Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Speech Buddies: The closest friend a kiddo with a speech impediment could have!

No one wants to live with a speech impediment.  This is why it is crucial for children with speech impediments to be properly taught at a young age.  However, this task is not simple.  Being a speech therapist will always have its challenges, but with new technology that job may just become slightly easier. Speech Buddies is a revolutionary speech therapy tool that helps children properly position their tongue for five of the most difficult problem sounds- R, S, L, CH, and SH. This revolutionary tool was designed by speech-language pathologists and engineers who truly understand the challenges of these five difficult sounds. Speech buddies help to correct the placement of the child's tongue so that they can properly learn how to create the right sound. For example, the "R" Speech Buddy has a spiraled end that helps the child lift their tongue up and pull it back to produce the R sound. These tools are truly amazing and have been shown to correct speech problems twice as fast. Speech Buddies are also FDA approved and are produced in California.
Examples of each Speech Buddies Tool
Change effects people in different ways; and change is usually hard.  However, making the change to incorporate Speech Buddies into a speech therapists method of therapy will be the best decision they have made yet!  This innovative product has been proven to help improve a kiddo’s ability to say the five difficult problem sounds.  Patients from the age of four and up can be treated with Speech Buddies as well as patients with many different types of disorders.  The disorders that a speech therapist should consider treating patients with Speech Buddies include speech and articulation disorders of all severities such as patient’s on the autism spectrum, kiddo’s with childhood apraxia of speech, patient’s with acquired apraxia of speech from stroke or traumatic brain injury, and patient’s that have accent modification where English sounds are misarticulated.  Speech therapists should know that Speech Buddies are not however recommended for language disorders, stuttering, or voice disorders.  Research is also still being evaluated for speech and articulation disorders that have neuromuscular weakness, cerebral palsy, paralysis and Down syndrome, and craniofacial abnormalities.  With all this in mind, this tool still makes a speech therapists job a little easier when finding a method of therapy that works and has accurate results!

Fracking... Is it Really Such a Great Thing??

Hydaulic fracking is a very prominent issue that is running through the scientific, environmental and also the public conversation. What is fracking? How does is effect the inhabitants surrounding it?  Fracking is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.  This can be seen as a wonderful solution to our dependence upon foreign oil and our CO2 emissions and new science reveals that the resources that we will be taking while using this technique will not be depleting the earth of any vital resources that it to needs to function. However, the manner in which the natural resources are being extracted is the problem.

 The science behind fracking includes the destruction of the earth’s natural shale constructs and the release of natural resources into the surrounding area along with the inorganic chemicals that are used during the fracking process. Along with this, It takes 1-8 million gallons of water to complete each fracturing job. The water brought in is mixed with sand and chemicals to create fracking fluid and approximately 40,000 gallons of chemicals are used per fracturing. During this process, methane gas and toxic chemicals leach out from the system and contaminate nearby groundwater and shockingly, methane concentrations are 17x higher in drinking-water wells near fracturing sites than in normal wells. This happens because naturally-occurring fissures and faults or the presence of a previously unregistered abandoned mine can allow highly contaminated fracking fluids, along with natural and methane gases and radioactive debris, to migrate upward and be released into aquifers serving drinking water wells. 
This site from the Ohio Environmental Council provided a fact sheet on more of the extreme cases of contamination and destruction to our natural shale and bedrock formations. Along with this, the drilling that is being down in the process of extraction is causing the underlying shale and bedrock to shift. This has been linked to the increase in the seismic activity that have been in the news recently with reports that areas in which hydraulic fracturing has taken place have seen a significant increase in the amount of earth quakes experienced.
Another effect caused by facking are the emissions that are released during the extraction process. These include hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, BTEX (benzene, tolulene, ethylbenzene and xylene), as well as methane and natural gas. These types of hazardous emissions have been linked to reproductive, respiratory, and blood disorders, as well as central nervous system and neurological effects. The pros and cons must be weighed out to determine whether fracking should be allowed and the way in which the oil and natural resources are extracted needs to be perfected before we allow fracking to continue.
Other sites for information on the dangers of hydraulic fracking include:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Genetic Tests for Children Determining Sports

