Donate

If you would like to support our clinical research you can make a tax-deductable donation to Ped IMID.

Navigation
Friday
Aug252017

Academic careers are stressful

New report from the Royal Society and Wellcome Trust, in the UK:

* The majority of academics working at universities are stressed

* Academics have a higher risk of developing mental health issues than other professionals (37%)

* Levels of burn-out are far higher than average and comparable to high risk groups such as health-care workers

* Main problems are lack of job security, limited support from management and the weight of work-related demands

(but we shouldn't stress - science is a great gateway career if you want to leave later on)

Wednesday
Aug232017

Journal club: The effect of gender (not sex!) on the genome

One of my pet peeves is when scientists use "gender" (i.e., identity) when they actually mean "sex" (i.e., anatomy). It is typically done to avoid embarrassment, but it is imprecise, and the difference can be important. The short-cut for gender vs sex is usually "sex is biological, gender is cultural", but this short-cut is also wrong, since culture can impact on biology.

Take this Nature Genetics paper, from the Gibson lab. They looked at eQTLs in human blood, which is basically the effect of genetic variation on gene expression. The study was performed on Berbers in Morocco, in both a modern urban setting and a traditional rural setting:

 

When looking at gene expression changes in men and women from urban areas (green and blue, below), there is basically complete overlap between men and women. However when you look at the rural traditional areas, with strict cultural separation of men and women (red, below), there is almost complete separation between the men and the women at the transcription level.


In short, men and women are biologically different only because of the gender roles imposed in the rural setting! The social construct of gender can actually substantially change our biology. A good reminder that whenever we see an effect in humans that we think is due to sex, we need to remember that it could actually be an impact of imposed culture.

Read the full paper: Idaghdour et al, "Geographical genomics of human leukocyte gene expression variation in southern Morocco", Nature Genetics 2010. 42(1):62-7

Friday
Aug182017

Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving

Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving

Andrew F. Jarosz, Gregory J.H.Colflesh and Jennifer Wiley

Consciousness and Cognition. 21(1) 2012, Pages 487-493
 
That alcohol provides a benefit to creative processes has long been assumed by popular culture, but to date has not been tested. The current experiment tested the effects of moderate alcohol intoxication on a common creative problem solving task, the Remote Associates Test (RAT). Individuals were brought to a blood alcohol content of approximately .075, and, after reaching peak intoxication, completed a battery of RAT items. Intoxicated individuals solved more RAT items, in less time, and were more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight. Results are interpreted from an attentional control perspective.

Thursday
Aug172017

Factchecker: 'De Belg is steeds minder resistent tegen bacteri├źn'

‘Belg is steeds minder resistent tegen bacteriën’

 Uit Knack van 16/08/17


Ondernemer Kurt Van Tendeloo (Hygieia), Gazet van Antwerpen

De afgelopen weken hadden opvallend veel jongeren op bivak te kampen met maag- en darmproblemen. ‘In deze periode woekeren bacteriën meer dan anders’, zei Kurt Van Tendeloo daarover in Gazet van Antwerpen. Zijn bedrijf Hygieia geeft advies over voedselveiligheid en allergenenbeheer, en gaf dat ook al aan jeugdverenigingen specifiek voor op kamp, lazen we in de krant. ‘De dioxinecrisis heeft van België een land met extreme aandacht voor voedselveiligheid gemaakt’, zei Van Tendeloo. ‘Positief, maar hierdoor is de Belg minder resistent geworden omdat we zo weinig met bacteriën in aanraking komen. Vroeger werden kinderen ook ziek op kamp, maar niet met twintig tegelijk.’

Dat ons overmatig antibioticagebruik bacteriën doet muteren waardoor die geneesmiddelen almaar minder goed werken, is een gekend probleem. Wat Van Tendeloo zegt, gaat evenwel niet over antibioticaresistentie, maar over ons immuunsysteem. Is de ‘Belg steeds minder resistent tegen bacteriën’, zoals Gazet van Antwerpen kopte? Waarop steunt die uitspraak?

‘Niet op wetenschap’, zegt aan de telefoon Van Tendeloo, die kok is van opleiding. ‘Maar ik sta al meer dan twintig jaar in het vak, in grootkeukens, en zetel met actuele kennis van zaken in commissies die de voedselveiligheid daar bewaken. Voedselveiligheid is van levensbelang, in het bijzonder bij kwetsbare groepen zoals kinderen of senioren. Maar de appel die vroeger thuis op de grond viel, werd afgewassen en toch opgegeten. Vandaag niet meer. En dat breekt ons zuur op.’

