Headlines Subscribe to this feed

Can you teach a cell new tricks? Diabetes research aims to do just that.

Chicago Tribune

Domenico Accili confesses it all sounds a little like science fiction, or maybe simply magic, but the professor of medicine at Columbia University is convinced he can coax endocrine cells in the gut to change jobs and, in the process, reverse Type 1 diabetes. If it works — and it’s too early to say that it will — that would be a game-changer for the chronic condition.

Scalpel, Sponge, Magic Beans: When Doctors Moonlight as Actors

New York Times

Mid-chest would have been just as suitable a descriptor, but dropping anatomical references in design discussions is standard practice for the Bard Hall Players, as every member in the troupe is studying to join the medical profession. The student-run theater company at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons was preparing for its production of this Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine riff on classic children’s fairy tales. The production, the final show of the company’s 50th anniversary season, will run Oct. 26 to 28.

Should Your Spouse Be Your Best Friend?

New York Times

Amir Levine is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Columbia University, and the co-author of “Attached.” A student of social relations, Dr. Levine explained that everyone has what he calls a hierarchy of attachment, meaning if something bad happens to us, we have a ranking of the people we call. In our early decades, those on the highest rungs are usually our parents or other family members. “The problem as you grow older is, how do you let somebody close who’s basically a total stranger?” he said. “Nature came up with a trick: It’s called attraction. Sexual attraction brings down all the barriers, lets you get close to a new person in a physical way that you don’t get close to your family.”

Start Skin Cancer Prevention Early, Health Experts Say

U.S. News

“Providing behavioral counseling to children, their parents and young adults encourages sun-protective behaviors,” said Karina Davidson, a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) member. “These actions — such as using sunscreen, wearing sun-protective clothing and avoiding indoor tanning — can help prevent skin cancer later in life,” Davidson explained in a USPSTF news release. She is vice dean at Columbia University Medical Center’s departments of medicine, cardiology and psychiatry and director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health, in New York City.

Giving antibiotics prior to low-risk surgery may prevent resistance


“Guidelines don’t comment on relatively straightforward procedures, including some general surgical procedures, simple or diagnostic laparoscopy, or elective orthopedic, gynecologic, and urologic procedures because there has not been enough evidence about their benefit,” Dr. Daniel Freedberg, a specialist in internal medicine, said in a press release. “So some surgeons feel strongly that antibiotics are beneficial and always give them. Others never give them because of concern about the use of antibiotics and the later development of antibiotic resistance and bacterial infections that have no or almost no treatment options.”

What Happens In Your Body and Brain While You Sleep

NBC News

You might think of sleep as the negative time in your day when nothing on your to-do list gets done. Your brain and several other systems in your body see it quite differently. “Your brain is actually very active during sleep doing important things — it’s not just resting,” says Carl W. Bazil, MD, PhD, the Caitlin Tynan Doyle Profesor of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center. “And if you don’t get sleep you don’t function on a number of levels the way you should.”

Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded for 3D Views of Life’s Biological Machinery

New York Times

The winners are Jacques Dubochet, a retired biophysicist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland; Joachim Frank, a professor at Columbia University in New York; and Richard Henderson, a scientist at the British Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. The Nobel committee said the technique, cryo-electron microscopy, produces “detailed images of life’s complex machineries in atomic resolution.”

The work that won the Nobel Prize in chemistry—in terms everyone can understand


Biology is in the midst of a revolution, and the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to the researchers who are at the forefront of innovation in the field. According to the prize citation, Jacques Dubochet (University of Lausanne), Joachim Frank (Columbia University), and Richard Henderson (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK) deserve the award for developing “cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution.”

Why Trump Was Wrong To ‘Guess’ the Las Vegas Shooter Was a ‘Sick’ Man


The implication of comments like this, that people with mental disorders are responsible for mass shootings, has become a “meme” in the wake of such events, Columbia University psychiatrist Paul Applebaum tells Newsweek. And as mass shootings in the U.S. continue, so does the inclusion of mental illness in discussions of gun violence among public figures and in the media. “To jump to the assumption that” a shooter “is ‘sick’ in some way is simply to continue the stigmatization of people with mental disorders who commit only a small portion of acts of violence in this country,” he says.

Skipping breakfast tied to higher risk of hardening in arteries


Individuals who regularly eat breakfast also tend to have a healthier lifestyle, exercising more, eating better and smoking less than people who skip their morning meal, said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, a nutrition researcher at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City who wasn’t involved in the study. “I think that, for everyone, consuming a healthy breakfast is a great way to meet guidelines for fruits, whole grains, lean protein,” St-Onge said by email.

