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Scope Announcements, Stanford News

Stanford Medicine is on Instagram

Stanford Medicine is on Instagram

Do you use Instagram? We do! Stanford Medicine recently launched a feed designed to capture the best of its places and people (the images above are among the ones posted this month), and we hope you’ll follow along.

Previously: Introducing the Scope magazine on Flipboard and 100,000 followers for @StanfordMed

Big data, Stanford News, Videos

What is big data?

What is big data?

We’ve written a lot about “big data” and the field of data science here on Scope. But for those readers who are still fuzzy on what exactly big data is, or how it’s being used to improve human health, Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, and researchers with Stanford’s Biomedical Data Science Initiative (BDSI) are here to help. In the video above they offer their own definitions of big data, discuss how Stanford is leading the way in advancing the field, and share examples of how this so-called “digitization of life” will come to benefit all patients.

Previously: At Big Data in Biomedicine, Stanford’s Lloyd Minor focuses on precision healthExperts at Big Data in Biomedicine: Bigger, better datasets and technology will benefit patientsExamining the potential of big data to transform health careRising to the challenge of harnessing big data to benefit patients and A call to use the “tsunami of biomedical data” to preserve life and enhance health

Dermatology, Research, Stanford News, Videos

Life with epidermolysis bullosa: “Pain is my reality, pain is my normal”

Life with epidermolysis bullosa: "Pain is my reality, pain is my normal"

“Pain is my life. It’s my reality. It’s my normal.” These are the words that haunted me for days after first watching this film about Paul Martinez, a 32-year-old Stanford patient with epidermolysis bullosa (EB). I’m used to being moved by films made by my colleague Mark Hanlon, but his latest effort, called “The Butterfly Effect,” is about as powerful (and tear-inducing) as anything I’ve seen during my time here.

EB, as Krista Conger described earlier this week, is “incurable, fatal, and nearly indescribably painful.” Dermatologist Paul Khavari, MD, PhD, says in the film that “it just breaks your heart” when talking to patients and their families about what they go through, and Martinez, who shared his daily life and opened his home to Hanlon, puts it this way:

The word ‘pain’ itself doesn’t even describe how bad EB is. Your body is constantly on fire – it burns from the wounds from raw flesh, and it keeps repeating over and over and over. The cycle is never ending.

Seeing what Martinez and his caretaker-mother endure every day (warning: it’s not easy to watch) makes you wonder, frankly, how they do it – and also illustrates just how desperately a cure for this terrible disease is needed. Luckily, as detailed both in the film and Conger’s accompanying Stanford Medicine magazine article, researchers here are working to combat the illness – and have been doing so for decades. And Khavari closes out the film with a hopeful tone, saying: “We can start to see on the horizon the potential to really make a difference for patients.”

Previously: The worst disease you’ve never heard of: Stanford researchers and patients battle EB and This summer’s Stanford Medicine magazine shows some skin

Scope Announcements

Happy Fourth of July from Stanford Medicine

Happy Fourth of July from Stanford Medicine


Happy Fourth of July! Our office is closed in honor of the holiday, and we’ll resume posting Monday.

Photo by Michael Dougherty

Grand Roundup

Grand Roundup: Top posts of June

Grand Roundup: Top posts of June

It’s time to look back at this month’s five-most read stories on Scope. They 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.

New recommendation: Adults need at least 7 hours of sleep each night: How much sleep is needed for adults? A new set of recommendations was published in the journal SLEEP and developed by 15 sleep experts in a consensus panel assembled by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.

CRISPR marches forward: Stanford scientists optimize use in human blood cells: CRISPR is a breakthrough way of editing the genome of many organisms, including humans — a kind of biological cut-and-paste function that is already transforming scientific and clinical research. New work in this area is detailed here.

To live longer, men need to embrace their femininity, new research suggests: Women live longer than men, but when faced with socio-economic adversity, that lifespan gap grows, according to new research from a team of Stanford scientists.

Stanford med student/HHMI fellow investigates bacteriophage therapy as an alternative to antibiotics: In this piece, second-year medical student Eric Trac discusses the work he’s doing for his year-long Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowship.

Our most-shared story of the month: New recommendation: Adults need at least 7 hours of sleep each night

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.

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.

Stanford Medicine Resources: