Taste of Science: Big Human Data

Big tech companies have been in the spotlight with news coverage of how our personal data has been used or abused–and for many people, the lack of privacy is an unavoidable reality. But tech companies aren’t the only ones interested in obtaining our personal information. Health researchers and data scientists are looking to the widespread sharing of personal data as an opportunity to learn more about genetics, diseases, and overall personal health.

Big Human Data,” the first taste of science event of the year, welcomed two experts on the topic: Hannah Bayer, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Data Cubed, and Wendy Chung, Ph.D., director of clinical research at the Simons Foundation.

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Hannah Bayer, Ph.D. Photo courtesy of taste of science.

Bayer compared her view of big human data to the laborious, weather-dependent approaches early astronomers used to gain a base understanding of the stars. The practice was revolutionized about 25 years ago, she said, when scientists discovered that bolting a telescope to the ground allowed them to create a massive library of images while the earth was turning. A database including all the black holes in our universe made it easier for scientists to “go in, and just pick out all the black holes, and do your research that way,” she said. This is what turned astronomy into a data science.

“What if we could do that for humanity?” she asked the audience. “What if we could understand what makes us ill, what makes us healthy, what makes us successful … What if we could create a catalogue in just the same way?” Continue reading

A Lot on the Mind: Autism

In the second event hosted by Caveat NYC of a three-part series dedicated to explaining the most misunderstood neurological disorders, the focus was on autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Of the many neurological disorders that affect the world, autism is one of the most familiar. Affecting 1 out of every 59 people, there are characteristics associated with the disorder that seem to be fairly consistent. However, a running theme at last week’s event, “A Lot on the Mind – Understanding Autism with braiNY and Spectrum Magazine,” was that if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism. There is a huge range of behaviors that define the disorder and individuals with autism have their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

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Lisa Shulman, M.D., gives the audience background on autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

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New High School Neuroscience Curriculum

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Image: Shutterstock

A neuroscience curriculum for high school students has found a home on The Franklin Institute’s new website dedicated to the brain. Educators looking to generate excitement about brain science with an eye towards the field’s societal implications can now access the expertly reviewed—and free—resource.

The curriculum, developed jointly by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Neuroscience & Society and The Franklin Institute, is a cohesive blueprint of instructional material designed around teenagers’ everyday decisions as they enter adulthood. The website describes the units as roughly two-week-long sections that can be offered as a semester-long course or as stand-alone components that can be incorporated into existing courses. Continue reading

New Report Finds Current Strategies Insufficient for Preventing the Most Preventable Cause of Mental Illness

Guest blog by Brenda Patoine

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Image: Shutterstock

Childhood maltreatment is recognized as the No. 1 preventable cause of mental illness – and some experts argue, of all stress-related diseases – yet science still has no clear answers for how to best prevent the spiral of neglect and abuse that threatens millions of infants and children in the U.S. alone.

In a report published this week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF), a U.S. Public Health Service committee charged with recommending action to thwart preventable health conditions, conceded that there was “insufficient data” to recommend any particular strategy that has been tested as a means of preventing childhood maltreatment, which encompasses neglect as well as physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. Preventive interventions initiated in primary care focus on preventing maltreatment before it occurs, as opposed to identifying children who are victims of abuse or neglect. Continue reading

How Our Brains Respond to Gratitude

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which means that along with spending time with our families and overeating turkey and side dishes, many of us will think at least a little bit about what we are thankful for in our lives. Whether that be our aforementioned families, our careers, our educations, or something more tangible such as the discounted items we can buy on Black Friday, the holiday unofficially requires us to gives thanks for something before we dive into the mashed potatoes. Is there, however, something more to giving thanks than simply assuaging grandma at the dinner table?

As it turns out, there is. Studying the effects of gratitude on the brain is nothing new–studies on the topic seem to have begun in the early 2000s–and the results appear to remain consistent regardless of the methodology used. In short, having gratitude has positive effects on us psychologically and neurologically, so we should probably try to be more thankful throughout the year instead of waiting for November. Continue reading

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