Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Significant Reduced Loss of Brain Volume in Multiple Sclerosis Patients Treated with COPAXONE(R)

Five-year Study Findings Published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences

JERUSALEM, Israel, Oct 11, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Results from a five-year study of treatment-naive patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) demonstrated that patients treated with COPAXONE(R) (glatiramer acetate injection) showed significant reduced loss of brain volume compared to patients treated with other disease modifying therapies (DMTs).
Though all DMT treatment arms resulted in a reduction in brain volume loss compared to the control group of non-treated patients, COPAXONE(R) had a significantly better effect than both low and high dose interferons, in reducing loss of brain volume. A paper published by Dr. Omar Khan, detailing the study findings, "Effect of disease-modifying therapies on brain volume in relapsing--remitting multiple sclerosis: Results of a five-year brain MRI study," was recently published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences.
"These data represent the importance of ongoing research in a practical clinical setting to better understand multiple sclerosis and the impact of therapy on the course of the disease ," said Jon Congleton, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Teva Neuroscience. "Not only does this study highlight the benefit of COPAXONE(R) in reducing brain volume loss, it underscores the value of early treatment in influencing long-term outcomes."
Brain volume loss in multiple sclerosis patients exceeds the rate of healthy control groups. Brain volume loss, sometimes referred to as atrophy, may be correlated with cognitive and physical deficits. Modern magnetic resonance (MR) techniques can reliably measure loss of brain volume over time.
In the study, the COPAXONE(R) treatment arm resulted in a -2.27 percent change in brain volume (PCVB) as compared to baseline versus -2.62 percent for Avonex(R) (low-dose interferon), -3.21 percent for Betaseron(R)/Rebif(R) (high-dose interferon).
This was a retrospective study in which the brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 275 RRMS patients treated with DMTs were examined with Structural Image Evaluation, using Normalization of Atrophy (SIENA). Data analysis was conducted in 2007-08 and the study period included patients who started DMTs in 2001-02 and subsequently received the same DMT for five years. Inclusion criteria for the study were diagnosis of clinically definite RRMS, disease duration of five years or less at the time of initiating DMT and treatment-naive prior to initiation of DMT at onset of study observation period. Untreated RRMS patients with follow-up ranging from eight to 24 months were enrolled as controls. All untreated patients also had prior brain MRI scans on no therapy that could be analyzed with SIENA, so that their rate of brain volume loss was annualized and then projected over five years assuming a constant rate of brain volume loss over five years.
121 patients in the study were treated with COPAXONE(R), 101 were treated with Betaseron(R) or Rebif(R) and 53 were treated with Avonex(R). All patients had brain MRI scans (at onset of DMT and five years later) on the same 1.5T scanner. Image analysis was performed blinded to treatment allocation.
The study was supported by Wayne State University Neuroscience Program. Preliminary results from this study were presented at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in 2008.
COPAXONE(R) is indicated for the reduction of the frequency of relapses in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, including patients who have experienced a first clinical episode and have MRI features consistent with multiple sclerosis. The most common side effects of COPAXONE(R) are redness, pain, swelling, itching, or a lump at the site of injection, flushing, rash, shortness of breath, and chest pain. COPAXONE(R) (glatiramer acetate injection) is now approved in more than 50 countries worldwide, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Israel, and all European countries. In North America,
COPAXONE(R) is marketed by Teva Neuroscience, Inc., which is a subsidiary of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. In Europe, COPAXONE(R) is marketed by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and sanofi-aventis. COPAXONE(R) is a registered trademark of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
See additional important information at: http://www.sharedsolutions.com/pdfs/PrescribingInformation.aspx or call 1-800-887-8100 for electronic releases.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. /quotes/zigman/64731/quotes/nls/teva TEVA +0.58% is a leading global pharmaceutical company, committed to increasing access to high-quality healthcare by developing, producing and marketing affordable generic drugs as well as innovative and specialty pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients. Headquartered in Israel, Teva is the world's largest generic drug maker, with a global product portfolio of more than 1,300 molecules and a direct presence in about 60 countries. Teva's branded businesses focus on neurological, respiratory and women's health therapeutic areas as well as biologics. Teva currently employs approximately 42,000 people around the world and reached $16.1 billion in net sales in 2010.
Teva's Safe Harbor Statement under the U. S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995:
This release contains forward-looking statements, which express the current beliefs and expectations of management. Such statements are based on management's current beliefs and expectations and involve a number of known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause our future results, performance or achievements to differ significantly from the results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Important factors that could cause or contribute to such differences include risks relating to: our ability to successfully develop and commercialize additional pharmaceutical products, the introduction of competing generic equivalents, the extent to which we may obtain U.S. market exclusivity for certain of our new generic products and regulatory changes that may prevent us from utilizing exclusivity periods, potential liability for sales of generic products prior to a final resolution of outstanding patent litigation, including that relating to the generic version of Protonix(R), the extent to which any manufacturing or quality control problems damage our reputation for high quality production, the effects of competition on sales of our innovative products, especially Copaxone(R) (including potential generic and oral competition for Copaxone(R)), the impact of continuing consolidation of our distributors and customers, our ability to identify, consummate and successfully integrate acquisitions (including the acquisition of Cephalon), interruptions in our supply chain or problems with our information technology systems that adversely affect our complex manufacturing processes, intense competition in our specialty pharmaceutical businesses, any failures to comply with the complex Medicare and Medicaid reporting and payment obligations, our exposure to currency fluctuations and restrictions as well as credit risks, the effects of reforms in healthcare regulation, adverse effects of political or economical instability, major hostilities or acts of terrorism on our significant worldwide operations, increased government scrutiny in both the U.S. and Europe of our agreements with brand companies, dependence on the effectiveness of our patents and other protections for innovative products, our ability to achieve expected results through our innovative R&D efforts, the difficulty of predicting U.S. Food and Drug Administration, European Medicines Agency and other regulatory authority approvals, uncertainties surrounding the legislative and regulatory pathway for the registration and approval of biotechnology-based products, potentially significant impairments of intangible assets and goodwill, potential increases in tax liabilities resulting from challenges to our intercompany arrangements, our potential exposure to product liability claims to the extent not covered by insurance, the termination or expiration of governmental programs or tax benefits, current economic conditions, any failure to retain key personnel or to attract additional executive and managerial talent, environmental risks and other factors that are discussed in our Annual Report on Form 20-F and other filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Neuro-oncologist foresees breakthroughs in brain tumor fight

The brain tumors Albert H. Kim, MD, PhD, sees are often the most difficult to treat. As a physician-scientist, he attacks them on two fronts – the operating room and the laboratory.
Dr. Kim is the newest member of the Washington University School of Medicine Department of Neurological Surgery. As a skull base and oncologic neurosurgeon, he often operates on tumors located deep in hard-to-access parts of the brain.

