research

A 4-Minute Guide to Multiple Sclerosis

Clara Knappertz gives a comprehensive report on multiple sclerosis including the definition, symptoms, causes, and current treatments. She also explains the etymology of the name, the history of the disease, how it affects lives, and more fascinating information on the...

A New (Delicious) Way to Detect Alzheimer’s

This week, while perusing my favorite science and health periodicals, I have consistently seen articles outlining a new way to detect Alzheimer’s in patients– using peanut butter. It almost sounds like the beginning of an article from The Onion; peanut butter cures cancer! Cures the common cold! But the further I read into these new claims, the more I found the science, while perhaps simple, to be valid. Alzheimer’s affects the brain’s temporal lobe (one on each side of your head) which is neurologically the home of short-term memory and. . . your sense of smell. One of the reasons that Alzheimer’s can be difficult to catch in its early stages is that memory loss is very much, at first anyway, an internalized individual process; someone may not realize (or want to admit) that they are having trouble with remembering things, or they may chalk it up to “old age” or “stress”. The process is also, generally, very gradual, and it may go relatively unnoticed until it becomes profound enough for others to pick up on it. Enter, peanut butter. Since your sense of smell also resides in the part of your brain responsible for memory, researchers thought it reasonable that if they could detect changes in a person’s sense of smell, they could infer that short-term memory might also be affected. In a controlled study, researches plopped a...

What Caused the Author of Moby Dick to Shrink an Inch and a Half?

John J. Ross, MD, instructor at Harvard Medical School, author of Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough: Medical Lives of Famous Writers, discusses the medical history of Herman Melville and his diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. Read more about Melville’s ailments. Learn more about John J. Ross, MD and his latest work, Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough: Medical Lives of Famous...

The Big Reveal…

After weeks of anticipation, my results have arrived! When I logged on to 23andme.com today, I was greeted with this message: Which kind of made me feel like this: And with that, I began. At first, it’s overwhelming. There’s literally a page of results, hundreds to sift through, and it’s hard to know where to begin. Do I want to dive in to the nitty-gritty and see if I have the BRCA1 gene or do I want to look at my traits and judge whether or not my genes were able to properly recreate me in a petri dish somewhere? I opted to start with the traits. With somewhat eerie accuracy, the results included “an increased prevalence of having a prominent ring of pigmentation around the iris”– which is a physical trait I am most known for and, to be honest, wasn’t expecting 23andme to pick up on. Of course, eye color is pretty much the focus of every high school biology Punnet Square, so I shouldn’t have been that surprised. I have to admit, at first, I felt a little odd. Did 23andme really know me?  So, I pressed forward, taking everything with a grain of salt, of course. When reviewing results like this, it’s important to keep in mind that only a portion of your genetic make-up can be analyzed in this manner; science has come a...

Brain On Fire: The Illness that Baffled Doctors

As a 24 year old journalist in NYC, Susannah Cahalan was used to dealing with tough situations, but nothing could have prepared her for the life or death battle she was about to face with her own brain. In her month long hospital stay, doctors were unable to diagnose her illness, and she continued her descent into madness.  Finally, one doctor was able to diagnose her with a rare autoimmune disease anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.   Read more about Susannah’s journey in her bestselling book, Brain On Fire: My Month of...

23 and Me and me Part II: Spit Take

Friday afternoon I dashed off to the post office to pick up a parcel containing, simply, a test tube. Part two of my 23 & Me journey begins. The box contains merely test tube paraphernalia and a small sheet of instructions. I impatiently played with the tube for a half hour, because I had just had a sip of coffee and you can’t give your sample until you’ve had nothing in your mouth for at least a half hour. When you first open the box, you are greeted by a very aggressive note which tells you to STOP! and not do anything else until you register your test tube online– this is, of course, so that you can get your results later on down the road. I eagerly registered and was actually able to use the 23 & Me app on my iPhone to do this, which was pretty neat. While I was waiting for the coffee to leave my spit, I started to fill out the questionnaire too– the first question asked me if I thought I was underweight or overweight. Not a great way to start a conversation, man. Something no one mentions is that it’s actually somewhat difficult to spit as much as you need to into this test tube. There’s a black line that you must fill the test tube too, not including bubbles.  It...

Could Hibernating Improve Surgical Outcomes?

If I could be a western fat-tailed dwarf lemur – I wouldn’t . But they are really cute and funny little creatures, and we do happen to have one thing in common. We’re both super good at sleeping. The lemur is the closest genetic cousin of humans that hibernates for long periods. And, while humans are not able to hibernate just yet, researchers at Duke University studying these animals believe that by identifying the mechanism these animals use, it could one day be possible AND could have significant health applications. Everyone can appreciate a good night’s sleep – especially med students. And, it’s well known that being well rested provides multiple health benefits: improved cognitive functioning, increased longevity, reduction of inflammation, healthy weight maintenance, stress reduction etc. So what if humans could hibernate? Researchers at Duke University believe that inducing a torpid state in humans could become a good practice in surgeries. Many organs, especially the brain, are extremely sensitive to hypoxia which often occurs when undergoing surgery. In a torpid state, temperature is often reduced during REM sleep, lowering metabolic rate, leading to decreased cellular demand for oxygen. This decreased demand for oxygen could thus reduce the risk of damaging the organs and translate into safer surgeries with more beneficial outcomes. Sounds great. Now how do hibernate? When studying the lemur, researchers discovered that they are the only...