Weekend reads: Memories from a friend of Oliver Sacks

Interesting stories and studies from the past week

The Daily Briefing editorial team highlights several interesting health care stories and studies that didn't quite make this week's Briefing. What are you reading this weekend? Let us know in the comments.

Josh Zeitlin's reads

Lighting up cancer. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Duke University Medical Center have created a probe that, when injected into the body, can help find and light up residual cancer cells, according to a study in Science Translational Medicine. Alice Park reports for TIME that "not only could the technique make cancer surgery more effective, but it could also help doctors to target radiation therapy to just the right parts of a tumor to kill remaining cancer cells."

"The Civil War is Not Over." Or so says Ohio State University economist Richard Steckel. In a new paper, Steckel argues that the Civil War led to decades of poverty in the South that altered residents' organs and physiology. That, he says, made Southerners bodies' unprepared for the lifestyle changes—such as eating more food—that came with the region's increasing economic prosperity. That's how he explains one of his key findings: that after controlling for obesity, education level, and other factors, states that rapidly rose out of poverty between 1950 and 1980 had higher rates of heart disease.

Music in the OR. According to a recent study in the journal Surgery, anesthesiologists most prefer to listen to jazz, blues, and classical music at low volumes in the OR. But surgeons tend to like top-40 hits at higher noise levels.

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Sam Bernstein's reads

Psychoanalysis strikes back. Sigmund Freud—towering luminary that he was—actually has a bit of a bad reputation among many mental health professionals. "No brain scan has ever located the ego, super-ego, or id," Oliver Burkeman explains in the Guardian. But cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a results-oriented approach to therapy that dominates the field today, is beginning to show cracks—and some experts are taking a second look at psychoanalysis. "How does that make you feel?" Burkeman quips.

Oliver Sacks, at home and in the water. "I remember all our swims together—we are both water creatures," Oliver Sacks wrote a few months before his death to Henri Cole, his longtime friend. Writing in the New Yorker, Cole reflects on private moments from the life of Sacks—who was best known for his writing on medicine. "Despite his grand powers, he did not make me feel a lack of self-confidence," Cole remembers.

Should your iPhone stare back at you?  Apple's latest acquisition is half-intriguing and half-creepy. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple has bought a San Diego startup working on artificial intelligence technology that analyzes facial expressions to detect emotions. And what does one of the world's biggest companies do with emotion-reading technology? It's anyone's guess, but the possibilities range from tracking real-time reactions to advertisements to letting Siri know it's not a great time to tell a joke. 

Sam's recent posts:

Aly Seidel's reads

Can actors teach doctors how to be more empathetic? Medical actors who feign different types of sicknesses are helping physicians to learn the interpersonal skills that are sometimes lost in the rush to diagnose.

Rural health care and the International Space Station: Orbiting 250 miles above the earth's surface isn't an ideal place to have a medical emergency: There's no diagnostic equipment, no medical team, and limited bandwidth for telemedicine. The procedures to reduce these risks could be applicable to rural and remote settings on earth, which face similar medical access challenges.

What if the pharmacist just dropped pills into your hand? Many take it for granted that their medication will come in a small container. But in some countries, medication is wrapped in a piece of paper, a cloth, or simply put directly into a patients' hand.


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