Friday, March 21, 2014

Three little maids from Maine: Opera stars come home for ‘Three Divas’ concert

Published in Out In Maine

When you’re a diva, you don’t have to meet the people you’ll be singing with before the day of the show. And you only need one group rehearsal — even if it’s for a big event like the 20th year of an opera company. Or so it might seem.

“It used to be a good thing” to be called a diva, laughs Suzanne Nance, who is one of three female opera singers slated to perform a show called “Maine’s Divas Come Home” at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall on April 1 as part of PORTopera’s 20th anniversary celebration.

Nance, a soprano who is also a former Maine Public Broadcasting Network radio host now working at Chicago’s WFMT, will sing with another soprano, Ashley Emerson, and a mezzo-soprano, Kate Aldrich, a member of PORTopera’s advisory board and the first Maine native to fill a principal role in one of the company’s major productions — the title role in Carmen.

None of the three have ever sung together before, and Nance will be meeting Aldrich in person for the first time; she has met Emerson in the past. “We’re going to rehearse the day of” the show, with pianist Martin Perry, who himself is a well known musician in Maine and around the world. “We’ll basically run the whole show, while saving our voices,” Nance says. “We’ll just meet, put it together, and make a show of it.”

That show will be varied in terms of song choice and format.

“The open and close we’re going to go a la the Three Tenors,” Nance says, plus “three or four of the most beautiful duets in all of opera,” and several arias, from pivotal moments in significant shows that nevertheless “can come out and stand on their own.”

The songs are diverse, including works by classical masters Mozart and Verdi alongside modern standouts like Englebert Humperdinck.

Noting that the evening’s program will begin with an ensemble performance of “The Three Little Maids From School,” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, Ann Elderkind, PORTopera’s board president, says it’s appropriate the singers themselves “started as three little maids from Maine.”

Aldrich, originally from Damariscotta, “is so big in Europe,” Nance says. Based in Rome and New York City, Aldrich first sang the role of Carmen at PORTopera and has gone on to sing it across Europe, Elderkind adds.

Emerson, who grew up in Bangor, is a recent graduate of USM’s music program, focusing on voice performance. She was involved in PORTopera’s Emerging Artists program, and made her mainstage debut in the company’s 2003 production of Lucia di Lammermoor. Right out of college, she was accepted to a residency at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where her career is “just taking off,” Nance says.

The singers are so busy, in fact, that it took about a year to coordinate everyone’s schedule, says Elderkind. And they had to pick the program in a Skype session, Nance says. When planning it, “we were all sort of giddy” about coming back to Maine, singing together, and seeing friends and family during the trip. “It’s great for us to come back and celebrate a place we love,” Nance says.

The event will also be celebrating the strength of the opera company, which has weathered a worldwide economic slump that forced bigger cities’ operas to close (including the New York Opera and the Baltimore Opera). Elderkind credits “the community of Maine coming forward” to support the company, especially in difficult times.

“Maine’s Divas Come Home” | Tuesday, April 1 @ 7:30 pm | Hannaford Hall, USM Abromson Center, Bedford St, Portland | $65 | |

The new normal: Conservatives try a different approach in fight against equality

Published in Out In Maine

In the last six months, as marriage equality and other LGBTQ rights have continued their inexorable expansion across the United States, it has become clear that instead of shaking the country to its core, or undermining America as we know it (as opponents have long alleged), protecting the rights of everyone in our society has benefited tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of Americans in countless ways throughout their everyday lives.

What’s especially interesting is how quiet the ridiculous deep-seated opposition has actually become. The radical conservatives who for many years preached that recognizing the LGBTQ rights — same-sex marriage equality, employment non-discrimination, and more — would harm families, or kids, or communities, or the government, or the society, or something, have, it would appear, realized that marriage equality is not ending the world after all.

Writing in The Atlantic in early March, researcher Robert P. Jones reported that his studies showed nearly half of all Southerners now support same-sex marriage. Despite all the legal action and court decisions, he wrote, “these changes cannot be explained away as merely another example of federal judicial activism circumventing the will of the people in southern states. Rather, we are witnessing dramatic cultural transformations, which include changing minds even among culturally and religiously conservative Americans in the South.”

Even conservative pundits seem to be noticing this progress. Fox News commentator Howard Kurtz wrote in early March about a Washington Post/ABC poll with showing 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, and only 34 percent opposing. That’s almost an exact reversal of the numbers from the same poll in 2004, which Kurtz calls “a headspinning shift.”

He observes that “even GOP politicians who are against [same-sex] marriages are muting their opposition,” attributing that decision to the fact that “three-quarters of Americans under 30 back same-sex marriage (as opposed to less than half of senior citizens).”

With same-sex marriage recognized at the federal level and legal in 17 states — and with marriage inequality under siege in most of the 33 states where it is not yet legal — conservatives are in retreat. (See sidebar, “Scorecard.”)

In fact, conservative New York Times columnist Russ Douthat’s March 2 column was entitled “The Terms of Our Surrender.” Spoiler: It’s not really a surrender. Rather, it highlights a change in the scale and scope of the fight to one much larger and broader than the terms of civil marriage.

No longer inveighing against what he and others called the “redefinition” of marriage to include all consenting adults, Douthat asked his readers to redefine the idea of “religious freedom” to mean protecting, effectively, anything they feel like doing at any time, for any reason.

A great many people around the country are now objecting to laws barring their businesses, places of public accommodation, and workplaces from discriminating against same-sex couples, on the grounds that, somehow, discrimination is part of their religious philosophy and therefore outside the realm of government control.

Douthat came to a spirited defense of that prodiscrimination perspective — even terming it a “subculture,” simultaneously admitting its small and dwindling numbers and suggesting it should be preserved. He lamented the prospect that wedding photographers and adoption agencies might “be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter,” and face penalties for continued discrimination.

Continuing his sad hypothetical, Douthat posits that “eventually, religious schools and colleges would receive the same treatment as racist holdouts like Bob Jones University, losing access to public funds and seeing their tax-exempt status revoked.”

Carving out religious-freedom protections is a common method of ensuring religious institutions are not compelled by the government to change their teachings; Maine’s law, like those in many other states, was strategically written to allow churches and ordained ministers to decide for themselves whether they consecrate or celebrate same-sex marriages.

