Friday, April 23, 2010

World's first full face transplant 'a complete success'

A team of 20 spanish surgeons spent 22 hours on the proceedure
A team of 20 spanish surgeons spent 22 hours on the proceedure
The world's first full face transplant has been successfully performed by Spanish doctors after a groundbreaking 22-hour operation.

A team of 30 Spanish doctors operated on a farmer who suffered a gunshot wound to the face causing severe disfigurement due to the complete loss of his nose, jaw and other parts.

The operation, carried out in Barcelona, is understood to be the first time an entire face – including the skin, muscles, teeth, lips, cheekbones and jaw – has been transplanted and reconstructed.

The operation, carried out on March 20th but only just revealed, used tissue from a brain-dead donor and involved removing the entire facial skin and muscles, nose, lips, palate, teeth, cheekbones, and the jawbone from a brain-dead donor.

The donor tissue was connected to the patient's own blood vessels, nerves and skin. Metal plates were used to support the structure of the new face, which included reconstructing the roof of the mouth.

Joan Pere Barret, who led the team of surgeons, said at a news conference that the procedure was a complete success and that the patient was recovering well in hospital with no sign of tissue rejection or infection.

Dr Barret said the new man's face did not resemble that of the anonymous donor, or his own features before the injury - it was, he said, "the face of a complete new human being".

The patient, who has not been identified, had been left unable to breathe, swallow, or talk properly after an accident five years ago. He was considered for a full face transplant after nine previous operations failed.

Dr Barret told the news conference the man has since seen himself in the mirror and was "calm and satisfied".

It is believed that the patient will remain in hospital for at least two months and will be closely monitored for four months after that. But he should be left with a normal appearance, without scars or distortions in the skin.

Another 10 face transplants have taken place across the world in France, America China and Spain, but this is the most complex operation to have taken place so far.

Britain is set to carry out its first transplant operation when the correct tissue becomes available for the Facial Transplantation Team, based at the Royal Free Hospital.

Male Sex Issue Could be Linked to Parents

Sex sign. (Stuart Caie / / Creative Commons
Study looked at dopamine, a chemical in the brain

(CANVAS STAFF REPORTS) - Long linked to psychological issues, scientists now believe premature ejaculation could be inherited, reports the Daily Mail .
The study suggests the problem may be passed down through the generations. The condition affects one in four men in the United Kingdom, reports the news site.
The researchers in Sweden and Finland have found that a genetic abnormality can affect levels of a chemical in the brain. Specifically, they found that men in their study carried a defect in a gene that controls the release of dopamine. The chemical acts like a neurotransmitter and plays a crucial role in important activities including movement, attention span and the brain's perception of pleasure and reward.
Scientists now say premature ejaculation problems could be treated with drugs that boost dopamine levels in the brain. The researchers noted that for decades dopamine-based drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease had an aphrodisiac effect on some patients, reports the Daily Mail.
The study involved nearly 1,300 men ages 18 to 45. They were each asked how long they were usually able to last during sex. Researchers also took saliva samples to test for defects in a dopamine transporter gene, called DAT1.
Most experts have believed that an inability to relax during sex was among the psychological issues that cause premature ejaculation. Doctors can treat the condition with relaxation techniques and sometimes with anti-depressants to control anxiety.
The study was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine .
The Mayo Clinic says an estimated one in three men are affected by the condition at some time. One solution is better communication, according to the clinic.
"In some cases, premature ejaculation may be caused by poor communication between partners or a lack of understanding of the differences between male and female sexual functioning," states the clinic's website

Keeping fit could help beat Alzheimers

DO something different – that’s the message to Alzheimer’s sufferers from one York expert.
Gill Myers, support services manager for the Alzheimer's Society in York, says doing new or different activities, as well as keeping fit and healthy, can keep your brain active.
Her comments follow a recent study into brain training featured on the BBC science programme Bang Goes the Theory. It showed that the games do not necessarily improve mental performance.
A six-week study saw adults trial various computer-based brain training exercises. While participants were seen to improve at the games with practice, the benefits of such training proved not to be transferable to other mental skills.
Gill said: “We’ve always encouraged people to stay mentally and physically active, and particular research shows that if you do new activities or different activities or a range of mental alert activities or if you have good social networks, it can keep your brain active."
She added: “I think the key really seems to be to do a variety of things and don’t get set in particular ways. It’s a whole range of things, from social contact, fresh air and exercise and trying to keep as healthy as possible, as you would if you were diagnosed with any other acute condition.”
She said that the trial featured on the programme involved people of all ages, and the Alzheimer’s Society was undertaking a bigger project focusing specifically on older people.
“I’ve always said to people try all sorts of games - sudoku or crosswords or trying your luck at countdown, whatever helps people feel mentally alert, but it isn’t a cure,” she said.
According to the Alzheimer's Society, a person's chances of developing the condition could be reduced by up to 20 per cent by living a healthy lifestyle.

