Exoskeleton Bodies: Superhero Dream or Reality?

By Mina Ghobrial

A study done by researchers at Ohio State University found that wearing an exoskeleton commonly used by workers in industry to allow them to use their arms with more force actually increases back strain. The device, seen as allowing people to have superhuman strain, does in fact perform its intended duty - but not without consequences. Wearing the exoskeleton allows the weight of the object held by the arms to be transferred to the back, allowing more to be lifting but putting 53% more compression forces on the back. This could lead to permanent back issues for people frequently using these skeletons. The devices were also described as extremely uncomfortable by the study participants, who had difficulty using their full range of motion and felt as if their movements were stiff. So, for now, being half-man half-machine won't turn you into a superhero just yet. But exoskeletons with motors are currently in the works, and may make it possible for an exoskeleton to let people lift super-human amounts by providing additional force, and not by merely transferring it to other muscles.
 

Ohio State University. (2018, April 20). For heavy lifting, use exoskeletons with caution: The wearable robotics don't eliminate stress -- they just shift it to other parts of the body. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 1, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180420122816.htm

Blood Biomarkers and Concussion Rates

By Eve Abraha

After multiple college athletes with concussions were all found to have “6 specific small molecules from [their] plasma,” an investigation started to determine if the players got an mTBI. A person who has these biomarkers are more likely at risk of having/sustaining a concussion. Most of the issues that are caused by mTBIs can be improved upon by an increasing awareness and knowledge about diagnosis. The main reason awareness of mTBI has increased dramatically is primarily due to the amount of heightened explosive injuries during warfare, especially in the USA military.

 Currently, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, Georgetown University, and University of Rochester are trying to find the objective biomarker but it has not been easy. Luckily, with the help of the growing Biotechnology industry, extensive research will be done to find answers so that those who have unnoticeably been more susceptible to sustained concussions will be better aware of the issue and will be able to try to prevent such outcomes from occurring. This also pertains to those who may partake in certain activities that harm others.

 

University of California - Irvine. (2018, April 20). Blood biomarkers may allow easier detection, confirmation of concussions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 1, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180420170602.htm

Student-led Meditation Study Shows Immediate Cardiac Benefit

By Anna Kolchinski 

In a study primarily led by Hannah Marti, who graduated recently from Michigan Tech with a B.S in biomedical engineering, it was found that meditating a single time using a variety of meditation techniques decreased resting heart rate and anxiety and improved blood pressure measure results. With the guidance of John Durocher, assistant biology professor, Marti conducted a study with 14 participants to determine if a single meditation session could cause measurable improvement in anxiety and cardiac stress. Although it has long been known that repeated meditation can lead to positive effects, single sessions had not been previously studied. Prior to the meditation, the participants had a variety of physical measures taken, and were administered the Beck anxiety test. They then meditated for an hour, including using mindfulness and body scan techniques. Measurements were then taken post-meditation, and showed lower heart rate and better blood pressure. In addition, anxiety levels were lower even a week after the meditation session. While this study certainly demonstrates the benefits of single meditation sessions, the sample size was small, and more research is certainly needed. However, this study highlights the importance of research led by undergraduate students, proving that they can make legitimate scientific contributions. 

 

Michigan Technological University. "Meditation could help anxiety and cardiovascular health." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 April 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180420122810.htm>.

Research Highlight: Yi Chi Song at the Kumar Lab

A Research Highlight by Kurtis Chien-Young

Yi Chi Song studies Biochemistry at the Tufts School of Arts and Sciences. He researches under Professor Krishna Kumar at the Kumar Lab.

Hi Yi Chi, could you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your major? What are your extracurricular interests?

            My name is Yi Chi Song, I’m a Canadian citizen but spent most of my childhood in an international school in Beijing. Now at Tufts, I study biochemistry and I’m also involved with Tufts Consulting Collective. During winter, there is nothing that gets me more excited than going skiing. During summer, it’s a blast to rent a kayak or sailboat and to go out on the Charles. When the seasons transition, I'd like to find new places to eat.

How did you get involved with research at Dr. Kumar’s lab? What kind of research do you do?

