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Scientists still track health fallout of nuclear bombing of Japan

PBS NewsHour

More than 70 years have passed since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the long-term health effects of nuclear radiation are still not fully known. But American and Japanese scientists have been studying survivors since the end of the war, and are uncovering valuable information about how to fight and prevent the bombs’ atomic consequences. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports.

Antidepressants aren’t just for depression anymore, study finds

Los Angeles Times

Columbia University psychiatrist Mark Olfson, one of the authors of that 2011 study, said the new data appear to reflect some progress and is somewhat reassuring. The prescribing decisions reflected in the new study frequently reflected good practices backed up by solid research, he said. As an example, Olfson said, the use of trazedone — an antidepressant that is sedating — is increasingly seen as a safer medication for insomnia than benzodiazepines, which can cause dependency and other unwanted side effects.

Babies Behind Bars: Should Moms Do Time With Their Newborns?

Associated Press

Columbia University researcher Mary Byrne, who spent years studying mothers and children who started life in Bedford Hills, said that the youngsters formed critical attachments to their mothers and that a second study after they were released found they were no different from children raised entirely on the outside. “Many people would assume any exposure to prison would cause problems … they’ll be exposed to violence and horrible people, it will scar them,” she said. “But that’s not what we found.”

Our long and winding road to understanding ‘The Gene’

PBS NewsHour

The field of genetics has seen exponential growth in recent years, and today may be on the verge of further breakthroughs that will radically change the way we function as a species. But to understand genetics now, one must first understand its complex past dating back to the 19th century, a past chronicled in Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s new book “The Gene.” Mukherjee joins Judy Woodruff for more.

The Improvisational Oncologist

New York Times Magazine

Siddhartha Mukherjee, a cancer physician and scientist at Columbia University, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for his book “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.” His new book, “The Gene: An Intimate History,” will be published this month.

Why, Exactly, Do Our Bodies Fight Us on Weight Loss?

New York Magazine

What we eat and what we burn off are usually coupled, says Michael Rosenbaum, an obesity researcher and professor of pediatrics and medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “If you exercise more and burn more calories, you’re probably going to eat more. If you eat less, you’re probably going to burn fewer calories to compensate for that,” he says.

Larger hippocampus makes PTSD treatment more likely to work, study says


“If replicated, these findings have important implications for screening and treating patients who have been exposed to trauma,” Dr. Yuval Neria, a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and director of the PTSD Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, said in a press release. “For example, new recruits for military service may be scanned before an assignment to determine whether they are capable of dealing with the expected stress and trauma. Having a smaller hippocampus may be a contraindication for prolonged exposure to trauma.”

Could a gluten-free diet in kids do more harm than good?

CBS News

“I think there’s a side to the story of the gluten-free diet that’s not often in information that’s readily accessible to families and pediatricians,” the paper’s author, Dr. Norelle R. Reilly, a pediatric gastroenterologist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, told CBS News.

Why, Exactly, Do Our Bodies Fight Us on Weight Loss?

New York Magazine

What we eat and what we burn off are usually coupled, says Michael Rosenbaum, an obesity researcher and professor of pediatrics and medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “If you exercise more and burn more calories, you’re probably going to eat more. If you eat less, you’re probably going to burn fewer calories to compensate for that,” he says.

The Improvisational Oncologist

New York Times Magazine

Siddhartha Mukherjee, a cancer physician and scientist at Columbia University, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for his book “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.” His new book, “The Gene: An Intimate History,” will be published this month.

‘Second Skin’ May Reduce Wrinkles, Eyebags, Scientists Say

New York Times

The report published on Monday describes pilot studies, the first test of the product. The researchers say that they are not sure yet when they will have enough data to submit to the Food and Drug Administration for marketing approval — they will know more later this year. “I think it is brilliant,” said Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia, who was not involved in the research. “What they have done is design a clever biomaterial that recapitulates the properties of young and healthy skin. They can use it as sort of a Band-Aid over old and aging skin and get very significant results.”


