Could Patient’s own immune cells be reengineered to fight HIV?

By Kaya Jordan

Rachel Leibman and colleagues in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, have improved a protein called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) and are using it to specifically target the HIV virus when added to T cells (white blood cells involved in the immune response). Leibman and colleagues have designed a way to extract T cells from a patient's blood to be replaced with T cells reengineered in the lab to express HIV-specific CARs. They discovered that “T cells expressing the new CAR were over 50 times more effective than those with the original CAR in preventing viral spread between human cells in the lab” (PLOS).

When the researchers tested the new CAR in mice infected with HIV, they found that mouse T cells reengineered to express the new CAR could protect other T cells in the mice from being attacked and depleted by HIV and prevent viral rebound, which occurs when the HIV levels in the blood return after a time of absence when receiving antiretroviral therapy (PLOS). The success with mice shows promise for the clinical testing of this technique, which could prove to be a more successful treatment for HIV.

PLOS. (2017, October 12). Reengineered immune system cells show early promise against HIV: Scientists make improvements to a previously promising treatment that fell short in clinical trials. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 15, 2017 from

By Mina Ghobrial

After completing high-definition genome sequencing on the Japanese Sea Cucumber (Apostichopus japonicus), scientists have new molecular insights when it comes to the science of regeneration. After mapping 92% of the megabases, the genome of A. japonicus was compared with that of sea urchins and other organisms that share the same taxonomical class. While sea urchins have over thirty genes responsible for biomineralization (and thus the formation of their hard, outer, calcium shells), sea cucumbers only have seven, which are available in lower frequencies over the course of their development. As a result, sea cucumbers have softer bodies. However, their defense mechanism involves expelling internal abdominal organs (viscera), in the hopes of scaring off predators. Within a few weeks, the viscera regenerate. Scientists have found a group of duplicated genes known as the PSP94-like genes that have only been found in A. japonicus, and were expressed in their intestines. Another group of genes, known as fibrinogen-related proteins, also contributed to this capacity. The uses of this discovery are likely to serve as a foundation for other forms of animal regenerative medicine, and eventually human medicine. In the meantime, the information will be used to breed additional sea cucumbers, which are used as both food and elements of Chinese medicine. 

PLOS. (2017, October 12). The sea cucumber genome points to genes for tissue regeneration: Genomic sequence may aid their use as food, medicine, and research organisms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2017 from

A Promising New Treatment for Osteoporosis

By Iris Becene

The aging population has lead to a great demand for treatments for diseases such as osteoporosis, and Patrick R. Griffith, co-chair of the TSRI Department of Molecular Medicine, is addressing just that. Using hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry, the Griffith lab is able to map specific regions of the Vitamin D receptor which is responsible for regulating calcium levels in the blood. Currently, osteoporosis drugs that target this receptor cause hypercalcemia and are used sparingly because this condition leads to kidney stones and weakened bones. The lab hopes to stop the development of this condition by creating dissociated vitamin D receptor ligands, or 1,25D3 analogs, that do not activate the TRPV6 gene, or the gene that causes hypercalcemia. Instead, these analogs would target the BGLAP gene and prohibit it from activating the TRPV6 gene. The BGLAP gene is important in controlling bone mineralization.

The main aim of the lab is to develop an in depth picture of how the Vitamin D receptor works and the structural mechanisms of how it reacts with different ligands. Using technologies that create a clear picture of how protein conformation affects different molecular interactions, new medicines that only target genes that do not cause hypercalcemia can be used.

Scripps Research Institute. (2017, October 13). 'Roadmap' to aid osteoporosis treatment development. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2017 from

