Health and Medicine
Great advances in the field of science and medicine have seen treatments and cures developed for some of the worst diseases ever known. Despite this, the potentially devastating, but sadly common occurrence of preterm birth is not yet preventable. Dr Iain Buxton at the University of Nevada, USA, has been studying the role of the smooth muscle of the uterus to elucidate its role in preterm labour and birth. His research is paving the way for the development of much-needed interventions to prevent early birth.
Mutations affecting the expression of cone photoreceptors can lead to retinal degeneration, which in many cases can result in a permanent loss of vision. However, preclinical models for human retinal degenerative diseases are lacking. Dr Zi-Bing Jin and his colleagues study rhesus macaque models of achromatopsia (a congenital disorder characterised by an inability to distinguish colours) and oculocutaneous albinism (characterised by a disorder of melanin synthesis, leading to loss of visual acuity). The animal models utilised in the Jin laboratory offer important opportunities for studies on disease mechanisms as well as therapeutic development.
Dr Susanne M. Jaeggi, Dr Anja Pahor and Dr Aaron R. Seitz – Moving Beyond ‘One-size-fits-all’ Brain Training Solutions
Brain training allows us to improve our cognition in the same way that gym workouts improve our physical health. The ultimate goal is transferable learning, which improves performance in real-world activities beyond the original training tasks. Dr Susanne M. Jaeggi, Dr Anja Pahor and Dr Aaron R. Seitz from the University of California Irvine and Riverside, are collectively driving forward exciting advances in brain training, as well as addressing the controversy surrounding its effectiveness and limitations. Above all, they aim to understand the key ingredients for creating successful interventions.
Incessant ‘beeps’ from medical devices are an all-too-common feature of hospital environments. Whether monitoring patient vital signs or warning of imminent emergencies, they form an integral part of modern clinical practice. For historical reasons, these devices generally communicate using simplistic beeps. This creates significant problems for both clinicians (who can struggle to differentiate the messages) and patients (who find them annoying and frustrating). Dr Michael Schutz from McMaster University is applying insights from musicians’ use of sound to improve the quality of the auditory signals used in the life saving devices filling hospitals around the world.
Water is vital to sustaining human life and the contamination of drinking water can lead to disease and death. Dr Steve E. Hrudey from the University of Alberta’s Division of Analytical & Environmental Toxicology has identified the challenges of providing safe drinking water and clarified misconceptions regarding threats to drinking water safety. Based on his research findings, he has provided critical recommendations for the provision of safe drinking water to protect public health.
A transcription factor known as Early B-Cell Factor 1 (EBF1) is key to the formation of fat cells, called adipocytes. Although it is also active in mature adipocytes, the function of EBF1 at this stage has been unclear. Dr Michael Griffin at Sam Houston State University in Texas is investigating how EBF1 is involved in the process of adipose tissue inflammation caused by obesity. This type of inflammation is believed to be the underlying cause of a multitude of diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer.
Professor Patricia Leahy-Warren – Exploring Models of Nursing and Midwifery in the Community: International and National Perspectives
Across the world, primary care is increasingly being embraced as central to healthcare services. Effective delivery requires an efficient and cost-effective community-based model of care. However, no single overarching model of nursing and midwifery practice in the community exists in the literature. A collaboration of experts, headed by Professor Patricia Leahy-Warren from the Catherine McAuley School of Nursing and Midwifery at University College Cork in Ireland, is addressing this complex but critical gap to guide the development of nursing and midwifery in the community in Ireland.
Dr Natalia Sira – A Holistic Approach to Health Necessitates a Deeper Understanding of Human Development
Connecting body and mind through the consideration of both the physical and psychological components of health helps determine our reactions and developmental behaviour. Furthermore, the ways in which we achieve our optimal developmental potential manage how well we can adapt and cope with changes in our environment, deal with stresses in life and maintain overall well-being. Dr Natalia Sira from East Carolina University is improving patient care by taking a holistic and individualised approach to health outcomes, treatment and rehabilitation, focusing on the role of family relationships, developmental needs and spirituality as important components of coping mechanisms.
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide and understanding the development of the disease is essential for prevention and treatment. Dr T. Colin Campbell from Cornell University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences proposes the intriguing theory that cancer is not primarily a genetic disease but a nutrition-responsive disease. By conducting numerous animal and human studies, he is providing convincing evidence on the importance of diet, particularly the consumption of animal-based protein, in the development of cancer.
