Artistic Anatomy: An Exploration of the Spine

By Olivia Zhu

How many times have you acted out the shape of a vertebra with your body? How many times have you even imagined what each of your vertebrae looks like?

On Wednesday, October 1, Kate Trammell and Sharon Babcock held a workshop on the spine as part of the series, Namely Muscles. In the interactive session, they pushed their audience members to gain a greater awareness of their spines.

Participants assemble vertebrae and discs of the spine

Participants assemble vertebrae and discs of the spine

Trammell and Babcock aim to revolutionize the teaching of anatomy by combining art, mainly through dance, and science. They imagine that a more active, participatory learning style will allow students from all backgrounds to learn and retain anatomy information much better. Babcock, who received her Ph.D. in anatomy from Duke, emphasized how her collaboration with Trammell, a dancer and choreographer, allowed her to truly internalize her study of anatomy. The workshop participants, who included dancers and scientists alike, also reflected a fusion of art and science.

Trammell observes the living sculptures of thoracic vertebrae

Trammell observes the living sculptures of thoracic vertebrae

To begin the exploration of the spine, Trammell and Babcock had participants close their eyes and feel models of individual vertebrae to gain tactile perception. Trammell and Babcock then instructed participants to make the shape of the vertebrae they felt with their bodies, creating a living sculpture garden of various interpretations of vertebrae–they pointed out key aspects of vertebrae as they walked through the sculptures.

Finally, Trammell and Babcock taught movement: in small groups, people played the roles of muscles, vertebrae, and spinal discs. They worked on interacting with accurate movements (for example, muscles only pull; they cannot push) to illustrate different movements of the spine.

Interactive illustration of a muscle pulling vertebrae

Interactive illustration of a muscle pulling vertebrae

 

 

 

To complete the series, Trammell performed Namely, Muscles, choreographed by Claire Porter, on October 4th  at the Ark.

Duke Undergraduate Research Society. Hit them up.

By Lyndsey Garcia

I have a confession: I have never personally been interested in performing research. I love to read, listen, and talk about research and latest developments, but never saw myself micropipetting or crunching raw data in the lab. But after attending the Duke Undergraduate Research Society (DURS) Kickoff, they got me to sign up for their listserve!

DURS Executive Board: (from left to right) Joseph Kleinhenz, Syed Adil, Lillian Kang, Dr. Huntington Willard, Sammie Truong, John Bentley

DURS Executive Board: (from left to right) Joseph Kleinhenz, Syed Adil, Lillian Kang, Dr. Huntington Willard, Sammie Truong, John Bentley

The kickoff highlighted DURS’s leading man, Dr. Huntington Willard. He was a biology pre-med undergraduate at Harvard for 3 years until he was introduced to genome research, which quickly became his life’s passion.

In 2002, Willard launched the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy at Duke, which grew to more than 100 faculty and 300 staff members. The institute unfortunately met its end this past June, but Willard continues his love and passion for genome research here at Duke, and with Duke undergraduate students.

Before creating IGSP, Willard had only interacted with medical and graduate students during his research. But at Duke he had his first opportunity to engage with  undergrads.

“The best thing at Duke is the undergrads and I wanted to take advantage of the best thing at Duke,” he says.

Willard explains his love for research by explaining the inherent differences between all Duke students and those Duke students who perform research. All Duke students love to learn and are interested in what they are learning, but Duke students who research are questioners. He says they want to know more than what is given in the textbook. They constantly go between B and C on the test because there could be valid reasons for both, but we just don’t know why yet. They aren’t afraid to delve into uncharted territories where there is no safety net of certainty.

Willard says many of these young researchers seem to follow his own motto: “This is so cool. I want to know how it works.”

Willard’s talk already had me inspired, but then I got to hear from the executive board of DURS. Each member explained the research they are involved with on campus and how they got there. They explained how they sent tons of emails to professors and received no responses and gave anecdotes about switching labs because it wasn’t what they wanted.

