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Aging, Events, Stanford News, Videos

Former medical school dean discusses learning and longevity at Stanford 125 event

Former medical school dean discusses learning and longevity at Stanford 125 event

The year-long celebrations for Stanford University’s 125th anniversary are in full swing, and Philip Pizzo, MD, former dean of Stanford’s medical school, recently helped kick off the festivities. Earlier this month, he and experts in the fields of psychology, computer science, education, physics and the humanities drew a crowd of more than 550 people to Stanford’s Cemex Auditorium to discuss the theme “Thinking Big About Learning.”

In his talk, Pizzo, founding director of the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, explored the topics of learning, aging and longevity and how traditional views of education and career (learn when young and do the same job for life) no longer apply now that people are living and working longer than ever.

If you missed the event, you can watch video of Pizzo’s talk here. Other videos from the symposium, including talks from Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck, PhD, and Jeremy Bailenson, PhD, director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, are available on the Stanford 125 website.

Previously: Living long and living well: A conversation on longevity at Medicine XA look at aging and longevity in this “unprecedented” time in history and Living loooooooonger: A conversation on longevity


Bioengineering, Cancer, Imaging, Public Safety, Research, Stanford News, Technology

A new way to scan for plastic explosives could someday detect cancerous tumors

A new way to scan for plastic explosives could someday detect cancerous tumors

14591799636_128fbe50ee_zSci-fi shows and superhero films are full of gadgets and beings that have the power to remotely scan their environment for hidden things. For us mere mortals this superability may sound unachievable, but now Stanford engineers are working to develop a safe and portable way to detect concealed objects by scanning with microwaves and ultrasound.

As this Stanford Report story explains, the idea began with a challenge posed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency: Design a way to detect buried plastic explosives from a safe distance without touching the surface of the ground.

A team of electrical engineers led by assistant professor Amin Arbabian, PhD, and research professor Pierre Khuri-Yakub, PhD, took up the challenge, paying homage to the scanning device made popular by sci-fi show Star Trek in the process. They created a tricorder-like device that senses the ultrasonic waves created by objects as they expand and contract when warmed by electromagnetic energy (e.g., light and microwaves).

Here’s the really interesting part: Because everything expands and contracts when heated — but not at identical rates — this scanning tool could have medical applications as well. For example, blood vessels that sprout from cancerous tumors absorb heat differently than surrounding tissue. So, blood vessels radiating from tumors could appear as “ultrasound hotspots” when scanned with the tricorder device.

The team is working to make this device ready to detect the presence of tumors and other health anomalies sometime within the next decade or so.

Previously: Beam me up! Detecting disease with non-invasive technology and Tiny size, big impact: Ultrasound powers miniature medical implant
Photo by Joe Haupt

Health and Fitness, Nutrition, Parenting

How parents and kids can have a happier – and healthier – Halloween

How parents and kids can have a happier - and healthier - Halloween

Tangarine pumpkin 560x372When I was a kid, the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween were the scariest things around. Now that I’m older, the terrors of Halloween have taken on a different form: Pumpkin-shaped pails that put fun-sized candies within easy reach, Halloween-themed cupcakes and cookies too cute to be “bad” for you and bulk bags of holiday treats at bargain prices.

If you’re a parent who’s trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle for your kids and yourself, these treats can quickly eat away all the hard work you put into developing healthy diet habits. So how can you get through this season of excess eating unscathed? On the Healthier, Happier Lives Blog, Shiri Sadeh-Sharvit, PhD, a clinical psychologist with Stanford’s Eating Disorders Research Program, offers these tips:

Be flexible

Parenting is all about flexibility. Just as you plan on going on a trip, but something happens and you find yourself modeling to your children how you adapt to a changing environment, Halloween is not a challenge most parents have not dealt with thus far. You have probably spoken in the past with your child about how your habits and preferences as a family may be different from their friends’; you have likely taught them about the food pyramid and how different foods affect their bodies; and you have already experienced making decisions that your kids did not like.

Know your limits

A possible approach to Halloween is comprised of first knowing your limits – how many sweets and candies you think would be OK for your child? The answer may change according to your child’s age. For younger children, providing smaller baskets, allowing only a few treats during Halloween and saving a few treats for the following weeks would be acceptable. With older children, you can discuss their ideas and understandings how to go about the sweet celebration.

Recognize there’s more to Halloween than food

When you and your children have a clearer understanding of your approach to Halloween, take this external opportunity to have fun! Wear a costume, extend your “persona” boundaries, and enjoy the non-food parts of this wonderful celebration. After all, isn’t this what Halloween is all about?

