Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Once confined to the realms of science fiction, virtual reality (VR) has crossed over into the real world in a wide array of fields, including scientific research and clinical medicine. In the IRP, several researchers are utilizing the cutting-edge technology in their efforts to improve human health.
Susan Persky, Ph.D., for instance, runs the Immersive Virtual Environment Test Unit, where she uses VR to simulate how genetic information might affect doctor-patient interactions and influence patients’ emotions, beliefs, and decisions. She has also put the technology to use studying the food choices of overweight and obese individuals by presenting them with a simulated buffet. Meanwhile, John Ostuni, Ph.D., explores how VR might help doctors diagnose or treat patients, such as by providing access to physical therapy without going to the hospital. And Victor Cid, M.S., creates virtual reality scenarios for the Disaster Information Management Research Center that can train emergency personnel how to more effectively respond to major crises.
On Friday, February 23, they joined several NIH colleagues for a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) to answer questions from the public about how virtual reality might change the way medicine and research are practiced and ultimately make people’s lives better. Read on for some of the most interesting exchanges that took place or check out the full AMA on Reddit.
Monday, March 5, 2018
Carly Kaplan, a junior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, spent her summer working in the lab of NIH IRP Investigator Dr. Kareem Zaghloul. As a member of Dr. Zaghloul’s team, Carly examined how the human brain creates and recalls memories. An aspiring doctor, she believes that this sort of research is “the backbone of the medical profession” and that “doctors can’t do what they do without the research behind it.” While at NIH, she was particularly intrigued by the opportunity to watch Dr. Zaghloul perform neurosurgery on the epilepsy patients who were part of in his lab’s studies.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
In one of Aesop’s classic fables, a clever wolf dons a sheep’s skin in order to move through the herd undetected. As it turns out, IRP researchers have discovered that in people with a specific set of immune system genes, the HIV virus uses a similar approach to hide from the body’s defenses.1
Nearly all cells in our bodies are coated with proteins called human leukocyte antigens (HLAs). These proteins allow the immune system to distinguish between healthy, native cells and those contaminated by unwelcome visitors like viruses or bacteria that must be destroyed. Each of the various HLA proteins is encoded by a different HLA gene and these genes vary considerably between individuals, causing different people to have different variants of each HLA protein.
“There are thousands of different forms of these HLA genes, and that variation allows us, as a species, to deal with virtually all infectious pathogens,” says IRP Senior Investigator Mary N. Carrington, Ph.D., the senior author of the new paper. “We’re really interested in the diversity of that part of the genome, since the risk of essentially every autoimmune disease, many cancers, and probably every infectious disease is associated with this set of genes.”
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Between 25 and 30 million Americans have a rare disease, defined as a condition affecting fewer than 200,000 people. On March 1, the NIH will host its annual Rare Disease Day to increase awareness of these under-recognized and often undiagnosed illnesses and highlight the efforts of scientists, patients, and advocates to produce treatments.
In anticipation of the occasion, on February 23, NIH organized a Twitter chat with NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and Sharon Terry, President and CEO of Genetic Alliance and a member of the Research Program Advisory Panel for NIH’s All of US project. Check out some of the more noteworthy exchanges below or look at the full Twitter chat by searching for #NIHchat on Twitter.
Monday, February 26, 2018
For over a decade, my family shared our home with a short, fat beagle named Kayla Sue. She had big floppy ears, a tail as straight as an exclamation point, and a coat of fur that was a patchwork of white, brown, and black splotches. Her love of chasing small animals was matched only by her enthusiasm for eating, napping, and belly rubs. One of my best friends growing up, on the other hand, had a mean-spirited Dachshund named Rocky who would not let anyone outside his family touch his long, brown, sausage-shaped body. Meanwhile, one of my brother’s close childhood friends had two humongous, overly-friendly, black-and-brown German shepherds that would immediately bowl you over when you walked through the front door.
It doesn’t take a particularly sharp observer to notice that, despite being the same species, the more than 300 breeds of dog have remarkably different physical and behavioral traits. But what remains less clear even today are the specific biological roots that produce these widely varying attributes. And, perhaps more importantly, scientists seek to understand how learning about that immense diversity might help us improve the health of our canine companions – and ourselves.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Researchers have a long history of fattening up mice to gain insight into the causes and consequences of weight gain in the human body. In one of the more recent studies of this kind, a team of IRP researchers found that that a high-fat diet consistently altered the collection of microbes residing in mice’s digestive tracts and that this diet-microbe combination might pre-dispose the mice – and, potentially, obese humans – to colon cancer by triggering certain changes in how genes behave.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
On December 22, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming February 11 of each year as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, with the goal of highlighting the important contributions of women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Here at NIH, a dedicated group of scientists known as the Women Scientist Advisors (WSA) is working not only to recognize the role of women in the biomedical sciences but to expand it as well.
Friday, February 9, 2018
At the start of his third term in 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s blood pressure was an alarmingly high 188/105—or, more accurately, alarming by today’s standards. But back then, nobody knew that high blood pressure was related in any way to cardiovascular disease (CVD). As a result, the nation was completely blind-sided when Roosevelt died of a stroke four years later.
The link between hypertension and CVD is now common knowledge due to a research program launched in 1948 called the Framingham Heart Study, now in its 70th year. To kick off American Heart Month this February, the Framingham Study’s current director, IRP Senior Investigator Daniel Levy, M.D., gave a lecture on February 1, titled “Unraveling the Mysteries of Cardiovascular Disease: Lessons from NHLBI’s Framingham Heart Study.”
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Joanne Compo, a sophomore at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, spent the summer of 2017 working in the lab of NIH IRP Distinguished Investigator Dr. Kenneth Fischbeck. She helped create a quality of life questionnaire for patients with Kennedy’s disease, a neuromuscular disorder that causes muscles to weaken over time due to the death of motor neurons responsible for movement. Such a questionnaire could help affected individuals get diagnosed more quickly and shed light on which interventions improve their lives the most.
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
We’ve had a few changes on our Board of Scientific Directors in the past year, so I thought I’d give you an update. Each NIH Institute or Center (IC) with an intramural program has a scientific director (SD). The NCI, NIAID, NLM, and NIEHS are programmatically diverse and require additional leaders with SD functions. So, although 24 ICs have principal SDs, there are actually 30 people who function as scientific directors.
These SDs are responsible for the intramural budgets of their institutes. Most run their own labs. They also have numerous other responsibilities, which include: