WBEZ | Humans http://www.wbez.org/tags/humans Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Quays Focus 'Weeping Glass' On The Mutter Museum http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-20/quays-focus-weeping-glass-mutter-museum-92294 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-21/quay-brothers-mutter_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The notion of "beauty" can mean many different things to artists. For the Brothers Quay — identical-twin filmmakers — it often means dimly lit black and white images of animated dolls, screws, cogs — any manner of inanimate object brought to life. They're so good at it that fellow filmmaker Terry Gilliam called the Quays' <em>Street of Crocodiles</em> one of the best animated films of all time.</p><p>Timothy and Stephen Quay are American-born stop-motion animators who do most of their work in Europe. Their latest film brought them back to the U.S. — to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. The Mutter houses a collection of 19th century medical curiosities. The film brings to life the way medicine used to be, and the stories of the long-dead.</p><p>The Quays are lean, fashionable in a comfortable way, with long, graying hair. They're in their 60s but don't look it. It's hard to tell them apart, and they like it that way. To make the film, they turn a museum room into a darkened studio. They fill it ominously with the soundtrack from David Lynch's TV series, <em>Twin Peaks,</em> and they place museum specimens on a table under shimmering lights: a fetus in a jar, or a terrifying sort of metal plunger for removing kidney stones. At the start, they have no script, no storyline.</p><p>"What we most like are the accidents," they say. "They," because the brothers usually share sentences, one finishing what the other starts. They prefer to be undifferentiated.</p><p>"The accidents bend the direction of the film," they continue, "because the whole thing about this museum is discovering that one little kernel or that one strange event."</p><p>'<strong>Where Reality And Fiction Tremble With A Nice Favorable Wind'</strong></p><p>They rotate and film the objects from different angles, conferring quietly, building mood. The Quays say this museum is both heart-rending and beautiful. Museums figure in their other films. For them, these places contain objects with occluded histories.</p><p>Watching a Quay film is kind of like being in a museum, like looking at a diorama through a peephole. You might call it a dreamscape, but they say no, it's "crepuscular" — it's the slippery moment just after you wake up, between sleep and wakefulness.</p><p>"For us," says a brother, "it's always been the in-between world where it's an ambiguous state, and it hovers on, or shimmers in a kind of half state. Maybe it's a little bit where reality and fiction tremble with a nice..." He searches for the right word.</p><p>"Favorable wind," the other finishes with a laugh.</p><p>It's worth noting that the Quays usually keep lots of Belgian beer nearby when filming or doing interviews.</p><p>Before the Quays begin filming, they usually decide on the music and let it guide them. They say it "releases and closes down" images. Tim Nelson composed the music for the Mutter film.</p><p>"They're looking more for the moments where there might be something that sticks out," Nelson says, "that little sound there that might inspire a reflection off glass, or when a camera angle might change. They find the rhythms within the music."</p><p>And the music helps give meaning to the objects.</p><p><strong>'Revealing The Hidden'</strong></p><p>The Quays grew up near Philadelphia and studied art there before moving to England. They were invited back by Robert Hicks, who came to the Mutter Museum as its director two years ago with a mission — to open its collection to artists. Many came. But it was these painterly animators he really wanted.</p><p>"The Quay brothers are so good at revealing the hidden," he says, "at creating stories about the inner lives of overlooked or unusual things. They animate straight pins used in sewing; they animate puppets, screws, dust. They're particularly virtuosos at manipulating dust."</p><p>In fact, the brothers had visited the museum in their teens. So they knew about its bizarre offerings.</p><p>Anna Dhody is the museum's curator and also a forensic scientist — she solves criminal mysteries based on bodies or bones. The Mutter's main exhibition hall has plenty of both — like the 139 human skulls on the wall. They're meant to show skeletal diversity among Europeans. Each has an identifying tag.</p><p>Dhody reads one tag: "Giza Hermenyi. Reformist herdsman. At age 70 attempted suicide by cutting his throat. Wound not fatal because of ossified larynx. Lived until 80 without melancholy."</p><p>In another cabinet, a skeleton stands erect, and looks <em>very</em> melancholy. There's something very wrong with the bones.</p><p>"This is Harry Eastlack," Dhody explains. "And Harry has something called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva." As Eastlack aged, any bump or injury caused more bone to grow inside him — in places it shouldn't. "If you look at the ribs right here," she says, "you're going to see this sheeting action, almost like dripping down." It looks like icicles of bone. In the end, he could only move his lips. He died at 39 and asked that his skeleton stay at Mutter.</p><p>And Eastlack's story is how the Quays start their story. "Harry Eastlack is the one that we're sort of creating kind of a through line [with], but then there's other curves that kind of sweep in and intersect," the Quays say.</p><p>'<strong>We Never Walk Through The Front Door'</strong></p><p>While the Brothers film in their studio, Dhody and director Robert Hicks roam the museum's back rooms, gathering objects that have caught the brothers' fancy. Like a metal sculpture of a head. "It's called an 'eye phantom,'" Hicks explains. It's a 19<sup>th</sup>-century metal sculpture with empty eye sockets. (See the second image in the slideshow above.) Students would place eyeballs in the sockets, and it's Anna Dhody's job to do that for the Quays.</p><p>Scalpel in hand and bent over a lab table, she's "trimming" eyeballs. "What we're doing is prepping the eyeballs to get them into the eye phantom. And then I don't know what they are going to be doing." The eyeballs are from a cow, a sheep and a pig.</p><p>The eyes finally stay put and she presents the thing to the Quays. They stare for a while, then politely say, "Sorry, it doesn't quite work."</p><p>But they are taken with the 139 skulls. There are stories there, say the Quays. "Every one of them had made a journey, and it's true. It's like, 'What would be the five lines that would describe each one of us — the trajectory of life?' "</p><p>"Yes, the trajectory of life, and how you end it."</p><p>"How you end it in this museum as well."</p><p>The filming takes several days. Only after, will the Quays shape the whole film.</p><p>"We never walk through the front door," says one. "We insist on coming through the side door or the back door. It's a bit like a plant growing in the sense you just keep it watered. It might grow three limbs on one side and only one on the other, but it will be striking or it will be special," one of the Quays says.</p><p>"Or a perversion," the other jokes.</p><p>The film is called <em>Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting</em>. It opens Sept. 22 in Philadelphia, then moves to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Unusually for a Quay film, there is narration, by the Shakespearean actor Sir Derek Jacobi. The first line of the film? "No child ever imagines the unimaginable. That he will end up as a skeleton." <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1316637731?&gn=Quays+Focus+%27Weeping+Glass%27+On+The+Mutter+Museum&ev=event2&ch=1129&h1=Humans,Around+the+Nation,Arts+%26+Life,Science,U.S.,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=140637437&c7=1129&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1129&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110920&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=2&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Tue, 20 Sep 2011 12:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-20/quays-focus-weeping-glass-mutter-museum-92294 Clever Apes: Toolmakers http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-06-28/clever-apes-toolmakers-88461 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-June/2011-06-29/clever apes tools_Gabe Spitzer.JPG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="A chimp at the Lincoln Park Zoo uses a stick to fish for food. " class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-28/termite fishing.JPG" style="width: 600px; height: 450px; margin: 5px;" title="A chimp at the Lincoln Park Zoo uses a stick to fish for food. "></p><p>As we human beings have come up against our limits throughout history, we’ve managed to invent tools that can overcome them. Using tools we can fly, restart a human heart, photograph galaxies and amoebae. Tools are so central to our humanity that we used to think they defined us: <a href="http://www.janegoodall.org/chimp-central-toolmakers">“Man the Toolmaker.”</a></p><p>That notion began to unravel in the 1960s, as <a href="http://www.janegoodall.org/jane-goodall">Jane Goodall </a>discovered that humans aren’t the only clever apes around. Chimps, too, make and use tools. It was an existential turning point: As Goodall sponsor Louis Leakey famously responded, “Now we have to redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”</p><p>That line has only gotten fuzzier since then, thanks in part to work done on chimps and gorillas at Chicago’s <a href="http://www.lpzoo.org/conservation-science/resources/staff-bios/elizabeth-v-lonsdorf-phd">Lincoln Park Zoo. </a>In this installment of Clever Apes we’ll meet a few of these crafty primates, and consider what the tools can teach us about the toolmakers.</p><p>Listen here:</p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483530-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever_Apes_Toolmakers.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>Then we’ll pivot to another tool that probes – in this case, one that analyzes art (and, it turns out, artists). It’s an <a href="http://www.amptek.com/xrf.html">X-Ray fluorescence spectrometer</a>, but we prefer to call it the “science gun.” We see it in action at the Art Institute of Chicago, thanks to conservation scientist <a href="http://www.matsci.northwestern.edu/aic/about_us.htm">Francesca Casadio</a>.</p><p>Finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the Clever Apes&nbsp;<a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p style="text-align: center; "><img alt="Francesca Casadio trains her 'science gun' on a 1000-year-old Chinese sculpture." class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-28/IMG_3707.JPG" style="width: 600px; height: 450px;" title="Francesca Casadio trains her 'science gun' on a 1000-year-old Chinese sculpture."></p></p> Tue, 28 Jun 2011 19:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-06-28/clever-apes-toolmakers-88461 All pumped up: Can stem cells fix human hearts? http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-06-12/all-pumped-can-stem-cells-fix-human-hearts-87823 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-June/2011-06-14/51039822.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Installing a pump or an artificial heart is not likely to become mainstream treatment for heart disease. Scientists are more enthusiastic about an approach involving stem cells — cells that can, in theory, be coaxed into replacing heart cells damaged or destroyed by disease.</p><p>Regenerating functioning heart cells has been a goal of medicine for more than a century. To achieve that goal, "the heart has been stabbed, snipped, contused, cauterized, coagulated, frozen, injected with toxins, infected and infarcted, in species ranging from marine invertebrates to horses," write University of Washington scientists Michael Laflamme and Charles Murry in the May 19 issue of <em>Nature</em>.</p><p>Now those efforts are beginning to pay off. In mice it's possible to find stem cells that will turn into functioning, beating heart cells, and those cells do go where they are needed, replacing cells that have been damaged. But the repairs are mostly modest, and, of course, mice aren't human. Their hearts are much smaller, and beat much faster. What works in mice might be a total flop in humans.</p><p>There are creatures that can regenerate heart tissue without any help from human scientists. The zebra fish is one example: You can cut out about 20 percent of a zebra fish's heart, and the heart will grow back to normal.</p><p>Obviously human hearts can't do that. But scientists now believe there are stem cells in all of us that regenerate human hearts; they just do it a glacial pace, not nearly fast enough to make repairs in the event of injury. Scientists are trying to identify these cardiac stem cells, and then figure out how to juice them up so they can repair damage caused by a heart attack.</p><p>Scientists are also trying to use a cocktail of chemicals to trick other kinds of stem cells that don't normally make heart cells to take on that role.