Cross-eyed Leonardo

LeonardoNot long ago, I wrote a post about the diagnoses of poor Mona Lisa, Feed Lisa Some Stake, whom the researchers could not leave alone and saddled Gioconda with multitude of health problems. Recently, scientists turned their attention to the master himself, Leonardo da Vinci.Leonardo1

Professor Christopher W. Tyler, PhD, DSc of City University of London, published an article Evidence That Leonardo da Vinci Had Strabismus in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

Key Points

Question  Did Leonardo da Vinci, the preeminent artist-scientist of the Italian Renaissance, have a form of strabismus that could have facilitated his artistic work?

Findings  Examination of 6 likely portraits and self-portraits of da Vinci in which the direction of gaze of each eye is identifiable shows that most paintings exhibit a consistent exotropic strabismus angle of −10.3°, supported by a similar Hirschberg angle in the recently identified da Vinci painting Salvator Mundi.

Meaning  The presence of exotropia, particularly if it was intermittent, may have contributed to da Vinci’s exceptional ability to capture space on the flat canvas.


Importance  Strabismus is a binocular vision disorder characterized by the partial or complete inability to maintain eye alignment on the object that is the target of fixation, usually accompanied by suppression of the deviating eye and consequent 2-dimensional monocular vision. This cue has been used to infer the presence of strabismus in a substantial number of famous artists.

Objective  To provide evidence that Leonardo da Vinci had strabismus.

The researcher analysed eyes in six pieces of art thought to be based on da Vinci: David (Andrea del Verrocchio); Young Warrior (Andrea del Verrocchio); Salvator Mundi (da Vinci); Young John the Baptist (da Vinci); Vitruvian Man (da Vinci).

Professor Tyler fitted circles and ellipses to the pupils, irises, and eyelid apertures on the artwork and then measured the relative positions of these features.

He found that there was evidence of strabismus in all six pieces of work.Leonardo


In this diagram, the degrees of optical axial angles of the left and right eyes of all the studied characters of paintings and sculptures are shown, and the difference between them just shows a slightly stronger deviation of the left in almost all cases. And this, according to Tyler, can serve as evidence of the divergent squint of da Vinci. Well, maybe…

Indeed, such an eye position significantly improves stereoscopic vision and the ability to see spatial depth. “The first thing to consider is whether the objects have the necessary contrasts corresponding to their [three-dimensional] position,” Leonardo wrote in his Treatise on Painting.  Leonardo was one of the first artists to incorporate three-dimensionality into his work. It seems very likely, is it not, that the cause of this brilliant innovation is physiological.


Feed Lisa Some Stake

mona lisa.jpgHere are the latest “believe-it-or not” from the world of art and medicine.

Dr. Mandeep Mehra of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, for fun if no other reason, spent a year examining Leonardo’s masterpiece searching for a… diagnosis. In his opinion,  Lisa Gherardini, aka Mona Lisa, aka Gioconda, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, was not in the best of health when she sat for the portrait in 1503. Her mysterious grin, the smile that mystifies and charms people for over five centuries, might as well be caused by her health problems, Dr. Mehra believes.

Dr. Mehra points to many features in Da Vinci’s painting that he says are critical to his diagnosis.

The doctor says she had no eyebrows, a receding hair line, a lesion near her left eye, a puffy neck and swollen hands. These all suggest to the doctor a systemic physical ailment. (So much for timeless beauty so admired!)

“The diagnosis that I believe is operative here is an underactive thyroid gland or hypothyroidism,” Dr. Mehra said.

Dr. Mehra suggests that the disease might have been provoked by an early pregnancy, as well as a lack of meat, dairy products and seafood in the diet.

“That is the thing about the Mona Lisa is that Leonardo da Vinci was an uncanny artist who depicted accuracy like no one else. He was an anatomist,” Dr. Mehra said.ML.PNG
Doctor believes Mona Lisa was suffering from thyroid condition.