“Malignancies are always bad,” he says. “But with brain tumors, it’s as much about location as it is about being benign or malignant since the brain controls so much of what we do, controls so much of who we are.”

Advances in technology have made the surgery safer and more precise, says Dr. Kim. These include stereotactic guidance systems that act like GPS to guide surgeons through the brain, and surgical suites equipped with MRI machines which allow surgeons to make images during a procedure to make sure the maximum amount of tumor is removed without damaging brain tissue.  Additionally, advances in mapping brain function, spearheaded here by neurosurgeons, have made tumor surgery safer.

Still, these procedures are often risky and are notoriously grueling for both the surgical team and the patient.

“But it’s important to emphasize that surgery is just one component of the whole problem,” Dr. Kim says. “[Brain tumor] is not just a surgery problem.  It’s a medical oncology problem.  It’s a radiation oncology problem. Also, often these patients have other pre-operative conditions that require the help of other smart people - internists and cardiologists, for instance - to make sure they can withstand the treatment.”

Despite the technological and treatment advances, however, many brain cancers are, essentially, not curable, he says.

Glioblastoma multiforme, for instance, is the most common and most aggressive of malignant brain tumors. Because the tumor’s borders are very indistinct, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for surgeons to remove every bit of it without damaging surrounding brain tissue.

“Cancer generally is just a very difficult, complex problem,” Dr. Kim says. “Of course a [brain tumor] cure would be great. But there are a lot of things we need to know, a lot of things we need to examine, a lot of things we need to test to cure brain tumors. An equally good goal perhaps would be to control these tumors.”

Turning brain tumors into a manageable, chronic disease by using currently available technologies, and then developing a drug to prevent regrowth or spread of the cancer cells “would be a great achievement,” he says.

And so, Dr. Kim approaches the problem on a molecular level in his lab.

“My focus in the past has been on development of the brain,” he said. “I want to take advantage of what we know about how the brain develops to confront malignant tumors of the brain.

For instance, by studying the biology of glioblastoma - “the worst player in the spectrum of tumors called gliomas” - he and other scientists hope to discover a window of susceptibility that will let them control the tumor and “make a real impact for these patients,” he says.
Dr. Kim trained in neurosurgery at Harvard Medical Center’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, followed with a fellowship in skull base and cerebrovascular surgery at the University of Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital.

He was drawn to Washington University, he says, because of the Department of Neurosurgery’s long history of expertise in treating difficult tumors and “high density” of physician-scientists. Also, the resources and staff of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Siteman Cancer Center offer a full spectrum of care and support for patients and their families.

Dr. Kim looks forward to working in both the operating room and lab during the next few years. Increased funding and renewed interest in advancing understanding of the brain and treatment of brain tumors will lead to significant advances, he feels.

“As devastating a group of diseases as this is,” says Dr. Kim, “this is an exciting time. It’s a time of hope.”

Researchers Discover Fairness Regions of Brain

Researchers Discover Fairness Regions of Brain
The development of civilization required homo sapiens to acknowledge and respect fundamental social norms. Sometimes the norms mean that we have to suffer for the community good — an action that goes against some of our evolutionary roots.
Now, using technology, researchers are learning how the brain is able to adapt and go against our own economic self-interest and egoistic impulses.
Researchers have discovered that neuronal networks are behind self-control. They published their findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
In the study, scientists used both transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) methods and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Researchers discovered that people only punish norm violations at their own expense if the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — an important area for control located at the front of the brain — is activated.
This control entity must also interact with another frontal region, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, for punishment to occur.
The communication between these two frontal regions of the brain also supports earlier investigations that determined the ventromedial prefrontal cortex encodes the subjective value of consumer goods and normative behavior.
As neuroscientist Thomas Baumgartner explains, it seems plausible that this brain region might also encode the subjective value of a sanction. This value increases through the communication with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
Baumgartner and other researchers discovered that the communication between the two brain regions becomes more difficult if the activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is reduced. This in turn makes punishing norm violations at your own expense significantly more difficult.
Experts believe the results could be important in the therapeutic use of the noninvasive brain stimulation method in psychiatric and forensic patients.
Patients who exhibit strong antisocial behavior also frequently display reduced activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
This region of the brain, however, is not directly accessible for noninvasive brain stimulation, as its location is too deep inside the brain.
The results of the current study suggest that the activity in this region of the brain could be increased if the activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex were increased with the aid of brain stimulation.
Researchers believe this would indirectly induce increase in the activity of the frontal brain regions which could help improve prosocial and fair behavior.