Home blood pressure monitoring works best with extra support


Even though a 3-mmHg reduction in blood pressure might not seem that large, if it’s sustained over time for a broad population of people it can translate into a significant decrease in heart disease and deaths, said Dr. Ian Kronish, a researcher at Columbia University Medical Center in New York who wasn’t involved in the study. “Taking action at the time of elevated readings provides opportunities for teachable moments in which education and counseling may be more likely to lead to behavior change on the part of the patients,” Kronish said by email. “Similarly, with self-monitoring, clinicians may have more opportunities to take action to get patients’ blood pressure to goal through increased medication.”

What Is the Link Between Sugar and Depression?

U.S. News

This last study was conducted by James Gangwisch and his colleagues in the department of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. “It has long been known that people with depression tend to crave sweets,” he says. He wondered if the reverse was true as well: If you take someone who is not depressed and give them lots of sugar, will it increase risk?

Can Heart Disease Shed Light on Cancer?

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 most recent book is “The Gene: An Intimate History.” This is his debut On Medicine column.

Report Finds Gaps in Access to Opioid Addiction Help on Staten Island

New York Times

The report, which was distributed last week, was a model for multidisciplinary needs-assessment projects on opioid addiction and recovery, said Dr. Silvia Martins, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Martins was a faculty adviser on the project, along with Dr. Lisette Nieves, a New York University professor. “Even within the same institution, we don’t always talk to each other. We are too busy with our own research projects,” Dr. Martins said. “I think that projects like this that bring together people with different expertise should be done more often. For sure. Not only at the city level but at the state level.”

Opioid ODs Have Cut Into U.S. Life Expectancy: CDC

U.S. News

So the fact that opioids are now dragging down U.S. life expectancy is no surprise, said Dr. Adam Bisaga, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. “These findings put what we already know into a different perspective,” said Bisaga, who was not involved in the new study. “There is an urgency to this problem,” Bisaga added. “The tragedy is, we have medication to treat opioid addiction. But death rates keep going up.”

A patch to get rid of love handles? Researchers suggest it’s possible

USA Today

The research, published Friday in ACS Nano, suggests the patch turned “white fat,” which stores excess energy, into “dark fat,” which burns fat to produce heat. It’s a process called “browning” and for years researchers have sought to use it as a way to fight obesity and diabetes. Study co-leader Li Qiang, a CUMC assistant professor of pathology and cell biology, said “browning” drugs exist but can cause side effects such as an upset stomach. In contrast, a patch lessens those side effects by injecting the medicine directly into the fat.

A New Understanding of Inflammation in the Spine

The Atlantic

The real difficulty is not knowing which genes cause disease, but figuring out how they do, explains Tom Maniatis, chair of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center. Some ALS-causing genes encode proteins that are prone to clumping, while other genes can exacerbate that clumping, and still others can disrupt the pathway that helps cells dispose of those clumps. “You can’t tell just by watching people’s clinical course which process is happening at the cellular level,” Maniatis explained. “There are complex physiological events happening in very similar ways almost irrespective of the cause of the disease.”

How affirmative action could cure cancer and heart disease

The Conversation

Providing women and minorities with access to our finest educational research institutions is not only morally correct, it makes good sense. I know this because I started a program that provides minority students with biomedical research training at Columbia University, and I have witnessed firsthand how dramatically lives can be changed.

Get Up, Stand Up!

New York Times

In essence, the data showed that “both the total hours spent sitting each day and whether those hours are accrued in short or long bouts” of physical stillness influenced longevity, says Keith Diaz, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University, who led the new study.

Yes, sitting too long can kill you, even if you exercise

Sit less, move more” is what the American Heart Association encourages all of us to do. But this simplistic guideline doesn’t quite cut it, said Keith Diaz, lead author of the new study and an associate research scientist in the Columbia University Department of Medicine. “This would be like telling someone to just ‘exercise’ without telling them how,” Diaz wrote in an email.

More evidence links exercise to lower stroke risk


“How people exercise changes over time and some individuals exercise when they are a young adult but do not keep it up when they are older,” said lead study author Dr. Joshua Willey of Columbia University Medical Center in New York. “In our study, we found that maintaining exercise levels was protective against stroke, and that taking up exercise when not being active while younger was also protective,” Willey said by email. “Similarly, those who no longer exercised on the follow-up assessment did not have a lower risk of stroke.”

Researchers build first functional vascularized lung scaffold


The team at Columbia University report they are the first to successfully bioengineer a functional lung with perfusable and healthy vasculature in an ex vivo rodent lung. The approach allows for the removal of pulmonary epithelium while still maintaining the viability and function of the vascular network and lung matrix. “We developed a radically new approach to bioengineering of the lung,” Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a pioneer in tissue engineering who directs the Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering at Columbia, said in a press release.

