Placebo Effect

Brief discussion point everyone please tell me your opinions on using the placebo effect by doctors for treatment.

Today in biology we watched a really interesting documentary on the placebo effect. I had previously been under on the impression that the placebo effect worked because we believed it would work. Harvard University underwent a clinical trial to see the effect of the placebo effect if they knew that the pills weren’t real. They gave them to people with IBS and they still worked.  They also did a test to see the effect of spending lots of time with a patient and being really nice and comforting, vs spending little time with the patient and not being kind and talkative. The found that the patients who were treated nicely and for a long timed experienced less pain in the acupuncture. This is so interesting because the way doctors act with their patients could massively effect the patients satisfaction with their care.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis is a condition I saw a lot of whilst working in CZD Children’s Hospital in Warsaw. It is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms that cause disability.

Symptoms can include fatigue, difficulty walking, vision problems, problems with bladder, number, tingling, muscle stiffness/spasms, problems with balance and co-ordination, and learning problems.

Multiple Sclerosis can be relapsing-remitting or primary progressive. Relapsing-remitting MS means that the patient will have episodes or new/worsening symptoms. Periods between attacks are known as ‘remission’. After many years most people with relapsing-remitting MS go on to develop secondary-progressive MS. Primary progressive MS is the gradual worsening of symptoms.

MS is an autoimmune condition. This is when something goes wrong with the immune system and it mistakenly attacks a healthy part of the body. In MS, this is when the immune system attacks the payer that surrounds and protects the nerves caused the myelin sheath. This damages and scars the sheath, and potentially the underlying nerves meaning that messages travelling along the nerves become slowed or disrupted.

MS can be treated by short courses of steroid medication to speed up patient recovery and other disease-modifying therapies.

The outlook for people with MS is rarely fatal, but other complications in patient lives can arise. Their life expectancy is 5 to 10 years lower than average.

The Art of Neuroscience

During the Edinburgh Science Festival I attended a lecture called ‘The Art of Neuroscience’. It was run by a group of scientists who are responsible for the design of the new neuroscience wing being built at the Little France hospital.
 Much of their work is dedicated to creating an atmosphere that is calming through the use of art, sound and words, not just in the context of neurological disorders, but in many other areas as well. This committee decided things to help patients from having individual rooms and digital systems by beds.
 Many of their decision are influenced by results they received from EEGs. An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that detects electrical activity in your brain using small, flat metal discs (electrodes) attached to your scalp. Your brain cells communicate via electrical impulses and are active all the time, even when you’re asleep. This activity shows up as wavy lines on an EEG recording.
 These EEGs are being used to see the brain’s unconscious reactions to different stimuli. Using these EEGs, physicians are able to see the brains unconscious decisions, so whether that be to music or to bedtime stories, they can determine what is relaxing the patient even if they are not consciously aware of it. To do this they look at the brain waves. Different rates of waves expresses different feelings. From this they have been able to create music with this in mind and so have created music reflecting the brain waves in a patient that are present when they are calm and relaxed. In a clinical setting, they hope to have this available to patients in their rooms but also to have a ‘calm room’ for the use of patients but also doctors particularly between surgery. This would be a place for anyone in the hospital to go to to gather their thoughts and have a break form the hospital world.
 To determine how stimuli is affecting the patients many different factors are taken into consideration. These include the physiological affects, FMRI, EEG,  and literally asking the patients how they are feeling. This is helpful in discovering whether it is having an unconscious or conscious affect on the patient.
 Several parts of the brain are involved with music-
Corpus callosum: Connects both sides of the brain
Motor cortex: Involved in movement while dancing or playing an instrument
Prefrontal cortex: Controls behaviour, expression and decision
Nucleus accumbent and amygdala: Involved with emotional reactions to music
Sensory cortex: Controls tactile feedback while playing instruments or dancing
Auditory cortex: Listens to sounds (perceives and analyses tones)
Hippocampus: Involved n music memories, experiences and context
Visual cortex: Involved in reading music or looking at your own dance moves
Cerebellum: Involved in movement while dancing or playing an instrument, as well as emotional reactions
 These are all influenced by pyschocoustics which is the affect of sound on the state of mind.
 Another major part of the new innovations is based on smell. The use of smell memory is a new but interesting part of neuroscience involving the use of smells to stimulate memories or experiences form the most primitive parts of the brain.
 The combinations of all these new innovations paves the way for a successful new
neuroscience wing at the new Little France.
(Apologies for all of the fullstops I’ve had an editing issue – hope you don’t mind – Emily)
Many thanks to the Edinburgh Science Festival for providing this lecture and the DCN  Fellowship for all of the ideas presented here today.

