Our particular group assembled in the lightly frosted but thoroughly freezing Red Lion Square in Holborn, London. I was more than happy to hand over £5 for the 1023 t-shirt—glad of the extra layer of clothing!
1023 alludes to Avogadro’s number, 6.02 x 1023 (the number of molecules in the molecular weight in grams of any given compound). The link to homeopathy is ironic, playful, since typical homeopathic preparations involve dilutions of up to 1060. Such dilutions are extremely unlikely to contain even a single molecule of the original ‘active’ ingredient (setting aside for a moment the bizarre methods that homeopaths use to ‘prove’ that their ingredients are active) and therefore contain nothing. Recognising this, a little belatedly perhaps since Avogadro’s number was only evaluated in about 1908, homeopaths have adopted the view that water has memory and somehow can remember and impart the therapeutic benefit of molecules that have long since been diluted away. No credible molecular mechanism has ever been advanced for this memory effect. How that memory is transferred to a dry sugar pill is also mysterious.
But not curious.
Not even slightly interesting because the evidence accumulated in 200 years of homeopathy shows that it is no better than a placebo. There is an interesting discussion to be had on the ethics of treating people with placebos, since they are undoubtedly effective for minor, self-limiting ailments. But not this morning which was simply about drawing people’s attention to the fact that, by their own admission, Boots the Chemist sells ‘medicine’ for which they have no evidence of efficacy.
This kind of craziness is on a par with Numberwang.*
So this morning we stood around, chatting, stamping our feet to keep warm, watching the TV crews and journalists interviewing the organisers and celebs who had come along to participate.
My drugs of choice, Arsen. Alb. 30C (a 1060 dilution of arsenic) came in a handy container, a bit like a sweetener dispenser that only releases one sugar pill at a time. However, with keys and teeth I managed to prise off one end so that I would be able to take the whole lot at once. If I was going the whole hog, it might as well be dramatic.
Just before the off, there were short speeches from Simon Singh, Evan Harris MP and comedian Dave Gorman. There was a count-down to the overdose and, along with everyone else, I filled my mouth with little balls of sugar and washed them down with water (also from Boots and, at 80p, considerably cheaper than the £5 pills).
And then, of course, nothing happened.
There were a few more interviews, a few more hellos and goodbyes and people dispersed. I made my way to South Kensington and to Imperial for a couple of hours work. A quiet Saturday morning is a good time to get down to some of the donkey work needed for an upcoming paper. Appropriately perhaps, the paper will be about how drugs bind to a protein, human serum albumin, which is abundant in the blood stream and can cause problems for drug delivery since many compounds stick to it too tightly. If that happens, you have to give a higher dose to make sure that a sufficient drug concentration reaches the target organ. Because you need to have a high enough number of drug molecules at the site of action to have an effect.
This problem of drugs sticking tightly to albumin is commonly encountered in drug development and needs to be overcome if a successful therapy is to be brought to market. Our crystallographic work shows exactly where and how drugs stick to HSA, and could be used—we hope—to influence drug design and so enhance delivery and efficacy.
The particular study we are hoping to publish will report several new structures of dansylated amino acids bound to albumin; these are fluorescent compounds that can adhere to the drug binding sites on HSA and are commonly used during drug development in assays to determine where any new lead compound might be binding to the protein. The figure shows that one of the dansylated amino acids in our study (the stick molecule with light blue carbon atoms) binds in exactly the same place as a molecule of diazepam (lilac carbon atoms). This result neatly explains why molecules of diazepam would reduce the fluorescence of a mixture of HSA and the dansylated amino acid: the drug displaces the dansylated amino acid out of the binding pocket and into solvent where its fluorescence is quenched.
After a slightly surreal morning, it was nice to return to a reality where numbers add up and things make sense.
*Apologies to our international friends who may not know Numberwang, a pointless game show comically imagined by Mitchell and Webb, who were also responsible for one of the best homeopathic sketches ever seen.
Many thanks to @carmenego, my drug-dealer du choix, for supplying my hit!