            I’ve always liked chemistry, and found it quite an intuitive subject to study – I like drawing shapes and pouring solutions together to make new things. In terms of biology, it’s really the intricacies of the human body, and knowing all of it is going on inside of us that I find mind-boggling. Biochemistry is a perfect opportunity for me to understand the way things work on a fundamental level in living organisms.

I got involved in Professor Kumar’s lab after looking at the research on his website – it was a great combination of using chemistry to modify the activities of biological systems. In the Kumar labs, my work focuses on peptide-based hormones and discovering ways of modifying peptides to generate novel therapeutics.

Do you have any long-term goals? Are you going to continue to pursue research in biochemistry after graduation?

            Coming into college I think [medical] school was, and [maybe still is], the goal, but being exposed to research in the Kumar labs has made me think of perhaps pursuing other grad school options. Still rather unsure but there’s still a little while to decide.

New Cancer Vaccine Uses Patients’ Own Cells to Trigger Immune Response

By Amanda Moises

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have developed a promising new vaccine that uses a patient’s own immune cells to fight against cancer. Essentially, cells from a patient’s tumor are manipulated to induce an immune response against other tumors in the body, targeting the unique mutations only present in each individual. To make the vaccines, researchers sifted through patients’ blood to find optimal precursor cells that were then grown in a colony of dendritic cells. Dendritic cells aid the immune system by ingesting harmful material, such as tumors, and presenting them to T-cells to trigger a specific T-cell response.

This strategy was tested in a clinical trial of 25 patients, who received one dose of the vaccine every three weeks for over six months. About half of the patients showed large numbers of T-cells reacting to tumor material, indicating a good response to the vaccine. In fact, the 2-year survival rate of these patients was 100%, while it was only 25% in the patients who did not have a good response. For example, one patient started the trial with stage 4 ovarian cancer, but after two years of vaccinations, she became disease-free for five years. Despite the significant implications of this trial, cancer vaccines have always had mixed responses due to the advanced molecular defenses tumors have against immune attacks. However, the results of this new research can be used to develop future treatments against cancer.

 

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. (2018, April 11). Personalized tumor vaccine shows promise in pilot trial: Vaccine against patients' own tumors triggers a broad response, and induced five-year remission in one patient with advanced ovarian cancer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180411144943.htm

Pepper Plants Pay the Price of Personal Care Products

By Emily Taketa

The persistent popularity of personal care products containing antimicrobial substances such as TCC, or Triclocarban, contributes to the rise in antimicrobial substances in the environment. Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently indicated TCC as prohibited in soaps, the environmental levels of these substances are still increasing as reflected by their higher concentration in irrigation wastewater. These substances are shown to potentially cause negative impacts on human health, possibly acting as an endocrine disruptor. 

As reported in the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Dawn Reinhold and colleagues, tracked the levels of TCC in various parts of the pepper plants by recording the levels of radioactive carbon indicator metabolized. The levels of C14, or radioactive carbon, revealed that the plant did metabolize the antibiotic and in varying concentrations within the plant. Specifically, the scientists found that the jalapeno peppers had relatively lower levels of the harmful substances in the fruit since the TCC was converted to other molecules. So, the levels of TCC, or similar substances, in the environment should be evaluated, since these substances can be eventually consumed by humans through plants.

These findings urge further investigation on the specific health effects of these antimicrobial substances since they are so prevalent in everyday products and, therefore, the environment. Since the plants in this experiment were shown to absorb significant amounts of the harmful substances like TCC in the wastewater, it is crucial to learn how the subsequent consumption of these substances through plants affects individuals.

 

American Chemical Society. "Pepper plants sop up personal care product antibiotics." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2018.

Age at Menopause Might Affect Memory

By: Katie Campbell

It is widely known that the changes experienced during menopause are widespread throughout the body, but new research shows that the effects may extend to memory loss. A new study, published this week in Neurology, has shown that entering menopause at a later age may be associated with a small benefit to memory later in life.

