Eloise Mikkonen

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Fraudulent Websites targeting scientists and patients – Be wary out there!

It still continues to surprise me the way in which crowdfunding ventures are successful. Complete strangers supporting each other with a big leap of faith. The importance is not lost on me, I am eternally grateful that I jumped in the deep end and took on the adventure of funding my own research in this way – and even more so for the support that I received. But I thought I’d write this blogpost with a sense of warning about the possible dangers than one can come across in this age of the internet of things.

Since publishing in easily accessible open access journals online (which is highly encouraged nowadays to enable the visibility and sharing of research), I have been bombarded with a plethora of emails from editors of journals requesting that I publish with them because of my ‘esteemed knowledge and expertise’ on such-and-such a topic. There have been many instances of fraud and dodgy journals acting in despicable manners on the interwebs, and whilst I haven’t fallen victim to any (as yet), I think it’s important to point out the possibility and the variety of ways they can act with a few examples.

I was recently requested to participate as a speaker in a conference in the US. While this is an enormous honour for an early stage researcher, I was a little wary because of almost falling for an earlier trap to write a comment article on our recently published works that turned out to be a predatory journal (they take your paper, make you pay for it to be published, then don’t submit it to peer-review, and sometimes don’t even publish it! The catch being that you cannot then re-publish it anywhere else). So I did a bit of background research – they had a legitimate website set up, with a couple of well-known speakers, and it in all honesty looked pretty sound. But one last check I thought I’d try. I noticed a highly esteemed Professor listed as a speaker on the website. So I emailed him and asked whether he was due to talk at this conference. He responded that he was not at all involved (alarmingly he didn’t respond when I said that this website has him listed as a speaker and is probably using his name on some level of fraud to convince others to join). So the whole thing was a ruse to get researchers to sign up, pay registration fees (usually quite large sums), and probably hotel fees through the site’s own hotel booking system. A scam.

A more lighthearted experience I had was when I was requested to write a paper for a journal called the “Annals of Surgery and Perioperative Care”. Due to my experience in the field, I was requested to write a manuscript to submit for a “Special Issue on Autopsy” dealing with “recent advancements and challenges in treating Autopsy.” Yes, you read that right, apparently there’s treatments for death out there…

But there are more sinister acting individuals out there. I can’t remember how I came across this one, but surfing the web one day I came across a site for Memory Repair Protocol. Considering I walk in the field of Alzheimer’s and dementia, to suddenly come across a site claiming cures for these diseases, my alarm bells were clanging already before I was quarter of the way down the page (it’s a very long page). But I read on, because I thought perhaps they had some solid arguments for their theories. I will admit I used about half an hour to read through the site and do a little hunting further to determine the legitimacy of their supposed cure of dementia. What worried me was that many, many people had not. Reading through the comments on their website and also reviews on other websites, I was alarmed at the number of people that bought (paid actual money!) for something that they didn’t really know much about, save the legit-looking website. Only a few people (presumably the site moderators had deleted the majority of these ‘questionable’ messages) commented that in their hunt for actual published articles from the supposed professional attached to the studies they had found none! Another scam, but a much more serious one considering they prey on those in desperate need of a cure from a horrible disease.

So a word of warning to all out there – be wary of the danger of internet scams no matter how legit they may seem! Until next time!

New research: Just how common are Human Herpes Viruses?

Some of you may have read about my previous research into the Herpes simplex virus and its possible involvement in Alzheimer’s disease. Further from this, my collaborators in Umeå Sweden and I recently had our latest paper published, so I thought I’d share our findings with you.

It is important to know the incidence, or numbers of infected individuals, of any infection-causing agent (bacteria, viruses etc.) for the purpose of understanding whether certain behaviours or actions increase or decrease numbers, and how these infections can be prevented or treated.

For viruses such as the Herpes simplex virus (HSV), which is relatively harmless, generally causing only blisters on the face, usually around the lips, this might seem rather unnecessary. But HSV can also cause genital herpes (usually HSV type 2, but not unheard of for type 1), be harmful to immune-compromised individuals such as the very young or old, and may sometimes result in a severe disease known as Herpesviral encephalitis, which can be fatal. Most surprising about this virus is that fairly often people may not even know they are infected, showing no symptoms at all, but still capable of passing on the disease.

