Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New application of old drug provides promising results for people with Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center have joined a national group investigating the innovative use of an existing therapy as a potential treatment for people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.

The GAP (Gammaglobulin Alzheimer’s Partnership) Study will examine the safety, effectiveness and tolerability of Immune Globulin Intravenous (IGIV) in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer ’sdisease. IGIV has been used successfully for more than 20 years to treat people with autoimmune and immunodeficient disorders.

“The GAP study seeks to follow-up on promising findings from earlier, preliminary studies suggesting that the treatment might be helpful to those with Alzheimer’s disease,” said William Burke, M.D., professor of psychiatry and vicechair for research in the department of psychiatry at UNMC.

Recent results from a small 18-month study done at Weill Cornell Medical College showed improvements in overall function, cognition and brain imaging in those who received the treatment.

The GAP study is being conducted by the Alzheimer ’s Disease Cooperative Studies (ADCS) group, which is funded in part by the National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

“We are excited to join the ADCS in the effort to evaluate this potential treatment. The preliminary results are promising, but it is important to note that only a small number of people were involved,” Dr. Burke said. “The current study should allow us to better understand this approach to treatment.”

The GAP study involves 360 participants at 38 sites nationwide over a period of 82 weeks. Eligible participants must be between the ages of 50-89, have been diagnosed with probable mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, in good general health and have a study partner who is in contact with the participant at least 10 hours or more a week.

For more information call 402-552-6005 or email

As the state’s only academic health science center, UNMC is on the leading edge of health care. Breakthroughs are possible because hard-working researchers, educators and clinicians are resolved to work together to fuel discovery. In 2009, UNMC’s extramural research support topped $100 million for the first time, resulting in the creation of 3,600 jobs in Nebraska. UNMC’s academic excellence is shown through its award-winning programs, and its educational programs are responsible for training more health professionals practicing in Nebraska than any other institution. Through its commitment to education, research, patient care and outreach, UNMC and its hospital partner, The Nebraska Medical Center, have established themselves as one of the country's leading health care centers. UNMC's physician practice group, UNMC Physicians, includes 550 physicians in 50 specialties and subspecialties who practice primarily in The Nebraska Medical Center. For more information, go to UNMC’s Web site at

Smokers 'try seven times to kick habit'

QUITTING smoking has been likened to breaking a heroin addiction as an Australian study shows many longer-term smokers have tried seven times to kick the habit.

A poll of 2000 smokers found 75 per cent reported at least two unsuccessful quitting attempts, while among those who had tried multiple times the average was 7.4 attempts over the years.

Addiction expert Dr Raymond Seidler, a GP based in Sydney's Kings Cross, said the figure was unsurprising as many smokers underestimated how difficult it would be to quit.

"What smokers don't realise is that nicotine addition is as powerful, or even more powerful, than heroin addiction," Dr Seidler said.

"The (brain's) receptors for smoking are as strongly attached to nicotine as the heroine receptor is to opiates.

"That can come as a shock to a lot of people, (and) quitting is, therefore, a serious challenge for most."

Dr Seidler said the problem with multiple attempts, or periods of "cold turkey" followed by a relapse, was that many smokers would become demoralised and eventually give up on quitting.

He said those people should seek help from their GP, though the survey also showed many smokers would actively avoid involving a doctor.

Almost three quarters (73 per cent) said they felt there were "barriers to seeking a healthcare professional" about their smoking.

One in four (28 per cent) were unsure what a GP could do to help, while about same number said they could either give up without professional help, or they didn't want to spend money on a doctor.

A fear of feeling "judged" kept 17 per cent of smokers from discussing the issue with their GP.

But Dr Seidler said all of those views were unwarranted.

"Very few doctors now smoke, but many used to and a lot have a sympathy for people who do smoke," he said.

"A GP can guide you along the path and counsel you, and involve you in a holistic program that will work more effectively (at quitting).

"We know the downside of continuing to smoke - high blood pressure or diabetes, and you're in the frame for lung cancer."