Previously: Eat well, be well and enjoy (a little) candyTips from a doctor (and a mom) for a safe Halloween and How to avoid a candy-coated Halloween
Photo by Pietro Bellini

Imaging, In the News, Microbiology, Stanford News

Stanford image takes big honors at 2015 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition

Stanford image takes big honors at 2015 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition


Small things seldom get big press, but once a year the microscopic world takes front and center stage at Nikon’s annual Small World Photomicrography Competition. This year, a Stanford Medicine team took second place in the competition, edging out more than 2,000 entries from 83 countries around the world.

Their award-winning photo is a cacophony of color that uses immunofluorescence to illuminate a mouse colon colonized with human microbiota.

Four Stanford researchers were responsible for this mosaic of microbes: photographer Kristen Earle, PhD; second-year graduate student Gabriel Billings; KC Huang, PhD, a bioengineer and microbiologist; and Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, a microbiologist and co-author of The Good Gut.

Earle told me she took this image while working on a study with Sonnenburg that explores how images, like this one, can help researchers count microbes and see how they’re organized in a cross-section of gut.

Previously: Why C. difficile-defanging mouse cure may work in people, tooDrugs for bugs: Industry seeks small molecules to target, tweak and tune up our gut microbes and Civilization and its dietary (dis)contents: Do modern diets starve our gut-microbial community?
Image courtesy of Kristen Earle, Gabriel Billings, KC Huang and Justin Sonnenburg

Big data, Events, Precision health, Stanford News

Sino-U.S. Symposium brings researchers to Stanford to discuss precision health, big data

Sino-U.S. Symposium brings researchers to Stanford to discuss precision health, big data

LSINO-US panelistsast week, more than 300 health researchers from China and the United States converged at Stanford for the ninth Sino-U.S. Symposium on Medicine in the 21st Century. At this two-day event, health experts, thought leaders and entrepreneurs, including Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, and Jerry Yang, the Taiwanese-born co-founder of Yahoo, shared their knowledge of genomics, medical apps, and other topics related to this year’s theme: Big data in health care.

Minor kicked the symposium off saying, “We have the opportunity to harness the power of genomic data and electronic medical records, and to deliver better care, more personalized care for acute illness and, perhaps even more importantly, to predict and prevent disease before it even occurs — thereby moving the focus of medicine from sick care firmly toward health care.”

My colleague describes highlights from the event, including a discussion of how mobile devices can play a larger role in health care, in an online news story:

In China, clinics are so crowded that people line up in the morning to get a lottery number to be seen, [Alan Yeung, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine] said. Yet, 1.3 billion people there own a smartphone that can potentially help monitor health. Globally, he said, 4.8 billion people own a cellphone.

“We could score someone’s risk of a heart attack and, depending on their risk factors, give them medications that would lower their risk,” said Yeung. “The idea at the end of the day is instead of one patient coming to a clinic, health-care providers come to a small clean room to monitor tens of thousands of patients and see who is in trouble.”

Cloud computing that was monitoring people’s heart rate, heart rhythm, blood pressure and glucose levels, for example, could light up when heart attack risk factors started to shoot up for a particular person. “We could schedule a quick call and find out what’s up,” said Yeung, “and then change whatever the problem is before they become entrenched in their habits.”

Previously: A conversation on the promises and challenges of precision healthHow Stanford Medicine will “develop, define and lead the field of precision health”At Big Data in Biomedicine, Stanford’s Lloyd Minor focuses on precision health and A look at the MyHeart Counts app and the potential of mobile technologies to improve human health
Photo of event panelists by Norbert von der Groeben

Patient Care, Public Health

Survey of e-patients offers insights on patient engagement and access to health care

Survey of e-patients offers insights on patient engagement and access to health care

6842253071_a9b35831c0_zPeople who seek out medical information and want to have a more active role in their health care are increasingly becoming the norm. To learn more about this growing community of engaged patients, Inspire, the largest online community of e-patients in the United States, surveyed 13,633 of their members, representing 100 countries on six continents.

The results of the company’s survey were recently released in the online report “Insights from Engaged Patients: An analysis of the inaugural Inspire Survey” (link to .pdf). Among the key findings:

  • About 55 percent of patients are “well-prepared for their doctor’s visits” and bring a buddy to assist with their appointment. (As one survey participant reported, “The more I inform myself with accurate information on the medications taken, or the medications available, the more I am able to have meaningful conversations with the doctors concerning treatment.”)
  • 52 percent of patients are largely responsible for initiating conversation with their physicians about potential new treatments.
  • Two-thirds of patients use social networks as a source of information and support for their health conditions.
  • Half of all patients reported having difficulty with the affordability of their medications at some point in their life.
  • 72 percent of U.S.-based patients reported experiencing some increase in their healthcare costs.

