Thursday, February 26, 2009

Prions involved in Alzheimer disease?

Does your A&P textbook explain what prions are and how they can become involved in disease?

Mine does.

Besides their roles in "mad cow" disease and vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease), it turns out that these mysterious proteins may be involved in additional disease mechanisms in additional, unexpected ways.

Today, Science News published a great summary article on how researchers have evidence that leads them to suspect that normal prion proteins (pictured) present in the brains of mice may play a role in the development of Alzheimer disease. (The usual functions of normal prion proteins have not been fully explained yet. This research may help to further unravel that mystery as well.)

To find out more, check out:

Prions Complicit in Alzheimer's Disease
L. Sanders Science News accessed 25 February 2009
[Summary article explaining the new findings and possible implications]

'Harmless' prion protein linked to Alzheimer's disease
H. Ledford Nature 25 February 2009

[Summary article featuring a great image of the amyloid-β peptides associated with AD]

Cellular prion protein mediates impairment of synaptic plasticity by amyloid-b oligomers.
Lauren, J., et al. Nature 457, 1128-1132 (2009). In press. doi:10.1038/nature07761
[The original research article cited in the above summaries. Not yet available online.]

Here's a video (a bit dated, but still useful):

[The video player embedded here may not appear in your news feed or emailed newsletter. Go to The A&P Professor blog to access the video viewer. Go to The A&P Professor website to learn how to embed the video in your PowerPoint or webpage . . . or simply link to it from your own email or webpage.]

Reading the textbook

Many students have difficulty reading their A&P textbook.

Duh-uh. This isn't news to you, is it?

Right. My point exactly!

What can we as teachers do? I mean besides our typical strategy of lamenting about how both poor readers and good readers simply do not read their A&P books . . . at least not enough to satisfy us . . . and certainly not enough to get a lot out of their reading.

One option is to strongly encourage them to use specific strategies to make reading the textbook easier and more efficient. "More efficient" means "less time reading" so they should like this idea, eh?

I just posted an article at my blog for students The A&P Student that you can send your student to for some specific tips on reading their textbook:

Another option is to think about adopting an A&P textbook that is specifically designed for reading efficiency.

Our newly revised Anatomy & Physiology has been developed with this concern about reading in mind. Using the advice of learning specialists, reading teachers, study skills instructors, and ESL experts, we have have applied what is known about reading efficiency to the design of our book as well as to the style of writing.

It's not "dumbed down" but is written in uncommonly clear language that improves the flow of reading--and the ease of comprehension. We've also split several of the longer chapters found in most A&P textbooks into smaller chunks that are easier to "digest" because there are fewer new concepts per chapter. Within chapters, we've also made the individual sections smaller and therefore more comprehensible. An added benefit is that the additional section headings make it easier for the reader to put all the parts into an organized context as they read.

For more information about our new edition, contact your Elsevier representative or check out the brochure. Or chat with me!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's here!

The new seventh edition of my textbook Anatomy & Physiology is hot off the presses!

I'm really exciting about this edition . . . for a number of reasons.

For example:
  • It features a new type of creative paging that puts all the illustrations and tables near the portions of the text that refer to them . . . or at least as close as is possible.

  • The art program has been completely revised. The art is more attractive, easier to use, and more useful for learning.

  • It features many new features, such as chapter summary podcasts, online A&P Connect articles related to text content, and more.

  • This narrative text has been revised to improve reading efficiency for all readers . . . expert readers as well as those who struggle with reading.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

Want to learn more? I'll be sharing more over the next few weeks in The A&P Professor blog. In the mean time, check out the online brochure and talk to your Elsevier/Mosby sales rep!

Placebo doping?

Here's another twist on doping in athletes . . .

. . . recall that in previous blog posts I explored several types of doping: blood doping, drug doping, genetic doping, and so on. In a recent article on the placebo effect that I read in Scientific American Mind I learned about a new kind of doping . . . that is legal, apparently.

Morphine is on the banned list for athletic doping. An advantage of using morphine would be to reduce pain during an intense athletic event--pain that could reduce performance. According to a sidebar in the article, studies show that if an athlete is given morphine during training (which is legal), then abstains long enough for the morphine to clear the system, then takes a saline injection (placebo) on the day of competition, the athlete experiences reduced pain.

If this turns out to work consistently, with many different athletes, I wonder if use of drugs during training will be banned.

For more on doping, see my article at The A&P Professor website.

Here's the article on placebos:

Placebo Effect: A Cure in the Mind
Maj-Britt Niemi
Scientific American Mind online, February 2009

Here's the research behind the "doping" by placebo concept:

Opioid-Mediated Placebo Responses Boost Pain Endurance and Physical Performance: Is It Doping in Sport Competitions?
F. Benedetti, et al.
The Journal of Neuroscience, October 31, 2007, 27(44):11934-11939; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3330-07.2007

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Homeostasis mini lesson

Because I want my students to have a thorough understanding of homeostasis before moving into their study of human physiology in our A&P course, I spend a LOT of time on this topic during the first week of class.