High Cholesterol Tricks Immune Cells into Allowing the Spread of Cancer

 By Anna Kolchinski

For a long time, researchers have been puzzled by the fact that high cholesterol has been known to increase the spread of breast cancer, also known as metastasis. This has widespread consequences, as breast cancer and cancers in general become much more difficult to treat effectively once they spread beyond the region of the primary tumor. New research just published in Nature Communications aimed to find out exactly why high cholesterol levels lower the immune system's ability to fight metastasis. The researchers focused on a byproduct of cholesterol metabolism known as 27HC, which they suspected to be the culprit. First, they fed rats with breast cancer a diet high in cholesterol, confirming by checking against a control group that metastasis rates were in fact higher in the high cholesterol group. They then treated the high-cholesterol rats in two different ways: one with a drug class called statins, which lower cholesterol in general, and one with an enzyme inhibiting the production of 27HC. They found that while both groups showed improvement, the treatment targeted towards 27HC inhibition was more effective in preventing metastasis. They hypothesized that this could be because 27HC tricks the immune system into accepting the cancer and ceasing any attack on growing cancer cells. The researchers found that immune cells were especially damaged in metastatic regions high in 27HC, supporting their hypothesis. If the 27HC pathway acts the same way in humans as it does in mice, the implications would be enormous. Rates of metastasis in breast cancer, as well as other types of cancers, could be dramatically lowered in a non-invasive way.


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2017, October 12). Cholesterol byproduct hijacks immune cells, lets breast cancer spread. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2017 from

KTF: The Protein Keeping Our Blood Vessels Young

By Machlan Sawden

Nelson Hsieh, MD/PhD and his team at Case Western University in Ohio have discovered a way to manipulate the life span of a species of nematodes by artificially controlling levels of Kruppel-like transcription factors (KTF). These proteins are regulators of autophagy, a process that recycles toxic misfolded proteins and other molecular byproducts that build up over time as an organism ages and impede normal cellular function. The researchers found that lab-induced overexpression of KTF increased the lifespan of nematodes in an autophagy-dependent manner, while nematodes with decreased levels of KTF could not sustain autophagy and had shorter lifespans. This regulatory pathway was also observed in mammals as well, as mice with increased KTF expression experienced a delay in age-related blood vessel dysfunction. In humans, KTF levels have been observed to decrease with age. However, sustained levels of KTF can prevent age-related decline in blood vessel function that contributes to risk for hypertension, heart disease, and dementia. The team at Case Western now looks to understand how autophagy in the cells lining blood vessels improves blood vessel function and long-term health outcomes. Their research could have important implications for our understanding of blood vessel damage and aging in country in which heart disease is the leading cause of death. While KTF may not be the genetic fountain of youth, understanding the regulation of autophagy by KTF could initiate the development of interventions to slow the process of age-related blood vessel degradation and decrease risk for the deadly diseases associated with it.  


Case Western Reserve University. (2017, October 13). Worms reveal secrets of aging: Conserved pathway controls aging. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 16, 2017 from

Zika outbreak study

By Sidharth Anand

A recent Zika outbreak in Ecuador, which took place in 2016 has been shown by a new study to be promoted by a more pronounced El Niño phenomenon (2014-2016) and a disastrous earthquake in Manabi, Ecuador in April, 2016. The Zika virus, carried by these mosquitoes causes mild symptoms like rashes and headaches, but can also lead to a variety of symptoms including microcephaly, or smaller head size at birth. Both the earthquake and the pronounced El Nino events came together to increase temperatures and rainfall, while destroying infrastructure throughout the province. This helped bring disease-carrying mosquitoes in closer contact with humans, increasing the outbreak of the disease. El Nino is a weather phenomenon which often plagues equatorial regions of the planet, increasing water temperatures, and thus the temperature on land, while increasing rainfall. As Ecuador got hotter and wetter, mosquitoes had a more suitable breeding ground, allowing the spread of these disease. This was then exacerbated by a natural disaster in the form of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The earthquake destroyed many sanitation facilities, major infrastructure and municipal amenities, including access to drinking water. Thus, water had to be harvested from rainwater in many cases, and was often infested by mosquito larvae, helping the virus spread. The leader of the study, Cecilia Sorensen, from the University of Colorado at Boulder says that natural disasters help create a perfect hotbed for disease. Thus, the combined actions of the El Niño and the earthquake may pose relevance in other areas recently afflicted by a disaster, including Mexico with the recent earthquake and the southern US as well as the hurricanes in the Caribbean. The next steps are to now look for patterns with disasters and create health-oriented recovery plans before the disaster hits.