Concussion awareness seemingly takes root

Emergency room visits by children and adolescents for brain injuries jumped more than 60 percent over an eight-year period, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said the increase was believed to be a result of increased awareness of concussions and other head injuries.
The report said emergency rooms recorded an increase of visits from 153,375 in 2001 to 248,418 in 2009 among those 19 years old and younger because of traumatic brain injuries sustained in recreational activities. According to the study, the sports most likely to lead to the injuries are bicycling, football, playground activities, basketball and soccer.
“We believe that one reason for the increase in emergency department visits among children and adolescents may be a result of the growing awareness among parents and coaches, and the public as a whole, about the need for individuals with a suspected TBI to be seen by a health care professional,” said Dr. Linda C. Degutis, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Concussions and their debilitating effects have been receiving increased attention, particularly in the NFL, which has taken steps to reduce the number of head injuries to players after years of distancing itself from research about the lasting impact of such injuries. The NHL was also slow to adjust its rules to address the issue and was set to open its season Thursday with one of its best players, Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh, sidelined because of the lasting effects of a concussion.
The issue has also become a flashpoint in youth sports. According to a recent report by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, more than 500,000 concussions are sustained by the 4.4 million children who play tackle football.
According to Dr. Julie Gilchrist, one of the CDC study’s authors, the emergency room data is the first to quantify that the effort to educate coaches, parents and children about concussions is taking hold.
“We would like to see the numbers go down because we hope we have gotten better at preventing them, but we knew the numbers would have to go up before they start to come down because awareness has to go up first,” Gilchrist said.
Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, also says the publicity surrounding concussions is having a significant impact.
“I view the numbers as encouraging,” he said. “Some people will say that the numbers go up because the number of concussions is going up, but I don’t believe it is.”
Although Gilchrist said a rise in concussions is possible because even youth athletes are getting bigger and faster, she said if that were the reason for the increase, the numbers of children admitted to the hospital for head injuries would also increase. But those numbers have remained relatively constant.
Still, Cantu said the biggest danger area is the amount of concussions that go undiagnosed, leading to potentially more debilitating and even fatal second-impact injuries. He said in football and hockey the number of actual concussions is six or seven times higher than the number diagnosed. Those numbers in hockey stem from research done in Canada in which physicians watched and counted the number of likely concussions sustained in games and practices in youth leagues.
It is why Cantu, who is writing a book about concussions at the youth level, believes children under 14 should not play collision sports until they are made safer.
“They should not play collision sports as they are currently played,” he said. “Listen, I love sports. I’m not trying to get rid of sports. I’m trying to get rid of head trauma in sports, particularly at the youth level.”
Collision sports were not at the root of all head injuries in the CDC study. The report said children younger than 10 are most likely to visit the emergency room for head injuries sustained on a playground or while bicycling. The injuries among males ages 10 to 19 are most likely from football, followed by bicycling. From ages 15 to 19, football causes by far the most concussions (30.3 percent). Soccer, basketball or bicycling are the most likely culprits for females ages 10 to 19.
Gilchrist said it was not possible to use the numbers to assess the risks of any particular activity because participation numbers are not part of the study.
“Those activities may have the most concussions simply because they are so common,” she said.
She also said future research hoped to pin down head injuries that are treated by primary care physicians and other doctors, not just ones that land in emergency rooms, to get a better handle on just how many concussions are being sustained and how they are treated.
The CDC has worked to increase awareness of the dangers of concussions with its Heads Up initiative, which began in 2003. It includes a section on its website dedicated to educating parents on the subject. It warns that even if an injury does not appear to be serious, it can have lasting repercussions, if left untreated, that affect memory, behavior, learning and emotional development.
And while the numbers signal progress, experts agree it is only a start.
“We are never going to get all of them, but we have to get a lot better,” Cantu said. “Not all the fault lies with the people on the sidelines. The kids have been to blame, too, playing through symptoms and not reporting. That’s why we have to educate them about the dangers of playing through them.”
Cantu said 32 states had passed legislation mandating concussion education for young athletes, parents and coaches.

Many mysterious disorders involve the brain and nervous system

Since opening a new research branch, federal researchers have been deluged with medical mysteries. 
Since opening a new research branch, federal researchers have been deluged with medical mysteries.

Since opening its doors two years ago, the National Institutes of Health's Undiagnosed Diseases Program has been deluged with requests for medical sleuthing assistance, especially among people with neurological symptoms.

In a summary of the agency's work thus far, published Thursday, leaders of the Bethesda, Md.,-based program said more than half of the cases they have accepted involve undiagnosed symptoms of the brain and central nervous system. Undiagnosed disorders involving pain, psychiatric symptoms and the gastrointestinal and immune systems also cropped up more frequently. Another common category of mystery cases ended up being diagnosed as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

The overwhelming response to the opening of the program apparently stunned researchers and points to the need for more places where patients with long-standing undiagnosed health problems can see a team of specialists. At the NIH clinic, patients typically meet with a variety of specialists from the 27 branch institutes and centers over a one-week visit. Biological and genetic tests are conducted, including gene testing of family members.

"[T]he NIH was often the first opportunity for many patients to access a coordinated multidisciplinary evaluation," the authors of the paper said. The review appears in the journal Genetics in Medicine.

The program opened for applications in May, 2008, and received 1,191 cases for review. "The applications may represent years of evaluation by multiple doctors at more than one medical facility--but with no conclusive diagnoses," Dr. William Gahl, UDP director, said in a news release.

So many requests were received that the program temporarily stopped accepting new applications. The process will resume in November.

More than 300 cases have been accepted into the program and 39 have been solved. Most of those cases involved diseases that have been previously identified. Doctors are trained in diagnosing about 500 disorders, but about 6,500 very rare disorders are known to exist beyond the common ones. The NIH program has already identified a new disorder called arterial calcification due to deficiency of CD73. CD73 is a protein that protects arteries from calcifying. The institute is also set to report on a second new disorder later this year.

How Our Brains Turn Women Into Objects

There is, it turns out, more than one kind of "objectification"
I am not a robot
Recent reports of a mountain lion or cougar stalking the campus of the University of Iowa prompted campus jokesters to tweet their surprise that Michelle Bachman was in town. A cougar, colloquially, is an attractive older woman who seeks out trysts with younger men, and to some, it seems that Bachmann fits the bill. This emphasis on appearance is nothing new for high-profile women who are anything but homely, and feminist scholars are quick to point out its potential detrimental effects on perceptions of female competence.
Of course, we don’t need to consider reactions to political candidates to understand this idea. There is a well-known tension between seeing someone as, and appreciating them for, a body as opposed to a mind. At least, that’s what parents tell their daughters when their school clothes veer too far towards the revealing.
Science has backed parents up on this. A recent study found that showing men pictures of sexualized women evokes less activity in areas of the brain responsible for mental state attribution—that is, the area of the brain that becomes active when we think we are looking at an entity capable of thought and planned action. Other studies have found similar results. When men see body shots of women as compared with face shots, they judge women to be less intelligent, likeable, ambitious and competent.
A new study by Kurt Gray and colleagues in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, however, suggests that this kind of objectification might not cause perceivers to see women as mindless bodies but instead cause a transformation in the kind of minds that they perceive.
Research into mind perception has found two dimensions along which we tend to categorize others: agency (the capacity to act, plan) and experience (the capacity to feel emotions). A robot, for example, is high on the dimension of agency but low in experience. It can think, but it can’t feel. When we see flesh, on the other hand, we tend to see experience but not agency—an entity capable of pleasure and pain but not necessarily the sharpest or most useful tool in the shed.
So, objectification might not lead to perceptions of women as inanimate objects but as different kinds of humans—ones that are capable of feeling but not thinking. To test this hypothesis Gray et al. presented participants with images of individuals and varied the amount of flesh shown in the pictures (the amount of “body focus”). In line with their hypothesis, seeing full bodies, as compared to just faces, caused ratings of agency to diminish but ratings of experience to increase. The same was true when naked bodies were compared with clothed bodies. Indeed, as the sexual suggestiveness of the images increased, perceptions of agency decreased and perceptions of experience increased accordingly.
While this might initially seem modestly encouraging in that the objectified are perceived as humans and not objects, there is a disconcerting side effect of perceiving entities as high on experience—we see them as more capable of being harmed and, therefore, as more in need of protection. The researchers demonstrated this in a final study that showed participants are less willing to inflict painful shocks on half-naked individuals as compared to clothed individuals. It seems that when we see bodies we tend to also see potential victims. And though victimhood might be endearing to some, it certainly won’t help win elections.