</p><p>But like mechanical pumps and artificial hearts, stem cell therapy is a high-tech, high-expense solution for dealing with heart diseases. The painful truth is that heart health is largely in your hands: Rather than wait for the day when medicine can replace or repair your damaged ticker, you can eat sensibly, quit smoking, get some exercise — all that boring stuff — now. That's not nearly as newsworthy as the latest medical breakthrough, but it's probably more relevant to your health. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. </p> Sun, 12 Jun 2011 23:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-06-12/all-pumped-can-stem-cells-fix-human-hearts-87823 Mind Reading: Technology Turns Thought Into Action http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-05-11/mind-reading-technology-turns-thought-action-86436 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//0" alt="" /><p><p>An old technology is providing new insights into the human brain.</p><p>The technology is called electrocorticography, or ECoG, and it uses electrodes placed on the surface of the brain to detect electrical signals coming from the brain itself.</p><p>Doctors have been using ECoG since the 1950s to figure out which area of the brain is causing seizures in people with severe epilepsy. But in the past decade, scientists have shown that when connected to a computer running special software, ECoG also can be used to control robotic arms, study how the brain produces speech and even decode thoughts.</p><p>In one recent experiment, researchers were able to use ECoG to determine the word a person was imagining.</p><p>"This is both very exciting and somewhat frightening at the same time," says Gerwin Schalk, a researcher who studies ECoG at the New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Center in Albany. "It really goes pretty close to what people used to call mind reading."</p><p>So perhaps it's not surprising that Schalk's research is funded by both the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Army.</p><p>The key to all of the new uses for ECoG is software, designed in part by Schalk, that helps scientists decode the electrical signals coming from the brain.</p><p>The brain uses those signals every time we wiggle a toe or form a thought. But the signals also provide a real-time broadcast of precisely what the brain is doing, and Schalk's software allows scientists to eavesdrop on this broadcast.</p><p><strong>Controlling A Virtual Hand</strong></p><p>Schalk demonstrates some of ECoG's capabilities in a video shot by by the American Museum of Natural History in New York as part of an exhibit called <a href="http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/brain/?gclid=CJ-YmcygvagCFQnrKgodgXwECw">Brain: The Inside Story</a>.</p><p>In the video, Schalk is seen working with a young man sitting in a hospital bed, staring at the image of a hand on a computer screen.</p><p>Schalk asks him to close the hand. The hand on the screen closes. Schalk asks him to open the hand. The virtual hand opens.</p><p>What's striking about this scene is that the young man's own hand isn't moving — he is clenching and unclenching the virtual fist using only his thoughts.</p><p>Like all volunteers in ECoG experiments so far, this patient has severe epilepsy. He took part in the experiment while doctors were using ECoG to find the source of his seizures.</p><p>But the experiment shows how the technology could help a very different sort of patient — someone paralyzed by a spinal injury or Lou Gehrig's disease. ECoG could allow someone like that to operate a robotic arm with just their thoughts.</p><p>The experiment also shows how many different areas of the brain gets involved in things we take for granted, Schalk says.</p><p>"Even for simple functions such as opening and closing the hand, there are many, many areas that contribute to the movement," he says.</p><p><strong>Hitting The Sweet Spot Of Brain Signals</strong></p><p>ECoG has proven to be ideal for simultaneously detecting the signals from a large number of brain areas.</p><p>Bionic arms are just one potential use for ECoG. Researchers say the technology has proved far more powerful and versatile than anyone expected.</p><p>"Every couple of weeks we find something that really kind of makes us scratch our head and say, Wow, that's pretty neat," says Eric Leuthardt, a neurosurgeon at Washington University in St. Louis who has worked closely with Schalk.</p><p>One reason is that ECoG hits a sweet spot between two competing approaches to detecting brain signals, Leuthardt says.</p><p>One of these approaches requires placing electrodes deep in the brain. That allows scientists to monitor individual brain cells with great precision. But they can't monitor very many brain cells at the same time. Another approach is to put electrodes on the scalp, but the signals aren't very clear because they must pass through skin and bone.</p><p>ECoG does require surgery, but not on the brain itself.</p><p>Surgeons make an incision in the scalp and remove a portion of the skull, Leuthardt says. Then, he says, they place a grid of electrodes on the surface of the brain and "close everything back up."</p><p>Wires from the electrodes exit through the scalp and are connected directly to a computer, creating what's known as a brain-computer interface.</p><p><strong>Watching The Brain Listen To Music</strong></p><p>In theory, researchers could receive signals from hundreds or even thousands of electrodes. So far, they haven't gone beyond dozens, yet the results have been spectacular.</p><p>Schalk shows some of what ECoG can do in his lab. There aren't any animals or test tubes here, but there are plenty of computers, including one playing Pink Floyd's album <em>The Wall</em>.</p><p>Schalk is showing me the results of experiments he did using ECOG to monitor people listening to <em>The Wall. </em>He points toward two waveforms on the computer screen. One shows the mountains and valleys that represent changes in the music volume; the second waveform looks very similar, but it represents the electrical signals generated by the brain in response to the music.</p><p>"There's a very close correlation between the actual loudness in the music that is just playing right now and the intensity of the music that we're decoding or inferring from the person's brain," Schalk says. "Isn't that pretty awesome?"</p><p>The brain signal is so distinctive you could almost recognize the music from the waveform alone, Schalk says.</p><p>In the second part of the music experiment, volunteers listened to Pink Floyd for about 10 seconds, then the music was interrupted by about a second of complete silence.