Monday, March 21, 2011

Pregnancy - 15 Things Women Wish she Knew the First Time Around

After three pregnancies and three wonderful baby girls, I have (let's hope) learned a few things. 

Ok, I’ll admit it: growing up, I was one of those girls who used to stick a pillow under her shirt and look in the mirror, day dreaming of the day I’d become a mommy. I always knew that I wanted kids, and looked forward to the day when that dream would become a reality. When I was newly pregnant with our first daughter, I was on cloud nine. I loved thinking, reading, and talking about my pregnancy. Despite my euphoric haze, though, there are a few things I wish I had known at the time:

  1. Don’t worry so much. In general. This is a broad suggestion, but I really wish I had not worried so much. If you had a beer the night before you found out you’re pregnant, the baby is fine. If you ate three hot dogs and then read that pregnant women shouldn’t eat hot dogs, make a mental note and move on. And don’t worry about being a good mom – you’ll be just fine.
  2. Morning sickness will probably not be what you expect. I was shocked, and convinced I had the flu the first week (even though I knew I was pregnant). Just remember that if it hits you hard, it will pass. Also, you may be one of the lucky ones who don’t get it, or who feel mildly queasy and that’s it. Just don’t set up expectations, like expecting to only get sick in the morning, or thinking that it ends right at 12 weeks. Let your body do what it’s going to do, and just hang in there!
  3. Buy frozen foods and a lot of convenience food before you start feeling nauseous. I wish I had done this – we would have saved a ton of money on take-out and fast food! You may be fine and keep cooking as usual, but I was way too sick to stand the smell of raw meat, doing dishes, or anything else that triggered my gag reflex. Buy frozen lasagna, frozen dinners, and lots of snack stuff. Also stock up on paper plates. Having things on hand will be very helpful when you are either feeling too tired or too sick to cook.
  4. If you take everyone’s advice too seriously, you’ll make yourself miserable. Every one has an opinion, and over the course of your pregnancy, you are going to hear tons of stories, lots of warnings, and plenty of advice. Take it all with a grain of salt – and don’t let it stress you out. Society feels the responsibility to educate and advise pregnant women on just about everything, but it often just causes more stress. Let it roll off of your back.
  5. Don’t be in a rush to wear maternity clothes. I was so excited during my first pregnancy to finally “look pregnant,” I rushed into maternity clothes. I could have gone another month or so, but I was just too excited. Trust me – you will have plenty of time to wear those clothes (and you’ll get sick of them), so enjoy your regular clothes while you still can.
  6. Invest in a belly band. This will extend the life of your pre-pregnancy pants, and will help you with your clothing options. These wonderful things are nice, stretchy bands that enable you to walk around with your pants unzipped, while still held up in place with a nice band covering the zipper. (An added benefit of these bands – they help you get back into your old jeans after having the baby, when you are still carrying some baby weight in your middle.)
  7. Don’t obsess about your pregnancy. When people ask you how you are feeling, try not to go into a monologue about how you threw up yesterday, need to pee every hour, and then give them a long list of all the baby names you are considering. When it comes down to it, most people are asking to be polite. It’s completely normal to want to gush about your pregnancy, but just remember that non-pregnant people may not be as interested as you are in certain things. I was bad about that when I was pregnant with my first, so I can completely understand this – and I wish I had realized it at the time. It’s better to save the gory details for a pregnancy journal, your mom, or your best friend.
  8. A regular soda here and there is fine. Dr. Pepper helped me make it through the end of my first trimester – I wish I had lightened up earlier on. Sure, you aren’t supposed to have tons of caffeine – but a smidge here and there won’t hurt.
  9. Avoid saying, “I will never do that!” Before you actually become a parent, you just don’t know. You may end up co-sleeping with your baby, deciding to get the epidural, or stop nursing after a couple of months. Keep an open mind, and don’t set yourself up for a disappointment.
  10. Don’t feel bad about sleeping in. Sleep while you can. Trust me.
  11. Buy at least one or two fabulous nursing bras. I made the mistake of buying cheap nursing bras when I was still pregnant with my first baby, thinking it didn’t matter. Well, think again. You will need a lot of support during those first few months. I am in love with Bravado bras, because (a) they are crazy comfy, (b) you can sleep in them, and (c) these bras come in many patterns and colors. I have four of the “original nursing bras” and I love them. My favorite is the leopard print – just because you’re nursing doesn’t mean you can’t still be hot!
  12. Be clear about what you want before and after labor, but don’t come up with an elaborate birth plan that spells out exactly how you want it to go. Labor and delivery are full of surprises, so don’t set yourself up thinking it will go a certain way. Do be clear on what you want regarding pain meds, who is allowed in the room with you, the doc’s policy on episiotomies, etc.
  13. You don’t need as much as you think. I was so OCD when I was pregnant. I worried way too much about “getting ready” for the baby, and looking back, I realize now it was bit overboard. When it comes down to it, Target will still exist after you arrive home from the hospital. You husband can go out and buy a bouncy seat or some extra blankets when you are resting at home with the baby, so don’t worry about having everything just right.
  14. Let the hospital nursery take the baby overnight. They will still bring your baby in to nurse during the night, but at least you’ll get some sleep. We chose to “room in” with our first baby, because I was concerned that I’d look bad if I sent her to the nursery. Big mistake. Let the nurses take care of the baby while you have the opportunity – you will have plenty of sleepless nights once you arrive home.
  15. Above all, I wish I had known how much I’d love my kids. I know this sounds cheesy, but it’s true. You have absolutely no idea how much you are going to fall in love with your children until you are staring into their tiny faces at 5am, counting their eyelashes. Once you realize how much you love that little person you saw on the ultrasound screen, it blows your mind. Motherhood is out of this world. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the months leading up to it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Robots Swim Through Eyes To Give Treatment

