research

The Big Shift in Soda Consumption

Soda sales are declining as Americans are shifting away from popular carbonated beverages to healthier alternatives, and diet soda is not an exception.  This news may come as a surprise for people who just can’t seem to get through the day without a caffeinated swig, but for health advocates it’s a welcomed turn of events. In fact, many city officials across the country are imposing taxes on soda, making the products more expensive to buy and in many schools and government offices, the sale of soda has been prohibited.   So how are soda companies adjusting to these changes? Most have recognized that competition with health and wellness is inevitable. According to the New York Times, soda companies are now experimenting with selling smaller packages, to prevent people from consuming “too much,” and are promising “real sugar,” as opposed to high-fructose corn syrup. We have also witnessed a evolution in  soda bottle designs. For example, Coca-Cola now personalizes their bottles with common first names and Sprite prints popular song lyrics on their packaging.   Nevertheless, research suggests that soda sales have hit their lowest level in nearly two decades and bottled water sales are steadily on the rise. Highly active consumers seeking more nutrient value in their beverages are turning to water fortified with vitamins and specialty drinks such as matcha tea, a powdered green tea high in antioxidants which is emerging as a healthier alternative to...

New HIV Vaccine Candidate to Begin Human Trials

  It has been a long road in the battle against HIV/AIDS since the epidemic began in the early 1980s. However, in 2013, the virus hit what was widely referred to as a tipping point when, for the first time, more people were newly being treated with antiretroviral drugs than became newly infected with HIV. Despite this milestone, there are still 35 million people estimated to be living with HIV today — 19 million who are estimated to be unaware of their HIV-positive status — and 2 million more people are being infected each year.   Recently, the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine announced that for the first time, it will begin testing its HIV vaccine candidate in humans.   The vaccine has previously been tested on primates, and it is the cumulation of nearly twenty years of research. While not the only HIV vaccine candidate to begin human trials, the research team for this vaccine is being led by Dr. Robert Gallo, who was one of the first doctors to search for the virus causing AIDS, and is well known for his and the Pasteur Institute’s co-discovery that HIV is the cause of AIDS.* Dr. Gallo says the institute has been home to the research and development of the vaccine as it went from “a concept on paper, to the test tube, to tissue culture, to small...

Innovations in Organ Transplantation

  Individuals experiencing life-threatening conditions of the heart, liver, lungs, intestines, pancreas, etc. may require organ transplants. Organ transplantation was once considered an experimental procedure with a low success rate, however, innovations in technology and genetic engineering are helping to usher in a new era.   Dr. Shana Kelley, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences and biochemistry, and Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, a professor of thoracic surgery — two researchers at the University of Toronto — have been working to revolutionize organ transplantation with microchips. In medicine, a biomarker is a measurable indicator of the severity or presence of a disease. The aforementioned microchips are called fractal circuit sensors (FraCS) and were designed to test for infection but have been refashioned to locate biomarkers in lung tissue. Although this research is focused on lung transplants, Dr. Kelly says that “any assessment that can be made on the basis of specific molecular markers can be carried out with our chip.” In other words, the innovative microchips could ideally transform the entire organ transplantation practice. Additionally, for the many individuals on waiting lists, implementing this technology would significantly decrease waiting times and allow for more lives to be saved.   It is important to note that human-to-human organ transplantation has only been around since the 1950s, and scientists have worked for many years to develop animal-to-human transplants. While pigs are genetically distant from humans, they...

