The Devastating Allure of Medical Miracles

Hand transplant patients at the University of Pittsburgh were given new hands — and hope. But the experimental technique has led to side effects.

Source: Wired
Published: Feb 18, 2019
Length: 34 minutes (8,550 words)

What can we learn when a clinical trial is stopped?

A play-by-play of the Broaden study, a clinical trial of a promising new treatment for depression, highlights how unexpected variables can sink clinical trials prematurely — especially when sponsors pull the plug early on treatments that gain effectiveness over time.

Source: Mosaic Science
Published: Apr 16, 2018
Length: 23 minutes (5,992 words)

The Touch of Madness

David Dobbs writes about Nev Jones, a psychologist who experienced psychosis as a Ph.D student, and psychosis more broadly in historic and global context.

Published: Oct 3, 2017
Length: 44 minutes (11,231 words)

The Most Terrifying Childhood Condition You’ve Never Heard Of

A look into childhood disintegrative disorder, a rare condition which causes a child to “suffer deep, sharp reversals along multiple lines of development.”

Source: Spectrum
Published: Jul 6, 2016
Length: 18 minutes (4,648 words)

The Social Life of Genes

How our environment, our sense of support, and our feelings of loneliness can activate or turn off specific genes in our bodies that affect things like how we fight or heal wounds. An examination of the “social science of genetics”:

“Scientists have known for decades that genes can vary their level of activity, as if controlled by dimmer switches. Most cells in your body contain every one of your 22,000 or so genes. But in any given cell at any given time, only a tiny percentage of those genes is active, sending out chemical messages that affect the activity of the cell. This variable gene activity, called gene expression, is how your body does most of its work.

“Sometimes these turns of the dimmer switch correspond to basic biological events, as when you develop tissues in the womb, enter puberty, or stop growing. At other times gene activity cranks up or spins down in response to changes in your environment. Thus certain genes switch on to fight infection or heal your wounds—or, running amok, give you cancer or burn your brain with fever. Changes in gene expression can make you thin, fat, or strikingly different from your supposedly identical twin. When it comes down to it, really, genes don’t make you who you are. Gene expression does. And gene expression varies depending on the life you live.”

Published: Sep 3, 2013
Length: 24 minutes (6,182 words)

The Teenage Brain

These studies help explain why teens behave with such vexing inconsistency: beguiling at breakfast, disgusting at dinner; masterful on Monday, sleepwalking on Saturday. Along with lacking experience generally, they’re still learning to use their brain’s new networks. Stress, fatigue, or challenges can cause a misfire. Abigail Baird, a Vassar psychologist who studies teens, calls this neural gawkiness—an equivalent to the physical awkwardness teens sometimes display while mastering their growing bodies. The slow and uneven developmental arc revealed by these imaging studies offers an alluringly pithy explanation for why teens may do stupid things like drive at 113 miles an hour, aggrieve their ancientry, and get people (or get gotten) with child: They act that way because their brains aren’t done! You can see it right there in the scans!

Published: Sep 16, 2011
Length: 16 minutes (4,055 words)

Free Science, One Paper at a Time

On Father’s Day three years ago, biologist Jonathan Eisen decided he’d like to republish all his father’s papers. His father, Howard Eisen, a biologist and a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, had published 40-some-odd papers by the time that he died by suicide at age 45. That had been in Febuary 1987, while Jonathan, a sophomore at college, was on the verge of discovering his own love of biology. At the time, virtually all scientific papers were just on paper.

Source: Wired
Published: May 11, 2011
Length: 4 minutes (1,033 words)

The Gregarious Brain

If a person suffers the small genetic accident that creates Williams syndrome, he’ll live with not only some fairly conventional cognitive deficits, like trouble with space and numbers, but also a strange set of traits that researchers call the Williams social phenotype or, less formally, the “Williams personality”: a love of company and conversation combined, often awkwardly, with a poor understanding of social dynamics and a lack of social inhibition.

Published: Jul 8, 2007
Length: 20 minutes (5,239 words)

The Science of Success

Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle.

Source: The Atlantic
Published: Dec 1, 2009
Length: 9 minutes (2,271 words)