Google doodle honours oldest pupil


Google image of Kimani Maruge in class
Google has created a doodle to honour a Kenyan believed to be the oldest person to have enrolled in primary school.

The doodle on the internet giant’s Kenya home page marks the 11th anniversary since Kimani Maruge went to school for the first time, aged 84.

Mr Maruge, who died in 2009, said when he started lessons that he wanted to learn to read the Bible and to count.

Google said its doodle was a reminder that it is never too late to learn something new.

Mr Maruge, a veteran of Kenya’s struggle for independence from British rule, rose to fame when he enrolled at a school in the town of Eldoret in western Kenya on 12 January 2004.

“Kimani Maruge was an extraordinary Kenyan whose passion for education throughout his life shines as a beacon worldwide on the importance of lifelong learning,” said Dorothy Ooky, Google’s communications manager for East and Francophone Africa.

Kimani Nganga Maruge, 84, sits on 19 January 2008 in Eldoret, western Kenya
Mr Maruge went to the same school as his grandchildren

“Doodles are used to celebrate the lives of famous scientists, artists, and pioneers throughout history and Google is thrilled to feature a Kenyan whose life stood for such an important cause.”

Although he had no papers to prove his age, Mr Maruge was said to have been 84 when he enrolled at Kapkenduiywo primary school.

Two of his grandchildren had attended the same school.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists him as the oldest person ever to have begun primary school.

After starting lessons, he lived for a further five years before dying of stomach cancer in 2009.

Patient’s 3D kidney model used in op


John Cousins with a model of his kidney
John Cousins was initially giving a presentation to doctors about 3D printing when he became ill

A man created a 3D scan of his own kidney to help the surgeons who were operating on him.

John Cousins had been giving a presentation to doctors about the future of 3D printing in the NHS when he collapsed and was taken to hospital.

After receiving images confirming he had a kidney stone, he used them to print a model used in the operation.

Mr Cousins said: “Whilst I was lying in bed I thought, hang on, we could utilise the technology.”

On Monday, surgeons at Southampton General Hospital referred to the model during a two-hour operation to remove the stone.

3D kidney scan
It took five hours for the 3D printers to construct a model of Mr Cousin’s kidney
Model of kidney with kidney stone
The model revealed the size and ‘stag head’ shape of the kidney stone
Kidney stone operationSurgeon Bhaskar Somani referred to the model during the two-hour operation

Mr Cousins had been explaining the virtues of the technology to surgeons from Bournemouth Hospital when he fell to the floor in agony.

“It was the sheer pain, I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said.

“I was just demonstrating how the machine works, but I was in so much pain that 10 minutes later I was in an ambulance.”

Doctors discovered Mr Cousins had both appendicitis and a “stag head” kidney stone, so called because of its antler-shaped branches.

Mr Cousins said: “We believe 3D printing should be for all, and not just for one-offs.

“At the moment they look at a 2D screen. If we can give them a physical model ultimately they could reduce the time it takes for the operation, and if you do that you can reduce infection rates.”

Surgeon Bhaskar Somani said the technology, which is more often used in “high-end” operations such as hip replacement surgery, could speed up procedures by 30 minutes.

He hopes a trial with 20 other patients at the hospital will demonstrate its usefulness in future cases.

“It makes our job easier going in,” he said. “This was a large stone, almost 3.5cm, so it’s quite a big bulk and the 3D helps because it gives us a rough estimation of where to come from and to be more precise.”

Inactivity ‘kills more than obesity’


Inactive man

A lack of exercise could be killing twice as many people as obesity in Europe, a 12-year study of more than 300,000 people suggests.

University of Cambridge researchers said about 676,000 deaths each year were down to inactivity, compared with 337,000 from carrying too much weight.

They concluded that getting everyone to do at least 20 minutes of brisk walking a day would have substantial benefits.

Experts said exercise was beneficial for people of any weight.

Obesity and inactivity often go hand in hand.

However, it is known that thin people have a higher risk of health problems if they are inactive. And obese people who exercise are in better health than those that do not.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, attempted to tease out the relative dangers of inactivity and obesity.

Obese v inactive

Researchers followed 334,161 Europeans for 12 years. They assessed exercise levels and waistlines and recorded every death.

