Sunday, June 27, 2010

Adding antioxidants to anti-malarial treatment may prevent learning impairment

Washington, June 26 (ANI): Scientists have discovered that adding antioxidant therapy to traditional anti-malarial treatment may prevent long-lasting cognitive impairment in cerebral malaria.
Recent studies of children with cerebral malaria indicate that cognitive deficits, which may impair memory, learning, language, and mathematical abilities, persist in many survivors even after the infection itself is cured.
“This complication may impose an enormous social and economic burden because of the number of people at risk for severe malaria worldwide,” says Guy A. Zimmerman professor and associate chair for research in the University of Utah School of Medicine”s Department of Internal Medicine.
Zimmerman and colleagues in Brazil found similarities in persistence of cognitive damage in mice with documented cerebral malaria after cure of the acute parasitic disease with chloroquine- an antimalarial therapy, and children who survived the infection.
The team found high oxidative stress in mice with cerebral malaria and also found that treating them with and two antioxidant agents, desferoxamine and N-acetylcysteine prevented both inflammatory and vascular changes in the tissues of the brain, as well as the development of persistent cognitive damage.
“Our findings are exciting because the clinical implications may not be limited to cerebral malaria,” says Zimmerman.
Antioxidant treatment could be vital in treating other types of severe infection and in chronic non-infectious conditions such as neurodegenerative diseases too, he added.

How The Brain Argues With Itself

Errol Morris continues his mediation on anosognosia:
Blue[V.S. Ramachandran] has used the notion of layered belief — the idea that some part of the brain can believe something and some other part of the brain can believe the opposite (or deny that belief) — to help explain anosognosia. In a 1996 paper...he speculated that the left and right hemispheres react differently when they are confronted with unexpected information. The left brain seeks to maintain continuity of belief, using denial, rationalization, confabulation and other tricks to keep one’s mental model of the world intact; the right brain, the “anomaly detector” or “devil’s advocate,” picks up on inconsistencies and challenges the left brain’s model in turn. When the right brain’s ability to detect anomalies and challenge the left is somehow damaged or lost (e.g., from a stroke), anosognosia results.
In Ramachandran’s account, then, we are treated to the spectacle of different parts of the brain — perhaps even different selves — arguing with one another.
We are overshadowed by a nimbus of ideas. There is our physical reality and then there is our conception of ourselves, our conception of self — one that is as powerful as, perhaps even more powerful than, the physical reality we inhabit. A version of self that can survive even the greatest bodily tragedies. We are creatures of our beliefs. This is at the heart of Ramachandran’s ideas about anosognosia — that the preservation of our fantasy selves demands that we often must deny our physical reality. Self-deception is not enough. Something stronger is needed. Confabulation triumphs over organic disease. The hemiplegiac’s anosognosia is a stark example, but we all engage in the same basic process. But what are we to make of this? Is the glass half-full or half-empty? For Dunning, anosognosia masks our incompetence; for Ramachandran, it makes existence palatable, perhaps even possible," - 

Brain research yields clues about differences between men, women

Alzheimer's disease and depression are more common in women, while Parkinson's and autism are more common in men. To brain scientists, that suggests there's a sex hormone component underlying those conditions.
That's why a group of female neuroscientists at the University of B.C. Brain Research Centre held a symposium Thursday, to share some of their research into the differences between the genders. Health Minister Kevin Falcon gave a short talk at the opening in which he half-joked that "it would be a positive thing" to learn more about the female mind. But after giving a brief speech about the government's commitment to health research, he had to leave because of other commitments.
Liisa Galea, a professor of psychology at UBC, said hormones play a powerful role during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Hormones, which crash to low levels after childbirth, are also responsible for contributing to postpartum depression, affecting up to 15 per cent of women. Even men can get postpartum depression, possibly linked to lower levels of male hormones.
Testosterone, the male hormone, is showing signs of being useful in treating depression. But for women the jury is still out on whether estrogen, particularly what type of estrogen, may be beneficial for treating depression and cognitive decline.
"There have been a number of studies showing that the type of mothering we receive can mould who we are," Galea said, noting that in studies she conducts in mice, nurturing licking behaviour appears to be passed on to the next generation of women.
Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an assistant professor in the department of physical therapy, said cognitive decline in aging is far from being an inevitability as her research proves that since the brain is so pliable, it responds to exercise just as muscles throughout the body respond.
Exercise promotes the growth of cells and blood vessels and protects the brain by controlling blood pressure. In one of her research studies, Liu-Ambrose showed that 65-to 75-year old women who did strength (circuit) training once or twice a week for a year performed better on decision-making tests and in executive functions such as financial tasks. Even one session of strength training a week showed not only a cognitive benefit but also improved physical well-being, she said.
"Resistance training promotes a sense of hope and empowerment that conspire to help women retain their cognitive capacity and autonomy," she said, adding that exercise may well become the prescription of the future for stalling age-related cognitive decline or even Alzheimer's disease.
Liu-Ambrose said one of the differences between men and women when it comes to exercise is that it would appear men have to work a little harder to derive the same cognitive benefits from fitness training.
Pam Arstikaitis, a PhD student, said generally speaking women use both sides of the brain while men predominantly use the left hemisphere to process information. Men have a greater number of cells in the brain but it doesn't cause any difference in intelligence, since women create more connections and use them more effectively.

Brain scans to predict future behaviour, find researchers

A new research proposes that scans of the brain can help neuroscientists in predicting what will be one's likely behaviour in future.

A new research proposes that scans of the brain can help neuroscientists in predicting what will be one's likely behaviour in future.

Being the first persuasion study in neuroscience that can predict behavior change scientifically, this is a breakthrough in the medical world, feel scientists.

A team of researchers headed by Emily Falk and Matthew Lieberman from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), which initiated the neuroscience study, has found a method to interpret images of the brain to predict the actual behavior that a person may resort to in the future.

“We are trying to figure out whether there is hidden wisdom that the brain contains,” reported Emily Falk.

Mathew Lieberman, a professor of psychology added, “There is a very long history within psychology of people not being very good judges of what they will actually do in a future situation. Many people ‘decide’ to do things, but then don’t do them.”

Details of the study
For the present study, the team of researchers recruited 20 participants, including 10 males and 10 females, who mostly belonged to the Institute.

The group was confined to people who did not apply sunscreen on a daily basis. Study subjects were shown and made to hear certain public service announcements pertaining to use of sunscreens.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) was used to scan the brains of the participants at UCLA's Ahmanson - Lovelace Brain Mapping Centre, by the researchers.

The scientists also questioned all the subjects about how they intended to use sunscreen in the coming week and what they felt about sunscreens. After a week, a follow-up was done on how many days during the week the subjects used sunscreen.

Brain's medial prefrontal cortex, associated with self-reflection, was focused on to arrive at the conclusions of the study.

“We ran a simulation of the 180,000 combinations, developed our model on the first 10 subjects on each of the 180,000 simulations, and tested it on the second 10,” said Falk.

She added, “We saw a very reliable relationship, where for the vast majority of the 180,000 ways to divide the group up, this one region of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex, does a very good job of predicting sunscreen use in the second group.”

Study relevance
According to the researchers, the study could benefit many public health organizations and the advertising sector.

Lieberman said, “For advertisers, there may be a lot more that is knowable than is known, and this is a data-driven method for knowing more about how to create persuasive messages.”

“To really understand the relationship between the brain's responses to brands and persuasive materials and desirable outcomes, you actually have to measure the outcomes that are desirable and not just say what should work,” he concluded.

The study has been detailed in the June 23 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Doctors should be healers first

Medical marvels employ new ways of looking inside your head.


Just as the invention of the flashlight was a quantum leap for doctors who wanted to look in your ear, the new scopes mean we don't have to wait for the autopsy to see what is percolating in your brain in real time.

These expensive gadgets - with challenging abbreviations such as MRI, PET, and CT - are a mixed blessing, though, because it makes it seem like getting well is just a matter of higher technology - which it isn't. What these brain scans can do, however, is measure changes in blood flow to the brain, or how oxygen and glucose are used in brain tissue.

Why would anybody, besides Dr. House's crack team, want to know this? Because research with these new tools demonstrate definitively how the doctors' psychological approach to patients is vitally important to the process of healing. Now we know, for instance, when the doctor conveys diagnostic and treatment information to you in a warm and caring fashion, parts of your brain are "lighting up" (on the scope) like a Christmas tree. Endorphins and other brain-produced chemicals are flowing to help you overcome fear and pain.

