Mankind’s deadliest chemicals: Nerve AgentsRead More
Warfare. Weapons of mass destruction. Poison. Death. All four of these phrases adequately summarise nerve agents.
But what are nerve agents, how do they affect the body and what are the differences between the agents implicated in the murder of Syrian civilians, North Korean Kim Jong-Nam, and most recently implicated in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal?
This is the scientific history behind the deadly nerve agent.
What are nerve agents?
Unlike poisons such as arsenic, chlorine gas and cyanide, nerve agents are not naturally occurring molecules or elements, concentrated into lethal doses. Instead, they must be synthesised in a laboratory. They are known as organophosphates, terminology describing the blend of composed elements including phosphorus, carbon and others. Organophosphates have one universal use in the world: they are insecticides. It is perhaps unsurprising then that nerve agents have the same effect on humans as insecticides have on insects. A chilling thought.
Nerve agents themselves are liquids at normal temperatures. They are sometimes referred to under the misnomer of nerve gases, often due to the specific method of aerosol dispersal since this has the potential to deliver a lethal dose faster. Being readily absorbed through the skin, eyes and respiratory tract, there are various methods of administration. Exposure can be achievable via vapour or gas dispersion, through contact with the skin, or even through ingestion.
As the public is now only too aware, nerve agents are lethal. The levels of toxic molecules necessary to deliver a fatal dose differ between the different modes of administration – inhalation is the deadliest. In the case of sarin, the concentration of agent that is likely to be fatal through inhalation administration is only 100 mg min m-3, whereas the concentration necessary to achieve the same effect through contact with the skin is 1700 mg min m-3. In both cases, concentration is measured through exposure and is dependent on the time exposed, the mass of compound and the area of exposure.
Furthermore, the latency period – the period before the manifestation of symptoms – varies between the agents. Some have been reported to be as short as 30 seconds, but others can last to the order of hours.
How do nerve agents affect the body?
As the name suggests, nerve agents affect the body by disrupting the central nervous system messaging channels, effectively shutting down the body’s nervous system. Cellular messaging is a key component of the nervous system, and is achieved in the body through the transmission of electrical impulses along nerves and pass from neuron to neuron via neurotransmitters. A very common neurotransmitter is Acetylcholine (ACh), which transmits these essential electrical impulses down the neuronal network and also mediates muscle contact. Once ACh has performed its role transmitting cell messages, it must be destroyed to prevent overstimulation of the nervous system. The body performs this naturally using the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) before the process begins anew.
Organophosphate nerve agents effectively disrupt this process. The compounds bind to the specific sites of the AChE enzyme rendering it ineffective. Thus, a toxic accumulation of acetylcholine occurs, resulting in the overstimulation of the nervous system.1
As the effects of nerve agent exposure increases, the victim suffers from the loss of muscular functions leading to constriction of pupils, drooling, convulsions, paralysis and respiratory arrest. Without treatment, death is inevitable.
Fortunately, these effects can be reversed using an antidote – but it must be administered rapidly. First, the bond joining the nerve agent and enzyme can be broken using specific “oxime” drugs, regenerating the enzyme for normal use. Speed is of the essence to reverse these effects; the bond “ages” over time, strengthening the link between the agent and the serine and rendering oxime drugs ineffective.
Atropine has the effect of blocking the ACh receptors, thus inhibiting the transmission possible between cells. In a healthy patient, atropine is poisonous, owing to its communication disruption. But, for patients poisoned with nerve agent, it has the potential to save their lives.
The G-Series of nerve agents were the first series of synthetic chemical weapons created. The first nerve agent dates back to 1936, when German scientist Gerhard Schrader attempted to synthesise a new insecticide that was cheaper than nicotine. What he created was more toxic than previously imagined. In fact, it is reported that the spilling of one drop in the laboratory led to Schrader and his assistant stopping work for three weeks. This would later become known as tabun.
It is perhaps no wonder then that upon the outbreak of World War II, the German military began preparing for the large-scale production of tabun as a replacement for chlorine and mustard gas, chemical weapons synonymous with World War I. It was during this process that further research resulted in more potent, deadlier weapons being discovered. Thankfully, no nerve agents were ever used during WWII, as production plants were not fully operational before the collapse of Nazi Germany. But Schrader’s research birthed the G-series of nerve agents, which have continued to be used well into the modern day.
The agents in this series includes, in order of potency: tabun (GA), sarin (GB), soman (GD) and cyclosarin (GF).
Sarin is perhaps the most widely recognised agent from this class. Named after the scientists behind its discovery, Schrader, Ambros, Ritter & Van der Linde, it is the most volatile of the G-series, which makes dispersal as a gas easier.