After two tragedies, N.J. mom’s unusual procedure brings her a healthy boy

Daily News

For her third pregnancy, Ruffins, 32, had an unusual procedure — an abdominal cerclage done while she was carrying the baby. Also known as a cervical stitch, the cerclage reinforces the cervix, allowing the fetus to grow to term. This condition only happens in 1 to 2% of all pregnancies, said Dr. Annette Perez-Delboy, director of Labor and Delivery and co-director of The Mothers Center at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. There are usually no warning signs. “They come for a sonogram and the doctor says your cervix is short, or they are dilated,” Perez-Delboy said. “They say, ‘I was doing fine and I went to the toilet and the baby came out.’ ”

Dr. Robot scrubs in, and suturing may never be the same

Los Angeles Times

“In current robotic surgery, it’s basically still a surgeon doing an operation: he’s just using what we call a robot,” said Dr. Jason D. Wright, chief of gynecologic oncology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. Under a surgeon’s direct gaze, and often mimicking the movement of a surgeon’s hands, current robotic surgical systems perform a range of surgical tasks. “It’s like a surgical assistant,” said Wright, who was not involved with the newly published research. By contrast, said Wright, “this is actually an autonomously functioning robotic surgery…that’s quite a different system.”

Short Answers to Hard Questions About Weight Loss

New York Times

It sounds simple enough, but “this is not as easy a proposition as it sounds,” says Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, a doctor and obesity researcher at Columbia University. The brain controls your hunger and your cravings for food, and it is all too easy to accidentally consume more calories than you burned exercising. That is a major reason studies that use exercise alone to help people lose weight have generally failed to find an effect. Exercise also has an unexpected effect, documented by Dr. Rosenbaum and Dr. Rudolph Leibel at Columbia University. They found that after you lose 10 percent or more of your weight by diet alone, your muscles start using genes that make them more efficient. They burn 20 to 30 percent fewer calories for the same exercise.

Most students at top colleges have the same sleep pattern


“It makes a lot of sense to me,” said James Gangwisch, a sleep researcher and assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center, in an interview. “These [higher-ranking] schools are demanding and harder to get into so perhaps the students they get are used to living on less sleep, trying to pack more into the day.” He was careful to point out that the results did not show causation—that late bedtimes will not gain students entry to tougher schools—nor did they point to higher intelligence per se.

Cocoa Could Help Reverse Memory Loss By Decades

CBS New York

Dr. Scott Small of Columbia University said it occurs in all of us starting at the age of 30. That’s right, at the tender age of just 30 we start the initial slide into frustrating and inevitable forgetfulness. “Some people call it a cognitive epidemic as more and more of us are living longer,” Small said. Small is a professor of neurology of Columbia University Medical Center and said there may actually be a simple and effective cure for this cognitive aging. “Cocoa flavanols,” he said.

After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight

New York Times

Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, an obesity researcher at Columbia University who has collaborated with Dr. Hall in previous studies, said the body’s systems for regulating how many calories are consumed and how many are burned are tightly coupled when people are not strenuously trying to lose weight or to maintain a significant weight loss. Still, pounds can insidiously creep on. “We eat about 900,000 to a million calories a year, and burn them all except those annoying 3,000 to 5,000 calories that result in an average annual weight gain of about one to two pounds,” he said. “These very small differences between intake and output average out to only about 10 to 20 calories per day — less than one Starburst candy — but the cumulative consequences over time can be devastating.”

NY’s Med Schools Say They Feel Squeeze in Finding Clinical Clerkships

Wall Street Journal

A department official said that process will be finished in about a year, and the agency also wants to examine the teaching hospitals’ capacity to absorb more students. Leaders of international schools want the moratorium lifted, while critics want them barred from New York clerkships altogether, or at least curbed from expanding. “If offshore schools go on buying more clerkships…we won’t have enough slots for our own New York students,” said Lee Goldman, chief executive of Columbia University Medical Center.

In IVF, Questions About ‘Mosaic’ Embryos

New York Times

What experts do not yet know is where in the embryo abnormal cells may end up; there is no way to track them as they proliferate. Until more data emerges, many fertility doctors remain unwilling to transfer mosaics. “We are not reassured that a small subset of normal, as characterized in babies — not children, not adults — warrants a complete change in policy and standard of practice,” said Dr. Mark Sauer, the chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Columbia University Medical Center.

