Its not your fault…

After some thought I do not believe that all people who believe in god are stupid, I think they have been the victims of an unfortunate form of brain washing. Being born in a time when the vast majority of humans believe in a God is not there fault. I am not sure if I pity them or not for they are so indoctrinated as to never question their beliefs and so are very content basking in the light of the Lord. They feel saved and they want to save the rest of the non believers. It is not wholly their fault that they believe this but I think as an adult, after thinking critically about the world and the universe and our place in it and the events of the bible, it is at the very least reasonable to say that the proper thing to is suspend judgment and wait for sufficient evidence for god, heaven, hell and all the rest. Religious people either have not considered that god is made up or they refuse to believe the facts of science, as it is commonly known and recorded that individuals ignore and dismiss facts and theory’s that go against their belief consciously and unconsciously. It is therefore reasonable to dismiss arguments for God in which there is no concrete evidence. Some may object to the historical record of Jesus rising from the dead, turning water to wine or any miracle. We can chalk this up to hearsay or actual deliberate lies spread by the disciples, but it really doesn’t matter either way. The important thing to keep in mind is how would you react to these ‘miracles’ in our modern age? What if someone claimed to be the son of god today? The good news is that many many people have claimed this and all of them have been confirmed to be mentally ill and now reside in mental institutions, primarily because this idea is ludicrous and frankly insane.

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An Incomplete Psychological Assessment on JAMES HOLMES

On July 20th of last year James Holmes, a 24 year old medical student opened fire in a movie theater at the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises”. Ever since his heinous act psychologists (and everyone else) have been looking into his past to try and figure out how and why he could have done such a thing. It turns out that Holmes was a very bright individual, described as ‘gifted’ by some who knew him personally. He was a graduate student at University of Colorado-Denver enrolled in the honors neuroscience program. With no criminal background and no apparent ties to terrorist organization, one has to wonder why someone in a seemingly stable life would murder innocent people. To answer this question we must examine his personality, beliefs, and interactions with those around him. Two different neighbors of Holmes simultaneously described him as friendly and not friendly. In fact no one he knew personally had anything radical to say about him. It seems that he probably didn’t suffer from borderline personality disorder or antisocial disorder because we would most likely hear reports about laws he had broken or people he had wronged. There is evidence, however, that he had planned the shooting weeks in advanced, having acquired an AR-15, sophisticated body armor and even mortar rounds. In addition he had booby-trapped his apartment with explosives as if anticipating a police search. These facts point to the fact that Holmes knew what he was doing and knew what the repercussions would be. An observation that contradicts Holmes’s stable state of mind is that he apparently viewed himself as ‘The Joker’ and eerily died his hair orange. This fact could possibly be explained by diagnosing (or proposing a diagnosis) of one of the delusional disorders. Because it was reported that he suffered from manic and depressive episodes many psychologists have suggested a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although, because of his delusional beliefs including being the joker most experts believe he most likely suffered from bipolar 1 with schizophrenic symptoms (i.e. delusions) otherwise known as schizoaffective disorder.

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A Very Short Essay On Sadness

Sadness is an emotion that just about all humans would like to feel less of. From our very first temper-tantrums all the way up to the present day most people have tried to avoid feeling sad. Some of us even tend to assess how good or bad our week/weekends were on the amount of happiness (or sadness) we experienced. Is sadness such a negative emotion that nothing good can ever come from it? Some people, including the author of an article posted on the website psychologytoday.com titled “The Value of Sadness” answer with a resounding no-sadness is not useless and it can actually be very beneficial. It is important to note that the author is not talking about people suffering from depression. Depression is sadness to the extreme, leaving us feeling (sometimes) numb, lonely and hopeless. Depression can start for no specific reason, it also can develop from an overreaction of some kind of life stressor. Sadness, on the other hand, is a natural part of life. It is an appropriate response to something bad or unfortunate happening in your life. There is a saying that somewhat relates that goes something like this: ‘if your life is a flat line you might as well be dead’. I think that, among other things, sadness opens our eyes to what is really important in life. In short, it can be a very sobering experience in an otherwise chaotic world. Sadness also allows us to appreciate when we are the happiest which is why I think it’s important to acknowledge sadness when we feel it, but to also try not to dwell on it for too long.