Contained in this "placebo effect" (one of my favorite subjects) floats a key element for helping sick people get better. What used to be the nuisance factor in medical research has now become the darling of healing modes of communication. Understanding the placebo effect sharpens our understanding of social and psychological factors for positively promoting the body's own brain chemistry.

Physicians, therapists and regular people who care for an ailing family member can learn from this. A mother's instinctive stroking the brow of her pain-stricken child turns out to be exactly the right soothing to turn on natural anti-pain and anti-fear reducing juices in the amygdala brain. In the same way, patients holding the hand of a loved one, experience real (not just psychological) comfort.

Should it be any surprise that loving concern, warmth and caring bring about measurable improvement both for psychological and physical conditions?

What I used to call "The Doc Woodford Effect" now has verifiability. Doc Woodford was the wise and caring family physician in a small town in upstate New York where I lived and worked for several years. He was professionally low tech, and for years he practiced general medicine without the benefit of the modern medical developments of the past half-century.

What he did have were long-term professional relationships with the layered generations of that town, who respected him and placed their confidence in him. I have always maintained that it was his positive attitude and positive regard for everyone, rather than the "sugar pills" he gave out, which improved people's condition. In retrospect, it was probably the combination of both that did the job.

It is that quality of professional practice that has been lost in much of today's time-limited visit to your physician. The average doctor has gradually become more of a technician than a healer. Is it the health insurance industry or too much reliance on "science" that steals from the essence of "The Doc Woodford Effect" on today's ill patients?

These potential good effects of having the time for communicating warmth and caring attention have seemed to move out of the MD's office and into the offices of psychotherapists.

Imaging shows how brain fails to inhibit phantom sounds of tinnitus

Tinnitus, a common auditory disorder wherein a person "hears" sounds that don't actually exist, could be treated if a healthy noise cancellation system is restored within the brain, suggests an American neuroscientist.
In a Perspective piece in the June 24 issue of Neuron, Josef P. Rauschecker, from the department of physiology and biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC), Washington, says tinnitus should be thought of as a disorder akin to the "phantom pain" felt in an amputated limb.
Tinnitus starts with damage to hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear. This damage forces neurons in the brain's auditory areas, which normally receive input from that part of the cochlea, to become overactive to fill in the missing sound, Rauschecker explained. That extra, unreal noise is normally inhibited - or tuned out - by a corrective feedback loop from the brain's limbic system to the thalamus, where all sensory information is regulated, before it reaches the cerebral cortex, where a person becomes conscious of the senses. But that doesn't happen in tinnitus patients due to compromised brain structures in the limbic system.
Rauschecker said: "Neurons, trying to compensate for loss of an external signal, fire to produce sound that doesn't exist in tinnitus patients, just like neurons send pain signals to someone who has lost a limb. What both people have in common is that they have lost the feedback loops that stop these signals from reaching consciousness."
According to Rauschecker, this conclusion, from his research and from other leaders in the field, provides the first testable model of human tinnitus that could provide some new avenues for therapy.
He said: "If we can find a way to turn that feedback system back on to eliminate phantom sound, it might be possible one day to take a pill and make tinnitus go away."
Given his innovative work in tinnitus, Rauschecker was invited to write the review, and he collaborated with co-authors Amber Leaver, a researcher in his laboratory, and Mark M|hlau, a neurologist from the Technische Universitdt in Munich, Germany. Tinnitus can be caused by damage to hair cells from a loud noise or from neurotoxicity from medications, Rauschecker said, but more often than not, it is associated with hearing loss in some frequencies that commonly occurs as people grow older.
Research into tinnitus has become much more sophisticated of late, and is changing the common understanding of the disorder, Rauschecker said.
He said: "It has long been thought, and still is believed by many today, that tinnitus is a problem only of damaged hair cells in the inner ear, and if those hair cells are restored, tinnitus goes away."
The latest research suggests that while tinnitus may initially arise from such peripheral damage, it becomes a problem in the brain's central auditory pathways, which reorganizes itself in response to that damage, Rauschecker said.
Recent animal models have corroborated this explanation Rauschecker said, but have not provided a conclusive answer to the location and nature of these central changes. That has led neuroscientists to employ a whole-brain imaging approach, utilizing neurophysiological and functional imaging studies, to visualize various regions of hyperactivity in the auditory pathways of tinnitus patients.
The model that Rauschecker and his co-authors now propose, is that receptors in the auditory region of the brain that do not any longer perceive sensory input from damaged hair cells compensate by firing spontaneously and frequently, producing the initial tinnitus signals.
Rauschecker said: "Like phantom pain, the firing of central neurons in the brain continues to convey perceptual experiences, even though the corresponding sensory receptor cells have been destroyed. The brain fills in sensations in response to a deficit of input. Neighbouring frequencies become amplified and expand into the vacated frequency range. It also happens to people with a hole in their retina. They don't see the hole because the brain fills in what is missing."
Imaging studies further show hyperactivity not only in auditory pathways of the cortex and thalamus but also in the non-auditory, limbic brain structures that regulate a number of functions including emotion.
This limbic activation has been interpreted to reflect the emotional reaction of tinnitus patients to phantom sound, but research has now shown the limbic region normally blocks sound sensations sent from the auditory region that are not real. It does this by feeding sensations of sound that are not real back to a brain area in the thalamus (the thalamic reticular nucleus) that exerts inhibition on the sensory signals and can thus subtract the errant noise.
Rauschecker said: "This circuit serves as an active noise-cancelation mechanism - a feedback loop that subtracts sounds that should not be there. But in cases where the limbic regions become dysfunctional, this noise-cancelation breaks down and the tinnitus signal permeates to the auditory cortex, where it enters consciousness."
Researchers have also found evidence that this inhibiting gating mechanism can be switched on and off, which explains why some tinnitus patients have a ringing sensation intermittently.
It remains unclear, however, why some individuals who have hearing loss do not develop tinnitus.

Mobiles 'too dangerous' for children

CHILDREN have been warned to text, rather than talk, on their mobile phones by the federal Government's radiation safety watchdog.
The official caution was issued last week by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, following a decade-long study into the health effects of using mobile phones.
The agency said children needed to take precautions to protect themselves from exposure to radiation because health risks from their long-term mobile phone use were still unknown.
"Children should be encouraged to limit exposure from mobile phones to their heads by reducing call time, by making calls where reception is good, by using hands-free devices or speaker options, or by texting," it said.
The agency - the Commonwealth's main advisory body on radiation protection - reviews Australian and international research and is completing an assessment to develop new recommendations and guidelines.
Its warning comes only weeks after a 10-year international study linked extended mobile phone use to increased risk of brain tumours.
The Interphone project, the world's biggest study into the health effects of mobiles, found no increased risk of cancer overall, but those who talk at least 30 minutes a day are up to 40 per cent more likely to develop glioma, the most common type of brain cancer.
Professor Bruce Armstrong, of Sydney University's School of Public Health, said mobile phone radiation was more harmful to children because their bodies were less developed.
"The skull is thinner and so more of the radiation produced will be absorbed into the brain in a child, who has a mobile phone to their ear, than in an adult who has the same conversation," he said.
"It's not a huge amount, but it is material."
Professor Armstrong, who led the Australian part of the Interphone study, said he supported the radiation agency's advice, but stopped short of calling for it to be extended to all users.
An Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association spokesman said: "There is no known basis for singling out children for concern."
Greens senator Bob Brown said a health warning should be issued to all mobile users.
"There is no proof mobile phone use is safe," he said.