False Scare or Dangerous Pandemic? How to Know

Men's Journal

Sometimes it seems like the world is at constant risk of being overrun by disease. Zika, Ebola, bird flu, swine flu, and SARS were all threats that rocketed from obscurity to the front of every magazine and the top of every newscast. When it comes to epidemics and pandemics, there are often two vocal camps: the handwringers and the eye-rollers. These groups, however, share the common desire to be right. The handwringers don’t want to be overreacting, and the eye-rollers don’t want to be unduly dismissing a lethal threat.  To help thread the needle, we spoke with Jeffrey Shaman, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Study: Life Expectancy Gap Between Rich and Poor Narrows in New York


Dana March, an epidemiologist at the Mailman School of Public Health, said in New York City at least some of the credit should go to the activist health policies instituted by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and continued by the current mayor.  “We have a ban on smoking [in public places], some of the highest tobacco taxes in the country, a ban on transfats,” said March, who was not involved in the multi-author study. “And one of the especially interesting things that is that you wouldn’t expect much of the improvement [from lower rates of cancer and heart disease] to show up statistically for many years.”

Income and Mortality in America: Much Ado About Nothing New

Scientific American

As a young researcher, I was very drawn to correlations. I felt that they could give us hints at how the world functioned. There are few experiences more exhilarating to budding young social scientists than running one’s first linear regression. Poof! The correlation pops up and tells you how something like income might be related to health. In those days, I played with a lot of these correlations and published quite a few of them. When I joined the faculty at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, I was lucky enough to land in a department filled with economists, political scientists, health services researchers, and even a lawyer or two. Being in a rich, interdisciplinary environment helped me grow as a researcher. But no one influenced my thinking more than the economists.

Having a baby… or not? Causes of and treatments for infertility


“Infertility can be a result of problems with the female or male, and in many cases it is a result of problems with both. Some common reasons for male infertility could be a result of a low sperm count, low sperm mobility, abnormally shaped sperm and problems with ejaculation,” says Dr. Rachel A. McConnell, an OB/GYN with ColumbiaDoctors, the faculty practice of Columbia University Medical Center, in both Scarsdale and New York City.

Are you an elite sleeper?

NBC Today

In Wednesday’s installment of our Good Snooze series, TODAY’s Al Roker spends the night in a sleep lab to find out how some people get away with only small amounts of sleep, and to find out if he’s part of the less than one percent of people who have a genetic predisposition to sleeping less and still being healthy and happy, or if he’s ignoring his body’s need for more sleep.

The Scary Thing About a Virus That Kills Farmed Fish

The Atlantic

We should be deeply concerned about such threats, but we’re not. By contrast, diseases that affect us directly, such as swine flu, Ebola, and Zika, saturate our headlines, prompt panicked talks of pandemics, and intense quests to develop vaccines and cures. But diseases don’t need to infect humans to screw us over: They can also take out the plants and animals that we eat. “It’s a matter of food security,” says Ian Lipkin from Columbia University, one of the world’s foremost virus-hunters. “There’s no major investment in the infectious diseases of fish, and that’s an error. The losses can be substantial.”

Study Finds Risks for Teens of Mothers Who Took Certain Antidepressants

Wall Street Journal

For example, normal mice run away when mild shocks are delivered to their feet. But the Prozac-exposed mice moved very slowly or didn’t escape at all when shocked. The mice “look perfectly normal until they reach the mouse equivalent of adolescence,” says Jay A. Gingrich, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University Medical Center, who led the rodent research and is a co-author of the new SSRI study. The early-life exposure led to slowed firing of neurons that respond to serotonin in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in memory and emotion regulation that develops rapidly in adolescence. Most distressing to Dr. Gingrich was that administering antidepressants to the adult mice didn’t reverse the anxious or depressed behavior. “That is what keeps me awake at night,” he says.

Scientists Identify the Structure of Zika Virus

Wall Street Journal

Vincent Racaniello, Higgins Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia University, who was not involved with the study, said the findings could give researchers clues for developing antibody compounds that bind to the virus and for improving their effectiveness.

Lab Chat: A new suspect in celiac disease

STAT Morning Rounds

Though about 40 percent of people carry a gene that makes them vulnerable to developing celiac disease — an autoimmune condition marked by bad reactions to dietary gluten — only a tiny fraction of people actually do. New research in Science gives a clue as to why that is. Here’s what lead researcher Dr. Sankar Ghosh of Columbia told me about the findings.