Based on my personal thoughts after reading this article:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201507/the-value-sadness

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Skepticism v Falliblism

Ben Stear

Theory of Knowledge

3/29/15

PART 1: Global Skepticism argues that it is not possible to be absolutely certain of anything. In other words, according to the global skeptic, it is impossible for anyone to know anything. Because global skepticism denies that we are able to have knowledge of anything, it is also known as universal skepticism. On the other hand, a limited skeptic is someone who is skeptical about one or more specific classes of knowledge. A limited skeptic does not deny that we are able to know things, but he or she will argue that there are certain areas of knowledge that we do not or cannot know. For example, a future skeptic denies that it is possible to know anything about the future. Similarly, a Mars skeptic believes that any knowledge of the planet Mars is not knowable. External world skepticism is somewhere in the middle, but is considered a type of limited skepticism. The external world skeptic believes that we do not know anything about the external world. Usually, ‘external world’ refers to any proposition describing the world around us. Anything besides our own inner consciousness is considered to be part of the external world. If someone is an external world skeptic they not only believe that knowledge of the external world is unobtainable, but that it also may not even exist.

Part 2: Two arguments that Feldman makes for external world skepticism are “the possibility of error argument” and “the certainty argument”. The possibility of error argument states that for (almost) any belief any person has about the external world, that belief could be mistaken. And if the belief could be mistaken, then it is not a case of knowledge. Therefore, almost any belief a person has about the external world is not a case of knowledge. I view the possibility of errors argument as the classic skeptical argument (not so much for external world skepticism as Feldman postulates, but limited skepticism in general.) It forces us to reexamine our level of knowledge about the external world. In Meditations, Decartes writes, “…on many occasions I have in sleep been deceived by similar illusions, and in dwelling carefully on this reflection I see so manifestly that there are no certain indications by which we may clearly distinguish wakefulness from sleep…”. Here, Decartes is providing an example of the possibility of error argument by admitting he may be mistaken in believing he is awake when in reality he is asleep. He reasons that when he is having a dream he does not know that he is having a dream and therefore he could be fooled by his own mind as to whether he is awake or asleep. Famously, Decartes claims cogito ergo sum, which means I think, therefore I am. The possibility of error argument includes the ‘almost’ in it’s definition because of this belief. Decartes reasons that even if the external world is all an illusion he cannot be wrong about existing because he has the ability to think and question his reality. The possibility of error argument is also compatible with the argument that it is not impossible for you to be a brain in a vat that reproduces all of your perception and experiences of everyday life flawlessly. If you cannot disprove this claim then it seems that the skeptic isn’t unjust in saying that you don’t know your not a brain in a vat. Importantly, the skeptic is not at all claiming that you are a brain in a vat, but that you do not know if you are or are not a brain in a vat. This skeptical argument tries to tell us that there is always room for error in our knowledge.

Another argument Feldman makes for external world skepticism is “the certainty argument”. This argument is related to the possibility of error argument in that it has to do with fallibility. The certainty argument says that if you know a proposition then you are absolutely certain of the proposition. Because you cannot be absolutely certain about anything (in the external world) then you have no (external world) knowledge. It is important to understand the meaning of certainty in the philosophical context. Psychological certainty has to do with how strongly one feels about their knowledge of something. Epistemic certainty, which is what this argument has to do with, deals with having the strongest possible reasons for knowing something. This argument claims that no one can have infinitely strong reasons for knowing something and thus they do not have epistemic certainty which means they do not know anything (about the external world). The debate here seems to be whether absolute epistemic certainty is required to truly know something. How much evidence or reasoning is required to know something and what exactly do we mean when we say we know something? These two questions are answered unapologetically by the skeptic, who then concludes we have no epistemic certainty about the external world, therefore making it possible that it does not exist at all.

