Doctor, Doctor Give Me The News

When I pitched the idea for this story, I really had no idea what it was going to turn into. The QUESTPress team had been toying with the idea of expanding our coverage to things outside of QUEST for a while, but we still hadn’t worked out the details. So when Andrew tried to give me February off I figured why not and jumped into something I care a lot about: science and scientific advancement.

Now obviously there’re a lot of fields that fall under the label “science,” but I decided to focus on one of the weirdest: medical science. Human bodies are incredibly complex, which is what makes modern medicine so amazing, but they’re also, in my opinion, pretty strange. This makes reading articles about medical advancements a fun combo of “that’s so cool” and “they did what now?!” So without further ado, here are some of my recent favorites:

  1. Blood testing for concussions

Concussions have come under the spotlight in recent years – becoming an increasing concern in sports and the military as we learn more about the lasting impacts of traumatic brain injuries. Despite this, diagnosing concussions remains difficult, with computerized tomography scans, or CT scans, being one of the most common ways to check for brain anomalies. CT scans are expensive, and many patients suspected of having concussions do not exhibit signs of it when scanned. This is what makes the new blood test from Banyan Biomarkers, just approved by the FDA, so exciting. The test measures the levels of various proteins that are linked to brain injury in the patient’s blood and can predict which patients are likely to show damage on a CT scan, enabling doctors better prescribe the expensive procedure.

More information can be found here:

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6378/848.full

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fda-okays-first-concussion-blood-test-but-some-experts-are-wary/

  1. Experimental Surgery for Spinal Bifida

I caught this story back in October, browsing through the New York Times between classes. It’s engrossing, and I remember turning to one of my good friends – actually working on her homework like a responsible student – and going, “I’m so grateful, but also weirded out, by medicine.” Spinal bifida is a birth defect where the tissue surrounding the spinal column does not close properly during fetal development – leading to a host of further health problems. Doctors found that operating prenatally to close the gap in the spinal tissue decreased these effects, but the standard surgery involves cutting open the mother’s abdomen and uterus which can lead to other complications. However, the new surgery eliminates some of these side effects by operating through small slits in the uterus guided by a fetoscope. If you’re squeamish this might not be the story for you, but otherwise I encourage you to check it out here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/health/fetal-surgery-spina-bifida.html

Follow up story: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/15/health/baby-spina-bifida-surgery.html

  1. Potential CRISPR Upgrade

One of my roommates is a biology major, so CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing has come up a time or two in conversation. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR, is the basis for CRISPR-Cas9, which allows researchers to make specific modifications to DNA. But what does that even mean? In essence, DNA is like your body’s instruction manual – telling cells what they should be doing – and is made up of genes (ie: instructions on what proteins to make). By modifying DNA, scientists can turn on and off certain genes, changing how cells behave. However, CRISPR-Cas9 does have limitations and is only useful in some parts of the genome; new advances could change that fact. David Liu and his colleagues have altered the Cas9 enzyme to work at a wider range of sites – potentially opening the door for more precise gene editing and further applications.

More info here:

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-02540-x

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/02/upgrade-makes-genome-editor-crispr-more-muscular-precise

 

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