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Applied Biotechnology, Bioengineering, Stanford News, Videos

Manu under the microscope

Manu under the microscope

Warning: This video could change the way you look at the world.

So if you’re willing, take the deep dive into this New Yorker magazine video and story, which capture the curiosity-driven magic of Stanford bioengineering inventor Manu Prakash, PhD, and his low-cost microscope, called the Foldscope.

This deceptively simple invention is a bookmark-looking assembly made of folded cardstock, a tiny glass bead and a photo battery, that can take you on a fantastic voyage into the microcosmos.

Last year Prakash shipped free Foldscopes around the world, and created a cult-like following of people sharing their microscopic discoveries. The New Yorker article goes on to describe some of the ways that people are using this invention:

The Foldscope performs most of the functions of a high-school lab microscope, but its parts cost less than a dollar. Last year, with a grant from Gordon Moore’s philanthropic foundation (Moore co-founded Intel), Prakash and some of his graduate students launched an experiment in mass microscopy, mailing fifty thousand free Foldscopes to people in more than a hundred and thirty countries, who had volunteered to test the devices. At the same time, they created Foldscope Explore, a Web site where recipients of the kits can share photos, videos, and commentary. A plant pathologist in Rwanda uses the Foldscope to study fungi afflicting banana crops. Maasai children in Tanzania examine bovine dung for parasites. An entomologist in the Peruvian Amazon has happened upon an unidentified species of mite. One man catalogues pollen; another tracks his dog’s menstrual cycle.

If you’d like to explore with your own Foldscope, you’ll have to be patient. Prakash is still in the planning process of manufacturing and distribution. In the meantime, you can put your name on the round-two waiting list at foldingmicroscope@gmail.com.

Previously: Foldscope beta testers share the wonders of the microcosmosStanford microscope inventor invited to first White House Maker Faire, The pied piper of cool science tools and Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope
Video by Sky Dylan-Robbins

Big data, Neuroscience, Research, Videos

An 18-month portrait of a brain yields new insights into connectivity — and coffee

An 18-month portrait of a brain yields new insights into connectivity — and coffee

Coffee changes the brain’s activity. Wait, wait, don’t stop reading, I know you know that. But here’s the cool thing: For 18 months, Stanford psychologist Russell Poldrack, PhD, scanned his brain twice a week. On the days he skipped coffee, the MRI images were quite different, showing, for the first time, how caffeine changes brain connectivity.

A Stanford news release explains:

The connection between the somatosensory motor network and the systems responsible for higher vision grew significantly tighter without caffeine.

“That was totally unexpected, but it shows that being caffeinated radically changes the connectivity of your brain,” Poldrack said. “We don’t really know if it’s better or worse, but it’s interesting that these are relatively low-level areas. It may well be that I’m more fatigued on those days, and that drives the brain into this state that’s focused on integrating those basic processes more.”

Poldrack’s experiment could generate hundreds, or even thousands, of similar insights, once researchers parse through the data, which is open to all. The RNA from his white blood cells was also sequenced once a week to coordinate gene expression with brain function.

Poldrack’s brain remained fairly constant and he admits he’s an even-keeled guy, generally content and rarely sad. But he hopes the approach could reveal differences between healthy brains, like his, and those that suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Previously: Hidden memories: A bit of coaching allows subjects to cloack memories from fMRI detector, Image of the Week: Art inspired by MRI brain scans and From phrenology to neuroimaging: New finding bolsters theory about how brain operates

Education, Nutrition, Public Health, Research, Stanford News, Videos

Online Stanford nutrition course improves participants’ eating habits, study finds

Online Stanford nutrition course improves participants' eating habits, study finds

I’m a big fan of Stanford’s free online course on child nutrition and cooking. And it’s not just me: Since the course launched in early 2014, more than 200,000 people have enrolled and watched the quick, informative, charming videos about understanding nutrition and making healthy food for kids. My favorite video, above, shows how to cook toad-in-a-hole, a comfort food I’ve loved since my own childhood.

Recently, instructor Maya Adam, MD, and her colleagues tested the effect of completing the course. When they designed the course, they hoped it would improve participants’ eating habits. A few other institutions had seen promising results from smaller online nutrition courses, but none of those combined nutrition instruction with hands-on demos of how to actually put their advice into practice in the kitchen. Yet other research suggests that making this connection between the “why” and “how” of healthy eating is important, since many people say that their lack of cooking know-how keeps them from eating well.

