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Buddhini Samarasinghe
Attended University of Bath (Undergraduate)
Lived in Hawaii
Science Communicator
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Hawaii - Glasgow - Bath - Colombo - Memphis
Molecular Biologist & Science Communicator
I am a molecular biologist currently working on cancer research. I am also a passionate science communicator, and 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 and I am an active contributor to the many Science Communities here on Google+. 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. 

The majority of my posts tend to be about science. These are a few example posts, so you have a fair idea what to expect to see from me;

Evolution of Snake Venom 
Interfering with RNA
Curiosities of fly genes 
"Inferring The Wind From the Movement of the Trees"
Zombie roaches 
How to Build a Snake
The history of WI-38 cells 
Radioactive bacteria for cancer treatment
Cancer Stem Cells
  • I am involved in curating a circle of women who work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. 
  • I am a co-curator for Science Sunday. If you want to get involved, tag your science posts with #ScienceSunday on Sundays or #ScienceEveryday for other days. 
  • Oh, and apparently I am an INTJ
  • University of Bath (Undergraduate)
    Molecular and Cellular Biology, 2002 - 2006
  • University of Glasgow (PhD)
    Veterinary Parasitology, 2006 - 2010
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Buddhini Samarasinghe

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Why is Chemotherapy Given in Cycles?

A friend recently asked why chemotherapy infusions are spaced out. Is it to allow the body a chance to recover between treatments, or is chemo actually more effective when given in cycles? How does it work?

The answer is a bit of both. Traditional chemotherapy involves drugs that are toxic for rapidly dividing cells. The theory is that because cancer cells are dividing very quickly, they will succumb to the toxic chemotherapy quicker than normal cells would. The fact that chemo affects rapidly dividing cells also explains their typical side effects; hair loss because hair follicle cells are constantly dividing, nausea and diarrhoea because the cells lining the digestive system are constantly dividing and so on. So if you take too much chemo too soon, then normal cells would be affected even more, which in turn could lead to even more nasty side effects. 

But it’s also important to remember that the cancer cells in a tumour are at various stages of the cell cycle. The cell cycle is a programme that every cell goes through during growth and division - cells first need to double their DNA and then divide into two. 

The way chemo works is by causing DNA damage, so that cancer cells kill themselves. This happens through a process known as ‘apoptosis’. So a chemotherapy infusion kills all the cells that are in the DNA synthesis phase of the cell cycle, but doesn’t affect cancer cells that are in the other stages. By spacing it out and giving an infusion a few weeks later, the doctors are able to target the cells they couldn’t get the first time around. Normal cells usually repair the damage from chemotherapy more effectively than cancer cells, so damage to cancer cells should progressively build up without causing permanent damage to normal cells

When I explained this to my friend, she mentioned how "it’s a lot like waiting for dandelions to get big enough so they can be ripped out effectively. It’s much harder when they are tiny. But you want to actually get to them before the flowers set seed". It’s a brilliant analogy, and explains really well why chemotherapy is given in cycles. 

Image credit:

H/T to +Mary Anne Mohanraj for the wonderful analogy!
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Thanks for sharing this Buddhini. Where can I find your previous articles?
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Nature's Ice Sculptures

It was a really cold frosty morning here in Cambridge and I luckily had my macro lens with me to capture it. I love how delicate the lighting and the colours are here.
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Molecular Biology 101: Translation

This is Part 3 of my 'back to basics' series on molecular biology (Part 1 is here:, and Part 2 is here: In this article, I explain what protein translation is and how it works. In the previous article on Transcription, I explained how a DNA template is used to create a 'transcript' of a gene required by the cell. In this step, the transcript is 'translated' into a protein molecule. It is a beautifully elegant system in which the genetic code embedded in our DNA is translated into the proteins that are the workhorses of our cells. The vast majority of the functions within a cell is carried out by proteins. All the chemical reactions, the structural functions, the respiration, and indeed the very act of being alive, is down to proteins and their actions. This article explains how those proteins are made.

