Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Biological Terror Threat: How Real is it?

One of the persistent themes in the forthcoming Kristen Elise, Ph.D. science thriller The Death Row Complex is the threat of a biological attack. This is a theme that has been explored in thrillers for decades. But how real is that threat? With the expansion of ISIL across the globe, should we be worried? According to BioWorld Today, we should. This is a scientific publication I subscribe to written by scientists, for scientists. The crux of the issue described in today's issue is eerily close to some of the scenarios laid out as fiction in The Death Row Complex.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Vesuvius Isotope Photo Tour Revisited

As the June 2015 release of The Death Row Complex approaches, I re-invite readers to view the photo tour of The Vesuvius Isotope, the first novel in the Katrina Stone series. This is literally a trip through the novel from beginning to end, excluding the Black's Beach footage to keep it rated PG. No spoilers here, but I'm hoping that you'll look at these and wonder what the heck all of those pics have to do with the story! Enjoy…

Purchase the best-selling historical thriller The Vesuvius Isotope here!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The San Quentin Testicle Transplants

In The Death Row Complex, forthcoming prequel to The Vesuvius Isotope, one of the themes explored is the concept of experimentation on humans for research purposes. This is not a new concept. It was done many times throughout history from Cleopatra to the Nazis and then some. What came as a surprise to me was the history of this practice at San Quentin State Prison, the very same prison that is featured in The Death Row Complex.

I saw this story on Mysteries at the Museum and had to Google it to find out more.

The story revolves around Dr. Leo Stanley, San Quentin's chief surgeon in the early 20th century. Stanley had a fascination with the elusive formula for the fountain of youth, and he happened to be practicing medicine at the same time when the field of endocrinology (the study of hormones and their functions) was in its infancy.

Stanley hypothesized that old men could be made young again through testicular transplants, and he was in the perfect place to test his hypothesis. He was working in an environment with active execution facilities, and the majority of those executed were young, healthy men. Stanley began grafting the testicles of healthy young men who had been executed onto elderly inmates… and it worked. The elderly men reported feelings of rejuvenation and it appeared that Stanley had turned back the clock. The jig was up when a family excavated their deceased loved one and found out that his testicles had been removed without their permission.

During his tenure at San Quentin, Stanley also experimented with eugenics and forced sterilization of prisoners.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Death Row Indeed

What in God’s holy name happened in here?!
     The faint Southern drawl of Special Agent Sean McMullan echoed as his rich voice boomed through the concrete corridor of San Quentin’s North Seg. The corridor had otherwise fallen silent. It was a first for the prison’s original death row wing, the wing eternally cacophonous with the rage of dead man walking.

     Now? Men, yes. Dead, for sure. None walking. Two tiers of thirty-four cells. Sixty-eight dead men, not walking. Death row indeed. 

Excerpt from The Death Row Complex, the second Katrina Stone novel by Kristen Elise. Look for it in June 2015. To read a free sample, click here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Murder Lab: The Real Deal About Epidemics and Their Cures

Reposted from Murder Lab. #TheDeathRowComplex #sciencethriller #medicalthriller

Murder Lab: The Real Deal About Epidemics and Their Cures: The medical or science thriller almost always has a ticking time bomb in the form of disease and a fight to cure it. From The Andromeda Stra...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Poet's Vaccine

Edward Jenner Statue, Kensington Gardens, London

In Kensington Gardens of London stands a tribute to the physician Edward Jenner. Best known for his invention of the world's first vaccine, Jenner is frequently referred to as the "father of immunology." The plaque that graces the statue tells the story of this "country doctor who benefited mankind:"
In Jenner's time smallpox was a dreaded disease worldwide and caused many deaths particularly in children. Survivors were left badly scarred and often blinded or deformed.  
In 1796 Jenner vaccinated James Phipps with cowpox and showed that the boy was then immune to smallpox. He predicted the worldwide eradication of smallpox. This was finally achieved in 1980.  
Jenner was born, practiced and died in Berkeley, Gloucestershire and studied at St. George's Hospital, London. 
Plaque on Edward Jenner statue, Kensington Gardens, London
Another tribute to the world-renowned physician stands in Gloucester Cathedral, a monument to Gloucester's most famous hometown boy.
Edward Jenner Statue, Gloucester Cathedral
The story on the Kensington Gardens plaque is the accepted version of historical events: Milkmaids, exceptionally prone to a much lesser disease called cowpox, rarely contracted the frequently fatal smallpox. In 1796, Jenner diagnosed cowpox in a milkmaid named Sarah Nelmes, who had contracted the disease from a Gloucester cow named Blossom. To test his hypothesis that cowpox could prevent smallpox, Jenner drew material from a pustule on Nelmes' hand and used it to inject an 8-year-old boy named James Phipps, the son of his gardener. Lo and behold, the boy became immune to smallpox; upon deliberate later exposure to the disease, he could not catch it.

