Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Medtronic to launch new glucose monitoring system

Medtronic has launched a new continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system which allows for more accurate and simple diabetes management than previous devices.

The iPro2 Professional CGM system has been launched in 49 countries after receiving CE Mark accreditation and consists of a glucose sensor and a small data recorder.

Medtronic states that the device is more straightforward to use than other systems, requiring no computer setup and minimal patient interaction.

It provides detailed reports on blood glucose levels, detecting high and low glucose fluctuations which are often passed over by traditional A1C tests but which can nevertheless lead to health complications.

Dr Francine Kaufman, chief medical officer and vice-president of global medical, clinical and health affairs at Medtronic's diabetes business, said: "iPro2 Professional CGM is quick to implement and provides reports that physicians can use to educate patients on the therapy and lifestyle changes they can make to improve their health."

Earlier this month, Medtronic published data from a clinical study which illustrated the advantages its deep brain stimulation technology can deliver for sufferers of Parkinson's disease.

Phenomenon of Ambidextrous Individuals Still Startles Scientists

Sergey Lebedkov from Saint Petersburg is a unique person who can say words backwards. He is not the only one who has this unusual talent. These people do not know how they could apply their phenomenal talents. Some of them have to hide their skills from other people.
A lawyer who preferred to stay anonymous called the editor and complained that his career was about to be ruined. He said during his freshman year he was very nervous during an exam and did not notice he was answering questions backwards. The professor was shocked, and his peers were laughing at him and asked to repeat what he had said.
“I am praying I don’t start speaking backwards in a court so people would not think I am crazy. My skill is my enemy. I think God is testing me so I don’t say too much defending the guilty.”
Evgeny Kachura, 23, became famous in his small town in the Stavropol region thanks to his talent. He is the only person in the area who could speak and sing backwards. He started speaking this way when he was a kid.
“I would walk in the streets and read words backwards, entertaining my friends. Then I started saying sentences backwards and now it comes easy to me.”
Science does not know much about these people. Speech pathologists think that only one person in 10 million can speak backwards. There are more people who can write looking in the mirror – one person in 100,000. Some of our readers from different regions have “Leonardo’s handwriting”.
“I could do it since I learnt to hold a pen. In school we were taught to write with our right hand, and being ambidextrous, I learnt to write with my left hand too, but backwards. I can write backwards simultaneously with both hands,” says Guzel Santgalina.
Most people consciously developed the skill. Alexander Russkin from Moscow discovered it out of the blue:
“I was at work and the phone rang. I was holding the phone with my right hand and had to write with my left hand. It came naturally and I was very happy about it because it would make work much easier. A test conducted at worked showed that both parts of my brain were equally active. Maybe that’s the reason I am ambidextrous.”
Scientists from Moscow Brain Research Institute could not support or contest this conclusion. They said the science does not know the reasons behind the ability to speak backwards because it has not been properly researched and does not fit into any of the existing theories.
Every right-handed person can learn to write looking in a mirror with some training, but it will not come as easy as for ambidextrous people. Speaking backwards is difficult, but it develops cognitive ability and creative imagination. Equal activity of both parts of the brain is does not cause psychological problems. However, children may develop neurotic disorders when forced to write with their right hands instead of left. Ambidextrous children should not be re - taught . Many US schools teach children to write with both hands. Some nations believe it is much more convenient to write from right to left. People who have an ability to speak backwards can easily master languages like Arabic, Hebrew and some ancient Indian languages.

- Leonardo da Vinci could work with his both hands. He used to draw with his right hand and write with his left one.

- Jimmy Hendricks. The rock musician could play right-handed guitar with his left hand turning it upside down. He used to place the strings backwards so they would be positioned the same way as on a regular guitar.

Tatyana Visel, neuropsychologist, professor with Moscow psychiatry research institute:

“The ability to speak backwards indicates unusually well developed right part of the brain. This skill can be developed with regular training. The right part of our brain is responsible for the movement in the left part of our body, while the left part is responsible for the movement of the right limbs. Most people have dominating left part of the brain responsible for speech and writing. Our society adapted everything for this type of people.

At some point the right part of the brain may become “mature” and start participating in speech. This makes people capable of writing looking in the mirror or speaking backwards. Some people are born with the ability to use their both hands equally. These are ambidextrous people . Some people suddenly develop this ability. This can be caused by strong emotions or stress . Creative activity, i.e. something emotional, sensitive, esthetic can also form this skill. People involved in dancing, music, painting at some point of their lives may start speaking backwards or writing with their left hand. People had different part of their brains active in various period of civilization development. Women give birth to ambidextrous kids increasingly more, and contemporary people often address their intuition as they are unable to deal with life issues with logic alone. This virtually means the beginning of new civilization.

The truth and nothing but?

High-tech 'lie detectors' have fascinated neuroscientists and the public alike for years, but whether they work is another matter
A person's hand hooked up to polygraph test, lie detector Photograph: Seth Joel/Getty Images
Wouldn't it be amazing if there was a machine that could tell you whether someone was telling the truth? It would, of course, be really useful – but more than that, it would represent the ultimate triumph of technology. The utterly private world of our consciousness would be private, and sacred, no more.
Given how fascinating the idea is, then, it's no surprise that there have been plenty of attempts to design technological lie detectors, and no shortage of people willing to pay for the chance to use them. All of them have worked, in theory. But that doesn't mean they work.
A group of Scottish neuroscientists recently warned against the seductions of the latest approach – the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to detect deception. A number of commercial enterprises, such as the US-based No Lie MRI now offer fMRI lie detection, and fMRI evidence has been submitted to courts of law in the US several times, although it has never yet been accepted as admissible evidence.
The judge's conservativism is well placed. To be sure, fMRI is an incredible technology. Scientists use it to probe the workings of the brain, and doctors use it to work out which parts of the brain do what, so they can avoid damaging the important bits during brain surgery.
But it's just not capable of detecting lies with the kind of certainty that could stand up in court. When scientists use fMRI in an experiment to investigate brain function, it's typical to scan 10 to 20 people. Scans are expensive, and we don't do this for fun: we do it because it's very difficult to interpret the results of any individual person's scan. There's just too much variability. Using fMRI you can see which parts of the brain tend to light up in response to, say, listening to music. Or telling lies. But everyone's brain is a bit different and there's a lot of random noise in every scan, so it's only by averaging over many people that you can achieve good results.
With every new technological advance, it's never long before someone claims to be able to use it to detect deception – for a price. Last time it was computers. An company called Nemesysco sell software – Layered Voice Analysis – which they say can mathematically process voice recordings and reveal the emotional stress-patterns associated with lying. If that doesn't float your boat, you can buy the same technology to work out whether someone you're chatting to online is attracted to you.
In 2007, two Swedish academics published a paper criticising the science behind Nemesysco's system. The academic journal that printed the article was promptly slapped with a lawsuit, and the article was taken down amid much controversy, but bootleg copies are available online. It's well worth a read, given that in 2007-2008, the government performed extensive trials of Nemesysco's unproven technology for the purpose of catching "benefit scroungers".
Going further back, electroencephalography (EEG), the brain-scanning technology that people used before fMRI arrived, is crude but still effective at measuring neural activation. It turns out that there's a particular neural response, the P300, that happens when you see something that you've seen before – a recognition spike. So if you show a murder suspect pictures of the murder scene, say, you could tell if they'd been there. Even better than just lie detection, it's mind reading. In theory.
This "brain fingerprinting" is certainly an interesting technique, but we just don't know whether it's reliable in practice. Studies have shown that it works fairly well in the lab on normal volunteers (such as students) instructed to lie about imaginary crimes, but real-life field tests are lacking. That hasn't stopped it being promoted commercially, and EEG has been admitted as evidence in Indian courts several times, although the Indian supreme court recently banned such tests.
This is a common theme. Most "lie detectors" are based on real evidence, but they require you to disregard all of the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts, that are the stuff of science. It's not hard to see why: lie detectors are a commercial product. Caveats don't sell, but if you can show people even a bit of evidence that something exciting should work in theory, you'll go far.
In theory, you can use EEG or fMRI to see through deception, but only if you assume that the brains of hardened criminals with strong motivations to lie behave the same was as the brains of college students. This is also true of the very oldest lie detector, the polygraph, invented over 100 years ago. It simply records heart rate and blood pressure etc, on the theory that when you lie, you get stressed and your body reacts. But does it work on actual criminals? Can it distinguish between stress associated with lying and stress associated with telling painful truths? It's hard to say. Yet if we don't know whether it works in any individual case, it's not much use.
Neuroscience is advancing rapidly and one day, it surely will be possible to reliably read criminal's minds with brain scans. But not yet. We must resist the temptation to let entrepreneurs blind us with science and claim to be able to peer into a world which is, for now, private.

