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Stem cells have two key characteristics. They are able to self-renew and they can differentiate into mature cells of different lineages. These two properties allow stem cells to repair and regenerate tissues and organs. Stem cells also form the corner-stone of tissue engineering. The underlying biological mechanisms that regulate stem cell function and self-renewal are fairly complex and our knowledge of remains very limited.The field of stem cell research has generated a lot of enthusiasm, but this enthusiasm can at times skew the interpretation of the actual scientific findings. I believe that the hope of being able to regenerate or rejuvenate tissues taps into the old human quest for immortality. This may be the reason why I often come across reports and discussions suggesting that stem cell therapies have a miracle-like quality and will soon be able to cure most diseases. While the ground-breaking discoveries in stem cell biology are indeed fascinating, it is also important to have a realistic view of stem cell therapies and realize that much of stem cell biology is still in its infancy. Premature attempts to use stem cells for clinical therapies are probably not going to succeed. This blog will focus on novel developments in stem cell research, regenerative biology and medicine as well as the topic of aging. The ethical and political issues that revolve around stem cell research will also be discussed. I am also interested in broader questions related to the process of scientific discovery, creativity and scientific communication, which will be addressed in some of the posts.
Competition for government research grants to fund scientific research remains fierce in the United States. The budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which constitute the major source of funding for US biological and medical research, has been increased only modestly during the past decade but it is not even keeping up with inflation. This problem is compounded by the fact that more scientists are applying for grants now than one or two decades ago, forcing the NIH to enforce strict........ Read more »
The vast majority of professors will gladly meet a prospective graduate student and discuss research opportunities as well as long-term career options, especially if the student requesting the meeting clarifies the goal of the meeting. However, there are cases when students wait in vain for a response. Is it because their email never reached the professor because it got lost in the internet ether or a spam folder? Was the professor simply too busy to respond? A research study headed by Katherine........ Read more »
Milkman KL, Akinola M, & Chugh D. (2015) What happens before? A field experiment exploring how pay and representation differentially shape bias on the pathway into organizations. The Journal of applied psychology, 100(6), 1678-712. PMID: 25867167
It does not come as a surprise that background music in a café helps create the ambience and affects how much customers enjoy sipping their cappuccinos. But recent research suggests that the choice of lyrics can even impact the social behavior of customers. The researcher Nicolas Ruth and his colleagues from the University of Würzburg (Bavaria, Germany) assembled a playlist of 18 songs with pro-social lyrics which they had curated by surveying 74 participants in an online questionnaire as to w........ Read more »
Ruth, N. (2016) "Heal the World": A field experiment on the effects of music with prosocial lyrics on prosocial behavior. Psychology of Music. DOI: 10.1177/0305735616652226
A team of researchers from Stanford University, Cornell University and Yahoo recently decided to evaluate the "connectedness" of the hypothesized Huntington civilizations in cyberspace and published their results in the article "The Mesh of Civilizations in the Global Network of Digital Communication".
