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Global Health, Infectious Disease, Microbiology, Public Health, Videos

'Tis the season for norovirus

'Tis the season for norovirus

The week before Thanksgiving, some kind of stomach bug, which I suspect was norovirus, spread like wildfire among my daughter’s daycare. Several of her classmates became sick and like dominos so did the parents, including us.

So I was more than sympathetic when I came across this video by John Green (of the vlogbrothers fame and author of “The Fault in Our Stars”) about his family’s Thanksgiving troubles with a norovirus infection that seems to have left no GI system untouched in their household.

Winter, from about November to April, is prime norovirus season. The treacherous illness, which as Green says “has amazing superpowers,” spreads when you come into contact with feces or vomit of an infected person. It can take less than a pinhead of virus particles to make this happen. Unlike other viruses, it can live on surfaces for surprising long periods, which is how a reusable grocery bag caused an outbreak among a girls soccer team in 2012. Plus, an infected person can continue to shed the virus for about three or four days after recovering. It’s possible to disinfect after an infection, but it’s a pretty intense job.

Given these characteristics it’s not surprising that this tiny virus (even by virus standards) causes about 20 million illnesses each year. Although for most people it’s a mild illness, for the very young,  old or those with compromised immune systems—it can be severe. About 56,000-71,000 people are hospitalized and 570-800 die from norovirus infections.

The situation is worse in developing countries, where, as Green points out, rehydration therapy is harder to come by for the most vulnerable. About 200,000 deaths are caused by norovirus infections in poor parts of the world.

In his typical funny and thoughtful style, Green talks about what lack of simple—and cheap—rehydration therapy means for many on our planet. It’s one more thing that it’s easy to take for granted, and one more thing to be thankful for.

Previously: Stanford pediatrician and others urge people to shun raw milk and products and Science weighs in on food safety and the three-second rule

Biomed Bites, Genetics, Infectious Disease, Videos

Ending enablers: Stanford researcher examines genes to find virus helpers

Ending enablers: Stanford researcher examines genes to find virus helpers

Here’s this week’s Biomed Bites, a weekly feature that highlights some of Stanford’s most innovative research and introduces Scope readers to scientists in a variety of biomedical disciplines.

Viruses, by their very definition, are dependent. They can’t dive into a body and wreak havoc by themselves — they need a little help, and that help often comes from our own genes. But which genes do viruses use to reproduce and thrive? Which genes are the enablers?

Stanford microbiologist Jan Carette, PhD, is patiently trying to figure that out — using the process of elimination. Here’s Carette in the video above:

In our lab, we have developed a new technique where we take away each of the individual genes and then measure very precisely which of the genes are important for the virus… If we know which are the targets of the human genes, we can start creating a whole new class of antiviral reagents that target the human genes and not so much the virus genes as is commonly done…

This technique might lead to treatments for viruses such as influenza A, Ebola or yellow fever. Said Carette: “The research that we’re doing can have a direct effect on human health… We can impact the lives of many people that are affected by viral disease.”

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

Previously: Exploiting insect microbiomes to curb malaria and dengue, Found: Ebola’s entry point into human cells and Personal molecular profiling detects diseases earlier

Pain, Science, Stanford News, Videos

Graduate student explains pain research in two-minute video

Graduate student explains pain research in two-minute video

Earlier this year I wrote about some fascinating research from the lab of chemist Justin Du Bois, PhD, who has been working with naturally occurring toxins with the goal of developing ways of combatting pain. This class of toxins is found in a number of poisonous animals, including the newts scurrying around Stanford campus, puffer fish and mollusks in red tides.

Now, graduate student Rhiannon Thomas-Tran, who has been working with Du Bois, produced a great video describing their approach, complete with some pretty creative drawings.

Previously: Toxins in newts lead to new way of locating pain

Aging, Neuroscience, Stanford News, Stroke, Videos

Examining the potential of creating new synapses in old or damaged brains

Examining the potential of creating new synapses in old or damaged brains

Synapses are the structures in the brain where neurons connect and communicate with each other. Between early childhood and the beginning of puberty, many of these connections are eliminated through a process called “synaptic pruning.” Stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injury can also cause the loss of synapses. But what if new synapses could be created to repair aging or damaged brains?

Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz, PhD, addresses this question in the above Seattle+Connect video. In the lecture, she discusses the possibility of engaging the molecular and cellular mechanisms that regulate critical developmental periods to regrow synapses in old brains. Watch the video to learn how advances at the neural level around a novel receptor, called PirB, have implications for improving brain plasticity, learning, memory and neurological disorders.