New computational model could tell how the brain recognizes objects

Washington, June 9 (ANI): Scientists at MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research have developed a new computational model to describe how the human brain visually identifies objects.

The model accurately predicts human performance on certain visual-perception tasks, which suggests that it's a good indication of what actually happens in the brain, and it could also help improve computer object-recognition systems.

The model was designed to reflect neurological evidence that in the primate brain, object identification - deciding what an object is - and object location - deciding where it is - are handled separately.

"Although what and where are processed in two separate parts of the brain, they are integrated during perception to analyse the image. The model that we have tries to explain how this information is integrated," said Sharat Chikkerur, lead author on a paper

The researchers argue that the mechanism of integration is attention.

According to their model, when the brain is confronted by a scene containing a number of different objects, it can't keep track of all of them at once.

Thus, instead it creates a rough map of the scene that simply identifies some regions as being more visually interesting than others.

If it's then called upon to determine whether the scene contains an object of a particular type, it begins by searching - turning its attention toward - the regions of greatest interest.

The researchers implemented the model in software, and then tested its predictions against data from experiments with human subjects.

The subjects were asked first to simply regard a street scene depicted on a computer screen, then to count the cars in the scene, and then to count the pedestrians, while an eye-tracking system recorded their eye movements.

The software predicted with great accuracy which regions of the image the subjects would attend to during each task.

The software's analysis of an image begins with the identification of interesting features - rudimentary shapes common to a wide variety of images.

It then creates a map that depicts which features are found in which parts of the image. But thereafter, shape information and location information are processed separately, as they are in the brain.

The software creates a list of all the interesting features in the feature map, and from that, it creates another list, of all the objects that contain those features.

But it doesn't record any information about where or how frequently the features occur.

At the same time, it creates a spatial map of the image that indicates where interesting features are to be found, but not what sorts of features they are.

However, it does interpret the "interestingness" of the features probabilistically. If a feature occurs more than once, its interestingness is spread out across all the locations at which it occurs.

If another feature occurs at only one location, its interestingness is concentrated at that one location.

Mathematically, this is a natural consequence of separating information about objects' identity and location and interpreting the results probabilistically.

But it ends up predicting another aspect of human perception, a phenomenon called "pop out"-a human subject presented with an image of, say, one square and one star will attend to both objects about equally. But a human subject presented an image of one square and a dozen stars will tend to focus on the square.

Like a human asked to perform a visual-perception task, the software can adjust its object and location models on the fly.

If the software is asked to identify only the objects at a particular location in the image, it will cross off its list of possible objects any that don't contain the features found at that location.

On the same lines, if it's asked to search the image for a particular kind of object, the interestingness of features not found in that object will go to zero, and the interestingness of features found in the object will increase proportionally.

This is what allows the system to predict the eye movements of humans viewing a digital image, but it's also the aspect of the system that could aid the design of computer object-recognition systems.

The new system could limit successive searches to just those regions of the image that are likely to have features of interest.

Keep your brain in shape: Alzheimer Society

Physical activity has long been advocated for fitness, but now there’s another compelling reason for Trail and Rossland families to get off the couch: Brain health.

“Actively keeping your brain in good shape will help you stay mentally sharp as you age,” says Linda Hoskin, the local support and education coordinator for the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

“Research increasingly confirms that taking these steps now may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia in the future.”

Many healthy activities can easily be incorporated into daily routine, she says. Walking 10 minutes a day is a good start. Exercises such as yoga or tai chi can be practiced at home. And some simple stretches for a few minutes at the office will help too.

“The sooner you start the better; Alzheimer’s is not just an ‘old person’s disease,’ and defensive action needs to start early in life.”

To further help Trail and Rossland families coping with the impact of Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, the society runs support and information groups locally, one for family caregivers and the other for persons in the early stages of the disease.

‘Brain Scans’ is being misused as lie

‘Brain Scans’ is being misused as lie detector testAccording to the experts, effective steps should be taken to stop the brain scans which are being used as lie detector tests by the courts, employers and the insurers.
These brain scans can show the reaction of a person by lighting up certain areas of the brain from which the lie and truth can be calculated. American courts have already rejected the use of brain scans in any type of cases but US companies are still going through the scans to the employer recruiting staff.
This issue was discussed by all experts across the world in a conference at University of Glasgow. Mr. Burkhard Schafer from University of Edinburgh's school of law has said about some issues over the reliability and privacy of that technology.
These scans had been used as lie detectors or to examine the mental health problems in at least 90 big punishment cases in US including other capital hearings in Asia and Europe.
In most of the cases they have been rejected but only in some cases the results have been taken as evidence. Experts believe that usage ofbrain scan could be dangerous for the humanity and it should be limited to medical use.


