Blood, Sweat, and Years

Biomedical Sciences, Cardiovascular Health, Neuroscience

By Daniel Hass, PhD Candidate in Neuroscience

vampire

Vampires have been a part of popular culture for hundreds of years.

In 2009, the Atlantic published a short article entitled “The Meaning of Our Vampire Obsession”, outlining some of the potential psychological explanations for our societal obsession with these mythical bloodsuckers. Eight years later, this obsession shows no signs of abating, with various movies including ‘Hopekillers’, ‘The Vampyre’, ‘Love Bites’, and ‘Bursting Bubbles of Blood’ announced, or in some stage of production.

While I can’t speak to the psychological basis for the Vampire phenomenon, I’ve recently started to think that there might be a (very small) grain of truth to these stories and the age-old folklore that serves as its inspiration. This grain of truth is rooted in two facts about vampires. (A) They are immortal, and (B) They drink blood.

Do you like Binge-watching? Your sleep may be suffering.

General, Neuroscience, sleep

By Jessica Parascando, Master of Public Health Student

 

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Binge-watching involves watching multiple episodes of a television series in a row. (Creative Commons)

Are you still watching *inserts TV show*? This is a popular phrase with which many of us are all too familiar. “Binge-watching” is a term famously associated with Netflix and is defined as watching many or all episodes of a television series in rapid succession1. With 63% of households in America having access to a streaming service (examples include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime), trends show that more and more individuals are watching television in larger doses2.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and Cancer

Biomedical Sciences, cancer, Microbiology

By Ross Keller, PhD Candidate in Biomedical Sciences

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The HPV virus. (Wikimedia)

The Human Papilloma Virus, also known as HPV, is thought to contribute to an estimated 5% of all cancer cases worldwide. This includes approximately 70% of Oropharyngeal (throat) cancers, 95% of anal cancers, and 99% of cervical cancers among some other rare cancers1-4. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can be prevented. In fact, it is now recommended that adolescents receive an HPV vaccine. But, how does HPV lead to cancer? And why is the vaccine effective?

 

What is Radon? and how does it impact health?

Biomedical Sciences, cancer

By Ross Keller, PhD candidate in Biomedical Sciences

You have probably heard vague notions about the health impacts of radon, but what is it exactly? And how does it impact health?

Currently, radon is believed to be the second leading cause of environmentally caused lung cancer, following smoking. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 15,000-22,000 lung cancer related deaths per year are attributable to radon exposure, with the majority of them occurring in smokers who are also exposed to radon (1).

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Radon is radioactive, making it a risk for lung cancer (Pixabay)

Evidence for an increased risk of cancer from radon exposure comes from epidemiological studies as well as animal studies. It was found that occupational exposure to high levels of radon in miners was strongly linked to an increased risk for lung cancer (2). Lower levels of residential radon exposure was also linked to an increased risk in combined analysis of case-control studies in North America (3) and Europe (4). Furthermore, animal studies conducted in the mid-to-late 20th century clearly demonstrated the ability of radon and its decay elements to cause lung carcinomas (5).

The Three Parent Child: Mitochondrial Transfer to Fight Leigh Syndrome

Biomedical Sciences, Ethics, Genetics

By Emily Schleicher, 1st year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

 

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The mitochondria is colloquially called the powerhouse of the cell (Wikimedia)

What is the Mitochondrial Genome? 

When referring to the genome, most people think of 46 chromosomes, 23 from mom and 23 from dad.  The chromosomes are made of DNA,specifically DNA within the nucleus of our cells, and they encode for nearly 25,000 genes that make us who we are. However, what is often neglected is a second genome that is passed directly from mother to child, the mitochondrial genome. The mitochondrial genome resides outside the nucleus in mitochondria, which are found in all eukaryotes and are essential for generating ATP— the energy the cell needs to survive. The mitochondrial genome consists of just 37 genes that encode 13 proteins1. The proteins are mostly enzymes that facilitate the production of ATP, which means they are essential. Just as mutated genes in the nucleus can lead to illness, diseases can arise from mutations in mitochondrial DNA2. These mutations can lead to problems involving muscles, the endocrine system, nerves, brain, heart, and liver, and many can be fatal in the first few years of life. At this point in time, there is no treatment for mitochondrial diseases, but it has become a growing area of biological research in recent years1.

How is the Mitochondrial Genome Inherited?

When sperm and egg meet, both the sperm and egg carry nuclear chromosomes, which is why people inherit genes from both mother and father, but the sperm does not carry inheritable mitochondria. Mitochondria that powers the sperm is located in a portion of sperm that is lost at fertilization. This means that the egg’s mitochondria are all the child will inherit; the effect is that the mitochondrial genome is passed exclusively from mother to child.

Immunotherapy: awakening the immune system to fight cancer

Biomedical Sciences, cancer, Immunology

By Ross Keller, PhD candidate in Biomedical Science.

What is the immune system?

The human body is continuously under assault from a wide array of things that would do it harm. Many of these come in the form of pathogens—or microbes that infect the body and are not part of the body’s flora. These microbes range from common cold viruses to pneumococcal bacteria to deadly viruses like Ebola.

