Sunday, April 25, 2010

Invalid hypothetical anatomy

Archy is speculating about Gould's idea that if you rewound the tape of life and replayed it, you might get some very different results…and he suggests that in a different world, molluscs could have replaced vertebrates as the dominant large metazoan. This is perfectly reasonable, but he chose to illustrate the concept, and my SIWOTI syndrome kicked in.
Noooo! He's got an arrow for a "large brain" pointing to an enlarged fleshy flap above the eyes. That's not where the cephalopod brain is located! They have a ventral nerve cord — the central brain would be deep, between the eyes and behind the beak, wrapped around the esophagus.
In this alternate universe, the intelligent cephalopods would be speculating about how those primitive, stupid vertebrates could have evolved into something as clever as they are, and they'd draw something frog-like and point to a puffy throat-sac and say, "look at its big brain!"

Without fortified foods, thousands of Tanzanian children are dying

Over 43,000 children in Tanzania will die this year as a result of malnutrition, a new reoprt notes.
The report on the state of nutrition in Tanzania recently released by the advocacy organisation, Uwazi-Twaweza in association with Policy Forum and Sikika says about 6,700 young lives and Tsh153 billion ($110.9 million) per year in economic gains would be saved if nutrition authorities were more upbeat about fortifying foods.

Tanzania is the only country in East Africa that does not fortify flour and cooking oil, despite the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC) staff engaging in ample research to demonstrate the benefits of micronutrient supplementation.

Kenya, Uganda and Malawi fortify cooking oil, maize and wheat flour.
TFNC has also participated in a series of meetings and conferences on food fortification since 2002 but are yet to implement the programme in Tanzania.

The lack of interest in food fortification by the nutrition authorities surfaced at a recent press meeting by the World Bank in Tanzania.

World Bank country director John Murray McIntire said his institution would withdraw $2 million in grants earmarked for fortification unless a standard was set by June 2010.

Pointing at the list of almost 10 years of meetings on fortification he wondered whether the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) felt any urgency to resolve the matter.

TBS chief standards officer Faustine Masaga said there were “technical difficulties and that another meeting scheduled for April in Nairobi was needed before advances could be made.”

Harriet Torlesse, a nutrition manager at Unicef said many children in Tanzania rarely die because of lack of food.
“Children die because their diets lack basic nutrients needed to build strong immune systems and to stay healthy. When malnourished children get diarrhoea, malaria or pneumonia, they are more likely to succumb to it,” said Ms Torlesse.

Meanwhile, the governemnt is losing billions of shillings in revenue as a result of reduced productivity owing to poor diets.

The National Food Fortification Alliance estimates that the country loses a whopping Tsh 227 billion ($164.6 million) annually due to reduced productivity.

Hans Hoogeveen, the manager at Uwazi-Twaweza said: “Inadequate energy intake and anaemia limit the ability of farmers and other labourers to exert much effort leading to smaller harvests and lower production.”
Mr Hoogeveen further noted that well nourished citizens would help to avoid waste in public spending.
He said scarce resources in the health sector are often spent on treating diseases which could be avoided through adequate nutrition.

He added that the government’s spending on primary and secondary education could yield a much higher return if children had benefited from healthy nutrition during the critical first two years of their lives to enable healthy brain development.

Premature Births Remain a Medical Mystery

More than half a million babies are born early in the United States, putting them at risk for conditions such as respiratory disorders, blindness, and learning disabilities. Credit: dreamstime
premature babyAfter rising for 16 years, the rate of premature births in the United States dropped for the second year in a row, according to a report released this month. Despite the good news, still more than half a million babies are born early in the country, putting them at risk for conditions such as respiratory disorders, blindness, and learning disabilities.
While recent medical advancements mean most preemies will survive, preventing early birth in the first place is a different story. Doctors have no way of knowing which pregnancies will be preterm, and in about half of all cases, they don't know why a mother delivers early. However, science is beginning to divulge some clues, such as social stress, bacterial infection and hereditary influences, which might be tied to early births.
In many cases, the cause of premature birth is likely a complex interplay between the mother, the fetus, and their respective environments. Adding difficultly to the situation is the fact that scientists don't completely understand what sets off any type of labor, full-term or preterm. But modern research tools could help to uncover specific genes and other components involved in labor that might help us understand what triggers early delivery, said Dr. Louis Muglia, a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center in Nashville.
"I think there are a number of studies, that are just starting to be revealed, that are hopefully going to lead to new insights about the birth process," Muglia said.

What is a brain hemorrhage?