SCHOOLGIRL Samantha Meehan was glad she went to Specsavers after an eagle-eyed optician saved her life.
Doctors thought the 16-year-old’s severe headaches were caused by the stress of her GCSEs.
But a trip to the optician revealed a deadly brain condition that would have left her blind within days if left untreated, and could even have killed her.
Sam, from St Helens, Merseyside, was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery to relieve fluid on her brain. It could have damaged the brainstem, which is responsible for eyesight, regulating breathing and heartbeat.
Sam said: “I started to notice I was having problems seeing clearly. I thought I might just need glasses.
“I hadn’t bothered to get regular eye tests in the past because I had good eyesight. The opticians were brilliant. I owe them my life, quite literally. ”
Sam is now preparing for her exams back at home, but because she needs six months to recover from the surgery, she will not be able to sit them with her pals.
Mum Wendy, 45, whose husband Bernie, 57, suddenly went blind last year with a different brain condition, said: “I just thought it was the stress of the exams coming up and being a teenager.”
Jennie Gornall, 24, of Specsavers in St Helens said: “As soon as I began to examine Samantha’s eyes I knew immediately something was wrong. We were only too happy to help.”

Strangers can influence choice of romantic partners

Friends and family have an important say when it comes to a fling or relationship partner. But a new study finds that both men and women are also highly influenced by the opinion of strangers when it comes to their dating choices.Friends and family have an important say when it comes to a fling or relationship partner. But a new study finds that both men and women are also highly influenced by the opinion of strangers when it comes to their dating choices.
Findings of the study suggest that humans also pay special attention to the preferences of others in order to complete the searching process for a mate.
"Humans don't exist in a vacuum. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that we have evolved mechanisms that let us take advantage of the additional social information in our environment," lead author of the study, Skyler Place, a researcher in Indiana University (IU) Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, was quoted by the Times of India as saying.
Details of the study
To reach this conclusion, a research team from the Indiana University (IU) looked at 40 men and 40 women, all of whom were IU students.
For the study, all these participants were asked to watch videos of eight speed dating interactions that took place in Germany.
Speed dating is a process wherein men and women have several mini-dates, each of which lasts for three minutes.
After every date, the speed daters filled in a card mentioning whether they would like to see the other person again.
Based on the videos, the participants were asked to predict whether the dates were successful or not.
The researchers then analyzed how the students’ own interest in the speed daters was affected depending on what they perceived while they watched the videos.
Outcome of the study
The researchers noted that the male participants were generally found to be interested in women speed daters.
However, their interest increased, if the men in the videos appeared to be interested in the women or if they were more attractive than the male participants.
On the other hand, female participants were shown to be interested in the men speed daters if the women in the videos were also interested. But their interest declined if the women on the speed dates didn’t seem interested.
Through this study, the scientists have been able to find evidence of “mate choice copying,” in humans, the process of mimicking the mating preferences of others, a behavior commonly found in birds and fish.
“We might think that searching for mates is a process best done individually, that we can best gather by ourselves," Place was quoted by Aol Health as saying.
“But humans, like many other animals, also pay attention to the preferences of others, to make for a more efficient search process. Who others like might also be a good choice for ourselves.”
The study has been published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

Depression may make pain feel worse

OXFORD, England, June 8 (UPI) -- The impact of pain is greater when a person feels depressed, British researchers said.
Dr. Chantal Berna of the University of Oxford in England and colleagues used brain imaging to determine how emotion affected the way people responded to pain.
The researchers found feeling depressed had an effect on the brain neurocircuits that regulate emotion, resulting in greater perception of pain.
"When the healthy people were made sad by negative thoughts and depressing music, we found that their brains processed pain more emotionally, which lead to them finding the pain more unpleasant," Berna said in statement.
The study, published in Biological Psychiatry, suggested feeling sad disabled the ability to regulate the negative emotion associated with pain.
The findings raise the possibility, Berna said, of treating pain by treating depression.
"Our research suggests depressed mood leads to maladaptive changes in brain function associated with pain, and that depressed mood itself could be a target for treatment by medicines or psychotherapy in this context," Berna said.

Brain tumour tablet "successful"

brainPharmaceutical giant Novartis has revealed a trial of its Afinitor (everolimus) tablets has been successful in decreasing the size of subependymal giant cell astrocytomas (SEGAs), or benign brain tumours.

In the trial involving 28 patients, 75% experienced a reduction of 30% or more in the size of their brain tumours from baseline to six months.

The findings from the phase II trial of the medication, the first of its kind to treat brain tumours, were presented at the 46th American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting.

Currently, brain surgery is the only treatment available to patients with SEGAs.

But the trial showed use of the Afinitor tablets decreased the size of the tumour, and no patient needed surgery or developed new SEGAs.

Following on from the trial, the company has submitted the treatment to be considered by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Hevre Hoppenot, President of Novartis Oncology, said: "Our hope is to offer these patients the first approved medication to treat SEGAs associated with tuberous sclerosis."

Bangalore scientists crack brain cell codes that trigger autism

Indian neuroscientists have discovered details of defects in brain cell junctions that cause the debilitating emotional symptoms of Fragile X Syndrome (FXS).
FXS is the most common inherited cause of autism and mental retardation.
A National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) team, led by Professor Sumantra Chattarji, and their collaborators at the New York University (NYU) studied how cells and synapses in the amygdala, the tiny emotional hub of the brain, are affected in mice with FXS.
Their paper was published on Monday in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A synapse is a junction of two neurons (nerve cells) through which impulses pass by diffusion of a set of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Such signal transmission is what makes the brain work. Many of the emotional and cognitive symptoms of FXS are caused by defects in such signalling.
When the neurons fire impulses through the synapses, a neurotransmitter called glutamate is released in one neuron and it activates special receptor molecules in the next neuron.
Thus signals get relayed.
While there are different types of receptors at the synapse, abnormally high signalling through one particular class - the group 1 metabotropic glutamate receptor - is implicated in many of the symptoms seen in FXS. Recording the electric activity involved in the signalling, Aparna Suvrathan, a graduate student in Chattarji's lab, identified defects at the sending and receiving ends of the synapses.
The molecular nature of these defects were analysed by Professor Eric Klann and his colleagues at NYU. They noted that these deficits severely impaired the ability of neurons to communicate and encode information.

Brain Cancer Treatment Latest Discovery

NovoTTF is the name of the newly discovered device in Chicago that is said to be helpful in treating brain cancer. This is an easy to carry non-invasive device that will be using electrical field in order to destroy cancer cells. NovoTTF or novo Tumor Treating Fields was made by a private company which is the NovoCure Ltd. The goal of the device is primarily for patients with glioblastoma which is consider as the most common form of brain cancer. It is said that this has been introduced to some country and was approved in Europe.
Brain CancerGlioblastomas are indeed very difficult to treat and percentage of mortality rate is high. This was first introduced at the American Society of Clinical Oncology and they confirmed that the cure rate of the device is not yet known. Though lots of the cancer doctors are very much interested with the new discovery the truth is that it is not yet well proven.
NovoTTF works by using electrical fields which used insulated electrodes and then this will be applied in an indibidual with the use of large white bandage in the scalp. It is said that the device are not harmful to the healthy cells in the brain. A little side effect of this device is that is cause scalp irritation. This can work with the use of battery pack and can this is very small that can be brought easily.
The study shows that the patients who used NovoTTF is significantly had less side effects compare to those people who rather chose the chemotherapy treatment. The NovoCure Company is now planning to contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in order to share the study results and apply for its approval. There is little evidence about how the device can work and contribute with the improvement of brain cancerpatients. Some scientists said that the device is only use to slowdown the development of brain cancer treatment and not completely cure the patient.
The study for NovoTTF is still on going and they are planning to get the 283 brain cancer patients from U.S and Europe.