We chose to look at the group of Human Herpes Viruses (HHV) that follow a cycle of primary infection, then a latency period, which is interrupted by reactivation periods. This group of viruses include Herpes simplex viruses type 1 (cold sores) and 2 (genital herpes), Varicella zoster virus (VZV, which causes chicken pox), Cytomegalovirus (CMV), and Human herpesvirus 6 (HHV6, which causes sixth disease – named so because it is the sixth of a number of rash-causing diseases usually developing in childhood). It is not known what causes the reactivation of these diseases, although certain immune system stressors can cause these. I myself had a reactivated case of Varicella (Shingles) during pregnancy with my second child.

So what did we find? If you read the results section of the abstract, you’ll find we found the following: 79.4% had antibodies (proving infection had occurred at some time) against HSV1, 12.9% for HSV2, 97.9% for VZV, 83.2% against CMV, and 97.5% had antibodies against HHV6 in the studied population (which were Swedes from Umeå). This means that generally the results were in line with similar population studies around the world. There was a higher chance of women having had infections than men, and the occurrence of HSV has dropped compared to earlier, possibly by reduced risks of contracting the disease, through awareness or effective treatments reducing exposure of contaminated bodily fluids (think of all the cold sore drugs on the market nowadays).

Whilst our paper doesn’t offer any radical new theories or propose new treatment methods or therapies, it is important to investigate and share this data of numbers of infected individuals of various diseases. Whether the Herpes simplex virus and Alzheimer’s disease connection is a real one is still under debate, however it is interesting to note that the incidence of both have been declining.

The paper has been published as an open access article, which means you can download and read it for free (see the link above). Enjoy!

Why crowdfunding is a good option for my research

About the author: Eloise specialises in utilising immunohistochemical, genotyping techniques and statistics to identify associative risks for Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology from a large population-based brain cohort. Eloise crowdfunded her research on Crowd.Science

Product vs Knowledge

Last month I attended a seminar for researchers in Finland to find new sources of funding. One thing that struck me as worrying is that the majority of the options heavily suggested you should have a product, or a service to offer, as a means to an end for justifying your research goal. Now I didn’t become a scientist to make money, or for fame and glory, I did it because it’s something I love, and I have a passion for trying to understand how life works around us.

To attend a Researchers seminar and be told that we need to offer a service or product as part of our initial goal in research is a bit bonkers in my opinion! I mean, I would love to one day be able to cure Alzheimer’s disease, but in reality I’d just be happy to be part of the bigger picture that leads to understanding the disease. Given these options, I was a bit disillusioned about my future funding prospects, and have spent many moments over the past year thinking about changing my methods in acquiring funding.

Grant Writing Takes Time

As I’ve already mentioned, grant writing takes up a lot of time. Funding agencies tend to give out a few pots of really big amounts, which has left a rather skewed system for the average researcher. Not only do you have to know exactly how to sum up your research in a precise way specific for a given funding organisation, you have to think about things like are your collaborators impressive enough, what techniques do you use, are they modern enough? Is your boss high enough in the field that you will get support no matter what crap you write? Your research may very well be an important stepping stone in its field, but if you can’t tick all these additional target boxes, you may as well forget about your career/research. And without feedback, you can’t possibly know where it is you’re going wrong. I published two papers last year – one as a first author, which usually means you did most of the work, and one as last author, which generally suggests you were the main director of the research. I got no funding from that. Let me just clarify, writing papers is a lot of work! Now of course there are issues of impact factor and article metrics (which I’ll need another blog post to discuss in detail), but wouldn’t it be more logical to reduce the amounts given to researchers, and share it between more individuals?

Research doesn’t have to be expensive

Some research is expensive, but most of what I currently do is manageable on just my monthly salary or funding. I believe it could be much more logical to provide standard salaries to researchers, shared across more researchers, and a larger separate pot for funding the expensive reagents and services that some research requires. Don’t get me wrong, spending so much time on an application, it would be nice to get a big payout, but I think it’s the wrong way to go about it and the poor success rate of funding applications really highlights that changes need to be made.

