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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Literally...It's an Interesting Science Blog!!

Interesting Science Blog is by far the best blog that I have found while completing this assignment!  It caught my attention right from the start because the first blog was about sarcasm.  As I continued down throughout the webpage, I realized that there was not a post on this blog that I would not want to read.  They all were all interesting and were still connected to science in one way or another!  I read the latest blog about how studies have shown that sarcasm helps a person solve problems.  It was written in a way that it kept my attention and it was easy to read.  I hope this blog catches other people’s attention to because it definitely deserves to be in the spot light!   


One interesting blog that I found was Docnotes, written by Jacob Reider, MD.  This blog centers on topics dealing with different medical related issues.  It presents the information in a way that people will understand  and want to read the posts presented on the blog.  There is no jargon writing or excessive word use to help portray the bloggers ideas.  He writes as if he were talking to his readers and not as if he were trying to impress them.  The blog as a whole seems very down to earth and is an easy read.  One of his most recent blog posts was about a new shoe, called Oesh, that was believed to be very good for runners feet.  He gave background information about the shoe as well as his own opinion after he had purchased a pair.  Overall, this is a very helpful blog to follow if you are interested in reading about different issues related to the medical field. 

Two Great Science Blogs!

The image above states exactly how I feel about science sometimes!  I feel that the majority of the time, science just complicates things.  So when I found out that I had to start a science blog, I wasn't too thrilled.  It has always been difficult for me to read science articles and research papers that I actually understood, or that actually kept me reading. 

On the bright side, it took me forever, but I finally found two science blogs that I actually enjoyed! The first blog that caught my attention is called Weird Science! This is probably one of the first blogs that I have looked at that kept me reading.  In fact, I just realized that I had been scanning through it and reading its posts for the past half hour.  This definitely says a lot because I sometimes find it extremely difficult to read science articles, but the author of this blog does a great job at picking interesting research to discuss.  I really like that fact that he has completely random topics that he writes about and is not just focused on one area of science; this helps keep things interesting.  I also really enjoy that he has "weird science Factoids" at the end of each of his posts because it's just something different to look forward to at the end of each post.  He also does a fantastic job at communicating the information by explaining the studies in a way that even non-science students could easily be able to understand- nothing too complicated.  The last thing that really stood out to me in this blog was all the pictures and videos that went along with his posts.  I think images and videos really help communicate information, rather than just having a page full of text.  Overall, this is an excellent blog!

The second blog I came across was the Well blog in the New York Times.  Although you would think that a blog through the New York Times would be extremely formal and boring, I have found it to be quite the contrary. Although it looks intimidating due to all the text on the page, some pictures are included and the actual text keeps you interested.  The articles that are discussed throughout the blog are great because they are aspects of health that I am interested in knowing more about. There are multiple authors that post in this blog, and the ones that I have read seem to do a really good job at communicating the information to their readers.  They do not just list the facts and throw a bunch of information at you, but instead they know how to comment and communicate the studies in a way that most people could understand, while keeping them engaged.  This is a blog that I will definitely keep up with.


NeuroLogica Blog is a blog that combines neuroscience and critical thinking into one opinionated blog. The author, Dr. Steven Novella, is a neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, and writes posts about a variety of different topics.

His most recent post was about using embryonic stem cells (which is a controversial topic all on its own)  and injecting them into blind patients' eyes. The experimental study that he was discussing showed results that showed improvement in the patients' eyesight, even though the study is far from showing conclusive results. Here is the blog post! Stem Cells for Blindness

Other posts by Dr. Novella include making biofuels (fuel made from plant and animal sources) out of seaweed and other water-based plants, because they are easier to care for, and not as expensive as using land-based plants, which take up farm land and require fertilizier. Plus, the ocean cares for the seaweed, and is vast enough to house the many seaweed plants that could be necessary to make the next type of fuel.

For more information about differing topics, from stem cells to seaweed, visit The NeuroLogica Blog!


An interesting blog that I found is SuperBug, which can be found as part of Wired.com The author, Maryn McKenna, is a journalist and author who writes about public health and medicine. This is a blog that describes the impact of illness on society, and new cases of disease that have come to the public's attention.  It also includes blog posts about FDA regulations about antibiotic overuse in agriculture, and vaccines that are available to the public, and touches on topics such as obesity and diabetes.

One of Maryn's most recent blog posts was about a drug-resistant form of Tuberculosis that was discovered in 12 patients in India. Tuberculosis is a bacterial pulmonary infection that is very contagious and can be spread through the air by coughing and sneezing. It can be handled and treated with long courses of antibiotics, but with a drug-resistant form, it is untreatable. Other blog posts include information about FDA regulations, and even what types of bacteria and illnesses you can get from your pets.

By keeping up on important health and safety information, the blog can give a variety of topics within one website.

For more information, visit SuperBug to get your scoop on a variety of interesting health topics!