 American Geophysical Union. (2017, October 12). Combination of El Niño and 2016 Ecuador earthquake likely worsened Zika outbreak. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2017 from

Research Highlight: Spatial Cognition Laboratory

Logan Zhang a Psychology major at the Tufts School of Arts and Sciences. He works under Professor Holly A. Taylor at the Spatial Cognition Laboratory on 490 Boston Avenue.


Tell me a bit about yourself. What are your interests? What’s your major?

My name is Logan Zhang, and I'm an undergraduate psychology major. I want to promote the health (particularly mental health) and well being of others, and I'm also interested in understanding how people think and feel, which is why I majored in psychology. In my free time, I like to cook and play board games and video games with friends.


What kind of research are you participating in now?

I'm currently doing research in the spatial cognition lab here at Tufts. We study how people visualize and interact with objects and locations in their heads-how do people navigate through a city? How do people read a map? How do people visualize and move three-dimensional objects in their heads? Particularly, we are doing research using eye tracking technology, to connect where people are looking and what visuals they're processing as they think spatially.


Do you design the methods, or are you following some set protocol?

I don't design the studies at the lab; I'm a research assistant so my job is primarily to collect data, record and analyze it, according to the purpose and experimental design. However, I do generally design my own methods for collecting the data. I don't really follow any set protocol anymore, since I've been working here for a while, I'm tasked with the responsibility of finding the most effective and friendly way to interact with participants and collect the data I need, and create my own procedure.


Are there any highlights to your research that you’d like to talk about?

An interesting bit of research we did last year was on the Mental Paper Folding test, a commonly used measure of spatial ability. I remember even taking it as a kid to determine whether or not I would get into an accelerated learning program. This test is used to measure spatial skills, and even sometimes intelligence, but our research revealed that this test doesn't measure the level of spatial ability at all. I had the opportunity to present these findings at a regional conference, and it was a great experience. I really felt like I was contributing to the field. Even as a research assistant.


How did you get involved with this field of research?

I looked for research opportunities on campus, in my field, online. I just picked the one that was the most appealing to me and applied.


What’s your goal in the long-term? How do you plan to apply your work and experiences in the future?

Hopefully I'll get to contribute to more findings in the future, like I did with the Paper Folding test. Really, this is just a great experience for me to be exposed to empirical research and get involved with the research process, the fact that I get to learn and present things is just icing on top. I hope to go into a career in healthcare, probably dentistry, so I can combine promoting the health of others with hands-on work. I'll apply to grad school after I graduate from Tufts.


Could microbiomes solve breast cancer?

By Grace Materne

            Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women in the United States, making it the second most common form of cancer in women. Due to the widespread effects of breast cancer, continuous research seeks to understand the cause, development and treatment of the disease. Researchers are currently investigating whether microbiomes (bacteria) found in breast tissue could be causing breast cancer. Microbiomes are found throughout the body in distant tissues such as the gut; therefore, comparing the microbiomes in the gut to those found in breast tissue can help identify irregular bacteria that are potentially cancerous. Early discovery of these irregular microbiomes could help catch the primary stages of breast cancer, allowing for preventative treatment to decrease the severity of the disease.

            Current studies seek to understand these bacteria imbalances and the role they play in breast cancer. One study in particular published in Oncotarget, compared the bacterial composition of breast tissue samples from patients with invasive carcinoma to bacteria found in the patients’ urine samples. The researchers found increased levels of gram-positive bacteria in the urine; this bacterial imbalance in distant tissues could be due to cancerous bacteria in breast tissue. Additional studies demonstrate that loaded submicroscopic particles called nanoparticles that target pro-cancer bacteria can be used to deliver antibiotics to the irregular microbiomes in the breast tissue. Breast cancer continues to devastate hundreds of thousands of women each year; however, emerging research that links irregular microbiomes in body tissues to cancerous microbiomes in breast tissue offers promising methods for early detection and treatment of breast cancer.