Feelings Mixed as Tribeca Film Festival Boots Film on Vaccines

Wall Street Journal

“In response to an outcry of concern that came from more right-minded and reformed people in the scientific community, they reconsidered and thought better of it,” said Jeffrey Lieberman, psychiatrist-in-chief at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. But Dr. Lieberman added that by accepting Mr. Wakefield’s film initially—and giving the documentary a platform—Tribeca already had done damage.

Opioid Use and Abuse

New York Times

To the Editor: Re “New Standards for Painkillers Aim to Stem Overdose Deaths” (front page, March 16):

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been doing a commendable job monitoring and controlling the prescription opioid drug overdose epidemic. But other federal government agencies can and should do more to address this public health crisis.

Specifically, the Drug Enforcement Administration should increase its crackdown on physicians running pill mills, and Congress should open an investigation into the role of the Food and Drug Administration in this completely man-made epidemic and hold hearings on the marketing approaches and other business practices of pharmaceutical companies that may have contributed to the skyrocketing increase in opioid drug prescriptions.


Study: Zika Landed In Brazil 2 Years Before It Was Detected

Associated Press

The researchers coupled cutting-edge genetic sequencing of the virus with an analysis of human travel patterns. They succeeded in piecing together “a very compelling story about both the route and the date of introduction of this virus into the Americas,” said Dr. Ian Lipkin, a prominent infectious disease specialist at New York’s Columbia University. The sequence information may also help in future understanding of how the virus causes disease, Lipkin said.

We’re More Honest With Our Phones Than With Our Doctors

New York Times Magazine

In March, I sat in a conference room with Jasmine McDonald, an assistant professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and Lauren Houghton, an associate research scientist at the same school. The scientists, who are in their 30s, have been studying puberty patterns in adolescent girls, particularly how various aspects of a girl’s menstrual cycle correlate with the development of certain diseases later in life.

Beyond the Catchphrase

Washington Post

The goal of psychologist Rachel Marsh is to uncover what goes wrong in the brain circuits of people with OCD, among the most intransigent of mental conditions. But the institute, part of Columbia University Medical Center, is probing on multiple fronts…. “This is an illness that really gets people off track in their lives,” said Helen Blair Simpson, director of the Center for Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders at Columbia.

Hunting the Genetic Signs of Postpartum Depression With an iPhone App

New York Times

But David Goldstein, director of Columbia University’s Institute for Genomic Medicine, who is not involved in the project, said another possibility was that postpartum depression’s links to hormonal fluctuations, in addition to emotional and other stresses that can accompany having children, might indicate it was “less likely to be genetic.” He said he had no objection to the project’s goal, but “it’s possible that you can collect information from tens of thousands of individuals and not find anything.”

How Prenatal Pollution Exposure Can Lead to Behavior Problems in Children


In normal development, children gradually gain the ability to control their emotions and behaviors, learning how to delay gratification, for example, and manage their emotions and not always act on impulse. But the study showed that children whose mothers had higher levels of PAHs during pregnancy didn’t experience this normal trajectory of emotional and social development, which could lead to more high risk behaviors during adolescence, including drug abuse and aggression and violence. Abnormal self-regulation can also lay a foundation for problems in attention and socialization. “There is a significant association directly between PAH exposure and poorer social competence,” says Frederica Perera, a co-author of the study from Columbia.

Scientists create a new type of stem cell

Washington Post

This breakthrough has huge implications for progress in everything from gene editing to reproductive and regenerative medicine. The researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Columbia University Medical Center and the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute explained the implications of their work in a nifty video.

Scientists create human stem cells with only 23 chromosomes

New York Daily News

A scientific discovery unveiled Wednesday could revolutionize genetic research with new screening tools and therapies. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center, the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute and Hebrew University have found a way to create human stem cells with only 23 chromosomes, rather than the usual 46.

FDA panel approves dissolving heart stent Absorb


“As a first-in-kind device with novel properties, including complete dissolution and natural restoration of vessel function, this is a remarkable achievement,” Dr. Gregg W. Stone, director, cardiovascular research and education at the Columbia University Medical Center and chairman of the clinical trial program for Absorb. “The available evidence supports an important role for this innovative device in the treatment of coronary artery disease.”

