Category Archives: Health and Medicine

Unlocking the Mysteries of the Brain Through Stem Cell Research

Inside a lab at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, researchers are doing something truly remarkable. They are growing tiny versions of developing human brains in order to study everything from Alzheimer’s disease to the Zika virus. Alysson Muotri is the co-director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program and leads the team researching brain organoids. He recently sat down with Dr. David Granet on Health Matters to discuss the endless possibilities of his research.

Muotri’s organoids are often referred to as “mini-brains,” but they are far from what that name might suggest. The organoids are grown from stem cells, which are harvested from living tissue, such as skin cells. Researchers give those stem cells instructions to become neural cells. Eventually they form tiny clusters of neural cells, about the size of a pea. Those clusters have been shown to exhibit some of the same characteristics of developing human brains, including firing electrical signals in specific patterns. But, the organoids do not contain every type of brain tissue, and have no vascularization.

Despite the differences with the human brain, organoids have proven useful in understanding and treating disease. One of the major successes of Muotri’s research was finding and testing an existing drug to treat mothers infected with Zika virus. The drug can prevent the disease from being passed to the baby and causing microcephaly. Muotri is hoping his lab will continue to have success using the organoids as an effective brain model to find more cures, and provide a deeper understanding of brain development and disease. And, his work isn’t limited to Earth. Muotri recently launched his organoids into space for a groundbreaking study.

Watch — Using Stem Cells to Research the Brain – Health Matters

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Bone Health: Beyond Supplements

“This is what I learned when I thought I knew everything already about healthy eating and living,” says Vicky Newman, MS, RDN. Her informative talk goes beyond the basics of calcium intake for bone health to highlight the importance of a healthy diet combined with physical activity. Learn about the exercises that increase weight bearing and strength in addition to activities to improve your balance. Get insights into what a bone-healthy diet looks like and how to work with your doctor to minimize medications that could be taking a toll on your bones.

“Boosting Bone Health to Prevent Injury and Speed Healing” marks the 2019 return of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging lecture series to UCTV. For more with Vicky Newman, and to view the complete archive of lectures, visit https://uctv.tv/stein/.

Watch — Boosting Bone Health to Prevent Injury and Speed Healing – Research on Aging

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Spotting the Warning Signs of Kawasaki Disease

It is one of the most common causes of acquired heart disease in pediatrics, yet very little is known about Kawasaki Disease. It was discovered by Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki in Japan in the 1960s. It has since been documented around the world, including a spike in cases in San Diego earlier this year. Yet, the cause of Kawasaki Disease remains a mystery.

Dr. Jane Burns is the director of the UC San Diego Kawasaki Disease Research Center, and one of the leading experts on the disease. She sat down to discuss her research, and what parents need to know about Kawasaki Disease with Dr. David Granet on Health Matters. She says because it starts off with a sudden high fever, Kawasaki Disease can often be misdiagnosed as a common virus. But, parents can easily spot the telltale symptoms in the following days: bloodshot eyes, bright red mouth and lips, swollen and red hands and feet, and body rash.

When untreated, one in four children with Kawasaki Disease will develop permanent, potentially fatal heart disease. Those complications can usually be avoided with proper treatment, but it’s expensive and out of reach for millions of children around the world. That’s why Dr. Burns and her team continue to investigate the mysterious disease.

Watch — Understanding Kawasaki Disease – Health Matters

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How a Year in Space Affects the Human Body

Science fiction has long promised an age of interplanetary human existence. Scenes of spaceships hopping from one galaxy to the next are so common, it seems almost inevitable that future generations will one day vacation on Mars. But, if we are ever going to achieve life on other planets, we first have to figure out if the human body can tolerate it.

Some of the best data we have on the subject comes from American astronaut Scott Kelly. Kelly spent a year living on the International Space Station while his twin brother Mark, also an astronaut, was on Earth. Scientists from all over the country studied the impact life in space had on Scott Kelly, and compared changes in his body to his brother.

One of those scientists was UC San Diego Professor of Medicine, Michael G. Ziegler, MD. In a recent talk at UC San Diego Extension’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Ziegler detailed some of the more interesting findings from the study. Scott Kelly lost weight. There were significant changes to his gene expression. He lost collagen. His carotid artery thickened. His bones became less dense. His eye shape changed, forcing him to wear glasses. While he was in space, his performance on cognitive tests improved. But, his performance plummeted after returning to Earth, and never quite returned to pre-launch levels.

Despite all of this, Ziegler has reason to be hopeful about long-term space travel. He says the year in space study illuminated many of the challenges, and gave researchers some ideas of how to overcome them. Still, it’s probably a little early to start planning your trip to the red planet.

Watch — How a Year in Space Affects the Human Body with Dr. Michael G. Ziegler — Osher UC San Diego

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From “Never Medicine” to Acclaimed Physician-scientist

When he was a young man, Dan Lowenstein used to proclaim that he would never be a doctor. Fast-forward to today and he is not only an accomplished physician-scientist in the area of epilepsy, an award-winning medical educator, and an innovative and forward-thinking leader but he is also UCSF’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost. As provost he oversees the university’s academic programs and tackles issues ranging from the modernization of the Parnassus Heights campus to the future of big data in healthcare.

In prior roles, he helped launch UCSF’s Academy of Medical Educators, led UCSF’s Physician-Scientist training programs, and served as Dean for Education of Harvard Medical School. In this interview with Dr. Robert Wachter, Chair of UCSF Department of Medicine, Lowenstein describes his circuitous path to a career in medicine, his passion for social justice, and the importance of authenticity for leaders. Find out how we went from “never medicine” to where he is today and what keeps him going.

Watch — Dr. Daniel Lowenstein – A Life in Medicine: People Shaping Healthcare Today

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