An App for Every Malady

We have all heard of smartphone applications for losing weight, or calculating the calories we burn in a day, or checking the nutritional value of  the food we eat. Interestingly, it turns out that numerous apps for tackling even bigger problems  continue to be developed. These include asthma, diabetes, seizures, heart disease, and hepatitis. Following is a list of some leading apps for complex health problems.

1. The Autism Quiz App: The app, developed by MindSpec, allows people to test their knowledge of Autism and share information with friends.

2. DASH II: Researchers at Newcastle University developed this app to come up with the best treatment for stroke patients. The app was voted by a public vote as one of 50 best uses of technology.

3. iDichotic: Developed by Joseph Bless at University of Bergen, iDichotic works by simultaneously presenting each ear with a different syllable, and asking the user which syllable is the clearest. The test indicates the active side of the brain.

4. ABMT-based app: The app is based on the principles of a new cognitive treatment for anxiety called attention-bias modification training and is developed by researchers at Hunter College.

5. AceMobile: Researchers in Australia and the UK developed this app by translating the commonly used paper-based test (Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination) for screening for dementia into an app form.

6. TOBY Playpad: Developed by the team of Svetha Venkatesh at Deakin University, the app educates parents on the best at-home therapy interventions as soon as the first symptoms of Autism become evident.

7. SRTS: The stress resilience training system, developed by the US Office of Naval Research, is an iPad app training program that educates users to manage stress by learning biofeedback techniques that work for their individual needs.

8. The app developed by researchers at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, helps sufferers of migraines keep track of their pain by tapping the afflicting areas on a 3D skull on the app.

9. Developed by Dr. Victor Patterson, the app allows non-doctors to determine whether someone is having a seizure and what the relevant actions should be.

10. BeddIt: The app is used in combination with a sensor placed under the sheet, which measures the sleeper’s movement, heart rate and breathing, send the data to the app, which then provides recommendations for improving the quality and quantity of sleep. The app is developed by Joonas Paalasmaa at University of Helsinki.

11. Monarca App: A sensor in the smartphone, along with an app, collect data about abnormal behaviors such as excessive movements or telephone calls that indicate a manic episode, and send the information to the consulting doctor. The app is developed by research at Bielefeld University.

12. SpiroSmart: Developed by researchers at the University of Washington, University of Washington Medicine and Seattle Children’s hospital, the app assess lung function and asthma condition by letting people blowing into their smartphones.

13. Developed by researchers at Leiden University Medical Center, the app serves as an asthma self-management tool for patients.

14. EncephalApp_Stroop: Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University developed this app, which works by assessing the archetypical cognitive dysfunction found in patients with cirrhosis.

15. Hep i-chart: The app provides hepatitis patients with the latest information on drug interaction. Researchers at University of Liverpool developed the app.

16. Plan A Birth Control: The app developed by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles helps make informed decision about birth control by providing relevant information in an easy-to-follow format.

17. Mayo Clinic on Pregnancy: is an app developed for Windows 8 that educates users on pregnancy, and provides all the relevant tips and guidelines.

18. Lose It: Developed at researchers at University Hospital Case Medical Center, the app is in a clinical trail to assess whether using it can help women lose weight gain through pregnancy.

19. Meniere’s Disease app: Developed by researchers at Exeter Medical School, the app allows patients of this rare disease of the inner ear to log the details of their symptoms and compare them with symptoms of patients around the world.

20. The app, designed for people with night blindness, keeps track of sufferer’s location and distance walked from home. The app has been developed by researchers at University of Pakistan.

21. GlassesOff: Developed by researchers at Tel Aviv University, the apps works by training the brain to convert blurry images into clear ones.

22. Led by Dr. Shizuo Mukai and team at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, the application uses smartphone camera to photograph the retina and diagnose eye disease.

23. The app, developed by researchers at University of Edinburgh, helps doctors calculate the risk of dying within 3 years of a heart attack, in order to formulate an informed treatment plan .

24. WOW ME 200 mg: Developed by researchers at Rutgers-Camden Nursing School, the app works by educating heart patients about self-management. The acronym stands for Weigh yourself; Measure output of fluids; walk and be active;
Take medications;
evaluate signs and symptoms; and limit salt intake to 2,000 mg or less, with 1,500 mg being optimal.

25. Developed by David Burt of University of Virginia, School of Medicine, the app works by expediting transmission of diagnostic heart images to the concerned physician.

