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Events, Science

Nobel laureate Randy Schekman on the importance of scientists clearly communicating about their work

Nobel laureate Randy Schekman on the importance of scientists clearly communicating about their work

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I consider myself a professional nerd (my background is in chemistry and neuroscience) and have attended many academic talks during my life. I’ll be honest: I’ve spaced out during quite a few talks that were outside of my area of expertise.

Earlier this week, I attended a talk on campus by 2013 Nobel laureate and Stanford alumnus Randy Schekman, PhD. The subject of his talk – how cells expel a special kind of vesicle – was way out of my comfort zone. (I’m more neuroscientist than chemist.) But Schekman didn’t lose me as an audience member.

After Schekman finished speaking about his research, he was asked to comment about the role of teaching in his life. His answer, during which he explained that one of his responsibilities at UC Berkeley is to teach is an undergraduate seminar, explains my engagement during his talk.

“I’ve learned when you teach undergraduates – people who are smart but uninitiated – you have to make yourself understood,” Schekman said.

It is obviously this effort, this desire to succeed at communicating the complexities of what happens in his lab and his field to undergraduates and experts alike, that makes Schekman an accessible speaker.

And Schekman made clear that making yourself understood has benefits beyond connecting with your audience. As he told the audience, every now and then he teaches an outstanding student who challenges him, forcing him to think more deeply about subjects he thought he knew well.

Schekman spoke at the Medical Grand Rounds and was this year’s Rubenstein lecturer. Founded by friends of Edward Rubenstein, MD, the lectureship was created to honor Rubenstein’s commitment to the intersection of education with the clinical sciences.

Kimberlee D’Ardenne is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication and Public Affairs.

Previously: Hawkeye Pierce (i.e. Alan Alda) teaches scientists how to better communicate about their work, A call to fix the “crisis of communication” in science, Stanford’s Thomas Südhof wins 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Challenging scientists to better communicate their ideas to the public
Photo by Joan M. Mas

Cancer, Complementary Medicine, Events, Patient Care

Knitting needles cancer while helping patients

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It may sound unusual, but knitting is one way to cope with difficult experiences, such as undergoing cancer treatment. Rhythmic and relaxing, knitting can sooth the mind and soak up the downtime that’s a big part of cancer treatment, according to Holly Gautier, RN, a nurse and director of the Cancer Supportive Care Program at Stanford.

“It’s the repetitive motion that you have with knitting… You’re focused on the stitching and your mind becomes somewhat blank – it really feels good to be making something new,” Gautier explained to me recently.

Although she administers a slew of programs – from yoga to art – Gautier said she’s particularly excited about a new knitting class, which meets weekly at the Stanford Cancer Center.  It’s free and open to all cancer patients and their families — not just those being treated at Stanford.

The class is led by a volunteer knitters, who provide supplies and teach the basic stitches. They can even accompany patients to treatment rooms to answer questions or undo an error, Gautier said. And they’re happy to put together “knitting-to-go” care packages for those who can’t stay.

While participants are welcome to work on other projects, such as scarves and hats, the class is currently making squares to create a quilt to raffle off at an upcoming benefit for the Cancer Survivorship Program. Gautier said the quilt project provides patients with an opportunity to give back – something that nearly all patients yearn to do.

Although the first session last Tuesday drew eight female patient-knitters, Gautier said she hopes other patients and caregivers, particularly men, stop by in coming weeks. More details on the Knitting with Friends program can be found here.

Previously: Knitting as ritual — with potential health benefits?, Image of the Week: Personalized brain activity scarves and A look at how helping others can be healing
Photo by meknits

Events, Pain, Stanford News

Advances in diagnosing and treating a painful and common jaw disorder

Advances in diagnosing and treating a painful and common jaw disorder

3439490784_46b2cfd9e3_zOn New Years Eve, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea shared with her Twitter followers that she was diagnosed with a temporomandibular joint dysfunction (often referred to as TMD or TMJ). The singer is among the estimated 10 million Americans who suffer from the condition, which is more common in women than men and people ages 20 to 40.

Symptoms of the disorder include a stiffness of jaw muscles, limited movement, clicking or locking of the jaw and radiating facial pain. It was previously believed that problems with how the teeth fit together or the structure of the jaw caused the condition. But in talking to Michele Jehenson, DDS, a clinical assistant professor at the Pain Management Center at Stanford, I was told, “There is still a lot we do not know about what causes [temporomandibular joint dysfunction] but one thing we do know is that they are not caused by upper and lower teeth misalignment or improper jaw position. We now believe that TMD susceptibility is, at least, partly genetic.”