Anti-cholesterol drugs impair brain's activity, lead to depression

For the first time, Indian scientists have found the link between Cholesterol-lowering drugs and depression
Prolonged administration of statins, the anti-cholesterol drugs, can lead to anxiety disorders and depression  in patients and also develop suicidal tendencies, scientists at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) have established.
Statins: drugs that leads to depression

Cholestrol is a waxy steroid metabolite required by the body in different cellular operations. But the excess intake of cholesterol may result in blockage of arteries, thereby reducing blood circulation and causing a heart attack. Statins are a class of drugs which lower the cholesterol level in blood by decreasing the synthesis of cholesterol in the human body, thus preventing the risk of heart-attack.
Statins are used to treat cholesterol-related diseases like hypercholesterolemia. It inhibits the action of HMG Co-A Reductase, an enzyme critical for cholesterol synthesis in liver.
Now a new research study conducted by Amitabha Chattopadhyay from the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad, published in the journal 'Biochemistry', clearly indicates the relationship between statins and mood disorders.
Scientists have shown that cholesterol depletion by statins impairs the function of the receptors for 'serotonin', a neurotransmitter in the brain that controls mood.
Earlier, Chattopadhyay's team had shown that normal cholesterol levels are required for the proper functioning of serotonin. Their latest study showed that lowering of cholesterol level in the brain affects the function of serotonin receptors, leading to depression.
The effect of statins on human serotonin receptors, expressed in animal cells called "Chinese Hamster Ovary" cells, was demonstrated through a test tube experiment.
In fact, the results showed that excessive use of statins deranges the structure and function of serotonin receptors, hence impairing the brain's control and co-ordination mechanisms.
Statins’ side effects
According to Chattopadhyay, statins are the highest selling drugs in the market and their global sale annually clocks around $25 billion. In India, their market is worth Rs.1,000 crore a year.
"These novel results represent the first report describing the effect of long-term cholesterol depletion on this type of neurotransmitter receptor and suggest that chronic, low cholesterol levels in the brain may trigger anxiety and depression," Chattopadhyay told IANS.
Though statins are widely prescribed by physicians across the world, but high dose of these can trigger many disorders like muscle pain and rhabdomyolysis, muscle weakness and neuropathy, memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain study suggests antidepressants ‘work within hours’

People who experience high levels of anxiety could benefit from a single high dose of a common antidepressant that has been shown to reduce anxiety within three hours.

Dr Susannah Murphy, a neuroscientist at the Psychopharmacology and Emotion Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford, has conducted a study looking at the impact of two antidepressants, citalopram and reboxetine, which respectively work on the serotonin and noradrenaline neurotransmitters in the brain that control mood. She presented her findings at the Royal College of Psychiatrists‘ International Congress in Edinburgh.

The study involved giving 42 healthy patients either one of the two drugs, or a placebo, then showing them a picture with two faces on it - one with a neutral expression and the other looking fearful. Researchers then measured the speed with which the volunteers reacted to the images.

Anxiety is linked to ‘hypervigilance‘, and the faster the reaction the more anxious and concerned about a perceived threat a person is. Dr Murphy and her colleagues found that both citalopram and reboxetine reduced their vigilance to fearful facial expressions. The antidepressants could be used both in the short- and long-term to enhance psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, she told to delegates at the International Congress.

Curious about the impact of antidepressants on the brain, Dr Murphy gave 26 healthy volunteers a single 20mg dose of citalopram and three hours later scanned their brains while the participants completed the facial expression task. She found that the amygdala, a chestnut-sized structure buried deep in the brain and linked to processing emotions and reading emotions in others, showed high levels of activity.

Citalopram and reboxetine belong to a group of antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). These are conventionally believed to have a delay of several weeks before the onset of their therapeutic effects - but Dr Murphy‘s study shows clearly that doses can have a neurochemical effect within hours.

She told delegates: ”It‘s quite extraordinary that these changes take place so early. It really challenges us to think quite differently about the way antidepressants work. It‘s a different message for patients - as soon as you start taking the drugs it starts changing the way the brain works. It doesn‘t have to take weeks.

”When you are anxious you are hypervigilant to the social signals that people give off and you can interpret them negatively. For instance, at the end of a presentation or talk, if someone stands up and asks you a question and they look at you - are they looking at you in a positive or a negative way? All of that feeds into your reaction.”

How Brain Organizes Info Doesn't Depend on Sight

Scans revealed that thought processes occurred in same areas for sighted and blind people, study found

Blind and sighted people use the same brain area when thinking about manipulating tools, new research shows.

The finding offers further evidence that the brain has a fairly defined organization but is still able to adapt to unusual conditions, such as being blind, said the researchers at the University of Trento in Italy.

The investigators used functional MRI to monitor the brain activity of blind and sighted people while they listened to sets of words from different categories: tools, such as saw, scissors and fork; animals; and objects that aren't manipulated, such as table, bed and fence.

The results showed that blind people, even those who were born blind, tended to use the same part of the brain as sighted people when thinking about a tool. Non-tool items didn't activate this part of the brain.

The study is published in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science.

"I think the exciting implication is that the way our brains process the world may be less dependent on our experience than previously thought," researcher Bradford Z. Mahon said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science.

"It doesn't mean experience is not important. Experience is critical for providing all of the content that we represent about the world. But how that content is organized in our brain seems to be highly constrained, and the interesting possibility is that those constraints are built in by genetics," Mahon added.

Surgery opens new window to brain

Ageing brains retain knowledge, study finds

The human brain improves as it gets older in some functions, according to scientific research that suggests age really does confer wisdom.
The human brain improves as it gets older in some functions, according to scientific research that suggests age really does confer wisdom.
Expertise and knowledge are not lost with age 
A study has found that that long-term memory remains unaffected with age and a person’s vocabulary, emotional intelligence and social skills may all get better.
Short-term memory, learning skills and the ability to reason do decline with age, the research shows, but not all mental faculties reach their peak when a person is in their 20s as is commonly believed.

It comes after similar studies last week showed the elderly can still learn new abilities but are 'wiser' because their brains are less dependent on 'feel good' hormones making them appear less driven by emotion and impulsivity.

The findings also underline demands for an end to ageism in the workplace, particularly in professional roles, and come as the government plans to bring forward an increase the retirement age for millions of workers.

Researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York conducted their study by examining the effect ageing on the brains of rhesus monkeys.

In older monkeys, while the brain lost almost half of its neural receivers responsible for learning new things, nearly all those associated with long-term memory remained intact.

John Morrison, a professor of neuroscience who led the Mount Sinai research, said: “We believe expertise and knowledge coded in the receivers is not lost with age. This may be how the brain retains what it learnt decades ago, and why a professor of cell biology can teach well into his eighties.

“As we age we retain our vocabulary, IQ and expertise, which can actually improve with time. Older people have enormous wisdom ... to force them to step down is a waste of these abilities.”

Dr Peter Connelly, an expert in old age at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told The Times: “Where a young person is jumping all over the place looking for solutions, older people can draw from experience.”

“An older person’s judgment of things can be exceptionally valuable because they have more experience and with it the ability to think through things much more logically and sensibly,”

Last week’s report was from researchers at the University of California who carried out a series of studies on 3,000 people aged between 60 and 100 to find out what happens to the brain as it ages.

Professor Dilip Jeste of the University of California, San Diego, said: "The fact that older people are slower to respond than younger people is widely seen as a disadvantage. But that's not always the case.

"The elderly brain is less dopamine-dependent, making people less impulsive and controlled by emotion. Older people also less likely to respond thoughtlessly to negative emotional stimuli because their brains have slowed down compared to younger people. This, in fact is what we call wisdom.”

Study links bullying to cognitive deficits, brain changes

They lurk in hallways, bathrooms, around the next blind corner.

But for the children they have routinely teased or tormented, bullies effectively live in the victims’ brains, as well – and not just as a terrifying memory.

Preliminary evidence shows that bullying can produce signs of stress, cognitive deficits and mental-health problems.

Now, University of Ottawa psychologist Tracy Vaillancourt and her colleagues at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., plan to scan the brains of teens who have been regularly humiliated and ostracized by their peers to look for structural differences compared with other children.

“We know there is a functional difference. We know their brains are acting differently, but we don’t know if it is structural, as well,” said Vaillancourt, an expert in the biology of bullying.

She says she hopes her work will legitimize the plight of children who are bullied and encourage parents, teachers and school boards to take the problem more seriously.

Vaillancourt has been following a group of 17-year-olds since they were 12. All 70 of the children were routinely bullied during those years – teased, harassed, threatened or excluded.

Physical violence is relatively rare, she says, because their tormentors are smart enough to know it will get them into trouble.

“For many of these kids, every day is a nightmare,” Vaillancourt said.

They go to school and no one will talk to them. Someone deliberately bumps into them in the hallway, and all the other children laugh. They get called horrible names.

The researchers will start with brain scans of 15 of the extreme cases, such as the child who stood in her gym uniform while other kids put her school clothes in the toilet and urinated on them.

There also are teenagers in the study who have been bullied for five straight school years.

The scientists have already shown that children who are bullied are more likely than other kids to have cognitive deficits. They score lower on tests that measure verbal memory and executive function, a set of skills needed to focus on a task and get the job done. Mental-health problems, such as depression, are also more common.

Vaillancourt suspects they will also have a smaller hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory. Depression has been shown to be related to a smaller hippocampus.

