Friday, March 4, 2011

New brain training app for research into ageing minds developed

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast have developed an application to discover the true effectiveness of brain training exercises in 50-plus people.
The Brain Jog application, which is available to download free for iPhone, iPod or iPad, is the product of 18 months of work by researchers at Queen's School of Music and Sonic Arts to find out what the over 50's are looking for in a brain training app.
The researchers are encouraging as many people as possible to download and use the application. During the process, users will be asked to give feedback on their experience of playing the game.
Using this information to determine what makes a good puzzle experience, the research team will continuously improve and adapt the games to make them as user friendly as possible-thereby maximising the number of people who play on a regular, long-term basis.
In the next stage of the project, the researchers hope to track the experience and performance of these long-term players to help clarify the effects of regular brain training on ageing minds.
Lead researcher Donal O'Brien of the Queen's Sonic Arts Research Centre said: "Brain Jog consists of four enjoyable mini games specifically designed to test and improve four areas - spatial ability, memory, mathematical ability and verbal fluency."
"This is achieved through problem solving, puzzles and reverse arithmetic, allowing users to be challenged in an engaging manner, and improve their performance with regular practice," he said.
He added, "By downloading this app, you can help us create a fantastic game experience for those over 50 and bring us one step closer to finding out whether or not brain training can help prevent cognitive decline and dementia.
"Plans are in place for a future study on dementia prevention using the app; but before that can happen, people of all ages are encouraged to get downloading and have fun while providing vital information to our researchers and keeping their brain active."

Genes Affect Brain Function

Genes Affect Brain FunctionScientists have claimed to find the reason behind why some people are better at performing some tasks while others are not. Experts say that family genes affect the working of brain. Genes of brain are responsible for the organizational ability, problem solving, and some mental illnesses of a person.
Researchers say that specific genes play a vital role in explaining differences in cognitive abilities, risk for mental illness and neurological diseases such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. This link established by researchers could help in developing gene-based therapies for these disorders.
Lead Author of the study, Dr. Alex Fornito from the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre at the University of Melbourne, says that genes contribute towards the cases of mental illness and other brain disorders.
In order to study the effect of genes, researchers conducted a study on 38 identical and 26 non- identical twins. The results found that identical twins had the same genes whereas non-identical twins share only 50% of the genes.
Experts say that 60% of the differences between people related to the brain could be explained with the help of genes only.

Scientists turn stem cells into brain neurons in Alzheimer's breakthrough

Brain cells that are most vulnerable to attack from Alzheimer's disease have been grown by scientists in a breakthrough that could help reverse memory loss.
American researchers have turned stem cells derived from skin into neurons in the brain that are critical to memory retrieval but which are killed by the degenerative condition.
The development could lead to new drug treatments and even transplantation to repair brain damage.
In early Alzheimer's, it is the ability to retrieve memories that is lost, not the memories themselves, because cells called basal forebrain cholinergic neurons are killed.
"Now that we have learned how to make these cells, we can study them in a tissue culture dish and figure out what we can do to prevent them from dying," said Dr. Jack Kessler, who led the study at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Kessler's team has successfully tested the neurons on mice.

Renowned scientist brings brain myth-busters to Cabrillo

Developmental molecular biologist and best selling author John Medina,... (Shmuel Thaler/Sentinel)

