In Brief

Curing cancer one nanoparticle at a time, and more news from TED speakers

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As usual, the TED community is hard at work — here are some highlights:

A new drug-delivering nanoparticle. Paula Hammond, the head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT, is part of a research team that has developed a new nanoparticle designed to treat a kind of brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme. The nanoparticles deliver drugs to the brain that work in two ways — to destroy the DNA of tumor cells, and to impede the reparation of those cells. The researchers were able to shrink tumors and stop them from growing back in mice — and there’s hope this technology can be used for human applications in the future. (Watch Hammond’s TED Talk).

Reflections on grief, loss and love. Amy Krouse Rosenthal penned a poignant, humorous and heart-rending love letter to her husband — published in The New York Times ten days before her death — that resonated deeply with readers across the world. In the year since, Jason Rosenthal established a foundation in her name to fund ovarian cancer research and childhood literacy initiatives. Following the anniversary of Amy’s death, Rosenthal responded to her letter in a moving reflection on mourning and the gifts of generosity she left in her wake. “We did our best to live in the moment until we had no more moments left,” he wrote for The New York Times. “Amy continues to open doors for me, to affect my choices, to send me off into the world to make the most of it. Recently I gave a TED Talk on the end of life and my grieving process that I hope will help others.” (Watch Rosenthal’s TED Talk.)

Why we need to change our perceptions of teenagers. Neurologist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore urges us to reconsider the way we understand and treat teenagers, especially in school settings. (She wrote a book about the secret life of the teenage brain in March.) According to the latest research, teenagers shed 17% of their grey matter in the prefrontal cortex between childhood and adulthood, which, as Blakemore says, explains that traditional “bad” behaviors like sleeping in late and moodiness are a result of cognitive changes, not laziness or abrasiveness. (Watch Blakemore’s TED Talk.)

Half empty or half full? Research by Dan Gilbert indicates that our decisions may be more faulty than we think — and that we may be predisposed to seeing problems even when they aren’t there. In a recent paper Gilbert co-authored, researchers found that our judgment doesn’t follow fixed rules, but rather, our decisions are more relative. In one experiment, participants were asked to look at dots along a color spectrum from blue to purple, and note which dots were blue; at first, the dots were shown in equal measure, but when blue dots were shown less frequently, participants began marking dots they previously considered purple as blue (this video does a good job explaing). In another experiment, participants were more likely to mark ethical papers as unethical, and nonthreatening faces as threatening, when the previously-set negative stimulus was shown less frequently. This behavior — dubbed “prevalence-induced concept change” — has broad implications; the paper suggests it may explain why social problems never seem to go away, regardless of how much work we do to fix them. (Watch Gilbert’s TED Talk).

Terrifying insights from the world of parasites. Ed Yong likes to write about the creepy and uncanny of the natural world. In his latest piece for The Atlantic, Yong offered a deeper view into the bizarre habits and powers of parasitic worms. Based on research by Nicolle Demandt and Benedikt Saus from the University of Munster, Yong described how some tapeworms capitalize on the way fish shoals guide and react to each other’s behaviors and movements. Studying stickleback fish, Demandt and Saus realized parasite-informed decisions of infected sticklebacks can influence the behavior of uninfected fish, too. This means that if enough infected fish are led to dangerous situations by the controlling powers of the tapeworms, uninfected fish will be impacted by those decisions — without ever being infected themselves. (Read more of Yong’s work and watch his TED Talk.)

A new documentary on corruption within West African football. Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas joined forces with BBC Africa to produce an illuminating and hard-hitting documentary exposing fraud and corruption in West Africa’s football industry. In an investigation spanning two years, almost 100 officials were recorded accepting cash “gifts” from a slew of undercover reporters from Anas’ team posing as business people and investors. The documentary has already sent shock-waves throughout Ghana — including FIFA bans and resignations from football officials across the country. (Watch the full documentary and Anas’ TED Talk.)