</p><p>The experiment shows that while it may have been silent in the room during the test, it was not silent in the volunteers' brains.</p><p>Schalk's computer screen shows that even when the music stops, the waveform from the brain continues as if the music were still playing. What we're seeing is the brain's attempt to fill in the missing sounds, Schalk says.</p><p>"The brain basically tells us a lot of information about the music in the times when there is really no music," he says.</p><p>It's a vivid illustration of something neuroscientists have been studying for many years, Schalk says. Whether it's musical phrases or strings of words or scenery we look at, our brains are always filling in missing information.</p><p><strong>Eavesdropping On Your Inner Monologue?<br /></strong></p><p>ECoG is also revealing things about how the brain creates speech.</p><p>Schalk and other researchers are using the technology to watch the brains of people as they speak out loud and also as they say the words silently to themselves.</p><p>"One of the surprising initial findings coming out of that research was that actual and imagined speech (are) very, very different," Schalk says.</p><p>When your brain wants you to say a word out loud, it produces two sets of signals. One has to do with moving the muscles controlling the mouth and vocal tract. The second set involves signals in the brain's auditory system.</p><p>But when a person simply thinks of a word instead of saying it, there are no muscle signals — just the activity in the parts of the brain involved in listening.</p><p>"And that seems to suggest that what imagined speech actually really is, it's more like internally listening to your own voice," Schalk says.</p><p>So, he says, it should be possible use ECoG to eavesdrop on that inner voice and decode what we're thinking.</p><p>Schalk says he hasn't quite done that yet. But he's close. In one experiment, he says, the ECoG system tried to recognize several dozen unspoken words in the minds of volunteers. It was right about half the time. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1305182229?&gn=Mind+Reading%3A+Technology+Turns+Thought+Into+Action&ev=event2&ch=1024&h1=Humans,Research+News,Technology,Science,U.S.,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=135598390&c7=1024&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1024&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110512&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=3&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Wed, 11 May 2011 23:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-05-11/mind-reading-technology-turns-thought-action-86436 Returning To The Battlefield, With A Brain Injury http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-05-10/returning-battlefield-brain-injury-86328 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//0" alt="" /><p><p>The signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — mild traumatic brain injury, or TBI — is hard to diagnose and just as difficult to treat. Now, many of these injured soldiers are returning to duty, and doctors are struggling to determine if and when they're well enough to fight.</p><p>One way to find out is to observe patients under the stress of combat in simulated battlefield situations. That's what physicians at Fort Campbell in Kentucky are doing with recovering TBI patients.</p><p><strong>On The (Mock) Battlefield</strong></p><p>"Jesus!" says Sgt. Joshua Thurman, as an explosion catches him by surprise. He and a team of recovering TBI patients at Fort Campbell sweep a gravel road for possible roadside bombs. They're armed with paintball guns, taking periodic fire from pretend insurgents.</p><p>The last time most of these veterans heard bomb blasts and gun shots was the day they nearly died in Afghanistan.</p><p>"Manning the 50 cal, there was an explosion, concussion got me," Thurman says. "Came to find out I did have a TBI, but I also lost the hearing in my left ear."</p><p>Many of these soldiers now wear hearing aids. That limitation alone may keep some from going back to the front line. The lingering effects of the concussion also get in the way. Memory loss, mood swings and balance problems make returning to duty after a traumatic brain injury difficult, but not impossible.</p><p>Between each battlefield simulation physical therapist Tamara Moreland tests the balance of TBI patients after each simulation.</p><p>She asks one soldier, Sgt. Patrick Cummings, to shake his head. Then she instructs others to take 50 steps in place with with their arms straight out and their eyes closed.</p><p>Moreland watches to see if they end up in the same place they started. Physical symptoms of TBI tend to get worse under stress, and Moreland wants to see how much worse.</p><p><strong>Returning To Duty</strong></p><p>Until now, returning to duty took a doctor like David Twillie looking at a few charts and signing off. That's changing.</p><p>"Soldiers are making life and death decisions, so doesn't it make sense to use demonstrated competence as the standard for returning someone to duty?" he says.</p><p>Twillie directs Fort Campbell's TBI clinic, which has been singled out as a national model by the Pentagon. Here patients must demonstrate their competence through pencil and paper tests as well as new real-life exercises.</p><p>Most soldiers who get to these simulations will return to duty, Twillie says. But some soldiers appear ready to go back on paper, when they're really not.</p><p>"In fact very recently we had a soldier that had a desire to stay in, had done well in all our simulations," Twillie says. "But when all the different sights, sounds, smells came back, he just wasn't able to change his focus, and that's very important in combat."</p><p><strong>A Flashback, And Tears<br /></strong></p><p>Jeremy Cole, a trainer who works with the TBI patients, tries to see if soldiers can complete a series of tasks in the correct order even when rattled. He plays audio from a battlefield scene in "Saving Private Ryan," and then tells the soldiers to put in chest tubes and tighten down tourniquets.</p><p>"Catch your breath," he tells one soldier who is trying to assess a casualty.</p><p>As the sound goes down and the lights come up, pools of red surround each body.</p><p>"I've had soldiers' blood on my hand before, so it takes you back there," says Staff Sgt. Nicholas Smith, looking at his own hands.</p><p>He says the amount of blood in this simulation is pretty true to life.</p><p>"The only difference is no one's screaming "mom" or "get me out of here." That's the only difference."</p><p>Sgt. Patrick Cummings, a big guy with a serious face, says he's surprised by his reaction to the battlefield simulations.