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Media, Neuroscience

Neurologist explores accuracy of the brain in the movie Inside Out

Neurologist explores accuracy of the brain in the movie Inside Out

brain imageHave you seen the movie “Inside Out” yet? I went over the weekend with my family, and despite reports that some parents weep throughout the last 20 minutes, I only shed a few tears. (A real miracle given what a sap I normally am when it comes to Pixar films – don’t even get me started on the last scene of “Monsters, Inc.”)

The movie takes place inside the brain of an 11-year-old girl, Riley, with different characters playing the role of various emotions (joy, anger, sadness, etc.). I found the movie’s journey through the brain visually stunning and highly entertaining, but I admit to not thinking much about its accuracy – until yesterday, when I came across this post on the NeuroLogica Blog.

Neurologist Steven Novella, MD, writes that he loved the movie and would highly recommend it, but “as a metaphor for brain function, the movie was highly problematic.” He outlines the various ways in which accuracy was sacrificed for plot, or for the sake of simple storytelling, starting with the control panel used in the “command center” of Riley’s brain. “There does not appear to be any equivalent of a command center or control panel in our brains. There is no ‘seat of consciousness’ or ‘global workspace,'” he writes. “Rather, consciousness appears to be highly distributed, with each part of the brain contributing its little bit.”

The entire post is an entertaining and educational read, and I know I’ll keep it in the back of my mind – no pun intended – upon my next viewing of the movie. (Anyone with kids knows there’s no way I’m getting away with seeing a Pixar movie only once.)

Previously: From brains to computers: How do we reverse-engineer the most mysterious organ?, From phrenology to neuroimaging: New finding bolsters theory about how brain operates and Anger: The most evil emotion or a natural impulse?
Photo by geralt/Pixabay

Chronic Disease, Pediatrics, Research

Earlier puberty linked with wide range of health conditions in study

Earlier puberty linked with wide range of health conditions in study

children-516340_1280Given that I have an eight-and-a-half-year-old who looks and often acts much older than her age, puberty has been on my mind a lot lately. (So much so, in fact, that I just got the highly regarded book The New Puberty: How to navigate early development in today’s girls – y’know, just in case). I was interested, then, to come across results of a recent U.K. study that examined the effect of the timing of puberty onset on later physical health.

A Medical Research Council press release nicely summarizes the work, which is the largest of its kind to date:

The study, published in Scientific Reports, confirms previous findings that early puberty in women is a risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and showed, for the first time, that early puberty in men also influences these same conditions.

In addition, new links were found between the timing of puberty and a wider range of health conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, glaucoma, psoriasis and depression in men and women, and also early menopause in women.

Researchers tested data from nearly half a million people in UK Biobank, a national study for health research funded primarily by the [Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge] and the Wellcome Trust. Participants were asked to recall puberty-timing by remembering the age of their first monthly period for women and age at voice-breaking for men.

Those in the earliest or latest 20 percent to go through puberty had higher risks for late-life disease when compared to those in the middle 20 percent, including around 50 percent higher relative risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and poor overall health. Furthermore, these disease links were not simply explained by nutritional status or obesity.

It’s important to note that the study relied on self reports versus medical records on puberty timing – which the authors call the main limitation of their work. In addition, as is emphasized in the release, the findings don’t show cause and effect but instead demonstrate “a causal link between puberty and certain diseases.” Still, the results are interesting and appear important enough for more scientific digging; as the authors conclude in the paper, “further work is needed to understand the possible… mechanisms that link puberty timing to later life health outcomes.”

Previously: Study shows former foster kids face higher risk of future health problems“The child is father of the man”: Exploring developmental origins of health and disease and Research shows kids’ health good predictor of parents’ future health
Photo by EME

In the News, Medicine and Society, Science

Nature issues reminder that “equality in science is a battle still far from won”

Nature issues reminder that "equality in science is a battle still far from won"

9447775248_4337abac3b_zIn light of recent widely covered events (and entertaining reactions on Twitter), Nature published an editorial yesterday titled, simply, “Sexism has no place in science.” It was published as a “reminder that equality in science is a battle still far from won,” and it outlines the problems of sexism and gender basis and some of the ways they can be tackled. I thought it was worth highlighting a few of their ideas here:

  • Recognize and address unconscious bias. Graduate students given grants by the US National Institutes of Health are required to undergo ethics training. Gender-bias training for scientists, for example, would be a powerful way to help turn the tide.
  • Encourage universities and research institutions to extend the deadlines for tenure or project completion for scientists (women and men) who take parental leave, and do not penalize these researchers by excluding them from annual salary rises. Many workplaces are happy to consider and agree to such extension requests when they are made. The policy should simply be adopted across the board.
  • Events organizers and others must invite female scientists to lecture, review, talk and write articles. And if the woman asked says no — for whatever reason — then ask others. This is about more than mere visibility. It can boost female participation too. Anecdotal reports suggest that women are more likely to ask questions in sessions chaired by women. After acknowledging our own bias towards male contributors, Nature, for example, is engaged in a continued effort to commission more women in our pages.
  • Do not use vocabulary and imagery that support one gender more than another. Words matter. It is not ‘political-correctness-gone-mad’ to avoid defaulting to the pronouns ‘him’ and ‘he’, or to ensure that photographs and illustrations feature women.

