Study finds why some cancer drugs may be ineffective

Jeanette Sanchez in Phys.Org:

In the study, investigators reported the extensive presence of mouse viruses in patient-derived xenografts (PDX). PDX models are developed by implanting human tumor tissues in immune-deficient mice, and are commonly used to help test and develop .

“What we found is that when you put a human tumor in a mouse, that tumor is not the same as the tumor that was in the ,” said W. Jim Zheng, Ph.D., professor at the School of Biomedical Informatics and senior author on the study. “The majority of tumors we tested were compromised by mouse viruses.” Using a data-driven approach, researchers analyzed 184  generated from sequencing PDX samples. Of the 184 samples, 170 showed the presence of mouse viruses. The infection is associated with significant changes in tumors, and Zheng says that could affect PDX as a drug testing model for humans.

“When scientists are looking for a way to kill a tumor using the PDX model, they assume the tumor in the mouse is the same as cancer patients, but they are not. It makes the results of a cancer drug look promising when you think the medication kills the tumor—but in reality, it will not work in human trial, as the medication kills the virus-compromised tumor in mouse,” Zheng said.

More here.

Are Some Virtues Casualties of Progress?

George Scialabba at Commonweal:

According to the late Christopher Lasch, the advent of mass production and the new relations of authority it introduced in every sphere of social life wrought a fateful change in the prevailing American character. Psychological maturation—as Lasch, relying on Freud, explicated it—depended crucially on face-to-face relations, on a rhythm and a scale that industrialism disrupted. The result was a weakened, malleable self, more easily regimented than its pre-industrial forebear, less able to withstand conformist pressures and bureaucratic manipulation—the antithesis of the rugged individualism that had undergirded the republican virtues.

In an important recent book, The Age of Acquiescence, the historian Steve Fraser deploys a similar argument to explain why, in contrast with the first Gilded Age, when America was wracked by furious anti-capitalist resistance, popular response in our time to the depredations of capitalism has been so feeble.

more here.

The Musical Human: A History of Life on Earth

Mathew Lyons at Literary Review:

The first note known to have sounded on earth was an E natural. It was produced some 165 million years ago by a katydid (a kind of cricket) rubbing its wings together, a fact deduced by scientists from the remains of one of these insects, preserved in amber. Consider, too, the love life of the mosquito. When a male mosquito wishes to attract a mate, his wings buzz at a frequency of 600Hz, which is the equivalent of D natural. The normal pitch of the female’s wings is 400Hz, or G natural. Just prior to sex, however, male and female harmonise at 1200Hz, which is, as Michael Spitzer notes in his extraordinary new book, The Musical Human, ‘an ecstatic octave above the male’s D’. ‘Everything we sing’, Spitzer adds, ‘is just a footnote to that.’

Humans may be the supremely musical animal, but, with or without us, this is a musical planet. What makes us special? The answer is complex.

more here.

What happens to our cognition in the darkest depths of winter?

Tim Brennen in Psyche:

We tested 100 participants twice on a range of tests: some took them first in summer and then winter, and some in the opposite order. Among the tasks, there was a test of pure speed (‘press this button as quickly as possible as soon as you see a circle in the middle of the screen’); a test of immediate memory for digits; a test of memory for words presented 10 minutes previously; the classic ‘Stroop test’ (that measures mental control); an alertness task; a face-recognition task; a time-estimation task; and a verbal fluency task. Most tests showed no difference in performance between summer and winter, and, of those that did, four out of five actually suggested a winter advantage. The ‘Arctic cognition’ paper, as we called it in 2000, was disseminated over the whole world and had its 15 minutes of fame in newspapers and magazines.

I moved on to other research topics, but last year, now working at the University of Oslo at a mere 59°N, I decided to revisit the science of human seasonality.

More here.

