Sunday, September 30, 2012

কলা + সংস্কৃতি = শক্তি

This week, overwhelmed by work and all that life throws at us, I felt on the brink of something dark - but that’s best avoided. On Thursday evening, I’d pulled together a small networking event and felt a degree of trepidation about it - it was informal, but that kind of makes me over-compensate. Of course, everyone who came along was full of life and so deeply involved and enthusiastic about their work, it was the tonic that I needed. More of that in a moment.

Thanks Holly ar the RNCM
It emerged this week that former Home Secretary and MP for Blackburn, Jack Straw has experienced his fair share of mental distress, and spoke eloquently on the Today Programme about his experience of serious depression. Apart from delivering a glib, ‘you have to be mad to be a politician’ one-liner, he did stress the normality of mental ill health and like Alistair Campbell, emphasised that the prejudice that surrounds mental illness is harder to overcome than physical ill-health. I’d like to see more of the politicians and public figures admitting to their vulnerabilities when they are in office. For me, (and its a mantra I often repeat) the statistics about 1 in 4 of us experiencing mental health problems, is useful when we think about slumping into a clinical crisis; but the truth is, we’re all on that spectrum of what it is to be human and its the strangest things that can lift us out of it, or push us deeper into it. 

Last weeks blog posting on Ben Goldacre’s, Bad Medicine got a lot of hits, and I’m particularly thankful to one keen-eyed reader for pointing out my subtle medicinal error! Did no one else notice? All sorted, thanks to the observations of a forensic scholar. So, that networking evening - a small group of intelligent, articulate and passionate people. We met because we believe in something - something essential about the human condition and how this thing we call arts/health might just be part of the way we address some of the inequalities in life.

Inequalities: they sound dull don’t they, but they are interesting! Do you know that access to this blog and the billion other opportunities that the internet offers in the UK, is restricted by vast numbers of people who have no access to the web. This digital divide is an extension of the inequalities we all know about, but that further strips away opportunities that should be available to all of us. ‘While the majority of people in  the UK have access to the  internet, there are still 10 million people who do not. Of these people, 4 million are are the most socially and economically disadvantaged in the country.’ For those of us who use the web to read, catch up with friends, buy and sell, ask questions, give answers, or even find love - the thought of not having this incredible resource is completely shocking. How bereft would you feel without the world at your fingertips. So it’s an outrage, that those of us marginalised by poverty and issues like our age, are yet again isolated by our lack of internet connectedness. Click on the image below for more 21st Century Challanges.

Over a third of older people feel lonely, says new research...

Following a recent poll by AgeUK and YouthNet, that was published this thursday, a tiny little article by Yvonne Roberts in the Observer highlights the need to move beyond just asking the questions that we surely all know the  answers to, to addressing the issues. The work, which is focused on thinking about how younger people can teach older people the skills of social media, isn’t under criticism, but it is reiterating what’s blindingly obvious. Roberts’ focus is very much on the social and emotional divides of loneliness and takes our diversity and our introvert/extrovert natures into account. She call’s for ‘fewer polls and more imaginative support’, and critically for us to think about how throughout life, we might make ourselves resilient against loneliness in later life.

Talking of ‘imaginative support’, some of you will have met Claire Ford when she presented her research from her Churchill Fellowship at a networking event in January. Her work bringing some of these IT skills and creative passion to people experiencing dementia, is flourishing and if you go to her blog, you’ll be able to catch up with some exciting developments in her ongoing iPad engAGE project. Brilliant stuff Claire - and like the ongoing work of Anne Basting, great leaps can be made in human flourishing by focusing on imagination and new possibilities, over reductionism and pathologising. Click on the iPad for more info and Claire's latest newsletter.

So at that networking event, that I was overcompensating at, bringing along ideas to share...well, it was a doddle. People were lovely and had so much to share. I took along a copy of the latest incarnation of the manifesto and shared some of the key points. I also took the National Charter for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, which the National Alliance for Arts, Health & Wellbeing will publish in October. Of course, our manifesto with all its allusions to the troubles that life can bring - the lows as well as the highs, resonates deeply. For all of you who contributed to manifesto part one, a lovely hard copy of part two will wing its way to you in the post, free of charge, once I take delivery. More of that in a couple of weeks.

