Cardinal Catalog: The Sept. 22 – Sept. 28 research roundup

Sept. 30, 2019, 11:34 p.m.

Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most interesting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Sept. 22-28. 

Med school scientists identify potential mechanism for Parkinson’s treatment

Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine moved a step closer to developing a viable treatment for patients of Parkinson’s disease. Their research, which identifies a compound that could eliminate a key molecular defect in Parkinson’s patients, was published in Cell Metabolism on Thursday.

The study, led by associate professor of neurosurgery Xinnan Wang, builds upon an earlier investigation by Wang’s team that found mitochondrial-clearance defects in the cells of Parkinson’s patients, which cause a build-up of damaged organelles that eventually leads to cell death. 

In their most recent publication, Wang and her colleagues displayed the existence of cellular deficiency among Parkinson’s patients, then tested 11 molecular compounds for their ability to help remove harmful mitochondria from cells in fruit flies. 

Out of the final candidates, four of the compounds significantly reduced the flies’ levels of Miro, a molecule that binds mitochondria to the internal structure of the cell, without adverse effects. 

One of these compounds was tested on a human patient with sporadic Parkinson’s. The trial yielded similarly positive results, giving the team hope that an effective treatment for the neurodegenerative disease may be within reach. 

Partnership between SLAC physicists, psychologist could lead to major advance in neuroscience

After meeting at a party five years ago, psychology professor Anthony Norcia and Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) senior scientist Christopher Kenney began collaborating. Now, they are on the heels of a development that could revolutionize the field of neuroscience

Along with Martin Breidenbach, particle physics professor emeritus, Norcia and Kenney have been working to create a device to simultaneously stimulate the brain and measure the resulting electrical signals. 

Two years ago, the trio produced its first prototype, an electroencephalogram (EEG) capable of generating strong electrical stimulation while remaining receptive of brain signals. Several subsequent devices later, Norcia is ready to test his latest model which, if successful, could drastically improve neuroscientists’ ability to investigate the brain. 

Such a tool could enable scientists to more effectively correlate the brain’s structure and function, and may help with the diagnosis of neural diseases or disorders. 

Teens sleep nearly an hour longer after combination of light and cognitive behavioral therapy

Exposure to intermittent flashes of light, combined with motivation for earlier bedtimes, led to 43 minutes more sleep per night, researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine found in a study published Wednesday. 

Psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor Jamie Zeitzer set up an experiment where a device in a teen’s bedroom flashes for a three-millisecond burst every 20 seconds during their last two hours of sleep. Zeitzer’s past research suggests that these bursts of light make the body behave as if in a different time zone.

“Our team wondered if we could adjust the circadian timing, having the teens essentially move their brains to Denver while they’re living in California,” Zeitzer said in an interview with Stanford News. 

Zeitzer’s study had two groups of patients: one that received the light therapy being tested, and another that received a “sham” light therapy as a control. Both also attended to four one-hour sessions where therapists encouraged the teens to go to bed earlier. 

The group that received both the light therapy and the sleep therapy went to bed, on average, 50 minutes earlier than the group that had only received the sleep therapy. 

Stanford physics help develop a very sensitive gravitational wave detector

In 2015, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves — slight contracts and expansions of space that travel at the speed of light — for the first time ever. The waves had begun propagating 1.3 billion years previous when two black holes had collided, sending a ripple through space. 

LIGO’s two facilities rely on a laser beam that is split and travels down two perpendicular 2.5 mile long “arms,” before reflecting off a mirror back to the origin point. Gravitational waves cause a small change in length of one of those arms, and can therefore be detected by the slight change in the time it takes photons to travel down and back along the length of the arm. The distortion LIGO detected was 1,000 times smaller than the nucleus of an atom. 

Now, four years later, a team of Stanford researchers are working on developing a different device for measuring gravitational waves, one which relies on analyzing the behavior of atoms. The contraption is 10 meters tall and designed to shoot up atoms that have minimal internal energy. Research use lasers to observe how the atoms respond to forces such as those due to gravity. 

Stanford experimental physicist Jason Hogan and Mark Kasevich originally designed the device as a way to test the effects of gravity on atoms. However, after talking with theoretical physics Savas Dimopoulos, Hogan and Kasevich decided their device could also be used to measure gravitational waves. 

While LIGO is able to observe very high frequency gravitational waves like black hole collisions, the Stanford device is designed to measure lower frequency gravitational waves. 

To increase sensitivity, Hogan, Kasevich and their grad students received funding to build a larger version of their device which will be called 100-meter Matter-wave Atomic Gradiometer Interferometric Sensor (MAGIS-100) in an underground shaft at the Department of Energy National Laboratory in Illinois.

Contact Andrew Tan at tandrew ‘at’ and Paxton Scott at paxtonsc ‘at’

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