Saturday, February 27, 2010

Simple Tips to Boost Your Brainpower

(CBS)  There are simple things you can do now to help you stay sharp later in life -- several small changes you can make to your daily routine that could have result in a big way in getting and keeping your brain in tip-top shape.

On "The Early Show Saturday Edition," Dr. Cynthia Green, Ph.D., spelled them out.

Green and the editors of Prevention magazine wrote, "Brainpower Game Plan: Sharpen Your Memory, Improve Your Concentration, and Age-Proof Your Mind in Just 4 Weeks."

Move It: Get off the Couch and Get in Gear! Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise four-to-five times a week. Go for a walk or run, swim - anything to get yourself moving. Try some complex activities that really make you think, such as ballroom dancing or juggling, for some added benefit.

Seek New Challenges (Make Sure You're Always Thinking)
Look for some simple ways to push you out of your intellectual routine every day. Try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, taking a new route to work, or even doing a crossword puzzle. Add new, more complex activities on a regular basis to constantly get your brain to "think" differently. Challenge your comfort zone by learning to play a new instrument, taking up knitting, taking a class or studying a new language.

Beat the Clock (Get Your Head in the Game) Spend 10 to 20 minutes every day giving your everyday intellectual skills a good workout. How? Any game that requires you to play against the clock will do it. Play board games like Boggle or Set. Check out handheld electronic Games like Simon or games for the Nintendo DS. Look at computer-based games, such as those on free game sites or brain fitness software products.

Get a Social Life (Be Social) Connect with others in a meaningful way each and every day. Volunteer, go out for dinner with friends or join a reading group.

Move It: Get off the Couch and Get in Gear!  Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 4-5 times a week.
Studies show that one of the best things we can do for our brains is to get regular aerobic exercise. Exercise improves our everyday intellectual performance, reduces our long-term risk for dementia, supports neuroplasticity (our brain's ability to grow new neurons and new connections between brain cells) and lowers our risk for other diseases that can lead to memory loss, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, depression, etc.
How much exercise do we need? Studies suggest that getting just 30 minutes of exercise 4-5 days a week is enough. There is actually no evidence that getting more boosts your brain power over and above the benefits we see at that level. Researchers in Seattle found that folks who reported getting exercise at least three times a week (walking, jogging, swimming) were 38% less likely to develop a memory impairment than others in their study who did not get the same amount of activity.
What kind of exercise are we talking about? The great news is that the studies found that even just walking briskly (fast enough that it is hard to carry on a conversation) does the trick. Clearly, getting more aerobic activity is great for other aspects of health, like our heart health, but when it comes to brain health, even something as "easy" as walking can really make a difference!
An additional tip: Recent studies have shown that exercises that involve coordination, such as video dance games (Dance Dance Revolution) or juggling improve everyday memory and even impact the volume of our brain's white matter. Try these kinds of fun exercises into your routine.

Get Intellectually Engaged  Challenge your comfort zone by learning to play a new instrument, taking up knitting, take a class or studying a new language
Staying mentally active is a key to boosting our brain health. "Stretching" our brain, if you will, gives us the opportunity to build new connections between brain cells, and may even promote the growth of new neurons. Research suggests that folks who report high levels of intellectual engagement are two and a half times less likely to develop a memory impairment than those of us who are "mental couch potatoes."
What kind of activities are we talking about? The great news is there is a whole range of ways we can "stretch" our brains. Some are really easy, and we can slip them in throughout our day - those include things like: Brushing our teeth with our non-dominant hand, reading a newspaper article backwards, rearrange your desk, take a different route to work (there are exercises like this for every day of the Brainpower Game Plan). Then there are ways we can keep our brains engaged through new, novel activities that require more time, such as learning a new language, taking up knitting, or joining an art class.
Staying intellectually engaged is especially important for those of us who may no longer be in an environment, such as the workplace, where we once got that kind of "workout" on a regular basis. Retirement or down time between jobs is no time to put your brain in idle - take a class, try something creative you've never had time for before - use the time to keep your brain at work!

Play against the Clock Spend 10 to 20 minutes every day giving your everyday intellectual skills a good workout. Play any game that requires you to play against the clock such as Boggle, Chess or Set.
As we grow older, or if we have a length of time when we are not working or meaningfully engaged, we lose ground in specific intellectual skills that help us maintain our "edge" day-to-day. Those skills - attention, intellectual speed, flexibility (our ability to multitask) and short term memory - can get a real boost from exercises that address them directly. A recent federally funded, multicenter study, called the ACTIVE trial, found that folks who participated in training across some of these skills significantly improved in their performance on intellectual tests that measured their ability in the areas in which they were trained, such as attention and memory.
One of the best ways we can give these everyday intellectual skills a great workout is to play games against the clock. Timed games force us to pay attention, think fast, and be nimble - what a great brain workout! At least 10-20 minutes a day is great, but even a few days a week is probably more than you do now.
Some of my top picks for games we play against the clock are Boggle, Set, Simon, Nintendo Gameboy, computer games (free ones, on sites such as, dedicated brain fitness software, which acts like a "personal trainer" for your skills workout

Stay Social  Volunteer, go out for dinner with friends, join a reading group. Social connections really matter to our brain health. When we are in a social setting, we are practicing all those everyday intellectual skills (attention, speed, flexibility and short term memory are all key to holding up your end of a conversation). We also may be reducing our risk for a serious memory impairment. Several studies, including one last year from the Harvard School of Public Health, have shown that folks who report more social activity have an associated reduced risk for dementia.
How much should you socialize? There is no clear guidance from the research, but you should look to interact with others in a meaningful way every day.
What kind of socializing matters? All kinds of socializing are great for your brain health, be it a phone call with a friend, to volunteering in your local community or school, to just going out for dinner with the gang.