World Brain Tumor Day today

ISLAMABAD (SANA): The world is commemorating brain tumor patients and their families Day today (Tuesday).
The German Brain Tumor Association announced the World Brain Tumor Day in 2000 as an international commemoration day. It is celebrated annually on 8 June.
German Brain Tumor Association- a brain tumor association registered in Germany – is a non-profit organisation dedicated to provide information and support to brain tumor patients.
Patients and their family members as well as health professionals and scientists get involved within this network with a common goal: Finding a cure for brain tumors – as fast as possible.
In the human brain process of making of new tissues and dying of old tissues continues and when old tissues stop getting fade, tumor develops, called as Brain tumor.
Each year approximately some 12,000 more patients are diagnosing with brain tumor.
According to medical experts this disease can happen at any age group, although mostly people above 35 years aged suffers from it and usually after struggling for five years one third patients dies.

First Steps to Digital Detox

digital devicesChang W. Lee/The New York Times Kord Campbell, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has multiple computer screens set up in his home office.
Updated, June 8, 11:30 a.m. | Clifford Nass, a professor of cognitive science, and Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics, join the discussion.

Updated, June 8, 7:20 a.m. | Russell A. Poldrack, a neurobiologist, joins the discussion and says that multitasking can have an insidious effect on learning, particularly in children. But Timothy B. Lee of Princeton argues that the Internet can improve social interactions.

In the first article of a Times series, “Your Brain on Computers,” Matt Richtel profiles a family, the Campbells, who are tethered to e-mail, BlackBerrys, iPads and other electronic devices. The constant use of digital media seems to be taking a toll on their lives and their ability to focus.

New research is showing that such immersion can cause multitaskers to have more fractured thinking and trouble shutting out irrelevant information, and that even when they are offline, those problems persist. A lot of Americans feel stress from juggling too much incoming information, but have to be online for work.
What are some strategies for unplugging from the demand of digital devices? Is there such a thing as too much multitasking?

  • Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows” and “The Big Switch”
  • Gary W. Small, psychiatry professor, U.C.L.A.
  • William Powers, author, “Hamlet’s BlackBerry”
  • Liza Daly, software engineer
  • Steven Yantis, professor of psychological and brain sciences
  • Russell A. Poldrack, professor of neurobiology
  • Timothy B. Lee, Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy
  • Clifford Nass, professor of cognitive science
  • Gloria Mark, professor of informatics

It Starts With the Individual

Nicholas Carr Nicholas Carr is the author of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” and “The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google.”
Life would be intolerable if we weren’t able to multitask. Imagine not being able to cook a meal while listening to the radio or chatting with your spouse. Or imagine being forced to do only one thing at a time all day at work. The tedium would be unendurable.
Your career may suffer if you aren’t available all the time. You may feel socially isolated if you disconnect. But you’ll protect your brain.
The ability to juggle tasks, to keep track of different streams of information simultaneously, is one of the human brain’s great strengths.
The problem today is that, thanks to our more or less continuous connections to the Internet and other electronic media, we never stop multitasking. And we juggle more tasks and bits of information than ever before. That’s taking a big toll. Constant multitasking is associated with shallower thinking, weakened concentration, reduced creativity, and heightened stress.
The only way to stop is to stop – to turn off the BlackBerry and the iPhone, to check e-mail two or three times a day rather than every three minutes, to spend a few hours reading a novel or immersed in a hobby or having a real conversation. If you regularly give your brain an opportunity to relax, by concentrating on one thing instead of a dozen, the cognitive and emotional costs of multitasking will decline.
Cutting back sounds easy, but of course it’s not. It’s really hard. If your boss and your colleagues expect you to be connected all the time, your career may suffer if you go silent. And if your friends are texting, tweeting, and Facebooking around the clock, going offline can leave you feeling socially isolated.
Then again, the only way to change social norms is for individuals to change their behavior. If you lead, maybe others will follow. At the very least, you’ll probably feel calmer, sharper and more in control of your thoughts.

Focus on One Thing

Gary SmallGary W. Small is a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and director of the Memory and Aging Research Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles. He is is co-author of the forthcoming book, “The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head: A Psychiatrist’s Stories of His Most Bizarre Cases.”
There is such a thing as too much multitasking, but how much is too much will vary. With practice, the brain becomes more efficient at multitasking, but in general, multitaskers make more errors than people who focus on one task at a time.
Every hour or so turn off all your gadgets.
Multitaskers believe they’re getting more done, but instead they’re just getting faster and sloppier.
Many of us escalate from multitasking to partial continuous attention: we’re constantly scanning the environment for the next exciting bit of information — the next text message, IM, email, or even land-line phone call. That next ping or buzz or ring interrupts our focus and charges up the dopamine reward system as we anticipate something new and more exciting than the task at hand.
When paying partial continuous attention, people may place their brains in a heightened state of stress. They no longer have time to reflect, contemplate or make thoughtful decisions. Instead, they exist in a state of constant tension — on alert for a new contact or item of news or information at any moment. And, once people get used to it, they tend to thrive on the perpetual connectivity. It becomes irresistible.
Here are two strategies for taking control of your multitasking. First, remind yourself to focus on one task at a time. This often requires turning off several devices.
Second, make an effort to balance your tech time with regular off-line breaks. Every hour or so turn off all your gadgets and go low-tech, whether it’s writing a letter, having a brief conversation at the water cooler, or taking a stroll in the park or the parking lot. It will help minimize stress, maintain mental focus, and improve the quality of your life.

