COVID-19 and the power of music

Music can help regulate emotion, make us feel connected

COLUMBUS, Ohio – In Italy, people isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic stood on apartment balconies, singing “Bella Ciao” – “goodnight, beautiful” – together into the night. Musicians in a Dutch symphony filmed themselves playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” individually – then assembled a compilation video titled “From Us, For You.” In Columbus, children played their cellos from their porch so an elderly neighbor could hear. 

On Twitter, people shared so many of their “Songs of Comfort” – prompted by the virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma – that the hashtag started trending. 

The virus might be keeping people apart; music is bringing them together.

“Music is a very effective, easy and cheap way of distracting yourself,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, a professor of communication at The Ohio State University who has studied the connections between people and the music they listen to.

 “I think oftentimes we think of other people when we listen to music – it might remind us of other people and just help us feel connected. And that is a buffer against stress – human connectedness helps you to feel less stress.”

That includes the kind of in-person connections made in Italy and Columbus. But it also includes playing a song that reminds you of a happy moment – maybe one from a concert you enjoyed with friends, or a song that reminds you of your partner.

Music can help our bodies manage the physiological response to stress, research shows.

“Listening to music positively affects cortisol levels in the saliva, and it can lower a person’s heart rate,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.   

So if you’re feeling stressed or anxious, what kind of music should you listen to? 

Research shows it depends on the person, said Lindsay Warrenburg, who finished her PhD at Ohio State in December, and whose dissertation focused on music and emotion. She specifically studied how music affects feelings of sorrow. 

“The research on regulation of emotion shows that there are different ways to regulate your mood,” she said, “but right now, during times of stress like we’re living in now, being distracted and actively seeking out something that will make you feel more positive are probably two of the best strategies.” 

That could mean listening to upbeat music that makes you feel happy, she said. Or, it could mean returning to music that reminds you of specific moments or broader times in your life that brought you joy. 

“There’s a critical period of music listening called the reminiscence, which is from around age 12 to around age 22 – it’s when most of our musical tastes are formed,” Warrenburg said. “I would suggest going back to music that reminds people of that time period.” 

Music often prompts memories: We remember where we were and who we were with the first time we saw our favorite musician perform. A cheesy slow jam might take us back to our high school prom. A happy singalong might remind us of favorite friends. 

“Just thinking about your loved ones, about good relationships, about the good times in your life has a reassuring effect,” Knobloch-Westerwick said. 

People often learn to love music because of their families or broader cultures, she said. That’s one reason listening to music helps us feel connected. 

“Maybe you’ve seen your parents enjoy a certain type of music, or maybe you’ve been in a school band,” Knobloch-Westerwick said. “Part of this is cultural. And there are also the physiological responses.” 

There is some research that shows the tempo of the music might matter, too: “The beat could help you sort of bring your body back to a normal beat,” she said.

Music, like so many art forms, can also help us process our emotions and feel like we are not alone in them – it’s the reason breakup songs are so powerful when relationships end. 

And, ultimately, even though we’re connecting remotely, understanding that we aren’t alone might be one of the things that helps us get through this time, Knobloch-Westerwick said. 

“Music is a great way of reminding us that we are all in this together,” she said. “What everybody does counts. So, we all have to really hang in there and support each other. We will see through this. Everything will be better eventually.”

4 tips for business survival … but I put 5

While CEOs and executives are struggling to cope with the fallout of Covid-19, an expert on business internationally renowned growth, Jana Matthews Professor of UniSA is encouraging companies to take a step back and carefully consider their activity before making any decision radical about their future.

“The fact that a company survive in uncertain times – and is positioned for growth on the other side – will depend largely on how the CEO and currently lead the leaders,” says prof. Matthews.

“We all have to do with unprecedented uncertainty. And while it is impossible to predict which companies will do all this, there are things you can do to increase their chances.

(Yes, finally there are 5 🙂

1.Balance dollars with sense Look at your accounts and project your cash flow over the next few months – do you need to collect receivables or delay expenditures? Are you in a position to lend your business personal funds? Can you ask some of your employees to take vacation days now or drop down to 80 per cent, if necessary? Remember, there are government grants Also available, so check These too. If there’s still a shortfall, go to the bank to discuss a loan.

2.Double your winners This year not all companies will do their best: if the products are hand sanitizers, soaps, toilet paper or fans, you can have your best year ever. Study which of your products or services they sold and focus your associates on those. If you identify customers who have purchased them, you can also target your marketing.

3.Think laterally Find out what people are buying and look for openings – can you make the straps secure That facemasks or key components in ventilators? If so, let the manufacturers know your capabilities, or alternatively, make the product yourself. If manufacturers need the product in a different way, look for alternatives, Now is the time to be flexible and adaptable.

4.Look critically at your company ‘Strong Eye’ your company, people and products as if you were an outside investor. Are there any gaps, oversights or weak spots? Ask your employees to help scan, as These are the people on the ground, in the thick of it. What can you do better, more efficiently? Where are the double-ups? Be open and ready to listen, then take action. Also, think about what changes you, as the leader, may need to make.

5.Have the courage, brains and heart to lead It’s not easy to lead through chaos at this velocity of change. It takes brains to analyse and develop strategies to keep the company alive. It takes courage to stop doing what used to work and move into unchartered territory. And without question, it takes heart. Empathise with your employees who are worried about their jobs and their futures and remember to provide them with frequent updates – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Weed out any misfits, or non-performers, and do everything you can to keep your great people on board; you will need them to help you grow once we’re on the other side.

“This is a time for smart decisions. The leadership that is shown now, the culture that follows and the decisions that are made will path the way for the future.”

Love Notes…

In these days of world suffering, a touch of love notes to cheer the heart.
Published by Hoffmann & Hoffmann with the contribution of Blurb, a new edition of “In vino Veritart” The art book by Roberto Sironi and Mariagrazia Pia.

The novelty lies not only in the usual beauty of Sironi’s painting and in Mariagrazia Pia’s verses but also in the brilliance of the colors highlighted by Blurb‘s print. The visionary strategies of the two artists find the relief of a careful graphic geometry made of colors, poems and anecdotes linked to the artistic union of the two authors.


A series of poetic reflections around wine, wine in all its states, love for wine, submission to wine, moods and amorous stunts next to a glass of wine, the magic of wine, his numbness, falling in love and disappointment.
The life that turns with surprises and its magic, linked to a glass of wine like the reader to its pages and lovers to its fumes.


Roberto Sironi is a multifaceted artist, his interests range from music, theater, painting, up to cinema and writing.
Mariagrazia Pia, writer and poetess with numerous books and literary works.

The limited edition book is sold exclusively on Amazon and Blurb channels as well as at Hoffmann & Hoffmann Publisher.

https://www.amazon.com/vino-veritart-R-Sironi-Pia/dp/1714572684/b2b/info/amazon-business?layout=landing?ref_=b2b_reg_US_BOOKS_ILM_EN_200318

COVID-19 Causes: Exploring the Unanswered Questions

Newswise Live Expert Panel discussion of unique angles to the COVID-19 outbreak of interest to the public and the media, including public health, testing, business and financial markets, 2020 elections, and more. 

Experts from institutions including Binghamton University, AACC, Rutgers, Cornell, University of Virginia, and more will participate in a two-part series of moderated expert panels covering a wide variety of topics, with questions prepared by Newswise editors and submissions from media attendees. 

Thursday

  1. XinQi Dong, MD, Rutgers University (Epidemiology)
  2. Zhaohui Chen, PhD, University of Virginia (Finance)
  3. Ali Khan, M.D., M.P.H, University of Nebraska Medical Center (Public Health)
  4. Valerie Reyna, PhD, Cornell University (Psychology)
  5. Tom Ewing, PhD, Virginia Tech (History)

Monday

  1. Carmen Wiley, PhD, President, American Association for Clinical Chemistry (Lab Testing)
  2. Dean Headley, PhD Wichita State (Airline Industry and Travel)
  3. Jennifer Horney, PhD, University of Delaware (Epidemiology)
  4. Dawn Bowdish PhD, McMaster University (Immunology)
  5. Daniel McKeever, PhD, Binghamton University (Finance)
  6. Dr. Jennie Kuckertz, Ph.D, from McLean Hospital (Psychology)
  7. W. Graham Carlos, MD, Indiana University (Pulmonology)

When: Thursday, March 12 at 2 PM EDT and Monday, March 16 at 2 PM EDT

Mental Well-being During Social Distancing

Managing mental well being is critical in times of uncertainty and unpredictability. One common coping mechanism is to connect in-person with friends or family because isolation can negatively impact those experiencing depression and anxiety.

Amid concerns over COVID-19, however, that recommendation conflicts with health and safety instructions on social distancing. Dr. Tonya Hansel and Dr. Maurya Glaude, licensed clinicians and researchers at the Tulane University School of Work, have the following suggestions to prevent increased at-home time from negatively affecting a person’s mental health.

  • Set up a routine and workspace dedicated to work. Use sticky notes, calendars, journals or other office supplies to help you stay organized and remember what you need to accomplish.
  • Email, message or call your colleagues or classmates. This will not only allow you to connect for mental well-being but also allow you to gain clarity and understanding about a particular assignment.
  • Recharge with fresh air, exercise and entertainment. This could include taking a midday walk or bike ride around your neighborhood, going on a nature hike or enjoying a snack on your porch. Allow more sunlight into your work space.
  • Maintain running, walking or cycling routines but bring your own water, avoid drinking out of public fountains and keep approximately 6 feet from others as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
  • Use the time you save from commuting to do extra things around your house, such as spring cleaning, cooking or gardening. Or create a piece of art or do craft projects with your children.
  • Feel free to allow small indulgences. Giving yourself or your children a little extra screen time is a way of practicing self-care.
  • Use technology — Facetime, Google Hangouts, Zoom or the phone — to keep up with friends and family and support one another. 
  • Access mental health resources such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. You can also call the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.

To schedule an interview with Hansel or Glaude, contact Carrie Moulder at cmoulder@tulane.edu or Barri Bronston at bbronst@tulane.edu.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

LJI scientists identify potential targets for immune responses to novel coronavirus

LA JOLLA, CA—Within two months, SARS-CoV-2, a previously unknown coronavirus, has raced around globe, infecting over a 100,000 people with numbers continuing to rise quickly. Effective countermeasures require helpful tools to monitor viral spread and understand how the immune system responds to the virus.

Publishing in the March 16, 2020, online issue of Host, Cell and Microbe, a team of researchers at La Jolla Institute for Immunology, in collaboration with researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute, provides the first analysis of potential targets for effective immune responses against the novel coronavirus. The researchers used existing data from known coronaviruses to predict which parts of SARS-CoV-2 are capable of activating the human immune system.

When the immune system encounters a bacterium or a virus, it zeroes in on tiny molecular features, so called epitopes, which allow cells of the immune system to distinguish between closely related foreign invaders and focus their attack. Having a complete map of viral epitopes and their immunogenicity is critical to researchers attempting to design new or improved vaccines to protect against COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.  

“Right now, we have limited information about which pieces of the virus elicit a solid human response,” says the study’s lead author Alessandro Sette, Dr. Biol.Sci, a professor in the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at LJI. “Knowing the immunogenicity of certain viral regions, or in other words, which parts of the virus the immune system reacts to and how strongly, is of immediate relevance for the design of promising vaccine candidates and their evaluation.”

While scientists currently know very little about how the human immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2, the immune response to other coronaviruses has been studied and a significant amount of epitope data is available.

Four other coronaviruses are currently circulating in the human population. They cause generally mild symptoms and together they are responsible for an estimated one quarter of all seasonal colds. But every few years, a new coronavirus emerges that causes severe disease as was the case with SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2008, and now SARS-CoV-2.

“SARS-CoV-2 is most closely related to SARS-CoV, which also happens to be the best characterized coronavirus in terms of epitopes,” explains first author Alba Grifoni, Ph.D, a postdoctoral researcher in the Sette lab

For their study, the authors used available data from the LJI-based Immune Epitope Database (IEDB), which contains over 600,000 known epitopes from some 3,600 different species, and the Virus Pathogen Resource (ViPR), a complementary repository of information about pathogenic viruses. The team compiled known epitopes from SARS-CoV and mapped the corresponding regions to SARS-CoV-2.

“We were able to map back 10 B cell epitopes to the new coronavirus and because of the overall high sequence similarity between SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, there is a high likelihood that the same regions that are immunodominant in SARS-CoV are also dominant in SARS-CoV-2 is,” says Grifoni. 

Five of these regions were found in the spike glycoprotein, which forms the “crown” on the surface of the virus that gave coronaviruses their name; two in the membrane protein, which is embedded in the membrane that envelopes the protective protein shell around the viral genome and three in the nucleoprotein, which forms the shell. 

In a similar analysis, T cell epitopes were also mostly associated with the spike glycoprotein and nucleoprotein.

In a completely different approach, Grifoni used the epitope prediction algorithm hosted by the IEDB to predict linear B cell epitopes. A recent study by scientists at the University of Texas Austin determined the three-dimensional structure of the spike proteins, which allowed the LJI team to take the protein’s spatial architecture into account when predicting epitopes. This approach confirmed two of the likely epitope regions they had predicted earlier.

To substantiate the SARS-CoV-2 T cell epitopes identified based on their homology to SARS-CoV, Grifoni compared them with epitopes pinpointed by the Tepitool resource in the IEDB. Using this approach, she was able verify 12 out of 17 SARS-CoV-2 T cell epitopes identified based on sequence similarities to SARS-CoV. 

“The fact that we found that many B and T cell epitopes are highly conserved between SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 provides a great starting point for vaccine development,” says Sette. “Vaccine strategies that specifically target these regions could generate immunity that’s not only cross-protective but also relatively resistant to ongoing virus evolution.”

The work was funded in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a component of the National Institutes of Health through contracts 75N9301900065, 75N93019C00001 and 75N93019C00076.

Full citation: Alba Grifoni, John Sidney, Yun Zhang, Richard H Scheuermann, Bjoern Peters and Alessandro Sette. A Sequence Homology and Bioinformatic Approach Can Predict Candidate Targets for Immune Responses to SARS-CoV-2. Cell, Host and Microbe, 2020.

A pre-proof is available here.

About La Jolla Institute for Immunology

The La Jolla Institute for Immunology is dedicated to understanding the intricacies and power of the immune system so that we may apply that knowledge to promote human health and prevent a wide range of diseases. Since its founding in 1988 as an independent, nonprofit research organization, the Institute has made numerous advances leading toward its goal: life without disease.

Equal parenting rights for same-sex couples

Same-sex marriage may have been given the green (or rainbow) light in many countries around the world, but it appears there are still some entrenched attitudes in society when it comes to same-sex parenting. 

Misconceptions about the impact on children raised by same-sex parents are harmful both in a social and legal sense, says University of South Australia psychologist Dr Stephanie Webb

Same-sex couples are still struggling to gain equal rights to biological parents – particularly in the event of separation – and on a social level they want to address the fallacies about the impact of children growing up with parents of the same gender.

 “The most common myths are that children will be confused about their own sexuality, be less resilient, experience conflict, and suffer other issues as a result of growing up in a same-sex family,” Dr Webb says. 

“The reality is, children raised in a same-sex family environment are no different to children raised by heterosexual couples. In some cases, they are far more resilient, tolerant and open-minded because they have seen their parents’ own struggle for acceptance and equality.” 

To counter the misconceptions, Dr Webb and colleagues from the University of Canberra and Boise State University in the United States carried out an online survey to assess the impact of an educational campaign on people’s attitudes. 

A total of 629 people – including 74 per cent who identified as heterosexual and 23 per cent bisexual or homosexual – were split into two groups and presented with fact sheets about smoking (control group) and same-sex parenting. 

Before completing the survey, they were asked about their attitudes to same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting. 

The fact sheets dispelled many of the concerns that people had over the perceived negative developmental impacts on children with same-sex parents. 

“Our study showed a significant reduction in prejudices held after reading the fact sheets,” Dr Webb says. 

However, the sticking point is that many people believe the central purpose of marriage is to procreate. Since biological children cannot be produced by a same-sex couple, the role of marital equality is not seen as important by some. 

This creates legal issues for same-sex couples in the event of separation involving children, where a third party (a biological parent) has legal rights that supersede that of the parent whose genes are not involved.

 “Legal rights for same-sex parents are ignored by policymakers and the public alike,” Dr Webb says. “By making marriage policies inclusive, regardless of sexuality, it would validate same-sex families and protect them against discrimination.” 

Dr Webb says education is a crucial step towards achieving legal equality for same-sex families. 

Her findings have recently been published in the Australian Journal of Psychology. The survey is a follow up to a 2018 paper which examined the connection between gender role beliefs and support for same-gender family rights. 

Notes for Editors

“Attitudes toward same-sex family rights: Education facilitating progressive attitude change” was authored by Dr Stephanie Webb from the University of South Australia, Associate Professor Phil Kavanagh from the University of Canberra and Associate Professor Jill Chonody from Boise State University.

What does self-quarantine mean?

As people wrestle with spring travel, many may choose – or be asked – to self-quarantine for a period of time to help deter the spread of COVID-19.

Isolation requires sick people to be separated from those who are not sick, while quarantine restricts the movement of people who are exposed to a contagious disease to monitor if they become sick, according to Luis Ostrosky, MD, professor of infectious diseases at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

So, what does self-quarantine look like? Susan Wootton, MD, an infectious disease pediatrician at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, explains.

Wash your hands
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home
  • Stay home except to get medical care
  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor
  • Wear a face mask if you are sick
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid sharing personal household items
  • Clean all “high-touch” surfaces daily
  • Monitor your symptoms
  • Receive a green light from health care providers before discontinuing quarantine

Household members, intimate partners, and caregivers who may have close contact with a person exposed to or symptomatic with COVID-19 should monitor their health closely. Call your health care provider right away if you develop symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 including fever, cough, and trouble breathing.

For those who have been to an affected area or exposed to someone who is sick with COVID-19 in the last 14 days, you may have some limitations on your movement or activity. If you develop symptoms during that period, seek medical advice immediately. Call the office of your health care provider before you go, and tell them about your recent travel history and your symptoms. They will give you instructions on how to get care without exposing other people to your illness.

“Infection control and prevention efforts by patients with COVID-19, their household members, and their health care providers, in combination with contact tracing activities, are key to limiting the community spread of disease,” Wootton said.

Stay informed by following updates on Harris County Public HealthTexas Department of State Health ServicesCDC, and World Health Organization.

Endangered species on supermarket shelves

Lab reveals the surprising prevalence of European Eel in Hong Kong’s food supply

Imagine purchasing products from your local grocer, only to find out that those products are comprised of critically endangered species! That’s what a team from the University of Hong Kong, Division of Ecology and Biodiversity has recently discovered on Hong Kong supermarket shelves. A team led by Dr David Baker from the University’s Conservation Forensics laboratory, has recently published the results from an investigation into European eel products on sale in Hong Kong supermarkets.

The study, published in Science Advances, found that nearly 50% of retail eel products, ranging from fillets to snack items from grocers and convenience stores, contained a critically endangered species of fish. According to the IUCN, The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is at risk of extinction. For this reason, trade in European eels and their food product derivatives is subject to international regulation under the Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). CITES is meant to ensure that permits are required for their import and export in an effort to regulate trade and foster conservation.

Eel, extremely popular in East Asia and particularly Japan, has traditionally been fished from East Asian populations of the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica). However, overexploitation due to growing demand from Mainland China and a combination of threats ranging from rising ocean temperatures, parasites, and dammed rivers have led to dramatic declines in eel populations. This is true not only for European and Japanese species, but also for their American and Indo-Pacific relatives.

To satisfy demand for eel in East Asia, juvenile eels (known as glass eels) are caught while swimming upstream in their native range spanning Europe and North Africa, and smuggled to Asia to be raised to maturity. To date, captive breeding of eels has not been economically viable; wild-caught glass eels are thus used to “seed” eel farms. In recent years the illegal trade has been highlighted by a number of high-profile investigations and increasing prosecutions.

“The illegal export of glass eels from Europe to Asia has now been recognised as one of the world’s greatest wildlife crimes and Europol has estimated the scale of over 300 million eels (2018 data) annually. The next step is to investigate the global consumer markets to identify where these trafficked eels are eventually consumed. The numbers from Hong Kong are very alarming and reflect the huge amounts of European eels that are being farmed in Asia. It is now up to individual countries to investigate the scale of European eels entering their national food chains illegally.” -Florian Stein, Sustainable Eel Group

The international trade in glass eels is incredibly lucrative. One kilogram of glass eels can contain up to 3,500 individuals and has been recorded selling for over HKD$50,000 on the black market. This highly profitable trade has attracted the attention of international criminal syndicates, who smuggle glass eels in suitcases from Europe to Asia for resale. In their juvenile stages, eels are extremely difficult to identify to the species level. The two most common cousins of the endangered European eel (the Japanese and American eel) are not listed in CITES, therefore no permit is required for their trade. Because of the challenges in visual identification, endangered European eels can be laundered along with their legally traded relatives.

Already, the existence of Europe-Asia smuggling routes has been documented, but the ultimate destination of the smuggled eels remained elusive. Originally conceived as an undergraduate project looking at seafood mislabeling, the investigation into European eel took off when students noticed a surprising amount of European eel present in supermarket products.

“The eel project is the most exciting thing I have done during my undergraduate study in HKU. I once thought research was only for postgraduates and professors, but it turns out I, even as a student, was able to do meaningful research that actually made an impact in illegal trading. This has made me more determined to continue work in environmental fields.” -Haze Chung, Year 4 Undergraduate Researcher

The study covered a wide range of Hong Kong supermarkets and convenience stores across all districts. Surprisingly, almost 50% of the eel products surveyed were determined to be European eel. The results from this study suggested that large scale smuggling networks trafficking European eels are interwoven with local supplier chains, resulting in endangered species ending up on supermarket shelves, totally unbeknownst to consumers.

Autistic Children and BORDERLINE MOTHER, ANY CONNECTION?

In my personal experience as the father of an autistic child, I have met many parents of autistic children. I have lived with my baby’s mother for ten years and have learned over time to recognize borderline traits in people in a relatively short time.

