Tag Archives: Louisiana State University

Hallucinogenic molecules and the brain

Psychedelic drugs seems to be enjoying a ‘moment’. After decades of being vilified and  declared illegal (in many jurisdictions), psychedelic (or hallucinogenic) drugs are once again being tested for use in therapy. A Sept. 1, 2017 article by Diana Kwon for The Scientist describes some of the latest research (I’ve excerpted the section on molecules; Note: Links have been removed),

Mind-bending molecules

© SEAN MCCABE

All the classic psychedelic drugs—psilocybin, LSD, and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the active component in ayahuasca—activate serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) receptors, which are distributed throughout the brain. In all likelihood, this receptor plays a key role in the drugs’ effects. Krähenmann [Rainer Krähenmann, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of Zurich]] and his colleagues in Zurich have discovered that ketanserin, a 5-HT2A receptor antagonist, blocks LSD’s hallucinogenic properties and prevents individuals from entering a dreamlike state or attributing personal relevance to the experience.12,13

Other research groups have found that, in rodent brains, 2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine (DOI), a highly potent and selective 5-HT2A receptor agonist, can modify the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)—a protein that, among other things, regulates neuronal survival, differentiation, and synaptic plasticity. This has led some scientists to hypothesize that, through this pathway, psychedelics may enhance neuroplasticity, the ability to form new neuronal connections in the brain.14 “We’re still working on that and trying to figure out what is so special about the receptor and where it is involved,” says Katrin Preller, a postdoc studying psychedelics at the University of Zurich. “But it seems like this combination of serotonin 2A receptors and BDNF leads to a kind of different organizational state in the brain that leads to what people experience under the influence of psychedelics.”

This serotonin receptor isn’t limited to the central nervous system. Work by Charles Nichols, a pharmacology professor at Louisiana State University, has revealed that 5-HT2A receptor agonists can reduce inflammation throughout the body. Nichols and his former postdoc Bangning Yu stumbled upon this discovery by accident, while testing the effects of DOI on smooth muscle cells from rat aortas. When they added this drug to the rodent cells in culture, it blocked the effects of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), a key inflammatory cytokine.

“It was completely unexpected,” Nichols recalls. The effects were so bewildering, he says, that they repeated the experiment twice to convince themselves that the results were correct. Before publishing the findings in 2008,15 they tested a few other 5-HT2A receptor agonists, including LSD, and found consistent anti-inflammatory effects, though none of the drugs’ effects were as strong as DOI’s. “Most of the psychedelics I have tested are about as potent as a corticosteroid at their target, but there’s something very unique about DOI that makes it much more potent,” Nichols says. “That’s one of the mysteries I’m trying to solve.”

After seeing the effect these drugs could have in cells, Nichols and his team moved on to whole animals. When they treated mouse models of system-wide inflammation with DOI, they found potent anti-inflammatory effects throughout the rodents’ bodies, with the strongest effects in the small intestine and a section of the main cardiac artery known as the aortic arch.16 “I think that’s really when it felt that we were onto something big, when we saw it in the whole animal,” Nichols says.

The group is now focused on testing DOI as a potential therapeutic for inflammatory diseases. In a 2015 study, they reported that DOI could block the development of asthma in a mouse model of the condition,17 and last December, the team received a patent to use DOI for four indications: asthma, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome. They are now working to move the treatment into clinical trials. The benefit of using DOI for these conditions, Nichols says, is that because of its potency, only small amounts will be required—far below the amounts required to produce hallucinogenic effects.

In addition to opening the door to a new class of diseases that could benefit from psychedelics-inspired therapy, Nichols’s work suggests “that there may be some enduring changes that are mediated through anti-inflammatory effects,” Griffiths [Roland Griffiths, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University] says. Recent studies suggest that inflammation may play a role in a number of psychological disorders, including depression18 and addiction.19

“If somebody has neuroinflammation and that’s causing depression, and something like psilocybin makes it better through the subjective experience but the brain is still inflamed, it’s going to fall back into the depressed rut,” Nichols says. But if psilocybin is also treating the inflammation, he adds, “it won’t have that rut to fall back into.”