They also expanded on what DURS offers to undergraduates. The program connects professors and undergraduates for potential research positions, sets up workshops to help make networking contacts, pairs young undergrads with experienced undergrads to mentor and give advice, and helps one realize that no one came out of the womb with lab experience, so don’t be discouraged by not having any at first.

“This is exactly why I came to Duke. It’s a great university with amazing research opportunities and now I can’t wait to get started.” – Freshman Jaclyn Onufrey.

So my takeaway from Duke Undergraduate Research Society was:

1)      Are you interested in questioning the unknown?

2)      Do you want to be part of discovering something new?

3)      Don’t know where to start?

If any of those aspects apply to you, it’s definitely worth hitting up DURS!

The Mystery Behind the Camel Statue

Knut Schmidt-Nielsen

A file photo of the real Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, not the bronze one, standing with the enigmatic camel statue dedicated to him and his work.

By Olivia Zhu           

The camel statue between the Biology Building and Gross Hall is a staple of Duke’s campus, but the significance behind this landmark is generally unknown.

On Monday, September 22, faculty from the Biology Department gathered for a dedication to remember the man behind the camel statue (or rather, in front of it), Dr. Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, who died in 2007.

Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, who would have turned 99 this Wednesday, was “the father of comparative physiology and integrative biology” and a James B. Duke professor at Duke’s Biology Department starting in 1952.

Schmidt-Nielsen studied the physiology of the camel’s nose, received the International Prize for Biology, and wrote the authoritative text on animal physiology.

Dr. Stephen Wainwright, who was present at the dedication, commissioned the camel to British sculptor Jonathan Kingdon, who finished the bronze camel statue in 1993. The inscription for the statue, “Tell me about yourself, Camel, that I may know myself,” encapsulates Schmidt-Nielsen’s outlook on physiology.

According to Dr. Steven Vogel, who was recruited to Duke’s faculty by Schmidt-Nielsen 49 years ago, Schmidt-Nielsen was actually shy and rather uncomfortable with the statue of himself. Vogel reported that Schmidt-Nielsen greatly advanced the zoology department with his high standards and “great charm and urbanity.”

“You could never say no to Knut,” Vogel said. Schmidt-Nielsen was also reportedly  “a very serious wine drinker”—accordingly, the dedication ceremony ended with wine and champagne.

To learn more about Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, read Vogel’s memoirs or a recommended autobiography, The Camel’s Nose.

Knut Schmidt-Nielsen

The statue as it appears now, with Knut in bronze. (File photo)

Futurity Research News Site Turns Five

Guest Post by David Jarmul

Futurity.Org, a website that has shared Duke’s research news with millions of readers around the world, is celebrating its fifth anniversary this week.

(Credit: Paul Albertella/Flickr)

(Credit: Paul Albertella/Flickr)

Launched in 2009, Futurity has since recorded 12 million visits and 16 million page views. Among the approximately 10,000 stories it has published are recent Duke offerings on baboon behavior, the treatment of hepatitis C, species extinction and smoking rates among immigrants.

Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, helped launch the site, which presents research from 62 leading universities in the United States and other countries in a colorful, non-technical format designed to reach wider audiences.

“When we started Futurity five years ago we hoped to create a new channel to those interested in thoughtful stories about university research,” Schoenfeld said. “That has tfuturity.org logourned into a very successful venture in digital media, and helped create a model collaboration among the top universities in the world.”

Karl Bates, director of research communications for the Office of News and Communications (and editor of this blog), serves as the university’s “bureau chief” for Futurity, working with researchers and communicators across the campus to identify newsworthy stories. He then works with the Futurity editorial team, based at the University of Rochester, to present the stories on Futurity’s website and social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Schoenfeld, who continues to chair Futurity’s governing board, said the site hopes to build on its success and is considering expanding into new arenas to keep pace with the rapidly changing media landscape.

Joining the Team: Lyndsey Garcia

Hi! My name is Lyndsey Garcia and I’m proud to call myself a Duke student!

I’m a sophomore in the Pratt School of Engineering and I’m still attempting the infamous biomedical engineering, pre-med route. I was born on the naval base in Whidbey Island, Washington but have spent the last ten years in hot, hot Dallas, TX.