The results of the study, which appears in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, showed that the course is a success. Based on data from 7,422 participants surveyed about their eating habits before and after taking the course, the material presented helped participants cook fresh foods at home more often and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. After the course, participants were also more likely to say that their previous day’s dinner was enjoyable and healthy.

“This is part of a growing body of research suggesting that just learning to cook can lead to improved dietary intake, which has amazing implications for public health interventions aimed at preventing overweight and obesity,” Adam told me in an e-mail.

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Biomed Bites, Cancer, Research, Videos

From a molecular point of view: Cell adhesion, signaling pathways and cancer

From a molecular point of view: Cell adhesion, signaling pathways and cancer

Welcome to Biomed Bites, a weekly feature that introduces readers to some of Stanford’s most innovative biomedical researchers. 

To develop treatments capable of combatting metastatic cancers, or those that invade new tissue, researchers need to understand exactly how cells physically bind together. This process, called adhesion, goes haywire when a cancer goes on the move.

An effort to define the structural processes governing cell adhesion is just one of the projects Bill Weis, PhD, discusses in the video above. Weis chairs the Department of Structural Biology and is a professor of molecular and cellular biology. He also chairs the Department of Photon Science at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

His team also examines a cellular signaling pathway governed by a growth factor called Wnt, which plays a key role in the development of undifferentiated cells into mature cells.

“All of these studies are from a molecular point of view. It’s very basic research where we are trying to understand the chemical and physical principles of the molecules,” Weis says.

Learn more about Stanford Medicine’s Biomedical Innovation Initiative and about other faculty leaders who are driving biomedical innovation here.

Previously: Liver stem cell identified in mice, 3-D structure of key signaling protein and receptor revealed and Using organic chemistry to decipher embryogenesis

 

Imaging, Stanford News, Videos

Stanford radiologists scan Egyptian mummy for clues to its origin

Stanford radiologists scan Egyptian mummy for clues to its origin

A closer look now at the scanning of an Egyptian mummy here. “Mummies of this period are not very plentiful, so each time we have an incremental change in the technology we learn much more and are able to say much more than in the past,” comments Jonathan Elias, PhD, director of the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, in the video.

Previously: 3,200-year-old woman comes to Stanford

Evolution, Fertility, Pregnancy, Research, Science, Stanford News, Stem Cells, Videos

Viral RNA essential for human development, say Stanford researchers

Viral RNA essential for human development, say Stanford researchers

Viruses are tricky, but we humans may be trickier still. Stanford stem cell biologists Vittorio Sebastiano, PhD, and Jens Durruthy-Durruthy, PhD, published a study today in Nature Genetics indicating that the genetic remnants of ancient viral infections that still linger in our genome are essential to early human embryonic development.

As Sebastiano explained in our release:

We’re starting to accumulate evidence that these viral sequences, which originally may have threatened the survival of our species, were co-opted by our genomes for their own benefit. In this manner, they may even have contributed species-specific characteristics and fundamental cell processes, even in humans.

The researchers, who talk about their work in the video above, relied on a new RNA sequencing technique to investigate the expression of what are called long-intergenic noncoding, or lincRNAs. These molecules don’t contain protein-making instructions, but instead affect the expression of other genes. They’ve been implicated in many important biological processes, including the acquisition of a developmental state called pluripotency that is necessary for a fertilized egg to develop into the cells and tissues of a growing fetus.

More from our release:

They identified more than 2,000 previously unknown RNA sequences, and found that 146 are specifically expressed in embryonic stem cells. They homed in on the 23 most highly expressed sequences, which they termed HPAT1-23, for further study. Thirteen of these, they found, were made up almost entirely of genetic material left behind after an eons-ago infection by a virus called HERV-H.

[…] After identifying HPAT1-23 in embryonic stem cells, Sebastiano and his colleagues studied their expression in human blastocysts — the hollow clump of cells that arises from the egg in the first days after fertilization. They found that HPAT2, HPAT3 and HPAT5 were expressed only in the inner cell mass of the blastocyst, which becomes the developing fetus. Blocking their expression in one cell of a two-celled embryo stopped the affected cell from contributing to the embryo’s inner cell mass. Further studies showed that the expression of the three genes is also required for efficient reprogramming of adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells.

