Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Single Atom

A Single Atom

Atoms are impressively small basic units of matter that congregate into everything in the universe. Countless numbers of various atoms combine to create everything we see; books, cars, laptops, and our bodies all contain atoms. Life itself is influenced by the interactions between these atoms. Yet, these insanely small building blocks are unnoticed and ignored by practically everyone every day. No one sees things as individual atoms. Humans do not look at one another and see an infinite number of individual atoms, instead each person is seen as one, whole being. Does this mean we are incapable of seeing just one atom?

Look closely: that purple dot is the light shed from a single strontium atom.

A recent study has put this question to the test by capturing a photograph of a single strontium atom (the small dot in the center of the picture above). David Nadlinger of Oxford University recently captured a photo of strontium using a standard digital camera with the help of quantum lab equipment. The quantum equipment is important for ionizing the atom, which is then held in-place due to the charge by an ion-trap apparatus. Lasers are then used to help illuminate the atom, thus allowing a photo to be taken.

While this impressive study shows that a lab can display a single atom, it is still impossible for humans to see a single atom in nature. Atoms are far too small to be seen with the naked eye, but it is still cool that a standard camera can show us what an atom looks like after manipulation. Further tests could lead to capturing strings of hundreds of ions, as subsequent tests have already captured up to nine ions in a row. Quantum mechanics and like fields will benefit more from further studies in the future, but from a biological perspective the study is still interesting as atoms are the basic units of matter.

Posted by Patrick Munley (2)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Scoliosis And My F'd Up Back

Scoliosis And My F'd Up Back

Scoliosis is a genetic or non genetic (in rare cases) defect that causes a curvature in the spine. It is relatively common and can range from being a minor defect to something more serious that may require corrective surgery. In some cases the person with the disease will go most of their life just having a slight curve. It may slightly effect them aesthetically but nothing more. Other times however, it can be severe, causing an extremely noticeable curve that can drastically affect locomotion and general posture. Not to mention, in severe cases it can be linked to other disorders such as abnormalities in the nervous system, Goldenhar's Syndrome and so on. Yours truly happens to suffer from it but me and my Doctor agree that I'm a bit out of the ordinary and I'll show you why.

Scoliois comes in two major forms: Idiopathic and Congenital. Idiopathic scoliosis arises spontaneously and with no clear cause. Congenital is caused by a clear genetic defect that results in a vertebral malformation, more specifically a patterning alteration. These malformations come in the form of hemivertebrae, wedged vertebrae and unsegmented bars.

A: Unsegmented Bar
B: Wedged vertebrae
C: Multiple hemivertabrae

(The key word there is patterning, and I'll get to that a bit later.) Furthermore, for it to be categorized as scoliois, the curve must be 10 degrees or more, or it is just categorized as a general spinal curvature which is pretty normal. As the curve gets more severe is when you see the crazy repercussions come in. Once it approaches something like 40-60 degrees and sometimes as absurd as 80 you will likely see the disease start to cause organ and muscle malformations.

Now here is where I come in, remember I mentioned patterning? Well, the hallmark of  CS is those vertebral malformations but they have to effect the patterning of the vertebrae. Meaning that if you stripped out every last one of that person's vertebrae you could tell exactly which one or which group caused the issue. Where as in IS patients all the bones look and appear regular except a curvature still happened. In my case, I happen to have a fully formed, completely normal, extra vertebrae. That would initially tell you I have CS since clearly, something isn't right. Except for the fact that the patterning isn't any different. You can only really infer that the extra one is causing it, but it is still a malformation. Not to mention, while the extra bone was there the whole time, the actual curvature didn't develop until I was about 7, which is an indicator of IS not CS. Also, in CS the curve occurs at the sight of the malformation where as mine doesn't. Another anomaly is that in most cases of CS, the curve will get noticeably worse in a relatively small period of time and become a major problem in about a decade. Yet, in my case, it barely changed over a similar time period. So giving it a brief look you'd instantly say I had CS yet when diving in deeper it isn't as black and white. Now, this is obviously a semantic as I still have the issue and still needed surgery but I still think it is a bit cool that my Doctor can't technically diagnose me with either of the conditions and to this day we still find my condition very perplexing.