Modest amounts frequently is enough

These problems are in part why I chose to try crowdfunding my research. I don’t need much, I just want to do what I love and enjoy. This is part of my re-thinking how to fund my research. Smaller amounts, more frequently. Of course this has to depend on your success rate, for which crowdfunding can become very personal.

The emotional side of a disease like Alzheimer’s is therefore a beneficial element when it comes to people understanding the implications of what you do. Writing all these (approximately 20 a year) applications and not having any feedback or success is enough to make anyone want to give up their career in science. But convincing the general public that my research is necessary, that was something I was willing to try.

I’ve discussed in a previous post about how much work running a crowdfunding campaign actually is, but it is also a lot of fun, and as an added bonus, it was a lot more successful than the majority of my grant applications have been!

A year on – recap & meeting my crowdfunders

Eloise specialises in utilising immunohistochemical, genotyping techniques and statistics to identify associative risks for Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology from a large population-based brain cohort.

Almost a year ago I released my crowdfunding campaign to collect funds to carry out my research into Alzheimer’s disease. 66 backers from 8 different countries supported me to continue my research for two months. That got me through some tough times last year, and I’m proud to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I am no longer wary about talking with everyday people regarding my research.

What was especially encouraging was meeting some of my crowdfunders. I gave a seminar late last year, which was attended mostly by family members, and friends and family have inquired how much my research is progressing through normal discussions about daily life. Surprisingly, the majority of my backers did not want anything for their support, apart from the knowledge that they were helping me out. This was quite a shock to me, but has led me to believe I should make the effort to be open about what I do, because to the general public what I do might seem daunting.

I had the very special experience in early Autumn last year to meet some of my crowdfunders in person, and show them around the laboratories. We sat down for almost 2 hours in total and enjoyed a discussion of my research, their queries about Alzheimer’s disease, and some common problems with research on Alzheimer’s disease. It was a pleasant meeting and I was humbled by their interest and encouragement, and at how my campaign had appealed to them.

One year on from my campaign, I have released two publications, below are the links to the abstracts:

  1. Beer Drinking Associates with Lower Burden of Amyloid Beta Aggregation in the Brain: Helsinki Sudden Death Series.
  2. HSV presence in brains of individuals without dementia: the TASTY brain series

I also have a further one under review with my collaborators in Sweden.

I was also requested to write a special piece for a Finnish journal, and currently my funding situation is comfortable until after the summer. I am waiting to hear back on my personal funding applications over the next couple of months, but it’s inspiring to know that I have my colleagues, collaborators, funders, friends, and family around to support me if things get bad again in the future.

I have many new topics that have become interesting to me, and hopefully I will be able to get started on these and share some insight on them in the coming months as I take more confident steps into my career as an academic researcher. One of the topics is the (much neglected) connection between cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s and I will be continuing investigations into Herpes simplex as a pathogenic agent in AD.

Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my crowdfunding supporters for their belief in my research, and me as a researcher.

Until next time!

Other blogs from Eloise:

Could getting a cold sore increase risk of Alzheimer’s?

Painful Science – getting published is tough!

Should scientists learn to pitch?

Surprising findings for beer and Alzheimer’s related brain lesion

My science crowdfunding experience

Could getting a cold sore increase risk of Alzheimer’s?

close up. beautiful lips virus infected herpes

Herpes in the brain?

On the back of a very successful (at least on the scientific side of things) year in research, I’ve recently had another article published. Not as fanciful as beer staving off Alzheimer’s disease, but something that has been popping up on news sites all over the world over the past couple of years. That is, an infectious agent causing Alzheimer’s disease – namely the Herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV1 (type 1) generally causes the common coldsore that appears on your face, most often your lips. Another type of the same virus (HSV2) is known to cause genital herpes. Approximately 80-90% of the population are affected with HSV1, and once you get it, it doesn’t go away (it just hides in your nerve cells).

I got interested in this topic a few years back when I came across a paper that showed amyloid beta (Aβ) aggregations (the sticky clumps of protein known as senile plaques that are thought to be a major cause of Alzheimer’s disease) were clumped together at the same location in brain tissue as HSV. Now this doesn’t really answer the question of cause or effect, so I thought I could look at this virus in my brain tissue samples and perhaps be able to see what would come first – virus or brain lesions.