G-series agents are also reported as being non-persistent. This is an expression of the duration of chemical effect, which impacts the ease and feasibility of decontamination methods. Common decontamination methods of sarin include simply washing exposed area with copious amounts of water to dilute the agent.
After WWII, pesticide research continued, and, ironically, more lethal nerve agents were again developed from attempts to synthesise an effective insecticide. It was here in the UK, at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), where amiton was created. This insecticide eventually had to be removed from sale due to its toxicity. However, this research was continued at Porton Down Chemical Weapons Research Centre, near Salisbury, where amiton was given a new name: VE.
Between 1952 and 1955, other V-series nerve agents were synthesised at Porton Down, most notably VX. Often cited as a colourless or amber-coloured liquid, the V-series agents have lower volatilities than other agents such as sarin. This low volatility means the primary method of dispersal is through skin contact since aerosol dispersion is difficult. What sets the V-series apart from their G-series brethren is their toxicity. VX is many times more toxic than sarin or tabun, with the lethal concentration being around 10-15 mg min m-3 for both skin contact and inhalation. Compare this to the lethal concentration of sarin, at 100 and 1700 mg min m-3 for inhalation and skin contact respectively, VX is clearly a deadly chemical.
The V-series are also persistent agents, due to their low volatility and reactivity. Bleach and alkali are effective means of decontaminating any exposed area, and often a mix of water and bleach is used.
The Novichok agents
The most recent example of nerve agent use, in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, has now been identified as belonging to the Novichok class of nerve agents.
The Novichok, or N-series, nerve agents are a secretive class of chemicals that, prior to leaks made in the 1990’s by Russian defectors, were unknown to the world. The spotlight has now been shone on these agents, but very little is still known. What is known is that they were developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970’s or 80’s, and various sources, including a compendium of chemical warfare agents, has estimated that the Novichok agents are around 10 times more lethal than VX.
When have nerve agents been used?
Thankfully, usage has been largely absent from warfare.
VX itself has itself been used on multiple occasions. In 1968, the accidental discharge of VX during military testing resulted in the death of over 3000 sheep in Dugway, Utah. But, VX has been implicated in two assassinations. The first was committed by members of the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult in 1994 to assassinate a former cult member in Osaka (this cult was also responsible for the Tokyo subway station sarin release in 1995 in which 13 people died). Until recently, this was the only confirmed human fatality attributed to VX. That changed following in 2017 with the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, alleged to have been caused by the smearing of VX across his face.
Turning to the darker side of history, sarin has unfortunately been used to inflict mass indiscriminate carnage. The oldest documented use was in March 1988 by Saddam Hussein; it is believed that he used sarin against Kurdish citizens in Halabja, leaving 5000 people dead. There have been two other documented uses of sarin, alongside other chemical weapons such as mustard and chlorine gases, during the Syrian civil war in 2013 and 2017.
Fortunately, due to the serious nature of these chemicals, their synthesis requires expertise, facilities, equipment and funding. It is therefore unlikely that individual terrorist organisations or rogue chemists would be capable of their synthesis without extensive assistance. Furthermore, the Chemical Weapons Convention, which came into effect in 1997, outlawed the stockpiling and production of nerve agents, including sarin or VX. Enacted by 192 countries, part of the treaty is the commitment to the disposal of agents. In November 2017, a pivotal goal was reached as it was announced over 96% of global chemical weapons have been destroyed.
There are few words that I can offer that adequately summarise nerve agents. They can kill or injure indiscriminately. Throughout my research, I was both amazed and terrified by the lethality and potency of what scientists have created over the years. Nerve agents are weapons of war, synonymous with lethality, suffering, pain and death, and are without a doubt amongst the worst of mankind’s self-made monsters.
- Anders Allgardsson et al., PNAS, 2016, 113, 5514-5519. (Link)
I wish to thank the following publications, all accessed on 14/03/2018 for the information that constitutes the bulk of this article, so I encourage the reader to visit the following articles.
- Scientific American: Nerve Agents What are they and how do they work
- Chemistry World: VX
- Chemistry World: What we know about Russia’s Novichok nerve agents
- University of Birmingham: Nerve gas – the dark side of warfare
- Medscape: CBRNE – Nerve Agents, V-series – VE, VG, VM, VX
- Medscape: CBRNE – Nerve Agents, G-series –Tabun, Sarin, Soman
- Compound Interest: Chemical Warfare & Nerve Agents – Part I: The G Series
- Compound Interest: Chemical Warfare & Nerve Agents – Part I: The V Series
Furthermore, facts were found and corroborated from the following websites.
