Your brain on music-what does the research tell us?

Music, one element of the performing arts, has been part of our lives for centuries. It is now easier than ever to access our music no matter where we are. We listen whilst we cook, drive, clean and even when going for a run. My daily routine includes habitually navigating YouTube in search of music to play before starting work. I wonder if this contributes towards my productivity throughout the day; or maybe it has become something of a distraction, a means to escape the pressure to perform at work by becoming an audience for the musicians and singers I select.

The relationship between music and fundamental function has been heavily explored. N. Perham and J. Vizard preformed a small scale trial (25 participants) to understand the effect of music on remembering items in a specific order. Tests were carried out to explore the difference in results whilst music was prevalent and also when it was absent. Participants achieved the highest scores in the absence of music and lower scores when background music was played, whether it was liked or disliked by the participants.

An investigation by W. Brodsky and Z. Slor also demonstrated that music can be disruptive to young newly qualified drivers when taking to the wheel. The driving of 85 young-novice drivers was tested while playing preferred music, in-car music and no music. Driving while playing preferred music was reported to boost positive mood and enjoyment; however, increased driver miscalculation deficiency and traffic violations were also observed. On the other hand, listening to music that generated moderate levels of perceptual complexity improved the drivers’ performance leading to increased driver safety.
  Both experiments required individuals to be highly attentive and focused. The results indicate that preferred music has some negative effect on an individual’s performance; Nevertheless, this does not mean that music is bad for you. Another study carried out by A. Cabanac et. al. showed that students (560 participant aged 14 – 17) that chose a music course in their curriculum obtain higher grades on average compared to students that did not choose music as an optional course. This is the case in all subjects including Sport, Math, English and Science. The authors conclude that music can help relieve stress and as a result students taking musical courses perform better.
Personally, I think that the effect of music differs from person to person and depends on the task at hand. I would ideally avoid listening to music when high concentration is required; however, I believe music could help when performing repetitive tasks, as it can lead to positivity and enjoyment and, thus, increased productivity.
N. Perham and J. Vizard (2010) “Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect?” Appl Cogn Psychol. 25:625-631.
W. Brodsky and Z. Slor (2013) “Background music as a risk factor for distraction among young-novice drivers” Accid Anal Prev. 59:382-93.
A. Cabanac et. al. (2013) “Music and academic performance” Behav Brain Res. 256:257-60.




Most extensive Face transplant to date!

On August 14th, NYU Langone Medical Center performed a 26-hour surgery on a volunteer firefighter with severe third degree burns that left no normal tissue on his face. In November 2015, the doctors announced that this operation was a success because Patrick (the recipient) has been showing signs of recovery and responding well to immuno-supressants. His new face has been robust with color that indicates the circulation has been restored.

Here are some of the highlights of this surgery:

  • Transplantation of the ears and the ear canals
  • Transplantation of selective bony structures from the donor – nose, chin, cheeks
  • Precise placement of patient-specific metal plates and screws to ensure the proper contour and symmetry of the transplanted face
  • Transplantation of donor’s eyelids and muscles that in control of blinking – first ever in the field of face transplants!

I am both amazed and terrified with the advances in science. This surgery has given hope to countless civilians like – acid attack victims, war veterans, firefighters etc.  I am looking forward to 2017 - a Chinese surgeon has joined forces with an Italian doctor to prepare for what would be the world's first human head transplant. They have their first volunteer as well. This research is definitely controversial but I would say exciting as well. Advances like these inspire me to work harder every day to achieve my goals in the field of science. 

If you are interested in watching a brief clip on what went down in those 26 hours recipient:


Source for human head transplant 2017:

- GG




Huntington’s Disease: do you want to know your future?

If there was a genetic disease running in your family, would you want to know whether you will develop it? The documentary “Do you really want to know?” shows three stories of people that have been tested for Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a devastating incurable disorder characterized by progressive degeneration of neurons in certain areas of the brain, and results in uncontrolled movements, emotional disturbances, dementia, and weight loss. 

HD is a genetic, inherited disease and each child of a parent with HD has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene and eventually developing the disease. Although people are born with the defective gene, they do not usually develop symptoms until the 30-40s. Not only there is no cure, but not even a treatment that slows down the progression of the disease.

The gene responsible for the disease was identified in 1993 and, since then, genetic testing is available. Before that, people at risk could only hope for the best and watch for the appearance of symptoms, taking life decisions like getting married and having kids without knowing if they would pass the HD to their offspring.

This uncertainty does not longer need to exist but, however, most individuals at risk choose not to be tested and live their lives not knowing if they carry the HD gene.

These people are confronted with the difficult decision of whether or not to be tested. If they receive a positive test, they are effectively receiving a death sentence with an awful end. Even if they receive a negative test, they often think about other family members that may not be so fortunate and develop a sense of guilt.

Check out the documentary to see how people react to their results, some times in surprising ways.



Huntington’s Disease Documentary (2012): Do You Really Want To Know?


Crossing the Blood-Brain Barrier: Done with all the guesswork?

Most researchers who study molecules in the brain, that are not already there, know the difficulty of penetrating the blood-brain barrier. The “BBB” is a tightly joined layer of cells that shields the inside of the central nervous system from harmful pathogens and toxins, by acting like a filter between CSF and blood. The problem is that this filter doesn’t know when doctors are actively trying to reach the brain with medication, for example to treat glioblastoma, Alzheimer’s or psychiatric diseases. Much research has gone into predicting whether a compound will make it through the barrier or not, but even today it is a lot like gambling to find the right molecule to reach the brain.

It is hard enough to cure brain cancer per se, but the additional burden of crossing the BBB makes treatment a fight against windmills. Now researchers in Toronto may have found a way to solve that problem: Using ultrasound, micro-sized gas bubbles in a patient’s blood can be set into vibration, very gently and only transiently disrupting the blood brain barrier. By doing so, for a short amount of time molecules that usually do not reach our brain are admitted to the usually so well protected part of our body. The use of this technique to deliver chemotherapeutics to glioblastoma is currently under investigation. However, not the entire blood-brain barrier is being disrupted: Highly specialized MRI equipment enable localization of the area, where BBB disruption would lead to a maximal delivery of the agent. Using super-focused ultrasound, researchers are then able to localize the area of BBB disruption with very high precision. Careful optimization of irradiation energy ensures reversibility of the process.

The latest in vivo result will show how effective the approach is, and if there’s promise for more broadly applicable versions thereof in the future. In any case, the creativity and interdisciplinarity makes me feel optimistic that we will eventually find ways to deal with the body’s toughest border, which would be a milestone towards understanding the brain and battling its diseases.


More about the topic:

The Toronto case:

How it works:

On the science behind it:


3D Printing Human Organs

3D printing has been used to construct variety of objects such as home decorations and even prosthetics. For these objects they are produced with plastic or metal materials. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon were able to modify a 3D printer to produce human tissues and organs.

The printer is able perform bioprinting by producing 3D biological materials using soft protein and polysaccharide hydrogels.  The materials are soft and fragile so during the 3D printing it would collapse on itself while it was in the air. To overcome this the researchers used a support gel to print the structures in with a technique called freeform reversible embedding of suspended hydrogels, FRESH. This gel allowed the printed structure to be fully formed with a support. Upon the conclusion of printing the support gel is melted by heating it to 37℃, body temperature.

Replicas of human coronary artery and and embryonic chick heart has been produced with this method. Using FRESH allows for low cost bioprinting and assists in tissue engineering.