Friday, December 22, 2017

NEWS POSTS: How Drug Development Is Speeding Up In The Cloud; Open Source Drug Discovery: ‘We Should Own Our Own Livelihood And Our Own Dream’

Developing new drugs to fight major diseases can take years and cost billions of dollars Image copyright: THINKSTOCK
Developing a drug from a promising molecule to a potential life-saver can take more than a decade and cost billions of dollars. Speeding this process up - without compromising on safety or efficacy - would seem to be in everyone's interests. And cloud computing is helping to do just that.

"Cloud platforms are globally accessible and easily available," says Kevin Julian, managing director at Accenture Life Sciences, Accelerated R&D Services division. "This allows for real-time collection of data from around the world, providing better access to data from inside life sciences companies, as well as from the many partners they work with in the drug development process."

Clinical trials - testing how a new drug works on people once you've tested it on animals - are a crucial part of this process. But they can be very complex to organize and run. There are three main phases, starting with a small group of healthy volunteers, then widening out to larger groups who would benefit from the drug. "A big phase three trial will cost anything from US$30m-US$60m (£24m-£48m) for a pharma company," says Steve Rosenberg, general manager of Oracle Health Sciences Global Business Unit. These trials may be conducted over 30 to 50 countries and involve hundreds or even thousands of patients - this takes a lot of time and money.

"Patient recruitment has always been the number one problem," says Mr Rosenberg.

And as drug development targets more specific groups of people, largely thanks to the insights coming from genomics, finding the right patients for such clinical studies is becoming even harder. This is where the cloud can help.

"With cloud and related technologies, we are now able to mine real-world data to find patient populations better, and utilise globally available technology to conduct trials in an even more distributed and inclusive manner," says Mr Julian.

Saving time
Cloud and increasing digitalization is also helping to improve the efficiency of data collection and analysis.

"Data collection used to be very inefficient, with data being written on paper forms, faxed and then entered into computers manually," explains Tarek Sherif, co-founder and chief executive of Medidata, a company that has developed a cloud platform for clinical trials.
"Then it had to be double-checked for errors. It could take up to a year before you could draw any conclusions from the patient data."

Digitizing the process and automating the checking process in the cloud has reduced this time to "one to two weeks," says Mr Sherif.

And cloud offers many additional advantages to pharma companies, says Mr Rosenberg. "These days health data is coming from a wide variety of sources, like labs, wearable devices, electronic diaries, health records. Pharma companies can't necessarily handle all the data that's coming in to them. So cloud computing helps them do that and gives them a whole bunch of other advantages - the technology is kept up to date, you get the latest security, the latest features and so on."

A spokesman for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) told the BBC: "Advances in computing and data analytics are providing new opportunities to improve the efficiency of our research and increase our understanding of a disease or a patient's response to medication."

Speeding up the clinical trial process also cuts costs. "We were able to save one of our clients about 30% on the cost of running a trial," says Mr Sherif, whose firm facilitates nearly half of all clinical trials in the world and counts 17 of the top 25 pharma companies as clients. And Accenture's Mr Julian says: "We've seen overall savings of 50% - in some cases up to 75% - on the historically labour-intensive parts of the drug development process."

Of course, not all prospective drugs work, or they're shown to work but not any better than existing drugs on the market.

"So the Holy Grail is to fail faster so you're not failing in the very final phases of drug development when you've already spent most of your money," says Mr Sherif.

Winning regulatory approval for a drug is only half the battle. Pharma companies also have to convince health services and insurance companies that's it's worth paying for. This means collecting reliable patient data.

In the past, patients were often asked to keep written diaries of their experiences with a drug being tested, but these were "horribly inefficient", says Mr Sherif. So the rise of electronic diaries and wearable devices is helping to improve the evidence a pharma company can present in defence of their latest drug.

With this is mind, Oracle is helping add "mHealth" capability to Accenture Life Sciences' cloud platform.

And GSK says: "We've been conducting clinical studies with biosensors and mobile devices for some time. Today's digital technology is enabling us to collect and analyse data in new ways - monitoring activity and vital signs in patients, and collecting patient feedback in real time, improving the quality of data we use in the development of new medicines."