Due to the constant stream of updated information, all data and facts published here are correct at the time of writing.
Launching the Technology for Health supplement in partnership with Chemistry World.Read More
The team at Notch Communications are pleased to announce that the first issue of our Chemistry World digital supplement, produced in collaboration with the Royal Society of Chemistry, is now live on the Chemistry World website.
The first issue focuses on Technology for Health, and showcases industry leaders discussing the latest advances in technology for healthcare applications. Topics discussed explore current and future trends, topics and innovations that affect the healthcare industry and patients, these include:
Drug serialisation and its associated challenges for the global pharmaceutical industry. Emerging biologic medications as therapies for various illnesses, highlighting recent advances in the field of oncology. An interview with Nobel laureate Robert Grubbs who devised a series of catalysts for metathesis reactions, which are instrumental to the synthesis of many pharmaceutical ingredients and materials. The rise of wearable and biosensor technology. Simplifying and shortening the process of drug development by implementing innovative catalytic and flow chemistry processes. How to solve drug administration issues such as solubility. And finally, the collaborative role pharmaceutical companies and academia play in drug development and therapeutic treatment innovation.
“The idea for this first digital supplement to Chemistry World was hatched over lunch in Washington DC between Adam Brownsell and myself,” Peter Brown, CEO of Notch Communications said. “To see it live today was one of my proudest moments. The teams at Notch and Chemistry World have excelled and delivered a world-class piece of work.” Pranika Sivakumar, Content Manager, said: “It has been an amazing experience to speak to so many inspiring individuals with a real passion for advancing health for future generations. There is incredible work being done every day by these scientists, so it’s is great to be able to partner with Chemistry World and share these exciting innovations with everyone. I am so thrilled with how the supplement has turned out and cannot wait to get started on the next issue!” Tori Blakeman, PR Account Manager & Writer, said: “This is a fantastic platform to showcase the best of our clients’ work in innovative healthcare technologies to a broad and high-quality scientific audience. This level of exposure is rare for science companies, and so we are proud to be able to collaborate with Chemistry World to produce genuinely interesting articles about our clients’ work for scientists and science enthusiasts to enjoy.” Helen Elmes, Junior Account Manager, said: “It’s been incredible seeing the team bring this project to life! All the interviewees had so many fascinating opinions and enthusiasm for their area of science, and you can really tell how much the Notch team has enjoyed taking those thoughts and turning them into articles. I personally loved researching some of the more abstract possibilities in the future of pharma and I’m excited to see what we uncover in the next issue” Leo Bear-McGuinness, Science Writer and author of the Pharma and academia: a recipe for success article, said, “Getting to talk to our clients and hear the enthusiasm they have for their work is the second best aspect of being a Science Writer at Notch. Getting to publish that enthusiasm is first. Now, thanks to our collaboration with Chemistry World, some of the most exciting innovations in healthcare science are no longer just industry projects, they’re conversation starters.” Joe Clarke, Science Writer and author of the Platinum metal complexes in medicine article, said: “It was a real privilege to talk to scientists about the great work they and their colleagues are doing every day. I would say the highlight was interviewing Nobel Prize laureate Robert Grubbs about the metathesis reaction. But science brings with it an aura of excitement; everyone I interviewed was so excited about their job and passionate about making a difference in their field. Writing these articles has been a genuinely enjoyable experience and I can’t wait to start the process again for the next issue!”
Technology for Health is the first of four quarterly digital supplements Notch Communication will produce for Chemistry World in partnership with the RSC. Subsequent issues will focus on different topics related to chemistry. The next issue, due for release in June 2018, focuses on Green Chemistry and Sustainability.
If you would like to be involved in issue 2, please get in touch with Lauren Martin.
What is Science?Read More
No, this is not a rhetorical question nor is it an extension of the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon incessantly asks Penny the age-old question “What is physics?” With the rise of fake news, and scientific inaccuracies, it is prudent to return to our basic understanding of science. Therefore, I ask you, the reader, again: what is science?
For such a seemingly simple question, the answer is not so obvious. The challenge in defining science is the need to summarise its major concepts while also addressing the inherent limitations. Science is a process, the means to achieve a greater understanding on the world’s surroundings. How is it that this can be defined in a sentence?
In 2009, the Science Council saw fit to spend a year coining a definition of science. In a world where pseudoscience, popularised by practices such as homeopathy, mingles with genuine science, a new definitive definition was needed. In response the Science Council proposed the following definition:
“Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.”
Beautiful. This definition truly is a marvellous choice of phrasing. It envelops three of the most important fundamental aspects of science all into one sentence.
“… systematic methodology based on evidence.”
Starting first with the definition’s finale. Once again, the phrasing is vital as systematic methodology addresses several ideological positions of science.
