Johns Hopkins Exploring and Testing New Methods for Studying the Brain in Living Patients

Johns Hopkins’ 2014 study on concussions in former NFL players and the long-term effects was a fine study, not as far as learning about concussions goes, but for testing the usefulness of the newest technology in brain scanning and seeing its limits and advantages.

In the past, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was only diagnosed and studied during autopsy. The study also focused on the imaging of traumatic brain injury related damages by targeting the translocator protein (TSPO). A translocator protein (TSPO) is a special protein mainly found on the outer mitochondrial membrane of neurons. It interacts with StAR (steroidogenic acute regulatory protein) to transport cholesterol into the mitochondria of other neurons. In other words, TSPO is an indicator of the brain attempting to repair or patch brain damage. The study helps to support the idea that these new machines and new techniques for neural imaging can really advance our understanding of the brain and increase our medical abilities in providing accurate diagnoses for patients, before their dirt nap.

The primary test used for the study involved a positron emission tomography (PET) scan that used (safe) radioactive chemical injections that bind to specific proteins. In this case, the radiopharmaceutical used was [11C]DPA-713 which binds to TSPO. The idea is that the more prevalent this radio-transmitter is in the PET scan, the more brain damage (TBI) there is in in subject. The PET scan would also show a specific location for the damage. MRI scans were also performed on the participants to check for brain atrophy that may have been caused by TBIs. Along with the imaging tests, there were a few paper-and-pen tests performed on the subjects, including the California Verbal Learning Test-II (CVLT-II), the Rivermead Post-Concussive Symptom Questionnaire (RPQ), and an interview focusing on their past NFL career and past concussions. These tests (in order) covered their ability to learn and remember verbal information, the severity of mood, anxiety, and cognitive long-term symptoms of their concussions, and details of their past concussions (how hard were they hit, how long initial symptoms lasted, etc.). These interviews and written tests help the researchers compare the amount of brain damage they found with their scans to the severity of the side effects the players suffer.

In the results, many of the ex-NFL players who participated in the full study scored fairly highly on the RPQ test, scoring 32, 21, and 20 on a scale of 0-52 with a higher number indicating more severe symptoms. The CVLT-II scores where low as well, with averages ranging from 44% to 54%, indicating a struggle in verbal learning and recall. The article also reports evidence of brain atrophy (shrinkage) in multiple areas, which lines up with the test scores.

The study does have a few flaws, however, including [11C]DPA-173 binding differences between two TSPO genotypes (C/C and C/T) and the fact that the study size was in fact very small. To counter act the genotype flaw, however, the researchers used a GMVT method to correct differences produced by the genotype variation.

The study does a pretty good job of supporting the usability of the new methods in analyzing brain damage in living subjects. The brain scans showed high TSPO activity (through the radioactive injection [11C]DPA-173 binding to the TSPO present in the brain) when compared to a control scan on a person without a concussion (see image below). With this new technology and these new techniques, as supported by the Johns Hopkins study, we can make more accurate, lifesaving decisions for patients who are suffering from a traumatic brain injury.


johns hopkins jpg

Works Cited

Coughlin, Jennifer M., Yuchuan Wang, Cynthia A. Munro, Shuangchao Ma, Chen Yue,                           Shaojie   Chen, Raag Airan, Pearl K. Kim, Ashley V. Adams, Cinthya Garcia, Cecilia                   Higgs, Haris I. Sair, Akira Sawa, Gwenn Smith, Constantine G. Lyketsos, Brian                         Caffo, Michael Kassiou, Tomas R. Guilarte, and Martin G. Pomper.                                                 “Neuroinflammation and Brain Atrophy in Former NFL Players: An in Vivo                                 Multimodal Imaging Pilot Study.” Neurobiology of Disease 74 (2015): 58-65. Web.                   Mar. 2016.

(I have the article in a Word document i can share via Email, if needed, please let me know and I can send it to you)




Writing this article was actually fairly easy for me. To be honest all I did was edit my scholarly research article a whole lot and provide some more explanations for what things are. I really didn’t need to cut that much information out since my original article was a little over 700 words long, so I easily got everything I wanted into my article. As far as comparisons go, well, I’m still a little unhappy with the first article. The news article I read at the beginning of the semester made the research article sound like it was about studying concussions and how we can catch sports related brain injuries. The title of the article alone is misleading, “Johns Hopkins study of retired NFL players sheds light on concussion-related brain damage” (Hedin, 2015). I think, or at least I hope, that my article more truthfully describes and/or portrays the research article and its intents and findings. I tried to focus on the methods and tests used in the experiment and I hope I explained them and their purposes enough. In my opinion, Maren Hedin’s intentions for her article were probably to make the research look like a more hopeful or productive project to the public masses. I imagine most people would rather hear about research for helping concussion patients than about research on methods of studying the brain in applications like concussions. I understand that sometimes journalists have to decide what is more important and what can be left out so they can stay within their allotted space in there publication. I also see that, depending on what or who a journalist is writing the article for, can change the way they write their article and what they write about. I understand that, while news articles might be shorter, easier, and more convenient to read than original articles, they should not always be completely trusted, however, some might very well be trustworthy. It’s a little confusing, so, I think I’ll stick to trying to find original articles and original statements instead of reading news and other media articles written by journalists whose main interest is usually getting more readers.