Brain scans used to detect paedophilia

Photo: DPA A study by German scientists shows that it may be possible to identify paedophiles by scanning their brains as they look at pictures of adults and children.

In the study, which appears this month in the Archive of General Psychiatry, the scientists showed pictures of naked people of different ages to a group of diagnosed paedophiles and a normal control group. The researchers then scanned the subjects’ brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The differences in brain activity could pinpoint who was a paedophile and who was not at a rate of roughly 90 percent, according to the study.

The research, which involved professors from universities in Kiel, Berlin and Denmark, may have ground-breaking uses in the treatment of sex offenders, said Jorge Ponseti, one of the study's authors at the Christian Albrechts University of Kiel.

It is important to verify whether a first-time sex offender is truly a paedophile – in other words having an inherent attraction to prepubescent children – or merely committed a crime of opportunity, because treatment strategies are different for both groups Ponseti said.

“You can offer a paedophile drugs to lower sex drive or teach him in psychotherapy to avoid situations involving children, but you waste your time if you explain how to have a relationship with adult women,” Ponseti said. “You can approach someone who is not a true paedophile differently. It is important to know what kind of sex offender this is.”

Current techniques to determine whether someone is a paedophile, such as by using a device attached to the penis to measure arousal levels, are notoriously imprecise and not widely used in Germany. Some paedophiles are able to fool such devices by controlling their arousal levels.

Ponseti said he thinks the fMRI technique will be much more precise, although researchers are currently developing another study to see whether its possible for paedophiles to somehow fool it.

“Brain response to an emotional stimulus is very fast and it happens most likely before conscious acknowledgement of a picture takes place, so I think it is unlikely that faking will be successful,” Ponseti said.

Athletes Donate Brains for Trauma Research

The former N.H.L star, Rick Martin died in March of a heart attack at age 59. After he died, researchers found that Martin had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated brain damage, after examination of his brain.
Martin’s brain donation follows a developing trend among athletes. More than 500 current and former U.S. athletes have decided to donate their brains to research after they die, in hopes to bring attention to the brain damage their sport causes to hopefully protect future athletes from progressive brain disease.
According to the researchers, Martin was involved in 14 fights in 14 seasons in junior leagues and the N.H.L. Although he did not wear a helmet, he sustained no known brain trauma outside of hockey. He was known to have only one concussion on the ice, which led to immediate convulsions. Since then, Martin wear a helmet on the ice.
Martin’s brain shows athletes a different story. Martin was involved in limited fights during his career, yet he was still at risk for CTE. But it is more likely that other players have more aggressive fights during their career, thus enduring repetitive brain trauma.
According to Boston University researchers, Martin was in the second stage of the disease. There are four stages of the disease; the fourth stage being the most severe. CTE symptoms may include memory loss, depression and a lack of impulse control.
Additionally, Martin’s behavior before death did not reflect any signs of CTE. On the other hand, other players do express symptoms of dementia, depression, and behavior issues later in life, so after they die, their families will donate their brains for research to help explain these changes.
Martin’s brain joins 96 other athlete brains at the VA Brain Bank. 70 brains have already been analyzed and more than 50 brains have shown signs of CTE.

Brain rhythm presumably enhances learning

Why doesn’t everyone learn like Einstein or Mozart? Well, the strength of the connections between neurons of the brain, called synapses could be the reason. As per UCLA neuro-physicists, there is a rhythmic process in the brain where just like stations on a radio dial, each synapse is tuned to varied optimal frequency for learning.
In a process called synaptic plasticity where the strength of the synapse changes is apparently instigated by a cascade of neural signals that occur with variable frequency and timing. Also, the analysts believe that just stimulating the neurons at high frequencies may not be the way to elevate the synaptic strength.
Mayank R. Mehta, the paper’s senior author and an associate professor in UCLA’s departments of neurology, neurobiology, physics and astronomy commented, “Many people have learning and memory disorders, and beyond that group, most of us are not Einstein or Mozart. Our work suggests that some problems with learning and memory are caused by synapses not being tuned to the right frequency.”

It was initially believed that when the synapses were driven at higher frequency, the influence on synaptic strength along with learning may turn out to be equally good though not enhanced in any way. But the scientists were taken aback when they found that synaptic strengthening apparently lessened as frequencies rose.
Therefore, the team analyzed optimal frequencies depending on the location of the synapse on a neuron. They found that the optimal frequency required to activate synaptic learning supposedly changed based on the location of the synapse. More the distance between the synapse and the neuron’s cell body, the greater was its optimal frequency.
Also, the investigators say the effect is the best when the frequency is perfectly rhythmic. They also believe that the process of learning itself seemingly alters the optimal frequency of a synapse.
This kind of learning induced detuning may contribute to the treatment of disorders such as forgetfulness, post traumatic stress disorder and so on. Mehta concludes that there are certain drugs and electrical stimuli which modify brain rhythms. This analysis suggests that these avenues could be used to provide suitable brain rhythm to connections for better learning.

