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17 posts from August 2011

21 August 2011

Letting go and exploring the world (The Balance Sheet, a blog - 16 August 2011)

Parents_aws I recently guest-posted for Allison Winn Scotch's popular blog, The Balance Sheet, about letting go and traveling with your kids.


I have a confession to make:  I consider ‘balance’ to be a bit of a dirty word.  Sure, I understand why it’s important.  As a single Mom, freelance writer and avid traveler, I run the risk of knocking my ‘balance’ out of whack on a daily basis.  (That’s why they invented wine, right?)  But, as I read about this elusive ‘balance’ in women’s magazines, listen to life coaches talk about it on television and see it mentioned as often as “loving long walks on the beach” on dating profiles, it feels more like pressure than release.  Think about it.  Balance is always described as some sort of end state.  You simply tweak a few things and—Voila!—you are in balance, complete with a strong career, happy kids and thinner thighs.  But as any former ballerina can tell you, balance is hard work.  There is never that promised end state—rather, balance is a continuous process involving focus, a strong core and an unyielding belief that you can do the impossible.  (Or, at the very least, the improbable).  Just the idea is exhausting...

(To read the rest of the post, click here).

Neural network mimics schizophrenia-like dopamine release in the brain (The Dana Foundation Website - 3 August 2011)

Dana_logo A neural network suggests that "hyper-learning," or a heightened release of dopamine in the brain that muddles the way schizophrenics remember language and events, may give us a better understanding of the factors leading to psychosis.


Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder best known by its intense behavioral symptoms. Novels and television shows have well characterized the more obvious issues like auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and disjointed patterns of thinking. To date, however, neuroscientists have been unable to fit this diverse group of symptoms—as well as others like lack of affect, disorganized speech, and cognitive decline—into a single, cohesive theory that can explain both the cause and the development of the disorder. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Yale University hope that the use of a neural network nicknamed DISCERN may offer better insight into how problems in learning and excess dopamine release can confuse the way schizophrenics remember language and events, eventually building up to psychosis...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

Neuroanatomy--A primer (The Dana Foundation Website - 15 July 2011)

Dana_logo The brain boasts a complex architecture.  Here are the basics of its build and make-up.


The human brain is a unique structure that boasts a complex three-dimensional architecture. Neuroscientists are only beginning to understand how the different parts of this intricate configuration work together to produce behavior. In the numerous neuroimaging studies that are published weekly, researchers use common neuroanatomical terms to denote location, organization, and, at times, implied function. Though a complete discussion of neuroanatomy is worthy of a thick textbook full of elaborate illustrations, common terminology used in neuroscientific research is highlighted below...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

Depression: Not just for adults (The Dana Foundation Website - 2 June 2011)

Dana_logo New research suggests not only that depression may occur in children as young as 3 years of age but that it is predictive of later episodes.


From a distance, Callie1 appears to be a normal if quiet 5-year-old girl. But when faced with a toy that blows large soap bubbles—an activity that makes the vast majority of kindergarteners squeal and leap with delight—she is uninterested in popping the bubbles or taking a turn with the gun herself. When offered dolls or other toys, she is equally unmoved. When groups of children congregate to play, Callie does not join them. Even at home, she is quiet and withdrawn. While Callie’s mother explains this lack of interest in play as simple “shyness,” researchers are now discovering that children as young as 3 years of age can meet the clinical criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD). What’s more, they demonstrate patterns of brain activation very similar to those seen in adults diagnosed with the disorder...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

Hearts and Minds (Houston Chronicle City Brights Blog)

Chron I am now contributing a new weekly blog to the  Houston Chronicle City Brights collection:  Hearts and Minds

In it, I discuss new findings in life, love and science.  With the occasional personal story thrown in. 

Guest Travel Columnist ( - June 2011)

HealthNews asked me to be their guest travel columnist for the month of June.  I created several articles and lists based on travel including:

5 simple ways to guarantee the whole family enjoys the trip

Tips and tricks for keeping your diet/exercise plan while traveling

Top 10 things to pack when traveling with kids

Just do it: Travel with your kids

5 tips to help ensure your sanity (and safety) when traveling internationally

Forget the staycation:  Travel local instead

5 fun and fantastic resorts for families






Will neuroscience challenge the legal concept of criminal responsibility? (The Dana Foundation Website - 24 May 2011)

Dana_logo Advances in neuroscience may challenge many notions held dear in the American legal system.  Hear what the experts have to say about whether it will challenge the concept of criminal responsibility.


Just before 10:00 a.m. on June 20, 2001, a uniformed police officer was dispatched to do what he thought was a routine welfare check at a home in Houston, Texas. When the officer met Andrea Yates at the door, she immediately told him, “I just killed my kids.” When Yates was later asked why she drowned her five children, she claimed she had to in order to save them from hell. The police would learn that Yates had been suffering from long-term post-partum depression and psychosis...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

Biomarkers--A primer (The Dana Foundation Website - 2011)

Dana_logo Biological markers, or biomarkers, are changing the field of science and medicine by providing novel ways to predict, diagnoses and treat different diseases and disorders.


Biological markers, or biomarkers, are substances that indicate a particular biological state. Today, neuroscientific researchers are using a vast array of biomarkers, ranging from neuroimaging results to genetic variations to levels of cell proteins, to help predict, diagnose, and treat a variety of brain-related disease states and neuropsychiatric disorders...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

Using EHRs to improve patient outcomes (Healthcare Informatics - May 2011)

032007 How are electronic health records (EHRs) helping to improve patient outcomes?  I interviewed two physicians to get their take in a special section of the May 2011 issue of Healthcare Informatics.

