Come to Philly to see how far cell biology has come

Marking off a half century of annual meetings and even longer for cell biology scientific progress, the ASCB brings it all together in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’

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PHILADELPHIA—Celebrating its 50th year of annual meetings this year from Dec. 11 to Dec.15, the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) will be bringing its half-century milestone meeting to Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Reportedly the largest yearly gathering of cell biologists in the world, ASCB's annual conferences provide a "cutting-edge forum to understand health and disease through research on the cell," says Cathy Yarbrough, media relations manager for the ASCB 50th Annual Meeting, who adds that while ASCB's first conference featured just three symposia, this year's event will include more than 100 scientific sessions and 3,500 additional poster presentations over five days.

Also, while the first annual meeting in Chicago was attended by 844 researchers, this year's conference is expected to attract more than 7,000 scientists from throughout the world. Last year's meeting in San Diego drew 7,153, while the 2008 meeting in San Francisco attracted 8,568 and the Washington, D.C., meeting the year before that brought in 8,032.

In Philadelphia, Yarbrough notes, researchers will present new findings in nanoscale biology, failures in the "quality control" systems of cells and how mechanical stiffness might be a driving force in tumor formation—all of them "topics that likely would have struck those attending the first ASCB conference as farfetched," Yarbrough says. "Fifty years ago, cell biology was a novel science."

A number of sessions stand out this year, among them a biotech-meets-academia presentation by Dr. Ira Mellman of Genentech and Dr. Randall Moon of the University of Washington School of Medicine, who will jointly navigate the passage from "Cell Biology to Therapeutics."

With an insider's view of the high-stakes world of translational medicine, Dr. Timothy J. Mitchison, of the Harvard Medical School and this year's ASCB president, will present the keynote address, "Improving Cancer Therapy: How Can a Basic Scientist Contribute." Before that keynote, though, there will be a more retrospective presentation by Dr. Gary G. Borisy, director and CEO of the Marine Biological Laboratory, called "Looking Back: ASCB's First Meeting."

Also on tap will be research presentations on such topics as the identification of the specific pomegranate juice components that may be potential inhibitors of prostate cancer metastasis, the discovery of transplantable bone marrow analogues to enhance recovery of bone marrow failure, the production of functional insulin-secreting pancreatic endoderm derived from human spermatogonial stem cells and the discovery that over-expression of a specific transcription factor alleviates Huntington protein (in Huntington's disease) toxicity by restoring mitochondrial activity and inducting reactive oxygen species defenses.

The first day of the meeting, Yarbrough adds, will have special Saturday group discussions of emerging hot topics in cell biology, including "Cell Biology of Neurodegenerative Diseases."

Also, for the first time at an ASCB meeting, leaders in synthetic biology, imaging, mechanics and cellular engineering will discuss the challenges and opportunities in creating, understanding and using biological machines for cellular function, biotechnological applications and drug discovery, and that presentation is titled "Synthesis, Optimization and Application of Biological Machines."

Another new offering this year is the Dec. 14 morning presentation, "One Job Title, Many Tracks: How to Prepare for the Academic Career That Best Suits Your Interests." As ASCB promotional material for the event says of the presentation, "Not all professor positions are created equal … colleges and universities vary widely in terms of the research, teaching and service responsibilities a professor is expected to balance.

Graduate students and post-docs are invited to join ASCB Education Committee members from research university, liberal arts college and community college settings to discuss how to prepare for these diverse careers. Discussion topics will include: how job candidates can best consider and select among these varied career paths, what to do to prepare to be successful even before applying, what goes into an application for each type of position and strategies for a successful application."

And if the serious subject matter isn't enough, Yarbrough points out that this year's meeting will bring back Celldance, which recognizes visually stunning videos and images that illuminate cell biology—and sometimes with tongue in cheek.

"[This year's meeting] will again provide evidence that scientists (or at least cell biologists) have a sense of humor," she says. "For example, please take a look at the Celldance 2010 poster whose promotional headline is, 'True Tales of the Wild, Wild Western Blot,' and includes such test as 'Brokeback Mitochondria,' 'Dances with Drosophila' and 'The Good, The Bad and the Ubiquitin.'"