Leert dat ook de wetenschap? We komen inderdaad minder in aanraking met bacteriën en allergenen, allerhande stoffen en microben die ons afweersysteem prikkelen, zegt viroloog Marc Van Ranst (KU Leuven). ‘Het aantal keizersneden is gestegen, moeders geven meer flessenvoeding dan vroeger, en we groeien meer op in stadsomgevingen dan op de boerderij’, zegt hij. ‘Het aantal allergieën is de afgelopen twintig jaar verdubbeld. Dat verklaren een aantal wetenschappers – er is discussie – met de zogeheten hygiënehypothese, die zegt dat contact met allergenen in onze jeugd cruciaal is, om later allergieën te voorkomen.’ Maar een maagdarminfectie is geen allergie, beklemtoont Van Ranst. ‘Vandaag halen die opgebroken jeugdkampen de media, maar niets wijst erop dat er meer incidenten zouden zijn dan vroeger. Die jongeren zijn hoogstwaarschijnlijk geteisterd door een norovirus. Een derde van alle mensen is daartegen genetisch resistent, twee derde wordt er ziek van. Dat is de grootte van zo’n epidemie als je die z’n gang laat gaan. Honderd jaar geleden was dat zo. En dat is vandaag niet anders.’

We zijn meer gevaccineerd tegen aandoeningen waaraan kinderen vroeger stierven – denk aan polio, mazelen, rode hond – en in die zin net weerbaarder, voert Van Ranst nog aan.

Maar ook als we die kinderziektes buiten beschouwing laten, is er meer tegen dan voor Van Tendeloo’s claim. ‘Het aantal bacteriële doden stijgt niet’, zegt immunoloog Adrian Liston (KU Leuven). ‘Wel is er een verschuiving bezig. Het klopt dat ons afweersysteem het moeilijk heeft met uitdagingen die het niet vaak tegenkomt. Aangezien we almaar meer in steden wonen en minder op het platteland, worden we gemiddeld minder goed in het neerslaan van rurale infecties – tegen grondbacteriën zoals Legionella, bijvoorbeeld – en beter in het afweren van infecties die mensen op elkaar overdragen. Maar in slotsom zijn we sterker dan ooit tevoren.’

Conclusie:

Omdat we volgens wetenschappers geen systematisch probleem hebben met neerslaan van bacteriën, beoordeelt Knack de stelling als grotendeels onwaar.  

Monday
Aug142017

Congratulations Dr Franckaert!

Congratulations to Dr Dean Franckaert, for successfully defending his PhD! Dean has been in the lab almost since the start, first as a job student running genotyping PCRs, then a Masters student and finally a PhD. We will surely miss such an amazing scientist, and amazing person, in our lab.

Sunday
Jul232017

Journal club: smell drives obesity

A fascinating study has just come out in Cell Metabolism. Two groups looked at the role of the sense of smell in altering metabolism.

In one set of experiments, mice were depleted of their sense of smell and then put on a high-fat diet. Unlike their smelling-competent peers, the smelling-defective mice did not put on as much weight. In fact, if mice were first made obese, removing the sense of smell resulted in weight loss. This was not due to altered food consumption, which was equal in both mouse strains. 

In a second set of experiments, a strain of mice were generated which were "super-sniffers", with an enhanced ability to smell. When these mice were put on a high fat diet, they gained weight at a faster level then their wildtype siblings, the reverse effect of knocking out the sense of smell. Again, this was not due to any change in the amount of food eaten - the conclusion is that smelling fatty foods acts in an independent circuit to eating fatty foods, and reprogrammes the adipocytes into a high storage setting.

These studies should be the end of the silly "physics model" of obesity, which postulates that humans are essentially perfect machines where weight is driven only by calories in (diet) and calories out (exercise). This model has been proven over and over again to be incorrect in essentially every aspect. Adipose tissue is not an inert storage for extra calories, it is an active tissue that can be programmed and reprogrammed to increase or decrease. This adipocyte program is altered by genetics, epigenetics, microbiomics, immunology and the environment, as well as the diet and exercise postulated in the physics model. Unfortunately I doubt very much that this study, or future studies, will throw off the allure of the "physics model" to replace it with a biological model - victim blaming is too well entrenched in both the public and medical spheres.

Read the paper here: Riera et al, "The sense of smell impacts metabolic health and obesity", Cell Metabolism 2017. 26(1) p198.

Monday
Jul102017

Quote of the week

Wednesday
Jul052017

Research hall of fame

"Hey, whatever happened to that really good tech you had?"

"Sad story, really, she got married".

Getting married as a woman in the 1940s - literally equivalent to career death.

Friday
Jun302017

Oxford sabbatical

 

Thanks to the Guy Newton Research Fund I am currently enjoying a sabbatical at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, which today hosted an exceptional graduate school symposium. An impressive job by the PhD students here!


Wednesday
Jun282017

Congratulations to Dr Emanuela Pasciuto

Dr Emanuela Pasciuto was successful in obtaining a highly competitive FWO post-doctoral fellowship to continue her neuroimmunology research in our laboratory.

She is a wonderful role model as a young mother who is a highly successful scientist. Congratulations Manu!