Health and Medicine
Despite dramatic advances in neuroscience and biology in the 20th and 21st centuries, our understanding of the brain remains very limited. Dr Yan M Yufik, Head at Virtual Structures Research Inc, USA, is a physicist and cognitive scientist who has spent over 20 years combining experimental findings and theoretical concepts in domains as diverse as neuroscience and thermodynamics to form a theory of the brain. His focus has been on elucidating the mechanisms underlying human understanding and applying the results to the design of machines that can not only learn but understand what they are learning.
Legionella bacteria are known to cause Legionnaire’s disease, a potentially severe and lethal form of pneumonia. The bacteria can be classified into different serogroups forming specific sub-types of L. pneumophila. In humans, serogroup 1 is the most common cause of pneumonia, being responsible for approximately 80% of all cases. However, the other subgroups can also cause pneumonia, resulting in a range of outcomes from mild to severe, and these are more difficult to accurately detect. Dr Akihiro Ito at Kurashiki Central Hospital, Japan, is advancing the detection of all forms of L. pneumophila to facilitate more timely healthcare interventions for Legionnaires’ disease.
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is among the most impactful and costly biomedical challenges confronting society. Current treatment regimens for T2D rely upon daily drug dosing and frequent glucose monitoring to normalise blood glucose levels. However, these medications can only delay disease progression and frequently have undesired side effects including hypoglycaemia and weight gain. Growing evidence supports a key role for the brain in glucose homeostasis and diabetes pathogenesis. Dr Jarrad Scarlett and his research team at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital are working on the development of novel pharmaceuticals to target the brain to induce sustained remission of T2D.
Dr Amy Schmidt – iAMResponsibleTM: Educating Food Producers & Consumers About Antimicrobial Resistance
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the acquired ability of microorganisms to withstand the effects of medications used to treat them, is a serious and growing threat to public health. In collaboration with experts from various US institutions, Dr Amy Schmidt at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has developed a program called the iAMResponsibleTM Project, aimed at educating consumers, agricultural producers and others on the risks associated with AMR, as well as strategies to mitigate these risks.
Accidental falls are one of the leading causes of injuries and accidental death for the elderly, and the risk of falling increases significantly in those with neurological disorders or frailty. Dr Fay B Horak and her colleagues at Oregon Health & Science University and APDM Wearable Technologies, USA, are investigating the use of APDM’s novel wearable technology to monitor mobility in daily life of individuals at risk of falling to help prevent falls and identify prefrail elderly individuals.
As humans, we communicate our emotions to others in several different ways, including touch, motion, facial expression, and of course, speech. We can also communicate social information through chemosensory signals. Dr Bettina Pause, a professor at Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, has carried out extensive research exploring human communication and sensory perception, and in particular, how we quickly and effectively convey emotional states such as anxiety and aggression to others without even using words.
Dr Tammy Movsas, MD, MPH – Towards a Brighter Future: How Zietchick Research Institute Plans to Transform Treatment for Retinal Disease
Both diabetic adults and premature babies are at risk for a similar type of eye disease that involves the growth of abnormal, blood vessels in the retina, the photosensitive layer of the eye. When this eye disease occurs in diabetics, it is called diabetic retinopathy and when it occurs in premature infants, it is called retinopathy of prematurity. The pathologic vessels, seen in both of these diseases, can pull on the retina and cause it to detach, leading to blindness. Dr Tammy Movsas (Executive Director and Principal Investigator) and Dr Arivalagan Muthusamy (Chief Scientist) at the Zietchick Research Institute, USA, are developing new therapeutics to treat these serious retinal diseases that affect both premature baby eyes and mature adult eyes, such as those of diabetic women.
Sparks is a UK-based charity funded entirely by their supporters. Their current campaign, No Time to Lose, aims to raise £10 million in the next four years to find the treatments children with rare conditions urgently need. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Kiki Syrad, Director of Grants, to hear about the importance of their work and how they aim to transform the futures of children afflicted by disease.
Global Navigation Satellite Systems such as GPS are the backbone of many global communications, but they are not immune to failure. Progeny Systems Corporation is dedicated to mitigating such disasters if and when satellite-based communications fail, by developing Earth-based systems that work in comparable ways to synchronised satellite networks. As an alternative to GPS, the company’s technology could provide communicating parties with a crucial yet inexpensive safeguard against future failures.