ASCB issues statement in support of stem cell research
BETHESDA, Md.—In late September, the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) issued an official statement strongly supporting federal funding for research on both adult and embryonic human stem cells, saying: "Stem cell research holds great potential to develop cures and treatments for disease, improve our understanding of the basic mechanisms of human disease and develop new tools for drug testing and development. The ability of human embryonic stem cells (eSCs) to become any type of human tissue makes their potential unique. And scientific progress is most likely when the federal government funds research using all types of stem cells.

"The ASCB applauds the decision by the Court of Appeals to issue a stay of District Court judge Royce C. Lamberth's Aug. 23 injunction blocking federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The stay will remain in effect until the Court of Appeals rules on the appeal of Lamberth's original injunction.

"The injunction severely limited the efforts of researchers to unlock the mysteries of human disease. It stopped research supported by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama and by Republican- and Democrat-led Congresses. It halted promising work with eSCs derived with private funding from excess in vitro fertilization (IVF) blastocysts. Those blastocysts were donated with informed consent and would otherwise have been destroyed.

"The ASCB, along with other scientific, academic and patient communities, will work to encourage the permanent lifting of this injunction. Carefully evaluated grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health's (NIH) to dedicated researchers for promising work on eSCs should be funded, free of ideologically based restrictions.

ASCB participates in the USA Science & Engineering Festival

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The ASCB joined some 350 U.S.-based leading science and engineering organizations Oct. 23-24 at the USA Science & Engineering Festival, which included participation by academic institutions, corporations, federal agencies, museums and science centers and professional engineering and science societies. The event featured more than 750 exhibits spanning medicine, biotechnology, nanotechnology, neuroscience, genetics, aerospace, green energy, climatology, robotics, botany and many other scientific disciplines.

As an official partner of the event, ASCB represented the field of cell biology with what it called "hands-on activities showcasing the wonders of cells—in animals, plants and humans" all to help achieve the ASCB's goal "to help teach children and adults about cells—what they are, how they work, and their importance to our health."

Being 'square' is cool again
Franklin Square boasts serious historical cachet, but also recent renovations to freshen it up

PHILADELPHIA—Located at 6th St. and Race St., Franklin Square is one of Philly's oldest historic attractions and one of five public squares that William Penn laid out in his original plan for the city, but it is also now reportedly one of the freshest new attractions thanks to some sweeping renovations recently.

While you're at the square, one of the things most likely to catch your eye will likely be the Philadelphia Park Liberty Carousel, which is $3 to ride for adults and teens, and $2 for kids between 3 and 12—with the 2-and-under crowd riding for free. While the carousel is good old-fashioned fun, it also is a testament to one of Philadelphia's great heritage stories, as the city was once the carousel-making capital of the world. The three biggest fabricators, Philadelphia Toboggan Co., Dentzel and D.C. Muller & Brother were all headquartered in Philadelphia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

There's also an 18-hole miniature golf course, Philly Mini Golf, which is decorated with some of Philadelphia's favorite icons so that patrons can get a little history even as they play a round of putt-putt. In addition to holes celebrating Philadelphia sports teams and music legends, one also gets to see replicas of Elfreth's Alley, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the LOVE statue and the Chinatown Friendship Gate—and on the 18th hole, you get to putt through the crack in a replica of the Liberty Bell and land in front of Independence Hall. If you're aged 3 to 12, you get in for $6 to play a round; if you've cracked into those teen years or beyond, it'll cost you $8.

The Franklin Square Fountain is also worth checking out, having fallen into disrepair in the late 1970s and shutting down, but seeing new life after 2006 when efforts to renovate the area managed to preserve the fence surrounding the fountain and the stonework in its center, both of which date back to its original construction. The remainder of the approximately 23,000-gallon fountain's workings were upgraded to modern technology and now spews out roughly 2,600 gallons per minute through nine nozzles. The fountain height is designed to shift to a lower position on windy days to prevent people from getting soaked while walking around it.