The study consisted of 1,315 women in Great Britain who had been followed since their birth in 1946 as part of the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development. They were tested on verbal memory using a 15-item list and cognitive processing speed at 43, 53, between 60 and 64, and 69 years of age. The researchers also collected data about the onset and progression of menopause and other factors that can impact memory such as education or occupation.

Though there was no difference seen in cognitive speed, they saw a significant difference in the number of words recalled with women who entered menopause later remembering an average of 0.17 words more per year. The convincing role of the estrogen receptor as a regulator of a brain-derived neurotrophic factor important in memory formation and storage supports these results. The researchers suggest that these results could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later, but acknowledge that further testing is required to draw convincing conclusions. 

 

American Academy of Neurology. (2018, April 11). Does age at menopause affect memory?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180411161300.htm

Pollution May Increase the Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and Suicide Among Young People 

By Ursula Biba

Although the detrimental effects of airborne pollution on health are rarely disputed, researchers from the University of Montana have found another cause for concern: the link between pollution and Alzheimer’s disease and suicide among young people. After studying over 200 autopsies in Mexico City, where over 24 million people are exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter daily, Dr. Calderón- Garcidueñas and her team have identified high levels of the tau and beta amyloid proteins linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s in children as young as one-year-old. The sample also showcased high levels of Apolipoprotein E (APOE-4), a known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. While APOE-4 carriers are at higher risk for rapid disease progression and suicide, 99.5% of subjects in the study showcased telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Findings reveal that in polluted cities, Alzheimer’s onset may begin in early childhood due to APOE-4 status and particulate exposure—creating a need for upstream approaches to treat the disease. Dr. Calderon-Garcidueñas stresses that Alzheimer’s disease prevention begins in the pre-natal period and involves identification of the environmental, nutritional, metabolic and genetic risk factors in areas where air quality is low.

 

The University of Montana. (2018, April 13). Evidence mounts for Alzheimer's, suicide risks among youth in polluted cities. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180413155259.htm

Could a vaccine be the solution for the Opioid crisis?

By Anirban Chakraborty

The Opioid crisis has presented an acute challenge for American public health policy, but pre-clinical studies conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation of Hennepin Healthcare have formulated vaccines for heroin and oxycodone, a prescription opioid, which could be a crucial development. The mechanisms of the vaccines involve stimulating the host immune system to produce antibodies that bind to and inhibit the respective drug molecules from reaching the brain and producing neurochemical changes. The application of these vaccines in rodents were found to reduce behaviors tied to addiction, such as self-administration of opioids, while also preventing symptoms of heroin overdoses, like respiratory depression, both of which have clear applications to human opioid abuse. Furthermore, the pre-clinical trials demonstrated that the devised vaccines could accompany other medications for addiction, such as naloxone, during treatment instead of being mutually exclusive, significantly expanding their applicability.

Furthermore, the researchers responsible for this innovation are attempting to increase the efficacy of the vaccination model and apply these treatment mechanisms to other opioids, such as fentanyl. As noted by Marco Pravetoni, Ph.D, the principal investigator of the study, “the road from the laboratory to the clinic is still long”. However, the recent findings show great promise in combating the deleterious effects of the Opioid crisis by ameliorating the physiological harms of overdoses and preventing drug molecules from eliciting neurological responses that can cause further drug abuse.


Oregon Health & Science University. "Telemedicine provides accurate diagnosis of rare cause of blindness in preemies: Study finds little difference between in-person, remote exams." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 April 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180406130109.htm>.

Continuous Glucose Monitors Improve QALYs for Type 1 Diabetic Patients

By Kurtis Chien

For people suffering from type-1 diabetes, management of blood-glucose levels can be an expensive and time-consuming process. A recent study by researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that, of the methods used to monitor blood-glucose levels, continuous glucose monitors provide the best health outcomes. (1)

Continuous glucose monitors use sensors underneath the skin to test glucose levels in the blood. (2) The data is sent to a device or even a smartphone app for the user to view. (2) Since data is taken continuously, trends in blood-glucose levels can give the user insight on how to adjust their food intake or daily activities. (2) However, users still have to prick their fingers for blood testing at least twice a day in order to calibrate their monitors. (2)

