The Future of Surgical Oncology:  Image-Guided Cancer Surgery


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Signals that make early stem cells identified


Signals that make early stem cells identified
The researchers traced the cell divisions that occur as hair follicles form in mice to determine where stem cells first emerge. Above, developing hair follicles are shown at various stages. Credit: The Robin Chemers Neustein Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development at The Rockefeller University/Cell

Stem cells work throughout our lives as a sort of handyman, repairing damaged tissues and renewing some normal ones, like the skin we shed. Scientists have come to understand much about how stem cells function when we are adults, but less is known about where these stem cells come from to begin with, as an embryo is developing.

Now, researchers at The Rockefeller University have identified a new mechanism by which cells are instructed during development to become . The results, published in Cell on January 14, help explain how communication between cells mediates this process, and may have implications for skin cancer treatments.

“While are increasingly well-characterized, we know little about their origins. Here, we show that in the skin, stem cell progenitors of the hair follicle are specified as soon as the cells within the single-layered embryonic epidermis begin to divide downward to form an embryonic hair bud,” explains Elaine Fuchs, Robin Chemers Neustein Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development. “This timing was much earlier than previously thought, and gives us new insights into the establishment of these very special cells.”

Which came first, the stem cell or the niche?

Clusters of stem cells receive signals from other that instruct them to either stay a stem cell, or differentiate into a specific cell type. These instructive groups of cells, called the “niche,” are known to maintain adult stem cell populations. Less well understood is how the niche forms, or when and where stem cells first appear during embryonic development.

“Adult stem cells are dependent on the niche for instructions on both how to become a stem cell, and how to control stem cell population size,” says first author Tamara Ouspenskaia. “The question was, does the niche appear first and call other cells over to become stem cells? Or is it the other way around? Stem cells could be appearing elsewhere first and then recruiting the niche.”

Working in the mouse hair follicle, a region that contains active stem cells, Fuchs and colleagues investigated the cell divisions that occur as a hair follicle is first forming. The begins as a small bud called a placode, and develops into a tissue of multiple layers, comprised of different cell types. By labeling cells within the placode and tracing their progeny, the researchers determined that from each division, one daughter cell stayed put, while the other escaped to a different layer.

Further experiments revealed that this escapee becomes a stem cell. This finding is significant as it’s the earliest point in development that stem cells have been detected in this system, and it indicates stem cells may exist before the niche is formed.

Flying the nest to become a stem cell

How cells become the cell type they’re destined to be—a liver cell or skin cell, for example—depends on a number of factors, including molecular signals from other cells that help turn specific genes on or off. Fuchs and colleagues observed that the signaling activity was different between the two daughter cells that ended up in different locations, and aimed to characterize how signaling helped seal their ultimate cell fate.

They found that the environment to which the escapee cell daughter moved had low levels of WNT signaling, known to play a role in embryonic development. In contrast, WNT signaling was high in the environment where the other daughter remained. The level of WNT affected how the cells responded to another signal known as SHH (Sonic Hedgehog)—only those in the low-WNT environment responded to SHH signaling, which instructed the cells to become stem cells.

“These cells must leave home, they must leave the environment with high WNT signaling, to become stem cells,” says Ouspenskaia. “We observed that SHH, which actually comes from the cells with high WNT signaling, is essential in helping the cells leave. So in order for this escapee cell to become a stem cell, it needs to receive an SHH signal from its sister cell at home telling it ‘you’re the stem cell.'”

The researchers believe that antagonism between WNT and SHH signaling may help to control the number of stem cells produced during this time of embryo development.

“This newly identified signaling crosstalk provides insights into why these two signals have such a profound impact on skin cancers, where the numbers of cancerous tissue-propagating stem cells are excessive,” says Fuchs, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “This work now paves the way for future research into the fascinating and clinically important relation between tumor-propagating and normal stem cells.”

8 Foods That Boost Your Immune System


If you’re looking for an immune system boost, the right vitamins and minerals can help. Although diet gets little attention in conventional media when it comes tosupporting the immune system, it is one of the most powerful methods for keeping colds and other illnesses at bay. Nutrition isn’t the only means of immune system support but it is one of the oldest and most reliable natural approaches.

