X-ray Crystallography, Intratumour Heterogeneity, Chronic Pain and Some of the Strange Side Effects of Smoking: The Weekly Translation

weekly translation

Do you need your daily science fix but don’t know what to read?  Is there a question you’ve always thought too ridiculous to ask, but you wish someone would answer?  Well have no fear, the Weekly Translation is here!

Feel free to click on the links if you want to find out more about each topic.


X-ray crystallography is 100 years old!  To celebrate, Nature have written a really interesting feature on the technique, highlighting it’s most prominent historical moments, some of the science behind the equipment, and the role of women in crystallography (to name just a few!).  To check out the whole range of posts, click here.


Emergence of therapy-resistant disease, after initially effective treatment, is ultimately what kills many cancer patients – particularly in cancers like glioblastoma, the most common adult brain tumour. It is the development of drug-resistant cancer cells that leads to disease progression and mortality in patients. Intratumour heterogeneity (differences between different parts of the same tumour) is thought to contribute significantly to the development of drug-resistant cancer strains, as anti-cancer therapy introduces selection pressures for the survival of therapy-resistant parts of the cancer. This kind of selection is reflective of Darwinian evolution.

Intratumour heterogeneity has been described as ‘Oncology’s Dirty Little Secret’, as it’s much easier to think about cancers as being homogeneous masses with regard to targeting therapies against them – but the secret is finally out! I’d particularly recommend the Colin Watts paper on the subject in gliobastoma and the Charlie Swanton paper on renal cancer (the latter is very complex indeed). I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting both authors over the past couple of weeks, and their reputations as world-leading cancer researchers are certainly well-deserved!


Chronic pain is a condition that is caused by the bodies pain response continuing to produce signals after the original painful stimulus is removed and the response is no longer helpful. New research at John Hopkins University looking at pain response in mice has found that uninjured areas of the body were also more sensitive to stimuli in Chronic pain conditions, and that both TRPV1 and serotonin are both required to carry out the long-term triggering of the nerve bundles effected. It is hoped that this research will help in finding a cure for this currently debilitating and costly condition.


Answering one of life’s great mysteries- Why does smoking sometimes make you need to poop?

Hopefully I’m not alone in wondering this, but the “suggestions” bar on Google search reassured me that this question is in dire need of a scientific shakedown. So lets cut the shit and cut to the shit;
Inhalation of smoke from cigarettes results in the deposition of numerous compounds into your bloodstream, as the lungs act as a exchange surface between your internal and external environments. In this case the uptake of nicotine into the bloodstream results in systemic effects throughout the body, as the receptors it binds are commonplace in numerous tissues, these receptors called nicotinic and muscarinic acetylcholine receptors are found concentrated in the central and peripheral nervous system, and act to produces positive stimuli – contributing to addiction.
Nevertheless when this uninvited receptor agonist reaches neurons of the internal anal sphincter it binds to and stimulates muscarinic acetlycholine receptors which in turn stimulates nitric-oxide containing neurons. Nitric oxide (NO) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that acts to promote relaxation of the smooth muscle that comprises your internal anal sphincter (lovely). Interestingly it is Calcium ions that control the contraction of muscle, nitric oxide reduces intracellular calcium in the anal sphincter using a molecule called cyclic guanosine mono-phosphate (cGMP), although at the moment the mechanism for how this occurs is just a theory. Relaxation of the anal sphincter acts is “strongly indicative” of needing to poo, and so there you have it!
To read the whole article click here.


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