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Research Roundup: Immune cells in Alzheimer’s patients, body temperature changes, climate change talk

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Jan. 5 – Jan. 11.

An abundance of immune cells found in Alzheimer’s patients

Virus-fighting immune cells have been discovered in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients and in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease, a study published on Wednesday in “Nature” found.

The team, led by neurology and neurological sciences professor Tony Wyss-Coray, found an abundance of T-cells — part of the adaptive immune system that targets individual pathogens — in brain and CSF samples. The activated T-cells detected were targeting Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), commonly known to cause mononucleosis.

There are many T-cells in the human body, and each T-cell has a receptor specific to a certain pathogen. Generally, T-cells remain inactive until they encounter the pathogen, when they become activated and begin multiplying. The researchers observed an abundance of activated T-cells targeting EBV.

“It’s too early to say ‘a virus causes Alzheimer’s disease,’” Wyss-Coray told Stanford Medicine’s blog SCOPE. “We didn’t prove that. We did find that in autopsied Alzheimer’s patients’ brains, sitting right next to damaged neurons, there are activated T-cells that recognize EBV.”

“We believe these T-cells may be contributing to neurodegeneration,” he added. “We found them hanging around the scene of the crime. I don’t think these cells are innocent bystanders that just happen to be there and aren’t doing anything.”

Decreasing human body temperature over historical decades

The average human body temperature has decreased over the past 200 years in the United States due to environmental changes, a study published on Tuesday in “eLife” found.

“Our temperature’s not what people think it is,” medicine and health research policy professor Julie Parsonnet told Stanford Medicine News. “What everybody grew up learning, which is that our normal temperature is 98.6, is wrong.”

Led by Parsonnet, the team of researchers analyzed temperature measurements from three different decades. The data came from Civil War Union Army veterans between 1862 and 1930, a federal health survey between 1930 and 1971 and a Stanford health database between 2007 and 2017.

They found that overall, body temperatures have decreased by 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit each decade.

“Physiologically, we’re just different from what we were in the past,” Parsonnet told Stanford Medicine News. “The environment that we’re living in has changed, including the temperature in our homes, our contact with microorganisms and the food that we have access to. All these things mean that although we think of human beings as if we’re monomorphic and have been the same for all of human evolution, we’re not the same. We’re actually changing physiologically.”  

How to approach conversations with climate change deniers

When communicating with those who deny climate change, one should begin the conversation by acknowledging and respecting the other person’s beliefs, a study published on Wednesday in “Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability” found.

“I think in the climate change sphere there’s this thinking of, ‘There’s the deniers over there, let’s just not even engage with them — it’s not worth it,’” Earth system science assistant professor Gabrielle Wong-Parodi told Stanford News. “A lot of the tactics and strategies start from the point that something is wrong with the climate deniers, rather than trying to acknowledge that they have a belief and opinion and it matters. But I think there is an opportunity to keep trying to understand one another, especially now.”

Wong-Parodi examined the notion of “motivated denial” — denying the facts of a particular issue, despite knowing or having them available. She outlined four strategies to use when having a conversation with climate change deniers, including encouraging them to share their climate perspectives on climate change and connecting through shared identities.

“I think we often forget that people can have many identities — there might be a political identity, but there is also an identity as a mother, or an identity as a friend or an identity as a student,” Wong-Parodi told Stanford News. “You can elicit other identities when you’re talking about climate change that may be more effective.”

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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