New Way to Screen for Killers of Brain Cancer Stem Cells

Researchers with UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed and used a high-throughput molecular screening approach that identifies and characterizes chemical compounds that can target the stem cells that are responsible for creating deadly brain tumors.

Glioblastoma is one of the deadliest malignancies, typically killing patients within 12 to 18 months. These brain cancers consist of two kinds of cells, a larger, heterogeneous population of tumor cells and a smaller sub-population of stem cells, which are treatment-resistant.

The screening system was specifically designed to find drugs that can target that sub-population and prevent it from re-seeding the brain cancer, said study senior author Dr. Harley Kornblum, a Jonsson Cancer Center scientist and a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences.

“We’re pleased that we can present a different way to approach the discovery of potential new cancer drugs,” said Kornblum, who also is a researcher with the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA. “And by finding these drugs, we may be able to reveal things about the biology of these cancer stem cells.”

The study appears in the Oct. 10 issue of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Association of Cancer Research.

After testing more than 31,000 compounds from seven chemical libraries in an initial screen, the team came up with 694 that showed some activity against the brain cancer stem cells. After further narrowing the field down to 168 compounds, they decided to focus on four in future studies because they most successfully inhibited the brain cancer stem cells, Kornblum said.

What Kornblum and his team did in their approach was sort of a reverse of the usual screening processes. Typically, researchers doing high-throughput screening are seeking a drug to hit a specific target they know is on a cancer cell, perhaps a protein that is causing it to grow or a gene that keeps it from dying. In this case, Kornblum said, the team was basically shooting in the dark because the biology of these brain cancer stem cells is largely unknown.

“When brain cancer stem cells were first discovered, we all realized rapidly that we would need to find drugs that attack these cells specifically, because they’re resistant to our conventional therapies,” Kornblum said. “We needed a way to kill these stem cells.”

UCLA’s high-throughput screening technology is capable of screening as many as 100,000 compounds in a single day. Researchers generally develop cancer cells lines and then create an assay, a procedure in molecular biology to test or measure the activity of a drug or biochemical compound in an organic sample, in this case the cancer cells.

The cells are loaded into plates with 384 wells each and the drugs are added. The plates are about the size of the palm of an adult hand. The computerized, robotic screening system executes the process from start to finish, adding the compounds sitting in the tiny wells in the plates to the cancer cells, located in corresponding assay plates.

In this study, Kornblum and his team had a few clues to help them in narrowing down potential candidates that kill brain cancer stem cells. One method they used was based on a prior discovery by Jonsson Cancer Center researchers. The researchers had identified genes that correlate with how aggressive a brain tumor is, so Kornblum decided to try to find potential drug candidates that might reduce the expression of these genes. Another approach was to figure out which of the molecules killed brain cancer stem cells with a greater potency than they attacked other cells within glioblastoma.

To grow his cell lines, Kornblum used human tissue taken from UCLA patients diagnosed with glioblastoma. He knew that a certain method of culturing brain cancer cells resulted in a large number of brain cancer stem cells in the population. These cells were then screened with a molecular library of 31,624 compounds available through the cancer center’s Molecular Screening Shared Resource. These compounds encompass a wide range of structures and therefore have the possibility of influencing virtually all cellular functions.

“We decided on this type of approach because, although we have learned a great deal about brain cancer stem cells in the past several years, we still have not discovered enough of their biology to be sure that any single target will be the right one to hit,” Kornblum said.

Going forward, Kornblum and his team will further study the four identified “lead” compounds to see if they help reveal the biology of the brain cancer stem cells and potentially result in a new and more effective therapy for these deadly brain cancers.

“One of our goals was to determine whether some compounds selectively act on glioblastoma stem cells compared to the less tumorigenic cells from the same tumor,” the study states. “This selectivity may allow for the delineation of pathways and processes that are highly important to these cells. By making sure that a drug candidate has the potential to attack these stem cells, one might ensure the highest chance of therapeutic success.”

Funding for the study was provided by the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has more than 240 researchers and clinicians engaged in disease research, prevention, detection, control, treatment and education. One of the nation's largest comprehensive cancer centers, the Jonsson center is dedicated to promoting research and translating basic science into leading-edge clinical studies. In July 2011, the Jonsson Cancer Center was named among the top 10 cancer centers nationwide by U.S. News & World Report, a ranking it has held for 11 of the last 12 years.

Brains of Violent Offenders, Substance Abusers Differ

October 11, 2011 — The brains of violent offenders differ significantly from those with substance use disorders (SUDs), a finding that may aid in the development of more effective interventions for both conditions, new research suggests.
A small magnetic resonance imaging study of men in Germany found that those with SUDs showed lower grey matter volume in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and poorer response inhibition scores compared with their counterparts without SUDs.
In contrast, violent offenders showed greater grey matter volume in the mesolimbic reward system compared with nonoffenders, but no differences in the PFC. In addition, violent offenders had higher scores for psychopathy and lifelong aggressive behavior.

