Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Debunking textbook myths

We've been hearing a lot of saber-rattling regarding the prices of textbooks these days.

I have a son at a big Jesuit university right now . . . a daughter starting college next year . . . and a preschooler who may eventually get there when textbook prices are really high. So I know first hand how big textbook bills are. I even still take classes myself . . . so I'm forking over the big bucks, too!

On the other hand, the textbooks that I write do help pay those bills. Not entirely, but it helps.

As a professor at a community college, I'm also painfully aware of some of the hardships endured by students trying to get all the textbooks they need.

Living inside several camps within the debate about textbook prices and practices, I'm amazed at how many false assumptions are acted upon by students, professors, colleges and universities, and even state legislatures (including my own here in Missouri).

I think every debate benefits from hearing from all sides and all parties. So in that spirit, I offer you a new publication just released by the Text and Academic Authors Association (TAA), of which I am a member.

Check it out and use the "Comments" feature of The A&P Professor blog to share your own thoughts and experiences.

Click here to read the FREE brochure Debunking Myths about Textbooks (requires a PDF reader such as Adobe Reader or Foxit).

Feel free to share this material with students and colleagues!

[Interested in textbook or academic writing? Let TAA help you! Email me to find out how to get your first year of membership FREE! If you are interested in reviewing or writing in my own A&P projects, let me know that too!]

Monoclonal antibodies

In our textbook, Anatomy & Physiology, we have a large boxed essay in the chapter on Immunity (Chapter 21) on the topic of monoclonal antibodies.

Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are antibodies produced from a single, identical group of effector B-cells--a group called a clone. The antibodies therefore are all identical and act against the same antigen.

We have had, for quite some time, technology available to produce large quantities of mAbs by artificial means. And so we have been using mAbs for various therapies for decades.

Old news, right?

Well, hold on there . . . maybe not.

Like almost any technology in the life sciences, mAb technology has seen some recent advances that makes "old" technology work even better.

For example, a FREE article in PLoS Medicine recently described the production of mAbs that act against the avian flu. Wow. That means that we potentially have the means to use artificial passive immune therapies (rather than active vaccines) against this worrisome infection.

Prophylactic and Therapeutic Efficacy of Human Monoclonal Antibodies against H5N1 Influenza
Simmons CP, Bernasconi NL, Suguitan Jr. AL, Mills K, Ward JM, et al.
PLoS Medicine
Vol. 4, No. 5, e178 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040178

A September 23 article at the Nature website summarizes some of these advances, including some of the problems still faced by researchers trying to apply mAb technology to human therapies. Check out this FREE article:

Monoclonal antibodies come of age
Heidi Ledford
Nature.com Published online 23 September 2008 | 455, 437 (2008) | doi:10.1038/455437a

How memories are made

It's like a science fiction movie . . . you know, those cheap sci-fi thrillers in which some mad scientist discovers a way to read the memories by analyzing the nerve cells of somebody's brain . . . perhaps even transferring the memories to someone else's brain.

Or that new TV sci-fi called Fringe in which memories of both living subjects and the recently deceased can be "read" or analyzed.

Well, ok, it's not quite like that . . . but recently scientists have discovered a method to observe neurons in a living human brain creating, then recalling, specific memories. Using video clips of episodes from Seinfeld, The Simpsons, etc., researchers recorded memories being made, then later recalled.

They were able to tell which clip would be recalled a moment before the subject actually had the experience of recalling it!

Learn more about it in the summary article How Memories are Made and Recalled at Science Daily.

The original research findings are found in:

Internally Generated Reactivation of Single Neurons in Human Hippocampus During Free Recall

Hagar Gelbard-Sagiv, Roy Mukamel, Michal Harel, Rafael Malach, and Itzhak Fried.
, 2008; DOI: 10.1126/science.1164685

Hey, don't forget the FREE holiday lectures from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute on a related topic:

Video version of the periodic table!

I know, I know.

Not many of us spend a lot of time in A&P going over basic chemistry.

I usually go over the essential concepts from inorganic chemistry, what's an ion, what's pH, polar and nonpolar covalent bonds . . . and then some essential facts about the major classes of biomolecules encountered in A&P.

Very seldom do I spend any great time using the period table of elements, other than to point out where iron is, or hydrogen . . . or the fact that very few of the elements listed there even play a role in human biology . . . and usually just because there happens to be a big honking periodic table on my classroom wall.

But I do occasionally stress the particular and peculiar characteristics of certain elements. For example, I'd love to have a balloon full of hydrogen with me to show how light it is . . . and a match to show how explosive it is. But that'd be impractical for several reasons . . . including the fact that I simply don't want to spend a lot of time on a small point.