APTOS John Medina averages about five and a half hours of sleep a night.
A renowned developmental molecular biologist, Medina bristles at what he calls the "myth" that he may require an average of eight hours of sleep a night to "recharge his batteries."
The author of the New York Times best-selling book, "Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School," Medina brought his myth-busting presentation on how the brain really works to the Cabrillo College Crocker Theater on Thursday night.
Gateway School, Cabrillo College and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education teamed up to bring Medina to Santa Cruz County. The event was free and filled up well in advance with more than 300 people on a waiting list.
Percy Abram, the head of Gateway School, first learned about Medina and his teachings while attending a conference in San Francisco in February 2010 called "Learning and the Brain."
The school decided last spring to invite Medina to the area with donations from families of current students and alumni of Gateway School paying for Medina's appearance.
"I'm hopeful that the educators and the parents in the area will rethink how children learn best after hearing Dr. Medina speak," Abram said. "I hope we learn innovative ways helpful in instructing students, based on the ways we know the brain works."
Cabrillo College President Brian King said he welcomed the opportunity to partner with the two organizations to bring Medina to town.
"It's so essential to collaborate with other colleagues in our community with the same commitment to finding the best way to meet the needs of our students," King said. "This is a great opportunity. Dr.
Medina's ability to teach comes across both in his books and his presentations."
Medina's 90-minute presentation was geared toward the effects of exercise and stress on the brain. Today, his visit to Santa Cruz continues as he will lead a free workshop for local educators from 9 a.m. to noon at the County Office of Education, which set aside funding for classroom substitutes to allow any of the county's public school teachers to attend the professional development course.
A private consultant to both the biotech and pharmaceutical industries with a specialty in genetics of psychiatric disorders, Medina said he uses the "royal we" in his presentations to refer to beliefs about brain science shared by developmental molecular biologists, strict cellular biologists and behaviorists.
"We don't know the basics," said Medina, a Seattle resident. "We know precious little about how the brain works. But we're not entirely clueless either.
"We know 12 things, and one of them is sleep," Medina said. "It wasn't until five years ago that we learned why we need to sleep. It's not to recharge your batteries; it's not energy-restorative. Your brain is actually very active at night."
Medina also said that he and his colleagues don't know how many hours a night people need to sleep, but they agree that sleep is essential.
"At night, when you go to sleep, part of your brain turns on that begins reviewing everything you learned during the day that you thought was important," Medina said. "You repeat it thousands of times in your sleep. The reason why you need to sleep is so you can shut out all of the external world and pay attention to your psychiatric interiors."

Particular Brain Rhythm in Sleep Makes You More Vulnerable to Disturbances

New findings about brain rhythms could lead to the development of improved sleep treatments, a new study suggests.A team at Massachusetts General Hospital found that a brain rhythm regarded as the emblem of wakefulness persists in a hidden form during sleep, where it becomes more intense at certain times -- something that appears to affect people's vulnerability to being awakened by noise or other disturbances.
Click here to find out more!
To test their theory, the researchers used computerized electroencephalography (EEG) rhythms in 13 volunteers who slept -- or at least tried to -- three nights in the MGH Sleep Lab. At many intervals throughout each night, the volunteers were exposed to 10 seconds of typical background noises, such as traffic or a ringing telephone. The sounds were repeated at increasingly louder levels until the EEG showed that sleep had been disrupted.
An analysis of the EEG measurements showed that the intensity of the alpha signal predicted how easily volunteers could be disturbed at the moment the measurement was taken, with a stronger alpha signal linked to more fragile sleep.
"We found that the alpha rhythm is not just a marker of the transition between sleep and wakefulness but carries rich information about sleep stability," study author Scott McKinney, informatics manager at the MGH Sleep LAB, said in a hospital news release.
"This suggests that sleep -- rather than proceeding in discrete stages -- actually moves along a continuum of depth. It also opens the door to real-time tracking of sleep states and creates the potential for sleep-induction systems that interface directly with the brain," he added.
Although the alpha rhythm was discovered nearly 100 years ago, researchers once thought it disappeared when sleep began because they no longer saw it on an EEG. However, a technique called spectral analysis can pick up subtle fluctuations in the alpha rhythm during sleep levels that are not apparent when visually inspecting an EEG.
The study appears in the journal PLoS One.
"This finding paves the way toward futuristic sleep treatments in which medication or other therapies are delivered moment-to-moment, only when needed, to protect sleep when the brain is most vulnerable but otherwise let natural brain rhythms run their course," study senior author Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, chief of the MGH Division of Sleep Medicine, said in the news release.
"Learning more about the mechanism behind this association between the alpha rhythm and sleep fragility should lead to an even greater understanding of the factors that maintain sleep's integrity in the face of noise and other nuisances," he added.

New medical technique ensures newborn's miraculous survival

Birmingham:  A baby boy starved of oxygen during his birth has survived after medics cooled his  brain for three days.

Jamie Merricks was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his throat.

This prevented him from breathing resulting in damage to his brain after it was starved of oxygen.