Genetic Control of Metabolism

Hello everyone!

A well debated topic in our society is ‘playing god’, by which I mean making changes to cells in vitro to result in advantageous or disadvantageous affects, (depending on what these are being used for). On a smaller level, an aim of scientists is to improve wild strains of microorganisms which can then be used to produce the desirable product. AN issue with this can be that mutant strains are usually genetically unstable and revert to the wild type in continuous culture.

The process of improving these wild strains can be done through many different mechanisms such as selective breeding and culture, mutagenesis and recombinant DNA technology.

Mutagenesis is the process of inducing mutations, and can be done by using mutagenic agents such as ultraviolet light, gamma rays and x-rays.

In selective breeding scientists have the bacteria in conditions where horizontal transfer is likely to occur so that they reproduce sexually to create new genotypes and phenotypes.

Recombinant DNA technology involves the joining together of DNA molecules from two different species. This can be done by the following steps as shown below:

-DNA from the donor organism is extracted.

-The enzyme restriction endonuclease cuts the required gene from the DNA fragment at a restriction sight leaving sticky ends.

-Restriction endonuclease then cuts the vector (plasmid) at the restriction site also leaving sticky ends. These sticky ends are important so that they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

-The enzyme DNA ligase seals the DNA fragment into the plasmid and seals the sticky ends together to form recombinant DNA.

-The recombinant plasmids are inserted into host cells and the transformed host cells are selected and cultured. These cells go through the normal process of transcription and translation till a protein is produced which can be extracted.

A danger of these recombinant DNA is the risk of release into the environment and the creation of a new pathogenic microorganism. To counter this genes can be inserted as a safety mechanism that prevent the survival of the microorganism in the outside environment.

I hope to discuss this is greater depth when going through the GMO process!

Here we can see the DNA fragment being inserted into the plasmid


During my time working in various hospitals, I have met many different healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses, carers, psychiatrists and many more. AN important lesson which I have learnt is that in a healthcare environment all professionals are different parts to one big machine, and patient care would not be able to be fulfilled correctly if all the part didn’t work together.

I’ve spent time volunteering in a hospital specifically for the chronic disease for the elderly, many of which suffered from long term mental conditions as well as physical ones. In this ward nurses were a vital part not just of the patients recovery, but of their daily life.

The nurses spend their days with the patients, and get the oppurtunity to know the patients on an emotional and an further in depth level than doctors do, and their compassion and kindness was admirable. In many cases it was the nurses that were able to calm the patients rather than the medication. The nurses job was full time, not just shift to shift, and they would take time out of their breaks to talk to patients and be there for them not just as a carer but as a friend.

Nurses are a valued and under appreciated part of the NHS, who’s hard work and commitment to patient care is unmatchable .

Stem Cells

As this is the first blog post I am doing, I thought I would also start with the first building block in the human body, that being a cell, but not just any cell – a stem cell.

Stem cells are cells that are unspecialised and come in the form of tissue stem cells and embryonic stem cells. A tissue stem cell is multi potent, meaning it can differentiate into a limited number of cell types close to its site of origin. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, giving them full differentiation potential to differentiate into all cell types. This unique ability of stem cells makes them vital to the future of healthcare.

A goal of scientists is to understand how and why stem cells differentiate. We know that on a cellular level cell differentiation is when certain genes are switched on and others are switch off to code for a specific protein. This is vital to understand because many serious medical conditions, such as cancer, are due to problems that occur in cell division and differentiation.

Stem cells are useful in testing new drugs for diseases. To be relevant, drug testing needs to be done on micro-organisms with identical conditions to that which humans posses, and due to stem cells differentiation capabilities, scientists can control the differentiation of the cells to achieve the result they need, thus providing accurate testing of drugs.

One of the most important applications of stem cells currently is to grow organs or tissues to replace damaged cells. This works hand in hand with the recent innovation of 3D printing, allowing scientists to create an exact mould in which they can use the stem cells to make the mould a reality.

The possibilities that stem cells provide are endless, whether in the lab or in hospital setting, they are sure to revolutionise healthcare as we know it.