“The greatest risk [of an early death] was in those classed inactive, and that was consistent in normal weight, overweight and obese people,” one of the researchers, Prof Ulf Ekelund told BBC News.

He said eliminating inactivity in Europe would cut mortality rates by nearly 7.5%, or 676,000 deaths, but eliminating obesity would cut rates by just 3.6%.

Prof Ekelund added: “But I don’t think it’s a case of one or the other. We should also strive to reduce obesity, but I do think physical activity needs to be recognised as a very important public health strategy.”

Woman walking

Prof Ekelund, who is based in Norway, is into cross country skiing and clocks up at least five hours of vigorous exercise each week.

However, he says all it would need to transform health, is brisk walking.

“I think people need to consider their 24-hour day.

“Twenty minutes of physical activity, equivalent to a brisk walk, should be possible for most people to include on their way to or from work, or on lunch breaks, or in the evening instead of watching TV.”

The diseases caused by inactivity and obesity were largely the same, such as cardiovascular disease. However, type 2 diabetes was more common with obesity.

Tackle both

Commenting on the findings, Barbara Dinsdale, from the charity Heart Research UK, said: “This study once again reinforces the importance of being physically active, even when carrying excess weight.

“Changing your lifestyle is all good news for heart health, but physical activity is always easier to achieve and maintain without carrying the extra ‘body baggage’ of too much weight.”

Prof John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said changes were needed to make exercise easier.

“We need substantial investment in cycling infrastructure to make our streets safer.

“If more people cycled or walked to work or school, it would make a big difference in raising levels of physical activity.”

Long working hours linked to increased risky alcohol use .


Employees who work more than 48 hours per week are more likely to engage in risky alcohol consumption than those who work standard weeks, finds a new study. Risky alcohol consumption is considered as more than 14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men. It is believed to increase risk of adverse health problems, including liver diseases, cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and mental disorders.

Employees who work more than 48 hours per week are more likely to engage in risky alcohol consumption than those who work standard weeks.
Employees who work more than 48 hours per week are more likely to engage in risky alcohol consumption than those who work standard weeks, finds a new study published in The BMJ.

Risky alcohol consumption is considered as more than 14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men. It is believed to increase risk of adverse health problems, including liver diseases, cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and mental disorders.

In order to protect the health and safety of the workforce, the European Union Working Time Directive (EUWT) ensures that workers in EU countries have the right to work no more than 48 hours a week, including overtime. But many people, for example well educated managers and professionals work much longer hours to achieve faster promotions, salary increases, and more control over work and employment.

Previous research has found a link between working longer hours and risky alcohol consumption, but this has involved only small, tentative studies. While alcohol may help to ease the stress of working long periods of time, risky consumption is also associated with difficulties in the workplace, including increased sick leave, poor performance, impaired decision making and occupational injuries.

Marianna Virtanen and colleagues here provide the first systematic analysis on the association between long working hoursand alcohol use.

In a cross sectional analysis of 333,693 people in 14 countries, they found that longer working hours increased the likelihood of higher alcohol use by 11%. A prospective analysis found a similar increase in risk of 12% for onset of risky alcohol use in 100,602 people from 9 countries.

Individual participant data from 18 prospective studies showed that those who worked 49-54 hours and 55 hours per week or more were found to have an increased risk of 13% and 12% respectively of risky alcohol consumption compared with those who worked 35-40 hours per week.

The authors point out that no differences were seen between men and women or by age, socioeconomic status or region.

Although, in absolute terms, the difference between the groups was relatively small, the authors argue that any exposure with avoidable increases in disease or health damaging behaviour, or both, warrants careful examination.

The findings also provide support for the recommended 48 hours per week as enforced by the EUWT.

“The workplace is an important setting for the prevention of alcohol misuse, because more than half of the adult population are employed,” write the team of researchers. “Further research is needed to assess whether preventive interventions against risky alcohol use could benefit from information on working hours.”