Cleveland Clinic. "Breast cancer linked to bacterial imbalances: Study compares bacterial composition in healthy vs. cancerous breast tissue." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 October 2017. <>.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel for IBD Patients

By Meghan Mulvey

Crohn's disease, which is an inflammatory disease in the gastrointestinal tract, and ulcerative colitis fall under the umbrella of inflammatory bowel diseases. These conditions are often associated with chronic, debilitating pain. Although there is no cure for inflammatory bowel disease, William G. Kerr of SUNY Upstate Medical University and those at the Erasmus Medical Center have been able to link the SHIP1 gene and IBD patients. Kerr’s research found that the expression of SHIP1 is either extremely low or even nonexistent in patients with Crohn's disease. This finding can help doctors develop treatment methods for those suffering from Crohn’s disease through a blood test. The test searches for SHIP1 protein levels, which can indicate if doctors should choose a more relaxed or aggressive plan. Current treatments for Crohn’s disease include steroids, which may help calm inflammation. However, Kerr’s research has future implications. He hopes that as more research is done to understand the relationship between SHIP1 and people with IBD, promising new treatments will arise. For example, one possible solution would be to use drugs that can increase SHIP1 activity, which would hopefully calm the symptoms of IBD. Although IBD patients have been in the dark for a long time, the promising new research from Kerr and his colleagues turns a corner to reveal a light at the end of the tunnel.

SUNY Upstate Medical University. (2017, October 5). Discovery advances understanding of inflammatory bowel disease. ScienceDaily . Retrieved October 11, 2017 from

Major shift in understanding of cancer metabolism

By Allison Kannam

            Researchers at the Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) have made a recent discovery that is challenging a long-held observation about cancer metabolism called the Warburg effect. One of the three main components of the Warburg effect is that lactate serves as a waste product of cancerous tumors. However, a team of CRI researchers recently published a study that indicates that lactate is a fuel source for lung cancer cells that may support growth, proliferation, and even metastases, in addition to its role as a waste product. In addition, the study shows preliminary findings that there may be a connection between lactose utilization and tumors’ clinical aggressiveness, including how quickly they metastasize and recur. These conclusions were made possible in part because researchers were able to analyze the tumors’ metabolism during surgeries to remove them, rather than in the laboratory.

The research was led by Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis, who is a professor at CRI, Director of CRI's Genetic and Metabolic Disease Program, and Chief of the Division of Pediatric Genetics and Metabolism at UT Southwestern. He expressed great surprise at these findings, as the Warburg effect is the oldest observation in cancer metabolism and therefore has significantly shaped research in the field. The research has important implications for studying new therapeutic targets and imaging techniques for lung cancer in the future.


Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center. (2017, October 5). Study challenges long-standing concept in cancer metabolism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 13, 2017 from


High Sugar Intake Increases Risk for Heart and Liver Diseases

By Kurtis Chien

A study done by researchers at the University of Surrey found that diets high in sugar can lead to elevated fat content in blood and in the liver, which can put a person at risk for cardiovascular disease and liver disease. The study manipulated the amount of sugar in the diets of male participants over the course of 12 weeks. The participants had either high or low liver fat content prior to the study, although all participants were otherwise healthy. Some of the men were given a “low sugar diet,” which consisted of 140 sugar calories per day. Others were given a “high sugar diet,” and consumed 650 sugar calories per day.

After the dieting period, liver fat content was again measured. Men who had a high intake of sugar were found to have serious changes in fat metabolism, regardless of their previous condition. Those with previously low levels of liver fat and were put on the high sugar diet were found to have conditions resembling non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Those who already had high levels of liver fat before the high sugar diet were found to have such elevated levels of fat afterwards that they were at great risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, or strokes.

Researcher Bruce Griffin commented that the experimental high sugar diet would not be as commonly represented among the adult population. However, he warned that children who regularly consume sugar-sweetened beverages or candy could easily surpass the high intake of sugar observed in the study. The overconsumption of sugar among the younger generation has brought about a concerning prevalence of fatty liver disease in that age bracket. Without targeted interventions, there may be grim implications for the heart and liver health of the population in the near future.


University of Surrey. "Too much sugar? Even 'healthy people' are at risk of developing heart disease." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 October 2017. <>.