After teaming up with some researchers at Umeå University in Sweden, who have a good detection system set up for analysing HSV, we moved ahead and analysed whether we could find HSV in the TASTY series (one of the brain collections I use). We had 584 individuals’ brain tissue for analysis and found 11 (1.9%) that were positive for HSV in the brain. Of those 11, 6 had Aβ aggregations (~55%). There were also a large proportion of individuals that didn’t have HSV in the brain, but did have brain lesions (160 cases, ~30%).

HSV first infection is usually in childhood, and the youngest age of the cases with HSV in the brain was 43, so this suggests that it happens later on. At least it’s after the initial plaques that appear in the brain (around 30 years). It doesn’t completely discredit the idea that HSV could cause AD, but the fact that so many individuals (160) had brain lesions but no HSV in the brain, suggests something else causes the brain lesions. Although HSV could potentially make things worse. Because we had so few cases with HSV in brain, we can’t really make any assessments on when it is likely to enter the brain – that’s something for our future research! Of course our previous work has shown that the brain lesions already appear around age 30, suggesting that if these are the cause of the disease, it’s starting quite a lot earlier than previously thought. This then strongly suggests that the development of brain lesions is caused by something else, not HSV.

The most significant finding of our study was that there were individuals that had HSV in their brains. That they weren’t suffering from the rare deadly brain infection known as Herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE). They had no symptoms that would suggest HSV was present in their brain tissue. This study was the largest of its kind showing HSV can get into the brain without showing symptoms. Our next step will be to identify exactly which brain region it is found in, and map the potential route for entrance by HSV. It will also be important to identify what triggers the ability of HSV to gain access to the brain of some people, but not others?

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As age increases, you can see a decrease in the percentage of those without brain lesions (No neuropathology, clear bars), and a corresponding increase in those with senile plaques (Aβ aggregations, light grey shaded bars), tangles (NFT, darker grey shaded bars), both combined brain lesions (Aβ & NFT, darker patterned grey bars), Alzheimer’s disease (AD, solid line) and HSV in the brain (HSV DNA positivity, dashed line).

Compared to other studies investigating Alzheimer’s disease patients and controls, which numbered generally under 50 individuals, our study found a very low incidence of HSV in brain tissue. Other studies suggest anywhere from 20 up to 100% of controls (that is non-demented people) have HSV in the brain. It might be that our study criteria was too strict, but even if we included all slightly positive cases, that only equates to a 6% incidence. It is perhaps more likely that our samples are quite old, and were not ‘fresh frozen’ tissues, so we will also perform a similar study on a newer autopsy cohort collected here at the University of Tampere.

So at least for now, you can rest easy that HSV probably isn’t going to cause you to get Alzheimer’s disease. At least that makes me feel better considering during the study and preparation of this manuscript I had about 6 outbreaks of coldsores!!! The paper was published as open access, meaning you can read the whole pdf of the article here: http://dmm.biologists.org/content/9/11/1349

Enjoy!

Painful Science – getting published is tough!

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Eloise tweets @DrEllaOfScience

I thought it would be important to point out a few of the struggles related to being a researcher, and how exhausting some aspects can be. I’m pretty sure many have written about the pains of writing grant applications and how the majority of your submissions are rejected (the national Academy of Finland had just 11% funded from last year’s postdoctoral researcher call). It’s a sad state in reality, but that’s not even the worst of it.

If you are successfully funded, or still trying to publish without funding, there’s an aspect behind it all that is unknown to most of the general population. Publishing your work. It’s not simply a matter of finalising the experiments, analysing the results, writing up your work and bam! New publication added to your list. Noooooooo. Far from it. At least in my experience anyway. I’ve had 7 publications in total. That’s not really a lot compared to many, but 5 of them I’ve been the corresponding author, which means I have the responsibility of checking everything before sending it off to the editors of various journals.

It all starts with thinking about where you want to publish. Go for a high impact factor journal? Impressive on the CV, but can be a lot of work. Open access? Can cost THOUSANDS of euros (at least in the realm of €2000-€3000). Then there’s the topic and scope of the article and journal itself to consider. Lots of things to think about. This is followed by formatting the manuscript text to the chosen journal’s guidelines and then filling in all the forms in the online submission regarding what the article encompasses, and topics covered, suggested reviewers (and reviewers you don’t want to see your work – for various reasons such as they are competitors or you know they have a disagreement with your work), as well as mundane things such as word count and picture files (which need to be of a certain high quality, but not too high initially that they take forever for the reviewers to download).

