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Tracking Down One of Cancer’s Deadliest Culprits, the Ras Family of Genes


When it comes to the current state of cancer survival, Susan Bates feels like many of the rest of us. “It’s incredibly frustrating,” she says. For Bates, who treats pancreatic and other cancers at Columbia University Medical Center, the frustration is worsened by virtue of knowing her enemy—an elusive gene that “makes cancer grow very fast.”

Fear, Then Skepticism, Over Antibiotic-Resistant Genes in Beijing Smog

New York Times

“This is important work that may provide insights into the dissemination of antibiotic resistance not only in Beijing but in other cities as well,” W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, wrote in an email. “It’s not clear that bacteria in smog are a health threat,” Dr. Lipkin wrote, noting that smog may be the more likely cause of health problems. “What is clear is that the air isn’t clear. Pollution results in damage to airways that increases susceptibility to a wide range of viruses as well as bacteria,” he wrote.

Southern Africa’s AIDS epidemic takes nosedive


“We were amazed when we saw this,” says Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiologist who heads an international health-strengthening program called ICAP at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, which led the survey. “It’s really a credit to these countries—and they’re not the world’s richest places.”

‘Magic mushroom’ psychedelic may ease anxiety, depression

Associated Press

The work released Thursday is preliminary and experts say more definitive research must be done on the effects of the substance, called psilocybin (sih-loh-SY’-bihn). But the record so far shows “very impressive results,” said Dr. Craig Blinderman, who directs the adult palliative care service at the Columbia University Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He didn’t participate in the work.

The Life-Changing Magic of Mushrooms

The Atlantic

However, psilocybin is still many years from becoming a prescribed treatment for cancer-related dread. Though researchers can acquire psilocybin for studies, it’s still illegal, adding an extra hurdle to the drug-development process. “Current laws, not based on evidence, impede research by onerous storage and security requirements, difficulty in obtaining funding, and the near impossibility of actually obtaining restricted compounds without having them synthetically produced at great cost,” wrote Columbia University psychiatrists Jeffrey Lieberman and Daniel Shalev in one of the psilocybin editorials.

Preventing Mental Illness With a Stress Vaccine

The Atlantic

By the time [Rebecca]  Brachman’s results were published, in January 2015, she’d long since moved on to and completed a doctoral program at Columbia University, where she had begun collaborating with the neurobiologist Christine Denny.

Returning to Mott Haven and the South Bronx

WNYC Radio

Diana Hernandez was an ’80s kid. She grew up in the South Bronx in Section 8 housing at a time when the area was filled with drugs and disease. She got out of the neighborhood through education. At the age of 19, she began her Ph.D. in sociology at Cornell University. Now, Hernandez is an assistant professor of sociomedical sciences at the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, where she conducts research on poverty and public health.

Many Insured Children Lack Essential Health Care, Study Finds

New York Times

“The fact that more than 20 million children in the U.S. experience insurance and noninsurance barriers to getting comprehensive and timely health care is a challenge that needs to get the highest-priority attention from the new administration,” said the report’s lead author, Dr. Irwin Redlener, president of the nonprofit Children’s Health Fund and a professor of pediatrics and health policy and management at Columbia University.

UN Agency Lifts Zika Emergency, Prepares for Long-Term Fight

New York Times

Traditionally, WHO’s emergency declarations are designed to motivate governments to take steps to curb epidemics. “But Zika has traveled quite far by now. It’s not quite clear to me what the impact” of continuing the declaration would be, Stephen Morse, an infectious disease expert at New York City’s Columbia University, said.

Experimental Vaginal Ring Fights HIV, But Will Women Wear It?


Other HIV researchers find these results promising, says Dr. Jessica Justman, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “If you don’t use something, it doesn’t work. That’s not a surprise,” says Justman, who has learned through her clinical research studies that it takes time for people to accept something that’s different.

