The War on Cancer: Targeted Therapy

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

Glivec_400mg (1)In an earlier post, I outlined a potential roadmap for the War on Cancer. I stated that in order to win, we need to define the genetic components of a specific cancer and design treatments based on that component. This is called targeted therapy, and it has actually already been used with success in some cancers, including certain types of leukemia, lung cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma. But what makes a good targeted therapy?

The hallmarks of a good targeted therapy are: specificity, potency, and ability to keep a cancer from relapsing. The best targeted therapies will kill cancer cells only and will do it efficiently so a resistant tumor does not occur following treatment.

Optogenetics and the Future of Brain Mapping

Neuroscience

By: Andrew Huhn, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Program

17optic-articleLargeOptogenetics is one of the most significant advances in neuroscience in the last decade. The very concept of optogenetics appears to come straight from a science fiction novel: we can control the brain with a laser! Okay, so that’s a bit of an overstatement, but not by much.

Optogenetics allows scientists to selectively excite or inhibit discrete areas of an animal brain using a beam of light. Moreover, scientists can control a single type of neuron within that region, providing fine-tuned control that was unachievable with earlier methods. But how exactly is this accomplished? And what implications does this have on biomedical research?

Sleep Cycle Apps: Precise, or Placebo?

Neuroscience

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Program

sidebar_1Thanks to the Internet, it’s the age of self-diagnosis. People like to learn about (and treat) themselves through technology.

Especially when pretty graphs are involved (see fancy screenshot at left).

As a sleep researcher, I was interested in my friends’ use of sleep-tracking apps, and I received a pretty positive response when I prompted them for their thoughts:

“I’m a believer.”

“When I use it right, I feel less groggy.”

The website sleepyti.me and smartphone apps like Sleep Cycle use the average human’s sleep pattern to determine the best window of time that you should wake up. The idea is that interrupting the “wrong” sleep cycle stage, such as slow-wave (“deep”) sleep or REM (rapid eye movement, when dreaming occurs), results in grogginess upon awakening, as many of us can attest. Sleep researchers call this phenomenon “sleep inertia.”

It’s such a big deal that, in the sleep laboratory, we as techs are instructed not to wake participants if they’re in REM, even if the experimental recording time is over.

So when a friend told me that he only feels refreshed after (according to his sleep-tracking app) eight REM cycles, I got a little skeptical, given the average person will only experience four or five REM periods per night.

What’s the verdict on sleep-tracking apps? How do they work, and how accurate are they? Is it all a big scam, or perhaps the placebo effect at work?