Zika Virus: The New Kid on the Block

Biomedical Sciences

By: Jillian Carmichael, 4th year student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

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Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species currently responsible for transmission of Zika virus. (Source: Rafaelgilo/Wikimedia Commons)

Move over Ebola. There’s a new virus in town.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news in the past few weeks, you may have heard about the Zika virus outbreak that’s currently sweeping through the Americas. As with any emerging outbreak, fear is a common reaction in many people — remember how many Americans were terrified they were going to catch Ebola, even though they had never been to West Africa?

One of the best antidotes to fear is information — the better we understand a virus, the more equipped we are to deal with the outbreak and react in an appropriate manner.

In order to dispel any panic due to the fear-mongering media, I’ve compiled a list to answer some of the frequently asked questions concerning the Zika virus outbreak.

Meet a Scientist: Jessica Parascando

Graduate School

This is the eighth post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Jessica Parascando, a 1st-year student in the Public Health program.

Meet Jessica:

hiking

Meet Jessica!

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

I was born and raised in Edison, New Jersey, and lived there until I moved to Hershey in August. I received my BA in Psychology at Ramapo College of NJ, and then took post-baccalaureate courses in Biology and Statistics at Rutgers University, where I also worked in an Infant Neuroscience Laboratory.

I am currently a first year graduate student in the Master of Public Health program studying Biostatistics and Epidemiology.

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

My initial interest in science and sleep research began after watching an episode of the television show, Boy Meets World. In the episode, a character volunteered to participate in a study that was analyzing brain activity during sleep.

After seeing the research coordinator become perplexed at the character’s lack of neural activity during the session, I immediately became interested in how and why the brain works the way it does. There is still so much unknown about the exact function of sleep, so my goal is to combine my passions of neuropsychology and public health to help make the public more aware of positive sleep practices, and emphasize the importance of sleep at all ages.

What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

BabyLab 2I am currently working with a great team in a neuropsychology/biofeedback performance laboratory in the Psychiatry department. We use functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIR), electromyography (EMG) and ecological momentary assessments (EMA) to study patients with opiate addiction in hopes of identifying factors that may be associated with an increased risk of relapse during various stages of recovery.

This research is important because there is a worldwide epidemic of addiction, and relapse rates are extremely high for those who do seek recovery. We also collect sleep data using actigraphy, further emphasizing the relevance of sleep in all aspects of health.

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

Outside of the lab I am on the e-board for Public Health Association for Service and Education (PHASE). In PHASE, we promote public health awareness through various events on campus and in the central PA community. I also enjoy Pilates, random hikes, watching New Girl and other shows on Netflix, reading random science articles from Twitter, daydreaming, and spending time with friends.

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

  1. I’m obsessed with tea and drink it everyday. My favorites are Moroccan mint, oolong and toasted walnut.
  2. I have a Cockapoo named Kapoosta.
  3. I share Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope’s love of breakfast foods.

Stay tuned for future interviews! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, you can sign up here.

What is Déjà Vu?

Neuroscience

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis, 5th year student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

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Erika Wittlieb (Pixabay)

What is déjà vu?  Many of us know the feeling. You’ll be going about your day, minding your own business, folding some laundry…nothing out of the ordinary.

Suddenly a sensation of familiarity washes over you, and you’re completely aware that it’s happening. I’ve been here before. Except you haven’t. Or have I? You might try to think back and pinpoint when you’d experienced this moment before. But just as quickly as the feeling hits you, it’s gone again.

Did you predict the future? Were you seeing something from a past life? What is déjà vu, anyway?

Frankenfood? The Real Science Behind GMOs

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 5th year student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

Corncobs

Image source: Sam Fentress (Wikimedia Commons)

A recurring theme in science fiction is the ability to modify an organism’s genetic material. The goal is usually to give the modified person or creature amazing characteristics — super speed, super strength, or mind control, to name a few.

I haven’t met anyone with these features yet, but the future is already here. Scientists can modify the genomes of animals and plants with ease, though for an entirely different reason. You may be familiar with the term already: “GMOs.”

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any living thing that has had its genome (its genetic material) modified. In general, GMOs fall into two major categories—organisms modified for research purposes and those modified for consumption.