You might think that since the people surveyed were members of an online health community, they’d all be savvy, avid users of every kind of heath app and gadget. Nope. Instead, 72 percent of survey-takers reported they’d never used a smartphone app for their health-care needs. Moreover, less than half of the people surveyed reported feeling that such an app would be useful to them.

The rest of the report, which illustrates there are clear barriers that prevent people from adopting health-care technology and from getting the care and medications they need, is worth a read. (And, as a reminder, we’ve partnered with Inspire on a patient-focused series that appears here once a month.)

Previously: Engaging and empowering patients to strive for better health“What might they be interested in learning from me?” Tips on medical advocacy and A wake-up call from a young e-patient: “I need to be heard”
Photo by UW Health

Behavioral Science, Chronic Disease, Health and Fitness, Medical Apps, Technology

Can cute cat texts motivate patients to take their medication?

Can cute cat texts motivate patients to take their medication?

Sammie resizedThe right kind of motivation is key when you have a difficult or mundane task at hand. For example, when I wanted to learn Spanish, I tried several top-rated, online language tools to no avail because they felt like work to me. Then, half as a joke, my boyfriend suggested an app that associates Spanish phrases with images of cats acting out the meaning of the words. The app was so silly I used it often, and — to our amazement — it actually worked.

So when I saw this story on MedCity News about a company that plans to use cat photos to motivate people to take their medicine, I knew they were on to something. As the story explains, the texts are part of an online assistant that will pair irresistibly cute cat images with health prompts so the reminders are memorable and fun.

The company, called Memotext, plans to pilot test this tool on Type 2 diabetes patients (followed by patients with other chronic illnesses) to gain insights on the patients’ state of mind when they skip or forget to take a medication. They also hope to learn more about what can be done to change patients’ behavior so they’re able to follow their medication regimen better.

“We’re not only asking whether you did something, but why did you do it,” said Amos Adler, the company’s founder and president. Based on what I’ve learned about motivation so far, I think a cute cat text or two probably can’t hurt.

Previously: “Nudges” in health: Lessons from a fitness tracker on how to motivate patientsStudy offers clues on how to motivate Americans to change and Understanding the science and psychology of how habits work
Photo courtesy of Anna MacCormick

Emergency Medicine, Pregnancy, Research, Surgery, Videos

Self-propelled powder moves against blood flow to staunch bleeding in hard-to-reach areas

Self-propelled powder moves against blood flow to staunch bleeding in hard-to-reach areas

If you nick your skin, it’s easy to stop the bleeding by applying a coagulant powder directly to the cut. Yet, bleeding wounds inside the body are beyond the reach of such blood-stopping powders.

Now, Christian Kastrup, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, and a team of researchers, biochemical engineers and emergency physicians, have developed a way to clot internal wounds by creating a self-propelled powder that moves against the flow of blood.

“Bleeding is the number one killer of young people, and maternal death from postpartum hemorrhage can be as high as one in 50 births in low resource settings so these are extreme problems,” Kastrup explained in a UBC press release. “People have developed hundreds of agents that can clot blood but the issue is that it’s hard to push these therapies against severe blood flow, especially far enough upstream to reach the leaking vessels. Here, for the first time, we’ve come up with an agent that can do that.”

To give blood-clotting powder a push, Kastrup and his colleagues added calcium carbonate to the coagulant powder. The carbonate forms porous micro-particles that latch onto the clotting agent (tranexamic acid). As the particles release carbon dioxide gas, fizzing and moving like mini-antacid tablets, they launch the clotting agent toward the source of bleeding.

More rigorous testing and development needs to be done before this agent is ready for use in humans, as the press release and study explain. But it’s possible that in the near future this powder could be used to treat otherwise unreachable cuts such as those in postpartum hemorrhages, sinus operations and internal combat wounds.

Previously: New obstetric hemorrhage tool kit released todayIn poorest countries, increase in midwives could save lives of mothers and their babiesTeen benefited by Stanford surgeon’s passion for trauma care
Video courtesy of UBC

Medical Apps, Medical Education, Medicine X, Patient Care

Engaging and empowering patients to strive for better health

Engaging and empowering patients to strive for better health
Nancy M-D on stageMedicine X yesterday featured a series of talks on a topic that is near and dear to the heart of many conference attendees: Empowering and engaging patients. Marty Tenenbaum, PhD, a former consulting professor of computer science at Stanford, began the session with a moving talk on how difficult and frustrating it was to find the right therapy after he was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma 17 years ago.