Submit! And….wait. Reviewers can take anywhere between a couple of weeks and months. Depending on the journal, and the prestige behind reviewers who are well known in particular fields and chosen for their expertise, you can be waiting a long time. Or, as usually happens to me, you get a response from the editors a couple of days later announcing they aren’t interested in your work, or it isn’t broad/specific enough for their journal scope, or “we have so many submissions we can only accept a few,” bla bla bla.

Then, it starts again. Choose a new journal, reformat the entire thing for the new guidelines, which can involve redoing images, reformatting reference lists, reordering parts of the manuscript and different requirements for what should be included in the materials and methods etc… and then submit again. Phew! This can happen multiple times. At least it has for me. On average I send a paper through to about 4 journals before it gets reviewed. And even after being reviewed, it can still be rejected or require a heap of additional experiments before being accepted for publication. It can take in the least months to get a paper accepted for publication, or even years.

Talk about painful. But without sharing our work, we don’t get recognition, can’t develop collaborations, can’t get further funding… So, we persist and hopefully, eventually, we’ll succeed and receive the recognition that we deserve. Just thought you all should know it’s not that simple and get as excited as some of us early stage researchers do when we get things published! J

Good luck to all the other researchers getting their work published out there!

Should scientists learn to pitch?

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Innovation and Research Communication Competition

At the beginning of June 2016, I was selected as a finalist in a competition about innovation in scientific research communication. The reason for my nomination was specifically related to my crowdfunding campaign on Walacea and the supposedly novel way I communicated my Alzheimer’s research to the public. The campaign involved a short video which I did in the lab, some written text and offering a few perks to people who supported my work from seminars to a simple postcard. As a result of the campaign I found that people were actually quite curious about my work and interested in what I had to say about it.  Before the campaign I’d assumed that talking about my research with any level of details was likely to be a conversation killer!

The competition  was a fun and enjoyable experience and the winner took home €3000 (which would have been nice). The run up culminated in an online voting system, which I’ll admit I wasn’t prepared for – it involved background work and lots of marketing to my network.  As the only single individual of the 6 finalists (the rest were organisations or collective groups), I was largely doing it on my own which was tough, but I was proud of my efforts and really want to thank my friend Iita for nominating me, the organisers for selecting me, and of course everyone who has supported me throughout the whole (crowdfunding) ordeal! I came runner up out of the 6 finalists which is a a great achievement for me.

This whole event and the social and research aspects of the concept of research communication were very new to me. I took on crowdfunding as a means to acquire financial support and continue the research I enjoy, and learnt the basics as I went. The further on in my campaign, the more I realised what was at stake,  what was required and that more effort lead to more financial support.  In addition good communication was vital! The campaign also gave me a broader view on things that go wrong in science and how engaging the public is a useful and important part of being a scientist.

So, should scientists pitch for funding?

Startup @ Reeperbahnfestival

During the Competition day, I took part in a workshop on the ABC in Pitching. In science, this is not a particularly strong point of interest. People give presentations on their work at conferences and seminars, and some also lecture to students or teach laboratory groups. They usually involve one topic and range in time from 20 minutes up to an hour or more. Plenty of time to get around to what you want to say, and also on the odd occasion to bore people’s pants off.

Pitching is what I imagined entrepreneurs do to get funding to support their business idea and get it off the ground. Wait. Those essential elements are what we as scientists are trying to do. Once you get the ball rolling with support and publications, then things usually take on (to some degree) a life of their own. But in the beginning, you have to put in the hard work.

I now realise more than ever that pitching should be an integral part of a scientist’s every day means. ‘Elevator pitches’ should be the correct way to grab the attention of funding agencies as well as members of the public through crowdfunding and make them interested enough to read on, ask questions and hopefully potentially fund you.  Entrepreneurs would never send a full business plan to a potential investor from the gecko, they send pitch decks, executive summaries and arrange meetings and events…this system works for business so just maybe it could work for science and save everyone lots of time in terms of writing and reading grant proposals?! And infact, this is the system that crowdfunding is using where scientists can create a 5 minute video pitch about their work than a more detailed explanation of what they plan to do.  It worked for my campaign and perhaps with even more pitch practice next time it could work out even better!