Works Cited

Hedin, Marin. “Johns Hopkins Study of Retired NFL Players Sheds Light on Concussion-                     Related Brain Damage.” The Hub. Johns Hopkins University, 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 21                 Feb.  2016.   <>.

Happiness is Happiness

Dr. Gilbert’s TED Talk about happiness and synthetic happiness was interesting, however, I feel like it’s an old topic. Everyone knows that money isn’t a guaranteed ticket to happiness, happiness comes from meaningfulness. The only thing that I found interesting was the synthetic happiness he was talking about. Personally, I’m not sure if I like the term synthetic happiness. If you feel happy, if you feel good, isn’t it real? Is there really a difference between when something makes you happy and when you just feel happy? I know the things that make me happy and I know it because I feel it. I’m happy when I enjoy a cup of the nice Colombian coffee my friend sends me, I’m happy when I feel the bass from my music in my chest, I’m happy when I hear the grumble of my V8 on the highway on ramps. Most of all I’m happy when I see my girlfriends face and here her voice on my phone even though we are separated by 861 miles. I argue that there is no synthetic happiness, there is just happiness. If something makes you happy, then it really doesn’t matter how. That’s not the only disagreement that I have, Dr. Gilbert spends some time on tests conducted at Harvard, the university he teaches at, and uses them as anchor points for his lecture. My issue here is that I just can’t accept everything he says here as this is his own work. Not only is there the possibility that he may try to make the experiment seem more important than it really is, but also he may himself believe that the experiment shows great and important results. When you make something yourself, you inherently see it in great light, and tend to miss the flaws. I would like to look more in depth at the projects Dr. Gilbert referenced to get a better understanding of the data and results.

I will say this, however, Dr. Gilbert’s point about being mindful in how we pursue happiness so that we don’t inherently destroy ourselves or hurt those around us is something I can agree with (for the most part, I do tend to speed a little, I like to go fast). We need to know what makes us really happy and what is just a cheap thrill (the difference to me being what does it every time and what needs to be bigger and better every time to work). If we pursue too much, we tend to lie, cheat, and be greedy, and that only leads to sorrow, not happiness.

Finding my Personality “Score(s)”

The first two personality tests, to me, seemed the most reliable, even though the second one was slightly irritating as for many questions I felt I was more in the middle than on any one side. They felt more reliable because they asked real, relevant questions, unlike the last test that simply had me click on colors and then tried to describe me based off my choice order. The third did seam credible and accurate at first, but their traits didn’t exactly line up with the Big 5, instead of openness, it rated me on intellect/imagination; I wouldn’t exactly say that openness and intellect/imagination are interchangeable terms. Also, the results are a little difficult to interpret. There is a bar graph and a percentage set in the results table, but the two do not line up, I got a 45 in extroversion and a 35 in agreeableness, but the bar for agreeableness is bigger than the bar for extroversion, which makes no since. I will say, however, that the first three do appear to be reliable, I was labeled ESTP by the first two and the third test described me fairly accurately, at least in my opinion. I feel that I really fit into the ESTP category very well. The first two seem pretty useful as far as I can tell. The third can help get somewhat of a reed on a person but shouldn’t be totally trusted. And the last test is just too far off base, it feels more like one of those dumb tests you would expect to find on facebook. In all, I feel like short, free online personality tests, like the for I just took, shouldn’t really be blatantly trusted all that much, if the test feels unreliable (like the color choice test) or if the results don’t sound like you, then the test is probably not that good.

Orthorexia: a Proper Disorder, or Just a Bunch of Medical Poppycock?

