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Updated: 4 years 49 weeks ago

DNA Repair Proteins Light Up Columbia Crown

Thu, 12/27/2012 - 17:41

These blue dots are not the latest innovation in holiday lighting technology. But they do come from some of the latest technological innovations at Columbia’s Center for Radiological Research and its Radiological Research Accelerator Facility.

The image shows off the capabilities of RARAF’s “UV Microspot,” a laser irradiator designed at RARAF to deliver UV radiation to precise, submicron-sized locations inside single cells. (A micron is about 1/100th the width of a human hair, or about 1/10th the width of a single grain of pollen.)

RARAF researchers and visiting scientists from around the world use a variety of micron and submicron microbeams and microspots to observe a cell’s response to damage caused by radiation. Damage to a cell’s DNA can lead to cancer – unless the cell can repair the damage.

The 59 dots in the Columbia crown represent hundreds of DNA repair proteins (labeled with a molecule that glows) that have migrated to 59 spots of DNA damage inside the nucleus of a single cell. The DNA repair proteins in this image are called XRCC1, which may have a role in causing cancer when they do not function properly.

To learn more about the UV Microspot, visit the RARAF website.

Wellness Center Helps Students Shake Off Exam Stress

Wed, 12/19/2012 - 10:18

Students aren’t the only ones with hectic schedules during exam time at Columbia University Medical Center.

Through its Relax Renew Recharge program, CUMC’s Center for Student Wellness is also busy in the weeks around finals helping students cope with the stress.

And as befitting an academic medical center, all the stress management techniques available to student are evidence-based. This semester, along with offering a steady supply of snacks and study aids, the center helped students learn how to make their own herbal tea bags, meditate, and chant. They also were offered mini containers of Play-Doh.

“Studies in adult learning indicate that having something to play with while studying increases focus for learning,” says Jane Bogart, director of the center.

Relax Renew Recharge events attract hundreds of students each semester; about 80 made their way to Bard Hall last week to build their own snow globes.

The Center for Student Wellness provided the materials – including jars, plastic figurines and multiple colors of glitter – and the students provided creativity. One shake, and snow globes were born.

The Center for Student Wellness is active year-round at CUMC, organizing wellness activities and providing “one-stop shopping” for students seeking support for a variety of personal and academic issues, including roommate conflict, anxiety, and nutrition advice.


CUMC Recognizes Mentors with New Awards

Tue, 12/18/2012 - 16:21

Elizabeth Shane, second from left, was named CUMC Mentor of the Year. Henry Ginsberg, Melissa Begg, and Karina Davidson from the Irving Institute presented the award. Photo: David Zhai.

CUMC faculty members were honored with the first campus-wide mentorship awards presented by the Office of Academic Affairs and the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at a luncheon on Dec. 10.

“Mentors can have a tremendous impact on the careers of students and young investigators,” said Melissa Begg, ScD, co-director of the Irving Institute, “and their extraordinary work is often done quietly, modestly, and without any demonstrable reward. We wanted to change that.”

The inaugural Mentor of the Year Award was presented to Elizabeth Shane, MD, professor and vice-chair for clinical and epidemiological research in the Department of Medicine.

In their nomination letters, Dr. Shane’s mentees wrote that she is endlessly generous with her time, professional knowledge, and emotional support; builds confidence and independence; and does not aggressively lead you in one direction, but instead logically lays out options based on what she knows about the person’s skills and personality. In the words of one nominator, she has “changed the course of my career.”

Dr. Shane also co-directs the Young Faculty Mentoring Program in the Department of Medicine and works diligently to find the perfect collaborator for each mentee.

Three faculty mentors received Honorable Mentions (excerpts from their nomination letters appear in quotes):

Frances Levin (left), Suzanne Bakken, and J. Thomas Bigger received Honorable Mentions at the Mentor of the Year presentation.

Suzanne Bakken, RN, PhD, Alumni Professor of Nursing and professor of biomedical informatics, “has the respect of her mentees and colleagues not only for her tremendous expertise in the field, but also for her extreme compassion for others. Dr. Bakken’s mentoring does not cease upon graduation; she pushes her students to the edge, but knows when to stop.”

J. Thomas Bigger Jr., MD, professor of medicine and pharmacology “never makes mentoring seem like a burden and he treats his mentees and colleagues like family. He avoids prescriptive advice, instead letting his mentees reason through the process so that solutions come from within.”

