NIH Director Plays Guitar/Cello Duet With Famed Cellist Yo Yo Ma


People in distinguished positions occasionally get to have extraordinary experiences: Going very, very special places, or meeting people whose lives are somehow magical.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, recently had such an experience when he, a self-described “amateur guitar picker,” spun a duet with world-renowned classical cellist Yo Yo Ma. They played what Dr. Collins described as, in his blog on the NIH web site, “a creative interpretation of the traditional song, ‘How Can I Keep From Singing?’”

The occasion was when Mr. Ya visited NIH for its annual J. Edward Rall Cultural Lecture, where he participated in conversation on the intersection of music and science.

The blog post said:

Brain Arias Involved in Playing MusicBefore the rapt audience at the NIH Clinical Center’s Masur Auditorium, Ma demonstrated various ways to interpret the notes and dynamics of Bach, opening the door to the fascinating topic of the neuroscience of music. As you can see in the image [above], when a person plays a violin or other musical instrument, a variety of areas throughout the brain are activated. [1] Another recent study suggests that the human brain possesses its own “music room” in the cerebral cortex, composed of populations of neural cells that are selectively dedicated to processing the sounds of music, as opposed to sounds of speech. [2] What’s more, neuroscientists have found that certain brain cells release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control reward and pleasure, both before and during the times that people listen to musical passages with the power to give them ‘the chills’.”

Another topic raised by Ma was how the open exchange of information has served to accelerate progress not only in biomedical research, but in the making of world-class string instruments. We even touched upon the question of why music exists: what evolutionary advantage might it have provided to Homo sapiens as a species? Perhaps it was a way for social groups to join together around a common purpose and improve their chances of survival?

Alas,” Dr. Collins said, “we could reach no firm conclusions on such a complicated topic in the short time allotted. Maybe we can pick up that conversation—and pluck a few more strings on our instruments—at another time!”

Alas, indeed! Those are some deep issues, issues that deserve the investment of more money this country can afford in grants, etc. – and that’s before the new president is spending part of his time in Washington. (He seems to want to run things from the ‘Gold House’, the one with his name on it on Fifth Avenue in New York City.)


Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993-2008.


Nose Cartilage Used To Repair Similar Material in Ten Patients’ Knees


Swiss doctors have demonstrated a way to use cartilage from a nose to repair damaged cartilage in a knee. Ten patients underwent the procedure two years ago, and MRIs taken recently showed new growth very similar to the knee’s own cartilage, and patients reported improvements in knee function, reductions in pain, and improvements in quality of life, it was reported on October 22 in The Lancet.

“We have developed a new, promising approach to the treatment of articular cartilage injuries,” said lead researcher Ivan Martin, a professor of tissue engineering at the University of Basel. The articular cartilage is the tissue that covers and protects the ends of the knee bones, and injuries to it can lead to degenerative joint conditions like osteoarthritis.

Although the results of this preliminary trial are encouraging, more research is needed before this technique could become widely available, Martin stressed.

“Before this can be offered to patients as a standard treatment, obviously it needs to be tested in a larger number of patients and in randomized trials with long-term assessment of clinical outcomes,” Martin said.

One joint repair expert welcomed the new approach.

“Treatment of cartilage injuries remains a significant clinical problem, and there is no gold standard treatment and no optimal treatment available,” said Dr. Nicole Rotter, vice chair of the department of otorhinolaryngology at Ulm University in Germany.

Using cells from the nose for joint repair is completely new, added Rotter, who co-wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “Nasal cartilage might be a great source for cartilage repair; however, further clinical studies are required,” she said.

For the study, Martin and colleagues took a small sample of cartilage cells from the patient’s nose bone, then grew more cells by exposing them to growth hormone for two weeks. All the cells were then placed in a membrane of collagen and cultured for two more weeks.

The engineered graft was cut into the right shape and used to replace damaged cartilage after it was surgically removed from the patient’s knee.

With the procedure, only a small sample of cells is taken from the nose, using a local anesthetic. After the knee is repaired, the patient is on crutches for six to eight weeks. It typically takes several months for a full recovery, the researchers said.

No bad reactions were reported, but two serious adverse events unrelated to the procedure occurred — an independent injury in the untreated knee and new cartilage damage in other areas of the treated knee, the researchers said.

Dr. Matthew Hepinstall, an orthopaedic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital Center for Joint Preservation and Reconstruction in New York City, welcomed the new findings.

Even small articular cartilage injuries can cause pain, limit walking and running, and restrict joint motion, Hepinstall told HealthDay. “Over time, surrounding healthy cartilage can deteriorate — resulting in arthritis,” he added.