What is a brain hemorrhage?
*A brain hemorrhage:
Did you know a brain hemorrhage is a type of stroke? This can result from an artery in a person's brain bursting and this causes a bleeding in surrounding tissues. When bleeding occurs, it actually kills the brain cells. Did you know that brain hemorrhages are also called cerebral hemorrhages, intracerebral hemorrhages, or intracranial hemorrhages? These two type hemorrhages account for approximately 13% of strokes.
*Causes of bleeding in the brain:
The causes for bleeding in the brain and other risk factors can cause a person to have a brain hemorrhages. Here are several factors that can cause a brain hemorrhage:
(1)  A brain tumor
(2)  Liver disease can also cause an increased bleeding in the brain.
(3)  Amyloid angiopathy is another cause for bleeding in the brain. This is usually caused by an abnormality of the blood vessel
       walls which occurs normally in older people. A person may suffer from a small, unnoticed bleeds before it causes a larger one.
(4)  Hemophilia and sickle cell anemia can also cause a blood or bleeding disorder because it can decrease levels of blood platelets.
(5)  A person can also be born with a weakness in their blood vessels when they are born and they're never diagnose unless the person
       has symptoms.
(6)  A head trauma resulting from an injury can also cause bleeding in the brain for people under 50.
(7)  A weakening in a blood vessel wall causing it to swell and burst and bleed into the brain, thus, resulting in a stroke. This is known
       as an aneurysm.
(8)  A person who has high blood pressure is also at risk of suffering a brain hemorrhage, because if it is left untreated, it weakens the
       person's blood vessel walls and can cause a brain hemorrhage.
A person may complain with the following when they are suffering from a brain hemorrhages. The symptoms of a person's brain hemorrhage can often vary because of the bleeding, the amount of tissue affected, and the severity of the bleeding within the brain. A person's symptoms may come on immediately or progressively get worse.
These symptoms I'm listing are a sign of a life-threatening condition, and you should call 911 or take the individual to an emergency room immediately. Here are the symptoms, i.e., loss balance, a sudden severe headache, loss of coordination, seizures with no previous history of seizures, loss of motor skills, weakness occuring in the arms and legs, difficulty writing or reading, nausea or vomiting, decreased alertness; lethargy, difficulty swallowing, changes in their vision, tingling or numbness and difficulty in speaking or understanding the person's speech.

Safer Brain Recording Device Melts Into Place

Scientists have developed silken implants that actually conform to the surface of the brain. Researchers demonstrated that the ultra-thin, flexible implants could record brain activity more faithfully than thicker implants embedded with similar electronics.

When it comes to recording brain activity, the simplest devices currently available are made up of needle-like electrodes that penetrate deep into the brain. One major drawback is that these electrodes can damage the tissue they are trying to evaluate.

Some researchers have access to more sophisticated equipment called “micro-electrode arrays,” which consist of dozens of semi-flexible wire electrodes fixed to a silicon grid. While the microelectrode arrays may be safer, their rigid configuration prevents them from conforming to the brain’s shape, resulting in less accurate readings.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine in Philadelphia examined the limitations of current brain recording devices and developed the ultra-thin, silk-based arrays that can hug the brain like shrink wrap. A study of their new device was recently published in Nature Materials.

"The focus of our study was to make ultra-thin arrays that conform to the complex shape of the brain, and limit the amount of tissue damage and inflammation," said Brian Litt, M.D., an author on the study and an associate professor of neurology at University of Pennsylvania, in a press release.

To make and test the silk-based implants, Dr. Litt collaborated with scientists at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and at Tufts University, outside Boston. The flexible electronics were invented by John Rogers, Ph.D., a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois. The tissue-compatible silk was engineered by David Kaplan, Ph.D., and Fiorenzo Omenetto, Ph.D., professors of biomedical engineering at Tufts. Dr. Litt then used the electronics and silk technology to design the implants, which were fabricated at the University of Illinois.

The implants contain metal electrodes that are 500 microns thick—5 times the thickness of a human hair. The study has shown that the absence of sharp electrodes and rigid surfaces can improve safety and contribute to significantly less damage to brain tissue.

Aside from its flexibility, silk was chosen as the base material because it is durable enough to undergo patterning of thin metal traces for electrodes and other electronics. It can also be engineered to avoid inflammatory reactions, and to dissolve at controlled time points from almost immediately after implantation to years later. The electrode arrays can be printed onto layers of polyamide plastic and silk, which can then be positioned on the brain.

The ability of the new implants to mold to the brain's surface also means that if the organ moves—since the brain can sometimes shift in the skull—the implant could move along with it and still maintain an accurate reading.

By spreading across the brain, the implants also have the potential to capture the activity of large networks of brain cells, according to Dr. Litt.

"[These implants] could provide a platform for a range of devices with applications in epilepsy, spinal cord injuries, and other neurological disorders," said Walter Koroshetz, M.D., deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), in a press release.

In people with epilepsy, the arrays could be used to detect when seizures first begin, and deliver pulses to shut the seizures down. In people with spinal cord injuries, the technology has promise for reading complex signals in the brain that direct movement and routing those signals to healthy muscles or prosthetic devices.