The latest in eye treatment is just around the corner. A new tiny robot capable of being steered through your eye can deliver drugs or maybe even do micro-surgery. Thanks to Michael Kummer and his team at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems (IRIS), this tech may be available to the public in a short time.
Some time back, researchers at North Carolin State University were able to make micro-bots do U-turns in a fluid on command, and another group developed one capable of clearing blood clots in the blood vessels in the eye. Now, Kumer has brought his similar technology even further. Kumer, a Mechanical Engineer from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) is a specialist in robotics and thermodynamics in emerging technologies, and his research involves the precision control of microbots using magnetic fields.
Kumer's robots are injected into the eye via needle and are electro-magnetically controlled to eliminate the need for on-board fuel. the team hopes that the tiny robots will be able to help treat macular degeneration injecting a drug slowly over a period of months. So far the robots have only been tested on pig's eyes from cadavers but they plan to test it on living animals soon.
With any luck, not only will the little robots be able to help with macular degeneration, but also with other eye problems and surgeries. Maybe they're even be able to use the robots in other parts of the body like removing a blood clot deep in the heart.

New Biochip Gives Blood Test Results in Minutes

A new breakthrough in microfluidics could lead to autonomous blood analysis chips that will be able to diagnose diseases in mere minutes.
The device, called SIMBAS, was developed by a team of researchers from Dublin City Univerisity in Ireland, Universidad de Valparaiso Chile, and the Bay area's own University of California, Berkeley. 'SIMBAS' stands for 'Self-powered Integrated Microfluidic Blood Analysis System', and requires no extra tubing in order to diagnose diseases.
The lack of extra components is especially important, as it helps keep the chip "small, portable, and cheap," according to UC Berkeley post-doctoral researcher in bioengineering, Ivan Dimov. "The dream of a true lab-on-a-chip has been around for awhile, but most systems developed thus far have not been truly autonomous."
The chips will eventually be able to be used by workers in the field to diagnose diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis in a matter of minutes. The biochip is made of plastic and features five "inlets" on which the blood is dropped. The heavier red blood and white blood cells settle to the bottom of the trenches, and the blood moves through the chip in a "degas-driven" flow:
"For degas-driven flow, air molecules inside the porous polymeric device are removed by placing the device in a vacuum-sealed package. When the seal is broken, the device is brought to atmospheric conditions, and air molecules are reabsorbed into the device material. This generates a pressure difference, which drives the blood fluid flow in the chip."
According to the researchers, they were able to capture more than 99 percent of the blood cells by separating the blood from plasma using this method. The team demonstrated its chip's ability by placing a 5-microliter sample of blood on the chip's inlets and receiving a read out of biotin levels in just 10 minutes.
"Imagine if you had something as cheap and as easy to use as a pregnancy test, but that could quickly diagnose HIV and TB," said UC Berkeley grad student Benjamin Ross.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Scientists Create Cell Assembly Line: New Technology Synthesizes Cellular Structures from Simple Starting Materials