Dr Seidler said nicotine replacement therapies were available at pharmacies while doctors could prescribe "more potent" quit-smoking medications to help "hard-core" smokers to give up the habit.

The survey was conducted by Lonergan Research, taking in the views of 2005 adult Australian smokers who were contacted during March.

It was commissioned by pharmaceutical company Pfizer Australia and released today, when a carpet of mock cigarettes was to be laid out in Sydney's Martin Place.

The fake cigarettes - 219,000 in total - will visually represent the total intake of a 20-cigarette-a-day smoker over 30 years.

The Effects of Stress on Your Lungs

Stress Affects the Entire Body

Stress is something that everyone experiences, but not everyone experiences the same kind of stress or reacts to it the same way. The human body is naturally designed to react to stress in a certain way. Consider these reactions warning signs. If you can learn to recognize the signs, you can nip those situations in the bud, engage in stress-relieving activities and reduce the effects of long-term stress on your body.

Stress affects every organ and system of the body. Most people are aware how stress affects the heart because it is the first thing we feel when faced with a stressful situation - often described as the hammering against the inside of your rib cage.

Stress is also associated with an increase in blood pressure, which can damage blood vessels and the heart over a long period of time.
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Less acknowledged is the effect of stress on the lungs, the role of lungs in increasing blood pressure and powering the body to deal with the stress.

How the Lungs React

There are two types of stress: acute and chronic.

Acute stress is the body's reaction to a sudden, immediate, life-threatening event. This is the kind of situation that brings out the body's "fight or flight" response. Basically, the body prepares itself for an emergency.

The lungs take in more oxygen and send it to the rest of the body through the increased heart rate. It is estimated that a person's blood flow increases by 300 to 400 percent in these types of situations. Along with oxygen, more red and white blood cells are carried throughout the body (carrying the increased amounts of oxygen).

The brain naturally suppresses short-term memory, concentration, sensitivity, and the ability to think logically so a person can respond quickly to the impending crisis. The brain also releases a protein (Neuropeptide S), which interferes with sleep and actually works to keep a person alert. These situations are stored in the long-term memory for future reference.

Properly functioning lungs mean that the body's systems will have the necessary resources and energy to respond to stressful situations.
If a person's lungs are compromised by conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, then their ability to react, respond, and successfully navigate such stressful situations will be compromised.

Chronic stress is ongoing stress usually related to outside influences that aren't immediately life-threatening. This would be the kind of stress associated with going to school or work, job interviews, public speaking, or living in a stressful home situation.

Easy Breathing Techniques to Manage Stress

One of the most common symptoms of stress or anxiety is shortness of breath. Fortunately, this is one symptoms that you can control, reduce, and prevent. Shortness can mean accelerated breathing, hyperventilating, or a full blow panic attack. It also means that you're restricting the amount of air your lungs can take in.

In those situations where shortness of breath is exacerbated by an underlying lung condition, treatment should be initiated in keeping with those conditions, but usually deep breathing and breathing through pursed lips can help bring your body back under control.

Deep breathing means breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. The breathing in this technique is similar to what musicians and vocalists use. As you breathe in, keeping your shoulders square (do not raise them as you breathe in) send the intake of air down to your belly. Many people forget that the diaphragm is integral to breathing and never get beyond the shallow breathing through their lungs. Breathing diaphragmatically naturally relaxes you.

To test if you're breathing deeply, place your hand just below your rib cage and inhale. You should feel your belly get rounder. The body naturally breathes diaphragmatically when you lie down on your back, so another option is to find a place to lie down and just breathe.

When you breathe out, try to regulate how quickly the air comes out by pursing your lips - such as what you do to blow out a candle.

This simple exercise can help you reduce stress and reduce the overall wear-and-tear stress induces on your body.

It is also important to eat as balanced a diet as possible, and to schedule "down time" and activities that help burn off energy and anxiety.

That’s a headache all right!

Sarah Colwill suffers from migraines. While that’s not exactly unusual, they have left her with a Chinese accent. Doctors says she has Foreign Accent Syndrome, a very rare condition

Migraines can leave you speechless with pain. But Sarah Colwill has experienced a much more unusual vocal effect — she now speaks with a Chinese accent.