Previously: Drug helps old brains learn new tricks, and heal, Cellular padding could help stem cells repair injuries and Science is like an ongoing mystery novel, says Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz and “Pruning synapses” and other strides in Alzheimer’s research

Emergency Medicine, Global Health, Stanford News, Videos

Improving global emergency medicine to save lives

Improving global emergency medicine to save lives

In July 2013, Stanford physician S. V. Mahadevan, MD, and colleagues conducted a study at the largest children’s hospital in Karachi, Pakistan to understand the kinds of medical emergencies that doctors treated at the facility. “What we found was astonishing,” he says in this Stanford+Connect video. “By fourteen days 10 percent of [the 1266 children enrolled in the study] were dead.” Mahadevan saw more children die during the one week he spent in the Pakistan hospital than in his entire 22-year-career in the United States.

Despite such dire statistics, there is hope. Mahadevan, founder of Stanford Emergency Medicine International, explains in the video how important early interventions can be made in the chain of survival to save thousands of lives in low-resource countries. Watch the full lecture to learn more about his efforts to establish Nepal’s first ambulance service, India’s first paramedic training program and his ongoing work to improve emergency care in Cambodia.

Previously: Stanford undergrad uncovers importance of traditional midwives in India, Providing medical, educational and technological tools in Zimbabwe and Saving lives with low-cost, global health solutions

Biomed Bites, Genetics, Research, Stem Cells, Videos

Working on a gene therapy for muscular dystrophy

Working on a gene therapy for muscular dystrophy

Here’s this week’s Biomed Bites, a weekly feature that highlights some of Stanford’s most innovative research and introduces Scope readers to innovators in a variety of biomedical disciplines. 

The most common form of muscular dystrophy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, is genetic, resulting from a defective gene on the X chromosome, so it affects primarily boys. That makes it a prime target for genetic therapy – currently the goal of Stanford geneticist Michele Calos, PhD.

Calos started out as a basic scientist, examining the nature of DNA and the controls of genes; they developed techniques used to insert new genes into existing cells and ensure they are turned on.

Now, Calos has found applications for her earlier research. Capitalizing on the work that won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine, Calos and her team have set their sights on developing healthy muscle cells that can restore function for muscular dystrophy patients. Here’s Carlos in the video above:

We’re repairing the mutation in the patients’ cells… then putting back the correct copy of the gene, differentiating them into muscle precursors and injecting them into muscles where they can form healthy muscle fibers.

Calos said she and her team are currently perfecting the technique in mice, before it can be used in human patients. “Our dream really is to develop a therapy in the lab that would be translatable to clinical use in the future,” she said.

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

Previously: Elderly muscle stem cells from mice rejuvenated by Stanford scientists, New mouse model for muscular dystrophy provides clues to cardiac failure and Visible symptoms: Muscular-dystrophy mouse model’s muscles glow like fireflies as they break down

Big data, Cardiovascular Medicine, Chronic Disease, Research, Science, Stanford News, Videos

Big data approach identifies new stent drug that could help prevent heart attacks

Big data approach identifies new stent drug that could help prevent heart attacks

Ziad Ali, MD, PhD, was a cardiovascular fellow at Stanford with a rather unique skill when a 6-year study published today online in The Journal of Clinical Investigation first began.

The multi-talented physician-scientist – who is now associate director of translational medicine at Columbia University Medical Center – had figured out a way to put tiny little stents into mice with clogged arteries as a PhD student.

The skill would become key as he and colleagues set out to find a better pharmaceutical for the drug-eluting stents that are used in combination with angioplasty to treat coronary artery disease. In order to prevent stent disease, the often serious medical problem caused by stents themselves, chemotherapy drugs were added to bare metal stents. But these drug-eluting stents have their own problems: The drugs work like “hitting a pin with a sledgehemmer,” as Ali describes it, often damaging the lining of the arteries which can lead to heart attacks. As a result, patients are required to take blood thinners for up to a year after the procedure to prevent clots.

“A lot of our patient population is on the elderly side with bad hips or diabetes,” Ali told me. “Once you get a drug-coated stent, you can’t have surgery for a year. And if you stop the blood thinners for any reason, you’re at risk of a stent clotting off. And that actually causes a heart attack. Stent thrombosis has a high mortality rate.”

By using a “big data” computational approach, learning about the genetic pathways involved in coronary artery disease, then testing the new theories on mice models in the lab, researchers were able to pinpoint a potential new treatment for patients: Crizotinib, a pharmaceutical approved by the FDA for treatment in certain cases of lung cancer.

“This could have major clinical impact,” Euan Ashley, MD, PhD, senior author of the study, who discusses the work alongside Ali in the video above, said.

