Hello BMSA Readers! Hope everyone has had a great start to their second semester. To get the ball rolling, here is January’s What We’re Reading, featuring articles procured by the BMSA Communications team. Feel free to let us know what you think of this series by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
New tech offers hope for spinal cord injuries
Contributor Sabrina Ke
For most people, the diagnosis of a spinal cord injury is a devastating blow, and the prospect of what life will be like afterwards may appear rather dim. However, researchers are continuously developing innovative treatment techniques with the help of technology to improve the lives of those suffering from spinal cord injuries. Most recently, a study conducted at the University of Washington involving participants with limited to no mobility due to spinal cord injuries showed great promise. The researchers created a non-surgical treatment plan involving patches that deliver electrical pulses to the affected areas on the participant’s bodies, accompanied by intensive physical therapy. The result was that all participants showed not only improved mobility, but were also able to maintain the improvements after treatment. The patches stimulate nerves in the injured areas, which when used in combination with physical therapy, produced better results than physical therapy alone without the use of electrical pulses. This new method of treatment pushes the boundary of how much normalcy can be regained in the lives of those who have lost some ability to function independently due to their injuries. Although there may not be a cure for spinal cord damage yet, these new treatments provide the possibility of improved quality of life for patients.
Should children get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Contributor Si-Cheng Dai
The short answer to the question is yes. The real question though, is how feasible it is for children to get the vaccine and how this treatment will be delivered. First of all, we must define the term “children.” Pfizer vaccination trials included tests on those aged 16 and above, so a tentative definition is that children are individuals under 16. Now, vaccinations for children would mean herd immunity; with youth comprising 20% of the world’s population, leaving them unvaccinated would not allow this phenomenon to occur. In addition, children with pre-existing conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 need to be vaccinated, and emergency authorization may be able to be granted for this purpose. To ensure child vaccination occurs, however, the public must be in agreement. It has been hard for companies to gather substantial numbers of adolescents for clinical trials, as consent by parents is under 20%. Parents who did enroll their children, however, were also more likely to enroll in a trial themselves. Questions still remain: what is the best method of distribution — a school system, perhaps? Will vaccinations be mandatory? These questions must soon be addressed as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines ramps up.
What psychology of mass mobilization can tell us about the Capitol riot
Contributor Claire Millard
Political scientist Michael Bang Petersen shed new light on the recent Capitol riot from the perspective of evolutionary history and how it has shaped the way that modern citizens think in mass politics. At the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington DC, supporters stormed the Capitol to protest the certification of the 2020 election results by Congress, however, why and how a riot came to be could stem from a mass psychological phenomenon, rather than a place of fear or individual anger. Petersen explains that groups or societies can be stable even if large minority segments are present within them, as the groups generally have a sense of shared fate and a common interest in the outcome. This stability, however, can be quickly lost if a sudden coordination is achieved, and Trump seems to know all the right psychological buttons to press to do this. Being creatures of evolutionary advancement, there should be limits on the extent to which we can be manipulated by others. Otherwise, we would be at a severe evolutionary fitness disadvantage, but what exactly is that limit, and how has Trump managed to utilize this to create mass coordination?
Canadians reporting more anxiety and depression than ever before, poll finds
Contributor Saniyah Qureshi
Following the rise in cases and the restrictions in-effect nationwide, a poll conducted by
MHRC (Mental Health Research Canada) reported high levels of citizens suffering from depression and anxiety. It’s no surprise that social isolation caused by restrictions have negatively impacted people’s mental health and well-being. Dr. David Dozios shared his concern about Canadians not receiving mental health support at the same rate when compared to times before the pandemic. The poll recorded 22% of the 2,761 respondents had been recently diagnosed with depression. Both depression and anxiety levels were highest reported in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Interestingly enough, MHRC discovered a correlation between poor mental health and reluctance towards receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Pollara Strategic Insights found that Canada was ranked high among the saddest and most anxious citizens in the world. However, many are seeing light at the end of this tunnel, as 65% of participants stated “they remain highly resilient to challenges like COVID-19.” For anyone dealing with mental health issues and struggling to reach out for help, there are many resources here to help you (linked below in this article).
Another Way to Protect against COVID beyond Masking and Social Distancing
Contributor Ronnie Du
According to researchers at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the School of Medicine (of Harvard and Yale, respectively) and Virginia Tech, maintaining a relative humidity of 40–60 percent indoors could be an effective preventative measure to reduce your chances of contracting COVID-19. In dry air, the human body secretes less mucous, and the cilia in the lungs aren’t beating in the proper direction or at a sufficiently fast rate. This is an issue, especially in the winter, when the humidity of our homes can plummet down to 20 percent. Consequently, the dryness hampers our first line of defense against the coronavirus, and a greater number of virus particles are able to infiltrate deep into our lungs instead of being trapped and cleared.
Research from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, although not yet peer-reviewed, also demonstrates that the coronavirus grows fastest when the humidity is close to 60 percent. This study is also in agreement with previous work, which has shown that other viruses decay at a greater rate when the relative humidity is between 40 and 60 percent.
By now, most of us are likely familiar with the concept of respiratory droplets and aerosols—small to microscopic droplets that we transmit into the air when we exhale. As relative humidity decreases, these droplets evaporate at faster rates, resulting in increasingly small particles, which are capable of drifting far deeper into your respiratory tract.
Therefore, as the lockdown and snowy weather leaves us increasingly confined to our homes, it may be time to consider getting a portable humidifier or perhaps taking long hot showers. It may, after all, save your life.
Designer cytokine makes paralyzed mice walk again
Contributor Nicole Lagace
German scientists from Ruhr University Bochum have restored the ability to walk in paralyzed mice. They achieved this by using an engineered protein called hyper-interleukin-6 (hIL-6), which is a non-naturally occurring cytokine that had previously been shown to promote neuronal regeneration in the visual system. The team of scientists designed a study that introduced hIL-6 into sensorimotor cortex neurons to test for the stimulation of neuronal regeneration. To introduce this designer cytokine into the brain, viral vector gene therapy was used to deliver a hIL-6 gene into the neurons. The viral vector was injected into the sensorimotor cortex, and the neurons that took up the gene began to produce hIL-6. Further, these neurons transported the molecule to nearby neurons in other related brain areas. The transport of this regenerative cytokine reached the motor neurons in the spinal cord, where it promoted axonal regeneration in the severed neurons. After two to three weeks of treatment, the paralyzed mice regained the ability to walk, effectively treating their paraplegia. This is the first time neuronal regeneration has been used to restore motor function in animals, and may be the first step toward developing a treatment suitable for humans. Nonetheless, this is an important discovery in the field of regenerative medicine that has promising applications for treating disease in the years to come.