Science is built off hypotheses, which is an idea that offers an explanation to an observed effect. Hypotheses seek to answer an underlying effect, and as such, they lead us to define different theories. Any idea or suggestion can be considered a hypothesis. So long as the result is fundamentally driven by observation and data, leading to acceptance or refutation, it can be considered valid.
What separates scientific hypotheses from others is the ability to apply experimentation that will either support or refute the proposed hypothesis. A scientific hypothesis can never be proven, instead it is considered yet to be refuted. The ability to test a given hypothesis is fundamental to the scientific method. Any hypothesis must be subject to quantitative methodology that assembles data to help deliver an informed result.
An example of a scientific hypothesis would be:
The mass of a popcorn kernel is proportional to the mass of a popcorn flake.
Now this hypothesis is valid since mass is a measurable quantity. This bring us to the based on evidence component of the definition. Science is a journey driven by evidence. Any hypothesis is accepted or refuted based on data obtained from testing. If after taking a series of measurements of mass I found there was no correlation between the masses of kernels and flakes, I would refute my hypothesis. The process then begins anew, constructing an alternative hypothesis for experimentation.
Testing and experimentation are platforms science is built on. But we must also delve deeper into the word methodology. Methodology means that the process of hypothesis, testing, data collection, analysis and communication, is all performed methodically. This manner is essential as it enables the possibility of repetition and criticism. Incidentally, there are numerous examples of scientific research that has been retracted due to flawed or falsified data, uncovered through other researchers attempting to reproduce results.
“… natural and social world …”
We must always consider the environment under investigation. While it is perhaps obvious that we should only consider the real world, the limits need to be expressed in any definition to exclude unjustly extending to the realm of the supernatural and science-fiction. By phrasing the parameters as the natural and social world, genuine scientific research is then confined to this realm of reality.
“Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding …”
I summarise by returning to the beginning. Science is a journey. It is built on the principles of experimentation, testing and reproducibility. Its path is forged through testable evidence with the overarching goal to address the world’s greatest challenges. From understanding our complex internal biological processes to the composition and lifespan of stars and planets, science presents the ability to answer life’s biggest mysteries. It can be applied to any scale, from the infinitesimally small to the magnitude of the cosmos. The scientific process is a wonderful, circular, repeatable process that is ever changing with the advent of new technology and our improved understanding. The iterative nature of scientific research, which in some cases can be lifetimes in the making, makes for an engaging, fascinating journey.
What do you think about the definition of science? Let me know at @JoeAtNotch
Notch wins new four-year contract with the Centre for Process InnovationRead More
Notch Communications is pleased to announce that we have secured a 4-year marketing and communications contract with one of our existing clients, the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), the process element of the UK Government’s elite network of High Value Manufacturing Catapult centres.
CPI collaborates with universities, small-medium enterprises (SMEs) as well as larger corporations to overcome process and innovation challenges associated with progressing small scale scientific research to a commercial process.
The centre consists of four national innovation centres supporting printable electronics, biologics, formulation, and industrial biotechnology and biorefining. By providing a unique range of R&D expertise, facilities and manufacturing process knowledge, CPI has achieved recognition as an important industrial collaborator.
We are very proud to be continuing and expanding our work with CPI. By working with us, we aim to make CPI a household name as well as consolidating CPI’s place as the go-to destination for chemical, biological or process innovation.
Notch Communications is providing CPI with a custom communications plan that combines social media posts, press releases, case studies, articles and blogs, all aimed at promoting the impressive work being performed in their facilities in the North East of England. We talk directly with the enthusiastic scientists working at CPI and tailor our content to the appropriate audience: be it writing highly technical documents for publications targeted at other scientists, or informing the general public about an exciting new invention or process.
Matthew Herbert, Marketing and Communications Manager at CPI, said:
“Process development and scientific R&D has never been so important. It is integral to both the scientific community and maintaining Britain’s place at the forefront of scientific innovation. The work performed at CPI and its partners deserve international recognition for the revolutionary, innovative science it helps deliver.”
“By working with Notch Communications we are able to promote our work in ways we had never been able to achieve before. It has been a pleasure to work closely with the Notch team over the past months and I look forward to continuing to evolve our relationship over the next few years.”
“As I like to say – Notch helps us to get things done! The reliability and flexibility of the team is really making a difference to the marketing of CPI in the UK and beyond.”
We are excited to continue our already fruitful relationship with CPI and we look forward to working closely together on many exciting upcoming projects.