The disturbing impact of a chronic migraine has left her voice unrecognisable to family and friends.

Doctors say she has Foreign Accent Syndrome, a condition which damages the part of the brain that controls speech and word formation, Daily Mail reports.

It is so rare, there are only 60 recorded cases in the world.  Mrs Colwill, 35, is baffled by the effects and fears she may never regain her normal pronunciation and tone of voice.

She said the change happened after she had such an extreme headache last month that she called for an ambulance. Paramedics said her voice sounded strange and when she arrived at hospital she realised she was speaking like a Chinese woman.

The IT project manager, who was born in Germany but has lived in Plymouth since she was a child, is having speech therapy to try to revert to her Devon accent. Mrs Colwill said she had no idea why she had picked up the Far Eastern speech pattern.

“I have never been to China. I just want my own voice back but I don’t know if I ever will. I moved to Plymouth when I was 18 months old so I’ve always spoken like a local. But following one attack an ambulance crew said I sounded Chinese.

I spoke to my step-daughter on the phone from hospital and she didn't recognise who I was. She said I sounded Chinese.  Since then I have had my friends hanging up on me because they think I'm a hoax caller.

I speak in a much higher tone now, my voice is all squeaky. To think I am stuck with this accent is getting me down,” she lamented.

Mrs Colwill has suffered severe headaches for a decade but this year was diagnosed as having rare sporadic hemiplegic migraines. 

The condition causes blood vessels in the brain to expand, resulting in stroke-like symptoms such as paralysis on one side of the body.

Others who suffer FAS: BBC World Service broadcaster Anne Bristow-Kitney whose crisp English tones were replaced by a broad Scottish accent after she suffered a stroke and brain haemorrhage in 1996

Wendy Hasnip, a special needs teacher from Yorkshire began speaking in a French accent
after a stroke in 1999

Lynda Walker, a university administrator, born in Newcastle Upon Tyne woke up after a stroke to find her Geordie twang replaced by a Jamaican accent

Hidden Brain Puzzle Finding Love: Quantity vs Quality

When people have too many romantic choices, either on the internet or during “speed dating,” they tend to choose partners based on superficial physical characteristics. You might think that having a large number of potential mates to choose from could help you make better choices. But new research suggests the opposite happens — as the number of our choices increase, our ability to make sophisticated choices decreases.
There’s nothing wrong with valuing good looks and attractiveness, of course. But most people are also looking for something more in their mates — shared values and interests, perhaps, or similar perspectives on life and religious beliefs. Many of these criteria go out the window when people are asked to choose among a large number of potential mates, during mate searches on the internet or during speed dating.
Here’s a puzzle that explores this phenomenon:  You are a single person looking for a mate with a good education and positive values. You would also like to be with someone physically attractive. You sign up for a speed-dating service, where you have brief conversations with potential partners. You (and potential partners with similar criteria) are LESS likely to focus on physical attributes, and pay more attention to intelligence and values if
A) There are 12 potential dates at the event
B) There are 24 potential dates at the event
C) There are 36 potential dates at the event
D) There are more than 36 potential dates at the event
The correct answer is A — you are less likely to focus only on physical characteristics when there are 12 potential dates at the event.
I based this puzzle on research conducted by Alison Lenton at the University of Edinburgh and Marco Francesconi at the University of Essex, who studied 84 speed dating events. Both men and women preferred dates who were taller, younger and well-educated; women preferred men who were not skinny, and men preferred women who were not overweight.
At events that featured 24 or more potential dates, however, Lenton and Francesconi found that both men and women fell back on simple heuristics, such as the physical size and weight of the people they were meeting. When potential dates numbered fewer than 24, both men and women paid more attention to other details that the men and women themselves reported were important to them. This has important implications if you are signed up with a speed dating service — you will make better choices, and your potential partners will make better choices, if the events are small rather than large.
What’s interesting about this research is that similar findings have been reported in many other domains. Human beings typically think that having more choices will help them make better decisions. That would be true if we only had conscious minds, but having more choices also brings the hidden brain into play in an unexpected way, and ends up producing less sophisticated thinking.
In a press release, Lenton said, “we look for different attributes in partners than what we look for in a chocolate, a jam or a 401(k) plan. But one of the points we’re trying to make in this article is it’s the same brain we’re carrying around. There are constraints on what our brains can do – they’re quite powerful, but they can’t pay attention to everything at once.”