I was thrilled to share news of a new and incredibly exciting arts/health opportunity that is emerging in Greater Manchester. I hope to be able to share something that we can all be involved in, very, very soon.

So my malaise has lifted. I can feel it lurking somewhere, but a mix of friendship and seeing the possibilities of what life throws at us, has restarted and gently lifted me upwards.*
Hey ho.      

Tesco Charity Trust Community Awards 
(UK) - Autumn Deadline
Charitable groups who are working locally across the UK to support elderly people and adults and children with disabilities have until the end of this month to submit their application for funding. The Tesco Charity Trust offers its Community Awards scheme four times a year to registered charities and not-for-profit organisations working on local projects that benefit communities close to Tesco stores in the UK.

The scheme has two strands: one which supports elderly people and adults and children with disabilities and a second which supports children and their education and welfare. There are two funding rounds per strand per year. Last year, the Trust distributed nearly £700,000 to local community charities through the scheme.

Groups can apply for one-off awards of between £500 and £4,000 which will support practical things such as equipment and resources. Projects previously supported include luncheon clubs, specialist equipment for disabled people, day trips and social trips for elderly or disabled people.

Decisions are normally made about three months after the closing date by the regional Community Co-ordinators who are based in Tesco stores across the UK. The closing date for applications for the current round for Elderly People and/or People with Disabilities is 30 September 2012. Full details can be found on the Tesco Charity Trust website. 

People’s Lottery Dream Fund
Deadline 31st October 2012
Now in its third year, the Dream Fund has already helped to transform communities across the country. The £400,000 funding pot offers charities and organisations the chance to work together and apply for up to £100,000 for an innovative 12 month project that will enhance the local community. Registered charities and community organisations in Scotland, Merseyside or Greater Manchester can apply. This year, they are encouraging applications from projects seeking to: 
  • Encourage active living
  • Bring communities together
  • Tackle climate change
  • Expand life opportunities

Heritage Lottery Fund Announces New Funding Programmes (UK)
The Heritage Lottery Fund has announced that the “Your Heritage” grants programme will be replaced by two new funding programmes.  The new Sharing Heritage programme will make grants of up to £10,000 to not-for-profit group wanting to explore, share and celebrate their community’s heritage. This can include:
  • Events
  • Exhibitions
  • Festivals and celebrations
  • Producing local history publications
  • Conservation of individual heritage items
  • Volunteer training and support. 
The new Our Heritage programme will make grants of up to £100,000 to all types of heritage projects. For example:
Smaller parks and green spaces
Community buildings
Museum collections and archives as well as activity projects exploring languages
Cultures and memories. 

Both new programmes will open for applications in February 2013. Read more at: 

Arts Council Launches Creative People & Places Fund Round II (England)
The Arts Council England has launched the second funding round of its Creative People and Places Fund. This is a new £37 million fund to help people living in places where involvement in the arts is significantly below the national average to participate in the arts. The Creative People and Places Fund will operate over three years.  It will invest in around 15 programmes of activity that use radical new approaches to developing excellent, inspiring and sustainable arts experiences for communities not currently engaging with the arts.  The Arts Council is keen to encourage long-term collaborations between local communities and arts organisations, museums, libraries and local authorities.  The Arts Council anticipate that the majority of funds awarded will be for between £500,000 and £3 million over three years. Projects supported during round 1 include:
  • Transforming lorries and vans into flexible artwork and arts spaces
  • Touring to local festivals
  • Schools
  • Workplaces
  • Towns and villages
  • Providing opportunities for people to get involved with art on their doorstep.  
The closing date for applications is the 12th December 2012. Read more at:

Two footnotes:

1. *After torrential rain, the sun emerged and walking out away from the city, I saw a stunted and windswept old oak that I know, bathed in a moments sunlight. The sight of its little shivering leaves turning golden, shocked me. Within the hour, the sun had set and a beautiful old full-moon rose over the eastern sky. did you see the moon that night?

