Monday, October 31, 2011

Musings of my past - College and beyond...

I attended Case Western Reserve University in the late 70s, and found it to be a very demanding school, with course loads that ate up a lot of my time, but it was all well worth it. It was rated very highly at that time in Chemistry due to Dr. Olan who had a whole floor designated for him. I heard he left afterwards and took all his people with him to California. Anyway, due to several reasons I mentioned in an earlier post, I switched from a Chemistry Major to a Biology Major my second year. I found Biology a more suitable match for me. Studying about life was more interesting than studying chemicals.

I also minored in music (played viola since 3rd grade) and theater, and performed with the Reading Orchestra on campus. The purpose of the small group was to play music we had never seen before and broaden our exposure of different compositions. In addition, I took modern dance classes while working towards my minor in theater. This made for a more balanced curriculum than the strictly science/technical orientation of chemistry and biology and thus allowed my creative side to be nurtured.

While at CWRU, I met another Greek student. She was very friendly and we talked about forming a Greek club together on campus. We met a couple of times and our plan finally materialized. We reserved a room for the meeting and put up flyers around the campus, baked some cookies, and had the meeting. About thirty Greek (mostly from Greece) students showed up. Some were Greek but did not speak Greek. Shortly after, we had elections and I was voted President of the group and my friend was vice-president. We also had a secretary and treasurer. We met several times to design the bylaws.

The Hellenic Association was recognized as a student organization after we supplied the appropriate forms and bylaws to the university. When we wanted to meet on campus, we were able to reserve rooms through a certain process. The group consisted of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, specializing in many fields, including: nursing, dental, engineering (civil, chemical, biomedical, etc.), medicine, and biology. Our group evolved and we had more meetings, and interesting events, like a picnic off the campus, Greek professors giving lectures, visits to restaurants, and other Greek events in the community (dances, dinners). etc. As a result, I was very busy with not only schoolwork, but the Hellenic group, and loving it. I would write up newsletters and provide them to the members. Another highlight of this group was that I was able to sign us up for the radio program on campus. They allotted our group a half hour radio time every Tuesday as a community service. I had to learn the technique of engineering the show, and after a few painstaking hours of training, planned each show carefully, including an opening theme, a Greek quote of the day, and which songs to play. I tried to arrange the music with slow and fast songs using a variety of singers. Most of the music came from records provided by the university, which we were grateful for. We also supplied some of our own records. We would tape the music and submit the recording before the show and they would play it for us. A couple of times I interviewed a professor or two as part of the show. Sometimes friends from our Hellenic club would also speak. Eventually, I learned that the Greek community was listening to our radio program and I was very pleased. However, because college is a temporary situation, when I graduated, I was sad to see the radio show end. No one else picked up the torch to continue it.

After graduation, I joined the Cleveland Women's Orchestra, an all-women's orchestra conducted by Hyman Schandler. I audtioned and was accepted. I enjoyed playing viola with them, and was a member of the orchestra for many, many years. We played annually at Severance Hall as well as at benefit concerts. The pieces were complex and long, mostly symphonies that would last 30-40 minutes each. We would work on these pieces for months at a time before the concert. We also performed at nursing homes on a weekly basis. Schandler would start the program by saying something about the compositions we would be playing and he always threw in some humor to make the residents laugh. The music was usually popular waltz pieces. These outreach performances were my favorite, for the audience was so receptive and appreciative. They would come up to us after the performance and thank us profusely. There would inevitably be a reception also, with drinks and food. One concert, Mr. Schandler's baton flew off the stage and there was commotion for a moment before he could get another one. Another time, a violinist went to sit down on a chair on stage and the chair broke. No lie. One other reason I loved the orchestra were the ladies in it. Sabina Berman, an old timer who played the viola was my best friend. She always greeted me with a bright smile. Rehearsals were weekly and at a boys' school in East Cleveland. We didn't leave rehearsals until close to ten, and and often we would have refreshments afterwards. The orchestra was composed of women from a variety of backgrounds...there were twins who played the cello and viola. We also had a nun who played the bass. There was a blind trumpet player who played from braille music using her hand to read. We also had a famous journalist from the local newspaper who went on assignment in Kosovo. Those were very pleasant times.

Until next time...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chemistry Stockroom

I have so many memories of my youth that range from childhood into college and beyond. There are so many interesting stories of my life that I would like to write about. I don't think it would be worth a memoir, but for a blog, it just might be the right thing.

One such memory is during the time I was a student at Case Western Reserve University. I had entered the university with dreams about becoming a Ph.D. biochemist, no lie. It all started when I was fourteen years old and a cousin of mine from Australia had hydroencephalus and leukemia at the age of 13 months. The family brought him to the U.S. and they stayed with us. The poor child did not make it and he was so adorable. I was affected deeply by the loss, and began to read as much as I could on leukemia and other related topics.

Upon graduating from high school, I went to Cleveland State University but felt that the classes were not what I was looking for. The following year, I entered CWRU. There, the counselor I spoke to suggested I major in Chemistry rather than in Biology. Big Mistake. This was through the Case Institute curriculum which is primarily science oriented and a very rigorous program. The first year I took five difficult courses, and also worked part-time in the Chemistry stockroom. It was down in the basement and filled with all kinds of inventory, including chemicals. I would fill the orders for graduate students and staff and maintain inventory.

There were several harrowing moments that occurred during my experience there that convinced me not to pursue chemistry. These events will be imprinted in my mind forever. One particular event was when we were called to attend an emergency. I tagged along, not knowing if I was needed, but felt impelled to be there. At the end of the hall, in a locked room, were many barrels that held chemical waste from the chemistry labs in the building. Typically, each barrel held wastes that were compatible with each other and did not react with each other. However, someone had placed the wrong chemical in a waste barrel (mislabeled) and a reaction was occurring before our very eyes - similar to a mushroom explosion. I thought the room was going to explode. I stayed outside, peeking in as they ran a large hose into the room. To my consternation, I learned that the auditorium was just above this room. Fortunately, the head of the department with several others were able to avert a disaster.

The second incident was when a graduate student was measuring mercury into a container, and spilled it. The hood that they were working in was less than a foot from my desk. We had to clean it up but didn't know how. I read up on the technique and called for help. The spill was cleaned up. I don't think I saw that graduate student again.

The third incident was when I was carrying canisters from the mail room into the chemistry stockroom and I read that if they were left at room temperature, they would explode. The date on the canister was at least 2 days old. I was very scared as I properly placed the canister in storage.

The fourth and final incident that definitely sealed the coffin on the word Chemistry was when two bottles of Nitric Acid that I was stocking up, clashed and broke, splashing my legs with the acid. I had to be rushed to the ER for this. Although it didn't hurt much, I had to be placed in a warm bath and ultimately a burn scar was the result of this.

The following year, I switched majors to Biology and I haven't looked back since.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cancer Cells Continued

With my first job at the Cleveland Clinic, I was sent to the University of Berkeley in Berkeley, California, to learn the techniques of tissue culture and also perform experiments with the staff there. It was beautiful, sunny weather in the month of July, but somewhat cool. I was fresh out of college, young and energetic and eager to learn all that there was. My lodging was an old building, a section of the university reserved for visitors like me, where everything was dark and the ancient steps creeked as I walked up the stairs to my room. Over the course of a few days, the lodging’s old character had revealed a quiet charm that was easily embraced by my receding spirit after a busy day at the lab. I also enjoyed walking the sprawling campus of the university each sunny morning with my female colleague, ogling the beautiful campus buildings and architecture, heading toward our research building.

I remember walking the halls of the science building with my colleague, who proudly told me that several Nobel Prize winners had worked in this very same building. I remember entering the women's restroom in the basement floor of the building and finding a person huddled in their sleeping bag, apparently having slept overnight there. I learned that some experiments were timed so that the researcher needed to remain overnight. This was the dedication I saw over and over again over time from several scientists who were willing to make sacrifices for their research.

