"Humans as Superorganisms: How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes and Other Selfish Entities Shape Our Behavior" by Peter Kramer and Paola Bressan discusses the idea that an individual homo sapiens is only one component of the human superorganism we call a person, focusing on the psychological and psychiatric ramifications thereof. (Paola Bressan previously.)
The CRISPR Revolution [ungated: 1,2,3] - "Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable." [more inside]
Fish oil: it's been touted as a solution to heart health, dementia, glaucoma, and a host of other ailments. Unfortunately, it turns out that most of the evidence for its benefits is equivocal at best. And it turns out that fish oil isn't particularly useful for our pets, either. Worse, it turns out that the foundational study that kicked off interest in fish oil as a supplement is not quite as promising for fish oils as it is usually construed and cited. Given that fish oil can induce strokes in high quantities (and may interfere with treatments like chemotherapy), is poorly regulated, and is expensive, should we be promoting fish oil supplements as strongly as we do?
"Postpartum depression isn’t always postpartum. It isn’t even always depression. A fast-growing body of research is changing the very definition of maternal mental illness, showing that it is more common and varied than previously thought." ‘Thinking of Ways to Harm Her’ and "After Baby, an Unraveling". [more inside]
Post-operative Check: "It's okay that you don't remember me. My name is Shara, and I'm part of the surgical team. I'm checking to see how you're doing after your surgery. Do you know where you are right now?" [more inside]
Four women have had new vaginas grown in the laboratory and implanted by doctors in the US. "A tissue sample and a biodegradable scaffold were used to grow vaginas in the right size and shape for each woman as well as being a tissue match. They all reported normal levels of "desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction" and painless intercourse. Experts said the study, published in the Lancet, was the latest example of the power of regenerative medicine. "
Scientists Progress in Quest to Grow Muscle Tissue in Labs - "The researchers are now working on optimizing the growth of human muscle tissue, including finding a way to get blood flow to the tissue, the best source of cells and the best growing medium for the cells."
"My subject is a barren one – the world of nature, or in other words life; and that subject in its least elevated department, and employing either rustic terms or foreign, nay barbarian words that actually have to be introduced with an apology. Moreover, the path is not a beaten highway of authorship, nor one in which the mind is eager to range: there is not one of us who has made the same venture, nor yet one Roman who has tackled single-handed all departments of the subject."Naturalis Historia was written by Pliny the Elder between 77 and 79 CE and was meant to serve as a kind of proto-encyclopedia discussing all of the ancient knowledge available to him, covered in enough depth and breadth to make it by a reasonable margin the largest work to survive to the modern day from the Roman era. The work includes discussions on astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology and botany organized along Aristotelian divisions of nature but also includes essays on human inventions and institutions. It is dedicated to the Emperor Titus in its epistle to the Emperor Vespasian, a close friend of Pliny who relied on his extensive knowledge, and its unusually careful citations of sources as well as its index makes it a precursor to modern scholarly works. It was Pliny's last work, as well as sadly his sole surviving one, and was published not long before his death attempting to save a friend from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, famously recounted by Pliny's eponymous nephew Pliny the Younger.
Here is a reasonable translation that is freely available to download from archive.org for your edification.[more inside]
The Nazi Anatomists. "How the corpses of Hitler's victims are still haunting modern science—and American abortion politics."
The Course of Their Lives. While much in medicine has changed over the last century, the defining course of a first year medical student's education is still 'Gross Anatomy.' This is their hands-on tour of a donated cadaver -- an actual human body -- and is an experience which cannot be replicated by computer models. When Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Mark Johnson came up with the idea of following a med school gross anatomy class for a feature story, his editor challenged him to make it different. So he chose to intertwine the students' stories with that of Geraldine 'Nana' Fotsch, a living future donor, as sort of a stand-in for the cadaver. (Via. This four-part series contains descriptions of a human dissection. Some may find it disturbing.) [more inside]
Science Fiction Comes Alive as Researchers Grow Organs in Lab
1997 -- Charles Vacanti of University of Massachusetts Medical Center and Robert Langer of Massachusetts Institute of Technology report the growing of a cartilage structure – in the shape of a human ear – on a mouse’s back. 2008 -- Doris Taylor at the University of Minnesota and colleagues grow a beating rat heart in the lab. 2008 --Surgeons in Spain transplant a new windpipe into a patient. The organ is made from a cadaver windpipe stripped of its original cells and reseeded with the patient’s own cells. 2010 -- Researchers at Mass General Hospital grow a rat liver. 2010 -- Yale University scientists grow a functioning rat lung. 2010 -- Alex Seifalian in London transplants a lab-made tear duct into patient 2011 -- Dr. Seifalian makes a windpipe from nanocomposite materials plus a patient’s own stem cells; the new windpipe replaces the patient’s cancerous one, saving his life. In a separate procedure, an artery made at Dr. Seifalian’s lab is transplanted into a patient. 2012 -- Surgeons in Sweden transplant a major blood vessel into a 10-year-old girl. The vein was taken from a dead man, stripped of its tissue, then reseeded with the girl’s own cells. 2013 -- Scientists from Cornell University report the making of a human ear using living cartilage cells.
