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Research Roundup: Heart muscle cells in space, genetic history of Rome, eating disorders

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Nov. 3 – Nov. 9.

Human heart muscles aboard the ISS

The effects of low gravity in space on human heart muscle cells have been detailed by Stanford researchers in a study published on Nov. 7 in Stem Cell Reports. 

Led by Joseph Wu, professor of medicine and radiology, the team studied how low gravity affected the structure and function of heart cells on the International Space Station (ISS). The heart cells were derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), known for their ability to become any tissue in the human body.

The researchers’ findings suggest that cells exhibit different patterns of gene expression and calcium use in space than on Earth. The cells reverted back to their normal state when returning to Earth.

“Working with the cells that launched to and returned from the International Space Station was an incredible opportunity,” said fifth-year bioengineering graduate student Alexa Wnorowski to Stanford Medicine’s blog SCOPE. “Our study was the first conducted on the station that used human iPS technology, and demonstrated that it is possible to conduct long-term, human cell-based experiments in space.”

Genetic history of Rome constructed

The genetic history of Rome has been modeled in a collaboration between researchers from Stanford, University of Vienna and Sapienza University, a Nov. 8 publication in “Science” revealed.

Genetics and biology professor Jonathan Pritchard led the study, examining DNA from individuals living in Rome and the surrounding areas of Italy. Findings suggest that there were two major migrations into Rome, as well as many smaller population shifts over the last few thousand years.

“The historical and archaeological records tell us a great deal about political history and contacts of different kinds with different places — trade and slavery, for example — but those records provide limited information about the genetic makeup of the population,” Pritchard told Stanford News.

DNA analysis indicated that as the Roman Empire extended around the Mediterranean Sea, immigrants from the Near East, Europe and North Africa moved to Rome. Going forward, the researchers hope to use DNA analysis to study evolutionary traits and how they have changed over time.

Eating disorders among patients in normal weight ranges

Adolescents with atypical anorexia nervosa can have normal body weight, but still be severely ill, according to a study published on Nov. 5 in “Pediatrics” by Stanford and University of California San Francisco researchers.

“This group of patients is underrecognized and undertreated,” said pediatrics professor Neville Golden to Stanford Medicine News. “Our study showed that they can be just as sick medically and psychologically as anorexia nervosa patients who are underweight.”

The study’s findings suggest that rapid weight loss is the best predictor of issues associated with atypical anorexia nervosa, rather than body weight at diagnosis. Atypical anorexia nervosa patients can still have issues such as dangerously low heart rate and blood pressure, electrolyte imbalances and psychological problems, regardless of body weight.

The researchers explained that more research needs to be performed to determine healthy weight gain for adolescents recovering from atypical anorexia nervosa.

“If someone gains a bit of weight, regains menses, and is doing well socially, emotionally and cognitively, that might indicate that they are in a place of recovery,” Golden told Stanford Medicine News.

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.