Part 3: Feldman answers the skeptics with falliblism. The main premise of falliblism says that the skeptic “presupposes an unreasonably high standards for knowledge” (Feldman, 122). Basically, the skeptic’s arguments are based on the belief that knowledge requires absolute certainty, which is a very high standard indeed. So high in fact that it leads us to the obvious conclusion, that we are incapable of knowing anything. Most people believe that knowledge requires very strong reasons but absolute certainty is not necessary (or possible). Even the scientific community, who require very, very strong evidence to support a claim, do not rely on absolute certainty for knowledge. A fallibiist will say that when you see a table in front of you it is reasonable to say “I know there is a table in front of me”. The fallibilist believes that you are justified in believing that you know there is a table in front of you due to your evidence through sensory perception. While the possibility exists that you may be wrong or are being deceived, for whatever reason, this possibility is very, very unlikely and thus you have knowledge that there is a table in front of you. Both “the possibility of error argument” and “the certainty argument” rely on the belief that because knowledge is sometimes fallible then knowledge is unobtainable for almost everything. In response to “the possibility of error argument” specifically, a fallibilist would argue that it is not a problem that knowledge may be erroneous. I think a fallibilist would say that as long as there are very strong reasons for the knowledge then it is indeed knowledge even though the possibility exists that it is untrue. Likewise, for the certainty argument a fallibilist would say that absolute certainty is unnecessary for knowledge and therefore it is possible to know things.

Part 4: I do like Feldmans response of falliblism to skepticism. I don’t know any better arguments you could make against the skeptic. Granted, I don’t think falliblism totally defeats skepticism for a few reasons. Falliblism says that the skeptic has interpreted the rules of knowledge incorrectly. A true skeptic believes that fallibility is fatal to knowledge while the fallibilist is perfectly content with knowledge being fallible. This is where the two schools of thought meet and ultimately disagree. However, falliblism does not completely defeat any of the skeptics arguments, it only says that they are playing by the wrong rules. According to the skeptics belief that falliblism is a problem, the skeptical arguments are perfectly reasonable. So, playing by the skeptics rules for knowledge (or by using their standard), their arguments are sound. Personally, I side with Feldman on this issue. I think that it is unreasonable to demand absolute certainty for knowledge. Like I mentioned earlier the scientific community does not rely on absolute certainty for their work and most scientists are happy with achieving a P-value of less than or equal 0.05 for their results. A P-value of 0.05 or 5% basically says that there is a 5% chance that the (significant) results you found happened by coincidence, or dumb luck (which would mean they are meaningless). So, 95% or less certainty usually works well for scientists and I don’t think absolute certainty is required to truly know that there is a table in front of me. Although, strictly speaking, we can never actually prove our hypothesis, we can only disprove the null hypothesis (which is the default position in a scientific study that claims there is no relationship between the subjects and whatever variable you are testing for). It is also important to distinguish between the common interpretation of skepticism and the epistemological meaning of the word. I think it is appropriate to say that most scientists are at least a little bit skeptical of new scientific discoveries, as they should be. However, most scientists do not make the claim that knowledge in their field is literally unknowable (which is the epistemological meaning of limited skepticism). We live our everyday lives being fallibilists, and I think that is a good thing. Not much, if anything at all, would get done if we all acted in accordance with the skeptical view of knowledge. In my opinion I actually think the skeptic has very weak arguments. Again, they only work if we use their absolute certainty of knowledge standard. But besides this the arguments are kind of silly. I will try to dispel the alternative hypothesis argument to explain what I mean. The alternative hypothesis argument says that our evidence does not provide better reason to believe ordinary external world propositions (such as I have hands) than it does to believe some rival skeptical scenario (such as I’m a brain in a vat). If this is the case, then we need to withhold our judgment of having hands. I think this is a little far fetched because I think that I do have much better evidence for having hands than I do for being a brain in a vat who is having a handish-experience. The fact that I can see that I have hands makes me believe that I do indeed have hands. Maybe I’m being gullible. I understand that the skeptic would say, “but if you are a brain in a vat you would not know the difference, hence you can not know whether you have hands or not”. I think I’m using the immediate perceptual justification argument here although I think there is something more to my conclusion that I do have hands than that. Just because I perceive my hands and then have immediate prima facie (justifiable but fallible) knowledge about me having hands doesn’t dispel the fact that I may be a brain in a vat. My interpretation of the immediate perceptual justification argument may be misconstrued but I think it’s basically saying that because I see and feel that I have hands I now am correct in saying “I know I have hands”, just because this is my first immediate experience. I think it may be more simple in that it is just incredibly unlikely that I am a brain in a vat, or that some malevolent God has deceived me than to say “I have hands”. This is a position Bertrand Russell took, arguing that there are many cases in which our supposed knowledge is incorrect (ie. I am a brain in a vat) but the majority of these cases are incredibly unlikely compared to the proposition “I have hands”. It is a little bit like Occams razor with a twist. I think that the heart of the skeptic vs fallibilist argument has to deal with the fact that knowledge and the acceptable standard for knowledge are subjective. Not only are they subjective from person to person they also differ from situation to situation, making a unified theory of “a knowledge standard” a difficult and possibly meaningless thing to do.