The 8 Best Foods for Your Immune System

The majority of your immune cells reside in your intestines, so doesn’t it make sense to consume healthy foods for keeping your immune system top notch? Here are 8 foods you can eat right now to boost your immune system.

1. Bell Peppers

Reach for all the bell peppers you want because they can actually have twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruits. In addition, bell peppers are a great source of beta-carotene, which not only helps maintain healthy skin and eyes but studies suggest they could also provide an immune system boost. [1] [2]

2. Citrus

Citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C. Believed to increase the production of white blood cells, C is essential for fighting off infections. Since your body doesn’t produce or store this vitamin, load up on citrus to help keep your immune system up and running. Supplementation with the vitamin may be helpful, but it’s always best to receive the vitamin from its natural source.

3. Ginger

Ginger is thought to work much like vitamin C in that it can even stop a cold before it starts. That said, it’s also a great food to reach for after you’re sick. Ginger can have a little heat due to the gingerol, a cousin of sorts to capsaicin—the stuff that makes chili peppers hot. It’s the “kick” of the gingerol that can even act as a strong soothing agent. [3]

4. Turmeric

You can find this spice in many curries; it’s bright yellow in color, and a little bitter in taste, but it can definitely be pretty amazing for your health. While it’s already been used for its soothing capabilities for arthritis (among other things), a recent study suggests high concentrations of curcumin—what gives turmeric its color—could also reduce fever. [4] [5]

5. Spinach

With vitamin C, beta-carotene, and plenty of antioxidants, spinach is a perfect vegetable for your immune system. If you want to get the most out of it though, cook it as little as possible, or even keep it raw. But don’t stop at spinach; a study suggests that other leafy green vegetables are good choices as well. [6]

6. Broccoli

Like spinach, broccoli is another great vegetable choice packed with antioxidants and vitamins. With vitamins A, C, and E, broccoli could easily be one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your table. Just like with spinach, cook it as little as possible to retain its nutrients.

7. Yogurt

If you like yogurt, make sure you’re getting the full health benefit by eating the kind with live cultures. Recent research suggests these cultures may strengthen your immune system.[7] Yogurt can also be a great source of vitamin D, which can also help boost the immune system. [8]

8. Almonds

When your immune system needs a boost, vitamin E sometimes loses the spotlight to vitamin C, but both are crucial for a healthy immune system. Vitamin E is fat-soluble, which means fat is needed in order for it to be absorbed properly. You can get almost all of your daily allowance of this vitamin by reaching for a half-cup of almonds. How easy is that?

What food would you reach for if your immune system needed a boost? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

New particle can track chemo


Tracking the path of chemotherapy drugs in real time and at a cellular level could revolutionize cancer care and help doctors sort out why two patients might respond differently to the same treatment.

Researchers at The Ohio State University have found a way to light up a common cancer so they can see where the chemo goes and how long it takes to get there.

They’ve devised an organic technique for creating this scientific guiding star and in doing so have opened up a new frontier in their field. Previous efforts have been limited by dyes that faded quickly and by toxic elements, particularly metals.

A study published this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology highlighted two novel accomplishments. First, the researchers created a luminescent molecule, called a peptide and made up of two . Then they hitched that light to the cancer medication so that it revealed the chemo’s arrival within cells.

“This is very important for personalized medicine. We really want to see what’s going on when we give chemo drugs and this work paves the way for the exciting endeavor,” said Dr. Mingjun Zhang, the biomedical engineering professor who led the study.

Biomedical engineers strive to find techniques that behave naturally within the body and leave without doing harm. This research holds promise for doing just that because the peptide is one that should easily coexist with human cells and leave as harmlessly as it entered.

“You can combine your drug with this luminescent vehicle,” Zhang said of the tiny fluorescent particle devised in his lab. “Composed of natural amino acids, the nanoparticle is inherently biocompatible. Our biological machines can easily take care of it.”

This work was done in petri dishes in Zhang’s lab and work in animals is currently underway.

In the body or tissue of an animal or person, scientists would watch the fluorescent signal with an optical detection system, he said.

Zhang and his colleagues sandwiched their peptide to a common chemotherapy drug so that its light was hidden until the two elements peeled apart upon entering the cells.