The use of radiation therapy to treat cancer has improved the long-term outcome of thousands of patients but is associated with serious side effects. Photodynamic therapy (PDT), a targeted light-based technique, has been approved as an effective treatment for some forms of cancer with fewer side effects than radiotherapy. However, the effectiveness of this technique depends on fine-tuning its application to the patient. Simphotek, a US-based company founded by world leaders in biophysics and computer modelling, together with its collaborative partners at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, is focused on expanding novel technologies of PDT as a cancer treatment for solid tumours.
When an artery becomes blocked or damaged, a mechanical scaffold called a stent is often implanted into the vessel to improve blood flow. However, metallic stents can cause re-narrowing at the sites where they are implanted. This process is known as restenosis, which can lead to lethal complications. Dr York Hsiang, Professor of Surgery at the University of British Columbia, and his team use microengineering techniques to develop novel stents that can better detect restenosis, and treat it earlier when it occurs.
In recent years, dramatic advances have been made in brain science and molecular genetics. However, there is currently a shortage of psychiatrists with the scientific training necessary to take this knowledge and apply it in the clinic. Psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher, Dr Susan Voglmaier of the University of California, San Francisco, runs a research training program that supports the next generation of research scientists in the field of psychiatry. Dr Voglmaier believes that by training doctors in scientific techniques and methods, we may come to better understand mental illness and provide more effective treatments for psychiatric diseases in the future.
Dogs are renowned for their status as man’s best friend. Based first at the University of Colorado and now at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, Dr Jaime Modiano and his team have spent the last 25 years trying to understand how cancer develops at a basic level, aiming to use this knowledge to improve the health and wellbeing of both humans and their companion animals.
Professor Matthias Weigelt – The Psychology and Ethics of Maximising Performance in Competitive Sports
In sporting performance, developing a competitive edge over opponents is essential. Professor Matthias Weigelt at the University of Paderborn, Germany, specialises in the application of psychological theory and methods to the understanding and enhancement of athletic performance. Read on to discover how by taking a cognitive neuroscientific approach to understanding deceptive actions in sports, Professor Weigelt is unravelling the processes underlying expertise in responding to head fakes in basketball with critical ethical implications.
Professor Gerhard Rammes – Investigating the Links between General Anaesthesia and Alzheimer’s Disease
General anaesthesia may increase the build-up of amyloid beta, a protein implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Professor Gerhard Rammes and his team at the Technische Universität München, Munich, Germany, along with Dr Martina Bürge at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, UK, are researching the potential benefits of one specific anaesthetic, xenon, which in addition to having lower neurotoxicity than many other anaesthetics may also offer neuroprotective effects. These findings may have critical implications for personalised medicine in patients with dementia.
As more countries begin to decriminalise and legalise cannabis, understanding attitudes towards its use will be essential in anticipating the risks and benefits of these legislative changes. Professor Patricia Erickson of the University of Toronto and Professor Andrew Hathaway of the University of Guelph provide new insights into the attitudes and practices of both cannabis users and non-users in order to better understand the ongoing normalisation of cannabis use.
Schizophrenia is a serious psychiatric disorder that affects around 1% of the global population, producing debilitating symptoms that significantly impact upon the quality of life of sufferers. Even with treatment, prognosis is often poor with a high risk of relapse. Dr Samuel Clark of Terran Biosciences Inc and colleagues at Stony Brook University, New York, are investigating the potential of blocking one type of opioid receptor in the brain – the kappa receptor – to reduce the symptoms of the disease.
Over 30 years ago, a small group of diverse medical research charities formed the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) to unite the sector and provide it with a leading voice. Since then, their membership has grown to 146 charities and they continue to lead and support the sector in delivering high-quality research that saves and improves lives. The AMRC is now the the UK’s national membership organisation for health and medical research charities. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Aisling Burnand, AMRC’s Chief Executive, to hear about their vital work.
Professor Douglas Goff – Soluble Dietary Fibre and Type 2 Diabetes – Mechanisms of Action and Food Supplementation
There are numerous health benefits related to eating fibre-containing foods, including lowering the levels of serum glucose and lipids, thus reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, by creating an increased feeling of fullness, eating fibre-rich foods reduces caloric intake and obesity. Professor Douglas Goff from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, researches the supplementation of food with fibre and the specific mechanisms of beneficial action, with a focus on blood glucose reductions after eating a carbohydrate-rich meal. Along with his team, his goal is to define the relationship between the molecular structure and physiological functionality of soluble dietary fibres.
