Basic Stereology for Biologists and NeuroscientistsHow does one determine the size of an organelle? The length of a mass of capillaries? The number of synapses in the brain?

Stereological techniques can be used to estimate the number, length, surface area, and volume of structures in biological cells and tissues. Measurements are made on two-dimensional images or sections of a structure, and then mathematical rules are applied to generate a meaningful description of its three-dimensional geometry. Our newest book, Basic Stereology for Biologists and Neuroscientists, provides a practical guide to designing and critically evaluating stereological studies of the nervous system and other tissues.

“Over the past two decades, a large number of scientific papers have been published that collectively represent a paradigm shift in thinking about how to derive meaningful quantitative data about structural features in biological tissues,” writes the author, Mark West. “These are the design-based, unbiased stereological methods.”

These new stereological methods, the focus of the book, are introduced in “Introduction to Stereology,” a freely accessible article from Cold Spring Harbor Protocols. The book will be essential reading for neurobiologists and cell biologists interested in generating accurate representations of cell and tissue architecture.  For more information, click here.

The growth and survival of tumors depends on angiogenesis, the process by which new blood vessels are formed from preexisting vessels.  Similar processes are required for proper embryonic development, patterning of the vascular system, and wound healing.  Our new book Angiogenesis: Biology and Pathology reviews the mechanisms of angiogenesis that operate in normal and disease states.

In 30 chapters, contributors review the biology of endothelial cells, describing the specific roles of tip and stalk cells in vessel sprouting and formation. They discuss key angiogenic regulators (e.g., VEGF), as well as antiangiogenic agents including microRNAs, thrombospondins, and semaphorins.  Therapeutic approaches that target pathological angiogenesis, such as the ongoing clinical trials of anti-VEGF drugs, are also covered.

“It is hoped that the vast amount of basic knowledge about angiogenesis that has been acquired over the last four decades and reported in this volume will result in improved therapies for angiogenesis-dependent disease,” write the editors, Michael Klagsbrun and Patricia D’Amore.

Angiogenesis: Biology and Pathology is a vital reference for developmental and cancer biologists, as well as anyone seeking to understand the biology and pathology of the vascular system.  For more details on the book, click here.

The worldwide AIDS epidemic makes research on HIV, the disease processes it induces, and potential HIV therapies among the most critical in biomedical science. Our new book HIV: From Biology to Prevention and Treatment reviews the current state of HIV research.

“There was once a time when a scholar could expect to read all the literature in their field, but for HIV this task is now impossible” write the editors, Frederic Bushman, Gary Nabel, and Ronald Swanstrom. “In 2010, fully 13,188 papers were published on HIV. Given this scale, it is evident that comprehensive reviews of HIV research areas are critical for understanding AIDS.”

HIV: From Biology to Prevention and Treatment contains 29 chapters, in which expert contributors explore the origins and evolution of HIV, the HIV replication cycle, host-virus interactions, host immune responses, and HIV transmission.  Vaccines, cell and gene therapies, antiretroviral drugs, microbicides, and behavioral strategies for the treatment and prevention of HIV are also explored.  For more details on the book, click here.

Robert Olby’s widely praised biography of Francis Crick was one of the items in a time capsule that was recently buried in the foundation of The Francis Crick Institute, a £660,000,000 biomedical research center under construction in Central London that is scheduled to open in 2015.

The brass capsule, buried by Crick’s daughter Gabrielle, also included letters from scientists, photographs, artwork, and other memorabilia representing Crick, the Institute, its ambitions and locale.  “In this time capsule, we are making clear our aspirations for the Institute to future generations,” said Sir Paul Nurse, the Director and Chief Executive of the Institute, during the ceremony.

Most of Crick’s long life in science was spent on two fundamental problems in biology: how molecules create life and how the brain creates consciousness. To both, he brought his initial training in physics, a discipline judged to have achieved remarkable progress in the 20th century, endowing him confidence (or immodesty, in the eyes of at least one observer) that problems in biology were similarly susceptible to solution. Echoing Crick’s optimism, Sir Paul said that by bringing together many of the world’s best scientists and clinicians, the Institute aims to improve lives and help deliver the innovations that will bring long-lasting benefits to the economy and people’s health.

