Author Archives: Sean Nam

Caught in the Act: Partners in Crime behind Brain Diseases

The first step to treating a disease is to catch the culprit behind it. Researcher Jingfei and her team set out to do just that and discovered that hypoxia (a lack of oxygen) and inflammation act as partners in crime to cause damage to the brain.

hypoxia plus inflammation

The main result of Jingfei’s research. (Image: credits to Sean)


Jingfei’s recent publication from the University of British Columbia (UBC), highlighted the key role that hypoxia plays in brain damaging diseases such as Alzheimer’s, something that has been overlooked in past studies. They found that hypoxia and inflammation combined is what causes long term damage to the brain.

“This is a never-before-seen mechanism among three key players in the brain that interact together in neurodegenerative disorders,” says Jingfei’s supervisor, Brian MacVicar, from the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health at UBC. The three key players that he is referring to are hypoxia, inflammation, and microglia (the immune cells of the brain).

By manipulating the brain slices of rodents using various techniques, the researchers tracked the movement of microglia and found that the two factors, hypoxia and inflammation, work together to permanently weaken the connections between brain cells. Furthermore, the damaging effects of the two factors may worsen people’s memory, which is one of the early symptoms of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Pictures (or rather videos) are worth a thousand words so watch below to see exactly how they went about conducting this exciting research and what they found.

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 (Video: Credits to Ian, Siana, Shikha, and Sean)

So, who will benefit from this research? Jingfei said, “Well I think right now it still will be researchers, because this paper is more like a new finding of something people didn’t know before, so hopefully […] they can build more realistic model on top of it.”

Moreover, some researchers have already built upon her research in the short  time that has passed since her paper was published. Researchers at Cambridge University have broadened our understanding of microglia in a recent study. They found that microglia are not just important after injury to the brain, but also for daily functioning.

In another study, researchers looked at human brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to see if they’re related to inflammatory conditions in multiple sclerosis (MS). They found that the type of inflammation found in brain diseases is completely different from the inflammatory conditions in MS.

At the rate that research around the world is being conducted, we can only hope to see clinical applications in the near future that hopefully bring us a step closer to finding a cure for brain diseases.

We can do our part in helping researchers gain more support in their studies by raising awareness of brain diseases. It’s important for people to be aware of these diseases and realize how devastating they can be to the patient, and their  loved ones.

Participants of Walk to End Alzheimer’s 2014

Participants of Walk to End Alzheimer’s 2014. (Flickr Image: Yooperann)

Below is our “Myth or Fact” podcast that aims to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s, which affects over 15% of Canadians over the age of 65. Listen to find out just how much some of the brightest students at UBC know about Alzheimer’s.


(Podcast: Credits to Ian, Siana, Shikha, and Sean.
Music: Credits to House Theme Song from YouTube User: Damaster00777)
No copyright infringement intended

– Written by Ian, Siana, Shikha and Sean

The Quest for Weight Loss- Does Macronutrients Composition Matter?

Intermittent fasting, IIFYM, ketogenic diet, Atkins diet, carbohydrate cycling, Paleo diet, the Zone diet, and the list goes on and on. If you are a fitness enthusiast, you might have heard all these names of diets; if you are not interested, you might have heard none. However, I’m willing to bet that most of us have experience struggling, or will struggle when older, with diets in order to lose weight. So how would you design your own weight loss diet? Would you count your macro-nutrients?

Weight loss is a stressful process. Image: "las vegas weight loss" by Dave WilliamsWeight loss is frustrating.
(Image: “las vegas weight loss” by Dave Williams)

Let me back up a little bit to talk about diets in the media. In the perspective of a newbie dieter, researching about diets can be extremely difficult. This is because weight loss represents perhaps the epitome of misinformation (false information spread unintentionally) and disinformation (false information spread intentionally) in the media. Not surprisingly, weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry in the US. Thus, inevitably, there are countless scams revolving around this industry, which get in the way of our research. Hopefully, this short video will help you avoid some of those horrible diets.

Now let’s get to the meat of this discussion- macronutrients composition. There are three macronutrients in food: carbohydrates , fat , and protein . Each have different priorities, functions, reactions, and modes of storage in the body, which makes analyzing different diets quite challenging… or does it?

Apparently not, according to research, when it comes to weight loss alone. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that weight loss can be achieved no matter what composition of macronutrients you decide to implement in your diet, as long as there is a caloric deficit. These researchers assigned 811 overweight individuals to 4 diets which emphasize different macronutrients. After 2 years, they found out that all groups had clinically meaningful weight loss results. Therefore, it would be a waste of time to calculate macronutrients composition if our goal is to simply lose weight.

However, I cannot stress enough that macronutrients composition plays a crucial role if our goal is anything more specific than losing weight. For example, if we are trying to lose fat and gain muscles, we would need lots of protein. To gain a better understanding of how to diet to gain muscles, watch this video on how much protein you require in your diet.

Weight loss is often a stressful process, but now with macronutrients calculations out of the way, all you need to be concerned about is reducing caloric intake and/or increasing caloric output. This means that you can eat less of whatever you normally eat and/or exercise more frequently to lose weight. It’s that simple!