This isn’t the first time lovely Lisa was posthumously diagnosed. In 2017, British art critic Jonathan Jones published a study in which he explained Gioconda’s smile as a symptom of syphilis. Jones pointed out that in the books of the Florentine monastery a record of certain purchase was preserved for posterity: Lisa Gherardini once bought acqua di chiocciole, the water of the snails, at the local pharmacy. At the time, this remedy was widely used to treat syphilis.

Poor Lisa.

Hole In His Skull

Magnificent digital creations such as Digital Grotesque featured in my previous post, is impressive, indeed. Breathtaking. Here is a recent story of advancement in 3D printing on a much smaller scale. Smaller, yes, however, by no means less impressive:

Israel. Jerusalem. Shaare Zedek Medical CenterThe patient is a young man, 21. Diagnosis: severe form of meningitis, an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain. The disease caused a life-threatening increase of intracranial pressure.

dr winestone.png

DrJohn Winestone

Senior Neurosurgeon  DrJohn Winestone examined the patient and confirmed that the young man suffers from a rare form of infection. The chance of survival is extremely low. Medications did not help, the patient’s condition sharply  worsened, he lost consciousness, gradually plunged into a coma and was hooked up to a Life Support System. Emergency surgery resulted in removing of a skull bone 15 centimeters (5.90551 inches) in diameter to stop further elevation of intracranial pressure. It ultimately saved the patient’s life. But what about his skull?

When the patient’s condition stabilized, experts decided to turn to volumetric printing to create a prosthetic skull bone. The unique surgery — an implantation of a 3D-printed part of the skull to replace a lost bone — was a success. At present, the patient’s condition is quite satisfactory.

It was for the first time in the history of medicine that the volumetric printing was used to create a skull bone. It should be noted that previously, 3D-printing was used primarily in oral and maxillofacial surgery.


Ice Cream And You

Alan R. Hirsch MD, the head of SMELL & TASTE TREATMENT AND RESEARCH FOUNDATION, LTD in Chicago, Illinois, argues that our choice of ice cream can tell a lot about our personalities.
icecream.PNG Study participants were asked to choose a favorite variety of ice cream, after which they were given a whole battery of psychological tests designed to assess people’s personality. Although this study was sponsored by ice cream manufacturers (Baskin Robbins, Dreyer’s/Edy’s), the methodology of the research is quite sound and unbiased.

Those who chooses vanilla ice cream over all other flavors are idealistic, impulsive, ready to take risks, rely more on intuition than on logic.

Strawberry ice cream tempts most introverts, people who are generally calm, reliable and thoughtful.

Those who love chocolate ice cream also love flirting and seduction, they are fun, charming, though sometimes

Mint ice cream is chosen by people who love to argue. In a dispute, they will definitely find a fly in the ointment. They are ambitious, confident and sure in their righteousness.

Multi-colored popsicles, rather unexpectedly, attract pessimistic people. This flavor’s bright colors and fruity taste is no match for the downbeat attitude of those who choose it as their favorite. “We found that people who prefer rainbow sherbet are more pessimistic than you would think,” says Hirsch, who also found they’re analytic and decisive.

Ice cream with cocoa, biscuits, walnuts and marshmallow is often the choice of aggressive, successful in business people. These people often are very good listeners.

Coffee ice cream is liked by people who approach life with gusto, living big. They are energetic and often fall into histrionics. They live in the present and need constant revival of romantic relationships.

Generous, competent go-getters prefer chocolate chip vanilla ice cream.

Ice cream with walnuts or pecans is a preference of loyal, respectful and honest people. They hold high standards for right and wrong and are afraid of hurting people’s feelings.

Dr Hirsch also says that the preference of a certain type of ice cream might give us an idea about comparability — if people like ice cream of the same flavor, especially the ice cream with complex flavor, such as vanilla ice cream with chocolate ships and strawberries.

Thus tell me what kind of ice cream you like and I’ll tell you who you are. On the other hand, if I like several flavors equally then what am I?