But Douthat wants much more. For him, individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether they treat other humans with dignity and respect — or whether their religious beliefs allow them to discriminate.
In fact, in March, the US Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether corporations can hold religious beliefs and, if so, whether those beliefs can exempt corporations from a great many state and federal laws.

Douthat wraps up with a weird pronouncement that seems to blame the people he views as victims: “Christians had plenty of opportunities — thousands of years’ worth — to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status — this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.”

And his final line could be called fatalistic if it weren’t such a call to arms: “all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.”

Scorecard: Where discrimination is under attack
What Russ Douthat and other conservatives are seeing, and recognizing the inevitability of, is the march to the courthouse of LGBTQ Americans across the country. Sadly, most of them are not yet heading there to get married — rather, they’re suing to force states to allow and recognize their marriages.

According to NBC News reporter Pete Williams, “cases are now pending in all but eight of the 33 states that forbid gay couples to marry.” Last June’s US Supreme Court decision striking down Section 3 of the Clinton-era Defense Of Marriage Act has opened the floodgates.

Williams’s tally says 17 states permit same-sex marriage, 29 ban it under an amendment to the state constitution, and the remaining four ban it in state statute.

With cases in almost every state, and appeals in process in several circuits, “it seems a near certainty that the issue will be back at the US Supreme Court soon, either by the next term that begins in October or the year after,” Williams wrote.

Here, compiled primarily from pro-marriage groups Marriage Equality USA and Freedom to Marry, is a rundown of where all 50 states stand:

ALABAMA | A case was filed in December 2013 to overturn ban, and to force recognition of marriages performed in other states.

ALASKA | The state Supreme Court is considering a denial of survivor benefits as a result of constitutional and legal bans.

ARIZONA | Two cases, one in state court and another in federal court, are pending against the 2004 constitutional band; in January, the state asked for dismissal of the federal case.

ARKANSAS | In January, a class-action suit was filed seeking to overturn the state’s bans, a 1996 law and a 2004 constitutional amendment. That builds on a 2010 case seeking to preserve health benefits for state workers. They are getting benefits now, under current rulings, but the case just received class-action status covering all Arizona state workers with same-sex partners.


COLORADO | Four cases, all in state court, seek to overturn the 2004 constitutional amendment ban, which also created non-marriage civil unions.



FLORIDA | State and federal suits are pending, trying to overturn the 2008 constitutional amendment ban.

GEORGIA | no challenges


IDAHO | A federal case seeks to reverse the 2006 constitutional amendment ban, which is being defended by the state attorney general; in may, a judge will consider whether to skip the trial and just issue a ruling.


INDIANA | in early march, four couples sued in federal court seeking marriage rights and to overturn the state’s statutory ban.

IOWA | Legal

KANSAS | A December 2013 lawsuit asks permission for a same-sex couple married elsewhere (Kansas has a constitutional ban) to file joint income-tax returns.

KENTUCKY | On February 12, a federal judge ruled the state’s ban unconstitutional; if an appeals court does not issue a delay, same-sex couples will have full legal rights starting March 20. The state attorney general says he will not appeal the case, but the governor says he will. Also, marriages performed elsewhere are recognized.

LOUISIANA | Three cases seek to overturn statutory and constitutional bans; the state is defending those bans.

MAINE | Legal



MICHIGAN | Federal judge will rule in late March on challenge to 2004 voter-approved state ban.


MISSISSIPPI | A case seeks to force the state to recognize an out-of-state same-sex marriage for the purpose of granting a divorce; there is no active challenge yet to the state’s constitutional ban, but preparations are under way.

MISSOURI | There is not yet a case directly challenging the state’s constitutional ban, but two cases do seek to require recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.

MONTANA | A case in state court now seeks “all of the benefits of marriage, other than marriage itself,” according to Marriage Equality USA.

NEBRASKA | no challenges

NEVADA | In 2012 a federal judge rejected a challenge to its 2002 constitutional ban; an appeal will be heard by the 9th circuit soon, but the state’s attorney general and governor are not supporting the ban.




NEW YORK | Legal

NORTH CAROLINA | Republican lawmakers are defending the statutory and constitutional bans; a county register of deeds has also said he will ask the state attorney general to decide whether marriage licenses can be issued to same-sex couples.

NORTH DAKOTA | no challenges

OHIO | In December 2013, a federal judge overturned the state’s 2004 constitutional ban; the attorney general has appealed the ruling to the 6th circuit.

OKLAHOMA | In January, a federal judge overturned the state’s constitutional ban; the state’s appeal will be heard in April in the 10th circuit.

OREGON | A federal suit challenges the state’s constitutional ban; arguments will be heard in april, but the state attorney general has said she will not defend it.

PENNSYLVANIA | Several state and federal cases oppose the statutory ban; the attorney general has said she will not defend it.


SOUTH CAROLINA | A federal suit was filed in August 2013 seeking to overturn the state’s constitutional and statutory bans.

SOUTH DAKOTA | no challenges

TENNESSEE | A federal suit asks a judge to overturn the statutory and constitutional bans.

TEXAS | Numerous state and federal cases challenge the constitutional ban and other statutory restrictions on equality, including an appeal before the 5th circuit of a February ruling striking down the bans.

UTAH | In December 2013, a federal judge struck down the state’s constitutional amendment; its appeal will be heard in April in the 10th circuit. another federal case seeks to protect about 1300 same-sex couples who were legally married in Utah after the December decision and before the US Supreme Court’s January stay of the ruling.


VIRGINIA | In February, a federal judge overturned the 2006 constitutional ban; the decision is stayed pending an appeal decision by the 4th circuit. the state attorney general has not defended the ban, and instead intends to join the plaintiffs seeking to have it struck down.


WEST VIRGINIA | A federal suit, which is opposed by the state attorney general, seeks to overturn the statutory ban.

WISCONSIN | A case before the state supreme court challenges the 2006 constitutional ban and a 2009 domestic-partnership law; a decision is expected this summer. a federal suit also challenges those bans, as well as a Wisconsin-only law banning same-sex couples from marrying elsewhere under penalty of fine and imprisonment.

WYOMING | In March a state lawsuit was filed seeking to strike down the statutory ban.


Equality Overseas
Same-sex marriage rights are an equally hot topic in other countries. The most attention has been given to Russian president Vladimir Putin, who continues to enforce his country’s sweepingly vague ban on “gay propaganda,” while his people overwhelmingly object to same-sex marriages.

In Africa, serious legal barriers are still being erected. (Only South Africa has legalized same-sex marriage.)