We all know of the two infamous eating disorders, Bulimia and Anorexia, however a third has been proposed, Orthorexia. Orthorexia is the unhealthy obsession of eating healthy. It sounds ridiculous, and some of the arguments do too, even one of its many traits was a tad comical, “moral judgment of others based on dietary choices” (Dunn, T.M & Bratman, S. 2016). This is that same as most fit-minded people or people who try to eat healthy. In fact, most people would judge a person who order 3 Big Macs at McDonalds for themselves. The way orthorexia is described by some puts it more in the light of just someone who’s stuck up about their strict diet:

They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with                          “slip-ups.”  An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every                     day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and                     self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and                                   exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet                            and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.                        (Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LD/N, n.d.)

To me this all sounds like the usual stuck up fitness nut or dieter. Descriptions like this make it look like doctors are just trying to label everything in life as some sort of disease or disorder. It’s the same as carcinogens, today it seems like everything will give you cancer, from a plastic water bottle to coffee. So really, orthorexia just looks like a bunch of crap produce by doctors trying to figure out everything about everything, for the most part

A lot of the diagnostic criterion look like they could lead to misdiagnosis, either that out they would only be able to diagnose severe cases. This is the other part, where the idea of orthorexia seems to hold some weight, orthorexia is the unhealthy obsession of “eating healthy”, meaning that a person would obsess over the food they eat, when they eat, how much, where it’s from, etc. and then having severe self-punishment or shame or worries when they go off diet. Other descriptions of orthorexia sound much more like a disorder than just a run-of-the-mill health nut who thinks they’re above everyone else, “Most of their life is spent planning and preparing meals and resisting temptation to the exclusion of other activities. They may even go to the extreme of avoiding certain people who do not share in their dietary beliefs or carry their own supply of food wherever they go” (Stefanie Lein, 2016). This describes an actual problem while the others sound more like people we could see in everyday life. The problem is that this source, an article posted on Eating Disorders Online, seems to have been written in response to other more credible articles, this one was more likely intended to explain what orthorexia is to curious people. The first two sources are much more credible. There were no ads on their websites, written by medical professionals, and give better and more details about the “disorder”, but like I said before, they just don’t sound right. Of course this could be a real thing that some people have, but I feel like most people who might be diagnosed with this (if it becomes an accepted medical disorder) wouldn’t actually have it but simply be picky eaters who are focused on eating healthy.

How Using the Pygmalion Effect and Other Psychological Tricks Might Make Education Better

The modern public education system is flawed, I’ve heard no argument to that. Most of the controversy is over how to fix it. I feel that if teachers would use the Pygmalion effect and proper manipulation of stereotype threat, we could see a boost in the system’s efficiency. If we know that the use of stereotypes can affect performance by effecting the students’ confidence levels, then maybe we could find a way to use a positive and encouraging stereotype, like that African Americans are good at sports, to help boost the students’ confidence levels, allowing them to learn better and test better. Also, simple expecting students to perform well can lead to more elevated results. If we could get teachers to have more faith in their students and maintain high expectations for all, then the students should be able to learn better and over all perform better in school. I appreciated these two YouTube videos because I plan on teaching in high school and these might help me to be a better teacher for the kinds of students I’m likely to teach if I move back home and teach at my old high school. The third video however, I found slightly disturbing. I felt that the blue eyes / brown eyes ‘study’ that the teacher, Jane Elliot, conducted on her 3rd grade students was a little immoral. The brown eyed kids must have felt awful. And I’m sure later on in life the blue eyed kids felt terrible for what they did to their classmates, once they were old enough to understand what they did. By dividing the class by eye color and telling them that the kids with blue eyes were superior, Mrs. Elliot created a nasty bullying problem within her class. The kids with brown eyes felt awful. While I do see benefits in doing such a thing, like how after some time and once the kids are old enough to understand it, a lesson could come through. By living through the experience of discrimination, they would likely learn to not discriminate as adults in the functioning world. I feel like in my field of teaching in high school, such a lesson might be better taught to freshmen or sophomores. Of course the students wouldn’t be the ones discriminating so as to prevent excessive bullying, but it would still be an interesting lesson for them that might help them develop. Cycling back to the Pygmalion effect, I remember my high school English teacher, Mr. Kuligowski, held high expectations of me, and I wrote better in his class than I did in any classes before him, or at least I felt like I did. He was one of the first teachers I had that actually seemed to have a personal investment in me, like he actually expected me to do better, not just my class. My take-away from that is that if all teachers could find some sort of investment in all of their students, it might encourage them to put forth more effort and help them perform better in school. All three videos show something that can be applied in school and have a positive long-term effect on students. Of course all three factors wouldn’t work the same way as I the videos, they would have to be tweaked. But after they are tweaked and deployable in the class room, they might help to patch up our broken education system so that it may be at least bearable until a better, broader solution is found. I know that at least one works, Mr. Kuligowski and his high expectations made me write better, so why wouldn’t it work for other students?

