Health and Medicine
Substance abuse in college students is a particular concern. Dr Susan Kennedy, Department of Psychology at Denison University in Ohio, USA, recently led a collaboration with colleagues from the Ohio State University and Kenyon College to explore alcohol and drug use in college students. More specifically, Dr Kennedy and the team wanted to identify at-risk groups and promote student well-being.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted an explosion of clinical trials into preventative, therapeutic and diagnostic products. Dr Lisa Cooper and her colleagues at The State University of New Jersey in the USA recently investigated the relationship between the type of clinical trial sponsor (i.e., industry, academic or other) and research response time to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Abigail Raffner Basson | Inflammatory Bowel Disease: The Influence of Our Microbiota and the Impact of Diet
Chronic inflammation within the digestive tract is known as inflammatory bowel disease. While the incidence is increasing, unfortunately, we do not yet fully understand what causes the condition or have a cure for it. Dr Abigail Raffner Basson from Case Western Reserve University is investigating the underlying mechanism of this disease and conducting clinical research into how diet can be used to control the debilitating, lifelong symptoms.
The transfer of genetic information from a parent to their offspring via deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is fundamental for the survival of a species. Evidence is emerging that epigenetic information – information independent of underlying DNA sequence – can also be transmitted to offspring and that parental environment can alter epigenetic information and influence the characteristics of future generations. Dr Upasna Sharma’s work as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School discovered a previously undescribed mode of epigenetic inheritance in sperm, and provides evidence that paternal diet can influence the descendants’ metabolic state via epigenetic mechanisms.
Attention allows us to plan and monitor our thoughts and, thus, is a critical step in the learning process. Learning can then change the physical structure of the brain. This is the reason why a team of scientists at the University of Oregon, led by Drs Michael Posner and Cristopher Niell, are exploring the effects of attention on learning and how learning changes the brain.
The health hazards associated with occupational asbestos exposure are widely acknowledged and extensively studied. However, emerging evidence suggests that prolonged exposure to environmental asbestos may trigger serious and debilitating autoimmune conditions, although the mechanistic actions remain poorly understood. Dr Jean Pfau and colleagues in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology at Montana State University, Bozeman, USA, have discovered a novel autoimmune disease linked to a specific type of asbestos, and have conducted extensive research regarding the causes, symptoms, and progression of this deadly condition.
Dr Karel O’Brien | Family Integrated Care: A Transformative Model Supporting Parenting in Neonatal Intensive Care Units
Staying in neonatal intensive care units is extremely difficult, not only for the babies requiring specialist care but also for their parents. Dr Karel O’Brien from the University of Toronto is part of a wider community of scientists who have devoted their careers to studying the benefits of family-centred models in neonatal units. This vital work is improving the physical and psychological outcomes for families involved in this critical but challenging and stressful process.
Acute vestibular syndrome is one of the most common reasons people present at hospital with dizziness. The symptoms can arise from damage within the brain or the ear, and specialist medical knowledge or equipment is typically needed to determine the specific cause. Dr Nakatsuka from the University of Sydney in Australia has conducted a large-scale analysis and review of the published literature to determine if well-trained emergency physicians can differentiate between the two causes using a quick bedside physical examination without expensive special equipment.
Musculoskeletal pain can be extremely debilitating and although common, it can also be difficult to treat. Dr Joshua Boucher, an osteopathic physician based at Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, is working to show how the Fascial Distortion Model (FDM) can alleviate the pain and decreased function associated with musculoskeletal injuries. His encouraging findings are establishing the FDM as a useful clinical tool, and more research is already underway.
In precision medicine, disease prevention and treatments are specifically tailored to each individual patient, taking into account their genetics and physical function. For individuals with cancer, clinicians can carry out genomic testing to identify key markers that can be targeted for treatment. While advances in medicine mean that precision medicine has become more accessible, the efficacy of the approach in cancer remains unclear. Dr Xin-Hua Zhu at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell is committed to providing definitive answers as to how best we can use precision medicine in cancer treatment.
Heart attacks and cardiovascular disease are broadly considered to be the result of unhealthy habits and underlying health issues. However, pioneering research led by interventional cardiologist Professor Gemma Figtree from the University of Sydney reveals that approximately one-quarter of first-time heart attack patients do not have any known modifiable risk factors. These patients develop ‘silent’ coronary artery disease, without any warning signs. Professor Figtree and her international team at CAD Frontiers are pioneering a new approach to heart attack prevention that goes beyond traditional risk factors and symptoms.
Safety signals are learned cues that predict the non-occurrence of an aversive event and are effective in inhibiting fear and maintaining fear-motivated behaviours in anxious individuals. However, the role of inhibitory learning mechanisms in producing ‘conditioned inhibitors’ in response to safety signals has received little attention. The need to better understand this has become more pressing given the increased levels of health anxiety and safety behaviours resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor Helen Cassaday at the University of Nottingham and colleague Dr Meghan Thurston have evaluated the role that safety learning plays in anxiety, inhibitory learning and concerns about COVID-19.
