Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Learning About "Drugs 'n Money"

Today was another busy, busy day. We had a guest lecturer visit us today, Dr. Stephen Kron. He told us about "Drugs 'n Money" (that's literally what the title was). He's the Professor of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology here at UChicago.

He talked about the Hype Cycle of Innovation (which he said would be good to remember for the rest of our lives), the development and selling of drugs and how much money goes to that, biologic drugs (such as insulin), the Orphan Drug Act, off-target effects, and how much money goes into cancer treatment per month ($10,000 to $20,000).

There were so many things I found interesting in his lecture. One piece of information he told us was that the FDA is payed by drug companies!!! How is that possible?! Dr. Kron compared it to a defender in court paying for his own judge.

I also found drug repurposing or repositioning interesting. This is something companies do when they make a drug for a certain target but find it has a side effect that would be more beneficial (read: find a side effect that works better than the drug's intended use, which will increase their profits). I understand why they'd do that. If I spent a billion dollars in developing a drug, I'd want to make as much money as possible, too.

Dr. Kron ended his lecture by asking us to choose one of four options of what we think we should do in the state of our medicine business. He left us with this question: Should we eliminate medicine as a business?

Our class has been discussing it ever since. I'll write  more about it once I'm sure of my argument (we might have an assignment on our opinion). I love how everyone in the class was so involved in the discussions that followed! Though there was a lot of economics that were being discussed, I still enjoyed our discussions.

After discussing, we went to the lab to count the number of plaques that formed on our tryptone soft agar plate and calculated the class averages. I went to lunch with classmates and other students.

We went back to class, discussed the question Dr. Kron asked us, and discussed the two articles we had to read the other night, "Superweeds" and "Transgenics: a New Breed of Crops." We talked about GMOs and the stigma they have with consumers, gene guns (guns that have gold nanopellets coated with DNA. This was one way people used to incorporate DNA into genomes), the EPSPS gene (tolerates herbicide resistance), TALENs (transcription activator-like effector nucleases), amd ZFNs (zinc-finger nucleases that introduce single-nucleotide changes that make new traits). 

I really liked the "Superweeds" assignment. The article talked about superweeds, weeds that have become resistant to one of the major weed killers, glyphosate. Glyphosate actually "attacks anything green," but the crops that farmers want to keep, like corn, cotton, and soybeans are glyphosate-resistant. However, now that weeds have become resistant, people are scrambling to find another way to go about planting. The article stated that we, humans, are the cause for the weeds' resistance. Like antibiotics, we abused fertilizers and pesticides so much that in this case, the weeds have become immune. The article also stated that, like antibiotics, if we had used more than just one herbicide, we wouldn't be in our situation. 

Though the "Superweeds" article was interesting, it was so depressing! It talked about how there's a new species of superweeds at the rate of one species per year. There was also a part that speculated if this is "a reminder of the futility of attempting to outrun evolution". It's sad because, though we thought we were improving and developing from these plants, it led to us reverting back to our old-fashioned ways of farming. In fact, a quote at the end of the article wondered if there was even a benefit or use to all that we've been doing when conventional methods have proven to be better. Will we go back to our old ways? I highly doubt it.

Lastly, I found the fact that one of the only solutions the article proposed was to use two herbicides together, though they later on list the things wrong with these herbicides. They're considered more toxic and persistent, and one of them, dicamba, has a tendency to drift and settle in neighboring farms (and cause damage). It just seems like we can't win sometimes.

After class was dismissed, I went to the library, did some research for my paper, and headed home to take a nap. I woke up, did some of my research paper, ate dinner, and finished my research paper.

Two things I've learned in the past few hours: 1.)  Chicago sunrises are pretty (yes, I just watched the sun rise). 2.) Friends keep you sane in college (or just life in general)!

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