Environmental factors and genetics both play a part in how our brains function, whether that be in a healthy or disordered manner. Understanding the processes by which mental health disorders arise is an important step in developing effective therapies. Dr Jyoti Mishra founded NEATLabs at the University of California, San Diego, to work towards this goal. Her exciting research is advancing cognitive brain mapping to investigate brain functions as well as novel digital therapeutics that are personalised to individual needs.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prevalent psychiatric condition, significantly impacting the lives of millions of people globally. Sadly, symptoms often persist despite treatment. A better understanding of the brain abnormalities involved in PTSD is crucial to improving therapy development. Dr Israel Liberzon and his colleagues at the Texas A&M Health Sciences Centre have been working to uncover the dysfunctional neural networks that contribute to PTSD symptoms to inform the development of more effective interventions.
The incidence of pancreatic disease, including pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer, is on the rise, but currently, preventative measures and effective treatments are scarce. Dr Stephen Pandol at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is working to change this. Dr Pandol carries out broad and far-reaching research, ranging from how lifestyle factors impact pancreatic disease to the molecular and cellular mechanisms behind pancreatic cancer resulting from obesity. His dedicated work has led to significant progress in the field and is driving forward the potential for better patient outcomes.
Neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) are a complex group of diseases that profoundly impact the human population, emerging during brain development but often affecting individuals throughout their lives. Human models of NDDs are needed, as many aspects of both the human genome sequence and brain development are human-specific and not recapitulated in animal models. Dr Kristen Kroll, in the Department of Developmental Biology at Washington University School of Medicine, has spent her career modelling neural development and identifying how its disruption can contribute to NDDs.
Decades of research indicate that mental health conditions and psychiatric disorders have a strong genetic basis. Expanding our understanding of mental health by encompassing a more systemic approach may help us improve both diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Chunyu Liu and his team from SUNY Upstate Medical University are using big data to discover the genetic and molecular changes in the brain that occur with different psychiatric disorders. His studies are helping us understand the diversity of human behaviour and develop new methods to treat mental health conditions.
Attention disorders range from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to multitasking difficulties due to aging. Regardless of the cause, such difficulties can have a negative impact on peoples’ lives. Dr Adam Gazzaley from the University of California San Francisco has carried out extensive research exploring how customized technology can be utilized to strengthen attention capabilities in individuals across the lifespan. His work has driven him to develop innovative technology companies and software as well as educate us on the benefits of experimental medicine.
The presentation and characteristics of cancer in dogs often resemble those seen in people. This observation led Dr Elinor Karlsson, based at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, to consider whether these pets could be a good model to study the disease in humans. Dr Karlsson, along with an established multidisciplinary team of collaborators, is working to identify the similarities between cancers in humans and dogs and translate this into better therapeutic approaches for both species.
The arrival of COVID-19 changed the world as we knew it. Global priorities underwent seismic shifts and measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 changed our daily and working lives beyond recognition. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Worldwide Cancer Research’s Director of Research, Dr Lynn Turner, to hear how the pandemic has impacted the ongoing battle against cancer, and what challenges must now be faced as a result.
Cancer presents a global challenge. With over 17 million new cases of cancer worldwide in 2018 and 9.6 million deaths in the same year, better approaches to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer are urgently required.
Founded in 1979, Worldwide Cancer Research is a UK-based charity dedicated to meeting these needs by starting new cancer cures worldwide. In this exclusive interview, we speak again with Worldwide Cancer Research’s Chief Executive, Dr Helen Rippon, to hear about their recent efforts and plans for the future.
Professor Mary Rezk-Hanna – Hookah (i.e., Waterpipe) Smoking: Understanding User Perceptions and Health Risks
Hookah smoking is the least regulated tobacco form. It is rapidly gaining in popularity to the extent that we are now facing a contemporary epidemic of tobacco abuse. Of particular concern is the level of usage among youth and young adults. Professor Mary Rezk-Hanna from the University of California, Los Angeles works with a group of scientists who aim to drive policy regulation of tobacco and alternative tobacco products, including hookah smoking, by investigating their health effects on the cardiovascular system.
Neurodevelopmental disorders range from those on the relatively common autism spectrum to much rarer disorders such as KDM5C-disorder and Weidemann-Steiner Syndrome. Exciting advancements in human genetics have shown that histones – the proteins our DNA wraps around – play a vital role in healthy brain development. Dr Shigeki Iwase from the University of Michigan studies how mutations in the enzymes that regulate histone structure and function can cause cognitive disorders. His work has led to important new discoveries, including how counterpart enzymes can be utilised for therapies.
Shockingly, there are around 55,200 new breast cancer cases in the UK every year. As such, breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women and a leading cause of cancer death. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Richard Bahu, Chair of Trustees at the UK research charity Against Breast Cancer to hear about their vital work.
