#Scijack: Co-opting Twitter for Science Communication

Author: Ada Hagan

Editors: Whit Froehlich, Scott Barolo, and Irene Park

I doubt Dr. Shaena Montanari ever thought that a single Twitter conversation would earn her 3,000 new followers (1,000 within two hours) and help launch a new hashtag. But that’s what happened when she replied to a political tweet that mentioned velociraptors.

fig1 - scijackSource

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Analyzing without Lysing: Non-Damaging Techniques for Monitoring Cells

Author: Sarah Kearns

Editors: Whit Froehlich, Ada Hagan, and Irene Park

The interior of a cell is inherently complex with a myriad of processes going on all at once. Despite the clean images that are commonly shown in diagrams and textbooks, the parts inside are more of a whirlwind of structural components, proteins, and products (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Left is a cartoon image of a whole cell highlighting the different organelles (cellular compartments). Right is a computer simulation of the cytoplasm, the fluid between organelles. There are thousands of chemical processes going on within it.

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Conversations about Science Writing: Kara Gavin

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Photo courtesy of Kara Gavin

For the first in our series “Conversations about Science Writing,” MiSciWriters editor-in-chief Irene Park chatted with Kara Gavin, a lead Public Relations representative for the Michigan Medicine and the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. Irene asked Kara some questions about her experiences that led to her current position and whether she has any tips for new, budding science writers.

The transcript is lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

MSW: Could you describe your current position?

KG: I am one of seven writers on the staff at the Michigan Medicine Department of Communication. I find and tell stories about research for a very broad audience to internal and external worlds – about the research going on in medical school labs.

I’ve been at the University for almost 18 years. When I first started, there was not a lot of research coverage. It was very much hospital PR [public relations] with very little research news. Over time, we noticed that we could get so much more attention with research news than clinical news. So it became more about finding stories about research and translating them into stories to represent the institution.

The advance of social media means that everything we produce reaches many audiences. We are always looking for reporters to get interested in the research we write about, so there is a media relations function still. Now, everything I write goes up the University of Michigan Health Lab blog. The blog was created last year as a platform for sharing not only research news but reflections on science and society and Q&A’s with researchers.

My job is equal parts writing, connecting reporters with our experts, and cultivating future stories by giving talks. I give several talks a month: teaching researchers how to use Twitter as professionals, or why they should engage in the PR process.

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Trash Talk

Author: Sara Wong

Editors: Sarah Kearns, Ellyn Schinke, and Shweta Ramdas

Taking out the trash is a despised chore. It’s smelly and heavy, and you have to get off the comfortable couch, put on shoes, and take it all the way to the curb. Yet, we do it because we understand that it is important for the health of our homes and neighborhood, and taking out the trash is better than leaving it in the house.

What you might not realize is that your cells also have to take out the trash. In fact, defects in this process often lead to disease. One example is Niemann-Pick disease, which in severe cases causes death in early childhood. Neimann-Pick disease is caused by defective lysosomes, the trash bins of the cell. In order to understand diseases like Niemann-Pick disease, we must first understand lysosomes.

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Can Patients with Early-Stage Breast Cancer Skip Chemotherapy?

Author: Lei Wan

Editors: Whit Froehlich and Shweta Ramdas

My mom was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. She had early-stage breast cancer: tumor size of less than five centimeters, fewer than three cancer-positive lymph nodes in the armpit region, and no cancer-positive lymph nodes nearby. But hers was also an aggressive type of cancer. At the time, I was a graduate student in the States and my parents lived in China, so we talked on the phone every two days about the progress of her treatment. She received surgery, radiation, a tailored drug treatment, and chemotherapy. My mom is tough and stubborn. Most of the time she just mentioned the good news that the cancer had been eliminated. Occasionally, she would say that her life was changed by the cancer treatment: for example, she had to quit her job.

I was shocked by my mom’s diagnosis. She is always physically active and mostly eats vegetables. I barely recognized her after the chemotherapy. She had lost 30 pounds and all of her hair, her skin was pale, and her nails were purple. Her face was unrecognizable because of the weight and hair loss, and she looked almost 20 years older.

My mom is cancer-free now, but she is not the same person that she was. Her appetite is half of what it was before, and she cannot lift heavy things. As a graduate student studying cancer biology, I had learned that chemotherapy would cause side effects like the ones I saw in my mom, including hair loss, vomiting, and nail loss. However, until my mom’s physical appearance and life were transformed by chemotherapy, I didn’t realize the magnitude of its impact on patients. Looking at my mom, I wish that we had better options for patients with early-stage breast cancer so they don’t have to suffer these devastating side effects.

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