Student Post: Imagining Tennis

I read an interesting article in the New Yorker the other day. It followed the research of neuroscientist Adrian Owen and his work on patients in vegetative states. In some patients, when he gave the verbal command to “imagine you are playing tennis,” their brain regions lit up on an fMRI indistinguishably from your average walking, talking, and recognizably conscious human being asked to perform the same task. Moreover, the patients were able to sustain this activity (so presumably the tennis imagination) for over thirty seconds suggesting some degree of focus.

The article goes on to discuss implications. It points out that Owen only found a few patients in vegetative states with this ability. Others were not at all responsive. It was a pretty good indication that the patients who were able to follow his command had some sort of retention of cognition that others did not. However, they were not diagnosed incorrectly. The question then becomes: if the criteria by which physicians diagnose vegetative states applied to these patients, do we need a better test?

Student Post: More on Gender Dominance–An Evolutionary Psychological Approach

I have some thoughts on the topic of male and female dominance brought up by Blue_Expo.

In fact, it was the topic of a paper for my Evolution of Human Aggression class…

Females are under some different sexual selection pressures than males stemming from the fact that they are the limited sex. They can only produce a finite number of offspring and are heavily invested in their progeny. Perhaps this is the basis for the female dominance social hierarchies observed in bonobos (Parish et al., 1994) and hyenas (Jenks, 1995). In both these systems, offspring inherit their mother’s rank and a mother is willing to engage in physical combat or establish social coalitions designed to elevate their offspring in rank. Because rank determined ability to procure resources, survive and reproduce, and females had high parental investment, there was sufficient evolutionary pressure for females to evolve the capacity to establish dominance even over males on their offsprings’ behalf.

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Student Post: The BrainGate Neural Interface System

As I pondered what to post about on Pharyngula this week my thoughts immediately turned to football *wink* …which got me thinking spinal cord injuries (and no… not in the context of malice toward Drew Brees), which got me thinking of last year’s Distinguished Alumni speaker, physiatrist (and poet!) Jon Mukland ’80.

Dr. Mukland presented his research on the development of the BrainGate Neural Interface System– a program designed to interface victims of spinal cord injury with a computer. A silicon chip implanted in the motor cortex uses feedback from hundreds of probes to map electrical activity patterns associated with certain motor tasks. For example, if the patient is asked to imagine they are moving a computer screen cursor to the left, the implant records the pattern of electrical activity associated with that function. A computer is programed to interpret that activity and move the cursor left when it receives that input again. This is duplicated for other kinds of movement. The result is that a the patient is able to manipulate a computer cursor with his or her mind.

Dr. Mukland went on the describe the benefits of this system. The ability to manipulate a cursor independently, even in limited ways, opens up a host of quality of life opportunities for paralysis victims. Computer programs could be designed to allow patients to turn on appliances, use the internet, or communicate electronically. As the technology improves, the implications for improved quality of life increase dramatically.

I’ve never been so proud to be a UMMer :)

An Open Letter to New Orleans Quarter Back, Drew Brees.

Dear Drew Brees,
As your fantasy football owner and a concerned fan, I respectfully request that you stop sucking. Your very manhood may depend on it. According to evolutionary psychologist David M, Buss, it is a well-documented phenomenon that testosterone levels in males fluctuate with the outcome of sporting events. Winners experience a boost of testosterone and mood while losers of athletic competition experience a decrease of testosterone. No wonder you feel like this:

So you’re now 0-3, you threw about four too many interceptions Monday night, and let’s be honest. That fumble in the fourth quarter? You just dropped it didn’t you. It looks like you’ve had a lot of testosterone-dropping moments this season, and I have to warn you: If you continue on this painful trajectory, you could wake up one morning to find you’ve developed female secondary characteristics. You’ll never be able to enter a locker room again! Ok… I’m kidding about the breasts, but if you won’t step it up for you, do it for your fans. Studies show that male sports fans experience similar drops in testosterone after their team suffers a loss. Hasn’t New Orleans suffered enough loss in Hurricane Katrina? It’s time to play some really football.

A Friend.

Here I go…

… like a lamb to the slaughter.

I guess I’m one of the last of PZ’s sacrificial students. As you may have gathered from my clever alias my name is Katie and I’m a senior biology major. I’ve actually known PZ for a number of years–I’m a Morris native and went to high school with his son, Connlann. When I was thirteen I met Connlann in an upper level math class (something esoteric called “algebra”) and learned that Connlann’s dad was a biologist (cool!) and an atheist (he puts people to sleep before surgery??) I soon adopted him as my personal biological encyclopedia and would pester PZ with questions of science any chance I got. When I decided to stay in Morris for college, PZ became my academic advisor and I’ve been harassing him for knowledge ever since.

This year I am applying to medical school and busy preparing my senior seminar on hypothermic treatments in preserving brain cells in cardiac arrest patients. This new treatment is already in use in some hospitals across the country and completely revolutionizing the way we manage cardiac arrest victims. If you’ve come across studies on this in the literature, I’d appreciate your input. I’m especially interested in research on the way brain cells die. Apparently cells that have been oxygen deprived commit apoptosis even after re-oxygenation. For some reason, induced hypothermia after or during resuscitation increases brain cell viability.

Well that’s all I’ve got. Now go ahead. Eviscerate me (bleat!).