Speaking of Science Podcast

Dr. Peter Bandettini — Mr. MRI

Dr. Peter Bandettini spends a lot of time peering into people's heads. Not because he is clairvoyant, but because he is a biophysicist. Using functional MRI (fMRI), a revolutionary neuroimaging technique he helped pioneer in the '90s, Dr. Bandettini delves into the mysteries of the human brain. He is working to advance fMRI technology to parse out more information about the neural connections that are constantly and spontaneously active even when we think our minds are blank.

Dr. Hannah Valantine — At the Heart of Diversity

Time and again, diversity and inclusion initiatives have proven to boost productivity and overall well-being in the workplace. But despite countless studies and although there have been significant strides in recent history, the struggle to ensure equal opportunity persists. At the NIH, the Scientific Workforce Diversity (SWD) Office is expanding recruitment and retention with Dr. Hannah Valantine as its first chief officer. She emphasizes how proper resources, mentorship, and community are essential for progress in the biomedical field.

Drs. Richard Childs and Matthew Hall — Remdesivir Therapy for COVID-19

In this episode, Dr. Richard Childs, a senior investigator and Clinical Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), recounts his experience using the antiviral remdesivir to treat patients with COVID-19 in one of the early hot zones of the pandemic. He led a team sent to care for passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was held in quarantine in Yokohama, Japan at the start of the outbreak. Since then, remdesivir has continued to gain traction as a possible standard of care. Dr. Matthew Hall, biology group leader at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), explains the development of the drug and its newfound purpose in the battle against the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett — The Novel Coronavirus Vaccine

Perhaps now more than ever, it is undeniable how integral vaccines have become to public health. Vaccines protect us from a whole host of infectious diseases, including chickenpox, measles and the seasonal flu. With a new threat at hand, scientists at the NIH swiftly developed a vaccine candidate against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The pre-clinical effort was driven in part by Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a viral immunologist and research fellow in the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Dr. Nicole Farmer — The Mental Health Benefits of Cooking

Social distancing is the best way to curtail the spread of COVID-19, but if innumerable days of isolation start to feel like they’re taking a toll on your mental welfare, there might be some solace waiting in the kitchen. According to mental health experts, cooking can reduce anxiety and alleviate mental distress. Dr. Nicole Farmer is a clinical researcher studying many facets of how diet affects human biology and behavior, including the effects of cooking interventions on mental well-being.

Dr. Frank Lin — Radioactive Drugs for Rare Cancers

Radioactive drugs carry radioactive substances that can be engineered to specifically target and kill tumor cells inside the body. In 2018, the FDA approved a radioactive drug called Lutathera to treat tumors that affect the pancreas or gastrointestinal tract. Now, scientists at the NIH led by Dr. Frank Lin are testing whether Lutathera can also be effective against rare tumors of the adrenal glands. Dr. Lin is a clinician and researcher focused on bringing radioactive drugs — also known as radionuclides — from bench to bedside. His work could accelerate the development of new therapies for patients with rare cancers who have few or no other treatment options.

Dr. Jerry Yakel — Acetylcholine Receptors and Neurological Disease

The neurons in our brains use both electrical and chemical signals to communicate. When those signals are not generated or interpreted correctly, serious problems can arise. Dr. Jerry Yakel is a neurobiologist studying acetylcholine receptors, which allow neurons to turn signals transmitted using the chemical acetylcholine into electrical messages. Because acetylcholine receptors are found on so many nerve cells, numerous neurological disorders can arise when they fail to work properly, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy. By studying these receptors, Dr. Yakel’s team hopes to better understand how they contribute to disease, which could eventually lead to therapies for a variety of neurological conditions.

Dr. Armin Raznahan — Genes, Brain Structure, and Neuropsychiatric Disorders

Anybody who observes a person with a neurological illness like Tourette syndrome or schizophrenia can clearly see how these conditions affect behavior. What’s much more difficult to determine is how these ailments relate to changes in the brain. Dr. Armin Raznahan is a child psychiatrist who uses a genetics-first approach and state-of-the-art neuroimaging tools to examine how the size and shape of the brain differ in children and adolescents with neuropsychiatric disorders compared to healthy individuals. His discoveries about these illnesses could ultimately improve our ability to identify and treat people who have them, as well as predict which children might develop them.

Dr. Catharine Bosio — The Weird and Deadly Francisella Tularensis Bacterium

Our houses, workplaces, and even the air we breathe are teeming with microbes, some of which can cause severe illness. Dr. Catharine Bosio is an immunologist studying how airborne pathogens infect and alter cells in the lungs. Her work focuses in particular on a bacterium called Francisella tularensis, which causes a life-threatening disease called tularemia and has the unique ability to change how energy-producing mitochondria function in immune cells. Dr. Bosio's experiments with these deadly bacteria could lead to more effective ways to diagnose and treat tularemia and other infectious diseases.

Dr. Cynthia Dunbar — Stem Cell Therapies for Blood and Immune System Diseases

Our blood is made up of a diverse array of different cells, all of which originate from the same source: the ‘hematopoietic’ stem cells in our bone marrow. Dr. Cynthia Dunbar is a clinician working to understand how these stem cells grow, divide, and ultimately produce the cells that carry oxygen around the body and fight disease. Learning to safely transplant and manipulate hematopoietic stem cells could lead to treatments for a wide variety of diseases caused by a lack of properly functioning blood cells, including leukemia and aplastic anemia.

This page was last updated on Friday, January 14, 2022