Zhang was particularly delighted to see that the blue peptide, which can be seen under ultraviolet light, maintained its luminescence for extended periods of time. Previous work to track drugs using organic dyes has been hampered by their tendency to fade with time.

“You can label it and you can attach it to a drug and see where the drug goes and when it is released,” Zhang said.

And it could be that the biomedical advance can give patients and their doctors information on how well and how quickly a medication is working for them.

“Maybe for some people a drug is taking effect in a few minutes and for somebody else it’s hours and for somebody else it never takes effect,” Zhang said.

The research team used doxorubicin, a widely used chemotherapy drug, for their lab work, but the discovery could apply to different types of treatments.

Better understanding of the complex interplay of cells and drugs is critical to development of treatments that are finely tuned for individual patients.

The Ohio State work builds on research that earned a trio of scientists the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Their work on found in jelly fish led to the discovery that scientists could illuminate cellular-level activity that had previously been cloaked in mystery.

Nanodevice, build thyself


Nanodevice, build thyself
Schematic depiction of different energy terms contributing to the adsorption energy, and charge density difference of 2H-P after adsorption onto Cu(111) at 12.8 Angstrom separation. 

As we continue to shrink electronic components, top-down manufacturing methods begin to approach a physical limit at the nanoscale. Rather than continue to chip away at this limit, one solution of interest involves using the bottom-up self-assembly of molecular building blocks to build nanoscale devices.

Successful self-assembly is an elaborately choreographed dance, in which the attractive and repulsive forces within , between each molecule and its neighbors, and between molecules and the surface that supports them, have to all be taken into account. To better understand the self-assembly process, researchers at the Technical University of Munich have characterized the contributions of all interaction components, such as covalent bonding and van der Waals interactions between molecules and between molecules and a surface.

“In an ideal case, the smallest possible device has the size of a single atom or molecule,” said Katharina Diller, who worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the group of Karsten Reuter at the Technical University of Munich. Reuter and his colleagues present their work this week in The Journal of Chemical Physics.

One such example is a single-porphyrin switch, which occupies a surface area of only one square nanometer. The porphine molecule, which was the object of this study, is even smaller than this. Porphyrins are a group of ringed chemical compounds which notably include heme – responsible for transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream – and chlorophyll. In synthetically-derived applications, porphyrins are studied for their potential uses as sensors, light-sensitive dyes in organic solar cells, and molecular magnets.

The researchers from TU Munich assessed the interactions of the porphyrin molecule 2H-porphine by using , a quantum mechanical computational modelling method used to describe the electronic properties of molecules and materials. Their simulations were performed at the high-performance supercomputer SuperMUC at Leibniz-Rechenzentrum in Garching.

The metallic substrates the researchers chose for the porphyrin molecules to assemble on, the close packed single crystal surfaces of copper and silver, are widely used as substrates in surface science. This is due to the densely packed nature of the surfaces, which allow the molecules to exhibit a smooth adsorption environment. Additionally, copper and silver each react differently with porhyrins – the molecule adsorbs more strongly on copper, whereas silver does a better job of keeping the electronic structure of the molecule intact – allowing the researchers to monitor a variety of competing effects for future applications.

In their simulation, porphyrin molecules were placed on a copper or silver slab, which was repeated periodically to simulate an extended surface. After finding the optimal geometry in which the molecules would adsorb on the surface, the researchers altered the size of the metal slab to increase or decrease the distance between molecules, thus simulating different molecular coverages. The computational setup gave them a switch to turn the energy contributions of neighboring molecules on and off, in order to observe the interplay of the individual interactions.

Diller and Reuter, along with colleagues Reinhard Maurer and Moritz Müller, who is first author on the paper, found that the weak long-range van der Waals interactions yielded the largest contribution to the molecule-surface interaction, and showed that the often employed methods to quantify the electronic charges in the system have to be used with caution. Surprisingly, while interactions directly between molecules are negligible, the researcher found indications for surface-mediated molecule-molecule interactions at higher molecular coverages.

“The analysis of the and the individual interaction components allows us to better understand the self-assembly of porphine adsorbed on copper and silver, and additionally enables predictions for more complex porphyrine analogues,” Diller said. “These conclusions, however, come without yet considering the effects of atomic motion at finite temperature, which we did not study in this work.”

