Bay Area students at White House Science Fair

Three Bay Area students’ projects will be among those featured in the White House Science Fair on Monday in Washington, D.C.

Holly JacksonHolly Jackson, 14, of San Jose, investigated the art of sewing from a unique, architectural point of view. After learning to sew in the 4th grade from her grandmother, Holly’s scientific curiosity led her to explore the relative strength and compatibility of threads and fabrics, important information to better understand innovative sewn materials for the 21st century. She engineered a device to measure the capacity and strength of stitched fabric, and designed experiments and procedures to yield precise measurements. Her research has potential applications in the design of high-performance protective gear, hazmat and space suits, parachutes, and more. Her work won the top award of $25,000 at the 2014 Broadcom MASTERS competition.

Natalie NgNatalie Ng, 19, of Cupertino, developed two micro-RNA-based prognostic models that can predict metastasis in breast cancer, and identified two micro-RNAs that independently impact the ability of breast cancer cells to metastasize. Ng’s project has important implications for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer diagnosed in women worldwide, according to the latest WHO report. A frustrating reality about cancer is that even when initial hormonal treatment seems to work, metastatic cancer cells can survive and spread to distant sites in the body. So, accurate prediction of metastatic outcome, such as with the aid of genetic signatures, can significantly improve the ability to predict the recurrence risk and to devise appropriate treatment strategies for individual cancer patients. Ng won First Place at the 2013 International BioGENEius Challenge.

Ruchi PandyaRuchi Pandya, 18, of San Jose, combining nanotechnology, biology and electrochemistry to use small biological samples – only a single drop of blood – to test for specific cardiac biomarkers. She developed a one-square centimeter carbon nanofiber electrode-based biosensor that has the potential to improve cardiac health diagnostics for patients around the world. Ruchi takes her passion for STEM education beyond the lab by mentoring 9th and 10th grade students on research and engineering as a teaching assistant for her school’s STEM-research class. She has competed at the California State Science Fair every year, and has won 18 category and special awards for scientific research. After graduation, Ruchi intends to major in materials science and engineering, and hopes to pursue a career as a technology entrepreneur.


Gov. Jerry Brown has prostate cancer

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office has just announced the 74-year-old executive is undergoing treatment for localized prostate cancer.

Dr. Eric Small, Brown’s oncologist at the University of California, San Francisco, issued the following statement: “Fortunately, this is early stage localized prostate cancer, which is being treated with a short course of conventional radiotherapy. The prognosis is excellent, and there are not expected to be any significant side effects.”

Brown’s office said he’s continuing a full work schedule during the treatment, which is expected to be completed the week of January 7.


Tobacco tax proponents gird for battle

As the budget battle reaches fever pitch in Sacramento, the fate of a tobacco tax to fund cancer research hangs in the balance.

As of now, the ballot measure shepherded by former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and backed by the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and American Cancer Society is scheduled for the February 2012 primary. But if Gov. Jerry Brown succeeds in calling a special election this year to ask voters whether they want to extend existing income, sales and car taxes for another five years as part of the budget solution, the tobacco tax measure will be bumped up onto that ballot.

Proponents clearly are preparing for that eventuality.

Last week they rolled out cycling champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong’s support, and yesterday, the Washington, D.C.-based Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund put another $25,000 into the ballot measure’s Californians for a Cure committee, doubling its ante thus far; it had given $5,000 last month and $20,000 last July.

The biggest donor to the measure thus far remains Perata’s separate Hope 2010 Cure Cancer committee; it gave Californians for a Cure a total of $485,000 from November 2009 through June 2010. That’s actually a pretty small slice of Hope 2010’s $1,426,119.36 in total spending over the two-year cycle – $627,075.22 in 2009, $799,044.16 in 2010 – although to be fair, Hope 2010 formerly was Perata’s Leadership California committee and wasn’t re-tasked to this tobacco-tax measure until late in 2009.

Hope 2010 ended last year essentially depleted but has pulled down $40,000 in new, big-ticket donations since the start of this year: $25,000 from former Dreyer’s Ice Cream executive and former Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco board chairman T. Gary Rogers of Oakalnd; $10,000 from billionaire Gap Inc. heir and investor John J. Fisher of San Francisco; and $5,000 from retired real estate developer Jon Q. Reynolds of Concord. It has yet to pass any of that money along to Californians for a Cure.

Meanwhile, Californians for a Cure spent a total of about $1.293 million in 2009-10, the lion’s share of which – $480,000 – went to Carlsbad-based Arno Political Consultants for petition circulation; the next biggest beneficiary was Polka Consulting, run by longtime Perata associate Sandra Polka, at $69,791.37.

The tobacco industry and anti-tax groups have not yet formed a committee to oppose the measure, (see update below) but rest assured that when they do, it’ll soon be brimming with tobacco money.