Murderous Rabbit


Rarely if ever an article in a scientific publication carries no discernible scientific value, either theoretical or practical. However, in a recent issue of the scientific journal World Neurosurgery, two surgeons,  Tarik F. Massoud, MD, PhD, and Aleksandrs Kalnins, MD, MBA, from Stanford University published a study of a clinical case of an “ordinary” glioblastoma Glioblastoma invoking ‘killer’ rabbits of the Middle Ages. There is nothing new or groundbreaking in this article, authors admit, except for the curious MRI image.glioblastoma.jpg

The shape of the tumor in the MRI image looks remarkably similar to the shape of a bunny. Moreover, it is similar to the rabbit as portrayed in medieval miniatures, where the pesky lagomorph often depicted as a knight killer (remember the Monty Python’s Rabbit of Caerbannog?)

Abstract: We present the unusual brain MRI appearance of a glioblastoma with an uncanny shape of a rabbit. By invoking fearsome ‘killer’ rabbits depicted in Middle Ages art and literature, this image is an eerie reminder of the current lethality of this disease. There is a pressing need for more effective treatments for glioblastoma.

The very short article states that deadly glioblastoma killed a 46-year-old patient after three and a half years since initial diagnosis. Alas, this tumor is almost always fatal.glioblastoma1 The publication is intended to emphasize the deadly disease and to draw attention to the development of new treatments.


3D Zika

zika.PNGZika virus is an unexpected new threat to mankind, that appeared suddenly. seemingly out of nowhere. Data on this virus is still very limited. Nevertheless, studio experts at Biomedical Imaging Visual Science have created a 3D-model of the virus Zika at atomic resolution.
zika1.pngFounder of Studio Visual Science Ivan Konstantinov and scientific consultant of the project Yury Stefanov answered questions related to their work. Excerpt of the interview, in my translation, is below. The entire article, in Russian, is here.

What is needed in order to create a model of the virus with such amazing level of detail?

— The development involves several steps. We begin with an overview, analysis and systematization of the available scientific information on the structure of the virus. It is important to understand what is known about the size and morphology of the particles, the types of proteins and other molecules included therein, the number, structure and interaction. There is often necessary to consult with structural virologists who deal with this particular virus directly. Moreover, we often use data cryoelectron microscopy and 3D-reconstruction of structures on its basis. This is a very powerful tool.zika2 Still, Zika virus only fairly recently become the subject of scientific interest. The reason was an epidemic caused by Zika and its previously unheard of consequence — microcephaly in infants born to infected mothers. Do you have enough data for a detailed Zika model? 

— At this time, Zika virus is still poorly researched from the structural point of view. However, many of Zika  “relatives” such as Dengue virus, for instance, is rather well researched.on the basis of which data can be modeled with good reliability Zika virus proteins. In such situations, particularly in demand possibilities of Biomedical Imaging and Modeling.zika3Is it possible to somehow verify that your model does, indeed, reflect the actual structure of the virus?

— Our models are scientific surveys carried out in graphical form. The more information is accumulated by scientists — the more accurate and more complete is our model. As soon as new data become available, our models will be updated, thus creating new versions. adeno Are you planning to publish the results of you work in scientific magazines? After all, by the look of them, your results are quite impressive.

— Thus far, what we have is a scientific overview rather than an independent study. The ultimate goal of a solid scientific work is solid practical result. In the case of viruses, for instance, such result would be a study of the interaction of viral proteins with ligands that might become a potential drug to conquer the virus. (In biochemistry and pharmacology, a ligand is a substance that forms a complex with a biomolecule to serve a biological purpose. VG)

How long, time-wise, it takes you to develop a single model of virus?

— Time depends on many factors. There are small and simple viruses that can be visualized and modeled in two or three weeks. But then there are huge and very sophisticated ones, of which very little is known from the structural point of view. It is difficult to predict the length of time it takes to model them.