26. Afib Educator: Developed through a collaboration of various healthcare leaders and organization, the app works by educating users about Atrial Fibrillation and its management.

27. DiabetesIQ: The app has been developed by researchers at University of California, San Francisco and QuantiaMD, and teachers users about Diabetes, its management, and treatment options.

28. The app developed by Dr. Nilay Kavathia and team give patients prepping for a colonoscopy, step- by step instructions on the various dietary restrictions and bowel medications required before the procedure.

The Red Nessie: My visit to Janelia Farms

After following directions like “right on Helix drive, then right on Scientific lane,” one can surely expect to arrive at a scientific paradise. Stashed away in almost the countryside of Virginia like a well-kept secret, Janelia Farms, a campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is indeed a paradise for science. Entering the guarded premise evokes a heavy feeling of privilege and responsibility, given the security-operated large doors that ensure selective entry into the 689-acre compound, somewhat like an exclusive club open only to a few.

The main building is juxtaposed with a serene lake and tiny waterfalls flowing through smooth boulders, conjuring the tranquility of an English garden. On the other side of the lake sits an enigmatic sinusoidal scarlet sculpture. At night, the sculpture glows softly like a fiery dragon flowing seamlessly in the dusky skies, with its reflection flickering in the dark water of the lake, like the dragon’s beating heart. The place seems most fitting to write a sequel to Walden.

Adding to the awe, the main building appears to be made entirely of glass, and being in it feels like being in a giant snow globe. “Each piece of glass is custom-made in Belgium and comes with its own bar code,” I am told, as I get escorted inside the building. The glass windows allow visual access to the scarlet sculpture outside, as well as to contiguous lab space inside, spread across the building’s three floors, literally representing the transparency and collaborative nature of the science that happens at Janelia Farms. The generated knowledge is allowed to flow unobstructed like a brackish breeze emanating from a vast ocean, bathing everyone and everything it contacts- no walls, no barriers.

I am at Janelia Farms for a job interview, which starts with a presentation of my PhD work in a conference room called Photon. Other rooms in the building also have similar names such as Electron, Neutron, consistent with the overarching theme of the institute- uninhibited and uninterrupted immersion in science. This theme is also evident in the abundance of television screens in the hallways, constantly displaying various images and movies of the multitude of biological processes researched at Janelia Farms.

I am given a tour of the extensive fruit fly facility where hundreds of strains of transgenic flies are transferred from old vials to fresh ones by three of the six robots in the world, designed specifically to do this job, an innovation I can truly appreciate, having spent hundreds of laborious hours manually performing the same task as an undergraduate lab aide at UMASS, Amherst.

During my visit, I am most star-struck from my meeting with physicist Eric Betzig, a technical wizard, who specializes in building cutting-edge microscopes that allow visualization of dynamic biological events, intractable to microscopy until only recently. Dr. Betzig’s office is a stereotypical genius mayhem, with piles of scientific papers on the couch, on the floor, books everywhere, even more piles of papers tossed on the desk, and a plate of tossed salad sitting on top of a relatively shorter pile of papers. It is lunchtime. “Let’s go to the conference room next door,” Dr. Betzig suggests, looking around his office. I concede with a smile and follow his lead.

As we sit, I cannot help but be captivated again by the sculpture outside, getting gently dusted by some light snow, visible from the large glass wall of the conference room. This moment of captivation is broken however, by another, and arguably superior, work of art. On his thick and hefty, 17 inch, orange Dell, Dr. Betzig shares amazing movies of fluorescent cytoskeletal spikes dynamically located on the surface of cancer cells, made using a novel technique called Bessel beam plane illumination microscopy or movies of dividing bacterial cells using photo-activated localized microscopy, also called PALM, invented a few years ago by his own group. We later walk to Dr. Betzig’s laboratory, where he shows me the latest microscope his post-doc has been working on. Not just your run of the mill microscope, this instrument appears more to be a pegboard with various shaped knobs and blocks sticking out of it, a masterful sculpture in its own right.