You may be familiar with the advocacy work of the Non-GMO Project, Chipotle’s new G-M-Over It campaign, or seen social media postings from friends and family about the dangers of GMO food. But what’s the real science behind the science fiction?

Penn State College of Medicine Students Describe Their Theses…in 20 Words or Less

Graduate School

Last week, in response to this recent post circulating social media, we asked our students:

What is the topic of your thesis, in 20 words or less?

Here are the responses!

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New students reciting the Graduate Student Oath at their white coat ceremony (2011).

I make mutant viruses and utilize drugs to study how herpes simplex virus spreads from the mouth into neurons. –Jillian Carmichael, 4th-year Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student

Patients with vascular disease in their legs also have less blood going to the heart. –Amanda Ross, 3rd-year Neuroscience Ph.D. student

I try to stop glaucoma by making cells less energetic. –Daniel Hass, 3rd-year Neuroscience Ph.D. student

This muscle protein is found in the inner ear. Necessary? Apparently, since otherwise, you go deaf. –Lina Jamis, graduate, Anatomy Master’s program

P96pXStudying poop to see how changes in bacteria can lead to disease in patients without a colon. Poop donations accepted!Katie Schieffer, 4th-year Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student

A lot of people with sleep apnea have metabolic syndrome. Which comes first? Dunno. Let’s study kids! –Jordan Gaines Lewis, 5th-year Neuroscience Ph.D. student

Figuring out which genes make the body stretchy. –Erin Sproul, graduate, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. program

What is your thesis about…in 20 words or less?

Graduate School

chemistry-dogMany of us have enjoyed this recent post called “20 PhD Students Dumb Down Their Thesis for Us,” which originated from this reddit post last month. Examples included:

When I get rid of this gene, it messes the brain up. A lot.

My experimental drug does NOT cure addiction.

You can make antimatter move in strange ways if you set your equipment up wrong.

Sure, most of these are spoken in jest and are meant to be sarcastic. But we’re all doing very diverse and interesting work at Penn State College of Medicine! And we want to know:

What is the topic of your thesis, in 20 words or less?

Submit your responses here by this Friday, September 25 and we’ll post everyone’s abbreviated thesis summaries next Monday on the blog!

(Psst…this’ll be great practice for telling your family what you do when you go home for Thanksgiving!)

C, D, E, F, G, A, Brain: Music as Therapy

Neuroscience

By: Cecilia Bove, 1st year student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

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Petr Kratochvil (Public Domain)

You may recall from my “Meet a Scientist” interview that I grew up in a music-rich home. I like to say that I can fluently speak Italian, English and Music – because it is, in all respects, a language.

Music can make us feel without saying a single word as much as any intense situation can: being with your special someone, grieving a loss, or handling the stress of an experiment that just does not work. (This is something that every graduate student can relate to!)

But did you now that music may also be an effective medication? Music has been under the spotlight of the scientific community for long time, but now its importance is emerging more and more in neuroscience research.

Meet a Scientist: Stephen Matthews

Graduate School

This is the seventh post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Stephen Matthews, who just began his graduate studies at Penn State College of Medicine this semester.

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Meet Stephen!

Meet Stephen:

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

I’m originally from Honey Brook, PA and received my BS in Biology, with a minor in Chemistry, from York College of Pennsylvania in 2014. I recently just spent a year working for a private pharmaceutical company called DormaTarg Inc. out in Oklahoma. I am currently an entering student in the Biomedical Sciences program.

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

For the longest time as a child, I was interested in entomology and herpetology. I spent days outside catching insects, spiders, and snakes where I could, and reading about those I could not catch. I found AP Biology and AP Physics to be interesting in high school, but I became set on pursuing a career in science during my first biology lecture at York College.

I found the general topics to be interesting, but my professor had his degree in biochemistry and was really enthusiastic and excited over interactions and the molecular aspects of biology. His excitement passed on to me, and I have been interested ever since!

1What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

I am currently working through the start of my first laboratory rotation, and have only been in Hershey since July. The rotation process is held so new graduate students can work in a lab for a few weeks and see how it is before we commit to working in one particular lab. It provides us with so many possibilities and skills that we can use as we advance our careers.

In my previous research experience, I have worked on the fall webworm caterpillar and its thermotolerance, as well as on developing pharmaceuticals.

