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Research, Science

The 10 biggest pitfalls in scientific presentations and how to avoid them

The 10 biggest pitfalls in scientific presentations and how to avoid them

14037224149_65205456a9_zOne of the most valuable things I got out of graduate school was this bit of career advice: “There’s no shortage of scientists. What we’re lacking —and what we need — are people who can actually explain this stuff and do it well.”

At first, I thought this meant we need more science writers. But really, the advice is intended for everyone. We all need to do a better job of communicating our work — it could be the key to a job, a valuable collaboration or more money and resources for your work.

So how can you communicate better? One way is to watch out for the “10 biggest pitfalls” as laid out by David Rubenson, the associate director of administration and strategic planning at Stanford’s Cancer Institute. In a recent post on the Naturejobs blog, he cites common traps such as not rehearsing your presentation and rushing through your slides.

And the number one mistake?

Thinking a collection of slides is enough

Your 50 slides may allow you to talk for 50 minutes, but that doesn’t mean you have anything to say. Always have an overarching scientific question and narrative. Slides fragment even the most coherent story, so make sure each slide supports the narrative.

Previously: Making science accessible to scientistsFree, online Stanford course on science writing opens this week and A call to fix the “crisis of communication” in science
Photo by Stanford University

Events, Neuroscience

Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz shares her perspective

Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz shares her perspective

shatz_carla-outsideWhen Carla Shatz, PhD, was an undergraduate at Radcliffe College, her grandmother suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Shatz was devastated.

“My grandmother was the first person in our family to go to college, and she was an unbelievable athlete and a brilliant woman,” she told a Stanford audience during a recent Personal Perspectives lecture hosted by the Translational Research and Applied Medicine (TRAM) program in the Department of Medicine.

“After the stroke, my grandmother was miserable. All of these diagnosticians could say exactly where the stroke was, but there weren’t many treatment options.” The experience unexpectedly sparked Shatz’s curiosity – and got her thinking about neuroscience and the brain.

Today, Shatz, the director of Stanford Bio-X, is widely considered a leader in neuroscience. She has spent the last 40 years studying the brain and has made significant discoveries about its development and plasticity. She has authored over 120 publications, received countless awards and nurtured the careers of many young academics.

She’s also blazed trails for women in science. She was the first woman to receive a PhD in neurobiology from Harvard and later became the first female chair of the same program. She was also the first woman to receive tenure in the basic sciences at Stanford.

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Addiction, Neuroscience, Research, Stanford News

Stanford scientists uncover new approach to reduce opiate withdrawal

Stanford scientists uncover new approach to reduce opiate withdrawal


Opiates produce a sense of euphoria that is highly addictive. If addicts stop taking the drugs, they are faced with opiate withdrawal, which can feel like the worst imaginable stomach flu with symptoms that include muscle aches, sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a runny nose.

Stanford researchers have identified and suppressed the neural pathway responsible for these withdrawal symptoms in opiate-addicted mice, as reported in Nature.

Xiaoke Chen, PhD, the lead investigator and an assistant professor of biology, explains in a recent news release:

Most research that studies drug addiction is focused on the reward pathway because that is the reason you start to take drugs, but people who really get addicted also take drugs to get rid of the withdrawal effect. This is especially important in opiate addiction.

Chen’s team studied the nucleus accumbens, a group of neurons that plays a key role in addiction through its response to rewarding and aversive stimuli. They used fluorescent proteins to identify a clear link between the nucleus accumbens and another brain center associated with drug-seeking behavior called the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT).

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Autoimmune Disease, Biomed Bites, Immunology, Research, Videos

Calcium channel plays integral role in immune response

Calcium channel plays integral role in immune response

Welcome to Biomed Bites, a weekly feature that introduces readers to some of Stanford’s most innovative biomedical researchers.

The immune system’s main players — the B cells and T cells, as well as others — are credited for helping the body ward off invaders. And rightly so. But to work their magic, they rely on under-recognized calcium channels, gates in the cell surface that, among other actions, switch the immune cells into “action” mode.

Many unknowns remain about how these cells function, but Richard Lewis, PhD, professor of molecular and cellular physiology, is working to close the gaps in knowledge. He explains in the video above:

We’re mostly interested in two things related to these channels: First, we would like to understand how these channels work. How is it that contact with the antigen-presenting cell turns these cells on to admit calcium into the T cell?

A second area of interest is to understand what happens when the calcium comes into the cell.

Malfunctions in these channels can lead to severe immunodeficiencies or other problems, Lewis says:

We may be able to design better drugs in the future that target these channels to either inhibit them, which would be useful therapy for treating autoimmune disorders like arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus, or to potentiate the activity of these channels, which would be a useful way of boosting the immune response in patients with immunosuppressed conditions.

Learn more about Stanford Medicine’s Biomedical Innovation Initiative and about other faculty leaders who are driving biomedical innovation here.