Each professional, college, or little league athlete all put forth effort into training in order to succeed. Primary factors that affect sport performance include training factors and psychological factors. Training factors involves improving reaction times and motor skills, while also learning important techniques vital to each sport. Athletes also need to have the mental ability for sports as well. A high level of motivation and high level of competiveness are also required. However, one factor that one wouldn’t think of at first is the genetic factor. Genetics play a large role in how a person is built, and could determine how successful an athlete can be at any given sport without looking at their individual training programs and motivation.
Elite sports athletes are always expected to have a genetic predisposition for greatness, whether it is their height, their weight, or even the types of muscles their body is made up of. However, even children are now being looked at for their predicted potential for sports. Some children are going to grow up to become the next gold medalist at the Olympics while others will always try and may not succeed. An important factor in sports performance could be how their genes have already determined which sport they will excel at based on their ability to carry oxygen in their muscles.  
            Many news channels and newspapers have reported the use of a genetic test to test children’s genetic disposition for sports. Atlas Sports Genetics, an athletic talent laboratory analysis system, uses a genetic test to predict athletic strengths of children, to see which sports they are more likely to excel in.  
            They are swabbing mouths of children from infancy until eight years old for the presence of a specific gene. This gene is called ACTN3, and it has been linked to research on sport performance because it allows our bodies to produce a specific muscle protein found in fast twitch muscles, called alpha-actinin-3. The test that is available searches for variants of that gene that would prevent the protein from being made. The presence of the variants leads scientists and parents to find out which sport their child could have more athletic potential for. If a child who is swabbed has two copies of the variant, one in each copy of the gene from each parent, they are more likely to excel in endurance events because their body cannot make this protein that makes muscles contract forcefully at a high velocity. If they don’t have any copies of the variant in their gene, they are more likely to excel in sprint or power events, because their muscles would be able to contract forcefully when moving at a higher velocity. If they only have one copy of the variant, they can be equally good at endurance sports and sprint/power sports. 
            The use of genetic testing to determine children’s predisposition to sports has created controversy because of parents who would use the knowledge to place children in sports that they would excel at, not the ones that the child wants to participate in. They wouldn’t be clear-minded over There is also controversy surrounding the usefulness of the test, and whether the genes actually could determine sport performance. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Aphasia...Soo frustrating!!

           Picture this.  You are at your grandparent’s house helping them clean out their garage.  As you are helping them move boxes around, your grandfather starts complaining of numbness in his right hand and arm.  You both do not think anything of it because of the strenuous work; however, as time goes on he starts getting a headache and cannot see clearly out of his right eye.  You make him take it easy and sit down because you realize there is something clearly wrong.  After forcing him to go to the hospital, you find out that he was having a stroke.  Because of the severity of the stroke, he now has trouble speaking and being able to express his thoughts; also known as an aphasia.    

                Even though this is a made up story, these situations do happen almost every day.  Over Christmas break, as I was shadowing a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) at Fisher Titus Medical Center, I was fortunate enough to be able to see the post-tests done on a stroke patient.  The tests performed made sure that the patient did not have any droop in their facial muscles, they made sure the patient had the  ability to swallow food of different consistencies, and was able to have normal conversation with the SLP.  The whole process was called a bedside swallow evaluation.  The SLP asked the patient what their name was, why they were in the hospital, what year it was, and who was the president.  These tests were performed on the patient in order to see if they were suffering from any type of aphasia. 

                Aphasia is a type of disorder resulting from there being damage done to the brain affecting the areas in which language is controlled.  Speaking, listening, reading, and writing are different aspects of language that can be affected by aphasia.  The patient in this situation suffers from an expressive aphasia.  How would you feel if you could understand perfectly what people were saying to you, but you just could not get the words out to respond to them?  It would be a tough situation to have to go through every day of your life.  Not only would this be very frustrating, but it would limit what you are able to do because certain people may not know your condition or why you are not responding to them. 

