Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Zicam, olfaction and anosmia

The recent news about the FDA warning about the over-the-counter cold medication Zicam and its alleged danger to our sense of smell prompted some newscasters to wonder, or at least imply, so what if a person loses their sense of smell? Some even implied that losing one's sense of smell would be a good thing!

Oh my.

Although our reliance on vision and hearing is obvious--and impairments to either or both of those senses seem to jump out at us as major disabilities--not many of us realize that the loss of the sense of smell can be life-threatening!

Oh come on . . . really?

Well, OK, maybe not immediately life-threatening. Or even necessarily life-threatening. But according to Dr. Rachel Herz, a leading olfactory researcher, loss of the sense of smell is far more likely to cause despondence and even clinical depression than the loss of any other sense. And severe, untreated depression can lead to life-threatening problems (including suicide).

In Herz's book The Scent of Desire: Discovering our Enigmatic Sense of Smell she describes the profound effects that anosmia (olfactory failure) can have on a person's sense of self and sense of the world they live in. It can even affect our feelings toward loved ones! Yikes.

At the A&P Professor website, I have a more thorough review of Herz's fascinating book (including a list of a few useful facts that you can use in your A&P course).

In the book, she noted the possible link between the use of zinc-containing cold remedies and damage to sensory function. So I was not at all surprised to hear the news about Zicam.

This topic could be an interesting way to start a discussion on how our senses affect our lives. Or a discussion of the central roles of the often overlooked sense of olfaction. And also on how science works (e.g., do we really know whether Zicam is safe or not? How? How much data is enough data? What rate of damage is enough to be considered unsafe?)

Want to know more? Check these out:

Warnings on Three Zicam Intranasal Zinc Products
FDA website June 16, 2009
[The official FDA warnings]

FDA: Some Zicam Cold Remedies Are Risky
Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD June 16, 2009
[News alert on the FDA warning; gives additional background]

The Scent of Desire: Discovering our Enigmatic Sense of Smell
Rachel Herz
William Morrow (hard, 2007) Harper Perennial (soft, 2008)
[Excellent book on olfaction; aimed at lay audience, but full of scientific information]

The Scent of Desire
Kevin Patton
The A&P Professor website
[Review of Rachel Herz's book includes YouTube videos, useful facts from the book, and more.]

Here are some related videos:

Associated Press report

Zicam's response

[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.]

You can use the FREE public-domain image of Jan Miense Molenaar's painting Smell (1637, oil on panel) in your course! Click here to access the image.

Arab contributions to human biology

If you're a fan of history of the development of our understanding of human biology, then you may be interested in an essay I recently ran across in FASEB about the "golden age" of Arab science.

The 2006 article points out that developments in Islamic medicine in the span covering 750-1258 CE not only was remarkable in itself, but also laid the foundations for additional discoveries in Europe.

A few tidbits from the article:
  • Yuhanna ibn Massuwayh described allergy

  • Abu Bakr Muhummad ibn Zakariyya ar-Razi (Rhazes) distinguished smallpox from measles, described the laryngeal branch of the recurrent nerve, investigated psychosomatic reactions, and wrote the famous 30-volume medical encyclopedia Al-Hawi

  • Az-Zahrawi (Abulcasis) successfully carried out lithotomies and tracheotomies, described extrauterine ectopic pregnancy, cancer of the breast, and sex-linked inheritance of hemophilia

  • Ibn Sina (Avicenna) authored the al-Qanun fil Tibb (The Canon of Medicine) the authority in medicine for 5 centuries

  • Ibn-Nafis described pulmonary circulation
To read the essay . . .
Arab science in the golden age (750-1258 CE) and today
Falagas, et al.
The FASEB Journal 2006;20:1581-1586
[FREE full-text essay cited in this blog article]
You may also be interested in . . .
Islamic Culture and the Medical Arts.
National Library of Medicine accessed June 30 2009
[Article (and links) about an exhibit covering this topic at the NLM, includes access to many illustrations.]
Click the image for "The eye according to Hunain ibn Ishaq" circa 1200 CE, a FREE image to use in your course. If you can't see the image in a newsfeed, then go to The A&P Professor blog to see it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reading Terms in A and P

I recently wrote to A&P students about how new research on how the brain recognizes whole words (rather than letter-by-letter) when reading can help students read and learn A&P more quickly and accurately. See Reading scientific terms at The A&P Student blog.

