research

The Love Competition

Happy Valentine’s Day! In honor of V-day, we wanted to get nerdy with the subject of love. Is it possible for one person to love more than another person can?   On yours marks, get set, LOVE. This short documentary explores the 1st Annual Love Competition that took place at the Stanford Center for Cognitive and Neurological Imaging. Scientists asked 7 participants to “love” as hard as they could for 5 minutes while measuring brain activity via fMRI. The participants ranged in age, love experiences, and general “hipster-ness.” The researchers looked closely at the brain activity  with special focus on the Nucleus Accumbens, an area which has been shown to be an epicenter for various neural pathways signaling love.   Video: Source   While the skeptic science student in me questions such bold claims of quantifiable love based off of barely understood neural pathways (I mean, no control group…really?), the normal human in me can’t help but go ‘awww, how cute.’ Some questions that lingered on after watching the documentary included:   1. Could brain activity be supplemented with other physiological variables to give a more accurate reading of love experiences?   2. Could brain plasticity at a young age affect love’s neurobiological activity?   3. Can Hipsters really even fall in love?   4. Where can I sign up for next years???   Watch the full video on vimeo.   Click here to read more about...

Medical Advancements To Look Forward To This Year #4: Bioabsorbable Stents

4. Bioabsorbable Stents Coronary artery disease (CAD) is one of the most common cardiovascular disorders that carry a high risk of morbidity and mortality if left untreated. Patients usually present with a sudden onset of severe chest pain and possible difficulty breathing, among other symptoms. Many of these individuals suffer from a host of comorbidities, including hypertension, hyperlipidemia, COPD, and diabetes. Stable angina, comprising of chest pain on exertion that subsides on resting, eventually progresses to unstable angina in these patients due to complete closure of one or more coronary arteries in the heart, impeding blood flow.     The current standard of treatment for these patients is percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). The procedure involves threading a catheter up through the patient’s femoral artery in the groin to the coronary artery in question in order to carry out a balloon angioplasty to expand the arterial diameter followed by potential deployment of a metallic stent that keeps the artery expanded to allow proper blood flow. However, this procedure does come with substantial risks and post-operative complications, such as the need to stay on anticoagulant drugs for prevention of blood clot formation, restenosis of the artery, stroke, and death.   Since 2011, there has been a surge of interest in bioabsorbable stents, which are made from biodegradable polymers that eventually leave the body as foreign material after they have run their...

Warm Up for your Workout Using Science

Go to any gym and you’re bound to hear “locker room talk” on the age-old issue facing men and women alike – what’s the best way to warm up before you exercise? Static stretching, dynamic stretching, dynamic warm-ups, re-warm-ups, at what intervals… everyone has an opinion. However, Hammami et al have published a review in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness attempting to answer just this question.   The authors searched for peer-reviewed studies from 1995-2015 in PubMed, ScienceDirect and Google Scholar and found 27 relevant articles. Twenty-two of the articles looked at warm-up effects on soccer performance and 5 articles examined performance with or without re-warm-ups during play. In the review, dynamic warm-ups were found to increase many factors such as “strength, jump, speed and explosive performances.” The review found additional performance benefits from re-warm-ups among soccer players at halftime in order to reduce postactivation potentiation, no matter how much or how little the players were on the field.   Image: Source   Moreover, the authors found that static stretching reduced subsequent performance. Other studies, such as Amiri-Khorasani et al., in the Journal of Human Kinetics, found significant increases in speed after dynamic stretching when compared to static stretching, while Behm et al., in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, found a similar though smaller effect. These studies and others like it add more data to a...