Another feature includes the Franklin Square Playground, which is a pair of different age-appropriate play areas where, according to park officials, children can swing, twirl, climb and explore under stately trees, in a place designed in part through inspiration from the example of Benjamin Franklin's curious and questing nature.

Finally, there is the Living Flame Memorial, dedicated in 1976 to honor the city's fallen policemen and firefighters, centered on a sculpture by local sculptor Reginald E. Beauchamp, and also a series of Storytelling Benches located throughout the park, where you can hear tales of Franklin Square's past, or learn about the many communities touched by the Square, courtesy of the friendly storytellers of Once Upon a Nation.

Emanating from the corners of the historic park are four new herringbone brick walking paths with nighttime lighting that lead the fountain at the center of the square. In total, the park area is 7.5 acres and over the years had been used as a cattle pasture, a horse and cattle market, a burial ground and a drill and parade ground for the American military during the War of 1812 before it became a city park.

Cheesesteak vs. cheesesteak

Sizing up two giants of the eponymous sandwich genre

PHILADELPHIA—We can argue about whether the famous Philly cheesesteak sandwich is all it's cracked up to be. We can argue whether it should be the "Official Sandwich of Philadelphia" instead of the hoagie, as Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell once declared. We can even argue whether Cheez Whiz is an appropriate substitute for white American cheese or provolone on top.

That's already a lot of heavy-duty baggage (not to mention the heavy-duty calories) for a sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of steak and melted cheese on a hoagie roll and reportedly invented by Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri in the early 1930s at their hot dog stand near south Philadelphia's Italian Market. Instead, let's just focus on two of the most famous purveyors of the sandwich: Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks, located across the street from each other on 9th St. and Passyunk Ave. in South Philadelphia.

Yeah, it's a cheese, grease and carbo showdown, folks.

Not that we're going to pick a winner. The two places are already fierce (and sometimes funny) rivals, and we're not about to have herds of rabid fans of one or the other coming after us.

However, there are some points of distinction.

Pat's has more history, having been around since that fateful day the sandwich was created in the 1930s. And it looks it, too, having a classic hot dog stand vibe that is no frills and accessible and homey. On the other hand, the younger Geno's, established in 1966 has a more "Times Square" feel with a modern and cleaner look to it.

Both restaurants are famous for signs. In Pat's case, it's the sign that explains how to order; for example, the customer is to ask for what variety of sandwich he or she wants, and then says "wit" or "wit-out"—both a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Philadelphia accent and the way to tell them whether you want onions on the cheesesteak or not. In Geno's case, it was a sign in the window in 2006 that reads: "This Is AMERICA: When Ordering Please SPEAK ENGLISH." That prompted the filing of a discrimination complaint, though in 2008, Philadelphia's Commission on Human Relations ruled that the restaurant did not violate the city's Fair Practices Ordinance with the sign.

Both restaurants are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and Pat's reportedly sells an average of 1,500 steak sandwiches daily. Geno's has a menu very similar to Pat's, but does not chop up its meat as Geno's does—and Geno's claims to have sold as many as 4,500 sandwiches in day. The walls, roof and interior of Geno's are decorated with memorabilia and hundreds of autographed and framed photos of celebrities who have patronized the venue.

Culture clash

You won't likely be able to hit them all, but here are some art and history venues to consider exploring

PHILADELPHIA—While it may not be the sexiest of the museum, art and culture destinations in the city, let's start off your options with the one that is probably most thematically in line with those people who are attending the ASCB 50th Annual Meeting, and that is the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Should you go there, you will see features and exhibits related to instruments, apparatus, rare books, fine art and the personal papers of prominent scientists—all with a leaning toward the chemical and molecular sciences. As those who run the museum, library and scholary center boast, the institution tells "Chemistry's untold stories, from alchemy to nanotechnology."

So what else is potentially in store for you, depending on your free time and your tastes? Let's find out …

Franklin Institute
Since it wraps up in January, you'll still have time to visit the "Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt" exhibit, which has ticket prices ranging from $19.50 to $29.50, which can be purchased online. Organized by National Geographic and Arts and Exhibitions International, with cooperation from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology, the exhibition features never-before-seen artifacts and takes visitors inside the present-day search for Cleopatra, which extends from the sands of Egypt to the depths of the Bay of Aboukir near Alexandria. Among other things, the Franklin Institute is also home to the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.