Between 1947 and 1977 in Cambridge, Crick became molecular biology’s leading theorist, laying foundations for the elucidation of the triplet code, an understanding of the flow of genetic information, and the machinery for synthesis of proteins.  His subsequent years in California until his death in 2004 were devoted to studies of consciousness.  Although the problem proved unyielding and this period of his life failed to provide the scientific success he hoped for, Crick lived long enough to see the emergence of a new generation of scientists with the confidence, and the research tools, to ask questions about the nature of mind that had previously been the terrain of philosophy and the humanities.  He would have greatly enjoyed – and would no doubt have elegantly contributed to – the recent sparring on the relationship between neuroscience and the humanities in the opinion pages of The New York Times. In those articles, and several of the well-informed comments that followed, Crick’s presence at the foundation can be seen once again.

“Sydney Brenner does indeed pepper his conversation with “OK?”, like a teacher anxious that his students should have understood.  Francis Crick does indeed have a knack of describing his reactions to past events as if they had been spoken aloud, as in “At the time, we said, ‘Isn’t that funny, they seem to be arranged on strings’…” about the arrangement of ribosomes in the cell.”

The Eighth Day of Creation: The Makers of the Revolution in BiologyReaders can now gain their own impressions of these titans from the recent biographies of Crick and Brenner. But when those words were written, 15 years ago, by the distinguished former editor of Nature, John Maddox, he was acknowledging as “uncannily accurate” the voices of the principal actors to be heard in The Eighth Day of Creation, a history of the birth of molecular biology written by Horace Freeland Judson, who died last month at the age of 80.

Originally published in 1978, the book was reissued in expanded form by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press in 1996. The additional text included new information about the relationship between Jacob and Monod (explored at an Institut Pasteur symposium in May) and an essay arguing, in Judson’s words, that Rosalind Franklin “did not have a bad career in science because she was a woman” (the theme of the play Photograph 51, staged and discussed at this month’s Science Festival in New York).

These two recent events show that the story Judson told remains as absorbing today as ever.  In an Afterword to the most recent edition of the book, the 25th Anniversary Edition, Judson gives his own account of how he pulled it off.  Reliant on in-depth, often multiple interviews with the principal players, his approach was intense and exhausting.  His newspaper obituaries, for example The Guardian’s, were respectful and admiring but to get a proper flavor of the man, read the excellent blog postings by two younger men who worked with him (here and here).  The vanity and self-regard they point to are on full display in the Afterword but so too is the elegance of the prose, the sharp intelligence, and the sheer sense of pleasure in the people and events involved.  Judson’s subsequent books lacked this verve.  Perhaps academic ambition undermined his journalistic energy.  But as Maddox remarks, the structure of DNA and all that has flowed from it is the most penetrating of all insights into the natural world.  No-one has chronicled it as well and clearly as Judson did.

“While I have accepted that I am beyond cure in the current primitive state of cancer therapeutics, I have never lost my faith in basic research’s benefits for future cancer patients.” –Charles E. Harris

Incurable: A Life After DiagnosisCharles Harris was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in March 2009, shortly after retiring as chairman and CEO of the company he founded, Harris & Harris Group.  Nineteen months later, he passed away.

In the intervening period, Harris maintained a blog to keep family and friends informed of his progress.  From his blog was born our latest book, Incurable: A Life after Diagnosis.

In Incurable, Harris describes not only his tests and treatments, but also the thoughts that entered his mind as his time on earth was nearing its end.  He writes about living and dying, friendship and fellowship, sports and wine, race horses and recessions.

Harris’s account is an inspirational and eloquent reminder that an understanding of cancer remains an urgent goal in biomedicine.  Proceeds from the book will be used by the Harris family in support of cancer research.

“I discovered a new type of crystal just after Easter which suddenly transformed the whole aspect of my protein research and gives rise to high hopes.”

–Max Perutz (1944 letter to parents-in-law Herbert and Nelly Peiser)

What a Time I Am Having: Selected Letters of Max PerutzMax Perutz was a scientist of immense achievement and a key player in the development of the field of molecular biology.  His personal letters, published in the book What a Time I Am Having, provide an intimate look at his life.

“All crystallographers will find much to like in this splendid book,” writes John Helliwell (University of Manchester) in the current issue of Crystallography Reviews.  Helliwell says that historical events “are now in a vista of glorious detail described close in time to when they actually happened.”

In particular, the book documents the hopes, roadblocks, and moments of elation of Perutz’s 60-year quest to understand the molecular biology of hemoglobin.  His discovery of the structure of the molecule earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1962.

The letters, written not for public consumption but for family, friends, and fellow scientists, “provide a less guarded and thus more human viewpoint,” Helliwell says.  “It is a privilege to have access to all these letters in this remarkable and splendid volume.” (more…)

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