</p><p>"It kind of brought tears because I was there. I was one of these patients before," he says. "It just hit home."</p><p>Despite the flashback, Cummings wants to deploy again. As a TBI survivor, he won't be alone. The Department of Defense estimates roughly 115,000 soldiers have experienced one of these mind-altering injuries. Copyright 2011 Nashville Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.wpln.org/">http://www.wpln.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1305052625?&gn=Returning+To+The+Battlefield%2C+With+A+Brain+Injury&ev=event2&ch=1029&h1=Afghanistan,Humans,Health,The+Impact+of+War,Mental+Health,Science,World,U.S.,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=136170907&c7=1029&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1029&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110510&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=577&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=2&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Tue, 10 May 2011 13:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-05-10/returning-battlefield-brain-injury-86328 World's Farmers Feel The Effects Of A Hotter Planet http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-05-07/worlds-farmers-feel-effects-hotter-planet-86192 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//0" alt="" /><p><p>Scientists have long predicted that — eventually — temperatures and altered rainfall caused by global climate change will take a toll on four of the most important crops in the world: rice, wheat soy and corn.</p><p>Now, as world grain prices hover near record highs, a new study finds that the effects are already starting to be felt.</p><p>"For two crops, maize (corn) and wheat, there has actually been a decline in yields, if you account for the trend in climate — especially the warming trend that we've observed over the last 30 years," says Wolfram Schlenker, who teaches environmental economics at Columbia University. He's a co-author of the study, along with David Lobell and Justin Costa-Roberts at Stanford University.</p><p>The scientists looked specifically at places where there are warming trends, and sure enough, they found these staple crops weren't doing quite as well.</p><p>For rice and soy, declines in some places were offset by productivity boosts elsewhere in the world, so there was no overall change. But they did see a change for wheat and corn.</p><p>The losses caused by warming thus far are still smaller than the gains made though improved agriculture.</p><p>"We're not saying yields have gone down, just to make this clear," Schlenker says. "What we're saying is yields are lower than they would have been without the climate trend. So yields have still been going up over the last 30 years."</p><p>The study is published online by <em>Science</em> magazine. It shows that these crops have declined about 5 percent over what they would have been in the absence of warming. That sounds small, until you consider that globally, these crops are worth about a trillion dollars a year. Five percent of a trillion dollars is $50 billion, "which I think is quite sizeable," Schlenker says.</p><p>And that number is probably just the beginning. Gerald Nelson at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., says that as the planet heats up in the coming decades, the 5 percent loss today could easily grow to 20 percent.</p><p>"Definitely do not consider shrugging that off," he says. "We can expect to see higher prices that are going to cause problems around the world."</p><p>And most of those problems hit people who can afford it the least.</p><p>"Who gets hurts most are people those who spend most of their money on food and who spend most of their money on eating commodities directly," Nelson says.</p><p>Here in the United States, a doubling of wheat prices might only add a dime to the cost of a $2 loaf of bread, he says. But double the price of rice and people who fill their food bowl with that grain every day will really feel it.</p><p>Americans are also insulated from this effect for another reason. The new study found that the effects of warming have not been felt evenly around the world.</p><p>"The one big exception we actually found is the United States," Schlenker says. "This is the one place that doesn't have a big temperature trend."</p><p>And since America's breadbasket has not warmed, American grain farmers have been fortunate. Professor Gene Takle at Iowa State University says farmers in the Midwest have instead dealt with a long-term trend of additional rainfall in that area.</p><p>"Farmers are very good at adapting to climate change," he says. "And when the ranges of climate are not too extreme, they can and they are adjusting."</p><p>Midwestern farmers have adapted to the added wetness by spraying more pesticides to control fungus, by planting more per acre, and by buying bigger machines to cope with the wetter fields, he says. And Takle says the farmers will surely be able to adapt to at least some degree of warming, which is likely sooner or later.</p><p>"That's a real critical issue — what is the range of temperature or climate conditions to which we can adapt, and when do we exceed those?"</p><p>Many other farmers around the world are already starting to find out where those limits lie as they confront higher temperatures. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1304771551?&gn=World%27s+Farmers+Feel+The+Effects+Of+A+Hotter+Planet&ev=event2&ch=1025&h1=Humans,Environment,Research+News,Science,World,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=135952277&c7=1025&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1025&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110507&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=7&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Sat, 07 May 2011 06:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-05-07/worlds-farmers-feel-effects-hotter-planet-86192 Banishing Wrinkles With Botox May Make You Miss Others' Emotions http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-04-25/banishing-wrinkles-botox-may-make-you-miss-others-emotions-85657 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-25/eyes_custom.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A few well-placed <a href="http://www.botoxcosmetic.com/home.aspx">Botox</a> injections can erase your hard-won character lines. But that may also make you less likely to pick up on <em>other </em>people's emotions.