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New and Exciting in PLoS this week

So, let’s see what’s new in PLoS Genetics, PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Pathogens and PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases this week. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:

Strategies for Aspiring Biomedical Researchers in Resource-Limited Environments:

Countries struggling with global health challenges desperately need local biomedical researchers to find health care solutions to address the deadly diseases that affect their populations. Building the scientific capacity of resource-limited countries is a clear priority among the scientific community [1]-[3].

As the Global Forum for Health Research Report stated [4], “Strengthening research capacity in developing countries is one of the most effective and sustainable ways of advancing health and development in these countries and of helping correct the 10/90 gap in health research.” The 10/90 gap refers to the statistical finding of the Global Forum for Health Research that only 10% of all global health research funding is directed to research on the health problems that affect 90% of the world’s population [5].

Great efforts are now being made to correct this gap, and some call it the golden age of global health. Many researchers in resource-limited environments have the opportunity to train outside their country and are offered scholarships to do so, with the goal that they will return and help their country. For researchers willing to deal with developing world challenges (poor infrastructure and support), there are exciting opportunities to solve a nation’s most pressing health problems and make a name for themselves along the way.

Training the Next Generation of Global Health Scientists: A School of Appropriate Technology for Global Health:

In March of 2008, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made the impressive announcement that it will accept proposals for a new Grand Challenges Explorations program [1]. Grand Challenges Explorations will provide $100 million for global health scientists to identify new ways to protect against infectious diseases (including neglected tropical diseases [NTDs]), to create new drugs or delivery systems, to prevent or cure HIV/AIDS, and to explore the basis of latency in tuberculosis [1]. In so doing, the Gates Foundation will build on its long-standing multibillion dollar commitments to develop and test new drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines for NTDs, as well as the better known “big three” diseases, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and to fund critically needed operational research in support of large-scale control programs for these conditions [1]. The Gates Foundation is not alone–the United Kingdom’s Wellcome Trust has a £15 billion investment portfolio of which a significant amount is devoted to global infectious diseases [2], while the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) also devotes a significant amount of funding towards global health [3]. Therefore, in the coming decade we can expect that these initiatives will contribute significantly towards reducing the so-called 10/90 gap, a term coined by the Global Forum for Health Research to refer to the finding that only 10% or less of the global expenditure on medical research and development is directed towards neglected health problems that disproportionately affect the poorest people in developing regions of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and tropical regions of the Americas.

A Tribute to Evgenii V. Ananiev, 1947-2008:

This article is a tribute to Dr. Evgenii Ananiev, who passed away on January 10, 2008, after a year-long battle with a brain tumor. It is nearly impossible for me to comprehend this loss, as Evgenii (Image 1) was always larger than life–full of ideas, vitality, and joy. I first met Evgenii more than 30 years ago, when I started working on my senior thesis in the laboratory of Roman Khesin in the legendary Radiobiology Department of the Atomic Energy Institute in Moscow. Evgenii was a postdoctoral fellow in the lab next door headed by Vladimir Gvozdev. From day one, it was hard not to notice this energetic, well-built young man with a broad, charismatic smile and engaging manners. He would bump into you in the corridor to share his excitement about his most recent observations made using DNA hybridization in situ with the polytene chromosomes of Drosophila. Admittedly, he had every reason to get excited, as his data provided the first molecular evidence for the existence of mobile elements in eukaryotes–a discovery of foremost significance. The paper describing these striking results came out in Science, an unprecedented success for Soviet molecular biology.

Sweating the Details: An Interview with Jamie Thomson:

If you had to name the most controversial scientific achievement of the past decade, you’d be hard pressed to top the development of human embryonic stem [ES] cells. Human ES cells followed on the heels of another major technological advance–Dolly, the cloned ewe. Together, these remarkable breakthroughs have stimulated great public interest and have ushered in a new era in the exploration of human biology. At the center of the ES maelstrom is a soft-spoken and intensely private scientist from the Genome Center at the University of Wisconsin. Jamie Thomson (Image 1), who is also Director of Regenerative Biology at the new Morgridge Institute for Research and the founder of two companies, is purposeful, with an obvious knack for a difficult experiment, yet seems a bit uncomfortable in the limelight his work has generated.

The Dynamic Brain: From Spiking Neurons to Neural Masses and Cortical Fields:

The cortex is a complex system, characterized by its dynamics and architecture, which underlie many functions such as action, perception, learning, language, and cognition. Its structural architecture has been studied for more than a hundred years; however, its dynamics have been addressed much less thoroughly. In this paper, we review and integrate, in a unifying framework, a variety of computational approaches that have been used to characterize the dynamics of the cortex, as evidenced at different levels of measurement. Computational models at different space-time scales help us understand the fundamental mechanisms that underpin neural processes and relate these processes to neuroscience data. Modeling at the single neuron level is necessary because this is the level at which information is exchanged between the computing elements of the brain; the neurons. Mesoscopic models tell us how neural elements interact to yield emergent behavior at the level of microcolumns and cortical columns. Macroscopic models can inform us about whole brain dynamics and interactions between large-scale neural systems such as cortical regions, the thalamus, and brain stem. Each level of description relates uniquely to neuroscience data, from single-unit recordings, through local field potentials to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalogram (EEG), and magnetoencephalogram (MEG). Models of the cortex can establish which types of large-scale neuronal networks can perform computations and characterize their emergent properties. Mean-field and related formulations of dynamics also play an essential and complementary role as forward models that can be inverted given empirical data. This makes dynamic models critical in integrating theory and experiments. We argue that elaborating principled and informed models is a prerequisite for grounding empirical neuroscience in a cogent theoretical framework, commensurate with the achievements in the physical sciences.