Recent Breakthrough in Differentiating Stem Cells into Bone Cells – Suraj Jaladanki

Recent Breakthrough in Differentiating Stem Cells into Bone Cells

A recent development has come about at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering where researchers were better able to control the differentiation of stem cells into bone cells. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells in an organism which could potentially turn into any other type of cell in the organism such as a liver cell or red blood cell. Each cell has its own microenvironment, which includes the proteins and polymers surrounding the cell and the cell’s connections to other cells. Stem cells can be induced to undergo differentiation into certain cells by altering the cell’s microenvironment in specific mechanisms. The issue with this fine-tuning was that it was assumed that the energy used in altering the microenvironment was elastic, or that the cell goes back to its original shape after the stress is removed. However, researchers learned that the cell’s microenvironment does not have elastic properties such as those seen in rubber but rather has viscoelastic properties, which can be exemplified in chewing gum. Viscoelastic materials release their energy over time when a stress is applied instead of all at once as seen in elastic materials, and they do not return to their original shape after the stress has been removed, having some amount of permanent distortion due to the stress. Researchers attempted to replicate the viscoelastic properties seen in the cell’s microenvironment through creating materials called hydrogels. When stem cells were put into these hydrogels, the gels were given stress and relaxed with certain factors, leading to differentiation of stem cells. When the hydrogel was stiff, and stress was applied to it with the stem cells inside. Increasing the rate at which the gel relaxed led to bone cell differentiation. After the added stress was fully removed, the bone cells that were initially formed continued to differentiate and form a tight set of connections, called an interconnected mineralized matrix, of collagen, which is a key property of bones.

It is exciting that researchers have better precision in converting stem cells into bone cells because potential applications of this research include bone regeneration, growth, and healing. This work has several implications in further research which would examine the hydrogels made to initially differentiate the stem cells into bone cells. The hydrogels could be modified so that other types of cells could be created, such as fat cells. The key take-away points from this research are that bone cells “need fast-relaxing environments to grow into bone, which is very stiff and elastic”. This knowledge of having fast-relaxing environments could be used as the healing of fractures, where there is a physical crack in the bone, so that the fractured bone could be placed under conditions similar to those experienced by the hydrogels discussed earlier which had fast-relaxation periods, potentially allowing bones to form and heal faster. The work produced in this study could lead to further analysis of how mechanical properties, such as fast relaxation, can influence cell behavior.

Sources: urg_lesson04.xml

Addicting Food – Emmanuel Katsigiannakis

A recent article from CNN called “ You may be a pizza-holic: Research says some foods addicting” by Carina Storrs talks about the century long belief that we can in fact become addicted to certain types of foods. The article mentions that a team of researchers asked 120 undergraduates from the University of Michigan and another group of 400 adults about the problems they have in controlling how much they eat of 35 different types of foods ranging from pizza to broccoli. The study found that at the top of the list were foods such as pizza, chocolate, chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries, cake, and soda. All of these foods are considered processed foods, meaning that they contain added sugars and fats. Cheese and bacon followed these processed foods. Although cheese and bacon are not considered processed, they are both high in fat and in salt. On the other hand, healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables were at the bottom of the list. The lead author of the study, Erica Schulte, says, “In a similar manner that drugs are processed to increase their addictive potential, this study provides insight that highly processed foods may be intentionally manufactured to be particularly rewarding through the addition of fat and refined carbohydrates, like white flour and sugar”. In summary, the study found that the most problematic foods were those with high glycemic loads (have a lot of sugar and cause an increase in blood sugar levels). The study also concluded that adults with a high BMI and adults who were at risk of having a food addiction most likely had a difficulty in controlling themselves around one particular item rather than a group of foods. Food addiction has been a hot topic for many years and many health experts say there is a need for us to avoid all types of processed foods that may have addictive properties. A goal for all of us should be to avoid any sorts of foods that make it hard for us to stop eating. addicting/index.html

Healthcare Disparities – Cyrus Davati

It continues to baffle me as to how politics, business, and government has managed to fit its way through the crevices of the clinical walls. From the influence of agencies to the intervening of insurance companies, the world of healthcare has been intoxicated with the milieu of external forces. In my experiences in healthcare, there are common denominators I have come to realize, which may serve as a basis for the way healthcare works today in comparison to how it should work. Although my interests lie more within medicine than dentistry, I learned a lot about healthcare discrepancies in this past year volunteering for a dental office. The biggest healthcare derailment I came to see was the cost of some essential dental procedures, and many families inability to afford them. If their insurance provider was not accepted at that dental office, the patient could either pay out of pocket or no procedure would be done. The same way there are multiple ways to pay for everyday necessities like cars; I believe the same should apply for basic health requirements. This concept can be applied to procedure costs. By allowing lower- income patients to pay in monthly installments, both physicians get the pay they deserve, and the patient gets the health treatment he desperately needs. Granted, I am sure there are many financial analysts who could grill me with the “its not that simple” explanation, and I agree. However, this is meant to plant the seed of a basic theme: giving the patient their treatment when they need it, and not when time or money permits. Some may argue that the patient should just save up money for when they can afford their procedures, but those individuals unfortunately have not taken the necessary biology courses to understand that infections will not spread if its host “doesn’t have enough money”. I’m sure if parasites and cancer cells were diplomatic in understanding the financial times of its victims, we wouldn’t have half the issues we do today. Unfortunately, medicine doesn’t work that way, and neither does microbiology. With this in mind, it is safe to say that every individual deserves treatment at their crucial time, regardless of whether their card reads Medicaid or Kaiser. By setting the ultimate priority for patient care , we must first heal our people in order to heal our healthcare system.