Plastics chemicals BPA, BPS linked to altered brain development


Bisphenol S

Many plastic product manufacturers are starting to put “BPA-free” labels on their products. The plastic industry is slowly moving away from BPA, removing it from baby bottles and plastic food storage containers. This is progress, especially since BPA has been shown to worsen obesity, cancer and behavioral problems.

However, as manufacturers move away from BPA and assure consumers that their plastics are safe, they ultimately replace it with something just as sinister — BPS. BPS is like a cousin to BPA. It’s also an endocrine disrupter and is linked to some of the same health problems as BPA. In fact, BPS might be worse than BPA.

In zebra fish, BPS has been linked to alteration in brain cell development. Additionally, this new study finds that BPS causes hyperactive behavior. (The brains of zebra fish develop similarly to humans and are a perfect testing ground for the effects of chemicals like BPA and BPS.)

BPS changes timing of neuron development in the hypothalamus

In a new study out of the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, scientists exposed zebrafish to various doses of BPA and BPS. The doses were nearly equivalent to the concentrations measured in Alberta’s Oldman River, a waterway near two urban areas. Both BPA and BPS raped neuron development in the brains of the zebrafish, altering the timing and rate at which new neurons develop. The most affected region of the brain was the hypothalamus, which regulates hunger, mood, hormones, body temperature and heart rate. It appears that the scientists are getting to the root of the chemicals’ hormone disruption. The chemicals are altering the neurons responsible for regulating hormone production.

The fish embryos that were exposed to BPA experienced an explosion of new brain cell growth compared to controls. The scientists measured a 180 percent increase. Fish embryos exposed to BPS were affected even more. Scientists confirmed a 240 percent increase. This shows that BPS plastics might be worse than BPA plastics, interfering with brain development at a much faster rate.

The scientists concluded that the fish were generating too many neurons at once, adversely affecting the crucial functions in the hypothalamus. They also found that the influx of neurons up front caused periods of slow neuron growth later on. These abnormal fluxes disrupt the formation of connections in neural circuitry. This elicits adverse behaviors in the fish and could very well explain adverse and erratic behaviors in children. Perhaps these discoveries may help explain bipolar and schizophrenic behaviors. They could be the result of abnormal neuron growth in the hypothalamus caused by these plasticizers.

Plastics manufacturers should start making plastic products that are totally “bisphenol-free”

The researchers wrote that BPA-free products are no safer and often contain BPS which is also an endocrine disrupter. Their work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They said they “support the removal of all bisphenols from consumer merchandise.”

They pointed out that the zebrafish used in the study were at the same developmental period as the second trimester of babies in the uterus. This might mean that BPA and BPS exposure could affect the brain development of a baby before they are even born. Exposure to these chemicals in the womb could help explain why certain developmental problems occur in childhood. This might not be limited to just behavior but may account for other malfunctions in the hypothalamus regarding proper hormone production, weight gain and more.

 

Here’s why the X chromosome evolved to be so weird.


You may not be aware of it, but one of your chromosomes – the X chromosome – is considerably different from the rest, and has posed a puzzle for scientists for over a decade. Early in mammalian evolutionary history, what is now the X chromosome was just like any of our other chromosomes. But at some point it evolved to be different.

Unlike all other chromosomes, one of the two X chromosomes in women is inactivated in nearly all cells. It also has an extremely low mutation rate and (most perplexingly) the genes that are found on it are active in relatively few of our tissues. Now a study we recently published in PLOS Biology has begun to shed light on what’s going on – by using a traffic analogy.

In humans, each cell normally contains 23 pairs of chromosomes. Only one of these pairs – the sex chromosomes – differs in men and women. If you are biologically a woman, you inherited one X chromosome from your father and one from your mother. If you are biologically a man, you inherited one from your mother and a Y chromosome from your father.

Like all other chromosomes, the X chromosome carries genes that are used to create proteins that go on to produce observable traits. This happens through the process of transcription, in which a single strand copy of the DNA is made, which is then decoded into a protein. When a gene is processed like this it is said to be ‘expressed’. Essentially, gene expression interprets the genetic information stored in DNA, converting it into traits.

