Today OZY’s Presidential Daily Brief comes from guest curator, Dr. Lloyd B. Minor, dean of Stanford University’s School of Medicine. A professor of otolaryngology, bioengineering and neurobiology, Dean Minor and his colleagues at Stanford Medicine are at the cutting edge of biomedical innovation. In today’s brief, he points us to some of the hottest topics in medicine and the science of human behavior — plus, he tells us what else keeps a super scientist and surgeon interested in his off time. Read on!
The Presidential Daily Brief
Our knowledge of the genome-based determinants of health and disease has surged over the past decade. We’re now unearthing clues indicating that other factors, such as environmental effects, can lead to chemical modifications of DNA (epigenetic modifications) that may change the information coming from the genome — with sobering implications. Studies in mice have shown that trauma in pregnancy — from famine to stress — can impact the health of grandchildren.
We used to trace our ancestry from birth records and family trees. Now, genealogy has gone molecular. Thanks to large-scale genetic analysis, DNA ancestry testing has taken off, with companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com testing hundreds of thousands of customers. Relatively inexpensive analyses from small samples of blood or saliva can reveal enormous amounts of information about our genetic lineage. But can we handle the copious information, and the truth, about our ancestry? Interpretation of the findings and enhanced literacy of DNA test results will be key in the future.
In a disheartening turn of events, a 4-year-old Mississippi girl thought to have been cured of HIV as an infant has tested positive for the virus. But it’s important to remember that HIV is a chronic illness that is successfully managed in most people — a huge improvement from the clinical outcomes just a few decades ago. There’s every reason to hope and expect this progress to continue.
Laboratory testing for disease continues to become faster, cheaper, more accurate and less cumbersome. Early detection, in some cases even before symptoms appear, can lead to enormous improvement in clinical outcomes. This article describes the work of Stanford’s School of Medicine in developing a new microchip for detecting Type 1 diabetes from a few drops of blood that spits out results in two hours — and costs just $20 to produce.
What are the roots of creativity, and why do so many highly creative people also suffer from mental illness? As explained in this engrossing feature, these are some of the questions scientists are investigating through modern brain-imaging techniques, such as functional MRI and positron-emission tomography, combined with cognitive and behavioral analyses. Early findings suggest that the brains of highly creative individuals have active association cortices, even during periods of rest, and both the individuals and their relatives suffer higher rates of mood disorders and mental illness.
Even the way we park our cars might provide insight into our culture and our need for immediate, versus delayed, gratification. This article notes a strong correlation between reverse, or back-in, parking rates — evidence of a longer-term orientation — and GDP growth rates across six countries, including the U.S. and China. Sure, the correlation may not prove anything, but it’s an intriguing attempt to unravel how culture can influence a nation’s economic performance.
Art is sometimes viewed as fodder for the privileged — unlike music. Most anyone, regardless of class, can immediately name their favorite musicians. But art doesn’t need to be restricted to the upper crust, nor should it be. Combined with the adoption of today’s technology as tomorrow’s art, the advent of online galleries and improved education, art is destined to impact a larger proportion of the population than it does today.
Jim Simons, 76, is a true polymath, his humility and thirst for knowledge inspiring. His contributions to mathematics and finance are revolutionary, from breaking codes for the NSA in his 20s to setting up a hugely successful hedge fund. Today, his Simons Foundation provides exceptionally important support for fundamental research in a variety of different fields.
Climbing and walking in the hills provides beneficial exercise, relaxation and renewal. Hope Whitmore, a writer living outside Edinburgh, Scotland, describes her journeys as well as her struggles with rheumatoid arthritis. As someone who loves to walk two dogs in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, I can certainly relate to Whitmore’s description of her evening walks as “a healing, a cleansing of the soul, drawing a line between the workaday world and the night time.”
The composers that many of us love have names with tricky pronunciations — like Frederic Chopin, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Besides setting the record straight with phonetic descriptions of the right way to say their names, this article provides wonderful video links to breathtaking performances.