Research Spotlight

The recent outbreak of Zika virus in Central and South America correlates with a spike in birth defects, the first and foremost being microcephaly, a severe impairment of brain development. In Brazil, 1,113 cases of microcephaly have been confirmed, with 3,836 more suspected (as of April 12th, according to the Brazilian Health Ministry). The World Health Organization has declared this spike in microcephaly and other defects to be a global health emergency. The White House has asked Congress for $1.9 billion and has already transferred $510 million previously earmarked for an Ebola response.

Once every academic quarter, the UCSF Mission Bay campus takes on a new character. Normally unlocked buildings are barricaded and guarded by (mostly) men with guns.

Cells are more like corporations than they are like people. Uncountable tasks need be accomplished, and each protein is specialized to do one, at most a few, jobs. The job titles are unceremonious and garbled.

The fight against cancer is a fight against a living thing, with its own intelligence. Our bodies are smarter than our minds by whatever metric you might pick.

Scientists and clinicians have developed and used immune-based therapies, or more simply immunotherapies, to attack cancer in multiple ways.

The human brain can process a picture in just 13 milliseconds. The cellular functions underlying this incredible processing speed involve not just neurons, but also a supporting cast of other types of brain cells.

The immune system surveys the body by sampling proteins, called antigens, from both the human host and any invaders. So how does the immune system keep from attacking the host?

Your fat is alive. Your fat is alive and it is talking. It is listening. It is reading its DNA and deciding what to make. It is coordinating more complex processes than an air traffic controller. It is smarter than Matt Damon in The Martian.

While our immune system functions to protect us from such things as invading microbes, these same defenses can also erroneously turn against the body.

This past weekend I sliced my finger while attempting to slice a carrot. The Wusthof cut through the nail on my left pinkie, aggravating a piece of flesh that, until that point, had successfully avoided combat.