Jean Balchin

Jean Balchin is an English Literature Honours student at the University of Otago, Dunedin. When she's not busy painting, playing the piano or writing essays on Robert Burns, you can find her curled up with a recently published book on science. Alternatively, she'll be bugging her flatmates about their recent findings.

Potential genetic link in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) identified - News

Apr 02, 2018

A case-control study in the UK and USA has found that rare genetic mutations associated with impairment of the breathing muscles are more common in children who have died from sudden infant death syndrome (cot death) than in healthy control children. Published recently in The Lancet, this study seems to indicate that there exists a possible genetic element of the disorder. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected, and often inexplicable death of a seemingly healthy child. Also known as cot death, it is the leading cause of post-neonatal death in high income countries. However deaths are rare, and an individual baby’s risk is low. There are around 300 cases of SIDS each year in the UK, 2,400 in the USA, and it occurs most frequently within the first three months of a baby’s life. The mechanisms behind SIDS are unclear, … Read More

Yawn! Social jetlag is associated with decreased academic performance - News

Mar 30, 2018

As a perpetually exhausted university student, I wake every morning to the shrill sound of my alarm clock, and curse myself for embarking on a course of tertiary education. Only yesterday I woke up at 7am to cram for an exam the same morning. It was a nightmare. I drank two coffees, gobbled down a chocolate bar, and executed a number of starjumps and strange poses in the girl’s toilets to wake myself up. If only I could have slept in till about midday, and leisurely headed into university, with all my faculties and sanity intact. I’m sure I would have got a much better grade.  According to a recent study published in Scientific Reports, social jetlag (the misalignment between a person’s body clock and the environment where they live and work) can have a negative impact on academic performance. This especially … Read More

Epilepsy drug exposure in womb linked to significantly poorer school test results - News

Mar 29, 2018

According to a study published recently in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, exposure to epilepsy drugs in the womb is linked to significantly poorer school test results among 7 year olds. Evidently, prospective mothers need to be fully informed of the risks of treatment. However these risks need to be weighed against the need for effective seizure control during pregnancy. Currently, women with epilepsy who need drugs to control their seizures are advised to continue taking them during pregnancy, as convulsions can harm both mother and the unborn child. While several studies have indicated a link between epilepsy drugs, particularly sodium valproate, taken during pregnanchy and neurodevelopmental disorders, few of these studies have been based on real life circumstances (ie population data). Thus to address this, the researchers employed routinely collected healthcare information from the Secure Anonymous Information Linkage … Read More

Audrey Eagle’s Botanical Drawings - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

Mar 28, 2018

When I was a child, my father and I would sit at the kitchen table after tea, armed with a set of Reeve’s watercolour paints, a grubby cup of water, sheets of cartridge paper and various picture books depicting the flora and fauna of Great Britain. My Dad was quite the artist, and he patiently taught me how to pull the red paint down the page into the curve of a fox’s tale, and how to carefully splatter flecks of yellow to create a field of buttercups. Perhaps we should have looked to our own backyard for artistic inspiration, but my father was from Scotland, and he missed his homeland dreadfully. Teaching his young daughter how to capture the likeness of honeysuckles and china roses, grey squirrels and bluebells was one way of remembering the … Read More

World-first study links birth interventions and long-term childhood illness - News

Mar 26, 2018

A comprehensive study lead by a team of leading international researchers has found significant links between medical interventions used in the birthing process – such as caesarean section and induction – and a child’s long-term health. Illustration depicting Caesarean section. Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 Western Sydney University collaborated with University Medical Center Groningen and VU Medical Center, Flinders University, UCLAN University, Sydney University and the University College Cork on the landmark study, analysing linked population and health data, pertaining to 491,590 healthy women and their children born in New South Wales from 2000-2008. The children’s health was then followed during their first 28 days of life, and up to 5 years of age, until 2013. It was discovered that babies who experimented an instrumental birth (one in which the doctor employs … Read More

Frozen embryos better than fresh for women struggling to get IVF to work - News

Mar 23, 2018

A recent study conducted by a research team at The University of Western Australia and Fertility Specialists of Western Australia has found that women undergoing IVF who have had embryos fail to implant have more success using frozen ones than fresh ones. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is an assisted reproductive technology (ART). It involves extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo(s) is then transferred to the uterus. Around one in ten women who undergo IVF experience Recurrent Implantation Failure (RIF); recurrent unsuccessful embryo implantation. In the current study, the researchers studied 84 patients who underwent 140 IVF cycles, in order to identify success rates by comparing the two different types of transfers (frozen versus fresh) with recurring unsuccessful cycles. According to co-author Professor Roger Hart from UWA’s Division … Read More

Opinion: The importance of hearing the stories behind the statistics - Guest Work

Mar 23, 2018

On Saturday night, I had the immense pleasure of watching the Suitcase Theatre perform Mental Notes as part of the Dunedin Fringe Festival. Rarely have I encountered such an uplifting and touching take on mental health. Mental Notes, is at its heart, an exploration of mental health, a sustained conversation with many different voices. Over the course of an hour, sitting in the dark of the ArtSenta building, I was reminded that I am not alone in my mental illness. Mental Notes comprises a collection of stories from the Dunedin community, all anonymous, but real. In the wake of horrifying statistics and impersonal, vague reassurances from medical authorities, it’s refreshing to hear from real people. I won’t lie – it was challenging at times, but I was reassured by the knowledge that … Read More

Book Review: The Tale of Mrs Possum – A Reflection on NZ Society - Scibooks

Mar 20, 2018

When I was a child, I was rather prone to misbehaving. On occasions when I was particularly naughty, my father would sit me down with a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and would order me to rewrite four of my favourite entries. It wasn’t actually that bad a punishment; being rather childish and petulant, I’d find the naughtiest entries I could (usually revolving around contraceptive devices). Earlier this summer I stumbled upon a fantastic, encyclopaedia-esque new book called The Tale of Mrs Possum by Rachel Ovens (nee Moore). If only I had access to this intriguing volume as a ten year old. In 1981, The Oxford History of New Zealand was published. Bill Oliver, one of the two editors, stated: “One of … Read More

Large-scale genetic study provides new insight into the causes of stroke - News

Mar 19, 2018

An large-scale international genetic study on stroke, based on DNA samples of 520,000 people has identified 22 new genetic risk factors for stroke. Published recently in the journal Nature Genetics, the study’s participants originated from Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia, and were compiled from 29 large studies. 67,000 participants in the study had suffered a stroke. From the millions of genetic variants analysed, 32 independent genomic regions were identified to be associated with stroke. Two thirds of these genomic regions were hitherto not known to be associated with stroke. According to Martin Dichgans, professor of neurology and director at the Institute for Stroke and Dementia Research, Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, and one of the leaders of the current study: “Because the extent to which individual variants modify stroke risk is very small, it required a large … Read More

Opinion: Mike King on NZ’s suicide rates - Guest Work

Mar 15, 2018

Last week, I was fortunate enough to interview comedian and suicide prevention advocate Mike King about his work. Over the month of March, Mike and a bunch of mates are riding Suzuki 50cc scooters from one end of the country to the other. Along the way they’ll stop at around 45 schools and community halls and talk to more than 20,000 schoolkids and adults about mental health, and how every one of us can be the hope someone needs when times are tough. Mike in action. Good morning Mike, this is Jean. How are you? Thank you so much for granting me this interview. I know you’ve got a really tight schedule at the moment. One of my first questions was how’s the tour going so far? You started on Sunday, right? Yeah, we … Read More