But doctors at a Birmingham Hospital utilised a radical new treatment where they cooled Jamie down to well below normal body temperature, between 33 and 34 degrees Centigrade.

The treatment involved a machine called a Tecotherm Neo, which uses cooling fluid, similar to that used in a car, in a mat onto which the baby is placed.

The baby's temperature is monitored via a probe, allowing the machine to make continual temperature adjustments.

Jamie's mother said he had been shivering after his birth with just a nappy on.

"They were desperately trying to cool his body temperature down because it couldn't quite reach the, below the 34 degrees that they needed," she said.

"So they got all the windows open and the poor little soul was shivering on the mat. But within a few hours he was down to the perfect temperature and he seemed really settled."

The treatment was inspired by the experiences of climbers who had been trapped, but had endured freezing conditions.

Jamie's doctor Vidya Garikapati said the idea was to "decrease the metabolism in the brain and thereby helping brain to recover and limit the damage which has already happened."

Garikapati believes the new treatment is the biggest breakthrough in the care of newborns in the last 20 years.

Study 'replicates early effects of brain injury in HIV'

Study 'replicates early effects of brain injury in HIV'
A new study has demonstrated the early brain injury caused by the HIV virus, shedding light on the nerve cell damage seen in the condition.
Research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed how the HIV infection leads to changes in brain cells, damage to neurons and inflammatory responses.
Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said that the research, which was conducted on mouse models, could lead to improved treatments that can be used early in the process.
Study author, Dr. Howard Gendelman, said: "The work contained within this study is the culmination of a 20-year quest to develop a rodent model of the primary neurological complications of HIV infection in humans."
The HIV virus leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a condition in which the immune system is unable to defend sufferers from infections.
According to the Global Health Council, over the past 27 years, almost 25 million people have died from AIDS.

Your Brain & Nervous System


How do you remember the way to your friend's house? Why do your eyes blink without you ever thinking about it? Where do dreams come from? Your brain is in charge of these things and a lot more.
In fact, your brain is the boss of your body. It runs the show and controls just about everything you do, even when you're asleep. Not bad for something that looks like a big, wrinkly, gray sponge.
Your brain has many different parts that work together. We're going to talk about these five parts, which are key players on the brain team:
  1. cerebrum (say: suh-ree-brum)
  2. cerebellum (say: sair-uh-bell-um)
  3. brain stem
  4. pituitary gland (say: puh-too-uh-ter-ee gland)
  5. hypothalamus (say: hy-po-thal-uh-mus)

The Biggest Part: the Cerebrum

brain cerebrumThe biggest part of the brain is the cerebrum. The cerebrum makes up 85% of the brain's weight, and it's easy to see why. The cerebrum is the thinking part of the brain and it controls your voluntary muscles — the ones that move when you want them to. So you can't dance — or kick a soccer ball — without your cerebrum.
When you're thinking hard, you're using your cerebrum. You need it to solve math problems, figure out a video game, and draw a picture. Your memory lives in the cerebrum — both short-term memory (what you ate for dinner last night) and long-term memory (the name of that roller-coaster you rode on two summers ago). The cerebrum also helps you reason, like when you figure out that you'd better do your homework now because your mom is taking you to a movie later.
The cerebrum has two halves, with one on either side of the head. Some scientists think that the right half helps you think about abstract things like music, colors, and shapes. The left half is said to be more analytical, helping you with math, logic, and speech. Scientists do know for sure that the right half of the cerebrum controls the left side of your body, and the left half controls the right side.

The Cerebellum's Balancing Act

brain cerebellum Next up is the cerebellum. The cerebellum is at the back of the brain, below the cerebrum. It's a lot smaller than the cerebrum at only 1/8 of its size. But it's a very important part of the brain. It controls balance, movement, and coordination (how your muscles work together). Because of your cerebellum, you can stand upright, keep your balance, and move around. Think about a surfer riding the waves on his board. What does he need most to stay balanced? The best surfboard? The coolest wetsuit? Nope — he needs his cerebellum!