A New Method in Treating Invasive Fungal Infections

By Amanda Moises

            Researchers from the University of Liverpool and F2G Limited, a biotechnology company focused on the treatment of invasive fungal infections, have developed a new class of antifungal drugs known as orotomides. The orotomides have a unique mechanism of action by which they biochemically interact with the infection. Prior to this development, no new classes of antifungal agents had been discovered in the past thirty years. The most promising of these drugs was termed F901318, which is in the process of being developed for clinical use. The researchers’ work is crucial in determining what dosage of F901318 the first patients of the clinical study can receive. Without this information, agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration would be unable to allow any clinical trials to proceed.

            Invasive fungal infections often affect patients with leukemia who receive bone marrow transplantations as well as people with otherwise curable diseases. These infections, such as invasive aspergillosis, can be lethal even with the best medical care. In fact, the mortality rate is 20-30% after six weeks and rises to 80-100% with drug-resistant infections (University of Liverpool). The researchers are hopeful that their breakthrough will help in the fight against antifungal resistance, which is a significant issue in global health. If this new treatment is successful, the mortality of life-threatening invasive fungal infections may be significantly lowered.


University of Liverpool. (2017, October 6). New antifungal drug. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 9, 2017 from

New Insight into the Impact of Neanderthal DNA on Today’s Humans

By: Katie Campbell

Approximately 100,000 years ago, humans began migrating out of Africa to Eurasia where they interbred with Neanderthals. Today, about 2% of non-African, human DNA is left over from the Neanderthals. Over the past few years, numerous studies have explored the relationship between these Neanderthal genes and modern diseases. Previous research had shown that skin and hair characteristics might be related to Neanderthal DNA, but a study published this week in the American Journal of Human Genetics performed by a team of German geneticists has concluded that these genes also contribute to phenotypic characteristics like skin tone, hair color, and even smoking status.

The research was performed using data obtained in the UK Biobank pilot study, which consists of genetic data and information about physical appearance, diet, sun exposure, behavior, and disease for more than 112,000 participants. Several Neanderthal alleles were observed to play a role in skin and hair appearance. Interestingly, some of these alleles are involved in lighter skin or hair color, while others are involved in darker shades. The authors of the study concluded that this suggests that Neanderthals may have varied in appearance as much as today’s humans.

The team was especially interested in characteristics impacted by sun exposure (such as skin and hair pigmentation, mood, and sleeping patterns), because the Neanderthals were already adapted to the lower levels of radiation present in Europe when the humans arrived. They speculate that Neanderthal alleles have persisted in our DNA because of the evolutionary advantage and diversification they contributed to the interbred gene pool, and continue to persist in maintaining gene variation in human genes today.


ScienceDaily. (2017, October 05). More traits associated with your Neanderthal DNA. Retrieved October 09, 2017, from

Empowering Mosquitos to Fight Malaria

By Akari Miki

            Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are one step closer to ending the worldwide epidemic of malaria. They genetically engineered Anopheles mosquitos, common carriers of the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium, to have disease-fighting microbiota, and the resistance to the parasite lasted for seven years. The scientists caged the genetically modified mosquitos and their wild-type counterparts in equal numbers, assessing their matings for more than ten generations. In each generation, ninety percent of the offspring inherited resistance to Plasmodium. More interestingly, in a different experiment that caged genetically modified mosquitos with the wildtype ones in a 1:9 ratio, the trait dominated after a couple generations. Furthermore, the genetically modified mosquitos preferred to mate with the wild type and vice versa, and these mating preferences helped propagate the trait. These experiments in the laboratory demonstrated that the genetically modified mosquitos are capable of mating with the wild population, so the next step would be to perform the experiments again in a natural setting. Nevertheless, the possibility of breeding mosquitos resistant to malaria-causing parasite is promising, as it could protect humans from transmission.


NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (2017, September 28). Disease resistance successfully spread from modified to wild mosquitoes: Mating of genetically modified species. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 8, 2017 from

A 21st Century Approach to Personalized Medicine: Using Genetic Code to Determine Dosage of Blood Thinner

By Jacqueline Katz

Warfarin, most commonly referred to as Coumadin, has been used for decades to prevent the formation of blood clots, often recommended to patients recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery. And for decades, doctors have prescribed this blood thinner based on clinical factors including age, height, weight, gender, and race. It is the prevalence of the drug that prompted researchers to take another look: “Over the last 10 years, warfarin has led to more medication-related emergency room visits among older adults than any other drug.”