Dr. Boris Schiffer
"The number 1 takeaway message for clinicians is that volume reductions in the PFC may not be a sufficient condition for violent offending," lead author Boris Schiffer, PhD, MSc Psych, associate professor of forensic psychiatry at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, told Medscape Medical News.
"Therefore, treatment approaches aimed at reducing the risk of violent offending should not only focus on improvement of behavioral control, which is associated with PFC function or dysfunction, but also on mechanisms associated with reward punishment computations — functions associated with the mesolimbic reward system," said Dr. Schiffer.
The study appears in the October issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Costly Social Problem
"Violent criminal behavior causes much human suffering and is a costly social problem, accounting for 6.5% and 11.9% of the gross domestic product of Germany and the United States, respectively," write the researchers.
They note that previous research evaluating possible brain alterations for those with violent behavior have not taken into account whether or not study participants had a history of SUDs, which may be a possible cause of structural brain changes.
"The causes of violent behavior are still poorly understood, and therefore treatment approaches aimed at reducing violent offending and recidivism have revealed poor outcomes," added Dr. Schiffer.
The investigators recruited 51 men between the ages of 23 and 54 years from penitentiaries, forensics hospitals, psychiatric outpatient services, and communities in Germany.
Of these men, 12 were classified as having lifelong SUDs and exhibiting violent behavior (mean age, 36.4 years), 13 had SUDs only (mean age, 37.3 years), 12 were violent only (mean age, 37.4 years), and 14 were neither violent nor had an SUD (healthy control participants; mean age, 36.7 years).
Each of the violent offenders had been convicted of at least 3 crimes, with an average of 3.3 violent offenses.
All participants underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging at a university hospital. The Psychopathy Checklist-Screening Version was also used, along with assessments of aggressive behavior and impulsivity.
"Disentangling" Brain Correlates
Results showed that the groups with SUDs had significantly less grey matter volumes in their ventromedial prefrontal cortex, medial orbitofrontal cortex, and premotor cortex than the groups without SUDs.
Those who had SUDs only also showed a smaller total grey matter volume than the healthy control participants.
The groups that included violent offenders showed greater grey matter volumes in the left nucleus accumbens, bilateral amygdala, and right caudate head, and less volume in the left anterior insula, than the groups that did not have any offenders.
The violent offenders with SUDs also showed a greater total grey matter volume than those who were violent only.
Dr. Schiffer said that the volume increases in the mesolimbic reward system were "surprising," especially in the amygdala.
"Deficient amygdala function, in particular in emotion processing, and fear conditioning have been reported in a number of studies in violent offenders, especially those with psychopathy," he reported.
The investigators note that other findings from other studies indicating that violent offenders have reduced volumes in the orbitofrontal cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and the premotor area compared with nonoffenders "may have failed to disentangle the structural brain correlates of persistent violence and SUDs."
They add that future studies will need "to link the observed structural abnormalities to specific deficits in functioning assessed by both neuropsychological tests and behavior in the real world and to the interactions of genes and environmental factors."

Dr. Warren K. Bickel
Exciting Times
"I think this is an advance in understanding the structural brain changes associated with violent behavior; and because of the unique design, the investigators were able to disassociate it from [SUDs]," Warren K. Bickel, PhD, director of the Advanced Recovery Research Center at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke, told Medscape Medical News.
"Historically, that's been a challenge because often violent offenders also engage in substance abuse," said Dr. Bickel, who was not involved with this study.
He noted that there has been a concern in the field of addiction that substance abusers are violent.
"While that's certainly true for a portion of them, I think this clearly suggests that that can be disassociated, at least in the general public. Also importantly, it suggests future directions for understanding etiology between these 2 disorders and why there may be some degree of comorbidity between them."
However, Dr. Bickel noted that because this was a cross-sectional study, "strong inferences cannot be made about the developmental time course."
"Still, I think it does shed some light on the issues. And as more data come out, I think that will suggest novel approaches to treatment. For example, if I were to get violent offenders to use their amygdala less, would that help them control their behavior more? It brings up some interesting questions," he said.
"I think we're in a very exciting time and wouldn't be surprised if in a few years there aren't whole new approaches addressing challenges in brain function and structure and finding new ways to provide improvement."

Psychologists Decipher Brain’s Clever Autofocus Software

It’s something we all take for granted: our ability to look at an object, near or far, and bring it instantly into focus. The eyes of humans and many animals do this almost instantaneously and with stunning accuracy. Now researchers say they are one step closer to understanding how the brain accomplishes this feat.
 Wilson Geisler and Johannes Burge, psychologists at the Center for Perceptual Systems at the University of Texas, Austin, have developed a simple algorithm for quickly and accurately estimating the focus error from a single blurry image—something they say is key to understanding how biological visual systems avoid the repetitive guess-and-check method employed by digital cameras. The discovery may advance our understanding of how nearsightedness develops in humans or help engineers improve digital cameras, the researchers say.
In order to see an object clearly, an accurate estimate of blur is important. Humans and animals instinctively extract key features from a blurry image, use that information to determine their distance from an object, then instantly focus the eye to the precise desired focal length, Geisler explains. “In some animals, that’s the primary way they sense distance,” he says. For example, the chameleon relies on this method to pinpoint the location of a flying insect and snap its tongue to that exact spot. Altering the amount of blur by placing a lens in front of its eye causes the chameleon to misjudge the distance in a predictable way.

But scientists didn’t know how biological visual systems estimate blur so well. Many researchers had thought the brain used a system of guessing and checking to get to the answer, much like the way a camera’s auto-focus system works. Basically, the camera changes the focal distance, measures the contrast in the image it sees, and repeats the process until it has maximized the contrast, Burge says.
“This search procedure is slow, often begins its search in the wrong direction, and relies on the assumption that maximum contrast equals best focus—which is not strictly true,” Burge says.
In an attempt to resolve the question of how humans and animals might use blur to accurately estimate distance, Geisler and Burge used well-known mathematical equations to create a computer simulation of the human visual system. They presented the computer with digital images of natural scenes similar to what a person might see, such as faces, flowers, or scenery, and observed that although the content of these images varied widely, many features of the images—patterns of sharpness and blurriness and relative amounts of detail—remained the same.
The duo then attempted to mimic how the human visual system might be processing these images by adding a set of filters to their model designed to detect these features. When they blurred the images by systematically changing the focus error in the computer simulation and tested the response of the filters, the researchers found that they could predict the exact amount of focus error by the pattern of response they observed in the feature detectors. The researchers say this provides a potential explanation for how the brains of humans and animals can quickly and accurately determine focus error without guessing and checking. Their research appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“They’ve provided proof that there is enough information in a static image to determine if an object is too close or too far away,” says Larry Thibos, a professor of optometry and vision researcher at Indiana University, Bloomington. “We’ve known for 50 or 60 years that people are very good at knowing whether or not something is in focus. It’s taken this paper to show us how the visual system might accomplish this feat.”
The researchers also added common visual imperfections to their simulations and found that when it comes to judging focus, flaws are actually a good thing.
“What we discovered is that the imperfections in the eye—things like astigmatism and chromatic aberration—actually help it to focus,” Geisler explains. That may help explain why people who have had their astigmatism corrected through laser eye surgery often have trouble focusing for several weeks afterward, Geisler says.
That sort of understanding may have an impact on medical decisions, Thibos says. “People might be tempted to try and perfect nature,” he says, “when maybe it’s better to be a little bit imperfect.”

