Writing Exercise #15

If I were the head of a funding agency devoted to looking into the effects of microbes on human health, I would be most excited to support research proposals that were dedicated to understanding the relationship between microbes and mental illness. For me, there is nothing more unfortunate, disquieting, or otherwise depressing than watching somebody slowly lose there mind, or having a fractured grip on reality result in somebody hurting themselves or others.

With that said, if research into microbes could shed even a little light on what is now a vastly mysterious subject, there’s a good chance it would be worth the money. Fortunately, there are already studies looking into the brain-gut axis and doing their best to piece this puzzle together. Perhaps, in the future, research programs such as these could nail down a concrete link between microbiota and subsequent adjustments in brain chemistry, and begin to address how to use that relationship in both preventive (and possibly even curative) treatment. now THAT is something I would love to see.

Writing Exercise #14

Human non infectious diseases caused by microbes:

-depression

-Asthma

-Diabetes

-anxiety

-Cardiovascular desease

-HPV

-Cancer

-Obesity

-Various other neurological disorders

-IBD

-Crohn’s Disease

-Allergies*

 

The big differences between the conditions listed here and those from my first post in this class:

The most important takeaway for me from this comparison (and possibly even for this entire class) is just how far reaching the effects of the human microbiota may be. When initially I had to wrack my brain searching for just three small examples of microbial effects on non infectious and chronic diseases, I was now able to spout off over a dozen in just a fraction of the time. It would seem that the human microbiome is actually much more important than most people give it credit for.

Additionally, after looking at all of the diseases I’ve listed here, the most surprising to me are still the number of different psychological diseases and conditions, things which I had believed were solely due to genetics and brain chemistry.

Writing Exercise #13

In this post, I’ll be discussing the significance of five important questions which one should consider while interpreting scientific literature.

  • Can experiments detect differences that matter?

This point is important, because it’s these differences which allow results to produced and made apparent through empirical study. Without the inclusion of statistically significant deviations from one group to another, any claims laid are unsupported conjecture, and may be considered next to useless in many forums.

  • Does the study show causation or correlation?

The distinction between these two terms is crucial for determining the effects which things have on one another, and is as important to understand as the closely related distinction between fact and superstition. For example, every adult in the history of the world who has died has consumed water, but this doesn’t mean that water is responsible for their deaths.

  • What is the mechanism?

This question looks more closely at the connections between observations and their results, and considers the physical conditions and process which lead to the reproducible observations under question. Ultimately, it lends deeper understanding to perceived connections.

  • How much do experiments reflect reality?

The importance of this question almost goes without saying. After all, what’s the point of performing an experiment with nigh on useless results? I sure wouldn’t want a child who’s only medical experience was playing the game “Operation!” (adept as they may be at it) to start cutting things out of me. This is the same Idea.

  • Could anything else explain the results?

Finally, This is a condition that has been analyzed in statistics and many other fields for quite some time. At its core, this question is related to many others, like determining causation vs correlation, or finding the mechanism. As such, I believe it is likely the most important question to consider while interpreting scientific literature. No matter how many of the other questions are adequately answered by a study, if there’s something else out that there that is equally or more likely to produce the same results, more experiments need to be performed, and more data obtained.

 

Writing Exercise #12

While it may initially seem absurd to think that the brain and microbiome of the gut could have an intimate connection ( I was skeptical coming in to the idea, to say the least), there are actually many different connections that allow this relationship to be possible, as the gut is considered to be the “second brain” and is wrought with neural connections.

Looking more towards the practical applications of this axis,  the microbiome affects brain function by:

  • Triggering the release of cytokines by affecting immune cells
  • The direct production of corticosteroids and neurotransmitters
  • Other small materials, and enzymatic products may affect the brain via nerves

In return, the brain can adjust the microbiota via the release of hormones and steroids capable of affecting it. For example, during times of stress, the environment of the stomach may become much more acidic, and this could ultimately result in a population shift along the microbiome towards more acid-tolerant microbes.

In terms of mental health, these brain affecting capabilities can actually have quite the effect. For example, the addition of Lactobacillus rhamnosus to the microbiome was shown to reduce the observable effects of depression in mice, but only when there was an appreciable nerve connection between the gut and brain. Research has also shown that the presence of a microbiota may have a hand in reducing the effects that stress exerts on a body.

With all of that said, turnabout is fair play, and mental health can be readily affected by the microbiome as well. Besides the simple case of having the brain and autonomic responses themselves adjusting microbiota, there are multiple examples of mental conditions which adjust behavior. Lesch-Nyhan syndrome is a particularly devastating example which compels an inflicted individual to eat his own fingers and lips. Conditions such as this could readily introduce new organisms into a microbiome, and could also upset the relatively well maintained environment found therein.

All of these effects come together in a roiling stew of situations and conditions that can dramatically affect human health as a whole, in both positive and negative ways.

Writing Exercise #11

Through the precess of peer reviewing, I’ve learned several ways in which to better review my own writing, by holding myself to the same standards of those who I’ve passed my own judgement on. The opportunity to look over the best work of others also gave me a chance to learn from their writing styles and notice tools or abilities that I’d like to emulate in my own work.