2. A glib and slightly offensive Andy Williams anecdote.
When I was a small boy, my parents had an Andy Williams single - Almost There. The b-side was On a Street Where You Live. I always claimed it was naff, but secretly loved it - both sides. Years past and I covertly collected ‘Andy’ albums. Velvety crooner, all nostalgia, and discreetly camp. Of course, I inherited the single too.

I went to see him at the Bridgewater Hall a few years ago, and it was great. I was thrilled to be one of the youngest people in the audience too, which after being one of the oldest at Grimes recently; was a real treat. Anyway, after the show in which he sang Almost There and reduced me to a gibbering wreck, I decided, I had to meet the man, and at the very least, get my program signed. Sycophantic? You bet.

At the stage door, I asked the bouncers if he would be coming out to the fans. A rather large man  told me that under no circumstances would Mr Williams be signing autographs - he doesn’t do that any more! Shocked, and not one to be put off, I went with a friend to where the tour-bus waited. It was a wonderful moment. There were at least 8 people in wheelchairs waiting, who like me, wanted to meet their idol. After what seemed an interminable length of time, he appeared - small, bronzed and perfectly preserved - better, he was accompanied by that very same bouncer. Immediately, Andy was there, bending down to the massed, adoring fans, signing photos, shaking hands. seeing the opportunity, I rushed forwards, knowing it was now or never. ‘Andy,’ I shouted, moving closer program held high, but that bouncing brute had seen me, and with a cuff of the back of his hand, screamed, ‘Mr Williams only does the disabled.’ I fell to the floor - horrified, dazed and confused. Shocking eh? And I am sorry if it causes offence, but here is my souvenir photograph of said incident, captured by the ‘paparazzi.’ (this is a sanitised version)

Thank you so much...C.P.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why aren't we talking about organic GMOs? And, why can't we all get along?

You've heard the rants about Mitt Monsanto versus Organic Obama. You've read the arguments on both sides for "Yes" or "No" on labeling GMOs in California. You've read the research surrounding the wholesomeness of "organic" versus "conventional." There's the divisive talk, the reasoned talk, and the rat-shi# crazy talk.

What I want to ask is this: Why aren't there more people, beyond scientists and academics, talking about organically grown GMOs? These last few weeks have had me thinking a lot about how the terms used to describe our food -- "organic," "conventional," and genetically modified" -- which only serve to confuse and distract from greater issues at hand.

The greater issues (in a nutshell): Agricultural and food scientists are given a heavy task of feeding nine billion people by 2050. Most will agree that it will come with substantial costs. Soil quality will suffer, excess pesticide and herbicide use will destroy biodiversity, nutrient runoff will keep fueling the algal booms, or "dead zones," that suffocate life in our lakes and oceans. The world's phosphorus reserves will be depleted. If you add in climate change to the mix, you can count on destroyed crops and suffering farmers, especially in the developing world. Food production will be more expensive. Food will be more expensive. Small farmers and the poorest among us will suffer.

Organic is not the answer, but offers lessons

"Organic" farming defined as it is now is not the answer. Scientific American blogger Christie Wilcox (@nerdychristie) deserves high praise for shattering myths about organic foods and for challenging their use as being better for the environment. She also rightly challenges the notion that organic pesticides are healthier or that fewer pesticides overall in food are healthier for you. (I'll add that some pesticides are good for you including my favorite: caffeine!).

Huge limitations are that organic agriculture requires more land and more labor. Organic agriculture also excludes synthetic pesticides (natural ones are not as effective and not safer) and herbicides aren't permitted (despite that ones like glyphosate degrade rapidly in soil). Organic farming is, thus, more expensive and more devastating to the environment because of increased carbon emissions. And, although reports vary widely, yields of organic agriculture are also estimated to be only half in comparison to conventional agriculture.

Yet the ideals of organic agriculture are still good -- less use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers while protecting soil. There are also lessons to be learned from organic agriculture. For example, crop rotation can help prevent nutrient depletion in soil. And, the use of animal manure and decaying plants instead of commercial fertilizer helps improve water-holding capacity of soil. Better water-holding capacity diminishes runoff.