The busy day of multiple interviews concludes with a dinner at Bob’s pub, a café/ bar/ hangout spot located on the first floor of the building, serving gourmet food and drinks all day long. As we discuss over wine and cheese, conferences, music, lab, papers and other topics related to the lives of passionate scientists, I come closer to understanding the promise of the potential of collective intelligence, given unlimited resources, modern infrastructure and financial freedom. When I look outside, I notice the scarlet sculpture, now even more effulgent against the setting sun, perhaps depicting the fire within the heart of every scientist diligently striving to understand the origins of life. I later discover that the sculpture is of a Nessie, a cryptid aquatic snake-like creature, that reveals only part of his body above water, but has an equally elaborate invisible part immersed in the water, waiting patiently to be discovered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tenderness: A Beautiful Description of a Scientist

I first crossed paths with Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee as a PhD student at the Johns Hopkins University in 2012, where he had come to talk about his highly acclaimed, Pulitzer prize-winning book, The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. It was a rather big auditorium, but proved to be to quite small for the sea of admiring students and faculty that had come to hear him speak. I, on the other hand, had actually not heard of Mukherjee till that day, and was simply tagging along with my friends. Nevertheless, I quickly realized that I was witnessing something extraordinary, as I glanced around the densely packed room and struggled to find a seat even on the steps. What ensued was a mesmerizing storytelling session on the history of cancer and the remarkable people behind it. Mukherjee’s beautiful and inviting presentation prompted me to buy his book the very next day.

The book was as engrossing and engaging as I had imagined after listening to his presentation. It was the kind of writing that holds your mind hostage even after you are done reading; that invigorates your sense of curiosity and stimulates your intellect; that simultaneously brings a smile on your face and tears to your eyes. It was a book that inspired me to write and made a fan out of me.

So, earlier this year, I quite naturally started reading The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2013, with Mukherjee as its editor. Through the introduction to the book, Mukherjee takes the readers on yet another journey–only this time to the monastery of Gregor Mendel- the founder of modern biology, in Czech Republic. Through this journey, Mukherjee points to an uncommonly quoted quality of a scientist—“tenderness,” a term that should resonate with every craftsman and creative person and is a hundred percent worth sharing.

“Intelligent”, “meticulous”, “hardworking”,  “stickler” are some words used commonly to describe a scientist. “Tenderness”, however is not one of one, admits Mukherjee. Regardless, the term gets quickly justified once Mukherjee starts narrating the painstaking efforts with which Mendel conducted his arduous eight-year long cross-fertilization experiments on plants, which eventually led to the discovery of genes—a breakthrough discovery that completely revolutionized Biology. “It requires indeed some courage to undertake a labor of such far-reaching extent,” Mukherjee quotes Mendel’s statement from his seminal 1865 paper. Mukherjee then contends that perhaps “courage” is not the most befitting word to describe Mendel’s work and proposes to replace it with “tenderness”. He says:

 

Mendel was, first and foremost, a gardener; his science began with tending. His genius was certainly not fueled by deep knowledge of the conventions of biology (thankfully, he failed that exam). Rather, it was his instinctual knowledge of the garden, coupled with an incisive power of observation that brought him to question the nature of inheritance and thereby discover genes. The act of tending—the laborious cross-pollination of seedling, then meticulous tabulation of the colors of cotyledons and the markings of wrinkles on seeds—soon led him to findings that could not be explained by the traditional understanding of inheritance. Heredity, Mendel realized, could be explained only by the passage of discrete pieces of information from parents to offspring. These had to be atoms of information—particles of inheritance—moving from one generation to the next. Tending generated tension—until the old fulcrum of biology was snapped in two.

 

Anyone who has ever worked in a laboratory would agree wholeheartedly with Mukherjee’s contention—the quality of nurturing, of caring, of kindness to the work you are doing–is indeed a pre-requisite to doing any kind of science.

I, myself, have experienced this quality when doing even the most mundane tasks in the lab. Tasks such as setting up a Western blot—ensuring soaking the filter paper thoroughly in the buffer; neatly stacking the sponges, the filter paper, the membrane; squeezing out all the bubbles; or growing a culture of bacteria—checking the temperature of the incubator; carefully measuring the amounts of growth media, ensuring sterility of the hood; or writing down my observations in a notebook–remembering not to forget the details, describing each and every event, even if it felt silly then to take note of such a seemingly insignificant detail.

I also realize that in the events when my experiments did not work, it was often due to a lack of tenderness–hastily setting up an apparatus; or not studying an unusual phenomenon because it was not priority.