Uganda, the most aggressively anti-gay country on that continent, recently enacted a law that could sentence homosexuals to life imprisonment. Faced with Western objection to that law, president Yoweri Museveni complained about “social imperialism,” saying foreigners were trying to “impose social values” on his people.

The Uganda-based Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law recently released 20 guidelines for national and international allies on “how to offer support now that the anti-homosexuality law has been assented to.” among their suggestions:

-“call on multinational companies that have businesses in Uganda [such as Heneiken, British Airways, and Barclays Bank] to go public about their concerns [about] the act and their future economic engagements in Uganda.”

-“expand investment in funding for service delivery and advocacy in defiance of the law, targeting LGBT populations, to attempt to mitigate the harmful impact this law will have on access to services, and on human rights.”

-“call for your government to issue travel advisories on Uganda...alerting their own LGBT citizens to the risk of traveling in Uganda.”

-“draw international public attention to issues such as corruption, human, as well as the suppression of media freedom and civil society space... so that attention shifts to where it properly belongs: in the best interests of the country’s population as a whole.”

Asia is another place with little-to-no recognition: the best status for same-sex marriage is in Israel, where marriages themselves are not allowed, but where the government recognizes them if legally performed elsewhere.

Nepal, Taiwan, and Vietnam are among the countries that do have active discussions under way. and the Dalai Lama recently became the first Buddhist leader to endorse same-sex marriage.

In the Pacific, Australia bans same-sex marriage; New Zealand allows it. Most of the island nations don’t recognize same-sex marriages; several also ban all homosexual activity.

In the Americas, Canada allows same-sex marriage; Mexico and several other Central American countries only recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. South America is fairly split, though powerhouses Brazil and Argentina (as well as smaller nation Uruguay) have same-sex marriage. Colombia and Ecuador have some legal rights for same-sex couples.

Most Western European countries (though not Italy) recognize same-sex marriages or offer some sort of government-registered partnership; Eastern European countries are uniform in not recognizing same-sex marriages, and several nations in that area have specific opposite-gender requirements for marriage.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Portland vs. Her People: Fighting over the possible futures of Maine's largest city