Increasing Neurogenesis Might Prevent Drug Addiction And Relapse

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center hope they have begun paving a new pathway in the fight against drug dependence. Their hypothesis – that increasing the normally occurring process of making nerve cells might prevent addiction – is based on a rodent study demonstrating that blocking new growth of specific brain nerve cells increases vulnerability for cocaine addiction and relapse.
The study's findings, available in the Journal of Neuroscience, are the first to directly link addiction with the process, called neurogenesis, in the region of the brain called the hippocampus.
While the research specifically focused on what happens when neurogenesis is blocked, the scientists said the results suggest that increasing adult neurogenesis might be a potential way to combat drug addiction and relapse.
"More research will be needed to test this hypothesis, but treatments that increase adult neurogenesis may prevent addiction before it starts, which would be especially important for patients treated with potentially addictive medications," said Dr. Amelia Eisch, associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. "Additionally, treatments that increase adult neurogenesis during abstinence might prevent relapse."
Increasingly, addiction researchers have recognized that some aspects of the condition – such as forming drug-context associations – might involve the hippocampus, which is a region of the brain associated with learning and memory. Only with recent technological advances have scientists been able to test their theories in animals by manipulating the birth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus of the adult brain.
Physical activity and novel and enriched environments have been shown in animal studies to be good for the brain in general, but more research is needed to see if they can increase human adult neurogenesis.
Dr. Eisch and her colleagues used advanced radiation delivery techniques to prevent hippocampal neurogenesis. In one experiment, rats were allowed to self-administer cocaine by pressing a lever. Rats with radiated brains took more cocaine and seemed to find it more rewarding than rats that did not receive radiation.
In a second experiment, rats first self-administered cocaine and then received radiation to decrease neurogenesis during a period of time that they were without drugs. Rats with reduced neurogenesis took more time to realize that a drug lever was no longer connected to the drug dispenser.
"The nonirradiated rats didn't like the cocaine as much and learned faster to not press the formerly drug-associated lever," Dr. Eisch said. "In the context of this experiment, decreased neurogenesis fueled the process of addiction, instead of the cocaine changing the brain."
Dr. Eisch said she plans to do similar studies with other drugs of abuse, using imaging technology to study addiction and hippocampal neurogenesis in humans.
"If we can create and implement therapies that prevent addiction from happening in the first place, we can improve the length and quality of life for millions of drug abusers, and all those affected by an abuser's behavior," she said.
Another study author from UT Southwestern was Sarah Bulin, a graduate student research assistant. Other researchers involved in the work include Dr. Michele Noonan, former graduate research assistant in psychiatry, and Dwain Fuller from the VA North Texas Health Care System.

Early Humans Used Brain Power, Innovation and Teamwork to Dominate the Planet

Scholars gathered to discuss how a unique combination of human traits helped our species survive to colonize the globe

CULTURE, COGNITION, COOPERATION Researchers at a workshop to determine the markers of human uniqueness focused on the 'three Cs'

TEMPE, Arizona—As a species of seeming feeble, naked apes, we humans are unlikely candidates for power in a natural world where dominant adaptations can boil down to speed, agility, jaws and claws. Why we rose to rule, while our hominin relatives died out, has long been a curiosity for scientists.
The study of our human nature encompasses a variety of fields ranging from anthropology, primatology, cognitive science and psychology to paleontology, archaeology, evolutionary biology and genetics
Representatives of each of these disciplines gathered February 19-22 at a workshop, "Origins of Human Uniqueness and Behavioral Modernity," staged by Arizona State University's Origins Project to discuss recent advances in their respective fields.
Led by ASU professors anthropologist Kim Hill and paleoanthropologist Curtis Marean, co-organizers of the event, the panel of scientists agreed to adopt a working definition that human uniqueness is the "underlying capacity to produce complexity," and to think of behavioral modernity as "the expression" of those capacities.
The expression of capacities, Hill and Marean said, can be summed up, namely, as exceptional cognition, culture and cooperation. Each of the three C's was a topic of focus for the scientists. One of their goals at the conference was to pinpoint specific markers of these expressions, and then use them to identify the emergence of humans within the paleoanthropological record.
The beginning of human cognition, for example, is the result of the development of a larger brain, which can be represented by artifacts—stone tools, weapons—or productions that signify greater abilities for thinking and innovation, said archaeologist and paleoanthropologist John Shea of Stony Brook University.
In addition, although the adaptation of a larger brain may separate humans from their primate relatives, it also came at a cost of increased fuel requirements. A human brain uses at least 20 percent of an individual's resting metabolism, said Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.
Evidence of early humans' use of fire could be used to mark how they overcame their energy needs, said primatologist and biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University. Heat helps free up energy by softening foods, denaturing their proteins and breaking down toxins, Wrangham proposed, which is why cooking may explain human brain size as well as small canine teeth and small guts in comparison to other primates.
By the same token, evidence of coastal adaptation can also mark human activity and a strategy for meeting the brain's growing energy needs. Archaeological excavations along the coastline of South Africa, Marean suggested, show that early humans obtained energy-dense foods by adopting a diet of shellfish, which afforded strong nutritional benefits for the brain.
Accordingly, the researchers discussed how an oversized brain led to culture, a product of thinking and social learning facilitated by language, creativity and innovation. The passing on of knowledge from generation to generation is metaphorically referred to as a cultural "ratchet effect," which creates greater complexity of culture over time.
In the wild, a lone human would not be able to survive without culture, explained evolutionary theorist Rob Boyd of University of California, Los Angeles. "Think about what is necessary to live in Alaska," he said. "You’d need a kayak, a harpoon, a float to not sink. Nobody invents a kayak. People learn the proper way to make a kayak from others."

Speaking or signing, it's the same to your brain

Language is universal whether it comes from voice or hands, study findsLanguage is created in the same areas of the brain, regardless of whether a person speaks English or uses American Sign Language to communicate, new research found. The discovery suggests that something about language is universal and doesn't depend on whether people use their voices or their hands to talk.
Two centers in the brain — Broca's area, which is thought to be related to speech production, and Wernicke's area, which is associated with comprehending speech — have long been associated with verbal communication. But now scientists have found the brain areas might be tied to language, no matter whether it's spoken or signed.
Scientists suspected these areas might be particular to speaking, because they are located spatially near areas that are connected to moving the vocal chords, and to the auditory cortex, which is used to hear sounds. In that case, it stood to reason that deaf people who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate should use other brain areas to create language, such as parts located near the visual cortex, used for seeing.
But when researchers tested 29 deaf native ASL signers and 64 hearing native English speakers, they found no difference in the brain. They showed both groups pictures of objects, such as a cup or a parrot, and asked the subjects to either sign or speak the word, while a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scanner measured changes in blood flow in the brain.In both groups, Broca's and Wernicke's areas were equally active.          
"It's the same whether the language is spoken or signed," said Karen Emmorey, a professor of speech language at San Diego State University. Emmorey described the work last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego, Calif. The research was also detailed in a 2007 issue of the journal Neuroimage. 
In a more recent study, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal, the scientists tested whether sign language taps into the same parts of the brain as charades. They wanted to figure out whether the brain regards sign language as more similar to spoken language, or more similar to making pantomime gestures to mimic an action.
The scientists showed both deaf people and hearing people pictures of objects, such as a broom or a bottle of syrup, and asked the subjects to "show how you would use this object." The charade gestures for pouring syrup and for sweeping with a broom are different  from the signs for syrup and sweep, so the researchers could be sure the deaf participants were pantomiming and not signing.
Then they asked the deaf subjects to sign the verbs associated with particular objects, such as syrup or broom. The researchers found that the signers activated different parts of their brains when pantomiming versus when signing. Even when the sign is basically indistinguishable from the pantomime – when similar hand gestures are used – the brain treats it like language.
"The brain doesn't make a distinction," Emmorey said. "The fact that many signs are iconic doesn't change the neural underpinnings of language ."
And the scans showed that the brain areas signers used when pantomiming were similar to the brain areas hearing participants used when pantomiming – both groups activated the superior parietal cortex, which is associated with grasping, rather than brain areas connected to language.
"It suggests the brain is organized for language, not for speech," Emmorey said.