Bringing in biotech

Now, allow me to get back to my argument and questions -- What if we added biotechnology to the picture? Why not organically grown GMOs, legislation to support expanding "Certified Organic" to include GMOs, and investment and research into more sustainable GMOs? 

Finally, what if more of the public learned to appreciate the very scientists who are trying to make these developments possible? Too few people are familiar with (and too few companies have invested in) important research using recombinant DNA going on right now that could surely help reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment. For example,  
  • There are the scientists researching varieties of wheat genetically engineered to emit a non-toxic pheromone, which could lead to less use of pesticide. 
  • There are the scientists who've engineered rice to have larger root systems that take up more nitrogen and phosphorus from the soil, which reduces nutrient runoff.  
  • There are the scientists whose research involves improving abilities of crops to capture more light (improving yields), withstand extreme weather changes, high salt concentrations, or have greater resistance to diseases.  
  • There are also the scientists whose research is in genetically engineered algae that can help displace use of corn ethanol and petroleum while sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
  • And, there are the scientists who actively promote this kind of research and thinking such as plant geneticists Pamela Ronald, of UC Davis, and Nina Fedoroff, of Penn State. 
Currently, public perception and debate hinders the discussion of organic GMOs. Most lay people that I talk to appear to be only familiar with stories of either poor behavior from GMO-corporations like Monsanto, or their Roundup Ready crops as a source of overuse of fertilizer and pesticide, the destruction of biodiversity through expanded use of monoculture crops, and the spread of pesticide-resistant weeds. (Unfortunately, they are also familiar with the bat-shit crazy Jeffrey Smith, Mercola, and Mike Adams). 

What about conventional ag and food technology?

Let's not leave out "conventional" agriculture. There are also solutions to gain from developments in conventional agriculture, too. Too few people know about the new developments because ideologies tend to trump the science and technology. Yet a couple of years ago, food scientists from a variety of disciplines produced a scientific review on behalf of the Institute of Food Technologists that offered these solutions: 

  • "No-till" agriculture - retains organic matter and stops soil erosion
  • Integrated pest management - using pesticide only where it's needed, decreasing amount
  • Precision agriculture - targeting fertilizer to seed, pesticide to plant
  • Drip irrigation - controlling water
  • New technologies for recovering nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater (like Bill Gates toilets) 
I'll also add in food technology. Despite the massive criticism received by food technologists ("Big Food") for fueling the obesity epidemic, it will be their task for providing additional food processing solutions to feed the world's nine billion.

For example, there are many improved technologies for preserving food and extending shelf life of these foods. The technologies we have now (besides cooking) are mechanical operations (extraction and separation of oils), thermal treatments (blanching, pasteurization, and canning), refrigeration, dehydration, fermentation, acidification, etc. New technologies like faster thermal methods (microwave and ohmic heating) and high-pressure processing could help feed people in the future.  

Controlled-environment agriculture looks promising, too; that is, the designing of high-tech greenhouses that can be produced almost anywhere, including Antarctica, and can produce up to 10 times more produce than conventional farms with only a tenth or less of the resources. Cost is the prohibitive factor there.

A Unified Approach

So, why the dividing lines? Excluding GMOs from the label of "Certified Organic" is based in ideology and not in science. Too many people have it in their minds that GMOs are "anti-organic." It doesn't have to be that way. Food labeling of GMOs does little to solve this problem, but only discourages investment into biotechnology and its commercialization. The "Certified Organic" labeling also distracts from focusing on the progress that biotechnology and other technologies offer for more sustainable, environmentally friendly practices.

Catastrophe has been avoided before. In the 1960s and '70s, population growth outpaced food production. Bringing science to agriculture turned the tables and improved plant breeding techniques, which increased yields of common crops like wheat. Thanks to scientists like Norman Borlaug (and Fritz Haber, for that matter), the Green Revolution saved millions, mainly in China and India.