We've suspected the brain handles reading in this manner--the recent research tells us where in the brain this happens and helps us understand the mechanism behind the process.

As we try to help our students learn A&P, it's useful for us to know about this phenomenon as well. As I explained to students, a good strategy based on this mechanism . . . a strategy long promoted by college reading teachers . . . involves reading the new terms of a chapter out loud before starting a new topic. Even if the student reads little (or, yikes, none) of the chapter, this strategy will help them when they encounter the terms in lecture, lab, or in handouts.

How does this method work? Because when we are reading efficiently (as the new research demonstrates), the brain does best when it can recognize whole words (rather than having to stop and read the word letter by letter or phoneme by phoneme). By reading and saying the words, allowing our brains to recognize or "own" the terms, we thus prime the brain so that reading will be faster and more efficient. Comprehension of what is read increases because the flow of reading is uninterrupted . . . and because the content of the passages can be put into a framework of terms that already exist as units in the brain's memory.

Presumably, familiarity with word parts helps this process by making the initial reading of terms more efficient. And it also helps so that when a new term (not practiced previous to reading) is encountered when reading, at least the word parts are recognized. This should make it easier (faster and more accurate) going than having to read a new term letter by letter.

In my textbooks, I always provide word lists with new terms in each chapter. The word list starts at the beginning of each chapter, with a "study tip" telling the student to read the list out loud before diving into the chapter reading. Now you know why I do this!

The chapter word lists also provide pronunciation keys to help with "owning" each term. The online resources available with the textbook also provide audio pronunciation guides. The word lists in the Anatomy & Physiology textbook also includes word parts that reinforce the recognition of roots, suffixes, and prefixes commonly encountered in the terminology of A&P.

If we share these tips with students, it will help them "get it" far more easily than without a reading strategy. Even students who are already good readers benefit from this approach.

Want to know more? Check out these resources:
Reading scientific terms
Kevin Patton
The A&P Student 7 June 2009
[Blog article for students lists specific steps to take to improve their reading and understanding of A&P]
Brain reads word-by-wordTina Hesman Saey
Science News 29 April 2009
[Nice summary article explaining the brain mechanisms recently discovered by neurobiologists.]
Evidence for Highly Selective Neuronal Tuning to Whole Words in the "Visual Word Form Area"Laurie S. Glezer et al.
Neuron Volume 62, Issue 2, 199-204, 30 April 2009
[Abstract of original research article; links to full article]
Deos the Bairn Not Raed Ervey Lteter by Istlef, but the Wrod as a Wlohe?Kalanit Grill-Spector and Nathan Witthoft
Neuron Volume 62, Issue 2, 161-162, 30 April 2009doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2009.04.009
[Editorial discussion of implications of findings in the Glezer et al. article cited above.]
Reading comprehensionEducation.com accessed 7 June 2009
[List of links to reading research and related resources]
{photo by --Tico-- on flkr}

Facebook update

For those of you who are fans of the The A&P Professor Facebook page, you may have already noticed that updates are now finally showing up on your wall (if you allow them to).

Longtime fans know that we had trouble for a while with this, but apparently the folks at Facebook got around to fixing this. As always, if you have any suggestions for the Facebook page, the blog, the newsletter, the website, the blimp, or whatever, please let me know!

For those of you who use Facebook but are not yet fans of The A&P Professor page, you might want to check into this option. Starting this week, fans will get occasional "early warnings" of upcoming topics in The A&P Professor blog and website.

The A&P Professor

A light touch

There's a recent piece in Science News about the sensation of light touch in the skin. It includes some nifty sound files that allow a person to hear the signals for light touch sent by tactile disc complex of the skin.

As you may recall from my textbook Anatomy & Physiology, the sensory structure for light touch is comprised of two pieces: a tactile epithelial cell and a (tactile disc) sensory nerve ending. The former is often also called a Merkel cell and the latter a Merkel disc. These two pieces working together can be called a epithelial tactile complex or a Merkel disc complex.

The Merkel name comes from the German anatomist Friedrich Merkel, who in 1872 was the first to describe what we now know as Merkel cells. But these days, the international list of anatomical terms (Terminologia histologica) avoids the eponym and instead uses descriptive names.