Scientists hope to use this technology to design implants that are more densely packed with electrodes to achieve higher resolution recordings. One researcher explained that it might also be possible to compress the silk-based implants and deliver them to the brain through a catheter, in forms that are instrumented with a range of high-performance, active electronic components.

The flexible material could have applications to other parts of the body as well. The team described a flexible silicon device for recording from the heart and detecting an abnormal heartbeat.

Healthbeat Headlines 4/25

Brain boost games- If you're looking to boost your brain power, computer games are not going help, like once thought.  A new study of 11-thousand adults finds computer brain games do nothing to improve cognitive function. For up to 6 weeks, the participants played computer games that were designed to work the mind for 10 minutes a day, 3 times a week. Even though the participants got better at the games the more they played, researchers say it didn't do anything for their brain function. It didn't it result in a higher I-Q either. The participants were between the ages of 18 and 60. The study did not target the aging population.

Obesity brain gene - A third of Americans are estimated to carry a type of gene that experts say makes them more vulnerable to obesity.  It also makes them more susceptible to Alzheimer's disease. UCLA researchers studied brain scans of more than 200 elderly adults and found reduced brain volume in carriers of the gene. The gene is also linked to greater fat mass.  However, researchers say switching to a low fat diet and exercising can help shed extra pounds and reduce the risk for dementia. The gene is called fto.

Teacher reading - Research has shown genetics play the largest role in a child's reading ability, while the classroom environment plays a smaller part. A Florida state university study using data from twins, found when children got effective instruction, they developed reading skills to the best of their ability. And the study showed children who got poor instruction didn't reach their reading potential, erasing any genetic advantages they may have had. 280 identical and 526 fraternal twins participated in the study.

Dream interpretation - According to researchers from Beth Israel deaconess medical center, taking naps may help you perform better at work and school. Experts there had nearly one hundred adults participate in a virtual maze for an hour. Then half the group took a ninety minute nap, while the rest were assigned to quiet activities.
They found those who slept and had dreams about the maze, and they performed ten times better than the rest of the participants when they were retested five hours later. Researchers say dreams are a sign your brain is still working on the new tasks you learned that day. And your brain is storing them in your memory. The participants who dreamt about the maze were more likely to have performed poorly the first time around, which researchers say triggers the brain to work harder to make sure you do better.

Naps and Dreams Boost Learning

Naps and dreams help consolidate newly-acquired memories during sleepNaps and dreams help consolidate newly-acquired memories during sleep
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Scientists from the Harvard Medical Schools propose in a new investigation that napping after learning new information may help consolidate the recently-acquired data to memory. They add that the correlation appears to be even clearer in the case of people who dream about what they've just learned while sleeping. In a series of experiments, they demonstrated that not sleeping or dreaming made people fare worse at remembering tasks or knowledge they had just acquired hours before.

In the study, participants were asked to memorize the layout of a three-dimensional (3D) maze. Then, some of them were encouraged to take a short nap, while others were prevented from doing so. The people in the group that slept were considerably more apt at finding their way through the maze hours later, whereas those in the group that remained awake had more difficulties in doing so. The subgroup that fared best was the one consisting of people that both slept and dreamed about the maze, the BBC News reports.

“The dreams might reflect the brain's attempt to find associations for the memories that could make them more useful in the future,” explains HMS expert Dr. Robert Stickgold, who is one of the authors of the new investigation. The team believes that some unconscious parts of the brain may be hard at work during sleep, and especially when people dream. These mechanisms, that remain hidden from conscious control, may be processing the data we collected before going to bed, trying to sort it out and make sense of it.

“Every day we are gathering and encountering tremendous amounts of information and new experiences. It would seem that our dreams are asking the question, 'How do I use this information to inform my life'?” says Dr. Erin Wamsley, also from Harvard. She is the coauthor of the study, details of which appear in the latest issue of the esteemed scientific publication Cell Biology. The scientist states the research appears to suggest that the unconscious parts of our mind are basically working harder to process the things it deems to be most important while we sleep.

Red wine may protect brain against stroke damage

Red wine bolsters the brain's defences against the damage caused by stroke, say scientists.
Experts say that while alcohol can protect against one kind of stroke, even small amounts may raise the risk of the other.
'We know that small amounts of alcohol seem to help protect against ischaemic strokes, which is a clot in the brain. Alcohol may help to thin the blood and reduce the risk of clots forming. We recommend that people drink alcohol in moderation,' quoted a scientist as saying.
The research, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, suggests that resveratrol increases levels of a protective enzyme called heme oxygenase.
When the stroke hits, the enzyme swings into action, shielding oxygen-starved cells from death.
A 'wonder ingredient' in the wine already credited with powers ranging from extending life to burning off junk food - can minimise the harm done by a blood clot in the brain, claim the researchers.
Researcher Sylvain Dore believes that even small amounts of resveratrol, which is also found in raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and peanuts, could be protective.
But until other studies calculate how much is enough, he advises against stocking up on supplements.