It can happen again. The goals shared should be improving crop yields in harsh environments, reducing nutrient runoff, reducing use of pesticides and herbicides, and reducing food waste and pollution through a combination of the best that organic, GMOs, and conventional techniques have to offer. There simply needs to be a more unified approach to improving food production and reducing its impact on the environment.

Update 09-26-12: And, about that flawed rat study everyone's talking about, I believe plant scientist Peter Bickerton beautifully summarizes my own thoughts, over on the "Topical Poetry" blog, with this masterpiece. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

celfyddydau + diwylliant = pŵer

I am thrilled to have been asked to give the keynote at the opening at the 4th Art of Good Health and Wellbeing, International Conference in Australia. You can see my abstract below, but a key to this paper is that it will be two-part; building on work that I’m supporting in Lithuania and critically for me, it will include the input of international delegates in Australia, to develop it further into a coherent exploration of current socially engaged practice. Whilst I’ll present at the start of the conference, I’ll be gathering the diverse stories of practice and research over the week and developing the paper further as a journal article. 

A small scale global phenomenon: revelation or revolution?
Following the publication of Arts & Health, an International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice in 2009 and its introductory essay; The State of Arts and Health in England, it appeared that the arts/health community was on the brink of a new era of critical thinking and global connectivity. By unpicking the ‘state’ of the field in England in terms of research, policy and practice, this co-authored essay painted a picture, that over the intervening years, has arguably changed beyond recognition. Building on the work of partners from the political, health, cultural and arts sectors, this new paper, I’ll attempt to reappraise the field in light of the changing political landscape and global financial downturn, drawing parallels between countries where arts/health is an emergent field and others where it is perhaps more established. Through shared observation, experience and experiment, this paper will  identify new opportunities, challenges and possibilities in participatory arts and public health, and ask; are we part of what Mike White describes, a small scale global phenomenon - and if so, are we part of a gradual enlightenment or a cultural supernova?

So if you want to be involved in this, it will be great to meet up. Please feel free to get in touch before hand if we need to arrange this.

Last week I mentioned that I was blogging from Lithuania and what an exciting, beautiful and progressive country it is. As well as visiting the recovery cafe Mano Guru, I spent time in Kaunas and on the streets of the old part of town, I felt something of the beating heart of Lithuania, its cafes, bars and people. Quite exquisite. Following this, I spent time at the Pamenkalnio Galerija in Vilnius with colleagues planning one of the three exhibitions exploring our relationship with death and dying, which will be held over 2013 in Manchester, Vilnius and Bogota.

I was a guest of the Director of the British Council, Dr Artūras Vasiliauskas who convened an extraordinary group of ministers, politicians and key decision makers, to explore the potential of inter-departmental developments and policy in arts and health, and over a very productive evening, we explored a long-term strategy for just how we might achieve this. This is very progressive and builds on the ongoing arts, health and wellbeing projects rolling out in Lithuania, and which I am privileged to work with. The research and evaluation of this work will be available in early 2013 and updates of its social and political impact will be shared here.

Whilst I’ve been away, I’ve noted the emerging stories about prescribing, particularly the revelation that up to a million people in the UK have preventable headaches that are ironically caused by taking too many painkillers. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), have produced guidelines for treating headaches. Prof Martin Underwood, from Warwick Medical School, who led the NICE panel, said: 'This can end up getting into a vicious cycle where your headache gets worse, so you take more painkillers, so your headache gets worse and this just becomes worse and worse and worse...It is such an easy thing to prevent.' This may seem like a relatively benign story, and one that reflects a society where we believe we can ‘cure’ anything by simply reaching for a pill - after all, that’s far easier than getting up from our desks and exercising, or else, pulling ourselves away from the computer - perhaps having a swig of water instead of that bag of crisps. Isn’t there something too, about tolerating some of the aches and pains that non-serious illness throws at us? Like our internet lifestyles and our diets; the medication is peddled to us by the most powerful and pernicious of all the industries - the big pharmaceuticals.

