Open innovation challenge seeks solutions to type 1 diabetes

first_imgThe best scientific insights, which ultimately may lead tothe solution of the world’s great puzzles, do not always come from the expertsin the fields in question. Sometimes they come from outliers who approach aproblem from an entirely new perspective — just as unknown English clockmakerJohn Harrison demonstrated that longitude could be determined by using an accuratetimepiece and not, as almost all experts predicted, by the study of astronomy.So suppose the intellectual power of the entire Harvardcommunity, more than 55,000 faculty members, students, and staff members, inall of the University’s schools and affiliated hospitals, was applied to amedical problem?That is the premise of an innovation contest launched by the Harvard Catalyst, anonline hub for cross-disciplinary scientific work. The challenge is to definenew hypotheses and unaddressed questions concerning type 1 diabetes. The bestnew ideas will receive prizes ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.TO PARTICIPATEIN THE CHALLENGE, GO HEREIn an email to the entire Harvard community, Jeffrey Flier,dean of the Harvard Medical School (HMS), and Lee Nadler, dean for Clinical andTranslational Research and director of the Harvard Catalyst, wrote:“Growing evidence shows that innovation often happens at theintersections of disciplines, frequently initiated by individuals who may nothave expertise in the exact problem at hand. Innovation contests haveincentivized cross-disciplinary knowledge sharing and solution development forscientific problems in non-academic communities. Supported by an ARRA grant,several Harvard University schools and InnoCentive.com (a global platform forinnovation contests) are launching a series of such contests in the area ofhealth-related innovation.“For our first challenge, we are asking the Harvard community to share‘out of the box questions and proposals” related to any of the many facets ofjuvenile (type 1) diabetes. We seek testable questions and ideas about type1diabetes that could help define problems or new areas requiring exploration andresearch. Type 1 diabetes was selected because it carries enormousmedical and socioeconomic consequences.  This challenge solicits yourideas but does not require that you have the expertise, laboratory or otherresources to answer the question. We are excited by the possibilities of thisexperiment, and ask you to participate by applying your insights to a problemthat may not be in your domain.  We also encourage diabetes specialists topropose their unexplored ideas.”Eva C. Guinan, director of the Harvard Catalyst LinkagesProgram and an associate professor of pediatrics at HMS, who is working closely on the project with Karim Lakhani, an Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School, said, “This experimentsolicits ideas from everyone in the community, regardless of their field ofexpertise and independent of their ability to undertake the research projectthemselves. While this sort of approach has been very successful in thefor-profit world, we need to explore how to best implement it in ourcommunity.”In a cover email accompanying the Flier-Nadleremail, Harvard President Drew Faust offered the hope that “many of you willparticipate. Even more,” Faust wrote, “I hope that, in the spirit of this novelproject, we will continue to multiply the means to connect the remarkablepeople and ideas across Harvard in imaginative and powerful ways.”Doug Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Instituteand a scientist whose research is focused on type 1 diabetes — a disease thatafflicts his son and daughter — praised the challenge, saying “It willpotentially bring hundreds of fresh sets of eyes, with radically differentperspectives, to a problem that has long stymied researchers and impacts thelives of millions.”At the most basic level, the idea is that somewhere in thevast Harvard community there may be something like a pre-doctoral candidate in thehumanities who has a child with Type 1 diabetes, and has an astute observationabout the disease that he has never been able to share with anyone in diabetesresearch. Or there may be a chemist who has made an observation that isdirectly applicable to diabetes research, but because her work has nothing todo with diabetes, that connection never occurred to her.Lee Nadler called the innovation challenge — the first ofwhat it is hoped will be many such challenges — “an exciting experiment, andunlike most conventional experiments, we know that at least one outcome will bepositive.”“I have no question,” Nadler said, “that this challenge willadvance the Harvard Catalyst’s primary goal of drawing researchers all acrossthe University out of their individual disciplines to think about problems more broadly, inmulti-disciplinary ways. We cannot predict whether this will produce ideas thatwill impact diabetes, but it will teach us whether broadcast search is a viableaddition to our approaches to solving complex problems.”Dean Flier, whose research career has been focused on theseemingly intractable challenges posed by diabetes, said he is “excited on twolevels by this exciting Harvard Catalyst challenge. As a scientist, I see thishaving the potential to bring the intellectual power of some 55,000 members ofthe greater Harvard community to bear on the puzzle of diabetes, increasingexponentially the possibility someone will come up with innovative ways tosolve some of the problems of diabetes once and for all. And as dean, Isee this experiment in open innovation and scientific social networking as yetanother innovative approach by the Harvard Catalyst to increase the power ofcollaborative science and translational research at Harvard.”last_img read more

