by Sara Kazemi
This article was written by a student at the Wheeler School. Brown's chapter of The Triple Helix collaborates with the Wheeler School to engage high school students in science journalism.
You’re about to take your last final of the semester, but you simply cannot focus. The ability to ace this exam is presented to you in the form of a simple pill that plenty of your friends already take. How bad could it be?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a disorder characterized by the inability to focus, hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, or a combination of all three (1). ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders and usually continues to affect those people diagnosed through adolescence and adulthood (1). Although scientists are not completely sure what causes ADHD, studies suggest that genes might play a large role (1). Like other disorders and illnesses, it is most probable that ADHD results from a combination of factors (1). Research has shown that ADHD often runs in families and children with ADHD who carry a particular version of a certain gene have thinner brain tissue in the areas of the brain associated with attention (1). Environmental factors are also linked to ADHD; studies suggest that there is a potential link between cigarette smoking and drinking during pregnancy and offspring with ADHD as well as high exposure to lead during early childhood (1). Also, children who have suffered from brain injuries tend to show some behaviors similar to those diagnosed with ADHD (1). There are other causes of ADHD that are harder to support; there are ideas that refined sugar causes ADHD or makes symptoms worse while British research indicates a possible link between consumption of certain food additives like artificial colors or preservatives and hyperactivity (1). There are a multitude of medications that are said to treat or improve the severity of ADHD, but unfortunately there is no cure to this disorder.
by Miranda Norlin '17
You've probably noticed Cornus kousa, those trees around campus that drop round, reddish-pink knobbly fruit. Commonly called Chinese, Japanese or Korean dogwood, C. kousa is widely sold both as an ornamental and as a fruit tree. The species can be identified when not in bloom or fruiting by their distinctive leaves whose veins originate from the center of the leaf and run parallel down to the tip.
Though this pattern is distinctive, using the leaves to identify dogwoods around campus might leave you a bit confused. If you wander towards RISD, you'll encounter Cornus florida, the rather different flowering dogwood native to the eastern US. The leaves are very similar, but their fruit, a shiny, compact red berry, is toxic and looks distinctly less appetizing than those of C. kousa. These trees are valued on campus for the lovely white flowers they display every year.
Traditionally, Native Americans and soldiers in the civil war used the bark and roots of C. florida as a treatment for malaria. Recent studies have confirmed the presence of antiplasmodial compounds (compounds effective against the plasmodium parasites that cause malaria) but suggest other factors must contribute to the purported anti-malarial effect because the antiplasmodial compounds found are not strong enough to explain the dogwood’s historic use. Further research might reveal chemicals that support the immune system or reduce fever (1). Until such medicinal value is confirmed, Brown students will have to be satisfied with consuming C. kousa fruit and appreciating both on-campus Cornus spp. for the flowers they were originally intended to provide.
by Michael Golz '17
The government shutdown was a political nightmare that had dire economic consequences. But there was resounding fallout in research and health studies as well that lead to troubling questions about the place of the public sector in critical scientific endeavors.
Among the affected operations was the National Cancer Institute, which had to furlough 80% of its workers and suspend operations such that most new patients looking to enroll in treatment trials were refused (1). The Food and Drug Administration even ceased some food inspections. Drastic results were felt at the Center for Disease Control where although the emergency centers and processing labs were still operational, the organization was working at 30% capacity, with 70% of its workforce sent home (1). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that “the agency's ability to prepare a response to emerging outbreaks, including the H7N9 flu outbreak or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak could be delayed (2).” But fear not, standard protocol called for the maintenance of a fully operational National Weather Service (2)…
by Noah Schlottman '16
Sometimes, there seems to be an endless supply of readings, homework, lab reports, and projects. If you’re ever in a slump because of the demands of school and those sixteen student groups you’re involved in, at least there’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about: being eaten.
Eating and being eaten are the two biggest problems for pretty much every other organism on the planet. What’s worse is when whatever is eating you is also eating your food. Welcome to the life of a caterpillar.
by Noah Schlottman '16
Authentic rock music, Creature Casts, wind drawings, the hydrology of Mars, and Brown STEAM all converged in a phenomenal event focused on “Pushing the Membrane” between science and art. Gina Roberti '14 put together the panel and presentations as part of the Gallery Opening for a new Science Center exhibit displaying her work. "As scientists, I believe we have a fundamental responsibility to communicate our research to those outside our discipline, to share the knowledge and engage with a broader audience," Gina expressed. "As an aspiring educator and artist, I believe creativity and creative arts expression is one of the main avenues over which this can happen."
For any of you scientists with a “creative edge,” five students showcased their projects on creative communication in the sciences to a full audience in the Science Center on Wednesday, November 20th. Their work lay at the intersection between science and art, but all approached these crossroads from different perspectives. Find out more (in case you missed it, or were there but want to know more) after the jump!
by Jennifer Maccani, PhD
This is part 3 of a 3-part article. This article is part of the "Emerging Biotechnology" series.
It all began in 2008. That was the year Organovo Holdings, Inc. founder Dr. Gabor Forgacs of the University of Missouri–Columbia published an article in the journal Tissue Engineering Part A describing the first ever bioprinted blood vessel construct from chicken cells (15, 16).