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Beneath the deep rifts of disagreement about how Portland should grow, change, and develop, there lies one underlying point of concord: The city is increasingly attractive to a wide range of people and businesses, and therefore is uniquely poised to have options about how its future will be built. And there’s another, related area of agreement: Nearly all the players in the ongoing land-use disputes in the city (including municipal leaders) share a list of goals, which include more housing that is more affordable, preservation of historic assets, celebration of unique attributes of the city’s landscape and architecture, and the pivotal importance of energizing the downtown — including but not just maximizing use of open space.
But when faced with choices about how to achieve those goals, Maine’s largest city has of late suffered a gigantic split, between City Hall and the people themselves. And most of these conflicts are similar in one root element: This city, which all agree is lucky to have so many options, has leaders who do not behave as if they have any choice at all. To the frustration of the citzenry, the City Council and the Planning Board often run off with the first partner who asks for a dance.
Sometimes there’s no real controversy, as with the new hotels sprouting around the downtown, the $60-million renovation of the Eastland Park Hotel, or the $110-million redevelopment of Thompson’s Point. But when there is disagreement, a pattern has emerged: citizen outcry builds, corporate interests flex their muscles, the city stands its ground, lawsuits swirl, and the future of Portland gets decided not through a participatory process ending with a majority vote, but in adversarial courtroom hearings before a judge who will make a decision alone.
The most notable issues exemplifying this pattern are the potential sale of Congress Square Plaza, the repurposing of the former Williston-West Church, and the massive Federated “Midtown” housing development in Bayside (see sidebar, “Timelines”). All three have been subjected to long, contentious hearings before the City Council and the Planning Board, as well as several lawsuits, which the city has a track record of losing (see “Legally Blind,” by Al Diamon, February 28).
The projects are different in their details, but looking at their processes is revealing, and worrying. There are interdependent problems, and even if they are solved, the three projects at the center of the current storms are likely lost to litigation forever. That said, a closer look at what ails Portland could help us avoid future maladies.
Diagnosis #1: Bad timingThe first, and perhaps truly the biggest, underlying problem is not a lack of citizen involvement. Ask anyone — board member, citizen, or reporter — who was at any of the multi-hour municipal meetings about these projects.
It’s that the involvement comes too late in the process to really make a big difference. Planning Board member Jack Soley puts it best: “At the eleventh hour it’s difficult to give public testimony as much weight as it is earlier in the project....Their voice will carry more weight at the early stages.”
Projects that come before the Planning Board have already been reviewed by city planning staff, and often outside experts, such as traffic engineers and stormwater engineers, but there’s still lots of time to make changes. Soley, a developer himself (the hotel on Fore Street is his) whose father is notorious Old Port landlord Joe Soley, says the Planning Board tries “to improve on what the developer has brought to us,” within the standards set by the City Council’s ordinances.
While citizen input is always welcome, earlier is better. Projects can take months to move through the Planning Board, during which time the board has typically requested — and received — many changes from the developer. By the end of the process, the members can find themselves in a bind if new public objections arise, or if citizens ask for additional changes to aspects of the project the board has already addressed.
“To a developer, it might cost a tremendous amount of time, money, and resources to make those changes,” after the company has typically invested a great deal already. The end is “a really difficult time to go backwards,” Soley says. “There’s a point at which it’s unfair.”
Which leaves one last option, where the Midtown project has ended up: “At the eleventh hour the only way to stop [a project] is litigation,” he says.
Mayor Michael Brennan agrees with Soley about getting citizens involved up front, and notes his surprise at the anti-Midtown outcry after more than a decade of discussions about Bayside. “If there were some type of opposition you would have expected it long before” the very end of the process, he says.
However, if the Planning Board’s attitude in this regard seems to favor developers over public concerns, that may be by design. Board members are appointed by the City Council, who are “very developer-friendly,” says Frank Turek, a leader of Friends of Congress Square Park, which leads him to ask (rhetorically) of the Planning Board “a basic philosophical question: What do you do that’s best for the people?”
Soley counters that the Planning Board works hard to fix, not kill, flawed projects, but ultimately when faced with imperfection, must “make our best judgement for what makes sense for the city of Portland.”
Diagnosis #2: InsecurityBut what city leaders think is best can differ significantly from what residents believe. Charles Remmel, one of the plaintiffs in the Williston-West case, and the first president of the Western Prom Neighborhood Association when it was founded in the 1970s, says city leaders should “have a little more faith in how the city will develop,” rather than thinking “if they don’t do [a proposed project] right now, it’s the end and we’ll never get another chance.”
“Portland has enough vibrancy” to attract good development, Remmel says, citing the city’s thriving food and entertainment scene, which he says has flourished “in spite of” city officials’ efforts.
When faced with these developers’ ideas, “Portland’s insecurities come into play,” Remmel says. City leaders often are “so insecure” that they approve the first thing that comes along. “They don’t have enough faith in themselves.”
Regarding Williston-West specifically, he says city officials were so worried about the future of the building if it lay dormant for too long that they eagerly embraced “the first guy who comes in,” even though that meant offices and a performance space in the middle of residences, and despite a lack of parking. (He says any parallels between fears for Williston-West and the St. Lawrence Church on Munjoy Hill, which did lay vacant and ultimately deteriorated until it needed to be demolished, are weak at best, because of different neighborhood environments.)
With Congress Square, he says, the city was afraid it would never have the money or the civic interest to improve it, so when a developer proposed the idea that involved selling off public land in the heart of the Arts District, officials leapt at the chance.
And with Midtown, the official thought line was, “We’re afraid if we don’t approve this, we’ll never get an opportunity like this ever again,” Remmel says. So the city raised the allowable building height in that area, and made other changes to accommodate the plan, rather than, for example, turning it down and waiting for one that made more sense for Portland.
Housing advocate and urban-issues blogger Christian MilNeil says the Congress Square situation and the Williston-West proposal are similar: “Those were really developer-driven. The developer came in with a proposal and that became the plan.”
(Former councilor John Anton, who was the only person to vote against both the Williston-West and Congress Square decisions, declined to comment for this story, saying he left public office “to get my life back” and didn’t want to get involved in current issues, nor revisit old ones.)
But MilNeil says the Midtown project was different, the result of a 15-year planning process. “You can’t really blame the developers for following the city’s plan,” he says. “The developers really were proposing something that was faithful to the city’s vision,” a development with an active street level, retail shops, and lots of housing.
Diagnosis #3: Resistance to changeBrennan says those are the city’s goals — his particular focus is “initiatives and proposals that are going to bring people to the downtown, galvanize the downtown, revitalize the downtown” — and says officials are balancing “a number of competing objectives,” including the city’s historic feel and overall aesthetics. 
Citizens who have risen up to oppose some of these developments have “different objectives,” he says.
When asked why some projects got a green light with barely a whisper, and others ignited firestorms, Brennan as much as throws up his hands.
“You get to a point where you’ve tried to compromise,” he says. “You just get to a point where you fundamentally have disagreements.”
Remmel agrees with that assessment: “Planning means to me you have a long-term idea” rather than being “focused on project approvals,” he says, arguing that city officials “are basically project-oriented. I don’t think they think in the same way the neighborhoods do.”
“A lot of these arguments are really about disruptive effects in a neighborhood,” Remmel notes. He admits, though, that what might count as disruption for him is fine for others, and vice-versa. He is confident, for example, that the Williston-West building could easily be converted into high-end residences by a developer who would protect the building’s historic facade. But Portland Landmarks, which protects the city’s architectural heritage, is against splitting up the beautiful interior of the sanctuary.
“It’s not a church anymore,” Remmel says. He’s right, but that statement alone doesn’t directly suggest any single course of action.
And that’s where MilNeil, a commissioner of the Portland Housing Authority, comes in. First, he observes, “cities change. It’s pretty much the definition of a city.” And second, he posits a clear dichotomy: “If the city doesn’t change architecturally, we’re going to change demographically.”
He’s speaking of the proposed Midtown towers, but the point is just as valid about putting a business in the residential West End: Either we have more and denser housing of all kinds, or the city prices out lower-income residents.
For his part, MilNeil puts social values over aesthetic ones. “I’d much rather preserve our city’s egalitarianism and embrace changes to our skyline,” he says.
Diagnosis #4: Class ConflictWhile on the one hand, MilNeil says, “it’s great that we’ve become such a successful city,” with merchants, restaurants, and a vibe that’s attractive to wealthy people; on the other hand he wonders, “Where are we going to put all the rich people who are going to move here?”
And with housing in short supply, and prices on the rise, where will the people the newcomers displace live?
“The rich people are just going to crowd out the working-class and middle-class people,” MilNeil predicts, unless the city undertakes major efforts to “make room for the people who want to live here and need to live here.”
Peter Monro, a landscape architect who is a leader of Keep Portland Livable, the group leading the opposition to Midtown (and suing to block it), says the city has it backwards. Rather than building downtown housing and an industrial park on the outskirts of the city, he says the city should have “good paying jobs at the heart of it,” which will in turn encourage spin-off developments to house those workers and cater to their shopping needs and desires.
His perspective is, he readily admits, that of an urban designer who lives in a historic-landmark home in a historic neighborhood district in the West End. He has a specific vision for how development should occur in Portland, and says the city does too, in its zoning and planning ordinances.
MilNeil, though, says Monro is looking at the wrong problem. Observing Monro’s West End residence and the fact that other plaintiffs in the anti-Midtown suit live in upscale housing too, he is blunt: “They’re homeowners so they’re not really aware of Portland’s housing shortage . . . and they don’t see it in their neighborhoods.”
As a result, he says, their opposition rises from a lack of an appropriate sense of urgency about an issue the city has been working on for more than a decade. “In their privilege they think they have the right to overturn 15 years of neighborhood-planning efforts,” he says.
Now, he says, because of Monro and his allies — and their lawyers — “this whole Bayside Vision is on hold.”
Diagnosis #5: Too many lawyersPart of the conflict does boil down to lawyers, of course. “If you can hire enough lawyers and kill any project you want,” which makes it harder for all developers, MilNeil says — including the Portland Housing Authority and Avesta, a non-profit developing affordable housing.
In fact, MilNeil questions Monro’s claims of pure motives. “I don’t think they’re out to win the lawsuit, actually,” MilNeil says, citing a Press Herald opinion column from November 2013, in which Monro was quoted saying it didn’t matter if he won the case in the end.
“We think the delay may be a deal breaker (for the developer),” the paper quoted Monro saying. “The power to delay is the power to destroy.”
Monro vigorously denies the charge, saying “we’re in it to change that project,” and rattling off several very specific changes he would like to see in the Midtown project (a lower parking garage allowing a wider, lower residential tower, for example). “This is not about delay.”
Ensuring the city followed the proper legal process is indeed important; Monro observes that the recent court rulings suggest that’s not a strength at City Hall. Noting that the courts must weigh heavily the fact that the city has the right to govern itself, Monro sees Portland’s recent losses as evidence something is very wrong: “Even with a bias in their favor they can’t win.”
What some — including Monro and Brennan — see as part of the checks-and-balances system, others, such as MilNeil, see as elitist. “As a city we should not be resolving all these contentious debates by lawsuit,” he says. “It’s not democratic.”
The only people who get to sue if they see an outcome they don’t like are rich people who can afford to hire lawyers, he says. “A courtroom is not a public process. It’s rich people fighting against each other.”
In the balance hang more than a few important questions.
For MilNeil, the key is renters’ futures. If Midtown’s developers have to modify their project to make it smaller or shorter, those changes will cost money, MilNeil says, on top of the relatively fixed
remediation costs for cleaning up the former railyard. With fewer tenants available to cover those costs, rents go higher — which is the opposite of MilNeil’s goal.
For Brennan, the suits boil down to the city’s sovereignty. Particularly with regard to the Congress Square petition and upcoming vote, he asks, “Is everything that the City Council does subject to a petition drive or a referendum?”
For Turek, it’s about taking on problems head-on. “All over the country cities are realizing that if we invest directly in public parks, we’ll get a lot more economic benefit” than selling the space and hoping development spreads, he says.
And for Monro, the effort is about holding back City Hall’s eagerness to grow. “They want population and tax base,” he says. “They’re looking for as many Empire State Buildings as they can get.”
Diagnosis #6: Being overwhelmedIt is possible that at least some of the popular resistance is because many areas of Portland are changing rapidly at the same time.
Brennan calls this period in Portland’s history one of “unprecedented development and development opportunities in the city,” saying there is “a lot of pent-up demand due to the recession” that started in 2008 and kept bankers and builders laying low, waiting for better times. Now, he observes, projects are being proposed throughout the city, including on High Street and India Street, as well as the working waterfront.
“There seems to be development every place we turn,” he says.
Listing off nearly a dozen active projects, Soley echoes that sentiment: “If you look at almost every corner of the city, there is substantial development going on.” With a tone of wonder audible in his voice, he says, “this is one of the most spectacular periods of development in the history of Portland.”
And that era is only continuing. The redevelopment of Franklin Street could open many acres of developable land in the heart of the city, which could be worth as much as $1 million per acre, a real-estate analyst told the Portland Press Herald.
As we plot that area’s future, we hope these lessons help Portlanders — both in and out of City Hall — reflect on one question, as Brennan posed it: “Is this development reflective of where we want to go as a city?”