In an accompanying editorial, Cassandra A Okechukwu, an Assistant Professor at Harvard School of Public Health, US, writes that the results have implications for exceptions to recommended weekly working hours, which could lead to more alcohol consumption and greater health risks for millions of people. She suggests that the regulation of working hours could constitute a public health intervention and concludes: “Given mounting pressure to exclude an increasing proportion of workers from current standards that limit working hours in Europe and other developed countries, long working hours is an exposure that we cannot afford to ignore.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by BMJ-British Medical Journal.Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. M. Virtanen, M. Jokela, S. T. Nyberg, I. E. H. Madsen, T. Lallukka, K. Ahola, L. Alfredsson, G. D. Batty, J. B. Bjorner, M. Borritz, H. Burr, A. Casini, E. Clays, D. De Bacquer, N. Dragano, R. Erbel, J. E. Ferrie, E. I. Fransson, M. Hamer, K. Heikkila, K.-H. Jockel, F. Kittel, A. Knutsson, M. Koskenvuo, K.-H. Ladwig, T. Lunau, M. L. Nielsen, M. Nordin, T. Oksanen, J. H. Pejtersen, J. Pentti, R. Rugulies, P. Salo, J. Schupp, J. Siegrist, A. Singh-Manoux, A. Steptoe, S. B. Suominen, T. Theorell, J. Vahtera, G. G. Wagner, P. J. M. Westerholm, H. Westerlund, M. Kivimaki. Long working hours and alcohol use: systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished individual participant data. BMJ, 2015; 350 (jan12 13): g7772 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g7772
  2. C. A. Okechukwu. Long working hours are linked to risky alcohol consumption. BMJ, 2015; 350 (jan12 13): g7800 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g7800

Advanced 3-D facial imaging may aid in early detection of autism .


Autism is a spectrum of closely related disorders diagnosed in patients who exhibit a shared core of symptoms, including delays in learning to communicate and interact socially. Early detection of autism in children is the key for treatment. Using advanced 3-D imaging and statistical analysis techniques, researchers have identified facial measurements in children with autism that may lead to screening tools for young children and provide clues to genetic causes.
Miles was part of the team that helped identify facial measurements in children with autism that may lead to a screening tool for young children and provide clues to its genetic causes.

Autism is a spectrum of closely related disorders diagnosed in patients who exhibit a shared core of symptoms, including delays in learning to communicate and interact socially. Early detection of autism in children is the key for treatments to be most effective and produce the best outcomes. Using advanced three-dimensional imaging and statistical analysis techniques, researchers at the University of Missouri have identified facial measurements in children with autism that may lead to a screening tool for young children and provide clues to its genetic causes.

“We want to detect the specific facial traits of the face of a child with autism,” said Ye Duan, associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at MU. “Doing so might help us define the facial structures common to children with autism and potentially enable early screening for the disorder.”

Expanding upon previous studies using two-dimensional imaging, Duan, working with Judith Miles, professor emerita of child health-genetics in the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at MU, used a system of cameras to photograph and generate three-dimensional images of children’s faces.

The children selected were between 8 and 12 years old. One group of children had been diagnosed with autism by the Thompson Center; the other group consisted of typically developing children. Researchers photographed the faces of children using three-dimensional imaging, which allowed scientists to measure distances along the curvature of the face rather than in a straight line as had been done in previous tests. Duan then ran sophisticated statistical analyses to measure minute differences in the facial measurements of each group.

“It all started from a clinical observation,” Miles said. “Over years of treating children, I noticed that a portion of those diagnosed with autism tend to look alike with similar facial characteristics. I thought perhaps there was something more than coincidence at play. The differences were not abnormal, rather they appeared analogous to similarities observed among siblings. Using three-dimensional images and statistical analysis, we created a ‘fine-tuned map’ of children’s faces and compared those measurements to the various symptoms they exhibit. By clustering the groups based on their facial measurements and recording their autism symptoms, we wanted to determine whether subgroups based on facial structure correlate with autism symptoms and severity.”

The group’s analyses revealed three distinct subgroups of children with autism who had similar measurement patterns in their facial features. These subgroups also shared similarities in the type and severity of their autism symptoms.

Miles said that next steps include inviting other research groups to replicate our findings and to perform DNA analyses to look for specific genes associated with each subgroup. Identifying genes associated with each subtype of autism could potentially lead to the development of more effective treatments and drug therapies, she said.

