research

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...

Self-mutilation or Scientific Innovation…or Both?

Ever think about practicing a surgical technique on yourself? What about inventing one? Werner Forrsmann was kind of a bad ass in that way. As a young medical student in Germany, he survived his preliminary medical training and went on to do his residency in Berlin in 1929. There, he became sort of fascinated with the idea of getting to the heart of the matter, you might say. He wanted to devise a way to get medicine directly to the heart of a sick patient without having to crack open their chest and probably kill them. After what we can assume included many sleepless nights, many missed opportunities for poon tang, and probably a lot of drinking that was fueled by despair rather than pleasure, the 26 year old genius went to his advisor with a proposal for an experiment that he was requesting permission to undertake. He had this “theory” that if you inserted a small tube into a vein near the elbow, you could run that tube up the vein directly into the heart, thereby creating a direct route to deliver life-saving medicine. Now, by today’s standards, that doesn’t seem ridiculous at all. In fact, it almost seems passe. But in 1929, it was nothing short of murderous (or suicidal in his case). His superior responded with complete, unwavering doubt: any treatment that interfered directly with the heart’s...

The “Shocking” History of ElectroConvulsive Therapy

The use of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) for the treatment of mental illnesses such as severe depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder spans the course of more than seven decades. For sufferers of schizophrenia, ECT represented the long awaited miracle cure for a disease once “seen as a death sentence” by patients and physicians alike.[1] In 1938, Italian neurologist Ugo Cerletti revolutionized the technique of ECT by introducing the use of electric current to conduct shock therapy. However, as the years progressed ECT faced antagonistic treatment from the field of psychiatry. In concert with the air of social change illustrated by the many reform movements of the 1960s, ECT underwent extensive scrutiny by human rights activists, members of the antipsychiatry movement and patients alike.     Nintendo  By the 1970s the environment surrounding ECT had been completely transformed into a  regulated and restrictive atmosphere. This transformation coincided with the new era of bioethics beginning to take shape and one of its historic events: Henry Beecher’s 1966 New England Journal of Medicine whistle-blowing article. From that point forward “the genie of informed consent could not be contained within the bottle of research” and just as quickly as the article surfaced did authorities such as the FDA and NIH set fourth requirements for the implementation of a new concept called informed consent.[2]  Fred Frankel, a member of Beecher’s ethics committee from Massachusetts General...