Once I learned the tissue culture technique and the cell cycle experiments, I returned back to Cleveland and resumed working in our lab. Our initial experiments were held at NASA's cyclotron in Brookpark, which emitted neutron beams on tumors located on the legs of mice. The idea was that these powerful beams would zoom in on the target without killing the surrounding tissues. We worked with another researcher who came from Massachusetts General Hospital, and would drive 14 hours bringing all his mice with him in his station wagon just for these experiments. It was a multi-institution project, with the Clinic, NASA, and MGH involved in these experiments. The cyclotron had initially been used for other reasons, but when I arrived at this job, they were using it for mice experiments. I also heard at the time that it was being considered for late stage cancer patients who were willing to give neutron therapy a try.

Until next time....

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cancer Cells In Vitro

It's been a few years since my work as a biologist at the Cleveland Clinic, and sometimes I will read something in a scientific journal that will trigger memories of my work. This is an attempt to write a bit about my experience stemming from my many years working in the lab.

I was employed at the Cleveland Clinic first as a Research Technologist/Lab Manager in the Radiobiology Lab, and later as a Lab Manager in the MRI Research Center. In both departments, I designed and ran the tissue culture labs and performed experiments on cancer cells, ranging from human cancer cells to mammalian cancer cells.

The lab was essentially equipped with a CO2 incubator for the cancer cells, vented hoods, centrifuges, microscopes, refrigerator, freezer, sink, and UV lights overhead that turned on when closing the lab in order to sterilize the room. UV light destroys the DNA of the bacteria so that they cannot reproduce. Everything was positioned in such a way as to maximize sterility and efficiency.

The hardest part about growing cells in tissue culture was to keep them not only alive but clean from contamination by bacteria, viruses or fungi. The water used to prepare the media had to be pure, without contaminants so as not to interfere with the cell growth. All glassware was washed and rinsed several times with pure water to remove any soap residue. Even a little residue could affect the cells. Also, it was preferable not to use antibiotics, but if a cell line became infected, it could be costly, because they would have to be disposed of and a new batch prepared. So there were times when antibiotics had to be used.

Until our lab was up and running, I worked in another department of the Cleveland Clinic. In those days, they cultured the cells in an open lab, working over a lit burner (the heat was supposed to keep the bacteria away). I was initially trained in this method. Also, glass pipettes were used and had to be cleaned all the time. Any one of these methods were potential for contamination.

When our new lab was finally opened, we had disposable pipettes and range hoods that vented out. We also had pressurized rooms so that when we entered the room, the air from the outside would not enter the lab. I guess the difference between our lab and the older lab was the funding. We were the new kids on the block and had received funding that allowed for these upgrades, whereas they somehow didn't feel a need to do so.

Many times our work focused on radiobiological experiments, and we used radioisotopes often. We always worked with powdered latex gloves and often two pair at a time, one over the other, in case we needed to leave the room and return. When leaving, we would remove the outer layer and upon return, would put on another pair over the first layer.

Different cancer cell lines had different food requirements, but all cancer cells needed the basics, like fetal calf serum and L-glutamine, and glucose. The culture media varied, though, and the pH had to stay within a certain range. I could tell when cells were thriving or dying just by the color of their media. Yellow media meant they were overgrown, and needed to be recultured into another petrie dish, and purple media meant that the cells were dying.

Cancer cells were basically stored in a tiny capsule in a frozen state with DMSO,which helped them not crystallize and die. The freezing and thawing procedures were very delicate and came down to a fine art so as not to lose any cells in the process.

Cancer cell lines we used had finite lives before they began to mutate into something else, so many cultures are frozen at the very beginning of a cell line to use. After about 15 propogations, we would pull a new batch from the freezer and thaw it and grow into a new culture. If this was not done, and a culture was used continuously for a long time, the cells would start changing and the results would vary, making the cell line unstable.

Until next time....

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tips for Novice Authors

Tips for Novice Authors

If you are reading this article then you probably have asked yourself at some point in your life, "Do I have what it takes to become an author?"

I believe that successful authors, those who actually write and finish that novel, or book of poetry, or even that book of short stories, and see it all the way to publication, have certain characteristics.