                By working with a SLP, they can help patients correct this disorder.  Depending on how bad the aphasia is, different tactics are taken to treat the disorder.  Formal or informal tactics are used for treatment and even computer programs can be used to help get their brain activity working in order to use expressive language.  These formal or informal tactics are activities as simple as repeating words or reading words off a list.  When the patient struggles with one, the SLP will help them make the right movements with their mouth and lips in order for the word to come out clearly.  The word is repeated until the patient gets it right or as close to being right as they can! 

                One blog that I came across called, Expressive Aphasia, is about a person’s experience with recovering from a stroke that lead to an aphasia.  This person also had expressive aphasia.  He went through many sessions of therapy with a SLP and is now almost fully recovered!  Going through and reading his experiences made me really think about how lucky I am to be able to express myself without any troubles.  It had to have been one of the most frustrating things to go through when before the stroke he was a normal talking person.  It is a great feeling knowing that there are people out there (SLP) that can help people regain their ability to speak after such a traumatic experience like a stroke, causing brain damage. 


                In this post, I really tried to incorporate a story that hooked the reader and made them want to continue reading.  I also tried to keep the story relevant throughout the whole post, that way the reader would have a connection to what they read at the beginning.  I kept my writing at a more personable level, so it was an easy read throughout the whole post.    

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Eye Can't See a Thing!

     Would you rather be deaf or blind? It’s one of those typical, fun, “get to know a person" questions that you have been asked more than once in your lifetime.  And let’s be honest, who would want to be either of those? Could you even imagine your life without your eyesight or hearing? Personally, I think I would rather be deaf than blind, but that's just me!  I could not imagine my life without being able to see things because I am an extremely visual person.  However, some people are not even fortunate enough to know what it's like to be able to see.  Although some people are born blind, it’s not uncommon for adults to lose their eyesight with age.  It’s a sad thought to think that as we get older, we have the chance of losing our visual perception.  It would be extremely frustrating to even have distorted vision that you know cannot be fixed. I mean, who wants to deal with poor vision as they get older? Not me, that’s for sure.  So, why am I even bringing this up? Science of course!  Just another study about stem cells, but don’t worry this is nothing boring.  It’s actually great research that can greatly affect us in the future!

     This is an exciting study because it is one of the first to show evidence that stem cells can help certain patients by directly testing it on humans.  Finally, a study that provides results from actual human tests rather than laboratory tests on animals!  So what was this all about?  Well, as we age, degeneration of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) in our eyes can lead to photoreceptor loss, which results in diseases including Stargardt’s macular dystrophy and dry age-related macular degeneration.  Stargardt’s macular dystrophy is the most common pediatric macular degeneration, while dry age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness among adults.  Basically, macular degeneration is simply a disease that destroys your central vision, which is what you need to see things clearly and do simple tasks like reading and driving.  Check out the image below. Could you even imagine developing something like this that you know is untreatable?  Scary thought.  I guess that’s what we have scientists for though, right?!

     Well, scientists at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute wanted to look more into stem cell research to possibly figure out a way to help treat this unfortunate disease, so they found a way to use embryonic stem cells to create RPE cells in the lab.  However, Steven D. Schwartz, professor at ophthalmology at UCLA who was leading the research, stressed that the study was primarily designed to determine whether using the cells were safe and not to actually determine whether they would help the patient.   They were concerned that the injection of stem cells anywhere in the body, the eye in this case, could cause tumor formation. Fortunately for these guys, they found that the two patients who received the stem cells demonstrated impressive results. The stem cells injected in both patients seemed to have survived well as RPE cells and did not form any tumors, or any other irregular growths or concerns.  Another plus, both patients reported that they had improved vision.  How exciting!

     Unfortunately, because the scientific world is always oh so cautious, the researchers cannot make any firm conclusions on this study since it was only tested on two patients who have only been tracked for a short period of time.  Now all we can do is wait!  Only more time and tons more research (of course) will tell if this study holds true to its results.   

     It’s somewhat frustrating to think that a study like this, which almost seems like a complete breakthrough, has to be downplayed until more research is done.  I guess that’s just research for you, and we can only hope that more research can be done as quickly as possible so that we will actually be able to use stem cell treatment one of these days for diseases like macular degeneration!