Because the concept of homeostasis is usually new to my students . . . and because I use three different analogies in an attempt to "get at" what homeostatic control really means . . . I provide them with some "extra" material on homeostasis online. I call this module a "mini lesson" and it's intended as a supplement to what they already get in the textbook and the lecture/discussion session.

My "homeostasis mini lesson" includes three analogies of how homeostasis maintains balance in the body:

1. The fishbowl model compares the human body to an aquarium. Health of the system requires stability of the fluid environments inside the tank. Various devices (like organs) operate to maintain that stability (of temperature, oxygen level, etc.).

2. The engineered control system model uses a engineered thermostat to show students how automatic control sytems that maintain stability in a system are designed. This also helps introduce students to the essential terminology of homeostasis, which is borrowed from engineering.

3. The Wallenda model uses the famous family of circus wire-walkers to illustrate some additional concepts of balance in the body, such as how negative feedback helps keep us close to the set point.

Check out my Homeostasis Mini Lesson at my Lion Den website.

[NOTE: You are welcome to use the information in your own course by linking to my Mini Lesson. You may also use my material in your handouts (not for general publication) if you agree to cite the source as "Copyright Kevin Patton,"]

Go to the Homeostasis models page of The A&P Professor blog for an expanded version of this article that also includes:
  • Specific teaching tips for each model
  • FREE slide sets that you can use in your course
  • FREE video clips that you can use in your course

Promote napping by students!

Research shows that a short, five- or ten-minute nap after class or after studying can improve learning.

Yesterday, I posted this study tip at my blog for students, The A&P Student at .

If any of your students are readers, you may find them out in the hall napping after class today! (And if your students are not readers of my student blog, why not?)

A current theory is that during the process of falling to sleep we sort through our recent memories and possibly filter and organize them. This may "lock in" important memories of what was learned in the classroom or while reading the textbook or studying.

Hmmmm . . . perhaps colleges should offer more napping spaces in classroom buildings to enhance learning. Not a bad idea, eh? Let's all take this idea to our deans right now!

This is the quick summary I gave to the students from NewScientist:

Are catnaps as beneficial as actual sleep?
Colin Barras
NewScientist 21 February 2008

Here are some additional resources
(professors always like to know "a little more" than our students right?)

An ultra short episode of sleep is sufficient to promote declarative memory performance
Journal of Sleep Research 17(1):3-10. 2008.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00622.x
[The research cited by the NewScientist article above.]

Sleep hormone may make you forget

Roxanne Khamsi
NewScientist 16 November 2007
[Melatonin supplements theoretically may block the memory-enhancing effects of sleep.]

Needles lessen pain

My five-year-old son would disagree: his recent visit to the pediatrician involved FIVE injected vaccines. Try telling him that needles lessen pain! To him, needles cause pain!

But many folks turn to acupuncture for pain relief . . . especially when more traditional therapies don't seem to work . . . or have possible unwanted side effects.

Science News recently published an item that describes recent research that appeared in the British Medical Journal and found that in a blind study, patients treated with needles fared slightly better than those getting standard care. Probably clinically irrelevant. But here's the twist: both the group that received acupuncture (needle sticks at prescribed locations of the body) and the group that received random needle sticks experienced a small amount of pain relief! In fact, those who received the "sham" version of acupuncture did a little better then those in the "real" acupuncture group. Hmmm.

For me, this raises as many questions as it answers. But in any case, it gives me more information than I had before regarding acupuncture and pain therapy . . . questions that do often come up in classroom discussions.

To read the article I mentioned, use this link:

Needles Can Stick It to Pain
Nathan Seppa, Science News online, February 3, 2009

The original research article about these findings:

Acupuncture treatment for pain: systematic review of randomised clinical trials with acupuncture, placebo acupuncture, and no acupuncture groups
Matias Vested Madsen, Peter C Gøtzsche, Asbjørn Hróbjartsson
British Medical Journal 2009;338:a3115, doi: 10.1136/bmj.a3115 (Published 27 January 2009)
[NOTE: The full article is available FREE]

Additional resources:

Does acupuncture relieve pain?
Adrian White, Mike Cummings
British Medical Journal 2009;338:a2760, doi: 10.1136/bmj.a2760 (Published 27 January 2009)
[NOTE: The full editorial is available FREE]

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
National Institutes of Health (NIH) site on acupuncture

And now for something completely different:

[The video player embedded here may not appear in your news feed or emailed newsletter. Go to The A&P Professor blog to access the video viewer. Go to The A&P Professor website to learn how to embed the video in your PowerPoint or webpage . . . or simply link to it from your own email or webpage.]

