Preventing Burnout in Medical Students

By Janet Taylor Image: Source Medical school is an incredibly stressful endeavor with high stress levels and burnout among even first year students. The psychologist Herbert Freudenberge brought the term burnout to light in 1974 and describes it as “the loss of motivation, growing sense of emotional depletion, and cynicism” (Michel, 2016).   Students may prepare for the transition from undergraduate or graduate studies, but many find that the massive amount of material is difficult to take in in such a short time while the demand for success is always lingering. This leads to frustration, feeling incompetent and emotional exhaustion.   The problem here is that not being able to get a handle on these issues will have a psychological, social and emotional impact both short and long term. Personal relationships and physical health may suffer, as well as academics initially, but in the long term, patient care will also be affected.   Also, continuously stressed students run the risk of reworking the wiring of their brains, stressing the heart and jacking up their neuroendocrine systems. The Maslach Burnout Inventory is a tool used to measure burnout risk. As many as twenty percent of clinical year students in a study by Bugaj et al. ranked high enough to be marked at risk for burnout. “The scale evaluates burnout based on three key stress responses: an overwhelming sense of exhaustion,...

Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Science

By Laurie Breen   We’re now in the first week of the New Year, so how are those resolutions coming along? These life hacks, based in behavioral research, can help you reach and maintain your goals to succeed in 2017.     Plan Ahead Avoid unhealthy, impulsive decisions by planning ahead whenever possible. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that if consumers ordered their groceries 5 or more days in advance, they tended to spend less and order more healthy foods. Similar effects were found among students who were asked to order their lunches a week in advance versus ordering them at the time of consumption.   Read More: “A behavioral decision theory perspective on hedonic and utilitarian choice”   Image: Source   Keep Good Company The influence of peers on the behavior of individuals has been well documented, but it’s important to find peers who are going to help you succeed – not enable you to fail. Researchers Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton looked at co-workers who were given treadmill desks, and found that if employees were given access to the usage statistics of their co-workers, they tended to perform only as well as their least successful co-worker.   Similar results were found in a study that looked at savings habits – when employees were given information as to how much their peers were putting away...

Alternative Combination Treatments For Combatting Cancer Cells

By Janet Taylor   Illustration demonstrating the anti-cancer effect of the drug combination. Credit: Evi Bieler, NanoImaging Lab, University of Basel   Metformin is a commonly prescribed drug for type two diabetes. It reduces serum glucose levels by inhibiting hepatic gluconeogenesis, decreasing absorption of glucose from the GI tract and increasing peripheral utilization of glucose by both adipose tissue and skeletal muscle. Its anticancer properties stem from its combination of systemic and cellular effects.   Systemically, lower serum glucose levels means that glucose availability to cancer cells is decreased. At the cellular level, it disrupts oxidative phosphorylation and thereby inhibits mitochondrial respiration. This is important because the cancer cells are already lacking necessary glucose for energy production and a decrease in cellular respiration leaves the cells with decreased ATP levels necessary for DNA translation and cell growth. While this drug has many benefits, in order to exert these effects, the dose must be very high.   The goal of current research was to find drugs that could work synergistically with metformin to kill cells without the lethal effects that each drug used alone would cause. When searching for a second compound, only those that are cytotoxic when combined with metformin were studied. The antihypertensive syrosingopine was found to be synthetically lethal with metformin. Syrosingopine acts by inhibiting the degradation of sugars and depleting cells of catecholamine stores. Syrosingopine was...

Medical Advancements To Look Forward To This Year #1: Human Microbiome

And here we are again…another year with new possibilities and tremendous scope for groundbreaking progress. Considering the state of medicine and healthcare today, there are many things to look forward to this year. In an effort to capture the highlights, let’s take a look at what truly has the potential to make its mark as one of the many featured stories of 2017.     1. The Human Microbiome 2016 saw a surge in interest in the microbiome, a field that studies the microbiotic organisms that reside within human beings and the influence they extend towards our overall health and well being. While the area has been under investigation for several years, it received the greatest interest last year, purporting an even more passionate introspection this coming year.   Beyond the basic characteristics of the microbiome and its interaction with our organ systems (covered in the TED Talk below), one of the most interesting features of this field arises due to its significant philosophical and paradigm-altering applications. Since the discovery that microbiotic cells exceed human cells in numbers, this has brought to question what it really means to be human. Furthermore, the genetic influence is greatly intriguing, questioning the degree of influence impacted by our own genetic makeup in comparison to that of the microbiome.   Once again, medicine has brought us to a crossroads with other areas of...