The cloud is also encouraging more pharma companies to co-operate on molecule development [the building blocks of a potential drug], says Mr Rosenberg, as well as on data analysis.

And all this anonymized patient data - historical and recent - can potentially be shared in the battle to combat disease. "We are seeing clients increasingly use 'virtual studies' - using external and historical data to perform advanced statistical analysis and reduce the need for complicated, costly site-based study activity," says Accenture's Mr Julian, citing a collaborative Alzheimer's project between some of its clients and the Coalition Against Major Disease.

But while efficiencies in the drug development process are undoubtedly being found, discovering the initial molecule is still very difficult, experts warn. Cloud computing is having a big practical impact, but won't necessarily result in a flurry of "miracle" cures.

Tanusree Chaudhuri (centre) with two of her remote-working research colleagues Image copyright: TANUSREE CHAUDHURI
NEWS POST: IndiaOpen Source Drug Discovery:‘We Should Own Our Own Livelihood And Our Own Dream’
Tanusree Chaudhuri, 38, was pregnant with her first child when her supervisor told her she would have to give up her dreams. She was doing a doctorate in computational biology and aspired to improve people's health. "He told me 'you are married now, why do you need a PhD? You should go take care of your family'," she says.

She'd hoped to work in drug discovery creating new medicines, after studying at the prestigious Bose Institute in Kolkata, India. But when she married and moved to Hyderabad for her husband's job, she encountered cultural resistance. "Married women are expected to take care of family because without family we are nothing," she says. "We're not expected to want the privilege of thinking and doing research."

So when she came across an online "virtual laboratory" enabling researchers to carry out important work from home, she jumped at the chance to get involved. 

The Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) platform was run by the Indian government and enabled scientists to collaborate remotely, searching for molecules that could be turned into useful medicines. Dr Chaudhuri found she could work from home at times that suited her and her baby. "I met many different people [virtually]. I remember one girl was from somewhere very remote. But it was possible to work with her because I spoke to her through Skype. We never met or visited face-to-face," recalls Dr Chaudhuri.

There are many other open source platforms in the scientific community, each with their own specialism, from genomic analysis to cancer research, and many women across India and other emerging economies are finding them very liberating.

After the government-run platform closed in 2016, Dr Chaudhuri and her colleagues began working for another organisation, the Open Source Pharma Foundation (OSPF), a joint venture between pharmaceutical industry professionals and academics. It is dedicated to discovering affordable medicines by enabling remote collaboration around the world.

Ayisha Safeeda, from Kuttichira in the southern state of Kerala, is from a very traditional Muslim family and lives in a remote area. But she has been able to pursue her Masters degree through the open source platform. "Even if I feed my baby I can read research papers or I can do work on my laptop," she says. "So women who have high potential but are buried inside the family should come forward."

The work these women do in the virtual lab involves whittling down the choice of potential molecules that could eventually be turned into drugs to fight diseases, such as tuberculosis. Dr Chaudhuri develops software for OSPF to help scientists from different disciplines, such as biology or physics, collaborate on the platform. Rakhila Pradeep, another virtual researcher from Tamil Nadu, says she has always loved research but has found it impossible to get to research centres.

"The daily commute to far-flung universities from our rural village is a cumbersome journey and not practical for us," she says. "We were unable to get away from our children and aged family members for days on end."

Dr UC Jaleel, an expert in cheminformatics and computational biology, has supervised many of the projects carried out by these skilled home workers. He believes they are a massive untapped source of expertise. Recalling his college days, women students usually outnumbered - and outclassed - their male contemporaries, he says. But then they would disappear. He analysed the statistics in a district of Kerala where he is based and the results were "astonishing", he says. "These women were all highly educated, but the majority of them ended up as housewives after marrying."

Dr Jaleel is a firm believer in OSPF's crowd sourcing model, particularly if it leads to cheaper medicines for the world's poorer families. "The common goal is to reduce the time and cost of drug discovery, connect the disconnected and mobilize neglected human potential for humanitarian purposes," he says.

Dr Chaudhuri agrees, saying: "Things will progress further. Rather than make everyone gather at one place like an office, let's give others opportunities. "You might think at night or you might think in the morning. You might think whenever you want. We can get the answer and we will go forward."