The researchers examined Twitter users and the exchange of emails between Yahoo-Mail users in 90 countries with a minimum population of five million. In total, they analyzed........ Read more »
State, B., Park, P., Weber, I., & Macy, M. (2015) The Mesh of Civilizations in the Global Network of Digital Communication. PLOS ONE, 10(5). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122543
One key characteristic of a beautiful scientific theory is the simplicity of the underlying concepts. According to Weinberg, Einstein's theory of gravitation is described in fourteen equations whereas Newton's theory can be expressed in three. Despite the appearance of greater complexity in Einstein's theory, Weinberg finds it more beautiful than Newton's theory because the Einsteinian approach rests on one elegant central principle – the equivalence of gravitation and ........ Read more »
This view has been challenged by the University of Southampton researchers Constantine Sedikides and Tim Wildschut, who have spent the past decade studying the benefits of nostalgia. Not only do they disavow its disease status, they have conducted numerous studies which suggest that nostalgia can make us more creative, open-minded and charitable. The definition of nostalgia used by Sedikides and Wildschut as a "sentimental longing for one's past" is based on the contemporary usage........ Read more »
van Tilburg, W., Sedikides, C., & Wildschut, T. (2015) The mnemonic muse: Nostalgia fosters creativity through openness to experience. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2015.02.002
Can shame be good for you? We often think of shame as a shackling emotion which thwarts our individuality and creativity. A sense of shame could prevent us from choosing a partner we truly love, speaking out against societal traditions which propagate injustice or pursuing a profession that is deemed unworthy by our peers. But if shame is so detrimental, why did we evolve with this emotion? A team of researchers led by Daniel Sznycer from the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University ........ Read more »
Sznycer D, Tooby J, Cosmides L, Porat R, Shalvi S, & Halperin E. (2016) Shame closely tracks the threat of devaluation by others, even across cultures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 26903649
We live in an era of exhaustion and fatigue, caused by an incessant compulsion to perform. This is one of the central tenets of the book "Müdigkeitsgesellschaft" (translatable as "The Fatigue Society" or "The Tiredness Society") by the German philosopher Byung-Chul Han. Han is a professor at the Berlin Universität der Künste (University of the Arts) and one of the most widely read contemporary philosophers in Germany. He was born in Seoul where he stu........ Read more »
Byung-Chul Han. (2015) The Burnout Society. Stanford University Press. info:/
Universities and the scientific infrastructures in Muslim-majority countries need to undergo radical reforms if they want to avoid falling by the wayside in a world characterized by major scientific and technological innovations. This is the conclusion reached by Nidhal Guessoum and Athar Osama in their recent commentary "Institutions: Revive universities of the Muslim world", published in the scientific journal Nature. The physics and astronomy professor Guessoum (American University ........ Read more »
Guessoum N, & Osama A. (2015) Institutions: Revive universities of the Muslim world. Nature, 526(7575), 634-6. PMID: 26511563
Romanowski, M., & Nasser, R. (2010) Faculty perceptions of academic freedom at a GCC university. PROSPECTS, 40(4), 481-497. DOI: 10.1007/s11125-010-9166-2
"It's empathy that makes us help other people. It's empathy that makes us moral." The economist Paul Zak casually makes this comment in his widely watched TED talk about the hormone oxytocin, which he dubs the "moral molecule". Zak quotes a number of behavioral studies to support his claim that oxytocin increases empathy and trust, which in turn increases moral behavior. If all humans regularly inhaled a few puffs of oxytocin through a nasal spray, we could become m........ Read more »
De Dreu, C., Greer, L., Van Kleef, G., Shalvi, S., & Handgraaf, M. (2011) Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(4), 1262-1266. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1015316108
Xu X, Zuo X, Wang X, & Han S. (2009) Do you feel my pain? Racial group membership modulates empathic neural responses. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 29(26), 8525-9. PMID: 19571143
What do the third parties do with your data? We do not really know because the laws and regulations are rather fuzzy here. We do know that Google, Facebook and Twitter primarily make money by advertising so they could potentially use your info and customize the ads you see. Just because you visited a page on breast cancer does not mean that the "Invisible Web" knows your name and address but they do know that you have some interest in breast cancer. It would make financial sense to sen........ Read more »
Libert, T. (2015) Privacy implications of health information seeking on the web. Communications of the ACM, 58(3), 68-77. DOI: 10.1145/2658983
During the past decade, multiple groups of researchers have come across a fascinating phenomenon by which viruses hijack the phagocytosis process in order to thrive. One of the "Eat Me!" signals for phagocytes is that debris derived from an apoptotic cell is coated by a membrane enriched with phosphatidylserines which are negatively charged molecules. Phosphatidylserines are present in all cells but they are usually tucked away on the inside of cells and are not seen by other cells. Wh........ Read more »
Voigtländer and Voth examined the results of the large General Social Survey for Germany (ALLBUS) in which several thousand Germans were asked about their values and beliefs. The survey took place in 1996 and 2006, and the researchers combined the results of both surveys with a total of 5,300 participants from 264 German towns and cities. The researchers were specifically interested in anti-Semitic attitudes and focused on three survey questions specifically related to anti-Semitism. Survey........ Read more »
Voigtländer N, & Voth HJ. (2015) Nazi indoctrination and anti-Semitic beliefs in Germany. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 26080394
There is surprisingly little data on how and when scientists reject hypotheses, but John Fugelsang and Kevin Dunbar at Dartmouth conducted a rather unique study "Theory and data interactions of the scientific mind: Evidence from the molecular and the cognitive laboratory" in 2004 in which they researched researchers. They sat in at scientific laboratory meetings of three renowned molecular biology laboratories at carefully recorded how scientists presented their laboratory data and how........ Read more »
Fugelsang, J., Stein, C., Green, A., & Dunbar, K. (2004) Theory and Data Interactions of the Scientific Mind: Evidence From the Molecular and the Cognitive Laboratory. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie expérimentale, 58(2), 86-95. DOI: 10.1037/h0085799
About five million people in the US suffer from heart failure, and approximately half of them die within five years of being diagnosed. Only about 2,500 hundred people a year receive a heart transplant – the treatment of last resort. A new heart can be life-saving, but it is also life-changing. Even under the best conditions, the surgery is complex, and recovery carries a heavy physical and emotional burden.