More U.S. teenagers battle major depression in cyber bullying era, study finds


The findings suggest “fairly impressive increases in depression” and “should be of concern to parents, teachers, and pediatricians,” said Mark Olfson, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and a co-author of the study. “These trends support a renewed focus on outreach, early detection and intervention for depression in young people,” he told Mashable.  Olfson said more research is needed to understand why young people are increasingly depressed.

Health Under Trump

The Atlantic

“I don’t think they really want to repeal the whole thing, despite all the rhetoric,” Michael Sparer, chair of the department of health policy and management at Columbia, told me. “You’ve got 20 million people who have health insurance right now who didn’t have it before. Taking it away from them overnight isn’t something anybody is going to want to do, politically.”

Women Rush To Get Long-Acting Birth Control After Trump Wins


Dr. Anne Davis, consulting medical director for Physicians for Reproductive Health and an associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, says that on Wednesday six women called “in a panic” to schedule IUD appointments. Normally, only about one woman calls to book an IUD insertion each day. “And these women weren’t just looking for an appointment somewhere in the future. They wanted one right now. They were very, very scared and distraught that they would lose access to birth control,” Davis says.

Obamacare under President Trump: What happens next?

CNN Money

“I don’t think anyone would want to pass a bill overnight that cost 20 million people their health insurance,” said Michael Sparer, chair of health policy and management at Columbia University’s School of Public Health. “The question is what does he really want to do.”

NIH to double funding for chronic fatigue syndrome, but patient distrust remains


Some scientists working on the disease agree. “The fact that there is a budget for it at all means that the agency is taking it seriously. And it’s not coming only out of Francis Collins’s discretionary fund, but from the individual NIH institutes,” says Ian Lipkin, an immunologist at Columbia University, who serves on the Advisory Committee to the Director, Collins’s key group of external advisers. Lipkin is also the principal investigator on a $766,000 grant from NIH’s infectious diseases institute to collect samples from hundreds of patients and controls, looking for biomarkers that could be used to diagnose the disease and searching for clues to its causes.

Why do we love and hate different tastes?


Dr. Charles Zuker, a neuroscientist from Columbia University in New York, says all animals are “pre-wired” to prefer sweet tastes to bitter. “There are no lions out in the wild drinking tonic water,” he says. But Dr. Zuker says there are also “acquired tastes,” where the social reward outweighs an initial dislike – such as drinking beer and coffee.

Trump Has Been Clear on His Plans to Repeal Affordable Care Act


“Certainly, there’s a lot of public support for insurance regulation and the protection of patients,” said Miriam Laugesen, an associate professor of health policy and management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Not everything in the ACA is likely to be repealed just because they are popular policies.”

The Doctors Who Solve Medical Mysteries

Wall Street Journal

When patients have a disease that can’t be diagnosed, they get sent to Wendy Chung. Dr. Chung heads the Discover program at NewYork Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, which uses genetics to diagnose rare and complex diseases that have eluded traditional doctors and specialists. Dr. Chung, a 48-year-old geneticist and pediatrician, says she started the program about 18 months ago after having successfully diagnosed a number of patients with genomic analysis. She sensed a need for a more comprehensive approach to caring for such patients. So far, Dr. Chung has discovered 28 new diseases—mostly rare, genetic, pediatric conditions.

How uninfected hospital patients can pass along a nasty bug

Philadelphia Inquirer

If the first occupant of a given bed was given antibiotics for some reason, the subsequent patient had a higher risk of developing C. diff, the authors reported in JAMA Internal Medicine. That held true even when the initial patient had no C. diff symptoms, said lead author Daniel E. Freedberg, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia. That suggests the bacteria are being passed along by patients who were colonized with C. diff but not symptomatic, he said.

Scientists Study if Pap Smear Could Spot Birth Defects Early

New York Times

The work is intriguing but still preliminary, said Dr. Ronald Wapner, a prenatal screening specialist at Columbia University. Especially this early in pregnancy, “we have to make sure the cells you get are truly representative of what’s going on in the fetus,” he said, something larger tests could determine.