</p><p>That's because the botulinum toxin, which reduces wrinkles by temporarily paralyzing small muscles in the face, can make it hard to furrow the brow or make other expressions that convey emotion. And our own facial expressions, researchers now <a href="http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/04/21/1948550611406138.abstract" target="_self">show</a>, may be essential to recognizing the feelings of others.</p><p>This unexpected Botox effect is a fascinating window on how we understand what other people are feeling. A good part of that process requires unconscious mimicry of the other person's facial expression.</p><p></p><p>Think about it. Don't you often smile when someone smiles at you? Put on a worried or dismayed face when a friend looks troubled? Tear up when someone else cries?</p><p>"The tendency to mimic facial expressions is rapid, automatic and highly emotion-specific," write <a href="http://psychology.usc.edu/people/faculty_display.cfm?person_id=1027134">David Neal</a> and <a href="http://psychandneuro.duke.edu/people?subpage=profile&Gurl=%2Faas%2Fpn&Uil=tanya.chartrand">Tanya Chartrand</a> in an intriguing paper just published online by <em>Social Psychological and Personality Science.</em></p><p><em> </em></p><p>Neal and Chartrand say the subtle contraction of our facial muscles when we mirror a friend's happiness or woe generates a feedback signal to our brains. Those incoming signals from facial nerves help the brain interpret how the other person is feeling.</p><p>It's all part of neuroscientists' recent focus on so-called "<a href="http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/ramachandran06/ramachandran06_index.html">mirror neurons</a>" – the brain cells that give us the power to empathize (to "feel with") someone else.</p><p>It's not easy to prove the existence of what psychologists call "<a href="http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=2606">embodied cognition</a>" – the idea that the body influences the mind as well as the other way around.</p><p>Botox gave the researchers the opportunity to dampen the neural feedback from study subjects' facial muscles without introducing any drugs to the brain (Botox injected into the face does not get into the brain), or asking them to make a conscious effort to remain expressionless.</p><p>In one experiment, the researchers recruited 31 women who were already having either Botox treatments or injections of a <a href="http://www.dermanetwork.org/information/dermalfillers.asp">dermal filler</a>, which plumps up wrinkles but doesn't paralyze muscles. After the treatment, the women were shown a series of images that showed people's eyes embodying different emotional states. Study subjects were asked to judge, as quickly as possible, what emotion the eyes conveyed.</p><p>The Botox patients scored significantly worse than those who got a dermal filler. That meant the Botox patients' ability to make fast judgments about another person's emotions was blunted. (The Botox didn't eliminate their ability to judge emotion. They still were about 70 percent accurate.)</p><p>Neal and Chartrand then tested the opposite of the Botox effect. That is, they looked at how people judged emotive expressions when the feedback from their own facial muscles was amplified, rather than damped-down.</p><p>To do this, they painted one of those face-mask gels on subjects' temples and foreheads. When the gel dried and tightened, it provided resistance to subjects' facial muscles whenever they smiled, frowned or furrowed their brows. That amplified the neural feedback from muscles to brain.</p><p>Sure enough, people wearing the gel masks did better in judging other people's expressions than controls, who had the gel painted on their forearms. But when the researchers played audio clips of people expressing different emotions in their voices, there was no difference. That meant the improved performance was due to muscle mimicry, not just any emotive input.</p><p>The cognitive implications go well beyond Botox users. But the findings do make Neal and Chartrand wonder if prolonged use of Botox would hobble people's ability to perceive others' emotions and give others empathetic facial feedback.</p><p>"Mimicry promotes liking and emotional sharing," the researchers say, "and may contribute to long-term relationship satisfaction."</p><p>Having a Botox mask may undermine those bonds. </p> Mon, 25 Apr 2011 15:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-04-25/banishing-wrinkles-botox-may-make-you-miss-others-emotions-85657 You Won't Feel A Thing: Your Brain On Anesthesia http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-04-25/you-wont-feel-thing-your-brain-anesthesia-85658 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-25/mit_spectrum_04_14_11.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>If you've gone in for surgery, it's likely that your anesthesiologist has told you to count backward from 100 — and that you'll wake up after a nice deep sleep.</p><p>But that's not exactly true.</p><p>"Sleep is not the state you're going in, nor would it be the state in which someone could perform an operation on you," explains Dr. Emery Brown. "What we need to do in order to be able to operate on you — to perform a procedure which is, indeed, very invasive — is to put you in a state which is effectively a coma which we can readily reverse."</p><p>Brown, a professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and a practicing anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, recently co-authored a study in <em>The New England Journal of Medicine</em> outlining what scientists know and don't know about anesthesia. Unlocking its many mysteries, he says, will help scientists better understand consciousness and sleep — and could lead to new treatments for pain, depression and sleep disorders.</p><p><strong> </strong></p><p><strong>Anesthesia And The Brain</strong></p><p>One of medicine's biggest questions is how anesthesia — which knocks patients unconscious, renders them immune to pain and keeps them immobile during procedures — actually works in the brain. Brown's team has been conducting imaging studies on volunteers under anesthesia to see how different parts of the brains change activity levels as the volunteers lose and then regain consciousness.</p><p>"We would like to understand, when the drugs are given, what areas are turned off and turned on in what sequence to get some sense of how the drugs work," Brown tells <em>Fresh Air</em>'s Terry Gross. "We know a lot about the properties of the drugs — in terms of how they're metabolized by the body and certain behavioral effects they might have. We also know a lot about certain receptors they bind to, but these receptors are all over the brain and central nervous system. But the state of anesthesia is this very complex behavioral state. So to decipher it, we are at first order using the imaging where it is happening. Then, from there, we can start asking other questions: Is this the way we want to do it? Are there other ways to achieve the same state which might be better for our patients?"