Benefit account established for islander needing brain surgery

Jessica Oldwyn, Friday Harbor High School Class of 1998, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor that will require brain surgery. A benefit fund has been opened at Islanders Bank. Jessica's boyfriend, Danny Carroll, graduated from Friday Harbor High in 1996.
Contributed phot 

Jessica Oldwyn, Friday Harbor High School Class of 1998, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor that will require brain surgery.
Although she has health insurance, the anticipated cost of the procedure is expected to exceed her benefits and therefore become her responsibility.
She and her family have deep ties in the community, and many people within the community are expressing interest in giving their support to the Oldwyn family. Because of this interest, friends of the family have opened a beneficiary account in Jessica's name at Islanders Bank. To contribute, visit a local Islanders Bank branch and ask about Jessica Oldwyn's beneficiary account.
"Jessica and her family appreciate the overwhelming amount of support they are receiving from the community during this challenging time," family and friends said in an announcement of the fund.

A Brain-Recording Device that Melts into Place

Penn Medicine scientists and colleagues have developed a brain implant that essentially melts into place, snugly fitting to the brain’s surface. The technology could pave the way for better devices to monitor and control seizures, and to transmit signals from the brain past damaged parts of the spinal cord.

The ultrathin flexible implants, made partly from silk, can record brain activity more faithfully than thicker implants embedded with similar electronics.

“The focus of our study was to make ultrathin arrays that conform to the complex shape of the brain, and limit the amount of tissue damage and inflammation,” said coauthors Brian Litt, MD, associate professor of Neurology and associate professor of Bioengineering in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and PhD student Jonathan Viventi. The silk-based implants, developed by Dr. Litt and colleagues at Tufts University and the University of Illinois, can hug the brain like shrink wrap, collapsing into its grooves and stretching over its rounded surfaces. The study appears this month in Nature Materials.

For more information, refer to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke news release.


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $3.6 billion enterprise.

Penn’s School of Medicine is currently ranked #2 in U.S. News & World Report’s survey of research-oriented medical schools, and is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $367.2 million awarded in the 2008 fiscal year.

Penn Medicine’s patient care facilities include:

* The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania – the nation’s first teaching hospital, recognized as one of the nation’s top 10 hospitals by U.S. News & World Report.
* Penn Presbyterian Medical Center – named one of the top 100 hospitals for cardiovascular care by Thomson Reuters for six years.
* Pennsylvania Hospital – the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751, nationally recognized for excellence in orthopaedics, obstetrics & gynecology, and behavioral health.

Additional patient care facilities and services include Penn Medicine at Rittenhouse, a Philadelphia campus offering inpatient rehabilitation and outpatient care in many specialties; as well as a primary care provider network; a faculty practice plan; home care and hospice services; and several multispecialty outpatient facilities across the Philadelphia region.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2009, Penn Medicine provided $733.5 million to benefit our community.

Can you train your brain?

(MGN Online)
Have you developed your brain to function at optimum capacity?

Are you using your brain to its fullest potential?

If you need help, there are a wealth of brain-training programs that promise to help your mind work more quickly and efficiently, much like physical fitness workouts for  the body.

But beware! A new study published in the scientific journal Nature says these brain fitness programs may not live up to their billing.

Researchers trained more than 11-thousand subjects on computer-based tasks designed to improve memory, reasoning, planning, and visual skills. They found that participants did improve on the specific tasks on which they were trained.

However, when the subjects were given closely related tasks on which they had NOT been trained, there was no evidence they were able to  transfer these skills or effects. And researchers argue that without such a transfer, there was no true training of the brain.