Tick Tock goes the Doomsday ClockRead More
Tick tock, tick tock. It is a sound that we have all heard at some point in our life. Be it from a grandfather clock that breaks the silence in a creepy horror film; or signifying an impending deadline; the sound is uniquely associated with one thing. Time.
Perhaps most morbidly epitomised by the villainous Jordan Chase from the TV series Dexter:
“Tick tick tick, that’s the sound of your life running out.”
A morbid metaphor if there ever was one. But this metaphorical expression of time ticking away can be applied to both an individual, or in a sense, the global populous. The latter of which has been immortalised by a special clock that does not obey the rules of time. I am referring of course to the Doomsday Clock.
What is it?
The Doomsday Clock, is exactly what you would expect: it monitors the proximity of the human race to doomsday (cue panicked screaming). Conceived back in 1947, midnight is the theoretical line whereby the human race will reach total annihilation, either by our own hand and nuclear apocalypse or by catastrophes inadvertently caused by our collective actions.
If this all sounds scary, well that is the general point. The Doomsday Clock was conceived as a metaphorical statement designed to stir the public into action. Time on this clock is reset depending on various worldwide events including emerging trends, political upheaval and threatening rhetoric.
The Turners of Time
Is it reassuringly unnerving that this decision is not taken lightly? But, who is in charge of moving the dial?
Originally there was one time-turner, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists editor Eugene Rabinowitch. But following his death in 1973, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board was established to reset the time accordingly. Consisting of scientists and other experts, they bring a deep knowledge of topics such as nuclear technology and climate science to name just the two major issues facing the human race.
There are several scientific impacts that assist scientists in the possible advancement of the Doomsday Clock. The primary topic is climate change, specifically, monitoring global quantities such as sea-level rises, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and differences in temperature. But, as new global threats emerge, the expertise must evolve too. One such example is the rise in antimicrobial resistance and the rising potential of diseases such as Zika and Ebola. All of these factors are considered alongside the political and military issues considered before the Doomsday Clock is set.
Advancing the Clock
Thursday 25th of January 2018 brought with it titles from news organisations, such as the BBC, that the Doomsday Clock has moved forward, closer to midnight. Advancing from two and a half minutes to midnight to just two minutes to midnight, which signifies the closest the clock has ever been to midnight. This milestone has been reached before, in 1953. During that time the world was in the midst of the Cold War with the US and Soviet Union nuclear superpowers vying for power.
Advancing 30 seconds might seem an insignificant amount of time on an ordinary clock. I mean if you have reached this far down it is likely that minutes have already passed. But, as this clock is counting down time to annihilation, every second counts. 2018 marks the second consecutive year that the clock has advanced.
“The failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity’s future”
The threat of two nuclear superpowers still exists today, the major difference being the colour of their respective flags. But this advance has been cited on other emerging trends related to disinformation and the spreading misuse of information technology.
Turn Back the Clock
Doom and gloom aside, hope is not lost. Time is advanced easily, but it can also be reversed. For instance, one of the largest jumps came in 1991 when, following the end of the Cold War and period of stability in Eastern Europe, the clock reverted by 11 minutes within 3 years to read 17 minutes to midnight, coincidentally the furthest away from doomsday humanity has achieved.
There is still time to turn back the clock. It is in fact considered as a call to action, as said by President and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dr Rachel Bronson:
“It is urgent that, collectively, we put in the work necessary to produce a 2019 Clock statement that rewinds the Doomsday Clock. Get engaged, get involved, and help create that future. The time is now.”
What do you think about the doomsday clock advance? Let me know on Twitter @JoeAtNotch.
A Notch Guide to ManchesterRead More
The new year brings with it new beginnings. For some this involves a new job, and at Notch Communications we are no exception. This month we welcome two new members of staff who have both joined as scientific writers: Joseph Clarke and Leo Bear-McGuinness.
But moving to a different city can be a daunting task, particularly for someone unfamiliar with a large metropolis. Where is the best place to grab a bite to eat or a drink? Where are some of the best places to escape the hustle and bustle of the city?
Fret not new employees to the city of Manchester, Notch Communications have you covered. Our team have assembled a helpful booklet featuring their favourite restaurants, bars, shops and those hidden gems they have discovered from their time in Manchester.
Joseph Clarke is a Science Writer at Notch. Follow him on Twitter @JoeAtNotch
Leo Bear-McGuinness is a Science Writer at Notch. Follow him on Twitter @LeoMcBear
Account planner, what?Read More
2018 will mark the 50th year of my wonderful and challenging job: Account Planning. I bet you didn’t actually know that we – planners or strategists – are that old! You might actually not even know what planners are and what they do…
A bit of history: jump with me on the planning time machine
If you work in marketing or communications, you have probably heard or even binge-watched the American series MadMen. At the time it’s set (in the 1960s), the advertising industry was predominantly ruled by brilliant creative departments that could pretty much come out with any campaign, as long as they could explain the ‘why’ once it had been produced.