Popping Pills A Popular Way To Boost Brain Power

(CBS)  If a college campus survey holds true for the entire nation, most of this year's graduating seniors at American colleges have illegally used prescription drugs to boost their brain power.

"60 Minutes" correspondent Katie Couric reports on the increasing non-prescription use of "smart drugs" meant to help those with attention deficit disorders in a segment to be broadcast this Sunday, April 25, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Alan DeSantis, professor of Communications at the University of Kentucky, decided to study the use of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall because he was surprised to hear so many of his students talking about taking them. He found that among nearly 2,000 U. of K. undergrads surveyed, 34 percent said they had taken them without a prescription and that the percentage rose as students got closer to graduation. "If you were to ask what percentage of juniors and seniors are using ADHD stimulants, the number is well above 50, pushing 60 percent," he tells Couric. "Add in juniors and seniors who are in fraternities and sororities, the number is up [to] 80 percent," says DeSantis.

DeSantis says nearly all the respondents said the drugs improved their scores by one or two letter grades.

According to DeSantis, 4 percent of undergrads at the University of Kentucky have legal prescriptions for ADHD stimulants and those students often have leftover pills they give or sell to their fellow students, like Lauren, a junior at the University. She explains the difference such drugs make for her. "I've taken them to study for tests and write papers….If I'm not on Adderall, I'll read something and I'm not really interested at all," Lauren says. "But then you take an Adderall and you…all of the sudden are just totally consumed in what you are doing," she tells Couric.

Scott, another U. of K. student who says he does not take these drugs, understands why others do. "Everybody's trying to get an edge…if you can take a pill that will help you study all night to get that grade you need…a lot of people don't see why they wouldn't do it," he says.

Scientists, like Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, point out that stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin can cause heart trouble and raise blood pressure. She says the long-term effects of people without attention deficit disorder using such drugs are not known and she has another concern. "The reality is there are side effects of these drugs," says Volkow. "One of them is addiction, but another one can be psychosis, so it's not worth the risk."

U. of K. student Catherine, who says she does not use smart drugs, raises another question. "I feel that it's an unfair advantage," she tells Couric. "If the person next to me…can stay up the entire night and know the material and come in and make a better grade than me."
  • Play CBS Video Video Excerpt: Boosting Brain Power More people, especially college students, are illegally boosting their brain power by using "smart drugs" like Ritalin and Aderall, meant for those with attention deficit disorders. 60 Minutes, Sunday, April 25, 7 p.m. ET/PT.
  •  (CBS)

Brain training games will not make you smarter

"Brain training" computer games do not significantly improve mental ability, according to the largest clinical trial of such exercises.
"Brain training doesn't do you any harm but you might as well do something else mentally stimulating, like learning a new language - it's as good as brain training and you will be able to speak a foreign language," lead researcher Dr Adrian Owen of Cambridge university told the Financial Times.
Brain training games are a multimillion-pound industry, with manufacturers claiming that regular use can enhance cognitive function. The software is used daily by millions of people who might think it was improving their mental acuity. The study, published by the journal Nature, was carried out by the Medical Research Council's cognition and brain sciences unit at Cambridge, along with King's College institute of psychiatry and the University of Manchester in conjunction with the BBC's science television programme, Bang Goes the Theory .
The trial included 11,430 volunteers whose brain function was measured at the outset by a "benchmark" test. The participants were then randomly split into three groups.
One performed tasks linked to measures of general intelligence based on reasoning, planning and problem solving. Group two practised exercises found in brain training software, testing their short-term memory, attention, spatial judgment and maths skills.
Group three acted as a control and was asked to answer obscure questions by searching the internet.
After six weeks participants again took the benchmark test. Those who had been "training" their brains showed slight improvements, but no more so than the control group. In some tests, the control group had improved more than those who had been training.
Improvements among the brain-trained volunteers were so slight that in order to recall an extra digit in a memory test, the games would have to be played frequently for four years.
Participants did improve their scores in the actual brain training games. "You just get better at the specific tasks through repetition", Dr Owen said.