New Way to Gain a Clear View of the Brain

A group of Japanese neuroscientists is trying to peer into the mind — literally. They have devised a way to turn the brain’s opaque gray matter into a glassy, see-through substance.

The group, based at the government-financed Riken Brain Science Institute in Wako, Japan, has created an inexpensive chemical cocktail that transforms dead biological tissue from a colored mass into what looks like translucent jelly. Soaking brain tissue in the solution makes it easier for neuroscientists to see what’s inside, a step they hope will uncover the physical basis of personality traits, memories and even consciousness.
“I’m very excited about the potential,” said Dr. Atsushi Miyawaki, a researcher on the team, which published its discovery in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
The chemical solution — patented under the name Scale, a phonetic approximation of the Japanese word for “transparent” — could help neuroscientists map the brain’s underlying architecture, though that goal is still a distant one. At the moment, researchers are working to build such a map, called a “connectome,” of mouse brains, which are far less complex than human ones.
Ultimately, this mapping could be conducted on brains of different ages, Dr. Miyawaki said, providing a glimpse into how the organ develops and even how genetic differences might affect that development.
Dr. Miyawaki and his team have yet to try Scale on a human brain — their lab works with mice — but they plan to as soon as the gated process of obtaining a specimen is completed. He expects that the transparency solution will work just as well as it does on mouse brains.
Dr. Jeff Lichtman, a neuroscientist at Harvard University who is involved with the Human Connectome Project — a multi-institution effort to map a mouse brain, and then a human one — thinks that Scale shows promise and plans to use it in his lab. It looks like a good method for “clearing the brain,” he said in a telephone interview. “Clear brains,” he said. “That’s the big thing.”
The neurons of the brain are “interconnected in a vast and deeply mysterious network of wires, so there’s a wiring diagram,” Dr. Lichtman said. Scientists have to figure that diagram out before they can understand how information flows through it, he continued. If the brain were clarified using a solution like Scale, researchers could trace big sections of the diagram “all in one sitting,” he said, “and that would be terrific.”
Currently, to see brain tissue under a microscope, neuroscientists have to slice it into slivers about the thickness of a human hair, so that light can pass through. To analyze an entire mouse brain this way — a process that Dr. Lichtman’s lab is attempting, but that is nowhere near finished — the organ needs to be divided into roughly a hundred slices, each of which must be passed under a microscope for a snapshot of its cells.
Not only is the process labor-intensive, but the slices of brain can get distorted, and small bits of tissue can get lost. These hard-to-avoid errors can turn the snapshots into deformed puzzle pieces that can’t easily be fitted together into a wiring diagram.
A mouse brain that has been clarified with Scale, on the other hand, is clear enough without thin-slicing, and could be imaged in three big chunks, avoiding these problems, according to Dr. Miyawaki. Because it clarifies tissue without removing water, the solution sustains genetically introduced cell labels — used to differentiate one neuron from the next — in a wet environment like the one in which they originally evolved. The labels are made of proteins that come from jellyfish and corals.
According to Dr. Miyawaki, Scale works much better on young brains than on older ones, which are filled with more hard connective tissue that doesn’t absorb the solution as readily.
So far, Dr. Miyawaki and his team have used the solution only on dead tissue. The next step, he said, is to come up with a formulation that works on living tissue, though for now that is a distant goal.
Scale is not difficult to make: It is a cheap mixture of urea (found in urine and fertilizer), glycerol and detergent. While he and a colleague hold the patent on it, Dr. Miyawaki included the complete recipe in his recently published article and hopes that labs around the world will start using it for brain mapping.
Neuroscientists can’t answer important questions about the brain until they have a map of the neuronal circuit, Dr. Miyawaki said, adding, “and there are many, many important questions.”

Electrical stimulation creates images that could help blind see

brain sees what eye cannot Electrical stimulation might allow the brain to "see" what the eye cannot. Even when vision has failed, the mind's eye can see, given just the right voltage to just the right place in the brain, says a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study, which used rhesus monkeys with intact vision, demonstrated one way to restore something akin to sight in the blind. It showed that direct stimulation to the brain's visual cortex can create the perception of shapes, colors and contrasts -- even when the eyes cannot see them. Often when a person loses  vision because injury or disease, the broken component is either the detection device -- the eyes -- or the wiring that carries images detected by the eyes to the brain's visual cortex. That large region in the brain's rear quarters is where raw images picked up by the eyes are interpreted and given meaning. And for at least two years after a person has suffered a loss of vision, that specialized region of the brain remains ready to detect and make sense of incoming messages from the eyes. If it gets none, the marvelously adaptable brain will begin to reassign some of those underutilized neurons to other tasks. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Cognitive and Brain Science Department, researchers hoping to restore sight have focused not on repairing the eyes that have ceased to function or the wiring that has frayed; instead, they have proposed to supply the electrical messages that the brain interprets as an "image" directly to the brain's visual cortex. To show that such an approach could work, the researchers trained two male rhesus monkeys -- Hank and Malibu -- exhaustively in a visual task. Sitting in front of a large screen, the monkeys learned that whenever they saw two separate figures projected on the screen, they would get a reward -- a drop of apple juice -- if they identified the bigger or the brighter of the two by shifting their gaze ;toward it. While each monkey practiced the new skill, researchers "listened in" on the distinct patterns of electrical messages passing among the cells of his visual cortex. They also recorded those patterns -- the distinctive "sight" of an image as it's being processed by the brain -- using microelectrodes threaded carefully into the monkey's striate cortex, which lies just beneath the skull.

What happened when the researchers "played back" those electrical patterns was remarkable: When a monkey's visual neurons were electrically stimulated with the "sight" of a circle, his eyes immediately went to it -- even when it was not really on the screen in front of him. When researchers electrically generated the image of a larger circle  and put it next to a small circle projected in the screen in front of the monkey, Hank and Malibu demonstrated they could "see" that the new circle was larger by shifting their gazes directly to it. When the circle generated by electrical current was brighter than the one on the screen, the monkey demonstrated he could discern the difference in brightness by moving his eyes to the brighter one, as he had been taught.