*Note that really only the first third of this long article was used as that is what outlines what the disease is and some facts about it. However, a lot of the info I simply knew from talking to my Doctor about it.

Posted by Leon Mamish (2)

Why is Pulmonary Embolism So Sneaky?

Why is Pulmonary Embolism So Sneaky?
Five months ago, on my first day of work at a new location as a CNA, I went to work feeling very excited. For those of you who don’t know, Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) work under the supervision of a nurse to provide the healthcare needs of patients. The scope of practice is very basic as we are not certified in anything remotely complicated. We help with ambulating, feeding, bathing, etc.… Anyway, I was called to assist a rehab patient with a right ankle fracture with transferring into bed. When I walked in she was the picture of health… in good shape, happy and breathing. She did not appear to be in distress, all was well. The task took maybe three minutes after which I took my leave. About five minutes passed when the patient’s husband called me back in stating the patient had difficulty breathing. I went in and immediately confirmed the observation, the patient was gasping for air. I immediately reported this to my supervisor and we started to figure out the prognosis. I took her vitals; her O2 sat was 78% and dropping, her blood pressure was some other absurdly low number, her pulse was about 130, and the most alarming symptoms to me, chest pain and extremely cold clammy skin. By the time we realized the gravity of the situation and called 911, it was too late. When the EMTs arrived, half of her face was blue. A code blue (cardiac arrest) was declared, resuscitation failed, and I went on a guilt trip for a few months. How could I miss it? In hindsight, It’s so obvious!  

            Turns out, one in three pulmonary embolism patients are misdiagnosed, by doctors, trained professionals! Their reason differs from mine in that I had no idea what I was dealing with and it happened so fast while their misdiagnosis stems from the fact that their patients have other conditions with overlapping symptoms. In any case, we need better screening methods for certain conditions in healthcare.
Citation: Henderson, Dietra. "Pulmonary Embolism Misdiagnosed in 1 of 3 ED Patients." Medscape, WebMD LLC, 23 Sept. 2013,
Posted by Sarah Kamukala (2)

Making Brains

Making Brains

Imagine walking into your research lab and being told, today, we will be making brain cells. To the average person, the magnificent power that the human brain has is astonishing, but to a biologist, this feeling is intensified. The ability to have high-level cognitive skills such as thinking and making memories all while subconsciously breathing and making sure the heart is pumping is all thanks to your brain. So to a research assistant, the amount of doors that could open due to the success of this experiment is nothing less than thrilling.

Scientists at UCLA set out to grow these cells, beginning first with a batch of human pluripotent stem cells emerged in vitamins and amino acids and the chemical Y-27632 which prevents stem cell self-sacrifice. The broth is replaced every couple of days and after 18 days, the globs are moved into petri dishes including a fat providing supplement and high oxygen levels. After the milky-white blobs are 2-3mm wide, they are cut in half to give oxygen and nutrients to the cells inside. These newly cut clumps are put into a new broth containing growth proteins.  At day 56 they are cut in half again and transferred to another petri-dish with high oxygen access to make sure it will continue to grow. These clumps are cut in half every two weeks and can survive up to 150 days. 
The goal in all of this is to induce the stem-cells to arrange themselves into organoids, which are balls of organ like tissue. They don’t grow to entire organs, but the cellular processes that occur in early stages can inform us a lot about human cells, information we can’t obtain from rodents since the biology’s are different. Using these as models, we can gain insights about diseases and eventually new drug therapies where organoids of a specific individual can be grown into certain structures that can replace their defective ones. Although this work is fairly new, it is gaining popularity due to the beneficial results. Many good studies and revelations can be made with these brain cells; however, scientists must remain humbled by the fact that the brain is the most complicated organ, therefore we may never uncover the entire map. 

Posted by Kamilla Leao (2)