*Williston-West Church*
Summer 2011
 Williston-West Church merges with Immanuel Baptist Church and moves worship to High Street. The beautiful, historic Williston-West Church is sold to Frank Monsour, an Australian businessman who proposes converting the parish house into residential space and office space for up to 14 of his employees; a future concept is to convert the sanctuary into either a community hall or a performing-arts venue.
May 2012 The Planning Board hears nine hours of public testimony, and entered into the record 97 letters and a 140-signature petition opposing the idea, according to the Forecaster’s report of that meeting. Objections relate to the city’s comprehensive plan, which protects the residential character of the West End neighborhood (and other parts of the city). Putting a business in the middle of an upscale residential area seems to run counter to the overall plan.
June 2012 Fifty people, about half in favor and half opposed, speak to the City Council during a two-and-a-half-hour public hearing, the Portland Press Herald reports. The council votes 6-3 to approve the plan, which involves a zoning change to allow the business (opposing were John Anton, John Coyne, and Cheryl Leeman).
July 2012 Twelve neighbors sue Monsour and the city, asking a Superior Court judge if the city went too far in changing the property’s zoning.
December 2013 The ruling is that the rezoning did violate the comprehensive plan, and that the building did not need a specially brokered deal to protect it, given the city’s strong historic-preservation ordinance. The city is planning to appeal that ruling to the Maine Supreme Court.
*Federated’s Midtown project*
 The city issues the Bayside Vision, calling for more housing and larger, taller buildings in the area, including the former railyard in the center of the neighborhood. The plan also recognizes a related need for a city-funded parking garage.
July 2011 The city agrees to sell 3.25 acres, the former railyard, to the Federated Companies for $2.3 million, with an agreement that any development would include a parking garage paid for in part with $9 million in federal money passed through the city.
Fall 2012 Federated unveils a $150-million plan to build 675 apartments in four 15-story towers, plus two parking garages with more than 1000 spaces, and more than 90,000 square feet of retail space.
Fall 2013 After nearly a year of hearings before the Planning Board and City Council, including ordinance changes allowing buildings to be as tall as 165 feet throughout the parcel, public opposition arose (see “Curb Appeal,” by Deirdre Fulton, November 22, 2013).
January 2014  The Planning Board approves the project. Two members of the board, Jack Soley and Bill Hall, say they don’t like aspects of it, but vote in favor because it meets the city’s ordinance requirements.
February 2014 Keep Portland Livable sues the city, saying the process did not properly respect the city’s own planning documents.
*Congress Square Plaza*
 City Council creates the Congress Square Redesign Study Group. After about three years of meetings, the 15-member body was no closer to an idea than they had been at the start.
November 2011 RockBridge Capital, the new owner of the Eastland Park Hotel (now renovated and reopened as the Westin Portland Harborview) proposes buying the plaza to erect an event center (see, among other coverage, “Congress Square’s Controversial Facelift,” by Deirdre Fulton, May 24, 2013).
May 2013 The city Parks Commission says the council should consider not just the status quo and the frequently revised RockBridge proposal but other ideas “such as a re-designed park in the same space, a fully designed smaller plaza, and other building or architecture options.” (See “Getting (Congress) Square to Work,” by Jeff Inglis, August 16, 2013, and “Reimagining Portland,” by Calvin Dunwoody, August 24, 2012.)
September 6, 2013 Friends of Congress Square, which had objected to the proposed sale for months, asks the city to allow the circulation of a petition for a citizen initiative to amend the city’s land bank, making protected land harder to sell, and adding 35 parcels to the Land Bank list, including Congress Square.
September 13, 2013 The city refused to issue petitions, arguing that the ordinance it proposed conflicted with city ordinance and state law barring initiatives and referenda on administrative and financial issues.
September 16, 2013 The City Council votes 6-3 (John Anton, Kevin Donoghue, and David Marshall opposed) to sell 9500 square feet, about two-thirds of Congress Square Plaza, to RockBridge Capital for $524,000.
September 25, 2013 Friends of Congress Square Park sues the city to force it to issue the petitions.
November 2013 A judge orders the city to issue petitions, which were finally released for circulation the day before Election Day. While the city planned to appeal, the Friends collected signatures at the polls, ultimately turning in 4250, far more than the required 1500.
March 2014 The City Council approved the petition’s question for the June ballot, but also moved to enact a slightly different ordinance that would add almost exactly the same properties to the protected Land Bank (with the notable exception of Congress Square), but with more modest protections against their potential sale.
April 2014 The Maine Supreme Court will hear the city’s petition-issuing appeal in early April, and is expected to rule shortly thereafter, in time to allow or block the June election.