Now I have another option. The University of Nottingham has a Periodic Table of Videos available FREE online. I can access any of the short videos to use in my class . . . or I can link to them for my students to access.

Each video is short . . . and you could simply use the few seconds you need.

And because the videos are posted at YouTube, you could embed a video or two in one of your webpages. [NOTE: To learn how to embed YouTube videos visit the YouTube page at The A&P Professor website.]

This collection is probably a lot more useful for a chemistry course . . . but you might find one or two uses in your A&P course.

Here's a sample:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

William Carlos Williams

A bit of A&P people trivia . . .

As a man of many diverse interests, it is fascinating for me to hear stories of folks who are accomplished in several very different fields, especially one of them in human anatomy and physiology.

Take the case of William Carlos Williams, whose birthday in 1883 was celebrated last week. (You did get the invitation to the party, right?)

He is most well known around the world as a poet who won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry (alas, just after he died) for a collection of poems he wrote late in his career. His novels, plays, essays, short stories, and other works are also acclaimed. But did you know that he practiced medicine for more than four decades? Yes, as a New Jersey pediatrician he applied the principles of human A&P every day!

Of course he had a few poems fully informed and inspired by his knowledge and love of human structure and function! Take his poem Smell from the book Al Que Quiere! A Book of Poems (1917) . . .


    OH strong-ridged and deeply hollowed
    nose of mine! what will you not be smelling?
    What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose,
    always indiscriminate, always unashamed,
    and now it is the souring flowers of the bedreggled
    poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth
    beneath them. With what deep thirst
    we quicken our desires
    to that rank odor of a passing springtime!
    Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors
    for something less unlovely? What girl will care
    for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways?
    Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?
    Must you have a part in everything?

    William Carlos Williams
    (this poem is in the public domain)
So why not add little poetry to your olfaction discussion?

Do YOU have any poems inspired by A&P to share? Click the Comments blog link to share your own! Or email them to me (along with your permission) at info@theapprofessor.org and I'll publish them here and/or at The A&P Professor website!

Lipokines--a new class of hormones

And it continues . . .

. . . yet another hormone has been identified in the mammalian system.

[FYI, I announced this last Saturday by way of a voice mail message at The A&P Professor sample drop at drop.io . . . of which you would have been notified if you are subscribed to the drop. Click here for the how-to.]

When we begin our study of the endocrine system, I always tell my students, "there is coming a day when we'll have to include every tissue in the body as part of the endocrine system." Then a moment later, "and we'll soon see a time when a new hormone will be discovered every day [except perhaps major holidays!]."

OK, that's hyperbole. A commonly used teaching technique.

Now I'm wondering how "hyper" this particular hyperbole is!

We've known for some time that adipose tissue produces hormones. Last Friday, the journal Cell reported the discovery of yet another adipose hormone. What's unusual about this one is that it is a lipokine . . . a new class of lipid hormone that is not a steroid or protein. It is a fatty acid.

The newly discovered liopkine is called C16:1n7-palmitoleate. Oh my, if this turns out to be a central hormone that should be discussed in A&P class, can you just imagine the spelling errors that we are going to see! Let's hope they find a snappier name for it before we have to start using it regularly!

The new lipokine (notice how I'm avoiding use of its specific name!) was discovered in mice but is expected to behave similarly in humans. It's a fatty acid not commonly found circulating in high quantities in the blood. But it was found in high concentration in genetically altered super-healthy mice.

The new lipokine apparently has several actions that promote health, including:
  • increases the response of muscle tissue to insulin
  • regulates the liver's handling of fats, reducing buildup of harmful fats
  • reduces the inflammation mediators normally produced by adipose tissue (possibly reducing the inflammation associated with diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems)
At this early stage of discovery, the hope is that more investigation of the new hormone will lead to more effective treatments of obesity or health problems associated with obesity.

Want to learn more?

Identification of a Lipokine, a Lipid Hormone Linking Adipose Tissue to Systemic Metabolism
Cao, et al. Cell, Vol 134, 933-944, 19 September 2008
This is the original article (abstract is FREE; full article requires subscription or per-article payment)

First Lipid Hormone Discovered
Science News (web edition, September18, 2008)
Summarizes the discovery.

There's more in an expanded version of this article at The A&P Professor website!
There, you'll find a diagram of the molecule, pronunciation guides, additional references, and more.

We'll have to wait and see whether the discovery holds true for humans and what implications it really has for understanding human metabolism. But when I discuss "the two major categories" of hormones in my course I will now probably qualify that statement with a mention of this discovery.