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Another piece of cancer puzzle falls into place

first_imgAn international team of researchers has created a genome-scale map of 26 cancers, revealing more than 100 genomic sites where DNA from tumors is either missing or abnormally duplicated compared to normal tissues. The study, the largest of its kind, finds that most of these genetic abnormalities are not unique to one form of cancer, but are shared across multiple cancers.“Our findings show that many genome alterations are universal across different cancers. Although this has been known for some types of changes, the degree to which so many alterations are shared was pretty surprising to us,” said senior author Matthew Meyerson, a Harvard Medical School professor of pathology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and senior associate member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. “It suggests that, in the future, a driving force behind cancer treatment will be common genomic alterations, rather than tumors’ tissue of origin.” The work appears in yesterday’s edition of the journal Nature.Cancers now are characterized largely by their symptoms: the organs in the body in which they first arise and the appearance of tumor cells under a microscope. Although this information is valuable, it fails to highlight cancers’ molecular underpinnings, which could be used in laboratories to discover new, more effective cancer therapies and in the clinic to improve diagnosis and treatment. A goal ofmodern biomedical research is to fill this knowledge gap and describe all cancers based on what drives them — that is, the genetic aberrations that initiate and maintain tumor growth.In 2004, a scientific team led by researchers at the Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute launched a project to map systematically the genetic changes across different cancers. They focused on a particular type of DNA change in which segments of a tumor’s genome are present in abnormal copies. Instead of the usual two copies, tumors often carry several copies of one piece of DNA (an “amplification”) or may lack it altogether (a “deletion”). These genetic abnormalities are known as somatic copy-number alterations, or SCNAs.Like other types of DNA mutations that litter the genomes of tumor cells, most SCNAs do not necessarily play a meaningful role in cancer growth. But the ones that do serve as important signposts, pointing to the specific genes contained within them that help to promote and maintain cancers. The challenge lies in distinguishing these so-called drivers from their less influential counterparts.As the foundation for their analysis, the scientists collected more than 2,500 cancer specimens representing more than two dozen cancer types, including lung, prostate, breast, ovarian, colon, esophageal, liver, brain, and blood cancers.“Studies like this require a large and diverse group of tumor specimens,” said first author Rameen Beroukhim, an assistant professor of medical oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a researcher at the Broad Institute. “We are deeply grateful to our collaborators and to their patients, who generously shared samples with us.”Using powerful genomic “chip” technologies, the researchers analyzed DNA from these samples, and combined their data with publicly available data from 600 more tumor samples to assemble a detailed catalogue of the SCNAs present in multiple tumor types. They found that the most common SCNAs tend to come in two sizes: relatively long, about the length of an entire chromosome or a single chromosome arm, and short, with an average size of about 1.8 million genetic letters, or 0.03 percent of the entire human genome.The researchers focused their attention on the short, or focal, SCNAs which, due to their relatively compact size, can ease the task of pinpointing important cancer genes.“Until recently, the analytic methods needed to support this kind of analysis were not available,” said first author Craig Mermel, a physician and Ph.D. student working in Meyerson’s laboratory and at the Broad Institute. “New advances by our group as well as many others have now made it feasible to systematically map genomic changes across thousands of samples and at high resolution.”Of the 150 or so focal SCNAs they identified, Meyerson and his colleagues noticed that the majority did not coincide with genes already known to be amplified or deleted in cancer. Looking more closely at the genes that normally reside in these regions, the researchers found an enrichment of genes with important biological functions in cancer, such as cell death, or “apoptosis.”This analysis helped to shed light on two genes, MCL1 and BCL2L1. Cancer cells with amplifications of these genes appear to rely on the genes’ activity for survival, suggesting important roles in maintaining tumor growth.Perhaps most importantly, looking across the data for the various cancers, it became clear that most focal SCNAs are not unique to just one type of cancer, but are shared among multiple tumor types. In an analysis of 17 cancer types, the researchers found that most amplifications and deletions are present in more than one type. That suggests the genetic mechanisms that underlie these tumors are shared among them, and could someday lead to common strategies for treating them.“These data signify an important resource for cancer gene discovery, but they’re only a first step,” said Meyerson. “With the ongoing revolution in genome technology, it will become possible to decode the genomes of thousands of cancers to reveal every genomic change.”The Nature study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Sarah Thomas Monopoli Lung Cancer Research Fund, the Seaman Corporation Fund for Lung Cancer Research, and the Lucas Foundation.last_img read more

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President Faust issues statement supporting federal funding of stem cell research

first_imgA temporary restraining order last month that blocked federalfunding for certain kinds of stem cell research was viewed by many as ablow to cutting-edge science that already is yielding clues to cures for a number of fatal illnesses and chronic diseases. Harvard has been inthe vanguard of such research, and the University, as a member of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, supported an amicusbrief filed last Friday (Sept. 3), urging the court to lift therestraining order imposed in Sherley v. Sebelius. The day before thatbrief was filed, Harvard President Drew Faust visited one of theUniversity’s stem cell labs, and today (Sept. 7) she issued thefollowing:In a recent visit to the laboratory of Doug Melton, co-director ofthe Harvard Stem Cell Institute, I was reminded of the remarkableingenuity and commitment by this extraordinary team of scientists, andtheir dedication to improving lives. Stem cell research has emerged asone of the most important new areas of human biology. Although theeffort is still young, it promises to help us treat and someday evenfind cures for diseases such as diabetes, ALS, Parkinson’s, andleukemia.This vital work is now in jeopardy because of a recent courtinjunction halting the use of federal funds to pursue embryonic stemcell research. We hope that the temporary injunction will soon be lifted and that Congress will take the steps necessary to ensure that stemcell scientists can carry on their work vigorously and responsibly, inthe interests of the millions of people who may someday enjoy itsbenefits.Harvard strongly supports its stem cell researchers, and we aredeeply grateful for the generosity of the many private donors who willremain critical to sustaining our efforts. But without the flow ofessential federal funds, the promise of stem cell science is at risk ofbecoming a dream deferred — and, for some, a dream undone.last_img read more

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Surrounded by nature & reflected in it

first_img 17The “Fishbowl” at Currier offers a place to watch television, and, for Mara and friend, it is a place to perch. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 12One of the youngest residents of Currier is Mara Cavallaro. Her parents, Nadejda Marques (right) and Jim Cavallaro, are Currier’s House Masters. Her friend Autumn Galindo (left) holds the other end of the jump rope. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 2In 1972, full coeducational dormitories were instituted at Harvard — pictured here are the men and women of Currier House in a yearbook from the 1970s. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 6Because of the difficulty of pronouncing his first name, security guard Yohannes Tewolde is often called “Your Highness.” Here he shares a laugh with students Peter Davis ’12 (center) and Alexander Ramek ’12. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff PhotographerStaff Photo Rose Lincoln/Harvard University News Office 4Yohannes Tewolde, the current and beloved night security guard at Currier, walks past the house entrance. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 1Audrey Bruce Currier House opened in 1970, named after a Radcliffe alumna who had died in a plane crash. The architects, Harrison and Abramovitz, surveyed students about their desires for housing, and so pioneered small clusters of dorm units, each with upstairs bedrooms and a downstairs living room. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 10Residents post ideas for a greener Currier on a board in the dining hall. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 25Currier House revelers are easily identified at Housing Day. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer 26Currier’s finest and wettest, Alyssa Devlin ’11 (left) and Allan Bradley ’11, approach a dorm in the Yard to welcome new House members at Housing Day. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer 7Says Yohannes Tewolde, “I hope I’m making a difference in their lives, encouraging them if they’re down. I tell them they’re doing a good job, and I pray for them. Sometimes I tell them to take a nap and get some rest. They tell me I’m like a mom or a dad.” He is pictured here with Suzanna Bobadilla ’13 (right), who waits for the bus. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 29Currier resident Tiffany Fereydouni is congratulated with a hug. Katherine C. Cohen/Harvard Staff Photographer 19Two days a week Mara gets a bike ride to ballet by Currier resident Lindsey Brinton ’12. Mara usually reads a book to and from the studio. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 9Devon Newhouse ’13, the “Eco Rep” for Currier House, proves that trash can indeed be treasure: She hosts a swap for clothing — and whatever else — in the House’s laundry room. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 21Living in the only undergraduate House at Harvard named solely for a woman are block mates Rachel Bervell (from left), Nadia Farjood, Jeanette Schnierle, Jordan Ashwood, Sarah Mumanachit, Karina Herrera, and Melissa Naidoo. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 22Students wait in the foyer for the shuttle as snow falls at Currier House. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 28Diplomas are awarded at Currier House. Katherine C. Cohen/Harvard Staff Photographercenter_img 14Autumn Galindo (left) waits for her ride after visiting her friend, Currier resident Mara Cavallaro, who is holding the door for a student. Mara’s mother, House Master Nadejda Marques (center), looks on. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 15Mara (left) and friend Autumn play air hockey while Currier students play ping-pong in the lower level lounge. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 23A Currier resident displays more than the conventional poster at Housing Day. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer 11As part of an effort to make the House “greener,” Building Manager Manny Casillas replaced all incandescent lamps with compact fluorescent in all custodial, mechanical, and storage closets. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 20Lindsey Brinton ’12 teaches Mara to play the piano during their babysitting sessions at Currier House, where both reside. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 8Yohannes Tewolde goofs around with Currier resident Richard Maopolski (right). Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 13Some days, Mara’s bedroom is her gymnasium. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 5Patricia Machado (right) works in Dining Services at Currier House and is welcomed to work by Yohannes Tewolde. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer From the oversize windows in the room called “the Fishbowl” at Currier House, you can see lush green grass and blossoming trees on alternate sloping hillsides. Students who live in Currier, on Radcliffe Quad, have a longer walk to classes than their River House classmates but live more quietly, surrounded by nature. Since 1970, when Currier opened, the great outdoors have been invited inside. More recently, following the lead of the original architects, current Currier residents have “greened” the way they live, introducing environmental initiatives. Low-flow toilets and dishware drives are part of life in this House they call home. Living in a place nicknamed the “Tree House” comes with responsibility, which Currier’s staff and residents have embraced. 24When the various Houses extend invitations for living assignments to freshmen, Mark Piana ’11 (center, bare chest), and Kevin Chen ’12 (right) whoop it up for Currier House. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer 3This black and white photograph of the Master’s living room at Currier House was published in a booklet distributed at the House dedication in 1971. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 27Currier resident Danielle Gram co-founded the nonprofit Kids for Peace, an organization that “works with children ages 3 to 10 to empower them to lead the way to a more tolerant, nonviolent society.” She was featured in Harvard’s special Commencement issue. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer 16Mara plays the piano in the dance studio at Currier. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer 18Young Currier resident Mara Cavallaro, on the school bus, is unhappy because her father, House Master Jim Cavallaro, is leaving on a work-related trip. He signs “I love you” to her. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographerlast_img read more