Using EHRs to improve patient outcomes

Patients learn to see the value of EHRs


Sex on the brain: Orgasms unlock altered consciousness (New Scientist - 11 May 2011)

NewScientist Can orgasms help neuroscientists understand consciousness?  Two researchers think so.


With a click and a whirr, I am pulled into the scanner. My head is strapped down and I have been draped with a blanket so that I may touch my nether regions - my clitoris in particular - with a certain degree of modesty. I am here neither for a medical procedure nor an adult movie. Rather, I am about to stimulate myself to orgasm while an fMRI scanner tracks the blood flow in my brain...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

This piece was also picked up by several outlets across the globe including Andrew Sullivan/The Daily Beast, Gawker, Queerty and the Daily Mail, among others.

Spinal cord injury: Study offers new way to predict who will walk again (The Dana Foundation Website - 14 April 2011)

Dana_logo A new testing protocol may help neurologists predict which individuals with severe spinal injuries will walk again. 


Each year, thousands of Americans come to trauma centers across the country with devastating spinal cord injuries, often as the result of an automobile accident. Many die before they reach the hospital; for the survivors, recovery can vary significantly. Once a patient is stabilized after injury, the next question is invariably whether he or she will walk again. A study published in the March 19 issue of The Lancet suggests four simple measures may help physicians predict ambulation outcomes in these individuals with greater than 95 percent accuracy...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

Beyond cuddling: Oxytocin and the brain (The Dana Foundation Website - 14 February 2011)

Dana_logo Oxytocin is a neurochemical with significant reach.  So it's no surprise that it was well represented at the Society for Neuroscience's annual conference.


Despite the variety of research topics one can find at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting, one word, oxytocin, kept popping up at this year’s conference. This small neuropeptide, produced in two specialized areas of the hypothalamus, was mentioned in nearly 100 abstracts published in the meeting program. Though oxytocin has long been linked to maternal and romantic bonds, giving it the nickname of the “cuddle chemical,” new research presented at Neuroscience 2010 suggests its reach goes far beyond cuddling. Oxytocin may have something to say about a variety of conditions and emotional states including autism, anxiety, happiness, and susceptibility to advertising messages. This research is still preliminary—researchers caution that they don't know what potential side-effects or long-term effects of taking the hormone may be...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

The brain signature of love (The Dana Foundation Website - 10 February 2011)

Dana_logo Want to know the latest research on the neurobiological basis of love?  Look no further.


Study the literature of the world and you will find one theme that transcends both time and culture: that of love. Whether you are reading Shakespeare or Rumi, the manner in which love is described shows remarkable similarity. Those similarities go far beyond the page: Neuroscientists are now demonstrating that romantic love is also represented by a unique pattern of activation in the brain...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

Model predicts neural inhibition's effects on anxiety (The Dana Foundation Website - 20 December 2010)

Dana_logo A better understanding of neural inhibition may provide new clues into the study of anxiety.


Imagine the smallest decision –what part of the newspaper to read first, what time to leave work to avoid rush hour, what kind of cereal to buy at the market – had the power to stop you in your tracks. People with anxiety often have trouble with these types of seemingly inconsequential decisions. Research reported Sept. 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests this difficulty is due to a glitch in a process called neural inhibition...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

Cataloguing environmental toxins (Proto - Winter 2011)

Proto The CDC tracks hundreds of environmental toxins in a random sample of Americans.  But what can that data really tell us?


None of us can escape the myriad chemicals in the air, the water, our food and our homes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention periodically measures the so-called body burden of a sample of Americans; its most recent assessment occurred in December 2009. Though we still know little about whether the chemicals measured make us sick, the data are nonetheless vital so epidemiologists can spend years, even decades, studying the effects. The CDC tracks more than 200 substances. Here are some better-known ones...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

Vitamin D found to influence more than 200 genes (The Dana Foundation Website - 1 December 2010)

Dana_logo A new study inks Vitamin D directly acts on over 200 genes and suggests the mechanism in which a lack of this hormone is linked to so many disease states.


In the past few years, a deficiency in Vitamin D levels has been linked to a host of diseases from cardiovascular disease to cancer, but some scientists wondered if these associations were simply epidemiological artifact—a result of the analysis, not the substance. But researchers at the University of Oxford and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics have now demonstrated that Vitamin D has direct influence on over 200 genes, including many implicated in disease. They published their results in the Aug. 24 issue of Genome Research...

(To read the rest of the article, click here).

Doing away with malaria (The Dana Foundation Website - 24 November 2010)

Dana_logo Scientists are taking different approaches in the fight against cerebral malaria, a devastating disease that affects millions in Africa and Asia.


In July, pop singer and “X-Factor” judge Cheryl Cole made headlines not for her new record or impending divorce but for hospitalization due to malarial infection. This infectious disease, caused by the release of the Plasmodium falciparum parasite into the bloodstream from a mosquito bite, is both preventable and treatable. Yet it remains devastating to millions, particularly young children in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, who develop a form of the disease called cerebral malaria. This type of infection is characterized by severe damage to the blood vessels around the brain. And this damage results in coma, neurological damage and, too often, death (See also the Cerebrum story, Cerebral Malaria, a Wily Foe).

(To read the read of the article, click here).