Previously: Euan Ashley discusses harnessing big data to drive innovation for a healthier world, New computing center at Stanford supports big data, Trial results promising for new anti-clotting drug and A call to use the “tsunami of biomedical data” to preserve life and enhance health
Photo in featured entry box by Mark Tuschman

Cancer, Medicine X, Videos

Tackling the stigma of lung cancer – and showing the real faces of the disease

Tackling the stigma of lung cancer - and showing the real faces of the disease

Stanford’s Medicine X is a catalyst for new ideas about the future of medicine and health care. This new series, called The Engaged Patient, provides a forum for some of the patients who have participated in or are affiliated with the program. The second installment in our series comes from Janet Freeman-Daily.

When I first learned I would be giving an ePatient Ignite! talk at Stanford’s Medicine X, I knew I wanted to speak about the stigma of lung cancer. I had frequently heard the first question typically asked of lung cancer patients – “Did you smoke?” – and I wanted to help change public perception of my disease.

I had plenty of material and preparation. I had actively blogged about my metastatic lung cancer journey for more than a year. I had researched statistics and funding disparities. I had gleaned patient perspectives via participation in online support forums and Lung Cancer Social Media (#LCSM) tweetchats. I also had years of public speaking experience, so I wasn’t anxious about getting up in front of an auditorium full of people.

What I didn’t have was knowledge of those who typically attended Medicine X, or how best to connect with them. I had never spoken publicly about lung-cancer stigma, certainly not to an auditorium full of people unfamiliar with my disease. After MedX ePatient adviser Hugo Campos helped brainstorm ideas, I wrote a speech – but it lacked something.

To figure out what was missing, I reach out to the online lung cancer community – patients, advocates and health-care providers I knew from support groups, Facebook, and Twitter. When Chris Draft of Team Draft reviewed my speech and slides over breakfast at Denny’s during one of his trips to Seattle, he smiled tolerantly when he saw my engineer’s fascination with graphs and pie charts. Then he made a point that changed the focus of my entire presentation.

Despite the dire statistics, the public will only care about the number one cancer killer when they can see that these patients could be people they love – a parent, sibling, child, friend – or even themselves. My speech needed to show the real faces of lung cancer, he explained.

Continue Reading »

Biomed Bites, Neuroscience, Research, Videos

More than just glue, glial cells challenge neuron's top slot

More than just glue, glial cells challenge neuron's top slot

Welcome to this week’s Biomed Bites, a weekly feature that highlights some of Stanford’s most innovative research and introduces Scope readers to innovators in a variety of disciplines. 

In the brain, a class system still rules. The neurons are the elites, zapping off important messages to their neighbors, creating memories and enabling thoughts. Then there’s the glial cells. Glia is Latin for glue, and for decades, glial cells were thought to simply hold up the stately neurons, keeping them comfortable and cleaning up after their messes.

Yet an inner-brain revolution is in the works, thanks in part to Ben Barres, MD, PhD, who leads Stanford’s Department of Neurobiology. Barres has been studying glial cells since he was a graduate student at Harvard University, and he’s shown these “support” cells play an integral role in the brain. Here’s Barres in the video above:

The idea is that they’re just kind of sticking the neurons together and boring. And I just got curious about how could 90 percent of the cells in the brain be boring and not doing anything important…

To get at this question, we developed new methods that allowed us for the first time to separate the brain cells apart into populations of neurons in one dish and populations of glial cells in another culture dish. That way we could ask, ‘What do the neurons do by themselves?,’ and ‘What do they need the glial cells for?”

To our surprise, we found the neurons were completely unable to form synapses by themselves. They absolutely needed to have the glial cells.

Now, the scientists in Barres’ lab are using their insight into the importance of glial cells to develop drugs that might alleviate debilitative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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

Previously: Double vision: How the brain creates a single view of the world, Distinction with a difference: Transgender neurobiologist picked for National Academy of Science membership and Malfunctioning glia — brain cells that aren’t nerve cells — may contribute big time to ALS and other neurological disorders

In the News, Science, Videos

Using dance to explain science

Using dance to explain science

Circus enthusiast and University of Georgia PhD candidate Uma Nagendra used her aerial talent to create this year’s winning “Dance Your PhD” video. The contest is sponsored by Science AAAS and challenges scientists to use dance to translate their work. For the contest, Nagendra joined forces with her aerialist colleagues to produce the above video based on her research on how tornadoes can alter the dynamic of the ecosystem.

Science recently reported:

Tornadoes are destructive events, ripping up the surface of Earth, crushing buildings, and tossing automobiles in their paths. And based on some models of climate change, they are likely to become more frequent and damaging. But according to a study of forest soil ecology, tornadoes also do some good—for trees, that is. It turns out that tree seedlings get a respite from certain parasitic fungi in a tornado’s aftermath, allowing them to flourish.

For winning the BIOLOGY category and the overall prize, Nagendra receives $1000 and a free trip to Stanford University in May 2015, where her video will be screened.

Previously: “Dance Your PhD” finalists announced

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