Gender differences in brain development

I'm always amazed at the questions that scientists DON'T ask . . . everyday questions (if you think about human structure and function every day) that nobody has really looked at in the laboratory.

Both gender differences and normal aging are topics that are WAY under-researched in my opinion.

So it's interesting when new experiments in these areas are done . . . and what they reveal.

A recent article in the web-only version of Science News summarizes one such study that gives us new insights to the way that men's and women's brains age. The research, not yet published as I write this, suggests that age-related changes to the brain in older adulthood are different in men than in women. In this study, the "changes" were changes in levels of gene activity.

For example, the study suggests that men show age-related changes in the genes that regulate metabolic activity earlier than in women--at about age 60. But then the changes level off in men until about age 80. Women seem to start these changes later but don't appear to level off . . . they just keep going.

The authors of the study told Science News reporter Tina Hesman Saey that such metabolic changes in aging may perhaps be mitigated by health management strategies such as exercise.

Which remind me . . . it's time for my walk.

Summary article:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

HAPS Regional Conference Oct 4

Here's a great one-day conference specifically designed for A&P professors!

Howard Community College

Oct. 4, 2008

I've been to a lot of these regional conferences hosted by the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) and they are wonderful! It's a full day of general sessions and workshops, and often other highlights as well. This one seems to have a fine lineup of expert speakers and workshop presenters.

And the big bonus is the opportunity to chat with others who are doing the same thing I am . . . teaching A&P. My network always grows in meaningful ways at the HAPS conferences.

Click here for the brochure/application for this highly recommended event.

More histology images

Not long ago, I told you about the new wiki to collect and share histology images among A&P teachers.

Another great site with histology images that are FREE to use for noncommercial purposes is Blue Histology from the University of Western Australia.

You can find other links to FREE images to use in your PowerPoints, tests, lab quizzes, web pages, tutorials, etc. at my collection of free image links at The A&P Professor website.

If you have additional contributions as I build my collection of FREE images, please pass them along!

Breakthroughs in Bioscience

Do you want access to a great series of FREE full colors books?

Booklets from the Breakthroughs in Bioscience series by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) include a collection of wonderful resources for A&P professors.

These are portable document files (pdf) files that you can download and print or provide links for your students to access them. All you need is the free Foxit Reader (which I prefer) or Adobe Reader to download and read or print the files.

All in this series are written in an easy to understand style directed toward the interested layperson . . . so they are perfect for beginning A&P students. Most of them emphasize the discovery process of science rather than simply reveal concepts. This makes them ideal for adding that discovery dimension to your course. In other words, these booklets walk the reader through how science is done in a way that can't be done in a textbook or classroom.

For example, the book Science, Serotonin, and Sadness: the Biology Antidepressants is a great way to show students how knowledge of neurotransmitters and synaptic transmission has practical applications in real life.

To browse the whole list, go to Breakthroughs in Bioscience. They are also listed in my list of FREE books related to A&P at The A&P Professor website.

[Use the photo shown here FREE in your own presentations. Go to Wikimedia Commons for the .jpg file and more information.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Make up your Mind!

It's time again to start thinking about the holidays!

I recently received my postcard for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) 2008 Holiday Lectures on Science. This is another of an annual series of telecast lectures on current topics in the health sciences.

These lectures feature important scientists, including Nobel laureates, explaining cutting-edge topics in science. This year's lecture series:

These lectures feature Eric Kandel and Thomas Jessell of Columbia University. HHMI states that these lecturers "will help us understand how the nervous system turns an idea into action—from the complex processing that takes place in the brain to the direct marching orders the spinal cord gives to the muscles. Modern neuroscience equates mind with the organ we call the brain, an astounding network more than 100 billion neurons connected in a vast complicated web. The presenters will help us puzzle out how the brain is organized and identify the seat of human memory. The question of understanding how the brain functions is rivaled by the question of how such a complex network of cells develops in the first place."

For a summary of the four lectures click here and for a schedule of the lecture telecasts click here.

You can register your class for the live webcasts on December 4 and 5 . . . or view the on-demand webcast after December 9. They'll be made available on FREE DVDs in spring of 2009.

Need a tissue?

The official announcement came at the end of last week:

The new Human Anatomy & Physiology (HAPS) Histology Image Database is now available!

This is a "wiki" project that is comprised of an online community of A&P professors who contribute photographs of different human tissues to be used in the "public domain" for A&P education. That means you have permission to use them for PowerPoint presentations, test items, case studies, lab demonstrations and quizzes, wallpaper for your computer . . . whatever you can think of.