The word "vaccine" was thus coined from the Latin "vacca" for cow, and the world's first example of deliberate acquired immunity was born. Jenner was inaugurated into what is now the Royal Society of Medicine, his vaccine became standard-of-care in London, and he later became the personal physician of King George IV. And all of this success was the result of his observation of cowpox, his groundbreaking research with a young milkmaid and a boy, and his invention of the world's first vaccine. Or so the legend goes.

The truth, however, is a different story. Edward Jenner was neither the inventor of the world's first vaccine in general nor the discoverer of cowpox specifically. Indeed, he might never have lived long enough to take credit for the find, had he not been personally vaccinated against smallpox as a young child.

The inoculation that vaccinated Edward Jenner against the deadly disease was brought to London by a brave, headstrong, outspoken woman: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. She introduced it almost thirty years before Jenner was even born. 
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
The use of cowpox to prevent smallpox was also nothing new: it had been performed as early as 1774 by a Dorset farmer named Benjamin Jetsy, who was finally recognized as the true inventor of the technology in 1805. 

And still, the name known to history is Edward Jenner.

Why was credit for the smallpox vaccine bestowed so heartily upon Edward Jenner, who in reality had very little to do with it? The quest to answer this question will lead us from Bath to Istanbul, from Jenner to Alexander Pope, and into the war between poets that eradicated smallpox forever.

Protagonist Katrina Stone chases Lady Montagu's vaccine to stop a powerful 21st century cult in The Queenmakers, the forthcoming sequel to The Vesuvius Isotope. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope on Amazon.

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Yes, I'm Still Alive

Just wanted to provide a quick update for my readers who might think I have fallen off the face of the earth. The reason I haven't been around so much these last few months is that I've gone from full-time bench scientist to full-time author to full-time facilities coordinator. Let me explain.

As most of you know, I have been a research scientist since God was a child. I had been working for several years for a major pharmaceutical company. I won't say which one but it starts with a Pf. In February of 2013, said pharma company eliminated my whole biotech subunit, so about a hundred of us were laid off. Some cried. I cheered, because this meant gaining that elusive luxury - time - and a severance package with which to complete The Vesuvius Isotope.

So, I spent an entire year between March, 2013 and February, 2014, as a full-time author. It was awesome. Unfortunately, I learned that sales of a single novel - even though mine were pretty good - don't pay as well as being a full-time scientist and ultimately, noveling couldn't pay the bills. My husband - my knight in shining armor - bravely and brilliantly bore the financial burden for the both of us for a long time. But there came a time when I started to feel guilty about that and frankly, I also missed drug discovery. So I went back to work.

I'm now working at a small biotech, which is much more my style. My colleagues are cool and we're doing some great science with the objective of developing cancer immunotherapies. In the interest of keeping my work and my writing separate, I won't say what the company is, but I'm sure any stalkers on this site who are determined enough can figure it out. I'm heading a brand new lab which I have gotten to build from the ground up (as in, literally selecting the building, signing the lease, hiring the staff, and putting the equipment in place.)

Which is how I've come to refer to myself as the highest paid facilities coordinator in San Diego county. It's amazing what I've learned about the ventilation requirements for a biosafety cabinet, how to connect an ice maker drain that runs overhead, and what triple net means. That's all great, but now I'm ready to do science again and I promise, there will be some great medicines coming out of my lab very soon.

Meanwhile, I am still editing The Death Row Complex in collaboration with the tireless Cyndie Duncan, and I do still hope to release it in the next year-ish.

Thanks to whoever is reading this for your patience, and happy reading.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Vesuvius Isotope in San Diego Book Awards Finals!

Hello to all...

First, let me apologize for dropping off in recent months. I am back at work in my "other" career and have been busy building a new laboratory dedicated to molecular discovery of cancer immunotherapies.