The team’s paper, “Facial structure analysis separates autism spectrum disorders into meaningful clinical subgroups,” was funded in part by the Department of Defense’s Medical Research and Development Program and was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia.Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Tayo Obafemi-Ajayi, Judith H. Miles, T. Nicole Takahashi, Wenchuan Qi, Kristina Aldridge, Minqi Zhang, Shi-Qing Xin, Ying He, Ye Duan. Facial Structure Analysis Separates Autism Spectrum Disorders into Meaningful Clinical Subgroups.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, January 2015 DOI:10.1007/s10803-014-2290-8

Cone snail venom holds promise for medical treatments for cancer, addiction .


While considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, snails have found a more intriguing use to scientists and the medical profession offering a plethora of research possibilities. Cone snails are marine mollusks, just as conch, octopi and squid, but they capture their prey using venom. The venom of these marine critters provides leads for detection and possible treatment of some cancers and addictions.


Professor Frank Marí in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University holds a live Conus regius, a particular species of cone snail collected by the Marí group at the Florida Keys.

While considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, snails have found a more intriguing use to scientists and the medical profession offering a plethora of research possibilities. Cone snails are marine mollusks, just as conch, octopi and squid, but they capture their prey using venom. The venom of these marine critters provides leads for detection and possible treatment of some cancers and addictions.

Frank Marí, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University, has focused his research on cone snail venom and has published a study in the current issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

“The venom produced by these animals immobilizes prey, which can be worms, other snails and fish,” said Marí. “The venom is an extraordinary complex mixture of compounds with medicinal properties.”

The venom components selectively target cells in the body and make them valuable drug leads and powerful molecular tools for understanding the human body’s processes. One class of venom components is the alpha-conotoxins, named so because they target nicotinic receptors that are central to a range of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, tobacco addiction and lung cancer.

The venom of a particular species of cone snail, Conus regius, collected by the Marí group at the Florida Keys, is particularly rich in alpha conotoxins. Aldo Franco, Ph.D., who worked in Marí’s lab, described more than ten new alpha-conotoxins in his Ph.D. dissertation at FAU. Among these, they found RegIIA, a compound that potently blocked the alpha3beta4 nicotinic receptor. This particular receptor when activated can be associated with lung cancer and nicotine addiction.

“We investigated in detail how RegIIA interacts with the alpha3beta4 nicotinic receptors and embarked on engineering new compounds that were more specific toward alpha3beta4 receptors and not other nicotinic receptors,” said Marí. “Our aim is to open new avenues for cancer and addiction research inspired on compounds from marine animals.”

Cone snails can be found throughout the Florida coast at different depths. Marí and his team regularly collect these animals using SCUBA and sometimes using deep-water submarines.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Florida Atlantic University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Shiva N. Kompella, Andrew Hung, Richard J. Clark, Frank Marí, David J. Adams.Alanine Scan of α-Conotoxin RegIIA Reveals a Selective α3β4 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Antagonist. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2015; 290 (2): 1039 DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M114.605592

Feeling cold is contagious, scientists find .


Just looking at somebody shivering is enough to make us feel cold, new research has found. Volunteers who watched videos of people putting their hands in cold water found their own body temperature drop significantly, investigators report.

“Humans are profoundly social creatures and much of humans’ success results from our ability to work together in complex communities — this would be hard to do if we were not able to rapidly empathize with each other and predict one another’s thoughts, feelings and motivations,” authors write.
Just looking at somebody shivering is enough to make us feel cold, according to new research at the University of Sussex in the UK.

Volunteers who watched videos of people putting their hands in cold water found their own body temperature drop significantly.

The research by scientists in the Brighton and Sussex Medical School shows that humans are susceptible to ‘temperature contagion’.

Neuropsychiatrist Dr Neil Harrison, who led the research, suggests that such unconscious physiological changes may help us empathise with one another and live in communities.

He said: “Mimicking another person is believed to help us create an internal model of their physiological state which we can use to better understand their motivations and how they are feeling.”

“Humans are profoundly social creatures and much of humans’ success results from our ability to work together in complex communities — this would be hard to do if we were not able to rapidly empathize with each other and predict one another’s thoughts, feelings and motivations.”