Brain has areas devoted to learning nouns, verbs

LONDON: Scientists have recently shown that the part of the brain that gets activated when a person learns a new noun is different from the part used when a verb is learned.

Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells, psychologist from the University of Barcelona, along with Anna Mestres-Misse, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, and Thomas Munte from the Otto-von-Guericke University in Germany, have just confirmed neural differences in the map of the brain when a person learns new nouns and verbs.

The team knew that many patients with brain damage exhibit dissociation in processing these words, and that children learn nouns before verbs.

Based on these ideas, researchers devised an experiment to confirm whether these differences could be seen in the brain. They set people a test to learn new nouns and verbs, and recorded their neural reactions using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Participants had to learn 80 new nouns and 80 new verbs. By doing this, the brain imaging showed that new nouns and new verbs activated different parts of the brain.

Researchers: Childhood Abuse, Emotional Neglect May Cause Brain Structure Changes Read more:

Dublin, Ireland (AHN) - Researchers using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have found that childhood stress such as abuse or emotional neglect, specifically when combined with genetic factors, can result in structural brain changes. Researchers say these changes can make people more susceptible to developing depression.
Scientists from Trinity College Dublin who conducted the study say that early intervention in the case of major depression is necessary to increase the chance of a good disease outcome.
Medical professionals say depression can be treated very well by psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. Additionally, prevention strategies for childhood neglect and misuse are highly important to increase public health and to avoid in later life for these individuals, the burden of major depression.
The world health organization (WHO) found that major depression is one of the most important human diseases with a prevalence of about 10% worldwide. The organization also predicts that major depression will be the second most common cause of disability by 2020.
The study in its entirety can be read in the latest issue of the scientific journal, Neuropsychopharmacology.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Childhood Stress Can Result In Structural Brain Changes

New research shows childhood stress such as abuse or emotional neglect can result in structural brain changes
New research using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) shows that childhood stress such as abuse or emotional neglect, in particular when combined with genetic factors, can result in structural brain changes, rendering these people more vulnerable to developing depression. The study led by scientists at Trinity College Dublin has just been published in the international scientific journal, Neuropsychopharmacology.
Commenting on the significance of the findings, Trinity's Professor Thomas Frodl at the School of Medicine and Trinity Institute for Neuroscience said: "This improved neurobiological understanding shows how stress and genetic variants interact and affect brain structure and function. In turn it demonstrates how it could affect a person's propensity for depression. These structural alterations of the brain are associated with a higher vulnerability to depression and a more chronic course of the depression might be associated with further structural changes".

"Therefore, early intervention in the case of major depression is necessary to increase the chance of a good disease outcome. Fortunately, depression can be treated very well by psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. Moreover, prevention strategies for childhood neglect and misuse are highly important to increase public health and to avoid in later life for these individuals, the burden of major depression."
The world health organization (WHO) found that major depression is one of the most important human diseases with a prevalence of about 10% worldwide. Approximately 500,000 people in Ireland have or will develop major depression in their life. The WHO has forecast that major depression will be the second most common cause of disability by 2020. Advances in this area will have a high impact on overall disease costs.

The study was conducted on a total of 24 patients (aged 18-65 years) being treated as inpatients for major depression. They were investigated with high-resolution structural MRI and childhood stress assessments. Special analysis programs were used to measure brain regions. These patients were compared with 27 healthy control subjects from the local community who were matched for age and gender. Further research is needed in a larger number of patients and controls to identify the underlying causes of depression and stress-gene interaction on brains structure as well as function. 

Grape juice may help memory, Welch's study says

New research funded by Welch Food Inc. suggests that drinking Concord grape juice may "support healthy brain function" in people 65 and over.
"Data from the double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot investigation led by Dr. Robert Krikorian, (department of psychiatry, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine) suggested that drinking Concord grape juice was beneficial with respect to meNew Picture (1).jpgmory function," Welch said in a press release.
Headquartered in Concord, Welch's is the processing and marketing subsidiary of the National Grape Cooperative and markets products such as 100-percent Concord grape juice under the Welch's brand name. The cooperative is owned by more than 1,200 family farmers.
Welch's has long helped finance studies that examine the impact of Concord grape consumption on cardiovascular health, but this is the first Welch's study that has looked at brain function and memory decline, said Casey Lewis, Welch's health and nutrition manager.
"What is good for the heart may also be good for the mind," Lewis said.
The working hypothesis that can be drawn from Krikorian's study is that the plant nutrients  unique to the Concord grape are what are providing the health benefits, Lewis said.
In a statement, Krikorian said: "Our preliminary findings suggest that supplementing the diet with Concord grape juice may provide benefit for older adults with early memory changes. While further study is warranted to assess the potential of Concord grape juice to forestall progression of age-related memory decline, these results are very encouraging."
The photo with this post was provided by Welch's.

Proton beam therapy shows encouraging long-term outcome for patients with locally advanced sinonasal cancers

Proton beam radiation therapy shows encouraging results for patients with locally advanced sinonasal malignancies, according to a study presented at the Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Symposium, sponsored by AHNS, ASCO, ASTRO and SNM.