</p><p>So far, researchers have learned that different drugs create different patterns in the brain, Brown says. For example, propofol — one of the most widely used anesthetics — is a very potent drug and initially puts the brain into a state of excitation.</p><p>"It doesn't really cause a state of sedation or anesthesia [initially]," Brown says. "Then what we actually see next is the brain start to slow. [So first you see] a period where the brain is active, and then [when you give] a higher dose, the brain starts to slow."</p><p>In contrast, the drug ketamine — which is used in conjunction with anesthesia to make certain drugs work better — puts the brain into a state of excitation even at higher doses.</p><p>"The state of unconsciousness you get with ketamine is created by making the brain active," Brown says. "As you transition through this active state, you very frequently hallucinate. It's this hallucination or sense of euphoria or dissociative state that people who are using it as a drug of abuse are seeking."</p><p><strong>Depression And The Brain</strong></p><p>Recent studies conducted by scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health have indicated that administering extremely low doses of ketamine can help treat patients with chronic depression. Brown says he is excited by these findings.</p><p>"If this turns out to be reproducible, it could change tremendously how chronic depression is managed," Brown says. "For 70 to 80 percent of patients [in the study who received low doses of ketamine], they felt better almost immediately. This is an exciting finding, because right now there is no way to make a chronically depressed patient feel better immediately. So this is an exciting finding, and if it's shown to hold, I think it may change tremendously the way chronic depression is treated."</p><p><hr /></p><p><h3>Interview Highlights</h3></p><p><strong>Defining general anesthesia</strong></p><p>"It has five components. You're supposed to be unconscious. You're not supposed to have pain. You're not supposed to remember. And we want you to not move while someone is operating on you. And we want you to be stable physiologically — stable heart rate, stable blood pressure, temperature, breathing. The anesthesiologist takes over the physiology of the patient and controls it for the duration of the time that the patient is having surgery. Then by titrating very carefully the way the medications are given, when the surgery is over, we can reverse the coma."</p><p><strong>On waking up during surgery</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>"Does it happen, despite our best efforts sometimes? Yes, I think that's the case. What typically happens more predictably is usually in emergency settings — someone who is coming in to have an emergency cesarean section, and there is concern about how to titrate the level of anesthesia so you can take care of mother as well as the baby. Or another case is someone comes in with massive trauma from a car accident, maybe a gunshot wound. And again, you're trying to balance the side effects of the anesthetic on the heart and lungs against trying to give the person appropriate levels of anesthetic so he or she can tolerate the surgery that's necessary. There's one situation historically where there had been a fair amount of recall or awareness under anesthesia, and that was with heart surgery, because up until a few years ago, it was done primarily using large doses of opioids. Even though patients were quite comfortable and there was no evidence of stress overtly, they'd report having recall or having been aware of parts of the surgery."</p><p><strong>On having his patients count down from 100 before surgery</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>"I've been using it to demonstrate to the residents how quickly people lose consciousness under anesthesia and to give them a sense of how profoundly it occurs. So it sounds like something you see in the movies, but I actually do it because it's fairly impressive. People rarely get beyond 90. ... You get a sense of how the drugs are affecting the brain. Some people start counting 100, 99, 98, 97 um, um, 95, 94, 90. So they'll stop remembering. If you think about it, we think of counting as a very simple process, but it's actually fairly complex because you have to remember what you just said and then remember what the next number in sequence is." </p> Mon, 25 Apr 2011 07:57:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-04-25/you-wont-feel-thing-your-brain-anesthesia-85658 The Jury's Still Out On A Cellphone-Cancer Link http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-04-19/jurys-still-out-cellphone-cancer-link-85413 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-19/cellphones.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>More than 70 percent of Americans now own cellphones, and many of those users have wondered, at some point, whether regularly holding a phone to the head might lead to brain cancer.</p><p>But Siddhartha Mukherjee, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, found that<em> </em>despite years of research by scientists around the world, there has never been a conclusive study linking cellphone use and brain cancer — but no study conclusively ruled it out, either.</p><p>Mukherjee, who won a 2011 Pulitzer Prize for his book,<em> </em><em>The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer</em><em>, wrote </em>an article in <em>The New York Times Magazine</em>, in which he describes <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17cellphones-t.html">almost two decades of research</a> studies that sought to find a relationship between cellphone exposure and cancer.</p><p>To a non-scientist, connecting a suspected carcinogen to an incidence of cancer seems simple enough, like connecting tobacco smoking and lung cancer. But, Mukherjee tells NPR's Neal Conan, "finding a casual agent for cancer is not like solving a mathematical equation. It's not like there is a single magical formula that will allow us to find and define a cancer causing agent or carcinogen."</p><p>Instead, he says, carcinogens are identified "through a process that really resembles solving a detective case, in which you take one piece of evidence, you add another piece of evidence and often you're looking for corroborative pieces of evidence."