research

How Should I Pursue Research Opportunities?

I just started my junior year of college and have met many new students that express interest in pursuing a career in medicine. It is so exciting to see new first and second year students ambitiously seeking out new opportunities to explore. I feel like I have learned quite a lot over the past two years in college, especially from those older than me. The mentorship I received from junior and senior students when I was a freshman guided me strongly along the path towards medicine. Likewise, I hope to be that person for other students because mentorship and sharing advice and opportunities is a vibrant and important aspect of medical (and pre-medical) training. One thing I, specifically, love to talk to new students about is research opportunities and how/if they should seek them out. My freshman year, I walked into our university pre-medical advisor’s office and told him I’d really like to become involved in biomedical research, even if that meant that I had to sweep the floors or wash beakers. He thankfully told me I wouldn’t have to do any of that but could join his team. This opportunity was one of the best decisions I made as an undergraduate because it allowed me to see if research was something I was interested in. I eventually used this experience as robust aspect of my resume when applying...

We’re One Step Closer To Identifying Parkinson’s Disease

Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have devised a diagnostic tool for identifying Parkinson’s disease (PD) in patients who may not yet display any motor symptoms. The importance of such a tool lies in the fact that by the time motor symptoms appear, there is usually already irreversible damage to brain tissues. Dinesh Kumar, PhD, the chief investigator on the study, says “many treatment options for Parkinson’s only prove effective when the disease was diagnosed early.“ The team at RMIT built custom software that analyzes a patient’s spiral-drawing style via pen, paper, and a digital drawing tablet. Although the team admits to some limitations within their initial studies, the 93% accuracy rate of early PD diagnosis is spurring additional research and hope for achieving a reliable diagnostic method for identifying PD early. We’ve come a long way to identifying Parkinson’s disease. Earlier this year, researchers have developed an instrument that can identify seventeen diseases, including Parkinson’s. A new instrument has recently been developed to diagnose disease in a non-invasive, cost effective manner. Based on the idea of the breathalyzers used to identify and quantify alcohol consumption, this device would allow for specific programmable disease detection in still healthy individuals. Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that are expressed by the body when pathologic processes occur. Currently, seventeen diseases can be identified with breath analysis with an accuracy of eighty-six percent. Researchers were able to...

What You Know About Blood Pressure May Be Wrong

Blood pressure measurement is a routine part of nearly every medical examination. Hypertension is one of the biggest cardiovascular risk factors for heart disease, stroke and death. Around 85 million people in the United States have it, which may show no symptoms and go undetected until it is too late. While blood pressure varies throughout the day, a reading of 180 over 110 mmHG or higher could be a sign of hypertensive crisis. Image: Source The most common method for measuring blood pressure around the world is the “brachial cuff method,” which was invented over a century ago. Before 1855, physicians had to puncture an artery and calculated the pressure if the flowing blood using a mercury sphygmomanometer. The first non-invasive technique was invented by Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch around 1881, when he came up with the idea to use water, and later air, to restrict blood flow through the arm.  It was further refined by Scipione Riva-Rocci who published “Un nuovo sfigmomanometro” in 1896, which re-incorporated the mercury manometer to von Basch’s technique. Finally, Russian surgeon Nikolai Korotkov added the stethoscope in 1905. The same general technique is used today, either manually or with a digital cuff. However, recent research published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology has found that the cuff method may not accurately measure blood pressure in the mid-range. This study included...

Cancer Immunotherapies: Changing Lives and Science

Sometimes, trying to learn all the different cancer therapies out there can feel a bit like drowning in a sea of big, complicated names. There are seemingly infinite number of “-inib”s and “-umab”s used to treat cancer. My work in the division of cardiovascular medicine at Vanderbilt is focused on understanding the mechanisms of how cancer therapies cause heart and vascular disease. As I am knee-deep in experiments and projects, I find it important to step back and remember the awe I have for some of these cancer therapies. One project in the lab is assessing the immune-related adverse effects of cancer immunotherapies. A paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine highlights an adverse cardiovascular effect of immune checkpoint-inhibitors that initiated a cascade of questions on the safety of these drugs. While we are still trying to profile the safety of immune checkpoint inhibitors, it is undeniable that these cancer immunotherapies are amazing from a scientific, medical, and patient perspective. To marvel at the nature of immunotherapies, it helps to have a basic understanding of how they work. As an undergraduate student, I have developed a valuable skill at taking concepts that are very complicated and breaking them down by asking, “What is most important for me to know?” I apply this approach to understanding cancer immunotherapies as well. There are many visuals out there for understanding...