Sinonasal cancers are very rare but aggressive types of cancer. Patients usually present with advanced stage with tumors involving normal structures in the skull base such as eyes, optic nerves, brain. Between 1991 and 2003, 99 patients with newly diagnosed sinonasal cancers were treated with proton beam therapy at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Sixty-seven percent of the patients had some type of surgery prior to their radiation. The median total dose to the primary tumor was 70 Gray. After a median follow-up of 8.5 years, the local control rates at five and eight years were 87 percent and 83 percent, respectively, and there was no statistically significant difference in local control per histological subtype, T stage, and surgery vs. biopsy.
"Due to the anatomical location of sinonasal cancers, conventional radiation therapy results in very poor local control and is associated with significant treatment-related toxicity," Annie Chan, M.D., a radiation oncologist and the principal investigator of the study at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, said. "Proton beam radiation therapy, with its superior dose distribution, allows the delivery of higher doses of radiation to the tumor while sparing more or the healthy surrounding tissues. This study showed very encouraging results for these patients and now prospective multi-institutional studies are being planned to further study the use of proton therapy in the treatment of this rare but aggressive malignancy."
The abstract, "Long-term Outcome of Proton Beam Therapy for Advanced Sinonasal Malignacies," will be presented in the plenary session on Thursday, February 25, 2010. To speak with one of the study authors, contact Beth Bukata or Nicole Napoli on February 25-26, 2010, in the press room at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa at 520-796-8228. You may also e-mail them at or
About the American Head and Neck Society
The American Head and Neck Society (AHNS) is the single largest organization in North America for the advancement of research and education in head and neck oncology. The purpose of the AHNS is to promote and advance the knowledge of prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of neoplasms and other diseases of the head and neck; to promote and advance research in diseases of the head and neck; and to promote and advance the highest professional and ethical standards.
About the American Society of Clinical Oncology
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is the world's leading professional organization representing physicians who care for people with cancer. With more than 28,000 members, ASCO is committed to improving cancer care through scientific meetings, educational programs and peer-reviewed journals. For ASCO information and resources, visit Patient-oriented cancer information is available at www.Cancer.Net.
About the American Society for Radiation Oncology
The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) is the largest radiation oncology society in the world, with more than 10,000 members who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. As the leading organization in radiation oncology, biology and physics, the Society is dedicated to improving patient care through education, clinical practice, advancement of science and advocacy. For more information on radiation therapy, visit To learn more about ASTRO, visit
About SNM
Advancing Molecular Imaging and Therapy SNM is an international scientific and medical organization dedicated to raising public awareness about what molecular imaging is and how it can help provide patients with the best health care possible. SNM members specialize in molecular imaging, a vital element of today's medical practice that adds an additional dimension to diagnosis, changing the way common and devastating diseases are understood and treated.

Nanotechnology may tap into your mind

Abstract image of neurons
Advances in nanotecnology could result in sensor that can read and write information directly into the brain 

Telecommunications researchers in Japan are attempting to create electronic sensors that can not only receive information from the brain, but could manipulate our neural pathways.
While the concept might conjure science-fiction images of half-human, half-machine cyborgs, Dr Keiichi Torimitsu of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), says the research is more likely to provide relief for people with Parkinson's disease or overcoming stroke.
Torimitsu presented his team's work on the development of bionic, or bio-mimetic, brain sensors at this week's International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICONN) in Sydney.
"Establishing connections between the brain and electrical instruments is important for understanding how the brain works and for controlling neural activity," says Torimitsu, who heads NTT's Molecular and Bioscience Group.
"To develop some kind of devices or interfaces with the brain that would make it possible to transmit our information, sending it through the telecommunication pathways to another person or device such as a computer - that is the goal."
A neural interface would be a significant achievement in the rapidly advancing realm of bionic technology, which includes devices such as the cochlear ear implant.


Torimitsu is working on creating a nano-scaled implant comprising a nano-electrode coated with an artificial membrane that mimics the receptor proteins found on the surface of brain cells, such as glutamate and GABA receptors -involved in increasing and inhibiting brain activity.
Interactions between the receptors and neurotransmitters naturally generate electrical activity. Carefully placed nano-electrodes receive the neurotransmissions providing an instant, accurate electrical reflection of what is occurring, which can be read by an external device.
Torimitsu hopes it would not only monitor activity, but also interact in the connections between neurons known as the synapses.
Ideally, he says, the device would use a biological energy source such as glucose.
"If we could use those proteins on a nano-electrode to generate electrical responses, we could achieve the bio-mimicry of responses."
Torimitsu admits there are a number of hurdles to overcome such as adverse immune responses and possible faults with the machinery. He says at this stage it's unlikely that healthy people would volunteer to have the devices implanted.
But, Torimitsu says it has great medical potential for stroke sufferers and people with Parkinson's disease where brain activity could be controlled.

Australian connections

The Japanese team is working with several researchers in Australia to refine the concept and devise applications for the technology.
Torimitsu has been working with Dr Simon Koblar of the University of Adelaide's Centre for Molecular Genetics of Development, looking at how to apply the technology for the treatment of stroke sufferers.
He is also about to commence working with the University of Wollongong's Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, which works at the forefront of bionics.
Director of the Institute, Professor Gordon Wallace, says one of the goals is to improve the interface with cochlear implant.
He says Torimitsu's work - a meeting of telecommunications technology and biological knowledge - shows why it makes it a very exciting time to be doing such research.
"People are starting to realise all around the world that there are lots of tools that we can use that we already have at our disposal to make this field progress very quickly," says Wallace.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

MS Drug Continues to Cause Disastrous Side Effects

In the latest blow to the controversial multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered a new label be put on the drug, warning that the risk of developing progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a rare but deadly brain infection, increases as more Tysabri infusions are received.
Natalizumab (Tysabri) first received FDA approval in November 2004, only to be pulled from the market three months later after several patients in clinical trials developed PML.
In June 2006, the FDA allowed the drug back on the market, but with strict conditions. According to those revised guidelines, Tysabri can only be administered by approved doctors at sites that register and comply with a patient-safety program.
The new action was based on reports of 31 confirmed cases of PML as of January 21, 2010.
 Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, degenerative disease of the nerves in your brain and spinal column, caused through a demyelization process. Myelin is the insulating, waxy substance around the nerves in your central nervous system, and when the myelin is damaged by an autoimmune disease or self-destructive process in your body, then the function of those nerves deteriorate over time, resulting in a number of symptoms, including:
 Muscle weakness 
Imbalance or loss of coordination
 If you choose the conventional approach to healing, you should know that neurologists (the specialists who typically monitor these types of diseases) routinely prescribe a variety of very toxic and dangerous medications to their MS patients -- medications that in no way, shape or form address the underlying cause of the disease.
Further, as in the case of Tysabri, the treatment could actually kill you.
Why is Tysabri Even Back on the Market?  Tysabri first hit the market in November 2004 under an accelerated program the FDA reserves for drugs it believes will have “extraordinary benefits” to patients. It was touted as the “miracle” drug for MS because the results from the first year of clinical trials showed that MS patients who took Tysabri for one year had a 66 percent reduction in relapses compared to those who took a placebo.
But this wonder drug, which was slated to bring in $2 billion in annual sales within its first few years after release, turned out to have a very dark side.
Tysabri is a type of drug known as a monoclonal antibody, meaning it is derived from a mouse antibody that has been genetically engineered to mirror a human antibody (antibodies are proteins that help your body fight infection).
It is given every four weeks by infusion directly into a vein, where the antibodies bind to immune system cells, inhibiting them from crossing over from the bloodstream to the brain.
Tysabri blocks this movement by attaching to alpha 4-integrin, a protein on the surface of immune T cells that normally enables them to pass through the blood-brain barrier.
However, if destructive immune system cells break free of the bloodstream, they can reach your brain, gastrointestinal tract and joints and cause severe damage.
Trading MS for a Deadly Brain Infection  Sure enough, three months after Tysabri first hit the market it was pulled because one in 1,000 people who took it during clinical trials developed progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a rare brain infection that results in death or severe disablement.
Dr. Lawrence Steinman, a Stanford University professor and an MS specialist who has developed MS drugs himself, said he repeatedly warned the FDA of the potential for serious immune-system side effects with Tysabri and drugs like it prior to approval.
Nonetheless, in June 2006 the FDA made yet another counterintuitive decision -- the type that make absolutely no logical sense, and for which the FDA is becoming increasingly known for.
They voted that Tysabri be returned to the market.
Now, nearly four years later, the FDA has added a new label warning to Tysabri, warning health care professionals and patients that the risks of PML increase as more infusions are received. The drug may also cause liver damage.
If you have MS, it is my strong recommendation to not accept these drugs, or the other commonly prescribed MS drugs like prednisone or interferon, as they can seriously harm your health.
You Can Treat MS Naturally More often than not, some form of hidden emotional wound can be found in patients suffering with autoimmune diseases like MS. Typically, this wounding occurred at a very young age, almost always before the age of 7, and typically before the age of 5.
Frequently, these emotional injuries result in physical damage decades later, and we’ve found that without effective intervention to address these underlying emotional injuries, you may not be able to get significantly better.
Strategies like meditation, prayer, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Meridian Tapping Techniques (MTT) are particularly effective and need to be part of your overall treatment strategy in order to truly address the root of your illness.
Along with addressing the emotional component, you will want to work with a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner who can help you to: 