Citations:

The Philosophical Works of Decartes, translated by Elizabeth S. Haldane (Cambridge University Press, 1973), Pages 145-6.

Epistemology, Richard Feldman, (Pearson Education, 2003), Page 122.

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PhD vs MD

 

Broad Street; M.D. vs Phd.

Broad street is a very interesting road, full of lively locals and interesting visitors, it is never a dull time driving down it. When you approach Shriners Hospital and Temple Hospital on the left, youcan see an equally impressive building on the right. This is the MERB, or Medical Education and Research Building for Temple. It is basically the hub for neuroscience research. Broad street now becomes more of a divide then just a physical one. On the left (when you are heading South, heading towards William Penn) the Shriners building along with the Temple Hospital are very impressive. They also represent the M.D.’s, that is, the medical doctors, the students who went to college and opted to enter med-school. Very honorable. These type of doctors, as opposed to the doctorates, are what I call learners or practitioners. They are the ones who learn the knowledge, memorize all the information and practice what they know on people, usually the public. On the other hand, on the right, you have temples neuroscience building. This structure is also very impressive (as an inpatient at shriners I actually used to sit and watch out the window while they built this building). This building is filled with the Phd’s. These doctors I call the discoverers. They are the ones who (usually in the scientific community at least) do the research and experiments. They are the ones who discover new information and turn it over to the M.D.’s to put into practice. I learned all this by speaking with Dr. (Mickey) Selzer, the man who has an M.D. and a Phd., as well as runs the entire six floor of the building, funded by Shriners and Temple.

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On Understanding

On Understanding

I have come across a very important and relevant fact of the idea of understanding things. We do not simply understand something and be done with it. We say we understand something, maybe something for one of our classes, or something we see on TV. We tell ourselves that we understand and in a sense we may be right. What I think is important to realize is that understanding something isn’t a yes or no concept it is not black or white. Rather there is a spectrum, or varying degrees of understanding. For example, while reading Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman, I came across many instances of Feynman admitting that physicists do not understand some phenomena, like what energy is, why it is conserved, the relationship between gravity and the quantum world, and even gravity in general. These areas of physics and astronomy are not new and it took my by surprise when Feynman said that we do not understand them. Upon further reading of Feynmans explanations it soon became apparent as to what he meant. You see there are different levels, or degrees of understanding. You can understand how something works, say for instance, an fMRI machine. I have done a good amount of research on this topic interning at FI. I know that an MRI machine is essentially a giant magnet that aligns the nucleus of hydrogen atoms into an equilibrium state. A radio wave then quickly blasts the atoms out of equilibrium into a higher energy level. As the radio wave stops the atoms come back down into equilibrium, a stable energy level, giving off energy. This energy is read by the machine which creates a picture. Now for any regular person this seems to be a pretty good understanding. But what about the engineer making the MRI machine. He might need to know a little more about what it is he’s doing. I am useless to the engineer building the machine because my level of understanding is not complete. It is partial. I might even say it is merely fractional of the engineer. This is why Feynman once said, “that which I cannot create I do not understand”. A perspective I like to look at this idea of understanding from is that of a child. Recall the wonderment of a child, asking why, why, why endlessly. I have no began judging my own comprehension on how many why’s I can answer about a certain subject. Going back to the MRI machine I think I would be able to answer only a few why’s at most. I do not understand magnetism well at all and I do not understand electromagnetic radiation, let alone radio waves well either. I really do not know how an MRI machine works, I only know how its major parts work. I think eventually, down the endless chain of why’s we will always hit a dead end where we must admit to our tiny inquirer that we do not know the next why and must subsequently admit we don’t know and that is just the way it is.