For the research, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, 36 participants each watched eight videos of actors putting their hands in either visibly warm or cold water. At the same time, the temperature of their own hands was measured. Their hands were significantly colder when watching the ‘cold’ videos. However, the ‘warm’ videos did not cause a change.

Dr Harrison explains: “We think that this is probably because the warm videos were less potent — the only cues that the water was warm was steam at the beginning of the videos and the pink colour of the actor’s hand (whereas blocks of ice were clearly visible throughout the duration of the cold video).

“There is also some evidence to suggest that people may be more sensitive to others appearing cold than hot.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Sussex. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ella A. Cooper, John Garlick, Eric Featherstone, Valerie Voon, Tania Singer, Hugo D. Critchley, Neil A. Harrison. You Turn Me Cold: Evidence for Temperature Contagion. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (12): e116126 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116126

Speaking of Psychology: Improving lives through virtual reality therapy


Advancements in virtual reality technology have not only led to improved experiences for people who enjoy video games but they are also treating very serious psychological and physical disabilities. In this episode, psychologist Albert “Skip” Rizzo, PhD, discusses research into the effectiveness of virtual reality therapy and how this technology can improve the therapist-client relationship.

About the expert: Albert “Skip” Rizzo, PhD

Albert “Skip” Rizzo, PhD

Albert “Skip” Rizzo, PhD, is director for medical virtual reality at the University of Southern California’sInstitute for Creative Technologies. He holds research professor appointments with the USC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the USC Davis School of Gerontology. He conducts research on the design, development and evaluation of virtual reality systems, focusing on clinical assessment, treatment rehabilitation and resilience.

His work has addressed the use of virtual reality applications to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, help patients recover after a stroke as well as help treat children with autism spectrum disorder. He is senior editor of the MIT Press journal “Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments,” and sits on a number of editorial boards for journals in the areas of cognition and computer technology, including “Cognitive Technology,” “Journal of Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds” and “Media Psychology.”

Transcript

Audrey Hamilton: Virtual reality technology is not just for gamers. Over the last decade, research into advanced virtual reality therapy techniques has shown it to be effective for people with physical and psychological disabilities. A psychologist at the forefront of this research tells us how virtual reality is helping people literally face their fears and learn to overcome them. I’m Audrey Hamilton and this is “Speaking of Psychology.”

Skip Rizzo is the director for medical virtual reality at the Institute for Creative Technologies and a research professor at the University of Southern California. He conducts research on the design, development and evaluation of virtual reality systems, focusing on clinical assessment, treatment rehabilitation and resilience. Welcome, Dr. Rizzo.

Albert Rizzo:  Hi, thank you for having me here.

Audrey Hamilton: Your work in developing virtual reality therapies focuses on combining advancements in computer technology with psychological science.  How is virtual reality therapy being used in clinical settings right now?

Albert Rizzo: Right now, the biggest use of virtual reality in clinical settings is probably in the area of exposure therapy and that is probably because the technology is well-matched to the needs of the clinical application. We see with exposure therapy the goal really is about helping a patient, whether it’s due to a simple phobia or PTSD, to engage, to confront and to process difficult, traumatic memories.

Now, in the traditional format, you typically do that in imagination alone. But, when you have a disorder where avoidance is one of the cardinal symptoms, sometimes patients may need a little extra boost. So, if we can put them in simulations that mimic or resemble some of their traumatic experiences and do it in a gradual, yet progressive hierarchical fashion, then it really is well-matched to what the need of the clinical approach is.

Audrey Hamilton: Can you give us an example of how exposure therapy works and how the virtual reality therapy works in this type of therapy?

Albert Rizzo: Well, exposure therapy has been around for quite some time. It’s a behavioral approach that’s been applied initially for persons having a fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of spiders. And the therapist typically guides the patient in imagination to gradually get closer and closer to what it is that they fear.  And by a process of extinction learning – which is basically face your fear and it becomes less frightening once you actually confront it – what happens is patients lose that, sort of, irrational fear.

Now we’re talking about fears that aren’t real – in real life kinds of fears. We’re not trying to get somebody to jump in through traffic or swim with sharks or anything like that.

Audrey Hamilton: Right.