If it turns out that psychedelics do have anti-inflammatory effects in the brain, the drugs’ therapeutic uses could be even broader than scientists now envision. “In terms of neurodegenerative disease, every one of these disorders is mediated by inflammatory cytokines,” says Juan Sanchez-Ramos, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida who in 2013 reported that small doses of psilocybin could promote neurogenesis in the mouse hippocampus.20 “That’s why I think, with Alzheimer’s, for example, if you attenuate the inflammation, it could help slow the progression of the disease.”

For anyone who was never exposed to the anti-hallucinogenic drug campaigns, this turn of events is mindboggling. There was a great deal of concern especially with LSD in the 1960s and it was not entirely unfounded. In my own family, a distant cousin, while under the influence of the drug, jumped off a building believing he could fly.  So, Kwon’s story opening with a story about someone being treated successfully for depression with a psychedelic drug was surprising to me . Why these drugs are being used successfully for psychiatric conditions when so much damage was apparently done under the influence in decades past may have something to do with taking the drugs in a controlled environment and, possibly, smaller dosages.

Skyrmions and ultra-thin multilayer film

The National University of Singapore (NUS) and skyrmions are featured in an April 10, 2017 news item on phys.org,

A team of scientists led by Associate Professor Yang Hyunsoo from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering has invented a novel ultra-thin multilayer film which could harness the properties of tiny magnetic whirls, known as skyrmions, as information carriers for storing and processing data on magnetic media.

The nano-sized thin film, which was developed in collaboration with researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and Louisiana State University, is a critical step towards the design of data storage devices that use less power and work faster than existing memory technologies. The invention was reported in prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications on 10 March 2017.

An April 10, 2017 NUS press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

Tiny magnetic whirls with huge potential as information carriers

The digital transformation has resulted in ever-increasing demands for better processing and storing of large amounts of data, as well as improvements in hard drive technology. Since their discovery in magnetic materials in 2009, skyrmions, which are tiny swirling magnetic textures only a few nanometres in size, have been extensively studied as possible information carriers in next-generation data storage and logic devices.

Skyrmions have been shown to exist in layered systems, with a heavy metal placed beneath a ferromagnetic material. Due to the interaction between the different materials, an interfacial symmetry breaking interaction, known as the Dzyaloshinskii-Moriya interaction (DMI), is formed, and this helps to stabilise a skyrmion. However, without an out-of-plane magnetic field present, the stability of the skyrmion is compromised. In addition, due to its tiny size, it is difficult to image the nano-sized materials.

To address these limitations, the researchers worked towards creating stable magnetic skyrmions at room temperature without the need for a biasing magnetic field.

Unique material for data storage

The NUS team, which also comprises Dr Shawn Pollard and Ms Yu Jiawei from the NUS Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, found that a large DMI could be maintained in multilayer films composed of cobalt and palladium, and this is large enough to stabilise skyrmion spin textures.

In order to image the magnetic structure of these films, the NUS researchers, in collaboration with Brookhaven National Laboratory in the United States, employed Lorentz transmission electron microscopy (L-TEM). L-TEM has the ability to image magnetic structures below 10 nanometres, but it has not been used to observe skyrmions in multilayer geometries previously as it was predicted to exhibit zero signal. However, when conducting the experiments, the researchers found that by tilting the films with respect to the electron beam, they found that they could obtain clear contrast consistent with that expected for skyrmions, with sizes below 100 nanometres.

Dr Pollard explained, “It has long been assumed that there is no DMI in a symmetric structure like the one present in our work, hence, there will be no skyrmion. It is really unexpected for us to find both large DMI and skyrmions in the multilayer film we engineered. What’s more, these nanoscale skyrmions persisted even after the removal of an external biasing magnetic field, which are the first of their kind.”

Assoc Prof Yang added, “This experiment not only demonstrates the usefulness of L-TEM in studying these systems, but also opens up a completely new material in which skyrmions can be created. Without the need for a biasing field, the design and implementation of skyrmion based devices are significantly simplified. The small size of the skyrmions, combined with the incredible stability generated here, could be potentially useful for the design of next-generation spintronic devices that are energy efficient and can outperform current memory technologies.”

