June 17, 2016

I attended the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society’s annual conference in Atlanta a few weeks ago. I’ve written up a few of the highlights from my conference experience below.

Overall, it was probably the friendliest conference I’ve ever attended. There was a “first timer’s breakfast” to help get to know others, a “first timer” badge ribbon helped to break the ice, and the people I met were unfailingly open and friendly. I believe the focus on *teaching* anatomy & physiology rather than research helps, and clearly the organization itself has worked hard to cultivate an open and collaborative space. In any case, I hope to attend this conference again in the future and to be more involved with the organization as a whole.

Here are a few “takeaway” points from some of the update sessions I attended at the conference. The update seminars took place on the first two days of the conference, and these speakers addressed everyone who was attending. I'll put my notes from the smaller breakout workshops on the 3rd and 4th days of the conference in a separate post. I’ve pulled out pieces that might be of particular interest to my colleagues at MUIH. Enjoy!

“Using Gaze Tracking to Document Learning”

ostrich eyes

This update seminar from Ann Zumwalt of the BU School of Medicine was incredibly interesting. I hesitate to admit this, but I didn’t have high hopes based on the title of the presentation. It’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised! Dr. Zumwalt has been doing research on how to assess medical and allied health students as they learn anatomy. While exams may be helpful, they are a somewhat indirect way of measuring whether a student truly knows and understands the concepts. For example, students may guess correctly without really knowing a structure if asked to identify an anatomical landmark.

Research shows that we learn gradually over time, with periods of rapidly increasing learning interspersed with plateaus where learning seems to stabilize for a bit as we move from beginner to expert. Dr. Zumwalt’s team used gaze tracking devices to track how people on various places in this trajectory view an anatomical image. While beginners tend to look at a large number of points on an image without a particular pattern, experts tend to use a focused gaze to check on a few specific areas of an image that will help identify or differentiate a piece of information. One example given was related to an X-Ray image of the thorax. Dr. Zumwalt mentioned that 80 or 90% (? I forget the exact number) of radiologists could glance at a given image for a few milliseconds and correctly identify whether the X-Ray was normal or abnormal. (For a full diagnosis more time was needed J).

They found that by tracking student’s gazes during an exam, they could identify students who were making progress in their understanding & looking at the images in a more focused manner and those who were still using a beginner’s gaze. This may be a more comprehensive method of assessing learning anatomy, radiology and a host of other skills or subjects that require visual analysis.

Although I don’t teach any of these subjects, this was a powerful reminder that students organize information differently than someone with considerably more experience. When I read an article or news report pertaining to physiology, I can almost immediately place it in the context of everything else I know. I can tell which pieces are new or significant, and which are review or standard material. My metaphorical “gaze” at the information presented is focused on a few small pieces of information. Student’s don’t necessarily enjoy this same

Human Skin as a Model Circulation for Examining Mechanisms of Microvascular Dysfunction


So I can’t even begin to give an accurate summary of this presentation, but I did learn a new term: gasotransmitter. How cool is that? Definition & more to follow.

Essentially, the main question addressed in this presentation was whether microvascular function has predictive power as a marker of overall cardiovascular health. (Hint: yes.) Dr. Lacy Alexander and colleagues at Penn State University have been studying this topic, finding that the vasodilation response in the brachial artery after induced ischemia followed by rapid return of blood is primarily mediated by nitric oxide (NO) but that other vasoactive molecules contribute to this response as well.

Normally, when blood pressure increases the sheer stress on the vessel walls causes a vasodilation response. We have known for some time that the gas nitric oxide is a key player in this response. However, at least two other gasotransmitters involved in this response. A gasotransmitter is a gaseous signaling molecule; there are three known endogenous gasotransmitters: CO, NO, and H₂S (and it looks like another one has been discovered – see the Huang et al. (2016) article below). The enzymes that synthesize H₂S are primarily found in smaller vessels, and not in larger conduit vessels.

This discovery is particularly fascinating because cardiovascular disease is so prevalent. We know that as we age, our ability to dilate blood vessels in response to sheer stress is attenuated, which can lead to hypertension and damage to the vessels themselves. Hypertension can be difficult to treat, and new therapeutic targets are of particular interest. Dr. Alexander mentioned that in some models, exogenous H₂S donors lead to dose-dependent vasodilation in human cutaneous circulation. Both NO and COX byproducts are required for full expression of H₂S-mediated vasodilation.

Here are a few articles for additional information. I’m looking forward to poking around in the literature for more information on H₂S, particularly its roles in the GI.

Kutz, J. L., Greaney, J. L., Santhanam, L., & Alexander, L. M. (2015). Evidence for a functional vasodilatatory role for hydrogen sulphide in the human cutaneous microvasculature. The Journal of Physiology, 593(Pt 9), 2121–2129. http://doi.org/10.1113/JP270054

Bos, E. M., van Goor, H., Joles, J. A., Whiteman, M., & Leuvenink, H. G. D. (2015). Hydrogen sulfide: physiological properties and therapeutic potential in ischaemia. British Journal of Pharmacology, 172(6), 1479–1493. http://doi.org/10.1111/bph.12869

Huang, Y., Tang, C., Du, J., & Jin, H. (2016). Endogenous Sulfur Dioxide: A New Member of Gasotransmitter Family in the Cardiovascular System.Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2016, 8961951. http://doi.org/10.1155/2016/8961951

Cancer Immunotherapy: From Bench to Bedside

hand blocking threat

To be frank, by the time this session rolled around my brain was getting full and my body was getting tired or so much sitting J. The idea behind cancer immunotherapies is essentially to encourage our own immune cells to recognize/eliminate cancerous cells. In some cases, blood is removed from a cancer patient and exposed to antibodies to stimulate this response before being reintroduced to the patient’s vascular system. The results are astounding in some cases, although still too pricey for most people. New immunotherapies are being approved all the time – in fact, Dr. Garnett-Beson had to update her presentation with a new one that was approved the day before she spoke. I didn’t manage to take discernable notes during this presentation, other than to note my extreme gratitude that people like Dr. Charlie Garnett-Benson and Dr. Susanna Greer are working on these types of problems.

If you’d like to learn more about cancer immunotherapies, check out this article published by Scientific American in 2015.

About Camille Freeman, LDN, RH (she/her)

Hi there! I'm a clinical herbalist and licensed nutritionist specializing in fertility and menstrual health. I run the Monday Mentoring community of practice and also offer continuing education programs for highly-trained herbalists and nutritionists (Check out this year's Deep Dive!). I'm also a professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, where I teach physiology, pathophysiology, and mindful eating.

~ More to Explore ~

Sign up for weekly Practitioner Notes from Camille.

Tips, resources, & encouragement for herbalists & nutritionists, delivered to your inbox most Thursdays.