Why is Tanning Dangerous?

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 4th year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

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Do you use tanning beds? Image: Gerlach (Pixabay)

Summer will be here soon, and after being stuck inside all winter, it will be welcomed with open arms.

But as we plan trips to beaches and lakes around the country, a lot of us (including myself) will look at our pale arms and legs and think of ways to get that bronze glow to go along with the summer sun.

Millions of people will soon be soaking up the sun’s rays or purchasing a tanning membership in an effort to achieve a sun-kissed look, but take heed: there is one big reason to rethink lying in the sun or under the lamps of a tanning bed.

There are misconceptions that one way of tanning is less damaging than the other—some circles claim natural sunlight is good for your skin, while others believe the artificial lights of the tanning beds are actually better than sunlight.

In reality, both are dangerous, and the danger lies in the increased risk of developing skin cancer.

Hooked on Pills? There’s a Pill for That…

Neuroscience

By: Andrew Huhn, 4th year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

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Image: Adam from UK (Wikimedia Commons)

Americans are abusing prescription painkillers at an alarming rate.

In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioid analgesics – that’s enough for every adult in the U.S. to have their own bottle of pills, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Opioid analgesics are a class of drug that includes Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin; it’s quite likely that you or a family member has been prescribed one of these after having surgery.

In addition to providing pain relief, opioid analgesics also activate the brain’s reward system, making it easy to become addicted. Given their similar mechanism of action, prescription opioid use can lead to heroin use. After all, heroin has become significantly less expensive and doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription.

While the current heroin boom is getting a lot of press, prescription opiate addiction gets little attention even though it leads to more overdose deaths per year than heroin and cocaine combined.

But can you fix an addiction to pills…with a pill?

When it Comes to Vision, Men and Women Really Aren’t Seeing Eye to Eye

Biomedical Sciences, Neuroscience

By: Sadie Steffens, 4th year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

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Luke Jones (Flickr)

The paint color in our master bathroom has been a source of debate since we bought our house. While I am certain that the color is firmly in the purple part of the spectrum, my husband insists that the paint is blue. Period.

Visiting friends have often been asked to weigh in on this debate, and the outcome is fascinatingly similar every time. When asking couples to cast their votes, men instantly declare the color to be blue. Women, on the other hand, typically pause before suggesting something like “periwinkle” or “lavender blue.”

This phenomenon has been played out between men and women time and time again—from selecting clothing to disagreeing at the paint store about whether one hue of blue looks more purple than another. Although you may be tempted to write off this difference as a consequence of cultural conditioning, the true root is physiological.

Why Penn State College of Medicine Students Chose Graduate School

Graduate School

Intro

Everybody in this post has something in common.

After 12 years of primary and secondary school and 4 years of undergraduate education, we all decided that we weren’t done yet.

But why? As it turns out, the graduate students of Penn State College of Medicine have very diverse, inspirational reasons for choosing to continue their education and biomedical research careers. Take a look:

This is Why There are So Many Defibrillators in Casinos

Cardiovascular Health

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis, 4th year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

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Gamblers beware. Nadavspi (Wikimedia Commons)

My brief experience in a casino was pretty typical, I’d say.

Flashing lights. The faint smell of booze. Not much chatter among patrons. The sounds of dice rolling, machines buzzing, and coins clanking. The same butts inhabiting the same stools for hours on end. Everything you see on TV or in the movies is fairly accurate, to my untrained eye.

But one thing I didn’t notice in either the movies or real life, likely due in part to the gaudy décor, was the abundance of defibrillators lining the walls.

While nearly as common as water fountains and restrooms in public spaces like schools, malls, and airports, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) have more recently taken up residence in a place that probably needs it most of all: the casino.

Humans are Wired for Prejudice, but That Doesn’t Have to be the End of the Story

Neuroscience

By: Caitlin Millett, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

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Image credit: CC0 Public Domain/Pixabay

Humans are highly social creatures. Our brains have evolved to allow us to survive and thrive in complex social environments. Accordingly, the behaviors and emotions that help us navigate our social sphere are entrenched in networks of neurons within our brains.