For more information, you can read the full article here: Embryonic stem cell trials for macular degeneration: a preliminary report

To see a great image of how the treatment works and to read more about it, click here: NPR's Health Blog
Also, more information on Macular Degeneration

     I went about writing about this article in an informal, conversational manner.  I attempted to use the "arouse and fulfill" method by starting off with a paragraph that anyone could relate to.  By starting off talking about imagining life being blind, I was drawing in the reader so that they would actually be interested in the research I was about to discuss. I also tried to write in a storytelling manner to keep the readers attention and tried to explain everything so that anyone would be able to understand it, not just science students.

New Breakthrough to Save Children?

Everybody has seen those St. Jude’sChildren’s Research Hospital commercials, haven’t we? The ones that show the innocent children struggling with the effects of cancer, and cancer treatments, the ones who don’t have any hair but still have a smile on their face? There is almost always a sense of guilt or a gut-wrenching need to help those children live a better life, which is why donations are so important. But what if the need for the donations wasn’t required, and what if the children on the commercials weren’t suffering from cancer anymore?  People all over the world would be sighing with relief!
With new breakthrough research, changes in a gene found in brain tumors are being discovered, and the information about these mutations can help lead to new treatments that can be used for a variety of other types of cancers.
Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the body, and can occur when genes stop working the way they are supposed to. Brain tumors, among other cancers, are debilitating, and in children and adolescents, treatments that work can be hard to find. Even though most cancers can be treated using chemotherapy and surgery, certain brain tumors in children do not react to treatments. Did you know that some treatments that are aimed for adults do not work on the growing cells of children and young adults? That’s okay if you didn’t, physicians are kind of just learning about that now too. By finding the differences in adult and children tumor cells and genes, and finding out the reasons why treatments are ineffective, cancer researchers are starting to focus their research on those differences, and breakthroughs are being made.
Some of the children seen on those St. Jude’s commercials may be dealing with a form of brain cancer that is called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. Definitely easier to call it DIPG, right?  This type of brain tumor is found in children, and is mostly commonly diagnosed around the age of 6. DIPG is just a fancy word for a tumor found on the brain stem. The brain stem is the lowest part of the brain, and these tumors grow throughout the nerves, which makes surgery a risky choice. 
The mutations that have been discovered are found on the gene histone H3.3. This gene is responsible for making sure important genetic information that is useful for development (DNA) gets put inside cells. The histone part of the gene is responsible for making sure the information is wrapped up tightly enough, and a mutation in that could either cause cancer or prevent cancer treatments from working because it affects whether or not the gene is working.
Even though breakthroughs are being discovered at a rapid speed, having a child diagnosed with a brain tumor is an unfortunate scenario. Children and adolescents who are diagnosed with these types of cancers almost never live two years after their diagnosis, even if they are getting the best treatments possible. That is one of the many reasons why St. Jude’s Hospital does the commercials, because no one wants to see a child suffer. With the many things happening in science and medicine these days, cancer may be conquerable someday! 
For this post, I tried to use the hook approach, by talking about something that almost everyone has seen on TV, a commercial. Add in a commercial that talks about sick children, and discussing a way to prevent them from being so sick, adds in a touch that everyone can relate too. I also tried to limit the amount of scientific words, and if I had to talk about something, I put it into words that everyone should understand. 
Science Daily Article

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The NATURE of Science

Throughout the last four years at AU as a Bio student, I have found that I am much more interested in natural sciences and environmental sciences, that is why the first blog that I have chosen to follow is Nature News Blog. I find this blog incredibly interesting because it has so very many different articles and blogs that focus on topics ranging from individual species of animals to world wide climate change and environmental issues. This is my favorite aspect of this particular blog. It not only gives information on current issues in the biological science realm but also the everyday issues that all people are (or at least should be) concerned with as well.

Because Nature is a magazine, it publishes a lot of different articles by a numerous amount of authors. I really like this concept because science is an ever changing force and the more people that provide information and arguments on a subject, the more knowledgeable we all may become.