Optimize your vitamin D levels In the near future I believe it could be considered malpractice not to carefully monitor the vitamin D level of patients’ with autoimmune disease, as the evidence is so profoundly compelling of how useful it is in these conditions.
As with virtually all other autoimmune diseases, optimizing your vitamin D levels is an essential step. Ideally, your level should be somewhere between 70-90 ng/ml, which you can find out through a simple blood test. I recommend using LabCorp for this if you’re in the United States.
Ideally you’ll want to raise (and maintain) your vitamin D levels by regularly exposing large amounts of your skin to sunshine, or by using a safe tanning bed.
If for any reason neither is available to you, you can use an oral supplement of vitamin D3. Doses for an oral supplement could be as high as 10,000 IU’s a day depending on your current level, so it’s very important to monitor your levels regularly. 

Optimize your essential fat intake You need to make sure you’re getting a good supply of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats such as krill oil.
Part of optimizing your essential fats also includes avoiding damaged, processed fats found in most all processed foods. Especially damaging are the refined omega-6 fats found in soy-, canola-, and corn oil. These are usually highly oxidized and also contain trans fats and cyclic fats that embed themselves into your cell membranes, distorting the cellular functions. 

Eliminate sugar Another crucial element is to eliminate as much sugar as possible from your diet. Cutting out processed foods will go a long way to reduce excess sugar, in addition to eliminating the majority of damaging fats in your diet. 

Eat raw food This is an important principle for optimal health that I normally recommend for everyone. However, I’ve found that for people with severe autoimmune disease, it’s even more important. Some of the most dramatic improvements we’ve seen in patients using nutritional changes have come about as the result of eating their food raw instead of cooked. That includes eggs and high-quality, organic meats as well. 

Eat the right foods for your Nutritional Type With Nutritional Typing and some of the emotional work it is very unusual when a person with MS does not improve. Without out a doubt Nutritional Typing has been the most profound nutritional intervention I have ever seen.
Two Final Strategies to Try The above recommendations are the crux of our MS treatment program, and apply to virtually everyone struggling with this disease. If you suffer from MS and apply these strategies, I am confident you will notice a dramatic improvement.
However, there are a few other newer treatments that are worth looking into as well, especially low-dose Naltrexone (LDN), along with alpha lipoic acid.  

Low-Dose Naltrexone  Naltrexone (generic name) is a pharmacologically active opioid antagonist, conventionally used to treat drug- and alcohol addiction -- normally at doses of 50mg to 300mg. As such, it’s been an FDA-approved drug for over two decades.
However, researchers have found that at very low dosages (3 to 4.5 mg), naltrexone has immunomodulating properties that may be able to successfully treat cancer malignancies and a wide range of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, and Crohn’s disease, just to name a few.
Dr. Bert Berkson is an expert on this regimen. For more information about his findings and successes using this combination, please review this previous article. 

Mercury Detox Mercury is clearly a neurotoxic poison that should be avoided, so avoiding eating fish and refusing or removing mercury dental amalgams are also important aspects. Many still do not realize that the majority of a “silver” filling is in fact mercury, and despite its obvious risks mercury fillings are still used in the field of dentistry.
We are making strong efforts to have mercury eliminated from dental practices in the U.S. and will hopefully succeed in that mission within the next few years. Until then, however, it’s up to you to choose a dentist that has the good sense not to use it.
Additionally, there are now a few new supplements to help eliminate mercury from your system. One in particular that appears to be very effective, developed by Dr. Boyd Haley, is called Oxidative Stress Reliever, or OSR for short.
So I strongly recommend that you hold off on taking any toxic drugs to treat MS, as these drug treatments can leave you with conditions that are worse than those you started with. You are far better off overcoming MS using lifestyle changes that will help to nourish and heal your body from the inside out

Single, unhappily married men have a higher stroke risk

If you are single or not happy with your marriage, you may have a higher chance of having a fatal stroke and dying of the condition.

"We tend to underestimate how dysfunctional relationships can cause such incredible stress," said M. Gary Neuman, marriage counselor, rabbi and author of New York Times best-seller "The Truth About Cheating." "It takes a toll on the human body."
Stroke is a rapid loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain, caused by blocked or burst blood vessel.
Symptoms of a stroke are sudden and happen quickly. They include weakness, numbness, blurred vision, confusion, slurred speech, and a sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
10059 men studied
Findings of the study are based on the data of 10,059 Israeli government workers who participated in the Israeli Ischemic Heart Disease Study in 1963.
The researchers tracked the national registry and other records of the participants for 34 years till 1997.
For the study, factors like the age, socioeconomic status, and known stroke risk factors such as obesity, blood pressure, and smoking were also taken into account.
The statistical analysis also took into account whether the men had diabetes and heart disease at the beginning of the study.
Outcome of the study
On analysis, the researchers found that 8.1 percent of the single men died of stoke during the study period compared to 7.1 percent of the married men.
When age and stroke risk factors were taken into account, single men had a 64 percent elevated risk of having a fatal stroke compared to the married men.
Those who reported displeasure with their marriage (3.6 percent) also had 64 percent higher chances of having a fatal stroke compared to married men who were comparatively happy with their marriage.
More research required
Regardless of the findings, the researchers have outlined the need for more research as the present study lacked data as to whether the participants' marital status changed over the years or not.
Also, more research is needed to ascertain what is it about singlehood or a stressed marriage that aggravates stroke risk.
The study was presented at the American Stroke Association's (ASA) International Stroke Conference 2010.