Scientists Introduce Hybrid Human-Pig Embryos

After many years of research, scientists have successfully produced the first-ever human-pig hybrid. Why is this important?   It could change the future of organ transplants for humans.   Many researchers have been working on growing the organs of one animal inside of a different species of animal. For example, scientists recently grew a mouse pancreas inside of a rat successfully. Using similar methods, it might be possible to grow human organs in a pig.   After testing about 1,500 pig embryos, they discovered that certain types of human stem cells would spread throughout the embryo. Many of the cells that took over would develop into the heart, liver, and kidneys.   Watch the video below to learn more about this incredible breakthrough.   Video: Source Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte at La Jolla’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and his team of researchers, have successfully introduced pluripotent human stem cells into pig blastocysts that then developed into a viable embryo. The stem cells took up residence in the spaces that would indicate development of human-compatible organs including the heart, liver, and kidneys. Current regulations prevent the scientists from allowing the embryo to continue to develop, but this research offers promise in the quest to one day eliminate organ transplantation waiting lists. Video of the Week on TDC.   Featured Image:...

Can Computers Diagnose Melanoma?

With so many advances in technology and computer learning, is it possible that one day computers could replace doctors? Robots already assist in surgeries and 3D bio-printers can create synthetic body parts. But can computers reliably make a medical diagnosis?   Medical researchers in California think so – in a collaboration between Stanford’s Department of Electrical Engineering, the Department of Dermatology and the Department of Pathology, among others, scientists have developed a computer algorithm that can diagnose melanoma from a typical photo of a mole taken by any smartphone.   Image: Source   The researchers programmed a computer learning algorithm called a “convolutional neural network” or “CNN,” by using 129,450 clinical images showing 2,032 different diseases to “teach” the CNN what a specific carcinoma looks like. The authors then put the CNN to the test against 21 board-certified dermatologists in a challenge to accurately diagnose the most common and most deadly skin cancers. The authors of the study report that their method performs with a similar success rate as the board-certified dermatologists when it comes to distinguishing malignant melanoma and keratinocyte carcinoma from benign lesions.   Current apps in the U.S. provide information and education about skin cancer and allow users to save pictures of any skin abnormalities, but do not suggest a diagnosis. However, in countries like Australia, Canada and the U.K, you can already download an app...

Genetic Engineering, Salmonella and Brain Tumors

By Janet Taylor   Glioblastomas are tumors that form from the astrocytes in the brain. These tumors are aggressive and lethal largely because they can be composed of multiple types of tissues and because the brain provides such a large blood supply, which helps them to grow. While they rarely invade the body outside of the brain and spinal cord, they inflict their damage quickly. Patient survival is an average of two years, while those with more aggressive types are given a life expectancy of about fifteen months. The standards for treatment consist of surgery plus chemo or radiation but recurrence occurs quite often and because there are multiple cell types in each tumor, targeted therapy isn’t successful. Genetic biomarkers have been investigated to identify tumor changes as well as why some patients respond better than others with the same treatments. While several have been identified, their utility has yet to be seen for predictive factors or treatment alternatives.   Image: Source   Researchers at Duke University have taken an alternative approach to fighting this disease using genetically engineered Salmonella typhimurium. The bacteria contain a mutation that depletes their purine stores. Since tumor cells are loaded with purine, the Salmonella would be expected to seek out those tumors. Once inside the tumor, they rapidly reproduce. Second, the addition of a p53 tumor suppressor protein and Azurian allows the bacteria...

When Epidemics Turn Endemic

By Laurie Breen   In 2016 the Zika virus epidemic dominated medical news headlines, especially with the drama that played out when some health experts called for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to be cancelled. But by September WHO officials announced that there had been no confirmed Zika cases coming out of the Olympic games among visitors or athletes and on November 18th the WHO ended Zika’s designation as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”   However, when diseases are no longer drawing the urgent attention of the public or the media, the interest in funding research dies out too. In December, the WHO issued a Report to Donors that highlighted the need for continued funding to seek answers to remaining questions on the Zika outbreak and its ongoing effects.   Image: Source   In a JAMA Viewpoint article, Catharine I. Paules, MD and Anthony S. Fauci, MD, the Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), draw a comparison between Zika and to two other recent mosquito-borne epidemics that have become boring old endemic diseases – West Nile Virus and Chikungunya.   According to the authors, West Nile first appeared in 1999 with cases reported in New York. There was surge in diagnoses in 2002 as the virus spread throughout the United States, but as the rate of infection flattened out, public interest also...