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We’re taking a break for Labor Day

In honor of today’s holiday, Scope won’t be publishing today. We’ll resume our normal schedule tomorrow.

Grand Roundup

Grand Roundup: Top posts for the week of Aug. 24

The five most-read stories this week on Scope were:

“Sleep drunkenness” more prevalent than previously thought: A phenomenon known as “sleep drunkenness” may be more prevalent than previously thought, affecting as many as 1 in 7 adults, Stanford researchers report in a new study.

Our aging immune systems are still in business, but increasingly thrown out of balance: With advancing age, people grow increasingly vulnerable to infection, autoimmune disease and cancer. New research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests why that may come about.

New painkiller could tackle pain, without risk of addiction: A new pain-reliever may soon be on the scene that lacks the “high” of opioids and the cardiac-risk of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) drugs such as aspirin. A paper on the development was published this week in Science Translational Medicine.

Civilization and its dietary (dis)contents: Do modern diets starve our gut-microbial community?: In a review paper published last week in Cell Metabolism, Stanford married-microbiologist couple Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, and Erica Sonnenburg, PhD, warn that modern civilization and its dietary contents may be putting our microbial gut communities, and our health, at risk.

Biodesign fellows take on night terrors in children: Stanford’s Biodesign Program trains researchers, clinicians and engineers to be medical-technology innovators during its year-long fellowship. This piece highlights the work of several clinicians who have developed and are now testing a clinical method to treat night terrors in children.

And still going strong – the most popular post from the past:

What are the consequences of sleep deprivation?: Brandon Peters, MD, an adjunct clinical faculty member at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, explains how lack of sleep can negatively affect a person’s well-being in this Huffington Post piece.

Parenting, Pediatrics, Public Health

Study shows cavities have become the most common childhood disease

Study shows cavities have become the most common childhood disease

Kids mouthA Washington Post blog entry published earlier this week reports that cavities are the most common childhood chronic disease in the United States. Fifty-nine percent of kids between the ages of twelve and nineteen have at least one cavity, according to a recent Pediatrics paper, and the American Academy of Pediatrics in turn issued new recommendations advising parents to start brushing children’s teeth with fluoride as soon as the teeth appear. The study refers to cavities in young children as a “silent epidemic” that disproportionately affects poor, young and minority populations.

From the article:

“We’re still seeing a lot of cavities in very young children,” said Rebecca Slayton, a pediatric dentist and member of the executive committee of the academy’s section on oral health.  “Various national surveys show that we are making progress in some age groups, but in the younger age groups we are not.”

Some of the problem stems from poor and immigrant children lacking dental care, but even among parents with the resources to get their children to dentists, there is a lack of awareness that baby teeth need the same care as permanent ones. And infants, of course, can’t complain about tooth pain.

Whether it’s a lack awareness or lack of resources that is preventing parents from addressing tooth health, the article makes clear that regular dental hygiene for children is an important part of their overall health.

Previously: Side effects of childhood vaccines are extremely rare, new study finds, “Mountain Dew mouth” rots teeth, costs taxpayers 
Photo By: Emran Kassin

Events, Medicine X, Stanford News, Technology

Countdown to Medicine X: 3D printing takes shape

Countdown to Medicine X: 3D printing takes shape

3D printed handFrom customizing lab equipment to assisting in surgical planning to developing models of proteins and pathogens, 3D printing is helping to reshape biomedical research and health care. This year, Medicine X (which kicks off one week from today) will explore the transformative force of the technology during a range of panels and demonstrations in the “3D Printing and the Future of Medicine” session.

During the session, attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about health-care related 3-D printing applications at the “3-D Experience Zone,” which will showcase technologies from leading manufacturers. Attendees can learn about surgical applications of 3D printing from 3D Systems; find out how 3D Hubs is creating a global community by connecting owners of 3D printers with those who want to utilize the technology; and see how Occipital’s 3D scanning hardware for the iPad is supporting patient care. Additionally, they can discover how Artec creates a 3D full-body scan in a mere 12 seconds and enjoy chocolate and candy from the ChefJet food printer.

The session will also feature two Saturday-afternoon panels titled “Diverse Distributed & Design-Driven” and “Innovation Implementation,” with the latter exploring:

…some of the challenges and issues to consider in this brave new world. Will the FDA approve printed food, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices? How can 3D printing startups include patients in their design process? What are the public health implications when almost anyone can print biomaterials from the comfort of their own home? And once we ensure public safety, how can we make 3D printing affordable and accessible for all?