Els Torreele, executive director of charity Medecins Sans Frontieres' access campaign, believes crowd sourcing could have an important role to play in affordable drug discovery.
"Open source research collaborations are an important and timely strategy to advance and possibly accelerate medical innovation," she says, "including in the area of neglected diseases where knowledge sharing is even more critical than in other fields."

OSPF is still in its early stages, however, and it's not without its challenges - poor internet connectivity in many rural areas being one of them.

Funding is another concern, although it has received seed funding from Indian foundation Tata Trusts. Much of the work is now being done via several university servers and social media. But Dr Chaudhuri, who not only has a PhD but is now an assistant professor, says she and her students plan to work on OSPF to help it expand. "Dreaming for us Indian girls is prohibited unless we have this kind of opportunity," she says. "We should own our own livelihood and our own dream."

Discovering new molecules that could be developed in to drugs is still very difficult. Image copyright: THINKSTOCK
Originally published (STORY 1) and (STORY 2) on BBC

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

NEWS POST: Scientists Tune Into Brain To Uncover Music’s Healing Power

Violinist Anthony Hyatt leads dancers through MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington on Oct. 11, 2017. Musicians and dancers are part of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center's arts and humanities program. (AP Photo/Tom Sampson)
Like a friendly Pied Piper, the violinist keeps up a toe-tapping beat as dancers weave through busy hospital hallways and into the chemotherapy unit, patients looking up in surprised delight. 

Upstairs, a cellist strums an Irish folk tune for a patient in intensive care.

Music increasingly is becoming a part of patient care - although it's still pretty unusual to see roving performers captivating entire wards, like at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital one fall morning. 'It takes them away for just a few minutes to some other place where they don't have to think about what's going on,' said cellist Martha Vance after playing for a patient isolated to avoid spreading infection.

The challenge: Harnessing music to do more than comfort the sick. Now, moving beyond programs like Georgetown's, the National Institutes of Health is bringing together musicians, music therapists and neuroscientists to tap into the brain's circuitry and figure out how.

'The brain is able to compensate for other deficits sometimes by using music to communicate,' said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist who also plays a mean guitar.

To turn that ability into a successful therapy, 'it would be a really good thing to know which parts of the brain are still intact to be called into action. To know the circuits well enough to know the backup plan,' Collins added.

Scientists aren't starting from scratch. 
Learning to play an instrument, for example, sharpens how the brain processes sound and can improve children's reading and other school skills. Stroke survivors who can't speak sometimes can sing, and music therapy can help them retrain brain pathways to communicate. Similarly, Parkinson's patients sometimes walk better to the right beat.

But what's missing is rigorous science to better understand how either listening to or creating music might improve health in a range of other ways - research into how the brain processes music that NIH is beginning to fund.

'The water is wide, I cannot cross over,' well-known soprano Renee Fleming belted out, not from a concert stage but from inside an MRI machine at the NIH campus.

The opera star - who partnered with Collins to start the Sound Health initiative - spent two hours in the scanner to help researchers tease out what brain activity is key for singing. How? First Fleming spoke the lyrics. Then she sang them. Finally, she imagined singing them.

'We're trying to understand the brain not just so we can address mental disorders or diseases or injuries, but also so we can understand what happens when a brain's working right and what happens when it's performing at a really high level,' said NIH researcher David Jangraw, who shared the MRI data with The Associated Press.

To Jangraw's surprise, several brain regions were more active when Fleming imagined singing than when she actually sang, including the brain's emotion center and areas involved with motion and vision. One theory: it took more mental effort to keep track of where she was in the song, and to maintain its emotion, without auditory feedback.

Fleming put it more simply: 'I'm skilled at singing so I didn't have to think about it quite so much,' she told a spring workshop at the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, where she is an artistic adviser.

Indeed, Jangraw notes a saying in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together, wire together. 
Brain cells communicate by firing messages to each other through junctions called synapses. Cells that regularly connect - for example, when a musician practices - strengthen bonds into circuitry that forms an efficient network for, in Fleming's case, singing.

In this Oct. 11, 2017 image from video, cellist Martha Vance plays for a patient at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington DC. Musicians and dancers are part of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Centre's arts and humanities program. (AP Photo/Tom Sampson)
But that's a healthy brain. In North Carolina, a neuroscientist and a dance professor are starting an improvisational dance class for Alzheimer's to tell if music and movement enhance a diseased brain's neural networks. Well before memory loss becomes severe, Alzheimer's patients can experience apathy, depression and gait and balance problems as the brain's synaptic connections begin to falter. 