Since the causes of the TMD are not clear, diagnosing the condition can be challenging. Currently, there is no standardize test for providers to use to diagnose patients, so physicians continue to rely on the clinical evaluation, including palpation, range of motion and auscultation. But imaging technologies are starting to play a more important role. Jehenson noted, “We now have more accurate imaging such as cone beam CT scans or MRIs. Some dentists use joint vibration analysis or EMG, but these electronic sensors have been shown to be unreliable and lead to over diagnosis.”

Over the past two decades, there as been a significant amount of research on the outcomes of TMD treatments. As Jehenson told me:

Evidence is very clear that aggressive and non-reversible treatments for TMD (braces, jaw surgery, crowns, full time wear of appliance, jaw repositioning) are rarely indicated. The best treatments should be conservative. Depending on the case, treatments are usually a mix of medication (oral or topical), nighttime appliance wear, injections, physical therapies, behavior modification and counseling, sleep and stress management.

To learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of TMD, join Jehenson for a Stanford Health Library talk on Thursday at 7 PM Pacific Time. During the event, she’ll l further discuss evidence based versus non-evidence based treatments. Those unable to attend in person can watch the talk online.

Photo by Eric Allix Rogers

Events, In the News, Public Safety, Stanford News

Stanford biomedical community shows support for those affected by police violence

Stanford biomedical community shows support for those affected by police violence

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Scores of biomedical students, researchers, faculty and staff  staged a “die-in” yesterday to protest excessive police violence against people of color.

Clad in black “BlackLivesMatter” t-shirts, demonstrators lay down on the medical school’s Discovery Walk while listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The demonstration was organized by the Biomedical Association for the Interest of Minority Students (BioAIMS.)

The demonstration also featured two large posters that prompted viewers to complete the statement “I am privileged because…” or “I have a dream…”

Organizers said they were motivated to stage the demonstration because they felt there wasn’t enough conversation about the issue on the Stanford campus.

The Stanford community is comprised of people with a variety of backgrounds, who come from all sorts of communities, organizer and graduate student Jesus Madrid said. “Do we want to forget what it’s like outside?”

The demonstrators pointed out that violence against minorities is very relevant to biomedical researchers and doctors. “People getting killed is absolutely medically relevant,” said graduate student and organizer Tawaun Lucas.

In addition, it takes widespread societal awareness that extends beyond racial groups to promote change, the organizers said.

BioAIMS president Julie Huang said the group was pleased with the turnout, which topped 150 people.

A few voices from the demonstration:

“On a campus like this, we do need to focus on issues that are globally important.”
Sheri Krams, PhD, associate professor of surgery

“I’m new here, and I wanted to inform myself. In Austria, we absolutely have police violence against minorities.”
—Alex Woglar, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow in developmental biology

“It could have been any of us.”
—Tawaun Lucas, graduate student and member of BioAIMS

BioAIMS intends to keep the dialogue ongoing by hosting a series of upcoming events, including “Transitions into Privilege,” a forum scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 22 from 12-1 PM in the fourth floor reading room at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge.

Previously: Community violence can increase risk of heart disease, What happens when people witness violence and death? and Gun safety addressed by editorials in three JAMA journals
Photo by David Purger

Ebola, Events, Infectious Disease, Stanford News

Physician at forefront of Ebola fight: “Ultimate award” is what you get back from survivors

Physician at forefront of Ebola fight: "Ultimate award" is what you get back from survivors

BauschWhen Lassa fever, a cousin of Ebola, was afflicting hundreds of thousands of people in West Africa in the late 90s, Daniel Bausch, MD, MPH & TM, worked with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Guinea to set up a laboratory for study and testing of the rodent-borne disease. Unfortunately, the lab lost its international funding in 2003, as it could have proven useful in preventing the Ebola epidemic, which began in a remote village in Guinea just a few hours away, Bausch told a Stanford audience last week.

“I think back that if we had succeeded in keeping this lab going, how different it would have been if we’d been able to just send a sample down the road,” instead of losing valuable time in shipping the samples to Europe for testing, said Bausch, the keynote speaker at a day-long global health conference.

Today, Bausch, an associate professor at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, is at the forefront of the Ebola fight, treating patients at an Ebola clinic in Sierra Leone that he helped establish and training and recruiting other clinicians. He is also consulting with the World Health Organization in the development and implementation of treatment guidelines and drug and vaccine testing for the disease.

In 1996, Bausch was working with the CDC in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where dozens of miners were being felled by a strange set of symptoms. The source was identified as Marburg virus, a cousin of Ebola that kills more than 80 percent of victims. While the usual course of spread is from one person to the next, these miners were harboring different variants of the virus, suggesting multiple sources, he said. The disease was traced back to the caves where miners unearthed their gold and where they were exposed to bats — the likely reservoir of the virus, Bausch said. He and colleagues published an article on their Marburg investigation in 2006 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Because of his rare expertise with hemorrhagic fevers, Bausch was called upon early on to help fight in the latest Ebola outbreak, working alongside West African colleagues in Guinea and Sierra Leone who died of the disease.  He said one bright spot in the epidemic is the speed with which scientists have moved forward in developing new treatments and potential vaccines. “In the last six months, we’ve seen a process that’s unprecedented, with accelerated science and the launch of clinical trials that would normally take years,” he said.