The piece ends on a hopeful note – “The lot of the female scientist in most developed countries is better than it was a few decades ago” – but reminds readers “that it is essential that all involved strive for better.” Hear, hear!

Previously: What’s holding women in the sciences back?She’s a Barbie girl, living in a Barbie world (that discourages careers in science), Molly Carnes: Gender bias persists in academia and Pioneers in science
Photo by World Bank Photo Collection

Medical Education, Stanford News

Stanford Medicine’s commencement, in pictures

Stanford Medicine's commencement, in pictures

Congratulations to Stanford Medicine’s Class of 2015! They were honored during a commencement ceremony on campus on Saturday morning, and photographer Norbert von der Groeben was there to capture the smiles, cheers and (happy) tears.

Previously: Coming up: A big day for Stanford Medicine’s Class of 2015, Abraham Verghese urges Stanford grads to always remember the heritage and rituals of medicine and Stanford Medicine honors its newest graduates
Photos by Norbert von der Groeben

Grand Roundup

Grand Roundup: Top posts of May

Grand Roundup: Top posts of May

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

Eating for good blood: Tips for boosting iron levels and hemoglobin: This entry from the Stanford Blood Center discusses hemoglobin levels and offers ways to boost levels prior to blood donation.

Cracking medical school admissions: Stanford students use their expertise to help others: In this Q&A, fourth-year medical students Rachel Rizal and Rishi Mediratta share insights on the medical school admissions process and talk about a book they’ve written on the topic.

“Still many unknowns”: Stanford physician reflects on post-earthquake NepalPaul Auerbach, MD, a professor and chief of emergency medicine who works with the Stanford Emergency Medicine Program for Emergency Response (SEMPER), recently traveled to Nepal to aid victims of the April 25 earthquake.

Stanford Storytellers: Medical students write a children’s book to comfort and educate: A group of Stanford medical students – and an undergrad – have penned a book geared towards young hospital patients.

Talking about “mouseheimers,” and a call for new neuroscience technologies: This post, based on a session from the recent Association of Health Care Journalists conference, features the work of Stanford neuropsychiatrist Amit Etkin, MD, PhD, and neurologist Michael Greicius, MD, MPH.

Our most-shared story of the month: Stanford Storytellers: Medical students write a children’s book to comfort and educate

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

The mystery surrounding lung-transplant survival rates: A 2012 article in the San Francisco Chronicle provided a look at the challenges facing lung transplant patients and explored why a significant number don’t live beyond the five-year mark, despite improvements in survival rates.

Big data, BigDataMed15, Events, Medicine and Society, Research, Stanford News, Technology

A look back at Stanford’s Big Data in Biomedicine

A look back at Stanford's Big Data in Biomedicine

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We reported many of the happenings at last week’s Big Data in Biomedicine here on Scope. Writer Bruce Goldman was also in attendance for the three-day event, and he captured the conversation in a just-published Inside Stanford Medicine piece.

Previously: At Big Data in Biomedicine, Stanford’s Lloyd Minor focuses on precision healthAt Big Data in Biomedicine, Nobel laureate Michael Levitt and others talk computing and crowdsourcingExperts at Big Data in Biomedicine: Bigger, better datasets and technology will benefit patientsOn the move: Big Data in Biomedicine goes mobile with discussion on mHealth and Big Data in Biomedicine panelists: Genomics’ future is bright
Photo of Euan Ashley, MD, welcoming conference attendees last Wednesday, by Saul Bromberger

Events, Stanford News

Stanford Medicine’s Health Matters event, in pictures

Stanford Medicine's Health Matters event, in pictures

Last weekend’s Health Matters, an annual event, drew more than 750 people to the Stanford Medicine campus. Along with hearing about the latest medical and health advances, participants were offered the chance to talk one-on-one with some of our experts and to participate in a dizzying array of hands-on activities.

For those of you who missed out (and even those who didn’t), save the date for next year’s event: May 14, 2016.

Previously: Stanford’s Health Matters happening on Saturday
Photos by CM Howard Photography

Media, Medicine and Society, Technology

Upset stomachs and hurting feet: A look at how people use Twitter for health information

Upset stomachs and hurting feet: A look at how people use Twitter for health information

MedCity News ran an incredibly informative article earlier this week on how people use social media – and more specifically, Twitter – to consume and discuss health information. Reporting on a recent talk from Twitter engineer Craig Hashi at Cleveland Clinic’s ePatient Experience: Empathy + Innovation Summit, Neil Versel shared:

Some 40 percent of consumers believe that information they found on social media affects how they deal with their health, [Hashi] said. A quarter of Internet users with chronic illnesses look for people with similar health issues. And 42 percent search online for reviews of health products, treatments and providers.

Twitter processes 23,000 weekly tweets with the words “feet hurt,” and the frequency naturally increases as the day and the work week go on, though many people tweet that when they get home on Saturday night as well. “Dr. Scholl’s can actually come in and reach these people,” Hashi suggested.

“Allergy” tweets mostly occur between March and June, Hashi said. “Sunscreen” also peaks in the late spring and summer. “Uncomfortable tummies” is highest on Thanksgiving, with lesser spikes at Christmas and on Super Bowl Sunday. Hashi said that Tums advertised on Twitter around Thanksgiving.

And for those who question the value of Twitter, or don’t quite understand its place in health care, these figures might give you pause: “The volume of information available on Twitter is staggering, Hashi said. There are half a billion tweets send every day. There will be more words on Twitter in the next two years than in all books ever printed. An analysis Hashi put together found that there were 44 million cancer-related tweets in the 12 months ending in March 2015, and traffic spiked in October, which happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

Previously: Finding asthma outbreaks using Twitter: How social media can improve disease detectionAdvice for young doctors: Embrace TwitterTwitter 101 for patientsBertalan Meskó discusses how mobile technologies can improve the delivery of health care and What to think about when using social media for health information

Events, Stanford News

Stanford’s Health Matters happening on Saturday

Stanford's Health Matters happening on Saturday

kid on helicopterTomorrow, Stanford Medicine opens its doors to the public as part of its annual Health Matters event. On the agenda: medical and health talks (sample topics: how to stay healthy and injury-free while working out, what you need to know about heart disease prevention, and what researchers are learning about longevity and aging) and a series of interactive exhibits. Among those hands-on activities: cooking demonstrations and Q&As with Stanford nutritional experts, a meet-and-great of the stars of Stanford’s canine wellness program, and the opportunity to hop on and learn more about the lifesaving technologies that happens in the Life Flight helicopter.

Parts of the event will be live tweeted; if you can’t physically be here, follow along on @StanfordHealth all day.

Previously: Stanford Medicine’s community open house happening on May 16 and Stanford Medicine community gathers for Health Matters event
Photo by Alex Johnson

Health Disparities, In the News, NIH, Research, Science, Women's Health

Research for All: Congressional bill aims to bring gender equality to medical research

Research for All: Congressional bill aims to bring gender equality to medical research

Gender matters in medical research. That’s the reasoning behind the Research for All Act (.pdf), a recently introduced Congressional bill that would require scientists conducting NIH-funded research to look at male and female animals and cells. The legislation would also require the FDA “to guarantee that clinical drug trials for expedited drug products are sufficient to determine safety and effectiveness for both men and women.”

As noted in a press release on the bill from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.):

Women compose more than half the U.S. population, but most medical research focuses exclusively on men…

For example, the unique way women metabolize drugs was ignored when researchers determined the dosage for Ambien sleeping pills; as a result, the initial recommended dosage was double what it should have been for women.

Additionally, cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of all Americans, but only one-third of subjects in cardiac clinical trials are women.

In a Nature piece published last spring, Londa Schiebinger, PhD, director of Stanford’s Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment, highlighted the “male default” in science and outlined the benefits of taking gender into account during research:

Including gender analysis in research can save us from life-threatening errors… and can lead to new discoveries. Gender analysis has led to better treatments for heart disease in women. Identifying the genetic mechanisms of ovarian determination has enhanced knowledge about testis development. Analysing how sex affects donor–recipient matching is improving stem-cell therapies. And exploring how sex-specific biological factors and gender-specific behaviours interact has helped researchers to understand how nutrients trigger cell functions, and may assist in the fight against obesity.

Previously: Stanford professor encourages researchers to take gender into account, A look at NIH’s new rules for gender balance in biomedical studies, Why it’s critical to study the impact of gender differences on diseases and treatments, Stanford Gendered Innovations program offers tools for improving scientific research and Women underrepresented in heart studies
Via The Hill
Photo by Benita Denny/Wellcome Images

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