You can read the full article here:

"The chain of amino acids ordered in the sequence dictated by the genetic code, assembled within the ribosome, represents how every single protein in every single living organism is made. Given how important it is, there are quality control checkpoints at various steps of this process to ensure that the linear amino acid chain is folded correctly. This ensures that the freshly produced protein has the correct structure that allows it to carry out its function within the cell. Protein synthesis is a fundamental process in molecular biology, and indeed, of life itself."
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+Ayshvaryaa Choudhary excellent, I'm really happy to hear that! 
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Buddhini Samarasinghe

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Molecular Biology 101: DNA Replication

As I mentioned previously, I want to write a 'back to basics' series of posts on some fundamental molecular biology processes. 

I start this series with explaining how DNA replication works. Before a cell divides, it must replicate its DNA by producing an identical copy of DNA through the process of DNA replication. This is one of the most fundamental biological processes, occurring in all living organisms. A series of reactions regulated by various enzymes makes sure that the DNA molecule is unwound from its double helix configuration so that one strand can act as a template for the synthesis of a new strand of DNA. 

Just as, in film photography, the negative of a photograph is the same image with its colours reversed, so too in DNA. In its sequence of nucleotide letters, each DNA strand is a “photo-negative” mirror of the other. The “A” on one strand always pairs with a “T” on the other, while “G” always pairs with “C”; a sequence like “GATTACA” on one strand is mirrored as “CTAATGT” on the other, each letter binding to its partner, zipping the strands together into a single 2-metre-long molecule. This pairing, a pairing that arises straightforwardly from the laws of Chemistry, is the key to the DNA molecule’s marvelous ability to copy itself. For each strand when unzipped from its partner grows back its missing complement, automatically creating two identical DNA molecules where once was but one

Read the full article, complete with  handy video links to help visualise some of these processes here:

And yes...the accompanying artwork is something I've always wanted to do with watercolour, because a DNA double helix is so inherently beautiful!

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wow its very interesting was very useful for my project
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Crappy Gabor Paper aka The Benefits of Proofreading

I read this article today with a mixture of laughter, horror, disbelief and a twinge of sympathy for the authors. In this paper published in the journal Ethology, the authors forgot to proofread their final draft before submitting it for review. The reviewers forgot to proofread the manuscript before sending it to the editor. The editor(s) forgot to proofread it before sending it to the layout/print department. And now, unfortunately for poor Culumber et al, their mistake is preserved for the whole world to witness and laugh at. If Gabor et al ever end up reviewing a grant or another paper by Culumber et al, my guess is that they won't be very nice. 

Even more hilariously, the Altmetrics for this paper have gone through the roof because it's being snarked talked about on social media so much!

Please remember to proofread your manuscripts, even if you have read them a bazillion times already and you're sick of seeing them. Because if not...this could be you :P


Original paper (behind paywall):
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They most likely don't think the paper is crappy at all; perhaps just inconveniently close to their own conclusions, or having results that don't really agree with theirs. Something that will end up needing another paragraph or two and a round with the editors to finally get the paper out the door.
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Blind Spots: Seeing Sexism in STEM

I wrote this piece for +Digital Science a few weeks ago and it came out this week. In this article I highlight the many blind spots in sexism that I have witnessed over the years.

"It compounds the problem when male colleagues, newly aware of the issue, derail the discussion by celebrating their new-found enlightenment. It is truly heartening to see supportive male colleagues become aware of the iniquities they are privileged never to experience; it is disheartening to see those selfsame allies shift the focus, grab centre stage and turn what was a productive discussion of measures to restore fairness into a festival of male redemption"

A great example of derailment via the male redemption story happened a few weeks ago. The Grace Hopper Celebration had a disastrous attempt at discussing 'women in tech' with a panel of male allies - (read an excellent summary by +A.V. Flox here: This event, and subsequent discussions with friends helped crystallise the ideas that I espouse in this article.
As part of Digital Science’s celebrations for Ada Lovelace Day, for the rest of October we are running a collection of blog posts featuring some of the great women that work across Digital Science ...
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+Michael Hendrickson consider that having more part time jobs that include childcare tends to come when more women are in position of power -- because it's difficult to get men to advocate for those things simply because the system works just fine for them.