... Read more »
Kilic, A., Higgins, R., Whitson, B., & Kilic, A. (2015) Racial Disparities in Outcomes of Adult Heart Transplantation. Circulation, 131(10), 882-889. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.011676
We have all heard the stereotypes: women can’t drive, they don’t understand computers, and how many blondes does it take to screw in a light bulb? But those are all in good fun, right? But what if gender stereotypes actually bring about the observed differences between men and women that supposedly underline these stereotypes? A recent study by the psychologist Marina Pavlova at the University of Tübingen tested this idea.... Read more »
Research institutions in the life sciences engage in two types of regular scientific meet-ups: scientific seminars and lab meetings. The structure of scientific seminars is fairly standard. Speakers give Powerpoint presentations (typically 45 to 55 minutes long) which provide the necessary scientific background, summarize their group's recent published scientific work and then (hopefully) present newer, unpublished data. Lab meetings are a rather different affair. The purpose of a lab meeti........ Read more »
When you get an infection, your immune system responds with an influx of inflammatory cells that target the underlying bacteria or viruses. These immune cells migrate from your blood into the infected tissue in order to release a cocktail of pro-inflammatory proteins and help eliminate the infectious threat.
During this inflammatory response, the blood vessel barrier becomes “leaky.” This allows for an even more rapid influx of additional immune cells. Once the infection resolves,........ Read more »
Gong, H., Rehman, J., Tang, H., Wary, K., Mittal, M., Chatturvedi, P., Zhao, Y., Komorova, Y., Vogel, S., & Malik, A. (2015) HIF2α signaling inhibits adherens junctional disruption in acute lung injury. Journal of Clinical Investigation. DOI: 10.1172/JCI77701
Have you ever wondered how the content of your dreams differs from that of your friends? How about the dreams of people raised in different countries and cultures? It is not always easy to compare dreams of distinct individuals because the content of dreams depends on our personal experiences. This is why dream researchers have developed standardized dream questionnaires in which common thematic elements are grouped together. These questionnaires can be translated into various languages and used........ Read more »
Nielsen, T., Zadra, A., Simard, V., Saucier, S., Stenstrom, P., Smith, C., & Kuiken, D. (2003) The Typical Dreams of Canadian University Students. Dreaming, 13(4), 211-235. DOI: 10.1023/B:DREM.0000003144.40929.0b
In the summer of 2010, over 20 million people were affected by the summer floods in Pakistan. Millions lost access to shelter and clean water, and became dependent on aid in the form of food, drinking water, tents, clothes and medical supplies in order to survive this humanitarian disaster. It is estimated that at least $1.5 billion to $2 billion were provided as aid by governments, NGOs, charity organizations and private individuals from all around the world, and helped contain the devastating ........ Read more »
Mueller V, Gray C, & Kosec K. (2014) Heat Stress Increases Long-term Human Migration in Rural Pakistan. Nature climate change, 182-185. PMID: 25132865
Miralles, D., Teuling, A., van Heerwaarden, C., & Vilà-Guerau de Arellano, J. (2014) Mega-heatwave temperatures due to combined soil desiccation and atmospheric heat accumulation. Nature Geoscience, 7(5), 345-349. DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2141
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