You Have to Want to Unplug

William PowersWilliam Powers is the author of “Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age”, to be published this month. The book grew out of an essay he wrote as a fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
The problem isn’t our iPhones and BlackBerrys, it’s how we’re using them. We’ve simply gone overboard, surrendered too much of our lives to our little screens.
Know why you’re withdrawing from your devices and make it a habit.
First, it’s essential to recognize that this is a completely normal human response to a powerful new technology. People have been addicted to connectedness since the dawn of time. We need it to get ahead in life, learn about the world beyond ourselves, find happiness and meaning. Some of the most accomplished figures in history have struggled with the challenge captured in Matt Richtel’s story, that restless inability to stop connecting.
Socrates was so hooked on the dominant connectedness of his time — oral conversation — he couldn’t bear to spend time outside the walls of Athens. Why take a quiet walk in the country when he could be where the action was, chatting up his friends? A friend showed Socrates that putting some distance between yourself and your busy, connected life does wonders for the mind. Today we just need to learn that same lesson.
Unplugging from one’s devices — turning off the screen, leaving the phone in a drawer for a few hours — provides instant distance, but it only works under two conditions:
1) You have to know why you’re doing it, and really believe in the goals. That’s why news stories like this one are useful. They shine a light on the enormous losses we incur by never disconnecting — in our relationships, our work and most important, our inner lives. When your mind is always skating the surface, never going too deep, you’re simply not as alive as you could be. Once you recognize that your life will really improve, disconnecting becomes a lot easier.
2) It has to become a habit. In one of the studies cited in The Times article, university students reported that going offline for a day made them miserable. Of course it did. They were in withdrawal. You have to turn unplugging into a regular ritual, one that has its own positive rewards. You’re not just taking something away, as a restrictive diet does. You’re adding something wonderful.
My family has been disconnecting from the Internet every weekend for three years now. It was hard at first, but once we got into the habit, it became effortless, and all kinds of amazing benefits revealed themselves. We’ve never looked back.

We’ll Learn Fast

Liza DalyLiza Daly is a software engineer who specializes in applications for the publishing industry. She is the president of Threepress Consulting Inc. and recently released e-book reading software called Ibis Reader.
My husband and I are both software engineers, and my business in particular involves a lot of gadgets, including half a dozen specialized e-reading devices. The hardest part is finding the actual gadget I need (and then waiting for it to recharge — most of them sit idle for weeks on end).
Right now, we’re still playing with the new toys, but we’ll find a good equilibrium over time.
So yes, we have our iPhones and Kindles on our nightstands, and we don’t differentiate between staring at screens for our jobs and staring at screens for pleasure. But as the number of screens in the world has multiplied, so too has interest in traditional, hands-on crafts (mine is gardening and cooking).
Of course, we all feel distracted at times, and part of adapting to social media and ubiquitous Internet is about learning to turn those distractions off. Right now, we’re all still playing with the new toys, but if humans are good at anything, we’re good at returning to an equilibrium over time.
People will overreach with new technology, a few destructively, but the majority will learn when the task-switching becomes stressful instead of exciting. I was part of one of the earliest generations to grow up with cable TV and home video games, but in no way did that diminish my enthusiasm for a slow foreign film, a long novel or a walk in the woods.
Wasting time YouTube-video-hopping is no worse than wasting time channel-surfing with the remote; if anything, it’s about direct person-to-person engagement. And lot of that obsessive Googling and social media is about finding exactly the right book, movie or TV show to finally settle down with.
Finally, it’s easy to identify the new stressors and forget the old hassles. Does anyone miss waiting at home for a phone call on a beautiful day?

E-mail Can Wait

Steve YantisSteven Yantis is a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
The first step in developing a strategy for dealing with information overload is to recognize that the human mind, while amazingly adaptable, is nevertheless limited in what it can do — and that those limitations have to be respected.
With ‘multitasking,’ deep thinking about a complex topic can become nearly impossible.
Most people have a strong intuition that they are good multitaskers — that they can easily handle doing several things at once. However, that intuition is often wrong.
In fact, the term “multitasking” is misleading. With rare exceptions, people don’t carry out two (or more) tasks literally at the same time; they switch between them, and each switch takes time — a “switch cost.” The switch costs are small but easily measurable in an experimental psychology lab.
In addition to the switch cost, each time you switch away from a task and back again, you have to recall where you were in that task, what you were thinking about. If the tasks are complex, you may well forget some aspect of what you were thinking about before you switched away, which may require you to revisit some aspect of the task you had already solved (for example, you may have to re-read the last paragraph you’d been reading). Deep thinking about a complex topic can become nearly impossible.
The mind is wired up to seek new information, and will automatically respond to a signal that something new is available (email, text, phone, tweet). Some jobs by their very nature require constant contact. But if you can, give your brain the space to think deeply about something (even if that means reading a good book) by turning off your e-mail chime and cellphone ringer. Schedule some other dedicated time in the day to respond to e-mail and phone — usually, it can wait.

Addictive Signals

Russell A. PoldrackRussell A. Poldrack is the director of the Imaging Research Center and professor of psychology and neurobiology at the University of Texas at Austin.
As a busy researcher who owns an iPhone, iPad, and several computers, I often find it very difficult to practice what I preach when it comes to the dangers of multitasking (though I absolutely never talk on the cellphone while driving).
Our research shows that multitasking can have an insidious effect on learning, making it less flexible.
I think that the first key to successfully unplugging is to gain some insight into the effects that multitasking and information overload have on our own minds. As nicely discussed in the book “The Invisible Gorilla” by Chris Chabris and Dan Simons, humans are often very poor at understanding how our own minds work, and multitasking is a perfect example: Everyone thinks that they are one of those 3 percent of “supertaskers,” even as the scientific data shows that multitasking takes a serious toll on our performance as well as on our emotional lives.
Our research has shown that multitasking can have an insidious effect on learning, changing the brain systems that are involved so that even if one can learn while multitasking, the nature of that learning is altered to be less flexible. This effect is of particular concern given the increasing use of devices by children during studying.
Our brains are wonderfully adaptive systems, and they adjust their expectations to the world around them. The constant stream of novel information provided by electronic devices creates an expectation of continued novelty, and when this is missing the brain issues signals that causes us to seek it out, just as a drug addict will seek out drugs.
Although the research in this area is still preliminary, we believe that the same brain systems are probably involved in the drive towards compulsive use of our electronic devices that are involved in other kinds of addiction.
I have also found that practices that improve our focus (such as yoga or meditation) can be particularly helpful in calming the mental storm of information overload. It appears that these kinds of training can help improve the same cognitive control processes that are lacking in the media multitaskers studied by the Stanford group, just as they also seem to have some efficacy in treating A.D.H.D.
I think it is also very important to take regular “technology vacations” where we leave the devices behind completely. I find that it takes several days for the urge to look at my iPhone to abate, and doing this can help remind us what life can be like without the constant urge to multitask.