Caltech scientists find first physiological evidence of brain's response to inequality

The human brain is a big believer in equality - and a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, has become the first to gather the images to prove it.
Specifically, the team found that the reward centres in the human brain respond more strongly when a poor person receives a financial reward than when a rich person does. The surprising thing? This activity pattern holds true even if the brain being looked at is in the rich person's head, rather than the poor person's.
These conclusions, and the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that led to them, are described in the February 25 issue of the journal Nature.
'This is the latest picture in our gallery of human nature,' says Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioural Economics at Caltech and one of the paper's coauthors. 'It's an exciting area of research; we now have so many tools with which to study how the brain is reacting.'
It's long been known that we humans don't like inequality, especially when it comes to money. Tell two people working the same job that their salaries are different, and there's going to be trouble, notes John O'Doherty, professor of psychology at Caltech, Thomas N. Mitchell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, and the principal investigator on the Nature paper.
But what was unknown was just how hardwired that dislike really is. 'In this study, we're starting to get an idea of where this inequality aversion comes from,' he says. 'It's not just the application of a social rule or convention; there's really something about the basic processing of rewards in the brain that reflects these considerations.'
The brain processes 'rewards' - things like food, money, and even pleasant music, which create positive responses in the body - in areas such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and ventral striatum.
In a series of experiments, former Caltech postdoctoral scholar Elizabeth Tricomi (now an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University) - along with O'Doherty, Camerer, and Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at Caltech - watched how the VMPFC and ventral striatum reacted in 40 volunteers who were presented with a series of potential money-transfer scenarios while lying in an fMRI machine.
For instance, a participant might be told that he could be given $50 while another person could be given $20; in a second scenario, the student might have a potential gain of only $5 and the other person, $50. The fMRI images allowed the researchers to see how each volunteer's brain responded to each proposed money allocation.
But there was a twist. Before the imaging began, each participant in a pair was randomly assigned to one of two conditions: One participant was given what the researchers called 'a large monetary endowment' ($50) at the beginning of the experiment; the other participant started from scratch, with no money in his or her pocket.
As it turned out, the way the volunteers - or, to be more precise, the reward centres in the volunteers' brains - reacted to the various scenarios depended strongly upon whether they started the experiment with a financial advantage over their peers.
'People who started out poor had a stronger brain reaction to things that gave them money, and essentially no reaction to money going to another person,' Camerer says. 'By itself, that wasn't too surprising.'
What was surprising was the other side of the coin. 'In the experiment, people who started out rich had a stronger reaction to other people getting money than to themselves getting money,' Camerer explains. 'In other words, their brains liked it when others got money more than they liked it when they themselves got money.'
'We now know that these areas are not just self-interested,' adds O'Doherty. 'They don't exclusively respond to the rewards that one gets as an individual, but also respond to the prospect of other individuals obtaining a reward.'
What was especially interesting about the finding, he says, is that the brain responds 'very differently to rewards obtained by others under conditions of disadvantageous inequality versus advantageous inequality. It shows that the basic reward structures in the human brain are sensitive to even subtle differences in social context.'
This, O'Doherty notes, is somewhat contrary to the prevailing views about human nature. 'As a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist who works on reward and motivation, I very much view the brain as a device designed to maximise one's own self interest,' says O'Doherty. 'The fact that these basic brain structures appear to be so readily modulated in response to rewards obtained by others highlights the idea that even the basic reward structures in the human brain are not purely self-oriented.'
Camerer, too, found the results thought provoking. 'We economists have a widespread view that most people are basically self-interested, and won't try to help other people,' he says. 'But if that were true, you wouldn't see these sort of reactions to other people getting money.'
Still, he says, it's likely that the reactions of the 'rich' participants were at least partly motivated by self-interest - or a reduction of their own discomfort. 'We think that, for the people who start out rich, seeing another person get money reduces their guilt over having more than the others.'
Having watched the brain react to inequality, O'Doherty says, the next step is to 'try to understand how these changes in valuation actually translate into changes in behaviour. For example, the person who finds out they're being paid less than someone else for doing the same job might end up working less hard and being less motivated as a consequence. It will be interesting to try to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie such changes

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Brain Injury Is Changeable?

Brain injury has many causes and comes in all levels of severity.  It can occur during the 9 months of pregnancy from genetics, alcohol or drug use (over-the-counter, RX or street).  It can occur shortly before, during or slightly after birth (the most likely time for it to occur).  It can also occur anytime after birth from illness, high fever, accident, trauma or abuse/neglect.  However, regardless of the cause, the severity or when it occurred, all brain injury has one thing in common… brain injury prevents you from reaching your potential.  A brain injury does not lower or take away your potential; it just prevents you from accessing, demonstrating or using the full potential you have.
Since brain injury does not interfere with ones true potential there is every reason we should do as much as possible to help overcome the problems that are caused from the brain injury.  The potential is there, you just don’t have access to it.  You know you can move your arm, say a word, or perform a function; but, due to a brain injury your body won’t cooperate… the potential is there just not the ability.
Even though potential can not be properly measured, when someone suffers from a brain injury their potential is always significantly higher than they are able to show or communicate.  CAN LEARN is proud of the results achieved by the courageous children and their families we work with.
CAN LEARN programs achieves results by providing individualize home programs that are administered by family members.  After evaluations, the family is empowered and enabled to actually work in their own home successfully. For those families that can provide what is needed, our programs offer exciting results regardless of age or degree of disability. In fact, the programs used at the CAN LEARN often get good results even when other programs fail. 
How does it work?
Our programs work on the “root” cause of the problem, not the symptoms.  The human brain is responsible for virtually every thing we do.  Every movement we make, every word we say, every thought, reaction, response and expression.  The list of functions of the brain is infinite.  However, we can place all those millions of functions into three categories.  Our brain must receive information from its environment, process it (filter, prioritize, interpret and categorize) and do something with the information.  The brain develops in an orderly, sequential manner; one level building upon the next.  If the foundation is shaky or dysorganized so will the upper levels. The only way our brain receives information is through our 6 senses (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, touch and balance).  Here is where problems begin.  If information isn’t received properly by one (or more) senses the brain is unable to process it properly which affects how well it is able to use or store information.  Function is a mirror….
If the brain received information well it will process well and store (learn and recall) information in highly skilled, organized and consistent ways.  It puts out information such as walking, talking, writing or riding a bike by a complex series of commands that must occur at the right time and in the right order.  Brain injured individuals aren’t receiving proper information therefore unable to process or store the information well.
CAN LEARN provides specialized exercises and activities that are designed to help the brain perform better in these three areas.  Sensory systems are stimulated and trained to work in better and healthier way.  The consistency of our stimulation program’s help the brain process in a more organized and consistent ways.  As the brain’s dysorganization is eliminated performance is increased and enhanced by building onto existing skills in a developmental way and by strengthening fundamental skills. By increasing the efficiency of the brain's functional ability there is less need for the brain to demonstrate symptoms. Therefore, virtually all symptoms of brain injury can be helped.