Albert Rizzo: We’re talking about things like somebody that lives in New York City but has a fear of snakes and they won’t leave their house even though there’s very unlikely chance there are snakes in LA – I mean in New York – aside from Wall Street. Maybe I should have a better example there.

These are fears that debilitate people in functioning in their everyday life. So the fear of flying – you know, it’s pretty safe to fly compared to driving in a car, actually. They are fearful of flying if they do exposure therapy. Typically, you get a good – very good treatment response where they confront that fear in the therapy session and it carries over to the real life.

In VR what we try to do is to help that process along by putting people in simulations of their fear environment and then systematically making it a little bit more provocative once they’ve attained a certain level. So if it’s fear of flying, they’re in a plane and they’re flying along and you can turn your head and look around, see the passenger, look next to them, look out the window. But then once they’ve gotten through that then maybe you want to introduce a little turbulence or a thunderstorm and we can do that with the technology and make it a little bit more scary and the longer we can get the patient to stay with it, all of a sudden that fear kind of fades away and extinguishes, as we call it in psych literature. It carries over from the virtual environment, which is very similar to the real world in a lot of ways – so that people can now start taking flights and not being as frightened.

Audrey Hamilton: Other than exposure therapy, are there any other clinical settings where this is being used?

Albert Rizzo: Pain distraction is a big area where VR makes a big difference because if you put someone in a virtual reality headset, you’re including their view of the wound site and while they’re getting their daily wound care, say for burn victims, they’re engaged in playing a game and they’re in their own world so-to-speak so that what you see from the research is dramatic decreases in the perception of pain and there’s a lot of theory behind why that happens, but it works and people spend a lot less time between pain delivering sessions, like with the daily wound care, thinking about pain, worrying about pain. So, that’s one area where we’ve seen dramatic clinical results.

We also see results in assessment, you know, where we’re putting people in simulated environments and asking them to respond in a cognitive fashion. So for example, with children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, we built virtual classrooms where we can put kids in the classroom. They have to pay attention to what goes on the blackboard or what the teacher says. Meanwhile, we’ve got kids sitting next to them fidgeting, throwing paper airplanes, maybe a school bus driving by the window. So we can begin to measure cognitive performance under a range of challenges, but also the challenges of the everyday life environment of the classroom where distraction is a lot different than if you’re testing a child in a quiet office environment in the therapist’s office or the clinician’s office.

Audrey Hamilton: It sounds like virtual reality therapy has come a long way. How has work with military veterans, particularly those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, encouraged more research into this type of therapy for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder?

Albert Rizzo: So what happened around 2003 as the Operation Iraqi Freedom adventure took place, we started seeing more and more people coming back with PTSD. And the military recognizes, as well, and so they began to focus on novel treatments, ways to get people engaged in treatment and virtual reality was one of those areas where they were well familiar in the military with simulation technology for training, but not for clinical care. So, it was new to them, but they stated seeing the results from civilian literature showing that, you know, you can get a good clinical outcome using virtual reality in this area. So, they funded significantly a lot of the basic research that developed these applications and to test them. And so we began building a virtual Iraq and Afghanistan simulation around 2004 and have progressively grown the application based on feedback from clinicians and patients that we’ve treated and have gone through probably four iterations now to very high fidelity environment that has smells…

Audrey Hamilton: Really, smells? Wow, interesting.

Albert Rizzo: Bad smells.

Audrey Hamilton: Yeah, not good ones.

Albert Rizzo: Diesel fuel, rotting garbage, burning rubber, things like that. But we created a multi-sensory environment so that we can help a patient who is typically avoidant to go back and confront and process those difficult emotional memories and get a good therapeutic outcome. So, we’re really basing the use of virtual reality on the evidence-based treatment of trauma-focused therapy prolonged exposure or cognitive processing therapy or EMDR, where people are really encouraged to confront things that emotionally hurt them initially and process them in different ways.

So, that’s an example of where the military has really driven the technology and the application, but now we stand poised to translate that to civilian application. So, the first thing you think of is urban warfare with the police department or firefighters or victims of terrorist attacks. We’ve got the technology to do this and a lot of that has to do with the urgency of war driving a need to develop better treatments for PTSD in military population.