Are women taking the helm in Science Communication? 

On a side note, at the competition one thing that struck me about the whole event was the gender difference. The majority of the people there either representing the finalists, or listening and at work promoting science, were female. There was a massive majority of women participants – almost to the realm of 90%!

I was surprised and commented on a number of occasions to different individuals, both male and female, and there was a general consensus that others were surprised too. One comment from a fellow (male) contestant was that if women are going to be the face of science, then that would be okay by him. Is it the age where we start making science sexy too, I wonder? Although that thought shocks me a bit and some of the kit we wear may need a bit of design work…

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I wondered whether this was just a product of the fact this competition was held in Finland with primarily Finnish participants, or whether science communication is primarily undertaken by women throughout the world. A quick google of the topic seems to suggest that “women are more suited to communicating due to their natural style of communication,” thus indicating that perhaps it is not a phenomenon known only to Finland.

In any case, I must admit that I myself have found a fair amount of satisfaction and pleasure in sharing my research and also my experiences through my crowdfunding campaign, radio, magazine, newspaper and tv interviews, as well as this blog, and the continual contact I keep with my supporters and followers. I hope that I continue to be as well received! Thanks for tuning in again!

 

Surprising findings for beer and Alzheimer’s related brain lesions

Could beer have some positive effects on the brain and memory? Eloise, who recently crowdfunded on Walacea has just had a manuscript accepted for publication and she explains about her journey to get there and gives us a few insights into her recent taste of the media limelight in Finland

beer-intro

Image: Thinkstock

Can scientists be media personalities?

In keeping with the idea that scientists can also be media personalities, I’ve just received an email to be interviewed for a women’s magazine here in Finland. Yes, it’s true. I’m not really sure of the positive fluffy role model image that I could provide, but they are interested in hearing about my crowdfunding adventure. As a colleague earlier said to me “It’s not bad if a scientist is in the news in a positive light”. Well….ok, I’ll go with it.

But I should backtrack a little. I had my manuscript accepted for publication a while back and this week was the early view publication release. Now, that’s nothing to rejoice at in the world of science – although let’s be fair, I haven’t had an article published in four years, so I’m pretty ecstatic about the whole thing – but I believed the concept would appeal to the general population, so thought I’d jump on the bandwagon of press release accompanying research method.

beerandlesionsmanuscript

Well…it certainly has appealed to the public. An article on the University’s website (coupled with an English version – these guys are really getting to know me now!), plus an article in the local paper. Not to sound too arrogant or anything, but that’s kinda THE DREAM….for a scientist. To get your research read by every day people thinking you’re on the way to a cure for such and such a disease. Because let’s be honest, as scientists we all believe our research is finding the ultimate answer to this or that.

I do know however, how the media take your results and rewrite them the way that makes it seem like you HAVE found the cure. Boy have they done that. How many times do we have to read about the next ‘cure for cancer’ or something? Well that’s kind of what they did with my research. But I’m still excited about it, and if you’re interested in actually hearing more about it from my perspective rather than the media’s, I’ll attempt to explain the research itself and the implications.

I was given an older autopsy series to work with on this topic, (compared to the one I usually work with) which had brain lesion data (information about whether the individual had amyloid beta aggregations or plaques) and alcohol consumption data. Amyloid beta aggregations are thought to be the cause behind Alzheimer’s disease. The protein accumulates in clumps and is believed to cause the death of neutrons, which leads to the associated memory loss. The alcohol consumption information involved types of alcohol drunk and an estimate of how much (note this is retrospective data, which is less strong than data collected in real time). The alcohol data came from relatives of the deceased, so to be fair, it’s not entirely rock-solid info. However, it’s interesting enough to show some insight into how these people lived. You’d be amazed at how much you can divulge on a person’s habits when you really think about it.