The Science News article summarizes some recent research that helps to further clarify the mechanisms of how the sensory complex for light touch actually works. Specifically, it outlines how the tactile epithelial cells release glutamate, a neurotransmitter, that may communicate with the sensory neuron to send the signals needes to transmit the sensation of light touch.

The article further describes some gene-knockout experiments that help to prove that light touch cannot be perceived without the tactile epithelial cells to work along with the sensory neurons.

As the article points out, there is still much to learn about the mechanisms of light touch and the specific and detailed roles of the cells involved in sensation.

Want to know more? Check these out:

A Role for Merkels
Tina Hesman Saey
Science News, published online 18 June 2009
[Article summarizing recent research into the role of tactile epithelial cells.]

To listen to samples of tactile epithelial (Merkel) cells and the signals they generate, please click here.

Merkel Cells Are Essential for Light-Touch Responses
Stephen M. Maricich et al.
Science 19 June 2009:Vol. 324. no. 5934, pp. 1580 - 1582
DOI: 10.1126/science.1172890
[The original research report; also includes a link to a podcast.]

There's a great FREE animation of the light touch mechanism at YouTube but the narration is in German. In an English-only classroom, using the video with the narration muted might work well. Click here for the video.

If you missed my recent article Fingerprint functions about the role of epidermal ridges in sensation (lamellar corpuscle function) click here to read it.

If you're like me and a fan of A&P history or eponyms, or both, then click on the portrait of Merkel (click here if you can't see it in your news feed) for a FREE image you can use in your classroom presentation or course website.

My textbook Anatomy & Physiology includes nice diagrams of the light touch structures in Chapters 6 and 15 (the digital file is in the FREE Instructor's Resource CD).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Even more on RNA interference

The saga continues . . . last week I revisited RNA interference. Not unexpectedly, even more discoveries about this phenomenon are flowing like a river.

Now it seems that RNA interference may in fact sometimes activate (rather than silence) genes!

Want to know more? Check out the FREE video and the accompanying article in The Scientist:
Now Showing: RNA Activation
RNA is supposed to silence genes, not boost gene expression. So why are scientists seeing just that?
Elie Dolgin
The Scientist Vol. 23 Issue 5 p. 34 May 2009
Here's the video:

[If you don't see the video viewer in your newsletter or feed version of this article, please go to The A&P Professor blog site to view it. Want to learn how to embed YouTube videos in your blog, website, or Powerpoint? Check it out at The A&P Professor website.]

Winking Skull

Looking for a FREE web-based anatomy exploration for you or your students? Try the Winking Skull.

Created by the publisher Thieme to accompany their Atlas of Anatomy, this web-based tool is FREE for any user . . . even if you don't have the book. Of course, if do have the book (with an included access code), then you'll have access to more features than in the free version.

But as I mentioned on my blog for A&P students, The A&P Student, last week . . . the free version is pretty good, even without the extra "PLUS" features. Oh, I almost forgot this . . . if you want to use all the features of the free version, you have to sign up for a free user account.

You can navigate to different regions of the body, and from there click on any of the thumbnails of detailed anatomical art. Once you arrive at a piece of art, you can view it WITH LABELS or WITHOUT LABELS . . . a useful feature for self-quizzing or when using this resource in class to supplement the images in your presentation or while helping students in lab.

A little drop-down menu at the top, right corner of the screen allows you to choose between English labels and Latin labels for anatomical structures.

The images can be zoomed in and out. You can also quickly flip to different views of the region you are exploring.

There are also built-in, timed quizzes where the user can set the parameters of the quiz.

Let us know what you think of it!

Check out The A&P Professor website for more FREE stuff!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

RNA interference revisited

Not long ago, I wrote about why I think it's important for A&P students to know about RNA interference (RNAi).

A recent Editor's Choice in the journal Science relates another reason why RNAi is the up-and-coming thing in understanding human structure and function. Scientists recently found that mutations in microRNA genes alter natural gene silencing in a way that produces progressive hearing loss that is inherited.

Thus we can add another reason why our students need to know what RNAi is . . . mistakes in RNAi constitute a mechanism of human disease. Before long, we'll probably find many examples of RNAi-related disease.