[WARNING: In reality, there may be some copyright-restricted images peppered throughout the database. However, these are to have clear copyright statements attached to them so that you can tell which have restrictions.]

Details about how to use the wiki are found at the histology page at the HAPS website.

The image database is located at hapshistology.wetpaint.com but you can't get in without an invitation.

I'm a member of the wiki, so I can invite you . . . just email me at info@theapprofessor.org and tell me
  • if you are a HAPS member (or not a HAPS member)
  • where you teach A&P and
  • that you want to join the HAPS Histology wiki.
You don't have to be a member of HAPS to join the wiki, but you'll find that you'll want to join this organization after you start interacting with us. And you'll get a higher level of privileges in the wiki if you are a HAPS member, too!

To join HAPS go to the membership invitation page at the HAPS website.

And stay tuned, because I'll soon be sharing some FREE PowerPoint slides based on some of these images!

I dropped it!

Last week I posted an article about drop.io, the exciting new service that allows you to create a FREE virtual dropbox for student assignments, course announcements, resources, whatever.

This past Saturday, I called in an announcement to show you how you can do the same. If you had previously visited our sample drop.io drop and signed up for an email or text or other alert, then you got the message and may have already logged into the drop to listen to the message.

[I know what you are wondering. The answer is "yes." ALL my voicemail messages are long and rambling. You have been warned!]

The voicemail also gave you an early alert to the new HAPS histology image collection that I described in another post today.

If you didn't previous visit the drop, or you did visit but forgot to sign up for an alert, it's not too late! Go back to the original post and get the login info (and save it for future reference!).

Then go into the drop and sign up for an alert. Or more than one kind of alert, just to see how they work.

And then when I add more stuff (and I will, because I want to see what can be done with it, too!) you'll be notified and you'll get the same experience as a student might.

Or even better . . . set up your OWN drop. Perhaps you have a resource to share with other A&P professors? Or perhaps a voicemail telling us about some little (or big) thing you've tried in your course that you want to share? A good joke, perhaps?

Then post the login info at The A&P Professor blog as a comment to this (or any) posted article.

We can then go in and access your material . . . and you'll get practice in using this handy FREE resource before using it in your course. Hopefully, we can dialog on how to best use it or what pitfalls to avoid.

Speaking of which, I have a pit I nearly fell in:

If you lose your admin login password there is NOTHING you can do to recover it! NOTHING. Well, OK, you can do something (like scream) but it won't get you in as administrator of the drop.

I thought I lost my admin password for this sample drop. Luckily, I did manage to find it . . . before the screaming started . . . but take this as a lesson! SAVE YOUR ADMIN PASSWORD!

Did you get the signal?

The journal Science Signaling from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publishers of the blockbuster journal Science and many other fine journals, produced its first "original research" online last week.

It's not exactly a new journal, it's more of a refocus of an older venture, but this is exciting news nonetheless. (It grew out of STKE, signal transduction knowledge environment, which changed its name to Science Signaling at the start of this year.)

Science Signaling is all about signal transduction, the complex set of mechanisms in which biological signals are received and processed to produce a response.

You'll need a paid subscription to the journal to view the full text or PDF files of articles from Science Signaling. However, with a FREE registration you can view all the current abstracts and editor's summaries (which is usually enough to get the gist of breakthroughs described in the articles), access to discussion forums, and FREE teaching resources. PLUS you get FREE access to all the full text and PDFs of articles since 1991 up to 1 year after the article has been published.

You don't need to register at all to gain access to just the abstracts and editor's summaries.

Click here for details about accessing the journal.

When you look at the table of contents of the Sep 2, 2008 issue, you'll notice a some interesting tidbits of information that will deepen your understanding and appreciation for the key roles played by signal transduction in human A&P. For example:Our textbooks (Thibodeau, Patton series) were among the first introductory A&P textbooks to emphasize signal transduction as a central principle of human structure and function. We saw the trend . . . look at the graph to see how the whole concept of signal transduction has erupted in the last couple of decades (as measured by appearance of the term in journal titles and abstracts). We first introduced the term to our readers in the late 1990s, just as the term--and the concept it represents-- became safety established in the lexicon of human biology.
For a FREE PowerPoint slide that animates the basic concept of signal transduction click here.

For all kinds of FREE slides click here.

For my (slowly) growing list of FREE journals click here.

If you think signal transduction is stupid click here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Triggering Insulin Production in Adult Cells

Did you hear?

Researchers have recently succeeded in triggering adult cells in the pancreas (outside of the pancreatic islets) to transform into insulin-producing beta cells. This research involved mice . . . but we all know that means there's a possibility of reproducing this in adult humans. This could be a huge breakthrough in treating diabetes mellitus (DM) of course . . . and perhaps many other conditions.