Reality check: Could MH370 have hidden from radar next to another plane?

Published on GlobalPost

Yes, says an MIT aeronautics professor. With caveats.

BOSTON — It’s the Malaysia Airlines missing jet theory that has taken the internet by storm.
Ohio aviation hobbyist and IT professional Keith Ledgerwood dug deep into the data and emerged with the idea that — after making the sharp left everyone seems to now agree on — flight MH370 appears to have piggybacked on another aircraft, Singapore Airlines Flight 68, which also departed Kuala Lumpur around the same time.
In doing so, the theory goes, it could have evaded radar detection. Unlike MH370, which was heading for Beijing, SIA68’s destination was Madrid. Its flight path passed over parts of IndiaPakistan, and Afghanistan, after which the Malaysian Boeing 777 could have peeled off and landed in the desert or in Central Asia.
The hypothesis, replete with charts and technical details, is compelling. But is it feasible?
Yes it is, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of aeronautics and astronautics R. John Hansman Jr.
But it’s not very likely.
An airplane as big as a Boeing 777 can effectively hide from radar systems, Hansman says, if it gets close enough to another plane of similar size. Hansman is also the director of MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation.
Speaking to GlobalPost Tuesday, he said he was familiar with Ledgerwood’s idea, and termed it “technically possible but operationally very difficult.”
Hansman said with planes of that size, “you don’t have to get that close — within a half-mile or a quarter-mile” to appear on radar screens as, effectively, part of the same plane, even on military radar.
“It would be a slightly larger radar blip, but not enough to get anybody’s attention,” Hansman said. Since radar operators would be expecting to see a contact at that speed and on that flight path — they would be assuming it was only SIA68 — they would not see anything worrying.
However, maneuvering two massive aircraft that close together in flight at high altitude is extremely hard, he said.
First, while the flights departed from the same airport, “it’s hard to catch up with the other airplane.” Big airliners don’t have much of a range of possible speeds, especially when flying at cruising altitudes, so it’s not like the Malaysia Airlines pilot could have done the airplane equivalent of stepping on the gas pedal — it would have already been quite near the floor.
If it was possible to catch up with speed, the Malaysian pilots would have had a challenge locating the Singapore Airlines plane — having turned off their transponder and anti-collision signaling systems, that equipment would have been useless to provide other planes’ whereabouts.
Transponder silence also would have prevented the Singapore Airlines plane from noticing it had a shadower, Hansman said, as airplanes’ on-board primary radar is designed to detect weather, not other aircraft.
Even assuming MH370 could catch up to, find, close in with, and shadow SIA68 in the middle of the night over the ocean, “at some point you’re going to have to separate” and fly elsewhere, Hansman said. “Then you have to land it somewhere.”
As suggested by another aviation expert speaking to GlobalPost, being certain of escaping radar detection all the way to landing at a remote airstrip would mean discovering and evading secret military radar capabilities, or at least being absolutely sure that the nations in question would not want to expose their technological expertise by sharing information those systems might have detected.
Hansman discounts the possibility of a thief having run off with the plane because “it’s easier to just go out on the ramp and steal an airplane” than to gain enough expertise to accomplish what Ledgerwood’s hypothesis suggests, and then to go and actually execute it.
He is more persuaded by an idea he and others have been discussing for several days: The possibility of some sort of onboard emergency, an electrical malfunction or a fire, like that described in a Wired post earlier Tuesday.
“The original turnback” — the one Ledgerwood thinks was to chase SIA68 — “was in a direction toward an appropriate emergency-diversion field,” Hansman said.
But even that change raises questions for him: In an emergency, pilots wouldn’t likely have taken the time to use the flight computer, but would instead have changed the plane’s heading manually. And if there was time to use the computer, he said, there would have probably been time to make a radio call announcing the problem.
But Hansman said the basic assumption of Ledgerwood’s idea is true: Only very high-tech radars can tell the difference between two planes traveling close together at altitude, and many countries in South Asia may not have that equipment. In fact, “we hope not,” Hansman said.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Five Prime steps up search for monoclonal antibodies

Published in Drug Discovery News

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—Seeking to continue, and accelerate, its work developing new protein therapeutics for cancer and inflammatory diseases, Five Prime Therapeuticshas made an agreement with Adimab of Lebanon, N.H., that will help discover monoclonal antibodies for cancer immunotherapy. Five Prime also recently closed its initial public offering, raising $43 million.
Under the terms of the Adimab deal, which marks the first time the companies have worked together, Five Prime will identify potential targets for development as therapeutic candidates and send them to Adimab for discovering and optimizing the corresponding fully human antibodies.
Five Prime will then develop and commercialize those antibodies, with Adimab receiving not only payment for each target campaign, but also potential milestone payments and royalties, according to a news release from the company. Specific financial details were not disclosed.
“Working with Adimab, we will be generating antibody products to targets of our choosing, and these could become clinical candidates for Five Prime’s proprietary pipeline,” Five Prime Chief Business Officer Aron Knickerbocker told DDNews in an email.
Five Prime has “a library of over 5,700 extracellular proteins (ligands and receptors),” Knickerbocker wrote. “We believe these include substantially all medically important protein drug targets, including many proteins not in public domain.”
Five Prime can produce “thousands of proteins weekly,” from which it screens “novel protein therapeutics and antibody targets,” Knickerbocker wrote.
From there, Adimab will use its library of fully human whole immunoglobulin-G molecules (IgCs), and its technology that rapidly identifies appropriate matches, returning results to Five Prime. While Knickerbocker declined to talk about project timelines, Adimab’s website says its usual turnaround from target receipt to return of purified, whole IgGs is eight weeks.
That includes screening more than 10 billion IgGs from its various libraries; past results have “generated large numbers of fully human IgGs (100s up to 1000s) to all targets screened to date,” Adimab’s website says.
“Working with Adimab will allow us to generate fully human monoclonal antibodies to our targets of interest,” said Knickerbocker.
The advantages of being able to test with full antibodies are significant. Unlike the more commonly used antigen fragments, whole IgGs are capable of cross-linking receptors, as well as sterically blocking interactions.
Less than a month after announcing that agreement, and highlighting its progressing collaboration with British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline developing FP-1039 (GSK3052230), a fibroblast growth factor ligand trap targeting multiple solid tumors, Five Prime also grossed $43,125,000 in its initial public offering of 3.4 million shares of common stock. The company trades on the NASDAQ exchange, with symbol FPRX.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

