Friday, November 30, 2007

Bad news for Pagoclone

Unfortunately, I have bad news to report. Some time ago, I reported here on my suspicion of a delay for the Phase III trial of Pagoclone which was supposed to start in Early 2007. I speculated that Indevus might consider the risks and investment as too high. I also warned that they would not announce such a delay or stop, but that we would only know about it by absence of any news, especially in the Year End report. That's exactly what is currently happening. They have just published their Fiscal 2007 report (see here on CNN), and Pagoclone (unlike in the 2006 report) is nowhere mentioned. Except when Dr Cooper from Indevus cryptically says:
Finally, through our other business development activities, we successfully outlicensed aminocandin and IP 751 and we have discussions ongoing for the outlicensing of pagoclone, all designed to further focus our efforts in urology and endocrinology
Compare his statement in last year's report:
We are also optimistic about the positive results of our pagoclone Phase II study in stuttering and the upcoming initiation of our Phase III clinical program.
Unfortunately, my instincts tell me that the "on-going discussion" is a way of spinning bad news. Instead of saying "we are not going forward with Pagoclone and this is our third aborted attempt to find a disorder for Pagoclone", they say "we are in on-going discussion for outlicensing of Pagoclone. We are doing good because we make money by out-licensing". You can always say that you have on-going discussions, and of course they are secret so you can't reveal any details.

There was an analyst conference call today. Surely, some analyst is going to ask the question. If they are any good... If anyone has the link or transcript, please let us know.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Do bats stutter?

Have a look at this news article on bats and stuttering. That's how you sell your research. Bats seems to have simple forms of speech capabilities, but whether this leads to a better understanding or treatment of stuttering is far fetched. But it might be interesting to study whether some stutter, indeed. Here is the text:

SAN ANTONIO, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Scientists in Texas hope the study of bat brains may eventually lead to better hearing aids or new treatments for human speech disorders like stuttering.

Using ultrasonic microphones, researchers at the University of Texas and Texas A&M have discovered bats combine sounds into a basic sort of syntax that they use to communicate and express their individuality, The San Antonio Express-News reported Monday.

"There are no animals that can kind of speak," says Michael Smotherman, a neurophysiologist at Texas A&M who is trying to identify the areas of the brain the bat uses to coordinate sounds into songs.

Smotherman hopes his research will lead to better understanding of stuttering a dysarthria, a speech disorder characterized by poor articulation.

At the University of Texas in Austin, bat researcher George Pollak is trying to understand how the bats process the social communication sounds they hear and how they recognize individual calls.

Pollak says his research could lend itself to developing hearing aids that differentiate and screen out background noise.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Recovered and persistent kids show abnormalities

I have already spoken about the important brain imaging work by Soo-Eun Chang from Christy Ludlow's group at NIH, and the department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Let me put it up again as it is very important. They looked at the brain of children who do not stutter, who recovered from stuttering, and who did not recover:
Previous imaging studies in adults with persistent stuttering found left white matter deficiencies and reversed right-left asymmetries compared to fluent controls. We hypothesized that similar differences might be present indicating brain development differences in children at risk of stuttering. Optimized voxel-based morphometry compared gray matter volume (GMV) and diffusion tensor imaging measured fractional anisotropy (FA) in white matter tracts in 3 groups: children with persistent stuttering, children recovered from stuttering, and fluent peers.
The results:
Both the persistent stuttering and recovered groups had reduced GMV from normal in speech-relevant regions: the left inferior frontal gyrus and bilateral temporal regions. Reduced FA was found in the left white matter tracts underlying the motor regions for face and larynx in the persistent stuttering group. Contrary to previous findings in adults who stutter, no increases were found in the right hemisphere speech regions in stuttering or recovered children and no differences in right-left asymmetries. Instead, a risk for childhood stuttering was associated with deficiencies in left gray matter volume while reduced white matter integrity in the left hemisphere speech system was associated with persistent stuttering. Anatomical increases in right hemisphere structures previously found in adults who stutter may have resulted from a lifetime of stuttering. These findings point to the importance of considering the role of neuroplasticity during development when studying persistent forms of developmental disorders in adults.
Let me rephrase in common language:

1) Brains of both recovered and persistent stuttering children show structural abnormalities.

2) Right side abnormalities in volume increases found in adults are absent in (recovered and persistent) stuttering children.