The study tracked costs and outcomes of a group of 158 patients with type-1 diabetes over the course of six months. (1) Two-thirds of the patients used continuous glucose monitors, and the rest used a finger prick method to test blood-glucose levels with test strips and meters. (1) After six months, the researchers found that patients using continuous glucose monitors experienced fewer low blood sugar events, as well as greatly reduced hemoglobin A1C levels. (1) A1C testing measures glucose binding to red blood cells, and high A1C levels are generally associated with diabetic conditions. (3)

Continuous glucose monitors proved more expensive over the six month period, with the average direct and indirect costs totaling to $11,032. (1) For reference, the costs of using test strips added up to about $7,236. (1) However, the researchers also analyzed QALYs, or quality-adjusted life years, for each patient. (1) QALYs measure how much time a person lives without any severe health-related impairments, and can be used to calculate overall disease burden. (1) The study found that the health outcomes brought about by use of continuous glucose monitors raised QALYs by 13.32, whereas use of test strips raised QALYs by 12.78. (1) This means that continuous glucose monitors can improve health outcomes by more than half a year of impairment-free health as compared to just using test strips. (1) Furthermore, the total cost per QALY was exceptionally cost-efficient, and could see coverage by most U.S. insurance plans. (1)

 

  1. Wan, W., Skandari, M. R., Minc, A., Nathan, A. G., Winn, A., Zarei, P., . . . Huang, E. S. (2018). Cost-effectiveness of Continuous Glucose Monitoring for Adults with Type 1 Diabetes Compared With Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose: The DIAMOND Randomized Trial. Diabetes Care, Dc171821. doi:10.2337/dc17-1821
  2. Continuous Glucose Monitoring. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from https://www.medtronicdiabetes.com/treatments/continuous-glucose-monitoring
  3. The A1C Test & Diabetes. (2014, September 01). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/tests-diagnosis/a1c-test

Even with insurance, heart disease treatment costs often too much to bear for low-income families

By Mohamad Hamze

This week, the American Heart Association published the results of its ten-year study on the financial implications of chronic heart disease on low-income families. Its findings – presented at its yearly Quality of Care and Outcomes Research (QCOR) Scientific Sessions – aim to provide future direction for clinical research and policymaking with regards to quality of care of low-income families affected by atherosclerotic heart disease and its expenses.

What the AHA found was that many families quite literally cannot afford to have a heart attack or stroke. For low-income American families (defined as those families of four at or under 200% of the federal poverty line, which in 2015 was $24,250), one in four experienced “significant financial burden” from out-of-pocket medical expenses for chronic heart disease, and one in ten experienced a financial burden characterized as “catastrophic.” These delineations of hardship are defined as greater than 20% and 40% of total family income, respectively. However, perhaps most shocking was the finding that, on average, these burdens were greater for families with insurance than without it.

Overall, the study of nearly 21,000 low-income families revealed that “low-income families were three times more likely to experience a significant financial burden and nine times more likely to experience catastrophic medical expenses than middle- to high-income families.” Paired with the fact that out-of-pocket expenses were often greater in insured households, the study clearly indicates the glaring disparities in insurance coverage for low-income individuals and the need for more sufficient accommodation for the almost 9 million American families struggling financially with heart disease care costs.

 

American Heart Association. "Out-of-pocket expenses for chronic heart disease care inflict heavy financial burdens for low-income families; even those with insurance." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 April 2018. 

Food Patches: A Test Fighting Against Foodborne Illnesses

By Leili Najmabadi 

            Throughout the history of the food industry, the safety of meats has been debated and now McMaster researchers have provided a test to aim to bring an end to this uncertainty. Six hundred million illnesses in the world can be attributed to foodborne pathogens, and 30% of foodborne cases affect children under the age of five. Mechanical and chemical engineers, as well as biochemists, recently created a patch that can detect if pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella are present in a package of food. Harmless molecules were printed on the transparent patch and this new technology could eventually replace the need to have expiration dates. A variety of simple devices, including smartphones, would be able to pick up on the patch’s signal. The material being used has been named “Sentinel Wrap” based on the research network responsible for its development. Carlos Filipe, Tohid Didar, and Yingfu Li all played important roles in this project. This novel technology has no effect on the contents of the food or drink being tested. As for next steps, implementing this technology on a more global scale would be fairly easy as well as inexpensive, and could greatly affect daily safety concerns in food consumption.

