Inquiro Volumne 10 |2016 cover image
Hands on a laptop

The world looks to scientists to both discover information that explains life and its various phenomena and interpret that information. Scientific discoveries and theories are then considered when developing policies in various areas and at all levels of government. One example of the use of science in policy development at a local level is the fluoridation of water sources in order to prevent tooth decay. The State of Alabama does not mandate fluoridation of all water systems, but rather local governments control fluoridation systems1. A more global example is the creation of the Paris Climate Agreement, which commits governments around the world to using clean sources of energy rather than fossil fuels2. Thus, science affects everyone around the world everyday. But what if science was wrong? What if the data gathered by scientists was not correctly evaluated? Unfortunately, erroneous science is a larger problem than many people realize or would like to admit. This is in large part due to the incorrect evaluation of data.

Girl sitting on couch with a laptop

Do you want to maximize your productivity by increasing your concentration? While the classic study aid is a caffeine buzz for those all-nighters, the demanding university environment has driven many students to find a more intense fix. Students are now turning to illegal usage of prescription pills, such as Adderall and Ritalin, to meet these demands. Surveys show that around 25% of college students use study-enhancing drugs1. They choose these “smart drugs” because of student stories and research evidence which claim that the drugs boost cognitive function and allow a person to study for hours with full concentration1. This is the ultimate goal for many college students: to develop a method to master the information taught in the most effective and efficient manner

Legs of a person walking on a suspended wood bridge in the forest

E. O. Wilson is a veritable legend among biologists, gaining international fame for his scientific efforts as a conservationist, researcher, and writer. He has won two Pulitzer prizes for his books On Human Nature and The Ants, though many consider The Future of Life to be his most personal work. This book is characterized by an impassioned plea of an old soul for the life of his planet, while simultaneously maintaining a constant overtone of wizened astuteness and practicality. In this novel, Wilson address some of the most important and belittled questions of our time, such as, “how can mankind mitigate the damage it has caused to the biosphere yet continue to thrive industrially?” and, “how much is the biosphere actually worth?”

Description, facts, and statistics about telemedicine

Though not a new concept, more recent technological advances is spurring its growth and use in the today's healthcare institutions. This infographic explores what telemedicine is and the impact it may have on the future of medicine.

blackboard with equations

It sometimes seems like there is a pre-medical student everywhere you turn at UAB. Pre-meds are one of the most motivated (and sleep-deprived) groups of students on campus. The pre-med curriculum expects students to be very well-rounded and is not easy by any standard. These students take diverse and often difficult classes including general and organic chemistry, general physics, biology, and English literature. However, from my experience being friends with and tutoring many pre-med students, the subject they seem to dislike most is math—specifically calculus and statistics. One of the most common complaints I hear regarding these fields of math is “Why do I need to learn this? When am I ever going to use this as a doctor?”. I’d like to take the time to answer these questions for all of the pre-meds wondering the same thing, and present an argument for why upper-level math classes (past Calculus I and Statistics) are useful in medicine.

Closeup image of an eye.

The hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is the master clock responsible for controlling circadian rhythms in mammals1. These rhythmic cycles generated by the SCN are entrained to the environmental light/dark cycle via photic signals from intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) expressing the photopigment melanopsin. In addition to their critical role in nonimage-forming vision, ipRGCs also project to the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) to modulate conscious vision, and the pretectal olivary nucleus (PON) to control pupil constriction2, 3, 4. Orexin is a neuropeptide that regulates arousal, wakefulness, and appetite. Orexingeric cells in the posterior hypothalamus receive input from the circadian system5. It has been reported that orexin is present in melanopsin-expressing ipRGCs6, 7. However, most knowledge of these cells has been gained from studies on nocturnal rodents, whose visual systems are distantly related to those of humans and other diurnal primates. Injection of cholera toxin B (CtB), an anterograde axonal tracer, was used to visualize retinal projections in the brain, and anti-orexin antibodies were used to determine if these projections also contained orexin.

DNA sequence.

Genetics in medicine and genetic counseling as a profession are growing quickly with the new era of personalized medicine and the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2000. President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative displays how the scope of genetics is expanding in medicine. As a result, there will be an increased demand for genetic health professionals such as genetic counselors. Undergraduate students with an interest in healthcare may not have an accurate understanding of this field of study. The purpose of this project was to assess the knowledge and awareness of undergraduate students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) about the fields of medical genetics and genetic counseling. Gathering this data was completed through an Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved survey administered to students within the School of Health Professions and the School of Public Health at UAB. The results of this study revealed that the majority of students have little familiarity with genetic counseling and have not completed UAB genetics based courses. This implies that there is a potential gap in the current undergraduate education about genetics and genetic counseling. This information may be useful in improving the education and awareness of undergraduate students with an interest in health professions. Due to the lack of research regarding undergraduate students and their knowledge of genetics, it is difficult to compare the results to other studies. I hope the findings of this survey will serve as a catalyst for further research with a larger sample population in the future.