RNA Silencing
Paula A. Kiberstis
Science 24 April 2009 Vol. 324
[Editor's Choice summary; includes nice image]

An ENU-induced mutation of miR-96 associated with progressive hearing loss in mice
Morag Lewis, et al.
Nature Genetics 41, 614 - 618 (2009)
Published online: 12 April 2009 | doi:10.1038/ng.369
[Original research behind the summary.]
Mutations in the seed region of human miR-96 are responsible for nonsyndromic progressive hearing loss
Ángeles Mencía
Nature Genetics 41, 609 - 613 (2009)
Published online: 12 April 2009 | doi:10.1038/ng.355
[Original research behind the summary.]
RNA interference
Kevin Patton
The A&P Professor
[Article summarizing RNAi, why our students need to be aware of it, and links to FREE resources.]

Free renal corpuscle image

This outstanding image of the renal corpuscle was recently featured in Wikimedia Commons, a repository of mostly FREE images you can use for a variety of purposes in your A&P course. Click on this link (or the thumbnail) for the full-sized image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Renal_corpuscle.svg

I can see why this image was featured . . . it's an outstanding piece of art! AND it's especially useful for teaching . . . and for testing! I'm pretty sure that I'll be using this in one (or more) of my online test items.

The source page lists the key for all the structures labeled in the diagram.

I've begun assembling a library of FREE images at The A&P Professor website . . . this image is included in the inaugural library set Urinary Image Library.

If you have additional FREE images that I can add to the libary, send the URL to me (or comment on this post).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Scitable FREE genetics resources

Have you seen Scitable, the FREE website created by Nature Education?

Billed as "a collaborative learning space for science," this site has a rich array of materials you can use for a variety of purposes in an A&P course.

In their own words, Scitable is a rich resource for both students and faculty . . .

Students can use Scitable as a daily resource for term papers, exam prep and lecture follow up to improve class performance. You can ask experts questions on a variety of topics, browse our extensive library of topics, check out our glossary, or connect with like-minded peers to form study groups or take part in discussions.

Faculty can build a free and easily maintained research site for their students. We've created a simple 4-step wizard here, or simply browse our library of articles here. Scitable
provides trusted content from Nature Publishing Group and gives your students a powerful online companion to help them understand and appreciate key scientific concepts.

It seems that Scitable is set to be useful for traditional approaches to education as well as newer, active learning approaches.

As I've said before, genetic principles are quickly becoming core principles of human structure and function . . . and thus have a central place in our A&P curriculum. Scitable promises to be an effective tool in supporting the core of A&P.

Just for kicks, I've set up a "sample" classroom space on the site and selected one of the "course packs" selected by the Nature Education team that applies to human anatomy and physiology. Just go to the URL and join in!

When you set up a site for your students, you would send them the URL of your site (that you set up with a really easy wizard). After setting up your classroom, you get the following hints for using it:
* Invite your students by sending them the URL.
* Assign due-dates to individual articles.
* Post moderator announcements for the whole class.
* Start lively discussions.
* Add more content to your resource list.
Let me know if you use this with your students . . . I'd love to hear about your experience!

NOTE: I had trouble with some features at the site when using Firefox browser. However, using IE 7, everything seemed to work fine.


Here's another free source of videos you may be able to use in your A&P courses . . . it's called TeacherTube and it's sort of like an educational version of YouTube.

In my recent blog article Using YouTube in A&P, I revealed some of the benefits of using YouTube in your course . . . or even creating YouTube videos. Click here to see my own fledgling YouTube channel.

My friend Dave Willmore, one of our distance-learning gurus here at SCC, suggested that I also take a look at TeacherTube. I'm glad I did! Although its not nearly as huge as YouTube, this site has the benefit of being all about teaching and learning. Therefore, the videos are more or less already pre-filtered if you are looking for educational material. You can even select "college" or "secondary" levels as you sift through your search results to get material meaningful for your own students. When users upload their videos, they can also attach support files such as handouts, quizzes, worksheets, etc.

Apparently, the terms of use at TeacherTube are a little more favorable to content owners than are the terms at YouTube . . . but why don't we let our attorneys figure that out for us, eh?

If you find any good demos, tutorials, animations, or other gems at TeacherTube, please post a "comment" on this article with a link to the video . . . share and share alike.

[If you don't see the video viewer in your newsletter or feed version of this article, please go to The A&P Professor blog site to view it. Want to learn how to embed YouTube videos in your blog, website, or Powerpoint? Check it out at The A&P Professor website.]