Within the past couple weeks, the Journal of the American Medical Association came out with a new warfarin study. It detailed that working from a patient’s genetic profile along with other known clinical factors to determine the optimal dosage of blood thinner vastly reduced the risk of major bleeding and, on the other side, the formation of blood clots.

The study was conducted on 1,600 individuals age 65 and older undergoing hip or knee replacement surgery. Patients were separated randomly into two groups. One group received warfarin dosing based on purely clinical factors, and the second group's dose was based on these factors in addition to information extracted from each patient’s genetic code.

While fifteen percent of the patients whose dosages were calculated through the traditional metric experienced at least one adverse effect, a mere eleven percent of patients whose warfarin dosing was guided by genetic testing saw any unfavorable effects. A margin of four percent may seem meaningless to the untrained eye, but this difference is “statistically significant.” However, even more important, this study shows a practical use for genetic testing and sets a precedent for future experimental methods.


Hospital for Special Surgery. (2017, September 26). Genetic testing can help determine safest dose of blood thinner. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 7, 2017 from

Biochemists illuminate mechanisms of organism complexity at the genetic level

By Mohamad Hamze

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth have published their findings regarding what they believe to be the reasons that certain organisms are more “complex” than others. It was previously well-documented that most multicellular organism genomes were similar in total number of genes, so Dr. Colin Sharpe and his team set out to discover other factors of organism complexity.

Genome studies of nine different animals revealed the varying presence of proteins that serve to interact with chromatin in the nucleus. These proteins were not found to regulate gene expression through direct interaction with the DNA, but rather through their ability “’to regulate the dynamic organization of chromatin in the nucleus as a component of animal complexity,”’ as Sharpe describes.

The NCOR gene – for the nuclear receptor co-repressor family of proteins – was compared in humans and in sea urchins and found to exhibit three factors that varied in complexity between the two organisms. First, the gene in humans is subjected to greater levels of gene duplication resulting in daughter genes that can take on multiple functions. Second, processing of the mRNA of the NCOR gene is less complex in sea urchins than in humans, where the mRNA is subjected to splicing that generates over 30 different RNA transcripts to the sea urchins’ one. Finally, the resultant proteins in humans exhibit more domains than those in sea urchins, which increase their potential for interaction with nuclear receptors.

This new understanding of the factors of complexity in different organisms could become a consideration for biochemists when choosing appropriate animal models in which to study cellular mechanisms of human disease.


University of Portsmouth. "Genes that separate humans from fruit flies found." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 September 2017. 

Lopes Cardoso D, Sharpe C (2017) Relating protein functional diversity to cell type number identifies genes that determine dynamic aspects of chromatin organisation as potential contributors to organismal complexity. PLOS ONE 12(9): e0185409.

A Second Look at Coffee and Parkinson’s

By Leili Najmabadi

Though previous research in 2012 had shown that coffee could have a positive effect on symptoms related to movement in patients with Parkinson’s disease, a recent study found that there is in fact no effect at all. In the 2017 study, one group of participants was given 200 mg caffeine capsules and the other group of participants was given a placebo capsule, both capsules to be taken twice a day. Participants in this study were followed for an extended amount of time compared to the 2012 study, from six to eighteen months. Contrary to the 2012 study which stated that caffeine had the potential to reduce Parkinson’s disease movement symptoms, the current study found no improvement and no difference in quality of life between the two groups. Both studies were conducted by the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Discrepancies between the two studies highlight the importance of limitations in research, such as the length of the study and measuring other factors, such as measuring the amount of caffeine in the blood.