Imagine if Mendel decided to not study that 10,000th plant; or if Edison did not test those thousands of “vegetable growth” in search of the perfect filament for his light bulb; or if Alexander Fleming had not stopped to notice the destroyed bacterial colonies on the petri dish contaminated with a fungus. Science would not be where it is now and our understanding of the world and its origins and its future would be completely dwarfed. Indeed, great science demands great tenderness.

 

Mean girls (and boys) and biology

A new study by researchers at University of Texas at San Antonio and University of Minnesota, school of management, shows that during the week of their ovulation, women subconsciously become more competitive about their socio-economic standing in comparison to other women, and are less likely to help them. “They become meaner to other women”, says Kristina Durante, assistant professor of marketing at UTSA, and the principal investigator of the study.

Durante and her group were interested in this topic because of findings from a previous study that asked female volunteers a very simple, yet, profound question: a new job offer comes with two options. Option A, you get $100,000 in salary per year, but your peers get $200,000 per year or, option B, you get $50,000 per year, and your peers get $25,000 per year. Which option do you prefer?

Surprisingly, more than half (56%) of the female volunteers who were asked this question chose option B. They were willing to take substantial pay cut, if it meant that they would make relatively more money than their peers.  Durante was intrigued by this result, and wondered what was different between these women and the remaining 44%, who chose absolute gains over relative.

Durante and group reasoned that the answer might be have to do with sexual competition, and hypothesized that ovulatory status could account for the increase in a woman’s sense of economic competition with other women. They tested their hypothesis through various behavioral tests of 309 female volunteers, who were categorized in either the “high- fertility group” or “low-fertility group,” based on self-reported ovulation status.

In the first behavioral test, volunteers were asked to choose between options of having an expensive car, with other women getting an even more expensive car, or having a cheaper car, with other women having an even cheaper car. Consistent with their hypothesis, the majority of women in the high fertility (ovulating) group chose the option that gave them relative gains by choosing a cheaper car, while majority of women in the low-fertility group (non-ovulating) chose the option of absolute gain by choosing the more expensive car.

This phenomenon was even more pronounced in the results of the dictator game, a test where female volunteers were given a fixed amount of money and asked to divide it between themselves and another person. In this scenario, urinalysis was used to definitively determine fertility status.

As expected, ovulating women gave significantly less money to other women, than non-ovulating women. Interestingly, ovulating women were more likely to give significantly more money to a man, as much as 50%, than were non-ovulating women.

The study very clearly demonstrates that the fertility status of a female can significantly alter her economic decisions, and her interactions with other women, as well as men, an observation that makes intuitive sense. Intriguingly, a study by Buunk et al. (2012) showed that in a similar game of resource sharing, men behaved more competitively and less prosocially towards other men, than they did towards women. Thus, it seems that when it comes to sexual competition, it’s not just girls who can be mean, but also boys!

A strawberry a day keeps the doctor away!

A new study by Alvarez-Suarez et al. in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry indicates that adding strawberries to your diet may lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides. The study was based on 23 healthy volunteers adding 500 grams of fresh strawberries to their diet everyday for a month. The result- volunteer blood samples showed a decrease of total cholesterol levels by 8.78%, of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 13.72% and triglyceride levels by 20.80%, when compared to baseline.

Additional benefits from the consumption of strawberries included improvements in platelet function, anti hemolytic defenses and antioxidant biomarkers. These changes returned to baseline levels within 15 days of removing the strawberries from the diet.

Strawberries and other soft berries are known for their high anti-oxidant content and several studies indicate a multitude of potential health benefits from their consumption. But this study demonstrates for the first time a statistically significant decrease in cholesterol resulting from strawberry intake.

Pretty sweet news for people at risk for high cholesterol. The only thing sweeter would be…well, chocolate-dipped strawberries!

New Study Indicates Aspirin Use May Reduce the Risk of Ovarian Cancer

Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, is commonly used to relieve minor aches and pains and to reduce fever. Interestingly, ancient Greeks and Native Americans benefitted, for centuries from salicylic acid, the active form of aspirin, found naturally in the barks of willow trees.

A versatile drug, aspirin, has been shown to reduce the risk of several health conditions, including colorectal cancer and heart attacks.

A new study published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute now indicates that daily intake of aspirin can also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in women by 20%, and by 34% from low-dose aspirin usage.

The results are based on statistical analyses of pooled data from 12 population-based case-control studies of ovarian cancer, spanning 15 years, with a total of 7776 cases and 11843-control subjects – the largest study so far investigating this issue.

