On June 4th, 2022, Sam and I went to the Louvre, an experience I was looking forward to since we arrived in Paris. We were able to explore the beautiful building and appreciate various works of art, including the Mona Lisa (after her birthday cake scare). As a child, I took art classes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art every Saturday and in high school I worked at a pottery studio, causing me to become interested in the idea of art therapy, which I reflected upon during my visit to the Louvre. Art therapy is when a therapist uses art materials and directives to activate sensory responses and generate imagery that is directly connected to emotions, allowing their patient to re-experience emotions in a way that allows them to organize their feelings and form a narrative around an overwhelming experience. Studies have shown that art therapy measurably changes the body and brain.
Baguettes, Wine, Cheese, and the Eiffel Tower (Photo Post)
When I think of Paris, the first thing that comes to mind is the Eiffel Tower. This photo shows me and Rachel on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower while we had a picnic and photoshoot with some of our classmates, sharing a baguette, cheese, and wine to celebrate our budding friendship. Although I was not sure how much I enjoyed the architecture at first, spending time in the city has allowed the tower to grow on me. The Eiffel Tower was built by Gustave Eiffel for the Paris World Fair in 1889 and features featuring the names of 72 scientists on the borders of the sides of the tower as a homage to the men of science. Despite its fame, the Parisians have not always been thrilled by its appearance, regarding the tower as an eyesore and calling for its removal until the addition of a radio tower at the top in 1909.
Stepping into the Lab of Marie Curie
On June 15th, 2022, Cynthia, Sam, Alyssa, and I visited the Marie Curie Museum, located down the street from the Pantheon, where Marie and Pierre Curie are both buried. I was very excited to go to this museum and have been talking about it for the past few weeks because of the importance of Curie’s work in the field of oncology. The museum is located at the former Radium Institute, now called the Institut Curie, and featured Curie’s (decontaminated) lab, office, and garden. Curie spent the last 20 years of her life as the first director of Curie Laboratory at the Radium Institute, where she ensured her lab comprised of 25% of the women, before passing away from leukemia in 1934. I noticed Curie’s lab was smaller than most labs I have seen at Emory or during my research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which begs the question of whether things in the United States are just larger or if labs in the past were built smaller. The museum displayed a replication of the 1902 lab book entry by Marie and Pierre Curie estimating the atomic mass of Radium and outlining the various steps of their calculations. It’s insane to think that the original page is still dangerously radioactive over 100 years later.
Marie Curie was a Polish and nationalized-French physicist and chemist who won two Nobel Prizes for her work with radioactivity. She developed contact curiethérapie, known as brachytherapy in English, a technique still used today for the treatment of cancer. Brachytherapy can be used for the treatment of a variety of cancers, including prostate, cervix, breast, vagina, endometrium, and head and neck cancers and has been shown to be an effective and safe non-pharmaceutical treatment with fewer serious complications and better outcome than other treatments for breast cancer (Deng et al., 2017). Brachytherapy has also been found to treat brain tumors with high doses of radiation while sparing the healthy surrounding tissue and can be used as a primary treatment, an adjuvant treatment, or as therapy for recurrence of some malignant gliomas, low-grade astrocytomas, meningiomas, metastases, and pediatric brain tumors (Suh et al., 1999).
I find it amazing that, even after almost a century, the science Marie Curie lived (and died) for continues to help patients around the world. She truly is an inspiration to all young girls interested in science and medicine. It was a wonderful experience to step back into the past and learn about radiation, cancer research, and the life of Marie Curie.
Deng, X., Wu, H., Gao, F., Su, Y., Li, Q., Liu, S., & Cai, J. (2017). Brachytherapy in the treatment of breast cancer. International journal of clinical oncology, 22(4), 641–650. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10147-017-1155-5
Suh, J. H., & Barnett, G. H. (1999). Brachytherapy for brain tumor. Hematology/oncology clinics of North America, 13(3), 635–ix. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0889-8588(05)70080-0
Christianity, COVID, and Cathedrals
On June 11th, 2022, Sam, Rachel, Cynthia, and I visited Reims, France with Aman, one of my friends from Emory. During our visit, we saw the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims, which translates to “Our Lady of Reims.” This beautiful Roman Catholic cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was the traditional location for the coronation of the kings of France. The cathedral was founded in the 5th century and has gone through numerous restorations throughout the past few centuries, including after being damaged in the French Revolution and in World War I, when it was struck by more than three hundred artillery shells. I was not only awed by beautiful building but also the deep-rooted history of Christianity in France. Christianity is as much embedded France’s history as it is ingrained in the culture and everyday lives of French citizens. For example, I found it interesting to learn that the grocery store near our apartment does not sell alcohol on Sundays.
While visiting the cathedral, I reflected on the articles we discussed in NBB 402W about COVID-19, which sparked my interest in learning about the connection between religion and the pandemic since religious services quickly became hotspots for the virus. I wondered whether the illness made people feel more connected to their religious practices, so I did some research regarding the pandemic and religion. One Polish study found that most citizens surveyed declared faith/spiritually was important to them, but their faith did not strengthen in the face of the pandemic. They found that a higher percentage of Catholic respondents believed in the protective power of faith compared to other denominations and more Catholic respondents also declared that faith had a crucial role in their life (Kowalczyk et al., 2020). Despite this study showing that the pandemic did not increase spiritual belief, religion is obviously an important part of the European lifestyle. Studies have shown neurobiological changes correlated with religion and spirituality specifically in medial frontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, precuneus, posterior cingulate cortex, default mode network, and caudate (Rim et al., 2019), which could explain the importance of religion in people’s lives.
Although the outcomes of the pandemic study were not what I was expecting, I found it interesting to learn more about Christianity and Catholicism in Europe, as well as the brain changes association with religion. Overall, this visit allowed me to feel more connected to my late grandparents on my dad’s side, who were raised Catholic.
Kowalczyk O, Roszkowski K, Montane X, Pawliszak W, Tylkowski B, Bajek A. Religion and Faith Perception in a Pandemic of COVID-19. J Relig Health. 2020;59(6):2671-2677. doi:10.1007/s10943-020-01088-3
Rim, J. I., Ojeda, J. C., Svob, C., Kayser, J., Drews, E., Kim, Y., Tenke, C. E., Skipper, J., & Weissman, M. M. (2019). Current Understanding of Religion, Spirituality, and Their Neurobiological Correlates. Harvard review of psychiatry, 27(5), 303–316. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000232
A trip to the Arc de Triomphe (Photo Post)
On May 21st, Rachel, Sam, and I visited the Arc de Triomphe, accompanied by my dad who was in town for a business trip. The monument was built after the famous battle of Austerlitz in 1805, which Napoléon considered his military masterpiece. The monument aimed to commemorate the victories of the French army. Despite starting construction in 1806, the monument was finished in 1836 (Emory’s founding year!), taking a total of 30 years to complete.
This relates to our class content because in neuroethics we discussed the ethical use of brain-to-brain interfaces. One example that stood out to me was the use of this technology during wartime. While I originally thought this would be the most ethical solution, my peers brought up the issue of hacking and worsening the deindividualization experienced by soldiers.
Café s’il vous plaît
At the beginning of our trip, I told myself I would kick my newfound caffeine addiction, but I quickly realized the importance of coffee in French culture. I decided to make the most of the rich culture while I am here, so, instead of avoiding coffee, I made the goal of trying coffee from a different cafe every day. In America, we are always on the go, which is incorporated in our coffee preferences. At school, I find myself preferring to grab a coffee from Blue Donkey or Starbucks on my way to class instead of enjoying the drink while sitting with my friends. In France, coffee and meals are a social event, and I have noticed myself finishing my food and drink faster than other patrons, something I try to be mindful of while I am here. I have enjoyed the slower pace of meals in Paris, as it offers a great time to catch up with friends and destress after class, homework, and our various excursions.
In our neuroethics class, we discussed whether coffee is considered a cognitive enhancer, an interesting question when you consider how popular the drink has become in modern times. During our discussion, one of my classmates mentioned the neuroprotective properties of coffee. Wanting to investigate this more, I searched for further research and stumbled upon an article about the effects of elevated coffee intake, defined as consuming more than three cups of coffee per day, in patients coinfected with HIV and HCV. In our NBB 402W class, we read and reviewed a paper discussing the coinfection of HIV and syphilis, so this research seemed related. As I read the paper, I learned that people who are coinfected with HIV and HCV experience an accelerated aging process and cognitive impairment. The authors researched regular coffee intake and neurocognitive performance using data from 139 coinfected patients. Their results found a significant, positive correlation between elevated coffee intake and neurocognitive performance in verbal fluency, psychomotor speed, and executive functioning, suggesting that increased coffee intake may preserve neurocognitive functioning in people living with HIV/HCV coinfection (Antwerpes et al., 2020).
Although this study focused on sexually transmitted diseases, I wonder about the correlation between coffee and neurodegenerative diseases. With a history of dementia in my family, and the amount of coffee I have been consuming this past year, it brings me hope that my coffee addiction could be doing something other than charging my credit card $5 a day.
Antwerpes, S., Protopopescu, C., Morlat, P., Marcellin, F., Wittkop, L., Di Beo, V., Salmon Céron, D., Sogni, P., Michel, L., Carrieri, M. P., & The Anrs Co Hepavih Study Group (2020). Coffee Intake and Neurocognitive Performance in HIV/HCV Coinfected Patients (ANRS CO13 HEPAVIH). Nutrients, 12(9), 2532. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12092532
A Visit to Versailles (Photo Post)
On May 22nd, 2022, I visited the gardens of Versailles with Sam, Cynthia, and Rachel. Versailles was the palace that housed the royal family until the revolution and found itself at the center of the French Revolution. The royal family spent an exuberant amount of money on the palace while the citizens of France were poor and starving. The revolution ended with the takeover of Versailles and the overthrow of the royal family. As a result of their crimes and ignorance to the needs of the people, both Marie Antionette and King Louis XVI were beheaded. In our neuroethics class, we explored the hard problem of consciousness and whether a decapitated head can have consciousness. In NBB 302 last semester, we discussed how consciousness is an interesting problem in both neuroscience and ethics because we are unable to determine the “how” and “why” of consciousness, which makes studying the phenomenon difficult.
Monbleu Cheese Tasting
On Wednesday May 25th, our class went to a cheese tasting at a fromagerie. After our final class of the day, we all took the metro together from the Accent Center (where we have our classes) to Monbleu. I went cheese tasting once with my family on vacation, but the cheeses offered were processed, familiar cheeses, so trying French cheese was a new and exciting experience for me. During this experience, I was able to try raw-milk cheese, an experience I would not have been able to have in the United States. Although I did not love every cheese I tried, I enjoyed being able to taste French cheeses and immerse myself in the culture of France, my home for the next 5 weeks.
As for the connection with class, the first research article we reviewed in NBB 402W was a paper about comfort foods and stress response in male rats. Previous studies showed that comfort eating led to less of a stress response in both male and female rats when given sucrose, which brought up the question of whether the macronutrient content or the palatability of the food led to the altered stress response. The study we read used cheese to determine that the palatability of the food was responsible for the decreased stress response in rats (Fourman et al., 2021). This preliminary study can lead to further studies regarding stress, comfort food, and obesity. If the palatability of food causes stress reduction in rats, could this be the same in humans? And if so, could healthier alternatives be substituted for standard comfort food (cookies, cakes, etc.)?
Another study found that Gouda cheese intake had a beneficial effect on stressed mice in recovering recognition ability. The researchers also noticed changes to internal microbiota, which suggests that the bioactive ingredients in cheese may improve mood and brain function. (Yun et al., 2020). The research in this study connects to French culture because the French diet relies heavily on cheese, meat, and wine, many foods that Americans would associate with disease and early death. Yet, citizens of France have a lifespan 3.5 years greater than that of people in living the United States. Because the study found that Gouda cheese intake may improve mood and brain function, this could be a large part of the Parisian’s longer lifespans.
Fourman, S., Buesing, D., Gervin, S., Nashawi, S., & Ulrich-Lai, Y.M. (2021). Limited cheese intake reduces HPA axis and behavioral stress responses in male rats, Physiol. Behav. 242 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2021.113614
Yun, B., Yoo, J. Y., Park, M. R., Ryu, S., Lee, W. J., Choi, H. J., Kang, M. K., Kim, Y., & Oh, S. (2020). Ingestion of Gouda Cheese Ameliorates the Chronic Unpredictable Mild Stress in Mice. Food science of animal resources, 40(1), 145–153. https://doi.org/10.5851/kosfa.2019.e81