Rather than growing cells in a flat layer covered by cell culture media with the nutrients necessary for the cells’ survival, Dr. Forgacs and his colleagues had printed cells, or “bio-ink,” and collagen scaffolding (“bio-paper”) into a living three-dimensional structure (15). The beauty of his approach was that in a three-dimensional environment, the cells were free to do what their DNA programmed them to do—fuse with their neighbors and behave as they would in the body. This process of “self-assembly,” Dr. Forgacs explains, allows cells to retain their natural shape and characteristics that can sometimes be lost in the context of traditional two-dimensional cell culturing, such as in a petri dish (15). In the case of the chicken blood vessel constructs, the cells began to contract and “beat” (15)—just like a heart (16).
If you’re still imagining the plight of the patient with heart failure, that’s good news—very good news. And it gets better.
By Haily Tran '16
For Brown students, fall usually means two things: lots of midterms and lots of pumpkins.
While the classic pumpkin spice latte provides both caffeine and that warm, fuzzy fall feeling of “everything is going to be all right” during those miserable all-nighters in the library, it leaves out a little known stress-reducing agent found in this special member of the squash family.
by Jennifer Maccani, PhD
This is part 2 of a 3-part article. This article is part of the "Emerging Biotechnology" series.
A network of 3D printers is already beginning to form at Brown. One 3D printer is already in use in the laboratory of Dr. Kenneth Breuer, a fluid mechanist, and Dr. Sharon Swartz, a biologist focused on morphology and functional biology. Cosima Schunk, a graduate student in the lab, is a PhD candidate in the School of Engineering’s Biomedical Engineering Program just entering her fourth year.
“My research is inspired by biomimetics, that’s my undergrad degree, and I’m looking at bat flight and possible application towards the development of engineering devices like micro-air vehicles,” Schunk says. One can tell from her undergraduate education at the University of Applied Sciences in Bremen, Germany, that Schunk is serious about the research of biomimetics; as she says, “It was the first school in Germany, actually, where you could directly study biomimetics.” As Schunk describes it, biomimetics is “generally learning from nature and applying biological concepts to engineering.” Although Schunk studies bats, “the idea, generally, is you look at bio-solutions evolved by nature and then you see if you can abstract the concept, and then apply this abstract concept towards an engineering solution.”
A bird emitting brightly colored chain links of goo. Or a model of how a bird's flapping wings create aerodynamic effects. [image via]
In a recent publication in the Journal of Bioinspiration and Biomimetics (11), a former graduate student named Joseph Bahlman with whom Cosima Schunk has worked, together with Drs. Breuer and Swartz, characterized the robotic bat wing, or “flapper” as Schunk refers to it, that they designed and 3D-printed to study bat flight. “[Bats] are really agile flyers, very maneuverable, but we don’t know a lot about how they are actually doing it,” Schunk explains. “There’s a lot of engineering work out there looking at aeromechanical, aerodynamical behavior of membranous wings.”
by Jennifer Maccani, PhD
This is part 1 of a 3-part article. This article is part of the "Emerging Biotechnology" series.
Imagine being a patient with heart failure, waiting on the heart transplant list, knowing that a new heart is the only chance for your survival. Although you know that gaining your new life rests on someone else’s loss, you can’t help but hope that you might somehow be able to get to the top of the transplant list in time. Even if you do, there’s no guarantee that your body won’t reject the new heart, or that you’ll be able to tolerate potentially dangerous immunosuppressive drugs. Nearly 25% of heart transplant recipients suffer from organ rejection in the first year after transplantation (1).
Now imagine that rather than waiting on the transplant list, your doctor could grow you a new heart and transplant it—without the harsh side effects of immunosuppressive drugs (2)—from your very own cells. That scenario may soon be a reality, thanks to a new technology called three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting. 3D bioprinting works like other types of 3D printing. Rather than depositing ink, 3D printers dispense materials such as plastic in consecutive layers according to a digital model to produce a three-dimensional structure (3). In this same vein, 3D bioprinters dispense spheres of cells—even, hopefully, a patient’s own cells—into a gel mold or scaffold to produce an organ or tissue (4).
With bioprinting technology, tissues could potentially be used for transplants or for research. Furthermore, bioprinting has initiated a paradigm shift that could reduce the current reliance on animal models in studies of human diseases and in preclinical pharmaceutical drug testing (4).
Thank you for visiting Ursa Sapiens!
Ursa Sapiens is a blog developed by Brown University's chapter of The Triple Helix, an international undergraduate organization dedicated to the intersection of science and society. We strive to become the foremost online hub for the discussion of scientific research at Brown and socially relevant scientific issues. We aim to inform, entertain, and make science accessible to the Brown community and beyond.
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Thanks to Chen Ye '17 and Kaley Brauer '17 for the awesome banner! EDIT: Thanks to Jana Butman (RISD/Brown) '18 for also working on the banner!
Scientias potestas est.
Matthew Lee '15
Conor Wuertz '16
and the entire Ursa team