Darrell Hurt, PhD, computational biologist and project lead for the National Institutes of Health 3D Print Exchange, is among the panelists, and Monika Wittig, director and co-founder of Live Architecture Network, will moderate the discussions.

“As a designer, I am thrilled that this conference continues to widen the view of valuable cross-disciplinary collaborations. This is decidedly the aspect that I found most profound during my first Medicine X experience,” said Wittig. “My hope is attendees leave this session feeling a heightened awareness of 3D design and production technologies and the many realms of potential engagement in health sectors including prototyping, globally-distributed production and mass-customized design.”

More news about Stanford Medicine X is available in the Medicine X category.

Previously: Countdown to Medicine X: Specially designed apps to enhance attendees’ conference experience, Countdown to Medicine X: Global Access Program provides free webcast of plenary proceedings, Countdown to Medicine X: How to engage with the “no smartphone” patient and Medicine X symposium focuses on how patients, providers and entrepreneurs can ignite innovation
Image of 3D printed hand from Medicine X

Mental Health, Nutrition, Obesity, Research, Women's Health

Stressed? You could be burning fewer calories

Stressed? You could be burning fewer calories

cupcakesBad news, ladies: Findings (subscription required) recently published in Biological Psychiatry show that women who consumed comfort food while feeling stressed burned fewer calories than their zen-like counterparts.

In the study, Ohio State University researchers quizzed a group of women about what was causing stress in their lives before they ate a caloric meal consisting of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits and gravy. Scientific American reports:

Turns out that the most stressed women had higher levels of insulin. Which slows down metabolism and causes the body to store fat. And that fat, if not burned off, accumulates in the body.

The women who had reported feeling stressed or depressed in the day before eating the meal burned 104 fewer calories during the seven hours following the meal than women who felt more mellow.

If eating high-calorie comfort food to alleviate stress becomes habitual, the result could be an average weight gain of 11 pounds per year.

So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, you might want to reconsider reaching for a cupcake.

Previously: Learning tools for mindful eating, Mindful eating tips for the desk-bound and Want to curb junk food cravings? Get more sleep
Photo by Class V

Medical Education, Medical Schools, Stanford News

Medical students start “transformational” journey

Medical students start "transformational" journey

With the help of Lars Osterberg MD, MPH, and Dr. Neil Gesundheit, MD. they give Brandon Turner  his official white coat at at the Stanford Medicine White Coat and Stethoscope Ceremony on Friday, August 22, 2014,at Stanford School of Medicine.  ( Norbert von der Groeben / Stanford School of Medicine )

The new school year has begun for students across the country, including Stanford’s 90 first-year medical students – who started class on Monday and spent last week at orientation activities anxious and excited for the  journey to finally begin.

To help the students prepare, faculty talked to them about the emotional and academic challenges of medical school and emphasized that it can be metamorphic and, not surprisingly, somewhat stressful. “They are seeing life and death,” said one faculty member at orientation, who added that medical school “is a transformational time the likes of which I don’t think you see in any other level of education.”

The week of preparation concluded with the traditional stethoscope ceremony, which I wrote about in an article published online today. The ceremony symbolizes the importance of the personal connection between doctor and patient, and during the event each student walks across the stage to accept their stethoscopes. As Laurie Weisberg, MD, president of the medical center alumni association, told the students:

The great thing about the stethoscope is you have to be close to your patient to use it. This is your chance to truly interact with the patient. You are listening to what the patient has to tell you.

In his address to the students, Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, told them the four-year, or longer, journey would change the way they see the world and that they “will learn some of life’s most valuable lessons from your patients.” He also highlighted some of the demographics of the new class:

Fifty-one percent of you are women; 15 percent of you are from communities underrepresented in medicine; 21 of you were born outside of the U.S., coming from China, Columbia, India, Vietnam, just to name a few. You come from a diverse and wide range of universities — 10 of you from Stanford, 13 from the Stanford of the East [Harvard]. Eighteen of you already have a master’s or a doctorate, and many of you have already published research, participated in varsity athletics, shined in the arts and contributed to your community.

Previously: Abraham Verghese urges Stanford grads to always remember the heritage and rituals of medicine, Top 10 reasons I’m glad to be in medical school and “Something old and something new” for Stanford medical students
Photo, of Brandon Turner receiving his official white coat at a ceremony last Friday, by Norbert von der Groeben

Autoimmune Disease, Chronic Disease, Health and Fitness, Research, Technology

Video game accessory may help multiple sclerosis patients reduce falls, boost brain connections

Wii_balance_boardNintendo’s Wii Balance Board has helped get people off the couch and moving as they play aerobic video games like Super Hula Hoop or Dance Dance Revolution. Now a study published this week in Radiology shows that the video game console’s balance board may help reduce multiple sclerosis (MS) patients’ risk of falls by rewiring their brains.