Previously: ‘Pacemaker’ channels in hair stem cells offer clues to tissue regeneration, say Stanford experts, Found: A molecule mediating memory meltdown in aging immune systems and Women and men’s immune system genes operate differently, Stanford study shows

Global Health, In the News, Infectious Disease, Podcasts

Talking about the Zika virus

Talking about the Zika virus

The Zika virus has been reported in 23 countries and territories in the Americas. Brazil is the hardest hit nation so far with more than 1 million infections. In the continental U.S. the 35 known cases of Zika have been the result of people who have traveled to infected areas and returned to the U.S. No local mosquito-borne transmission has been reported.

Globalization has changed the rapid nature in which viruses spread. To that end, broad calls for action have been engaged. The World Health Organization has declared Zika an international health crisis, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared it a Level 1 alert – the highest activation. Earlier this week, President Obama asked Congress to allocate $1.8 billion in emergency finding to vaccine research, surveillance and rapid response programs. The request also includes foreign aid to countries most impacted by Zika.

While the virus is not known to be deadly and most people who contact it will have no symptoms at all, pregnant women are most at risk. To protect their babies, the CDC is warning pregnant women not to travel to areas affected by the virus. There is no vaccine to prevent the disease.

The New York Times yesterday provided an interesting detailed history of the virus’ path since its discovery in 1947, and new information about the virus is emerging every day. Just yesterday, CDC Director Thomas Frieden told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the CDC has uncovered new evidence supporting the link between Zika and microcephaly, a birth defect in which infants are born with unusually small heads and incomplete brain development.

In this new 1:2:1 podcast I spoke with Stanford infectious disease expert Yvonne Maldonado, MD, about Zika and the latest on the virus. She’s a professor of pediatrics at the school of medicine and the chief of pediatric infectious disease at Stanford Children’s Health.

Previously: Zika outbreak shares key traits with Ebola crisis, Stanford experts point out

Cancer, Immunology, Research, Stem Cells

How cancer stem cells dodge the immune system

How cancer stem cells dodge the immune system

Hidden cat

Cancer stem cells are tricky beasts. They are often resistant to common treatments and can hide out in the body long after the bulk of tumor cells have been eliminated. Over time, they’re thought to contribute to the recurrence of disease in seemingly successfully treated people.

Stanford head and neck surgeon John Sunwoo, MD, and graduate student Yunqin Lee have been investigating how stem cells in head and neck cancers manage to evade the body’s immune system. Although it’s been known that a type of head and neck cancer cells — CD44+ cells — are particularly resilient to treatment, it’s not been known exactly how they accomplish this feat.

Now, Sunwoo and Lee published today in Clinical Cancer Research a study that sheds some light on the issue. They found that a protein called PD-L1 is expressed at higher levels on the surface membrane of CD44+ cells than on other cancer cells. PD-L1  is believed to play a role in suppressing the immune system during pregnancy and in diseases like hepatitis. It does so by binding to a protein called PD-1 on a subset of immune cells (T cells) and dampening their response to signals calling for growth and activation.

As Sunwoo described to me in an email:

We believe that our work provides very important insight into how cancer stem cells, in general, contribute to tumor cell dormancy and minimally residual disease that may recur years later. Our findings also provide rationale for targeting the PD-1 pathway in the adjuvant therapy setting of head and neck cancer following surgical resection.

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Global Health, Infectious Disease, Microbiology, Research, Stanford News

If you gum up a malaria parasite’s protein-chewing machine, it can’t do the things it used to do

If you gum up a malaria parasite's protein-chewing machine, it can't do the things it used to do

chewing gum“Life in the tropics” evokes images of rain forests, palm trees, tamarinds and toucans. It also has a downside. To wit: One-third of the Earth’s population – 2.3 billion people – is at risk for infection with the mosquito-borne parasite that causes malaria.

Thankfully, mortality rates are dropping because of large-scale global intervention efforts. But malaria remains stubbornly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, where hundreds of millions of people become infected each year and more than 400,000 of them – mostly children younger than 5 – still die from it.

The parasite has the knack of evolving rapidly to develop resistance to each new generation of drugs used to fend it off. Lately, resistance to the current front-line antimalarial drug, artemisinin, is spreading and has now been spotted in a half-dozen Southeast Asian countries.

So it’s encouraging to learn that Stanford drug-development pioneer Matt Bogyo, PhD, and his colleagues have designed a new compound that can effectively kill artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites. Better, exposure to low doses of this substances re-sensitizes them to artemisinin.

By exploiting tiny structural differences between the parasitic and human versions of an intercellular protein-recycling machine called the proteasome, the compound Bogyo’s team has created attacks the malaria parasite while sparing human cells.

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Patient Care, Pediatrics, Stanford News

Send a Valentine to a Packard Children’s Hospital patient

Send a Valentine to a Packard Children's Hospital patient

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.15.55 PMLast night I saw a post on Twitter that made my heart melt. The message was simple: Send a Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford patient a Valentine to let them know that someone is thinking of them and cheering them on.

Their goal is to collect at least 1000 cards by this Friday to distribute to children and their families this Valentine’s Day. Well-wishers can show their support by going to Packard Children’s virtual Valentine site to choose an electronic card, write a message and send some love.