Characteristics of Authors

1. They like to sit for hours in front of a computer screen (or with pen and paper), typing (writing) away.

2. They think about their book, even when they're not writing.

3. They are motivated to finish their book.

4. They are motivated to proofread, edit and revise their finished book until it is the best it can be.

5. They are motivated to publish their book.

6. Once they publish the first book, they are already working on the next one.

If you answered yes to anyone of the above, then you have a good chance of attaining your dreams of becoming an author. Don't listen to those people who say it's a competitive market out there. Don't listen to those people who say they've written five books and haven't had one published yet. And don't listen to those people who send you back your manuscripts! Listen to yourself. Listen to that inner voice, the one that is whispering now. But wait until you get started. Once your book is written and published, that inner voice will be roaring! And the whole world will hear about it.

I know, I know. I tend to be the optimist. But we have so many pessimists in the book business, we sure need some more optimists around!

For you, the novice writer who would like to start writing that first book, the best way to begin is to start writing. Yes, just sit down and do it. Stop the other activities, the television, the reading, the shopping, the chatting on the telephone, and find the time to devote at least one hour a day to writing.

What's one hour a day in the scheme of things? It comes and goes like this, poof! What do you have to show after an hour of television? A lazy yawn? If that same hour were spent on writing, then there would be a product in your hands, something that will be shared, hopefully, one day with others.

So, go ahead, shut the door to the rest of the world for one hour (or more) and make yourself comfortable in front of the computer screen (or pen and paper). Let's take the first step to becoming an author.

How To Begin


Just like a construction company which builds a foundation to a home, you also need to prepare a foundation for your career in writing. Don't skip this step, it's important.

Your "foundation" will consist of basic writing skills. Remember those English courses you took in high school and college? If you don't remember anything from those courses, then it wouldn't be a bad idea if you found your old English textbooks, dusted them off a bit, and looked through their pages to refresh your memory.

If you haven't taken any courses in creative writing, you might consider signing up for one. Check with your local community college. They often offer weekend and evening classes, and sometimes even online classes. If you're on a budget, then visit the public library and sign out books relevant to writing.

In addition, it would be very useful to join a writing group (online or in your local area) that critiques your work and gives you the opportunity to critique also. The group provides wonderful support and an avenue to sharpen your skills as you gain experience in writing, as well as exposure to other people's writing. For example, is a good example of an online resource that provides many opportunities to share your writing, and get your work rated and reviewed. If you want to join a critique or review group, it offers that also.

The second step to becoming an author, is to have the right tools.

Tools Needed

Besides a comfortable chair, plenty of lighting, and a quiet room, you will need a computer with a word processing program (e.g., Microsoft Word), a printer, and plenty of paper.

Why a computer? First of all, publishers typically will request a copy of your files sent to them on a floppy disk. More importantly, working with a word processing program will aid you in many ways towards becoming a published author. It will provide the opportunity to save your work as a Word file, without having to use up tons of paper (as with a typewriter). This greatly aids you in keeping your work organized. It also gives you the flexibility to edit and re-edit large sections of your work quickly by allowing you to utilize the copy and paste functions.

Other advantages of using a computer word processing program is that it provides spell check capabilities, and also helps you count the number of words per page. In addition, when you want to spice up your vocabulary (For example, if you like to use the word "walk" often, and are getting tired of that word), place your cursor on the word "walk", hit shift F7. It will give you a list of synonyms you can choose from - like stroll, amble, etc.).

The time saved by using a computer is very valuable. It gives you more time available to write! Of course, if you don't have the above materials, don't let that stop you from writing that book! Using a pen and paper is perfectly fine. Books were written with these two basic tools for centuries.

Let's assume you are using a computer and a Word processing software. First of all, before you begin writing, form a subdirectory that you can add all your chapters to. Maybe you know the title of your book already. Fine, then form a subdirectory using the name of the title. After you finish writing that first chapter (oh joy!), just save it as Chapter 1 under the subdirectory. If you are writing a book of poetry, then you might want to save each poem as a separate file.

When I write my chapters for my novel, I format them in double space mode, with a Times New Roman 11 font. All the margins are at least one inch. This way it will be ready for manuscript submission.

Try not to add your page numbers until the very last revision. Page numbers constantly change when you're revising, so wait until the end.

Finally, another reason for having a computer is for Internet access. As a writer, you will have opportunities to submit your fiction online, such as, or even your articles online for e-zines, such as Any chance you can get to write online, do it. As long as it doesn't take too much time away from your book. It's also a free way of promoting yourself before the book is even published.

So you need to balance your time in writing that book, honing your writing skills, submitting your work along the way for others to critique, and promoting yourself. Can you do it? Of course you can!

The third step to becoming an author is:

What to Write

If you are planning to write a novel, it would help to know what general category your book is going to be in. Will it be in the romance, mystery, or science fiction category? If you don't know, take some time and think about it. Read some books in those genres. Which books seem to attract you the most? It's highly likely that you'll be writing in the category that you like to read. My preference is romance because I read those types of books the most. Once you decide the category, then you are closer to writing that novel!

For poetry, you might start by writing a poem and submitting it to a poetry journal, or a poetry contest. Gain exposure for your poetry. Join a critique group so you can sharpen your poetry skills. A chapbook usually consists of about 25-35 poems. For a poetry book, you'll need at least 60 pages of poetry, if not more.

Types of Novelists

I have found over time, that there are two types of novelists. The first type is the writer who prefers drawing up a proposal or plan of what they will write about. The second type prefers to write whatever comes into their mind at that moment.

You decide which writer you will be.

Type 1 Novelist

They begin by describing the characters, their names, personalities, and sometimes their motives. Then they decide when and where the setting will take place. When will it take place? If it takes place before the 1900's, then it will be considered historical. Also, will the setting be in the country, in a city (which city?), in a house (whose house), on a cruise ship? That needs to be defined also.

Once those decisions are made, they write brief sketches of each chapter. It could be a page or two long. Once all this is done, then the real writing begins. If this method works for you, then feel free to use it. It may take some time, but you will become more confident about what you'll write once you go through this initial process.

Type 2 Novelist

What if you're the type of person who doesn't want to spend all that time writing proposals and character sketches? What if you're like me, who prefers to just write whatever comes into your head? Then do it! Sit down and start writing. Write anything.

As the story develops, something wonderful begins brewing in your mind. Something called creativity. I've caught myself hours after I finished writing a chapter, and I'll be preparing dinner, or walking somewhere, and a scene from my novel will begin to unfold. It's called creative problem solving. My mind is working to solve the problem that the writing presents it, even though I'm not actively writing. When I get those urges, I immediately stop what I'm doing and jot down my thoughts. It's helped me many times, particularly when everything clicks together.

How Long Will It Take?

It took me almost two years to write and find a publisher for my first novel, Lipsi's Daughter. For other people, it may take longer or shorter, depending on the amount of time they allow for writing and how many pages they are writing. I know of authors that took six, seven, up to twelve years to write their first book. I also know of a famous author who writes two novels a year!

So unless you begin writing that first page of your book, you'll never know how long it'll take you to write it. Go ahead, make that first step, and good luck!

This Article is available also on

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Plagiarizing is a key offense

A couple of months ago, my husband Anthony and I published an article on cancer in the prestigious Townsend Letter titled "The U.S. Cancer Program and Specific Types of Cancer, 1975-2007: A Failure, Part 1, Aug/Sep 2011 issue ( More recently, Part 2 of the article was published in the October 2011 issue, and Part 3 will be published in the November 2011 issue.

The article is about the US Cancer Program (1975-2007) and assesses specific types of cancers. It is written in 3 parts. We are the first researchers to have assessed the program's success or failure in the prevention or treatment of cancer using very specific criteria.

Unfortunately, while doing a search on the topic, we recently came across an article that looked almost identical to our article, but was written by a "Dr. Robert O. Young" on his blog. He used exactly the same words as we did, particularly with the criteria used in assessing the program, word for word, but instead of giving us the credit for our work, he begins his article with "I have assessed the U.S. Cancer Program for prevention and treatment.."

I left a comment on his blog and have not heard anything from him. This is blatant plagiarism and the publisher of Townsend Letter has been notified.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ending Aging

Hello again,

Yesterday we attended a talk hosted by the World Future Society at the Community College of Baltimore in Essex, MD given by Dr. Aubrey de Grey. He is a Cambridge graduate and the author of the 2007 book "Ending Aging." He was an hour late and he only spoke a half hour, but it was an interesting talk, never-the-less.

