Moneyball 2? Old School Meets New School in Los Angeles

Professional athletes need to be fit mentally just as much as physically. That's the philosophy espoused by the new Los Angeles Dodgers front office.

For many baseball players, the winter months are spent taking extra hacks in the batting cages, extra lifts on the barbells, and long looks out the window waiting for spring. There was plenty of time for those first two at the Los Angeles Dodgers' Winter Development Program this past week, as the team held workouts for 27 invitees on the big league baseball diamond. But, as reported by Dodger Insider's  Jon Weisman, the team's new front office also spent time during the program to focus on the mental side of the game.


Leading the charge was new Director of Player Development Gabe Kapler, who I've profiled in this space before. Kapler is a former ballplayer who does a great job of merging old school values with new school smarts. For anyone who doesn't own a dog-eared copy of Moneyball, the battle between old and new school in baseball is a cultural proxy war in the vein of similar battles over global warming and race, for example. These are, in general, conflicts that represent an inherent clash between traditionalism and progressivism. But rather than taking a polemic approach in support of fWAR, VORP, and other esoteric statistics (as well as Parks & Recreation easter eggs), Kapler places his focus on communicating new ideas in a manner easily understood by those raised in the old school. He also strives to run his minor league system in a manner which promotes character and mental toughness on top of in-game skills and savvy:

"Kapler’s level of commitment to progressive thinking and communication, to mental and physical fitness, is beyond unmistakable — it’s practically evangelistic. Far from being a preacher who can simply platitude a good game, Kapler engineered a program with concrete examples to back up his emphasis on using a stronger mental approach to improve the physical product — the quality of play on the field. The ideals are cloud-nine lofty, but the means to achieve them are laid out in the nitty-gritty details."

It remains to be seen whether this marriage between mental fitness, progressive thinking, evaluative understanding, and organizational harmony will lead to more wins for the big league ballclub/ What's for sure is that the Dodgers are taking a Moneyball approach in placing a major focus on the above elements -- elements that may be undervalued by other organizations.

For example, it was recently announced that Kapler had hired extra coaches throughout the minor leagues so that every team has at least one coach who speaks Spanish. With the sheer number of Latino ballplayers playing pro ball across North America, that's the sort of thing you'd assume would already be the norm. Apparently not. This move is one of many examples of organizational polishing that serves to make the minor league machine run as smooth as possible.

To learn more about Kapler and the Dodgers, check out the link below.

Read more at Dodger Insider

Photo credit: David Lee / Shutterstock

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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