Audrey Hamilton: You have said that virtual reality therapy can help reduce the stigma of mental health treatment. Can you elaborate on that and why do you think that is?

Albert Rizzo: Well, if you look at any virtual reality environment at first blush it looks like Call of Duty or looks like any common game that people play for entertainment. And our view has always been that if you want to draw a digital generation of service members into treatment, why not use some of the things that they’re more comfortable with as a draw?

So, the idea of using virtual reality to deliver exposure therapy was in one part informed by theory – that we knew we were working from an evidence-base with traditional treatment, but the other part was the idea of maybe getting a 20-year-old that played a lot of video games growing up to look at this and say, “Wow, you know, I can maybe get some help and this almost kind of looks like fun.” But in reality, once they try it, it’s not a game anymore.

Audrey Hamilton: Right, right.

Albert Rizzo: Because, we’re really, we’re really pushing them to …

Audrey Hamilton: But it gets them in the door a little easier.

Albert Rizzo: Yes. Yes. And I think you can say the same thing in the future for everybody whether they’re service members or not, millennials, the current generation, the younger generation coming up, you know, this is ubiquitous technology that they see everywhere.

You know, clinicians at their peril may ignore this because they feel it may impair the therapist/client relationship, but actually, in some cases, I think it brings the therapist to a closer understanding of what the client has gone through. When a client is going through a simulation of a traumatic event, for example, the therapist is seeing it. I mean, they’re seeing what the patient sees in the simulation and then that becomes grist for the mill of discussion.

And you know, we are basing it on a traditional face-to-face format where the whole session isn’t conducted in VR. There’s 30 minutes in VR and the rest of the session is processing what went on in the session. When a patient describes a scene and the clinician has a control panel where they can make elements of that description appear in the simulation, all of a sudden they’re looking at it themselves and they’re hearing the sounds of maybe somebody screaming after an IED goes off or a jet flying over. You know, I think in some way, they’re getting closer to the patient compared to just the patient’s narration as they imagine it in their head.

Audrey Hamilton: Well great. Dr. Rizzo, thank you so much for joining us.

Albert Rizzo: OK, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Audrey Hamilton: To see video examples of Dr. Rizzo’s work, please visit our website. With the American Psychological Association’s “Speaking of Psychology,” I’m Audrey Hamilton.

Scripps Florida Scientists Develop Novel Platform for Treatment of Breast, Pancreatic Cancer


Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have identified a novel synthetic compound that sharply inhibits the activity of a protein that plays an important role in in the progression of breast and pancreatic cancers.

In the new study, to be published in the February 2015 print edition of the journal Molecular Pharmacology, the scientists showed that the compound, known as SR1848, reduces the activity and expression of the cancer-related protein called “liver receptor homolog-1” or LRH-1.

“Our study shows that SR1848 removes LRH1 from DNA, shutting down expression of LRH-1 target genes, and halts cell proliferation,” said Patrick Griffin, chair of the TSRI Department of Molecular Therapeutics and director of the Translational Research Institute at Scripps Florida. “It’s a compound that appears to be a promising chemical scaffold for fighting tumors that are non-responsive to standard therapies.”

LRH1 plays a crucial role in breast cancer through its regulation of genes involved in hormone synthesis and cholesterol metabolism—also key risk factors in cardiovascular disease. LRH-1 has also been implicated as a tumor promoter in intestinal and pancreatic cancer. Overexpression of LRH-1 has been shown to promote invasiveness and metastasis, the usually lethal spread of the disease.

“LRH-1 has been implicated in the proliferation and metastasis of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers and the more difficult to treat estrogen receptor-negative breast cancers,” said Research Associate Alex Corzo, the first author of the study. “This suggests that repressing LRH-1 could be useful in treating the more aggressive triple-negative breast cancer subtype where therapies are currently so limited.”

In fact, the study showed that levels of LHR-1 in a cell’s nucleus began to diminish four hours after treatment with SR1848, and the compound repressed specific target genes as early as two hours after administration.

Griffin noted that SR1848 also appears attractive as a potential therapeutic because of its lack of impact on cells that do not express LRH1, which could mean few potential side effects.

“It’s a novel mechanism that needs more study,” he said.