Frances Levin, MD, Kennedy Leavy Professor of Clinical Psychiatry “is a wonderful sounding board and role model for those juggling career and family, but she is equally effective at providing encouragement and assistance at all stages of academic development. She builds self-reliance by working with mentees in a collaborative research partnership rather than a traditional mentor/mentee relationship.”

At the same luncheon, the Irving Institute also honored 68 pilot award recipients from the following programs: 2007-2011 Collaborative and Multidisciplinary Pilot Research (CaMPR) Phase I planning grants; 2012 CaMPR Phase II pilot awards; 2011 and 2012 Irving Institute/Clinical Trials Office pilot awards; and 2009 and 2012 Imaging Core pilot awards.

The Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Columbia University Medical Center is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program, grant UL1 TR00040. The CTSA program is led by the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).

Is Stress Really Bad for Your Heart?

Mon, 12/17/2012 - 13:48

Most people, including most cardiologists, would say yes to that question. But what’s the evidence behind the claim?

“The impact of stress on cardiovascular disease is one of the bedrocks of psychosomatic medicine,” says Donald Edmondson, PhD, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at P&S and the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health.

“But like a lot of things we think we know, it turns out that no one had gone back and systematically looked at the literature to see what’s really true.”

Edmondson and his colleagues decided to review the evidence behind two common beliefs about stress and heart disease: that long-term stress increases heart disease and intense emotions trigger heart attacks.


Perceived Stress Is a Risk Factor, but Only a Moderate One

The first thing the researchers learned when they examined the literature is that most studies that claim to measure stress do not.

“When you dig into these studies, you discover that they’re really asking about anxiety, depression or other disorders that are already well-established risk factors,” Edmondson says.

The researchers also omitted studies that relied on more objective measures of stress, such as demanding occupations or caring for relatives. “You don’t to work 80 hours a week to be stressed in your life,” Edmondson says. “We picked studies that simply asked participants: how stressed are you?”

Edmondson and his colleagues Safiya Richardson, MD, a 2012 P&S graduate, and Jonathan Shaffer, PhD, assistant professor of clinical medicine, found six such studies between 1948 and 2011 – with a combined 118,000 participants.

The results show that people who feel a high degree of stress in their lives are 27 percent more likely to develop heart disease or die from heart disease. That makes long-term stress a moderate risk factor for heart disease, comparable to smoking five cigarettes a day, or a small increase in blood pressure or cholesterol.

“High stress is not a huge factor in heart disease, but it’s not nothing. Negative emotions accumulate and are corrosive over time,” Edmondson adds. “The good news is that we know there are things people can do to reduce stress, things like exercise, yoga, or time with good friends.”


Emotional Triggers Are Not Very Common

At first glance, the research seems to back up the common belief that sudden, intense emotions trigger heart attacks. Recent studies suggest anger and depression nearly triple the risk, and grief raises the risk an incredible 21 times over the average.

Again, Edmondson and his colleagues dug deeply into these studies and asked how the numbers came about.

“The answer is: People have a heart attack or cardiac arrest, they go to the hospital, they survive, and then a researcher comes by and asks if they had any negative emotions before the event,” he explains. “As a psychologist I know that when something negative happens, people are much more likely to recall that preceding events were also negative.”

That “recall” bias means very little is really known about the true prevalence and severity of emotional triggers, although it is unlikely to account for more than 2 or 3 percent of all heart attacks or arrests.

But identifying those 2 to 3 percent is important. The researchers suggest that animal studies could provide more insight into the physiology of negative emotions and help identify people who may be most prone to emotional triggers.

In the meantime, Edmondson says people shouldn’t try to stifle strong emotions. “If you’re really worried about your cardiovascular health, avoiding anger would be far down the list,” he says. “Exercise, smoking, blood pressure, and cholesterol have much bigger effects on heart health, and that’s where people should start.”


The findings were published in the Dec. 15 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology and Nov. 23 in advanced access section of the European Heart Journal. The research was supported by the NIH (grants HL088117, HL47540, HL101663, HL84034, HL007854, CA156709, and Columbia University’s CTSA grant RR024156).


With $200 Million Gift, Mortimer B. Zuckerman Endows Mind Brain Behavior Institute

Mon, 12/17/2012 - 08:13
Mortimer B. Zuckerman has pledged $200 million to endow a Mind Brain Behavior Institute to support interdisciplinary neuroscience research and discovery by scholars across the University.

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