My very first open surgery observation! – Veda Govindan

My very first open surgery observation! – Veda Govindan

As I stepped into the room, there was so much action happening around me. I heard many big words, which sounded like gibberish. Medical professionals were running from corner to corner. A nurse was recording something. Monitors were all over. And in the center of all this was an anesthetized boy of age 7, fully exposed. He was suffering from Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD). VSD is common heart condition in children, wherein a hole is present in their ventricle. It causes the child to breathe faster as the oxygenated blood and deoxygenated blood mix together. A simple surgery is performed to close the hole

The patient was scheduled to have an open-heart surgery today. Just the whole thought it made me nervous. I don’t personally want to become a surgeon, but I’ve always wanted to see a surgery! Standing in the midst of all this action made me get goose bumps. I was actually there, watching a child have open-heart surgery. I sat through the whole procedure very still and quiet. I still don’t know if I was really excited or in deep shock. Towards the end, the surgeon called me closer and showed me the pumping heart. It was literally a few feet away from me. I stared at the continually beating form. I felt something that I had never ever felt before. I don’t know whether it was happiness that this boy’s heart was cured, or a sense of magic that medicine can do, the beauty of life, or something else. But I knew that exact moment that I definitely want to work in the medical field! This was it! My dream, passion, just everything!

Smart Biogel – Erin Causey

“Smart Biogel”

By: Erin Causey

Researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre have recently developed a biogel that can kill cancerous tumors. With an emphasis on targeted treatment, this newly innovated biogel is being researched for treating cancer. Currently, the gel has proven to be effective at killing tumors in the lab. The research they’ve done so far has taken place in vitro (in a lab environment). The next phase is animal testing and then hopefully available for human use in a few years. The way it works is the biogel is injected directly into the tumor, which allows the T-cells in the gel to grow. T-cells (which are a type of white blood cell and function as an immune response to the cancer) are taken from the patient and surrounded by the biogel, which provides a good environment for growth. This allows them to grow for two to three weeks before they are released to kill the tumor cells. This gel is made of chitosan, which comes from the shells of crustaceans, and is liquid at room temperature but changes to a solid at the temperature in the human body. The liquid makes the biogel easy to inject but still be effective once it enters the body. This allows for a protected environment for immune cells to grow and fight cancer. Another benefit to using this method is that by injecting the biogel into a local site, the number of T-cells that need to be injected is much lower than if they were injected into the bloodstream. Currently, billions of T-cells are required but with this biogel only a few dozen million T-cells are needed. The overall application of this new discovery could be groundbreaking in future cancer treatments and could have a real impact on fighting cancer.

AMSA Meeting 4/14/2015 – Natalia Sampaio Moura

Dr. John Kylan Lynch opened my eyes to many aspects of the responsibilities of a neurologist. I was first captivated by the fact that he works at NIH as a staff clinician. As enforced by his powerpoint presentation, being a clinician basically means he works long hours per day and deals with truly complicated cases that are directly related to his research. Still, I was truly impressed by the path he took to get to his current position, and am influenced to consider an alternate career choice in the At first, I was not very familiar with how related DO school is to Medical School. Dr. Lynch highlighted there is high similarities, and led me to consider DO schools as possible choices when I start applying to medical school. Additionally, I previously heard of individuals getting a Masters in Public Health (MPH) prior to Medical School, and was surprised when Dr. Lynch said he got his MPH while doing a fellowship after attending DO school. Again, this highlighted that the path he took to achieve his current position is, in my opinion, refreshingly unusual. I appreciated the fact he took the time to reference subspecialties present in the field of neurology, talked about his responsibilities and workload, and mentioned the challenges associated with his inspiring career. Yesterday’s AMSA meeting was truly eye- opening for me.

The “Milk Gap” – Kimia Abtahi

Nowadays, as technology grows and becomes a more integral part in our daily lives, it appears as if anything can be found and bought online—even breast milk. Recently, there is a spike in the demand from mothers to buy breast milk online. This works well for mothers searching for alternatives that have difficulty breast-feeding their babies, whether from mastectomy, trouble lactating, or adoption. However, there is controversy over the health risks this can bring to the child. Overall, it is well-known that breast milk is mostly advantageous to formula because of the nutrients and other protection it can give. But these benefits might not be worth the potential problems that can arise from getting the breast milk randomly off the internet. Some mothers are also putting milk up for sale that isn’t even 100% pure; some samples tests showed that they were contaminated with cow’s milk or milk-based formula powder. Mothers will cheat the system because they are being told that selling their excess breast milk is a creative way to fix their budget that can bring in a lot of income for the household. Second of all, there is a chance of infectious diseases or drugs tainting the breast milk. Another movement that has spun off of this is milk-sharing volunteer communities, like Eats on Feets, who advocate against the sale of breast milk. The best choice for mothers searching for breast milk is milk banks. They are established nonprofit organizations that thoroughly screen and test the donors and then pasteurize the milk to make sure it is safe. The obstacles are that it can be expensive and the milk supply might not be able to meet demands. This had led to the coining of the term “milk gap” as mothers cannot solely give enough milk to their babies and they have difficulty getting it elsewhere.