Visual Science is an award-winning scientific design studio that creates scientifically accurate and eye-catching 3D models, illustrations and animations for pharmaceutical, medical device, biotech, and nanotechnology companies, as well as scientific institutions, laboratories, educational organizations, museums, publishing and advertising agencies around the world. Interesting site, in English, for those who likes visuals.


visual one



Memories Of Cheeseburgers Past


It hardly comes as a surprise that we’re our own worst enemies, but new research appears to conclusively prove that our brain is the biggest saboteur of success, and leads to self-deception on a grand scale. The culprit?

Dopamine, the chemical that gives us pleasure whenever we receive a reward.pleasure-priciple-brain-352

Dopamine  is our main focus neurotransmitter. This is the chemical responsible for our drive or desire to acquire – be that food, sex, an achievement, or a drug. When you drink coffee or receive a text message, dopamine is being released. It tends to make people more talkative and excitable, which often leaves them wanting more. With dopamine and high dopamine individuals, desire begets desire.

Memories of past pleasures we experienced are alluring because the dopamine in our brains keeps the memory very real. All we need is a reminder of that past reward. Even without the promise of new, similar experiences, the image in the mind is enough to render self-control ineffective, if altogether useless. According to new research from Johns Hopkins University, none of this really matters, because the memory of something much sweeter always lingers in the brain.

This fine fellow below  obviously has brains, though no “brain chemistry” left in him. Curiously, this image is used as an illustration to nearly every article on the subject. God knows why, perhaps because he looks rather impressive. I simply couldn’t resist a temptation to use it, too.

Francois Lenoir / Reuters

Francois Lenoir / Reuters

Now back to dopamine and addictions. Study makes an unsettling conclusion: the more we deprive ourselves of the subject of our craving, the more likely our nervous system is to fire off memories whenever an irritant manifests itself. Аddiction cycles are notoriously hard to break precisely because of these lingering memories of “cheeseburgers past.”

How the Johns Hopkins people arrived to their conclusions? They played a little computer game with 20 participants. The game involved a small financial reward every time the respondent located a red or green object on a screen filled with a myriad of other colored objects. Spot a red object — get $1.50, spot green one — get only 25 cents.

The respondents then slept on it, and were asked to play another game the following day. But this time, they were asked to locate particular shapes – color and size did not matter. There was also no reward involved. Interestingly, participants zeroed in on the red objects before any other.dopamine.PNGWhile they took part in the exercise, the researchers conducted PET scans on the participants and found that the part of the brain associated with attention lit up with dopamine. Additionally, those who focused on the red objects more than others experienced higher levels of dopamine release. Apparently,  past reward association still causing a dopamine release. That stimulus is incorporated into the reward system.

Interesting that people prone to addictive behavior and those who are depressed, will show entirely different responses. The first group (those with addictive personalities) generally can’t help but feel more exhilarated, while the people prone to depression tend to pay much less attention to rewards.

Well, then, where do we stand, those of us depressives and others, prone to displaying addictive behavior?  My own personality tends toward being addictive. In view of the recent studies, it makes me terribly depressed.

Source: Our brain sabotages all efforts at breaking bad habits, Johns Hopkins study finds

Read My Mind

read My MindNeuroscientists from the University of Washington have decoded brain signals in real-time and with astounding accuracy, as revealed in a recent study published in PLOS Computational Biology. Researchers attached electrodes to the temporal lobes of seven epilepsy patients for roughly one week. The implants were part of a program that aimed to locate the sources of these patients’ seizures, but while the electrodes were active, the patients also participated in this brain-wave study. read My Mind

The participants viewed a series of houses and faces that appeared on a screen for 400 milliseconds at a time, and were instructed to look for the upside-down building. An algorithm tracked the brain waves of their temporal lobes. (Temporal lobes in our brain deal in sensory input.) By the end of each session, the program was able to pinpoint, in real time and with roughly 96 percent accuracy, what images the patients were observing.  Within 20 milliseconds of actual perception, the program was capable of determining the exact objects patient was seeing, be it a house, a face or a gray screen.