I know I’ve laboured this point before, but I really feel its a central part of the story of what arts/health is about. Whilst we constantly pressure ourselves to ‘evidence’ the impact of our practice - our researchers, blindly looking for the ‘gold standard’ of the measurable outcome; we’re just following the myth of what constitutes evidence, mistaking what the medical fraternity take on broad as empirical evidence, only as Dr Ben Goldacre forensically reveals, to be largely, a pharmaceutical smoke-screen. In an extract from his new book, Bad Pharma, Goldacre unpicks the story I explored in A Brightly Coloured Bell-Jar in 2010; that the anti-depressant Reboxetine, developed by Pharmacia, (now Pfizer) had its negative data held-back from the medical community (and public alike) and was in fact, doing worse than those on other drugs or placebos, doing more harm than good. Perhaps even worse, is that the ‘academic papers, which everyone thinks of as objective, are often covertly planned and written by people work work directly for the companies (Pharmaceuticals) without disclosure.’ In this article, Goldacre blisteringly exposes the often subjective bias in trails. Even more alarming is his exposure of GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) marketing of Paroxetine, (an anti-depressant) and use in children’s mental health.

‘While the company knew the drug didn’t work in children, it was in no hurry to tell doctors that. Worse, nobody knew how bad the side-effects were because it didn’t reveal its worrying safety data.’ You can read this full extract by clicking on this photograph

Ok, ‘of your high-horse’, you might say - but this is relevant, seriously relevant. As a final comment on this work, its worth noting Goldacre’s position that this pharma control of data is the polar opposite of good science, and which I’d suggest also defines good practice in arts/health.

‘This is the opposite of science, which is reliable only because everyone shows their working, explains how they know that something is effective or safe, shares their methods and results, and allows others to decide if they agree with the way in which the data was processed and analysed.’

Like Dr Richard Smith, Ben Goldacre illuminates endemic corruption within the sometimes, fictitious world of evidence based medicine when it is controlled by big industry. Reaching for an aspirin to help with your headache, is the tip of an iceberg, and as our well-being is increasingly pathologised and reduced to a prescription, we should be more confident of the place of culture and the arts in the armory of preventative medicine - but also as a vehicle for voicing our outrage at bad science.

Hey Ho...

And so to new opportunities, the first of which ties neatly into last weeks exploration of just what a 21st Century Library might look like, in relationship to arts/health/community/wellbeing.

Community Ownership & Management of Assets Grant Programme (England)
Local Community groups, Parish Councils and Charities, etc can apply for grants of up to £100,000 to help them take over the ownership of public assets.  This includes preparing to implement Community Right to Bid coming into force in the autumn.  Under the Community Right to Bid organisations will be able to bid to buy publicly or privately-owned land and buildings for community use. Communities will be able to get support to acquire and manage assets such as:
  • Village shops
  • Pubs
  • Community centres
  • Heritage buildings
  • Allotments
  • Libraries.
Community groups will be able to bid for pre-feasibility grants of between £5,000 and £10,000 to help build the internal capacity needed to take ownership of assets. Organisations that can show evidence of plans to take over land or buildings can apply for grants of between £10,000 and £100,000 to help undertake feasibility studies to take on asset ownership and management.  The Grant Programme is an integral part of the Community Ownership and Management of Assets (including Right to Bid) Support Programme, and will offer advice and funding to support organisations throughout the process of identifying and acquiring community assets.

Before applying, organisations will need to speak to the Community Rights Advice Service. The advisors at Locality will help you assess if your contract-readiness and which grant is most suitable for your organisation. Only applications that have been referred by the Community Rights Advice Service will be accepted. Read more at: 

If you’ve reserved a place already, I’ll email out the details of the venue for this Thursday evening’s networking event on Tuesday. There are still as many places as we want for this, so if you want to come, just email me.

Arts Council England, Capital Small Grants
Yesterday we opened our Capital small grants fund to applications. The programme is designed to address the needs of organisations whose development plans do not involve large-scale work (awards will be between £100,000 and £499,999) and is one of a number of measures the Arts Council is putting in place to support organisations become more sustainable and resilient businesses.