In a small study, researchers used an MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging to analyze changes in the brain of MS patients that used the Wii Balance Board while playing video games for 30-40 minutes a day five days a week.

According to a recent Forbes post:

MRI scans in the MS patients in the study demonstrated significant growth of nerve tracts which are integral in movement as well as balance. It turns out that the changes seen on MRI correlated with improvements in balance as measured by an assessment technique called posturography.

These brain changes in MS patients are likely a manifestation of neural plasticity, or the ability of the brain to adapt and form new connections throughout life, said lead author Luca Prosperini, M.D., Ph.D., from Sapienza University in Rome, Italy.

”The most important finding in this study is that a task-oriented and repetitive training aimed at managing a specific symptom is highly effective and induces brain plasticity.”

“More specifically, the improvements promoted by the Wii balance board can reduce the risk of accidental falls in patients with MS, thereby reducing the risk of fall-related comorbidities like trauma and fractures,”

 added Prosperini.

Researchers cautioned that the improvements in balance did not persist after patients stopped playing the video games, suggesting that patients will need to continue their training in order benefit from the intervention.

Previously: Study analyzes video game-related injuries and Comparing the Wii Fit board to a clinical force platform
Photo by Joachim S. Müller

In the News, Public Health, Sleep

A window of time for better sleep

A window of time for better sleep

SleepThe only time I consider myself a “morning person” is when I have jet lag. But I’ve learned that if I’m in bed by 10:30 PM, I can be relatively cordial and not hit the snooze button the next morning.

Based on my own sleep patterns, it didn’t surprise me to read in a recent Time article that the time we go to bed affects the structure and quality of our sleep. As described in the piece, there’s a shift that occurs from non-REM, deep sleep, to the lighter dream-inspired REM sleep, and it happens during the night regardless of what time we go to bed. But going to bed late will deprive us of some of the deep non-REM sleep that replenishes the brain and body. Writer spoke with several sleep experts and reports:

When it comes to bedtime, [Matt Walker, PhD, head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley], says there’s a window of a several hours – roughly between 8 PM and 12 AM – during which your brain and body have the opportunity to get all the non-REM and REM shuteye they need to function optimally. And, believe it or not, your genetic makeup dictates whether you’re more comfortable going to bed earlier or later within that rough 8-to-midnight window, says Dr. Allison Siebern, associate director of the Insomnia & Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Stanford University.

“For people who are night owls, going to bed very early goes against their physiology,” Siebern explains. The same is true for “morning larks” who try to stay up late. For either type of person- as well as for the vast majority of sleepers who fall somewhere in between – the best bedtime is the hour of the evening when they feel most sleepy.

Siebern goes on to suggest trying out different bedtimes, plus making sure to wake up at roughly the same time every morning. These two factors can help maximize our natural sleep cycles and help prevent us from hitting the snooze button.

Previously: Stanford docs discuss all things sleep, “Sleep drunkenness” more prevalent than previously thought and Mindfulness training may ease depression and improve sleep for both caregivers and patients 
Photo By: FloodG

Autism, Parenting

Growing up with an autistic sibling: “My sister has a little cup”

Growing up with an autistic sibling: "My sister has a little cup"

It was the photo that first draw my attention: the big sister and little sister, with their bed-head hair and pink-and-purple pajamas, hugging each other happily. It was like a scene straight out of my house, and I’m a sucker for stories about sisters – so I began reading. The Huffington Post piece was, indeed about two close, loving little siblings – but, more specifically, about the writer-mom’s concerns over how her youngest daughter’s autism has affected her daughter Phaedra.