One final point is that the cohort is a non-demented cohort, meaning that none of them are cognitively impaired, although some had the brain lesions. This could mean that they would have developed dementia if they had lived longer, or may alternatively suggest that these lesions can occur without dementia and there is something else required to cause Alzheimer’s disease.

beerandlesions

Fig 2 shows that beer drinkers had less than half the amount of amyloid beta-immunoreactivity compared with non-beer drinkers. Amyloid-beta aggregations are strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

I’ll focus on our most interesting results to keep it simple. We measured the amyloid beta aggregations as a dichotomous variable (present or not) and had a look whether any alcohol amounts or types were statistically associated with the brain lesions. In one of those beautiful eureka moments, the statistical program I use (SPSS, in case you’re wondering) spat out a nice significant result. Beer drinkers were less likely to have amyloid beta aggregations in their brains than drinkers of other types of alcohol.

So does that mean beer is good for you?

Yes, it is possible that beer could be good for you! But before we go jumping to extravagant conclusions, let me bring you back down to the ground. This was quite a small study (125 males – which means the results cannot be assumed to apply automatically to women – sorry ladies!) and when we investigated further it seemed that age had a large part to do with the effect. But this isn’t the end of the story. I have another larger cohort with similar information (with both males and females) where I will look to see if I can find similar results.

Of course it will also be nice to back up our results with a substantial theory as to how and why we found this result. Our thinking is that beer has a number of nutrients that are involved in important mechanisms in keeping cells functioning well. So another step will be to see if we can measure certain metabolites to corroborate our story, of which I’ve made a new collaboration to tackle this topic, through the sharing of my research!

So yeah, beer could potentially be good for your brain. But as I should point out all things should be enjoyed in moderation and a full healthy diet with exercise should be paramount to living a healthy long life!

Read the full article here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acer.13102/abstract

My science crowdfunding experience – by Eloise Mikkonen

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So, I’ve finished my crowdfunding campaign, raised enough money to survive for roughly 1-2 months, and had a whirlwind of an adventure with the press and interviews and competitions! So what’s next?

First of all, let me recap. I had 66 backers, providing me with £3398. Wow. That’s amazing and totally unexpected. But it was a lot of work. I found myself on Facebook and Twitter every day trying to plug something about my campaign. It got very tiring in the end, trying to come up with new ways of saying the same thing…and I’m a native English speaker! But it did pay off in the end, and it’s given me a lot of insight into how science should be presented to the public. I’ll touch on that a bit later in more detail, but suffice to say it has led to this blog!

I also became a sort of local celebrity by appearing on the local tv news. I’ve had parents, teachers, and the manager at my boys’ kindergarten point out they saw me on tv! I’ve also been amazed by the reach of my campaign. There were roughly 25 backers that I did not know – and some of them very generous – from all across the world! I was even approached for an interview by a journalism and science student from the University of Queensland! My friend nominated me, leading to me being selected as a finalist in a National (Finnish) Innovation in Research Communication competition, where I will present my crowdfunding campaign on Friday 3rd June in 6 minutes and be in the running to win €3000 (another month’s funding!!!)! So it has all been very exciting and fun!

To find out people are interested in what I actually do, instead of the usual party line of “I’m a biochemist and I study Alzheimer’s disease.” I feel comfortable now going into details, encouraged by the enthusiasm and questions from people without a science background (and to be fair, also those WITH a science background, but that’s not new to me).

Whilst all this was going on, I’ve managed to get a manuscript published (hear more about that in another blog as it hasn’t officially been published yet), and submit another. I feel like I actually have a career! My boss has also secured some funding, so he can fund me a few months after the summer, which has really made me feel like my research is worth doing – on a broader scale than just me thinking it’s important.

So to summarise, I’ve had to put a lot of hard work into marketing my research. It was difficult, and I had to change my mindset and think of what the general public would be interested in hearing about (as opposed to the grant funding agencies), as well as spam the hell out of all my friends/colleagues and family (sorry everyone!!!) and use a lot of time on social media. But, it was worth it. I had a blast, and it has encouraged me to take my research to the public on a more regular occurrence. I’ve started this blog, and if things look a bit dire in the future, perhaps I’d even approach a crowdfunding campaign again. Who knows? At least one thing I’ve learned…it’s not a bad thing for a scientist to engage the public!

Thank you and until next time!

You can view Eloise’s crowdfunding campaign page here.

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