KRWG

Jon Hamilton

Intensive care teams inside hospitals are rapidly altering the way they care for patients with COVID-19.

The changes range from new protective gear to new treatment protocols aimed at preventing deadly blood clots.

When COVID-19 patients began flooding emergency departments at New York hospitals in March, doctors saw some unusual cases of stroke.

"We had a young woman in her early 30s who came in with a profound stroke, the kind of stroke that leaves someone permanently paralyzed and possibly unable to survive," says Dr. J. Mocco, a professor of neurosurgery and director of the cerebrovascular center at Mount Sinai Health System in New York.

On April 8, David Williams got a standing ovation as he was wheeled out of the John L. McClellan Memorial Veteran's Hospital in Little Rock, Ark.

Williams, 54, a Marine Corps veteran, had survived eight perilous days on a ventilator with COVID-19, and the hospital staff had lined up to give him a joyous, fist-bumping send-off.

Today, Williams is back at home with his wife, D'Anna. But a full recovery remains a distant prospect.

NPR economics and science correspondents answer questions about the staggering unemployment numbers announced Thursday, and convey the latest updates from Thursday's White House briefing.

Dr. Wayne Riley, president of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, and an NPR science correspondent answer more questions about the racial disparity in how the coronavirus is impacting patients.

Dr. Wayne Riley, president of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, and an NPR science correspondent answer questions about the racial disparity in how the coronavirus is impacting patients.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Most coronavirus patients who end up on ventilators go on to die, according to several small studies from the U.S., China and Europe.

And many of the patients who continue to live can't be taken off the mechanical breathing machines.

"It's very concerning to see how many patients who require ventilation do not make it out of the hospital," says Dr. Tiffany Osborn, a critical care specialist at Washington University in St. Louis who has been caring for coronavirus patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

The coronavirus appears to be much more lethal in some countries than in others.

In Italy, about 10% of people known to be infected have died. In Iran and Spain, the case fatality rate is higher than 7%. But in South Korea and the U.S. it's less than 1.5%. And in Germany, the figure is close to 0.5%.

So what gives?

The answer involves how many people are tested, the age of an infected population and factors such as whether the health care system is overwhelmed, scientists say.

Employees of the University of Washington's UW Medicine system can now get tested for coronavirus without leaving their cars.

The system's medical center in northwest Seattle has turned a hospital garage lot into a drive-through clinic that can test a person every five minutes. They typically get results within a day or so.

But the idea involves more than convenience. It's also about safety.

It's been a busy week at the virology lab run by UW Medicine, which includes the University of Washington's medical school and hospitals.

"We've already gone to three shifts," says Dr. Keith Jerome, a professor in the department of laboratory medicine who runs the lab. "People are going to be here basically all the time."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A song takes words and music and fuses them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BRIAR AND THE ROSE")

NIAMH PARSONS AND THE LOOSE CONNECTIONS: (Singing) I fell asleep down by a stream, and there I had the strangest dream.

A song fuses words and music. Yet the human brain can instantly separate a song's lyrics from its melody.

And now scientists think they know how this happens.

A team led by researchers at McGill University reported in Science Thursday that song sounds are processed simultaneously by two separate brain areas – one in the left hemisphere and one in the right.

Scientists have taken a small step toward personalizing treatment for depression.

A study of more than 300 people with major depression found that brain wave patterns predicted which ones were most likely to respond to the drug sertraline (Zoloft), a team reported Monday in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

If the approach pans out, it could offer better care for the millions of people in the U.S. with major depression.

Scientists have found a clue to how autism spectrum disorder disrupts the brain's information highways.

The problem involves cells that help keep the traffic of signals moving smoothly through brain circuits, a team reported Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The team found that in both mouse and human brains affected by autism, there's an abnormality in cells that produce a substance called myelin.

Brain organoids, often called "minibrains," have changed the way scientists study human brain development and disorders like autism.

But the cells in these organoids differ from those in an actual brain in some important ways, scientists reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

In early December at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, two anxious scientists were about to send 20 years of research into orbit.

"I feel like our heart and soul is going up in that thing," Dr. Emily Germain-Lee told her husband, Dr. Se-Jin Lee, as they waited arm-in-arm for a SpaceX rocket to launch.

A leukemia drug may have cleared another hurdle as a potential treatment for Parkinson's disease.

But critics say it's still not clear whether the drug, nilotinib (brand name Tasigna), is truly safe or effective for this use.

When Matthew Braun gets out of medical school, he'll be able to prescribe opioids.

A decade ago, he was addicted to them.

"The first time I ever used an opioid, I felt the most confident and powerful I'd ever felt," Braun says. "So I said, 'This is it. I want to do this the rest of my life.' "

Opioids took away his anxiety, his inhibitions, his depression. And they were easy to get.

"I just started breaking into houses," Braun says. "I found it amazing how trusting people were in leaving windows open and doors unlocked, and I found a lot of prescriptions."

When we hear a sentence, or a line of poetry, our brains automatically transform the stream of sound into a sequence of syllables.

But scientists haven't been sure exactly how the brain does this.

Now, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, think they've figured it out. The key is detecting a rapid increase in volume that occurs at the beginning of a vowel sound, they report Wednesday in Science Advances.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Math is a field that is dominated by men, yet young boys and girls seem to be no different in math ability. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports on a new study comparing the brain activity of boys and girls doing basic math.

There's new evidence that girls start out with the same math abilities as boys.

A study of 104 children from ages 3 to 10 found similar patterns of brain activity in boys and girls as they engaged in basic math tasks, researchers reported Friday in the journal Science of Learning.

"They are indistinguishable," says Jessica Cantlon, an author of the study and professor of developmental neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University.

The brain waves generated during deep sleep appear to trigger a cleaning system in the brain that protects it against Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Electrical signals known as slow waves appear just before a pulse of fluid washes through the brain, presumably removing toxins associated with Alzheimer's, researchers reported Thursday in the journal Science.

When Sepiedeh Keshavarzi was getting her medical degree in Tehran, she often read research papers by prominent scientists in the U.S.

"It was my dream at some point when I was much younger to do research in the States," she says.

Not anymore.

Brain scientists are offering a new reason to control blood sugar levels: It might help lower your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

"There's many reasons to get [blood sugar] under control," says David Holtzman, chairman of neurology at Washington University in St. Louis. "But this is certainly one."

Educators refer to teens like Alex as "twice exceptional."

"I have a large degree of skill in almost every subject of learning," says Alex, who is 16. "But I also have autistic spectrum disorder."

For Alex, this dual identity has meant both opportunity and frustration.

He has skipped two grades so far, and began taking college math courses last year, when he was still 15. But when he was younger, Alex's underdeveloped social skills caused him a lot of grief.

"I was constantly getting into fights and normally losing them," he says.

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