The NIH-funded study at Wake Forest University will randomly assign such patients to the improvisation class - to dance playfully without having to remember choreography - or to other interventions. The test: If quality-of-life symptoms improve, will MRI scans show correlating strengthening of neural networks that govern gait or social engagement?

With senior centers increasingly touting arts programmes, 'having a deeper understanding of how these things are affecting our biology can help us understand how to leverage resources already in our community,' noted Wake Forest lead researcher Christina Hugenschmidt.

Proof may be tough. 
An international music therapy study failed to significantly help children with autism, the Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported, contradicting earlier promising findings. But experts cited challenges with the study and called for additional research.

Unlike music therapy, which works one-on-one toward individual outcomes, the arts and humanities program at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Centre lets musicians-in-residence play throughout the hospital. Palliative care nurses often seek Vance, the cellist, for patients anxious or in pain. She may watch monitors, matching a tune's tempo to heart rate and then gradually slowing. Sometimes she plays for the dying, choosing a gently arrhythmic background and never a song that might be familiar.

Julia Langley, who directs Georgetown's programme, wants research into the type and dose of music for different health situations: 'If we can study the arts in the same way that science studies medication and other therapeutics, I think we will be doing so much good.'

Originally published on AP/DAILY MAIL

Monday, December 04, 2017

NEWS POST(S): NASA’s Voyager Spacecraft Still Reaching For The Stars After 40 Years

An artist concept depicting one of the twin Voyager spacecraft. Humanity’s farthest and longest-lived spacecraft are celebrating 40 years in August and September 2017. Credits: NASA
Humanity’s farthest and longest-lived spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, achieve 40 years of operation and exploration this August and September. Despite their vast distance, they continue to communicate with NASA daily, still probing the final frontier.

Their story has not only impacted generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth’s culture, including film, art and music. Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages. Since the spacecraft could last billions of years, these circular time capsules could one day be the only traces of human civilization.

“I believe that few missions can ever match the achievements of the Voyager spacecraft during their four decades of exploration,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters. “They have educated us to the unknown wonders of the universe and truly inspired humanity to continue to explore our solar system and beyond.”

The Voyagers have set numerous records in their unparalleled journeys. In 2012, Voyager 1, which launched on Sept. 5, 1977, became the only spacecraft to have entered interstellar space. Voyager 2, launched on Aug. 20, 1977, is the only spacecraft to have flown by all four outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Their numerous planetary encounters include discovering the first active volcanoes beyond Earth, on Jupiter’s moon Io; hints of a subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa; the most Earth-like atmosphere in the solar system, on Saturn’s moon Titan; the jumbled-up, icy moon Miranda at Uranus; and icy-cold geysers on Neptune's moon Triton.

Though the spacecraft have left the planets far behind – and neither will come remotely close to another star for 40,000 years – the two probes still send back observations about conditions where our Sun's influence diminishes and interstellar space begins.

Voyager 1, now almost 13 billion miles from Earth, travels through interstellar space northward out of the plane of the planets. The probe has informed researchers that cosmic rays, atomic nuclei accelerated to nearly the speed of light, are as much as four times more abundant in interstellar space than in the vicinity of Earth. This means the heliosphere, the bubble-like volume containing our solar system's planets and solar wind, effectively acts as a radiation shield for the planets. Voyager 1 also hinted that the magnetic field of the local interstellar medium is wrapped around the heliosphere.

Voyager 2, now almost 11 billion miles from Earth, travels south and is expected to enter interstellar space in the next few years. The different locations of the two Voyagers allow scientists to compare right now two regions of space where the heliosphere interacts with the surrounding interstellar medium using instruments that measure charged particles, magnetic fields, low-frequency radio waves and solar wind plasma. Once Voyager 2 crosses into the interstellar medium, they will also be able to sample the medium from two different locations simultaneously.

"None of us knew, when we launched 40 years ago, that anything would still be working, and continuing on this pioneering journey," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "The most exciting thing they find in the next five years is likely to be something that we didn't know was out there to be discovered." 