What Is TNT Research and What Can It Do for Future Clinical Applications?

As a follow-up to a previous Video of the Week (that can be revisited by clicking here), this week’s video provides additional information regarding ongoing research in tissue nano-transfection technology (TNT). The TNT system consists of two components: a hardware chip, and a cargo load containing a combination of cell reprogramming factors specific to the cell type attempting to be induced/produced. The chip is the size of a cufflink, and according to it’s developers, only needs to be present on the skin’s surface for a few minutes. More impressively, the actual activation time required for the chip to initiate its long-lasting cellular reprogramming effects is less than 1 second. In mice-based ischemic limb injury models, the researchers noticed positive changes in revascularization just 7 days after treatment. More astonishingly, they report that by week 3 the injured legs of the treated mice were actually saved (all achieved without implementing any other forms of treatment). The researchers also indicate the utility of TNT is not limited to just cutaneous use. In fact, they also tested its ability to transform skin cells into neuronal cells and then injected those new cells into the brains of mice-based stroke models to help restore neural function. Click here to read more about this research from Ohio State University in the journal Nature: Here, we report a novel yet simple-to-implement non-viral approach to topically reprogram tissues through a nanochannelled device validated with well-established and newly developed reprogramming models of induced neurons and endothelium, respectively. We demonstrate the simplicity and...

Farmacies: A Nutrition-Based Intervention

Have you ever wondered about the irony of a pharmacy a couple aisles down from the fresh produce section in grocery stores? While patients could easily be picking up kale or other fresh produce to bring down their BP and blood glucose, they are instead picking up losartan and metformin. We can partly blame this on the fast-paced and capitalistic society we live in, where time and money are often a barrier to a nutritious lifestyle, especially for the underserved. It’s a problem that needs an immediate solution given that the US spends billions of dollars per  year on diet-related illness. According to the New York Times,  just type II diabetes is projected to cost the US $500 billion dollars in 2020 (Bittman “How to Save a Trillion Dollars”). Luckily, there are now innovative solutions to this age-old health paradox in society; how can those, especially the underserved, who have a chronic disease secondary to poor diet/lifestyle in the first place focus on buying healthy food while they now have to spend money on medications to get their health under control? Geisinger Health System recently launched “food pharmacies” (or a punnier name Farmacies)  in a hospital in Central Pennsylvania. According to NPR, “it looks more like a grocery, with neatly stocked shelves filled with healthy staples such as whole grain pasta and bean (Aubrey “Fresh Food By Prescription: This Health...

What Are the Effects of CTE in Football Players?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a progressive degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive head trauma. Currently, CTE can only be confirmed post-mortem. In a new study from JAMA, researchers examined the brains of 202 deceased former football players — more than half of them from the NFL — and talked to their family members to identify pathological and clinical features of CTE. CTE has affected football players of all ages, including a player student athlete that committed suicide because he had known about the condition: Whilst perusing Instagram in the days following Madison’s incident, I came across a powerful statement written by another female athlete whom I had known in college: After experiencing two suicides in the athletic community at Penn within four years, my stance on the matter remains clear: universities need to do a better job at providing supports for student athletes and educating them on mental health. We have strength coaches, nutritionists, tutors, etc. But we continue to neglect mental health as a society, and regard it as a ‘touchy’ subject. Athletes, coaches, and administrators should feel safe to discuss these pressing matters that often affect too many of us student athletes. Keeping Penn athletics, friends and family in my thoughts. The other suicide to which she is referring is that of Owen Thomas who, within weeks of being made captain of UPenn’s football team,...