So while doing word or math games, puzzles, teasers, and tests can be fun and stimulating,  there's still no conclusive proof that it actually makes you smarter.

Making false promise? Brain scan can catch liars in the act

LONDON: It might be possible to decide soon whether a criminal has reformed or the risk of his relapse is too high with the help of brain imaging, which scientists say can be used in the justice system. 
Scientists at the University of Zurich in Switzerland found that breaking a promise is a complex neurobiological event and a brain scan can predict those who are planning to break their word.

The scientists said if the predictive ability of the functional Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI) scans is borne out in future studies, someday the technique could be of use to the justice system.

Using fMRI scans, the experts scanned the brains of participants playing an investment game and were able to predict whether a volunteer is making true pledges or false. They said, promise breakers had more activity in certain brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex, an indication that planning and self-control were involved in suppressing an honest response, and the amygdala, perhaps a sign of conflicting and aversive emotions such as guilt and fear.

Eight Steps To A Winners Brain

We exercise for a good bod, we take treatments to enhance beauty but what do we do for our brain? Cracking a puzzle or a game of Whac-a-Mole can actually help enhance your brain but this is not enough. There is some extra effort which one needs to put in, to get the winners brain.

According to the authors of a new book, ‘The Winner’s Brain’, the brain of successful people function differently from those of the average.
Assistant neuroscience professor Mark Fenske, claim that one can actually rewire his/her brain and even physically change it.

They sought input from other brain experts and of individuals whom they categorized as, “winners” and have put down eight “win factors.”

They claim that these eight points can graduate ones brain from average to winning brain.

Eight tips for winning brains:

Observation: Observation is one of the key identification of one's brain ability. To check yours, try and interpret people’s facial expressions and body language by watching scenes from a movie on mute. Then turn on the volume and match your interpretation with the movie.With this practice you can actually enhance your observation skills.

Motivation: A huge task is capable enough of demotivating you. At this time even if you finish the job, it surely will be of worst quality. The same work if broken up in parts, will look easy. If a work seems tiring to you, break it up and finish it. Extend the division of work over time. This heightens your brains capacity.

Focus: Never force your brain. Concentration is important but sometimes excess of concentration makes your brain stop working. At such a time, take a break and give your brain time to rejuvenate and you will notice that solution to problems coming automatically.

Emotional balance: At the time of a crisis, emotions take over your thinking capabilities. You should practice managing your emotions by changing your perspective of the situation. If you take the crisis as a challenge, things will look easy.

Memory: Like you edit mistakes while writing, edit your brain memory. An unpleasant event, a unfavorable situation or a dark past, just shed them and say 'I will never think of you again.' This will give space to your brain to do more important tasks.

Resilience: When you’re in a tough situation, think of a “resilience role model,” like a parent, teacher or mentor. Try imagining what they would have done in a similar situation. You will be surprised to see, how solutions pour in.

Adaptability: To adapt to a new surrounding, one needs peace of mind. This peace can only be received by regular Yoga and meditation. Try a few minutes of meditation in a day to calm your brain. Studies prove that regular practice increase cortical thickness in as little as eight weeks.

Brain care: 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, three times a week, will also workout your brain. Exercise regulated the blood circulation in the brain thus making your nerves active.

Take these eight steps, to win over over brain and life.