The exact mechanism by which aspirin prevents ovarian cancer is yet to be understood, but it may have to do with aspirin’s inhibition of COX-1, the enzyme responsible for prostaglandin biosynthesis.

Further research is needed, however, before making any clinical recommendations for the use of aspirin as an ovarian cancer preventative drug, since long-term aspirin use is associated with serious adverse effects such as peptic ulcers, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, and hemorrhagic stroke.

Nevertheless, the incipient news brings optimism for the prevention of a devastating malignancy, responsible for more than 140,000 deaths of women worldwide. Although the disease is treatable in the early stages, it is often detected only when the cancer has advanced to later stages. Thus, any strategies designed to prevent ovarian cancer hold the key to reducing the disease burden.

Late Nights: A Bad Idea

The 19th century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, once said of sleep:

 Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at
 death; and the higher the rate of interest and the more regularly it is
 paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But we have all experienced physical as well as emotional distress from disrupted sleep caused by frequent jet lags or late night work schedules.

Data from a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences now provides molecular insights into the impact on gene expression profiles of people, whose sleep is delayed by 4 hours for 3 consecutive days.

The researchers subjected 22 healthy volunteers, 11 males, 11 females, to a consistent sleep-wake routine for 28 days to evaluate the changes in gene expression profile from sleep delay, when compared to baseline. The gene expressions were studied using microarray technology with RNA samples extracted from volunteer blood samples.

When compared to baseline, delays in sleep caused a six-fold reduction of circadian rhythm-related gene expression in the blood samples tested.

The genes affected were involved in imperative functions such as  “blood cell development and function, vascular function, immunity, and lipid metabolism.” Moreover, previous work from the same group shows that there is a significant decrease in the circadian rhythm-related gene expression in blood with just one week of insufficient sleep.

The increase in people suffering from jet lags, as well as working shift jobs necessitates the investigation of how our health is impacted by sleep delay and deprivation. This study provides a molecular basis for understanding the adverse effects of these on the human health, and perhaps even longevity. After all, Schopenhauer might just be right.

Antioxidants: to take or not to take?

A new study published in Science Translational Medicine shows that antioxidants, specifically vitamin E and acetylcysteine (NAC), can actually worsen lung cancer in mice, putting to question the popular belief that antioxidants fight cancer.

An antioxidant is any molecule that prevents oxidation of other molecules by reacting with free radicals produced naturally as a byproduct of oxygen metabolism. Free radicals can react with normal cells and cause damage to cells and even to their DNA. A damaged DNA can increase the likelihood of developing cancer. Luckily, the body has its own line of antioxidants that neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals on healthy cells. Based on this reasoning, several companies actually extract antioxidants from various sources and sell them for use as dietary supplements, supporting the notion that antioxidants promote good health.

DNA damage, however, is not always a bad thing. It can induce the expression of tumor suppressor genes such as p53, which work to prevent emergence of cancerous cells. Thus, the running debate among scientists and doctors alike has been whether or not antioxidants should be recommended to patients with cancer. On one hand, they reduce DNA damage, which can lead to cancerous cells, while on the other hand; they obstruct the beneficial tumor suppressor genes.

According to the data generated by Sayin et al., antioxidants are a bad idea, if cancer already exists. The authors report “antioxidant supplementation of the diet reduces DNA damage in mice, prevents p53 activation, and markedly increases tumor cell proliferation and tumor growth in mice.”

The authors speculate that “antioxidants are unsafe in patients with early stages of lung cancer and in people at risk of developing the disease…this may be relevant to patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, who are often smokers with an increased risk of developing lung cancer and ingest high amounts of NAC to relieve mucus production.”

It seems that when it comes to good health, there is really no magic pill. Thus, like most dietary supplements, antioxidants should also be taken only at the recommendation of a doctor.

The Ripple Effect: Hidden Costs of Courtship Cues

The one fundamental quality shared unwaveringly among all living species is the commitment to reproduction. Thus, remarkable courtship behaviors have evolved among species dedicated to attracting a promising mate. These include distinctive songs, conspicuous display of plumage, bright colors, and bioluminescence and offering of shelter and food. Needless to say, every advertised mating cue poses a certain cost to the individual. The costs can become monumental when these cues inadvertently tip-off competitors as well as life-threatening predators and parasites.