Social motivations, such as the desire to be a member of a group or to compete with others, are among the most basic human drives. In fact, our brains are able to assess “in-group” (us) and “out-group” (them) membership within a fraction of a second. This ability, once necessary for our survival, has largely become a detriment to society.

Understanding the neural network controlling these impulses, and those that temper them, may shed light on how to resolve social injustices that plague our world.

Paying Attention: Why You Want to Have a Filter

Neuroscience

By: Daniel Hass, 2nd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

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Can you pay attention to the movie, or do you just hear people chomping on popcorn? Image credit: hashi photo (Wikimedia Commons)

At any given moment, we are constantly bombarded by signals from at least four of the five senses.

The visual system is constantly processing our surroundings. The auditory system is stimulated by all of the many miniscule sounds that compose our environment. We’re taking in all the smells around us at any given moment, and we’re constantly feeling the clothes on our skin. Even within one sensory system, there is an enormous amount of data that gets processed.

With this onslaught of input, how do we manage to not go completely insane? The key is that we pay attention to only a small proportion of that information and throw much of it away. This process is known as selective filtering or selective attention, and most people do it all the time.  Image watching a movie at a theater; if you’re quite focused on the film, you’re probably not noticing the sound of squeaking seats, crunchy popcorn, or even the air conditioning whirring through the vents.

Although there are several regions of the brain involved in each sensation, the part of the brain involved in selective filtering is where all of these senses intersect. 

War on Cancer: The Future of Cancer Treatment

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 4th year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

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Cancer cells. Image credit: National Cancer Institute (Wikimedia Commons)

In this fifth and final post of the War on Cancer series, I will discuss the future of cancer treatment. I will also tie in my previous posts of the series, which include:

  1. How Can We Win the War on Cancer?
  2. Targeted Therapy
  3. Tumor Relapse
  4. Tumors as Ecological Systems

As I mentioned in Part 1, cancer is not one disease, but thousands, and these thousands of different diseases evolve as time goes on. Current treatments have improved greatly over the years, meaning people with cancer are living longer than ever before. New ways of treating cancer, however, will be needed to ultimately cure it.

Current research suggests that there will likely be three stages to the future of treatment: (1) discovering more vulnerabilities to target, (2) quickly mapping the genetic profile of individual tumors, and (3) developing drugs that will not only combat a tumor, but keep it from relapsing.

The Scientific Conference Survival Guide

General

By: Amanda White, Research Technologist in the Department of Psychiatry

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Image credit: Marianne Weiss (Wikimedia Commons)

Scientific conferences are an important way to learn about the latest developments in your field and to meet people who can help you advance your career. They are annual meetings organized by professional societies that include poster presentations, oral presentations, and social events. Conferences often take place in major cities (like San Diego, Washington DC, or Chicago), though the location of each conference usually changes from year to year. Conference attendees include professors, medical doctors, industry representatives, graduate students, and occasionally undergraduate students.

Conferences  can be a lot of fun, but they can also be intimidating and overwhelming! I attended my first two conferences this year – Animal Behavior Society (ABS) in August and Society for Neuroscience (SfN) in November.

Here are a few tips and tricks that I hope can help you survive (and thrive) at a scientific conference:

How Fancy Labels Fool Us: The Neuroscience Behind Bias

Neuroscience

By: Caitlin Millett, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

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Image credit: Neesa Rhajbhandari (Wikimedia Commons)

The holiday season is fast approaching, and that means it’s time for gift buying. With each passing season, finding the perfect gift for loved ones seems to become more and more difficulta phenomenon not unrelated to the seemingly exponential growth in buying options each year.

So how do we do it? Many of us would like to believe that our decision-making is based in logic and objectivity. Clearly you’ve chosen the coolest plaid neckerchief for your hipster cousin—you got the thing at an Urban Outfitters! Neuroscience reveals that deciding what we prefer based on a few options is not always based on inherent qualities, but rather is highly biased based on expectations.