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9 Up-Close Scientific Images from the Wellcome Image Awards

One winning image: A baby Hawaiian bobtail squid. Image Credit: Mark R Smith, Macroscopic Solutions

 
Each year, the Wellcome Image Awards highlight some of the most fascinating scientific images from around the world, as chosen by a panel of experts from the fields of science communications and medicine. The awards go to photographers and researchers who create “informative, striking and technically excellent images that communicate significant aspects of healthcare and biomedical science,” according to the Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity based in the UK. Here are nine of this year’s winning images:

ZEBRAFISH EYE AND NEUROMASTS

Ingrid Lekk and Steve Wilson, University College London

In this 4-day-old zebrafish embryo, a certain gene expressed in the lens of the eye and other parts of the visual system glows red when it’s activated. You can see the lens of the eye, the head, and neuromasts (those red dots around the rim of the image) glowing red, while the nervous system glows blue.

BLOOD VESSELS OF THE AFRICAN GREY PARROT

Scott Birch and Scott Echols

This image was created using a 3D reconstruction of a euthanized parrot. It models the system of blood vessels in the parrot’s head and neck down to the capillary level.

INTRAOCULAR LENS IRIS CLIP

Mark Bartley, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Iris clips can treat nearsightedness, cataracts, and other eye issues. This photo shows an iris clip fitting on the eye of a 70-year-old patient. He regained nearly all his vision after the surgery.

BRAIN-ON-A-CHIP

Collin Edington and Iris Lee, Koch Institute at MIT

Researchers are developing ways to grow miniature organs on plastic chips in order to make drug testing more efficient. Instead of testing pharmaceuticals on people, scientists may one day test them on something like this—neural stem cells grown on a synthetic gel.

#BREASTCANCER TWITTER CONNECTIONS

Eric Clarke, Richard Arnett and Jane Burns, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Here is a visualization of discussions on Twitter using the hashtag #breastcancer. Each dot represents a Twitter user, and its size is based on how many other dots (or nodes) it is connected to. Each line represents a relationship with another Twitter user, and the thicker the line, the more that relationship shows up in the data. This part of the visualization relates to trending data—one tweet retweeted thousands of times.

PIGEON THERMOREGULATION

Scott Echols, Scarlet Imaging and the Grey Parrot Anatomy Project

No, this isn’t just an avian parody of The Scream. It shows the network of blood vessels, visualized using technology created by the same researcher as the parrot image above, under the skin of a pigeon. This dense network allows pigeons to control their body temperatures.

MICRORNA SCAFFOLD CANCER THERAPY

João Conde, Nuria Oliva and Natalie Artzi, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Because microRNAs control the function and growth of cells, they have a lot of potential in cancer therapies. MIT researchers are working on a system that could deliver these short genetic sequences to cancerous cells. It consists of two microRNAs woven like a net with a synthetic polymer.

DEVELOPING SPINAL CORD

Gabriel Galea, University College London

This image shows a mouse’s neural tube, the structure from which the spinal cord develops. In each of the three images, the blue color draws attention to a specific tissue type. In the left image, the blue is the neural tube itself, which forms the brain and spine. In the middle, the blue is the mesoderm, which will become the inner organs. On the right, the blue shows the surface ectoderm that becomes hair, skin, and teeth.

All images courtesy the Wellcome Image Awards

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A New Law Could Require Hospitals to Post Their Standard Prices Online
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Try shopping around for affordable hospital care like you would for a car or a house, and you'll surely hit a wall. Hospital bills are a huge expense in America, but the prices for specific services are often obscure until patients check out. Now, PBS reports that Medicare may soon require hospitals to post their standard prices and share medical records online.

Hospitals are already required to disclose their prices to the public, but actually tracking down a number can suck up more time and effort than customers have to invest. While making a video for Vox, it took reporter Johnny Harris two weeks and 30 phone calls to get an estimate for how much his wife's delivery of their child would cost. Under the new rules, such prices would be made clearly available on the internet so that third-party app developers could access them.

The change wouldn't automatically make shopping for hospitals as easy as comparing airfare prices. Patients would still be responsible for getting in touch with their health insurance provider to see how much of a hospital's listed price is covered and how much of it falls on them. Even then, the numbers patients get will likely be more of an estimate than a hard figure.

In addition to making pricing more transparent to customers, the proposed rule aims to make personal medical records more accessible as well. The hospitals that make the effort to present this information clearly, possibly by organizing bills from multiple providers into a single app, would receive benefits from Medicare.

The U.S. has some of the most expensive healthcare in the world: In 2016, Americans collectively spent $3.4 trillion on medical costs. For many people, high medical bills are unavoidable, but if the proposed rule goes into effect (most likely in 2019), it could at least make them less of a surprise.

[h/t PBS]

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Feeling Anxious? Just a Few Minutes of Meditation Might Help
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Some say mindfulness meditation can cure anything. It might make you more compassionate. It can fix your procrastination habit. It could ward off germs and improve health. And it may boost your mental health and reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.

New research suggests that for people with anxiety, mindfulness meditation programs could be beneficial after just one session. According to Michigan Technological University physiologist John Durocher, who presented his work during the annual Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, California on April 23, meditation may be able to reduce the toll anxiety takes on the heart in just one session.

As part of the study, Durocher and his colleagues asked 14 adults with mild to moderate anxiety to participate in an hour-long guided meditation session that encouraged them to focus on their breathing and awareness of their thoughts.

The week before the meditation session, the researchers had measured the participants' cardiovascular health (through data like heart rate and the blood pressure in the aorta). They evaluated those same markers immediately after the session ended, and again an hour later. They also asked the participants how anxious they felt afterward.

Other studies have looked at the benefits of mindfulness after extended periods, but this one suggests that the effects are immediate. The participants showed significant reduction in anxiety after the single session, an effect that lasted up to a week afterward. The session also reduced stress on their arteries. Mindfulness meditation "could help to reduce stress on organs like the brain and kidneys and help prevent conditions such as high blood pressure," Durocher said in a press statement, helping protect the heart against the negative effects of chronic anxiety.

But other researchers have had a more cautious outlook on mindfulness research in general, and especially on studies as small as this one. In a 2017 article in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, a group of 15 different experts warned that mindfulness studies aren't always trustworthy. "Misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead public consumers to be harmed, misled, and disappointed," they wrote.

But one of the reasons that mindfulness can be so easy to hype is that it is such a low-investment, low-risk treatment. Much like dentists still recommend flossing even though there are few studies demonstrating its effectiveness against gum disease, it’s easy to tell people to meditate. It might work, but if it doesn't, it probably won't hurt you. (It should be said that in rare cases, some people do report having very negative experiences with meditation.) Even if studies have yet to show that it can definitively cure whatever ails you, sitting down and clearing your head for a few minutes probably won't hurt.

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