Earlier today I wrote about a breakthrough method called CLARITY, pioneered by Stanford psychiatrist/bioengineer Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, for rendering intact tissue samples transparent. Above is a video clip showing off the new method’s capabilities. First you’ll witness a “fly-through” of a complete mouse brain using fluorescent imaging. The immediately following clip – it’s spectacular! – provides a three-dimensional view of a mouse hippocampus (the brain’s brain’s memory hub), with projecting neurons depicted in green, connecting interneurons in red, and layers of support cells, or glia, in blue.
Note that in both cases, there was no need to slice the tissue into ultra-thin sections, analyze them chemically and/or optically and then laboriously “sew” them back together via computer algorithms in order to reconstruct a 3-D virtual image of the biological sample. All that was required, after performing the necessary hocus-pocus, was to ”send in the stain” (i.e., use histochemical means to paint different cell types different colors) and move the sample or camera lens or shift the latter’s focal length. Nice trick. With big implications for biomedical research.
Last week at TEDxChange 2013: Positive Disruption, Melinda Gates brought to stage Salim Shekh and Sikha Petra, two of the children featured in the Stanford-produced documentary “The Revolutionary Optimists.” The award-winning film, which was co-directed and co-produced by Maren Grainger-Monsen, MD, and Nicole Newnham, tells the story of a lawyer-turned-social entrepreneur who worked to empower children living in Calcutta’s poorest neighborhood to become leaders in improving health. As described on the film’s website, the youth have “painstakingly track[ed] and collect[ed] data around health issues that impact them – water, sanitation, and infectious diseases” and then made improvements in each of the areas.
The TEDXChange video was recently made available on Facebook (log-in required); scroll to the 1:20 mark to view the movie trailer and to 1:22 to meet Salim and Sikha, who are embarking on a U.S. tour to talk about their work. An amazing figure from the talk: Before the group began promoting polio vaccination, only 35 percent of children in their community were vaccinated. Now 85 percent are.
The latest Stanford Health Policy Forum featuring science and health reporter Pam Belluck is now available online. A staff writer for the New York Times for more than 15 years, Belluck has written about a wide range of health-related topics, including stories for the newspaper’s Vanishing Mind series about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia across various cultures and countries. She also authored the recently released book, “Island Practice”, which chronicles the life of the only surgeon residing on the island of Nantucket.
During the forum, Paul Costello, chief communications officer at the medical school, talked with Belluck about what sparked her interest in writing the book and her distinguished journalism career covering health and science.
During last week’s break, I came across (and spent a good amount of time laughing over) a new parody video from Jeff Wysaski. The video pokes fun at pharmaceutical ads by promoting the use of tacos (yes, tacos) to fight depression – and April Fool’s Day seems like the perfect time to share it.
Effective today, radiologists across California will be required by law to notify women when their mammography screening shows they have dense breast tissue. Approximately 50 percent of women have dense breast tissue – more fibrograndular tissue than fatty tissue as seen on a mammogram – so falling into this category is quite normal.
If you’re a woman with dense breast tissue, you’ll receive a letter in the mail that includes an explanation that this is a risk factor for developing breast cancer and that having such tissue may make it more difficult to detect a tumor. (However, having dense breast tissue is only a small risk factor for developing breast cancer and mammography is still considered the gold standard in breast-cancer screening.)
While this notification is meant to educate women about their own bodies and empower them to make better health-care decisions, it could also result in needlessly alarming or confusing patients. It’s important that women understand why they’re receiving this information and what they can do about it, which is why Stanford Hospital prepared the video above.
Hot on the heels of my Friday post about the elevator-pitch throwdown organized by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine comes news that Stanford postdoc and clinical instructor Michael Rothenberg, PhD, was awarded third place in the organization’s “non-lead scientist” category. (Awards were given in two categories – non-lead scientist and lead scientist – to acknowledge the vast range of experience and training of the scientists who chose to compete. )
Videos longer than 35 seconds lost points. All had to clearly explain in plain language what their CIRM-funded research was about. Humor helped, but it wasn’t necessary. And although the contest was lighthearted, the purpose was serious. From CIRM’s release:
The goal of the Elevator Pitch Challenge was to help researchers who get funding from the stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), do a better job of communicating with the public. After all, we are a publicly funded agency and the money we use to fund research comes from the people of California, so it’s only reasonable to expect researchers to be able to explain the importance of what they do to Californians, and anyone else they might meet.
I’m having WAY too much fun this morning reviewing entrants in the most recent competition sponsored by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. This contest pits scientists against one another as they battle not for funding, but for the title of the ‘best elevator pitch.’ The idea, as described here by the institute’s senior director of public communications Kevin McCormack and communications manager (and my friend!) Amy Adams, is to help researchers improve their ability to describe their lab work as articulately and quickly as possible.
Amy and Kevin have great fun parodying exactly how bad some scientists can be at explaining their work, while encouraging grantees to take their turn in front of the camera during a meeting earlier this month. (Amy’s white knuckle grip on her coffee cup while a researcher gabbles on about gliogenesis in infant monkeys made me laugh out loud.) You can see all the entrants on CIRM’s YouTube channel - including several from Stanford.
In this recently posted TedxStanford talk, Sherry Wren, MD, a general surgeon at Stanford, offers some staggering statistics about surgery and global health. One particularly eye-opening fact she shares is that two billion people lack basic access to surgical care. Wren goes on to discuss reasons why surgery is not part of the global health agenda and argues we need to reject the current dogma that surgery is not cost effect or part of basic health. The video is worth watching and offers compelling evidence on why investment is needed to fund surgical training in low-income countries.
Researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute have mapped most of a zebrafish brain using a technique that provides an illuminated view of individual cells and shows how the neurons are firing. The findings could prove useful in better understanding the brain’s function. According to a recent Nature news article:
It is the first time that researchers have been able to image an entire vertebrate brain at the level of single cells.
The researchers are able to record activity across the whole fish brain almost every second, detecting 80% of its 100,000 neurons. (The rest lie in hard-to-access areas, such as between the eyes; their activity is visible but cannot be pinned down to single cells.)
The resolution offered by the zebrafish study will enable researchers to understand how different regions of the brain work together, says [Howard Hughes Medical Institute neurobiologist Misha Ahrens, PhD]. With conventional techniques, imaging even 2,000 neurons at once is difficult, so researchers must pick and choose which to look at, and extrapolate. Now, he says, “you don’t need to guess what is happening — you can see it”.
The increased imaging power could, for example, help to explain how the brain coordinates movement, consolidates learning or processes sights and smells.
Results of the study were published yesterday in Nature Methods.
Ever notice how some people tend to age gracefully with a full head of illustrious locks, while others start sporting a receding hairline after their 30th birthdays? While some blame hair loss on stress or lifestyle habits, such as too much smoking or drinking, and others believe certain soaps or shampoos are the culprits, the answer is likely tied to genetics.
As this newly posted AsapScience video explains, the most influential hair loss gene is located on the X chromosome only and, as a result, baldness is partially hereditary and passed through the maternal side. Watch the short clip to learn more about how genes play a key role in hair loss.