Ultrathin silk-based electrons as brain implants

(Credit: John Rogers/Nature Materials)
Silk is not only flexible, it is also transparent and strong, and the rate at which it dissolves can be manipulated. So researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana; Tufts in Boston; and the University of Pennsylvania decided to build silk-based brain implants, using electrode arrays with silk proteins and thin metal electrodes.
Since silk is biocompatible and water-soluble, it dissolved in the brains of the cats they studied, leaving the mesh-like electrodes, which are about 1/40 the thickness of a standard sheet of paper, literally hugging the brains' contours.
The cats were anesthetized, but their eyes still functioned, and the electrodes recorded the signals from their eyes as the cats were shown a series of images.
The result? These electrodes recorded signals from the cats' brains more accurately than the more traditional, stiff devices, which are about 30 times thicker.
"These implants have the potential to maximize the contact between electrodes and brain tissue, while minimizing damage to the brain," says Dr. Walter Koroshetz of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a division of the Nation Institutes of Health, which contributed funding to the study.
These devices have the potential to help people with epilepsy, spinal cord injuries, and artificial limbs, report the researchers in the journal Nature Materials, which published the results on April 18.
The hope is that such a sensitive electrode will detect a seizure as it starts and deliver pulses to counteract it. For people with spinal cord injuries or prosthetics, brain signals might actually be routed directly to specific parts of the body. The researchers are also looking into building fully dissolvable implantable electronics to monitor and stimulate tissue growth. They say such technology could be extended for use in retinal and cochlear implants and even in treating a wide range of neurological disorders.

How to grow your brain: It takes more than just math puzzles

A walk in the park or a game of Whac-a-Mole may hold the key to a thicker cortex, say the team behind The Winner’s Brain.

The brains of highly successful people function differently from those of the average Joe, according to the authors of the new book, The Winner’s Brain.
Fortunately, they say, you can actually rewire your brain, even physically change it.
Assistant neuroscience professor Mark Fenske of the University of Guelph and cognitive behavioural psychologist Jeff Brown of Harvard Medical School sought input from other brain experts and a variety of individuals they deemed “winners” – from blues guitarist B.B. King to Aaron Fechter, the inventor of popular carnival game Whac-a-Mole.
They identified eight “win factors,” including self-awareness, motivation, focus, emotional balance, memory, resilience, adaptability and brain care.
Here, Dr. Fenske explains that, with practice, it’s possible to boost these win factors and train your brain for success.
What are some of the physiological differences you see in a winner’s brain?
Well, they’re specific to the different areas that we find as being related to success. [For instance, London’s elite Black Cab taxi drivers] have to spend a couple of years gaining “The Knowledge,” which is essentially very detailed knowledge of the streets of London, the contingencies – if it’s 4:30, this road will be open, this one will be closed; if there’s construction at this point, what’s the best way around – all these things, so that they can pass this test to get a license.
The hippocampus, which is critical for spatial navigation and memory, is larger in these individuals than it is in people who don’t have this training and expertise in spatial navigation and remembering routes and things like this.
[A growing body of research shows that] what you do with your brain, how you engage your brain, can not only improve your ability to function at a given task, but can really change the physical landscape of the brain itself.
How does training your brain change it physically?
The idea is when you do a given task, you engage the parts of the brain that are involved in that task. The more you engage it, the more it seeks ways to be more efficient at what it’s doing, and so that encourages new synaptic connections between neurons.
Once you have new synapses being formed, that helps to recruit support cells. So you can have the neurons making the connections and doing the firing, but they need the blood, they need oxygen, they need fuel, and so these support cells come in and help out. The result is, in those areas that are receiving a lot of activity, they’re getting better blood supply … and it leads to a physical rewiring or change in the brain.