This principle has been elegantly demonstrated in a recent study published in Science by W. Halfwerk et al (2014). The subjects of the study are male tungara frogs, which produce distinct sounds to attract a female mate. The ritual takes place in shallow ponds of water where several male frogs gather at night and try their best at winning a date.  A byproduct of these mating calls is the production of discernible ripples in the water, begging the question-are these ripples perceived as additional mating cues?

Thus, Halfwerk and team tested the effect of ripples on male-male competition as well as on predation by frog-eating bats.  To test the effect on competition, the team created an experimental set up where a male frog was exposed to either a combination of call sound and ripples or ripples alone or sound alone. The resulting observation was that male frogs responded aggressively to the combination of sound and ripples by more than doubling their own call rate, when compared to their call rate with sound alone. Moreover, males did not respond to ripples alone, implying that the ripples had to be associated with a call sound in order to be perceived as a rival cue.

Frogs prevent predation during courtship by ceasing mate calling in response to any sign of predators such as bats. However, the ripples from their calls linger in the water for a few seconds even after call cessation. Thus, to test the effect of these ripples on predation, Halfwerk and team used two pools of shallow water, each fitted with a robotic frog and acoustic sound, mimicking mating calls. The experimental pool also generated ripples, while the control did not. In this scenario, the team observed that bats strongly preferred to prey on frogs that displayed sound and ripples, in comparison to frogs with sound alone, rendering the defense strategy of frogs of ceasing mating calls ineffective against predation.

The study highlights the selective pressure imposed by competition and predation on the evolution of elaborate courtship behavior. The individuals seem to need to strike a healthy balance between being highly elaborate and conspicuous to provoke attraction in a suitable mate, while remaining subtle enough to avoid getting noticed by predators.

It would be interesting to also test the effect of the ripples on female frogs in this system. Do they prefer frogs associated with sound and ripples more than the ones with sounds alone? Does this preference hold up even in the presence of predator cues? These follow-up questions would provide even more insights into the complexity of intra and interspecies interactions in nature.


Reference:

W. Halfwerk et al. (2014) Risky Ripples Allow Bats and Frogs to Eavesdrop on a Multisensory Sexual Display. Science 343: 413-416

Breakthrough in Science’s Price: Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize

Without a doubt, the most coveted honor in any academic field, including life sciences, is the Nobel Prize. At a lavish ceremony held annually at Stockholm, the laureate receives a regal gold medal, an exclusive diploma and a hefty cash prize-currently amounting to USD1.2 million.  In addition, the laureate also receives the ultimate worldwide validation of his or her achievement-an accolade on its own.

Established as a result of the will written by Alfred Nobel, the Prize is intended to recognize people who have made significant contributions to the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine or physiology, literature, peace and economics. A prolific chemist and engineer himself, Alfred Nobel built his fortune through copious inventions. In an attempt to be remembered favorably by the world, he left his fortune for the recognition of innovators who produced knowledge yielding the “greatest benefit to mankind.”

Yuri Milner, a modern-day magnate, seems to have a similar vision. An entrepreneur and venture capitalist by profession, Milner started out studying theoretical physics, but gave it up to pursue business. The result: a billion dollar fortune.

Perhaps to commemorate his first love for Physics, Milner, in 2012, established the Fundamental Physics Prize-given annually to a significant contributor to the field of physics. The laureate receives USD 3 million as part of the recognition- more than double the amount given for the Nobel Prize. What’s more? Milner did not stop with Physics.

In 2013, he teamed up with other opulent giants of our times, including Arthur Levinson, chairman of Apple Inc. and Genetech, Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, Anne Wojcicki, a biologist and an entrepreneur, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook with wife Priscilla Chan, to establish the Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize, awarded annually to six life science researchers. The prize also includes USD 3 million given to each of the six recipients.

These awards and the large sums of money they carry have received mixed reviews. Some welcome such monetary support to brilliant minds (considering that the Nobel prize money is split even further among multiple laureates); others scorn at the prizes, accusing them of attempting to buy the prestige of a Nobel Prize.

I wonder how Alfred Nobel would feel about these prizes. Seeing as how he wanted his own money to be given to discoverers who benefited mankind, I can’t help but believe that he would indeed welcome these upcoming prizes. And let’s face it. Research is expensive. USD 3 million sounds like a big amount at first but is nothing that a handful of genome-sequencing projects cannot exhaust!