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Who Are You?

Sometimes in order to understand yourself it is necessary to talk to your self, or better yet type to yourself, in order to figure out what is going on inside. Just like writing a paper or novel it can be advantageous to jot down your thoughts, feelings, goals, hopes and dreams in order to better connect with your true self. I am 21 years old and after stripping off all the labels that have been put on me, for instance, student, son, brother, PA resident, wheelchair user, former hockey player, avid writer, etc., I am not sure at all who I am. All of these descriptions are just that, they describe me, they describe the person who I am. Interestingly, many of those labels do not describe who I was or who I will be. Either way you see it, we are not just labels stuck to a person for a certain amount of time. We are much more deeper then that, but that deepness and complexity of who we are makes it that much harder to know ourselves. How different do you act when you are interacting with different people? For example your spouse, your brother, your mother, you mother-in-law, your waitress or even your state representative. Now each separate person calls for a different circumstance, is it that hard to imagine that each situation calls for a different you? You may say that this is the common practice of “switching hats” if you will and maybe you are right. I am not expert in consciousness, psychology or sociology but I have 21 years of experience under my belt and I think that counts for something. I also think that the analogy of different hats does not express the reality of the always changing you. I have heard of the seven years fact, that you replace all of your bodies cells within seven years and I don’t think it is that huge of a problem and I am fairly certain it is untrue. Nevertheless, seven years is such a long time to wait for a “real new” you to emerge, just look at how fast people, not to mention children change from year to year. We are not our past and we are not our future. I will be someone different tomorrow albeit only very slightly different. The fact is that your brain changes everyday, with each new lesson and each new experience changing ourselves into someone different. Who will you be tomorrow and the next day and the next day…?

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Literature Review of Stem Cell Transplantation for SCI

For most of medical history the spinal cord has been a place of mystery and uncertainty with injuries resulting in little or no improvement in the patient’s condition. In fact, often times surgery would damage the spinal cord even further leaving the person worse off than before. Perhaps it is not surprising then that the earliest known medical text, discovered in Egypt and dating back to 2000BCE, described injuries to the spinal cord as ‘an ailment not to be treated’. With the exception of the last hundred years or so, doctors and surgeons have achieved little insight into treating spinal cord injuries. These types of approaches persisted for many years along with the assumption that the spinal cord and central nervous system as a whole were unable to regenerate. This all changed in the early 1900’s when Santiago Ramon y Cajal and his team discovered that the spinal cord was actually able to heal and regenerate itself, if only to a degree. Ever since this landmark discovery the race to ‘cure’ damaged spinal cords had begun. However, it would take one more discovery to set the medical world down a promising and realistic path to end chronic spinal cord injury once and for all. In 1981, Martin Evans, of the University of Cambridge, became the first person to identify embryonic stem cells. The implications of this discovery were sufficient enough to land Evans the Nobel prize and researchers and scientists alike have been studying the possible uses of embryonic stem cells ever since.