As well, animal studies have shown that chronic high levels of stress can kill brain cells. Vaillancourt says this kind of damage may help explain why children who are bullied often perform poorly academically.

She will also be looking for a smaller prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in being able to pay attention and other executive functions.

These kinds of differences have been documented in functional magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, studies of children who have been neglected or abused. Vaillancourt suspects the chronic stress of being bullied will have a similar impact.

She and her colleagues have already published research showing that boys who are bullied tend to produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s as if their system is in permanent overdrive.

It’s the opposite for the girls; they tend to produce less cortisol than average, as though their stress response system is overly subdued. “At some point, their brains stop reacting,” said Vaillancourt, who holds a Canada Research Chair in children’s mental health and violence prevention.

These changes to the brain’s stress response system may be linked to the higher rates of depression among children who are regularly picked on by their peers, especially girls. The adolescent years are when peer relations are most important and when girls, more than anything, want to belong, Vaillancourt says.

Your Brain, Sex and the Orgasm

The science of sex is still evolving. Not all these writings have scientific backing! But my thoughts! The brain has chemical pathways it follows to achieve an orgasm. Or the paths that are followed result in an orgasm. I'm not sure we're sure.
Orgasm, we know for a fact, s cause a release of the brain's opiods, serotonin, prolactin and oxytoxin. In fact the seratonin release is the turn off signal. It is also backed by research that the seratonin release then immediately reduces the dopamine presence in the brain. Dopamine is released during arousal. So the dopamine that was perceived by the brain to be a turn on, decreases at brain sites, and this leads to a resolution of the response.
Thus, I assume, the chemicals are released, in what sequence, in what amounts determines our unique ability to have an orgasm, and perhaps why sex with one partner is different than another partner. We assume that if someone is very aroused, then there's a lot of dopamine in the brain, and just a little seratonin release (the first orgasm) may just not be enough to make us want to quit.
On the other hand people who maintain high levels of arousal: the 24/7 dopamine releasers, perhaps they become a bit desensitized to the minor elevations in dopamine levels that just a bit of "same old routine" sex presents. Perhaps explaining why some need more intense experiences to then get aroused.
As we try to find chemical stimulants for desire and arousal one of the puzzle mysteries is how to weave a chemical feeling into a human response that can only be appropriate in some contexts. And perhaps giving someone an elevated level of chemicals, but not a varied level of these chemicals is going about the fix-it routine a bit longer.

Personality and Size of Human Brain “Interlinked” - Psychological Scientists

brainA recent study by the Psychological Scientists showed a direct link between size of human brain and his personality.
The researchers conducted a study by taking the help of 116 people. Their brain’s scans were taken to find out the size of each person’s brain. These scans were then put in a computer program to analyze and were compared with each brain’s structure.
After their study, they concluded that there is a connection among the size of different parts of brain and an individual’s personality.
However, there is no connection between person’s mental power and intelligence with the size of the brain.
The study showed that diligent and meticulous people always have greater tendency of keeping their behavior in control. They are more sensitive towards other people’s sentiments and intentions.
People are more assertive and outgoing because of their medial orbitofrontal cortex looks for more and more rewards.
Colin DeYoung at the University of Minnesota said, “It doesn‘t mean that your personality is fixed from birth, the brain grows and changes as it grows”.
As the person grows, his experience also increases, which also enhances his personality.

Workout for the brain

Our eyes are closed and we are concentrating. ''Release the stress, relax, create a void around you,'' Mathieu Monnet, our coach, says. We breathe deeply and prepare to leap into a higher intellectual sphere. 
Welcome to the Learning Club, France's first fitness centre for the brain, where you can hone your memory, imagination and other cognitive functions. The six participants are all women. Their mental faculties seem good - but they are paying £20 an hour to improve them. Mental fitness is big business.
The US abounds with psychologists who claim to be able to make you cleverer through such methods as monitoring your brain waves. But no one dreamt of suggesting that the mind also needed to get into shape until executive Jero Dutrieux met Jerome Blin, a neurologist and director of the Memory Clinic in Paris.
Both were convinced that a little mental gymnastics would not go amiss - as long as it was cloaked in lofty cultural thoughts.
The exercises involve art, science, literature, history and even the study of wine. ''You need to be passionately interested in the subject you are learning to learn it well,'' said Dutrieux.
You are given tips on how to perform the exercises, such as linking new information to images in your mind's eye. But Dutrieux says there are no short cuts. You need to practise, work hard and to keep your body in shape as well, since good health and brain fitness go together.

Can cell phones cause brain tumors?

Maureen Dowd raises the question about potential cell phone radiation hazards in a column about San Francisco's modest legislation to require dislcosure of phone radiation levels and the phone industry's angry reaction. Mayor Gavin Newsom makes a reasonable point:
“Since our bill is relatively benign,” Newsom said, “it begs the question, why did they work so hard and spend so much money to kill it? I’ve become more fearful, not less, because of their reaction. It’s like BP. Shouldn’t they be doing whatever it takes to protect their global shareholders?”
Research on the health hazards is inconclusive. But Dowd observes:
We don’t yet really know the physical and psychological impact of being slaves to technology. We just know that technology is a narcotic. We’re living in the cloud, in a force field, so afraid of being disconnected and plunged into a world of silence and stillness that even if scientists told us our computers would make our arms fall off, we’d probably keep typing.
I wonder if I should reconsider my decision late last week that it was finally time for me to have a mobile phone, smart variety.

Magnetic brain stimulation shows promise for Alzheimer's

Stimulating the brain with magnetic pulses might help people with Alzheimer's disease improve their use of language, new research suggests. However, this treatment is still highly experimental and has been tested on very few people.

What do we know already?

Alzheimer's disease affects more than 400,000 people in the UK. Over time, it damages people's ability to think, remember things, and use language. There are several drugs that can slow down the progress of the disease, but there's no cure, and most treatments have fairly small effects. Alzheimer's charities stress the importance of practical support to help patients and carers cope, and to help people live independently for as long as possible.
In recent years, researchers have developed techniques that use magnetic pulses to influence the electrical activity in people's brains. The magnetic pulses travel through the skull, so there's no need for surgery.
Small-scale studies have looked at using magnetic stimulation for several conditions, including migraine, Parkinson's disease, and depression. A new study has now looked at magnetic stimulation as a treatment for people with Alzheimer's disease.

What does the new study say?

People who had magnetic stimulation showed a small, short-term improvement in their ability to use language.
For two weeks, half the people in the study had magnetic stimulation, and the other half had sham treatment with an inactive device. People had five sessions a week, each one lasting 25 minutes.
Over the two weeks, people who'd had magnetic stimulation improved their scores on a language test looking at sentence comprehension. The average starting score was 67, which increased to 77 after treatment. People who had sham stimulation scored an average of 66 points at the start of the study, and didn't improve over the two weeks.
It's worth noting that the people in the study took a whole battery of tests, looking at things like their mental state, their ability to name objects in a picture, a writing test, and a test looking at how well they performed their day-to-day activities. The sentence comprehension test was the only one where people showed an improvement.
After the first two weeks, both groups were given another two weeks of treatment, and this time everyone had real magnetic stimulation. The people who'd started with sham treatment caught up with the people who'd had real magnetic stimulation from the start, but there was no additional improvement among people who'd had the real treatment all along.
People continued getting higher scores in the language test in week 12 of the study, eight weeks after they'd finished treatment.

How reliable is the research?

The findings come from a small, preliminary study looking at just 10 people. While there seemed to be some improvement in language ability, there were no improvements in memory or in people's ability to make decisions or do everyday things. So, it's debatable just how much of a difference this treatment would make to people's day-to-day lives.

Where does the study come from?

The study was done in Italy and appeared in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, published by the BMJ Group.
Funding came from the Italian ministry of health and the Fatebenefratelli Association for Biomedical and Health Research.

What does this mean for me?

Alzheimer's is a serious illness, and it can make life very difficult for patients and their carers. It's natural to be hopeful about new treatments, but it's likely to be some time before researchers fully investigate magnetic stimulation and can say confidently whether it works.

Brain predicts personality

The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by changing his attitude. It’s the key factor behavior that shapes the destiny and decides the life. It’s only our behavior which builds our social image. Behavior denotes the entirety of someone’s characteristics.
Thus some one’s behavior, whatever kind it would be, in the future, if can be predicted from its present type can very well be trained to polish so as to have a glorious society full of well behaved thus successful citizens.
A new research headed by Emily Falk and Matthew Lieberman from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) says that scans of the brain can help predicting what will be one’s likely behavior in future. They have found a method to interpret scientifically the images of the brain to predict the actual behavior that a person may resort to in the future, a breakthrough in the medical world, feel researchers.
The research will certainly be a great help to every sector.
The research was conducted on 20 participants including 10 males and 10 females studying their response to the use of sunscreen after being thoroughly made aware of its use and benefits. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) was used to scan the brains of the participants.