</p><p>That is precisely what researchers have sought to find. The dramatic increase in cellphone use over the past two decades, Mukherjee says, has "almost [created] a natural experiment because if the cellphones truly contain a carcinogen, then increasing cellphone use dramatically, as has happened, should increase the rate of development of brain cancers in America."</p><p>But that "natural experiment" has not provided any evidence of a link, he says. Two major studies, he explains, show the rate of brain cancers between 1992 and the mid-2000s have "essentially remained flat."</p><p>A <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20639214">subsequent study</a> found a small increase in tumors in women and not in men, but the increase was small — from 2.5 cases per 100,000 people to 2.6 cases per 100,000 — and occurred in the brain's frontal lobe. That is not "the part of a brain that we typically think is associated with holding a cellphone. It's not near neither of the ears," Mukherjee says.</p><p>Given the small numbers of cases and the very large numbers of participants involved in the study, Mukherjee says the incidence is likely to be a random fluctuation.</p><p><strong>'An Extremely Rare Phenomenon'</strong></p><p>The rarity of brain cancers — six to seven cases per 100,000 Americans — also presents a tremendous challenge for researchers, Mukherjee says.</p><p>"It is very important to start this conversation by saying that we're looking at a phenomenon that is already an extremely rare phenomenon," he says. "You're vastly more likely, I suspect, to die of an accident because of the misuse of the cellphone while driving" than to develop a brain tumor.</p><p>When cancers and their triggers are rare, identifying a relationship is relatively simple, says Mukherjee. "Often these two things stand out," he says. The classic analogy, Mukerjee says, is the link scientists discovered in England in the 18th and 19th centuries between the profession of chimney sweeping and cancer of the scrotum.</p><p>"Chimney sweeping was a relatively rare profession, and scrotal cancer was an extremely rare form of cancer. So epidemiologists immediately figured out that "there must be a relationship."</p><p>But when exposure to an agent — like cellphones — is widespread, and the incidence of cancer is very rare, "it's hard to figure out if it's cause or coincidence," says Mukherjee. "It's like saying, 'Is there a relationship between sitting and cancer, or drinking milk and cancer?' Many people with brain cancer will have had prior exposure to milk or to sitting." Making those connections is "clearly a very important way to tease out cause and correlations, but it becomes statically very difficult to do."</p><p>Studies on animals as well as studies to determine if radiation emitted by cell phones can mutate cells, have also not found any link between cellphones and cancer, he says.</p><p>Given "the material that we have from multiple different kinds of trials, the evidence remains weak and inconclusive that moderate cellphone use in adults is a carcinogen. Thus far, the studies really haven't panned out."</p><p>He hopes that two major trials underway in the U.S. and Europe eventually "will settle the issue once and for all. But thus far, I would say the evidence remains pretty negative." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1303252926?&gn=The+Jury%27s+Still+Out+On+A+Cellphone-Cancer+Link&ev=event2&ch=1007&h1=Humans,Health,Research+News,Science,U.S.,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=135546449&c7=1007&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1007&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110419&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=5&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Tue, 19 Apr 2011 12:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-04-19/jurys-still-out-cellphone-cancer-link-85413 Egyptian Mummies Diagnosed With Clogged Arteries http://www.wbez.org/story/health/2011-04-09/egyptian-mummies-diagnosed-clogged-arteries-84985 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-09/mummy.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Heart disease is supposedly a modern affliction, the result of a diet rich in animal fat and too many hours spent on the sofa. But recent discoveries suggest that strokes and heart attacks may have been bedeviling humans for millenia.</p><p>Greg Thomas is part of a team of scientists that recently discovered the earliest known case of atherosclerosis — clogged arteries-- in ancient Egyptian mummies. The startling findings mean scientists may not understand heart disease as well as they think they do.</p><p>Thomas tells <em>Weekend All Things Considered</em> host Linda Wertheimer that his team began by running mummies through a CT scanner.</p><p>"Our hypothesis was that they wouldn't have [heart disease], because they were active, their diet was much different, they didn't have tobacco," Thomas says.</p><p>One of the mummies the team scanned was a princess in her 40s, who presumably ate fresh things and wasn't sedentary. "That she would have atherosclerosis," Thomas says, "I think we're missing a risk factor. Right now we know that high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol, inactivity and other things cause athersosclerosis, but I think that we're less complete than we think."</p><p>Ancient Egyptians did have access to meat, though Thomas says their diet consisted mostly of grains, fruits and vegetables.</p><p>Working people didn't merit mummification, so the mummies the team studied belonged to an elite class. Thomas says the legendary inbreeding of Egypt's royal families probably had little to do with the incidence of heart disease, however.</p><p>"We found the atherosclerosis over 2,000 years of time, and so there would be many different families who were the pharaohs or the ruling parties at the time ... We think it's common to the environment there, among the elite."</p><p>Thomas says his team hopes to find some less-exalted mummies to scan. "But we're suspicious that even the more middle-class persons, that they may well have had [heart disease]. But that's research to be done." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1302385066?&gn=Egyptian+Mummies+Diagnosed+With+Clogged+Arteries&ev=event2&ch=1007&h1=History,Humans,Health,Science,World,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=135269340&c7=1007&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1007&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110409&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=2&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Sat, 09 Apr 2011 16:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/health/2011-04-09/egyptian-mummies-diagnosed-clogged-arteries-84985