 

McMaster University. "Transparent patch to detect dangerous food-borne threats." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 April 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180406085500.htm>.

Are Omega-3 Supplements as Effective as We Think?

By Min Seo Jeong

Millions of dollars are inputted annually towards the sale of fish- and animal-derived supplements. However, the current research present in literature does not provide sufficient evidence for the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acid supplements, which has led to attempts to implement it for a variety of conditions. This trial concludes that the omega-3 supplements are no more effective than placebos prescribed for dry eye patients. According to Maryann Redford, program officer for clinical research at the NEI, "the trial provides the most reliable and generalizable evidence thus far on omega-3 supplementation for dry eye disease."

All of the 535 participants of the trial had moderate to severe dry eye, a disease where the eye coating is unable to keep up a healthy ocular surface and can lead to visual impairment. Of the participants, 349 were given daily doses of grams of omega-3 fatty acids. The remaining participants were given 5 grams of olive oil in the same capsules as the omega-3. Since omega-3s are used as an add-on to other treatments, the participants were allowed to take other dry eye medications during the trial.

The results were measured in relation to the Ocular Surface Disease Index baseline used to assess dry eye symptoms, as well as clinical tests measuring tears and cornea integrity. There were no significant differences found in improvement of symptoms or signs of dry eye between the two groups, suggesting that omega-3 supplements do not have significant positive effects on dry eye in comparison to placebos.

This trial was conducted by the ry Eye Assessment and Management (DREAM) Research Group and was unded by the National Eye Institute (NEI).

 

NIH/National Eye Institute. "Omega-3s from fish oil supplements no better than placebo for dry eye: Sudy finds omega-3 fails to yield beneficial results in the clinic." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 April 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180413133604.htm>.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel… That 3 Million Americans Will be Able to See Again: A Cure for Dry Macular Degeneration on the Horizon

By Jacqueline Katz

Macular degeneration, often referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is the leading cause of vision loss among elderly Americans. Of patients with AMD, between eighty and ninety percent of cases are of the dry, rather than the wet, variety.  It is projected that AMD will affect approximately three million Americans by 2020, which is great impetus for the discovery of effective treatment for dry AMD.

In dry AMD, the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) support cells in the macula, the functional center of the retina, perish. The RPE support light-sensitive photoreceptor cells. Consequently, as the RPE begin to die, so do these photoreceptors that are crucial to vision. As the macula is responsible for central vision, direct line of sight vision is lost while peripheral vision remains intact.

A team of UC Santa Barbara stem cell researchers recently published the preliminary results of a small-scale human clinical trial for dry AMD in which four patients received retinal implants of human embryonic stem cell-derived RPE delivered on a synthetic scaffold. These implants should, and did in one of the four patients, revive alive, but debilitated, photoreceptors and prevent the loss of additional cells. The end goal is implantation before vision loss to prevent the death of photoreceptors and, therefore, impending blindness.

While the study is just in its beginning stages, the researchers are enthused by the results thus far. However, the team also recognizes that they have a long way to go before they need to start hiring in the marketing department.

 

University of California - Santa Barbara. "Retinal implant designed to replace support cells damaged by dry age-related macular degeneration." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180404143357.htm>.

Newly detected ‘hybrid swarm’ a major concern for global agriculture

By Leslie Gladstone

Australian scientists recently published a paper containing evidence for a hybridization of some of the world’s worst pest species. A hybrid of the corn earworm and the cotton bollworm was confirmed to have been discovered in Brazil according to experts.

Before the hybridization event, the two species had been geographically isolated. The cotton bollworm was widespread in Africa, Asia and Europe while the corn earworm was native to the Americas.

This discovery poses a major threat to agriculture globally. The cotton bollworm is known to infest over 100 crops, including corn, cotton, tomato and soybean. Additionally, the bollworm benefits from high mobility and pesticide resistance. Scientists estimate that 65 percent of the USA’s agricultural output produced in South America is currently at risk.