The measure would raise taxes on cigarettes by $1 per pack, with the proceeds – estimated as about $575 million in the first year and then declining as more people quit the habit – placed in a trust fund. It requires that 60 cents of every dollar in that fund be spent to fund research on causes, prevention and treatment of cancer and other smoking-related illnesses; 20 cents be spent to fund smoking cessation and tobacco use prevention programs; 15 cents be spent to fund research facilities and equipment; 3 cents be spent to fund anti-tobacco and anti-smuggling enforcement; and no more than 2 cents per dollar be spent for administrative costs.

UPDATE @ 5:15 P.M.: I stand corrected – the tobacco industry has indeed begun organizing and spending to fight this measure. Philip Morris, through its parent company Altria, in early February created Taxpayers Against Out-of-Control Spending with an initial bankroll of $128,115.99.


California’s Pet Rock, Part III

First I wrote last week about SB 624, legislation to revoke the status of serpentine, which can contain asbestos, as California’s official state rock on the basis that it’s a symbol conveying a deadly legacy. Then I wrote about an industrial anti-lawsuit group’s opposition to the bill, on the basis that it’s a stalking horse for expanded asbestos litigation.

Now comes a statement from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), which is working with the John McNamara Foundation and the Pacific Heart, Lung and Blood Institute on a “Drop the Rock” campaign.

“What is abundantly clear from what began as a City of Manhattan Beach resolution over the past three weeks, is that the United States needs to embrace education to prevent occupational and non-occupational exposure to asbestos,” ADAO CEO and co-founder Linda Reinstein said.

“This issue is not about litigation, but education through awareness,” she continued. “Patients and physicians from around the world have applauded our efforts. ADAO respects and understands the geological debate, but this is not about geology; it is about promoting public health through education concerning a rock that contains a known carcinogen among many of its forms. It is not about what serpentine is or is not; it is a question of removing a state-wide symbol that represents a substance, that can, in one of its forms, cause irreversible disease and death as it has to thousands of its victims.”

BBC News picked up on the debate over the weekend, so now it’s truly international news (though we probably crossed that bridge with the New York Times last week).

Still awaiting that Assembly floor vote…


State Senator Dave Cox, 1938-2010

State Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, died today after a long battle with prostate cancer, and peers on both sides of the aisle are mourning his passing.

From state Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto:

“My heart is heavy with grief today with our caucus family losing one of its most respected members. Senator Cox’s unparalleled dedication to public service never wavered and he continued to work diligently during the most trying times of his illness. Work fell second to his love and devotion to his wife, children, and grandchildren. Stephanie and I extend our love and prayers to the Cox family and Senator Cox’s ‘second’ family, his staff.”

From Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

“I was saddened to learn that Senator Cox has passed away. He was a dedicated public servant who was a tireless advocate for the causes he believed in. His knowledge of public policy in California was nearly unsurpassed, and the entire Legislature will mourn his loss. I wish to extend my sincerest condolences to his family, friends and constituents.”

From state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco:

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Senator Dave Cox. While Senator Cox and I did not often agree on matters of public policy, we frequently shared a good laugh and a collegiality that is all too often absent in politics. His commitment to his family and constituents was second to none. I will miss his sense of humor, his friendship, and his steadfast commitment to a more transparent and accountable government. I extend my sincere condolences to Dave’s wife Maggie and their family.”

UPDATE @ 7:09 P.M.: From Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta:

“I know I speak for all my caucus and those who served with Senator Cox when I say that today we lost a friend, a great leader and true servant of the people he represented.

“He was a gentleman and a fighter at the same time. He was a leader in fighting for many causes throughout his career on the Republican side. But Dave could count as many friends on the other side of the aisle as on the Republican side. Sadly, he lost his long battle with cancer today, and all of us, his friends, are sad to lose him.

“The people of California were fortunate to have had his service and our caucus was fortunate to have had both his service and friendship. His loss leaves a great void. He will truly be missed.”


What they said about Obama’s stem-cell policy

President Barack Obama on Monday lifted the eight-year-old ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — who championed Proposition 71 of 2004, which devoted $3 billion to stem cell research and created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine — had this to say about the President’s action:

“President Obama’s executive order is a huge win for the millions of people who suffer from spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis and many other illnesses. Californians were the first in the nation to support and fund embryonic stem cell research and we are big believers in the power of this revolutionary science to not only improve but to save lives. Because of the federal ban, Californians world-renown research facilities have had to have separate areas for the federally-funded and the non-federally funded programs, causing duplicative efforts. I applaud President Obama for removing this barrier which allows California to maximize critical research funding so we can continue to lead the world in stem cell research.”

More on this from other elected officials, after the jump…
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