You can measure this in the thickness of the cortex, that outer wrinkled covering of the brain where most of the computational power is; that will get thicker. The cortex also gets more dense.
Is there a limit to how much you can improve your brain?
Well, there’s certainly a limit to how much you can physically change your brain.... Your skull doesn’t get any bigger, so it’s not like you can grow a whole new lobe, but there’s much more promise than what we had previously thought.
You recommend meditation as a technique for improving skills like memory and focus. What happens to your brain when you meditate?
From a scientist’s perspective, when you look at meditation, it essentially involves a bunch of practice where you’re shifting and controlling the focus of your attention. So in some forms of meditation, it’s about having a very broad focus of attention, or else really focusing on one thing, like focusing on your breath …
What Sara [Lazar, Harvard Medical School neuroscientist] found is that the key areas that are activated when people are meditating, areas like the insula, which is really important for self-awareness, and the cortex, got thicker versus people who didn’t meditate.
People who didn’t meditate showed the standard age-related thinning of the cortex.
You mention in the book there’s little evidence that brain teasers and memory games reverse brain aging. Are they a waste of money?
It’s not clear that you’re wasting your money. They certainly don’t hurt, and there is probably at least some small benefit from those things.
We talked to Art Kramer [professor of psychology at the University of Illinois]. What he’s seen so far is that those things are fine, and you tend to get better at least in [the games], but that physical exercise, overall, seems to have quite a broad improvement on brain function.
Exercise certainly seems to be one of those things that’s relatively easy to do that has really quite robust effects. Exercise releases what’s called neurotrophic factors, which you can kind of think of as fertilizer for the brain. They help to facilitate the sprouting of new synapses, new connections.
What lessons about a winner’s brain can we learn from the creator of Whac-a-Mole?
When we talk about the focus of attention, there’s some great [research] that has shown that sometimes we try too hard. Sometimes the best thing to do is not to really focus and really try to do our very best, but instead, just relax a bit and let the information come to us.
Whac-a-Mole inventor Aaron Fechter said to us, “I can still go into an arcade or into the carnival and there’ll be a Whac-a-Mole game, and I step up, and I can get perfect on the game. And kids will just look at me and say, ‘Wow, you must be the guy who invented the game or something.’ ”
Then he described his strategy. How do you get perfect at Whac-a-Mole? He said you don’t try. Trying is counter-productive. Instead, you sit back and let the moles come to you.
There’s certain parts of the brain and certain processes that we do that we’ve automated. We have enough experience, we have enough practice. When we apply the slower, controlled, cognitive effort, that can get in the way. So what we want to do is relinquish and turn down the cognitive control, and instead let these areas that are really specialized for this do their stuff.
Eight tips for winning brains
Self-awareness: Train yourself to interpret other people’s facial expressions and body language by watching scenes from a movie on mute. Then watch the scene again, this time with volume, and compare how well your interpretations matched up. You can improve this skill over time.
Motivation: If you have a problem with procrastination, make large tasks feel more manageable by breaking them down into parts.
Focus: Like playing Whac-a-Mole, sometimes you can actually perform better when you’re not concentrating too hard. If something’s not coming to you despite your best efforts, try relaxing and letting the brain work on autopilot.
Emotional balance: Practice managing your emotions by changing your perspective of a situation. Research shows that if you think of a highly emotional event as a challenge rather than a problem, you can stay calmer and retain a better memory for details.
Memory: “Edit your brain,” the authors say. Recognize and consciously purge useless information. Imagine sweeping it away, so you can concentrate on more useful data.
Resilience: When you’re in a tough spot, think of a “resilience role model,” a parent, teacher or mentor, and ask yourself what they would do in your situation. That way, you’ll have more than your own resources to draw upon.
Adaptability: Try a few minutes of meditation a day to calm your thoughts. Studies show “regular yoga and meditation can increase cortical thickness in as little as eight weeks.”
Brain care: Research suggests that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, three times a week, can help strengthen your mind.