New advances in neural engineering have led to devices that can be operated using the nerves of the user, but the effectiveness and safety of these devices over long periods of use is a key concern. Professor Dominique Durand, Director of the Neural Engineering Center at Case Western Reserve University, leads a team of scientists looking to improve neuroprosthetics through developing new methods of interfacing with the nervous system.
Worldwide obesity has almost tripled over the past 50 years. This alarming statistic calls for new initiatives aimed at promoting better weight management, in order to prevent and treat obesity and associated diseases. Dr Michelle Schelske Santos, professor and former director of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program at the University of Puerto Rico, has been working on an academic initiative designed to enhance nutrition and dietetics education in Puerto Rico, forming professionals who are better equipped to deal with the obesity epidemic.
Professor Christine Larson – Understanding Brain Function, Cognition, and Emotion in Psychopathology
Mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders significantly impact on the quality of life of sufferers, their physical health and psycho-social functioning. Given the high prevalence and extent of impairment inflicted on affected individuals, the economic cost to public health is substantial. Professor Christine Larson at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA, seeks to identify new and more effective targets for intervention by better understanding the relationship between brain function, cognitive processing, and emotion.
Atherosclerosis is a global health issue. Atherosclerosis is a multifactorial chronic inflammatory disease characterised by the accumulation of modified lipoproteins and immune cells in the aortic wall, vascular dysfunction, low-grade chronic inflammation, and formation of dangerous atherosclerotic plaques within the medium and large size vessels. Atherosclerosis is a prominent cause of cardiovascular diseases and mortality in many countries and this disease is closely associated with type 2 diabetes. Dr Elena Galkina, Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Cell Biology at Eastern Virginia Medical School, USA, has been working to determine the immune processes involved in an attempt to identify much-needed novel therapies.
Effective treatments for cognitive dysfunction, such as declines in memory and other mental faculties often associated with depression or old age, may be within reach, according to Professor Etienne Sibille at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the University of Toronto, Canada. Professor Sibille has shown for the first time that newly synthesised compounds targeting GABA receptors improve specific types of memory in mice, opening the door to the development of effective new pharmacological options.
Dr Elizabeth Nance has an impressive track record. Now a Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Washington, USA, Dr Nance’s work centres around the use of nanoparticles to deliver therapeutic agents to the brain, a seemingly simple operation which is confounded by a highly regulated blood brain barrier which prevents access to the brain and a complex brain environment which prevents access to diseased cells. Her current work also investigates the potential use of nanoparticles to probe tissue environments to map tissue structure, and how tissue structure changes in the presence of a disease.
For many years, Dr Matthew Boisen, Director of Diagnostics Development at Zalgen Labs, has focussed on trying to understand Lassa fever. Part of the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium, his group’s objectives are threefold: first, to develop fast and accurate diagnostics for Lassa fever; second, to design new therapeutic approaches; and third, to create an effective vaccine providing long-term protection against this condition.
Research into animal fear typically utilises laboratory techniques based on Pavlovian fear conditioning, but these approaches are limited. Professor Jeansok Kim, from the Department of Psychology, University of Washington (USA) has developed a much more realistic way to study fear that closely mimics risky conditions in the wild. New discoveries by Professor Kim and his team are challenging existing paradigms and providing exciting insights into the underlying brain mechanisms of fear in both animals and humans.
To accomplish even a simple goal, our brain must coordinate thousands of pieces of information, remember which parts are relevant, and ignore anything that is extraneous. Dr Mark D’Esposito of the University of California, Berkeley, studies how different parts of the brain work together to create working memory, the cognitive system that temporarily and actively holds information in mind allowing us to complete complex tasks.
The brain is the most mysterious organ in the human body – despite decades of research, we have just begun to scratch the surface in understanding how the brain works and how we can help it to heal following an injury. Professor Mark D’Esposito of the University of California, Berkeley, uses advanced imaging technology to illuminate how the connections in our brain function in order to find new ways to aid brain healing after injury.
Two-dimensional transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) guided biopsy is the standard method for prostate cancer diagnosis. However, the technique is limited in one respect – it can be prone to sampling error. Cancers can be missed, or their severity grossly underestimated. To address this, Dr Baowei Fei, from the University of Texas (UT) at Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center, is pioneering a technique that merges positron emission tomography (PET) with TRUS to detect prostate cancer more accurately than before.