“Clinically, you could think of our result as a proof of concept toward building a communication mechanism for patients who are paralyzed or have had a stroke and are completely locked-in,” UW computational neuroscientist Rajesh Rao said.

At about the same time, Russian scientists from the Moscow-based company Neurobotics created and tested technology that allows to do the household chores with the help of the power of thought. The project “Smart Home” introduced technology that allows a person to turn the lights, TV set or a tea kettle on and off, using only the power of thought.


According to the official representative of the organization Christine Utkina, the technology works on the principle of neurointerface.

Researchers call the process  brain-computer interface. The principle is rather straightforward: electromagnetic sensor reads and amplifies brain waves and then a special devise converts those signals into commands to operate various Smart Home gadgets or robots. This technology will be particularly useful to people with disabilities and patients who are recovering from injury, enabling them to operate electric wheelchairs and other electronic rehabilitation equipment.

The Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta ran an article about the Neurobotics  reserch. Read it here, in Russian. It is titled Московские ученые вскипятили чайник силой мысли” (Moscow Scientists boiled a tea cattle using power of thoughts.)

Real Macondo

yarumalIn Gabriel García Márquez‘s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, the entire population of imaginary Macondo vilage is stricken with a memory disease. Its symptoms are insomnia followed by such acute memory loss that to fight forgetfulness they hang plaques on every object, spelling out its name and function. “This is a cow, it must be milked every morning to get milk, and milk should be boiled to mix with coffee…”  Eventually, however, words themselves cease to have any meaning.

The picturesque little town on the picture above is Yarumal,  situated high above the river’s valley in the Antioquia, Colombia. Isolated from the outside world by remoteness and intermittent presence of guerrillas, drug-traffickers, and paramilitaries, this once obscure corner of Colombia has become famous as of late, and all for the wrong reasons. Namely, has the largest population of Alzheimer’s sufferers in the world. A great number of the village’s 5,000 residents have a genetic mutation that predisposes them to Alzheimer’s disease, and most develop the condition by the time they are just 40 years old, some as young as 35.YarumalThus Yarumal is the real Macondo, although memory problems among Yarumal residents began long before Márquez published his novel in 1967 — about 375 years ago to be precise. A November 19, 2015 New Scientist article reported that researchers have traced the source of Alzheimer’s in this small Colombian town to 17th century Spanish conquistador.
But the tragic circumstances also make this community an ideal place to conduct research and test new drugs. The US biotech company Genentech  will spend $100 million on a clinical trial of crenezumab, a drug  that attacks beta amyloids and prevents them from becoming toxic. The trial began in December 2013 and projected to be completed in seven years. The results are expected to be documented and reported in 2020.

A hundred carriers of the mutant gene will take the drug over five years, another hundred carriers will take a placebo, as will yet another hundred at-risk people who do not have the mutant gene. Double-blind testing suggests that not only patients but also doctors administering the injections wouln’t know who received the drug and who was given a shot of placebo.

It’s the first test of its kind to be carried out on apparently healthy people.  Anti-amyloid drugs have been used before, but they have failed because they have been taken by patients already suffering from dementia — in other words, too late. Researchers are optimistic. They can’t be sure it will prevent the disease, but it could delay it for many years, and that’s important.

dementiaIn the US alone 5.3 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s. Every third person die from Alzheimer’s or some other type of dementia. This is one of the 10 most common causes of death in the USA — the only disease that currently can not prevented, cured or slowed down.

Reference:  Alzheimer’s-plagued Colombia region is focus of drug trial.

Lisa Was Really Sick

 Leonardo Painting the Mona Lisa Aimee Brune Pages 1845 Engraved by Charles Lemoine from the oil original. 1845. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale.

Leonardo Painting the Mona Lisa Aimee Brune Pages 1845 Engraved by Charles Lemoine from the oil original. 1845. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale.