Next step

Assoc Prof Yang and his team are currently looking at how nanoscale skyrmions interact with each other and with electrical currents, to further the development of skyrmion based electronics.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Observation of stable Néel skyrmions in cobalt/palladium multilayers with Lorentz transmission electron microscopy by Shawn D. Pollard, Joseph A. Garlow, Jiawei Yu, Zhen Wang, Yimei Zhu & Hyunsoo Yang. Nature Communications 8, Article number: 14761 (2017) doi:10.1038/ncomms14761 Published online: 10 March 2017

This is an open access paper.

Survey ends today—The last* chance to participate

The survey being conducted by Paige Jarreau and Science Borealis (Canadian science blog aggregator) is coming to an end today. If you have any interest in participating here’s more including a link from my Nov. 25, 2015 posting,

… Dr. Paige Jarreau from Louisiana State University and 20 other Canadian science bloggers [are conducting] a broad survey of Canadian science blog readers.

Together we are trying to find out who reads science blogs in Canada, where they come from, whether Canadian-specific content is important to them and where they go for trustworthy, accurate science news and information. Your feedback will also help me learn more about my own blog readers.

It only take 5 minutes [I’d say more like 20 minutes as there’s more than one ‘essay’ question in addition to the questions where you tick off a box] to complete the survey. Begin here: http://bit.ly/ScienceBorealisSurvey

If you complete the survey you will be entered to win one of eleven prizes! A $50 Chapters Gift Card, a $20 surprise gift card, 3 Science Borealis T-shirts and 6 Surprise Gifts! PLUS everyone who completes the survey will receive a free hi-resolution science photograph from Paige’s Photography!

Ooops! I got the deadline wrong several times in that November 25, 2015 posting. The correct deadline is today, Dec. 14, 2015.

If you read one of the blogs being aggregated by Science Borealis, you are eligible to enter and win a prize no matter where in the world you live. Organizers will try to ensure that prizes are age appropriate.

They have compiled some preliminary results:

  • 21 bloggers + Science Borealis hosted the survey.
  • 523 respondents began the survey.
  • 338 respondents entered their email addresses to win a prize
  • 63% of 400 Respondents are not science bloggers
  • 56% of 402 Respondents describe themselves as scientists
  • 76% of 431 Respondents were not familiar with Science Borealis before taking the survey
  • 85% of 403 Respondents often, very often or always seek out science information online.
  • 59% of 402 Respondents rarely or never seek science content that is specifically Canadian
  • Of 400 Respondents, locations were: 35% Canada, 35% US, 30% Other.

To anyone who linked to the survey from here, I’m very appreciative. The data is being broken down blog by blog so I will find out a little about the FrogHeart readership (the ones who participated, that is). As well, thank you to all the participants regardless of which link you used to get to the survey. It’s very exciting to see the numbers of people who took the time to start the survey. I don’t know about you but, in my book, ‘survey’ requests can be quite tiresome. So, I’m deeply thankful and will be sharing the results once they have been disseminated.

*’ast’ in headline changed to ‘last’ on Dec. 14, 2015 at 1755 hours PST.

Survey of Canadian science blog readers

Science Borealis, which is a Canadian science blog aggregator (an online location where you can find approximately 100 Canadian science blogs), is surveying blog readers in partnership with Dr. Paige Jarreau; further down this posting, I’m extending their invitation to participate *(deadline: Dec. 14, 2015)* but first a few details about Dr. Jarreau and the research.

About Dr. Paige Jareau

It seems she’s a photographer, as well as, a researcher,

Macro image of the eye of an endangered California Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii. Credit: Paige Jarreau

Macro image of the eye of an endangered California Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii. Credit: Paige Jarreau

You can find more of her photographs here.

Jarreau doesn’t seem to have updated her profiles in a while but here are two (one from her blog From the Lab Bench on the SciLogs.com blogging network and one from her academic webpage,

I am a Bio/Nanotechnology scientist turned journalist, with an M.S. in Biological & Agricultural Engineering. Science is my interest, but writing is my passion. I translate science into story, and my dream is to inspire a love for science in every reader. I am also a new PhD student at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications, focusing in science communications and policy. I currently conduct research on the communication of science—specifically climate science—to various publics, and I write about all things science on a daily basis. Please feel free to ask me questions anytime, and follow me on Twitter @FromTheLabBench.