Harry Potter and the Book of Equality

While we do live in one of the most tolerant eras in history, there is still plenty of prejudice in the world, whether it be outright or hidden. Living in New York City, a place home to almost every kind of creed and culture, I can attest to the progress our world has made, but in many other places there is no where near as much equality. I have even noticed this growing up in the suburbs, but much more extreme cases of prejudice have definitely sprung up both in and out of our country, some much worse than others. These opinions, usually formed at a young age, can be very difficult to change and can clearly have negative consequences for the prejudiced and the victims of their bigotry. So what can be done to help form the correct, accepting kinds of opinions that pave the way for a future of equality? I’m not pretending to be a nobel peace prize winner over here, but I did notice an interesting study connecting a certain piece of literature to a more open, tolerant mindset, that can be read by almost anyone. What books could work this kind of magic, you ask? Only those about the magic boy himself, Harry Potter. An article in the Journal of Applied Psychology concluded from three different studies that reading the Harry Potter series can...

Teens Who Use Electronic Cigarettes Are More Likely to Start Smoking

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are becoming increasingly popular among teens. A new study looks at whether younger teens who never smoked cigarettes and who begin using e-cigarettes might be more likely to go on to use conventional tobacco products. Researchers from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles surveyed more than 2,300 Los Angeles area high school students who reported never using tobacco products at the beginning of 9th grade. The students were surveyed again six months later and also when entering the 10th grade. In a comparison of teens who had used e-cigarettes to those who had not, the researchers found that those who had used e-cigarettes were four times more likely to have gone on to use conventional tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars. The researchers acknowledge that their findings, while suggestive, cannot prove that e-cigarette use directly causes subsequent tobacco use. Click here to read the full report on the JAMA Network.  ...

The DNA of Discovery: The Living Legacies of Rosalind Franklin and Barbara McClintock

The 20th century would prove nothing short of historic for humanity’s fervent quest to discover its biological origins. In 1953, Watson and Crick solved the mystery of DNA’s structural identity. However, a nearly unknown Rosalind Franklin significantly contributed to the research leading to this monumental discovery. During this same decade, Barbara McClintock  “defied the common wisdom of molecular biology,” by introducing the phenomenon of “mobile genetic elements.” Subsequently, widespread skepticism over the legitimacy of her research and theories discouraged McClintock from any further publishing of her data. These two women scientists certainly differ in various aspects. Nevertheless, they undoubtedly share an incredible dedication to their work which was instrumental to the advancement of genetics and biology in 20th century (Papers). The academic tracks of both scientists follow straight paths from undergraduate to doctoral degrees. McClintock earned all her degrees from Cornell University in botany, in stark contrast to Franklin who never formally studied biology, let alone botany. Franklin earned her PhD in Physical Chemistry from Cambridge University. Before and during McClintock’s time at her alma mater, from 1919-1927, Cornell University did not permit female students to pursue a genetics major. Ironically, just eighteen years after she received her PhD in botany, the Genetics Society of America elected McClintock as its first female president; the same year Franklin earned her PhD. Franklin and McClintock performed post-doctoral work abroad in Paris...

The Complexity of Flexible Eugenics in the 21st Century

In our post Human Genome Project world all eyes lie on the gene, as geneticists and society as a whole constantly aim to define what constitutes natural, normal and socially acceptable. Flexible Eugenics is described as a process involving “technologies of self through choosing and improving one’s biological assets” (Heath and Taussig). Alternatively stated, flexible eugenics offers voluntary improvement of one’s physical make-up through the purchase of surgical modification. A unique example of this is presented in the case of a young American woman who gained twelve inches in height after undergoing multiple surgeries for the controversial procedure of “limb lengthening” (Heath and Taussig). Interestingly, the results were presented at a conference before an audience composed mainly of at least five hundred successful adults of small stature and members of the Little People of America (LPA). Achondroplasia is noted as “the most common form of heritable dwarfism” (Heath and Taussig). The LPA which was established in 1957 represents a very unique organization in that it was one of the first to form in the United States “based on a phenotypical difference” (Heath and Taussig). LPA has been particularly kind to medical researchers, particularly geneticists. Members have an extensive history of providing blood and tissue samples. One orthopedic surgeon’s response to limb lengthening is that “[he] could never stretch [limbs] for social acceptance [and that] it’s more abhorrent to [him] than prenatal diagnosis” (Heath and...