Borrowing a page from modern manufacturing, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have built a microscopic assembly line that mass produces synthetic cell-like compartments.
The new computer-controlled system represents a technological leap forward in the race to create the complex membrane structures of biological cells from simple chemical starting materials.
"Biology is full of synthetic targets that have inspired chemists for more than a century," said Brian Paegel, Scripps Research assistant professor and lead author of a new study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. "The lipid membrane assemblies of cells and their organelles pose a daunting challenge to the chemist who wants to synthesize these structures with the same rational approaches used in the preparation of small molecules."
While most cellular components such as genes or proteins are easily prepared in the laboratory, little has been done to develop a method of synthesizing cell membranes in a uniform, automated way. Current approaches are capricious in nature, yielding complex mixtures of products and inefficient cargo loading into the resultant cell-like structures.
The new technology transforms the previously difficult synthesis of cell membranes into a controlled process, customizable over a range of cell sizes, and highly efficient in terms of cargo encapsulation.
The membrane that surrounds all cells, organelles and vesicles -- small subcellular compartments -- consists of a phospholipid bilayer that serves as a barrier, separating an internal space from the external medium.
The new process creates a laboratory version of this bilayer that is formed into small, cell-sized compartments.
How It Works
"The assembly-line process is simple and, from a chemistry standpoint, mechanistically clear," said Sandro Matosevic, research associate and co-author of the study.
A microfluidic circuit generates water droplets in lipid-containing oil. The lipid-coated droplets travel down one branch of a Y-shaped circuit and merge with a second water stream at the Y-junction. The combined flows of droplets in oil and water travel in parallel streams toward a triangular guidepost.
Then, the triangular guide diverts the lipid-coated droplets into the parallel water stream as a wing dam might divert a line of small boats into another part of a river. As the droplets cross the oil-water interface, a second layer of lipids deposits on the droplet, forming a bilayer.
The end result is a continuous stream of uniformly shaped cell-like compartments.
The newly created vesicles range from 20 to 70 micrometers in diameter -- from about the size of a skin cell to that of a human hair. The entire circuit fits on a glass chip roughly the size of a poker chip.
The researchers also tested the synthetic bilayers for their ability to house a prototypical membrane protein. The proteins correctly inserted into the synthetic membrane, proving that they resemble membranes found in biological cells.
"Membranes and compartmentalization are ubiquitous themes in biology," noted Paegel. "We are constructing these synthetic systems to understand why compartmentalized chemistry is a hallmark of life, and how it might be leveraged in therapeutic delivery."
Source: daily science web

New Light-Sensing Mechanism Found in Neurons

A UC Irvine research team led by Todd C. Holmes has discovered a second form of phototransduction light sensing in cells that is derived from vitamin B2. This discovery may reveal new information about cellular processes controlled by light.
For more than 100 years, it had been believed that the photo transduction process was solely based on a chemical derived from vitamin A called retinal. Photo transduction is the conversion of light signals into electrical signals in photo receptive neurons and underlies both image-forming and non-image-forming light sensing.
In discovering this new light-sensing phototransduction mechanism, the UCI scientists found that phototransduction can also be mediated by a protein called cryptochrome, which uses a B2 vitamin chemical derivative for light sensing. Cryptochromes are blue-light photoreceptors found in circadian and arousal neurons that regulate slow biochemical processes, but this is the first time they have been linked to rapid phototransduction.
Their work appears March 3 on online Express site for the journal Science.
"This is totally novel mechanism that does not depend on retinal," said Holmes, a professor of physiology & biophysics. "This discovery opens whole new technology opportunities for adapting light-sensing proteins to drive medically relevant cellular activities."
This basic science breakthrough -- "which literally and figuratively came 'out of the blue,'" Holmes said -- has implications in the fast-growing field of optogenetics. Optogenetics combines optical and genetic research techniques to probe neural circuits at the high speeds needed to understand brain information processing. In one area, it is being used to understand how treatments such as deep brain massage can aid people with neuro degenerative diseases.
Holmes' team found that cryptochrome mediates phototransduction directly in fruit fly circadian and arousal neurons in response to blue-light wavelengths. The researchers also found that they could genetically express cryptochrome in neurons that are not ordinarily electrically responsive to light to make them light responsive.
Keri Fogel, Kelly Parson and Nicole Dahm of UCI contributed to the study, which received National Institutes of Health support.
Source: Daily Science web

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

More Than 4,000 Components of Blood Chemistry Listed

After three years of exhaustive analysis led by a University of Alberta researcher, the list of known compounds in human blood has exploded from just a handful to more than 4,000.
"Right now a medical doctor analyzing the blood of an ailing patient looks at something like 10 to 20 chemicals," said University of Alberta biochemist David Wishart. "We've identified 4,229 blood chemicals that doctors can potentially look at to diagnose and treat health problems."

Blood chemicals, or metabolites, are routinely analyzed by doctors to diagnose conditions such as diabetes and kidney failure. Wishart says the new research opens up the possibility of diagnosing hundreds of other diseases that are characterized by an imbalance in blood chemistry.
Wishart led more than 20 researchers at six different institutions using modern technology to validate past research, and the team also conducted its own lab experiments to break new ground on the content of human-blood chemistry.
"This is the most complete chemical characterization of blood ever done," said Wishart. "We now know the normal values of all the detectable chemicals in blood. Doctors can use these measurements as a reference point for monitoring a patient's current and even future health."
Wishart says blood chemicals are the "canary in the coal mine," for catching the first signs of an oncoming medical problem. "The blood chemistry is the first thing to change when a person is developing a dangerous condition like high cholesterol."
The database created by Wishart and his team is open access, meaning anyone can log on and find the expanded list of blood chemicals. Wishart says doctors can now tap into the collected wisdom of hundreds of blood-research projects done in the past by researchers all over the world. "With this new database doctors can now link a specific abnormality in hundreds of different blood chemicals with a patient's specific medical problem," said Wishart.
Wishart believes the adoption of his research will happen slowly, with hospitals incorporating new search protocols and equipment for a few hundred of the more than 4,000 blood-chemistry markers identified by Wishart and his colleagues.
"People have being studying blood for more than 100 years," said Wishart. "By combining research from the past with our new findings we have moved the science of blood chemistry from a keyhole view of the world to a giant picture window."
The research was published some week in the journal PLoS One