Mathematicians Find a New Class of Digitally Delicate Primes

Steve Nadis in Quanta:

Take a look at the numbers 294,001, 505,447 and 584,141. Notice anything special about them? You may recognize that they’re all prime — evenly divisible only by themselves and 1 — but these particular primes are even more unusual.

If you pick any single digit in any of those numbers and change it, the new number is composite, and hence no longer prime. Change the 1 in 294,001 to a 7, for instance, and the resulting number is divisible by 7; change it to a 9, and it’s divisible by 3.

Such numbers are called “digitally delicate primes,” and they’re a relatively recent mathematical invention. In 1978, the mathematician and prolific problem poser Murray Klamkin wondered if any numbers like this existed. His question got a quick response from one of the most prolific problem solvers of all time, Paul Erdős. He proved not only that they do exist, but also that there are an infinite number of them — a result that holds not just for base 10, but for any number system.

More here.

Biden’s Child Tax Credit as Universal Basic Income

Robert Kuttner in American Prospect:

For several decades, child advocates have tried to bring more public indignation to the scandal of extreme child poverty, and have pushed for the expansion of the Child Tax Credit. In recent years, some progressives have called for something that seemed even more utopian, a universal basic income.

Well, gentle reader, we just got both. And the brilliance is in the details.

The credit, which is really a family allowance run through the IRS, provides $3,000 a year for each child under 18, topped up to $3,600 for kids under six. So a family with three kids gets almost $10,000. As a point of reference, the average income of the bottom 20 percent of American households is about $14,000.

The new Child Tax Credit will cut the rate of child poverty in half, and will raise the total incomes of the bottom fifth of American families by 33 percent. I never expected to see something like this in my lifetime.

More here.

N.H. Pritchard’s ‘The Matrix’

Quinn Latimer at Poetry Magazine:

What is the matrix? Without resorting to pharmaceuticals in various chromatic registers—red, blue—and the versions of paranoid reality such pills might produce, it feels right to recall the ways this concept has been deployed in mediums neither cinematic nor far-right political. In the early 1990s, Kevin Young wrote in an essay about the poet N.H. Pritchard, “The concept of the matrix is that the matrix is the concept, or rather, the paradigm from which the poem gets produced.” That is, the matrix is abstract structure that, as the French literary theorist Michael Riffaterre writes in Semiotics of Poetry (1978), “becomes visible only in its variants, the ungrammaticalities.” For James Edward Smethurst, the matrix is the Black Arts Matrix of the late 20th century, as tracked in “Foreground and Underground: the Left, Nationalism, and the Origins of the Black Arts Matrix,” the first chapter in his treatise The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s (2005).

more here.

Fragonard Up Close

Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine:

What’s so fantastic about seeing these paintings at the Frick Breuer is not only how close you can get to the work, now that it’s not surrounded with furniture and bric-a-brac. In the mansion, the Fragonards are installed — even swaddled and segregated — in a wonderful Rococo drawing room, with attendant panels over doors and next to windows. Here, the work is given pride of place on the fourth floor next to the gigantic trapezoidal window looking out over Madison Avenue. Up close and at eye level, the work is reborn as these huge heraldic thunderous paintings, visually vehement and emotionally commanding. I love them more than I ever have.

The original four pictures show narratives of flirtation, courtship, clandestine meeting, quixotic love, adventurousness, allure gone right and wrong.

more here.

When illness is invisible

Alice Robb in New Spectator:

When the London-based neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan flew to Sweden to visit a sick girl in a small town north-west of Stockholm, the child did not acknowledge her. Not when O’Sullivan entered her bedroom, or when she knelt down to introduce herself, or even when she examined her. Nola (not her real name) wasn’t trying to be rude. It had been more than a year since she had got out of bed, opened her eyes or moved at all. A feeding tube, taped to her cheek, kept her alive.