Scientists conducting the study for Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) used genome sequencing technology to confirm the presence of the hybrid. CSIRO scientist Dr. Tom Walsh announced that among the caterpillars studied, “No two hybrids were the same suggesting a ‘hybrid swarm’ where multiple versions of different hybrids can be present within one population.”

The Australian National Science Agency is on high alert and has said that continued research remains a top priority due to the hybrid swarm’s wide-ranging implications. Scientists emphasized the importance of the study of pests for early detection and sustainable long-term management. Dr. Paul de Barro serves as Research Director for CSIRO’s Biosecurity team. “It is critical that we look beyond our own backyard to help fortify Australia’s biosecurity threats.”

 

CSIRO Australia. (2018, April 6). Hybrid swarm in global mega-pest. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 14, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180406100544.htm

The bipolar diagnostic test: search for vitamin D

By Alexander Pan

Researchers at Ohio State University investigated a protein associated with vitamin D in children diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The vitamin D binding protein is responsible for brain inflammation, resulting in potential mood fluctuations. In a study of 36 young adults, those with bipolar disorder had a 36% higher concentration of the vitamin D binding protein as opposed to those without bipolar disorder. As a result, these researchers proposed a diagnostic test for bipolar disorder in children through a blood test that determines the concentration level of this specific protein. It is often difficult to diagnosis children with bipolar disorder early in their lives due to the social stigma and ambiguous early symptoms. Therefore, this proposed diagnostic test would lead to better prognosis as this test can detect bipolar disorder early in a child’s life. This objective blood test that measures protein concentration on a cellular level is a more accurate predictor earlier on as opposed to later in life when the child experiences exacerbated mood swings. More research needs to be done in order to support the causal relationship between higher levels of the vitamin D binding protein and bipolar disorder. However, this proposed diagnostic test has a promising outlook that can improve treatment of bipolar disorder patients early in their lives. 

 

Brawnie Petrov, Ayat Aldoori, Cindy James, Kefeng Yang, Guillermo Perez Algorta, Aejin Lee, Liwen Zhang, Tao Lin, Reem Al Awadhi, Jonathan R. Parquette, Arpad Samogyi, L. Eugene Arnold, Mary A. Fristad, Barbara Gracious, Ouliana Ziouzenkova. Bipolar disorder in youth is associated with increased levels of vitamin D-binding protein. Translational Psychiatry, 2018; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41398-018-0109-7

Ohio State University. (2018, April 5). Vitamin D blood test may one day speed bipolar diagnosis in kids: Finding a reliable blood marker could offer help to doctors and parents, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 13, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180405120340.htm

New Study Explores Relationship Between Circadian Rhythm in Young Adults and Academic Performance

By Nicole Loranger

A recent study performed by students at the University of California at Berkeley and the Northeastern Illinois University provides new evidence for the diversity of circadian rhythms among young adults and how one’s sleep cycle can affect their academic performance. Described as the “largest-ever” survey of its kind, the experiment focused on what it calls “social jet lag,” or the lack of overlap between one’s peak alertness and the time of day when most academic, occupational, or other demands must be met.

The study involved a sample size of 15,000 students from NIU, and began with monitoring their activity patterns on non-class days to sort their natural circadian rhythm into one of three categories: night owls, early birds, and day finches. The researchers then tracked how students in each group arranged their course schedules over the course of four semesters, and used this data to draw conclusions about the correlation between sleep pattern and GPA. They found that about 40% of the student participants were able to choose classes that aligned with their peak alertness, which minimized social jetlag and allowed them to perform better in class. 50%, however, were taking classes before peak alertness, and 10% were taking classes after their peak alertness, indicating the prevalence of the issue. According to Aaron Smarr, an Associate Professor at NIU, the fact that most classes happen during the day means that those are who function better at night are especially hit hard by social jetlag. "Different people really do have biologically diverse timing,” insists Smarr, “so there isn't a one-time-fits-all solution for education."

