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Biomedical Engineering

The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

Hope Springs from Schizophrenic Mice

Posted February 10, 2017 1:00 PM by MaggieMc

A recent study by the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine promises to shed some light on possible causes and solutions to schizophrenia symptoms (see: an in-depth description of the condition from the University of Maryland Medical Center). As someone who has witnessed schizophrenia outside the fog of Hollywood, this study—while preliminary—holds some hope.

The study considered mice deficient in kynurenine 3-monooxygenase (KMO), specifically noting how lower levels of the enzyme resulted in higher kynurenic acid (KYNA) levels. KYNA is a “metabolite of the amino acid tryptophan,” and high levels of KYNA correlate to low levels of glutamate activity, which has long been associated with symptoms of schizophrenia. Unfortunately, according to ScienceDaily, raising glutamate levels “on a large scale has serious side effects, including seizures and nerve cell death,” ruling it out pretty quickly as a method of treatment.

In summary, low KMO leads to high KYNA, which is correlated to low glutamate activity levels. This becomes even more significant when considering that lower levels of KYNA and higher levels of glutamate activity were associated with improved cognition in mice with cognitive defects, a classification the researchers compared to schizophrenia. In addition, low levels of KMO were associated with worse contextual memory, antisocial behavior, and increased anxiety during challenges.

After studying cognition in mice, and the effects of lower levels of KMO, researchers hope “modifying KYNA could adjust glutamate more precisely.… Because this mechanism is indirect, it does not seem to trigger the same side effects directly boosting glutamate does,” according to researchers.

Image Credit: The Patterson Lab

1 comments; last comment on 02/10/2017
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New Material for Medical Implants - No More Clots

Posted January 23, 2017 4:09 PM by Chelsey H

A dangerous factor for patients with implants is the risk of blood clotting and infection. Now, there is a solution. Engineers from Colorado State have grown a “superhemophobic” titanium surface that is extremely repellent to blood.

Implants cause an increase risk of clots, obstruction, and can lead to heart attacks or embolism. Often patients need blood-thinning medications for the rest of their lives. These blood clots are caused because the cell’s interaction with the foreign material. Image credit

In the past, biomedical scientists have used “philic” (with affinity) to blood to make the devices biologically compatible with surrounding tissues. “Superhemophobic” means that the material will repel virtually any liquid. The innovative idea means that the surface is so repellent that blood is tricked into believing there is virtually no foreign material there at all.

The engineers started with sheets of titanium, commonly used for medical devices due to its biocompatibility and its ability to have a bioactive surface. The surface was then altered to act as a barrier between the titanium and blood. The teams conducted experiments showing very low levels of platelet adhesion, a biological process that leads to leads to blood clotting and rejection of a foreign material.

The researchers analyzed variations of titanium surfaces, including different textures and chemistries, and compared the extent of platelet adhesion and activation. They found that fluorinated nanotubes offered the best protection against clotting, but need to continue follow-up experiments.

More research and testing is needed but eventually this could be the new wave of medical device materials.

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New Year, New Organ

Posted January 16, 2017 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

We have a new organ!

The new organ, known as the mesentery, is found in our digestive systems. Researchers found that the long continuous organ is a double fold of peritoneum – the lining of the abdominal cavity- that attaches our intestine to the wall of the abdomen, and keeps everything locked in place. Image Credit

For the past century, doctors assumed that the mesentery was a fragmented structure made of separate sections. It was discovered in 2012 that the mesentery is a continuous structure and over the past four years researchers have been gathering further evidence to confirm that it is its own distinct organ.

This is important because now scientists can categorize abdominal disease in terms of the organ. The next step is to identify the function. Once that has been studied, doctors can identify abnormal functions and diseases.

Thanks to the new research, as of last year, medical student have been taught that the mesentery is a distinct organ.

13 comments; last comment on 01/20/2017
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Born Smart(er)

Posted January 09, 2017 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

“We are the largest brained, slowest developing member of the largest brained, slowest developing mammalian order.”

Humans are by far the smartest species on Earth. We can read, write, build infrastructure, and organize governments. The evolution of human intelligence was critical as the first humans learned to be better hunters and, more recently, growing intelligence enabled early humans to compete with each other for status in complex social groups. The intelligence “arms race” resulted in rapid growth in cognitive ability and a growth in the size of the human brain, as brain size accounts for 16% of variance in intelligence. Image Credit

In conjunction with the rapid growth in human intelligence was the evolution towards walking on two legs. The reason we evolved to walk on two legs is still debated but walking on two legs requires smaller pelvises. This is where things get tricky. Women needed to adapt to walk upright with smaller pelvises while also having a larger pelvis to account for a baby with a bigger brain.

The compromise was one of evolutionary genius - while many animals are functional moments after birth (being able to walk and look for food), humans need years to be self-sufficient. This is, in part, because our brains are not fully developed until we’re adults but we have the incredible ability to learn. If humans get smart after birth their brains can be smaller at birth – a work around for the evolutionary tug of war.

The physical adaptions are many: baby’s skulls are made of pieces that shift during birth, women’s pelvises temporarily separate during delivery, and the space for the brain increases dramatically in infancy. Another key adaptation is how the brain itself worked. “Evolution made human beings learn what they need about the world, rather than having it inborn.”

This also helps humans adapt to their environment and learn much more for a much longer period of time.

So the fact that we are born helpless babies is the key to becoming a genius!

46 comments; last comment on 01/11/2017
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Feeling Chilly? It’s in Your Genes.

Posted January 06, 2017 4:00 PM by MaggieMc
Pathfinder Tags: cold genetics winter

This holiday season I received no less than five sweaters, one space heater, a fleece lined sweatshirt, and one wonderful electric blanket. Why? It’s very well known that I’m constantly freezing. My teeth have even been known to chatter at the balmy 60 F, the same threshold at which my mother allowed my brothers to wear shorts while we waited for the school bus as kids.

A study published recently revealed something I’m clearly missing: a cold-tolerant gene. This gene variant, possessed by the Inuit, Native Americans, and some Siberians, is thought to cause “a certain type of body fat known as ‘brown fat’ to generate heat,” in addition to being involved in other traits like body fat distribution, bone, and facial structure.

This gene variant is very similar to a gene sequence found in the Denisovans (“extinct humans who once ranged from Siberia to the Southeast”). An earlier discovery had proposed that the Tibetans had also inherited a variant from the Denisovans, which allowed them “to use oxygen efficiently when the air is thin at high altitudes.”

Prior to this study, it had been recognized that one of the clusters of genes involved in cold tolerance was “significantly associated with different phenotypes including fatty acid profiles, weight, and height.” That had been notable, when considering cold-tolerance, because “short, stocky stature was an evolutionary adaption for cold weather since it consolidated heat.” Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be consolidating heat that way.

Another factor working against me is that women seem to feel cold more often than men (this comic by Blue Chair notwithstanding). Many people have observed anecdotal evidence for this, but researchers also found that women tended to possess higher core temperatures, but have consistently colder hands and feet—possibly leaving them feeling colder.

All in all, it looks as though I’m going to continue shivering, but at least now I have some answers.

7 comments; last comment on 01/13/2017
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