In the 1980s, a study predicted that the genes on X chromosomes should be prone to evolve to be switched on in only one of the two sexes, making them different. This could explain certain biological differences between women and men (the study looked specifically at the difference in the size and shape of horns in bighorn sheep). And when new mutations happen on X chromosomes their effects in women are subject to selection twice as often as their effects in men. So a mutation that is beneficial in women but harmful in men could nonetheless persist.

The 46 chromosomes of a man. Women differ by having an X chromosome where the Y chromosome is. Credit: National Human Genome Research Institute

But this doesn’t really explain why the genes on our X chromosome are not expressed in as many tissues as other genes. Looking at the human gene atlas that is FANTOM5, we found this trend to be true even after genes expressed in sex-specific tissues (like the womb, testes, ovaries) are taken out of the equation.

Our study tested an alternative possibility – the idea that it is hard to increase the amount a gene is expressed on the X chromosome. To express a gene we need other proteins, known as transcription factors. These proteins stick to the DNA in the vicinity of genes and function like “on switches”. To increase expression requires increasing the amount of these proteins that stimulate the expression by binding to that gene. But on the chromosome in men, these proteins can only bind to one site rather than two. And in women one of them is deactivated.

For similar genes on our other chromosomes there are two sites that can be activated in parallel if expression at a fast rate is needed. For example, in the cells where we need haemoglobin to carry more oxygen from the respiratory organs to other organs, the genes that produce it can be expressed at a higher rate than any other gene in any other tissue or cell. The X chromosome, however, is like a one-lane road that carries less traffic on it at peak periods than a two-lane road – leading to gene expression traffic jams.

Traffic jams

We expected that, when peak traffic rates are high, genes on the X chromosome will have a problem. And our statistical analysis revealed that, as expected, peak traffic flow rates on your X chromosome are under half that of your other genes.

Moreover, genes that have moved from the X to the other chromosomes over evolutionary time and those that have gone the other way are different: the ones moving onto the X chromosome have much lower peak rates of expression that those making the reverse trip. And the more highly expressed genes on the X chromosome are less prone to increasing their expression level over evolutionary time than are other genes. It is hard to speed up when you’re in a single lane traffic jam.

It’s hard to speed up a traffic jam. Credit: US Census Bureau/wikimedia

The same traffic jam idea also explains the old mystery of why genes on your X chromosome are expressed in few tissues. Genes expressed in many tissues tend to be genes with very high peak rates of expression. According to the traffic jam model, really highly expressed genes cannot function on the X chromosome and indeed, as the X chromosome evolved, there seems to have been an exodus of such genes away from the X.

Similarly, tissue-specific genes with very high peak expression are not found on the X chromosome. Tissues associated with very high peak traffic flow rates – for example tissues with very active secretion such as our pancreas – are also those in which X-linked genes tend not to be expressed.

These results suggest that to understand how our genes and chromosomes evolve we might need to think more about simple limitations of the physical systems they live in at a starting point, rather than only investigating the genetic basis for biological sex differences.

There are also some practical applications from this research. When it comes togene therapy, for example, in which we artificially introduce a new version of a gene to compensate for a mutated version, we should probably avoid inserting it on the X chromosome if possible, as it may be hindered from being expressed properly.

Oscars 2016: Complete List of Nominees .


PHOTO: Actress Kate Winslet and actor Matt Damon at the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 10, 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif. | Actor Sylvester Stallone attends the European Premiere on Jan. 12, 2016 in London.

“Spotlight,” “The Revenant,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Martian” led the way this morning as the 2016 Oscar nominations were officially announced.

“The Revenant” led overall with 12 nods.

The biggest stars in Hollywood also led the way in individual categories with Leonardo DiCaprio being nominated for Best Actor, along with Matt Damon, Michael Fassbender and Eddie Redmayne. Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson and Jennifer Lawrence were among those nominated in the Best Actress category.

Following up on his big Golden Globes win, Sylvester Stallone earned a nod for bringing Rocky back to the big screen in “Creed.”