Parents of autistic children are separated or with a partner from the submissive personality. All (or at least those met by me) had strong characteristics of ‘Borderline Narcissist personality’ “and in general they were female relatives


Now, I don’t think I discovered salt water but I wonder why nobody talks about it? we all agree on the genetic factor but it seems clear to me that even the “Borderline” condition is to be considered a form of female autism directly linked to the autism spectrum and in my opinion an almost regularly repeated condition.

In the past few years there have been references to connections with the mother regarding the autistic spectrum, these theories have been swept away in a recent period to avoid unnecessary emotional affectation in women. What do you think about it? Does my thought make sense?

Children in the Holocaust

The new issue of I’M Italian magazine available from March 10, dedicated to the children of the Holocaust.

the testimony of the few survivors remind us of what is capable human beings in the name of an ideology. Dedicated to Liliana Segre who a few months ago shook and moved us in her speech to the European Parliament.

We wrote about Fascist plague in Italy showing no signs of disappearing, we wrote political and Matteo Renzi, sports psychology and life, when Italians people were the dirty and bad immigrants.
“I’M Italian” and all books Hoffmann & Hoffmann, are now also available in “Hoffmann bookstore” by Autism20.

https://amp.issuu.com/visual-stories/IY1CyK9fGj5

Subscriptions to the magazine are available at www.imitalian.press or from http://www.amazon.com.
Interactive version by ISSUU.com ebook in all online stores from March 10th.

The running factor

Millions of runners around the world lace up they’re running shoes, spurred on by the psychological, health and social benefits that running delivers.

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

The birth of Parkrun in 2004 – now an international activity with more than 20 countries involved — is credited with a sharp rise in the popularity of running in the past decade, but with benefits like downsides.

Research paper by University of South Australia Adjunct Professor Jan de Jonge and his team reveals the price that runners (and society) pay when the sport becomes an obsession.

Prof de Jonge, based in the Netherlands at Eindhoven University of Technology and Utrecht University, surveyed 246 recreational runners aged 19 to 77 years to investigate how a person’s mental outlook (mental recovery and passion for running) affects their risk of running-related injuries.

Not surprisingly, the more “obsessively passionate” runners – where the sport fully controlled their life to the detriment of partners, friends and relatives – reported far more running-related injuries than those who were more “harmoniously passionate” and laid back in their approach to running.

The latter group, who are in full control of their running and integrate the sport into their life and other activities, reported faster mental recovery after a run and sustained fewer running-related injuries. They were more likely to heed the early warning signs of injuries and take both physical and mental breaks from running whenever necessary. 

Obsessively passionate runners disregarded the need to recover after training and failed to mentally detach from the sport, even when running became harmful. Their approach to running delivered short-term gains such as faster times but resulted in more running-related injuries. 

Age and gender played a part. The older runners were able to mentally detach and recover a lot faster after a run than those in the 20-34 age group – especially females – who were more prone to running-related injuries. 

“Most running-related injuries are sustained as a result of overtraining and overuse or failing to adequately recover, merely due to an obsessive passion for running,” Prof de Jonge says. 

“The majority of research focuses on the physical aspects of overtraining and lack of recovery time, but the mental aspects of running-related injuries have been ignored to date. 

“When running becomes obsessive, it leads to problems. It controls the person’s life at the expense of other people and activities and leads to more running-related injuries. This behaviour has also been reported in other sports, including professional dancing and cycling.” 

In the Netherlands, where the study was undertaken, running-related injuries costs the economy approximately €10 million a year (A$16 million) in medical costs, work absences and reduced productivity. Next to soccer, running is the Dutch sport with the highest number of injuries. 

While there are no comparative figures available for Australia, a study by Medibank Private lists running as the 4th most injury-prone sport in Australia after Aussie Rules, basketball and netball, with sporting injuries overall costing the economy more than $2 billion a year. 

Does smoking increase your risk for dementia and cognitive decline?

Photo by Abhishek Koli on Unsplash

Scientists from the Uniformed Services University (USU), Emory University and the University of Vermont have found that cigarette smoking is linked to increased lesions in the brain’s white matter, called white matter hyperintensities.  White matter hyperintensities, detected by MRI scan, are associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. These findings may help explain the link between smoking and increased rates of dementia and other forms of cognitive decline.

The study, “Associations of cigarette smoking with gray and white matter in the UK Biobank” was published online in the journal, Neuropsychopharmacology, https://rdcu.be/b1jPS

In June 2019, the Surgeons General of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and United States, released an open letter stating that tobacco use is a threat to the health and fitness of U.S. military forces and compromises readiness. This burden also extends to care provided by the Veterans Health Administration, which spends more than $2.5 billion annually on smoking-related care.  In response, Dr. Joshua Gray, assistant professor of Medical and Clinical Psychology and Neuroscience at USU, and colleagues, examined the association between cigarette smoking and brain structure. Cigarette smoking is associated with increased risk for myriad health consequences including increased risk for neuropsychiatric conditions, but research on the link between smoking and brain structure is limited.

Their study was the largest of its kind, including MRI brain scans from more than 17,000 individuals from the UK Biobank, a large cohort of volunteers from across the United Kingdom. They found that smoking was associated with smaller total gray and white matter volume, increased white matter lesions, and variation in specific gray matter regions and white matter tracts. By controlling for important variables that often co-occur with smoking, such as alcohol use, this study identified distinct associations between smoking and brain structure, highlighting potential mechanisms of risk for common neuropsychiatric consequences of smoking such as depression and dementia.

“Cigarette smoking is known to elevate risk for neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression and dementia. We found that smoking is associated with multiple aspects of brain structure, in particular with increased white matter lesions. White matter lesions are linked to many of the same neuropsychiatric diseases as smoking,” said Gray.  “Although further research is needed to understand to what extent smoking is a cause or consequence of these aspects of brain structure, our findings suggest a mechanism that links smoking to increased risk for dementia, depression, and other brain diseases.”

👋

When chronic pain leads to depression in children

When chronic pain keeps children from being active and social, it’s no surprise that anxiety and depression can become unwelcome playmates.

Unfortunately, this scenario can become a vicious cycle—not only can pain lead to depression and anxiety, but worsening depression and anxiety can worsen pain perception.

Overall, about 5 to 20 percent of children live with chronic pain, usually in the form of musculoskeletal pain, headaches or abdominal pain associated with medical conditions such as juvenile fibromyalgia, juvenile arthritis, sickle cell anemia, migraines, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome or chronic cancer.

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“Parents may feel helpless and frightened as they watch their children try to cope—which can make them feel anxious and depressed, just when they need to be their child’s biggest cheerleader,” said Dr. Taranjeet Jolly, an adult and pediatric psychiatrist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Sound familiar? If so, don’t despair. There is help, and it starts with recognizing that a problem exists, Jolly said.

“Look for red flags that depression may be overwhelming your child. Often your first clue is a change in their everyday routine,” Jolly said. “Is their sleep time way up or down? Is there a marked change in their social interaction? Maybe they are more irritable, angry or emotional.”

Jolly suggests starting by talking with your child to get an idea of what might be going on; however, sometimes children might not be able to directly explain or describe depression. The next step would be to follow up with a pediatrician who can rule out other causes of low energy, poor sleep etc. Once it’s established that the child is suffering from depression, a referral to a child psychiatrist is recommended, depending on the complexity of the case.

“The treatment varies according to the level of severity, but something called cognitive behavioral therapy can almost always help,” Jolly said. This approach to pain management is designed to teach children and adolescents coping skills for controlling behavioral, cognitive and physiological responses to pain.

Cognitive behavioral therapy involves educating children and parents about mechanisms by which pain messages are transmitted and perceived as well as the role of the individual in these processes.

Children can be taught various pain-coping skills with guidance in applying the skills in difficult situations. Such skills might include decreasing cognitive responses to pain and relaxation strategies such as distraction, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation—because nerve fibers can actually open or close the gate for pain channels.

Medication is another option—typically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and sometimes an anti-depressant. Opioids are not found to be very helpful when dealing with chronic pain issues and can also lead to addiction.

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Good sleep habits, aerobic exercise, good social support, positive self-statements—such as “I am stronger than this disease”—and keeping busy are also key to restoring normal function.

Parents should take an active role in promoting their child’s re-entry into school and other social environments. The goals of therapy should focus on promoting function rather than simply alleviating pain. The more functional the patient is, the less pain they feel.

Jolly also encourages parents to work closely with their child’s multidisciplinary medical team—which may include a behavioral specialist/pain psychologist, pain physician, child psychiatrist and physical therapist—to design a plan for physical activity. “It’s a team game where the goal is to help your child stop thinking about the pain and gain as much functionality as possible.”

“As with all challenges in life, some days are better than others, but always trying is the key,” Jolly said.

How to prepare in the event of a pandemic

As COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, becomes more prevalent around the world, University of Alabama at Birmingham experts share tips to help you prepare yourself, your family and your home should the virus continue to gain momentum.

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What is COVID-19?

Human coronaviruses are the second most common cause of colds and generally cause mild to moderate symptoms. Sometimes, coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and become a new human coronavirus, as in the case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 or the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which first appeared in late 2019.

“This has become dangerous because this is a first-of-its-kind type of coronavirus, and all humans do not have immunity built up to fight it,” said Rachael Lee, M.D., UAB Medicine’s health care epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring the evolving epidemic of respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. To date, Chinese health officials have reported thousands of infections with the virus in China, as well as community spread in other locations such as South Korea, Italy and Iran.  To date, the United States has had a minimal number of cases. The CDC anticipates that the virus could spread and affect countries worldwide, including the United States. 

Based on early reports of COVID-19, symptoms typically include fever, runny nose, headache, cough and a general feeling of being unwell; these are the same symptoms of the common flu virus.

If you begin to experience flu-like symptoms, UAB doctors recommend seeking medical care as soon as possible.

Wash your hands

Caroline Cartledge, a nurse practitioner with UAB Student Health Services, details the right way to make sure your hands are as clean as possible. 

 “Wash your hands as much as you can,” she said. “We always recommend handwashing before you eat anything, before you make food for other people and after you use the restroom. I wash my hands anytime I touch a doorknob; if there is hand-sanitizer around, I always use it.

People touch their faces more often than they realize. Every time you touch a door handle and then scratch your nose, you are susceptible to contracting viruses.” 

Cartledge recommends lathering your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 

“A good rule of thumb is to sing or hum ‘Happy Birthday’ to yourself twice,” she said. 

Traveling and more

Lee says to follow the CDC and local health care authorities’ guidance regarding travel to areas with active disease. She recommends using common sense to be safe and careful in traveling. 

“As with any respiratory virus, the main recommendations hold true with the novel coronavirus,” Lee said. “Wash your hands, cover your cough with your arm, and stay home if you feel sick. Wearing surgical masks out in public is not recommended, as brief exposure to the virus in public is unlikely to make a person sick. Most cases have occurred when there has been prolonged contact, such as with health care professionals or family members serving as a caregiver. Use of masks is recommended for health care professionals, caregivers and those with disease symptoms.” 

Lee adds that, in the United States, we have seen very few cases of COVID-19. However, we are still seeing a large number of influenza cases that are causing many hospitalizations across the United States. 

“It’s important at this time to get to your flu shot if you have not already done so,” Lee said. 

She also suggests that, if you have symptoms and need to see a health care professional, call ahead to your health care provider, so that they can take appropriate precautions to treat you and safeguard themselves and others in the clinic or hospital when you arrive. 

Building immunity

While washing your hands is always recommended, Jessica Grayson, M.D., assistant professor with the UAB Department of Otolaryngology, says certain foods and supplements can help boost your immune system, potentially protecting your body from germs. 

“Foods that contain indole-3-carbinols have been found to reduce the number of viral infections — while this hasn’t been specifically tested in coronaviruses, the prevention of any viral illnesses that may weaken your immune system is and will be important,” Grayson said. “These foods include leafy greens like kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, etc. They can be cooked or raw.”

Grayson adds that elderberry has certain compounds that have been approved by the FDA for use in flavoring of food. 

“There are many studies on the antiviral and antimicrobial activity of elderberry,” Grayson said. “It has been shown in some studies to bind to some subtypes of the flu virus to prevent cell entry. However, there are still more studies needed to confirm whether this is true substantial benefit.” 

You can also boost your immune system by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, says Lee. Eat a balanced diet, get plenty of rest, and avoid stress. 

Grayson also says there is no data to support that increased Vitamin C helps prevent or shorten viral illnesses. In fact, studies looking at this have shown no benefit. Utilizing the leafy greens above in a smoothie can be an easy way to increase intake, but strictly drinking orange or pineapple juice does not have proof of benefit. 

Protect your home and loved ones

Ian McKeag, M.D., a family and community medicine physician at UAB, says now is the time to disinfect and clean your home. Use isopropyl alcohol, or disinfecting wipes, to wipe down countertops and common areas. 

“Keep the surfaces of your home clean, especially areas where you eat and spend the most time,” McKeag said. “Use soap and water to wash your hands after you touch contaminated areas, such as doorknobs, toilet and faucet handles, and any cooking items. If you do not have access to soap and water, use hand-sanitizer.” 

McKeag adds that it is also a good idea to avoid shaking hands with others right now. If you do, wash your hands or use sanitizer right away, especially before touching your face. 

Grayson says you should limit the amount of time spent in public places and avoid people who are sick, including those who are coughing or presenting symptoms. 

“If you have a fever or other symptoms, stay home,” Grayson said. “If your children have a fever, do not send them to school. Consider working from home if your workplace allows it.” 

Finally, she recommends planning ahead for your daily medications.

“Be sure that you have plenty of the medicines that you routinely take so that if ill you can avoid going out in public to retrieve these things,” Grayson said. “In the case of a pandemic or major outbreak in the U.S., it is a good idea to stock up on non-perishable foods should your community be quarantined.” 

Spending time in nature reduces stress

ITHACA, N.Y. – New research from an interdisciplinary Cornell team has found that as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can help college students feel happier and lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress.

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The research, published Jan. 14 in Frontiers in Psychology, is part of a larger examination of “nature therapy” and aims to provide an easily-achievable dosage that physicians can prescribe as a preventive measure against high levels of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues college students face.

“It doesn’t take much time for the positive benefits to kick in — we’re talking 10 minutes outside in a space with nature,” said lead author Gen Meredith, associate director of the Master of Public Health Program and lecturer at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “We firmly believe that every student, no matter what subject or how high their workload, has that much discretionary time each day, or at least a few times per week.”

Meredith and her co-authors reviewed studies that examined the effects of nature on people of college age (no younger than 15, no older than 30) to discover how much time students should be spending outside and what they should be doing while they’re there. They found that 10-50 minutes in natural spaces was the most effective to improve mood, focus and physiological markers like blood pressure and heart rate.

“It’s not that there’s a decline after 50 minutes, but rather that the physiological and self-reported psychological benefits tend to plateau after that,” said co-author Donald Rakow, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science.

To enjoy the positive effects of being outside, students need only to be sitting or walking, the two primary activities the researchers examined in an effort to provide accessible recommendations.

“We wanted to keep this access to nature as simple and achievable as possible,” says Rakow. “While there is a lot of literature on longer outdoor programs, we wanted to quantify doses in minutes, not days.”

For Cornell students, there are a multitude of options for escaping into nature. For urban universities, research suggests that adding green elements to a built space can produce the same results. It is the time spent in nature, not necessarily nature itself, that’s beneficial.

“This is an opportunity to challenge our thinking around what nature can be,” says Meredith. “It is really all around us: trees, a planter with flowers, a grassy quad or a wooded area.”

The impetus for this work is a movement toward prescribing time in nature as a way to prevent or improve stress and anxiety, while also supporting physical and mental health outcomes. The researchers wanted to consider what “dose” would need to be prescribed to college-age students to show an effect. They are hoping that when it’s applied at universities, it becomes part of a student’s routine and is consumed in regular doses, like a pill.

“Prescribing a dose can legitimize the physician’s recommendation and give a tangible goal” says Meredith. “It’s different than just saying: ‘Go outside.’ There is something specific that a student can aim for.”

Meredith and Rakow’s co-authors include Erin Eldermire, head librarian at the Flower-Sprecher Veterinary Library; Cecelia Madsen ’12, M.P.H. ’19; Steven Shelley, M.P.H. ’19, epidemiologist at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention; and Naomi Sachs, assistant professor at the University of Maryland.

January Science Snapshots

  • In order to take these mesmerizing microscopy images, the team carefully demineralized small bits of T. rex bone to liberate the preserved vessel tissue inside. The sample used in this study came from the femur of the famous, nearly complete fossil specimen known as “the Nation’s T. rex,” which is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
  • Credit: Zosia Rostomian/Berkeley Lab
  • Credit: ClaudioVentrella/iStock
  • Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash
  • Credit: Boatman et al. and Smithsonian InstituteIn order to take these mesmerizing microscopy images, the team carefully demineralized small bits of T. rex bone to liberate the preserved vessel tissue inside. The sample used in this study came from the femur of the famous, nearly complete fossil specimen known as “the Nation’s T. rex,” which is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Berkeley Lab Helps Reveal How Dinosaur Blood Vessels Can Preserve Through the Ages

–By Aliyah Kovner 

A team of scientists led by Elizabeth Boatman at the University of Wisconsin Stout used X-ray imaging and spectromicroscopy performed at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) to demonstrate how soft tissue structures may be preserved in dinosaur bones – countering the long-standing scientific dogma that protein-based body parts cannot survive more than 1 million years.

In their paper, now published in Scientific Reports, the team analyzed a sample from a 66-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex tibia to provide evidence that vertebrate blood vessels – collagen and elastin structures that don’t fossilize like mineral-based bone – may persist across geologic time through two natural, protein-fusing “cross-linking” processes called Fenton chemistry and glycation.

First, the scientists used imaging, diffraction, spectroscopy, and immunohistochemistry to establish that structures present in the sample are indeed the animal’s original collagen-based tissue. Then, Berkeley Lab co-authors Hoi-Ying Holman and Sirine Fakra respectively performed synchrotron radiation-based Fourier-transform infrared spectromicroscopy (SR-FTIR) to examine how the cross-linked collagen molecules were arranged, and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) mapping to analyze the distribution and types of metal present in T. rex vessels.

“SR-FTIR takes images and spectra of the same sample, and so you can reveal the distribution of protein-folding patterns, which helps to identify the possible cross-linking mechanisms,” said Holman, a senior scientist in the Molecular Biophysics & Integrated Bioimaging Division.

Fenton chemistry and glycation are both non-enzymatic reactions – meaning they can occur in deceased organisms – that are driven by the iron present in the body. “The XRF microprobe revealed the presence of finely crystalline goethite, a very stable iron oxyhydroxide mineral, on the vessels that likely contributed to the preservation of organic molecules,” said Fakra, an ALS research scientist.

The authors believe that the cross-linking reactions they found evidence of, combined with the protection offered from being surrounded by dense mineralized bone, can explain how original soft tissues persist.

Allergists Encourage Parents of Food Allergic Kids to Recognize Their Own Anxiety

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Transferring knowledge of food allergies, not fear, to children is crucial

A new article in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) discusses the difficulties faced by parents of children with food allergies in not transferring their own anxieties to their children.

“Food allergies are scary for both parents and children, which is why it’s important for parents to offer fact-based strategies in order to not increase their child’s concerns” says researcher Lisa Lombard, PhD, lead author of the article. “According to the allergists we interviewed, thoughtful and balanced communication and having credible information to share with your child go a long way toward helping your child with food allergies cope with their fears.”

Researchers conducted interviews with six board-certified allergists who treat a high volume of children with food allergies. The goal of the interviews was, in part, to get the allergists’ perspectives on the major factors contributing to elevated anxiety in food allergic patients.

“The allergists said the major factors contributing to elevated anxiety in kids with food allergies included fear of the epinephrine auto-injector needle, fear of anaphylaxis and apprehension about participating in oral food challenges or oral immunotherapy,” said Ruchi Gupta, MD, ACAAI member and study co-author. “They also said that although allergic reactions and epinephrine can be scary and disruptive, those experiences were often opportunities for positive coping. For example, successfully using epinephrine can bring a sense of relief after the unknown is faced.”

The allergists noted that with younger children in particular, the child might not be especially anxious, but the parents are. They also said that food challenges – where small amounts of a food a child might be allergic to are introduced in increasingly larger amounts – are an opportunity for families to lessen their fear of the unknown.

“Because children take cues from their parents, and their level of anxiety often reflects their parents’ level of anxiety, parents need to recognize how they’re communicating with their children about food allergies,” says Dr. Gupta. “The allergists interviewed told us they sometimes have parents come in for counseling without the child because doing so helps them take care of the child and the family at the same time. One allergist suggested parents use reassuring dialogue like ‘we’ll get through this’ with their kids rather than expressing their own anxiety of fear.”

Allergists are specially trained to test for, diagnose and treat food allergies. To find an allergist near you who can help create a personal plan to deal with your food allergies, and help you live your best life, use the ACAAI allergist locator.

About ACAAI

The ACAAI is a professional medical organization of more than 6,000 allergists-immunologists and allied health professionals, headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill. The College fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research. ACAAI allergists are board-certified physicians trained to diagnose allergies and asthma, administer immunotherapy, and provide patients with the best treatment outcomes. For more information and to find relief, visit AllergyandAsthmaRelief.org. Join us on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Top 10 Autism Studies of 2019

Top10 studies from MIND explore early interventions and new school transitions for children with autism

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Top 10 autism studies

On Jan. 27, Autism Speaks announced its annual selection of studies that “advance its mission of enhancing lives today and accelerating a spectrum of solutions for tomorrow.” Three of the top 10 autism studies of 2019 came from UC Davis MIND Institute’s Collaborative START Lab

Every year Autism Speaks, the largest autism advocacy organization in the U.S., asks its science leadership and Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee to select the best studies on autism research published in scientific journals during the previous year. This year’s selection came from more than 2,000 autism research reports. 

