Recent research suggests new treatment options for neurodegenerative diseases involving the gut microbiome

By Burcin Ikiz, Ph.D.

Bowels don’t readily come to mind when talking about a neurological disorder. But for James Parkinson, they did.

In his 1817 essay on shaking palsy, Parkinson described a syndrome that would later be renamed for him. The English surgeon and apothecary also mentioned an unexpected symptom: constipation.

“The bowels, which had been all along torpid, now, in most cases, demand stimulating medicines of very considerable power,” he wrote, “the expulsion of the faeces from the rectum sometimes requiring mechanical aid.”

Even though Parkinson’s disease mostly affects the nerve cells in the brain, the majority of patients also suffer from gut-related symptoms. Only scientists didn’t pay much attention to them until the last decade. …

Researchers worldwide build a decentralized learning model to improve COVID-19 diagnosis.

A few months ago, Daniel L. Rubin, a professor of biomedical data science, of radiology, and of medicine at Stanford, received an unexpected request for collaboration. A group of researchers from China and Thailand were developing a new machine learning algorithm to improve the accuracy of radiology-based COVID-19 diagnosis and needed help to make their model more robust without compromising patient privacy. Rubin — whose research uses AI to extract biomedical information from radiology images to guide physicians — had the right tool for the challenge. …

A recent study shows AI-related job growth correlates to improved social welfare through economic growth.

Artificial intelligence carries the promise of making industry more efficient and our lives easier. With that promise, however, also comes the fear of job replacement, hollowing out of the middle class, increased income inequality, and overall dissatisfaction. According to the quarterly CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness survey from October last year, 37% of workers between the ages of 18 and 24 are worried about AI eliminating their jobs.

But a recent study from two researchers affiliated with the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI) challenged this public perception about AI’s impact on social welfare. The study found a relationship between AI-related jobs and increases in economic growth, which in return improved the well-being of the society. …

Losing the mysterious cells may lead to Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, or other neurological disorders

About five years ago, researchers from the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle received a special donation: a piece of a live, rare brain tissue. It came from a very deep part of the brain neuroscientists usually can’t access. The donated tissue contained a rare and mysterious type of brain cells called von Economo neurons (VENs) that are thought to be linked to social intelligence and several neurological diseases.

The tissue was a byproduct of a surgery to remove a brain tumor from a patient in her 60s. The location of the tissue turned out to be in one of the deepest layers of the frontoinsular cortex, which is one of the few places where these rare neurons are found in the human brain. “This was one of the extremely rare chances that we received this tissue from a donor that had a tumor being removed from quite a deep [brain] structure,” said Rebecca Hodge, who is the co-first author of the study, published in Nature Communications on March 3rd. Hodge and her colleagues became the first scientists to record electrical spikes from these neurons. Further studies they did on these cells gave them clues about the VENs’ identity and function in the human brain. …

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak a pandemic today confirming the worldwide spread of the new disease. While this new description sounds scary, “all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” reads a statement attributed to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO.

Before we panic and start hoarding hand sanitizers, we have to keep in mind that there are vulnerable people in our communities, such as elderly, people with underlying conditions, and people with cancer on chemotherapy, who need our support more than ever before. Dr. …

I was 18 years old when I moved to the U.S., a country I had never been to before, for college. I barely knew anyone. Everyone I loved was on the other side of the globe. I did not know what to do or what to expect.

Throughout the next 17 years, I had to carve my own path multiple times. Surviving living abroad, thriving in my studies first as an undergraduate studying Biomedical Computation and then as a PhD student in Neurobiology, following a career path in Science and Research, and finally transforming that career into a more flexible and family-friendly one as I became a mother were some of the things I had to figure out by myself. …

a love poem for my fellow Mamas

You wake up for the nth time at night

Your body aches for more rest

It is too early to get up yet too late to snooze

Sweet morning noises come from the tiny body on your chest

So, this is it. Another day lets loose

Oh sweet Mama, you are not alone.

Every day feels the same

No weekend, no holiday

Time is a mysterious concept

Days too long and nights too short

You count down minutes until bedtime

Yet weeks and months pass you by like a fly

Oh sweet Mama, you are not alone. …

A guide on how and why to encourage scientific thinking in children

Endless curiosity, always wondering why, a keen enthusiasm to test everything by hand — children are natural-born scientists. Moreover, their neuronal connections are constantly wiring and rewiring, making their early years the most crucial time for development. By feeding their curiosity and honing their natural scientific skills, we can help them on their journey to become curious, independent, and open-minded individuals who are not afraid to ask why. …

When I first experienced the unbearable throbbing on the right side of my head, accompanied by nausea and extreme light sensitivity, the pain was so intense that I couldn’t imagine it being anything less than fatal. I was surprised to hear from one of my colleagues that I was likely suffering from a ‘benign’ migraine. Benign only because it does not seem to cause any damage in the brain or have any overall effects on one’s health, even though a sufferer feels like they could easily volunteer for a one-sided lobotomy to get the aching part of their brain out.

After its first arrival, migraine continued visiting me three to four times a month with each visit lasting for about 24–48 hours and rendering me completely bedridden. I started missing out on many work days and social events every month. When I didn’t suffer from a migraine, I suffered from anxiety and stress over the potential of getting one soon. It started diffusing into all parts of my life and identity. …

Understanding the biology of a fatal disease

Damian* was 55 years old when he first noticed something was not right with his hands. His fingers had started betraying his commands, making it more and more difficult to button his shirt and tie his shoes. Despite being proud of his balance and fitness, he often stumbled over and fell straight on his face before his hands could block the fall. Weirdest of all were the fast palpitations, clinically called fasciculations, that would start out of nowhere in the area between his thumb and index finger and last several minutes. He thought maybe stress and too much coffee were to blame for these symptoms. Worst case, he thought they could be caused by some kind of hernia that is squeezing his nerves. He decided to mention it to his doctor during his annual checkup. Never did he think that it could be worse than a simple hernia until his doctor studied the muscle tone in his arms and legs and referred him to a neurologist right away. After several months of multiple tests and worsening symptoms, he was diagnosed with the worst of the worst. …


Burcin Ikiz, Ph.D.

Neuroscientist. Science Writer & Communicator. Passionately Curious Human.

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