And he said he cherishes the experience of seeing patients who have successfully fought off the disease. He showed a photo of a colleague, draped in white protective gear, alongside a young survivor: a smiling boy in striped pants who had lost his father to Ebola.

“That is the ultimate reward… It means something to you – what you get back from (the survivors),” he said.

The Stanford Global Health Research Convening Day was sponsored by Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health.

Previously: Back home from Liberia, Stanford physician continues to help in fight against EbolaEbola: This outbreak is differentStanford physician shares his story of treating Ebola patients in Liberia and Ebola: A look at what happened and what can be done
Photo, of Daniel Bausch and others in Guinea, courtesy of Bausch

Events, Medical Education, Medical Schools, Stanford News

Stanford Internal Medicine Residency program to host Google+ Hangout

Stanford Internal Medicine Residency program to host Google+ Hangout

Are you interested in internal medicine? Or wondering what doing a Stanford residency is like? Then join Stanford’s Internal Medicine Residency program tomorrow for a Google+ Hangout, where program leadership will talk about the current landscape of internal medicine, share program highlights and answer your questions.

During the discussion, you’ll meet faculty and physicians who are transforming the field of internal medicine. You’ll also hear from current and former residents who will reflect on their experiences at Stanford. Ronald Witteles, MD, assistant professor and director of Stanford’s residency program, will moderate the conversation. Other panelists include:

  • Robert Harrington, MD, chair of the department of medicine
  • Abraham Verghese, MD, physician and vice chair of education
  • Neera Ahuja, MD, associate professor and associate director of Stanford’s residency program
  • Wendy Caceres, MD, clinical instructor and former resident
  • Jim Boonyaratanakornkit, MD, chief resident
  • Kathryn Weaver, current resident

The discussion begins at 1:30 PM Pacific Time. Visit this page to participate in the hangout.

Lindsey Baker is the communications manager for Stanford’s Department of Medicine.

Events, Medical Education, Medicine and Society, Stanford News

Diversity is initial focus of new Stanford lecture series

Diversity is initial focus of new Stanford lecture series

directory-281478_640How often does a psychiatrist stop to chat with a bioengineer? Or a first-year medical student with an established postdoc? At Stanford, more often than you might think, yet there’s always room for improvement, building community and promoting dialogue.

Hence the Dean’s Lecture Series, a new series launched by none other than the dean himself, Lloyd B. Minor, MD.

Initially, the series will focus on diversity, kicking off Jan. 23 with a presentation by Rosalind Hudnell, the chief diversity officer and global director of education and external relations at Intel Corporation. (Her talk is timely, given Intel’s announcement yesterday that they’re allocating $300 million “to improve the diversity of the company’s work force, attract more women and minorities to the technology field and make the industry more hospitable to them once they get there.”)

Minor said he launched the lecture series to unite students, faculty and staff and to spark dialogue on issues of importance. As for the first topic: “We all benefit from the transformative power of diversity,” he said. “It is an integral part of what it means to lead the biomedical revolution and a core value of the Stanford Medicine community.”

Following Hudnell’s inaugural talk, Vivek Wadhwa, MBA, a fellow at the Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford, will speak on Feb. 20, and Ruth Simmons, PhD, president emerita of Brown University, will speak on May 1. All lectures will be held from 12 to 1 p.m. in Berg Hall at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge on campus.

I’ll be there. How ’bout you?

Previously: NIH selects Hannah Valantine as first chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, Report explores student diversity in medical schools and Lloyd B. Minor, Stanford medical school’s dean, shares five principles of leadership
Photo by geralt

Big data, Events, Stanford News

Registration for Big Data in Biomedicine conference now open

Registration for Big Data in Biomedicine conference now open

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Last spring, in a blog post on a study from Stanford systems-medicine chief Atul Butte, MD, PhD, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, noted that “we are at a point in history where big data should not intimidate, but inspire us.”

The theme of how large-scale data analysis and technology can inspire ways to improve disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment will take center stage at Stanford this spring for the annual Big Data in Biomedicine conference.  The event, which is co-sponsored by Stanford and Oxford University, will be held May 20-22 at the School of Medicine’s Li Ka Shing Center for Learning & Knowledge. Registration is now open on the website.