“We are very proud of the research conducted by MIND Institute investigators and how it is advancing our understanding of autism and exploring ways to improve the quality of life for individuals and their families,” said Len Abbeduto, director of the UC Davis MIND Institute. 

In the Screening and Intervention category, two of the three selected studies were led by the MIND Institute’s researchers. 

Sally Rogers and her team published a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry on the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). They compared the effectiveness of ESDM, an evidence-based early intervention for very young children with autism, to community interventions. Their study, conducted at three sites, partially replicated studies on ESDM’s effectiveness in developing language skills and affecting autism-related behaviors. 

“Very few early intervention approaches for autism spectrum disorder have conducted multiple randomized trials,” said Sally Rogers, professor in the UC Davis Health Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and at the MIND Institute. “We were delighted to demonstrate again the power of the ESDM approach to language development, which is one of the single best predictors of better outcomes in school and in adulthood for children with autism.” 

Another study by Allison Nahmias, Aubyn Stahmer, and their colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, pointed to the large gaps in outcomes of early intervention programs for children with autism spectrum disorder. They found that, on average, early interventions associated with universities and hospitals were superior to those provided in community settings. 

The third study, recognized in the Advances in Health Equity and Lifespan Issues category, was co-authored by Aubyn Stahmer and Peter Mundy. It highlighted the need to develop “systems of support” to help guide students with autism and their families through new school transitions.  The study found three effective strategies during such stressful transitions: personalized support, parent information on the transition process and improved communication – both between schools and between school and home. 

“Our collaboration with the Autism Intervention Research Network on Behavioral Health allows us to work directly with families and schools to develop evidence-based interventions that help low-resource families support their students with autism,” said Aubyn Stahmer, professor of clinical psychiatry and director of Community-based Treatment Research at the MIND Institute. 

“At the MIND, we work to make tomorrow better for all individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families,” Abbeduto said.

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Top studies

The featured studies:

A Multisite Randomized Controlled Two-Phase Trial of the Early Start Denver Model Compared to Treatment as Usual. Rogers SJ, Estes A, Lord C, Munson, J., Rocha, M., Winter, J., Greenson, J., Colombi, C., Dawson, G., Vismara, LA., Sugar, CA, Helleman, G., Whelan, F., & Talbott, M.. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2019 Sep;58(9):853-865. 

Effectiveness of community‐based early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder: a meta‐analysis. Nahmias, AS, Pellecchia, M, Stahmer, AC, and Mandell, D.S. (2019). Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 60:1200-1209.

Broken bridges-new school transitions for students with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review on difficulties and strategies for success. Nuske HJ, McGhee Hassrick E, Bronstein B, Hauptman, L., Aponte, C., Levato, L., Stahmer, A.C., Mundy, P., Kasari, C., & Smith, T.. Autism. 2019 Feb;23(2):306-325.

About the UC Davis MIND Institute:

The UC Davis MIND Institute is a collaborative international research center, committed to the awareness, understanding, prevention, and treatment of the challenges associated with neurodevelopmental disabilities. For more information, visit mindinstitute.ucdavis.edu.

About the Collaborative START Lab:

At the Collaborative START Lab, we work to design, evaluate, and deliver effective interventions for people with autism spectrum disorder and their families. We seek collaborative, reciprocal relationships with people with autism, family members, trainees, community members, and colleagues to translate evidence-based treatment into effective, publicly-funded community services that reach those who need higher quality care.

Pretrial publicity for high profile cases like Harvey Weinstein

If you see something in the news, can you unsee it or forget it?

When it comes to pretrial publicity, conventional wisdom says “no.” That is why defense attorneys for high-profile clients like Harvey Weinstein or Lori Loughlin, in order to ensure a fair trial, argue for moving a trial’s location or reject potential jurors who have been exposed to news reports about their clients.

Jon Bruschke, chair and professor of human communications at Cal State Fullerton, however, believes that this so-called “strong publicity effect” is massively overstated. He argues that the genesis of this line of thought — a 1997 literature review by Studebaker and Penrod — is flawed, and his own research suggests a more limited effect, mostly on the length of sentencing. 

Challenging the ‘Strong Publicity Effect’
Bruschke disputes Studebaker and Penrod’s case on human biology, communications theory and the study’s methodology.  

“People can’t remember things,” he says. “In a 2002 study by Neil Vidmar at Duke University School of Law, respondents were given three front-page stories about a notorious drug dealer and murderer who was named 17 times in the articles. Two weeks later, only one person could recall the name.”

Furthermore, the elaboration likelihood model suggests that the intense spotlight on trial evidence would override any publicity seen previously. “The O.J. Simpson trial might be one of the best examples of this,” says Bruschke.

He also questions the choice of studies included in the 1997 literature review; if the publicity effect is as prevalent as claimed; and whether such an effect is augmented by bias in the study design. For example, there are often long delays (six months to two years) in real-life cases between the arraignment and trial. Delays in research studies are much shorter (weeks), so people are less likely to forget pretrial publicity.

“None of these methodological issues are a problem in isolation,” Bruschke notes. “But they all put upward pressure on the size of the effect.”

Weinstein should have no problem with publicity … it is largely negative, but this should not compromise his trial being fair.

Support for the ‘Weak Publicity Effect’
Bruschke and his colleagues are the leading proponents of a weak pretrial publicity effect. His 1999 study of all federal murder trials in a three-year period showed that high publicity and no publicity cases had equal conviction rates, and low levels of publicity resulted in the highest conviction rates. For those convicted, more publicity resulted in a longer sentence.

He found similar results in a 2004 study of all federal murder or bank robbery cases in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Detroit between 1993-95.

In his 2016 study, Bruschke found an effect for positive publicity but not for negative publicity. Jurors exposed to negative publicity were more prone to convict than those exposed to positive publicity.

Jon Bruschke, chair and professor of human communication studies at Cal State Fullerton, says the ‘strong publicity effect’ is massively overstated.

“So the evidence is still a little equivocal, and you can’t say it always matters, and you can’t say it never matters,” says Bruschke. “The next big step is to find out when it does matter, and I don’t think social science is quite there yet.

“To me, the bigger question is: What does bias even mean? If you get charged with a felony, you have a 99% chance of being found guilty. The judicial system is replete with bias on the lines of class, race, sex and intersections between them. Paradoxically, the bias introduced by publicity might help defendants gain more resources for their case, which matters more.” 

Publicity for Weinstein and Loughlin
So what does this all mean for the 2020 trials of Weinstein and Loughlin?

“Weinstein should have no problem with publicity,” says Bruschke. “All research on pretrial publicity specific to sexual misconduct suggests that, if anything, even negative publicity favors defendants with male jurors. There is publicity, and it is largely negative, but this should not compromise his trial being fair.

“For Loughlin, I know of no research that is specific to celebrities in civil cases, but celebrities do tend to fare better than typical defendants, probably because they have access to better lawyers by and large.”

Music May Be an Effective Guide For Understanding Human Brain Activity

NSF grant supports research to develop new models to better understand the brain

TROY, N.Y. — When Sergio Pequito thinks about the brain, he visualizes a piano. The keys represent different parts of the brain, and the pressure applied by the pianist’s fingers represents the outside stimuli that promote brain functions. 

Just as notes and harmonies can be mapped onto sheet music, Pequito, an assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is looking to transcribe the brain’s complex dynamics into new data models that can help researchers better understand how the brain and human cognition work. This composition effort, of sorts, is being supported by a new grant from the National Science Foundation

“We have showed that, by thinking like this, there was a lot of activity in the brain that we were able to mimic and capture,” Pequito said. “We believe that we can use the math and models we have developed to capture intrinsic features that justify how the brain behaves over space and time.” 

Pequito’s team, which includes a collaborator from the University of Southern California, will use publicly available brain signal data from the National Institutes of Health to improve the models they have built. The data has been collected using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, which tracks blood and oxygen flow as they increase in active parts of the brain. 

Pequito and his team are trying to provide insight into how a healthy brain functions, as well as how one with a neurological disease may behave. Continuing this analogy, Pequito explained that just as a pianist who hits the wrong key may create a dissonant noise, the models developed by his research team will show when something is a bit off in the brain’s activity. 

Industrial and systems engineers develop tools to analyze how complex systems interact. Pequito believes that this type of approach to humanity’s long-standing questions about the brain can provide new understanding about the relationships between functions like attention, learning, memory, decision-making, and language. These insights may prove useful in improving current technology by reverse-engineering the brain, which is one of the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges for Engineering

“We have all sorts of tools that we, as industrial engineers, can use,” Pequito said. “Now, we are working to improve them so we can provide new insights for the neuroscience and medical community.”

Borderline Personality Disorder Research and Treatment

Borderline personality disorder (BPD), characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image and behavior, afflicts approximately 2 percent of the general population and is a leading cause of suicide. Eight to 10 percent of individuals with this disorder take their own lives.

“A common misapprehension by family, friends and often by clinicians is that patients with borderline personality disorder are not likely to commit suicide since suicidal behavior is seen as a bid for attention, misjudged as not serious. The prevalence is more than 400 times higher than in the general population,” said John Oldham, MD, MS, senior vice president and chief of staff, The Menninger Clinic, and professor of psychiatry and executive vice chair, Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine.

Despite the prevalence of BPD, its diagnosis by therapists is often impeded by the lack of awareness and frequent co-occurrence with other conditions, such as depression, substance abuse and anxiety. To help therapists diagnose this disorder and build an alliance with their BPD patients, new ways of categorizing and defining BPD are in consideration. Dr. Oldham is one of the consultants on the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), expected to be published in 2011.

BPD usually manifests itself in late adolescence or early adulthood, according to Dr. Oldham.

“Patients with borderline personality disorder often have a stormy course, punctuated with episodes of high-risk behavior. The patient’s symptom profile as well as coexisting conditions, such as substance abuse, influence an individual’s course. Due to the disabling nature of the disorder, accompanied by high levels of emotional pain and distress, patients generally seek treatment and if they adhere to treatment and overcome high-risk behavior, they may ultimately do quite well.”

Officially recognized in 1980 by the psychiatric community, borderline personality disorder is at least two decades behind in research treatment options and education compared to other serious mental illnesses. Congressional Resolution, H. Res. 1005, is awaiting final action to designate May as Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month. This resolution acknowledges the pressing burden of those afflicted with borderline personality disorder, confirms the widespread prevalence of this disorder and seeks to spread awareness of this under-recognized and often misunderstood mental illness.

This Menninger Continuing Education Conference, offering continuing education credit to health professionals, is co-sponsored by the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD) and The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Metropolitan Houston. Topics and speakers include:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder: Overview of Recent Research Findings by John M. Oldham, MD, MS
  • Mentalizing in the Treatment of BPD by Jon G. Allen, PhD
  • Evidence-Based Treatment of BPD by Glen O. Gabbard, MD
  • Borderline Personality as a Self-Other Representational Disturbance by Donna S. Bender, PhD
  • New Developments in the Neurobiology of BPD by Larry J. Siever, MD
  • Borderline Personality Disorder in DSM-V by Andrew E. Skodal, MD

For conference information, see http://www.menningerclinic.com/calendar/BorderlineConf.pdf or call Menninger Education at 713-275-5060. The conference schedule and online registration form is also accessible at: MenningerClinic.com, Calendar, Conferences & Forums; NEABPD.org and NAMI.org, NAMI Metropolitan Houston Website.

The Menninger Clinic is an international specialty psychiatric center, providing treatment, research and education. Founded in 1925 in Kansas, Menninger relocated to Houston in 2003 and is affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine and The Methodist Hospital. For 17 consecutive years, Menninger has been named among the leading psychiatric hospitals in U.S.News & World Report‘s annual ranking of America’s Best Hospitals

Saving Mother and Child

Oncologist Dr. Rita Mehta, whose research over the past 15 years has led to many advances in treating some of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer – with lifesaving results, stands in front of an inspirational quilt that hangs on display at the UCI Breast Health Center in Orange.
Credit: Photo: Steve Zylius / UCI

Multidisciplinary teams of UCI oncologists and maternal-fetal specialists utilize scientific advances to treat patients with high-risk pregnancies

Five-year-old Emlee jumps high, runs fast and likes to pirouette around the living room in her white ballet slippers.

Her mom, Karalayne Maglinte, calls her a miracle. Indeed, Emlee is the embodiment of the word: She’s one of the reasons Maglinte is alive today. Another reason: High-risk pregnancy physicians and cancer specialists at UCI Health were able to help the Fontana woman when no one else could.

Cancer during pregnancy is a rare event, occurring approximately once per 1,000 pregnancies annually, according to the National Institutes of Health’s World Journal of Oncology. Fortunately, “we have plenty of experience treating patients who need a multidisciplinary approach,” says Dr. Rita Mehta, a UCI Health oncologist.

Mehta has cared for several pregnant women with cancer, including Michelle Clark-Salib, who was just 28 when diagnosed with breast cancer. Her son Caleb is now 7, and Clark-Salib is cancer-free.

But the situation was touch-and-go for a long time, just as it was for Karalayne and Emlee Maglinte. Their poignant story began to unfold in 2013 when Maglinte was 15 weeks pregnant. She was 36 years old and had two boys at home: Ian, 6, and Isaac, 18 months.

“Because I was pregnant, I was much more aware of my body’s cues that something wasn’t right, and I was quicker to react than I might have been otherwise,” Maglinte says.

“My hands and feet were itchy,” she says, “so itchy I wanted to tear them off.” She consulted “Dr. Google” and read that it might be a liver issue.

“At first I thought perhaps it was because I was pregnant with a girl, and the other two were boys,” Maglinte recalls. “But it got so intense that I began to worry. I didn’t want to endanger her.” The itchiness began on a Friday. By Monday, she was convinced she needed to call her doctor.

A Challenging Diagnosis

An arduous round of tests, physician appointments and hospitalizations ensued as several Inland Empire doctors tried unsuccessfully to diagnose and treat Maglinte. In addition to the itchiness, she developed jaundice. After four days at a community hospital, she was taken by ambulance in the middle of the night to UCI Douglas Hospital, in Orange.

A team quickly assembled, including high-risk maternal-fetal expert Dr. Julianne Toohey, gastrointestinal endoscopy specialist Dr. John Lee, and pancreatic cancer surgeons Dr. Aram Demirjian and Dr. David Imagawa.

Lee – an authority in diseases of the liver, pancreas, bile ducts and gallbladder – examined Maglinte using endoscopic ultrasound. His findings led to a biopsy of her pancreas. He also implanted a bile duct stent to alleviate her jaundice. Although complex, each procedure was minimally invasive and safe for the baby.

But the diagnosis was daunting: Maglinte had an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. “It’s strange that she would have had cancer at that age,” Lee notes. Statistically, almost all pancreatic cancer patients are older than 45, with the average age at the time of diagnosis being 70. Maglinte was only about half that.

She was devastated. “I kept walking around the halls of the maternity ward saying: ‘How the heck did I get here? This is crazy.’”

There weren’t many options. Early delivery “meant the baby would not have survived, as I was only 19 weeks pregnant,” Maglinte explains.

But she also had two children at home to consider. She and her husband, Dennis, discussed it. “He said it was my choice,” Maglinte relates. “I wanted to fight for her, but I also needed to fight for myself.”

The physicians worked together to save both mother and child. “Taking care of a high-risk patient with cancer involves careful communication with the whole team and, of course, the patient,” Toohey says. “Karalayne was very involved in decision-making.”

A week after the diagnosis, Demirjian operated, performing a seven-hour Whipple procedure, or pancreaticoduodenectomy, to remove the tumor. But Maglinte didn’t have chemotherapy, which would have jeopardized Emlee’s survival.

“We watched the baby’s growth and ended up with a planned delivery at 39 weeks,” Toohey recalls. “This is rather unusual with cancer patients – we usually deliver several weeks earlier in order for chemo or other treatment to begin as soon as possible.”

Happily, 7-pound, 1-ounce Emlee was born without complications. Her mom says she’s a “little lifesaver” because only 20 percent of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed early, mainly because symptoms – abdominal or mid-back pain, jaundice, weight loss and indigestion – can overlap with those of other conditions. “Without Emlee, I probably wouldn’t have reacted to my symptoms the way I did,” Maglinte says.

She and Emlee received the kind of advanced care that’s usually only available at an academic medical center like UCI.

Applying the Research

Oncologist Mehta, who joined the faculty in 2001 as a clinical professor of medicine, lauds the university, saying, “One of the great things is that not only can you do research here, but you can apply what you learn from that research to treat high-risk pregnancies with cutting-edge techniques. That’s not possible in a community hospital setting.”

That distinction was as important to Michelle Clark-Salib as it was to Maglinte. In 2012, at age 28, she was diagnosed with an aggressive 8-centimeter breast tumor. After undergoing nearly three months of chemotherapy with a community oncologist in Riverside, Clark-Salib found out that she was 23 weeks pregnant with her son Caleb.

The North Fontana woman consulted with an obstetrician, who discovered that her amniotic sac contained almost no fluid, a side effect of one of her chemo drugs that posed a serious threat to the developing fetus. The doctor sent Clark-Salib to the high-risk maternalfetal physicians at UCI Health, where he had trained as a resident.

Mehta, an international expert in metastatic breast cancer, eventually took over the case. “Michelle is an amazing young woman,” Mehta says. “She was at a very critical stage when she came to us but wanted to save her baby’s life and her own life. Abortion wasn’t an option for her.”

The drug that was causing the amniotic fluid problem was discontinued, and Mehta devised a modified cancer treatment plan that avoided the more toxic drug Herceptin until the infant arrived.

“As soon as the baby was delivered, we put her back on a chemotherapy regimen, and her cancer went into complete remission,” Mehta recalls. Caleb was born healthy at 37 weeks’ gestation.


“Survival rates are so much improved since I began working in oncology. Sometimes the steps are small; sometimes they’re bigger. But overall, each step adds to the next, and rates keep improving.”


Promising Scientific Advances

Mehta finds this an exciting time in her field: “Survival rates are so much improved since I began working in oncology. Sometimes the steps are small; sometimes they’re bigger. But overall, each step adds to the next, and rates keep improving.”

Over the last 15 years, her research has led to many advances in treating the most aggressive breast cancers. In a groundbreaking study published in 2012, Mehta showed that a combination of the drugs anastrozole and fulvestrant was superior in controlling cancer and improving patient survival to anastrozole alone or anastrozole followed by fulvestrant in treating hormone receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer in postmenopausal women. A long-term update of the study, published in March 2019 in The New England Journal of Medicine, confirmed the increase in five-year survival rates for advanced breast cancer patients.

“I don’t know what I would have done without UCI,” says Karalayne Maglinte, sporting hair in solidarity with PurpleStride (which raises pancreatic cancer awareness), with her husband, Dennis, and their children (from left) Ian, 12, Emlee, 5, and Isaac, 7.

Mehta was also one of the first to use chemotherapy combined with Herceptin on women with breast cancer before surgery – rather than only after – to help shrink tumors.

Now, more than seven years after Caleb’s birth, Clark-Salib remains cancer-free. And Maglinte has been cancer-free for more than six years.

“I don’t know what I would have done without UCI,” Maglinte says. “We were at the right place at the right time with the right teams. Everything just fell into line. Everyone we needed to be there was there.”

Brain inflammation in veterans with Gulf War illness

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In a new discovery, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have detected widespread inflammation in the brains of veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Illness (GWI). These findings, published online in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity on February 3, could serve as a guidepost for identifying and developing new therapies for people with GWI, as well as many other chronic conditions that have recently been linked to inflamed brain tissue, or neuroinflammation.

About 30 percent of soldiers who fought in the 1991 Gulf War suffer from GWI. Veterans with GWI display a range of symptoms, including fatigue, chronic pain and cognitive problems such as memory loss. The cause of GWI is unknown, but several potential culprits are suspected. They include exposure to nerve gas, as well as medicine given to protect against this neurotoxin; exposure to pesticides; and the stress of extreme temperature changes, sleep deprivation and physical exertion during deployment

Many of the symptoms of GWI overlap with those of another condition, fibromyalgia, notes the senior author of the study, Marco Loggia, PhD, whose laboratory at MGH’s Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging focuses on understanding the brain mechanisms of pain and neuroinflammation in humans. Last year, Loggia and his colleagues showed in another study that fibromyalgia patients have extensive neuroinflammation. “So, we asked, Do veterans who have Gulf War Illness demonstrate evidence of neuroinflammation, too?”

To find out, Loggia and his team collaborated with the Gulf War Illness Consortium at Boston University, which helped them to recruit Gulf War veterans. The study included 23 veterans, of whom 15 had GWI, as well as 25 healthy civilian subjects. All study participants’ brains were scanned using positron-emission tomography (PET) imaging, which measured levels of a molecule called translocator protein that rises in the presence of neuroinflammation. The scans detected little evidence of neuroinflammation in the healthy controls and veterans who were free of GWI. By contrast, the study found extensive inflammation in the brains of veterans with GWI, “particularly in the cortical regions, which are involved in ‘higher-order’ functions, such as memory, concentration and reasoning,” says Zeynab Alshelh, PhD, one of two research fellows in Loggia’s lab who co-led the study. “The neuroinflammation looked very similar to the widespread cortical inflammation we detected in fibromyalgia patients,” says Alshelh.

What might cause neuroinflammation? The central nervous system has legions of immune cells that protect the brain by detecting bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful agents, then producing inflammatory molecules to destroy the invaders, explains Loggia. However, while this response can be beneficial in the short term, it may become exaggerated, says Loggia, “and when that happens, inflammation becomes pathological–it becomes the problem.”

Research by Loggia’s lab and other investigators has also implicated neuroinflammation in a number of additional conditions, including chronic pain, depression, anxiety, autism, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), Huntington’s disease and migraine. The findings of the GWI study, says Loggia, “could help motivate a more aggressive evaluation of neuroinflammation as a potential therapeutic target.”

Teens spend too much time gaming?

Nearly 9 in 10 parents say teens spend too much time gaming but many mistaken about child’s video game behavior

Credit: C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Parents polled use different strategies to limit the amount of time their teen spends gaming.

Eighty-six percent of parents agree that teens spend too much time gaming, but many may be mistaken about the extent of their own child’s video game habits, a new national poll suggests.