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Harvard comes out for City Run/Walk

first_imgHarvard students, faculty, and staff were out in force Sunday to run or walk in the 27th annual Marathon Sports Cambridge City Run, a five-mile road race or three-mile walk past Fresh Pond and along Huron Avenue. More than 1,000 runners braved an unseasonably chilly day for the City Run/Walk event, which is a harbinger of spring for those who had been sidelined by snowy streets and icy sidewalks.Harvard University sponsored approximately 150 runners from Harvard On The Move, a running and walking group open to students, faculty, staff, and community residents, as well as interested Harvard affiliates. Proceeds from the race benefit the Friends of Cambridge Athletics and the Andrea Harvey Memorial Fund. Harvard Public Affairs & Communications  also helped to support the race.last_img read more

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Lower health care costs may last

first_imgA slowdown in the growth of U.S. health care costs could mean savings of as much as $770 billion on Medicare spending over the next decade, Harvard economists say.In a paper published in the May issue of Health Affairs, David Cutler, the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics, and co-author Nikhil Sahni, a senior researcher in Harvard’s Economics Department, point to several factors, including a decline in the development of new drugs and technologies and increased efficiency in the health care system, to explain the recent slowdown.If those trends continue over the next decade, they say, estimates of health care spending produced by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could be off by hundreds of billions.“Historically, as far back as 1960, medical care has increased at about one and a half to 2 percent faster than the economy,” said Cutler, who served as a health care adviser to the 2008 Obama campaign. “In the last decade, however, medical care has not really grown as a share of the GDP. If you forecast that forward, it translates into a lot of money.”Money that could have a profound effect not just on government spending, but on average workers as well, Cutler said.If the growth in costs remains flat, Cutler said, companies could direct savings on health care back to workers in the form of increased salaries. Reduced health care costs could also help relieve financial strain on critical government programs.“At the federal and state level, we’ve cut everything but health care,” Cutler said. “If we can hold the growth in health care spending down, it would reduce the pressure on government, and would allow us to avoid funding one program at the expense of others, or raising taxes.”Although forecasts by the CBO and Medicare actuaries have taken the recent slowdown in health care spending into account, those estimates come with a serious flaw, the researchers said: an assumption that costs have slowed largely due to the 2007 recession.By comparison, Cutler and Sahni’s study connects just over a third, about 37 percent, to the recession. The bulk of the decline, they say, is related to other factors, such as a decline in the development of new treatments.“For whatever reason, the technology that’s available for treating people seems to be improving at a slower rate than in the past,” Cutler said. “In recent years, there have been a number of oncology drugs that have been touted as potential blockbusters, but most haven’t sold as well as expected. Other analysts have also noted that while research and development spending by pharmaceutical companies has increased dramatically, the number of new drug approvals has remained flat.”With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Cutler said, health care providers received new incentives to increase efficiency and reduce costly problems, such as readmitting patients soon after discharge and in-hospital infections.“There are a variety of different programs where we’ve said if you’re efficient you’ll be rewarded, and so that’s what a lot of institutions are trying to do,” he said.Steep out-of-pocket costs have also resulted in many people — even those who are insured — choosing to defer some treatments.“A typical insurance policy now has a deductible of over $1,000 for an individual, and maybe $2,000 for a family, and most people don’t have that amount of cash in the bank,” Cutler said. “It’s a big hurdle. People look at their cost sharing, and they say, this is a lot of money, I’m not sure I can afford it, so they’re cutting back on discretionary imaging, they’re cutting back on elective surgeries, and on referrals to specialists that might not be covered.“At the same time, insurers have become a lot smarter about directing people to cheaper alternatives when you do seek treatment,” Cutler added. “For example, it used to be that everyone took the branded version of a drug. Now, if you’re taking the branded version of a drug, you’ve gone out of your way to do that.”Ultimately, Cutler said, the question of whether earlier estimates of health care costs are correct will depend on whether insurers, providers, and the public continue to work to keep costs under control.“Don’t think of this as plate tectonics, where the earth’s crust is moving and we just need to figure out how fast it’s moving,” Cutler said. “We have a lot of control over this, through policies in the Affordable Care Act and Medicare and Medicaid. It’s not easy — no change is ever easy — but if we continue to do the right things, like stressing efficiency and helping people choose less expensive alternatives, then we can make sure this trend continues.”last_img read more