Brain Slowdown Is The Source Of Elderly Wisdom


A slower brain may be a wiser brain.
New research proves that wisdom develops with aging, and that wisdom is the result of the brain slowing down and the resulting decrease in impulsivity.
"Older people are less likely to respond thoughtlessly to negative emotional stimuli because their brains have slowed down compared to younger people. This, in fact is what we call wisdom," said Professor Dilip Jeste of the University of California, San Diego, who led the research study.
While there it may be common wisdom that it is difficult for older people to learn new skills - e.g., "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" - that appears to be a misconception. Prior research has made clear that even after brain damage, for instance, after a stroke, the brain has an amazing ability to regenerate lost function. After damage to one part of the brain, other areas of the brain are able to compensate by learning new functions. This ability is known as neuroplasticity, and appears to carry on throughout life

Surgeons enter brain through eyelid

BALTIMORE, June 26 (UPI) -- Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore have pioneered a technique that can spare some patients invasive brain surgery.

Liane Lefever, 47, of Manheim, Pa., was their 18th patient, The Baltimore Sun reported. Surgeons were able to remove a meningioma, a brain tumor, through an incision in her eyelid.

"When you tell people you had brain surgery, the first thing people always do is look for a scar, and that's what's amazing, there isn't one," Lefever said.

Dr. Kofi Boahene, a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, first used the eyelid for access three years ago. He had to do a biopsy on a 14-month-old boy, who had a tumor that could not be reached by way of the nose -- which had already become an entrance point.

"In surgery in general, we have a goal of doing things in a simpler way so patients recover more quickly and the cost is less," Boahene said.

In traditional brain surgery, still the most common, a patient's skull is sawn open. It involves lengthy recovery and the risk of damage to the brain.

Boahene and Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, who pioneered the nasal entrance point, recently published their first report on the eyelid incision.

Jet Lag Sends Brain Ahead A Time Zone, Leaves Kidneys In Another

  Jet Lag Sends Brain Ahead A Time Zone, Leaves Kidneys In Another Using a drug that temporarily blocks the activity of adrenal glands, scientists have created a batch of jet lag-resistant mice like the laboratory mouse shown here. Credit: Rama

Human beings aren't built to cross time zones. After an international flight, it takes days for the body to overcome the fatigue and nausea of jet lag, the biological price of doing business in the modern world.

That's because every organ keeps time with its own separate clock. Though the brain tries to synchronize all of these clocks on a daily basis, some are more stubborn about resetting than others when adjusting to a new time zone and sleep schedule -- according to a new study of sleep-deprived mice, which have internal clocks similar to ours.
"Jet lag is a big mess of different clocks," said Gregor Eichele of the Max Planck Institute of Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, Germany.
A transcontinental traveler's brain may adjust to being in Paris the day after his flight touches down. But his pancreas may continue to tick away on New York time, while his kidneys count the seconds somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.
Genetic Clockwork
To study these clocks and develop a way to treat jet lag, Eichele woke up a group of laboratory mice six hours earlier than usual -- simulating an eastward flight from Chicago to London with the flip of a light switch. He then measured changes in their gene activity as their bodies adjusted over the following 8-9 days.
Genes are the gears that run our internal clocks. All of our organs possess the same ten or so "clock" genes, which govern the production of molecules that keep time in a regular rhythm. But though the liver, the skin, and the brain share the same genetic clockwork, they each run on their own clock independent of the others.
In sleep-deprived mice, some of these molecular clocks adapted more quickly than others. Those in the pancreas -- which regulates the body's production of energy -- resisted the change for days longer than those in kidneys, for example.
When the molecular clocks of different organs are significantly out of synch, bodily functions that require chemical communication can be disrupted. Eichle said that could explain the diverse symptoms of jet lag, which range from insomnia and depression to gastrointestinal problems. Studies have shown that the brains of aircraft crew who experience chronic jet lag tend to shrink and make more stress hormones, and the menstrual cycles of female flight attendants are disrupted by regular international flights.
"We know that chronic jet lag causes stress and impacts our health," said Kei Cho, a neuroscientist the University of Bristol in the U.K., who discovered these effects. "This new research addresses one of the biggest questions in biology -- how the genes are changed by disturbances to the sleep and wake cycle."
Jet Lag Resistant Mice
Searching for new ways to combat jet lag, Eichle examined one of the fastest adapting clocks -- the adrenal glands. These glands are thought to work with the brain to provide a master clock that synchronizes all of body's clocks on a daily basis.
Using a drug that temporarily blocks the activity of adrenal glands, Eichle and his team created a batch of jet lag-resistant mice. A small dose administered a day before their sleepless ordeal set their adrenal gland clocks back by an hour -- allowing their organs to begin the process of adjusting and reducing the time it took them to adapt to an earlier wake-up call by two or three days.
"Nobody has really ever achieved this before," said Eichle, who published the research on June 23 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. "It's a first step in the right direction towards a treatment for jet lag."
Don't expect to see this drug on the shelf any time soon -- the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve a drug for jet lag, and the risks of tinkering with the body's clocks are significant.
"Honestly, we don't know what all of these clock genes do in the body," said Cho. "If we try to manipulate something, the side effects might be more than we expected."
For now, the best cure for jet lag is still the slowest: one day of rest for every time zone crossed.

This is your brain ... This is your brain on the Internet

The promise of the Web is the world at our fingertips. Thousands of hours of research can be yours with a few adept keystrokes. Entertainment options are unlimited and at your command. Yet something is not right. Instead of intellectually flourishing, we have twitchy distractedness. Where is the contemplation, the deep thinking?
In this age of "content" abundance, why do we feel so dumb? In "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains," tech journalist Nicholas Carr attempts an answer: It's the medium, stupid. We've focused on what we can find/read/see -- that legendary Velvet Underground performance, the side effects of modafinil -- and we've lost sight of the real problem. Channeling Marshall McLuhan, Carr maintains that we are "too busy being dazzled or disturbed by the programming to notice what's going on in our heads." Our reading and thinking have adapted to the computer screen with consequences good and ill.
Carr presents a damning case against a life jacked into the Net, including the startling revelation that prolonged usage alters our brain physiology. Because the human brain is capable of incredible change even into adulthood (neuroscientists call it plasticity), we adapt readily to new tools. The "single most mind-altering" tool is the Internet, as it "delivers precisely the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli -- repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive -- that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions."
In other words, the Web is changing our brains!

Brain scan may finally detect Alzheimer's early

THERE is only one way to know for sure that a person has Alzheimer's disease. A pathologist, examining the brain after death, would see microscopic black freckles - plaque - sticking to brain slices.
Without evidence of plaque, a person with memory loss cannot be diagnosed with the disease. There is no treatment to stop or slow the progress of Alzheimer's, but every major drug company has new experimental drugs it hopes will work. The questions though, are who should be getting the drugs, and who really has Alzheimer's or is developing it?
But findings of tests on hospice patients show that a start-up medical technology company may have overcome one of the biggest obstacles in diagnosing Alzheimer's. It has developed a dye that allows brain scans to reveal the plaque building in the brains of people with the disease.
The findings will be presented at an international meeting of the Alzheimer's Association in Honolulu on July 11. But they must still be confirmed and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Five years ago Dr Daniel Skovronsky left academia and formed Avid Radiopharmaceuticals in Philadelphia to pursue his idea for brain scans to show the telltale plaque.
He and his team had developed a dye that could get into the brain and stick to plaque. They labelled the dye with a commonly used radioactive tracer and used a PET scanner to directly see plaque in a living person's brain.
If the findings hold up, it will mean that for the first time doctors would have a reliable way to diagnose the presence of Alzheimer's in patients with memory problems.
And researchers would have a way to figure out whether drugs are slowing or halting the disease, a step that ''will change everyone's thinking about Alzheimer's in a dramatic way'', said Dr Michael Weiner of the University of California, San Francisco.
To test the procedure Dr Skovronsky's team designed a study with hospice patients. They sought the patients' permission to have scans while still alive and then brain autopsies after death to see if the scans showed just what a pathologist would see.
Some predicted his study would be impossible, but the FDA said it wanted proof the plaque on PET scans was the same as plaque in a brain autopsy. Finally, on May 14, 35 patients had been scanned and autopsied. The Avid study was complete.
''This is going to have a big impact on Alzheimer's disease, guys,'' Dr Skovronsky told his staff that day.