The researchers used viruses to infect adult pancreatic cells with three regulatory genes that caused the developmental changes that transformed them into insulin-producing cells. This is remarkable at several levels, not the least of which is that this did NOT involve the use of embryonic cells or adult cells that were first "rolled back" to an earlier developmental stage.

If you want to learn more, check out these FREE resources:

Researchers Create Insulin-Producing Cells from Adult Pancreatic Cells

HHMI Research News
Published online: 27 August 2008

[Short summary of the research; has a really nice image showing the new beta cells outside the existing pancreatic islets]

Smash the (Cell) State!
Nature Reports Stem Cells
Published online: 27 August 2008 |
[Longer article that outlines the significance of this breakthrough in the context of understanding the developmental states of cells; includes comprehensive list of references]

This is a great little bite of information to drop into your pancreatic islet discussion, or your cell discussion, or your discussion of the process of science. It's also a good illustration of how animal research affects the understanding of human biology.

Oh, just DROP it!

Do you ever have a student who wants to email you something that's so big that it will certainly clog your email box? (I know our institutional mailboxes are laughably small for the 21st century . . I have to clean it out every week!).

There's a FREE service called drop.io that let's your students (or you) drop any file(s) up to 100Mb for free. (You can post more in one drop at a modest price.) Once dropped, the files can be downloaded by anyone to whom you give a "guest" password.

The service allows the "dropper" of the files to permit "guests" to change files, so your students could set the service to permit you to reupload a file to which you've added suggestions, scoring, corrections, etc.

Of course, if you have some cool files that you want me to share with other A&P professors or use on my sites, then this would be an easy way to get the material to me without clogging your email box.

But wait!

There's more!

No, not free Ginsu knives "if you act now." Actually you get a whole bunch of very rich features for FREE with the drop.io service. . . even if you don't act now!

You (or anyone) can be informed of a change/addition/update to your drop by phone, SMS cell phone text message, Twitter, RSS subscription (including iTunes), or whatever.

You can also phone in to your drop and leave a voicemail . . . the message is converted to an mp3 sound file and put into your drop. Now think about that for a minute . . . this could be really crazy.

What if you create a drop for your course this semester. Then you phone in a course announcement ("I'm sick today and class is canceled, please read Kevin Patton's wonderful textbook Chapter 1" or "I forgot to tell you today that the test next week is postponed" or "Today I said 'mucus' but I meant to say 'mucous'"). Then each of your students is notified by a text on their cell phone or by email or whatever they choose that there's something waiting for them at the course drop.


It gets crazier:

What if you used drop.io as "the world's simplest way" to produce your own podcasts?

You could post your lectures to the drop! Or you could post a simple explanation of a concept that your students are having difficulty with! Or you could post your dean's own voice telling them that she/he is not going to fire you for giving too much homework!

Why don't you go to this drop that I've set up for you:


Guest password: aprocks

I've already got a few things there for you. Go ahead and rig it up (with the links along the right side of the page you land on) to send you a notification of any updates to the drop. Then occasionally I'll update and you (and I) can see how it works for everyone.

FYI, this one is set up only for me to drop things. You can't update the drop. But one could set up a drop that allows others to update the drop.

The drop.io service automatically produces a pdf "business card" or an electronic v-card for your students (or colleagues) to keep so they can find the drop easily any time. Here's the pdf for my sample drop: click here. Here's the v-card for my sample drop: click here.

I've also listed the URL of drop.io at my list of free online services at The A&P Professor website.

New weekly format

Tweak, tweak!

Now that The A&P Professor suite of resources (newsletter, blog, website) have been rolling along a short while, it's time to tweak things a bit to make them more user-friendly.

Starting today, I'm going to try to put my blog posts (and therefore, the newsletter releases) into a weekly format.

So instead of getting individual postings every couple of days, you'll get them grouped together in weekly batches.

I'm hoping that this format will be easier for you to manage . . . and to pick through to find the tidbits most meaningful to you and your teaching situation.

If you are just an occasional blog reader and not a subscriber to the newsletter, I encourage you to subscribe. Just click here to use the handy form. I've got some big plans for the next few months . . . and you don't want to miss out on learning of them as they happen.

[Who's the guy with the oddly combed beard pictured here? Why Tyr, of course. The Norse god of single combat. The guy Tuesday was named after. I know . . . he's hard to recognize here because he's usually depicted with only one hand. This was apparently drawn before he lost it! Now guess which day of the week I'm aiming for in these weekly publications?]