The twin Voyagers have been cosmic overachievers, thanks to the foresight of mission designers. By preparing for the radiation environment at Jupiter, the harshest of all planets in our solar system, the spacecraft were well equipped for their subsequent journeys. Both Voyagers are equipped with long-lasting power supplies, as well as redundant systems that allow the spacecraft to switch to backup systems autonomously when necessary. Each Voyager carries three radioisotope thermoelectric generators, devices that use the heat energy generated from the decay of plutonium-238 – only half of it will be gone after 88 years.

Space is almost empty, so the Voyagers are not at a significant level of risk of bombardment by large objects. However, Voyager 1's interstellar space environment is not a complete void. It’s filled with clouds of dilute material remaining from stars that exploded as supernovae millions of years ago. This material doesn't pose a danger to the spacecraft, but is a key part of the environment that the Voyager mission is helping scientists study and characterize. 

Because the Voyagers' power decreases by four watts per year, engineers are learning how to operate the spacecraft under ever-tighter power constraints. And to maximize the Voyagers' life spans, they also have to consult documents written decades earlier describing commands and software, in addition to the expertise of former Voyager engineers.

"The technology is many generations old, and it takes someone with 1970s design experience to understand how the spacecraft operate and what updates can be made to permit them to continue operating today and into the future," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Team members estimate they will have to turn off the last science instrument by 2030. However, even after the spacecraft go silent, they’ll continue on their trajectories at their present speed of more than 30,000 mph (48,280 kilometers per hour), completing an orbit within the Milky Way every 225 million years.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both. The Voyager missions are part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of SMD.

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft launched atop its Titan/Centaur-6 launch vehicle from the Kennedy Space Centre Launch Complex in Florida on September 5, 1977, at 8:56 a.m. local time. Image Credit: NASA
NASA Successfully Fires Voyager 1 Thrusters After 37 Years
NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft -- cruising interstellar space billions of miles from Earth -- was back on the right track Friday thanks to thrusters that were fired up for the first time in 37 years.

The unmanned spaceship was launched along with its twin, Voyager 2, more than 40 years ago to explore the outer planets of our solar system, traveling further than any human-made object in history. But after decades of operation, the "attitude control thrusters" that turn the spacecraft by firing tiny "puffs" had degraded. The small adjustments are needed to turn Voyager's antenna toward Earth, allowing it to continue sending communications.

"At 13 billion miles from Earth, there's no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up," NASA said in a news release.

Experts at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California decided to turn to four backup thrusters that were last used on November 8, 1980.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters," said Chris Jones, chief engineer at JPL.

The engineers fired up the thrusters on Tuesday and tested their ability to turn Voyager using 10-millisecond pulses. Then they waited 19 hours, 35 minutes for the test results to arrive at an antenna in Goldstone, California.

Turns out the thrusters worked just fine. "The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test. The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all," said Todd Barber, a JPL propulsion engineer.

Being able to use the backup thrusters means the lifespan of Voyager 1 has been extended by two or three years, added Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager.

NASA plans to switch over to the formerly dormant thrusters in January. They will likely also conduct similar tests on the backup thrusters on Voyager 2.

Scientists still hear from the Voyager spacecraft daily, and expect to get data for about another decade. Astronomy textbooks were rewritten on a wide scale thanks to the Voyager spacecraft, which zoomed past Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus.

The plutonium-powered spaceships will continue until they finally run out of fuel, and will then orbit in the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Originally published on NASA and DAILY MAIL UK/AFP WIRES

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

GUEST BLOG POST: Creativity In The Digital Age — Laura Otis

Tangerine (2016) director and co-producer, Sean Baker (R), and Star Mya Taylor (C) Image credit - Zimbio
Smart phones are changing our understanding of creativity.

Yesterday (November 01, 2016) in a Berlin museum, a guard called my attention to a special picture. People were streaming in to see the Spanish Siglo de Oro exhibit, but few were studying the museum’s glorious collection, and he and I stood alone in a room of 15th-century Flemish paintings. The one he loved portrayed an old man wearing a thin stole of fox-fur. “Look at the fur,” he said. The little-known artist had painted it in such detail, it looked as though it would tickle my cheek. With infinitely fine lines, he had turned a two-dimensional surface into an illusion of floating softness.