– Sean Nam

Does Violence in Video Games Translate to Violence in Reality?

In today’s market, more violent video games (VVG) seem to be more “horrorshow”. According to IGN, the top 10 best-selling games of 2014 in the US  includes Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Watch Dogs, Call of Duty: Ghosts and, not surprisingly, Grand Theft Auto 5, all of which are rated M for mature (17+). Evidently, gamers today crave for something more spiced up then Super Mario Bros, Sonic, Rayman, or Kirby. Then the question is, should we be concerned about the increasing demand for VVG?

Image: Grand Theft Auto is one of the most controversial video games known to the public.

Grand Theft Auto is one of the most controversial games known to the public. (Image: GTA5, Flickr Commons.)

The relationship between consumption of VVG and real-life violence has been heavily debated among scientists and the general population for decades. This debate is especially unique and difficult because it is hard to approach this topic from an unbiased point of view. This is because video games concern people of all ages, including young gamers, old gamers, and parents who have children that play video games. Frankly, I hold a bias as well.

As a gamer, I’m more inclined to believe that VVG do not a cause real-life violence. In a recent study published in the journal Physiology of Popular Media Culture in 2014, Markey and his team set out to find the relationship between 1. video game sales, Internet keyword searches for violent video game guides and 2. violent crimes in the US. Surprisingly, their results suggested that increase in violent video game consumption correlated with decrease in violent crimes. Plainly, VVG look quite innocent from this angle.

On the other hand, there are some studies supporting that consumption of VVG is correlated with violence in real life (there are a lot more studies that suggest a link between VVG and violent thoughts). One of few such examples can be found in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In 2000, Anderson and his team found that playing VVG is associated with “aggressive behaviour” in real life. Similarly, the general consensus for other correlational studies seem to be against VVG.

Violence in Video Games

Does VVG translate to violence in reality? (Image: Do violent games make violent kids? Tiffany Campbell, Flickr Commons.)

So what should we make of all this? One important thing to note while comparing the two aforementioned studies is their difference in the definition of “violence”. While Markey only considered extreme violent crimes such as homicides and aggravated assaults, Anderson looked at aggressive thoughts and behaviours, including verbal and physical aggression. Thus, if both presented studies are true, then one implication of these studies combined might be that consumption of VVG will increase aggressive thoughts and behaviours while decreasing violent crimes in  the general population.

Watch the video below to see the Youtube channel Healthcare Triage give a more in-depth stab at this topic.

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Video: Courtesy of the Healthcare Triage team.

In conclusion, it is up to you to take a side for VVG, against VVG, or stay neutral until more research is conducted. The next time you go shopping for video games, whether it be for yourself or for your children, I hope you can make the right choice.

-Sean Nam

Virtual Reality is Becoming a Reality: A clinical application of VR

March of 2014 was a memorable month when Facebook bought Oculus Rift, a virtual reality (VR) headset that lets users experience the virtual world literally in first person view. The Oculus Rift was bought for a whopping 2 billion dollars. Why? Because there are countless non-entertainment applications besides gaming and dating simulations that have been, or would be, groundbreaking in their respective fields. For instance, VR has been clinically used for decades to treat patients with phobias.

Palmer Luckey, creator of Oculus, tries on an Oculus development kit (Image: Palmer Luckey wearing Oculus Rift DK1 at SVVR 2014. Wikimedia Commons).

Conventionally, one of the popular methods of treating phobias is through an exposure therapy, otherwise known as a systematic desensitization. As the names suggest, the idea of this treatment is to expose the patient to his/her fear periodically with increasing intensity until the patient adapts and is no longer phobic.

So how exactly is VR useful in exposure therapies? Let’s imagine ourselves in the shoes of a therapist or a doctor trying to design a treatment procedure for a phobic patient.

Obviously, some phobias would be easy to recreate. For example, arachnophobia is a fear of spiders. Patients with arachnophobia would be asked to look at and touch real spiders, which are easy enough to obtain.

A hypothetical high level exposure for patients with arachnophobia (Image: Arachnophobia100. Wikimedia Commons).

On the other hand, some phobias would be difficult, economically unfavourable, or downright impossible to recreate. For example, deipnophobia is a fear of dinner parties and dinner conversations. It would be highly inconvenient for the doctors to find or throw a dinner party every week for this patient.

Therefore, designing a virtual world would open new possibilities for patients such as these. Using a VR console, patients would be able to experience any level of exposure intensities, every aspect under control by the conductor of the VR.

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(Video: Courtesy of Macquarie University)

You may be wondering ‘exactly how effective is a VR therapy?’ If you guessed that it is not as effective as a standard exposure therapy, guess again! Here is a famous research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology which tested on patients with a fear of flight. The research team found that the patients who were treated with VR exposure had the same positive results as the patients who were treated with standard exposure as compared to those who did not receive a treatment.

Overall, I believe that the increasing availability of VR consoles such as Oculus Rift will change the game for the medical industry, at least in the psychology department. In the past, VR machines were too expensive, so only a few clinics could afford them. Now Oculus Rift is expected to be released this year for the highly affordable price range of 200-400 US dollars. Indeed, this year will be a stepping stone for the great science-fiction-esque future we have all been dreaming about.

– Sean Nam