuroblastoma cells, known as the tumour microenvironment, arginine levels are very low. This reduced level of arginine is involved in the immunosuppression seen in neuroblastoma tumours. The team also showed that this same mechanism might be involved in immunosuppression in another childhood cancer, called acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).  

✤ So what is the impact of this research? We now know how important it is to regulate arginine levels in the tumour, so that T-cells can remain active. This immunosuppression also affects cell-based therapies, where engineered T cells are injected into patients. So it’s even more important that we make sure that the immunosuppressed tumour microenvironment is addressed before trying out new immunotherapies for treatment.

✤ It is tempting to think of giving arginine supplements to patients, to 'boost their immune system', but there is concern that it might feed tumour growth. A better approach would be to inhibit the activity of the enzyme, arginase. Excitingly, there are several compounds that act on arginase that are going through pre-clinical investigations. When given in combination with existing immunotherapies, these arginase inhibitors could greatly enhance treatment, and so improve patient outcome for the cancers where they work

Full paper: http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/75/15/3043.long

Image credit: Neuroblastoma cell line, Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroblastoma#/media/File:BiggeggSH-SY5Y.jpg)
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No
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At the Royal Institution, listening to Professor Stephen Hawkings talk about Black Holes at the Reith Memorial Lecture. So so excited! 
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+Secular Portal I'll admit to having awesome email reply-skills - when the aforementioned friend sent round an email asking who wanted spare tickets to this event, I pounced on them in less than 10 nanoseconds :P
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Buddhini Samarasinghe

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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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Opting in for Google Hangouts

As many of you know I have been on a hangout hosting spree these past few months - both through my work at Cancer Research UK, and also with the lovely team at +Mosaic. For example, this Saturday I'll be hosting a hangout about how psychedelic drugs like LSD and ecstasy are helping patients reconnect with their feelings and the difficult experiences in their life (and also how 'The War on Drugs' gets in the way of trying to actually use this more widely!). Link: https://goo.gl/KJtGLA

I don't want to spam everyone with a bazillion notifications by inviting everyone in my circles, but I also don't want to not talk about these hangouts because otherwise no one will be aware I'm hosting them!

So - I figured I'll just ask. If you want to be notified/invited to watch any future hangouts, could you please indicate via the comments, or by plussing this post? (A simple 'aye' will do!). I'll still share these events through my profile, but I won't specifically invite those of you who don't want to be invited. 

Thanks!
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Aye!
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The Broken Calorie

This evening I'll be hosting a +Mosaic Hangout about the calorie. I'm chatting with Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley, hosts of the brilliant Gastropod podcast. 

I will be covering why a calorie is not just a calorie - how some people can count calories and limit their food intake as much as possible and yet never seem to lose weight. How our individual metabolism, the microbes in our gut, the way the food is prepared - all these things can affect the simple calories in = calories burnt equation. It's a fascinating topic, and at the heart of it is this single unit of measurement that seems to be problematic and misleading. 

You can RSVP at the event link below for the live broadcast at 8PM UK time tonight, or catch up afterwards on YouTube.
 
The Broken Calorie

Calories consumed minus calories burned: it’s the simple formula for weight loss or gain. But our mistaken faith in the power of this seemingly simple measurement may be hindering the fight against obesity. We are just beginning to understand that a calorie isn’t just a calorie. 

What effect do differences in height, body fat, liver size, metabolism, and other factors have on energy consumption? How does our microbiome influence our metabolism and body weight? Does the future lie in personalised nutrition? 

Join us for a Mosaic Hangout on air as we speak to Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley about this fascinating topic. Cynthia and Nicola are hosts of the brilliant Gastropod podcast (http://gastropod.com/), and recently wrote an article about why the calorie is broken for Mosaic. 
 
This HOA will be hosted by Dr +Buddhini Samarasinghe. You can tune in on Friday 19th February at 8 PM UK time. The hangout will be available for viewing on our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/mosaicscience) after the event.

Article: http://mosaicscience.com/story/why-calorie-broken

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+Venkatesh R thanks. I don't think there will be a measurable amount of calorie usage in dream states. 
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"Self-care" with books

2015 wasn't an easy year for several reasons. Adjusting to a new job, excessive amounts of travel, trying to buy a new house, moving across the country - all positive steps but all so incredibly exhausting because it's so hard to know at the time whether things will work out or not. So it was brilliant to have two weeks off during the Christmas holidays so I could truly catch up on doing the things that I enjoy doing. I've never been a fan of the 'self-care' concept - buying ridiculously priced pointless shit like moisturisers and pedicures just seemed meaningless to me - but I can totally get on board with splurging on books.

So imagine my pleasure when I stumbled across a beautifully bound hardcover edition of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. Wooo! The artwork, the paper, the binding - so so pretty! Reading for pleasure was something I didn't have enough time to do in 2015. I think 2016 will be very different :D

If anyone is interested in building up a similar collection, here's the link to Orion Books - https://www.orionbooks.co.uk/search.page?isbn=9781473200111
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Good morning friend +Buddhini Samarasinghe​
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The Immune System: A Grand Unifying Theory for Biomedical Research

Every year, the Edge Foundation asks a thought-provoking question (known as the Edge Annual Question) and invites scientists and intellectuals to contribute with essays. This year's Edge Annual Question is a predictive one. It asks, "What Do You Consider The Most Interesting Recent Scientific News? What Makes it Important?". I had the pleasure of being invited to submit a contribution again this year, and I really enjoyed writing this essay during the Christmas break :)

Edge solicits answers from people who are experts in a wide variety of fields, ranging from neuroscience to quantum physics, from psychology to sociology. For biomedical science, at first the obvious choice for a response would be something like CRISPR - indeed, many of the other responses have covered this fantastic 'genome editing' tool that allows us to manipulate our own DNA. But as I thought about the question, I realised that at the end of the day, CRISPR is still just a tool, much like gene cloning was several years ago. However, there are intriguing, broader discoveries within biomedical science, with exciting implications for human diseases; in my opinion these outshine the discovery of CRISPR.

I am talking about the immune system's role in disease.

"Since 430 BC we have known of biological structures and processes that protect the body against disease; but even today we are just beginning to understand how deeply involved they are in our lives. The immune system’s cellular sentries weave an intricate early warning network through the body; its signaling molecules—the cytokines—trigger and modulate our response to infection, including inflammation; it is involved in even so humble a process as the clotting of blood in a wound. Today we are beginning to grasp how—from cancer to diabetes, from heart disease to malaria, from dementia to depression—the immune system is involved at a fundamental level, providing us with the framework to understand, and to better treat these wide-ranging ailments"

When it comes to 'interesting scientific news', our self-interest will guarantee that anything we can do to extend and improve the quality of our lives will always be news. The immune system provides a unifying framework for understanding nearly every major condition that affects us, and on that basis it will always be newsworthy.

Full essay at http://edge.org/response-detail/26621
Image: Healthy human T-cell, one of the key components of our immune system (Wikipedia)

Happy New Year, everyone! :)

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this is interesanting thing for intervention in chromatin clock proteins,
if this protein work in regulation aging ...
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Education
  • University of Bath (Undergraduate)
    Molecular and Cellular Biology, 2002 - 2006
  • University of Glasgow (PhD)
    Veterinary Parasitology, 2006 - 2010
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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. 

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London
Previously
Hawaii - Glasgow - Bath - Colombo - Memphis