In addition to Griffin and Corzo, other authors of the study, “Antiproliferation Activity of a Small Molecule Repressor of Liver Receptor Homolog 1s,” are Yelenis Mari, Mi Ra Chang, Tanya Khan, Dana Kuruvilla, Philippe Nuhant, Naresh Kumar, Graham M. West, Derek R. Duckett and William R. Roush of TSRI. See http://molpharm.aspetjournals.org/content/87/2/296.full

First contracting human muscle grown in laboratory .


Researchers have grown human skeletal muscle in the laboratory that, for the first time, contracts and responds just like native tissue to external stimuli such as electrical pulses, biochemical signals and pharmaceuticals. The development should soon allow researchers to test new drugs and study diseases in functioning human muscle outside of the human body.

This is a microscopic view of lab-grown human muscle bundles stained to show patterns made by basic muscle units and their associated proteins (red), which are a hallmark of human muscle.
In a laboratory first, Duke researchers have grown human skeletal muscle that contracts and responds just like native tissue to external stimuli such as electrical pulses, biochemical signals and pharmaceuticals.

The lab-grown tissue should soon allow researchers to test new drugs and study diseases in functioning human muscle outside of the human body.

The study was led by Nenad Bursac, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, and Lauran Madden, a postdoctoral researcher in Bursac’s laboratory. It appears January 13 in the open-access journal eLife

“The beauty of this work is that it can serve as a test bed for clinical trials in a dish,” said Bursac. “We are working to test drugs’ efficacy and safety without jeopardizing a patient’s health and also to reproduce the functional and biochemical signals of diseases — especially rare ones and those that make taking muscle biopsies difficult.”

Bursac and Madden started with a small sample of human cells that had already progressed beyond stem cells but hadn’t yet become muscle tissue. They expanded these “myogenic precursors” by more than a 1000-fold, and then put them into a supportive, 3D scaffolding filled with a nourishing gel that allowed them to form aligned and functioning muscle fibers.

“We have a lot of experience making bioartifical muscles from animal cells in the laboratory, and it still took us a year of adjusting variables like cell and gel density and optimizing the culture matrix and media to make this work with human muscle cells,” said Madden.

Madden subjected the new muscle to a barrage of tests to determine how closely it resembled native tissue inside a human body. She found that the muscles robustly contracted in response to electrical stimuli — a first for human muscle grown in a laboratory. She also showed that the signaling pathways allowing nerves to activate the muscle were intact and functional.

To see if the muscle could be used as a proxy for medical tests, Bursac and Madden studied its response to a variety of drugs, including statins used to lower cholesterol and clenbuterol, a drug known to be used off-label as a performance enhancer for athletes.

The effects of the drugs matched those seen in human patients. The statins had a dose-dependent response, causing abnormal fat accumulation at high concentrations. Clenbuterol showed a narrow beneficial window for increased contraction. Both of these effects have been documented in humans. Clenbuterol does not harm muscle tissue in rodents at those doses, showing the lab-grown muscle was giving a truly human response.

“One of our goals is to use this method to provide personalized medicine to patients,” said Bursac. “We can take a biopsy from each patient, grow many new muscles to use as test samples and experiment to see which drugs would work best for each person.”

This goal may not be far away; Bursac is already working on a study with clinicians at Duke Medicine — including Dwight Koeberl, associate professor of pediatrics — to try to correlate efficacy of drugs in patients with the effects on lab-grown muscles. Bursac’s group is also trying to grow contracting human muscles using induced pluripotent stem cells instead of biopsied cells.

“There are a some diseases, like Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy for example, that make taking muscle biopsies difficult,” said Bursac. “If we could grow working, testable muscles from induced pluripotent stem cells, we could take one skin or blood sample and never have to bother the patient again.”

Other investigators involved in this study include George Truskey, the R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Professor of Biomedical Engineering and senior associate dean for research for the Pratt School of Engineering, and William Krauss, professor of biomedical engineering, medicine and nursing at Duke University.

 

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. The original article was written by Ken Kingery. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lauran Madden, Mark Juhas, William E Kraus, George A Truskey, Nenad Bursac.Bioengineered human myobundles mimic clinical responses of skeletal muscle to drugs. eLife, 2015; 4 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.04885