While social jetlag is a concern because of its correlation with learning deficits, obesity, and increased alcohol and tobacco use, the results prove that there is truth behind the diversity of circadian rhythm in young adults, and they present a solid case for more individualized education that is tailored to the natural bio-cycles of students. 

 

University of California - Berkeley. (2018, March 29). Poor grades tied to class times that don't match our biological clocks: Schedules of night owls, morning larks and daytime finches may predict their educational outcomes.. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 8, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180329190847.htm

New Test for Alzheimer’s Disease Touts Possibility of Disease Prevention

By Carolyn Burtt

With an average of one Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis happening every 66 seconds, researchers and medical professionals alike are searching for a tool to prevent or delay the onset of symptoms. Particularly with an aging population, the cost of Alzheimer’s to the American economy is set to rise by almost 400% by 2050.

Dr. McGeer and Aurin Biotech have created a test that measures the amount of peptide amyloid beta protein 42 (Abeta 42) in a patient’s saliva, and have demonstrated there to be a correlation between high concentrations of this peptide and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This test is particularly exciting because it can test patients of any age and determine their risk for Alzheimer’s. Abeta 42 is created throughout the body, but deposits are exclusive to the brain, where it impacts the function and stability of neurons.

Non-steroidal drugs, such as ibuprofen and other common over-the-counter medications, are able to prevent the buildup of Abeta 42 in the brain and the subsequent neuroinflammation and neuron loss. Doctors suggest a daily regiment of non-steroidal drugs for individuals diagnosed with the potential for developing Alzheimer’s, and urge people to test their Abeta 42 levels early to know their personal risk of developing the disease.

 

“Neuroscientists Say Daily Ibuprofen Can Prevent Alzheimer's Disease.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 26 Mar. 2018,www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180326140239.htm.

New Evidence in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

By Anna Kolchinski

Research published in the Lancet by UK and US based scientists has found that a particular mutation in a certain gene is more common in infants that have died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a disorder that causes the highest frequency of post - neonatal deaths in developed high-income countries. It normally strikes around 2-4 months of age, killing the baby, only to have post-mortem examinations unable to find a specific cause of death. However, breathing problems have been implicated. This caused the researchers to look into the SCN4A gene, which codes for a sodium ion channel protein in muscle tissue, thus making it necessary for controlling breathing. This gene is also known to be involved in many neuromuscular disorders, although there are different variants, only one of which was shown in the study to be more common in infants who died due to SIDS. 6 of 284 infants who died from SIDS had this particular variant, while none of the healthy controls did, although some did have other variants in the SCN4A gene. This has potential clinical relevance, as drugs exist to treat diseases caused by mutations in the same gene. Thus, it is possible that treating infants with this variant of the mutation with these drugs will reduce deaths from SIDS.

The Lancet. (2018, March 28). Potential genetic link in sudden infant death syndrome identified. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 8, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180328224228.htm

Monkey See, Monkey Do

By Mina Ghobrial


Mirror neurons are found in the motor cortex, the region responsible for movement, in animals. They “fire”, or evoke an electric signal, when one animal watches another animal complete a motor task. Research at Duke University published in Scientific Reports, linked social factors, such as proximity to other animals, social hierarchy and competition for food to the level of functionality in these neurons. Researchers found that when two monkeys completed a social task together, their brains showed high synchronized firing of their mirror neurons. This is called inter-brain cortical synchronization (ICS). Senior author Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D. noted that findings of increased synchronization in social scenarios bears implications for future studies. Up until now, most studies in neuroscience have focused on single individuals, whereas now there appears to be new avenues to explore in group settings. In order to conduct this research, the team created a “multi-channel wireless system to record the electrical activity of hundreds of neurons in the motor cortices of two monkeys simultaneously as they interacted in the same space.” Findings linked to ICS could lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating conditions that involve atypical neural mirroring patterns, such as autism. Other studies could also be done to assess how well groups of people work together. 


Duke University Medical Center. (2018, March 29). Monkeys' brains synchronize as they collaborate to perform a motor task: Levels of synchronicity in motor cortex are influenced by proximity, social status. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 8, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180329095444.htm