DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Life Sciences - Biology 1090: Human Biology

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

To satisfy the Life Sciences requirement, I took Biology 1090: Human Biology in the Summer semester of 2017. Reasons I choose to take this course rather than any other Life Science course because I believed that it would further my understanding of how the human body functions, and how miraculous it is that all of the different organ systems usually work in harmony to keep us alive without us really thinking about it or doing more than breathing, eating, and sleeping. My thoughts going into this course were that it would probably be an interesting, but also easy class, since I had taken the same course in High School a couple of years ago, and I had retained a lot of the information. The only challenge I faced was coming to class every day to hear the teacher read the powerpoints, and add additional information as was necessary. The signature assignment I include for this course is the New Analysis Assignment and Reflection I did on a new approach to amputating limbs that could reduce phantom limb pain in patients. Phantom limb pain is an unfortunate condition that happens when the brain doesn't know that the amputated limb is gone, and so creates a painful sensation that until now could only be remedied by using a box with mirrors that tricks the brain into believing the limb is still there. The amputee then "unflexes" the limb they see in the mirror, and the pain lessens almost immediately. This new procedure avoids phantom limb pain by leaving muscle and nerve tissue intact, so the brain can correctly process information coming from the amputated limb thereby lessening phantom limb pain.


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.


News Analysis Assignment and Reflection


1. Cite the name of the news source, the article title, the date, and the byline (the reporter’s name). Paste a link to the article here (in Canvas).


            The news source I choose was Scientific American in the Health portion of their website. The title of the article is “New Approach to Amputation Could Reduce Phantom Pain” published on June 2nd, 2017 by Karen Weintraub. Here is a link to the article on Phantom Limb Pain: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-approach-to-amputation-could-reduce-phantom-pain/


2. What are the main conclusions of the scientist(s)?


            The main findings of the scientists were that by saving the nerves and tissue of an agonist-antagonist muscle pair while doing a modified amputation procedure, they could maintain sensation and better limb control in patients that have lost a limb. The researchers also discovered that it was better for the patient to retain some of the nerves and muscle that are traditionally cut off during an amputation procedure, so that they can have a better sense of proprioception, or where their limb is in space in relation to other parts of the body. Last, they found that the modified amputation procedure lessened the amount of phantom limb pain that usually comes as an unfortunate lifelong consequence of having an amputated limb.


3. What are some possible impacts this information could have on society or individuals?


            Some possible impacts of this important discovery are that veterans of war or anyone else who requires an amputation will maintain a greater amount of feeling and proprioception in their amputated limb, which would add tremendously to their quality of life. This research also would eliminate or at the very least lessen the occurrence of phantom limb pain, which haunts those who have lost a limb quite literally adding insult to their unfortunate injury. Overall, this information would serve as a tremendous benefit to society, since anyone can lose a limb due to a multitude of unfortunate circumstances, so we should strive to figure out how to best maintain their quality of life despite their injury.


4. Are other scientists, or policy-makers, mentioned as being in disagreement with the research scientists? If so, what might make you tend to take their doubts seriously (or not take them seriously)?


            No one was mentioned in the article as being against the researcher’s findings since it does make logical and practical sense to keep as much living tissue and nerves as possible when doing an amputation. This is because it will allow the amputee to have a better quality of life, and they will be able to control their prosthetic limb to a much higher degree than with a traditional amputation procedure.


5. Are scientists mentioned in the article affiliated with a nonpartisan group, like a University or Government, or affiliated with a for-profit corporation? If the latter, do you suspect that altered their conclusions?


Yes, all of the researchers are mentioned as either being medical professors or an MIT Media Lab professor in the case of the principal scientist in the study, Hugh Herr, who is a double-amputee due to a climbing accident he suffered in high school. However, I do not believe this altered their conclusions since they are trying to help society and amputees worldwide by doing this research. More than anything else I would suspect that they were thrilled to test this research out, see if it truly solved the problem, and try to improve amputee’s quality of life since I’m sure all of us can sympathize with how incredibly hard it would be to lose a limb.


6. In what ways did the article change and expand your views on the topic? If it did not change or expand your views, describe what you knew about the subject before reading the article.