We understand that like any trade, artists and performers need the right tools and facilities to effectively deliver and develop their craft. And audiences need places where they can properly interact with the art or performance. Our Capital investment programme is a very practical way of helping to develop the arts infrastructure in this country so that organisations can flourish and continue to produce the excellent work that audiences want to see.

New national resource to be launched in Manchester 
Age of Creativity is the new website for artists, practitioners and organisations working in the field of arts and older people. Valuing Older People is delighted to support the launch and recognise the website as a fantastic tool to support national older people's arts engagement programmes, as well as a great resource for the extensive Manchester cultural programme for older people that VOP and partners have developed over the past eight years. 

The website is being launched at a regional workshop on the 8th October in The Lord Mayors Parlour, Level 2, Manchester Town Hall. The day will be a hands-on exploration of how the new site can benefit practitioners making it easier to share inspiration, collaborate with others along with finding opportunities for new projects and funding.  To sign up, just visit this link to book your place: 

To see a bit more about Age of Creativity, visit their holding website at or see the Facebook page at

Nominet Trust - Digital Edge Programme (UK)
The Nominet Trust has announced that it is inviting applications for funding through its £2 million Digital Edge programme. The programme aims to support projects that use new technology to engage young people in new, more meaningful and relevant ways and enable their participation in building a more resilient society.  As part of this programme, the Trust has identified four key areas where they believe young people face the greatest challenge and digital technology can be used to greatest effect.  These are:
  • Digging deeper into the problems and addressing the root causes
  • Exploring the changing landscape and the nature of engagement
  • Renegotiating professional practice
  • New forms of employment and reward. 
  • Organisations that can apply for funding include:
  • Not-for-profits organisation
  • Schools, PTAs, universities or other educational establishments
  • Statutory bodies e.g. local authorities
  • Social enterprises
There is no upper or lower funding limit as the Trust like to encourage applicants to be realistic about what they need to achieve their project objectives.  The next closing date for applications is the 12th December 2012. Read more at:

The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts
The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a new fund to support research and development projects that use digital technology to enhance audience reach and/or explore new business models for organisations with arts projects.

The Fund is unique in encouraging collaboration between the arts, digital technolgy providers and the research community in order to undertake experiments from which the wider arts sector can learn. £7million will be made available for projects over the period 2012-2014/5 for projects up to a value of £125,000 (with the majority of projects being considerably below this threshold). 

The Fund's essential features have been successfully tested during the pilot Digital R&D Fund in 2011/12 and the learning from the pilot will continue, allowing some flexibility to the shape of the main Fund.  Eight projects were successful in receiving funding; learning from those projects can be found on the Arts Council's website

The Chandelier of Lost Earrings 
This art work will bring together lone earrings contributed by many people. Each earring is one of a pair, the other having been lost. Without these contributions there can be no chandelier. The project emerged from our long-term engagement with staff at St. Mary’s Maternity Hospital, Manchester. We wish to dedicate it to the staff, to the mothers who have delivered at the hospital and to everyone who has cared for them. Initially the chandelier will be exhibited in our glass Summer House sculpture in the hospital grounds. 
THE APPEAL: please send your lone earring to us by the end of October. We will create and install the sculpture in December. It doesn’t matter about the size of the earring, or even if it is broken, nor does it matter where you live; all earrings are gladly received and will be included. 
Post to 
The Chandelier of Lost Earrings, 
High Elms, 
Upper Park Road, 
Manchester, M14 5RU 
Follow our progress: 

And because there isn't enough music or beauty on this weeks blog, here is something beautiful and quite profound from dear Bjork.

Possibly Maybe...and thank you, as ever...C.P.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Familial hypercholesteromia: Why rely on cholesterol levels when more direct measures are available?

There are two forms of familial hypercholesteromia (FH), namely heterozygous and homozygous FH. In heterozygous FH only one copy of the gene that causes it is present, inherited either from the father or the mother. In homozygous FH, which is the most lethal form, two copies of the gene are present. FH is associated with early-onset cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Homozygous FH may happen if both the father and mother have heterozygous or homozygous FH. If both the father and mother have heterozygous FH, the likelihood that at least one in four children will have homozygous FH will be high. If both parents have homozygous FH the likelihood that all children will have homozygous FH will be high.