I’m always ready for a challenge, and I live to be inspired by science.

I will earn my PhD in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University in May 2015, and will soon be a post-doctoral researcher at the Manship School of Mass Communication, LSU (Fall 2015-Spring 2016). I currently study communication practices at the intersection of science communication and new media.

Her PhD dissertation is titled: All the Science That Is Fit to Blog: An Analysis of Science Blogging Practices and this is the portion of the abstract available for viewing,

This dissertation examines science blogging practices, including motivations, routines and content decision rules, across a wide range of science bloggers. Previous research has largely failed to investigate science blogging practices from science bloggers’ perspective or to establish a sociological framework for understa…

It seems that Jarreau has turned her attention to science blog readers for her latest research.

Jarreau’s research

Her latest work began with phase one in October 2015. Here’s the announcement from her Oct. 21, 2015 posting on From the Lab Bench (Scilogs.com), Note: A link has been removed,

Have you ever read one of these science blogs? Then head on over to fill out a readership survey for their blogs! We will learn much more about why people read science blogs, and you’ll get awesome prizes for participating, from science art to cash!

(Note – you have to completely fill out a readership survey for one of these blogs before taking the survey for another one of these blogs – but the survey will be shorter for the second blog you fill it out for!)

The survey closes on November 20th [2015] at midnight central US time!

In phase two, Jarreau has teamed up with Science Borealis, which started out as an aggregator for Canadian science blogs but has refashioned itself (from the Science Borealis About us page),

An inclusive digital science salon featuring Canadians blogging about a wide array of scientific disciplines. Science Borealis is a one-stop shop for the public, media, educators, and policy makers to source Canadian science information.

I wish they weren’t claiming to be “inclusive.” It’s too much like somebody introducing themselves as a “nice” or “kind” or … person. The truth is always the opposite.

Getting back to this latest phase of Jarreau’s research, approximately 20 Canadian science bloggers are participating through Science Borealis rather than the independent blog participation from phase one.

Extending the invitation

*From a Nov. 24, 2015 Science Borealis email,*

… Dr. Paige Jarreau from Louisiana State University and 20 other Canadian science bloggers [are conducting] a broad survey of Canadian science blog readers. Together we are trying to find out who reads science blogs in Canada, where they come from, whether Canadian-specific content is important to them and where they go for trustworthy, accurate science news and information. Your feedback will also help me learn more about my own blog readers.

It only take 5 minutes [I’d say more like 20 minutes as there’s more than one ‘essay’ question in addition to the questions where you tick off a box] to complete the survey. Begin here: http://bit.ly/ScienceBorealisSurvey

If you complete the survey you will be entered to win one of eleven prizes! A $50 Chapters Gift Card, a $20 surprise gift card, 3 Science Borealis T-shirts and 6 Surprise Gifts! PLUS everyone who completes the survey will receive a free hi-resolution science photograph from Paige’s Photography!

*(deadline for participating: Dec. 14, 2015)* You do have to read and ‘sign’ the consent form which provides a few more details about the research and outlines the privacy policy.

Having completed the survey, I do have a couple of comments. First, I’m delighted that this research is being conducted. I have stumbled across similar research some years ago but never had the chance to participate. (For anyone interested in previous research in this area),

Science, New Media, and the Public by Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele. Science 4 January 2013: Vol. 339 no. 6115 pp. 40-41 DOI: 10.1126/science.1232329

While the paper is behind a paywall, the link will take to you to the paper’s abstract and, more interestingly, a list of papers which have cited Brossard’s and Scheufele’s work.

Unfortunately, I found the survey a little confusing in that I was answering questions about Science Borealis  as if it were a blog but I use it as an aggregator. (I used the link from Science Borealis, I believe if you use the link from here you will be asked about FrogHeart first.) Science Borealis does have a blog which I don’t read often as it  represents a diversity of science interests and those don’t always coincide with mine.