 LEONARDO DA VINCI (Vinci, 1452 - Amboise, 1519) - Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, known as the Mona Lisa (the Joconde in French), c. 1503–06)

LEONARDO DA VINCI (Vinci, 1452 – Amboise, 1519) – Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, known as the Mona Lisa (the Joconde in French), c. 1503–06) Detail.

“Thin, gradually widening nose with nervous, quivering wings and pale pink nostrils… Great details for an understanding of Mona Lisa: it might as well she is hard of hearing, otherwise her ears would not have been covered by flowing hair — she would have cherished her auditory impressions more.

Her gaze is uncertain, but she has a subtle sense of smell, which is often coupled with a rather weak perception of a other sensory impressions. She is sensually attuned to smells but hardly sensitive to the suffering of living beings. To be compassionate, we must have good eyesight and hearing.”

“Something painfully degenerate emanates from this person, and I feel that this woman has a hidden ills. Her famous smile is a fixed grin, nasty, annoying, giving Mona Lisa’s entire face that is lacking of beauty, a hint of peculiar ugliness, unprecedented in art, either before or after Leonardo… 

The gloomy genius hovers over this portrait. Despite the bright colors of spring landscape, Mona Lisa looks as though she just emerged from a dark dungeon.” (Russian art critic Akim Volynsky  (1861 –1926))

Well, how’s that opinion fares against the most common one: Leonardo’s Mona Lisa is sheer perfection and her most famous feature, her lingering smile, is nothing less than a beautiful enigma!?

smileIt isn’t easy to be a heroine of, perhaps, the most famous works of art of all time.

These days Mona Lisa is being regularly given medical diagnoses.
In 2005, the paint­ing was ana­lyzed at the Uni­ver­sity of Ams­ter­dam using “emo­tion recog­ni­tion soft­ware”. Based on com­par­ing her fea­tures (pri­mar­ily her eyes and lips) to a ‘neu­tral’ expres­sion, it was concluded that the subject of the Mona Lisa is 83% happy, 9% dis­gusted, 6% fear­ful, and 2% angry.

Lately, numerous medical doctors — physicians, dentists, surgeons, ophthalmologists — Mrs. del Giocondo was a very sick lady. The list of her ailments includes (!) strabismus, hemiatrophy, discrepancy, congenital idiocy, diseases of the spine, excess of cholesterol in the blood, alopecia, toothlessness.Mona_Lisa Fingers

Take a closer look at Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo’s fingers. In the opinion of Danish physician Finn Becker Christensen, “discrepancy” in Mona Lisa’s fingers is one of the signs of congenital idiocy. Another evidence of this condition is her high convex forehead. Mona Lisa’s famous smile is asymetrical, “left-sided” — yet another sign of disturbed emotional state.Eyes

English ophthalmologist Clive Novis suggests that Mona Lisa’s unfocused gaze is a clear symptom of strabismussquint,  a disorder of vision due to a deviation from normal orientation of one or both eyes so that both cannot be directed at the same object at the same time. Other words, Lisa was cross-eyed.

These and other curious medical discoveries were collected for the article Беззубое совершенство (Toothless Perfection) in Вокруг Света (Around The Word) magazine. Half-way through retelling the article in English I stumbled across a blog post where someone  have already done it. To learn more about poor Lisa’s earthly suffering, see  Mona Lisa medical diagnosis.
Clearly, to the  doctors there are no healthy patients, only underdiagnosed. Soon it will be possible to test their hypothesis. Perhaps, soon enough it’ll be possible to prove or disprove some or all of the diagnoses: Mona Lisa search: Test results on ‘muse’ Lisa Gherardini bones to be announced.

Painter works on copying Leonardo's masterpiece, surrounded by finished copies.

Painter works on copying Leonardo’s masterpiece, surrounded by finished copies.

For a close-up view of the Mona Lisa, visit the Musée du Lou­vre web­site where you can zoom in for more detail than you could even see in per­son, and also com­pare the results of sci­en­tific tests done with infrared, x-radiography, and UVF scans.