Obesity gene can shrink the brain

Washington, Apr 20 (ANI): The obesity gene, which is carried by over half of all people in the US with European ancestry, is also associated with a loss of brain tissue, say researchers.

The discovery by senior study author Paul Thompson, a UCLA professor of neurology, and his team puts more than a third of the U.S. population at risk for a variety of diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

Three years ago, geneticists reported that nearly half of all people in the U.S. with European ancestry carry a variant of the fat mass and obesity associated (FTO) gene, which causes them to gain weight - from three to seven pounds, on average - but worse, puts them at risk for obesity.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers generated three-dimensional "maps" of brain volume differences in 206 healthy elderly subjects drawn from 58 sites in the U.S. as part of the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative- a large, five-year study aimed at better understanding factors that help the brain resist disease as it ages.

They found that there was consistently less tissue in the brains of those who carry the FTO allele, compared with non-carriers.

Individuals with the "bad" version of the FTO gene had an average of 8 percent less tissue in the frontal lobes, the "command center" of the brain, and 12 percent less in the occipital lobes, areas in the back of the brain responsible for vision and perception.

Further, the brain differences could not be directly attributed to other obesity-related factors such as cholesterol levels, diabetes or high blood pressure.

Thompson called the findings worrying and mysterious.

"The results are curious. If you have the bad FTO gene, your weight affects your brain adversely in terms of tissue loss. If you don't carry FTO, higher body weight doesn't translate into brain deficits; in fact, it has nothing to do with it. This is a very mysterious, widespread gene," he said.

People who carry this specific DNA sequence are heavier on average, and their waist circumference is half an inch bigger.

This is a large percentage of the population, said Thompson.

"This is a shocking finding. Any loss of brain tissue puts you at greater risk for functional decline. The risk gene divides the world into two camps ? those who have the FTO allele and those who don't," he said.

But Thompson said that the news is not necessarily completely negative, because "carriers of the risk gene can exercise and eat healthily to resist both obesity and brain decline."

"The gene discovery will help to develop and fine tune the anti-dementia drugs being developed to combat brain aging," he said

The study has been published in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study: Brain games don't make you smarter

LONDON — People playing computer games to train their brains might as well be playing Super Mario, new research suggests.
In a six-week study, experts found people who played online games designed to improve their cognitive skills didn't get any smarter.
Researchers recruited participants from viewers of the BBC's science show "Bang Goes the Theory." More than 8,600 people aged 18 to 60 were asked to play online brain games designed by the researchers to improve their memory, reasoning and other skills for at least 10 minutes a day, three times a week.
They were compared to more than 2,700 people who didn't play any brain games, but spent a similar amount of time surfing the Internet and answering general knowledge questions. All participants were given a sort of I.Q. test before and after the experiment.
Researchers said the people who did the brain training didn't do any better on the test after six weeks than people who had simply been on the Internet. On some sections of the test, the people who surfed the Net scored higher than those playing the games.
The study was paid for by the BBC and published online Tuesday by the journal Nature.
"If you're (playing these games) because they're fun, that's absolutely fine," said Adrian Owen, assistant director of the Cognition and Brain Sciences unit at Britain's Medical Research Council, the study's lead author. "But if you're expecting (these games) to improve your I.Q., our data suggests this isn't the case," he said during a press briefing on Tuesday.
One maker of brain games said the BBC study did not apply to its products. Steve Aldrich, CEO of Posit Science, said the company's games, some of which were funded in part by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, have been proven to boost brain power.
"Their conclusion would be like saying, 'I cannot run a mile in under 4 minutes and therefore it is impossible to do so," Aldrich said.
Posit Science has published research in journals including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing their games improved memory in older people.
Computer games available online and marketed by companies like Nintendo that supposedly enhance memory, reasoning and other cognitive skills are played by millions of people worldwide, though few studies have examined if the games work.
"There is precious little evidence to suggest the skills used in these games transfer to the real world," said Art Kramer, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Illinois. He was not linked to the study and has no ties to any companies that make brain training games.
Kramer had several reservations about the BBC study's methodology and said some brain games had small effects in improving people's cognitive skills. "Learning is very specific," he said. "Unless the component you are trained in actually exists in the real world, any transfer will be pretty minimal."
Instead of playing brain games, Kramer said people would be better off getting some exercise. He said physical activity can spark new connections between neurons and produce new brain cells. "Fitness changes the building blocks of the brain's structure," he said.
Still, Kramer said some brain training games worked better than others. He said some games made by Posit Science had shown modest benefits, including improved memory in older people.
Other experts said brain games might be useful, but only if they weren't fun.
"If you set the level for these games to a very high level where you don't get the answers very often and it really annoys you, then it may be useful," said Philip Adey, an emeritus professor of psychology and neuroscience at King's College in London.
If people are enjoying the brain games, Adey said they probably aren't being challenged and might as well be playing a regular video game.
He said people should consider learning a new language or sport if they really wanted to improve their brain power. "To stimulate the intellect, you need a real challenge," Adey said, adding computer games were not an easy shortcut. "Getting smart is hard work."