I can’t stop marveling at the close ties we have with viruses. It makes me think of the words of Michael Corleone in The Godfather: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” As Durruthy-Durruthy told me, “It’s fascinating to imagine how, during the course of evolution, primates began to recycle these viral leftovers into something that’s beneficial and necessary to our development.”

Previously: My baby, my… virus? Stanford researchers find viral proteins in human embryonic cellsMastermind or freeloader? Viral proteins in early human embryos leave researchers puzzled  and Species-specific differences among placentas due to long-ago viral infection, say Stanford researchers
Video by Christopher Vaughan/Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine

Education, Stanford News, Videos

“Dear Future Doctor, here’s a few things you’ll need to know”: Med students release parody video

"Dear Future Doctor, here's a few things you'll need to know": Med students release parody video

Ready for the first-ever musical parody produced by Stanford medical students? Filmed on campus last month and released this afternoon, Dear Future Doctor features a group of mostly first-years singing and dancing to the tune of one of Meghan Trainor’s recent hits. Featuring characters like the Late Doctor, the Greedy Doctor and the Celebrity Doctor, the song also – in the words of producer/writer/editor/first-year student Gun Ho Lee – aims to teach a lesson “on what the future doctor is NOT to do.”

The song “is meant to be a satire of the 21st century American medical system,” director/writer/ second-year student Joshua Wortzel elaborates. “In her song, Meghan Trainor pokes fun at some of the unfortunate aspects of modern courtship and gender norms” – and Dear Future Doctor, in turn, pokes fun at some of the things that “we medical students learn about becoming doctors.”

Enjoy!

Bioengineering, Events, Mental Health, Research, Stanford News, Videos

Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth talks about the work he was “destined to do”

Stanford's Karl Deisseroth talks about the work he was "destined to do"

Earlier this week we announced the exciting news that Stanford bioengineer Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, had won a $3 million 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. Before he took the stage to accept his award during a star-studded Academy Awards-like ceremony Sunday evening, the video above was shown to highlight the significance of his work. One of Deissoroth’s quotes:

There are deep questions about the brain that may never be answered, but we’re making headway with optogenetics… We’re headed down a path that gets us to understanding [questions like] why does one person feel the way they do and why does it create a disease when they do a particular way, and what can be done to correct it?

Noting that the suffering of people with psychiatric disease “is a very, very serious and pervasive matter,” he also says “the nature of the illnesses – their complexity, the amount of suffering and the mystery – has made this what I was destined to do.”

Previously: Stanford bioengineer Karl Deisseroth wins 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life SciencesInside the brain of optogenetics pioneer Karl DeisserothLightning strikes twice: Optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth’s newest technique renders tissues transparent, yet structurally intact and An in-depth look at the career of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth, “a major name in science”
Video courtesy of National Geographic Channel

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

 

In the News, Research, Science, Stanford News, Videos

Brain cell spheres offer new tool to study disease

Brain cell spheres offer new tool to study disease

Earlier this year my colleague reported on some pretty neat work from the labs of psychiatrist Sergiu Pasca, MD, and neurobiologist Ben Barres, MD, PhD. Researchers there figured out how to create spheres of neuronal cells resembling the cerebral cortex, making functional human brain tissue available for the first time to study neuropsychiatric diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. In an article today the Associated Press highlighted this work, with Malcolm Ritter writing:

It’s part of a larger movement over the past few years to create “organoids,” miniature versions of the body’s organs or key parts of organs. Goals include studying disease, testing possible treatments and perhaps supplying replacements for transplants. Scientists have made organoids representing the intestine, prostate, kidney, thyroid, retina and liver.

This overall organoid approach “is a major change in the paradigm in terms of doing research with human tissues rather than animal tissues that are substitutes. … It’s truly spectacular,” says Arnold Kriegstein, who studies the brain at the University of California, San Francisco.

Pasca talks more about the work in the AP video above; Stanford ethicist Hank GreelyJD, also weighs in.

Previously: Brain cell spheres in a lab dish mimic human cortex, Stanford study says

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