National Constitution Center
Said by its operators to be "America's most interactive history museum," the National Constitution Center is located just two blocks from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and is the only museum devoted to the U.S. Constitution.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Founded in 1824, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest historical societies in the United States, holding some 600,000 printed items and more than 19 million manuscript and graphic items, boasting one of the largest family history library collections in the nation as well as premier printed collections on Pennsylvania history and regional history.

Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia History

Exhibitions at the Philadelphia History Museum invite visitors to explore more than 300 years of the city's history, running the gamut from "William Penn's utopian plans to the collective dreams of millions of Philadelphia sports fans." Exhibits feature a mix of large-scale objects, hands-on experiences and multimedia presentations.

African American Museum in Philadelphia
Reportedly the first institution built by a major United States city to house and interpret the life and work of African Americans, the African American Museum in Philadelphia uses four exhibition galleries and six days of the week to help visitors "experience the richness and vibrancy of African American heritage and culture."

National Museum of American Jewish History

With a brand new museum building opening in November, you can get a chance to experience the freshest look at "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"—both the prizes and the perils that they bring—through the lens of the American Jewish experience.

Academy of Natural Sciences
Established in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the Americas. The academy's collection of more than 17 million cataloged natural history specimens and artifacts is among the 10 largest in the United States.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
This museum is internationally known for its collections of 19th- and 20th-century American paintings, sculptures and works on paper. Among the exhibits you might enjoy while in the city are the first museum exhibition of paintings by California artist Tom LaDuke and "Narcissus in the Studio: Artist Portraits and Self-Portraits."

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Opening in November and running through January 16, 2011, is the exhibit "Michelangelo Pistoletto: From One to Many, 1956–1974." Other exhibitions include "Mark Cohen: Strange Evidence," "A Glimpse of Paradise: Gold in Islamic Art," "Monumental "Miniatures": Large-scale Paintings from India," and "Tailoring Philadelphia: Tradition and Innovation in Menswear."

Rodin Museum

The Rodin Museum was a gift to the city of Philadelphia from movie theater magnate Jules Mastbaum, who began collecting works by Rodin in 1923 with the intent of founding a museum. Just three years later, he had assembled the largest collection of Rodin's works outside Paris, including bronze castings, plaster studies, drawings, prints, letters, and books and in 1926, Mastbaum commissioned French architects Paul Cret and Jacques GrÈber to design the Museum building and gardens.

Exhibitors debut new products, services and technologies at ASCB's 50th Annual Meeting

Multi-volume spectrophotometer system
BioTek Instruments Inc.
The demands of academic research laboratories for a budget-friendly, monochromator-based microplate reader and the ability to measure very low-volume samples are answered by BioTek's new Epoch Multi-Volume Spectrophotometer System. Combining the Epoch Microplate Spectrophotometer and the Take3 Multi-Volume Plate, the result is a system that's designed to allow the scientist to run a variety of assays, in a variety of sample vessels and volume ranges.
BioTek Instruments Inc.
(888) 451-5171
Visit us at ASCB booth #1003

Compact automated liquid handler
Hamilton Robotics
Hamilton Robotics announces the new NIMBUS4, a highly affordable and compact automated liquid handler designed for low-throughput applications. Featuring one to four independent liquid channels for superior flexibility, with your choice of either 1-ml or 5-ml size channels. Optional gripper with extended reach allows for efficient labware handling and integration to third-party devices.
Hamilton Robotics
(800) 648-5950, e-mail:
Visit us at ASCB booth #209

Microscopy automation and image analysis software
Molecular Devices
MetaMorph NX Software reflects our commitment to make the customers' experience the best it can be. To facilitate comprehensive image acquisition and analysis, MetaMorph NX Software has streamlined the workflow for all tasks and provided a new user-centered interface. With one-click access to features, integrated hardware setup and synchronized, unobstructed views of data, you become an imaging expert in minutes.
Molecular Devices
(800) 635-5577, ext. 1820, e-mail:
Visit us at ASCB booth #1200

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