Advances in health, wellness and self-care make it clear how many of us strive to better ourselves and the world around us. Whether it’s finding ways to reduce the devastating impact of disease, creating tools to teach the health care workers of tomorrow or simply looking for ways technology can improve our daily routines, breakthroughs and new innovations are made every day.

better behavioral health
The City of St. Louis is launching a new Behavioral Health Bureau, which will focus on mental health and substance abuse treatment. According to the World Health Organization, the incidence of such disorders has increased globally by 13%, and one in five U.S. adults were living with a mental illness in 2020—accounting for almost 53 million people. In Missouri, St. Louis City has the highest rate of mental-health related emergency room visits in all age categories. The new bureau will connect St. Louisans with resources while also improving public safety and bringing together stakeholders for strategic planning in prevention and coordinated treatment and recovery efforts.

“Knowing that the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders in our community is above the national and state averages and has been rising consistently over the past few years, we have a responsibility to act,” says Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, director of health for the City of St. Louis. “Our goal in addressing this public health crisis will be to ensure equitable data driven and effective interventions are in place to help our community reach a state of well-being.”

beauty goes virtual
Technology and beauty have always gone hand in hand, but thanks to the pandemic, virtual beauty took a big step forward. Now, we’re reaping the benefits of that technological advancement. Brands like Chanel, Maybelline and Urban Decay and stores like Ulta and Target have created virtual make-up try-ons. These use face tracking, 3D modeling and augmented reality technology to allow people to see what products will look like without physical application—think of it as a refined version of a SnapChat filter. Virtual dentistry and dermatology also are connecting patients with doctors for remote care. L’Oreal even partnered with the period-tracking app Clue to provide skin care advice based on where women are in their menstrual cycle.

On the other end of virtual beauty, major brands are making their presence known in the metaverse. In these virtual worlds, user avatars can wear exclusive makeup looks, similar to how virtual try-on tools work. The move is a reflection of the demographics of video gamer enthusiasts. While it’s traditionally considered an interest for boys and men, in reality, around 46% of the market is female. At the end of last year, Nars and Dior Beauty partnered with South Korean metaverse Zepeto in an attempt to draw in more beauty fans, and Givenchy and Gucci have partnerships with Nintendo’s Animal Crossing.

focus on neuroscience
Saint Louis University is launching the Institute for Translational Neuroscience (ITN), which will connect experts in biochemistry, chemistry, pharmacology, social justice and community outreach to study diseases of the brain and central nervous system. “We are so energized to bring together our neuroscience expertise from many different areas of campus under a shared research umbrella,” says Daniela Salvemini, Ph.D., William Beaumont professor and chair of the department of pharmacology and physiology. “ITN will foster collaboration, enterprise and innovation by connecting our neuroscientists with their colleagues and allow us to focus our resources to support these researchers.”

Growing out of the Henry and Amelia Nasrallah Center for Neuroscience, ITN will have more than 100 members from 23 departments at the university. It also will offer training in neuroscience for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Areas of focus at the institute include:

  • Researching the mechanism of chronic pain to develop safer medications
  • Investigating the pathology of dementia, genetic nervous system disorders and trauma to develop new treatments
  • Targeting molecular pathways that control conditions like diabetes, infertility and obesity
  • Developing new ways to transition research into clinical practice
  • Finding new approaches to counter the effects of stress, depression, aging and other factors on cognitive function
  • Promoting neuroscience through advocacy and outreach efforts

fighting nerve loss
SARM1 is a molecule that plays a key role in damage to the wiring of the nervous system, called axons. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have identified it as a target for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases defined by axon loss, such as Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In healthy neurons, SARMI is switched off, but it becomes active following disease or injury. The molecule burns so much cellular energy that the axons disintegrate.

In one study, researchers studied a rare progressive neuropathy syndrome to better understand the role of the immune system in neuroinflammatory conditions. It was found that SARM1 not only contributes to axon loss, but also plays a role in driving neuroinflammation that compounds the issues. Using rodent models in a second study, the team was able to show that blocking SARM1 stopped most of the problems associated with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a common form of inherited peripheral neuropathy with progressive loss of motor and sensory axons.

“We desperately need treatments for neurodegenerative diseases,” says co-senior author Dr. Jeffrey Milbrandt, the James S. McDonnell professor and head of the department of genetics. “With the evidence of SARM1’s central role in these diseases, we’re very interested in finding ways to block this molecule—whether with small molecule inhibitors or gene therapy techniques. Our latest research suggests we also may be able to interfere with its ability to drive damaging neuroinflammation. We’re hopeful this work will lead to effective new therapies across a range of neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases.”

prp vs. prf
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) has been a popular treatment for several years —it’s used for everything from facial rejuvenation to aiding recovery from sports injuries. It uses the growth factors in a person’s blood to stimulate cell turnover. The process works by collecting the patient’s blood and placing it in a centrifuge that separates the red blood cells from the platelets—the part of your blood that is responsible for healing damage. Platelets also are rich in growth factors, which perform several beneficial functions like boosting collagen production. Platelet-rich fibrin (PRF) is another blood-derived cosmetic treatment. It can be used to address a number of concerns, such as under-eye bags, wrinkles, jowls and hair loss.

To create PRF, blood is put through a centrifuge at a slower speed than with PRP. The high speed involved in separating PRP means that most of the cells are kept at the bottom of the tube while the lighter platelets are kept in the top level, suspended in an external anticoagulant. With PRF, more white blood cells and stem cells are kept at the top level along with the platelets, resulting in a spongy, gel-like substance that doesn’t contain any additives because it also contains fibrin—the body’s natural clotting agent. The anticoagulant in PRP means the growth factors are released immediately. In PRF, the fibrin matrix traps the growth factors and slowly releases them over time, meaning the results take longer to appear, but they can last longer.