To understand how embryonic stem cells and stem cells in general have the potential to heal spinal cord injuries (SCI), an adequate understanding of an SCI necessary. An SCI occurs when a part of the spinal cord is damaged, usually through contusion or compression. The spinal cord is just as sensitive to trauma as the brain is and any insult to it can cause a significant loss of function. At the actual site of the spinal cord lesion many processes are taking place at the cellular and molecular level. The primary lesion can cause acute ischemia as well as inflammatory swelling that can cause secondary lesions which are often more damaging than the initial injury. Furthermore, axonal and synaptic destruction, cell death through excitotoxicity, the deregulation of ion balance and the blocking of action potentials all contribute to the chaotic and devastating environment of an SCI. Additionally, astrocytes begin to form glial scars at the lesion immediately following the injury. Glial scarring can actually promote axonal regeneration by isolating the nerve tissue from swelling. Unfortunately, because few axons can grow past the scar tissue, glial scarring can also inhibit neuroregeneration. Stem cells however, can potentially bridge this glial scar and reconnect the electrical signals from the brain to lower parts of the body. They can also minimize the inflammation and swelling rendering secondary lesions obsolete. These two issues have been at the heart of stem cell research associated with SCI and in recent years experiments around the world have shown incredible promise. In this paper an overview of the research on the major types of stem cells being researched to treat spinal cord injury is discussed.

Shwann Cells

Shwann cells (SC) are the main glial cell of the periphery nervous system (PNS) where they are able to help regrow and reconnect the axons of damagaed nerves. This is why SC are the most widely studied type of adult cell for neuroregeneration. Many in vivo experiments on animals have shown how these exceptional cells are able to repair damaged nerves in the PNS. When a nerve is damaged SC’s migrate to the broken axons where they produce and activate neurotrophic factors (NTF) such as nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These NTF are crucial for neuronal survival, axon growth and the production of extra cellular matrix. In addition to helping repair and stabilize damaged nerves in the PNS, extensive research has shown that SC’s also produce myline sheaths that surround axons and enable them to send electric impulses quickly and efficiently. It was natural for researchers to wonder how these PNS glial cells would behave in the CNS and if they would have any rehabilitative use following trauma. After further research the answer was a definitive yes. In fact, scientists made an incredible discovery when they found that Schwann cells actually migrate to the CNS following severe trauma where they aid in many endogenous processes. The problem seems to be that there is not nearly enough of them to give the spinal cord any real shot of recovering on its own. The other major problem is that Oligodentrocyte and Astrocytes (glial cells in the CNS) begin to produce molecules that form the glial scars which axons cannot grow across, even with the help of SC’s. SC’s have shown great potential but there needs to be additional approaches that can inhibit the activity of the glial cells scar forming molecules.

Olfactory Ensheathing Cells

Olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC) are a specialized glial cell that is produced in the olfactory epithelium where neurogenesis occurs throughout life. Like their name suggests, OEC’s ensheath and surround the axons of sensory neurons in the olfactory system. There is an extraordinary amount of data that has been produced since 1997 including over 100 papers on the transplantation and potential nervous system repair of OEC’s. It turns out that the excitement for treating damage to the CNS and SCI’s in general is well warranted. OEC’s have a phenotype close to that of the SC, except that they are unique in a few ways. They can behave like SC’s by mylinating and helping to grow axons, but they exist in the CNS as well as the PNS. At first this may not seem like a big deal but to researchers this is an invaluable fact. Because OEC’s exist in the CNS and the PNS they can reach their full potential for healing and repairing a damaged spinal cord. This is in contrast to the Shwann cell, which only exists in the PNS unless it is called on during incidents of trauma. At the cellular level the biological environment ( proteins, bacteria, cells, etc.) dictates how molecules interact. A big problem with some of the earlier stem cell experiments was that even though stem cells have the ability to become any cell, they didn’t know what to become because they were in a completely new environment (ie. A spinal cord). Shwann cells may not be repairing CNS damage as well as they could be for this very reason. The fact that OEC’s behave naturally in the CNS (and spinal cord) means that scientists don’t need to do much in terms of coaxing them to do what they want them to do, they already ‘know’ where they are and what they need to do. Of course the biggest deficit associated with SCI’s is paralysis but many people aren’t aware that SCI’s effect just about every organ and process below the level of injury. OEC’s have been proven by many studies to recover locomotor function even in spinal cords that have been completely transected. In addition to motor recovery OEC’s seem to be especially good at restoring bowel and bladder function as well as phrenic nerve activity which could potentially help get some SCI patients off respirators. OEC’s are very promising and are undoubtedly going to have a role in curing SCI’s although it is not exactly clear how.