Parents also report very different gaming patterns for teen boys than girls, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. Twice as many parents say their teen boy plays video games every day compared to parents of teen girls. Teen boys are also more likely to spend three or more hours gaming.

Overall, parents surveyed say gaming often gets in the way of other aspects of their teen’s life, such as family activities and interactions (46%), sleep (44%), homework (34%), friendship with non-gaming peers (33%) and extracurricular activities (31%).

“Although many parents believe video games can be good for teens, they also report a number of negative impacts of prolonged gaming,” says Mott Poll co-director and Mott pediatrician Gary Freed, MD, MPH.

“Parents should take a close look at their teen’s gaming behavior and set reasonable limits to reduce harmful impacts on sleep, family and peer relationships and school performance.”

But parents may not always have the most accurate perception of their teen’s gaming tendencies. Among parents of daily gamers, 54% report their teen plays three or more hours a day (compared to only 13% of teens that do not play every day.) Just 13 percent of these parents believe their teen spends more time gaming than others, while 78% believe their teen’s gaming is less than or about the same as their peers.

“Many parents of frequent gamers have a misconception that the amount of time their teenager spends playing video games is in line with their peers,” Freed says.

While 71% of parents believe video games may have a positive impact on their teen, some (44%) try to restrict video game content. Parents of teens ages 13-15 (compared to those with older teens) are more likely to use rating systems to try to make sure games are appropriate (43% versus 18%), encourage their teen to play with friends in person rather than online and to ban gaming in their teen’s bedroom.

Parents polled also use different strategies to limit the amount of time their teen spends gaming, including encouraging other activities (75%), setting time limits (54%), providing incentives to limit gaming (23%) and hiding gaming equipment (14%).

Freed notes that while gaming may be a fun activity in moderation, some teens – such as those with attention issues – are especially susceptible to the constant positive feedback and the stimulus of video games. This may lead to prolonged play that is disruptive to other elements of a teen’s life.

He recommends parents show interest by playing video games with their kids while also communicating healthy limits and ensuring that they have strong privacy settings. In some situations, he notes, games can help parents connect with older kids and may occasionally help open the door to other conversations and interactions.

But parents should also help teens understand that limits and rules around gaming are tied to safety, health, school and relationships.

“Parents can play an important role by setting clear rules about appropriate content and how much time is too much time spent on video games,” Freed says.

“While many parents see benefits in gaming, the activity should not be at the expense of face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers who play a pivotal role in promoting a teen’s learning and healthy development.”

The Mott Poll report is based on responses from 963 parents who had at least one child age 13-18 years.

Exercise Improve Video Game Performance?

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Time spent playing video games is often seen as time stolen from physical activities. Research has shown that exercise has many physical and cognitive benefits. But what if exercise could benefit video game performance as well? A new study led by neuroscientist Dr. Marc Roig and his research team from the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy at McGill University, found, for the first time, that it can. The results of this study challenge the preponderant view that video gaming and physical activity are antagonistic activities. The findings were published online in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

“The idea for the study actually came from two of my students in The Memory Lab , Bernat de Las Heras and Orville Li,” explains Dr. Roig, the study’s senior author. “They devoted so much time and effort investigating the impact of exercise on brain plasticity and cognition in people who have various conditions such as stroke or Parkinson’s Disease, that they were curious to also explore the relationship between exercise and video game performance, a leisure activity that some of them are very familiar with. The question was whether a single bout of exercise could improve video game performance?”

Several studies have shown that increased screen time, including video gaming is associated with low levels of physical activity and that video gamers who exceed screen-time limits are at greater risk of experiencing health issues associated to physical inactivity. The evidence also reveals that a lack of physical activity combined with increased sedentary activity puts people at a greater risk of experiencing health issues including cardiometabolic clinical conditions such as hyperlipidemia, coronary heart disease and diabetes as well as psychosocial issues. Participating in an exercise program can improve overall health, reduce the risk of developing these sedentary-related cardiometabolic health problems and is also shown to have positive effects on cognition.

Discovering the benefits of exercise to gaming

Conducting their work at The Memory Lab, the researchers showed that as little as 15 minutes of intense cardiovascular exercise, performed immediately before playing a video game, improved the performance of the popular online video game, League of Legends (LoL). To complete the study, a group of young individuals were asked to either perform intense cardiovascular exercise, or rest, immediately before playing the same customized mission in LoL. Their performance in the video game was observed and documented and found to improve after exercise in comparison with rest. The research group was excited to find these results not only because exercise can have a positive effect on video gaming performance but also because this is the first time this has been demonstrated.

This positive relationship of exercise and video gaming could have an important impact on the growing number of people who play video games worldwide. The latest statistics show that there are 2.3 billion video game players in the world and this number is expected to increase to 2.7 billion by 2021. Online video game platforms such as League of Legends or Fortnite have 67 and 78.3 million players monthly respectively. At the same time as video game use is increasing, as a society we are failing to promote physical activity in younger individuals. The findings in this study could produce a dramatic shift in the video game discussion as the results provide a strong argument to convince the rapidly growing number of video gamers in the world to become more active physically.

“It was surprising that most participants benefited from the effects of exercise regardless of their fitness level and their emotional response to exercise,” notes Dr. Roig. “It was striking to see that those participants who were not in exceptionally good shape or were not particularly crazy about exercise also improved their video game skill level after the single bout of exercise. This suggests that this intervention could be suitable for many individuals in our society. Video gamers could potentially integrate exercise into their training routines not only to enhance their video game performance but also to benefit from the well-known effects of exercise on physical and cognitive health.”

Plans to expand on this research in the future

Looking ahead, the group would be interested to see whether these findings can be extrapolated to other video games and whether other exercise modalities would show similar effects. It would also be interesting to look into potential underlying mechanisms and whether multiple exercise sessions would have summative effects on video gaming skills. Finally, but not the least important, one could ask whether the results of this study will be enough to change the habits of sedentary video gamers and their views on physical activity.

Dr. Roig says that one of the main challenges of the study was to create a video game task that was close enough to real video gaming but that also allowed the researchers to measure the performance of players reliably. That is why the research group is thinking about partnering with a company to create a video game platform for research purposes. The idea would be to create a video game that could be used to study the effects of different interventions (e.g. exercise) on different cognitive and motor skills. They would also like to explore the combined effects of exercise and video gaming as a multimodal intervention to improve cognition in non-disabled individuals but also those suffering from clinical conditions.

The “Firewalkers” of Karoo: Dinosaurs and Other Animals Left Tracks in a “Land of Fire”

Several groups of reptiles persisted in Jurassic Africa even as volcanism ruined their habitat

Credit: Bordy et al, 2020
Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction of the Highlands ichnosite at the Pliensbachian–Toarcian boundary.

In southern Africa, dinosaurs and synapsids, a group of animals that includes mammals and their closest fossil relatives, survived in a “land of fire” at the start of an Early Jurassic mass extinction, according to a study published January 29, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Emese M. Bordy of the University of Cape Town and colleagues.

Southern Africa

The Karoo Basin of southern Africa is well-known for its massive deposits of igneous rocks left behind by extensive basaltic lava flows during the Early Jurassic. At this time, intense volcanic activity is thought to have had dramatic impacts on the local environment and global atmosphere, coincident with a worldwide mass extinction recorded in the fossil record. The fossils of the Karoo Basin thus have a lot to tell about how ecosystems responded to these environmental stresses.

Study

In this study, Bordy and colleagues describe and identify footprints preserved in a sandstone layer deposited between lava flows, dated to 183 million years ago. In total, they report five trackways containing a total of 25 footprints, representing three types of animals: 1)  potentially small synapsids, a group of animals that includes mammals and their forerunners; 2) large, bipedal, likely carnivorous dinosaurs; and 3) small, quadrupedal, likely herbivorous dinosaurs represented by a new ichnospecies (trace fossils like footprints receive their own taxonomic designations, known as ichnospecies). 

Fossils

These fossils represent some of the very last animals known to have inhabited the main Karoo Basin before it was overwhelmed by lava. Since the sandstone preserving these footprints was deposited between lava flows, this indicates that a variety of animals survived in the area even after volcanic activity had begun and the region was transformed into a “land of fire.” The authors suggest that further research to uncover more fossils and refine the dating of local rock layers has the potential to provide invaluable data on how local ecosystems responded to intense environmental stress at the onset of a global mass extinction. 

Bordy adds: “The fossil footprints were discovered within a thick pile of ancient basaltic lava flows that are ~183 million years old. The fossil tracks tell a story from our deep past on how continental ecosystems could co-exist with truly giant volcanic events that can only be studied from the geological record, because they do not have modern equivalents, although they can occur in the future of the Earth.”

Sleep Problems in Children

Teens with Autism Are Focus of New AAN Guideline

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It is not uncommon for children and teens with autism spectrum disorder to struggle with sleep. Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep or refusing to go to bed are just some of the sleep problems they can experience. To help families, neurologists and other healthcare providers make decisions on the best treatments, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) has issued a new guideline for sleep problems in children and teens with autism, published in the February 12, 2020, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The guideline is endorsed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Autism Speaks, the Child Neurology Society and the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The American Epilepsy Society has affirmed the value of the guideline to epileptologists.

“While up to 40 percent of children and teens in the general population will have sleep problems at some point during their childhood, such problems usually lessen with age,” said lead guideline author Ashura Williams Buckley, MD, of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “For children and teens with autism, sleep problems are more common and more likely to persist, resulting in poor health and poor quality of life. Some sleep problems may be directly related to autism, but others are not. Regardless, autism symptoms may make sleep problems worse.”

For the guideline, experts from the American Academy of Neurology carefully reviewed available scientific studies on autism and sleep problems in children and teens.

The guideline addressed four types of sleep problems: refusing to go to bed, stalling, or needing a parent or caregiver present until the child falls asleep; trouble falling asleep and staying asleep; sleeping for only short periods of time or not getting enough total sleep each night; and daytime behavior problems associated with insufficient sleep at night.

The guideline recommends that healthcare providers first identify if the sleep problems are caused by medications or other medical conditions, and if so, that those causes be addressed.

If sleep problems appear to be more behavioral in nature, the guideline recommends a number of behavior treatments that have been shown to be effective in children with autism. These include setting up a consistent sleep routine with regular bedtimes and wake times, choosing a bedtime close to when the child usually gets sleepy, and not allowing use of electronic devices like computers or televisions close to bedtime.

“Behavior-modification strategies are a good place to start because they do not cost anything, there are no side effects and they have been shown to work for some people,” said Williams Buckley.

If behavioral strategies alone do not work, the guideline recommends that healthcare providers also consider adding melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone that tells the brain when to fall asleep and how long to sleep. Studies suggest that the artificial form of melatonin is safe and effective for children and teens with autism in the short term, for a period of up to three months. More research is needed to determine how safe melatonin is over longer periods of time. Possible side effects include headache, dizziness, diarrhea and rash. The guideline also cautions that over the counter melatonin products may not be reliable in terms of how much melatonin they actually contain. The guideline recommends using products that are labeled “pharmaceutical grade” melatonin.  

The guideline also found that melatonin use alone may be just as helpful in some patients as when melatonin is combined with behavioral strategies.

The guideline did not find that behavior treatments combined with melatonin changed daytime behavior problems or symptoms of autism.

The guideline also found no evidence that routine use of weighted blankets or specialized mattress technologies improve sleep.

“Sleep problems can make behavioral issues in children and teens with autism even worse,” said Williams Buckley. “That’s why it is important for parents and caregivers to work with healthcare providers to find a way to improve a child’s sleep because we know that good quality sleep can improve overall health and quality of life in all children.”

Learn more about autism at BrainandLife.org, home of the American Academy of Neurology’s free patient and caregiver magazine focused on the intersection of neurologic disease and brain health. Follow Brain & Life® on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The American Academy of Neurology is the world’s largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with over 36,000 members. The AAN is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit AAN.com or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Mutations in Sperm May Reveal Risk for Autism

Credit: Martin Breuss, UC San Diego Health
In this illustration of sperm mosaicism, mutated sperm are depicted in red.

Researchers Use SDSC’s ‘Comet’ Supercomputer to Analyze Genome Sequences

While the causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are not fully understood, researchers believe both genetics and environment play a role. In some cases, the disorder is linked to de novo mutations that appear only in the child and are not inherited from either parent’s DNA.

In a recent study published in Nature Medicine, an international team of scientists led by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine describe a method to measure disease-causing mutations found only in the sperm of the father, providing a more accurate assessment of ASD risk in future children.

“Autism afflicts one in 59 children and we know that a significant portion is caused by these de novo DNA mutations, yet we are still blind to when and where these mutations will occur,” said co-senior author Jonathan Sebat, professor and chief of the Beyster Center for Molecular Genomics of Neuropsychiatric Diseases at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “With our new study, we can trace some of these mutations back to the father, and we can directly assess the risk of these same mutations occurring again in future children.”

The research team used the Comet supercomputer based at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, an Organized Research Unit of UC San Diego, to align the whole genome sequences. “We called variants on the sequences and also detected de novo variants using Comet for these samples,” explained Danny Antaki, a UC San Diego Neurosciences postdoctoral scholar. “In short, Comet provided the foundation for the larger experiment as we were able to find the de novos that we wanted to analyze in sperm with the data generated on the supercomputer.”

Recent studies suggest gene-damaging de novo mutations are involved in at least 10 to 30 percent of ASD cases, with the number of mutations rising with the father’s age at time of conception. De novo mutations occur spontaneously in parents’ sperm or eggs or during fertilization. The mutation is then present in each cell as the fertilized egg divides.

Studies now point to male sperm as a particularly important source of these mutations, with the chance of the mutation recurring within the same family generally estimated at 1 to 3 percent.

“However, such estimates are not based on actual knowledge of the risk in an individual family, but instead are based on frequencies in the general population,” said co-senior study author Joseph Gleeson, Rady Professor of Neuroscience at UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of neuroscience research at the Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine. “When a disease-causing mutation occurs for the first time in a family, the probability that it could happen again in future offspring is not known. Thus, families must make a decision with a great deal of uncertainty.”

For their study, Gleeson, Sebat, and colleagues analyzed the sperm of eight fathers who were already parents of children with ASD. The goal was to look for the presence of multiple, genetically different material in cells in the same person, a phenomenon called mosaicism. Using deep whole genome sequencing, they found variants in offspring that were matched only in the fathers’ sperm.

“While medical textbooks teach us that every cell in the body has an identical copy of DNA, this is fundamentally not correct,” said first author Martin Breuss, an assistant project scientist in Gleeson’s lab. “Mutations occur every time a cell divides, so no two cells in the body are genetically identical. Mosaicism can cause cancer or can be silent in the body. If a mutation occurs early in development, then it will be shared by many cells within the body. But if a mutation happens just in sperm, then it can show up in a future child but not cause any disease in the father.”

The researchers determined that disease-causing mutations were present in up to 15 percent of the fathers’ sperm cells, information that could not be determined through other means, such as blood samples.

“My laboratory has a long-standing interest in understanding the origins of pediatric brain disease, and how mutations contribute to disease in a child,” said Gleeson. “We previously showed that mosaicism in a child can lead to diseases like epilepsy. Here, we show that mosaicism in one of parents is at least as important when thinking about genetic counseling.”

If developed into a clinical test, the researchers said fathers could have their sperm studied to determine their precise risk of recurrence in future children. The methods might also be applied to men that haven’t had children yet, but who want to know the risk of having a child with a disease.

About UC San Diego Health

UC San Diego Health, comprising a comprehensive health system throughout San Diego County, UC San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, is one of five academic medical systems within the University of California system. We are committed to improving patient care while also researching new treatments and training tomorrow’s doctors and pharmacists. For more than 50 years, our renowned clinicians and scientists have made advances in numerous fields, including minimally invasive surgeries, personalized cancer therapy, cardiovascular treatment and surgery, transplantation and the early detection of autism.

About SDSC

As an Organized Unit of UC San Diego, SDSC is considered a leader in data-intensive computing and cyberinfrastructure, providing resources, services, and expertise to the national research community, including industry and academia. SDSC supports hundreds of multidisciplinary programs spanning a wide variety of domains, from earth sciences and biology to astrophysics, bioinformatics, and health IT. SDSC’s petascale Comet supercomputer is a key resource within the National Science Foundation’s XSEDE (eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment) program.

How much is too much caffeine🕉

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A video of Dr. Ayala discussing caffeine’s impact on the heart is available here:

https://www.wbaltv.com/article/the-woman-s-doctor-how-much-is-too-much-caffeine/30824815

Tomas H. Ayala, M.D., FACC, is a general cardiologist in Baltimore, Maryland. He sees patients at The Heart Center at Reisterstown, a satellite location of The Heart Center at Mercy. Dr. Ayala provides a range of care to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease. He has an interest in cardiac imaging, valvular heart disease and geriatric cardiology.

Dr. Tomas Ayala has provided adults of all ages comprehensive cardiology care for more than 15 years. With Fellowship training in Cardiology, Dr. Ayala offers personalized care, concentrating on the best treatment plans to improve patient health and quality of life. He treats patients with congestive heart failure, coronary artery diseasearrhythmiashypertension and valvular heart disease, among other heart conditions.

He is Board Certified in Cardiovascular Disease, Nuclear Cardiology and Internal Medicine. Dr. Ayala is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology as well as a member of the American Society of Echocardiography and the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology.

Dr. Tomas Ayala is committed to providing focused care for his patients. He is currently a Testamur of the ASCeXAM in adult Echocardiology, signifying his achievement in passing the Board exam and progressing to the “Board Eligible” stage. Echocardiography Board Certification will place Dr. Ayala among a group of distinguished experts in cardiovascular ultrasound interpretation and enable him to offer enhanced patient care for cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Ayala works with his patients to help them prevent and manage heart disease and maintain proper heart health. He places emphasis on patient education and understanding of risk factors and medical conditions, encouraging patients to take an active role in their care.

Dr. Tomas Ayala uses comprehensive testing and diagnostic services, including transthoracic echocardiography, transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) and nuclear myocardial perfusion imaging, to evaluate heart blood flow, pumping function and anatomy in the diagnosis and assessment of cardiac conditions.

Predicting Autism Risk

Credit: U.S. Government
At birth, blood samples are taken from newborns and used to screen for genetic diseases. A new research study will help determine whether these drops can also help predict autism risk.

New research study will analyze dried blood spots recorded from California newborns for 1,000 different molecules and chemicals; their tell-tale presence might predict autism risk years before symptoms appear, prompting early treatment and perhaps prevention

Within days of birth, a few drops of blood are collected from every newborn in California—and across the United States — which are then stored on filter paper and screened for dozens of genetic and congenital disorders, such as phenylketonuria (PKU), an inherited metabolic disorder that can result in intellectual disability, seizures, heart and behavioral problems.

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine have launched a Phase II research study to look for signs of another similarly devastating disorder, one that typically does not appear in seemingly healthy children until years later: autism spectrum disorder or ASD.

The UC San Diego Newborn Screening-Autism Risk Study is designed to determine whether the dried and stored blood drops of children later diagnosed with ASD contain within them the tell-tale presence and combinations of biological molecules and environmental chemicals that might predict the risk of a future ASD diagnosis.

“We know from the history of certain genetic diseases, such as PKU, that if children can be identified before the first symptoms have appeared, then the disease can be prevented, even though the children have the DNA mutations,” said Principal Investigator Robert Naviaux, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, pediatrics and pathology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “I believe that over half of autism cases may be preventable if only we had a way to identify the children at risk before the first symptoms appear.”

Naviaux said the new study is important for two reasons: the dramatic rise in diagnosed cases of ASD and increasing evidence that early intervention in children at risk of ASD can significantly improve outcomes.

The prevalence of ASD has risen from 20 in 100,000 births in the 1970s to 1,700 in 100,000 in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — an 84-times increase. Approximately one in 59 children is diagnosed with ASD. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other government agencies indicate autism diagnoses are increasing at the rate of 10 to 17 percent per year.

Changes in diagnostic criteria and reporting practices account for 60 percent of the rise, at most, according to previously published research. “This means that even by the most conservative estimates, the prevalence of ASD has increased at least 34 times,” said Naviaux. The overarching question for Naviaux and others is why? Is it genetics? The environment?

“Our genes have not changed significantly in the past 50 years,” said Naviaux. Single gene mutations play a causal role in approximately 10 percent of ASD cases. The vast majority of ASD cases are idiopathic or of unknown cause, most likely the result of a combination of genes, environmental factors or something yet to be identified.

“More than 1,000 genes can contribute to the risk and resistance a child has to ASD, but more than 95 percent of these genes are common variations also present in asymptomatic parents and children who don’t have ASD,” Naviaux said. “A clue to how the genetics of ASD is misinterpreted is the fact that many of the genes that contribute to ASD are the same genes that contribute to other disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar depression. In most cases, DNA only sets what is possible, not what is destined.”

The new Phase II study will focus on exposure and possible roles of chemicals and compounds (detected in blood) and how they might interact with genes.

Researchers will use a blood test developed in Naviaux’s lab to analyze the presence of more than 600 metabolites —typically small molecules produced by metabolism, the life-sustaining chemical reactions in all organisms. Metabolites from amino acids and antioxidants to vitamins and lipids serve diverse, crucial functions, including as fuel, signal carriers, structure providers, defenders and regulators among them.

Earlier research by Naviaux and others has found that persons with ASD appear to have a shared “metabolic signature.” That is, their biological chemistry is comparable, though their genetics are unique.

Testing will also look at more than 400 environmental chemicals in each dried blood drop. Exposure to these chemicals, such as commonly used pesticides, flame retardants, air pollutants, lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, has been linked to several neurodevelopmental disorders, including ASD.

Naviaux and colleagues believe that the majority of ASD symptoms are the result of a treatable metabolic syndrome triggered by persistence activation of the cell danger response (CDR), a natural and universal cellular reaction to injury or stress.

Chronic CDR, they suggest, results in disrupted and incomplete healing at the metabolic and cellular levels. In ASD, the consequence may be dysfunctional neural circuits and internal systems, producing autism’s well-documented symptoms and behaviors.  