We have a problem: The science behind rising seas

Published on GlobalPost

A hundred years after it spawned the iceberg that sank the Titanic in the North Atlantic, the Jakobshavn Glacier is now a major contributor to global sea-level rise, this time threatening the homes and lives not of 2,200 passengers and crew but of a billion people across the world.
As climate-watchers and coastal-dwellers keep a weather eye out for signals of irreversible changes in the environment, the world’s fastest-moving glacier has already begun self-destruction. 
Jakobshavn is now shedding ice nearly three times as quickly as it was 20 years ago, dumping enormous and growing quantities into the ocean. It's contributed 0.1 millimeters per year to worldwide sea-level rise — more than 3 percent of the 3 mm produced globally — for the past decade.
The glacier “has been retreating for the last 100 years,” according to Ian Joughin, senior principal engineer at the Polar Science Center, part of the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory. “Retreat” means a glacier is shrinking in length, losing more ice from its face that meets the water than accumulates from higher up.
But it was only in recent decades that the retreat reached extreme levels.
Jakobshavn’s story isn’t unique. For decades now, more ice has been melting into the ocean than is falling from the sky in the world’s mountain and polar regions, where ice sheets store two-thirds of the planet’s fresh water — and the science shows us the situation won’t reverse any time soon.
To understand exactly what’s happened and what's likely to come, it’s critical to understand the topography underneath each glacier.
First, a note on how to think about glacial ice: it's not as simple as frozen water. Scientists consider glaciers to be "nonlinear viscous fluids," which behave like both solids and liquids. Think of a glacier as a frozen river, always flowing at some speed from source to outlet, but growing and receding with the seasons. Because ice is heavy and not a perfect solid like rock, it flows under gravitational pull and pressure from above. Sometimes big chunks become unstable and fall into the sea. When Earth’s climate is in balance, about the same amount of water flows into the oceans from glaciers as is evaporated and then precipitated as snow onto ice sheets from which those glaciers are made.
The Jakobshavn Glacier, known in Danish as Jakobshavn Isbræ, has its origins in large areas of land well above sea level, from which it flows down toward the ocean (in this case, Ilulissat Icefjord), where it calves icebergs into the water.
As physicist Joughin describes it, Jakobshavn Glacier flows off the land and into the 1,600-meter-deep fjord, filling it entirely with ice for a distance of about 50 kilometers, ultimately climbing up a slope in the sea floor that peaks at about 600 meters of depth. The narrow sheet of ice coming off the edge of the glacier at that peak — called a “glacier tongue” — once served as a sort of “cork” for the glacier, holding it back significantly and preventing quicker loss of ice.
You can see the rise in sea-bed elevation just to the left of center in this graphic.
In 1992, Jakobshavn was melting at a rate of about 6 kilometers a year. It was “about in balance” with the natural rhythm — gaining and losing roughly the same amount of ice over the course of a year’s winter accumulation and summer melting, Joughin said.
But in the late 1990s, the glacier’s tongue broke off, and the “uncorked” Jakobshavn began to calve and lose mass in ever-deeper water.
By 2000, the glacier was losing 11 kilometers in length every year, nearly twice the stable speed. As of last summer, according to a paper Joughin and others published recently in academic journal The Cryosphere, it was losing nearly 17 kilometers a year, retreating up the fjord into increasingly deep water that could cause it to melt even faster in the coming decades.
Jakobshavn’s dramatic change was recorded in the 2012 film "Chasing Ice," in a compelling scene that captured the calving of a kilometer of ice in a single event. That happens throughout the summer, Joughin said, though not always in such significant individual moments. (When it does, though, global seismic monitors have been known to register them as 4 or 5 on the Richter scale, he said.)
Eventually — perhaps in about 100 years — the glacier will have retreated far enough that it will no longer feed directly into the fjord. At that point, essentially landlocked, the glacier will only shrink through melting, which happens much slower than calving. With that slowing will come more stability in terms of the glacier’s size. “The next stable condition could be a regionally smaller ice sheet,” Joughin said.
Jakobshavn would still contribute a significant amount of global sea-level rise before then. But the real danger lies at the other end of the Earth, in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), which holds enough water to raise the ocean between three and six meters.
The WAIS is also meltingbut it’s doing it in open water; once the process starts, the sheet will never stop calving.
“The [WAIS] glaciers are going to keep retreating. At this point there is nothing we can do but watch,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California Irvine who published his latest paper about the WAIS in December’s Geophysical Research Letters. “Just how fast they can flow, we don’t know,” he said.
It could take hundreds or thousands of years, but as Joughin puts it, the next stable point for WAIS is “no ice sheet.” By then huge areas of land, home to massive proportions of the world’s population, would be under water.
The question facing scientists and coastal dwellers is akin to the one facing the Titanic’s passengers: The water is rising, and we don’t quite know how fast it’s coming, or how quickly it will accelerate. But we need to plan, move, and adapt if we are to survive. There’s no way to stop the water, and no time to waste.

Friday, March 7, 2014

GSK, Roche go head-to-head to fight melanoma

Published in Drug Discovery News

LONDON—Taking a lead in the tight race to develop and release melanoma medications,GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) has received accelerated approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its combination of Mekinist (trametinib) and Tafinlar (dabrafenib) for treatment of melanoma with BRAF mutations V600E and V600K. Roche, which is also a big player in this market, is now behind, said Aine Slowey, senior analyst for London-based analysis firm Datamonitor Healthcare. While both GSK drugs had been approved as monotherapies in 2013, the combined results “were very positive and significantly better than the BRAF monotherapy,” Slowey said.
The Swiss giant has a monotherapy in Zelboraf (vemurafenib) but does not yet have a combination therapy targeting BRAF mutations. In fact, “the combination of  Zelboraf and Yervoy has already crashed and burned,” she said. While Zelboraf is less toxic than Bristol-Myers Squibb’s (BMS) Yervoy (ipilimumab) and therefore may be used first, with Yervoy going only to those who see no improvement, a combination of the two drugs was hoped to be a powerful one-two punch. But the trial combining them was halted last year because of toxicity.
In the wake of that failure, Roche may be looking to “leapfrog” GSK, to combine dual therapy with additional PD-1 inhibitors, she said.
Both GSK’s approved dual treatment and the failed combination from Roche and BMS inhibit MEK as well as BRAF, delaying medication resistance that arose when inhibiting just BRAF. But it’s only a delay, Slowey said; eventually resistance does develop. Adding immunotherapy, such as PD-1 inhibition, may help, Slowey said.
Melanoma medications are a small, and relatively new, market. The disease is easily detected in its early stages, and surgery is usually both quick and effective, particularly when compared to surgery for other types of cancer. But basic research uncovered the fact that BRAF mutations are a “convenient biomarker that patients are going to respond well to this kind of targeted therapy,” Slowey said, so companies started exploring commercialization.
For those patients who do develop metastatic melanoma, about half have a BRAF V600 mutation; of those, 90 percent have the V600E variant, Slowey said. (The other half, who have what is called “wild-type” metastatic melanoma, get Yervoy and immunotherapy, Slowey said.)
While Datamonitor projects patient numbers will grow about 3.5 percent a year through 2021, the market numbers are still low: Seven years from now, there will only be 170,000 patients in the U.S., Japanese and European markets combined, the company projects, with sales totaling $459 million then.
Nevertheless, “it’s probably one of the fastest-moving oncology markets at the minute,” Slowey said.
Prior to 2011, only standard cytotoxic chemotherapies were available. But then Yervoy was approved for metastatic melanoma patients. Already there are four approved drugs, with more on the way.
BMS has entered the fray, winning fast-track designation for nivolumab, which is now in Phase 1 trials, as well as combination testing.
And Merck’s PD-1 inhibitor, MK3754, has breakthrough designation for treating melanoma; the company recently signed a deal with Amgen to see if MK3754 would work well in combination with Amgen’s oncolytic virus Talimogene laherparepvec.

Growing proteins in space

Published in Drug Discovery News

BOSTON—Taking protein-growing to high altitude and low gravity, Emerald Bio has joined an arrangement led by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and catalyzed by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to send labs on chips to the International Space Station to study growth of proteins that may help develop treatments for cholesterol and cancer back here on Earth.
Though Melbourne, Fla.-based CASIS has offices in Cambridge, Mass., this is the first time the NASA-selected manager of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory has collaborated with the Cambridge-based Broad, according to Brian Hubbard, director of the Broad’s Therapeutics Project Group.
The Broad does work frequently with Emerald Bio, though, and when Hubbard heard last summer that CASIS was interested in growing proteins in space (which had been done before, but not with current technology), he thought of Emerald. “It came together very quickly,” Hubbard tells DDNews, crediting the Broad’s “open collaborative model” with the efficiency. “You don’t need to form a team. The team is already there.”
And it’s a diverse but focused team. In addition to CASIS, Emerald and the Broad, the crew also has NanoRacks of Houston (which has scientific hardware on the ISS) and Protein BioSolutions of Gaithersburg, Md., which recently purchased from Emerald the microfluidic technology that will enable more than 7,000 separate protein-growth experiments to fit in the space allotted on the space station.
“We were actually approached by CASIS … through the Broad,” George Abe, president of Emerald Bio, says. With available time and energy, CASIS was interested in new reasons for growing proteins in microgravity. And CASIS wanted something of real therapeutic value.
Emerald suggested two possibilities: proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9), a gene that raises LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and myeloid leukemia cell differentiation protein 1 (MCL1), a key gene in cancer treatments.
Neither structure has “been solved in its empty state before,” Abe said. Protein structures are “extremely sensitive to a lot of environmental factors,” Abe said. “A protein structure will grow or evolve differently in a microgravity environment than on planet Earth.” How they grow when freed from Earth’s gravity could provide new information that will lead to approaches to inhibit relevant genes.
That direct approach is typical of the Broad, Hubbard said. “We’re looking to have real impact on patients but we’re also looking to . . . disruptive technologies” with prospects not today but five to 10 years out, he said. Often, if things aren’t druggable directly, researchers work to find the relevant genes, then proteins and then follow the thread back through gene regulators, eventually finding something that is druggable, he said. But at the Broad, they go for the target itself, even if that means inventing new technology, Hubbard said.
And while the technology itself already existed, the method had to be created to allow this research to proceed. Originally, Emerald had thought it might send the equipment to grow proteins up to the ISS, but that was too big to fit, and too complex to ask astronauts to handle in addition to their other duties.
Instead, Emerald will express and purify the proteins, and then ship them to Protein BioSolutions with protocols for building 36 identical pairs of labs on chips, with each chip holding 200 different configurations of pH, salinity and other environmental factors. The chips will be immediately frozen, with one of each pair sent to the ISS and the other 36 sent to Emerald as controls. (The launch was slated for April as of the writing of this article.)
The chips will be thawed and the astronauts—as well as scientists on Earth—will observe what happens. After about six months in space, the samples will be returned to Earth.
“For any structures that actually grow in space, we will be performing X-ray diffraction on those,” Abe said. And then chemists associated with the Broad will work to identify potential therapeutics that could bind with those proteins, either to prevent their formation, or block or otherwise modify them.
This does not mean that protein production or other aspects of drug development will have to occur in space; rather, it will allow people to discover important information they can use in terrestrial study and production. Nevertheless, this experiment will be a test in another way: of how valuable “a potential market demand for doing early-stage drug discovery work in a microgravity environment” might be, Abe said, noting that this new opportunity could help the ISS remain scientifically and budgetarily viable.