Female sex hormone involved in pregnancy can fix brain damage

A break through research indicates that Progesterone, a female sex hormone involved in pregnancy can fix brain damage in human beings. A large scale clinical trial ProTECT III in this regard involving over 1000 patients, over the next three to six years in 17 trauma centers across US would be commenced in March. This was announced at the annual meeting of the American association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) , San Diego

The trial would be led by Dr David Wright, associate professor of emergency medicine at Emory University in Atlanta. Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital will serve as lead center .The study is being funded by The National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  "This could transform the way we care for head injury patients. It could be a dramatic improvement. There has been no treatment in 30 years … and now we're on the brink of having something.” Wright said in a statement.

Previous studies had predicted that Progesterone, a C-21 hormone involved in female menstrual cycle and pregnancy can bring the mortality rate as a result of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)  to half. This finding is a part of the earlier 3 year trial, ProTECT I (Progesterone for Traumatic brain injury - Experimental Clinical Treatment conducted on 100 patients.

TBI occurs when the brain is traumatically injured by an outside force as a result of vehicle crashes, violence, assaults etc.The severity of TBI may range from “ mild” ( temporary unconsciousness ) to sever ( extended unconsciousness or Amnesia).

TBI is a major cause of death and disability worldwide. As per statistics provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Of the 1.4 million who suffer from TBI each year , 50000 patients die while 235,000 are hospitalized and 1.1 million are treated and released from an emergency department.

As a part of ProTECT III, TBI patients in addition to the standard treatment would be administered either a placebo or Progesterone for a period of 4 days. Nina Gentile, a professor of emergency medicine at the School of Medicine head of the study’s regional efforts declared, “If this study proves that using progesterone in traumatic brain injury cases works, this would be the most promising breakthrough in improving outcomes for traumatic brain injury patients. It is awesome to me that it is the naturally produced hormone progesterone that might rescue brain cells.”

Singing 'rewires' damaged brain

Mouth (file image)
Singing words made it easier for stroke patients to communicate
Teaching stroke patients to sing "rewires" their brains, helping them recover their speech, say scientists.
By singing, patients use a different area of the brain from the area involved in speech.
If a person's "speech centre" is damaged by a stroke, they can learn to use their "singing centre" instead.
Researchers presented these findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego.
An ongoing clinical trial, they said, has shown how the brain responds to this "melodic intonation therapy".
Gottfried Schlaug, a neurology professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston, US, led the trial.
The therapy is already established as a medical technique. Researchers first used it when it was discovered that stroke patients with brain damage that left them unable to speak were still able to sing.
Professor Schlaug explained that his was the first study to combine this therapy with brain imaging - "to show what is actually going on in the brain" as patients learn to sing their words.
Making connections
Most of the connections between brain areas that control movement and those that control hearing are on the left side of the brain.
"But there's a sort of corresponding hole on the right side," said Professor Schlaug.

Music engages huge swathes of the brain - it's not just lighting up a spot in the auditory cortex

Dr Aniruddh Patel, neuroscientist

"For some reason, it's not as endowed with these connections, so the left side is used much more in speech.
"If you damage the left side, the right side has trouble [fulfilling that role]."
But as patients learn to put their words to melodies, the crucial connections form on the right side of their brains.
Previous brain imaging studies have shown that this "singing centre" is overdeveloped in the brains of professional singers.
During the therapy sessions, patients are taught to put their words to simple melodies.
Professor Schlaug said that after a single session, a stroke patients who was are not able to form any intelligible words learned to say the phrase "I am thirsty" by combining each syllable with the note of a melody.
The patients are also encouraged to tap out each syllable with their hands. Professor Schlaug said that this seemed to act as an "internal pace-maker" which made the therapy even more effective.
"Music might be an alternative medium to engage parts of the brain that are otherwise not engaged," he said.
Brain sounds
Dr Aniruddh Patel from the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, said the study was an example of the "explosion in research into music and the brain" over the last decade.
"People sometimes ask where in the brain music is processed and the answer is everywhere above the neck," said Dr Patel.
"Music engages huge swathes of the brain - it's not just lighting up a spot in the auditory cortex."
Dr Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist from Northwestern University in Chicago, also studies the effects of music on the brain.
In her research, she records the brain's response to music using electrodes on the scalp.
This work has enabled her to "play back" electrical activity from brain cells as they pick up sounds.
"Neurons work with electricity - so if you record the electricity from the brain you can play that back through speakers and hear how the brain deals with sounds," she explained.
Dr Kraus has also discovered that musical training seems to enhance the ability to perform other tasks, such as reading.
She said that the insights into how the brain responds to music provided evidence that musical training was an important part of children's education.

Singing helps stroke victims regain speech

SAN DIEGO, California — US scientists have restored speech to stroke victims by getting them to sing words instead of speaking them, a leading neurologist said.
Gottfried Schlaug, an associate professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, showed a video of a patient with a stroke lesion on the left side of the brain who was asked to recite the words of a birthday song.
The patient could not comply, and merely repeated the letters N and O.
But when Schlaug asked him to sing the song while someone held the patient's left hand and tapped it rhythmically, the words "happy birthday to you" came out clear as day.
"This patient has meaningless utterances when we ask him to say the words but as soon as we asked him to sing, he was able to speak the words," Schlaug told reporters at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Another patient was taught to say, "I am thirsty" by singing, while another who suffered a large lesion on the left side of the brain and had tried various, ultimately unsuccessful therapies for several years to try to regain the power of speech was taught to say his address.
Images of the brains of patients with stroke lesions on the left side of the brain -- which is typically used more for speech -- show "functional and structural changes" on the right side of the brain after they have undergone this form of therapy through song, called Music Intonation Therapy (MIT).
Although medical literature has documented the phenomenon of people who are unable to speak being able to utter words when singing, Schlaug was the first to run a randomized clinical trial of MIT, with a view to gaining acceptance of the therapy in the medical field.
"You don't need to be a trained singer to do this. We want to teach caregivers to do MIT because the treatment is very long and expensive," said Schlaug.
MIT treatment can last for 14-16 years, and involves sessions of an hour and a half a day, five days a week.
But the benefits of the therapy are usually permanent, and two thirds of patients who have undergone MIT with Schlaug added more words to their spoken vocabulary after their therapy had ended than the 100 words they were "taught" to say in therapy.
Exactly how MIT works is not clear, but another study presented at the AAAS meeting by Aniruddh Patel of the Neurosciences Institute showed that grammatical processing of language and music overlaps in the brain.
Schlaug said music helps parts of the brain that usually do not engage with each other when a person speaks, to do so.
"Music-making is a multisensory experience that simultaneously activates several systems in the brain and links and loops them together. It engages many regions of the brain," he said.
Tapping the patient's hand gently on the table "might serve as a pacemaker for the motor articulatory system in the brain," said Schlaug.
"Combining motor activity with sound might facilitate speech."
In the United States, MIT could potentially help up to 70,000 nonverbal stroke victims to retrieve the ability to speak, according to the neurologist.