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Immune cells attack a tumor cell (spiky cell in center). (Wikipedia)

However, the body can also come under attack from itself in a number of ways. One manner this occurs is when normal cells transform and begin dividing uncontrollably. Over time the rogue cells begin invading organs and destroying their normal function—this is known as cancer.

But, the human body has been evolving for millions of years, and over that time it has developed an extensive and complex defense system to ward off outside invaders like pneumonia as well as home-grown usurpers like cancer. It is termed the immune system.

The immune system is a complex network of non-specialized and specialized cells that each have a role in keeping the body safe. It can be divided into two broad categories: innate and adaptive. The innate immune system is the body’s way of attacking pathogens in a generic way, meaning many types of invaders will be treated equally—it acts fast. On the other hand, the adaptive immune system is composed of specialized cells that remember the specific type of invader and mount a specific attack when the invader is encountered a second time—it acts slowly the first time and quickly the second.

The Bacteria that Mold Your Brain

Microbiology, Neuroscience

By Daniel Hass, 4th year Neuroscience PhD student

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”

This phrase, coined by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in the Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste) was over a century ahead of its time.

Food Cheese

Some foods are better by virtue of their microbes. Cheese is one such food, matured by several types of bacteria (Wikimedia)

The commonly held aphorism is true in more ways than one. In one respect, it means that ‘the food you eat becomes a part of your person’,and this has long been known—amino acids from digested proteins are incorporated into our own proteins, and the energetic sources from our diet, such as sugars or fatty acids, are added to our own stores of energy. In another respect, the quote can mean that the food you eat influences ‘who’, or ‘what kind of person’ you are. This interpretation is also true– the substances you consume can alter your brain chemistry, and thus behavior (‘who’ you are), in manners too complex for a single blog post.

I will discuss the ways in which food affects our brains in a four-part series. Each part will examine a critical substance in food (microorganisms, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) and the ways in which it alters or is central to behavior.

This first of these parts concerns a fascinating route by which diet can change the brain, and that is through our microbiome, the ecosystem of microorganisms such as bacteria, archaea, protozoa, fungi, and viruses that live on and interact with our bodies. Each adult has about 1 kg of these microbes, which are highly diverse, cumulatively containing approximately 100 times as many genes as the human genome.

The diversity and composition of these microbes in the gut is strongly influenced by diet.

Meet a Scientist: Our New Editor-in-Chief, Ross Keller

Biomedical Sciences

A note from our Editor-in-Chief: 

I will be defending my dissertation in just a few weeks, and therefore it’s time to hand over the reins. I would like to introduce Ross Keller, our new Editor-in-Chief! Ross is a 5th-year Biomedical Sciences graduate student, and he’s written and edited many blog posts that have been submitted to Lions Talk Science over the last three years. I have no doubt that the blog is in great hands! It has been amazing to watch this blog thrive since its launch in May 2013, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Thanks for supporting our graduate student blog!

-Jordan Gaines Lewis

Now let’s get to know Ross!

Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, where did you go to school, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?ross

I grew up in Fargo, ND and attended West Fargo High School. I graduated in 2007 and went on to attend St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. I graduated from there in 2011 and made my way to Penn State College of Medicine. I am now a PhD candidate in Biomedical Sciences focusing on cancer research, specifically novel mechanisms of initiation and modes to relapse using breast cancer models. In addition to research, I have served as the Social Chair, Community Service Chair and President of the Graduate Student Association. I have also been an editor at Lions Talk Science for three years and written several articles about cancer, genetics, and animal research. I’m thrilled to be the new Editor-in-Chief.

Going Viral: How Social Media Mirrors Science

Biomedical Sciences

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

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pixelkult/Pixabay

“Did you see that post? It’s going viral!”

Social media can be a strange beast. Within hours, funny videos about pandas going down slides or kids saying the most ridiculous things are all over the Internet. These viral posts saturate social media and it’s almost impossible to avoid seeing them (or at least hearing about them).

It’s curious how someone can go from complete Internet obscurity to “famous” within hours of posting content on social media. Considering the billions of social media posts made each day, how do certain posts rocket to viral status while most remain unremarkable? It takes the perfect combination of good timing, interesting content, the right audience, and plain old luck for a post to go viral.

Implicit in the terminology “going viral” is the concept of infectivity. In order for a social media post to reach viral status, it must spread quickly and extensively. In fact, a social media post going viral is very similar to how an actual virus can cause an epidemic.

Pregnancy Brain: A Neuroscientific Guide for the Expectant Mom (Part 2 of 2)

Neuroscience

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

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Pickles and ice cream, anyone? (Shutterstock)

My forgetful friend – the subject of my original article – gave birth to a baby girl on Thanksgiving Day. She’s a beauty, and I know Mom agrees that the morning sickness, crazy sense of smell, and forgetfulness were worth it in the end.

In the meantime, while she’s experiencing a whole new set of biochemical processes that happens when a woman becomes a mother, let’s re-explore even more crazy changes that affect – or originate in – the brain during pregnancy. What causes clumsiness, food cravings, and moodiness?