3) Stuttering in children is associated with left side abnormalities, and persistence specifically associated to white matter abnormalities.

Let me lean out of the window by saying that

1) The existence of right side abnormalities in volume increases in stuttering adults but not in children strongly suggests compensatory activities that made some right side regions grow.

2) These regions are mainly to blame for relapse in adults because they are more or less hard-wired.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How should the others behave?

I got an email from a student in speech sciences and she was asking about my opinion on what listeners should know when engaging in a conversation with someone who stutters.

1) There are no golden rules; different pws prefer different behaviour.

2) It would be good if they knew the basic facts about stuttering, e.g. high heritability, likely neurological cause, not due to nervousness, high variability of dysfluency from completely fluent to severe blocking, inability to say exactly what you want to say and so on.

3) Better understanding of stuttering itself automatically leads to better behaviour.

4) I am against rules on behaviour as they tend to make people mechanically following them.

5) The pws can do most to ease any tension and he/she has also a responsibility here. Unless you want to be the helpless victim. And after all, most have never seen someone like you before, so you should inform them that you won't bite them. :-)

6) It is practically impossible to educate the whole world.

What is your opinion?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Progress by death

In physics, we have the saying "Progress is not achieved by changing people's mind but by people with wrong ideas dying out!" or "Professors with disproved theories never change their mind, they die out." At the core of this effect is the mental bias people have for the theory they believe in. The mental bias is stronger the more you have invested. Just imagine a professor at the age of 50 spending 25 years of his or her life working a specific method or theory, and it is not working. I rarely see them give up, because they have too much at stake. There are some exceptions, but then they never had very strong beliefs.

And the same is true in stuttering. Very little people will change their mind, for example that stuttering might have a physical basis despite overwhelming evidence.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Should we go to China?

A reader wrote in response to my last post on the 2008 ISA conference in China:
Be interested on your views on China, read your blog. I am just a bit concerned about China - still seems to me to anything but a free country. I have a problem supporting an international meeting where your blog would probably be banned if you said anything critical of the government.
I agree that China is not a free and democratic country, and they would probably ban my blog if I said something critical. Especially, regarding my views on the Tibet and Taiwan issues. However, if I were the China ruler, I would probably also restrict freedom of speech and especially of movement of people around China with force if needed. China needs a smooth and slow transition from a state-planned economy and society to a more open society with a market economy. I suspect that the rulers follow this path even though they (have to) publicly endorse communism. But I could be wrong. Also, China is not a lawless dictatorship, and there is a rule of law in that you cannot easily be arrested without reason or evidence, thrown to prison and executed. Though the laws themselves obviously restrict political freedom and the people have no power to influence them. Russia is in a similar situation. I strongly believe that with the market-based economy leading to a greater exchange with other societies and improvements of quality of life the democratic forces are getting stronger and win in the long-term. So in a sense, I agree with both sides: keep on pointing out human rights abuses, and keep on controlling society to ensure a smooth transition.

Regarding support for a conference in China, politics does not play a direct role in my view. The conference is about people meeting up: stutterers, therapists, researchers, and others. It is a sign that China is opening up. (Of course, the Olympics is coming in 2008.) The conference could also have a significant impact for Chinese stutterers. It is important to talk about stuttering in the Chinese media, too. China has 1.3 billion people, 13 million stutter, and if only 1% reads my blog, I have 130'000 readers as opposed to 150 per day! :-)

To conclude, I support a conference in China but will not shy away from voicing my dissent on human right issues. What's your opinion?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

北京2010 年 (Beijing 2010)

The next world conference of the International Stuttering Association is going to be in Beijing in 2010. I am convinced that they will produce a great conference. I have always been amazed by the sheer endless determination and intelligence of the Chinese people (apart from some political lapses... some of which might be understandable given the historical baggage). I wonder how traditional Chinese medicine treats stuttering. I have never been in China, but I definitely plan to go one day. So maybe the conference would be a good excuse. Here is the text from the ISA website:

It's official, the next World Conference of the International Stuttering Association will be held in Beijing, China in 2010. Yes, the newly formed Chinese Stuttering Association will host this world event in cooperation with the China Rehabilitation Research Center, Beijing Normal University and the China Medical Academy so it is sure to be a another well organised, well atttended, exciting and informative event following on from the previous ISA congress successes in Croatia, Australia, Belgium, South Africa, Sweden, Germany, USA and Japan so start planning ahead now to be part of this inspiring event. If you have any way you can assist our Chinese organising committee please contact the head of the conference organisaing committee, Zong-Shan Li at More information when it comes to hand.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ben's brother stutters

This is a really cool song with a very cool BritPop/Rock sound. Check out Ben's brother's website and MySpace. I am wondering whether someone of them is stuttering or not. I am convinced they will hit the chart, if they haven't already. Just look at their very professional website, they are surely getting pushed by a record company.