The Social Internet

Timothy B. LeeTimothy B. Lee is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and a member of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. He blogs at Bottom-Up.
When a new technology enters the social scene, hand-wringing about its social effects is never far behind. So I was not surprised to see Matt Richtel offer the latest contribution to this shopworn genre. The trends he describes are not nearly as novel — or as alarming — as he and the experts he interviews seem to think.
We shouldn’t be too worried if we spend more time on Facebook looking at our friends’ baby pictures and less time working on that spreadsheet.
The article quotes Stanford’s Clifford Nass, who warns that excessive use of digital technologies will “diminish empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another.” That may be true for some people, but for most people the reality is just the opposite: the Internet broadens and strengthens our social ties and greatly enhances our ability to engage with one another.
The Internet may have strained Kord Campbell’s marriage, but I’ve found it to have the opposite effect on my own. My wife and I are rarely out of touch for more than a few hours. We use a steady stream of text messages, instant messages, and e-mails to stay constantly in touch. We’re able to share the day’s joys and setbacks in real-time even when we’re miles apart.
The Internet has allowed me to nurture a number of long-distance friendships that would have withered in a pre-Internet era. I have about a dozen close friends who have moved far away from me. Tools like Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, and email, have been essential to staying close.
The Internet also enables the creation of entirely new friendships. People with common interests — even quite obscure ones — can find one another and build virtual communities. If they happen to be in the same city, sites such as MeetUp help virtual friendships evolve into “real” ones.
In other cases, people derive enormous value from relationships conducted entirely on the Internet. Imagine, for example, about a gay teenager in a small, conservative town. In a pre-Internet world, he would have felt utterly alone. The Internet allows him to find others who will understand and support him.
To be sure, some people become so obsessed with technology that it damages their “real life” relationships. But this is hardly the fault of technology. Mrs. Campbell is understandably upset that her husband pays more attention to his gadgets than to his children. But Mrs. Campbell’s complaint would have been completely familiar to a wife in 1980 (or 1950) whose husband paid more attention to the Big Game than his family. Such behavior has been around a lot longer than the Internet.
This isn’t to deny that information overload can be a real problem. This spring, for example, I took a month-long break from most of my online activities to concentrate on meeting an important deadline. But we shouldn’t exaggerate the importance of productivity for productivity’s sake.
Many online “distractions” are more important than whatever we happen to be working on when they arrive. The time we spend interacting with friends and family online can have a large and positive impact on our quality of life. So we shouldn’t be too worried if we spend more time on Facebook looking at our friends’ baby pictures and less time working on that all-important spreadsheet.

Why Are You Multitasking?

Clifford NassClifford Nass is a professor of communications and cognitive science at Stanford University. He is the author of the forthcoming “The Man Who Lied To His Laptop: What Technologies Teach Us About Human Relationships.”
The most important way to deal with your own multitasking is to consider a distinction proposed by Professor Barbara Fried at Stanford: are you multitasking because new information attracts you or because what you are currently doing is boring you?
Old and young may have different reasons for addictively checking e-mail.
I suspect that younger people are multitasking because they believe that information they haven’t seen is better than the information that they are currently working with. This may explain why they tend to prefer reading summaries to actual books, why they are willing to jump from one Web page to another, and why they do homework while Facebooking, Twittering,, texting, watching television and talking on the phone.
On the other hand, I suspect that older multitaskers understand that most new information is not worthwhile, but it’s better than what they’re currently doing.
If you check your e-mail thinking that you might find something exciting — which seems to be true for the students in my college dormitory and most of the young people I meet (I’m a “dorm dad” at Stanford) — then it may be very hard to stop multitasking.
However, if you are multitasking to avoid doing what you’re doing (which is true for me and most of the writers I know), then there are real opportunities. Rather than doing something else with media, force yourself to do what we did when multiple media were not available: take a walk, do some stretches, or tough it out and get back to work. Not only will this be healthier for your brain, your body will benefit as well!

Change the Workplace Norm

Gloria Mark is a professor in the Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine. She studies human-computer interaction.
Gloria MarkFor many individuals, the use of applications like e-mail or Facebook follows a schedule where they receive rewards at random intervals. From psychological learning theory we know that random reinforcement schedules are the hardest to extinguish. It’s like playing the Las Vegas slot machines: one keeps checking e-mail for that next hit.
Some companies have experimented with interruption-free times or by allowing e-mail to be turned off.
Though withdrawal is not easy, I advocate working in “batch mode” where information technology is used at certain time intervals. This could mean reading e-mail once in the morning, once after lunch, and then again once in the evening. With enough discipline, e-mail could even be reduced to a single reading each day.
Other people may be dependent on information technology from to the demands of their workplace. People have to react to e-mail or I.M. or phone calls to keep current with work, and mobile devices allow work to bleed into personal life.
It’s much harder to untether ourselves from information technology when it is connected to our jobs. The workplace is a multitasking social system; one person’s information need is an interruption to their colleague.
To reduce dependency on information technology in the workplace, the norms of the whole work group need to change so that no individual would be penalized for not responding to messages immediately. Some companies have experimented with interruption-free times or by allowing e-mail to be turned off.
Multitasking will not go away. The technologies that are designed to save us time can at the same time increase stress, but the solutions may also come from new technology.

Start up brain cells to stave off ageing

exercise helps to regenerate brain cells that are lost due to ageing, according to a study by researchers. The scientists believe that the discovery may lead to new ways of tackling age-related memory loss, the effects of brain injuries or Alzheimer’s disease.
Until now, the conventional wisdom is that brain cells die during the course of a person’s life and cannot be replaced. But it is now known that at least some nerve cells can be replenished in the hippocampus, the brain region that plays a key role in learning and memory.
However, a large proportion of the stem cells that give rise to new neurons remain dormant in adults. The new research in mice shows that these cells can be "kick-started" into action by physical activity and epileptic seizures.
The scientists found that physically active mice developed more newborn hippocampal neurons than inactive animals. "Running promotes the formation of new neurons," said study leader Dr Verdon Taylor of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology in Freiburg, Germany.
Abnormal brain activity, as occurs during epileptic seizures, also appeared to trigger neuron generation. Excessive formation of new nerve cells is thought to play a role in epilepsy, said Taylor, whose research appeared in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
"In young mice, the stem cells divide four times more frequently than in older animals," Taylor said. "However, the number of cells in older animals is only slightly lower. Therefore, neuronal stem cells do not disappear with age but are kept in reserve."
In physically active mice, some previously dormant stem cells were seen to come back to life and start to divide. Other sporadically dormant stem cells were unaffected by physical activity, but awakened by epileptic seizures.
It was likely that dormant stem cells could be reactivated in humans in the same way they were in mice.

