research

DNA Bacteria Will Be Your New Hard Drives

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to encode five frames of a vintage motion picture into the DNA Bacteria of E. coli bacteria. By reducing each frame into a series of single-color pixels and matching each color to a DNA code, the scientists were able to string together DNA strands that represented the video frames. Non-biological information has been encoded into DNA before, going back as far as 2003. However, this is the first time living organisms have been used as the message’s vessel. Living organisms are in a constant state of movement and flux, making them less stable and less predictable than the synthetic DNA material used in previous encoding experiments. Even though this technology is in its infancy, the research team was able to retrieve approximately 90% of the original message from the E. coli cells, effectively marking a new milestone in the advancement of our information storage methods. According to the research from Methods and applications, edited by Y.E. Khudyakov and W.A. Fields. 2003, for the US National Library of Medicine: Despite the broadness of the biochemical and medical applicability of artificial DNA presented in this book, some important aspects from a more chemical point of view are missing. These include new synthetic DNA constructs, such as locked DNA (LNA), metal-mediated base pairing (M-DNA), artificial DNA bases with or without hydrogen-bonding capabilities, new DNA base pairs for the extension of the...

How Should You Find The Best Research Possible?

For every pre-medical or medical student, this is always a lingering question. What is the best way to find a research mentor? Is there a magic key to getting the best research project? Should you be spending your days working on a lab bench trying to discover the mechanistic basis of diseases or should you be scanning your eyes through patient charts in the comfort of an office? Having gone through this myself, I would like to offer a few words of advice to all rising undergraduate and future medical students. My suggestion would be to approach this issue with three basic things in mind: 1. Pursue what you enjoy doing This may seem like the most obvious fact. However, students often seem to neglect their interest for a particular area of research for its supposed popularity and potential for publications. If you are not involved in work that you find interesting, you are undoubtedly going to have a difficult time tolerating it for the next however many years to come. Research takes long-term commitment. Once you find something you are truly passionate about, stick to it. But until you do, keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to switch from one mentor to another. 2. Set expectations with your mentor Whether you decide to do basic science or clinical research, make sure you have an honest conversation...

Reprogramming Cells to Fight Leukemia

The FDA may soon approve a new cancer therapy that genetically alters a patient’s own existing T-cells to fight leukemia. This new, investigational treatment is known as CTL019 and is a type of chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy. CTL019 utilizes a process in which T-cells are carefully harvested from each individual leukemia patient. These patient-specific T-cells are then genetically reprogrammed to express a chimeric CD19 antigen receptor and subsequently transfused back into the specific patient from whom they were originally collected. Once back inside the patient, these reprogrammed T-cells multiply, hunt down, and attack CD19-positive leukemia cells. Click here to read about this FDA update in the NY Times. A Food and Drug Administration panel opened a new era in medicine on Wednesday, unanimously recommending that the agency approve the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, transforming them into what scientists call “a living drug” that powerfully bolsters the immune system to shut down the disease. If the F.D.A. accepts the recommendation, which is likely, the treatment will be the first gene therapy ever to reach the market in the United States. Others are expected: Researchers and drug companies have been engaged in intense competition for decades to reach this milestone. Novartis is now poised to be the first. Its treatment is for a type of leukemia, and it is working on similar types of treatments in hundreds of patients for another form...

Ketamine: The New “Miracle” for Depression?

Although it is known among the general population mostly as a popular party drug, ketamine was originally invented in a commercial laboratory in 1962.  In 1970, it was approved by the FDA for use as an anesthetic among soldiers in the Vietnam War. Non-medical use of ketamine began in the U.S. at roughly the same time, but it wasn’t until 1999 that ketamine became a federally controlled substance in the U.S. Despite its bad rap as a dangerous post-party drug, ketamine is listed as a “core” medicine in the WHO’s Essential Drugs List, as it is produced very cheaply around the world and is fast and effective as an anesthetic for minor procedures. Image: Source However, ketamine is having a new heyday as patients and clinicians are looking to the drug to help treat severe depression. Although it is still considered an “off-label” use of the medication, researchers from the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, have just completed clinical trials using ketamine to treat depression. Although the initial trial consisted of just 16 senior citizens, the researchers are extremely optimistic about the emerging results, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Lead Professor Colleen Woo reported to ABC News in Australia that “all the symptoms of depression across the board disappeared. So [the patients] felt better, they were able to enjoy things, they were interested in...