Why Recreational Cannabis Use Should be Legalized

For years now cannabis has been thought of as an extremely dangerous drug, often being roped in with crack, meth, and heroine. This is all the product of a long history of slander and lies and even racism. According to an article by Anna Wilcox in 2014, cannabis was demonized by white elites who used the foreign name “marijuana” and associated it with African Americans and Mexican Americans to impart blame for the great depression. Harry Anslinger was one of the primary individuals responsible for the negative view on cannabis, testifying to Congress saying, “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind… Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage”. As I’m sure we all know, this is racist and bigoted propaganda. The truth about cannabis, as discussed by former NFL player Jack Brewer, is that it has many benefits and is really no worse than already legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Brewer states in his article, “I can buy huge amounts of vodka or menthol cigarettes nearly anywhere in the U.S., and we can attribute thousands of lost lives to those products” which is painfully true. There is nothing to prevent a person from purchasing a gallon of Bacardi 151 (which for those of you who don’t know is 151 proof or 75.5% alcohol and will hurt you and likely kill a man in such quantities) or an entire carton of cigarettes, but any cop on the road will arrest you for buying just a few grams of cannabis. For cigarettes alone, Brewer reports “nearly 500,000 deaths in the United States per year with medical bills approaching $140 billion per year”, yet they are 100% legal. The medicinal benefits for cannabis are also duly noted by Brewer. He mentions that cannabis, “shows promise in treating arthritis and bears minimal chance of organ damage” and “stops pain, mitigates multiple sclerosis and Tourette Syndrome symptoms, and may reduce dystonia, among other beneficial effects”. Brewer also mentions the potential financial gains related to legalizing recreational cannabis use, referencing Colorado’s six million dollar tax revenue from the first two months after the decriminalization of recreational cannabis use. I like the way Brewer makes his points, his article argues the way I would argue, with facts tied in with good logic. That and Jack Brewer is an upstanding figure as an ex-NFL player and CEO of a diversified global advisory firm, and a well-educated man holding a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and having completed executive business programs at Harvard Business School and The Wharton School of Business.

The opposition has many claims of their own, however, many of them are fairly faulty. According to an article on, cannabis addiction would be problematic as “stopping marijuana use leads to withdrawal symptoms that range from irritability to anxiety”. The problem with this is that stopping any habit would cause irritability and possibly anxiety, I  know that if I stopped drinking coffee suddenly I would become very irritable and fairly anxious, and you, as my fellow class mates can watch for this as I’m all out of coffee and won’t be able to get more for a while. They also say that because it alters the user’s perception it is too dangerous to legalize, but alcohol does the same thing and can even do so in greater and worse ways (getting blackout drunk). And the argument that cannabis is a gateway drug to the hard stuff like crack or heroine is valid, however would not be so if cannabis use was legal. Using cannabis doesn’t create some kind of desire for hard drugs, the only reason that people move to harder drugs is because of their company. People who use illegal drugs often hang out together a lot, this is where the introduction to hard drugs comes from, if cannabis were legal, there would be no need for users to hide out with other drug users and get this exposure to hard drugs, they would instead be able to stay at home and enjoy their cannabis in safety. While I understand some of the article’s claims opposing cannabis use, they still seam invalid to me. Besides, of course a rehab page would argue that cannabis is a dangerous drug, it’s in their best interests to keep it that way.

Brewer, Jack. “​3 Reasons Recreational Marijuana Should Be Legal in All 50 States.” The Business Journals. 10 July 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.

“Legalizing Recreational Marijuana – Pros and Cons.” Drug Rehab. 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.

Wilcox, Anna. “The Origin of the Word “Marijuana”” Leafly. 3 June 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.

Brain to Brain Communication, Some Professor X Stuff

In the “Miguel Nicolelis: Brain to brain communication has arrived” TED Talk, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis discusses his latest project, a method and device that can record and transmit brain waves to any electronic device. His real-world application, a brain controlled exoskeleton that will enable paraplegics and quadriplegics to walk again. As for why I chose this TED Talk, well, it’s actually pretty simple. This is some Professor Xavier stuff, being able to link minds and communicate, from half way around the world in fact, is amazing!