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

Outside of lab and classwork, I love being outside. I regularly run, and love to hike, go camping and even play some Frisbee golf with friends when it is nice out. I also paint and enjoy playing video games when I can.

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

  1. 3I have a deep enjoyment of the theater and the arts, and have been an actor in a half dozen plays, and even directed and helped as stage crew during my undergraduate studies.
  2. When I originally moved to the southwest, I never thought I would miss much about Oklahoma, but I really do miss the massive thunderstorms there.
  3. I played the trumpet, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, violin and piano in concert, jazz and marching band, as well as orchestra… But haven’t touched any of those instruments in 4+ years.

Stay tuned for a new interview next week! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, you can sign up here.

Meet a Scientist: Brian Chiou

Graduate School

This is the sixth post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Brian Chiou, who just began his graduate studies at Penn State College of Medicine this semester.

Meet Brian:

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Meet Brian!

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

Hello! I am from Chicago, IL, but I attended college in the San Francisco Bay Area at the University of California – Berkeley (Go Bears!). I studied Molecular and Cell Biology with an emphasis on Biochemistry. I am a first-year graduate student whose role involves studying, choosing a lab, and passing those pesky tests!

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

I decided to become a scientist because I truly believe the pursuit of (all) knowledge is a wonderful thing. I can’t imagine another profession where one can wholeheartedly chase after a problem and see the benefits of such a pursuit in the world around them. Knowing that the efforts of today will lead to improvement of lives for patients around the world is a powerful motivator, and one that has shown me the importance of research. On a grand scale, it’s gratifying to know that the research and work being done by myself and others will have a lasting impact on future generations.

Headshot 2What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

As a first-year graduate student, I have yet to pick a lab, but I have always been interested in the biochemistry of the brain and the interactions that happen between neurons. These interactions manifest themselves in a number of ways that lead to a variety of effects, such as neurodegenerative diseases. I have worked previously with Alzheimer’s Disease, the leading cause of dementia in the elderly, and have become fascinated with the lack of information surrounding the root causes and, indeed, even the pathway that leads to such a disease.

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

I love the outdoors! If I don’t get outside at all in a day, I tend to get very restless.

HobbyMore specifically though, I play soccer and tennis pretty regularly as well as general fitness activities such as running and working out at the gym. I also love playing the guitar and singing.

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

  1. I am against the smartphone culture and thus own a flip phone (and an MP3 player)!
  2. My family is from Taiwan.
  3. I absolutely love thunderstorms and rain.

Stay tuned for a new interview next week! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, you can sign up here.

Meet a Scientist: Cecilia Bove

Graduate School

This is the fifth post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Cecilia Bove, who just began her graduate studies at Penn State College of Medicine this semester.

Meet Cecilia:

When a young scientist meets Instagram

Meet Cecilia!

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?

I am from Abruzzo, a region in east-central Italy. The city in which I was born is surrounded by mountains, so cold and winter are my best friends! I attended college in the wonderful city of Perugia (go Griffins!). I just graduated in Medical Biotechnology and I am currently a Ph.D. student in the neuroscience program.

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

My very first day in lab!It happened in high school. The teacher I had at that time explained to us how DNA replicates and started talking about Biotechnology. It was love at first sight! I was able to appreciate this field of study only during the first years of university, where I received the confirmation that doing research was my life-long goal.

What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?

First-year here! I officially became a graduate student at Penn State only ten days ago. I am sure I will not betray electrophysiology during this wonderful experience here, but I still have not worn my brand-new lab coat!

What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?

A quick self-portrait!My hobbies are deeply embedded in arts. The first thing that I learned was how to draw and I still do it in my spare time! Having a father who plays music, I have been stimulated since childhood to listen to music and play it, so I play piano, but I need to re-teach myself. I release stressful thoughts by writing and I recently started to do yoga for that reason. Baking and cooking help a lot too! But, one thing that I really enjoy during my free time is… NERD ALERT…playing board and videogames!

Tell us three random facts about yourself!

1) I am a crazy cat lady.

2) I have perfect pitch.

3) I have such a bad sense of direction that I could easily lose myself in my apartment!

Stay tuned for a new interview next week! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, you can sign up here.