You Come First: The Hippocratic Oath Matters To Students, Too

The Hippocratic Oath, an oath historically taken by physicians to uphold certain ethical standards, states, “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required“. A pretty straightforward statement, something that pre-med and medical students typically understand – we have to do everything in our power to help our patients. We spend countless hours in libraries, labs, and hospitals trying to better ourselves so one day we can help others. The stress is very apparent, medicine is obnoxiously competitive and it takes a toll on everyone involved, students included, whether we like to admit it or not. We’re always so engrossed in our studies and endeavors that we forget one simple, but significant detail: we’re human too! Throughout history, healthcare (especially mental health) of healthcare professionals has been stigmatized. It is often viewed that since we take care of others, it is a sign of weakness on our part when we have those same problems, those that we encounter and treat on a daily basis. A lot of the times, the stress faced by students and practitioners of medicine leads to a hypocrisy, in the sense that we cope with our stress in the very ways that we advise our patients not to. Whether it is excessive, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, smoking or drinking, etc, all of it is detrimental to our physical...

PODCAST: How Do We Treat Psychiatric Disorders?

From the days of Freud, psychotherapy had been a dominant form of treating psychiatric disorders. But more recently, psychotherapy use has declined in favor of medications. In fact, according to a 2010 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the number of patients in outpatient mental health facilities receiving only psychotherapy fell from 15.9 percent to 10.5 percent from 1998 to 2007, while the number of patients receiving only medication rose from 44.1 percent to 57.4 percent. Now, there are a number of reasons behind this shift. On the one hand, many in the science community look down to psychotherapy as an unstandardized mode of treatment. Meanwhile, to these critics, medications have proven to be safe and efficacious after numerous clinical trials. These criticisms seem sound, but is a decline in psychotherapy use for the better? Does the use of medication alone ignore the social and cultural components unique to psychiatric disorders? In the first episode of The Void Podcast, I talk to psychiatrist Dr. Loren Sobel to answer these questions. Dr. Sobel practices psychodynamic therapy—a form of psychotherapy that seeks to uncover the psychological roots of patient’s mental illness. In addition to discussing the effects of the shift from psychotherapy to medication, Dr. Sobel and I speak at-length about the causes—including the scientific community’s greater dependence a biological model of disease. Have a...

The 5 Second Rule – A Scientific Examination

It’s a lazy Saturday and you’re at home having a leisurely lunch, watching YouTube on your phone while you eat a delicious bologna sandwich. The next thing you know, those crazy YouTube cats have made you laugh so hard that you drop your sandwich – what do you do? Do you throw the contaminated sandwich away? Or do you think to yourself “five second rule,” pick it up and continue eating? Everyone knows the 5 Second Rule: if you drop food on the floor, it’s okay to eat, as long as you pick it up within five seconds. A researcher at the University of Illinois found that 56% of men and 70% of women surveyed had heard of this rule (or its alternative version, the 3 Second Rule), qualifying it as a legit Western Cultural Phenomenon. So, is this real or what? Surprisingly, studies have given conflicting views as to what exactly the 5 Second Rule means for our health and welfare. Jillian Clarke, the researcher from U of Illinois found that food was contaminated within five seconds of being dropped onto ceramic tile inoculated with E. coli. She had some trials and tribulations in the course of her research – at first she was simply going to drop the food on the lab floor, but the lab floors turned out to be *too* clean. She also found that women tended...