At the beginning of the talk, Dr. Nicolelis talks about the opening kick for the FIFA 2014 World Cup, performed by a paraplegic wearing an exoskeleton that is operated by simply thinking about what the operator wants to do. He describes the new technology as “Brain-Machine Interface”. As Dr. Nicolelis describes it, a special noninvasive helmet is worn by the subject that can read the electrical signals in the brain (I can only assume it works similarly to an EEG) and then rewrites the signals into command codes that a machine or computer can understand. This code is then interpreted as a specific movement which the exo performs, like walking or kicking a soccer ball. He then discusses various trials where the technology was tested between living things rather than a man and a machine, like seeing if two rats can learn while only teaching one, or if three monkeys can work together to control a dot on a grid and guide it into a circle on specific areas of the grid. Dr. Nicolelis says there are no limits to this technology’s applications, and I agree, and, hope that we can all see it one day.

The part that interested me the most was the exo and the almost miraculous effects it can have on people’s lives. Not only would it allow someone to walk again, but it would allow them to feel again. Dr. Nicolelis says there are special sensors on the exo that send feedback to a vest that essentially fools the brain into “feeling” a sensation, like feeling the ball as you kick it. This has the potential to completely change lives!

I find Dr. Nicolelis to be very trustworthy, despite his blasphemous claims that Brazilians achieved controlled flight first (‘Murica). After a little research (Google), I found that he is a professor at Duke University, and is even a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI!

As for my own research, well Dr. Nicolelis already covered what I would have done. I suppose I would take it a little further with human trials (since it is noninvasive) and test communication through thought with multiple subjects. My tests would include something like communicating what key to press on a number pad. Flash a number in a screen for one person, and see if the person in the other end of the link knows to press the same key. Another test I would like to try is to have a number of objects on a table and have the first subject pick one, and then in another room, have the same objects in different arrangement (or possibly even different objects, except for the one the first subject picked) on a table and see if the second subject will know to pick the same object. If these tests conclude that the thoughts can be shared, then I would want to move to tests that require more complex thoughts to be shared, like relaying answers to questions or maybe even holding a simple conversation, like favorite colors.

If this technology becomes more developed and produced to the point where it is available to those who need it the most, like paraplegics and quadriplegics, then the world as we know it could become a little better as everyone would be able to enjoy some of the simplest things in life, like a nice walk in the park, or kicking a soccer ball again, something I now relies I take for granted.

(sorry it’s so long, this is just really cool)

Mythbusters’ Navigating Traffic Experiment

The Mythbusters Mini-Myth about whether or not lane changing in traffic is faster than staying in one lane has its good sides and bad sides. For good, their experiment was carried out in real traffic, so there is no room for a bias fault or any miss calculations in a simulation. Also, the two cars ran at the same time so there was no environmental difference between the two variables. That being said, the experiment still needs some work, for example, they only have one data set, the experiment needs to be run more than once to eliminate luck ‘s influence. Another weakness is that the test only covered one environment, which was a San Diego highway in rush hour. There is also the problem of the driver used in the lane changing portion of the experiment. A more timid driver would be likely to make less lane changes than a more aggressive driver would, which would alter the results and effectiveness of that trial.

To be more inclusive, the test should be carried out on multiple roads and at multiple times, in different locations (drivers in Chicago are very different from drivers in Dallas, from my own experience), maybe use a four-lane highway, a six-lane highway and an eight-lane highway to get a more better feeling of where lane changing may or may not be faster. Testing different traffic variables could help get broader data as well, such as testing rush hour, traffic behind a car crash, and bottlenecking traffic. There is also the matter of the vehicle, a small car would theoretically have an easier time changing lanes than a longer car as it could more easily fit into the smaller gaps in the traffic of its neighboring lanes. To maintain reliable data, these trials would have to be repeated multiple times to help remove luck’s influence on the experiment. This is possible to carry out, even though it would be more difficult (an experiment of this scale would require extensive preparation), it would be much more expensive, in travel fees (to the varying locations), gas for the multiple trials, the cars themselves, and compensation for the participants.

Keeping all this in mind, the Mythbusters’ experiment will probably have to do for now as it would be difficult to carry out a full scale experiment and this topic isn’t exactly important enough for anyone to commit the time and money to work it all out.

My intro to Psychology

The whole reason for me taking this class is because I need a psychology class for the teacher program so this will make things easier, either it will cover it or it will make the other psych classes much easier when it actually counts, plus it’s a breadth requirement. For me, the word “psychology” means the study of the mind and how it works, like being able to tell what might trigger someone’s reactions to things and what not. I guess the three topics I most look forwards to are Moral Development, Personality Theory, and Mood Disorder & Anxiety because I have always kind of wondered what causes these things in people. The three topics I least look forwards to are Social Roles & Conformity, Stereotypes and Discrimination, and Brain Structures because I feel like I either already kind of know how some of that works or it just doesn’t look that interesting to me. One question I want to be able to answer by the end of the semester I guess would be why some things that should phase me or get some kind of reaction from me simply don’t.