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Muting the Mozart effect

first_img <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqSY3INIxAs” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”> <img src=”https://img.youtube.com/vi/oqSY3INIxAs/0.jpg” alt=”0″ title=”How To Choose The Correct Channel Type For Your Video Content ” /> </a> Children get plenty of benefits from music lessons. Learning to play instruments can fuel their creativity, and practicing can teach much-needed focus and discipline. And the payoff, whether in learning a new song or just mastering a chord, often boosts self-esteem.But Harvard researchers now say that one oft-cited benefit — that studying music improves intelligence — is a myth.Though it has been embraced by everyone from advocates for arts education to parents hoping to encourage their kids to stick with piano lessons, a pair of studies conducted by Samuel Mehr, a Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) doctoral student working in the lab of Elizabeth Spelke, the Marshall L. Berkman Professor of Psychology, found that music training had no effect on the cognitive abilities of young children. The studies are described in a Dec. 11 paper published in the open-access journal PLoS One.“More than 80 percent of American adults think that music improves children’s grades or intelligence,” Mehr said. “Even in the scientific community, there’s a general belief that music is important for these extrinsic reasons. But there is very little evidence supporting the idea that music classes enhance children’s cognitive development.”The notion that music training can make someone smarter, Mehr said, can largely be traced to a single study published in Nature. In it, researchers identified what they called the “Mozart effect.” After listening to music, test subjects performed better on spatial tasks.Though the study was later debunked, the notion that simply listening to music could make someone smarter became firmly embedded in the public imagination, and spurred a host of follow-up studies, including several that focused on the cognitive benefits of music lessons.Though dozens of studies have explored whether and how music and cognitive skills might be connected, when Mehr and colleagues reviewed the literature they found only five studies that used randomized trials, the gold standard for determining causal effects of educational interventions on child development. Of the five, only one showed an unambiguously positive effect, and it was so small — just a 2.7 point increase in IQ after a year of music lessons — that it was barely enough to be statistically significant.“The experimental work on this question is very much in its infancy, but the few published studies on the topic show little evidence for ‘music makes you smarter,’” Mehr said.To explore the connection between music and cognition, Mehr and his colleagues recruited 29 parents and 4-year-old children from the Cambridge area. After initial vocabulary tests for the children and music aptitude tests for the parents, each was randomly assigned to one of two classes, one that had music training, or another that focused on visual arts.“We wanted to test the effects of the type of music education that actually happens in the real world, and we wanted to study the effect in young children, so we implemented a parent-child music enrichment program with preschoolers,” Mehr said. “The goal is to encourage musical play between parents and children in a classroom environment, which gives parents a strong repertoire of musical activities they can continue to use at home with their kids.”Harvard study on music and cognition Children and parents take part in a music training class as part of a Harvard study that explored whether studying music improved cognition among young children.Among the key changes Mehr and his colleagues made from earlier studies were controlling for the effect of different teachers — Mehr taught both the music and visual arts classes — and using assessment tools designed to test areas of cognition, vocabulary, mathematics, and two spatial tasks.“Instead of using something general, like an IQ test, we tested four specific domains of cognition,” Mehr said. “If there really is an effect of music training on children’s cognition, we should be able to better detect it here than in previous studies, because these tests are more sensitive than tests of general intelligence.”The study’s results, however, showed no evidence for cognitive benefits of music training.While the groups performed comparably on vocabulary and number-estimation tasks, the assessments showed that children who received music training performed slightly better at one spatial task, while those who received visual arts training performed better at the other.“Study One was very small. We only had 15 children in the music group, and 14 in the visual arts,” Mehr said. “The effects were tiny, and their statistical significance was marginal at best. So we attempted to replicate the study, something that hasn’t been done in any of the previous work.”To replicate the effect, Mehr and colleagues designed a second study that recruited 45 parents and children, half of whom received music training, and half of whom received no training.Just as in the first study, Mehr said, there was no evidence that music training offered any cognitive benefit. Even when the results of both studies were pooled to allow researchers to compare the effect of music training, visual arts training, and no training, there was no sign that any group outperformed the others.“There were slight differences in performance between the groups, but none were large enough to be statistically significant,” Mehr said. “Even when we used the finest-grained statistical analyses available to us, the effects just weren’t there.”While the results suggest studying music may not be a shortcut to educational success, Mehr said there is still substantial value in music education.“There’s a compelling case to be made for teaching music that has nothing to do with extrinsic benefits,” he said. “We don’t teach kids Shakespeare because we think it will help them do better on the SATs. We do it because we believe Shakespeare is important.“Music is an ancient, uniquely human activity. The oldest flutes that have been dug up are 40,000 years old, and human song long preceded that,” he said. “Every single culture in the world has music, including music for children. Music says something about what it means to be human, and it would be crazy not to teach this to our children.”The study was supported by funding from the Dana Foundation, and inspired by the work of William Safire.last_img read more

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Harvard College Library Wintersession looks forward, to the past

first_imgIn a 2007 excavation of Harvard Yard, archaeology students unearthed a handful of metal fragments, each imprinted with a letter. The pieces, which were determined to be 17th-century movable type, root the history of printing at the feet of current students and gave context for Houghton Library’s letterpress printing workshop during this year’s Wintersession.Across campus, faculty and staff explored editorial production on the other end of the technological spectrum. “Multimedia Exposed,” a series of symposiums led by the Expanding the Boundaries of Authorship group, Lamont Library’s Multimedia Lab, and other campus organizations, investigated emerging tools for authoring with digital media.The events punctuated 10 days of lectures, hands-on presentations, and panels hosted throughout the Harvard College Library and FAS Libraries as part of this year’s January term. The sessions are built to enrich learning in a relaxed setting removed from the demanding pace of the semester schedule.last_img read more

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Continuing the legacy: Alyson Gombas

first_imgShe was a force of nature, a loyal and caring friend, a tireless advocate for women’s and girls’ education, and an international worker in multiple countries. And when Laura Kavazanjian, Ed.M.’10, was killed in a car accident in 2011, her HGSE classmates and friends wanted to find a way to carry on both her name and her work.“I had never met anyone so determined to make a difference in the world,” says Catie Corbin, Ed.M. ’10, a classmate and close friend of Kavazanjian’s. “Apart from being brilliant, Laura was able to engage people with stories around why education professionals needed to prioritize girls’ education. Because of her conviction and her passion, she gained a series of followers.”In the fall of 2013, the Laura Kavazanjian Memorial Scholarship Fund awarded funds to Gombas, a student in the IEP Program whose passion aligns closely with Kavazanjian’s. A former Peace Corps member and Fulbright scholar, Gombas has worked and taught English in India, Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan. She came to HGSE to learn more about the policies affecting international education and the questions surrounding access to education for women and girls — just as Laura did.Gombas is now stepping into a legacy of activism for the education of women and girls. The scholarship will be awarded annually to an HGSE student with an interest in international education, particularly in improving female access to education. Read Full Storylast_img read more