Yet her vital signs were normal; medical tests found nothing amiss. Nola was suffering from a mystery illness known as “resignation syndrome” that afflicts hundreds of children in Sweden. The first cases were officially documented in the early 2000s: children were falling into a sleep so deep that – for days, weeks, even years – they could not be roused. Whatever their parents tried, they did not respond. If the children were pulled into an upright position, they fell back, limp, like rag dolls. The children were sent to the hospital, where doctors performed every test they could think of. Cat scans and blood tests came back normal. EEGs showed brainwaves that zigged and zagged in a healthy pattern. Blood and urine analyses ruled out the possibility that they had been poisoned. The children’s physiology was normal, and their psychology was inaccessible; they were hardly able to fill out Rorschach tests or talk about their past. It was their unique social circumstances that gave clues into their condition. All of the children were refugees, and they had gone to bed during the long process of applying for asylum. When they fell asleep, they were facing deportation to countries they scarcely remembered, where their families had suffered severe trauma.

Nola and her family were members of the persecuted Yazidi minority. When they fled their home in rural Syria, Nola’s mother was facing death threats as a result of being assaulted by four men. They arrived in Sweden when Nola was a toddler – her age was estimated at around two and a half – and were granted temporary residency. (When O’Sullivan met her in 2018, Nola was thought to be about ten.) As their parents embarked on the lengthy journey towards permanent asylum, Nola and her siblings settled happily into their new home, becoming fluent in Swedish and making such close friends that, months after Nola stopped speaking, they continued to visit her at home. It was after receiving the news that their application had been refused – via a letter that Nola and her siblings had to translate for their parents – that she began to withdraw.

More here.

Thursday Poem

In the Bowl of this World

In the bowl of this world
Look at the rose of our passion, my friend

Even if we don’t eat together
Even if we don’t sit together
We can at least dream together, my friend

Even if we don’t drink together
Even if we are strangers
Let us consider the colour of our wine, my friend

The sun is setting on the lanes
The river is almost at my door
Let us examine our restless hearts, my friend

by Rifat Abbas
from Poetry Translation Center

Consciousness Is Just a Feeling

Steve Paulson in Nautilus:

When he was a boy, Mark Solms obsessed over big existential questions. What happens when I die? What makes me who I am? He went on to study neuroscience but soon discovered that neuropsychology had no patience for such open-ended questions about the psyche. So Solms did something unheard of for a budding scientist. He reclaimed Freud as a founding father of neuroscience and launched a new field, neuropsychoanalysis. I reached Solms in Cape Town, South Africa, where he’s stayed during the COVID-19 lockdown. We talked about the brain-mind problem, the biases of neuropsychology and how a family trauma shaped the course of his life.

There are huge debates about the science of consciousness. Explaining the causal connection between brain and mind is one of the most difficult problems in all of science. On the one hand, there are the neurons and synaptic connections in the brain. And then there’s the immaterial world of thinking and feeling. It seems like they exist in two entirely separate domains. How do you approach this problem?

Subjective experience—consciousness—surely is part of nature because we are embodied creatures and we are experiencing subjects. So there are two ways in which you can look on the great problem you’ve just mentioned. You can either say it’s impossibly difficult to imagine how the physical organ becomes the experiencing subject, so they must belong to two different universes and therefore, the subjective experience is incomprehensible and outside of science. But it’s very hard for me to accept a view like that. The alternative is that it must somehow be possible to bridge that divide.

The major point of contention is whether consciousness can be reduced to the laws of physics or biology. The philosopher David Chalmers has speculated that consciousness is a fundamental property of nature that’s not reducible to any laws of nature.

I accept that, except for the word “fundamental.” I argue that consciousness is a property of nature, but it’s not a fundamental property. It’s quite easy to argue that there was a big bang very long ago and long after that, there was an emergence of life. If Chalmers’ view is that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, it must have preceded even the emergence of life. I know there are people who believe that. But as a scientist, when you look at the weight of the evidence, it’s just so much less plausible that there was already some sort of elementary form of consciousness even at the moment of the Big Bang. That’s basically the same as the idea of God. It’s not really grappling with the problem.

More here.