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Scared to death?

The fight-or-flight response is meant to protect us from harm, right?

But can it kill us? Can we literally be scared to death?

Doesn't this sound like the kind of question likely to come up during an A&P class?

Scientific American magazine recently asked this question when an elderly North Carolina woman suffered a heart attack when surprised by an escaping bank robber . . . and the authorities charged the man in the death of the woman for "scaring her to death."

Find out what the experts say . . . a great application of A&P that you can share with your students.

Can a person be scared to death?

by C. Ballantyne Scientific American online January 30, 2009

[AP report on the North Carolina story]

Of related interest . . .

Factoring Fear: What Scares Us and Why

Can We Control Our Fears?

Heart Attack Panic

Why Do We Panic?

Penile fractures, pop culture, and job security

In my blog for students The A&P Student, I recently pointed out that they of course want to apply their increasing expertise in human anatomy and physiology to their experience of popular culture.

They've already probably caught themselves second-guessing some of the diagnoses of Dr. House's team . . . at least those lame ones offered during the first fifteen minutes of an episode. Or the really off-the-mark versions of human structure and function woven into episodes of Fringe.

I told them to get used to it. Apparently, the big money that goes into TV and movie productions does NOT go to anyone who passed a basic A&P course!

Dr. Patton's Theory of Media Science (Dr. P's TMS) . . .
which I just made up after years of mulling it over . . . and shouting it to my television screen . . . states that

"biological accuracy of a science-based fictional media production is inverse to the total budget for special effects in the production."

My hope is that producers will eventually recognize the validity of my theory, and the growing population of A&P-educated viewers who can spot a stupid science "fact" that really doesn't have to be there to make the story flow or to keep the special effects within budget or allow for a snappy movie or episode title.

Then these cutting-edge producers will spring for a modest fee for an A&P consultant in each production. Which will spur an increasing demand for graduates of my A&P courses. Which will increase my job security. And then perhaps one day this trend will help me find a part-time job when I retire . . . perhaps an A&P consulting job that also involves brief, well-paid, guest-starring roles and sharing beers and pizza with my favorite TV and movie stars.

However, a recent episode of Grey's Anatomy (season 5, episode 513) brought up an anatomical issue that is rarely discussed in A&P courses . . . and so A&P students might wonder "can this be true?!" Or even, "PLEASE tell me this cannot be true!"

Yes, as I'm sure you already know, one CAN break a penis. In fact, it's a more common injury than most people suspect.

Why don't we hear about it more often?

First, if you or your partner has broken a penis, would you be talking it up everywhere you go . . . as one might with a broken leg? Second, let's face it . . . one would have a cast that's out there asking to be asked about, right? Third, at least in my part of the world . . . we simply don't talk much (out loud, in public) regarding anything having to do with sex. (In fact, some reading this will shudder at my bringing it up in a blog for students or professors . . . if they've even read this far. Click here if you have a problem with it.)

Want to know more, so your A&P lecture is up to date with the latest trends in pop culture?

Try this straightforward . . . and easy to understand . . . article from Scientific American.

You'll learn a lot of useful A&P, you'll be ready for the inevitable classroom discussion on this topic, and you'll be all set for a future career as a TV/movie consultant after you retire!

Want to know even more useful (and possibly career-enhancing) facts related to the sex organs? Then check out this book:
Skin Flutes & Velvet Gloves: A Collection of Facts and Fancies, Legends and Oddities About the Body's Private Parts

Fun fact. . .
The television show Grey's Anatomy is a word play on the title of a famous medical anatomy text by Henry Gray called Gray's Anatomy. Notice the difference in spelling. Originally published over 150 years ago (1858), the current edition remains a leader among the best available references to the human body (and now comes in many different variations to suit different needs). See my recent blog post The Anatomist for more.

Engineer's view of biological systems

A recent article in PLoS Biology takes a brief look at "an engineer's view of biology."

In this essay, the authors clearly summarize what they see as the advantages of looking at biological systems through the lens of engineered systems, in order to better understand biology. They further contend that simple "cartoon" conceptions of biological systems can be as useful as more complicated mathematical modeling (that is, both have their places).

Of course, this idea of "an engineered system" as an analogy is usually one of the first principles that we introduce to our students in an A&P course: feedback control systems that maintain homeostatic balance.

We introduce terms like variable, disturbance, sensor, set point, integrator, effector, and so on as biological terms . . . further explaining that the terms (as well as the concepts) are borrowed directly from engineering.

Take a look at this recent article to deepen your understanding of what that really means:

Biological Systems from an Engineer's Point of View
Reeves GT, Fraser SE
PLoS Biology
Vol. 7, No. 1, e21

For more FREE journals like PLoS Biology, see my growing listing at The A&P Professor website.