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

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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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+Jane Rakali I think you'll appreciate this one.
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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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Cancer drugs here in India is very costly patients can't afford to buy ...most them they die because of this costly drugs...can we over come this problem ...or do you have any organisation NGOs who will help this poor patient 
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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

Join the conversation using #MosaicHangout  
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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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It is not my intention to open the comments to snake oil solutions. But one sub system however logically studied l in its own context  can not be fully relied on as the interaction/relations with larger and still larger systems are ultimately inexplicable. Therefore knowing the limitation  helps in understanding   on a holistic context.  Apologise for going out of the subject.
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Collections!

After the months of postponing, I finally had a chance to explore Collections. I know, I'm so late to the party that it's not even an after-party anymore. But I really do like being able to categorise all my posts by subject, and for ease of navigation I figured it's worth highlighting here. 

So without further ado, here are the five Collections I've curated. 

1. Cancer Biology: probably the most relevant Collection for those who follow me for my writing on cancer. Included is my Hallmarks of Cancer series, articles explaining how chemotherapy works, and lots of science media hype debunking!
https://plus.google.com//collection/MorsFB

2. Molecular Biology: non-cancer science writing, recommended if you want to understand more about what goes on inside a cell.
https://plus.google.com/collection/IfsZ9

3. STEM Women: Those of you who follow me know that I am a passionate advocate for women in STEM. Follow this collection for things I've posted relating to equality in STEM issues. See the +STEM Women on G+  page for more.
https://plus.google.com/collection/sLrsFB

4. Hangouts on Air: I don't always share every hangout I host to my profile page, mostly because I like to keep my profile for just the writing stuff. But sometimes the topics are just so cool it's worth sharing, and I should probably start doing this more often.
https://plus.google.com/collection/MqgsFB

5. Commentary and Photography: I have other interests outside of molecular biology! So this collection is about random topics like social media use, atheism, cooking, travel, photography etc. https://plus.google.com/collection/onRsFB

Image: Scanning electron micrograph of a cluster of breast cancer cells showing visual evidence of programmed cell death (apoptosis).
Image credit: Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images
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OK, I think there is an extra foreslash in there...that's what's happening.
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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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Hiii
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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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Processed meat and Cancer: What is the Risk?

Yesterday I hosted a Hangout with two scientists to talk about the links between diet and cancer, on the back of the "omg bacon gives you cancer" stories that broke out a few weeks ago. As part of my job as a science communicator at CRUK, I get access to researchers who study this, so I was very pleased to chat with Dr Kathryn Bradbury, a nutritional epidemiologist, and Professor Owen Sansom, a molecular biologist. It was a good mix of research interests because we were able to approach this question from a population/clinical angle, but then also dive into the mechanism behind what we see, i.e. how exactly does red and processed meat increase cancer risk. You can watch the full video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS1QW74wJRw. Joining me was my colleague Dr Kat Arney, who co-hosts these cancer Hangouts with me. 

First we discussed how we find out what things in the diet are linked to cancer - Kathryn explained how we design studies looking at hundreds of thousands of people from the general population. We ask them questions about their diet and lifestyle, and then we follow them up over many years to see who develops cancer. Then we look back and see what effect their diets had on their cancer development, for example did vegetarians get less cancer than those who ate lots of red and processed meat. Having large-scale population based studies like this is the only way we can gather evidence for the risk factors for cancer; lots of people mean better statistical analyses, which means the data is more rigorous, rather than the anecdotal "oh my neighbour drank a miracle kale juice cleanser every day and he never got cancer" theories. 

Owen talked about the mechanisms for cancer development, particularly bowel cancer, and how it is linked to the molecules found in red and processed meat. The cells lining our gut get completely replaced every 3-4 days, so they are cells with a high rate of cell division. These cells are also exposed to cancer-causing chemicals (i.e. carcinogens) from the food we eat, depending on our diet. With red and processed meat, eating a lot of it means that the gut cells are also exposed to a lot of the carcinogens found in them. For example red and processed meats have a lot of nitroso products, and these can be carcinogenic. How exactly does that work? These chemicals cause mutations to the DNA in the cells lining the gut. Owen also talked about how it can cause more mutations in key tumour-suppressor genes (i.e. genes that normally suppress cancer, but when these genes are mutated it leads to cancer - I discussed one such pathway here https://goo.gl/6CSn10). Haem iron from red meat is also a culprit because it has shown to cause DNA damage. Intriguingly, Owen also brought up how the bacterial population in our gut (i.e. our microbiome) can change depending on what we eat, which in turn can have an impact on whether the cells lining our gut can end up with mutations that can lead to cancer. 

Finally we finished up by talking about cancer prevention. We know that 4 in 9 cancers are linked to preventable causes, so what are the things we can do to lower our cancer risk? The answers were unsurprising; give up smoking (if you smoke), reduce instances of sun-burn, eat a well-balanced diet with moderate amounts of red and processed meat (i.e. bacon with every meal every day is probably a bad idea), along with physical activity. 

Of course this is much easier said than done, because people often want quick-fix miracle cures/pills/whatever that lets them keep living unhealthy lives without feeling bad for it. Unfortunately there are no such shortcuts that are scientifically valid. Listening to Kathryn and Owen discuss the cancer risk from red and processed meat, along with the mechanistic explanation of 'how' was incredibly useful, and I hope you enjoy watching this Hangout :)
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Day 1 of NCRI 2015 Conference

I am at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) conference from today until Wednesday. It's the largest cancer research conference in the UK, and there are so many incredible researchers here sharing some really amazing findings from their fields. I'm going to try and post highlights here, but if you want to follow what's going on, you can check out my Twitter feed via https://twitter.com/DrHalfPintBuddy

One of the highlights today was a talk by Professor Charles Sawyers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. He is one of the scientists who developed Imatinib (or Gleevec) for the treatment of a type of leukaemia known as CML - one of the first targeted treatments. 

Professor Sawyers talked about how the loss of two very important tumour suppressor genes, known as p53 and Rb (I've mentioned these before http://goo.gl/RfwqLr and http://goo.gl/m3p83P), can make prostate cancer cells change their behaviour, leading to a dramatic rise in resistance. The really weird thing is that these cells change through a mechanism known as 'lineage plasticity'. Why is this weird? Because this lineage plasticity is eerily similar to how adult cells can be made to switch back to a stem-cell state - these are known as iPSCs, or induced pluripotent stem cells - https://goo.gl/qJN3U7).

What does all this mean? It seems that cancer cells can hijack a normal cellular process in response to the stresses they encounter as a result of treatment. Being able to change in response to treatment is unfortunately how cancers are able to develop resistance, and why it can sometimes feel like cancer is one step ahead while we're constantly playing catch-up. Cancers evolve, and understanding the mechanism behind their evolution might be how we can finally develop more effective treatments. 

#NCRI2015
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Yes 
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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
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Hawaii - Glasgow - Bath - Colombo - Memphis