Here’s the complete list for the 88th Academy Awards:

BEST PICTURE

  • The Big Short
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Brooklyn
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Room
  • Spotlight

BEST ACTOR

  • Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
  • Matt Damon, The Martian
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

BEST ACTRESS

  • Cate Blanchett, Carol
  • Brie Larson, Room
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
  • Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
  • Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Christian Bale, The Big Short
  • Tom Hardy, The Revenant
  • Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
  • Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
  • Sylvester Stallone, Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

DIRECTING

  • Adam McKay – The Big Short
  • George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
  • Lenny Abrahamson – Room
  • Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

  • Anomalisa
  • Boy and the World
  • Inside Out
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • When Marnie Was There

COSTUME DESIGN

  • Carol
  • Cinderella
  • The Danish Girl
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • Amy
  • Cartel Land
  • The Look of Silence
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Winter on Fire

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

  • Body Team
  • Chau, Beyond the Lines
  • Claude Lanzmann
  • A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
  • Last Day of Freedom

MAKEUP AND HAIR STYLING

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
  • The Revenant

ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Earned It” – Fifty Shades of Grey
  • “Manta Ray” – Racing Extinction
  • “Simple Song #3” – Youth
  • “Til It Happens to You” – The Hunting Ground
  • “Writing’s on the Wall” – Spectre

ANIMATED SHORT

  • Bear Story
  • Prologue
  • Sanjay’s Super Team
  • We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
  • World of Tomorrow

SOUND EDITING

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant

FILM EDITING

  • The Big Short
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant
  • Spotlight
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Embrace of the Serpent
  • Mustang
  • Son of Saul
  • Theeb
  • A War

ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Carol
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Danish Girl
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant

VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Ex Machina
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • The Big Short
  • Brooklyn
  • Carol
  • The Martian
  • Room

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Ex Machina
  • Inside Out
  • Spotlight
  • Straight Outta Compton

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Carol
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario

Creative people’s brains really do work differently


What makes highly creative people different from the rest of us? In the 1960s, psychologist and creativity researcher Frank X. Barron set about finding out. Barron conducted a series of experiments on some of his generation’s most renowned thinkers in an attempt to isolate the unique spark of creative genius.
In a historic study, Barron invited a group of high-profile creators—including writers Truman Capote, William Carlos Williams, and Frank O’Connor, along with leading architects, scientists, entrepreneurs, and mathematicians—to spend several days living in a former frat house on the University of California at Berkeley campus. The participants spent time getting to know one another, being observed by researchers, and completing evaluations of their lives, work, and personalities, including tests that aimed to look for signs of mental illness and indicators of creative thinking.
Barron found that, contrary to conventional thought at the time, intelligence had only a modest role in creative thinking. IQ alone could not explain the creative spark.

The creative genius is “occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner than the average person.”

Instead, the study showed that creativity is informed by a whole host of intellectual, emotional, motivational and moral characteristics. The common traits that people across all creative fields seemed to have in common were an openness to one’s inner life; a preference for complexity and ambiguity; an unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray; the ability to extract order from chaos; independence; unconventionality; and a willingness to take risks.

Describing this hodgepodge of traits, Barron wrote that the creative genius was “both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner, than the average person.”
This new way of thinking about creative genius gave rise to some fascinating—and perplexing—contradictions. In a subsequent study of creative writers, Barron and Donald MacKinnon found that the average writer was in the top 15% of the general population on all measures of psychopathology. But strangely enough, they also found that creative writers scored extremely high on all measures of psychological health.

Creative-minded people seemed to find an unusual synthesis between healthy and “pathological” behaviors.

Why? Well, it seemed that creative people were more introspective. This led to increased self-awareness, including a greater familiarity with the darker and more uncomfortable parts of themselves. It may be because they engage with the full spectrum of life—both the dark and the light—that writers score high on some of the characteristics that our society tends to associate with mental illness. Conversely, this same propensity can lead them to become more grounded and self-aware. In openly and boldly confronting themselves and the world, creative-minded people seemed to find an unusual synthesis between healthy and “pathological” behaviors.
Such contradictions may be precisely what gives some people an intense inner drive to create. As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said after more than 30 years of observing creative people: “If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an ‘individual,’ each of them is a ‘multitude.’”

Today, most psychologists agree that creativity is multifaceted in nature. And even on a neurological level, creativity is messy.