            This article changed and expanded my views on amputation through learning about what proprioception is and how lucky I am to still have it within my limbs, since adjusting and trying to use a prosthetic can be a challenging endeavor to do compared with those who still have sensation in their limbs. I also relearned what an agonist-antagonist muscle pair are and how they work in conjunction with one another. Last, I learned that for the most part, before this modified amputation solution, the procedure of removing a limb had not changed for 2,000 years or more. The only part which had changed was the use of anesthesia and the amount of time dedicated to severing the limb in the best possible way while keeping healthy tissue intact.


7. Do you think the reporter did a good job or a bad job of giving background for the story? Please give an example to support your opinion.


            I believe that the reporter gave a fair amount of background information about the topic of the article, which was about reducing phantom pain for amputees through a new procedure. I definitely would have liked to read more background on what phantom pain is, what causes it, and how we had tried to treat it in the past before this procedure went public. For example, this was all the information that the introduction established before moving on to the main part of the article: “People whose limbs have been amputated are often left with phantom sensations or pain in the missing appendage. Prosthetics don't feel anything like the real thing. And people with artificial limbs have to keep looking down because they can’t feel where their artificial arm or leg is in space.” As you can see, it covered the basics of what the article would be about but did not give the right amount of background information for those who may not know the exact details of what phantom limb pain is, or how painful and heartbreaking it is to an amputee to experience this sensation. Phantom limb pain is so terrible because the amputee knows they do not possess the limb anymore, but quite tragically their brain still wants to process information from where it is used to the limb being, so I imagine that it could be quite psychologically damaging, and physically painful to the amputee to experience it.





Reflection Prompt 1. Did your article, or things you saw in your search for articles, change the way you think about science? Did you see evidence of scientists actively engaged in public policy debates, and were you surprised by their level of advocacy?


            This article about Phantom limb pain didn’t so much change the way I think about science as much as making me more aware of how it can help out society in a tremendous way. While searching for these articles, I mostly became more aware of what was currently going on in the scientific world. I saw some scientists actively engaged in public policy debates, such as the controversy of using fetal stem cells to help treat various ailments, by trying to find a way to revert adult stem cells back to undifferentiated ones to solve the problem of obtaining these cells in a more “ethical” process. I was not surprised that scientists advocate certain ways on public policy debates since these issues affect them and the research they are allowed to do in treating conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease through using human stem cells, or on studying controversial matters such as gun violence and the use of cannabis in medicines for seizures.


Reflection Prompt 2. Discuss how your article made connections to another discipline, like business, government, politics, economics, or humanities. If it did not make any connections to other disciplines, discuss a connection it could have made.


            This article made an enormous number of connections to prosthetic limb technology since the saved agonist-antagonist muscle pair in an amputated limb would allow the body to sense the stretch, torque, and speed of a muscle in a realistic way, and in theory, would allow more control over a prosthetic limb. These connections are pretty significant since if we can find a way for amputees to control their prosthetic limbs from the electrical impulses in their brain, it would almost be like they hadn’t lost an appendage at all. It could also be further developed to allow the fingers on a prosthetic arm to be able to type, grasp, and function like the fingers of those who have not lost their arm.


Reflection Prompt 3. Describe how the class as a whole has impacted your views on science, the human body, and human impacts on the planet.


            This class has affected my views on science, the human body, and human impacts on the globe by teaching me to have better critical thinking skills when it comes to scientific reports since those that have not been peer-reviewed thoroughly are less credible than those that have been examined by other scientists. It also showed that science could significantly help us to improve our quality and quantity of life, since, before germs, vaccines, and antibiotics were discovered, humans lived tremendously shorter life-spans, and infant mortality was through the roof. Additionally, we are always advancing in learning better ways of treating conditions such as the loss of a limb. I already knew about the human impacts on the planet, but through being reminded of all that it entails, it has set in that we should take better precautions not to pollute or encroach upon the natural environment as much as we have in the past. I firmly believe this because although we humans love being concerned only with ourselves and how the natural world can best serve our needs now, eventually that attitude will decimate all of the non-human forms of life on the planet, and we will be left to perish on an Earth that can no longer support us. That or if we are lucky we may find a new planet to inhabit, but it won’t be the same Earth we have known and loved throughout the entirety of human history.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.