Study Finds Pollution Exposure Is Higher in Active City Children


“Black carbon is an indicator of diesel exhaust pollution exposure, so exposures can be high near traffic areas,” says Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center and the study’s lead author. “However, there are also indoor sources of black carbon, including residential heating and cooking. In New York City, depending on the season, indoor sources can be greater than outdoors. So it is still unclear if indoor or outdoor activity is better.”

Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center at Columbia University

Architectural Record

Approaching the new Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center from the jumble of hulking facilities in Upper Manhattan that make up the Columbia University Medical Center, the first thing that comes into view is the tower’s attention-grabbing south elevation. Its 14 stories of canted planes, transparent glass, and projecting boxes offer a striking counterpoint to both the sprawling medical complex—which includes Columbia’s teaching hospital, New York Presbyterian—and the surrounding low-scale but dense Washington Heights neighborhood.

We Really Are Losing Sleep Over the Election

Wall Street Journal

Philip Muskin, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, estimates about one-third of his patients mention the election. Some tell him it’s affecting their sleep. His female patients especially say they are upset about Mr. Trump’s treatment of women.

Understanding The Link Between Pancreatic And Breast Cancers

ABC New York

“But it is much less known and understood that these mutations have been linked to several gastroenterological cancers, including pancreatic cancer,” says John A. Chabot, MD, Chief of the Division of GI/Endocrine Surgery and Executive Director of The Pancreas Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “For men and women who carry the BRCA mutations, there is about a three- to four-fold higher risk for pancreatic cancer.”

A Challenge for Mental-Health Experts: Weigh In on Trump?

Chronicle of Higher Education

“I don’t think that, without an examination of an individual, one can make an assessment of the person’s psychological profile,” said Maria A. Oquendo, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who is also president of the American Psychiatric Association. An expert can observe the public behavior of a political candidate, Dr. Oquendo said. “But you really cannot know what is motivating the behavior or what the underlying thought process is,” she said.

Antidepressants in pregnancy tied to health risks for kids


There were no links between SSRI exposure in the womb and scholastic or motor disorders in the children, according to Dr. Alan Brown at Columbia University in New York City and his colleagues, who included researchers from the University of Turku in Finland. But as reported in JAMA Psychiatry October 12th, for children whose mothers purchased at least two SSRI prescriptions during pregnancy, the risk of speech and language disorders was 37 percent higher than it was for children whose mothers had depression but didn’t take the drugs and 63 percent higher than for children whose mothers didn’t have depression. “There is a possible association between SSRIs during pregnancy and speech and language delays,” Brown told Reuters Health.

What you gain and lose with meal replacements


For the average healthy adult, meal replacement bars or shakes seem to be beneficial only when they are replacing an unhealthy food item in your daily diet, said Sharon Akabas, associate director of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University. “The question is, what would the person do if they didn’t eat the bar or drink the shake? Would they go to a fast food place and have a burger, fries and sweet beverage instead of the shake? In that case, any health specialist would say, go for the shake,” Akabas said.

Special Report: As death toll mounts, Duterte deploys dubious data in drugs war


Joanne Csete, a specialist in health and human rights at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York, said that the term “current drug users” usually refers to those who have used drugs in the past month. However, the DDB survey counts anyone who has used drugs in the past 13 months, which Csete says could inflate the number of users. “So the president can make up whatever numbers he likes – the survey does not adequately estimate current use,” she said.

Can Mental Illness Be Prevented In The Womb?


The prospects of choline supplementation in pregnancy have piqued medical interest, but also notes of caution. “I think the choline research is really intriguing, and we’re starting to investigate maternal choline levels as well,” says Catherine Monk, an associate professor in psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center. “Some prenatal vitamins do contain it and foods rich in choline are readily available. But we have a lot more research to do before we start recommending it widely.”