So while the USA was the land of sales, marketing and Madison Avenue, the British agencies started questioning their way of marketing products. In the mid 60s, Stanley Pollitt (Boase Massimi Pollitt), not satisfied with the way account managers were using information and not involving researchers in the campaign process, decided to introduce special training to make the previous two collaborate in a more efficient way. At the same time, Stephen King (JWT) went on a crusade to deliver better quality work to agency customers, and proposed adding a more scientific foundation to the advertising development (that was mainly focused on gut feeling). In his mind, the client’s marketing objectives and business aims should be the main focus when developing any advertising message. A new department was then introduced to JWT and Account Planning was born.
So what do planners do?
Planners are now present in the majority of agencies and even marketing departments on the client side have their own in-house planners (the BBC and Diageo for example). Over the years, account planning has become an essential department in agencies to ensure that any piece of communication is produced in a carefully planned and strategic manner.
Being a planner is about creating order out of chaos: it is about synthesising the opportunities for a brand and acting as a link between the business side and the creative side of the agency.
According to Stanley Pollitt himself, “the account planner is that member of the agency’s team who is the expert, through background, training, experience, and attitudes, at working with information and getting it used – not just marketing research but all the information available to help solve a client’s advertising problems”.
A very important aspect of being a planner is the immersion into the client’s business and market, to the point that through the planning department, the agency should know more about the client than the client does. It is also the planner’s responsibility to put the consumers (or endusers) at the forefront of the process and the planner must ensure that the whole agency team works with the consumer in mind at any time. In Forting-Campbell’s words “the planner has a point of view about the consumer and is not shy about expressing it”.
Listening to a webinar about Account Planning earlier today, two statements really caught my attention: ‘Planning challenges the lazy of doing it’ and ‘Conversation is the most important tool for a planner’.
What does it take to be a planner?
I believe that to be a planner you must:
- – Like studying people
- – Like conversing with people
- – Be very inquisitive and always try to look for inspiration
- – Like building keynote/powerpoint presentations (a lot of them!)
- – Like analysing pretty much everything (and using tools for it, planners love circles and charts)
- – Like challenging the status quo
- – Like expressing your ideas and standing up for them
- – But also… love listening!
Obviously, there are traditional ways to get into planning such as through degree programmes and various training However, planners can come from a variety of backgrounds as long as they possess those previously listed interests.
What being a planner at Notch involves
I have now been Notch’s (first) creative planner for the past year and a half. During that time I have been involved in a plethora of projects: from writing proposals and pitches for new business opportunities, to developing branding and messaging workshops for customers to better understand the importance of branding and promoting their company in a consistent and harmonised voice. I have also been a part of several rebranding projects, focusing on making sure that the creative work coming out of our team reflects the objectives of the clients and addresses the needs of their customers. In many occasions, being Notch’s only planner also involves developing digital strategies (some more focused on websites, others on social media or both).
My favourite thing about planning is the collaborative aspect of the job; at any stage of the strategic process we must collaborate with the client, the account managers and the creative/content department.
Marion Gaubert is Creative Planner at Notch. Follow her on Twitter @MarionAtNotch.
What is circadian rhythm?Read More
Circadian rhythm is integral to our functioning; yet many have never heard of the phenomenon, or don’t know why it’s so significant. With the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine having recently been awarded to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their “discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”, perhaps this will be the year circadian rhythms reach the science spotlight.
So what exactly is circadian rhythm, and why did the researchers exploring it deserve the Nobel Prize?
Circadian rhythm is essentially our body clock; the approximately 24-hour rhythm that occurs in cellular processes in almost every tissue of the body. The 24-hour rhythmicity of the circadian system is driven by environmental time cues, such as the natural day and night light cycle, cycles of rest and activity, and even feeding behaviour. Our bodies then translate these timing cues into molecular oscillations within individual cells to drive our functioning.
Circadian rhythm is controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a small area in the centre of the brain. The SCN is not actually required for peripheral organs to generate their own rhythms. Rather, it acts more like the conductor of an orchestra, guiding each organ to oscillate in the ideal phase for that specific tissue.
Intrinsic circadian clocks are evolutionarily conserved across the animal kingdom, with organisms as small and as ancient as cyanobacteria exhibiting the same clock systems as us humans. In experiments using fruit flies, the 2017 Nobel Prize laureates identified several of the genes that made up this core molecular clock that controls daily biological rhythm.
This includes the period gene, which encodes the protein PER. They discovered that PER accumulated in the nucleus of cells during the night, and degraded during the day, causing rhythmic 24-hour oscillations. Beyond this first discovery, the team went on to identify that these oscillations were auto-regulatory, meaning that they continuously self-regulate their levels in a cyclic fashion.
With many of our genes coordinated by the circadian clock, the impact they have on our complex physiology is vast. Circadian research since the initial discoveries by this year’s Nobel laureates has exposed how disruptions to our circadian system, for example nocturnal lifestyle, working night shifts, and jet lag, can cause an array of problems with sleep, behaviour, body temperature and metabolism, and even impact cancer.
Circadian disruption therefore imposes a major public health issue that has yet to receive the recognition it deserves. One can only hope that the awarding of the Nobel Prize to circadian researchers will increase public awareness of the circadian influences on health risks, leading to enhanced lifestyle choices that improve the alignment of physiological systems with the daily body clock.
Tori Blakeman is PR Account Manager & Writer at Notch. Follow her on Twitter @ttttor.
For more information on circadian clocks and their implication in breast cancer, read Tori’s review in Breast Cancer Research.
Notch Communications unveils refreshed branding as it expands into the creative spaces of Neo, ManchesterRead More
Manchester, UK – 3rd May 2017
– Notch Communications, the creative marketing agency for science and technology companies, today announced that it has relocated to join the collaborative workspaces and community of Neo in Manchester. Notch has also just undertaken a complete brand refresh as part of the agency’s leading position in bringing together art and science.
The UK Notch office has moved into a new creative workspace and a new phase of its own brand to allow for expansion, following the addition of several new clients to its growing portfolio. The company is based on a flexible business model that is comprised of a team of trained scientists, marketing professionals, and an approved external network of specialists to support its clients’ changing needs. As a strategic partner, Notch ultimately enables companies to develop and establish a brand that showcases the creativity and innovation behind their science.
“This move, into one of the most creative environments in Manchester, comes at a time when Notch is enjoying unprecedented growth. Our new offices will inspire our wonderful team to create even greater ideas for our global clients,” said Peter Brown, Chief Executive Officer, Notch Communications.
“This is another major step forwards in our development plan that will lead to exciting new partnerships for our company, as well as providing a fantastic environment for our staff,” said Kate Whelan, Chief Operating Officer, Notch Communications.
Notch’s Swedish office in Uppsala has most recently appointed Dr Frida Johnson as Scientific Copywriter. Frida has the joined the company from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, where she was the Communications Officer for the Human Protein Atlas.
About Notch Communications
Notch Communications is a creative marketing & PR agency with great ambition to establish a successful new model for advertising agencies that is more appropriate to today’s world. Notch provides the full range of marketing services to global and local clients, with particular expertise in the life sciences, advanced materials and new technologies. Notch is headquartered in Manchester, UK, and has an office at Uppsala Science Park in Sweden.
For more information
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Gaby’s Top 5 Science moments 2016Read More
This year for my top 5 science moments, I have taken a different tactic to past yearly reviews. I have resisted the temptations to choose a discovery from each discipline of science for the sake of balance and, instead, have included the stories that spoke to me. So, if you are looking for a wide-reaching view of the science of 2016, then this may not be for you. But if you are interested in the science discoveries that captured the imaginations and hopes of this geneticist then grab a cuppa. Here is my top 5 moments from 2016.
5. Pocket-sized DNA sequencer
The ability to sequence a genome and read the code to life is arguably one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of modern science. However, the hardware involved is normally at least the size of a microwave oven and can be very fragile. This year, a biotechnology company made a significant breakthrough with a sequencing machine, the MinION. This sequencer is only 86 grams and is small enough to be forgotten in a pocket! This year however, it was proven to be not only functional but has also been shown to work in microgravity.
In June this year the MinION was sent to the International Space Station to be tested on board. The future holds great things for this technology and space exploration. In theory, the crew could use it to quickly identify the precise cause of any illness to ensure that it is treated effectively. This type of diagnosis is imperative for future missions to Mars and beyond when there is no possibility to restock the limited supply of antibiotics.
However, it is not only for space travel that this development will be useful. Reducing DNA sequencing to a small size means it could be combined with other technologies to allow patients to monitor levels of certain DNA sequences at home. In theory, cancer patients could track the progress of their disease by the level of fusion chromosomes and HIV patients could monitor viral levels as easily as diabetics can monitor their blood sugar.
Whatever the future uses are, the pocket-sized DNA sequencing technology opens new doors for genomics, therapeutics and disease management.
4. Promising results from stem cell treatments for stroke
Stroke research, especially developing therapies, is a complex field that is subject to many challenges. For a long time, the industry belief was that the most effective treatment for stroke would be one that can be administered to patients as soon as possible after the fact, even in the back of an ambulance.
However, new research from Stanford University has broken new ground with a treatment that can be administered 3 years after a stroke. Adult mesenchymal stem cells were injected into the brain of volunteer stroke victims between 6 months and 3 years after the stroke had occurred. Normally, after 6 months doctors would expect no future improvement to occur. However, after the procedure, one patient regained movement in her right arm and right leg even after being confined to a wheelchair for the previous few years.
Mesenchymal stem cells have interesting therapeutic potential as they have been shown to repress the immune system which may have contributed to the high success rate and low number of side effects observed in this trial.
Whatever the theory and the reason behind the success, this trial has paved the way for more successful therapies for stroke victims and has given hope to those that currently live with a disability as a result.
3. Progress in the field of human CRISPR research
2015 was undoubtedly the year of gene editing. As Science’s breakthrough of the year and with multiple advances, it was the beginning of the gene editing revolution. As a result, this year was expected to be when all of that research and progress was finally applied and the true value of CRISPR was revealed. It did not disappoint.
2016 saw the first human trial in China using CRISPR-Cas9 in an experimental therapy for a patient with advanced lung cancer. In this trial, CRISPR was targeted to PD-1 in the targeted cells, which aimed to induce cell death and halt the growth of the cancer.
Equally notable progress was made closer to home in the USA with the start of a safety test of CRISPR for human use. The safety test is administering CRISPR to 18 patients with various cancers but will not be assessed for efficacy. The completion of this safety screen should allow the development of CRISPR therapeutics in the USA and encourage investment into applying CRISPR to proven gene editing based therapies. Such proven techniques include the removal of rejection genes with TALENS by Great Ormond Street Hospital or the addition of HIV resistance genes to patients using techniques done with ZFNs.
The approval of these trials is a big moment for gene editing based therapeutics. After the death of Jesse Gelsinger in 1999, the industry is understandably cautious surrounding these techniques. However, recent developments, improvements and precautions for conflict-of-interest all contribute to making CRISPR-based therapeutics that little bit closer.
2. The continued race for a Zika vaccine
Two years ago, the first reports began to surface about the outbreaks of microcephaly in South America. Quickly, research abounded into the detection of the cause and the Zika virus made headlines worldwide. Reminiscent of the Ebola outbreak, a known virus became more dangerous and was posing a real threat to millions of people.
The response was instant. Never before have so many corporations, research groups and academics reacted so quickly to develop a vaccine for an outbreak. Some vaccines are on track to finish development in a remarkable and record-breaking 2-year turnaround. Lessons have obviously been learned from the Ebola outbreak and teams are reacting quickly to not miss the critical window for a vaccine.
Many have taken the opportunity of the outbreak to develop innovative vaccine technologies. One such technique involves administering spliced viral DNA. The DNA enters the nuclei of cells and is synthesized into partial viral particles. Antibodies can then be created in response so the body is prepared for a future infection. To improve the vaccine, some manufacturers are using RNA as a more flexible alternative to enter the nucleus.
The development of the Zika vaccines has made it into my top 5, not only because new and innovative techniques are being used. The response by the science industry has given me a lot of hope for the future of science. In the face of the crisis, the industry has shown how teams from across the world can work together to create solutions.
1. Discovery of a key moment in evolutionary history
Few moments in evolutionary history can be argued to be as impactful as the point where life transitioned from single-celled amoeba to complex multicellular organisms. The ability to form a multicellular organism is the point at which life, as we know it, became possible. This year it was revealed that this breakthrough in evolution might have been the result of a single mutation and the consequence of simple dumb luck.
For the formation of multicellular organisms, communication between cells is imperative and a failure to communicate, can lead to cancer, developmental abnormalities and death. Researchers found that, approximately one billion years ago, a single mutation occurred in the gene GK-PID.
This mutation allowed the protein to orient the divisional direction of cells by dictating the position of the mitotic spindle in the cell. However this mutation has an intriguing history when you consider how it functions. The mutation gave GK-PID the ability to link an anchor in the cell membrane to the mitotic spindle. The intriguing point is that, at the time of GK-PID’s mutation, the anchor had not yet evolved!
The reason that this discovery is my number 1 of the year is simple. As a geneticist, I enjoy how this discovery reveals the seldom-admitted secret of biology. Life as we know it, and the key moments of evolution, all came down to plain, old, boring, dumb luck!
So, which of my top 5 got you excited about what science has to offer in 2017? Do you agree with my list? Is there something missing?
Let me know on Twitter @GabyAtNotch