Exposure to childhood trauma increases the risk of developing mental health issues in adulthood. However, the processes through which this occurs are currently unknown. Using magnetic resonance imaging, laboratory-based measurements of fear, and the assessment of clinical symptomatology, Dr Tanja Jovanovic from Wayne State University is investigating the effect that trauma has on brain development. She hopes her findings will help identify those children at risk of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder so that preventative measures can be put in place to ensure brighter futures for children in their adulthood years.
Dr. Roy Jafari – Artificial Neural Networks: Utilising Machine Learning for Equitable Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women, and it is pivotal that it is diagnosed correctly and promptly. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now widely used in diagnosis to produce more accurate results. Dr. Roy Jafari from the University of Redlands is training a type of AI called an Artificial Neural Network to make more equitable diagnosis decisions for patients. He hopes that focussing on decision-making will reduce stress on patients and create a better care experience.
As medicine progresses, new techniques are needed to visualise abnormal extracellular structures with greater specificity and resolution. Currently, there is a clear lack of molecular tools to image extracellular structures with the detail needed for early diagnosis of various medical conditions. Based at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Collaborative Research Centre 1340 represents a large collaboration of researchers from institutions across Berlin, who are working to establish new methods for medical imaging and research at the anatomical and molecular levels.
Dr Jessica Galgano – Exploring the Neural Mechanisms of Speech and Language to Inform Clinical Practice
The neural mechanisms behind speech and voice production are intricate but not yet fully characterised. For speech and vocal disordered populations, understanding the central mechanisms behind speech and sound production is essential to improve treatment options and rehabilitation techniques. Taking a scientist-practitioner approach, Dr Jessica Galgano, of New York University Grossman School of Medicine and founder of Open Lines Speech and Communication, is researching the underpinnings of speech and the clinical efficacy of current treatments for voice, speech, and language disorders.
While antibiotics have transformed modern medicine, helped to extend life expectancy in the UK by as much as 20 years and saved millions of lives around the world, the rapid rise of resistance to these drugs presents an imminent global health disaster if not adequately managed in the very near future. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Professor Colin Garner, founder and Chief Executive of Antibiotic Research UK, the world’s first charity focussing on bacterial antibiotic resistance, to hear about their vital efforts targeted at overcoming the challenge of antibiotic resistance.
Founded in 1992, Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading dementia research charity. Their work is dedicated to furthering our understanding of the causes, diagnosis, prevention, treatment and cure of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Characterised by declines in memory and other cognitive functions such as thinking and reasoning, these progressively worsening neurodegenerative and ultimately fatal diseases sadly remain without a cure. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Ian Wilson, Deputy Chief Executive, to hear about the vital work conducted by Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Bacteria are found everywhere – in humans, animals and the environment – and are best known for being able to cause painful and even fatal infections. It may come as surprise, therefore, to learn that bacteria can also have useful applications. The lifetime work of Dr Bert Lampson at East Tennessee State University in the USA has focussed on the dangers and applications of bacteria. Over his career, Dr Lampson has discovered new mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, novel antibiotics, and bacterial proteins, with important applications for science and healthcare.
The availability of skilled health practitioners is fundamental to the health of a nation. Unfortunately, many countries experience shortages of healthcare professionals. Shortages typically result when too few choose to enter the health professions and when too many exit the health professions, whether to pursue an alternate career or to retire. Dr Sarah Hewko, based at the University of Prince Edward Island, is conducting valuable research into the reasons why health professionals retire earlier than planned.
When the concentration of antioxidants and free radicals in your cells is out of balance, they experience oxidative stress. This may, in turn, result in damage to important cellular components that alter their original function, potentially having a role in the progression/development of disease. Professor Marino Resendiz from the University of Colorado Denver is researching how the modifications generated by oxidative stress alter the function and structure of RNA, an important component of all cellular organisms. His work has already demonstrated some of the changes that oxidative damage can result in, and how the oxidative modifications may potentially lead to novel structures with potential therapeutic uses.
Professor Hani El-Gabalawy – Emerging Approaches to the Detection and Prevention of Rheumatoid Arthritis in a Predisposed Indigenous North American Population
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term, systematic disease that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. Professor Hani El-Gabalawy and his research team from the University of Manitoba in Canada are finding ways of better identifying those at risk for future RA as a prelude to developing and testing prevention strategies. Since other autoimmune diseases are known to have similar preclinical phases, prevention strategies that can effectively lower the risk of developing RA can potentially be adapted and applied to a broad range of similar disorders.
Professor Tara Perrot and her team at Dalhousie University, Canada, are working to better understand how early development – including the experiences of parents before their offspring are even born – may influence the stress reactions and resilience of their offspring later in life. This research involves not only looking at the brain and hormones but also the gut, and holds important implications for understanding human stress reactivity in the current day.