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 May, 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!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Discounted! The Vesuvius Isotope

In honor of the upcoming release of Pompeii: The Movie, I've decided to make The Vesuvius Isotope available at a drastically discounted price. Brush up on your Pompeii and Herculaneum history, while also enjoying an action-packed romp through Italy and Egypt, for up to 70% off! That's right. I'm offering the print book for just $9.99 from my website or the Murder Lab site only (a 25% discount) and the e-book from KindleNook, or Kobo for $2.99 (a 70% discount.) These prices will go the way of Pompeii when the movie comes out on February 21.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Tour Through Coptic Cairo

Slowly, I stroll through the dusty, crooked streets of the birthplace of Egyptian Christianity. Churches and convents line both sides of the streets. I wander into a church and am greeted by an ornate interior of gold and ivory. An old man is at its altar, lighting candles. I leave him alone and return to the street...

No visit to Cairo is complete without a trip through the ancient walled city of Coptic Cairo. Step off of the Metro at the Mari Girgis Station and cross beneath the archway of the citadel. There, you'll pay a small entrance fee for access to the entire walled city.

Near the entrance to the city are the Church of St. George, the Coptic Museum and the Church of St. Sergius. You'll also see the Roman tower on your right hand side before swinging around toward the Convent of St. George. Because some of these old buildings are still actively used by Cairo's Coptic community, you may see visitors lighting candles or praying. Otherwise, you are free to wander in and out and take photos.

The Coptic Museum is a must-see, featuring art from early Christianity throughout Egypt and the Near East. At the Convent of St George, one can be wrapped in chains like the saint himself.

At the far end of the main street, past the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the Church of St Barbara, are two enormous cemeteries. Historically Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox, you'll find headstones in a myriad of languages. Some of these are quite ancient and others fairly new. Some are quite modest, others very elaborate. Readers of The Vesuvius Isotope should look for the headstone of Selena Zenobi.

Back near the entrance to the citadel, follow the road along the wall of the citadel to the Hanging Church. Named for nothing that has to do with hanging people, this church is one of the most ornate in the city. Read more about it here.

Follow the trail of the holy journey through Egypt, from Upper Egypt all the way north to Alexandria and across the Sinai peninsula.

Protagonist Katrina Stone races through Coptic Cairo on her quest to solve Cleopatra's last riddle in The Vesuvius Isotope, a novel by Kristen Elise. Purchase The Vesuvius Isotope here.

For more about traveling alone through Coptic Cairo, click here. For more about traveling alone through Egypt, visit

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bloopers! Dioscorides was Greek

It has come to my attention that I published a little fib in The Vesuvius Isotope. Below is an astute e-
mail from reader Zoe:

Hello Dr. Elise -

I am presently reading your great novel 'The Vesuvius Isotope' and I am very much enjoying the history you have incorporated into your story.

Unfortunately I did not make note of what chapter or what page you first mention Dioscorides but if I am not mistaken you indicate that he was a Roman. I, being of Greek descent, immediately realized that that was not a Roman/Italian name because of the ending letters. Dioscorides was a Greek. It may too late to correct that in your printing and you may very well have already had this brought to your attention but being a proud Greek, I felt I had to make this comment to you. I tried in vain to go back to locate where I read the 'Roman' statement but I was unsuccessful. If my memory is serving me incorrectly on having read that description on this then please forgive me.

Once again, thank you for this very informative and adventurous tale.


Zoe: Thank you for the e-mail and for noting a blooper in the novel. You are correct! Dioscorides was of Greek descent, but he practiced in Rome, which is why I referred to him (erroneously) as Roman. You have a great nose for names! It is, indeed, too late to correct the flub in the current printing of Vesuvius, but it can be corrected in future additions. Cheers,