“Movement Maps” Found Deep Inside Brain

Scientific American

To investigate further, neuroscientist Rui Costa of the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University and his colleagues created a strain of mice carrying a genetically encoded calcium sensor in neurons in the striatum. This sensor, a protein, emits fluorescent light in response to the increases in calcium ion concentrations that occur in cells when they become active. By combining this with a recently developed imaging technique called one-photon microendoscopy, the researchers were able to visualize the activity of up to 300 individual neurons in the striata of freely moving mice—using miniaturized microscopes attached to the animals’ heads—and to capture the dynamics of the cells’ firing patterns in time and space.

On the Way to a Rare-Disease Cure, Parents Tackle the High Price Tag of Research

Wall Street Journal

Mr. Rosen says he and his wife, Sally Jackson, an assistant to a chef, have relied on a network of free services to help put together a research program to find treatments for KIF1A-related disorder, a neurodegenerative condition that causes some children to lose the ability to walk and speak. There are approximately 100 people world-wide with known KIF1A gene mutations, according to Wendy K. Chung, director of the clinical genetics program at Columbia University.

Drug Aimed at Inflammation May Lower Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer

New York Times

Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center-NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, said, “It is exciting that we have a new target to treat in the prevention of heart attacks,” but she worried about the cost.

Another, older and much cheaper anti-inflammatory drug, methotrexate, is also being studied to see if it can reduce cardiovascular risk, and Dr. Mosca said that if it works, it might be a more practical treatment. Dr. Ridker is also overseeing that study, which is being paid for by the federal government.

Are Airport Body Scanners Safe?


“There was probably some very small cancer risks associated with those X-ray machines,” says David Brenner, a professor of radiation biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center. “We know there are biological mechanisms by which X-ray exposure can cause cancer…it seemed likely that those backscatter scanners would carry some small risks.”

Worried About Your Eyes After the Eclipse? Here’s What You Should Know

New York Times

The extent of eye damage depends on how long someone stares at the sun — though even a few seconds could be destructive. If you glanced at the eclipse and then looked away, then back again, that could have caused problems because the effects are cumulative, said Dr. Jack Cioffi, the chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at Columbia University.

Why You Should NOT Take An Eclipse Selfie

The Gothamist

Columbia University Medical Center retina expert, Tongalp Tezel, MD, explains why: “Many people will think it’s safe to take a selfie with the eclipse in the background because they aren’t looking directly at the sun. What they may not realize is that the screen of your phone reflects the ultraviolet rays emitted during an eclipse directly toward your eye, which can result in a solar burn.”

The Case for a Breakfast Feast

New York Times

This year, the American Heart Association endorsed the principle that the timing of meals may help reduce risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The group issued a scientific statement emphasizing that skipping breakfast — which 20 to 30 percent of American adults do regularly — is linked to a higher risk of obesity and impaired glucose metabolism or diabetes, even though there is no proof of a causal relationship. The heart association’s statement also noted that occasional fasting is associated with weight loss, at least in the short term. “I always tell people not to eat close to bedtime, and to try to eat earlier in the day,” said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, who led the work group that issued the statement.

FDA approves emergency use declaration for multiplex Zika test


“The ArboViroPlex Test provides an easy and efficient means to simultaneously detect Zika and three other mosquito-borne viral infections that may present with similar clinical features,” Nischay Mishra, the lead project scientist and associate research scientist at CII, said in a press release. The CII-ArboViroPlex rRT-PCR Test is the first multiplex test that can detect the Zika virus and all serotypes of dengue virus, chikungunya virus and West Nile virus simultaneously.

She Just Won 3 Gold Medals for Her Swimming. She’s Only 73.

New York Times

Ursula M. Staudinger, a life span psychologist and researcher at the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University, said that exercising in older age is crucial to physical and mental health. “Our bodies are made for being used,” she said. “Physical fitness and activity improve brain function. Anyone who is keeping up physical activity — both the aerobic part, which is really important, and the strength and balance and flexibility — is reducing the risks and buffering the decline that is going on.”

We finally know how your tongue tells your brain what you’re tasting

Popular Science

“We’re trying to understand how something so dynamic on the tongue can also be specific enough that the connections are established correctly each time,” says Hojoon Lee, first author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher at Columbia University.

Gene Editing Spurs Hope for Transplanting Pig Organs Into Humans

New York Times

Dr. David Sachs, a professor of surgery at Columbia University, was skeptical that it would be straightforward to make pigs with such compatible organs. “I am afraid that he may find these goals more difficult to achieve than he expects, but I would be happy to be mistaken,” said Dr. Sachs, who is also studying ways to create pigs suitable for organ donation.

Birth of CRISPR’d pigs advances hopes for turning swine into organ donors


Doctors won’t have to do much persuasion, however, to get patients to accept organs from another species. “There is so much desperation among people on transplant lists, and 20 a day are dying as they wait,” said Dr. Adam Griesemer, a xenotransplantation researcher and transplant surgeon at Columbia University Medical Center. “This could be a path to a transplant for them. Colleagues keep asking me when we’re going to do it.”