Brain surgery grandad's ordeal after blunder on X-rays

A brain surgery survivor who thought he had the all clear discovered nine months later he'd been given the wrong X-rays.

Leonard Beaufoy, 58, had weeks of anguish since realising his diagnosis was made on someone else's scan.

The grandad, who had an operation four years ago to treat a brain aneurysm, said: "I was more than panicked to say the least."

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The right images have now been sent to his GP who said he's OK, but Leonard wants another MRI scan to be sure.

Leonard, of St Osyth, Essex, had his annual check-up last May at Colchester General Hospital. NHS North East Essex has apologised and said Alliance Medical, which did the scan, is investigating.

Doctors at West Cumberland Hospital in Cumbria told Danica Maxwell, 14, of Egremont, she had a migraine - but a scan showed three brain tumours. The NHS trust declined to comment.

Are you wired to be fat and forgetful?

Apparently so - if you have the fat gene, FTO, that exists in 50 percent of the world's population. Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles, (UCLA) found this gene not only increases your propensity to be obese but also eats at your brain tissue.

On April 19, the UCLA study was published in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), a renowned American scientific journal.
The researchers used 3D "regional brain volume" maps to see the difference of brain tissue deterioration amongst "206 healthy elderly subjects."
The results showed that those with the gene variant had around 8 percent less brain tissue in the frontal lobes and 12 percent in the occipital lobes causing brain atrophy linked to dementia and Alzheimer's.
Paul Thompson, neurology professor at UCLA, led the study and said, "The results are curious. If you have the bad FTO gene, your weight affects your brain adversely in terms of tissue loss," and "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."
Individuals with this "specific DNA sequence are heavier on average, and their waist circumference is half an inch bigger. This is a shocking finding. Any loss of brain tissue puts you at greater risk for functional decline," Thompson continued,  "the risk gene divides the world into two camps - those who have the FTO allele and those who don't."
The good news is that "carriers of the risk gene can exercise and eat healthily to resist both obesity and brain decline."
With "half of the world carrying this dangerous gene," the bright side is that individuals can counteract their risk by maintaining "a healthy lifestyle." Thompson added, "it's vital to boost your brain health by being physically active and eating a balanced diet."
This study could impact the way "anti-dementia drugs being developed to combat brain aging." In the interim, get fit.

A little red wine could help protect you from stroke damage

Exercise, not smoking, eating well, what next? A small glass of red wine could be on your health list in the future, writes Lesley Dobson

To drink or not to drink? For anyone who’s interested in the effect alcohol has on their health, that’s been the question for a while. Scientists have been uncovering evidence that drinking too much alcohol is bad for us - higher risk of some cancers and heart attack, high blood pressure and liver problems for starters. On the other hand, scientists have also found evidence that drinking red wine in moderation may be good for your heart.

New research, published online in the journal Experimental Neurology, has added further evidence that red wine may be good for our health. Following a study on mice, researchers have discovered that resveratrol, a compound in the skins and seeds of red grapes may protect the brain from the damage that comes with a stroke.

The researchers divided the mice into two groups. They gave the mice in one group a small, single dose of resveratrol. Two hours later they induced an ischaemic stroke in both groups, (when blood supply to the brain is cut off).

The mice that had been given resveratrol suffered significantly less brain damage than those that hadn’t. Sylvain Doré, an associate professor of anaesthesiology and critical care medicine and pharmacology and molecular sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, lead the research. He says the study suggests that resveratrol increases levels of an enzyme, heme oxygenase, that is already known to shield nerve cells in the brain from damage.

"Our study adds to evidence that resveratrol can potentially build brain resistance to ischaemic stroke," says Doré. This doesn’t mean that you should start downing resveratrol supplements. In fact Sylvain Doré cautions against it, as the evidence so far is unclear on whether these supplements could do harm or good.

Although resveratrol comes from red grapes, it may be that the alcohol in red wine is needed to concentrate the amounts of the compound. But that doesn’t mean that you should open another bottle of red wine. No-one knows yet how much resveratrol you need to give the best protection to the brain. And we don’t yet know which kind of red wine to choose, as different types of red wine contain different amounts of this compound.

In the end, the amount of resveratrol you need to protect your brain from stroke could be quite small. "Resveratrol itself may not be shielding brain cells from free radical damage directly. Instead resveratrol and its metabolites may be prompting the cells to defend themselves," says Doré.