Here on Scope we’ve written numerous stories about the positive health benefits that people derive from being compassionate towards others. So if you’re hemming and hawing about how to celebrate Valentine’s Day, here’s a great way to show someone special you care.

Previously: A Super Bowl surprise at Packard Children’sGirls’ Day Out event helps unite — and nurture — teens battling cancer and Image of the Week: Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Holiday Art Contest

Neuroscience, Research

Successful replacement of eye cells hints at future glaucoma treatment

Successful replacement of eye cells hints at future glaucoma treatment

2553516471_2dbf6fbb2f_oFor the first time, a team has successfully transplanted retinal ganglion cells into living animals. The new cells mimicked existing cells in the eye and responded to light.

The work, which was co-led by Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, professor and chair of ophthalmology at Stanford, is an effort to improve therapies for retinal and optic nerve diseases including glaucoma, which is the leading cause of irreversible blindness. Glaucoma is caused by a variety of conditions, but it leads to the loss of retinal ganglion cells, nerve cells that transmit information from photoreceptors in the eye to the visual centers in the brain.

“These data provide a hint that replacing these cells and restoring these connections is one step closer to possible,” Goldberg told me.

The team, including first author Praseeda Venugopalan, PhD, a former graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Miami, injected labeled retinal ganglion cells into 152 adult rats. Although the new cells integrated into only about one of six animals, that success rate was surprisingly high, Goldberg said.

Goldberg said they are not sure why their procedure worked when other attempts have failed. They used fully differentiated retinal ganglion cells, rather than undifferentiated stem cells, which could be an important factor, he said.

In this study, the team implanted the cells in healthy eyes, but they’re planning future studies to determine if the procedure is equally successful in eyes already suffering from glaucoma, Goldberg said.

The study appeared recently in Nature Communications. Kenneth Muller, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the University of Miami, is also a senior author.

Previously: Stanford-developed eye implant could work with smartphone to improve glaucoma treatments, What I did this summer: Stanford medical student investigates early detection methods for glaucoma and The retina: One researcher’s window into the brain
Photo by Rachel Collins

Education, Stanford Medicine Unplugged

Ten surprising things that Stanford med students do

Ten surprising things that Stanford med students do

Stanford Medicine Unplugged (formerly SMS Unplugged) is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category.

Megan Deakins-RocheMy family keeps asking me why I want to write novels. After all, I’m in medical school. Isn’t that enough? No, I tell them. That’s just it. That’s why I have to write. I haven’t even started my clinical rotations, yet I’ve already seen some patients at their most vulnerable moments. I have seen myself and my classmates struggle to balance impossible expectations and inspiring dreams with the reality of our very human limitations. And so I argue back, what’s wrong with me letting my brain imagine a world in which I get to choose the outcomes? What’s wrong with letting myself create villains I like and protagonists who surprise me?

That is my way to process medicine, my way of being myself in a career path that is highly defined by my superiors. And I’m lucky to be surrounded by classmates who have their own unique, thrilling ways of living their individuality while in medical school. Stanford attracts some of the most creative, productive students in the world, and I’d like to share a small glimpse of the incredible people who inspire me with what they do outside of their careers.

Here, then, are ten of my fellow medical students and their surprising hobbies:

gourmet salad

  1. Sarah Cheng has her own gourmet food blog. The first year of medical school, she made coffee Oreo cupcakes for my birthday, and I nearly died.
  2. James Pan is a photography enthusiast. One of his photos is my profile pic. #instagood
  3. Brian Hsueh is a ballroom dancer who competed in the national USA Dance circuit for the first four years of his MD/PhD. He trained three days a week and teaches introductory classes.
  4. Cesar Lopez and (former Scope contributor) Jennifer DeCoste-Lopez came to Stanford’s medical school already married. I met them when I was an undergrad and was inspired by how grounded they were. I met them again on my interview day and they were having a baby as third year students, a testament to their ability to balance life in medical school.
  5. Megan Deakins-Roche is on the U.S. Mountain Running Team. She and her husband are sponsored by Nike and are a part of the Nike Trail Elite team.
  6. Justin Norden is a professional Ultimate Frisbee player. He’s a member of the San Jose Spiders and was a part of the team that won the 2015 championship.
  7. Austin Cook is a national champion in Judo. He now trains for fun… so I wouldn’t recommend taking a shot at him in a bar Friday night.
  8. Sheun Aleuko is a certified yoga instructor. It’s not trivial to meditate away stress… but if anything can help, it’s yoga.
  9. Ben Robison is a violinist, composer and producer who has performed around the world. He was won international prizes and has collaborated with luminaries such as David Finckel, Ani Kavafian and Luciano Pavarotti.
  10. Steven Sloan grows brains in a petri dish. He is an MD/PhD student in the neurosciences. During one of our recent conversations, he excused himself to go check on the neurons that were self-assembling into mini-brains. Just a side project, yo.

Natalia Birgisson is between her second and third year of medical school. She is half Icelandic, half Venezuelan and grew up moving internationally before coming to Stanford for college. 

Photo of Megan Deakins-Roche courtesy of Deakins-Roche; photo at lower left courtesy of Sarah Cheng

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