"Healing combat trauma" and "The Brain at War"

Okay, people are supporting the troops in ways that are deeply important, in ways that as a country, we got a lot of work to do. There are physical injuries that even I can understand, but beyond that, there's traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the invisible damage to troops, like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)
Recently the NCIRE and The Veterans Health Research Institute, ran the "The Brain at War" conference, which I attended briefly. (I'm not very tough, and this stuff is hard to hear.) This was all about helping vets deal with these real problem. I don't really understand a lot, so I'll get out of the way, and hear from someone with real expertise.
Check out Healing Combat Trauma and specifically, "The Brain at War" Conference in San Francisco:
There were many highlights of the program, including hearing from the National Guard about what they're doing to secure better mental health for their servicemembers, who don't have the same access that other branches do. The California National Guard has a good "Combat Stress Control" program, with handouts like this tip sheet, "Helping a Soldier Buddy in Distress," linked here. They've also got a superlative poster, "Never Let Your Buddy Fight Alone (against PTSD)" that emphasizes the importance of Guardmembers in one another's lives. An U.S. Army National Guard leader, Major Paul E. Gonzales, from Kansas' National Guard, talked convincingly about the challenges Guardmembers face after deployment, accessing mental health services, when they're frequently hours away from the nearest facility.

Trailblazer of the brain

After three decades of precision work, canada's first female neurosurgeon is retiring. Elizabeth MacRae began her careerbefore CT scans and MRI s, at a time when women doctors focused on family medicine or pediatrics. as she embarks on new challengesat home and abroad, macrae has become a role model for a new generation of female surgeons.
Dr. Betty MacRae was the first female neurosurgeon in Canada. After 28 years working in the field, and many sacrifices, she's retiring from Foothills Medical Centre.
Dr. Betty MacRae was the first female neurosurgeon in Canada. After 28 years working in the field, and many sacrifices, she's retiring from Foothills Medical Centre.
Dr. Elizabeth (Betty) MacRae had two strikes against her when she decided to become a neurosurgeon.
At 36, she was "too old." Worse, she was a woman.
In the 1970s, most female doctors in Canada entered family medicine or else opted for careers in specialties like pediatrics and obstetrics. They didn't operate on brains.
"My father told me I was taking a job away from a man," recalls MacRae. "Surgery wasn't a place for a woman."
Undaunted, she would go on to become the first female neurosurgeon to train and practice in Canada.
MacRae officially retires June 30 after 28 years performing delicate repairs to nerves and treating skull injuries at Calgary's Foothills Medical Centre.
Oddly enough, she doesn't consider herself a trailblazer.
"I guess I was breaking new ground but I never thought of it that way. I just thought, 'I want to do this, so why shouldn't I?' "
It's a philosophy MacRae lives by. When she's not with patients, the avid outdoorswoman turns to heliskiing, mountain climbing and skydiving for fun.
But surgery is MacRae's first -- and lifelong -- passion.
At three years old, the Quebec native informed her parents she planned to become a doctor. By the age of 12, one of her biggest heroes was Dr. Wilder Penfield, the founder of the Montreal Neurological Institute.
After high school, Mac-Rae studied physical education at the University of Toronto -- where she was a varsity athlete -- before graduating from medical school in 1968.
She then completed a residency in endocrinology, followed by a year in internal medicine and a few years in family practice.
Her life changed dramatically one Sunday morning in 1977. MacRae was near the end of a neurology residency when she was asked to assist on a challenging brain surgery.
"We clipped the aneurysm, the patient did well and I walked out of that operating room and said, 'I'm doing the wrong thing with my life,' " recalls MacRae.
But the road to surgery was not without roadblocks. "I was told, 'Betty, you're 36. You've got a checkerboard career. Besides, you're female and we've never trained a female before,' " MacRae says.
But with the support of the University of Toronto's then chairman of neurosurgery, MacRae picked up a scalpel and never looked back.
The life of a neurosurgeon is often gruelling. Twelve to 14-hour work days are not unheard of, and there are weekends and evenings on call.
And then there's the pressure. Minutes can make a difference between life and death; a split-second decision in surgery can have significant consequences.
"If you cut a bowel in the operating room, you sew it up. If you cut a nerve or something vital in the brain, it doesn't repair," says MacRae.
"You learn early to be cautious, not terrified."
In 1982, a friend told MacRae about a
career opportunity with the neurosurgery team at Foothills Medical Centre. Single, ambitious and thrilled at the
prospect of living so close to the Rockies--a place to indulge
her love of skiing, golfing and hiking -- the doctor packed up and headed west.
It proved an auspicious move. In Calgary, MacRae found supportive colleagues, intriguing surgeries and the love of her life, prominent psychiatrist Dr. David Miyauchi.
At 69, MacRae doesn't regret a single minute spent in the operating room. But she's not surprised there are so few women like her.
"The training is vigorous. We used to put in 80, 90 even 100-hour weeks -- absolutely ridiculous hours," she says.
It can be a powerful deterrent to a young woman who hopes to combine a career in medicine with motherhood.
According to an article published in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery, only "small strides" have been made in attracting women to such demanding surgical specialties as orthopedics, thoracic surgery and neurosurgery.
The long working hours are a turnoff, but so is the length of training, which typically occurs during a woman's child-bearing years.
The Journal of Neurosurgery study found that female neurosurgeons account for only six per cent of full-time faculty in the United States. As late as the 1990s, some 30 per cent of neurological residency programs had never graduated a female student.
It's a similar story this side of the border, where fewer than 10 per cent of the country's neurosurgeons are female.
Yet specialties that have traditionally attracted woman are more popular than ever, according to recent statistics from the Canadian Medical Association.
Three-quarters of residents in obstetrics/ gynecology, as well as two-thirds of residents in family and pediatrics, are women. Female residents are also the majority in psychiatry and geriatric medicine.
The irony, says MacRae, is that women tend to make excellent brain surgeons.
"A lot of the fellows end up in spine surgery, which is a bit rougher, like carpentry. But females have a delicate touch in the brain . . . they are well suited for the precision of the work."
The punishing hours, however, can make it challenging to spend time with a husband and children, she concedes. "I had to make a choice and I don't regret it. But there has to be a way to make it easier."
The good news is that today, many women do in fact juggle the demands of the job with marriage, a family and outside interests, says Calgary neurosurgeon Zelma Kiss.
But in a specialty in which women continue to represent a disproportionately small segment of the workforce, MacRae is an excellent role model for the newest batch of young females considering a career in medicine.
She's the best kind of teacher and mentor, says Kiss -- one who nurtures and encourages others to achieve their best.
"Betty has had an enormous impact on patient care, obviously, but also in mentoring students, residents, even non-neurosurgeons."
In the three decades MacRae has spent in the field, she's watched imaging technology completely change the way brain surgery is performed.
Take the now commonplace CT scan -- a super-sharp X-ray that helps doctors diagnose or rule out injuries or diseases.
It didn't even exist when she started in medicine. "I still learn something everyday. I'm not tired of this career, but at 69, I need something different to do."
This fall, MacRae is headed to Nepal as part of a charitable mission to distribute multivitamins and folic acid to pregnant women in remote villages.
She also hopes to improve her photography skills and take university classes in "something artsy," like architectural history.
There are travel plans to look forward to with her husband and family time with stepchildren and a much beloved grandchild.
Once the busiest neurosurgeon in the city, she will miss the operating room and the adrenalin rush that comes with saving a life. But even trailblazers need to move on.
" I'm not an academic. I haven't written papers and I never wanted to climb a professional ladder. What I am is a hands-on clinical person, and when a patient tells me I've made a difference in their life, that's the biggest reward I could ever get," she says.

Superstars could reverse innovation brain drain

Superstars could reverse innovation brain drain

Slideshow imageHawking gave a standing room only address on June 20 to a room of hundreds of dignitaries, media, and invited guests, as well as a national television and Internet audience.