Brain Stem Keeps You Breathing — and More

brain stem
Another brain part that's small but mighty is the brain stem. The brain stem sits beneath the cerebrum and in front of the cerebellum. It connects the rest of the brain to the spinal cord, which runs down your neck and back. The brain stem is in charge of all the functions your body needs to stay alive, like breathing air, digesting food, and circulating blood.
Part of the brain stem's job is to control your involuntary muscles — the ones that work automatically, without you even thinking about it. There are involuntary muscles in the heart and stomach, and it's the brain stem that tells your heart to pump more blood when you're biking or your stomach to start digesting your lunch. The brain stem also sorts through the millions of messages that the brain and the rest of the body send back and forth. Whew! It's a big job being the brain's secretary!

Pituitary Gland Controls Growth

brain pituitary glandsThe pituitary gland is very small — only about the size of a pea! Its job is to produce and release hormones into your body. If your clothes from last year are too small, it's because your pituitary gland released special hormones that made you grow. This gland is a big player in puberty too. This is the time when boys' and girls' bodies go through major changes as they slowly become men and women, all thanks to hormones released by the pituitary gland.
This little gland also plays a role with lots of other hormones, like ones that control the amount of sugars and water in your body. And it helps keep your metabolism (say: muh-ta-buh-lih-zum) going. Your metabolism is everything that goes on in your body to keep it alive and growing and supplied with energy, like breathing, digesting food, and moving your blood around.

Hypothalamus Controls Temperature

brain hypothalamusThe hypothalamus is like your brain's inner thermostat (that little box on the wall that controls the heat in your house). The hypothalamus knows what temperature your body should be (about 98.6° Fahrenheit or 37° Celsius). If your body is too hot, the hypothalamus tells it to sweat. If you're too cold, the hypothalamus gets you shivering. Both shivering and sweating are attempts to get your body's temperature back where it needs to be.

You Have Some Nerve!

So the brain is boss, but it can't do it alone. It needs some nerves — actually a lot of them. And it needs the spinal cord, which is a long bundle of nerves inside your spinal column, the vertebrae that protect it. It's the spinal cord and nerves — known as the nervous system — that let messages flow back and forth between the brain and body.
If a spiky cactus falls off a shelf headed right for your best friend, your nerves and brain communicate so that you jump up and yell for your friend to get out of the way. If you're really good, maybe you're able to catch the plant before it hits your friend!
But you might wonder about these nerves, which you can't see without a microscope. What are they anyway? The nervous system is made up of millions and millions of neurons (say: nur-onz), which are microscopic cells. Each neuron has tiny branches coming off it that let it connect to many other neurons.
When you were born, your brain came with all the neurons it will ever have, but many of them were not connected to each other. When you learn things, the messages travel from one neuron to another, over and over. Eventually, the brain starts to create connections (or pathways) between the neurons, so things become easier and you can do them better and better.
Think back to the first time you rode a bike. Your brain had to think about pedaling, staying balanced, steering with the handlebars, watching the road, and maybe even hitting the brakes — all at once. Hard work, right? But eventually, as you got more practice, the neurons sent messages back and forth until a pathway was created in your brain. Now you can ride your bike without thinking about it because the neurons have successfully created a "bike riding" pathway.

Emotion Location

With all the other things it does, is it any surprise that the brain runs your emotions? Maybe you got the exact toy you wanted for your birthday and you were really happy. Or your friend is sick and you feel sad. Or your little brother messed up your room, so you're really angry! Where do those feelings come from? Your brain, of course.
Your brain has a little bunch of cells on each side called the amygdala (say: uh-mig-duh-luh). The word amygdala is Latin for almond, and that's what this area looks like. Scientists believe that the amygdala is responsible for emotion. It's normal to feel all different kinds of emotions, good and bad. Sometimes you might feel a little sad, and other times you might feel scared, or silly, or glad.

Be Good to Your Brain

So what can you do for your brain? Plenty.
  • Eat healthy foods. They contain potassium and calcium, two minerals that are important for the nervous system.
  • Get a lot of playtime (exercise).
  • Wear a helmet when you ride your bike or play other sports that require head protection.
  • Don't drink alcohol, take drugs, or use tobacco.
  • Use your brain by doing challenging activities, such as puzzles, reading, playing music, making art, or anything else that gives your brain a workout!
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD