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January 15, 2014

In Research

How stars move at the center of the galaxy

naked mole rat
Work led by a Rochester team may help explain the evolution of the Milky Way galaxy.

Alice Quillen, professor of astronomy, and her collaborators have created a mathematical model of what might be happening at the bulge in the center of the Milky Way. 

A paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggests that the stars probably move in peanut-shell or figure-eight-shaped orbits instead of banana-like orbits described in previous explanations.

The difference is important: astronomers develop theories of star motions not only to analyze how the stars in the galaxy are moving but also to understand how our galaxy—and others like it—formed and evolved. The paper came out as the European Space Agency was preparing for the December launch of the Gaia spacecraft, which is designed to create a 3-D map of the Milky Way’s stars and their motions. The map will help astronomers better understand the composition, formation, and evolution of the galaxy.

“It is hard to look back into the past of our galaxy and know what was there, but simulations can give us clues,” says Quillen.

Unlike the solar system, where most of the gravitational pull comes from the sun and is simple to model, describing the gravitational field near the center of the galaxy—where millions of stars, vast clouds of dust, and even dark matter swirl about—is a more daunting challenge.

In their work, Quillen and her colleagues focused on the forces acting on the stars in or near the bulge.

“Gaia will generate huge amounts of data—on billions of stars,” says Quillen. The data will allow Quillen and her colleagues to finesse their model further. “This can lead to a better understanding of how the Milky Way might have evolved into the shape it has today.”

What does compassion sound like?

Medical Center researchers believe they are the first to systematically pinpoint and catalog compassionate words and actions in doctor-patient conversations. By breaking down the dialogue and studying the context, scientists hope to create a behavioral taxonomy that will guide medical training and education.

“In health care, we believe in being compassionate, but the reality is that many of us have a preference for technical and biomedical issues over establishing emotional ties,” says senior investigator Ronald Epstein, professor of family medicine, psychiatry, oncology, and nursing and director of the University’s Center for Communication and Disparities Research.

The study is published in Health Expectations.

Epstein’s team recruited 23 oncologists from a variety of private and hospital-based oncology clinics in the Rochester area. The doctors and their stage III or stage IV cancer patients volunteered to be recorded during routine visits. Researchers then analyzed the 49 audio-recorded encounters that took place between November 2011 and June 2012 and looked for key observable markers of compassion. 

Researchers evaluated tone of voice, animation that conveyed tenderness and understanding, and other ways in which doctors gave reassurances or psychological comfort.

Researchers also observed nonverbal communication, such as pauses or sighs at appropriate times, as well as speech features and voice quality (tone, pitch, loudness) and other metaphorical language that conveyed certain attitudes and meaning.


Telemedicine brings Parkinson’s care to ‘anyone, anywhere’

A new study shows that a neurologist in an office thousands of miles away can deliver effective specialized care to people with Parkinson’s disease. For individuals with the condition—many of whom have never seen a specialist—the “virtual house calls” could allow them to live independently while effectively managing the symptoms of the disease.

“The idea that we can provide care to individuals with Parkinson’s disease regardless of where they live is both a simple and revolutionary concept,” says neurologist Ray Dorsey, senior author of the study, which appears  in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice. “This study demonstrates that, by employing essentially the same technology that grandparents use to talk to their grandchildren, we can expand access to the specialized care that we know will improve patients’ quality of life and health.”

More than 40 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease do not see a neurologist. Geography is often a determining factor in whether a person with Parkinson’s sees a specialist.

The study invited individuals with Parkinson’s to receive one free telemedicine consultation from their home.

Using the system, Dorsey saw more than 50 people with Parkinson’s disease, ranging from individuals who were getting a third opinion to those who were seeing a neurologist for the very first time. Virtually all of the visits resulted in treatment recommendations, including increasing exercise, changing current medications, adding new medications, and discussing potential surgical options.

Patient satisfaction with the telemedicine care exceeded 90 percent.

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