“Metabolism is the real-time result of our genes interacting with the environment,” said Naviaux. “Environmental chemical or biotoxin exposures —the ‘exposome’ — at critical developmental windows can produce delayed effects that become apparent only after months or years. By measuring metabolism and the exposome, it may be possible to identify children at risk for developing autism before the first behavioral symptoms appear.”

The study seeks 400 participants between the ages of three and 10 years old, meeting these requirements:

Born in California
Have a confirmed diagnosis of ASD from a licensed clinician or be a healthy child not taking any prescription medications (200 participants from each group)
Born after a normal term pregnancy of 37 to 42 weeks
Have not had a medical issue that required readmission to the hospital in the first month of life

The study requires parents of participating children to answer questionnaires covering pregnancy, labor and delivery, the child’s health history and that of the family.

Consented analyses will be conducted of dried blood drops recorded as part of California’s Newborn Screening program, which began in 1966 and now screens for 80 different genetic and congenital disorders. Blood spots have been saved and stored by the California Department of Public Health since 1982. No new blood tests or behavioral testing will be required for the Phase II study.  

Naviaux said he hopes to screen and enroll the full complement of participants by June 2020. Analyses of the identified and retrieved blood spots is expected to be complete by June 2021.

“We then hope to expand the testing program to states like New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington by enlisting collaborators in each of those states who will be able to apply the new methods we have developed.  

“Each new state has slightly different policies and regulations regarding the collection and storage of dried blood spots from universal newborn screening programs, so this medium-scale expansion study will teach us what will be needed to launch a national study.”

‘How I Fell for My Field’

Credit: San Diego State University
Alicia Kinoshita, Ph.D., San Diego State, Associate Professor, Water Resources Engineering

For Valentine’s Day, we asked faculty and staff at nine CSU campuses to tell us how their lifelong love affair with their discipline began.

As the adage goes, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The CSU is lucky to be replete with faculty and staff across its 23 campuses who’ve found their true calling. And for those who work with them—whether students or colleagues—that dedication to education is infectious.

Read on to hear how faculty and staff at nine CSU campuses fell head over heels for their discipline.

ALICIA KINOSHITA | Ph.D., San Diego State, Associate Professor, Water Resources Engineering

When did your love of post-fire recovery take hold? “I started working in this field as an undergraduate research assistant taking samples and measurements of water and soil. The research also took me to amazing locations such as the Sierra Nevada and Colorado. I loved being outside rather than in an office, and when I realized I could do this for a living, I was sold.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “I really loved hiking and being outside. Glimpses of wildlife still fill me with awe and remind me that sometimes systems need to be reset. I also find great satisfaction in investigating the landscape after it has been disturbed and watching the changes over time. For example, after wildfire, it is amazing to watch a charred landscape evolve, from ash to green sprouts to dense vegetation.”

BRIAN SELF | Ph.D., Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Professor, Mechanical Engineering, 2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of engineering take hold? “During my first year I took a survey course in biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech and really enjoyed it. As a result, I majored in a little-known department called engineering science and mechanics because it gave me the most flexibility to pursue biomedical types of courses. From there, I was able to get a job as a research engineer with the Air Force, where I investigated things like pilots pulling g’s [g-forces], ejections from aircraft and spatial disorientation.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “The human body is probably the most complex engineering system there is. As a civilian researcher, I got to use a human centrifuge to investigate human tolerances to sustained acceleration and to look at how high-altitude flight affects pilot performance. When I moved to Cal Poly, friends and I mentored senior design students as they developed devices to help people with disabilities participate in sports. I most love the amazing variety of interesting projects that I get to do, the wonderful colleagues I work with and the amazing students I get to mentor and teach.”

TED STANKOWICH | Ph.D., Cal State Long Beach, Director, The Mammal Lab

When did your love of animals take hold? “I began studying ecology and evolution early in college and then spent a summer vacation assisting with research on sharks. My junior year, I took a course in animal behavior and loved it. I then had the opportunity to work in one of the professor’s labs studying behavior in naked mole rats for my honors thesis.”

What is it about skunks? “They have this powerful noxious weapon everyone knows about, but…nobody studies their behavior. They are abundant and everyone seems to have a great skunk story to share. They are a misunderstood creature: They don’t stink themselves, aren’t aggressive, don’t ‘want’ to spray you and none of the large mammalian predators want anything to do with them!”

JOANNA PEREZ | Ph.D., CSU Dominguez Hills, Assistant Professor, Sociology

When did your love of sociology take hold? “As an undergraduate, learning about the sociological imagination—which is the connection between self and society—ignited my interest in the field. For the first time, I was able to critically analyze and contextualize my lived experiences as a first-generation student and daughter of immigrants. Today, I get to advocate for social justice through research, teaching and service.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “Sociology has allowed me to engage in efforts that alter the social conditions of marginalized communities. This includes conducting research on Latino undocumented immigrant activists, facilitating a student-centered learning environment and addressing the needs of underserved communities.”

COLIN DEWEY | Ph.D., Cal Maritime, Associate Professor, English

When did your love of English take hold? “After high school, I had no interest in higher education. Instead, I went on a road trip and visited the lighthouse at Point Arena in Northern California. The idea of becoming a lighthouse keeper led to a hitch in the U.S. Coast Guard; after my enlistment, I began sailing on commercial ships. I found an old volume of John Ruskin’s Victorian social commentary ‘Queen of the Air’ on board a freighter. In a later job, I had the opportunity to be a peer-tutor. When I went from solitary reading at sea to engaging others through tutoring, and then teaching, I recognized that sharing knowledge and helping others to reach the kinds of ‘Eureka!’ moments that I’d experienced with that Ruskin book was what I wanted to do.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “When I belatedly accepted the challenge and opportunity higher education held, I’d already spent close to 20 years working at sea. Education unlocked vast stores of knowledge unimaginable to my previous autodidact self. The recognition that I could help guide others along a path similar to the one I’d taken—regardless of their social or economic background—has become a vocation.”

BRIAN LEVIN | J.D., Cal State San Bernardino, Professor, Criminal Justice, Director, Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, ​2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of the study of civic cohesion and extremism take hold? “When Judge A. Leon Higginbotham taught me that a key component of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was its partial reliance on social science data. From then on, I felt there was a place for informed research with respect to policymaking.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “When I first started in 1986, no one was collecting national data about hate crimes and there were no new anti-hate crime laws at the federal levels. Even the constitutionality of state laws was still in doubt. This created opportunities to influence public policy through participation in landmark cases, police training and legislative fact-finding. Through this, I represented civil rights groups before Congress and in various Supreme Court amici briefs. Getting involved so early gave me an up-close chance to learn from key mentors, to whom I am still indebted, while also advancing the discourse that illuminates public policy reform.”

ERIC BARTELINK | Ph.D., Chico State, Professor, Physical Anthropology​​

When did your love of anthropology take hold? “I realized this was my calling in 1995 when I was an undergraduate student in anthropology. I decided to shift my focus specifically to bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology after listening to some guest speakers.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “The idea that you can reconstruct several aspects of a person’s life from their skeleton always fascinated me, whether it was someone who died recently or hundreds or even thousands of years ago.”

LAURA LUPEI | Sonoma State, Senior Director, University Budget and Planning, 2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of budgeting take hold? “As soon as I started working at Somoma State 19 years ago, I knew it was a great fit. I spent every day solving problems and looking at both the details and the big picture of the university, something I hadn’t yet realized that came so naturally to me.” 

Why did you fall in love with it? “I really fell in love with budgeting when we started our strategic budgeting initiative. Budgeting is a lot more fun when an organization uses it as a tool for planning and moving forward a set of priorities rather than reacting. It has been extremely satisfying to watch our campus culture shift, and I never thought so many people would be interested in listening to my budget presentations!”

RAJEE AMARASINGHE | Ph.D., Fresno State, Professor & Chair of Mathematics, 2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of math take hold? “After being injured as an officer in the Sri Lankan Navy, I was forced to rethink my future. Having this time to contemplate my next move, I remembered the love I had for mathematics as a child. This realization led me to pursue graduate studies in mathematics, where I would eventually begin conducting research in mathematics education. When I realized I could transform the lives of others through mathematics, I truly began to appreciate the work I was doing as a mathematics educator.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “Oftentimes, there are students and teachers who’ve never had that opportunity to see, feel and enjoy the beauty of mathematics. It’s such a joy when someone gets that ‘A-ha’ moment where they realize mathematics is beautiful and that they had fun engaging in it. I truly fell in love with the work I am doing when I realized that I could bring this joy to people every day.”

Will “Parasite” Open the Door for More Asian American Representation in Hollywood?

Credit: ROB LATOUR/SHUTTERSTOCK
Bong Joon-ho and Jin Won Han have won the best original screenplay Oscar for “Parasite” — becoming not only the first South Korean film to win an Oscar, but a relatively rare win for a foreign language screenplay.

It was a historic night at the Oscars for “Parasite.” Yet while “Parasite” walked away with four awards including  Best Picture, none of the actors were recognized in bringing the film to life. 

Christina Chin, assistant professor of sociology is co-author of the study “Tokens on the Small Screen” about how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders remain underrepresented in Hollywood.

Credit: California State University, Fullerton
Christina Chin, assistant professor of sociology

According to Chin, “it was exciting to see the movie walk away with four awards including Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture.  May this be a hopeful sign that the Hollywood industry will greenlight more projects that give Asian and Asian American artists additional opportunities to share their creative vision, perspective, and experiences.”

Rutgers scholar Jae Won Chung, an expert in Korean cinema, is available to discuss Parasite’s historic win at the Academy Awards, and the continued need for diversity in Hollywood.

“This historic moment is a win-win for the American and South Korean film industries. It reinforces Hollywood’s self-congratulatory myth that it embraces diversity and inclusivity. Meanwhile, South Korea gets the flash of international recognition it craves. Alert filmmakers, critics and fans across the world no doubt appreciate the irony that Bong Joon-ho’s filmography has had a strong anti-establishment orientation since his 2000 directorial debut. His films offer a satirical barb often directed against the U.S. empire. And in a year with only one black nominee and zero recognition for women directors, Parasite’s win ensured that the media would focus on the Academy’s evolution,” Chung said.

Chung, an assistant professor of Korean studies at Rutgers–New Brunswick, is an expert in Korean cinema and visual culture, and modern and contemporary Korean literature.

He can be reached at jchung@alc.rutgers.edu.

The Four Types of Love (Some Are Healthy, Some Are Not)💖

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As Valentine’s Day approaches, think about how you use the word “love” in your life. You love your significant other, your kids, your friends and your siblings in different ways. Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones talks about the research behind these types of affection and why our loved ones make us crazy (in good ways and bad ways).

Below is a transcript from an interview with Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones, University of Utah Health.

Love. It’s a word that some of us use a lot. “I love that color on you.” “I just love pizza.” “I love, love, love you” to our little grandchildren. Some of us never feel comfortable using the word out loud. Philosophers, Theologians and now neuroscientists and clinicians think a lot about love. We use this word for so many emotions.

Maybe as we approach Valentine’s Day we should think a little bit about the different kinds of love. Some good for you and good for your health and some maybe not so much. The Western tradition from the Greeks distinguishes four types of love and has a Greek word for all of them. There are many sources that define many other kinds of love but four is a pretty manageable number.

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Eros: erotic, passionate love

We might as well get that one out of the way first. Eros is erotic or sexual or passionate love. It’s often all about need and it’s more about the person who’s feeling sexually attractive than it is about the person who is the focus of that love or thing that is the focus of that love. It is addicting. It can cause great joy and great sorrow. It isn’t always good for you. More hearts are broken on Valentine’s Day due to the unfulfillment of erotic love.

Philia: love of friends and equals

It can be the love between lovers when they’ve been together for a long time and are not so hot and bothered anymore. It’s also called brotherly love as in the city of Philadelphia. The city of brotherly love. Of course, it could be sisterly love and it is the accepting love of good friendship. This is the love that is good for your health. The touch of a loved one. The philia touch lowers blood pressure. People in loving relationships feel your love have few doctor visits, shorter hospital visits, have less pain, and have more positive emotions. All of these positive consequences of philia love, loving friendships make us more resilient when hard times come.

Storge: love of parents for children

This kind of love is what mothers know best but isn’t talked about too much when we talk about love. It is the love of parents for children. It is described as the most natural of loves. Natural in that it’s present without corrosion. It’s emoted because we can’t help ourselves and it pays the least attention as to whether the person is worthy of love.

It’s often transient behaviors that wouldn’t be tolerated in philia love. For example, women can continue to love their children despite truly awful behaviors. Behaviors they wouldn’t tolerate in their girlfriends or their spouses. It seems to come unbidden in the care of a newborn and it grows to allow us to love our children despite their behaviors. Thank goodness for that. In many ways it’s probably a genetically programmed and hard wired love compared to the affectionate love, philia, which is maybe not so hot wired.

Agape: love of mankind

The love modeled on the love of the Christian God for men and the love of man for God. It’s the love that is given whether or not it’s returned. It’s the love without any self benefit. In the Buddhist tradition it is the central foundation of loving kindness for all mankind. This kind of love is important in the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness is important to your health, because the inability to forgive is associated with anger and a number of health outcomes that are not very good. It is love that sets a very hard bar but it may be at the foundation for happiness and contentment.

So, if you are planning something for Valentines Day for the focus of your erotic love, I hope you get it. The good news for your budget is that humans can usually only have erotic love for one person at a time. So it means one card. Good for you.

If you’re planning cards for your philia loves I hope that you have quite a few and they make you smile and that you get a bunch back.

If you’re planning cards for you storge loves your probably just planning on some heart shaped cookies for your kids.

If you planning cards for your agape loves, good luck on that one. You will break the budget and the postal service to send a card to all mankind. But we can take a little moment on Valentine’s Day to send out a little thought message of love and peace to the world.

This interview was originally broadcast by The Scope Radio. The Scope Radio, from University of Utah Health, highlights expert health advice and research you can use for a happier and healthier life.  

Happy wife, Happy life

A happy partner leads to a healthier future

Photo by Adrienne Andersen on Pexels.com

Science now supports the saying, “happy wife, happy life.” Michigan State University research found that those who are optimistic contribute to the health of their partners, staving off the risk factors leading to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and cognitive decline as they grow old together. 

“We spend a lot of time with our partners,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the study. “They might encourage us to exercise, eat healthier or remind us to take our medicine. When your partner is optimistic and healthy, it can translate to similar outcomes in your own life. You actually do experience a rosier future by living longer and staving off cognitive illnesses. 

An optimistic partner may encourage eating a salad or work out together to develop healthier lifestyles. For example, if you quit smoking or start exercising, your partner is close to following suit within a few weeks and months. 

“We found that when you look at the risk factors for what predicts things like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, a lot of them are things like living a healthy lifestyle,” Chopik said. “Maintaining a healthy weight and physical activity are large predictors. There are some physiological markers as well. It looks like people who are married to optimists tend to score better on all of those metrics.” 

The study

Published in the Journal of Personality and co-authored by MSU graduate student Jeewon Oh and Eric Kim, a research scientist in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, followed nearly 4,500 heterosexual couples from the Health and Retirement Study for up to eight years. The researchers found a potential link between being married to an optimistic person and preventing the onset of cognitive decline, thanks to a healthier environment at home. 

“There’s a sense where optimists lead by example, and their partners follow their lead,” Chopik said. “While there’s some research on people being jealous of their partner’s good qualities or on having bad reactions to someone trying to control you, it is balanced with other research that shows being optimistic is associated with perceiving your relationship in a positive light.” 

The research also indicated that when couples recall shared experiences together, richer details from the memories emerge. A recent example, Chopik explained, was Google’s tearjerker Super Bowl ad, “Loretta,” in which an elderly man uses his Google Assistant to help him remember details about his late wife. 

“The things he was recollecting were positive things about his partner,” Chopik said. “There is science behind the Google ad. Part of the types of memories being recalled were positive aspects of their relationship and personalities.” 

With all of its benefits, is optimism something that can be prescribed? While there is a heritable component to optimism, Chopik says there is some evidence to suggest that it’s a trainable quality. 

“There are studies that show people have the power to change their personalities, as long as they engage in things that make them change,” Chopik said. “Part of it is wanting to change. There are also intervention programs that suggest you can build up optimism.” 

Across the board, everyone benefits from a healthy dose of optimism from their partner. For the glass-is-half-empty people, a partner can still quench their thirst. For the glass-is-half-full people? Their cup runneth over. 

Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for 160 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

Synchronization of Memory Cells Critical For Learning and Forming Memories

Credit: UNH

On the left is an enlarged image showing many hippocampal neurons, most of which are silent and only a few are active. On the right are close ups of three highly active neurons, or memory cells, which become synchronized after memory formation

The phrase “Pavlov’s dogs” has long evoked images of bells, food and salivating dogs. Even though this tried-and-true model of repetitive patterns mimics a variety of learning processes, what happens on a cellular level in the brain isn’t clear. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire took a closer look at the hippocampus, the part of the brain critical for long-term memory formation, and found that the neurons involved in so-called Pavlovian learning shift their behavior during the process and become more synchronized when a memory is being formed – a finding that helps better understand memory mechanisms and provides clues for the development of future therapies for memory-related diseases like dementia, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“There are tens of millions of neurons in the hippocampus but only a small fraction of them are involved in this learning process” said Xuanmao (Mao) Chen, assistant professor of neurobiology. “Before engaging in Pavlovian conditioning, these neurons are highly active, almost chaotic, without much coordination with each other, but during memory formation they change their pattern from random to synchronized, likely forging new connecting circuits in the brain to bridge two unrelated events.

In the study, recently published in The FASEB Journal, researchers looked at Pavlovian learning patterns, or respondent conditioning, in mice. In the beginning, before any repetitive learning exercises, the mice did not know what to expect and using special imaging with an endomicroscope the researchers saw that the neural activity was disorderly. But after repeating different tasks associated with a conditional stimulus, like a tone or bell, the mice began to recognize the pattern and the highly active neurons became more synchronized. The researchers hypothesize that without forming synchronization, animals cannot form or retrieve this type of memory.

In the 1890’s, Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov discovered classical conditioning through repetitive patterns of bell ringing which signaled to his dogs that food was on its way and stimulated salivation. This same learned behavior is important for episodic knowledge which is the basis for such things as learning vocabulary, textbook knowledge, and memorizing account passwords. Abnormal learning processing and memory formation are associated with a number of diseases like dementia, autism, and PTSD. People who struggle with these cognitive dysfunction-related disorders may have trouble retaining memories or can even form too strong a memory, as with PTSD patients. The UNH researchers believe that understanding the fundamentals of how classical conditioning shape neural connections in the brain could speed up the development of treatments for these disorders in the future.

Contributing to these findings are Yuxin Zhou, doctoral candidate; Liyan Qiu, research scientist; both at UNH, and Haiying Wang, assistant professor at the University of Connecticut.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Cole Neuroscience and Behavioral Faculty Research Awards.

The University of New Hampshire inspires innovation and transforms lives in our state, nation and world. More than 16,000 students from all 50 states and 71 countries engage with an award-winning faculty in top-ranked programs in business, engineering, law, health and human services, liberal arts and the sciences across more than 200 programs of study. As one of the nation’s highest-performing research universities, UNH partners with NASA, NOAA, NSF and NIH, and receives more than $110 million in competitive external funding every year to further explore and define the frontiers of land, sea and space. 

Six questions about Coronavirus

A Texas State clinical microbiology expert answers the most common questions he has been fielding from journalists and health officials in the US

As an infectious disease and clinical microbiology expert, Prof. Rodney E. Rohde of the Texas State University College of Health Professions receives daily calls from the media, government and university officials, public health and professional organizations and the public asking him about the emerging novel coronavirus outbreak. Here, he shares some of the most common questions and his responses.

Q: Considering that coronaviruses can technically refer to illnesses ranging from the common cold to something as serious as SARS, what makes this particular coronavirus strain significantly concerning?

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Rodney Rohde: This is the name for a family of viruses that are mainly characterized by a positive-stranded RNA genome, and are bound in a membranous envelope. In recent history, this virus family has been extensively studied, as this virus family was responsible for the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreaks in 2003 and 2012, respectively. Interestingly, coronaviruses are responsible for about a third of all common cold cases (rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, and others also cause the common cold). This virus, 2019-nCoV, is not similar to the more common coronaviruses, such as those that cause common colds. However, genetic analyses su

ggest this virus emerged from a virus related to SARS. There are ongoing investigations to learn more.

Credit: Texas State University
Dr. Rodney E. Rohde

Novel outbreaks from any microbe should always be of public health concern. The risk from these outbreaks depends on characteristics of the virus, including whether and how well it spreads between people, the severity of resulting illness, and the medical or other measures available to control the impact of the virus (for example, vaccine or treatment medications).

The novel coronavirus is a serious public health threat. The fact that it has caused severe illness and sustained person-to-person spread in China is concerning, but it’s unclear how the situation in other parts of the world will unfold. In the US, authorities will continue to monitor the outbreak and incoming laboratory, healthcare, and public health data to produce the best possible plans and precautions.

The risk of acquiring infection is dependent on exposure. Outside the epidemic region, some people will have an increased risk of infection – for example, healthcare workers caring for 2019-nCoV patients and other close contacts. Likewise, the immunocompromised should be wary of exposure to any novel microbe. However, for most of the general public in the US who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV is considered low.

Q: What do we currently know about the human-to-human transmission of this novel coronavirus? More specifically, once one person is infected, does the coronavirus appear to be significantly contagious in a human-to-human context?

RR: The modes of human-to-human transmission of the virus are still being determined, but given current evidence, it is most likely spread by the following, according to the CDC.

  • Through the air by coughing and sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands
  • In rare cases, fecal contamination

With current data available and my professional experience, I do not believe this novel virus is any more contagious than the influenza virus. At this time, both appear to have similar transmission rates and case fatality rates (currently holding steady at about 2 percent). Of course, this could change, and it’s why we must monitor the outbreak closely and rely on “confirmed, and accurate” laboratory test results.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that until recently, all confirmatory laboratory testing (real-time RT-PCR molecular test) was occurring only at the CDC. This week, the US FDA granted emergency-use approval for state public health laboratories to starting testing for coronavirus using kits developed by the CDC. However, testing reagents and supplies could become limited due to rapid and expanding volume of testing.