What do 3D printing, jelly, liver transplants, chainmail, dental fillings, ferrofluids, and the Six Million Dollar man have to tell us about our future? Materials scientist and engineer Mark Miodownik lets us know in this Royal Institution lecture.
Jennie Linn McCormack "isn’t the only woman in recent years to be prosecuted for ending her own pregnancy. But her case could change the trajectory of abortion law in the United States": The Rise of DIY Abortions. [more inside]
291 diseases and injuries + 67 risk factors + 1,160 non-fatal complications = 650 million estimates of how we age, sicken, and die
As humans live longer, what ails us isn't necessarily what kills us: five data visualizations of how we age, sicken, and die. Causes of death by age, sex, region, and year. Heat map of leading causes and risks by region. Changes in leading causes and risks between 1990 and 2010. Healthy years lost to disability vs. life expectancy in 1990 and 2010. Uncertainties of causes and risks. From the team for the massive Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010. [more inside]
You're about to be the base doctor at Halley Research Station in Antarctica for a year. For ten months, no one gets in or out. Fourteen lives are in your hands, including your own. What do you put in your medical kit? And how do your choices differ from those of your predecessors (Eric Marshall and Edward Wilson) a century ago?
Just as Dante found it easier to conjure the pains of Hell than to evoke the joys of Heaven, so too do bioethicists find it easier to concoct the possible perils of a biotech-nanotech-infotech future than to appreciate how enhancements will contribute to flourishing lives. One of the chief goals of this symposium is to think about the indispensable role that virtue plays in human life. The chief motivating concern seems to be the fear that biotechnologies and other human enhancement technologies will somehow undermine human virtue. As we will see, far from undermining virtue, biotech, nanotech, and infotech enhancements will tend to support virtue; that is, they will help enable people to be actually good.
How can we better understand the interplay of nature and nurture in determining our personalities, behavior, and vulnerability to disease? Perhaps we should be looking at identical twins. (National Geographic January 2012 cover story) [more inside]
Jane Pratt (formerly of Sassy Magazine and her eponymous Jane,) launched a website for women: xojane, earlier this year. Last week the site's Health and Beauty Director wrote a blog post explaining that she never uses condoms, birth control pills, or other contraception (for fear of becoming fat) and instead relies on the emergency contraceptive Plan B to prevent pregnancy. And a segment of the internet exploded. (Her responses to some of the comments seem a bit clueless for someone with her title.) Critics have noted that the post was filled with "ignorant" "inaccuracies and misconceptions" about womens' health, sex, Plan B and other forms of birth control. [more inside]
Foldit - Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by protein folding game players
Gamers solve molecular puzzle that baffled scientists. The structure of a protein causing AIDS in rhesus monkeys had not been discovered in 15 years of attempts. Players of a videogame did it in ten days. Foldit, the game in question. Abstract. Previously, previously.
At the beginning of last month, Scientific American unveiled a new network of 47 blogs with 55 bloggers. Their latest posts can be found here. [more inside]
Hesperian is a non-profit publisher of books and newsletters for community-based health care, mostly aimed at the third world. Their first book, Where There Is No Doctor, A Village Health Handbook, has been translated into 88 languages and is one of the most widely used training and work manuals for community health care in the world. They have now made 20 of their publications available for free download, many of which can now also be browsed online through their website using an "Ebrary" in-browser interface. [more inside]
The Triumph of New-Age Medicine "Medicine has long decried acupuncture, homeopathy, and the like as dangerous nonsense that preys on the gullible. Again and again, carefully controlled studies have shown alternative medicine to work no better than a placebo. But now many doctors admit that alternative medicine often seems to do a better job of making patients well, and at a much lower cost, than mainstream care—and they’re trying to learn from it." [more inside]
It was Alex St. Martin's gory musket injury that paved the way for cow fistulation, a hands-on method to explore the inner workings of bovine digestion.