Neither of my girls has autism, but Janel Mills is such a gifted writer (and her older daughter, with her maternal, sensitive ways, reminded me so much of mine) that it wasn’t difficult to feel what it would be like in this mother’s shoes. And this portion of the story, with Mills’ beautiful, simple description of what was going on in her younger daughter’s mind, brought me to tears:

One day, as we were driving to my mom’s house, Bella started having a full-blast, take-it-to-eleven, screeching meltdown because she dropped a toy somewhere in the car and neither she nor I could reach it. Phaedra hates the car meltdowns most of all because she can’t go anywhere to escape them. Listening to Bella melt down hurts her physically (the screams are LOUD) and emotionally (she’s a sensitive soul). When we finally pulled into my mom’s driveway and I got Bella her toy, Phaedra asked me with a shaky voice why Bella reacted the way she did. I must have heard this or read this somewhere, because there’s no way I was this clever on the spot, but this is what I told her:

“Everyone has a cup in their head. We pour all of our feelings, like happy, sad, mad, scared, anything, into that cup. Most people have regular-size cups. When you pour out your feelings into your cup, you have more than enough room for them. Bella has a cup, too, but her cup is little. When she pours her feelings out, her little cup can’t hold all of them, and it overflows. Does that make sense, honey?”

Apparently it did, because she uses this story to explain to others how Bella is different. She shares it with teachers, friends, basically anyone who will stand still and listen to her talk about her family.

“My sister Bella has a little cup.”

Previously: “No, I’m not ready yet”: A sister’s translation for her brother with autism and A mother’s story on what she learned from her autistic son

Applied Biotechnology, Parenting, Pediatrics, Research, Sleep, Stanford News, Technology

Biodesign fellows take on night terrors in children

Biodesign fellows take on night terrors in children

baby on bed

Standing in the Clark Center’s grand courtyard, gazing upward at scientists ascending an outdoor staircase and traversing the exterior corridors on the top two floors, one senses that big ideas take shape here. But how?

Prototyping, say Andy Rink, MD, and Varun Boriah, MS, who spent the last year as Biodesign fellows. Part of Stanford’s Bio-X community, the Biodesign Program trains researchers, clinicians and engineers to be medical-technology innovators during its year-long fellowship. Fellows learn the Biodesign Process, which could be likened to design thinking for health care. On teams of two or four, the fellows identify a substantial health-care need and generate ideas to solve it using medical-device innovation.

Though most Biodesign projects take root after fellows complete a “clinical immersion” shadowing health-care workers in a hospital to observe problems, Rink found his inspiration when visiting family and waking up to a 3-year-old relative’s screams from recurring night terrors. The problem was not so much that it affected the child – pediatricians may advise that children will likely outgrow the condition – but that it affected the parents, Rink saw.  The parent’s lost sleep and anxiety over their child’s well being had huge effects on their quality of life. (In some cases, these are so severe that Xanax and Valium may be prescribed to the children as a last-ditch effort.) What if a treatment could be found that involved no medication and no parental intervention, offering everyone a solid night’s sleep?

The physician and engineer are working with School of Medicine sleep researchers Christian Guilleminault, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and Shannon Sullivan, MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, on a clinical method to treat night terrors in children. In a first-floor room of the Clark Center, they’re protoyping an under-mattress device that senses how deeply a child is sleeping and is able to prevent the nightly episodes from occurring, creating a healthier sleep cycle for the children.  This relieves the parent’s anxiety, and helps the entire family sleep better.

Faculty and students from more than 40 departments across Stanford’s campus, including the schools of medicine, business, law, engineering and humanities and sciences, play a role in Biodesign, as do experts from outside the university. Fellows work closely with the Institute of Design at Stanford, attending – and then teaching – the school’s d.bootcamp. They also have access to the d.school’s facilities and consult regularly with their faculty. Some of the d.school’s methods – focusing on big problems, encouraging radical collaboration, prototyping early and user-testing before focusing on functionality – guide the trajectory of Biodesign projects.

Physicians who are Biodesign fellows often work outside their specialty, and engineers bring a mix of academic and industry experience to the design table. While faculty mentors may simply provide advice to fellows, Guilleminault and Sullivan have become invested in the course of the research as lead investigators on the study. For their involvement, they were both honored with the Biodesign Specialty Team Mentorship Award.

Fellow Boriah noted that medical-device innovation is moving from products like catheters to systems such as health IT, mobile health and software. A former CEO and co-founder of a wearable patient blood-diagnostics device, he said the Biodesign program has provided valuable “access to clinical reality.” Rink, a surgical resident at Northwestern University, said that as a fellow, he’s been “exposed to a side you don’t see in a hospital.”

The researchers are currently recruiting participants ages 2-12 for their study. Rink and Boriah are also working with the Stanford-supported StartX to see their project into the next stage of development.

Previously: Sleep, baby, sleep: Infants’ sleep difficulties could signal future problemsStudying pediatric sleep disorders an “integral part” of the future of sleep medicine and At Med School 101, teens learn that it’s “so cool to be a doctor” 
Photo by MissMayoi

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