Mesenchymal Stem Cells

 

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) are found abundantly in bone marrow which is why they are sometimes referred to as bone marrow stem cells. Both of these names are rather misleading as they don’t describe this cells function or potential well at all. The (MSC) is really just a multi-potent stromal cell that has the ability to differentiate into several types of cells depending on the signals it receives from the local cellular environment. The word mesenchymal, coming from the word mesenchyme which means embryonic connective tissue, gives an adequate description of what kinds of cells these MSC’s can turn into. They can turn into bone cells, cartilage cells, blood cells, and fat cells. In recent years these processes have all been reproduced successfully in the lab in culture and in animals. Researchers have also found MSC’s in all kinds of places including the placenta, the umbilical cord and its blood, amniotic fluid, corneal stroma and dental pulp. The goal of some of the early research on CNS MSC transplantation was to see how safe they were and how they would react in an area such as the spinal cord. Fortunately when the MSC’s were injected there was very little backlash from the immune system which is very important considering how much of a burden immunodepressants can be. In addition, because these MSC’s are stromal cells, which means they naturally form supportive structure in the body, researchers are hoping that they will grow into a type of axonal scaffolding through the glial scar enabling nerve signals to be reconnected. Research into how this might work and how to induce this to happen if it doesn’t automatically is ongoing. Scientists have also discovered that when the spinal cord is damaged severely many cells are destroyed leaving spaces were there should be none. This is another area where MSC’s could possibly provide structure and stability where few other cells could.

A Realistic Interpretation of the Data

 

Many studies have shown that stem cells seem to be an effective way to repair a damaged spinal cord after an injury has occurred, however there are some troubling confounds within the data as a whole due to the nature of the spinal cord. While it is advantageous that scientists are using a several different types of stem cell to repair spinal cords, it can also make it difficult to ascertain what exactly is going on. Additionally, there are different methods for getting the stem cells to go where they should and act like they should which complicates things further. Moreover, the different kinds of injuries a spinal cord can suffer make every case, including ones that are run in the same experiment, unique and therefore difficult to judge quantitatively. These three factors, the multitude of stem cells used, the differing treatment methods and the fact that every SCI is unique make comparing data from study to study a complex task which must take into account each variable separately. Perhaps the only facet of stem cell-treated spinal cord injury studies that does not change is the spinal cord itself.