"It is only fitting that the story of the brain should be a visual one, for the visuals had the ancients fooled for millenniums. The brain was so ugly that they assumed the mind must lie elsewhere. Now those same skeletal silhouettes glow plump and brightly colored, courtesy of a variety of inserted genes encoding fluorescent molecules. A glossy new art book, “Portraits of the Mind,” hopes to draw the general reader into neuroscience with the sheer beauty of its images." Slide Shows: The Beautiful Mind and Portraits of the Mind [more inside]
Using a 3-D petri dish, Researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island have built a completely functional artificial human ovary that will allow doctors to harvest immature human egg cells (oocytes) and grow them into mature, ready-to-be-fertilized human eggs outside the body. (In vitro) The advance could eventually help preserve fertility for women facing chemotherapy or other medical treatments that may be destructive to ovarian folliculogenesis. Press Release. Article link. (paywall) [more inside]
Vanessa Mae Nicholson is one of Britain’s most successful young musicians. A classical violinist and former child prodigy who self-describes her crossover style as "violin techno-acoustic fusion," her fans praise her modern creativity and frenetic, lightning-fast riffs. But is her talent learned or genetic? Documentary from BBC1 in 2008: Vanessa Mae - The Making of Me: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. [more inside]
Followup to this post: A US District Court has ruled that Myriad Genetic's patents on breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, which allow them to hold exclusive rights to a widely used genetic test for inherited breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility, are invalid. Genomics Law Report analyzes the ruling in two posts. The decision is likely to be challenged in a legal appeal — but if upheld, it could have huge implications for the biotechnology industry. [more inside]
Cracking the Cancer Code: We already know that all cancers are caused by DNA mutations acquired during a person's lifetime. But what mutations actually cause cancer? We may be one step closer to finding out. International research teams led by the Cancer Genome Project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have now mapped the entire genetic code of two of the most common human cancers: lung and skin (malignant melanoma). Their findings have the potential to revolutionize preventative and treatment therapies as well as pave the way for new early detection tests. More. [more inside]
On behalf of medical organizations, universities, & individual patients, pathologists and genetics researchers, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against Utah-based Myriad Genetics and the US Patent and Trademark Office. Myriad holds the US patents to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, associated with hereditary causes of breast and ovarian cancers. Their patents guarantee the company the right to prevent anyone else from testing or studying those genes, which the ACLU says is unconstitutional and inhibits researchers from finding treatments and cures. [more inside]
The secret, social lives of bacteria. "Bonnie Bassler discovered that bacteria 'talk' to each other, using a chemical language that lets them coordinate defense and mount attacks. The find has stunning implications for medicine, industry -- and our understanding of ourselves." [Via]
Scientists Repurpose Adult Cells - "Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires associated with embryonic stem cell research." [nature abstract, nature writeup, audio announcement]
Superbugs. "The new generation of resistant infections is almost impossible to treat."
Scientists report a breakthrough in stem cell production: Stem cells created from ALS patient and used to make neurons. [Via]
Can People Regenerate Body Parts? "Progress on the road to regenerating major body parts, salamander-style, could transform the treatment of amputations and major wounds."
Canadian scientists heal spinal injuries with stem cells from skin (in rats). "Over the course of their research, the team found that skin-derived stem cells share characteristics with embryonic neural stem cells, which generate the nervous system. ... After 12 weeks, the rats were able to walk better, with more co-ordination." [more inside]
U.S. military practices genetic discrimination in denying benefits. "Those medically discharged with genetic diseases are left without disability or retirement benefits. Some are fighting back."
Simple switch turns cells embryonic. "Researchers have finally hit the jackpot: Embryo-free embryonic stem-cells!"
A British research team led by the world's leading heart surgeon has grown part of a human heart from stem cells for the first time.
For the first time, researchers have used adult bone marrow stem cells to regenerate healthy human liver tissue, according to a study published in the April issue of the journal Radiology.
"Molecular scientists . . . have developed a new procedure for the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells, with which they have created the first transplantable source of lung epithelial cells."
Dictionary of Disorder - shaping the DSM
Cancer Cure Patented A group of researchers claim that they are patenting a possible cure for cancer involving nothing more than sugar and short-chain fatty acid combination.
Obesity and Diabetes - another free supplement by Nature
Body of art "Viruses, blood, and x-rays of bones and viscera can be at once unsettling and enticing." [via]
Historical anatomy models were a marriage of art and science. From about the 13th to the 19th centuries, exquisite wax models were the state of the art. Florence's La Specola anatomical wax museum houses the works of master artists, such as Ercole Lelli, Anna Morandi, and Clemente Susini. The later years of wax models tended towards the grotesque: moulage and depictions of pathological conditions and physical anomalies. Due to the labor required and delicacy of wax models, papier-mâché became the favored production method in the 19th century, partly due to the ability to dissect the models. Over time, models became more stylized to protect the delicate sensibilities of the public. Today, models are again shocking the public with extreme realism.
Psychiatry by Prescription - Do psychotropic drugs blur the boundaries between illness and health?
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