I learned about him after picking up his book a few months ago and
found what he wrote to be very interesting. He is the director of a foundation called SENS (

Dr. Aubrey de Grey is optimistic that with the help of technology we will be able to live longer. Although he stressed in his talk that his focus is not only about longevity, but more importantly, about improving our health. For some reason, he doesn't believe that supplements, etc. add to our longevity, yet he does believe in preventative medicine.

In his talk, Dr. de Grey used the description of a car, which is a machine, and as it ages, is maintained and repaired and therefore can live well beyond its intended life span (in his example - 50 years). He believes that we can do the same thing to the human body - treat it like a machine. Each time we extend our lives, then that buys us time for newer technology to add more life.

Just the act of living causes oxidation in our bodies, so that is an inherent part of our lives. Damage to the body caused by oxidation accumulates over time, and instead of focusing our efforts on what causes this damage, we should repair the damage.

I asked the question: "There are assumptions in your theory, that the patient will get to the doctor on time, that the doctor is well trained in this new technology, and that the insurance companies will pay for these services." His answer was that his main focus is on the biological aspect and that these issues will come up and will need to be addressed at some point.

After the talk, I went up to him and mentioned to him about the incidence in cancer rising in the US and with environmental factors like radiation and pollution contributing to it, that it will be difficult to be healthy, but there was a long line of students behind me, so I didn't get a chance to talk at length on that dear subject.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Don't be Afraid of Love

I wanted to focus on an important topic that I've been fortunate enough to witness all of my life - and that topic is Love. I grew up in a loving family, and had loving relatives, and have a loving husband, and loving son, and so on...Once we experience Love, we can express it to others.

It is such an important piece of our lives that if we do not experience it, we literally shrivel up and die. Countless studies with monkeys have shown that baby monkeys do not survive if they do not cuddle with their mother, and the same thing goes with human babies. We all need Love.

The fact that I have three novels testifying to Love shows its importance in my life. I chose to write love stories because I felt deeply about my love for my husband, my son, parents, siblings, etc. and love brings us together. The Bible has several beautiful passages about Love and its characteristics (forgiving, patient, kind).

We know there are different types of Love, but they all point to building relationships and caring for one another as if that other person is yourself.

So let Love into your life, and you will literally transcend into another reality, a better reality.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Social Media

The change that is happening these last few years with regard to social media is astounding. More and more people are connecting socially through the internet with the techno gadgets they tout in their purses and pockets. Who would have ever thought of technology and humans meshing into such a global social network a few years back? Not me, but then I also wasn't too keen about cell phones, either.

Amazing to watch your fingers "do the talking" as you silently touch keyboards, putting your subconscious thoughts down, and bingo, getting a response from somewhere in the global cosmos from another human being. This is beginning to remind me of what happened to money. First, there was barter, then there was money, then there were plastic cards, then there were electronic accounts.
Increasingly complex and symbolic. How often do you touch money these days?

Socially, at first we humans talked with other humans, then there were telephones, then there was email, then there is Facebook and Twitter. Something is missing in all of this. This is a sketchy existence, an outline of life in order to be part of something bigger than us. What is wrong here? Plenty.

What is missing is the human connection; seeing and hearing people talk in a conversation, watching them express emotions, touching their hand, or giving them a smile or nod. What is missing here is the ability to carry on a conversation and learning the signals that people give when communicating. What is missing here are real people.

Another problem is that I don't know that the person I am writing to on twitter or facebook is real, do I, unless I know them personally. So we learn to accept another reality, just like we learned to accept other worlds while watching movies and videos. Even though we are living in this "real" world, when we watch movies, read a book, or communicate via internet, we are transcending ourselves and living in another reality at the same time that our bodies are rooted in a physical place.

Finally, I have noticed on an increasing basis, that more and more people are not writing proper English on the internet. At first, I dismissed it thinking that people would write on their tiny computers and it would be difficult to correct, but when I saw a Wikipedia article the other day written full of typos, I said enough is enough. The internet does not have quality control. People write and push a button, and voila it is public to the whole world. Something is wrong about that. Because once it goes on the internet, it stays in the databanks forever.

Think about it.