Scientists develop new human stem cells with half a genome


Human cells are considered diploid because they inherit two sets of chromosomes, 23 from the mother and 23 from the father. Reproductive egg and sperm cells are known as haploid because they contain a single set of chromosomes. They cannot divide to make more eggs and sperm. “What is fundamentally new is we have cells that can divide and renew with a single genome. That is just unprecedented,” said Dieter Egli of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, co-author of the study with Dr. Nissim Benvenisty of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Why We Eat Too Much When We Don’t Sleep Enough

Wall Street Journal

Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, has done neuroimaging studies on 27 people comparing their neural responses to food images when sleep-restricted to when they get a full night’s sleep. She found that when sleep-restricted, the individuals had a greater neural response in the brain regions involved in reward centers. The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2012, dovetail well with the recent endocannabinoid study, she said. More recently Dr. St-Onge did a secondary analysis of the data from her 2012 study and also found what we eat may affect sleep quality. When individuals were allowed to eat what they wanted, those who ate more fiber had more slow-wave sleep, whereas those with a higher saturated fat intake had less slow-wave sleep. Additionally, a greater sugar intake was associated with more arousals in the middle of the night. The findings were published in January in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. “It’s important to note that what you eat during the day can impact how you sleep,” she said. “It’s sort of a vicious cycle. Your sleep at night influences your appetite and food choices during the day” and vice versa, she said.

Centers to Treat Eating Disorders Are Growing, and Raising Concerns

New York Times

In an article to be published Monday in the journal Psychiatric Services, Dr. Evelyn Attia, a professor of psychiatry and director of the eating disorders program at Columbia University Medical Center, and four colleagues called for more transparency about the financial relationships between residential centers and the professionals who send them patients, and urged clinicians to be mindful of efforts to influence their recommended treatment. “The effect of these clinician inducements, which are aimed at building a program’s patient referral base, may not be fully recognized by the professionals they target,” wrote Dr. Attia and her colleagues, who included Dr. Guarda.

New ‘Smart’ Contact Lens Could Improve Vision, Predict Glaucoma Risk

CBS New York

“This contact lens allows us to differentiate those who were progressing faster from those who were stable,” Dr. C. Gustavo De Moraes explained. Patients wear a wireless device that sends a readout to the ophthalmologist. Doctors said the ultimate goal of the smart lens technology is to help monitor patients continuously, day and night. “We have no way of measuring pressure at night at the moment. We are missing critical pieces of information to help us make decisions,” Dr. Jeffrey Liebmann said.

How Can You Listen to Music When You Can’t Really Hear?

Mother Jones

Some researchers are trying to make cochlear implants more music-friendly, but it’s no easy task: The devices are already quite sophisticated, and it’s difficult to encode pitch in real time. Dr. Anil Lalwani, director of the Cochlear Implant Center at Columbia University Medical Center, is trying a different approach: Instead of tweaking the implants, he’s tinkering with the music itself, trying to engineer songs that even the hardest-of-hearing can enjoy.

Newborn neurons keep memories crisp and fresh


A second, more novel experiment was “particularly exciting” to the team, however, says Attila Losonczy, a neuroscientist also at Columbia and co-author to the study. In this set-up, mice ran on a treadmill receiving sips of water as a reward, while different sounds, scents, visual cues, and textures of the treadmill belt simulated two similar but not identical environments. As the mice traveled through the virtual contexts, the researchers peered into their brains, using a special type of microscope that can excite and image fluorescent molecules deep within tissues. Young neurons had been engineered to express a red fluorescent protein to distinguish them from older cells. Meanwhile, both young and mature cells expressed a green fluorescent protein that glowed in response to changes in the concentration of calcium ions, a proxy for neuronal firing.  “To actually watch these cells, look at their activity and compare it with their mature counterparts had not been done before—not even attempted,” Losonczy says.

Newborn neurons observed in a live brain for first time

New Scientist

For a long time, it was thought that we are born with all the brain cells we’ll ever have. Now we know that certain regions of the brain continue to make new neurons throughout life. Slices of brain tissue show that most of these are created in the hippocampus – a seahorse-shaped structure known to be crucial for learning and memory. Yet, until now, we had never seen these neurons in action in a live animal. Attila Losonczy at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and his colleagues combined several techniques to achieve the feat. They first implanted a device that included a miniature microscope into the brains of live mice. They also modified the mice so that newly made neurons would glow.