WATERLOO, Ont. — Not since the days of the Avro Arrow has Canada been so well-positioned to lead the world in cosmic innovation: This time, not in the field of aerospace but outer space, specifically theoretical physics and the search for where we came from. Since June 20, physics-superstar Stephen Hawking has been punching the timecard for six weeks of collaboration with scientists at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont.
Hawking’s presence at the institute is helping elevate the think-tank to new status in the top echelons of international cutting-edge cosmic research.
"Stephen Hawking stands with Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, as one of a handful of scientists who have fundamentally changed our understanding of the universe," said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in a welcome speech before Hawking's first talk as a researcher in Canada.
"There is no one who has done more to make physics accessible to everyday people."
A golden age for science in Canada?
"This is going to be a very, very unusual place," Perimeter director Neil Turok told in Waterloo, grinning as he spoke about the influx of high-profile researchers set to work at the Ontario in the coming months.
"If you stand on the corner here, you will see some pretty interesting people coming and going, from Nobel Prize winners to other brilliant scientists. When you have that happening, it's inevitable that discoveries will be made -- the culture of an institute like this is very important."
In addition to showing-off Hawking, the June 20 event was a chance for Perimeter to announce the creation of a slew of new distinguished visiting researcher postings. When the Institute's new Stephen Hawking Centre is completed next summer, Perimeter will house the largest concentration of theoretical physicists in the world.
Just days earlier, the Canadian government announced a $190 million initiative that has started to lure elite scientists to Canada from around the planet. Already among them are several researchers from institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge, Hawking's alma mater.
Fifty years after the cancellation of the Arrow -- Canada's first and last venture into the supersonic fighter jet market -- Canada is again becoming a hotbed of innovation, buoyed by a strong economy and a big push from both the government and the private sector.
Reverse-brain-drain explained
Canada really got in the game a decade ago, when RIM founder Mike Lazaridis helped create Perimeter with a series of donations to the institute and nearby University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing -- totalling a quarter-billion-dollars to-date.
It's that sort of private-sector infusion that has jump-started everything from physics innovation in Canada to the next stage of corporate spaceflight worldwide cutting edge advances that are attracting some of the world's brightest.
"There are special places and times when great things can happen," said Lazaridis during Hawking's welcome. "It happened in 1905 (referencing Albert Einstein’s key breakthroughs), and it will happen again."
Lazaridis hopes Hawking's research in Canada "will lead to real advances which will be admired and copied all over the world."
Canada joined the big-boys club for particle physics in 2003, when our first large-scale particle accelerator was constructed in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
True to the growing star-power of all-things-physics, the facility hosted its first writer-in-residence last year: Hugo-Award-Winning "Flash Forward" author Robert Sawyer. As a result, the facility will serve as the setting for one of the celebrated sci-fi writer's upcoming books."
"Mad geniuses" on time-delay for changing the world
"People don't often appreciate the direct link between this very intellectual work and eventually technologies that become important in everyday life," said Turok, as Hawking posed with fans on the stage after his speech.
"These kind of mad geniuses like Einstein, Schrodinger and Heisenberg worked in very ordinary conditions, toiling away at underfunded universities, often underappreciated. But their intellectual discoveries are the seeds for new technologies which drive the future."
Such was the case with Einstein, who discovered the laws of emission and absorption of radiation that paved the way for the creation of lasers fifty years later. It wasn't for another 30 years, though, that the technology became commercialized in everyday items from media players to backup warning devices in automobiles.
"Science breakthroughs are unpredictable," Turok said. "The only route to keep these breakthroughs coming is to invest in young people who are driven by curiosity and who want to further that curiosity through research."

Hawking 101
Aside from tirelessly popularizing the world of physics (most successfully from an astronomical perspective), it can be a little tough to sort out what Stephen Hawking has actually done in plain English.
In the interest of showing what the world's greatest living scientist will bring to bear in Ontario, here's a crib sheet of the famed researcher's key discoveries:
  • Black holes emit radiation (until they exhaust their energy and evaporate);
  • Though black holes can merge together, they can never separate or decrease in size;
  • Space and time began with what could have been the Big Bang and will likely end in black holes, Hawking contends (based on Einstein's theory of relativity and work Hawking did with U.K. physicist Roger Penrose);
  • Wrote A Brief History of Time, clarifying complex theories (including a few of his own) on the nature and creation of the universe as we know it, for tens of millions of readers, surfers, and viewers (among other cameos, the book appears in a scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban;
  • Through talks, articles and non-literary popular works, helped the public understand hard-to-grasp ideas such as quantum mechanics (a branch of physics that describes how matter and energy behave on an atomic level) and why they're important to understanding where we came from.

Reboot Your Brain and Get Smarter With a Midday Nap

Pop quiz: What can make you smarter in as little as 20 minutes, costs nothing, and you must do with your eyes closed?
One of my favorite topics is the benefits of napping. I can't get enough of studies that confirm that a so-called "biphasic sleep" sleep schedule--sleeping in two spurts during the 24-hour day, which typically means sleeping at night and then taking a siesta in the afternoon--is an ideal way to keep your brain sharp, be prepared to learn new things and feel refreshed. No wonder some of our most historic brains are noted fans of napping:
  • Albert Einstein,
  • Thomas Edison,
  • Napoleon Bonaparte,
  • Ronald Reagan,
  • Bill Clinton,
  • the list goes on...
Brahms napped at the piano while composing his famous lullaby. Winston Churchill scheduled his cabinet meetings around his naps, alleging that he required a daily afternoon nap in order to cope with his wartime responsibilities. Some of today's top athletes and Olympians take long naps in the afternoons as part of their training regimen. Their naps are as important as their daily exercise.
And Leonardo Da Vinci took the concept of biphasic sleeping to extreme. He was known for "polyphasic" sleep, getting his winks in four-hour intervals. Is that what allowed him to be so innovative and ingenious?
Earlier this year, a new University of California, Berkeley, study shows that an hour's nap can dramatically boost and restore your brain power. Some of the most interesting findings:
  • Pulling an all-nighter (attention college students) decreases the ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40 percent, due to a shutdown of brain regions during sleep deprivation.
  • Sleep is needed to clear the brain's short-term memory storage and make room for new information. It's like clearing out an over-stuffed email box. By midday, your brain's waiting room for memory storage--the hippocampus--could use a clean-up so it can welcome new information.
  • This refreshing of memory capacity is related to Stage 2, non-REM sleep, which takes place between deep sleep (non-REM) and the dream state known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). This might explain why we spend at least half of our sleeping hours in Stage 2.
Since 2007, we've known that fact-based memories are temporarily stored in the hippocampus before being sent to the brain's prefrontal cortex, which may have more storage space.
So, what makes an ideal nap? Here's The Sleep Doctor's Guide to Napping™:
  • Eight and 30: Aim to take a nap eight hours after your wake time, but no later than 3:30 p.m. (otherwise it could disrupt your ability to fall asleep that night, especially if you're early to bed). Set aside 30 minutes, since it may take you 10 minutes to fall asleep (if you feel asleep much faster you are likely sleep deprived and you really need a nap), which leaves 20 minutes for the power nap. Use an alarm clock.
  • Get comfortable: Shake off your shoes, recline on a couch or bed (if available), or in a chair. Turn off or dim the lights, or use an eye mask to block distracting light. Get a blanket to stay warm.
  • Don't get uncomfortable: The thought of taking a nap in the middle of the day, especially a busy work day, might sound crazy to some (like friends and co-workers). Get over it! Remember, some of the most celebrated and productive (and smart and creative and innovative) people in history were huge nappers.
  • Nap Safely: Only nap in a safe environment.

If anyone gives you a hard time catching a few winks in the afternoon, just tell them that you're working on your brain power. And that they, too, could use the brain boost if they're acting so misinformed. They need mental space for the facts about napping!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Does a Mind Need a Brain?

In a 2001 study, 4 out of 63 cardiac arrest survivors were found to have had near death experiences while exhibiting at least two of the three criteria for clinical death.
Does consciousness exist independently of the brain? Do people have experiences at times when their brains are clinically dead, which they can remember later, so-called “near death experiences” (NDEs)?

If so, how often? What kinds of experiences? Can these experiences be attributed to physiological or pharmacological processes that accompany dying, or to psychological responses to the threat of death, or are they experiences of a reality that transcends the limitations of the flesh body?

In 2001, a small group of British scientists published a pilot prospective study to assess the frequency and possible causes of NDEs in survivors of cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest survivors were good models for this type of study because they were all resuscitated using a standard procedure and thus all received the same drugs and treatments.

These patients all exhibited at least two of the three criteria for pronouncing a person dead: They had no cardiac output and no spontaneous respiration. In the clinical setting, most of these patients also developed the third characteristic, fixed dilated pupils, as a result of loss of brainstem activity.