Shigella flexneri is a species of bacteria that causes approximately 270 million cases of Shigellosis (bacillary dysentery) each year, resulting in more than 200,000 deaths worldwide. Professor Hervé Agaisse and his team, based at the University of Virginia, USA, have proposed a new model of the disease. By adopting a multidisciplinary approach, they have recapitulated the symptoms caused by Shigella flexneri in the laboratory, enabling them to determine more precisely how these bacteria cause disease.
Dental imaging has come a long way in the last 20 years. Mr Yihua Zhu and colleagues from the University of California have investigated new imaging methods and compared their performance to longstanding, traditional techniques. Mr Zhu and his fellow researchers have built upon short wavelength infrared transillumination (SWIR) and invented a dual probe for investigating dental cavities and, more recently, a new method of SWIR multispectral transillumination and reflective imaging. Their research offers a novel, highly sensitive and efficient approach to the visualisation of dental cavities, the progression of tooth decay, and the assessment of other common problems in dentistry.
Dr Dawn Bowles | An Extremely Challenging Environment: Understanding the Molecular and Physiological Responses to Space Travel
Environmental stressors have an adverse impact on mammalian physiology, although biological systems are adept at evolving in response to regularly occurring stressors. However, the biological alterations resulting from less frequently encountered stressors are incompletely understood. Dr Dawn Bowles and her colleagues at Duke University Medical School are conducting experiments into the effects of the space environment on astronauts to further our understanding of the impacts of this extremely challenging environment.
Dr Cristina Oliva and Professor Giampiero Favato | Unravelling How COVID-19 Mathematics Impact Behaviour Change
Mathematical models for predicting the spread of COVID-19 directly influenced public health measures around the world, significantly impacting everyone’s day-to-day activities. At Kingston University, Dr Cristina Oliva and Professor Giampiero Favato are leading the way in COVID-19 research, looking at how complex statistical data is communicated to the general public. Their valuable work is helping drive changes in behaviour that could reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Ms Loes Oomen | Improving Outcomes in Patients with Complex Urology Conditions: The ERN eUROGEN Experience
Patients with rare diseases and complex conditions pose unique challenges for clinicians, largely due to limited exposure to their associated anomalies. To overcome clinical obstacles, the European Commission launched a new Cross Border Health Innovation involving European experts in urology who have formed a European Reference Network (ERN) to facilitate knowledge sharing and skill development amongst healthcare providers. Recently, Ms Loes Oomen and colleagues in the Department of Urology at the Radboudumc Amalia Children’s Hospital in The Netherlands have reviewed the clinical activity and procedures across this newly established network and identified potential areas for improvement.
Prostate cancer is a leading cause of illness and death in men around the world, and to date, no prevention strategies have been discovered. Dr Anait S. Levenson and a team of cancer researchers from Long Island University in the United States of America are working to advance our understanding of how and why prostate cancer develops. Their important work also demonstrates how compounds found in foods such as grapes and blueberries may help prevent the development and progression of cancer.
Knee injuries can be notoriously complex. In recent years, many studies have attempted to investigate a potential link between the geometry of the knee and the risk of injury to a ligament called the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). Dr Alan Barhorst from the University of Lousiana at Lafayette, alongside colleague Mr Ross Wilson, enlisted the help of two robots to perform a biomechanical study of this phenomenon. Their findings provide valuable insight into our vulnerability to ACL injuries.
Associate Professor Dong-Joo (Ellen) Cheon | Knowledge is Power: Improving Outcomes in Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecological cancer and has the highest mortality rate of all female reproductive cancers in the United States. A lack of early detection, typically aggressive progression, and rapid development of resistance to chemotherapy are key contributing factors to the mortality rate. Dr. Dong-Joo (Ellen) Cheon and her team at Albany Medical College are working to determine the role of key players in the resistance to chemotherapy treatments and examining how best we can target these therapeutically to improve survival.
Chronic kidney disease is a common but irreversible condition with an increasing worldwide prevalence. The significant patient morbidity and mortality are accompanied by an unmet clinical need for more effective testing methods to identify affected patients and patients at high risk at the early stages of the disease, before it becomes irreversible. Dr. Aaron Carrithers and Dr. Stephen Carrithers at PrognostX Health have developed a new test to help reduce the number of patients progressing to late-stage chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease, aiming to improve human health and reduce the financial burdens on our pressured healthcare systems.
Child labour is a major social problem that contributes to poor physical health and lower educational achievement. Professor Alberto Posso (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) worked with Professor Simon Feeny (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), Dr Ahmed Skali (University of Groningen), Professor Amalendu Jyotishi (Azim Premji University), Dr Shyam Nath (Amrita University) and Dr P. K. Viswanathan (Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham) to address important gaps in the literature by conducting a large-scale study of children in rural areas of India. This work confirms the hugely negative impact of child labour on psychosocial well-being and opens up important implications for policy, practice and future research.