A variety of surgical procedures have been developed to fill “potholes” in articular cartilage, with varying success, he said.

For the last two decades, surgeons have been able to take cartilage cells from the knee, grow them in a lab, and put them back into a patient’s knee, Hepinstall said.

But that procedure requires two operations, Hepinstall noted.

This new study demonstrates the plausibility of taking cartilage cells from the nose in a less invasive procedure that only requires a local anesthetic, he said.

Wind Poses Threat To Cyclists Hearing


BOOM! BANG! Such sounds, and even wind noise, if loud enough, can pose hearing-damage risks to cyclists, a new study says.

While cycling – on bicycles, as opposed to motorcycles – has long been heralded as a good source of exercise and an excellent excuse to dress in funny outfits, often decorated with non-sponsoring sponsors’ badges, it’s never before been cited, to our knowledge, as a potential source of hearing damage.

But there you are: Researchers are going all sorts of strange places these days.

The research was conducted by study co-leader Dr. Anna Wertz and colleagues in, of all places, Detroit, Michigan (home of Henry Ford’s pioneering automobile plant), under the auspices of Henry Ford Hospital, where Dr. Wertz is an otolaryngologist. (That’s a popular one in the ‘list of hard-to-pronounce words’!)

For the cycling-related study, microphones were attached to cyclists’ ears to measure wind noise at various speeds. Wind noise ranged from 85 decibels at 15 mph to 120 decibels at 60 mph.

“These findings are important because noise-induced hearing loss can begin with sounds at or above 85 decibels,” said study co-leader Dr. Anna Wertz. How loud is that? Heavy city traffic registers 85 decibels; an ambulance siren or a clap of thunder from a nearby storm can reach 120 decibels, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

“Short-term exposure to loud sounds isn’t likely to have a lasting effect on hearing, but prolonged or repeated exposure can lead to permanent damage,” Wertz added in a hospital news release.


Paint Odors? Yes They Vary By Type, Color. Who Knew?


Sometimes we learn things in the oddest ways: I was reading an article a few minutes ago on Donald Trump’s latest ‘great build’ – a supposed-to-be-luxurious hotel (and the city’s most expensive) in Washington D.C. – and I was stopped by this statement: “…As press was ushered into the renovated building—passing the unironically titled “PRESIDENTIAL BALLROOM”—the smell of white paint was still thick…”

Wait, I thought: Is the smell of white paint unlike the smell of other paints? Google (bless its probing little algorithm) quickly put my wondering mind to rest: Yes, there are differences in how different paints smell; And some are so different, and unhealthy for the environment, that federal restrictions have been placed on their creation and use.

I was floored by this information in part because I can’t recall having painted a room (or much of anything) for well over 20 years. And not being a particularly ‘handy’ type, where home improvements are concerned, while I don’t go out of my way to avoid information on that topic, I don’t often stumble upon occasions – such as the article on Trump’s soon-to-grandly-opened Washington hotel – when brush- or hammer-related articles cross my path. (I don’t even own a saw, though I would, I dare say, know one if I saw it!)

Still, I was glad to learn that the U.S. federal government has identified and set out to control paints that, while doing a brightening job, are dulling the potential of our environment to continue functioning as we need it to.

Teens Pay Attention To Sugary Drink Warnings


Amazingly, teens apparently not only read but also heed health warnings – at least where sugary drinks are concerned, according to a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The average teen in the United States consumes at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day, which could account for more than twice the recommended daily serving of sugar,” said study lead author Christina Roberto.

Roberto is an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

“The rate of sugar consumption in the U.S. is astounding and contributes significantly to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other dangerous and costly health conditions,” she added in a university news release.

An online survey was used to assess the hypothetical beverage selections of more than 2,000 youngsters, aged 12 to 18. The drinks had either no label or one of five health warning labels. One label featured calorie content and four carried variations of a written warning that sugary beverages contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.

While 77 percent of the participants said they would select a sugary drink if there was no warning label, participants were 8 percent to 16 percent less likely to select a sugary drink that bore such a message, the study found.

The warning labels helped raise teens’ awareness of the health risks of sugary drinks, the study authors noted. Sixty-two percent of the participants said they would support a warning label policy for sugary drinks.

Several U.S. cities and states are currently considering such policies, the researchers said.

The findings highlight the need for nutrition information at the point of purchase to help people make healthier choices, said study co-author Eric VanEpps. He is a postdoctoral researcher at the university’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics.

“This study shows that warning labels can affect teenagers’ beverage preferences, and future research will be needed to determine whether these labels are similarly effective in more typical purchasing environments,” he said.

The study was published Sept. 8 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.