Parts of Brain Can Switch Functions: In People Born Blind, Brain Regions That Usually Process Vision Can Tackle Language

When your brain encounters sensory stimuli, such as the scent of your morning coffee or the sound of a honking car, that input gets shuttled to the appropriate brain region for analysis. The coffee aroma goes to the olfactory cortex, while sounds are processed in the auditory cortex.
That division of labor suggests that the brain's structure follows a predetermined, genetic blueprint. However, evidence is mounting that brain regions can take over functions they were not genetically destined to perform. In a landmark 1996 study of people blinded early in life, neuroscientists showed that the visual cortex could participate in a nonvisual function -- reading Braille.
Now, a study from MIT neuroscientists shows that in individuals born blind, parts of the visual cortex are recruited for language processing. The finding suggests that the visual cortex can dramatically change its function -- from visual processing to language -- and it also appears to overturn the idea that language processing can only occur in highly specialized brain regions that are genetically programmed for language tasks.
"Your brain is not a prepackaged kind of thing. It doesn't develop along a fixed trajectory, rather, it's a self-building toolkit. The building process is profoundly influenced by the experiences you have during your development," says Marina Bedny, an MIT postdoctoral associate in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and lead author of the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Feb. 28.
Flexible connections
For more than a century, neuroscientists have known that two specialized brain regions -- called Broca's area and Wernicke's area -- are necessary to produce and understand language, respectively. Those areas are thought to have intrinsic properties, such as specific internal arrangement of cells and connectivity with other brain regions, which make them uniquely suited to process language.
Other functions -- including vision and hearing -- also have distinct processing centers in the sensory cortices. However, there appears to be some flexibility in assigning brain functions. Previous studies in animals (in the laboratory of Mriganka Sur, MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences) have shown that sensory brain regions can process information from a different sense if input is rewired to them surgically early in life. For example, connecting the eyes to the auditory cortex can provoke that brain region to process images instead of sounds.
Until now, no such evidence existed for flexibility in language processing. Previous studies of congenitally blind people had shown some activity in the left visual cortex of blind subjects during some verbal tasks, such as reading Braille, but no one had shown that this might indicate full-fledged language processing.
Bedny and her colleagues, including senior author Rebecca Saxe, assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, set out to investigate whether visual brain regions in blind people might be involved in more complex language tasks, such as processing sentence structure and analyzing word meanings.
To do that, the researchers scanned blind subjects (using functional magnetic resonance imaging) as they performed a sentence comprehension task. The researchers hypothesized that if the visual cortex was involved in language processing, those brain areas should show the same sensitivity to linguistic information as classic language areas such as Broca's and Wernicke's areas.
They found that was indeed the case -- visual brain regions were sensitive to sentence structure and word meanings in the same way as classic language regions, Bedny says. "The idea that these brain regions could go from vision to language is just crazy," she says. "It suggests that the intrinsic function of a brain area is constrained only loosely, and that experience can have really a big impact on the function of a piece of brain tissue."
Bedny notes that the research does not refute the idea that the human brain needs Broca's and Wernicke's areas for language. "We haven't shown that every possible part of language can be supported by this part of the brain [the visual cortex]. It just suggests that a part of the brain can participate in language processing without having evolved to do so," she says.
One unanswered question is why the visual cortex would be recruited for language processing, when the language processing areas of blind people already function normally. According to Bedny, it may be the result of a natural redistribution of tasks during brain development.
"As these brain functions are getting parceled out, the visual cortex isn't getting its typical function, which is to do vision. And so it enters this competitive game of who's going to do what. The whole developmental dynamic has changed," she says.
This study, combined with other studies of blind people, suggest that different parts of the visual cortex get divvied up for different functions during development, Bedny says. A subset of (left-brain) visual areas appears to be involved in language, including the left primary visual cortex.
It's possible that this redistribution gives blind people an advantage in language processing. The researchers are planning follow-up work in which they will study whether blind people perform better than sighted people in complex language tasks such as parsing complicated sentences or performing language tests while being distracted.
The researchers are also working to pinpoint more precisely the visual cortex's role in language processing, and they are studying blind children to figure out when during development the visual cortex starts processing language.