Extensive physiological and pharmacological measurements were recorded for all of these patients in the course of their stay in the hospital. Over the course of a year, all cardiac arrest survivors at Southampton General Hospital were identified and interviewed during their stay in the hospital, after the usual safeguards for the protection of research subjects and the integrity of the study had been carried out.

The patients were asked an open-ended question about whether they had any memories about the time when they were unconscious. The experiences of those who reported any memories at all were assessed according to the Greyson standardized scale and divided into the NDE study group and the non-NDE control group.

Of the 63 cardiac arrest survivors interviewed, 56 (88.8 percent) had no memory of their period of unconsciousness. Seven had at least some memory and, of these, four (6.3 percent) had experiences that met the Greyson criteria for NDEs.

Of the three who did not satisfy the criteria, two reported at least one feature consistent with NDEs. Of the four patients in the NDE group, all reported coming to a point of no return. Three of the four also remembered seeing a bright light and feelings of peace, pleasantness, and joy. Half of the four saw deceased relatives, entered a new domain, felt that time had speeded up, lost awareness of their bodies, experienced harmony, and had heightened senses.

None of the patients found their experiences to be traumatic or distressing; rather, they were described as pleasant. None of these patients experienced the out-of-body state.

The patient whose experiences scored highest on the Greyson scale was a male who said he was a nonpracticing Catholic and a Pagan. The other three patients in the NDE group were nonpracticing Church of England females.

Possible physiological causative factors could not be adequately investigated in this pilot study because of the small numbers of patients in the groups. In light of the frequently advanced explanation that NDEs result from oxygen deprivation of the brain, it is interesting to note that the patients in the NDE study group actually had higher oxygen levels than the control group.

The exact time when the experiences were undergone was difficult to pinpoint in this study. The data supports the surprising conclusion that NDEs arise during the unconscious period, when the brain is so dysfunctional that the patient is deeply comatose and the cerebral structures usually thought necessary for subjective experience and memory are severely impaired.

If the NDE arose during the period when consciousness was being lost, it would have been joined in memory with ongoing mental experiences at the beginning of the episode, but none of the subjects reported that. Experiences that occur during recovery of consciousness are confusional, but these were not. These subjects had lucid memories with highly structured, narrative, easily recalled and clear features, unlike confusional hallucinations.

None of the subjects reported out-of-body experiences, although they are a relatively common feature of retrospective studies. The scientists had prepared to test any such reports by suspending special boards from the ceilings of the wards before the commencement of the study. These boards had special figures on the surface facing the ceilings that were not visible from below.

If anyone claimed to have left his or her body and was near the ceiling, that person would be expected to be able to identify the markings if he or she had indeed been out-of-body. If the perception was psychological in origin, then one would not expect the markings to be identified.

In this study, the scientists provided evidence that NDEs among survivors of cardiac arrest are relatively rare and that they probably occur during periods when the brain is nonfunctional. Of the memories that do occur during this “unconscious” period, the majority have at least some features of NDEs.

Clearly, a much larger prospective study, probably including multiple institutions, would have to be conducted to have enough subjects so that the psychological, the transcendent, and the physiological aspects of these experiences can be studied more adequately.

After the research paper was published, Dr. Sam Parnia, lead author of the study, told Reuters that he and his colleagues have found more than 3,500 people with lucid memories of experiences that apparently occurred when they were clinically dead.

One patient was only 2-1/2 years old when he had a seizure-induced cardiac arrest. His parents said the boy “drew a picture of himself as if out of his body looking down at himself.”

“It was drawn like there was a balloon stuck to him. When they asked what the balloon was, he said, ‘When you die you see a bright light and you are connected to a cord.’” For six months after he had been discharged from the hospital, the boy kept drawing that same scene.

Parnia speculated that human consciousness may work independently of the brain, using it as a mechanism to manifest thoughts, much as a television set translates the signal that comes through the ether into pictures and sounds.

Science Finds Courage In The Human Brain

Science Finds Courage In The Human Brain
General George Patton said that "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer." Now scientists may have found a way to stimulate courage, pinpointing the portion of the brain that helps humans conquer their fears.

Snakes - why is it always snakes?
A team of researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, led by Dr. Yadin Dudai took a group of volunteers and separated them into two groups - those afraid of snakes, and those not afraid of snakes.
The only reason science ever needs a group of people who are afraid of something is when they plan on torturing them mercilessly with the object they fear.
In this instance, each volunteer was presented with an adorable toy bear and a harmless but terrifying American corn snake. While scanning their brains using an MRI, the volunteers were given the choice to move either the snake or the bear closer or farther away.
If this were me, I'd be cuddling the toy bear in seconds flat.
But many of the volunteers for this test were made of sterner stuff, and when one overcame their fear and urged the snake forward, their brains reacted.
The researchers noted that when a test subject displayed courage, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) of their brain lit up like a Christmas tree. Subjects who succumbed to their fear and pushed the snake away didn't show the same activity.
So the scientists have concluded that courage resides in the sgACC. It seems like a logical conclusion, but what can they do with that knowledge? Says Dr. Dudai:
'Specifically, our findings delineate the importance of maintaining high sgACC activity in successful efforts to overcome ongoing fear and point to the possibility of manipulating sgACC activity in therapeutic intervention in disorders involving a failure to overcome fear.'
Yes, science may soon be able to instill courage in humans without the use of rousing speeches or self-sacrificing acts of bravery. Perhaps one day I'll finally be able to make it through a Fatal Frame game without screaming like a little girl.

EMR not Linked with Brain Cancer: Study

In recent study, Monash University senior researcher, Geza Benke, a radiation therapy expert, found that there are no possible links between electromagnetic radiations and development of brain tumors or cancers.
EMR not Linked with Brain Cancer: Study
He said that there is very scope that the two are interrelated. His team examined the cancer tumors in three different sites viz. Queensland, Toowong and RMIT University.
The researchers established that there were no sufficient evidences which could substantiate that brain cancer is resultant of exposure to electromagnetic radiation.
"It may seem coincidental that a number of people from the same office building are diagnosed with cancers but the number is reasonable", Benke said.
The team explained that electromagnetic radiations are exposed whenever the electric current gets into a power pool.
The main natural sources of electromagnetic radiations include electrical equipment, solar radiation, power lines and mobile phone systems.
According to World Health Organization, the radiation emissions are rising with the rising demand in the electricity.
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said that the removal of radiations from the environment is not at all achievable. However, a deeper study of the radiations can help in controlling these emissions.

Scientists Read Minds Of Coma Patients With Brain-Computer Interface

Coma patients are very challenging, both medically and ethically.  Diagnosing the level of a comatose person's brain activity in response to questions has been interpreted mainly by the level of physical response (the lifting of a finger, the blink of an eye, etc.) from the patient.  But the European Neurological Society is meeting in Berlin today and neurologists are reporting new developments in the field of brain-computer interface (BCI).
"Persistent vegetative state" (PVS) is a term used to describe persons who are in wakeful comas for longer than a few weeks - awake, but non-responsive to external stimuli.  Belgian Professor Gustave Moonen, speaking about the ability of BCI to better diagnose this state, said that about 40 percent of patients diagnosed with PVS show some signs of consciousness using BCI.

EEG images can reflect thoughts as well as emotions: image via 
EEG images can reflect thoughts as well as emotions: image via

BCI is powerful enough to show the slightest brain activity in response to even an idea presented to a comatose patient. Another study presented by German Professor Steven Laureys, investigated how BCI could be used to identify those patients who are "minimally conscious," a condition that may be present in those that are completely paralyzed and can't communicate physically, but whose consciousness is in tact.
This experiment used a control group of 13 healthy volunteers and 10 coma patients and posed 12 questions to each group. The possible responses included four commands: yes, no, stop, go. A speech computer was used to teach the possible answers to the questions.  Based on the EEGs of the coma patients, the researchers were able to determine which patients were thinking about an answer and which answer they were thinking.
"An important advantage of this method is that we are not dependent on motor responses, which are not even possible for many patients, and which are often just unconscious reflexes," reported Professor Laureys.
Three of the 10 coma patients could answer the questions correctly more than 50 percent of the time; each question was answered correctly by all patients from 25 percent to 33 percent of the time.
Professor Laureys said it would be a long time before BCI becomes routine procedure in hospitals. The use of BCI will result in more accurate care for coma patients and for those whose responses can be read through BCI, medical personnel will be able to ask questions about the patient's perceptions and needs.