American Academy of Neurology. (2017, September 27). That cup of coffee may not relieve Parkinson's symptoms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 7, 2017 from

Misusing the Abuse - a Caution for Parenting

By Alexander Pan

Children’s school performances are negatively impacted by physical abuse at home. Researchers of child development from Penn State investigated the influence of corporal punishment and other physical forms of punishment on the school performance and engagement of students in primary school. Three levels of physical punishment were analyzed: mild corporal punishment, harsh corporal punishment, and physical abuse. Children from all three groups exhibited not only lower cognitive performance, but also increased peer isolation in school. The researchers noted that even the children from the mild corporal punishment group portrayed signs of impaired cognitive performance and a deficit of social engagement with peers. Furthermore, any form of physical punishment ultimately decreases a child’s motivation to do well in school, which is seemingly the reverse of the punishment intention. As a result, medical professionals and other programs that reach out to parents are informing them about the negative consequences of physical abuse on a child’s brain development and social skills. To prevent decline in school performance, these professionals are reaching out to inform parents before their children enroll in primary school. Further research efforts need to be conducted to provide alternative ways of enacting discipline without causing damage to the cognitive development of children. 


Penn State. (2017, September 29). Physical abuse and punishment impact children's academic performance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 7, 2017 from

Sarah A. Font, Jamie Cage. Dimensions of physical punishment and their associations with children's cognitive performance and school adjustment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.06.008

Video games = faster brains?

By Dominic Kleinknecht
Eberhard-Karls-University Tübingen

A study conducted by neuropsychologists at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum found that people who play video games on a regular basis performed significantly better in a learning exercise than those who are non-gamers. The researchers found that the gaming test group had increased brain activity in areas relevant for learning.

The researchers confronted the test candidates with the so-called weather prediction task, a well-established test to study the learning of probabilities. The participants were shown a combination of three cue cards with different symbols. The subjects chose whether the card combination predicted sun or rain and got a feedback on whether their choice was correct or not immediately. The volunteers had to gradually learn which card combinations relate to which weather prediction, as different combinations of the cards were linked to different probabilities for sun and rain.

Overall, gamers were better at matching the card combinations with the weather probabilities, especially for card combinations that had a high uncertainty, such as 60% rain and 40% sun. Functional imaging showed increased brain activity in distinct regions known to be important for learning.

"Our study shows that gamers are better in analyzing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorize facts -- especially in situations with high uncertainties," says first author Sabrina Schenk. Playing video games train the hippocampus, a brain region that is linked to processing and learning from new situations. It also plays a key role in memory, and changes in it can lead to decreasing memory performance. According to the researchers, video games might well be a treatment option in the future.


Sabrina Schenk, Robert K. Lech, Boris Suchan. Games people play: How video games improve probabilistic learning. Behavioural Brain Research, 2017; 335: 208 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2017.08.027

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy from Contact Sports

Research Highlight by Kurtis Chien

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in people who suffer repeated head trauma (1). CTE is most commonly observed in football players, boxers, and other athletes who participate in contact sports. The disease can only be diagnosed during autopsy, since the person’s brain tissue must be examined (2). However, it is possible to retroactively gather information about their condition prior to death. One case study was done on a college football player who played football for 16 years (2). He suffered more than 10 concussions during that period, the earliest of which occurred when he was 8 years old. After a concussion during his freshman year of college, the player reported lingering headaches, neck pain, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating. The symptoms were so debilitating that he eventually failed his courses and dropped out of college.

            Though the repeated concussions almost certainly lead to the football player’s CTE, the amount of trauma necessary to bring about the development of CTE has yet to be determined (1). The type of sport played and the player’s position in their team seem to play a role as well. For example, in football, receivers and cornerbacks suffer the most concussions during their careers (3). The increased impact frequency and intensity may contribute to a greater risk for CTE. In addition to this, a range of auxiliary factors are suspected of putting a person at greater risk for CTE. People with at least one copy of APOE e4, an allele of the gene APOE, represent 57% of the victims of CTE (1). The population baseline for the allele is 28%. Alcohol and tobacco use may also exacerbate the probability of developing the disease (1). More case studies on victims of CTE as well as control data of healthy athletes and non-athletes would be needed to support these conclusions. Further research may also give a better idea on the causes of CTE and methods to prevent it.



  1. Rettner, R. (2017, September 29). Aaron Hernandez's 'Severe' CTE: How Does It Progress So Quickly? Retrieved September 29, 2017, from
  2. The JAMA Network Journals. (2016, January 4). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in 25-year-old former football player. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2017 from
  3. Breslow, J. M. (2014, February 4). What We've Learned From Two Years of Tracking NFL Concussions. Retrieved September 29, 2017, from