Brain Scans Show How Meditation Calms Pain

Years of practice help users avoid anticipating discomfort, research shows

TUESDAY, June 8 (HealthDay News) -- People who routinely practice meditation may be better able to deal with pain because their brains are less focused on anticipating pain, a new British study suggests.
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The finding is a potential boon to the estimated 40 percent of people who are unable to adequately manage their chronic pain. It is based on an analysis involving people who practice a variety of meditation formats, and experience with meditation as a whole ranged from just a few months to several decades.
Only those individuals who had engaged in a long-term commitment to meditation were found to have gained an advantage with respect to pain relative to non-meditators.
"Meditation is becoming increasingly popular as a way to treat chronic illness such as the pain caused by arthritis," study author Dr. Christopher Brown, from the University of Manchester's School of Translational Medicine, said in a university news release.
"Recently," he noted, "a mental health charity called for meditation to be routinely available on the NHS [National Health Service of Great Britain] to treat depression, which occurs in up to 50 percent of people with chronic pain. However, scientists have only just started to look into how meditation might reduce the emotional impact of pain."
The findings were released online recently in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Pain.
All the forms of meditation that Brown looked at included mindfulness meditation practices, which form the basis of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which has been recommended for recurrent depression since 2004.
By using a laser to induce pain, Brown and his team found that activity in certain parts of the brain seemed to dip when the study participants anticipated pain. With that observation he was able to establish that those with upwards of 35 years of meditation under their belt anticipated pain the least.
In particular, meditators also seemed to display unusual activity in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain that is known for regulating attention and thought processes when a person feels threatened.
"The results of the study confirm how we suspected meditation might affect the brain," explained Brown. "Meditation trains the brain to be more present-focused and therefore to spend less time anticipating future negative events. This may be why meditation is effective at reducing the recurrence of depression, which makes chronic pain considerably worse."
However, he added that "although we found that meditators anticipate pain less and find pain less unpleasant, it's not clear precisely how meditation changes brain function over time to produce these effects.

Diabetes linked to schizophrenia

old lady with doc.jpg
Diabetes linked to schizophrenia(Getty Images)
Glitches in insulin function-characteristic in diabetes and obesity - could directly contribute to psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, according to researchers.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center investigators have discovered a molecular link between impaired insulin signalling in the brain and schizophrenia-like behaviors in mice.

The findings offer a new perspective on the psychiatric and cognitive disorders that affect patients with diabetes and suggest new strategies for treating these conditions.

"We know that people with diabetes have an increased incidence of mood and other psychiatric disorders. And we think that those co-morbidities might explain why some patients have trouble taking care of their diabetes," said endocrinologist Dr. Kevin Niswender.

"Something goes wrong in the brain because insulin isn't signaling the way that it normally does," said neurobiologist Dr. Aurelio Galli.

Galli's group was among the first to show that insulin - the hormone that governs glucose metabolism in the body - also regulates the brain's supply of dopamine - a neurotransmitter with roles in motor activity, attention and reward.

Disrupted dopamine signalling has been implicated in brain disorders including depression, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Now, researchers have pieced together the molecular pathway between perturbed insulin signalling in the brain and dopamine dysfunction leading to schizophrenia-like behaviours.
The researchers developed mice with an insulin-signalling defect only in neurons (they impaired the function of the protein Akt, which transmits insulin's signal inside cells).

They found that the mice have behavioural abnormalities similar to those frequently seen in patients with schizophrenia.

They also showed how defects in insulin signalling disrupt neurotransmitter levels in the brain - the mice have reduced dopamine and elevated norepinephrine in the prefrontal cortex, an important area for cognitive processes.

These changes resulted from elevated levels of the transporter protein (NET) that removes norepinephrine and dopamine from the synaptic space between neurons.

"We believe the excess NET is sucking away all of the dopamine and converting it to norepinephrine, creating this situation of hypodopaminergia (low levels of dopamine) in the cortex," explained Galli.

Low dopamine function in the cortex is thought to contribute to the cognitive deficits and negative symptoms - depression, social withdrawal - associated with schizophrenia.
By treating the mice with NET inhibitors (drugs that block NET activity), the investigators could restore normal cortical dopamine levels and behaviours.

Clinical trials of NET inhibitors in patients with schizophrenia are already under way and these new data provide mechanistic support for this approach, said Galli.

The findings also provide a molecular basis for interpreting previous reports of Akt deficiencies in patients with schizophrenia, as revealed by post-mortem, imaging and genetic association studies.

Understanding the molecular link between insulin action and dopamine balance - the connection between food and mood - offers the potential for novel therapeutic approaches, said the researchers.

The mouse model described in the current studies may be useful for testing schizophrenia and cognition-enhancing treatments.

Will the Internet Fry Your Brain?

The Boston Globe has a good article/ book review on the latest quasi-luddite attack on the Internet (an attack in the name of brain science no less, and with cool brain scans). The new book in question: "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains."

In the article "The Internet ate my brain", Nicholas Carr says that our online lifestyle threatens to make us dumber. But resistance may not be futile.

The reporter, Wen Stephenson, adds the proper perspective, in my view, by ending the article with the observation:

"Books and the Internet, literary culture and digital culture have coexisted for many years. It may be that an engaged intellectual life will now require a sort of hybrid existence -- and a hybrid mind that can adapt and survive by the choices one makes. It may require a new kind of self-discipline, a willed and practiced ability to focus, in a purposeful and almost meditative sense -- to step away from the network and seek stillness, immersion... Now, you can call this hybrid mind shallow. I call it my only hope."

Wen: you're quite right. Not only that, but the Internet-enabled "weaponry to resist", what we prefer to call a "toolkit" to monitor and enhance cognition/brain fitness in ways we couldn't do before, is growing by the day. We'll just need to learn to use it properly -- and the Internet as a whole, to be sure -- to enhance our lives. My bet is: we will.

Nicholas Carr does a great job highlighting the implications of lifelong neuroplasticity -- everything we do/think/feel has a physical and functional impact on our brains, for better or for worse -- but might misidentify the brain's most likely enemies (watching TV? chronic stress?), and fails to consider that we tend to learn how to ride bikes by riding bikes (plus, this bike is only being built).

U.S. doctor uses "magic eraser" to remove terminal brain tumor

This undated photograph, released on April 18, 2010, shows a conformal, neural electrode array wrapped onto a model of the brain.  (Xinhua/Reuters File Photo)

LOS ANGELES, June 8 (Xinhua) -- A U.S. doctor has successfully removed a terminal brain tumor from a little boy's brain stem by using a "magic eraser," it was announced on Tuesday.
Doctor Amin Kassam used the device, called a Nico Myriad, to remove the tumor from a Belgian boy's brain system, said Saint John 's Health Center in Santa Monica near Los Angeles.

The boy, identified only as Tristan, was facing certain death from a chordoma, a rare, malignant brain tumor, according to the hospital.
The tumor had wrapped around the 4-year-old's brain stem, making it impossible to use normal surgical techniques to save the child's life, the hospital said.
Kassam went to Belgium with the newfangled device, which is described as an automated device that can cut the tumor up into microscopic strands without producing heat.
The Myriad device was introduced to the United States about a year ago, and Kassam is one of the few neurosurgeons trained to use one.
The device has a bendable cutting tip tha allows surgeons to access hard-to-reach tumor sites, and the child's tumor removal was performed through the child's nostril, taking a team of surgeons 13 hours.
The "magic eraser" provides precise tissue shaving on or near critical body parts, like blood vessels and nerves, and also vacuums tumor tissue into a collection chamber for laboratory evaluation, the hospital said.
Although chordomas are slow-growing, they can cause pain, paralysis, problems with vision, swallowing and death.