Also, I was sorry to see the age demographic breakdowns which were fine for certain ages but started at the age of 15. While I realize it’s unlikely that I or my colleagues have many readers under the age of 15, it would be interesting to find out if there are any. As well, Vancouver’s Science World has a blog that’s on Science Borealis and chances are good that they might have child readers, assuming they might be participating. Moving to the other end of the spectrum, the last category was age 60 and up. We have an aging population in Canada and the United States and weirdly no one questions this huge category of 60 or 64 and up. It seems obvious to me but there’s a difference between being 60 and 75, which researchers will never find out because they don’t bother asking the question. It’s not just social science and marketing researchers, more worryingly, it includes medical researchers. Yes, all those research studies telling you a drug is safe almost always don’t apply to anyone over the age of 55.

Those comments aside, here again is the link to the survey,

 http://bit.ly/ScienceBorealisSurvey

Good Luck on winning a prize.

*’From a Nov. 24, 2015 Science Borealis email’ added on Nov. 25, 2015 at 1240 hours PDT.

*'(deadline for participating: Dec. 14, 2015)’ added Nov. 25, 2015 at 1535 hours PDT and changed from ‘Dec. 16, 2015’ to ‘Dec. 14, 2015’ on Dec. 14, 2015.

*Note: I have not been able to find a mention of if, when, and/or where the results of the survey will be disseminated or published. Added Nov. 25, 2015 at 1535 hours PDT.*

GUMBOS, the nanoparticle kind

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has posted its latest episode (GUMBOS; an interview with Isiah Warner) of the Prized Science podcast series according to a Nov. 19, 2013 news release on EurekAltert,

A group of nanoparticles called “GUMBOS” is as varied as their culinary namesake implies, with a wide range of potential applications from cancer therapy to sensors. GUMBOS are the focus of a new video from the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Prized Science series. The videos are available at http://www.acs.org/PrizedScience.

The latest episode of Prized Science features Isiah Warner, Ph.D., this year’s winner of the ACS Award in Analytical Chemistry, sponsored by the Battelle Memorial Institute. He is a Boyd Professor of Chemistry at Louisiana State University. Among other research, the award recognizes Warner’s work developing GUMBOS, which is an acronym for “Group of Uniform Materials Based on Organic Salts.” In the video, Warner explains that the versatility of these nanoparticles, which are about 1/100,000th of the width of a human hair, comes from the ability to mix, match and tailor them to specific features for which a researcher is looking.

The next and final episode in the 2013 series of Prized Science features Esther Takeuchi, Ph.D., winner of the E. V. Murphee Award in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry.

Other episodes feature Tim Swager, Ph.D., winner of the 2013 ACS Award for Creative Invention; Peter J. Stang, Ph.D., winner of the 2013 ACS Priestley Medal; Greg Robinson, Ph.D., winner of the 2013 F. Albert Cotton Award; and Shirley Corriher, winner of the 2013 James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public.

ACS encourages educators, schools, museums, science centers, news organizations and others to embed Prized Science on their websites. The videos discuss scientific research in non-technical language for general audiences. New episodes in the series, which focuses on ACS’ 2013 national award recipients, will be issued periodically.

The 2013 edition of Prized Science features renowned scientists telling the story of their own research and its impact and potential impact on everyday life. Colorful graphics and images visually explain the award recipient’s research.

The ACS administers more than 60 national awards to honor accomplishments in chemistry and service to chemistry. The nomination process involves submission of forms, with winners selected by a committee consisting of ACS members who typically are technical experts in the nominee’s specific field of research.

Here is the GUMBOS podcast,


Here is the video description and full credit list provided by the ACS (from the YouTube page hosting the video).

Uploaded on Nov 18, 2013

A group of nanoparticles called “GUMBOS” is as varied as their culinary namesake implies, with a wide range of potential applications from cancer therapy to sensors. The latest episode of Prized Science features Isiah Warner, Ph.D., this year’s winner of the ACS Award in Analytical Chemistry. Among other research, the award recognizes Warner’s work developing GUMBOS, which is an acronym for “Group of Uniform Materials Based on Organic Salts.” In the video, Warner explains that the versatility of these nanoparticles, which are about 1/100,000th of the width of a human hair, comes from the ability to mix, match and tailor them to have the specific features that scientists might need for different applications.

Produced by the American Chemical Society
Video by XiaoZhi Lim
Animation by Sean Parsons

As far as I know, there’s only one song that features gumbo in its lyrics, Jambalaya by Hank Williams. Here’s a somewhat bouncy version by John Fogerty,

Enjoy!