But I'm popping back up because The Vesuvius Isotope is a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards Mystery category! Please step on over to the page and check out the other books nominated.

In other news, we are still editing The Death Row Complex and hope to get it out later this year. Thanks to all for your support,

Cheers and happy reading,

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Dark Side of Science (From a Scientist and an Animal Lover)

I have three dogs. These adorable, goofy, loyal, sweet, trouble-making, unpredictable, intelligent, heart-warming little critters aren't pets to me, they're my family. Family made all the more precious by their devastatingly short lifespans and the knowledge that one day, far too soon, they won't be with me any longer. So as a scientist, it kills me to see things like this, and be reminded of the dark side of what it is we do. Watch the below video, and when you're done bawling your eyes out (I know I did) please read the comments below.

The plea at the end of the video asks us to only buy "cruelty-free" products. I wish it were that simple. Things that were tested on beagles include not only your mascara, but also your heart medication. Are you willing to die so that these dogs may live? Honest answer, please.

I don't have a simple solution. Actually, I do. It's in The Death Row Complex, the forthcoming prequel to The Vesuvius Isotope. But Congress doesn't seem to think much of it. Meanwhile, we still make medicines with animal research.

For the record, it's almost always mice and rats we work on. (And by "we," I mean everyone who works in biotechnology or the pharmaceutical business.) This doesn't bring me any comfort, personally, because I also happen to think mice and rats are adorable and I have owned several as pets. Which actually means family members, as noted above. So I don't feel great knowing that it's mostly mice and rats that are used for animal research. But it gets worse.

Most therapeutics don't make it to market without also going through at least some work in non-human primates as well. That means at least a few monkeys have been killed for every antibiotic, every headache remedy, and every birth control pill or erectile disfunction pill you take in your lifetime. Not to mention the ones you may need for diabetes, for cancer, for cardiovascular disease.

Which brings me back to the dogs. A dog's heart is remarkably similar to a person's. That is why heart research is frequently done in dogs. Beagles are the species for this, every time. A long time ago, I was offered a job in heart research. I even got a scholarship from the American Heart Association. I turned it down when I saw my first (and last) open heart surgery being performed on a captive beagle that would be euthanized shortly thereafter. Choke...

But what's the alternative? As a scientist, I say, there isn't one. As the Mom of three dogs, I would cast my vote for just about anything.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Paradox of Cairo Nightlife

Cairo at Night
I have blogged extensively about the nuances of traveling as a westerner in Egypt, and I think that Cairo exemplifies these nuances. In contrast to the Disney-esque atmosphere of Luxor, you will find a much stricter Muslim tradition in lower Egypt. Few locals wear short sleeves, and nobody wears short pants, despite the blazing temperature of Egypt in the fall. The women in Cairo are much more inclined to cover their hair, the subway features cars strictly for women, and you will see considerably more niqabi in Cairo than in upper Egypt.

Nile Cruise Ships Along the Corniche
So it's quite a surprise when the sun goes down over the Nile that first night, and the atmosphere spontaneously morphs into a more exotic version of Las Vegas. Suddenly, gone is the ubiquitous, beautiful, haunting call to prayer that hangs over Cairo all day with the smog. Instead, the thumping, pulsating beat of techno music blasts through the streets like a massive heartbeat, and it takes a moment to realize that yes, the lyrics are usually in Arabic.

Much of the energy is rippling from cruise ships docked along the Nile. Touts will step off of the ships onto the streets and try to persuade you that their Nile Cruise is the best. They offer belly dancers, sheesha, and yes, even alcohol.

Observing the paradoxical night-life in this 90% Muslim city, you become acutely aware of the conundrum facing the Egyptian people. In a country where tourism is the life-blood for almost everyone, does one stick to one's beliefs and starve to death? Or does one close an eye to the Qaran and entertain the western world? While I can only assume what the choice would be, to anyone actually given a choice, the undulating nightlife in the Cairo streets underscores the reality the Egyptians are entrenched in. Enjoy the atmosphere while you are here, my western friends, but please, tip well. They need it.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Vesuvius Isotope Photo Tour

Here's The Vesuvius Isotope photo tour, which I'll be showing live at some of my upcoming events. This is literally a trip through the novel from beginning to end, excluding the Black's Beach footage to keep it rated PG. No spoilers here, but I'm hoping that you'll look at these and wonder what the heck all of those pics have to do with the story! Enjoy...

Purchase the novel here!