"It’s not likely that brain cells can have high enough local levels of resveratrol to be protective," he says. The resveratrol is needed to jump-start this protective enzymatic system that is already present within the cells. "Even a small amount may be sufficient," Doré says. (The research is ongoing, so we can expect further news on this subject. Doré is also testing the effects of giving resveratrol to mice after a stroke. This work is also in it early stages, but so far results suggest that it may be beneficial.)

However tempting, don’t over-do it.  Too much booze will still be bad for your health. "We know that small amounts of alcohol seem to help protect against ischaemic strokes, which is a clot in the brain," says Andrea Lane, spokesperson for The Stroke Association. "Alcohol may help to thin the blood and reduce the risk of clots forming. However, even small amounts of alcohol can increase your risk of haemorrhagic stroke, which is a bleed."

"We recommend that people drink alcohol in moderation. This is 2-3 units a day for women and 3-4 units a day for men. Making lifestyle changes such as eating healthily, taking regular exercise and quitting smoking can all help to reduce your risk of stroke."

The figures above are the Government’s lower risk drinking guidelines. This means what it says, they are lower, but not necessarily low risk. "It’s certainly not a recommendation that you drink this much every day," says Thérèse Lyras, spokesperson for Alcohol Concern. "Everyone is different, we all have varying tolerance, and even a small amount of alcohol can contain an element of risk."

Brain training games 'can keep your mind active'

Brain training games can help people keep their mind active, according to the Alzheimer's Society.

The organisation was responding after a study conducted by the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit found that brain training games have no impact on mental performance.

But Gill Myers, Alzheimer Society support service manager for York, said while the games may not increase brain power, they can help people more alert.

She said doing games which people have "enjoyed in the past like crossword puzzles, Sudoku or quizzes" can also help people feel mentally alert.

"Research shows that if you do new activities or different activities or a range of mental alert activities or if you have good social networks, it can keep your brain active," she added.

Some 11,430 adults were followed over six weeks for the study, which found no evidence which supported the claims that brain training games can improve cognitive functions.

Can it really be true that leaving your baby to cry could damage its brain?

When I had my son 22 years ago, something of a skirmish broke out between my mother and me.
She said babies were resilient little things that didn't require their every whim being pandered to. But my instinct was to rush to comfort my child whenever he was crying.
Back then, my views were supported by the favoured baby guru of the time, Penelope Leach, who advised parents never to leave a baby to cry unattended.
A crying baby..
Conflicting views: Should a child be cuddled and hugged to stop them crying, or should you leave them to 'cry it out'?
Now, here we are again in 2010 and the same mothering debate has just been reignited.
Leach is back with a new book which contains an intriguing and very modern development, while fighting for my mother's point of view is Gina Ford, best-selling author of The Contented Little Baby Book.
She sternly advocates leaving babies to cry in order to train them into regular feeding, waking and sleeping patterns.