A Not-So-Miracle Cure

While many, if not dozens of various stem cell treatment and therapy programs have produced very promising data it is paramount that we interpret the data in a reasonable and practical way. It is crucial that we limit emotion and desire from skewing the reality of what the results have shown thus far. Stem cell therapies clearly offer tremendous hope for people suffering from spinal cord injuries but the data needs to be evaluated critically and rationally, and not read blindly . For example, even though many companies, universities and hospitals have achieved tremendous success in rehabilitating rodents, primates and even humans after an SCI, reasons to be skeptical are abundant. One main reason being that the overwhelming majority of stem cell therapy models aimed at repairing damaged spinal cords have the researchers inject or transplant their stem cells into the test animals spinal cord immediately following the injury. Now this methodology could potentially be useful for improving functionality of individuals who suffer SCI’s in the future, but for the tens of millions of people who have already suffered a SCI this data has little relevance. Obviously the faster you deliver the stem cells to the damaged spinal cord the better and more significant results you will see. Furthermore, like breaking a bone, there are many ways a spinal cord can be damaged. For example, a spinal cord can be crushed, sliced, or compressed. In addition, SCI’s happen at all different levels of the spinal cord with varying intensity and damage from one patient to the next. It follows that a one-size fits all ‘cure’ is not a realistic solution. There will be no miracle vaccine to treat SCI. Rather, it is more likely that there will be a number of different methods for restoring function and feeling below the level of injury specifically tailored to reach the best possible outcome for each individual case. Another huge issue with a lot of the data coming out about SCI rehabilitation is the degree of function that these animals and in some cases humans regain after their stem cell therapy treatment. Of course any improvement in function for an SCI patient is wonderful but the data needs to be taken for what it is. Lots of data that has gotten published claims extraordinary results and in some ways it is but for some this might be an over glorification. For example, there have been numerous stem cell therapy studies done on animals who have suffered a SCI that claim the animal can now move its once paralyzed limbs voluntarily. While this may be true, it is important to find out to what degree has this animal recovered. Is the animal back to walking, running and jumping or is it just twitching it’s foot randomly? Many people who suffer from SCI have some degree of function below their level of injury but it is not substantial enough to be a substitute for a wheelchair. We need to look closely at what the data are telling us so that we understand exactly what the implications are for ourselves personally as well as future individuals. It is also important to remember that, while doing potentially life changing research, the vast majority of companies producing data for stem cell treated spinal cord injury are for profit. This means that even though some of their data may truly be remarkable it will almost always be in their best interest to over inflate and exaggerate their results for the better, whether it be to build brand awareness, build awareness about SCI as a whole or to secure additional funding.

The entire field of stem cell therapy has improved tremendously in the last two decades. Research going on around the world, whether it be in an animal model or in actual human clinical trials, is getting closer and closer to a treatment for people suffering from an SCI. Although it seems like little breakthroughs are being made every day there are still many questions to be answered and a lot of work to be done. Researchers need to identify which cell(s) are able to interact most effectively at the cellular level inside the spinal cord. Researchers also have to study better methods of decreasing inflammation directly following an SCI as well as inhibiting glial scar formation molecules from being activated. Next, they need to investigate which technique of cell transplantation gives the cells the best shot at repairing the spinal cord. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly there needs to be a better understanding of how these different types of cells interact with each other and how best to combine them into a comprehensive treatment. Because each cell type can only repair part of the complex biology of the spinal cord there will need to be some type of combination of cells. Extensive research like this may be a few years away and there may be single cell type treatments that show promise but if there is ever going to be a wide ranging cure for SCI it will have to come from a treatment of several cells working in unison.

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How strong would a magnetic field have to be to kill you?

Originally posted on Gravity and Levity:

There’s a great joke in Futurama, the cartoon comedy show, about a horror movie for robots.  In the movie, a planet of robots is terrorized by a giant “non-metallic being” (a monsterified human).  The human is finally defeated by a makeshift spear, which prompts the robot general to say:

“Funny, isn’t it?  The human was impervious to our most powerful magnetic fields, yet in the end he succumbed to a harmless sharpened stick.”

The joke, of course, is that the human body might seem much more fragile than a metallic machine, but to a robot our ability to withstand enormous magnetic fields would be like invincibility.

But this got me thinking: how strong would a magnetic field have to be before it killed a human?

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Unlike a computer hard drive, the human body doesn’t really make use of any magnetic states — there is nowhere in the body where important…

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A Day in the Life

Originally posted on Untold Stories:

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It’s seven o’clock and Tierkidi refugee-camp is buzzling of early morning activity. It’s food distribution day, and Nyaboth (16) is patiently waiting for the queue in front of her to get smaller.

No one knows the exact number of refugees in the Gambell-region. But we are at least looking at 250.000. More than a quarter of a million people who are dependent on the food that World Food Program is distributing.

The line is moving slow, but Nyaboth isn’t in a hurry as long as she gets what she came for. Four hours later, she has collected all the items her family is entitled to this month. The previous four hours were more boring than exhausting. Now the tough part comes. The 16-year old has to get 150 kilos of flour, maize, oil, lentils and soap back to her tent a couple of kilometres away.

−I have to sell some…

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