By Mukul Khurana
Pint of Science is not the kind of event one thinks of when looking for things to do around town. But San Diego is changing. Not only has the cultural and art scene been steadily changing for the better in the past decade or two, but even the content is getting “meatier.” Cleverly, one of the first events locally was titled: “Science of San Diego: Beer, Brains, and Beaches.”
That describes San Diego pretty well and it also shows that the organizers have a sense of humor. The idea of pairing beer and science makes sense as a way of making the average San Diegan interact with science on a casual basis. Not all of us are involved in PhDs.
[O]ne of the first events was titled: “Science of San Diego: Beer, Brains, and Beaches.” That describes San Diego pretty well and it also shows that the organizers have a sense of humor.
The annual event was held this year from May 18th thru May 20th. By no means is San Diego the only city to host this event—other cities include Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco to name a few… The particular event mentioned above took place at Thorn St. Brewery.
Other events were distributed in similar venues—Mission Brewery and Turquoise Cellars to name a few. Other topics from the first day included “How You Can Reduce Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes,” “Sugar, Sex, and Your Brain: How Diabetes and Metabolic Cues Affect the Brain,” “Apes, Sugars, Sperm,” and “Sex in the Lab: The Neurobiology of Attraction and Love.” And that was just the first day! Furthermore, it was sold out soon after being announced.
Rachel Ostrand and Erilynn Heinrichsen are PhD students who were on hand as organizers/hosts for the event chosen for the second day: “Forget Me Not: Modeling Memories” (composed of two presentations: “Fighting Alzheimer’s Disease with Stem Cells” and “Language, Music, and the Brain of Birds” held at La Jolla Brewing Company).
Prof. Larry Goldstein took great pains to emphasize that his presentation on Alzheimer’s was not a lecture but a starting point for a discussion with time for questions. In the area of cellular and molecular science (and stem cell research) since he graduated at UCSD in 1976, Prof. Goldstein asked the most basic of questions: What’s going wrong?
He then proceeded to explain… Along the way, it became clear that Alzheimer’s is a huge public health problem—a ticking bomb about to explode (or at least cost us a lot of money in the near future). We all have an idea as to what Alzheimer’s is. However, just in order to refresh, it is the loss of memories leading to the loss of complicated trains of thought. People become disoriented and end up in a “vegetative” state. Brain connections become defective—they ultimately fail … Brain cells die. The frightening bottom line is that 10% of Americans over the age of 65 will be affected by this disease.
So far, it is an incurable disease. But, Dr. Goldstein points out that polio was also thought to be the same in the 50s. And now it has almost been eradicated. Numbers can be sobering. He pointed out that it will cost us $200 to $400 billion to treat the consequences of Alzheimer’s in the near future. But, we are only spending $1 billion at the most in research and development! The good news is that research is being done. Alzheimer’s, like all diseases, has a unique genetic component. That DNA code and modern genomics make it possible to create stem cells from skin cells that are useful in further research.
[T]he presentation on language, music, and the brains of birds by Justin Kiggins was a little more suited to the beer atmosphere of a bar—not that it wasn’t serious or lacked scientific merit …
The question was asked about the time frame in “finding a cure.” Obviously, no one can say for certain, but is believed that serious strides could be achieved in five to ten years of research. The next logical question pertained to the issue of funding for such work: Why don’t private companies invest given the potential of profits? The answer was most enlightening. Most companies cannot invest for ten to fifteen years without a promise on return as their lifetimes don’t extend that far. Hence, we have to invest as a society (i.e. the government in the form of NIH). Given that the NIH spends 30 billion a year on everything combined, the problem is clear. An interesting fact: By the time a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is made, 80% of the damage is already done.
On a lighter note, the presentation on language, music, and the brains of birds by Justin Kiggins was a little more suited to the beer atmosphere of a bar—not that it wasn’t serious or lacked scientific merit… But, it was interesting to find out that in terms of language acquisition, we have started to grasp the basic concepts of our native languages by the age of nine months. And if that weren’t fascinating enough, musical “communication” is shared by humans with whales, dolphins, and birds—but not our closest relatives—primates. That doesn’t mean that we can communicate with other species musically, but we do have that ability to make and process music in common.
Pint of Science was started in Australia and now occurs in eight countries and nine U.S. cities. Was it a good idea and is it an event worthy of our support in San Diego? Why not vote with our feet in 2016? The next festival is just around the corner. The events are free to the public, but registration is required.