“I spent a lot of time in the stacks of Stanford reading medical journals. They all agreed on one thing, which was my dire prognosis. I thought, there’s gotta be something better than this,” he said. Tenenbaum’s ordeal prompted him to create a nonprofit, called Cancer Commons, which helps connect cancer patients to the therapies that have the best chance of curing them.

Howard Look, president and CEO of the app Tidepool, said it “was like crawling through broken glass” to get access to his daughter’s blood glucose data when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2011. “We quickly discovered how hard it is to calculate the right dose of insulin,” Look said, driving the point home by showing a series of texts he once received from his daughter, Katie:

Katie: “Dad, I’m low. I’m 52 and dropping.”
Howard: “That’s okay, you have your juice boxes right?”
Katie: “I can’t find my juice boxes.”
Howard: “I’ll come get you.”
Katie: “I don’t know where I am.”

“This is a scary moment if you are a parent,” he said. “You might think that when the stakes are this high there must be a way to manage your diabetes with some sort of software or app. At the time, there wasn’t one.” This motivated Look to design an app that helps diabetic patients get and use to their blood glucose data effectively. “When you liberate the data, you empower the patient and enable them to engage however they want to engage,” Look said.

Next, Brian Loew, founder and CEO of Inspire, talked about the online community of patients and medical professionals in that social network. Many patients have reporting feeling more able to discuss certain issues with their doctors after first talking with their peers in Inspire, he said. “How do I travel with a wheelchair? How can tell my kids I have cancer?  These are questions that are often easier to ask of a person who has done or experienced it,” Loew explained.

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Events, Medicine X, Patient Care, Technology

At Medicine X, designers offer their take on why patient-centered design is top priority

At Medicine X, designers offer their take on why patient-centered design is top priority

Aaron Sklar at MedXAs a Medicine X veteran, I’m used to hearing patients talk about the importance of putting patients’ needs first. But yesterday afternoon, I got to hear about patient-centered design from designers.

At a session called “Fulfilling the promise of technology in health through human centered design,” Joan Saba, an architect who designs hospitals for NBBJ, used a personal story to illustrate how good design is essential to patient care. Her mother recently became sick and needed to stay at the hospital overnight, and “this is where she spent 24 hours,” she said. Sounds of ambulances wailing and doors slamming filled the lecture hall while an image of a bed surrounded by electrical cords and medical equipment lit up the screen. “Her room was right above the ambulance bay,” Saba explained.

With recent advances in technology, hospital rooms don’t need to look, sound or feel like this, said Saba. “So, what should a patient’s room look like now?” It being a calm place (unlike her mom’s room) is important, but there are other considerations, too: “Now we are thinking about it being a place for learning and information exchange.”

This desire to think about such an exchange, and improved doctor/patient communication, was echoed in the talk by Marc Katz, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of the Bon Secours Heart & Vascular Institute. He told the story of meeting patient-advocate Sarah Kucharski, who has the rare disease fibromuscular dysplasia and has endured many medical procedures, including a triple bypass surgery, back at the first Medicine X. “I go to several media conferences a year, and this was the first time I’d seen a patient present,” he recalled. “This was an eye-opening experience.”

Hearing about what Kucharski went through, prompted Katz to start querying other patients about their cardiac surgeries. “The biggest problem was communication — patients didn’t feel they understood what was happening [while at the hospital],” Katz said. So he helped develop Co-Pilot, a program that assigns a personal nurse to each patient. The program is still in its early stages but it seems to be paying off, Katz said: In a sample of about 150 patients, the Co-Pilot program reduced the duration of hospital stay and readmission, also, patients reported greater satisfaction.

After a talk from pain management expert Frank Lee, MD, on a project he started to increase transparency about the way patients’ prescription narcotic use is tracked and to hopefully, in turn, curb prescription painkiller abuse, speaker Aaron Sklar closed things off with a provocative statement. Sklar, managing director at Healthagen and co-founder of Prescribe Design, suggested it may be “time for technology to fade into the background.” What he meant is that it is the patient, not technology, that should be at the center of health-care design. “Actually we just coined a new term to describe this,” Sklar said. “D-patients: Patients that design.”

More news about the conference is available in the Medicine X category. Those unable to attend the event in person can watch via webcast; registration for the Global Access Program webcast is free. We’ll also be live tweeting the keynotes and other proceedings from the conference; you can follow our tweets on the @StanfordMed feed.

Photo of Sklar courtesy of Stanford Medicine X

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