Pieces written for non-scientific audiences during my time in graduate school.
What Gives?: The science behind effective charitable giving (2017)
December kicks off the Season of Giving. There are Salvation Army volunteers ringing bells outside of department stores, food drives for the hungry, and fundraising appeals from almost every charitable organization. With so many groups to choose from, is there actually a strategic way to choose the “right” or the “best” charity?
Cancer Moonshot Musings Part I: Precision Prevention (2017)
A lesser-known sibling of Precision Medicine, Precision Prevention applies a similar strategy to preventing the disease, namely that preventing cancer is not a one-size-fits-all feat but rather, a process that should be custom-tailored to the individual patient. Though this precision has most often been applied to treating cancer patients, there is increasing interest in applying these same principles to prevent cancer from ever forming. Precision prevention imagines a world where you and your doctor can devise an action plan that utilizes your own biological, epidemiological, behavioral, and socioeconomic characteristics to stop cancer before it starts.
Opinion: Can Obama’s Plan Cure Cancer? Shooting the moon one patient at a time (2017)
While no one bemoans having more funding in the field, cancer researchers are concerned about the rhetoric used to describe this new national effort. The moonshot analogy wrongly assumes that by reaching one specific end point, discovery, or treatment, we will get to a solution that will “cure cancer once and for all.” Unfortunately, years of research show us that this is not the case. Every tumor is different and often requires treatment specifically tailored to each individual. This means that every patient has his or her own moon that must be colonized and conquered. There is not one, but many, many moons to reach.
Guardians of the genome (2015)
Piece written for the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing as coverage of the ScienceWriters 2015 conference.
Termed “ultraconserved elements” or UCEs, portions of the genome have remained unchanged for 300 to 500 million years, appearing in the same state across multiple animal species—from humans to dinosaurs to platypuses. Their purpose has puzzled geneticists ever since a paper in Science first reported their existence in 2004. While the science in this field is still young, Dr. Ting Wu believes that unlocking how these unchanging DNA elements work could allow scientists to harness this natural process for good.
Reproduce or Bust?!: Bringing Reproducibility Back to Center Stage (2015)
Reproducibility in science is not very sexy. Because our scientific culture generally rewards innovation over cautiousness, replicating a study conducted by others will not get a researcher a publication in a high-end journal, a splashy headline in a newspaper, or a large funding grant from the government. In fact, only an estimated 0.15% of all published results are direct replications of previous studies . We tend to take published studies at face value, assuming that the data and conclusions presented are accurate. Then we build upon these studies, using them to generate new hypotheses, new experimental designs, and new clinical trials, in a cycle that repeats over and over again.
Blocking the Brakes: Helping Your Immune System Battle Cancer (2014)
There’s been a lot of buzz recently about cancer immunotherapy, including its selection as Science Magazine’s 2013 Breakthrough of the Year. Immunotherapy has introduced a new class of drugs that harness your immune system’s ability to fight off cancer cells. While traditional cancer drugs act by directly attacking cancer cells, immunotherapies instead stimulate your immune cells to kill the cancer themselves. Immunotherapy has been gaining traction in recent years as a promising new answer to cancers such as melanoma.