Strontium titanate is a material of considerable interest for electronic applications. A recent study revealed that strontium titanate (STO) annealed in strontium oxide (SrO) powder exhibits large persistent photoconductivity (PPC) after exposed to sub-bandgap light of 2.9 eV or higher. To better understand this phenomenon a titanium dioxide (TiO2) annealing treatment was applied to STO substrate to see if this property would be exhibited under altered conditions. Using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy, Fe3+ and Cr3+ defects were detected in as-received STO samples. After annealing the samples, Fe3+ defects were not detected in both the SrO and TiO2 annealed samples; moreover, the signal intensity of Cr3+ defect decreased by no more than 20% for both annealed samples. To further study the samples we applied light illumination, also referred to as photo-EPR, by using LEDs and laser diodes that ranged from 1550 to 397 nm. Similar behavior was seen in both the SrO and TiO2 annealed samples in which the Cr3+ signal intensity reduced by at least two orders of magnitude; however, the TiO2 annealed sample did not exhibit this “giant” PPC. These results imply that Cr3+ is not responsible for this novel property. Ongoing studies are necessary to better understand what defect is responsible for this significant change in the electronic properties of STO.

Barefooted depressed man with his head on his knees sitting against a wall.

Depression and pain are commonly experienced by patients with serious illness, such as cancer and heart disease. We conducted a secondary analysis of the UAB Supportive Care and Survivorship Clinic dataset of outpatients with serious illnesses treated from 2012-2016 to determine the relationship between depression severity (measured by the PHQ-9, scaled 0-27) and pain intensity (measured by the Brief Pain Inventory or BPI, scaled 0-10). We found positive correlations between depression total scores and “least”, “worst”, and “pain now” pain individual-item scores. One-way ANOVA and post hoc tests demonstrated that the “least” (p=.009) and “pain now” (p=.027) pain scores were significantly higher in the patients with severe depression compared to those with mild depression. This finding is consistent with other literature describing an association between depression and pain but adds specificity to the relationship between depression severity and pain intensity. Research and practice implications include considering depression severity and pain intensity assessment for effective management of their co-occurrence in patients with serious illness.

doctor holding brain scan results.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease whose contributing factors are not well understood. It is thought that overproduction, the decreased clearance, and the increased deposition of amyloid beta leads to the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Our lab previously found that treatment with monomeric D3 peptide (an amyloid beta oligomer directed D-enantiomeric peptide) improves cognition and decreases levels of amyloid-beta deposition and inflammation in a double transgenic mouse model.1 This study tests the hypothesis that the ANK6 dipeptide (a D3 dimer) causes a similar decrease in amyloid-beta oligomer deposits in the brains of transgenic mice (Mus musculus) with the Swedish-Dutch-Iowa amyloid precursor protein mutation (APPSwDI), and improves cognition. APPSwDI mice were treated with ANK6 peptide or a saline control, delivered via Alzet minipumps surgically inserted beneath the peritoneal layers, for four weeks. Behavioral tests including the open field test, the zero maze test, the object recognition test, the smell test, and the Morris water maze were performed in order to study spatial learning and memory and anxiety in the mice. Immunohistochemistry was performed to identify changes in levels of inflammation and amyloid-beta deposition. No significant reductions in amyloid-beta plaques or GFAP+ cells were shown, but there was a significant improvement in the cognitive abilities of ANK6 treated mice compared to the control, as indicated by significant improved learning and memory during the Morris water maze (p ≤ 0.05; *p=0.001673). We conclude so far from this study that D3 dimers do not reduce amyloid-beta oligomer deposits; however, they do improve cognition. The fact that ANK6 dipeptide dimers improve cognition in Alzheimer’s disease model mice is encouraging as these dimers have the potential to also improve cognition in human Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Illustration of man in psychedelic state

Psychedelic drug research has been a controversial topic throughout the past several decades. Often times, these so called “psychedelics” are associated with the counter cultural revolution of the 1960’s and the subsequent war on drugs. That being said, psychedelics were not born into the counter-culture, but rather the counter-culture absorbed the drug into its anti-establishment message. The inception of psychedelic research began with Dr. Arthur Heffter, who was the first “Western” doctor to analyze the primary alkaloids in the traditional religious sacrament, Peyote cactus. Since then, much has been learned of psychedelics and their effects. Psychedelics provide deep spiritual experiences for their consumers. A psychedelic such as Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) elicits feelings of insight and epiphany. LSD can also provide feelings of connectedness and dissolution of boundaries between ones-self and the environment around them. In modern day, psychedelic research has resurged for a variety of applications including more developed techniques for understanding medical and therapeutic treatment. Psychedelics, despite the preconceived notions associated with them, could potentially offer a wide array of therapeutic uses in psychology and psychiatry. Breakthroughs with imaging techniques, along with a better understanding of the therapeutic actions of these substances, have opened the door to a more complete understanding of a complex topic. Today, psychedelic research is taking place all over the globe, and this review aims to discuss its promising clinical applications.