Making more jobs part time is difficult only because the system makes it difficult -- this is what is known as "institutionalized sexism" as opposed to overt sexism.  There is nothing inherently difficult about more part time, or more child care.  Men just don't have those priorities, and they are the ones mostly in control.
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Gorgeous evening at Canary Wharf. The temperature is a lot milder than Glasgow at the moment! This Photosphere has a bunch of disembodied legs, but it was really busy so practically impossible to avoid :-P 
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Canary Wharf: nice place to wander around. Awful place to work. (It takes forever to get there, the trains are jammed, and at lunchtime a hundred thousand people pour into one overcrowded underground shopping arcade consisting of 50% empty shops selling insanely costly diamonds and the like, and 50% overcrowded food shops selling £6 stale sandwiches. A world of no.)
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Musings of an Academic Refugee

Three months ago, I started working at Cancer Research UK as a Science Communications Manager. The position was a temporary one; a part time, maternity cover for just one year, but I was told during my interview that there would be a possibility of making it a permanent position depending on "how things worked out". 

At first, my contract was just for working from Monday to Wednesday. But within 3 weeks of starting, I was made full time (so Monday to Friday) and then in less than 3 months I was made permanent. For the first time in my life, I have a job and an income without an obvious expiry date. This is remarkable; in science, especially for grad students and postdocs, short term contracts with low pay, with no real guarantees of a permanent position is a way of life that we tolerate well into our late 30s/early 40s. 

I have always loved science, and ever since I was a teenager, I always wanted to be a scientist. I loved the way science could answer questions. Curiosity about the world around us is one of the things that defines our species, and science was always a way for me to engage with what those answers were. So it was a little difficult to reconcile the fact that I would be leaving a career in research behind, with this new job. But then...actually getting paid for and being able to make a living out of science communication is something that I never thought could happen either. There is immense satisfaction in being appreciated for something that I am good at, and the sense of validation that comes with it feels priceless. I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am right now. 

I've had a tough couple of years, and it's an ongoing process to recognise that the circumstances involved were beyond my control, and the people involved were not my responsibility. It's very easy for troubleshooting to turn into victim-blaming, i.e. berating myself for not seeing the red flags that I somehow should have seen. My self-confidence was buoyed up only because of my friends who believed in me when I wasn't able to. 

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk to a group of final year PhD students about 'Science Communication as an Alternative Science Career' (or, as I titled it, “Musings of an Academic Refugee” :P). I've attended plenty of talks like this during my student days but never thought I'd be invited to give one. One key piece of advice that seems obvious is that outside of academia, no one really cares how many papers you have authored; for a career in science communication, what matters is evidence and examples of good scicomm. "Just Google my name" is a pretty satisfying reply to give when asked to provide these examples at a job interview :P. 

For the first time in a long time, thinking about my career does not fill me with dread like it used to, when I considered the grim reality of how few postdocs make it into permanent positions in academia. I jokingly refer to myself as an 'academic refugee', but there is a grain of truth to that description too. It is possible to love science, and continue working in science, outside of academia. It is possible to make a living out of something that brings you joy.

There is a life outside academia. 
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Greetings Dr Samarasinghe. I've been following and reading your articles on the Hallmarks of Cancer on ScientificAmerican. They have been a great source for me to understand cancer biology. However, I couldn't find your article on the 10th feature. It would be great to have all the articles written by you and use them as extra notes. The link below is the 9th hallmark on cancer.
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Malignant Melanoma: Drug Resistance is Futile

As we approach the end of 2014, I want to write about targeted cancer therapy, using malignant melanoma as an example. In this article, I explain how a new drug (vemurafenib) works, and why resistance sometimes develops, and the latest research into how we can overcome this problem. 