More than 40 speakers will participate in the conference, including Margaret Hamburg, MD, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Nobel laureate and Stanford professor Michael Levitt, PhD; Peter Norvig, PhD, director of Research at Google; and 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki. The three-day event will also include a technical showcase where attendees can browse displays and demos highlighting public and private companies’ innovations related to big data.

For those interested in viewing the keynotes and panel discussions from the 2014 conference, the videos are available to watch online.

Previously: Big Data approach identifies new stent drug that could help prevent heart attacks, Examining the potential of big data to transform health care, Stanford’s Big Data in Biomedicine chronicled in tweets, photos and videos and Videos of big data in biomedicine keynotes and panel discussions now available online
Photo, of 2014 conference speaker Colin Mahony, by Saul Bromberger

Cardiovascular Medicine, Events, Research, Stanford News

At Stanford Cardiovascular Institute’s annual retreat, a glimpse into the future of cardiovascular medicine

At Stanford Cardiovascular Institute’s annual retreat, a glimpse into the future of cardiovascular medicine

doctor listening to heartWhat will the future of cardiovascular medicine look like?

A group of scientists, engineers, educators, surgeons, physicians and students explored this question at the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute’s annual retreat earlier this month. More than 100 attendees crowded into Stanford’s Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge to learn about the research and advances that will transform cardiovascular care.

“For this year’s retreat we’ve  asked selected members to dig deep into the past and project the future of their specialties,” institute director Joseph Wu, MD, PhD, told the audience.

Talks presented during the day – on topics including sports medicine, stem cells, women’s health and biodesign – reflected the breadth of the institute’s scholarship and the diversity of its members.

Stem cell scientist Hiromitsu Nakuchi, MD, PhD, spoke about recent advances in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. Only a few years ago, stem cell-based regenerative medicine was widely perceived as the province of science fiction. No more, Nakuchi said. His lab has been working on a new technique to transform human skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, which can then be used to develop organs. The ultimate goal of this research: To create genetically matched human organs in large animals.

Researchers like geneticist Michael Snyder, PhD, envision a day when an “omics” profile will be sequenced before birth, and Snyder took to the stage to discuss the potential of personalized medicine. “I’m a believer in the future,” he said. “Genomics will move medicine from diagnose-and-treat to predict-and-prevent.” After sequencing his own genome and thousands of other biomarkers to create an integrated personal omics profile, Snyder learned that he was at risk for Type 2 diabetes. This knowledge allowed him to transform his diet and ramp up his physical activity, and it provided him a first hand glimpse of the diagnostic power of genomics. Genomic sequencing has the potential to change the way physicians care for patients, Snyder told the audience, resulting in more effective, patient-tailored therapies and a greater focus on disease prevention.

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Cancer, Clinical Trials, Events, Stanford News, Women's Health

Country music stars thank Under One Umbrella for supporting Stanford Women’s Cancer Center

Country music stars thank Under One Umbrella for supporting Stanford Women's Cancer Center

7856258414_163d347129_zCombatting cancer isn’t cheap. It takes an innovative team with access to top equipment and support. A team that can provide compassionate care while developing new therapies and scouring through detailed data to uncover unknown aspects of the disease.

At the Stanford’s Women’s Cancer Center, that’s where the Under One Umbrella movement comes in. Now in its sixth year, this group has raised more than $23 million for projects benefitting women with cancer. That money pays for leading doctors and researchers, drug and clinical trials, improved facilities, new treatments, tools and more.

“Your generosity is palpable,” Mark Pegram, MD, director of the Stanford Breast Cancer Oncology Program, told the several hundred donors who gathered at Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club in Palo Alto for the group’s annual luncheon earlier this week. Researchers are making molecular “portraits” of breast cancer to determine which patients would benefit from chemotherapy, he said. They’re testing a treatment that “packs all the punch of chemo, but with no chemo side effects.”

Due to a gift from Sonoma County winery Chateau St. Jean, all of the proceeds from the luncheon were used to support the programs, according to Lisa Schatz, former chair of the steering committee.

During the event, organizers screened a video tribute to Gwen Yearwood, a former patient of the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center, featuring her daughters — singer Trisha Yearwood and Beth Bernard. Then, out came Yearwood and her husband, Garth Brooks to serenade the attendees. “Our family is so grateful,” Yearwood said. “We’re an example of the many families who have benefited from (Stanford) care.”

In appreciation of their service, each donor left the luncheon with a pink umbrella, which came in handy as the Bay Area received much-needed rain in the following days.

Additional information about the group is available on its Facebook page.

Previously: Stanford Women’s Cancer Center: Peace of mind and advanced care under one umbrella, At Stanford event, cancer advocate Susan Love talks about  “a future with no breast cancer” and Don’t hide from breast cancer — facing it early is key 
Photo by 55Laney69

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