In fact, in the latter case, homozygous FH in the children is almost certain. One case in which it won’t occur is if the combining FH gene from the father or mother mutates into a non-FH gene before it is used in the assembly of the genome of the child. A gene mutation in a specific locus, only for the father or mother, is an unlikely event, and would lead to heterozygous FH. Two gene mutations at once in the same locus, for the father and mother, is a very unlikely event.

By the way, despite what many are led to believe based on fictional characters in movies and series like the X-Men and Hulk, mutations in functional genes usually lead to harmful traits. In our evolutionary past, those traits would have been largely removed from the gene pool by selection, making them rare or nonexistent in modern humans. Today we have modern medicine; a double-edged sword.

Mutations leading to super-human traits are very, very unlikely. The myostatin gene, for example, suppresses muscle growth. And yet the mutations that lead to little or no secretion of the related myostatin protein are very uncommon. Obviously they have not been favored by selection, even though their holders are very muscular – e.g., Germany’s “Incredible Hulky” ().

Okay, back to FH. Xanthelasmas are relatively common among those who suffer from FH (see photo below, from They are skin deposits of cholesterol, have a genetic basis, and are NOT always associated with FH. This is important – several people have xanthelasmas but not FH.

FH is a fairly rare disease, even in its heterozygous form, with an overall incidence of approximately 0.2 percent. That is, about 1 in 500 people in the general population will have it. Genetically related groups will see a much higher or lower rate of incidence, as the disease is strongly influenced by a genetic mutation. This genetic mutation is apparently in the LDL receptor gene, located on the short arm of chromosome 19.

The table below, from a study by Miltiadous and colleagues (), paints a broad picture of the differences one would typically see between heterozygous FH sufferers and non-FH controls.

The main difference is in total cholesterol and in the relatively large contribution of LDL to total cholesterol. A large difference is also seen in Apolipoprotein B (indicated as "Apo B"), which acts as a LDL transporter (not to be confused with a LDL receptor). The LDL cholesterol shown on the table is calculated through the Friedewald equation, which is notoriously imprecise at low triglyceride levels ().

Looking at the total cholesterol row on the table, and assuming that the numbers after the plus/minus signs are standard deviations, we can conclude that: (a) a little more than two-thirds of the heterozygous FH sufferers had total cholesterol levels falling in between 280 and 446; and (b) a little more than two-thirds of the non-FH controls had total cholesterol levels falling in between 135 and 225.

Keep in mind that about 13.5 percent {calculated as: (95-68)/2} of the non-FH controls had total cholesterol levels between 225 and 270. This is a nontrivial percentage; i.e., these may be a minority but are not rare individuals. Heterozygous FH sufferers are rare, at 0.2 percent of the general population. Moreover, about 2 percent of the non-FH controls had non-pathological total cholesterol levels between 270 and 315. That is not so rare either, amounting to an “incidence” 10 times higher than heterozygous FH.

What would happen if people with heterozygous FH were to replace refined carbohydrates and sugars with saturated fat and cholesterol in their diets? Very likely their already high total cholesterol would go up higher, in part because their HDL cholesterol would go up (). Still, how could they be sure that CVD progression would accelerate if they did that?

According to some studies, the higher HDL cholesterol would either be generally protective or associated with protective factors, even among those with FH (). One of those protective factors may be a more nutrient-dense diet, as many foods rich in cholesterol are very nutrient-dense – e.g., eggs, organ meats, and seafood.

This brings me to my main point in this post. It is mainstream practice to diagnose people with FH based on total and/or LDL cholesterol levels. But the main problem with FH is that it leads to early onset of CVD, which can be measured more directly through simple tests, such as intima-media thickness and related ultrasound plaque tests (). These are noninvasive tests, done in 5 minutes or so, and often covered by insurance.

Even if simple direct tests are not perfect, it seems utterly nonsensical to rely on cholesterol measures to diagnose and treat FH, given the possible overlap between pathological and non-pathological high total cholesterol levels.