What a Mouse’s Mixed-Up Taste Buds Say About the Brain


Charles Zuker, a neuroscientist at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute and a coauthor of this paper, has talked about the five tastes a lot. You can tell, because he smooshes their names together the way some parents call all of their kids at once: “sweetsourbittersaltyandumami.” When a flavor molecule lands on your tongue, it binds to a chemically sensitive taste receptor at the tip of one of your taste buds—each bud bundles dozens of these receptors together.

Scientists reawaken memory in mice that had a condition resembling Alzheimer’s

Washington Post

It has long been assumed that Alzheimer’s disease completely erases memories. The condition involves clumps of proteins known as amyloid plaques and tangles of tau proteins that accumulate in the brain, where they are thought to destroy the neurons that store our memories. But experiments by Christine Denny at Columbia University and colleagues suggest that memories may not be wiped by Alzheimer’s disease but just become harder to access. What’s more, these memories can be reawakened by artificially activating the neurons they are stored in.

AIDS activists fought for public recognition. This exhibit shows their lives at home


This is an important aspect of public education, according to Dr. Robert Fullilove, Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Services at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “The most important tool we have in the prevention agenda is one that begins with creating community awareness,” he said. “If you are prejudiced in some way against a person who’s exposed to HIV, if you make it clear that there’s not even space to talk about, discuss, or mention things that might be done to make things better, then all of our efforts to create community-wide awareness … are going to fail.”

Memories Can Be Deleted Without Affecting Others: McGill-Columbia Study

Huffington Post

“The example I like to give is, if you are walking in a high-crime area and you take a shortcut through a dark alley and get mugged, and then you happen to see a mailbox nearby, you might get really nervous when you want to mail something later on,” said Samuel Schacher, a professor of neuroscience at Columbia and a study co-author, in a news release. If scientists can delete incidental memories in humans, they could remove the fear of mailboxes but leave the reasonable memory directly associated with the trauma — for example, fear of dark alleys.

New Natural Selection: How Scientists Are Altering DNA to Genetically Engineer New Forms of Life


GP-write hopes to raise $100 million for the project, though at its most recent meeting, in New York in May—which was open to the public—not much actual funding had yet materialized. One exception was Columbia University’s Harris Wang and New York University’s Jef Boeke, who received a $500,000 grant from the Defense Department to study how human cells could be engineered to become self-sufficient nutrient factories.

Med School Recommendations That Helped Applicants

U.S. News

“If you wanted to boil down to the core what we’re most looking for, our guiding principle is, if I were sick, would I want this person to come into my room as my physician?” says Dr. Stephen Nicholas, senior associate dean for admissions and chairman of the committee on admissions with the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Nicholas, who is also a professor at Columbia University Medical Center and the founder of its IFAP Global Health Program, says his admissions team looks for signs of empathy in recommendation letters. “We’re looking for evidence of compassion and altruism and appropriate selflessness,” he says.

Century-old Parkinson’s question answered


It is likely the immune system tries to purge the body of alpha-synuclein and kills brain cells where the alpha-synuclein accumulates. Prof David Sulzer, one of the researchers from Columbia University, said: “The idea that a malfunctioning immune system contributes to Parkinson’s dates back almost 100 years. But until now, no one has been able to connect the dots.”

A Confused Immune System Could Be Behind Parkinson’s Disease

Science Alert

This latest study led by CUMC and researchers from the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in California has shown a normally soluble protein that aggregates in the substantia-nigra’s cells called alpha-synuclein can trigger the body’s immune system. They took blood samples from 67 volunteers with Parkinson’s disease and 36 controls, and mixed them with proteins found in nerve cells, including alpha-synuclein. While there was little reaction in the samples taken from the control subjects, there was a clear immune response in those with Parkinson’s, indicating that the white blood cells in their immune system had previously been exposed to the proteins. “Our findings show that two fragments of alpha-synuclein, a protein that accumulates in the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s, can activate the T cells involved in autoimmune attacks,” said [David] Sulzer.

How to Monitor the Care of a Loved One in a Nursing Home

U.S. News

A meta-analysis of previous research published last month in the American Journal of Infection Control determined that 27 percent of nursing home residents are colonized with multidrug-resistant gram-negative bacteria, which are associated with an increasing proportion of infections among nursing home residents. “Meaning that 1 in 4 have it,” says lead study author Sainfer Aliyu, a registered nurse, who has a doctorate in nursing from Columbia University School of Nursing.

For some traumatized veterans, the best therapy can be stroking a velvety nose

Washington Post

“Horses, by nature, they’re sort of prey animals, and so they’re hyper-vigilant and reactive to people’s behavior,” said Prudence Fisher, a professor of clinical psychiatric social work at Columbia, who has been co-directing the study for the past year. “If you approach them aggressively they’ll move away from you. So it helps people recognize how they’re approaching people.”