Lyndsey Garcia

Lyndsey Garcia

I love to water ski, snowboard, workout, play sports, sleep, eat carbohydrates, and binge watch Netflix shows. I was a big volleyball player in high school and play for the club volleyball team on campus. I used to play positions that were designated for taller girls, but my teammates quickly outgrew me and was sent to the back row. Yet, I found a way to embrace my short stature and love playing defense. Along with volleyball, I work as a lifeguard at the Duke Aquatic pools and peer tutor in organic chemistry.

Some families like to play board games. Some families like to go on exotic vacations. My family likes to listen to podcasts. I listen to Morning Edition when I ride on the bus and to Planet Money when I lift weights. My love for podcasts has helped expand my love for learning. I have learned about current events in Israel, along with different points of view on health care, and new advancements in cancer research. Having already a passion for math and science and an excitement for learning about the newest developments, it was a natural progression that I would seek to combine these interests to join a research blog. The opportunity to report on all the fascinating developments occurring at leading research institution is one of the greatest things I can imagine!

I love Duke and all it has to offer. While getting a first class education, you can cheer for a top ten basketball team. After doing research in the lab, you can toss of Frisbee with your friends in the gardens. Now I can attend interesting lectures and interview my peers on their intriguing research and develop my love of reporting it to all our readers!

Duke’s ALS Challenge is Conventional Wisdom

By Kelly Rae Chi

What all those folks dumping ice water over their heads to raise money for the ALS Association may not realize is that a small number of patients with the degenerative neurological disease might sometimes get better.

In a new patient-funded program called ALS Reversals, Duke researchers are trying to find out why.

“Any time you have a patient with ALS who’s getting better, no matter what it is that they’re doing, I think you should try to put a lot of effort into understanding that patient,” said Richard Bedlack, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at Duke University School of Medicine and director of the Duke ALS Clinic.

Richard Bedlack, M.D. Ph.D.

Richard Bedlack heads Duke’s ALS Clinic.

Not everyone believes that the reversal of ALS is real. And if it is, then some skeptics say that the number of examples might be too few to learn anything of value from, Bedlack said.  “I would say the only way you’ll know the answer to that is to try,” he added.

Bedlack said there may be three possible explanations for why some people with ALS stop progressing or get better. First, the person may never have had ALS in the first place; he or she may instead have an unusual form of myasthenia gravis, for example.

Second, something unique about that person’s body might be helping them fight the disease. “The [first and second] possibilities can be teased apart. We can get these folks to send their records and come to Duke, and we can study them,” Bedlack said. The researchers would like to compare these patients’ gene sequences, gene expression data or antibody profiles to those of more typical ALS patients.

The third, and perhaps most controversial, explanation for ALS reversal is that the patient tried a treatment that worked.

The idea for the ALSReversals came to Bedlack as he was reviewing alternative and off-label therapies for ALS. In an effort to quash misinformation floating around the web about such therapies, Bedlack had started ALSUntangled, a group of scientists and clinicians who systematically study any available evidence behind a given therapy — elected by the public via social media — and publish an open review about it.

To Bedlack’s surprise, the ALSUntangled team found that some alternative ALS therapies might show some promise, and probably need more study. One of those was lunasin, a peptide derived from soybeans that is sold as a nutritional supplement. The group is still finishing their review of lunasin and Bedlack plans to carry out a pilot study of it through the ALS Reversals program.

In the past decade, new research has already helped ALS patients by improving their quality of life and functioning. This has made the work of the Duke ALS Clinic more about helping people live with the disease rather than just diagnosing them.

And just for good measure, the clinic team also participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Bedlack is excited by the new attention to ALS. “I’ve never seen ALS being talked about by so many people,” he said, adding that he looks forward to seeing what comes of the boost in funds.

The viral  Ice Bucket Challenge has so far raised more than $94 million in donations to the ALS Association as of Aug. 27.

An estimated 30,000 Americans are living with ALS. One in 500 people will develop ALS in his or her lifetime. It’s incurable, and terrible. But maybe you have already learned that through the Ice Bucket Challenge.