With all that said, the process of pouring over somebody else’s work and looking for errors or missteps was strange, as I’m not one who usually critiques the works of others. Another issue with the process of peer reviewing is that it’s incredibly difficult to stay enthusiastic and engaged with someone else’s work on a topic you may not be familiar or interested with, all in an effort to examine the minutia of what they’re saying. This makes it necessary to take several breaks while reviewing in order to keep a fresh mind, but also results in a general dilution of early information as you progress with your review.

All in all, peer review seems like an important process which can be trying to the reviewer, but ultimately results in a generally higher caliber of work for everybody involved.

Writing Exercise #10

In peer review, articles which authors want to publish in scientific journals are examined by researchers in the field on which the article is founded. Through the process, the author sends his article into the editor of a paper of his choice, this editor then decides wether to reject the article or send it out to the reviewers who will submit their recommendations back to the editor. On these recommendations, the editor then decides if he wants to accept the article, require further revision, or reject it outright.

These steps allow for interactive and constructive discourse between members of a specified scientific community that may otherwise never have had any contact. This system means that there is a level of accountability and accuracy in papers now which never could have existed before. With multiple individuals who are well familiarized with the field looking over each piece, rather than one editor who may or may not be an expert, the quality of the writing is likely to increase. Unfortunately, having so many individuals looking over a piece of writing in a single blind style makes it easy for disagreements and misunderstandings to butty an otherwise revolutionary discovery, which is why many have pressed for much more transparent peer review processes.

Writing Exercise #9:

LIST OF BEHAVIORS THAT REDUCE MICROBIAL EXPOSURE:

-Never eating raw food, bathing multiple times a day, washing one’s hands, never going outside, always wearing a particulate-filtering mask, wearing gloves all the time, minimizing contact with other people, refusing to come into contact with animals, never touching dirt, only drinking clean and sterilized water, undergoing medical procedures observing strict aseptic techniques, etc.

Writing Exercise 8:

Free Write 1 – 5:15

I feel like this is a class where we cover things that most people at our standing in school are aware of, and maybe even think a fair amount about. But what makes this course so different is its way of framing topics and analyzing connections between circumstances that we may never have considered before in classes that only pay the microbiome the attention of a side subject. I think it’s this deep dive into an otherwise fringe topic that has really surprised me. From claims of the microbiome being an additional endocrine organ (which is a claim so bold that it still blows me away), to the idea that gingivitis or periodontitis can be closely connected to coronary heart disease , I think the newly emerging importance of the human microbiota is fascinating.

Free Write 2- 5:03

What makes this course so different is its way of framing topics and analyzing connections between circumstances that we may never have considered before. I know I’ve already mentioned it several times, but the claim that the microbiome is important enough to be considered an additional endocrine organ is a perfect example of this. With all of my studies so far being centered around medicine and the tangible causes of disease or physical complications, I’ve always had the mindset of finding one particular issue that is causing havoc on a much larger scale, but this course has made me start thinking about how minor imbalances in systems that most people consider largely unimportant (ie disbiosis in the microbial community) can open the door for exceedingly awful chronic conditions for which there is no known cure or clearly defined causative agent. It’s an interesting field that opens so many new avenues of consideration for me, and I’m really appreciating my new viewpoint on disease.

Looking at everything I’ve written hear and that has gripped me in the class so far, I think that the controversial issue I’m going to want to cover is whether or not the human microbiota can actually be considered an additional endocrine organ. If that doesn’t feel right, I’ll start researching phenomena where the microbiome is being connected to physically presenting symptoms (like a cardiovascular incident.)

Writing Exercise #7

During pregnancy and birth, The body of a mother undergoes exorbitant amounts of stress. Several stressors, ranging from the ingestation and injection of various drugs, to the physical distortion of carrying and forcing out a creature about as ergonomically designed as a Ford pinto, to the possibility of an active and surgical removal can all work together in forming inflammation and other environmental changes throughout the body. If last week’s readings taught me anything, it’s just how devastating critical conditions created by actions like those above can be on the microbial community in an individuals body, often resulting in disbiosis as the microbe balance is flipped on its head.

As far as the infant is concerned, its entire development thus far has involved floating in a hermetically sealed sac and absorbing nutrients that are identical to those being used by its mother. At the time of birth, this carefully maintained environment is finally shed, and the infant is exposed to an entire world of microbes just waiting to assimilate into his blossoming microbiota. At this point, unburdened by the large number of microbes that will follow him through the rest of his life, the infant is capable of hosting flourishing microbial communities, as they have little competition at the start of life.

As a side note, the place that an individual is born can also have a great influence on how their microbial balance is adjusted. In a sterile hospital setting, there may be very little transmission of outside organisms to the new mother and child, however, the same precess (involving two severely immunocompromised individuals I ay ad) taking place in an unclean and/or pathogen ridden place can have the opposite effect.

Writing Exercise 6:

Antibiotics and their appropriate uses are something that have been drilled into me at every stage of life. Growing up wanting to be a physician, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for medicine and its use. As such, I think that the discovery and production of antibiotics are some of the most miraculous achievements in human history, saving countless lives and the world of health all together. It’s my philosophy to only take antibiotics when I know that I’m infected with a bacteria, and not a virus. I also make it my personal mission to finish every course of antibiotics that I receive following any and all directions provided to me.¬† I know and have seen in hospitals just how dangerous antibiotic resistant diseases can be, and I also know that the overuse of antibiotics can greatly decrease their effectiveness, even on a society-wide level. Both of these are issues that can have deadly consequences.