Scientists Identifies Remote Control for Cholesterol Circulation in Brain

Scientists from the University of Cincinnati have identified that the hunger-signaling hormone ghrelin is responsible for the circulation of cholesterol in the brain. Researchers have come up with this discovery while they were examining mice.
Scientists Identifies Remote Control for Cholesterol Circulation in BrainDr. Matthias Tschop, who led the study, recommended the new potential target to control the cholesterol level.
Initially, scientists thought that dietary absorption and secretion by the liver controls cholesterol level, but now they have found that cholesterol is also under the direct control of specific neurocircuitry in the central nervous system.
Since, there is a difference in the makeup of human and mice cholesterol, researchers says that more research and study is needed before applying it directly on humans. Meanwhile, people should start taking less amount of saturated fat in their diet. Daily physical activity is also recommended. People are also suggested to take prescribed medicines such as statins, to keep their cholesterol levels under control.
The study has definitely opened a new way to treat the patients with high cholesterol. It has been said by Fotini Rozakeas, the Cardiac Nurse at British Heart Foundation that it has been discovered for the very first time that blood cholesterol levels can be controlled by signals conveyed from the brain to the liver, where cholesterol is produced.

'Silent' brain damage points to greater stroke risk: Study

Patients in their 40s were more likely to have brain lesions, as were those with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or a history of angina or heart attack.
Patients in their 40s were more likely to have brain lesions, as were those with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or a history of angina or heart attack.
Seemingly healthy Canadians under 50 are unknowingly walking around with pre-existing brain damage that puts them at increased risk of a full-blown stroke, Canadian researchers are warning.
In a study believed to be a world first, Montreal researchers who investigated 168 stroke patients age 18 to 50 discovered that 29 per cent had old brain lesions — small clusters of dead brain cells.
Brain lesions are most often caused by "silent" brain infarcts — tiny strokes caused by blocked blood supply to the brain that can be seen on brain scans but that produce no symptoms. Those with silent lesions were three times more likely to suffer another stroke during an average two-plus years of followup.
"These are young patients who we think are healthy until they present with their first stroke," says lead investigator Dr. Alexandre Poppe, a neurologist at the Cerebrovascular Disease Centre at Montreal's Notre-Dame Hospital, who will present his study Tuesday at the Canadian Stroke Congress in Quebec City.
"But then they end up having signs of having had an accumulation of silent (brain) damage over time."
Patients in their 40s were more likely to have brain lesions, as were those with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or a history of angina or heart attack.
In a surprising finding, patients with migraines with aura also had a higher incidence of these "silent" brain lesions.
"We tend to think of stroke as a disease of older people but about 10 per cent of stroke patients are under 50," Poppe said. "Even young people should take their risk factors very seriously, because they might be accumulating silent damage that could one day manifest itself as a real stroke."
The warning comes as another Canadian research team will report Tuesday that the economic burden of treating stroke in Canada is double previous estimates.
The costs of caring for a stroke patient in just the first six months post-stroke alone adds up to more than $2.5 billion a year in Canada, according to the Canadian Stroke Network's Burden of Ischemic Stroke (BURST) study.
By contrast, the most recent data from Health Canada put the total cost of stroke in Canada at $2.4 billion a year for both new stroke patients as well as long-term survivors.
There are 300,000 stroke survivors in Canada. About 50,000 new strokes occur in Canada each year. The study, based on 232 stroke patients from 12 hospitals across the country, found that the costs for every new stroke add up to an average $50,000 in the six-months following a "brain attack."
The bulk of the costs were health-care costs — hospitalizations and medications. But 20 per cent were costs people bear on their own, says stroke neurologist Dr. Mike Sharma, director of the Ottawa Hospital's regional stroke program, who co-led the BURST study with Dr. Nicole Mittmann, of Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
That can include medications not covered by drug plans, canes, wheelchairs, braces and lost income. Costs for families ranged from $2,000 for a "non-disabling" stroke, to as much as $200,000 for the most severely affected — people "who need to be institutionalized in a setting where they have 24-hour care. Really, all of their basic needs to be met," says Sharma.
Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in Canada. Experts are warning the absolute number of strokes will increase as the baby boom generation enters the ages when their stroke risk increases.
But even young people are not immune to stroke. The Montreal study focused on a group that has been largely ignored: 18- to 50-year-olds.
The study involved patients at Notre-Dame Hospital. When the researchers checked their MRI scans, overall, 29.4 per cent had old brain lesions. Most had silent brain infarcts — small areas of damage to the brain "that probably imply a small stroke," Poppe said.
Others had more diffuse damage to the brain's white matter.
The patients were followed for an average of 27 months. Those with old brain lesions had a threefold increased risk of another stroke during the followup period compared to patients without lesions. Overall, 22 per cent of patients who had silent brain lesions had a recurrent stroke, versus seven per cent without lesions.
Those with lesions also had a higher risk of heart attack during the followup period — six per cent, versus one per cent for those lesion-free.
Young stroke patients should have a brain MRI, Poppe said. Those with silent lesions should be followed more closely, and their risks factors — such as hypertension, smoking, diabetes and cholesterol — aggressively controlled, he said.

Now, ‘vacuum cleaner’ to suck out strokes

Now, ‘vacuum cleaner’ to suck out strokes (Getty Images)
Stroke-producing blockages from blood vessels in the brain can now be sucked out, thanks to a ''clot vacuum cleaner''.

Twenty-seven Calgary patients were rescued from massive strokes using the endovascular procedure, Dr. Mayank Goyal told the Canadian Stroke Congress.

The innovative technique uses a tool called the Penumbra System of Continuous Aspiration Thrombectomy to break down and gently aspirate stroke-causing blood clots to open up the blocked vessels. If used within a few hours of an ischemic stroke, the process can reverse the effects of stroke by restoring blood flow to the affected areas of the brain - preventing the permanent loss of brain cells and related brain damage.

"This unique new procedure is really quite miraculous," said Dr. Goyal, the director of the Seaman MR Research Centre at the University of Calgary.

The procedure involves going in through the groin and threading a tiny catheter in a blood vessel. The catheter is taken up to the neck and then an even smaller catheter is threaded into the brain beside the clot after which the clot is vacuumed out.
Dr. Goyal said: "It requires years of training to be able to do this.

"It places enormous demands on the interventionalist, on the imaging specialists, and on the emergency team that gets the patient to a designated stroke care facility. Teamwork is key for success"

Dr. Goyal pointed out that only really large strokes are suitable for this type of procedure.

He said: "The bottom line is we have this new technology which is extremely effective. This study involved patients with large strokes associated with much higher levels of disability and death and we have the potential to be able to give them a good quality of life."

Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. Michael Hill said: "This promising technique has the potential to curb many of the devastating effects of large strokes. "Patients may benefit in a number of ways including improved outcomes and improved quality of life." He emphasizes that Canadians should be aware of the stroke warning signs and to always treat them as a medical emergency.