The guard and I spoke about how long the artist must have studied to learn his technique. He must have started as an apprentice, cleaning brushes, and at some point he would have been allowed to paint feet. Only after decades of observation and practice could he have become a master.

As psychologists such as Mark Freeman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have shown, no one becomes an artistic genius alone (Freeman 1993; Csikszentmihalyi 1996). Popular myths depict artists as rebels who succeed despite social forces, but that is not what the data show. Artists have to learn the rules of their domains before they can break them, and their innovations must be accepted as valuable by experts in their fields (Csikszenhimihalyi 1996, 27). As Freeman’s interviews with artists have revealed, “It is not quite right to say that creativity is affected by social conditions. Instead, it would seem more appropriate to say that creativity is constituted through those conditions” (Freeman 1993, 12). The painter of the fox-fur had talent, and he probably wanted to create art. But that talent would never have bloomed into brilliance without the apprenticeship his Flemish culture allowed.

The museum guard wanted to discuss more than painting, and I shrank when he spoke of young people’s unwillingness to work. According to a friend of his who taught high school, only three in a hundred students nowadays want to learn. The others are all playing with their smart phones. For a minute I empathized with him. I turned 55 yesterday, and I know the frustration of dodging zombies who walk staring into palm-sized boxes and expect the world to make way for them. What do they see that’s more fascinating than the people around them and the sky above? But my students with smart phones are brilliant, and no one could work harder than they. If young people who won’t learn constitute a threat, what about old people who won't learn?

The making of Tangerine is a story about the rarity of the planets aligning — for the actors, the filmmaker and the startup company, Moondog Labs, now dealing with a heavy demand for the adapter lens Baker used. To make Tangerine, his fifth feature film, Baker used two iPhone 5s’s, one 32G and one 64G. He used steadicam riggings because the light weight of the iPhone can pick up even the slightest shake. Most of the film was shot on the go, including scenes shot from the back of a moving motor scooter. A third camera was purchased but never used because it produced grainier video than the other two, Baker said. An anamorphic adaptor lens by Moondog Labs gave the movie Tangerine a cinematic feel. Photo credit: Cult of Mac
I told the guard that people could be creative with smart phones, an idea he didn’t accept. The marvelously daring film Tangerine was shot on an iPhone, and one can be active or passive with digital technology just as one can be active or passive with a pen and paper. Thinking that people stare at their smartphones because they’re interested in phones is like thinking that scientists study Drosophila genetics because they’re interested in fruit-flies. Digital devices offer views into the way the world works, and they invite rather than stifle creativity.

With all the warnings about what digital technology is doing to human brains, there has been less talk about what we’ve gained from it. If one thinks of a creator as a bounded individual, artistry remains more limited than if one thinks of human-machine networks or creative groups. The painting the museum guard admired emerged as the work of partnerships and tools: the person who cooked the artist’s meals; the person who taught him to paint; and the brushes, pigments, and canvas that constituted the technology of his time.

Creativity must be nourished and challenged, and it thrives because of cultures and technologies, not in spite of them. “The basis of art is truth,” said fiction-writer Flannery O’Connor, and it takes courage, patience, and overwhelming work to render truth in a form that engages many people (O’Connor 65). I regard it as equally courageous to shoot a feature-length film on an iPhone and to spend months painting fox-hairs so that a viewer can imagine them against her skin. As artistic creators, Tangerine director and co-producer Sean Baker and the 15th-century Flemish painter might not be as different as they seem. By studying the works of artists they admired and finding the support they needed, both created works that make their viewers feel. I left the museum guard alone with his painting, an old man contemplating an old man, hoping that artists born today would have the perseverance to create such beauty.

Works Cited
Baker, Sean S. Tangerine. 2016
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.
Freeman, Mark. Finding the Muse: A Sociopsychological Inquiry into the Conditions of Artistic Creativity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
O’Connor, Flannery. “The Nature and Aim of Fiction.” In Mysteries and Manners: Occasional Prose, Selected and Edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today

Laura Otis, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Emory University, where she teaches interdisciplinary courses on literature, neuroscience, cognitive science, and medicine. She is the author of Rethinking Thought.