This time, in Leach's new book, The Essential First Year - What Babies Need Parents To Know, she claims she has science on her side.
She reveals how, using saliva swab tests, scientists have measured high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in distraught babies whose cries elicit no response from parent or carer.
Controversial: Dr Penelope Leach claims that leaving a baby to cry could affect its development
Neurobiologists say, according to Leach, that high cortisol levels are 'toxic' to the developing brain.
'It is not an opinion but a fact that it's potentially damaging to leave babies to cry. Now we know that, why risk it?' says Leach.
She is not saying it is bad for babies to cry per se, but that withholding a parental response, she argues, can have long-term emotional consequences for the baby (and I would argue for the mother, too).
'We are dealing with the expectations that a baby's brain is building up,' she says. 'The reason babies raised on strict routine regimes go to sleep, usually with less and less crying, is because they are quicker and quicker to give up.
'Their brain has adapted to a world where they are not responded to. That kind of early-induced anxiety may relate to anxiety right through adult life.'
 Dr. Penelope J. Leach. Interestingly, Leach is not the first person to espouse this research. Last year, Dr Margot Sunderland, of the Centre For Child Mental Health in London, gave weight to critics of the 'cry it out' approach.
She said that if babies are left to cry for prolonged periods, they show elevated levels of cortisol, as well as brain activity similar to that of a young child in physical pain.
She also argued - against the tenets of Gina Ford - that if parents take their child into bed with them up to the age of five, they will combat separation anxiety and make an 'emotional investment' in the child.
If Leach has been criticised in the past for being too much of the 'hugger-mother' school - we can't all cleave our babies to our backs like African tribeswomen as we go about our daily business - Ford, in turn, has been both hailed as a demi-god and branded a demon.
So what does Leach have to say to the modern parents who are on the receiving end of so much conflicting advice?
When I spoke to her yesterday, she was unapologetic, saying: 'I say what's most important is not to hang on to any book that in any way makes you feel bad. If a book makes you feel guilty, you should give it to Oxfam.'
Leach describes her latest work not so much as a how-to book as a why book. 'In the past five to ten years there has been so much new scientific research. I feel parents have a right to have it presented in an accessible form.'
What she denies is that women have surrendered their maternal instincts to follow the advice of the 'experts'. But she does concede that having a baby seems more fraught than it has ever been.
'If I have a complaint about the routined approach,' she says carefully, as though trying to avoid going to war with Gina Ford, 'it is that parents feel the need to stick with it out of a sense of duty.
'They believe they're teaching the baby something important by letting it cry. But a baby is not capable of learning anything at that early stage. They can pick up habits, but they can't understand cause and effect.'
Under the age of six to eight months, Leach contends, a baby's cry is not always for something diagnosable - like being hungry - but it is a message that the baby is uncomfortable and should be attended to. She says she never comes across research that supports a system of leaving babies to cry.
'In extreme circumstances,' she says, 'babies left in orphanages have been shown to have brains that are not fully developed because the upper brain is built out of the way the baby forms relationships.
'Leaving your baby unanswered occasionally won't do lasting damage, but a policy of not responding, day in day out over a long period, might. Too much cortisol isn't good for a baby's development.
'I know of someone who threw away their baby listening device linked to the child's cot. But surely you owe it to your baby to know what she sounds like.'
This chimes with my views when I was raising my son. I devoured Leach's Your Growing Child as soon as I was home from hospital.
Often he slept between my then husband and I in our big double bed, and it was years before he slept right through.
My mother continued to tut-tut about giving him stricter routines and regular feeding; my sister hinted I was making a rod for my own back. But it never felt right to leave him to cry, and I don't regret it, even though I was run ragged and exhausted much of the time.
It's no coincidence that the shift we have seen in recent years from a society in which children should be seen and not heard to one centred around a child's whims, as well as needs, came alongside the first generation of older mothers - of which I was part.
And there's no doubt that for mothers like me, returning to work when our babies were still tiny, guilt played its part in our attitude towards our children.
If we couldn't be there for them during the day, the least we could do was get up for them at night. When my son was small, I barely had my coat off after work before I was on the floor playing tea parties and reading stories.
What has changed today is that there are many more contradictory parenting books. Take Ford and Leach, in many ways they are as extreme and as persuasive as each other. So who do you believe?
My friend, Sibel Ozmen, is the mother of Ben, 11 months old. She runs a hairdressing salon with her husband Sergio and works four days a week. When she's at work, her mother looks after the baby.
'For the first four months, Ben slept in a cot next to our bed,' says Sibel. 'For the first six months, I didn't leave him to cry once. In the meantime, I read a million books advising you to let babies fall asleep, regardless of crying, but Gina Ford's book seemed far too mechanistic for me. It seemed to suggest that every baby should act the same way, yet every baby is different.
'After about three weeks of writing down every minute of Ben's routine, I just gave up. I started to work things out for myself. For example: what was important was for the baby to see his father, and if that meant keeping him up until he returned from work then so be it. It made sense to me that my baby needs his father more than he needs his routine and vice versa.'
As millions of new parents struggle to work out what's best for their babies, any in-fighting between the experts can only cause further confusion. Whatever the outcome of this spat, and whoever comes out claiming victory, the collateral damage will be neither Leach nor Ford, but mothers and their babies.
In my opinion, science or no science, one thing is clear: instinct not orthodoxy should rule the day.

Dreaming While Asleep May Boost Brain Power

Results of a new study suggest that dreaming while sleeping can help boost brain power.
The study was conducted by researchers from Harvard University, and lends new insite into ways that can boost learning ability.
For the study, participants were asked to memorize the layout of a 3D computer maze so that later in the day they could find their way around in it without getting lost.
They were then asked to take a nap before returning to attempt to find their way through the virtual maze.
Those who napped and actually had a dream during their snooze had an easier time remembering the twists and turns of the maze than those who did not dream.
Lead study author Dr Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School said: “The dreams might reflect the brain’s attempt to find associations for the memories that could make them more useful in the future.”