Most melanomas have a mutation in a key gene known as B-RAF. Mutant B-RAF is a signal that tells the cancer cell to keep dividing - it is an accelerator that is jammed, so the cancer cell replicates endlessly. Knowing this mechanism allows us to target mutant B-RAF, which is the epitome of targeted therapy. Yet all is not quite as it seems, and most cancers develop resistance to B-RAF inhibitor drugs; how can we prevent the development of drug resistance, and how can we combat it when it happens? 

"Cancer is not one single disease. Even a hundred different instances of melanoma, though pathologically classified as the same disease, will have a hundred different variations; is B-RAF mutated? What about the other proteins in the ERK pathway? What about other pathways? Do the metastases have the same mutations as the primary tumour, and if not, how different are they? There is a dizzying array of possibilities, and in turn cancers have a dizzying array of variations within them. This is known as the biological heterogeneity of cancer, and it demands therapeutic heterogeneity in the way we approach it. The same treatment cannot be indiscriminately applied to all cancers. Targeted therapies that can home in on the unique vulnerabilities of a cancer with precision are the way of the future. Indeed, vemurafenib was a breakthrough in every sense of the word; it allowed a once untreatable disease to become treatable."

Read the full article here:

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+Buddhini Samarasinghe one quick question, why cancer occurs in some one at some particular age? does it has any relationship between antibodies? i have seen people getting cancer at old age as well, how can you explain that? few article says it is completely because of DNA if that is the case does DNA gets mutated due to some reason? and can cancer become a hereditary ? can it get passed to generation because of a mutated gene ?
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Buddhini Samarasinghe

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Molecular Biology 101: Transcription

This is Part 2 of my 'back to basics' series on molecular biology (Part 1 is here: In this article, I explain what transcription is and how it works. Transcription is the first step in gene expression, which is how cells ensure that the right proteins are present in the right amount at the right time. Through gene expression, the myriad different cell types in our bodies can carry out their functions. The end goal of gene expression is typically (though not always) the production of proteins. 

"Transcription is the first and sometimes only step in gene expression. It is how the genetic material encoded within DNA is utilised by the cell to express genes. This is a fundamental process which provides the cell the ability to control its structure and function, and is the basis for the adaptability that allowed our cells to survive and evolve for billions of years."

Read the full article, complete with  a handy video link to help visualise some of these processes here:

And yes, again the artwork is me experimenting with some water colour double helices!

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+Buddhini Samarasinghe just a question on cancer, how does sleep affects cancer? for e.g alpha level etc? during sleep the enzyme activities will be there for involuntary activities, do you feel the activity of cancer cells differs some what with metabolic activities? 
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I've been very quiet online lately because I recently got a new job that I am very excited about. A couple of weeks ago, I started working as a Science Communications Manager at Cancer Research UK. 

Writing about science, particularly cancer research, started out as a hobby for me. I dabbled in writing posts here on G+ since 2012-ish, and then in August 2013 started writing the Hallmarks of Cancer series on Scientific American. It's still a bit surreal to think that I can actually get paid to do something I've always loved to do, but I'm excited to be able to make a living from explaining how cancer works at the cellular level. 

Working at the world's largest independent cancer charity is also very cool, because I get to see from the inside how much progress we are making towards finding new treatments for cancer. Working in London is also new to me but so far I am enjoying the hustle and bustle of it all. It's still early days, but I am excited about my new position. I will of course continue writing about science and cancer here on G+ and my website Jargonwall (, but standard disclaimer, my views/opinions are my own etc :)
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Congrats! Keep up the awesome work, we need you!

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Independent Bookstore in Ely

There is something magical about being in an old school bookstore. I could easily spend hours here browsing the books and dipping into them while sitting at the cute little window seat. 
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I would have been a little embarrassed to capture a photosphere in a bookstore with other customers and staff around, and so I am glad you did. Comes out great. :-)
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