April 3, 2014
Incredible Maps Capture the Genetics and Connections of the Brain
(Popular Mechanics) – One year ago today, President Obama announced the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, a $300 million collaborative research project with the ambitious goal of mapping every neuron in the human brain, with the long-term hope of unraveling the neurological causes of diseases like Parkinson’s to autism, which today remain hidden within the black box of the human brain. Today, as part of that effort, scientists at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle have produced some of the most detailed brain maps that we have seen so far.
Gene Therapy Improves Limb Function Following Spinal Cord Injury
(Medical Xpress) – Delivering a single injection of a scar-busting gene therapy to the spinal cord of rats following injury promotes the survival of nerve cells and improves hind limb function within weeks, according to a study published April 2 in The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings suggest that, with more confirming research in animals and humans, gene therapy may hold the potential to one day treat people with spinal cord injuries.
April 2, 2014
Dementia Diagnosis Drive Raises Concern
(BBC) – Questions are being raised about the government’s drive to increase dementia diagnosis rates in England. Fewer than half of the estimated 670,000 people with dementia have a formal diagnosis, but ministers want to see this rise to two-thirds by 2015. But a GP writing in the British Medical Journal warned the push could lead to over-diagnosis. Meanwhile, the Alzheimer’s Society said it was being undermined by the lack of support after diagnosis.
March 27, 2014
How Your Brain Makes Moral Judgments
(CNN) – Researchers interested in the neuroscience of morality are investigating which brain networks are involved in such decisions, and what might account for people’s individual differences in judgments. Studies on the topic often involve small samples of people — functional magnetic resonance imaging is time-intensive and expensive — but patterns are emerging as more results come in.
Brain Difference Found Among Occasional Drug Users
(UPI) – Occasional drug use changes the brains of users of stimulant drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines and prescription drugs such as Adderall. Using brain scans to test reaction times, the researchers showed 18- to 24-year-old college students either an X or an O on a screen and instructed them to press, as quickly as possible, a left button if an X appeared or a right button if an O appeared. If a tone was heard, they were instructed not to press a button.
First Stem Cell Study of Bipolar Disorder Yields Promising Results
(Medical Xpress) – The team used skin from people with bipolar disorder to derive the first-ever stem cell lines specific to the condition. In a new paper in Translational Psychiatry, they report how they transformed the stem cells into neurons, similar to those found in the brain – and compared them to cells derived from people without bipolar disorder.
Zuckerberg, Musk and Kutcher Invest in Artificial Intelligence Firm
(Time) – Billionaire tech entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, along with actor Ashton Kutcher, have joined forces to make a $40 million investment in the artificial intelligence firm Vicarious FPC. The firm hopes to build a system capable of replicating the functions of the neocortex of the human brain, the part that controls body movement, vision, understands language and does math, The Wall Street Journal reports. One day, the company hopes to build a “computer that thinks like a person,” Vicarious co-founder Scott Phoenix says. “except it doesn’t have to eat or sleep.”
Alzheimer’s Disease Risk May Begin in the Womb
(The Telegraph) – A pregnant mother’s eating habits may influence her unborn child’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s, new research has suggested. Scientists found that offspring of mice fed a high-fat diet were more likely as adults to experience impaired blood flow in the brain, a feature linked to the disease. When the offspring were also fed a high-fat diet their brains became less able to rid themselves of harmful amyloid protein, which accumulates in sticky tangles in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Easing Epilepsy with Battery Power
(New York Times) – Cases of intractable epilepsy rarely have happy endings, but today Mr. Ramsey is seizure-free. A novel battery-powered device implanted in his skull, its wires threaded into his brain, tracks its electrical activity and quells impending seizures. At night, he holds a sort of wand to his head and downloads brain data from the device to a laptop for his doctors to review.
March 21, 2014
Study Finds Stem Cell Combination Therapy Improves Traumatic Brain Injury Outcomes
(Medical Xpress) – In their study of several different therapies—alone and in combination—applied to laboratory rats modeled with TBI [traumatic brain injury], USF researchers found that a combination of human umbilical cord blood cells (hUBCs) and granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF), a growth factor, was more therapeutic than either administered alone, or each with saline, or saline alone.
Psychiatric Genetics Holds Great Promise
(Psychiatric News) – During the past five years or so, the field of psychiatric genetics has exploded, experts in the field concur. Whereas only a handful of gene variants that contribute to psychiatric illnesses had been identified before 2008, now close to 200 have, Jordan Smoller, M.D., Sc.D., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a psychiatric genetics expert, said in an interview. “They range from common variations that affect gene expression to rare variations in genes themselves to copy number variations that result in the deletion or duplication of chunks of DNA.”
March 20, 2014
Biggest Ever Autism Study Probes Environmental Links
(New Scientist) – How much can environmental factors explain the apparent rise in autism spectrum disorders? Roughly 1 per cent of children in the US population are affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Rates in many countries, including the US, have risen sharply in recent years but no one is sure why. It is still not clear whether this is prompted by something in the environment, increased awareness of the condition and changes in diagnoses, or a result of people having children later.
Alzheimer’s Prevention Trial to Evaluate, Monitor Participants’ Reactions to Learning of Higher Disease Risk Status
(Medical Xpress) – A new clinical trial will soon begin testing whether early medical intervention in people at risk for Alzheimer’s can slow down progression of disease pathology before symptoms emerge, as outlined in Science Translational Medicine. For the first time, people with no Alzheimer’s disease symptoms will be told of their risk status before being asked to join the randomized controlled trial. As part of the overall prevention trial, Penn Medicine neurodegenerative ethics experts will monitor how learning about their risk of developing Alzheimer’s impacts trial participants.
The Genetics of Frontotemporal Dementia
(Medical Xpress) – Prof Pickering-Brown and his team are investigating a gene called C9orf72, which has been implicated in the development of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). This relatively rare form of dementia, which usually affects people under 65, causes distressing symptoms including personality and behavioural changes, loss of ability to reason, and problems with language.
Stem Cells from Muscle Can Repair Nerve Damage after Injury, Researchers Show
(Medical Xpress) – Stem cells derived from human muscle tissue were able to repair nerve damage and restore function in an animal model of sciatic nerve injury, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The findings, published online today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, suggest that cell therapy of certain nerve diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, might one day be feasible.
March 19, 2014
Double Duty Drug: Statins May Fight MS
(ABC News) – Cholesterol-busting statins may have an unexpected benefit for patients with multiple sclerosis, a new study found. Researchers in the U.K. studied 140 patients diagnosed with the most severe form of the disease, known as secondary progressive MS. They found that high doses of statins — about double the average amount that patients take to keep their cholesterol levels in check — reduced the rate of brain shrinkage in these patients.
Neuroscience: Tuning the Brain
(Nature) – Until now, such data have been accessible only when a patient’s brain is exposed briefly during surgery. But being able to make long-term neural recordings from human patients may become increasingly important — especially because researchers are experimenting with using DBS as a treatment for many other neurological conditions, including depression, obsessive–compulsive disorder and Tourette’s syndrome. The networks involved in such disorders are even less well understood than those involved in Parkinson’s disease, says Helen Mayberg, a neurologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Older Women and Altheimer’s
(CNN) – Older women are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than breast cancer according to a new report.
March 18, 2014
Electric Brain Stimulation Rouses Some People from a Minimally Conscious or Vegetative State
(Washington Post) – People who have been in a minimally conscious state for weeks or years have been temporarily roused using mild electrical stimulation. Soon after the stimulation was applied to their brains, 15 people with severe brain damage showed signs of consciousness, including moving their hands and following instructions using their eyes. Two were able to answer questions for two hours before drifting back into their previous uncommunicative state.
Famous Breast Cancer Gene Could Affect Brain Growth
(Science) – The cancer gene BRCA1, which keeps tumors in the breast and ovaries at bay by producing proteins that repair damaged DNA, may also regulate brain size. Mice carrying a mutated copy of the gene have 10-fold fewer neurons and other brain abnormalities, a new study suggests. Such dramatic effects on brain size and function are unlikely in human carriers of BRCA1 mutations, the authors of the study note, but they propose the findings could shed light on the gene’s role in brain evolution.
March 17, 2014
Critical Role of One Gene to Our Brain Development
(Health Canal) – New research from the University of Adelaide has confirmed that a gene linked to intellectual disability is critical to the earliest stages of the development of human brains. Known as USP9X, the gene has been investigated by Adelaide researchers for more than a decade, but in recent years scientists have begun to understand its particular importance to brain development.