Insane is perfectly normal’

This year’s wild and crazy Holi festival at the Culture Centre is one Indian party you won’t want to miss.

Beautiful spring, when suddenly everything is so colourful and refreshing, is also the time for us all to come out into the sunshine and celebrate the famous spring Hindu festival of Holi, co-organised this year by the Indian Students Association and the Delft International Students Society of TU Delft.

br />Holi, the festival of colours, is unquestionably one of the most fun-filled and boisterous Indian festivals, marking the start of rejuvenating the mind, body and soul. Holi is an occasion for unadulterated joy and mirth, fun and play, music and dance – and of course lots of bright colours.

Each year Holi is celebrated on the day of a full moon in March, as well during the day after. There are several legends associated with the celebration of this Hindu festival: some say it relates to the immortal love between Lord Krishna (a Hindu god) and Radha, while others associate Holi with the victory of a true devotee of Lord Vishnu. Generally though this festival is celebrated to signify the triumph of good over evil and mark spring’s arrival.

Things deemed ‘insane’ on any normal day are considered ‘perfectly normal’ on Holi. Spraying coloured water on passersby, dunking friends in mud pools and all manner of wild revelling with friends is absolutely acceptable on this day. Yet despite this being such a colourful and happy festival, various aspects of Holi are also significant in our lives. Each colour is associated with a different energy centre, or chakra, in the body, and consequently the colours impact our body’s energies, helping to clear negative emotions and restore balance.
Holi also helps to bring society together. A Holi tradition is that even enemies become friends on this day. Moreover, it’s a day when people do not differentiate between rich and poor and everyone celebrates the festival together in a spirit of bonhomie and brotherhood.

So what to wear on Holi? The colour white displays the Holi spirit best, as it says: ‘I’m ready to be coloured’! But ultimately though it doesn’t matter what colour one decides to wear, as this is a festival that celebrates our freedom to do whatever we want!

This year’s Holi celebrations at TU Delft’s Culture Centre will begin at 12 noon and run to the early evening of Sunday, 27 March. Indian snacks and drinks can also be purchased close to the playing area. For those who have never celebrated Holi before, that’s all the more reason for to come and join the celebrations. A huge international crowd is expected this year. And all that is expected from the rest of us is that we enjoy smearing colours on everyone and dancing away to glory – Happy Holi!

‘Athlete drops dead at athletics meet’. Headlines like this are illustrative of what may well be the rare side-effects of apparently harmless pharmaceuticals, which can often be purchased prescription-free at drug stores. An infamous example is the first generation of histamine inhibitors, which are used to alleviate hay fever. As recently as last month, the Dutch physician’s magazine, Geneesmiddelenbulletin, cited the hay fever drug fexofenidine as having a disturbing influence on heart rhythm. The drug can make the heart beat dangerously slow. Nonetheless, this drug can still be purchased off the shelf as ‘STP-free’ or ‘Telfast’ in the Netherlands, although not in the United States.

Occurrences of lethal side-effects may be rare, but a drug that shows serious side-effects at some stage and then subsequently retreats off the market certainly isn’t. Dr. Stefan Braam, of the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC), says that over the last 30 years some 28 percent of the drugs taken off the market had caused serious side-effects for the heart, including rhythm disturbances. “The pharmaceutical industry has set up special safety pharmacology labs where each new drug is extensively tested for cardiac by-effects”, Braam says.

These labs may soon profit from a new device, in which their products can be tested on actual living human heart cells. This device is currently under development at Pluriomics, a techno-starter, which has won the 2009 Netherlands Genomic Initiative Venture Challenge. Pluriomics is a joint initiative of the LUMC, a pharmaceutical industry partner, and professor Ronald Dekker, of the Dimes lab at the faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (microelectronics & computer engineering).
Professor Dekker is mainly involved with the design of this device. The first prototype consists of a small array of contacts on the glass bottom of a tiny dish in which heart muscle cells are kept alive and kicking in a nutritious solution. Outside the dish, a selection of the contacts may be read out to record the electrical activity of the heart muscle cells. Add some drug with known a side-effect and one can actually see the repolarisation of the heart muscle cells slow down, which in a real heart manifests itself as disturbances of the heart rhythm. “The principles works”, says Dekker, who is quick to point out that selecting and growing the right heart cells is crucial for the device’s success.

Braam, who completed his PhD under the supervision of stem cell expert professor Christine Mummery in Leiden, is responsible for the cell cultures. He explains that skin cells can be reprogrammed into stem cells by adding three genes crucial in early foetal development. Stem cells can be persuaded under the right conditions to grow out into contracting lumps of heart muscle cells, which must then be eased apart in order to line them up on the test chip.
Being able to make stem cells from adult specialised cells is an important step. By taking tissue from someone who is known to have suffered the cardiac side-effects, the researchers are confident that the cultured tissue will be sensitive to the side-effects.

Dekker and Braam estimate that they will need another three to four months before they can present their prototype drug tester. Meanwhile the design is being improved to best accommodate the heart cells. “The cells get stressed when they are mounted on rigid glass”, Braam explains. So now the researchers are experimenting with a softer and more flexible substrate, which can be stretched periodically (by air pressure) to mimic the beating heart tissue.

For Dekker, the fun has only just begun. He likes to fantasise about the possible combination of micro electrical or mechanical devices and living cells. One of his favourites is a dynamo driven by one’s own heart muscle cells. Such a bio-battery could be used to power implants, like drug pumps or pacemakers. And it would never need to be replaced. A lifetime guarantee.

Editor Redactie

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