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Research to lose sleep over

first_imgThis is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.It’s not uncommon to hear of undergraduates pulling all-nighters to prepare for exams or finish papers. Even though a number of studies have shown that sleep deprivation is unhealthy and can actually be counterproductive, that does little to sway the average student when deadlines loom.So Will Clerx ’14 set out to dig deeper, specifically to study the physiological effects that irregular sleep patterns have on college students. Having served as an undergraduate researcher in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a Harvard affiliate, Clerx designed and ran an experiment involving 61 of his fellow students. His research helped provide insight into how irregular sleep patterns affect undergraduate performance. And his work is included in the documentary “The Great American Sleep Project,” which will air on the National Geographic network.“There are always competing priorities that arise, and college students don’t always make regular sleep their highest priority,” said Clerx. “But when you do the research, you see that irregular sleep patterns are associated with lower academic performance. So really, it appears to be counterproductive. It’s one of those things where people don’t necessarily realize what they’re doing to their bodies.”A molecular and cellular biology concentrator, Clerx said his interest in science began when he was a small child looking for insects in his Seekonk, Mass., backyard.“I was always fascinated by the natural world and exploring why things are the way they are. But while it’s something that has always interested me, I’ve found that it’s one thing to read about science, about biology, and another thing to ‘do science,’ ” said the Cabot House resident. “I’ve always been a passionate consumer of knowledge, as is everyone at Harvard; that’s how we got here, that’s why we’re graduating. But once you’re here at Harvard, you have a very special opportunity to become a creator of knowledge.”In addition to his work in the lab, Clerx was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, and is a former Cabot House Committee member and a member of the Harvard Catholic Student Association. Those who know him say he is a natural leader.“Will brings intellect, passion, and humor to everything he does.  He takes on challenging questions that impact the quality of life on a societal level while also caring deeply for those around him. He has contributed to both Cabot House and the broader College community through his intellectual, social, and personal leadership in immeasurable ways.  He is truly a gem of a person,” Rakesh and Stephanie Khurana, co-masters of Cabot House, said in a joint statement. Rakesh Khurana is the incoming dean of Harvard College.Entering his freshman year, Clerx took courses that fueled his interest in biology, but he wasn’t sure where his focus should be within the field. In the summer after his first year, he participated in the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, a program that engages students in synthetic-biology research by having them collaborate on a research project of their own design, with the aim of creating biological systems that perform new functions.Clerx called this a “formative experience,” but said it wasn’t quite what he was seeking.“I realized that this kind of research could have far-reaching and important impacts, but it was pretty far removed from the clinical side, from people. I took a step back and realized I really wanted to work more directly with people,” he said.That’s when he took a class taught by Charles Czeisler ’74, the Frank Baldino Jr., Ph.D. Professor of Sleep Medicine. Clerx learned about the circadian clock, the biomechanism that guides sleep patterns, and how environmental time cues such as light can alter that internal clock and affect sleep.“I was hooked,” he said. “Sleep is very tangible. It is something everyone experiences, everyone knows, and we think we understand it so well, but there is really so much more we can learn.”In the fall of 2012, Clerx began working in the sleep lab. He continued to learn about how lack or disruption of sleep over time can unsettle the body, affecting important hormones such as melatonin and cortisol and increasing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. And he saw how light exposure can influence the body’s internal clock. Yet he didn’t think that enough was being done to see how all of this was affecting undergraduates, whose exposure to light from smartphones and computer screens late into the evening has increased tremendously in the 21st century.For his experiment conducted in the fall semester, he recruited fellow Harvard undergraduates and compared students with regular sleep schedules to those with irregular sleep patterns. His work evolved into his senior thesis.“Will’s creativity and talent enabled him to make an important discovery linking irregular sleep-wake schedules with changes in the brain’s circadian clock. His thesis research was truly exemplary,” Czeisler said.“What I found was an effect similar to what some have called ‘social jet lag.’ Exposure to nocturnal light was associated with setting the circadian clock of the irregular sleepers back nearly three hours. This means that, on average, these students are in Boston, geographically speaking, but are essentially living in California, biologically speaking.” Clerx said. “I could tell college students they could sleep more. But if I could tell them that if they slept more regularly it might be the difference between a B+ and an A-, that has very tangible meaning.”After graduation, Clerx will continue to work in the sleep lab, but eventually plans to go to medical school to become a pediatric oncologist.“When you have children who are sick, young kids just at the beginning of their lives, there seems to be something fundamentally wrong with that. You’re fighting for the life ahead of them. There’s no doubt that it can be a tough environment when things don’t work out, but at the same time I think there’s a lot of room there to bring hope to people, and that’s what interests me,” he said.As for his own sleep patterns, does Clerx practice what his research teaches?“I am by no means a perfect human,” he said with a laugh, “but I am certainly aware of it. But there have been times when I stay up late writing a paper, look at the clock, and say to myself, ‘My risk of diabetes is going up.’ ”last_img read more

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