Professor Thomas Feuerstein | A Paradox Explained: Why a Super Selective β1-blocker Works in Acute Heart Failure
β1-adrenoceptors are found in the heart where they bind neurotransmitters/hormones such as noradrenaline and adrenaline. The binding of these β1-adrenoceptors agonists activates a response in the heart muscle that helps regulate the heart’s beat and contractile force. Drugs that block the action of these receptors are an established treatment for those suffering from left ventricular dysfunction due to chronic heart failure. However, their use in the acute setting is controversial. Professor Thomas Feuerstein of the University Hospital Freiburg in Germany and Dr Günther Krumpl of the Medical Research Network in Vienna are challenging these sceptical attitudes through mathematical modelling.
Kinases take energy from adenosine triphosphate molecules to fuel other molecules in performing vital biological processes. Dr Xu Hannah Zhang at City of Hope, Los Angeles, has worked with colleagues to better understand the p38 family of kinases, and in particular, how the p38γ isoform plays a role in cancer. Her work has shown – for the first time – that p38γ is much more than just a kinase, and her recent studies point to new avenues in the search for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma therapeutics.
Cell membranes are critical for cellular life. The effective extraction of proteins and lipids from cell membranes is a necessity for research, but traditional methods may damage the membrane components and limit the accuracy of data. Dr Youzhong Guo at Virginia Commonwealth University has recently developed a revolutionary method for the extraction of membrane components in the format of native cell membrane nanoparticles to allow in-depth structural studies of membrane proteins whilst preserving functionality and limiting damage to vital mechanisms. This exciting work is driving forward the understanding of the structure, function and protein-lipid interactions of membrane protein.
Consciousness is a vast and complex topic. Dr Birgitta Dresp-Langley, Research Director at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France, takes a revolutionary and exciting new perspective in her reasoning on how consciousness came to be and how we can harness its power for a better world.
Recent work in humans and rodents suggests that consuming nutrients rich in nitrate improves exercise performance, although scientists do not fully understand the mechanisms behind this phenomenon. Dr. Rosa Keller from Oregon State University in the USA, worked with colleagues to investigate the effects of nitrate on muscle function. Unconventionally, the scientists decided to study the effect of nitrate in zebrafish. They observed that keeping fish in nitrate-containing water increased their ability to swim for extensive periods. Analysing chemical changes in the treated animals provided major novel insights into the inner workings of energy use during exercise.
Dr Michael Richardson – Dr Rachel Kallen | Stepping into the Future: Enhancing Interactions Between Humans and Machines
Dr Michael Richardson and Dr Rachel Kallen from Macquarie University in Sydney have demonstrated through a wide body of research, that machines can play a vital role in collaborating with humans on perceptual-motor tasks. A key focus of Dr Richardson and Dr Kallen’s cutting-edge research is enhancing the performance of artificial agents using dynamic motor primitives, to create more natural and effective interactions with humans.
Medical nanoparticles are an innovative method of delivering drugs to highly specific locations in the body, such as tumours or across the blood-brain barrier. Once a nanoparticle has entered the bloodstream, it forms a crown of surrounding biomolecules called a corona. The composition of this corona depends on its biological environment and the material of the nanoparticle itself and it has significant implications for how the nanoparticle interacts with the human body. Dr Alessia Besford from the Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research Dresden studies these interactions and how they can be refined to develop more effective medical nanoparticles.
Worldwide, people are living longer lives. One outcome of this is that the prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases whereby the cells in the brain stop working or even die, is also increasing. Based in KU Leuven’s Department of Biology, Belgium, Professor Lieve Moons has been working to better understand how the central nervous system can regrow and repair, with a particular focus on ageing. Her work has important implications for identifying new therapeutic targets for neurorepair in elderly humans.
People living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) now have very effective treatment options to allow them to live long lives but the need for new and improved therapeutics remains. Dr Delphine Muriaux from Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in Montpellier, France, researches HIV infection and replication utilising advanced state-of-the-art microscopy. This super-resolution imaging has led to new findings on the importance of the HIV-1 Gag proteins and the cellular host co-factor IRSp53, a membrane curving protein, and how they interact with host cell membranes.
Professor Gregory S. Anderson | Professor R. Nicholas Carleton – Building Resilience in Public Safety Personnel
While it is impossible to imagine a stress-free working environment, border services personnel, correctional workers, firefighters, operational and intelligence personnel, paramedics, police, public safety communicators, and search and rescue personnel are regularly exposed to dramatic, potentially psychologically traumatic experiences. Unsurprisingly, people working in these professions suffer from mental health challenges more often than the general population. The research of Professors Anderson and Carleton focuses on improving the well-being of these key workers in Canada.