Q: The number of coronavirus cases in China seems to have increased very quickly in a very short amount of time. In terms of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus, how concerned should we be (if at all) about the fact that there are more confirmed cases in the US?

RR: As of today (Feb 6, 2020), there are 12 confirmed cases in the US, 76 pending cases, and 206 cases that were suspected but have tested negative. With any novel virus or other microbe, the rapid increase in detected cases is to be expected. The perfect storm of advanced diagnostic laboratory testing coupled with  heightened awareness will certainly cause the daily rates and numbers to continue to climb. We should take typical precautions, much like we would for the influenza virus, such as hand hygiene, avoiding sick individuals, careful travel plans, and staying up to date on our vaccines, including the flu vaccine.

Photo by Chokniti Khongchum on Pexels.com

Globally, it is difficult to know the exact number of cases due to the uncertainty of asymptomatic cases or cases that are not being detected by testing. This map by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and this visualization by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering show the global spread of the virus.

Q: What are the main symptoms associated with this novel coronavirus?

RR: Symptoms will vary in severity. Current general symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and cough. All or almost all diagnosed cases have pneumonia; some develop  kidney failure or other organ dysfunction.

Q: How are the symptoms of this novel coronavirus different from those we associate with a typical common cold and seasonal flu?

RR: Both MERS and SARS (earlier coronaviruses) have been known to cause severe illness in people (~35 percent and ~10 percent, respectively). The complete clinical picture with regard to 2019-nCoV is still not fully clear. Reported illnesses have ranged from infected people with little to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying. CDC believes at this time that symptoms of 2019-nCoV may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure.

There are ongoing investigations to learn more. This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available.

Q: In terms of screening/testing for the coronavirus and staying generally cognizant of the outbreak as it continues to develop, what do people need to know to protect themselves and avoid getting sick? Put another way: Do we need to do much else outside of our usual cold and flu prevention strategies (regular hand-washing, getting enough rest/fluids, staying home when sick, etc.) to stay safe during this outbreak?

RR: The data at this time tells us to treat this virus outbreak much like we would other respiratory agents like the common cold or flu. Certainly US citizens should pay attention to reputable sources and heed the advice of the government and public health experts. The US Department of State has issued a level 4 “do not travel” advisory for China. Proper perspective is critical. There is no need to panic. We should all do our part in not becoming part of the problem as a “super-spreader” of inaccurate or unchecked information surrounding this virus outbreak.

Remember, each and every year, thousands of American citizens (and many more globally) deal with influenza, common cold, and other respiratory agents. In fact, in any given year, the typical estimate is 36,000 deaths a year in the United States alone, according to CDC reports. Thus, while we must pay attention to this outbreak and be prepared for any rapid changes, we must maintain perspective.

Hollywood’s dirtiest secret?😗

With the Academy Awards around the corner, moviegoers and critics are busy scrutinizing the costumes, sets and performances of this year’s cinematic stand-outs.
  
When film scholar Hunter Vaughan watches a movie, he considers something else: How big of a toll did it take on the environment?

“I want to provide a counter-narrative to the typical story of Hollywood that looks at it not in terms of grandiose romanticization of the silver-screen, but through the hidden environmental tolls—the natural resource use, the waste production, the greenhouse gas emissions—that are seldom talked about,” says Vaughan, an environmental media scholar-in-residence in the College of Media Communication and Information (CMCI).

Vaughan’s new book, Hollywood’s Dirtiest Secret: The Hidden Environmental Costs of the Movies, does just that, shedding light on a wide range of surprising ecological villains, from the 1939 epic Gone With the Wind—which ignited Hollywood’s polluting love affair with explosions—to the 2009 sci-fi Avatar, an ostensibly eco-friendly digital pioneer that generated mountains of real-world waste. 

Vaughan found inspiration for the book when he was a doctoral student at Oxford in England. Walking home at night he noticed a blinding glow emanating from a window. When he peeked inside, he found a building full of humming generators, snaking electrical cords and glaring lights—all set up for a practice run-through of a scene in the 2007 fantasy The Golden Compass.

“I was shocked and disturbed by the amount of resources being used just for a run-through,” he recalls.

In the coming years, he scoured through film archives and directors’ reports, toured studio lots and interviewed execs and local film crews.

He discovered an industry culture in which extravagance and waste have been not only allowed but celebrated, even as other industries have been pressured to conserve. 

Titanic waste

During the filming of Gone With the Wind amid lingering economic depression and scarcity, the filmmakers lit mounds of sets from previous films (including King Kong) ablaze for the epic “burning of Atlanta” scene, sending a plume of potentially hazardous smoke into the Los Angeles sky.

For Gene Kelly’s classic dance scene in the 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain, producers ran countless gallons of water for a week on a backlot at MGM. When they realized they were starting to lose water pressure around 5 p.m., as residents of nearby Culver City got home from work, they altered their schedule to run the water sooner. 

“They knew that water was a resource of the commons and that it was finite, but rather than conserve it, they just ran it earlier,” he notes.

Such waste did not abate with the coming of the environmental movement.

In 1997, during the filming of the box-office smash Titanic, wastewater from the lavish set on the shore of a Mexican village polluted the nearby ocean, decimating the local sea urchin population, reducing fish levels by a third and taking a heavy toll on the local fishing industry. Three years later, during the filming of the drama The Beach, also starring Leonardo DiCaprio, film crews uprooted local flora on Phi Phi Leh island in Thailand, destroying dunes that served as a natural barrier against monsoons and tsunami. The subsequent boom in tourism related to the film took such a toll on the coral reefs that the government suspended tourism there.

The truth about digital

Then there was Avatar.

Avatar is problematic on so many levels,” says Vaughan.

A cautionary tale of the dangers of unbridled resource use, the 2009 production billed itself as entirely digital—a filmmaking method described as less resource-intensive than shooting live action. But Vaughan’s research revealed that the filmmakers produced entire real-life sets and wardrobes anyway, to get a better sense of how bodies and fabrics might move in the digital world of Pandora.

Our increased reliance on digital technology for entertainment comes at its own ecological cost, Vaughan stresses, with fiber-optic cables strung along the ocean floor, satellites and cell towers built to transmit signals and the benign-sounding “cloud” made up of server farms gobbling up energy around-the-clock. While Netflix deserves kudos for its socially progressive content, he notes, it uses inordinate amounts of server space (and associated energy and coolant), and a built-in interface which automatically starts the next show once the previous show is finished exacerbates its waste.

Award ceremonies like the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, with their lavish, wear-only-once gowns, $10,000 gift bags and private jets, also have an impact.

“They take a massive toll, both materially and symbolically,” he says.

In all, research has shown, the film industry is on par with the aerospace, apparel, hotel and semiconductor industries when it comes to energy use and emissions.

Greening future films

But the news is not all bad, stresses Vaughan.

Some studios have vowed to go carbon neutral, and actors like Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Shailene Woodley and Jane Fonda are taking genuine and public steps to fight for cleaner air, water, land and environmental justice.

Vaughan is also doing his part.

With a grant from the UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), he’s working to build a Global Green Media Production Network to facilitate eco-friendly production from East Asia to Latin America. 

What can moviegoers do?

Start by asking yourself some tough questions, he writes: Would you accept the extinction of a species in exchange for your favorite movie? How many downed trees’ or highways’ worth of carbon output is it worth?

“Filmgoers can choose not to endorse movies that rely on a spectacle of explosion, materialism and waste, and they can use social media to draw attention to their choices,” he says. “If we as an audience show Hollywood we want a certain type of film, they will start making them.”

Pregnant Women with Very High Blood Pressure Face Greater Heart Disease Risk😔

Photo by Suhyeon Choi

Women with preeclampsia are four times more likely to suffer a heart attack or cardiovascular death, Rutgers study finds

Women with high blood pressure in their first pregnancy have a greater risk of heart attack or cardiovascular death, according to a Rutgers study. 

The study is published in the Journal of Women’s Health

Approximately 2 to 8 percent of pregnant women worldwide are diagnosed with preeclampsia, a complication characterized by high blood pressure that usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal. Doctors haven’t identified a single cause, but it is thought to be related to insufficiently formed placental blood vessels. Preeclampsia is also the cause of 15 percent of premature births in the U.S.

The researchers analyzed cardiovascular disease in 6,360 women, age 18 to 54, who were pregnant for the first time and diagnosed with preeclampsia in New Jersey hospitals from 1999 to 2013 and compared them to pregnant women without preeclampsia. They found that those with the condition were four times more likely to suffer a heart attack or cardiovascular death and more than two times more likely to die from other causes during the 15-year study period. 

“Women who were diagnosed with preeclampsia tended also to have a history of chronic high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and kidney disease and other medical conditions,” said lead author Mary  Downes Gastrich, an associate professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Cardiovascular Institute of New Jersey.

Gastrich said the study suggests that all women be screened for preeclampsia throughout their pregnancy and that treatment be given to those with preeclampsia within five years after birth. “Medication such as low-dose aspirin also may be effective, according to one study, in bringing down blood pressure as early as the second trimester​​,” she said. 

 Other Rutgers authors include Stavros Zinonos, Gloria Bachmann, Nora M. Cosgrove, Javier Cabrera, Jerry Q. Cheng and John B. Kostis.

The Hidden History of Valentine’s Day🥰

Photo by Nick Fewings

UNLV history professor Elizabeth Nelson separates facts about the effects of marketing, consumerism, and social media on the holiday’s evolution from fiction about love’s golden age.

Pets, spouses, co-workers, friends, classmates: They’re all in line to be on the receiving end of another record year for Valentine’s Day spending, says a new survey by the National Retail Federation.

But as Americans strive to return to the good old days of romance, one UNLV history professor says they never actually existed.

“People love the idea that there were these wonderful eras before our own time when people celebrated Valentine’s Day in the most authentic way,” says Elizabeth Nelson, a 19th-century pop culture expert, who began researching Valentine’s Day three decades ago and literally wrote the book on marketing the holiday. “But there was always this long and complicated history about Valentine’s Day and people actually thought that it was too commercial and insincere from the very beginning.”

We sat down with Nelson to get a handle on the history behind the holiday and the ways advertising, consumerism, and social media have changed the way we celebrate.

Who is St. Valentine and why does he have a holiday?

Popular lore says that in 5th century A.D., there was a St. Valentine who was imprisoned for some transgression. The myth says the jailer’s daughter took pity, brought him food, and tried to save him. The incarcerated man sent her a note of thanks, signing it: “From your Valentine.” 

The story falls apart on multiple historical levels — it seems unlikely that the jailer’s daughter would have been literate or that Valentine could’ve gotten paper and pen in a jail cell. But historians argue that — like Christmas, Easter, and many other modern holidays — Christians in the past tended to link saint holidays with pagan celebrations to help solidify conversion because people didn’t want to give up the ways in which they lived their lives. Blending these holidays allowed revelers to keep observing rituals from centuries ago. Over time, the original intent was forgotten.

In this case, there was also a Roman festival called Lupercalia, celebrating fertility, that might have influenced the celebration of Valentine’s Day. While we now celebrate Valentine’s Day in February, in the Middle Ages, Chaucer, in “The Canterbury Tales,” describes the holiday as occurring in May with imagery of springtime, birds, and budding flowers — which makes sense if linked to a Roman holiday centered on fertility. 

What’s more, there are several saints throughout history named Valentine. But none of them are patron saints of love.

Who celebrates Valentine’s Day and why?

Valentine’s Day is mostly only celebrated in the United States and Britain. Before the 18th century, it was about exchanging gifts — gloves and spoons were traditional — and being someone’s valentine for a whole year. It sometimes served as a precursor to betrothal. 

There are some interesting stories circulating about why it’s not as popular overseas.

Legend has it that in France, women who were rejected by their desired valentine would burn those men in effigy in a bonfire, causing a riotous ruckus — so allegedly, the government outlawed Valentine’s Day in the early 19th century. 

In England, there was a practice called “valentining,” where kids would go door to door asking for treats, similar to Halloween. However, over time, these public celebrations got out of hand and sometimes devolved into violence and mob action. So the proper, genteel middle class opted instead to change the focus from human interaction to the less dangerous exchange of cards.

When did the commercialization of Valentine’s Day begin?

In the 1840s, Valentine’s Day took off in the U.S. as increased paper production and printing presses lowered costs and increased the number of pre-printed cards that people could exchange that featured fancy lace, pictures, and other decorations. And sometimes celebrants copied pre-written poems out of books called “valentine writers” that featured bawdy sexual innuendo. My favorite metaphor: grating someone’s nutmeg.

One of earliest American valentine businesses was run by Esther Howland in Worcester, Mass. She was the daughter of an insurance agent who ran a stationary store. She asked her father to import fancy paper, lace, and other decor from England to make valentines to sell. She employed female friends of the family, and asked her brothers to share sample valentines during their work trips as traveling salesmen. Esther received many orders and created a successful business during the 1850s and 1860s. Her story is quite amazing because we don’t think of women as running businesses in the 19th century. 

Hallmark was founded in 1911, and technology made it possible to produce valentines in color and with various textures even more inexpensively than before. So, it’s really in the beginning of the 20th century that Valentine’s Day becomes part of a general movement to turn holidays into opportunities for selling things from candy to flowers to magazine advertisements. Valentine’s Day began to center more on children than before. People began exchanging valentines in school. Hallmark played a big role in marketing it to elementary students, shifting the focus to the competitive collecting of the most valentines rather than a single sincere one.

Has romance always been at the center of Valentine’s Day?

Initially, it was about having one valentine throughout the year and possibly becoming betrothed. But it evolved in the 19th century, sparking questions about the sincerity of exchanging pre-printed cards and the sanity of spending exorbitant amounts of money on them. 

Valentine’s Day and the exchange of valentines were a way that people in the emerging middle class in the 19th century negotiated that complicated relationship between romantic love and the economic reality of marriage. You could marry someone for love, but you still had to marry someone for love who could support you because most middle-class women didn’t work. So, it was dangerous just to fall in love with people without knowing anything about them. The celebration of Valentine’s Day became a way for people to test the uncomfortable juxtapositions of what love and marriage should be and the reality of what was actually possible. So, not so different from today.

How has social media shifted the celebration of Valentine’s Day?

One of the things that’s nice about Valentine’s Day today is that there are a variety of ways to celebrate. There are Galentine’s and Single Awareness Day celebrations, you can give your pet a gift, or you can even celebrate alone. You don’t have to wait for the candy or the flowers to come. People still do those things, but there’s less pressure to conform to a public declaration or celebration of it. And that’s the thing about Valentine’s Day: It’s about what other people see you doing or getting. How do you perform the idea of love rather than actually express or engage in the act of love. It’s the representation of the commercial items — getting flowers delivered to your office or going to a fancy restaurant or getting a piece of expensive piece of jewelry. It’s what other people think of your couplehood rather than what you think about it.

It is likely that Facebook and other social media have made Valentine’s Day more viral and more toxic, but the framework was already there. It’s not so much that social media really changed the scrutiny that was already at the core of Valentine’s Day; it just created a whole new possibility for performing the act of Valentine’s Day. Because social media sites are all about performing your imagined best self, the level of scrutiny on how you celebrate Valentine’s Day or what you got for Valentine’s day is ratcheted up exponentially on Facebook . It is not just about the people in your office or in your neighborhood, everybody in your world sees whether your sweetie did right by you or not, or vice versa.

Half-Quantum Step Toward Quantum Advantage🤔

Credit: Yufan Li, Johns Hopkins University

A famous metaphor for a qubit is Schrodinger’s hypothetical cat that can be both dead and alive. A flux qubit, a ring made of superconducting material, can have electric current flowing clockwise and counterclockwise simultaneously with an external field.

The Science

Superconductors are materials that have no electrical resistance below a critical temperature. They typically push away magnetic fields, as if they are surrounded by an anti-field shield. But to use superconductors as qubits (the unit of a quantum computer), scientists had to surround them with magnetic fields. Researchers recently measured a surprising effect for a new type of superconductor: bismuth palladium (β-Bi2Pd). Even when there was no magnetic field around this superconductor, they found it existed between two states. That’s a necessary requirement for creating a qubit. This superconductor may host a Majorana fermion, an exotic quasiparticle. Scientists have proposed the idea of Majorana fermions, but have not observed them in experiments. 

The Impact

Classical computers process information using binary states (0 and 1), called bits. Quantum computers use quantum bits (qubits). However, a qubit can be both 0 and 1 at the same time. Qubits enable quantum computers to perform certain calculations at speeds many times faster than a classical computers. However, large-scale quantum computers need qubits that are much more stable than those currently available. Scientists are researching many different possible approaches to qubits, including photons, trapped ions, loops of superconducting material, and Majorana fermions. Majorana fermions are a promising candidate for stable qubits.  

Summary

Scientists are currently looking for material systems that can support long-lived, coherent quantum phenomena that can be used for the development of qubits for future quantum computers.  One actively investigated system is based on Majorana fermions. In condensed matter physics, Majorana fermions are quasiparticles that are their own antiparticles, a fascinating quantum property. Because they always come in pairs, entangled Majorana quasiparticles could store quantum information at two discrete locations. For example, it could store data at opposite ends of one-dimensional wires. Scientists have suggested that Majorana fermions might exist in a spin-triplet superconductor (a superconductor in which pairs of electrons align their spins in parallel, resulting in a net total spin). In this research, scientists observed a half-quantum flux or half-quantum step when measuring the influence of a magnetic field on patterned rings of thin films of β-Bi2Pd. This observation proves unconventional Cooper pairing of electrons. The half-quantum flux was first observed in high-temperature copper-oxide superconductors. Other experiments reported in the literature are also consistent with spin-triplet pairing in this material. Spin-triplet superconductors have the necessary but not sufficient potential to host topologically-protected Majorana fermions. These quasiparticles could serve as a platform for the development of stable qubits for quantum computers with long coherence times and robustness toward atomic perturbations. What makes the half-quantum flux superconducting ring especially attractive is that such a field-free qubit device may enable practical applications of flux qubits for quantum computing.

Funding

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Basic Energy Sciences, including the SHINES Energy Frontier Research Center. E-beam lithography was conducted at the University of Delaware Nanofabrication Facility (UDNF) and the NanoFab laboratory of NIST (CNST).

Experimental fingerprint test can distinguish between those who have taken or handled cocaine😌😮

An experimental fingerprint detection approach can identify traces of cocaine on human skin, even after someone has washed their hands

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An experimental fingerprint detection approach can identify traces of cocaine on human skin, even after someone has washed their hands – and the test is also smart enough to tell whether an individual has actually consumed the class A drug, or simply handled it.

In a paper published in Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports, a series of experiments by the University of Surrey detail how it is possible to carry out drug testing accurately and painlessly using a single fingerprint sample. For drug testing, it is necessary to be able to distinguish those who have handled cocaine from those who have ingested it because the legal ramifications are different (for example, consider drug driving) – the new research demonstrates that this is possible for the first time using high resolution mass spectrometry techniques.

A successful, commercially-available fingerprint drug screening system, using lateral flow assay technology and fluorescence-labelled antibodies to selectively detect specific drugs or their metabolites in eccrine sweat collected from fingerprints, is already available for point of care use from Intelligent Fingerprinting – who also offer a fingerprint-based laboratory confirmation service which uses Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry techniques.

The team, from University of Surrey, Forensic Science Ireland, National Physical Laboratory and Intelligent Fingerprinting, took fingerprints from people seeking treatment at drug rehabilitation clinics who had testified to taking cocaine during the previous 24 hours. Fingerprints were collected from each patient, and the participants were then asked to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before giving another set of fingerprints. This same process was used to collect samples from a pool of drug non-users who had touched street cocaine.

The researchers at Surrey used their world-leading experimental fingerprint drug testing approach (based on rapid, high resolution mass spectrometry) to cross-reference the information from the drug non-users who had touched cocaine with that of volunteers who testified ingesting it. They found that a molecule produced in the body when cocaine is ingested, benzoylecgonine, is essential in distinguishing those who have consumed the class A drug from those who have handled it. Benzoylecgonine was not present in samples from drug non-users, even after touching street cocaine and then washing their hands.

Dr Min Jang said: “A fingerprint is a great way to test for drugs as it is so quick and efficient to collect. Using our methodology, it is possible to analyse a fingerprint sample for drugs in less than 2 minutes”.

Dr Catia Costa from the University of Surrey said: “We are excited about the possibilities for fingerprint drug testing. In addition to illicit drugs, we have found that we can detect pharmaceutical drugs in fingerprints and we are keen to see if we can use this to help patients to check that their medication is being delivered at the right dose.”

Dr Melanie Bailey from the University of Surrey said: We think this research is really significant as our laboratory test using high resolution mass spectrometry can tell the difference between a person who has touched a drug and someone who has actually consumed it – just by taking their fingerprints.

Professor David Russell, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Intelligent Fingerprinting, said: “This University of Surrey laboratory study into cocaine testing using experimental high resolution mass spectrometry techniques validates the approach Intelligent Fingerprinting took when originally commercialising our portable fingerprint-based drug screening system for use at the point-of-care. Because our commercially-available test detects both cocaine traces and benzoylecgonine – the major metabolite of cocaine – our customers have been successfully using fingerprint-based drug tests since the Summer of 2017 to determine whether cocaine has actually been taken.”

What’s your brand?

A new algorithm analyzes social media data to help brands improve their marketing

Researchers created an algorithm that successfully predicted consumer purchases. The algorithm made use of data from the consumers’ daily activity on social media. Brands could use this to analyze potential customers. The researchers’ method combines powerful statistical modeling techniques with machine learning-based image recognition.

Associate Professor Toshihiko Yamasaki and his team from the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo explore new and interesting ways to make use of data such as social media data. Some applications they develop are useful for entities like companies to improve their effectiveness in different ways, but in particular in how they reach and influence potential customers.

“I posed two questions to my team: ‘Is it possible to calculate the similarity between different brands based on the way customers engage with them on social media?’ And, ‘If so, can brands use this information to improve the way they market themselves?'” said Yamasaki. “And with some time, effort and patience, they came back with a simple but confident answer: ‘Yes!'”

But the way their team deduced this was anything but simple. The computational analysis of social media data is often called mining, as the term suggests it is a monumental and laborious task. For this reason, researchers in this field make use of various computational tools to analyze social media in ways that human beings cannot.

“In the past, many companies improved their marketing strategies with the use of customer surveys and projections based on their sales data,” explained lead researcher Yiwei Zhang. “However, these are time-consuming and imprecise. Now we have access to and expertise in tools such as machine learning and complex statistical analysis.”

The team began its work by gathering publicly available social media data from followers of selected brands. They used proven image recognition and machine-learning methods to analyze and categorize photos and hashtags relating to the brands’ followers. This revealed patterns of behavior of consumers towards different brands. These patterns meant the researchers could calculate the similarity between different or even unrelated brands.

“We evaluated our proposed algorithm against purchase history and questionnaires, which are still useful to provide context to purchase information,” continued Zhang. “The experimental results show that credit card or point card companies could predict customers’ past purchasing behavior well. Our algorithm could accurately predict customers’ willingness to try new brands.”

This research could be extremely useful for new promotions of brands that make use of social media networks. It could also be used by shopping centers and malls to plan which stores they include or for stores themselves to choose which brands to stock. And the research could even help match brands with suitable social media influencers to help better advertise their products.

“To visualize what has not been visible before is always very interesting,” concluded Yamasaki. “People might say that professionals already ‘see’ these kinds of patterns, but being able to show the similarity between brands numerically and objectively is a new innovation. Our algorithm is demonstrably more effective than judging these things based on intuition alone.”

Astronomers discover unusual monster galaxy in the very early universe

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

An international team of astronomers led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside, has found an unusual monster galaxy that existed about 12 billion years ago, when the universe was only 1.8 billion years old.

Dubbed XMM-2599, the galaxy formed stars at a high rate and then died. Why it suddenly stopped forming stars is unclear.

“Even before the universe was 2 billion years old, XMM-2599 had already formed a mass of more than 300 billion suns, making it an ultramassive galaxy,” said Benjamin Forrest, a postdoctoral researcher in the UC Riverside Department of Physics and Astronomy and the study’s lead author. “More remarkably, we show that XMM-2599 formed most of its stars in a huge frenzy when the universe was less than 1 billion years old, and then became inactive by the time the universe was only 1.8 billion years old.”

The team used spectroscopic observations from the W. M. Keck Observatory‘s powerful Multi-Object Spectrograph for Infrared Exploration, or MOSFIRE, to make detailed measurements of XMM-2599 and precisely quantify its distance.

Study results appear in the Astrophysical Journal.

“In this epoch, very few galaxies have stopped forming stars, and none are as massive as XMM-2599,” said Gillian Wilson, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCR in whose lab Forrest works.  “The mere existence of ultramassive galaxies like XMM-2599 proves quite a challenge to numerical models. Even though such massive galaxies are incredibly rare at this epoch, the models do predict them. The predicted galaxies, however, are expected to be actively forming stars. What makes XMM-2599 so interesting, unusual, and surprising is that it is no longer forming stars, perhaps because it stopped getting fuel or its black hole began to turn on. Our results call for changes in how models turn off star formation in early galaxies.”

The research team found XMM-2599 formed more than 1,000 solar masses a year in stars at its peak of activity — an extremely high rate of star formation. In contrast, the Milky Way forms about one new star a year.

“XMM-2599 may be a descendant of a population of highly star-forming dusty galaxies in the very early universe that new infrared telescopes have recently discovered,” said Danilo Marchesini, an associate professor of astronomy at Tufts University and a co-author on the study.

The evolutionary pathway of XMM-2599 is unclear.

“We have caught XMM-2599 in its inactive phase,” Wilson said. “We do not know what it will turn into by the present day. We know it cannot lose mass. An interesting question is what happens around it. As time goes by, could it gravitationally attract nearby star-forming galaxies and become a bright city of galaxies?”

Co-author Michael Cooper, a professor of astronomy at UC Irvine, said this outcome is a strong possibility.

“Perhaps during the following 11.7 billion years of cosmic history, XMM-2599 will become the central member of one of the brightest and most massive clusters of galaxies in the local universe,” he said. “Alternatively, it could continue to exist in isolation. Or we could have a scenario that lies between these two outcomes.”

The team has been awarded more time at the Keck Observatory to follow up on unanswered questions prompted by XMM-2599.

“We identified XMM-2599 as an interesting candidate with imaging alone,” said co-author Marianna Annunziatella, a postdoctoral researcher at Tufts University. “We used Keck to better characterize and confirm its nature and help us understand how monster galaxies form and die. MOSFIRE is one of the most efficient and effective instruments in the world for conducting this type of research.”

Schizophrenia Is A Disease, Not An Extreme of Normal Variation

“Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and many other types of mental illness, are diseases of the brain and should be treated and studied as such,” say Johns Hopkins researchers.

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST

Does this statement seem a bit obvious and not exactly rocket science? Although it may, this isn’t how the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) — the psychiatry wing of the National Institutes of Health — currently views severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder and dementia. The NIMH is the largest federal agency that provides research funding on mental disorders.

For the past decade, the NIMH has used a system called Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) to describe all mental illnesses as dimensions of psychological norms that fall along extremes of too much or too little of common personality traits. For example, everyone has minor fears of things such as spiders, heights or snakes. But, having very strong or unmanageable fears might constitute an anxiety disorder.

While this way of thinking may make sense for anxiety, Johns Hopkins physicians argue that for the most severe of mental disorders — such as autism, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder — the approach will lead clinicians and scientists in the wrong direction. These conditions aren’t the result of too much or too little of a normal human trait. Rather they represent a clear-cut shift outside the typical dimensions of human experience.

In every other field of medicine, researchers use animal models of diseases based on genes and their interactions that contribute to disease risk. However, the current NIMH approach directs psychiatric researchers to focus on normal variation. Research on animal models with genetic variations that increase the risk of diseases often doesn’t get funded, they say.

The researchers lay out their thoughts in two commentaries, both published in Molecular Neuropsychiatry, one published in 2018 and the other in the October 2019 issue.

In their first commentary, the researchers argue that the NIMH approach of thinking of mental illness in dimensional terms is like regressing back to Galen’s Humors of the second century, when all illnesses were attributed to the imbalance of one of the four humors: yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm. Then, they argue that a biomedical approach using the tools of genetics, neuroscience and imaging can lead to rational targets for therapies. The second commentary is a point-by-point critique of the NIMH system and its flaws. They say that the RDoC system moves away from the proven power of biomedical research, which explores the causes of diseases and their effects on human biology. They add that the RDoC system doesn’t appropriately address the natural history or progression of a disease.

“Using the RDoC system hasn’t advanced the field of psychiatry, diverts attention from achieving an understanding of underlying mechanisms and ultimately delays discovering rational treatments for these diseases,” says author Christopher A. Ross, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, neurology, neuroscience and pharmacology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

This change in how the NIMH approaches mental illnesses occurred about a decade ago. Leadership at the NIMH initiated the RDoC system with the best motives in mind, in order to encourage neuroscience research to study how cells communicate with one another in the brain. However, this change to the RDoC system happened before modern genetic and other techniques pointed toward specific causes of major mental illnesses.

“No other NIH institute has adopted a scheme so discordant from modern biomedical research practice,” says Ross.

“The NIMH strategy makes psychiatry — and especially psychiatric research — seem like a strange and esoteric endeavor, not part of mainstream biomedicine, with the consequence of stigmatizing the entire discipline, including its patients,” says co-author Russell Margolis, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and neurology at Johns Hopkins.

Now that investigators have identified some genetic and environmental causes, and are beginning to reveal molecular mechanisms behind these disorders, the researchers say that it’s time for the NIMH to readjust their system. These changes should allow for conditions such as autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to be researched and treated as diseases — and not as fringe versions of normal variation. Moving toward a system that values the biomedical approach, comparable with the other NIH institutes, they say, would guide the NIMH to support studies on mechanisms of disease, so researchers can design more targeted therapies for those with different forms of these illnesses. As psychiatric genetics is complex, so are the genetics of many common medical diseases, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Nevertheless, in other fields, scientists successfully use modern biomedical technique to address complex diseases. The authors contend that the field of psychiatry and patients with severe mental diseases deserve no less.

Ross received research support from JNJ/Janssen, Teva, Raptor/Horizon, Vaccinex, uniQure and Roche/Genentech unrelated to these publications, and has consulted for Teva, Sage, uniQure, Roche/Ionis, Azevan, Annexon and the Healthcare Services Group. Margolis received grant support from Teva unrelated to the publications discussed here.

Nine Truths about Weight and Eating Disorders

The Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) has released a new document titled Nine Truths about Weight and Eating Disorders in order to increase awareness of eating disorders in people along the full spectrum of body sizes. Despite the stereotype of patients being extremely underweight, eating disorders can occur at any weight. A companion to the “Nine Truths about Eating Disorders,” this document aims to eradicate the stereotypes and educate both medical professionals and the public about these deadly disorders.

Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates among psychiatric illnesses, second only to opioid addiction. Although doctors previously believed that only patients at very low weights were at risk for fatal medical complications, recent research has shown that the risk extends the range of body weights.1 Cardiac issues due to caloric restriction, use of diet pills and laxatives, and self-induced vomiting are a leading cause of death in eating disorders, regardless of weight.2-3 Early intervention is an important factor in lowering rates of death and medical complications, but diagnosis in higher weight patients is often delayed. Instead, these patients are often given recommendations to lose weight, which can exacerbate their behavioral symptoms.

Weight-based discrimination and bullying are prevalent in healthcare, employment, and educational settings. This stigma has been shown to affect both mental and physical health, including greater levels of depression and lowered self-esteem, with higher risk for diabetes and disordered eating behaviors.4 Individuals who have experienced weight bias from medical professionals are more likely to avoid routine healthcare, which can lead to delayed diagnoses of other medical issues.

“Weight stigma is pervasive, pernicious, and cuts to the core of our mission by both increasing the risk of eating disorders and making sustained recovery so much more difficult,” said Dr. Bryn Austin, President of the Academy for Eating Disorders. “The more a person takes the ubiquitous demeaning and dismissive messages in media and in society about fat bodies to heart, the likelier they are to develop an eating disorder and the more they will struggle with recovery, regardless of how much that person weighs. In addition, frank discrimination in healthcare against people living in larger bodies takes a direct and sometimes devastating toll on health and well-being regardless of whether or not a person believes the stigmatizing messages. With our new Nine Truths about Weight and Eating Disorders, we hope to offer our fellow health professionals — whether pediatricians or geriatricians, social workers or cardiologists – new insights on these topics, new ways of understanding patients’ and families’ experiences and, hopefully, more compassion to the care they provide.”

Creation of the Nine Truths about Weight and Eating Disorders was led by Dasha Nicholls, MBBS, MD and Phillippa Diedrichs, PhD. Dr. Nicholls is on the Faculty of Medicine, Department of Brain Sciences at the Imperial College, London, UK. She is past president of the Academy for Eating Disorders and past chair of the Eating Disorders Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Dr. Diedrichs is Professor of Psychology at the Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England in Bristol, UK. She has served as an advisor to the British Government, including the Equalities Office, the Minister for Women and Equalities, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image, and the Mayor of London. Both are Fellows of the Academy for Eating Disorders.

References:

  1. Garber, A. K., Cheng, J., Accurso, E. C., Adams, S. H., Buckelew, S. M., Kapphahn, C. J., . . . Golden, N. H. (2019). Weight loss and illness severity in adolescents with atypical anorexia nervosa. Pediatrics, 144(5), e20192339.
  2. Jáuregui-Garrido, B. & Jáuregui Lobera, I. (2012). Sudden death in eating disorders. Vascular Health and Risk Management, 8, 91-98.
  3. Crow, S. J., Peterson, C. B., Swanson, S. A., Raymond, N. C., Specker, S., Eckert, E. D., & Mitchell, J. E. (2009). Increased mortality in bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 166(12), 1342-1346.
  4. Wu, Y.-K. & Berry, D. C. (2018). Impact of weight stigma on physiological and psychological health outcomes for overweight and obese adults: a systematic review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 74(5), 1030-1042.
  5. DiGiacinto, D., Gildon, B., Stamile, E., & Aubrey, J. (2015). Weight-biased health professionals and the effects on overweight patients. Journal of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, 31(2), 132-135.

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ABOUT

The Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) is an international professional association committed to the leadership in eating disorders research, education, treatment, and prevention. The goal of the AED is to provide global access to knowledge, research, and best treatment practice for eating disorders. For additional information, please contact Elissa Myers at (703) 626-9087 and visit the AED website at www.aedweb.org.

Too Much of a Good Thing? 😜

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That Italian restaurant with the excellent linguini that you’ve indulged in so often you can no longer face a meal there.

The conference with brilliant but endless keynotes: You start the day full of enthusiasm, but by the fourth breakout you’re flagging. The action movie that has you on the edge of your seat for so long and with so little down time that your brain goes numb long before your legs do.

It’s called satiation. And once you pass the satiation point, consuming more — even of something you love — means enjoying it less. Your senses become clogged by so much of one stimulus; they become tired and don’t process your enjoyment.

Of course, feeling satiated is a temporary state. Taking a break from the restaurant or skipping a few of the keynotes will leave you ready for more in due course.

So how do you know where the satiation point will kick in? And how long does it take to rebuild your appetite for more?

Shedding rigorous scientific light on all of this is new research by Darden Professor Manel Baucells.

EVERYTHING IN MODERATION?

Together with Lin Zhao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Baucells has created a mathematical model that charts the satiation state and the time that it takes for satiation to “decay” — in other words, the optimal amount of rest from an experience or activity that is needed in order for enjoyment to resume.  

“We know from research — and common sense — that the old axiom is true: Everything is better in moderation,” says Baucells. “You tire of something if you’re overexposed to it. If you go to a concert, you’re likely to enjoy the first songs more than those that come in the middle, unless the playlist has been carefully calibrated to avoid satiation. We wanted to calculate where satiation kicks in and how it impacts enjoyment. We also wanted to understand how much time needs to elapse until satiation subsides and we start to enjoy something again.”

Understanding these dynamics, says Baucells, can help optimize the design of experiences and activities.

THE SATIATION MODEL

Baucells and Zhao’s satiation model plots three core dimensions: the consumption rate of an experience or activity or product, the satiation level, and the moment-by-moment enjoyment produced by that experience or activity or product. This third dimension is called “instant utility.”

The model is novel in that it is the first to introduce a “de-satiation motive,” charting the time it takes for satiation to decay — and enjoyment rise again.

The satiation model captures three key ideas:

  • The more frequently we consume something, the faster our satiation rate increases.
  • Enjoyment levels go down as satiation levels go up.
  • Resting between experiences decreases satiation and increases the enjoyment of the experiences that come after the break.

The paper also offers a “proof of concept” on how to measure, based on reports from individuals, specific parameters of the model such as how fast the satiation level decays during rest. Such measurements would allow us to improve the design of experiences, make better predictions on how much individuals would like a particular design, or monitor preferences from beginning to end of a time period.

THE SCIENCE IN LEAVING THE BEST FOR LAST

“Right now, a combination of intuition and experience determine how experiential services are design in many spheres of business,” says Baucells. “Intuitively we know when we go to a show or a concert that the best is generally left for last. But if you ask organizers or producers why that is, you’ll likely get a host of different reasons.”

The satiation model brings greater coherence to our understanding of the dynamics at play — a logical approach that can serve to either support or debunk gut feeling.

The model shows that satiation peaks and falls over a period of time. A high-low-high pattern works best for maximum satisfaction: Ideally, we’d still start an experience with a bang, then take things down a notch, then end with a grand finale. Having satiation peak right at the end of an experience or activity won’t penalize that activity because, simply put, nothing comes after the end. There is no further chance for satiation to increase, as the final peak is followed by an indefinite period of decay or rest. Moreover, ending on the highest note leaves one with a positive memory of the experience — an important source of consumer satisfaction.

Baucells’ model also points to how to optimize rests or breaks between activities (e.g., between songs in a concert), or to use variety to minimize satiation and optimize enjoyment.

“It’s the scientific explanation behind why we need to hear acoustic songs in a rock concert, or have our high-energy action interspersed with quieter scenes in a movie.”

So no matter how much you like kayaking or golfing, booking a six-day vacation centered around the activity will not be as fun as booking two separate three-day vacations. And mixing things up with, say, a horseback ride, will do wonders for how much more you appreciate the next golf course.

IMPLICATIONS

Decision-makers would do well to factor this understanding into business models, loyalty programs and marketing efforts, say the researchers.

Managing satiation more scientifically has benefits that span any number of sectors.

Restaurant mangers might want to think about reducing portion size in order to boost the sale of desserts. Customer loyalty efforts might be well served both by prioritising innovation and variety of offers, and by allowing greater periods of time to elapse between promotions.

There are key insights here that can even inform the debate on income inequality, Baucells says.

“The satiation model shows us that people tire of something if they do it too frequently. This can be just as easily applied to high-wealth individuals and spending habits,” says Baucells. “The model tells us that people cannot efficiently spend money on consumption indefinitely, and that has implications for inequality or philanthropy. Individuals with large wealth will eventually reach their satiation points in consumption, and their capacity to make any significant increase in enjoyment by spending more will eventually plateau. Past this point, philanthropy may make more sense.”

What Is An Endangered Species?

Gray wolves, like this pair on Isle Royale, are listed as endangered in the United States.

Credit: Michigan Tech

By John Vucetich, professor, College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

Lions and leopards are endangered species. Robins and raccoons clearly are not. The distinction seems simple until one ponders a question such as: How many lions would there have to be and how many of their former haunts would they have to inhabit before we’d agree they are no longer endangered?

To put a fine point on it, what is an endangered species? The quick answer: An endangered species is at risk of extinction. Fine, except questions about risk always come in shades and degrees, more risk and less risk.

Extinction risk increases as a species is driven to extinction from portions of its natural range. Most mammal species have been driven to extinction from half or more of their historic range because of human activities. 

The query “What is an endangered species?” is quickly transformed into a far tougher question: How much loss should a species endure before we agree that the species deserves special protections and concerted effort for its betterment? My colleagues and I put a very similar question to nearly 1,000 (representatively sampled) Americans after giving them the information in the previous paragraph. The results, “What is an endangered species?: judgments about acceptable risk,” are published today in Environmental Research Letters.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said a species deserves special protections if it had been driven to extinction from any more than 30% of its historic range. Not everyone was in perfect agreement. Some were more accepting of losses. The survey results indicate that people more accepting of loss were less knowledgeable about the environment and self-identify as advocates for the rights of gun and land owners. Still, three-quarters of people from the group of people who were more accepting of loss thought special protections were warranted if a species had been lost from more than 41% of their former range.

These attitudes of the American public are aligned with the language of the U.S. Endangered Species Act — the law for preventing species endangerment in the U.S. That law defines an endangered species as one that is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

But there might be a problem

Government decision-makers have tended to agree with the scientists they consult in judging what counts as acceptable risk and loss. These scientists express the trigger point for endangerment in very different terms. They tend to say a species is endangered if its risk of total and complete extinction exceeds 5% over 100 years.

Before human activities began elevating extinction risk, a typical vertebrate species would have experienced an extinction risk of 1% over a 10,000-year period. The extinction risk that decision-makers and their consultant experts have tended to consider acceptable (5% over 100 years) corresponds to an extinction risk many times greater that the extinction risk we currently impose on biodiversity! Experts and decision-makers — using a law designed to mitigate the biodiversity crisis — tend to allow for stunningly high levels of risk. But the law and the general public seem accepting of only lower risk that would greatly mitigate the biodiversity crisis. What’s going on?

One possibility is that experts and decision-makers are more accepting of the risks and losses because they believe greater protection would be impossibly expensive. If so, the American public may be getting it right, not the experts and decision-makers. Why? Because the law allows for two separate judgements. The first judgement is, is the species endangered and therefore deserving of protection? The second judgment is, can the American people afford that protection? Keeping those judgements separate is vital because making a case that more funding and effort is required to solve the biodiversity crisis is not helped by experts and decision-makers when they grossly understate the problem — as they do when they judge endangerment to entail such extraordinarily high levels of risk and loss.

Facts and Values

Another possible explanation for the judgments of experts and decision-makers was uncovered in an earlier paper led by Jeremy Bruskotter of Ohio State University (also a collaborator on this paper). They showed that experts tended to offer judgments about grizzly bear endangerment — based not so much their own independent expert judgement — but on basis of what they think (rightly or wrongly) their peers’ judgement would be.

Regardless of the explanation, a good answer to the question, “What an endangered species?” is an inescapable synthesis of facts and values. Experts on endangered species have a better handle on the facts than the general public. However, there is cause for concern when decision-makers do not reflect the broadly held values of their constituents. An important possible explanation for this discrepancy in values is the influence of special interests on decision-makers and experts charged with caring for biodiversity.  

Getting the answer right is of grave importance. If we do not know well enough what an endangered species is, then we cannot know well enough what it means to conserve nature, because conserving nature is largely — either directly or indirectly — about giving special care to endangered species until they no longer deserve that label.

Research collaborators include Jeremy T. Bruskotter of Ohio State University, Adam Feltz of University of Oklahoma, and Tom Offer-Westort also of University of Oklahoma.

Saving the Planet, One Drop at a Time

Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Maryland, have identified highly absorbent materials that can extract drinkable water out of thin air — which could potentially lead to technologies that supply potable water in the driest areas on the planet.

For many of the world’s poor, one of the greatest environmental threats to health remains lack of access to safe water. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Maryland, have identified highly absorbent materials that can extract drinkable water out of thin air – which could potentially lead to technologies that supply potable water in the driest areas on the planet.

The researchers – a team from APL’s Research and Exploratory Development Department led by Zhiyong Xia, Matthew Logan and Spencer Langevin – describe their discovery in the Jan. 30 issue of Scientific Reports, a journal of the Nature Research family. 

Their research leverages metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), an amazing next-generation material that has the largest known surface areas per gram – a single gram of the MOF can soak up a football field’s worth of material, if the material were laid in a single layer across the field. The sponge-like crystals can be used to capture, store and release chemical compounds – like water – and the large surface area offers more space for chemical reactions and adsorption of molecules.

MOFs have shown promise for water harvesting, but little research has been done to determine the best properties for fast and efficient production of water.

“Initial experiments have proved that the concept can work,” says Xia. “But the problem has been capacity. Other research teams have been able to produce as much as about  1.3 liters of water per day per kilogram of sorbent  under arid conditions – enough only for one person. To create an optimal water harvesting device requires a better understanding of the structure property relationship controlling absorption and delivery.”

Xia and his team studied a series of MOFs – unraveling the fundamental material properties that govern the kinetics of water sequestration in this class of materials as well as investigating how much water they can absorb. They also explored the potential impact of temperature, humidity and powder bed thickness on the adsorption-desorption process to see which one achieved optimal operational parameters.

“We identified a MOF that could produce 8.66 liters of water per day per kilogram of MOF under ideal conditions, an extraordinary finding.” Xia said. “This will help us deepen our understanding of these materials and guide the discovery of next-generation water harvesting methods.”

Xia and his team are now exploring other MOFs with low relative humidity influx points, high surface areas, and polar functional properties to see how they perform in very dry environments. They are also exploring different configurations of MOFs to determine which allow for optimal absorption.

The researchers drew on APL’s ongoing efforts in water purification methods. APL has developed a novel way to remove highly toxic perfluoroalkyl substances — an ever-expanding group of manufactured chemicals that are widely used to make various types of everyday products — from drinking water. A separate effort yielded a cost-effective method to remove toxic heavy metal ions from drinking water.

“Our scientists’ and engineers’ collective strengths and expertise in materials and chemistry have positioned APL to make extraordinary impact and invent the future of clean drinking water for deployed warfighters, as well as for citizens around the world,” said Ally Bissing-Gibson, APL’s Biological and Chemical Sciences program manager. “We look forward to saving the planet, one drop at a time.”

Coronavirus

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Two New Rapid Tests Could Play Key Role in Efforts to Contain Growing Epidemic

WASHINGTON – Breaking research in AACC’s Clinical Chemistry journal shows that two new tests accurately diagnose coronavirus infection in about 1 hour. These tests could play a critical role in halting this deadly outbreak by enabling healthcare workers to isolate and treat patients much faster than is currently possible. 

Since the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China last month, this pneumonia-like illness has spread at an alarming rate. Just yesterday, the World Health Organization officially declared the outbreak a public health emergency, and as of today, the virus has infected nearly 10,000 people in China, with the death toll soaring to more than 200. More cases continue to appear around the globe, with six coronavirus cases already confirmed in the U.S. In order to contain this pandemic, healthcare workers need to quickly and accurately identify new coronavirus cases so that patients get crucial medical care and transmission can be halted. However, the Chinese labs that can test for coronavirus are currently overwhelmed. There are reports of hospitals in Wuhan having to deny testing for severely ill patients, who are then also denied full-time admission because beds need to be saved for those with confirmed diagnoses. Partly as a result of these testing difficulties, researchers estimate that only 5.1% of coronavirus cases in Wuhan have actually been caught. 

A team of researchers led by Leo L.M. Poon, DPhil, of the University of Hong Kong has developed two rapid tests for the coronavirus that could break this diagnostic bottleneck. Using a technology known as real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), the tests detect two gene regions that are only found in the Wuhan coronavirus (officially known as 2019-novel-coronavirus) and in other closely related coronaviruses such as SARS. The two gene regions detected by the tests are known as ORF1b and N. Significantly, both tests also take only about 1 hour and 15 minutes to run. This fast turnaround time could enable Chinese labs to greatly increase patient access to coronavirus testing. 

To evaluate the performance of these tests, Poon’s team first confirmed that the tests accurately identify genetic material extracted from cells infected with the SARS coronavirus. The researchers also showed that the tests return negative results for samples containing genetic material from other respiratory viruses, demonstrating that the tests accurately differentiate coronavirus infection from other causes of pneumonia. Lastly, Poon’s team used the tests to analyze sputum and throat swab samples from two patients infected with the 2019-novel-coronavirus. The tests correctly gave positive results for both patients. 

“Signs of [coronavirus] infection are highly non-specific and these include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, [shortness of breath], and viral pneumonia,” said Poon. “Thus, diagnostic tests specific for this infection are urgently needed for confirming suspected cases, screening patients, and conducting virus surveillance. The established assays [in this study] can achieve a rapid detection of 2019-novel-coronavirus in human samples, thereby allowing early identification of patients.”

About AACC

Dedicated to achieving better health through laboratory medicine, AACC brings together more than 50,000 clinical laboratory professionals, physicians, research scientists, and business leaders from around the world focused on clinical chemistry, molecular diagnostics, mass spectrometry, translational medicine, lab management, and other areas of progressing laboratory science. Since 1948, AACC has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing programs that advance scientific collaboration, knowledge, expertise, and innovation. For more information, visit www.aacc.org

Clinical Chemistry (clinchem.org) is the leading international journal of laboratory medicine, featuring nearly 400 peer-reviewed studies every year that help patients get accurate diagnoses and essential care. This vital research is advancing areas of healthcare ranging from genetic testing and drug monitoring to pediatrics and appropriate test utilization. 

Want to change your personality?

Most people have an aspect of their personality they’d like to change, but without help it may be difficult to do so, according to a study led by a University of Arizona researcher and published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

Contrary to the once-popular idea that people’s personalities are more or less set in stone, research has proven that personalities do change throughout the lifespan, often in line with major life events. For example, there is evidence that people tend to be more agreeable and conscientious in college, less extroverted after they get married and more agreeable in their retirement years.

While it’s well-established that personalities can change in response to life circumstances, researcher Erica Baranski wondered if people can actively and intentionally change aspects of their personalities at any given point simply because they desire to do so.

She and her colleagues studied two groups of people: approximately 500 members of the general population who ranged in age from 19 to 82 and participated in the research online; and approximately 360 college students.

Both groups completed the 44-item “Big Five Inventory,” which measures five key personality traits: extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience and neuroticism, also referred to as emotional stability. The participants were then asked whether they desired to change any aspect of their personality. If they answered yes, they were asked to write an open-ended description of what they wanted to change.

Across both groups, most people said they desired to increase extroversion, conscientiousness and emotional stability.

The college students were surveyed again six months later, and the general population group was surveyed again a year later. Neither group had achieved the personality goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the study, and, in fact, some saw change in the opposite direction.

“In both samples, the desire to change at ‘time one’ did not predict actual change in the desired direction at all at ‘time two,'” said Baranski, a postdoctoral psychology researcher in the University of Arizona Institute on Place, Wellbeing & Performance. “In the general population sample, we didn’t find that personality change goals predicted any change in any direction.”

College Students Saw More Change

While the general population group exhibited no change in personality traits between the first and second rounds of data collection, the college student group did show some changes; however, they were either in the opposite direction than desired or were for different personality traits than the one the person intended to change.

Specifically, college students who expressed the strongest desires to be more conscientious actually exhibited less conscientiousness six months later. That could be because those individuals exhibited low levels of conscientiousness to begin with, putting them at a disadvantage from the outset, Baranski said.

In addition, students who said they wanted to be more extroverted showed increases in agreeableness and emotionally stability rather than extroversion in the follow-up. Baranski said that perhaps as part of their effort to become more social and extroverted, they actually focused on being friendlier and less socially anxious – behaviors more directly related to agreeability and emotionally stability, respectively.

Baranski said college students may have exhibited more change than the general population because they are in such a transformational period in their lives. Still, the changes they experienced didn’t align with the goals they set for themselves.

“College students are thrown into this new environment, and they may be unhappy and may look within selves to become happier and change some aspect of their personality,” Baranski said. “But, meanwhile, there is a bombardment of other things that they’re told they need to achieve, like doing well in a class or choosing a major or getting an internship, and those goals might take precedence. Even though they know more sustained and introspective change might be better, the short-term effort is more attractive and more necessary in the moment.”

Overall, Baranski’s findings illustrate how difficult it can be for people to change aspects of their personality based on desire alone. That doesn’t mean people can’t make the changes they want. They just might need outside help doing so – from a professional, a friend or maybe even a mobile app reminding them of their goals, Baranski said.

Baranski intentionally did not interact with study participants between the first and second rounds of data collection. That approach differs from that of another researcher, Southern Methodist University’s Nathan Hudson, who in several other separate studies assessed personality change goals over a 16-week period but followed up with participants along the way. In that research, which Baranski cites, experimenters assessed participants’ personality traits and progress toward their goals every few weeks. With that kind of interaction, participants were more successful in making changes.

“There is evidence in clinical psychology that therapeutic coaching leads to change in personality and behavior, and there is recent evidence that suggests that when there’s a lot of regular interaction with an experimenter, personality change is possible,” Baranski said. “But when individuals are left to their own devices, change may not be as likely.”

Future research, Baranski said, should look at how much intervention is needed to help people achieve their personality goals, and which types of strategies work best for different traits.

“Across all the studies that have been done on this topic over the last several years, it’s clear that most people want to change an aspect of their personality,” Baranski said. “If left unattended, those goals aren’t achieved, so it would be helpful for people who have those goals to know what is necessary for them to accomplish them.”

Social Interaction Difficulties in Autism

Study Challenges Assumptions About Social Interaction Difficulties in Autism

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Autism is characterized in part by an individual’s challenges communicating and interacting socially with others. These difficulties have typically been studied in isolation by focusing on cognitive and behavioral differences in those with autism spectrum disorder, but little work has been done on how exchanges for autistic people unfold in the real world.

Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas recently turned the spotlight on social interaction in autism by examining it as a two-way street. Their results, published in December in the journal Autism, suggest that successful interactions for autistic adults revolve around partner compatibility and not just the skill set of either person.

“Most studies attempting to understand social disability in autism focus exclusively on individual characteristics,” said Dr. Noah Sasson, an associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) and corresponding author of the study. “This presumes that any difficulties in social interaction are driven solely by the autistic person. But how each person influences and is influenced by the other is key to understanding affiliation and social quality.”

The study focused on the so-called “double-empathy problem,” which predicts that two people who are neurologically different and have distinct modes of communication and understanding may have trouble connecting with each other, as commonly occurs in interactions between autistic and non-autistic adults.

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“It’s not just that autistic adults can struggle to infer the thoughts and motivations of typically developing adults, which has been well documented; the reverse is true as well. Non-autistic people struggle to infer what autistic people are thinking,” Sasson said. “Anecdotally, many autistic people often report better quality of social interaction when engaging with other autistic people. We set out to test this empirically.”

Kerrianne Morrison MS’16, PhD’19, the paper’s lead author, explained that the concept of a social-interaction difficulty being a two-sided, relational problem — and not simply a shortcoming of the autistic person — is only beginning to take hold.

“Autism is such a young field of study. Examining differences depending on the context of social situations rather than dysfunction across all contexts is starting to gain traction in academia,” she said. “We believe this represents a better understanding of how people with autism can thrive in the right contexts.”

In the study, 125 adults held a five-minute, unstructured “getting-to-know-you” conversation with an unfamiliar person. Sixty-seven of the participants had been diagnosed with autism. Each participant then independently evaluated the quality of the interaction and their first impressions of their partner.

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Autistic adults were not rated as less intelligent, trustworthy or likable by either the autistic or typically developing cohort, and importantly, autistic participants’ interactions with other autistic adults were viewed by them as more favorable than those with typically developing partners.

“While typically developing participants preferred future interaction with other typically developing partners over autistic partners,” Sasson said, “autistic adults actually trended toward the opposite, preferring future interaction with other autistic adults. They also disclosed more about themselves to autistic partners and felt closer to their partners than did typically developing participants.”

Autistic adults were rated as more awkward and less socially warm than typically developing adults by both autistic and typically developing partners. Some judgments were more favorable than those from Sasson’s previous studies in which people evaluated autistic adults in videos.

“Direct interaction seems to lessen some negative evaluations of autism,” Sasson said. “This aligns with previous work suggesting that direct experience and knowledge of autism can reduce stigma and promote inclusion.”

Typically developing participants also rated the conversational content with autistic and typically developing partners to be of similar quality. This shows that negative evaluations of autistic adults by non-autistic adults may be based more on social presentation differences and not their actual conversations.

“These findings suggest that social interaction difficulties in autism are not an absolute characteristic of the individual,” Sasson said. “Rather, social quality is a relational characteristic that depends upon the fit between the person and the social environment. If autistic people were inherently poor at social interaction, you’d expect an interaction between two autistic people to be even more of a struggle than between an autistic and non-autistic person. But that’s not what we found.”

Sasson said that he hopes this work shows that studying actual social interaction elicits a deeper understanding than studying individual abilities alone.

“Social disability in autism is context-dependent and emerges more in interactions with typically developing partners,” he said. “This likely reflects a mismatch in cognitive and communication styles that may improve with increased familiarity and acceptance.”

Morrison believes that this research is illuminating a crucial portion of the story for the autistic community.

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“We’re moving beyond the existing research, which has fixated on social abilities in isolated, standardized contexts, and addressing this blind spot of real-world outcomes,” she said. “Particularly in adults, this is the information we need.”

Other authors affiliated with the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences include Dr. Robert Ackerman, associate professor of psychology; cognition and neuroscience doctoral student Kilee DeBrabander; and psychological sciences doctoral student Desi Jones. Daniel Faso PhD’16 is also an author.

The work was funded by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Autism Grant Program and internal funding.

Borderline Personality Disorder Potentially at Higher Risk for Heart Attacks

Mental health professionals should recommend screening patients for cardiovascular risks

Middle-aged adults who show symptoms of borderline personality disorder may be at greater risk for a heart attack, as they show physical signs of worsening cardiovascular health more than other adults, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Although borderline personality disorder is well studied for its relationship to psychological and social impairments, recent research has suggested it may also contribute to physical health risks,” said Whitney Ringwald MSW, MS, of the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study. “Our study suggests that the effects of this disorder on heart health are large enough that clinicians treating patients should recommend monitoring their cardiovascular health.”

The study was published in Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment.

Borderline personality disorder is characterized by intense mood swings, impulsive behaviors, and extreme emotional reactions. Their inability to manage emotions often makes it hard for people with borderline personality disorder to finish school, keep a job, or maintain stable, healthy relationships. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1.4% of adults have BPD, but that number does not include those with less severe symptoms, who nevertheless may experience clinically significant impairments, said Aidan Wright, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh and another author of the study.

“It can be challenging to treat BPD because you are seeking to change a person’s longstanding patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that are very well ingrained,” he said. “There are several evidence-based treatment options that can be helpful, so there are many reasons to be optimistic, but treatment may take a long time.”

The researchers analyzed health data from 1,295 participants in the University of Pittsburgh Adult Health and Behavior Project. This is a registry of behavioral and biological measurements from non-Hispanic white and African American adults, 30 to 50 years old, recruited between 2001 and 2005 in southwestern Pennsylvania. The researchers looked at self-reported basic personality traits, as well as those reported by up to two of the participants’ friends or family members, and self-reported symptoms of depression. By combining several physical health measurements, including blood pressure, body mass index and the levels of insulin, glucose, cholesterol and other compounds in the blood after a 12-hour fast, the researchers established a relative cardiovascular risk score for each participant.

They found a significant association between borderline personality traits and increased cardiovascular risk. The researchers also looked at the potential role of depression, as people with BPD are also often depressed. While borderline personality traits and depression were both significantly associated with cardiovascular risk the effect of borderline traits was independent of depression symptoms.

“We were surprised by the strength of the effect and we found it particularly interesting that our measure of borderline personality pathology had a larger effect, and a unique effect, above and beyond depression in predicting heart disease.” said Wright.  “There is a large focus on depression in physical health, and these findings suggest there should be an increased focus on personality traits, too.”

The researchers said their findings have important implications for primary care doctors and mental health professionals who treat patients with BPD.

“Mental health practitioners may want to screen for cardiovascular risk in their patients with BPD, ” said Wright. “When discussing the implications of a personality disorder diagnosis with patients, practitioners may want to emphasize the link with negative health outcomes and possibly suggest exercise and lifestyle changes if indicated. Primary care physicians should attend to personality as a risk factor when monitoring patients for long-term health as well.”

Article: “Borderline Personality Disorder Traits Associate with Midlife Cardiometabolic Risk,” by Whitney R. Ringwald, MSW, MS, Aidan G.C. Wright, PhD,  Stephen B. Manuck, PhD, University of Pittsburgh; and Taylor A. Barber, BS, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, published online Oct. 28, 2019.

Autism Diagnosis Test Needs Improvement

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Study finds inconsistencies in a broadly used autism test

Rutgers researchers have found that a test widely used to diagnose whether children have autism is less reliable than previously assumed.

The study is published in the journal Neural Computation.

The standardized test, known as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), assesses communication skills, social interaction and play for children who may have autism or other developmental disorders.

The researchers digitized the test by attaching wearable technology, like an Apple Watch, to two clinicians and 52 children who came in four times and took two different versions of the test. 

When researchers looked at the scores of the entire cohort, they found they did not distribute normally – which could mean a chance of false positives inflating the prevalence of autism, among other implications.

The results showed that switching clinicians may change a child’s scores and consequently influences the diagnosis. The researchers found similar results when they analyzed open-access data of 1,324 people ages 5 to 65, said Elizabeth Torres, associate professor of psychology in Rutgers’ School of Arts and Sciences, and director of The New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence.

“The ADOS test informs and steers much of the science of autism, and it has done great work thus far,” said Torres, whose expertise has brought emerging computer science technology to autism. “However, social interactions are much too complex and fast to be captured by the naked eye, particularly when the grader is biased to look for specific signs and to expect specific behaviors.”

The researchers suggest combining clinical observations with data from wearable biosensors, such as smartwatches, smartphones and other off-the-shelf technology.

By doing so, they argue, researchers may make data collection less invasive, lower the rate of false positives by using empirically derived statistics rather than assumed models, shorten the time to diagnosis, and make diagnoses more reliable, and more objective for all clinicians.

Torres said autism researchers should aim for tests that capture the accelerated rate of change of neurodevelopment to help develop treatments that slow down the aging of the nervous system.

“Autism affects one out of 34 children in New Jersey,” she said. “Reliance on observational tests that do not tackle the neurological conditions of the child from an early age could be dangerous. Clinical tests score a child based on expected aspects of behaviors. These data are useful, but subtle, spontaneous aspects of natural behaviors, which are more variable and less predictable, remain hidden. These hidden aspects of behavior may hold important keys for personalized treatments, like protecting nerve cells against damage, or impairment, which could delay or altogether stop progression.”

The study was co-authored by Richa Rai, a graduate student in psychology at Rutgers University, Sejal Mistry, a former Rutgers Biomathematics student now at the University of Utah Medical School, and Brenda Gupta from Montclair State University.

Help with Heavy Menstrual Bleeding

In women with uterine fibroids, the drug elagolix suppresses ovarian hormone production and prevents heavy menstrual bleeding

About 50 % of women with uterine fibroids—non-cancerous muscle tumors that grow in the uterus—experience heavy menstrual bleeding and other symptoms.  Surgery is commonly recommended when these symptoms are severe enough to prompt a woman to seek treatment.  The most common surgery used to treat fibroids is removal of the uterus (hysterectomy), though in some cases, removal of the fibroids and repair of the uterus (myomectomy) are performed.  Surgery is usually extensive in both cases.  Long-acting hormone injections can reduce symptoms such as heavy bleeding in women with fibroids, but side effects can be significant and it can take months for the effects of the medications to wear off.

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on January 23, 2020, researchers reported on the effectiveness of a new, rapidly reversible oral pill that was used to reduce heavy menstrual bleeding in women with uterine fibroids. The study, which included a large group of researchers from across the country, was led by Dr. William Schlaff, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University.

A total of 790 women, ages 18-51, with heavy bleeding due to fibroids, were enrolled into one of three study arms. One group received the oral pill, elagolix, which reduces the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone normally produced by a woman’s ovaries.  When these hormones are suppressed, fibroids usually get smaller and bleeding is reduced.  A second group received elagolix plus a low dose of estrogen and progestin (“add-back” therapy) with the hope that the additional hormones would produce the same benefit but reduce the side effects of elagolix used alone (like hot flushes and bone loss).  A third group received identical placebo pills that did not contain elagolix or the “add back” hormones.  All of the women enrolled in the two identical trials reported by these researchers were confirmed to have uterine fibroids by ultrasound and heavy menstrual bleeding (more than 80mLs of blood loss per cycle) for at least two cycles. 

The results showed that 80.4% of the women treated with elagolix alone had a reduction of menstrual bleeding of 50% or more compared to 9.6% of the women in the placebo group.  Of those women treated with elagolix plus “add back” therapy, 72% had a reduction of 50% or more.  Women treated with elagolix alone had significantly more loss of bone mineral as compared with the women treated with placebo, a known and clinically significant side effect of this class of medications.  However, there was no difference between the loss of bone mineral in the group treated with elagolix and “add-back” as compared to those in the placebo group. 

For many women with fibroids, severe symptoms like bleeding have a major impact on the quality of life.  Surgery and long-acting injectable medications are acceptable treatments for many, but certainly not all women in this situation. 

“The potential value of an oral, easily reversible medication that can be combined with low-dose hormonal “add back” to reduce heavy menstrual bleeding while avoiding problematic symptoms and side effects could be a major step forward,” says Dr. Schlaff.

AbbVie Inc. funded these studies and participated in the study design, research, analysis, data collection, interpretation of data, reviewing and approval of the publication. Consult article reference for complete list of disclosures.

Article reference: William Schlaff et al., “Elagolix Therapy for Heavy Menstrual Bleeding in Women with Uterine Fibroids,” New England Journal of Medicine, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1904351, 2019.