New Strategy to End Ancient War on Malaria

  Malaria is one of the most devastating infectious diseases in the world today. About 400 million people are infected each year and of those 1.2 million die. Efforts to control malaria have been held back by the lack of an effective vaccine, the alarming rapidity with which Plasmodium, the protozoan parasite, develops drug resistance, plus the failure to eradicate the Anopheles mosquito vector. Fresh approaches to fight malaria are urgently needed, to be used singly or perhaps in combination. One novel approach to a vaccine was recently discussed in this blog.   Formation of Plasmodium berghei (a rodent parasite) oocysts in culture. A. Ookinetes. B. Transforming ookinete and C. young oocysts. F. Transformation begins with a small hump on the outer edge of the ookinete. Transforming ookinetes (“tooks”) then take on a snail-like appearance (v). The entire population of ookinetes transform in 12–36 h, depending on nutrient availability. Source.   Plasmodium undergoes an unusually large number of lifestyle changes in its trip from the female mosquito to a human and back. This is one of the most complex life cycles extant, with so many details that it taxes one’s memory. Each one of the dozen or so stages is labeled with a fancy name and ought be a target for intervention but, for a host of reasons, that has proven elusive. However, the parasite is especially vulnerable in one stage, the transition from a cell called the ookinete to one named the oocyst, which...

Use of Pasteurized Bacterium to Safeguard Against Obesity

According to the World Health Organization, the rate of obesity has doubled since the 1980s, leaving more people at risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal issues, several types of cancer and premature death. Overweight individuals are those with a BMI at and over 25 and obesity occurs when BMI reaches 30 and higher. Both scenarios are generally caused by intake of high fat, energy dense foods and lack of physical activity.   Image: Source   Researchers in Belgium have recently isolated a protein that may stop the development of diabetes and obesity. If effective, this discovery would be huge as the CDC states that more than 36.5 percent of Americans are currently obese and that there are more than 29 million Americans with diabetes.  Akkermansia muciniphila is one of the normal bacterial floras of the gut. It typically resides in the mucosal layer and scientists noted that obese mice generally had lower levels present compared to healthy mice.   Source: Microbiology Society   Beginning in 2015, research began to introduce new levels of the bacteria to determine metabolic significance and a reduction in metabolic symptoms was noted.  The focus then turned to human use and methods to make it most effective were investigated. Pasteurization was used, as it allows the properties of the sensitive bacteria to be maintained while allowing it to be more suitable for human application. They found,...

What Can Angelina Jolie Teach Us About Gene Patents?

Angelina Jolie’s op-ed in The New York Times about her preventive double mastectomy sent shockwaves through the media. She represents a new generation of patients who are able to use genetic testing to make empowered, evidence-based decisions. While experts agree that her description of the procedure resulting in a breast cancer risk reduction from an 87% to a 5% chance might be an oversimplification, her courage in the face of such a difficult choice is laudable. Jolie now joins a class of “previvors,” unencumbered by the social stigma of these types of preventive procedures.   None of this could be possible without the BRCA1 and BRCA2 test, which helped to identify the mutated genes linked to cancer. But as Jolie so adeptly points out in her piece, “The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.”   The simple truth to take away is that while Jolie’s example will inspire many individuals to jump over the social stigma of preventative procedures, there is still one large hurdle to cross: gene patents.    Last November, the Supreme Court heard the case Association of Molecular Pathology v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, concerning gene patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2 held by Myriad Genetics. An article in The New York Times explains the company holds patents for “two human genes, which, when mutated, give a woman a high risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer. The patents give Myriad...