Sex Hormone Now In Phase III Trials As Treatment For Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), generally results from a severe blow to the head, brought on by hitting, being hit, or falling on one's head.  Many soldiers, particularly in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, are victims of TBI, as a result of being struck by projectiles in battle.  When such a blow occurs, the brain is literally rattled for a time by the force of the impact. 

Traumatic Head Injuries: USA Today via The Utah VeteranTraumatic Head Injuries: USA Today via The Utah Veteran

Short-term, the disruption can affect thinking, language, learning, vision, hearing, motor skills, emotions, and can even bring on additional disorders of the brain, such as epilepsy. But these disturbances may become long-term and even worsen, if the patient is not treated immediately.
Several drugs are currently used to minimize the impact of TBI; the precise one(s) prescribed often depend on the symptoms expressed.  But 25 years of research on a biologically available hormone, progesterone, is finally in Phase III trials, having shown promise for early-identified and early-treated TBI patients, regardless of the specific symptoms.
Progesterone, often called the "pregnancy hormone," plays a big role in menstruation, pregnancy, and the development of the fetus right through birth.  But progesterone has other roles as well, including nurturing of the brain. 
It was Emory University's Dr. Asa G. Candler, Professor of Emergency Medicine and Donald G. Stein, PhD, who first discovered the neuro-protective role of progesterone 25 years ago.  Dr. David Wright, Associate Professor of  Emergency Medicine, is also at Emory, and he and his team have continued research on progesterone, infusing it into the brains of TBI animal models and in a small sample of human TBI subjects.
In the latter study (ProTECT I) researchers found evidence that the form of progesterone injected was a safe and effective treatment for patients with TBI.  It reduced patient mortality by 50 percent and reduced disabilities and functional outcomes for patients with moderate brain injury, something no other drug had done before.
Phase III, aka ProTECT III, will begin in March, 2010 at 17 medical centers across the country.   Phase III clinical trials will be a randomized, double-blind study, involving approximately 1,140 patients over a three-to-six year period using the hormone progesterone to treat TBI.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding the grant, which was awarded to Emory University.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Exercise Helps Protect Brain Of Multiple Sclerosis Patients fit multiple sclerosis patients perform significantly better on tests of cognitive function than similar less-fit patients, a new study shows.
In addition, MRI scans of the patients showed that the fitter MS patients showed less damage in parts of the brain that show deterioration as a result of MS, as well as a greater volume of vital gray matter.
“We found that aerobic fitness has a protective effect on parts of the brain that are most affected by multiple sclerosis,” said Ruchika Shaurya Prakash, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
“As a result, these fitter patients actually show better performance on tasks that measure processing speed.”
The study, done with colleagues Robert Motl and Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois and Erin Snook of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, appears online in the journal Brain Research and will be published in a future print edition.
The study involved 21 women diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS.  They were compared with 15 age- and education-matched healthy female controls. The study assessed fitness, cognitive function, and structural changes in all participants.
In order to measure fitness levels, the participants underwent a VO2 max test, in which they rode a stationary bicycle until they felt exhausted.  During the test, they breathed into a mask which measured their oxygen consumption.
All the women also took a variety of tests designed to evaluate cognitive functions, such as processing speed and selective attention.  In one test, for example, participants had to write down in one minute as many words as they could think of that began with the letter “F.”  MS patients generally perform poorly on these tests compared to healthy people.

The third analysis involved MRIs of the participants, revealing any damage to their brains.
As expected, the MS patients did much worse than the healthy controls on the tests of brain functioning, and showed more deterioration in their brains as revealed through the MRIs.
But what was interesting, Prakash said, was the significant differences between the more aerobically fit MS patients and those who were less fit.
Take, for instance, lesions, which are the characteristic feature of MS.  Lesions are areas of inflammation in the central nervous system in which neurons have been stripped of myelin, an insulating protein.
“Physically fit MS patients had fewer lesions compared to those who weren’t as fit and the lesions they did have tended to be smaller,” Prakash said.  “This is significant and can help explain why the higher-fit patients did better on tests of brain functioning.”
Aerobic fitness was also associated with less-damaged brain tissue in MS patients, both the gray matter and white matter.
Gray matter is the cell bodies in the brain tissue, while white matter is the fibers that connect the various gray matter areas.
The study found that fitness in MS patients was associated with larger volume of gray matter, accounting for about 20 percent of the volume in gray matter.  That’s important, Prakash said, because gray matter is linked to brain processing skills.
“Even in gray matter that appeared relatively healthy, we found a deterioration in the volume in MS patients,” she said.  “But for some of the highest fit MS patients, we found that their gray matter volume was nearly equivalent to that of healthy controls.”
Another MRI analysis involved the integrity of the white matter in the brain.  In MS patients, the white matter deteriorates as the myelin is stripped from neurons.  Again, higher-fit MS patients showed less deterioration of white matter compared to those who were less fit.
Overall, the three MRI tests in this study showed that parts of the brain involved in processing speed are all negatively affected by MS – but less so in patients who are aerobically fit.
Prakash noted that other researchers have found that exercise promotes the production of nerve growth factors, proteins which are important for the growth and maintenance of neurons in the brain.
“Our hypothesis is that aerobic exercise enhances these nerve growth factors in MS patients, which increases the volume of the gray matter and increases the integrity of the white matter,” she said.
“As a result there is an improvement in cognitive function.”
Prakash and her colleagues plan to extend this research by studying whether exercise interventions with MS patients can actually improve their cognition and have positive physical effects on the brain.
“For a long time, MS patients were told not to exercise because there was a fear it could exacerbate their symptoms,” she said.
“But we’re finding that if MS patients exercise in a controlled setting, it can actually help them with their cognitive function.”
The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.