Thx to Einar for the tip!

Wikipedia entry

I changed the Wikipedia entry on stuttering to reflect the latest empirical evidence from brain imaging.
There is little evidence of structural differences in the brains of stutterers. However, differences in auditory, linguistic and motor functions have also been proposed to account for the disorder. Research is complicated by the possibillity that differences noted between stutterers and non-stutterers are the consequences of stuttering rather than a cause.[11]
"There is clear empirical evidence for structural and functional differences in the brains of stutterers. Research is complicated somewhat by the possibility that such differences could be the consequences of stuttering rather than a cause, but recent research on older children confirm structural differences thereby giving strength to the argument that at least some of the differences are not a consequence of stuttering.

I am sure someone is going to undo it again because it doesn't fit with their views. But I gave the references to the two new research articles by Watkins et al and Chang et al. I also noticed that they take out a link to my blog when I include it for further reading!!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Get a daily update on stuttering research!

If you want to get the latest research articles without reading my terrible comments and including those that I find boring, you can search "stuttering" at the PubMed website. The website has all published articles from the last decade or so.

You can even register at the website, and get an daily update for a search on stuttering. Just go to the site, register, confirm your email, do a search on "stuttering", "Save Search", and link to an email alert.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The taboos of the stuttering community

Every community has its taboo topics or words. Taboo topics are aspects out of our reality that are best not to be spoken about, certainly not to be discussed. Here are a few statements where you can get in trouble for even suggesting them for debate though they are not obviously wrong and at least debatable. In Japan: "The Japanese army is responsible for forcing Chinese women into prostitution during World War II." In Germany: "Not all Nazi policies were bad, e.g. the construction of Autobahns or the sense of community and purpose." In the US: "There is not reason why the US should have a special relationship with and blind support of Israel." In China: "The Taiwanese and Tibetan people should be allowed to decide their own destiny". Even in the no-taboo porn industry, there is a taboo topic: STDs!

Also in scientific debates we have taboos as the Watson and Larry Summers sagas show. You cannot ask the following questions without fear of being sacked. Here are a few examples: Do Blacks have on average a lower IQ and Jews on average the highest IQ among races? Are there innate differences between males and females that could help explain the high representation of male university science professors / Nobel Price winners and CEOs?

Do not expect a reasonable debate on any of these topics. The pattern is generic. First, the questioner is labeled a racist, Nazi-sympathiser, unpatriotic, sexist, or anti-semitic. Second, therefore these people are evil and stupid. Third, therefore they must be wrong. End of debate.

What are the taboos in the stuttering "community"? Let me know what your thoughts are. Here are a few candidates:

- Many stutterers prefer not to listen to people who stutter, and do not want a partner who stutters.

- Stuttering is a handicap, and stutterers cannot do every job.

- There are stutterers who did bad things. For example, we have Ben Johnson, the Canadian super sprinter who was convicted of doping. He is never mentioned as being a famous stutterers. How about criminals, serial murderers, and rapists.

- Most research in stuttering, especially those conducted by therapists, is a complete waste of time, and those low-quality researchers should be told about this rather than being congratulated for "the hard work they have done".

- Stuttering can be completely explained in scientific terms.

- Stuttering medication could well be helpful to people who stutter.

- Treatment for children is still not proven beyond doubt to be effective in the long-term.

- The majority of those who talk at conferences and claim that they cured themselves never actually stuttered severely.

- There is nothing physically wrong with *some* covert stutterers.

- The use of the word "holistic" is a reliable measure for poor quality in thinking.

- It is a good and necessary thing to take on crackpots and undertake every action possible to limit their ability to spread their message.

Taboo word No. 1: Cure, cure, cure, cure.