Contrary to the “right-brain” myth, creativity doesn’t just involve a single brain region or even a single side of the brain.

Contrary to the “right-brain” myth, creativity doesn’t just involve a single brain region or even a single side of the brain. Instead, the creative process draws on the whole brain. It’s a dynamic interplay of many different brain regions, emotions, and our unconscious and conscious processing systems.
The brain’s default mode network, or as we like to call it, the “imagination network,” is particularly important for creativity. The default mode network, first identified by neurologist Marcus Raichle in 2001, engages many regions on the medial (inside) surface of the brain in the frontal, parietal and temporal lobes.
We spend as much as half our mental lives using this network. It appears to be most active when we’re engaged in what researchers call “self-generated cognition”: daydreaming, ruminating, or otherwise letting our minds wander.
Creative people are able to juggle contradictory modes of thought—cognitive and emotional, deliberate and spontaneous.

The functions of the imagination network form the core of human experience. Its three main components are personal meaning-making, mental simulation, and perspective taking. This allows us to construct meaning from our experiences, remember the past, think about the future, imagine other people’s perspectives and alternative scenarios, understand stories, and reflect on mental and emotional states—both our own and those of others. The imaginative and social processes associated with this brain network are also critical to developing compassion, as well as the ability to understand ourselves and construct a linear sense of self.
But the imagination network doesn’t work alone. It engages in an intricate dance with the brain’s executive network, which is responsible for controlling our attention and working memory. The executive network helps us focus our imagination, blocking out external distractions and allowing us to tune in to our inner experience.
The creative brain is particularly good at flexibly activating and deactivating these brain networks, which in most people are at odds with each other. In doing so, they are able to juggle seemingly contradictory modes of thought—cognitive and emotional, deliberate and spontaneous. This allows them to draw on a wide range of strengths, characteristics and thinking styles in their work.
Perhaps this is why creative people are so difficult to pin down. In both their creative processes and their brain processes, they bring seemingly contradictory elements together in unusual and unexpected ways.

Fitguard mouthguard detects hard hits


There hasn’t been much innovation in the design of the protective mouth guard since it was invented around the turn of the 20th century.

Force Impact Technologies is looking to change that.

The startup built a prototype called the FitGuard, a “smart” mouth guard that detects when a player receives a hard hit. If a football player gets knocked with a 21-g impact to the head, for instance, the mouth guard will light up red after the play, also sending the data to a smartphone app via Bluetooth.

The product is a potential game-changer in sports whereconcussions have become a serious problem, like football, ice hockey, and soccer. And with major films being made about the sports injury, the issue continues to be discussed, though Force Impact cautions it’s just a first step in helping identify concussions.

“What we’re not doing is diagnosing concussions,” said Bob Merriman, cofounder and COO. “Rather we’re simply trying to call attention to hard impacts that youth officials and coaches may have missed.”

On Wednesday, founders Anthony Gonzales and Bob Merriman demonstrated and pitched the FitGuard in Los Angeles, the culmination of a four-month hardware accelerator program backed by Make in LA.

Here’s how it works.

When players receive their FitGuard, they pair it up with the smartphone app and input their age, gender, and weight. The actual mouthguard itself looks and feels like a normal one — it can even be dropped into boiling water  — except this one has an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and LED light on the front for notifications.

It’s what the company calls the “check engine light for the brain.”

forceimpact foundersPaul Szoldra/Tech InsiderForce Impact Technologies founders Anthony Gonzales (left) and Bob Merriman.

If an athlete takes a blow, it lights up on the front with different colors to signify the hit level. Green means it was a low impact, blue is moderate, and red is a high impact. In the case of a red impact, coaches might want to take that player out for a concussion screening (the app also includes a CDC questionnaire for non-medical professionals).

Beyond evaluating a single impact, the FitGuard’s data can be tracked by parents and coaches over the long-term.

“Parents can download impacts and have a log over the course of a game, a week, or even a full season,” Merriman said. “So they can make informed decisions about the health of their children as they play the game they love.”

force impact fitguard app

The company is aiming entirely for athletes ages 12-25. That’s due to a significant rate of injury among high school athletes and mostly-positive feedback received from high school coaches. Gonzales told TI that professional organizations like the NFL haven’t expressed much interest.