Living Lab on The Point

Mondays at 9am and 7pm

Living Lab on The Point is a forum for the stories behind science headlines — the people who do the research, the unexpected ways that science gets done, and how the results make their way into our everyday lives.

Do you have a story or photo to share? Send it to livinglabradio@capeandislands.org. Or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Host and producer Dr. Heather Goldstone.
Credit Maura Longueil

Living Lab on The Point is Produced by Heather Goldstone and Elsa Partan. The Executive Producer is Mindy Todd.

Major support for the Living Lab is provided by The Kendeda Fund: furthering the values that contrubute to a healthy planet. Additional support is provided by Lee McGraw and the Elizabeth B. McGraw Foundation.

Usually, efforts to find a new treatment or cure for a disease go something like this: scientists spend years figuring out something about the basic biology of the disease, and then spend more years finding ways to target a part of that process. When they hit on something that works in the laboratory, they (or, often, a pharmaceutical company) spend even more years - and a lot more money - doing the tests necessary to prove a drug is safe and effective for use in human patients.

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library / Yale University

It’s been called the world’s most mysterious book. It was written between 1404 and 1438 in an unknown script by an unknown author. It’s illustrated with plants and star charts that look tantalizingly like real ones, only not quite. And then there are the women -  dozens of naked women entering and emerging from tubes that one writer compared to midieval waterslides. But most perplexing of all is the lettering, which is beautifully formed but completely unintelligible.

U.S. Geological Survey

Sea level rise is typically mentioned in the context of erosion, coastal flooding, storm damage at the coasts. All of those are issues, to be sure. But rising ocean levels can have other effects – on septic systems and drinking water supplies farther inland. Potential impacts on groundwater are the subject of a new report from US Geological Survey’s New England Water Science Center.

We come into contact with countless chemicals everyday. In fact, we're made of chemicals. But the number of human-made, synthetic chemicals in our lives has skyrocketed, and many common household and personal care products actually contain chemicals that may be bad for our health.

Scientists can measure the amounts of these chemicals in retail products and the home environment, and they can study what they do to animals in laboratory. But that leaves one big, unanswered question:

Agence de presse Meurisse / bit.ly/2gCH6zx

When Marie Curie discovered radioactivity, she kick-started the field of atomic physics and inspired two other female physicists whose work gave rise to the atomic age. Her daughter, Irene (and son-in-law, Frederic) Joliot-Curie, discovered a method of inducing artificial radioactivity. And Austrian-born Lise Meitner figured out nuclear fission.

Yuki A. Honjo

Cranberries are a billion-dollar industry in Massachusetts and employ more than 6,900 people. But the market is getting crowded, and that’s pushing down the price. Wisconsin has been the top grower in North America for years, where cranberry farms go back to the 1800’s. Quebec has only been growing cranberries for the last 20 years, but it surpassed Massachusetts in its cranberry harvest in 2014.

Why hasn’t Massachusetts kept up with the Wisconsin and Quebec?

Satya Murthy/flickr / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Biochemist Keri Colabroy thinks we could all be better cooks and healthier eaters, if we just learned a little bit of chemistry. That's why she teaches a kitchen chemistry course and a writing class about coffee (yeah, that's a thing) at Muhlenberg College.

Palliative care physician Justin Sanders uses the Serious Illness Conversation Guide in talking with a patient.
Courtesy of Ariadne Labs

There has been a growing recognition in recent years that patients near the end of life need a different kind of care – treatment that focuses on controlling symptoms, like pain and anxiety, rather than attempting to cure a disease. Most doctors and nurses aren’t trained to handle this transition and, until recently, haven’t had the information and tools necessary to do it well. That is changing.

Joyce Maxner sets up for a Death Cafe in West Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard.
Elsa Partan / WCAI

For most of American history, when a loved one died, family members cared for the body of the deceased at home before burial. It wasn’t until the Civil War that people started embalming soldiers’ bodies for the long train trips home. Soon after, funeral homes started offering embalming services, and an industry was born. Now, there’s a movement to bring after-death care back home.

The motivations driving such interest are varied. Some people find it more personal, more meaningful. Others want to avoid toxic embalming chemicals and reduce the environmental footprint of burial.

Courtesy Arthur Caplan

More than half of U.S. states have laws that say that a dying person should have access to any treatment, vaccine, medical device that they want. For some people who have serious illnesses, getting these treatments represents nothing less than a lifeline.

The “right to try” laws attempt to give that access. At the federal level, legislators like Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) have introduced bills that say that people with life-ending illnesses shouldn’t be stopped from trying treatments by the FDA or any other regulatory body.

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