Tuesday, June 15, 2010

HDR and Microscopy

I've been having a blast over the last year or so getting back into photography after about a 3 decade lapse (and major advances in technology). The thing that really got me excited was something called high dynamic range or HDR photography.

One of the basic rules in photography has been that you should have the shot's light source (in particular the sun) at your back, otherwise your exposure might be funky. HDR involves taking multiple images at different exposures of the same subject so that you can get the very bright and very dark areas at appropriate exposures. The human eye and brain have an amazing ability to handle these tremendous differences in a particular view, and to my eye HDR gives the photographer some tools to get closer to what we perceive (and to also take some artistic license with the images).  I really enjoy the ability to shoot directly into the sun.

Even more interesting is the potential to apply this technique to scientific imaging. We've had some discussions about improving surgery images, and I spent some time brainstorming with our microscopy folks, one of whom forwarded along this paper which covers very nicely how HDR can enhance bright-field microscopy. Interestingly enough, they also use the same HDR software I've been working with (Photomatix Pro). It's really exciting to see someone tackling this.

Images C and D are HDR.
Image: Joerg Piper, Bad Bertrich, Germany, 2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Study Shows Genomic Counseling Results in Lifestyle Changes

While there has been lot of attention paid to the incredible pace of advancement in sequencing technology, there is growing discussion around the medical value of the data. Knowing that you carry a certain allele for disease risk may be interesting, but what do you do with that data? Do you change lifestyle? Do you begin a proactive course of medication? What is appropriate and who helps you understand the data and the potentially difficult choices it creates? There has even been concern that individuals, upon finding out they are at higher risk for a disease, would "give up", resulting in decreased quality of health.

A recent study by the Coriell Institute finds that:
"People who find out they have high genetic risk for cardiovascular disease are more likely to change their diet and exercise patterns than are those who learn they have a high risk from family history, according to preliminary research."
It's interesting to see that genetic testing appears to have the potential to be more motivating for patients than traditional sources of similar information, though it's hard to know whether it's a function of the novelty of the data or something more lasting. It's also important to note that there appears to have been high quality counseling associated with this study, which is widely seen as a critical to appropriate use of genetic data.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A New Culture of Scientific Communication

It's great to see Josh Sommer's excellent talk at the Sage Congress getting more attention. Josh is a 22 year-old college drop-out who was diagnosed with a very rare brain tumor called chordoma as a freshman at Duke. When he discovered the average life expectancy for this disease is seven years and only 20-30% of the patients are cured, he immediately began reading the research. He was disturbed to discover how little research was going on related to chordoma and began working in the lab of a Duke researcher, but realized that progress was still way too slow.  He then began to identify the things that were slowing down the speed of the research, and eventually founded the Chordoma Foundation in 2007 to begin attacking these barriers.

The first barrier they decided to tackle was the relatively limited flow of information between chrodoma researchers. As the foundation led workshops and brought researchers together, they saw substantial increase in the number of questions around the disease being answered, and eventually built a research roadmap. He makes a compelling case for the need to change from a publishing model established 400 years ago that is no longer appropriate for the rapid pace of technology to an open access model that changes the culture for data and information sharing across the scientific community.