After a Fall, Then Another, a Devastating Diagnosis

New York Times

Dr. Lawrence Honig, a professor of neurology at Columbia University, told me, “Unfortunately, at this time, we have no proven treatments to affect the course of the disease.” Some patients get small benefits from carbidopa/levodopa, a combination of drugs prescribed for patients with Parkinson’s disease, but most don’t. Various drugs can be used to manage symptoms like drooling, urinary frequency, agitation, insomnia or depression, and “thickeners” can be added to drinks to make them easier to swallow, he said.

Drug reverses one baldness type; is male pattern next?


Dr. Angela Christiano, a co-author of the recently published study, had success with Xeljanz when she made it into an ointment and rubbed it on the skin of mice with skin engineered to be like the skin of bald men. The ointment was rubbed on the right side of the mice and not on the left, and the results are plain to see. Though she thinks men might have the same success with an ointment, she said the trick is that it has to penetrate properly. Compared with the paper-thin skin of mice, human skin is “much thicker, and it’s oily, and it’s deep, and it’s got a fat layer — so there’s a lot to think about when making a good topical formula,” said Christiano, assistant professor of molecular dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center.

Why therapy during pregnancy should be required

Washington Post

According to an associate professor of psychiatry and obstetrics from Columbia University, Catherine Monk, we should introduce therapy as part of routine preventive care on a universal level to offset that stigma. Her recommendation is based on research she and her colleagues have done on the effects of depression on women and their fetuses. The results suggest that, in fact, there’s a third pathway by which the risk of mental illness travels in families. “It’s not just shared genes or how children are raised in their environments — it’s how the woman is feeling during pregnancy,” she says.

Study links antidepressants in pregnancy with language disorders


In practical terms, if a depressed mother did not take antidepressants, her child’s risk of being diagnosed with a speech or language disorder would be about 1%, but if she took an SSRI, it would increase to 1.37%, explained Dr. Alan Brown, lead author of the study and a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center. “When you have relative risks that are 1.37, they’re considered to be low. But because so many people are exposed — 6% to 10% of mothers are exposed (to antidepressants) throughout the world — it’s increasing the public health burden,” Brown said, explaining that this burden amounts to more expenses.

Cancer in Retreat on One Front: Fewer Children Are Dying

New York Times

Dr. Julia Glade Bender, an associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, said that the reductions in death rates were the result of lessons learned in clinical trials that had led to small changes in practice. “Many hope for cancer breakthroughs, or cancer moonshots,” she said. “But it’s a series of well-conceived trials where we’ve studied minor changes in standards of care which add up over decades to substantial gains in survival.”

How stem cells could heal damaged jaw tissue

STAT Morning Rounds

Researchers have discovered stem cells that could be harnessed to create new cartilage in the jaw. The cells were found from the temporomandibular joint, or the TMJ, which connects the jaw bone to the skull. When Columbia scientists manipulated those stem cells in mice with TMJ degeneration, the joint began to heal and new cartilage began to grow. The findings are a first step toward a treatment for patients with TMJ disorders, which can cause pain and difficulty chewing. Currently, the only treatments are surgery or palliative care to alleviate a patient’s symptoms. The work will be published in Nature Communications.

This Gene Mutation May Make You Crave More Greasy Food

Popular Science

The results are exciting because they are the first to point to a genetic preference for certain kinds of foods, says Claudia Doege, who studies obesity at Columbia University. “We know that 40 to 60 percent of obesity is inherited but it has been very difficult to find which genes drives these cases,” she said.

The Human Remembering Machine

The Atlantic

“But that has always been a mystery,” says Stefano Fusi, a theoretical neuroscientist at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute. “What we wanted to understand is whether we can take advantage of the complexity of biology to essentially build an efficient [artificial] memory system.” So Fusi and his colleague, Marcus Benna, an associate research scientist at the institute, created a mathematical model that illustrates how the human brain processes and stores new and old memories, given the biological constraints of the human brain. Their findings, published today in a paper in the journal Nature Neuroscience, demonstrate how synapses in the human brain simultaneously form new memories while protecting old ones—and how older memories can help slow the decay of newer ones.