The images created by electrical stimulation to the brain proved to be pretty "washed out," the researchers reported. But they still ranged in color from pink and purple to various shades of yellow. With an array of electrodes capable of delivering electricity to 256 brain cells in the visual cortex;(128 in each of the brain's two hemispheres), images can be delivered to a narrow slice of the visual field; by stimulating more neurons, the researchers said, that visual field could be widened.By strengthening the power of the electrical current, the study suggested to researchers they could improve visual acuity. In an interview, Peter H. Schiller, the lead author of the study, said that "this is just the very first step" in a lengthy process of building a neural prosthetic that might help blind humans see again. He said it could take "a good 10 years" to translate what can be learned from rhesus monkeys to humans, despite the fact that a monkeys' visual cortex is organized in much the same way as humans' brains. Learning how to translate complex visual images into electrical signals that convey the density of information a human expects -- not only the shapes and colors of objects but their distance from oneself -- will be an enormous task, Schiller added. And it will be a challenge to build electrode arrays powerful and resilient enough to feed information to the brain continuously without damaging delicate neurons, he said.
Eternal Optimists It'll definitely happen, Cubs fans. Someday.
Pervasive, persistent optimism is one of those uniquely human traits/flaws — we tend to believe things are better than they really are, or that negative consequences won’t befall us, even if they befall others. It stands to reason that people would adjust their expectations when confronted with harsh reality, yet they don’t. Our brains are to blame, according to a new study — we’re wired to have a positive outlook.
Neuroscientists have been searching for the physiological underpinnings for this sanguineness, because there are actual harms that can come from an “it-can’t-happen-to-me” or “it’ll-get-better-this-year” attitude. People might make reckless decisions or have unrealistic expectations, in everything from personal health to finance. Researchers have thought this rose-colored outlook is mediated in the brain centers involved in error processing, so a team from England and Germany set about studying this using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

To study optimism, they examined how people under-estimated the impact or possibility of future negative events, because this “it-can’t-happen-to-me” feeling has implications for how people protect themselves. The research team gave participants a list of 80 different negative life events, including getting Alzheimer’s disease, being fired, being cheated on by a spouse, and so on. They were asked to rate how likely they were to experience these events, and then they were told their actual probability for experiencing the events. Then they were asked to estimate their own likelihoods of experience again. The scientists monitored brain activity during these tests.
People were far more likely to change their estimates when they learned they were less likely to experience these harms, according to the researchers, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, the Free University of Berlin and Humboldt University in Berlin. On the other hand, when things were worse than expected, the participants still gave the original, incorrect estimate.
Brain activity tracks with these findings, the researchers say. When things were better than expected, activity in the frontal cortices spiked, monitoring estimation errors. But when things were worse, the brain activity was much weaker.
“Our findings suggest that this human propensity toward optimism is facilitated by the brain’s failure to code errors in estimation when those call for pessimistic updates,” the authors write in the online version of Nature Neuroscience.
“Any advantage arising out of unrealistic optimism is likely to come at a cost. For example, an unrealistic assessment of financial risk is widely seen as contributing factor to the 2008 global economic collapse,” they write. “Dismissing undesirable errors in estimation renders us peculiarly susceptible to view the future through rose-colored glasses.”

Young Brain Has Altruistic Characteristics

In an amazing new study, researchers present evidence that a basic sense of fairness and altruism appears in infancy.
Young Brain Has Altruistic Characteristics
Experts discovered babies as young as 15 months were aware of the difference between equal and unequal distribution of food. Moreover, their awareness of equal rations was linked to their willingness to share a toy.
“Our findings show that these norms of fairness and altruism are more rapidly acquired than we thought,” said Jessica Sommerville, a University of Washington associate professor of psychology who led the study.
“These results also show a connection between fairness and altruism in infants, such that babies who were more sensitive to the fair distribution of food were also more likely to share their preferred toy,” she said.
The study has been published by the journal PLoS ONE.
Previous studies reveal that 2-year-old children can help others – considered a measure of altruism – and that around age 6 or 7 they display a sense of fairness.
Sommerville suspected that these qualities could be apparent at even younger ages.
Babies around 15 months old begin to show cooperative behaviors, such as spontaneously helping others.
“We suspected that fairness and altruism might also be apparent then, which could indicate the earliest emergence of fairness,” Sommerville said.
During the experiment, a 15-month old baby sat on his or her parent’s lap and watched two short videos of experimenters acting out a sharing task.
In one video an experimenter holding a bowl of crackers distributed the food between two other experimenters. They did the food allocation twice, once with an equal allotment of crackers and the other with one recipient getting more crackers.
The second movie had the same plot, but the experimenters used a pitcher of milk instead of crackers.
To see if the babies’ sense of fairness related to their own willingness to share, the researchers did a second task in which a baby could choose between two toys: a simple LEGO block or a more elaborate LEGO doll.
Whichever toy the babies chose, the researchers labeled as the infant’s preferred toy.
Then an experimenter who the babies had not seen before gestured toward the toys and asked, “Can I have one?”
In response, one-third of the infants shared their preferred toy and another third shared their non-preferred toy. The other third of infants did not share either toy, which might be because they were nervous around a stranger or were unmotivated to share.
“The results of the sharing experiment show that early in life there are individual differences in altruism,” Sommerville said.
Comparing the toy-sharing task and the food-distribution task results, the researchers found that 92 percent of the babies who shared their preferred toy – called “altruistic sharers” – spent more time looking at the unequal distributions of food.
In contrast, 86 percent of the babies who shared their less-preferred toy, the “selfish sharers,” were more surprised, and paid more attention, when there was a fair division of food.
“The altruistic sharers were really sensitive to the violation of fairness in the food task,” Sommerville said. Meanwhile, the selfish sharers showed an almost opposite effect, she said.
Researchers understand that the findings point to larger, societal questions — are fairness and altruism are due to nature, or can these qualities be nurtured?
According to Sommerville, her research team is currently looking at how parents’ values and beliefs alter an infant’s development.
“It’s likely that infants pick up on these norms in a nonverbal way, by observing how people treat each other,” Sommerville said.

Brain Imaging Reveals Why Optimists Are The Way They Are

Why are some people just so. Optimistic. All. The. Time?
New research shows that it could all be in the brain.
Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging have found that people who hold optimistic feelings for the future (despite all signs indicating the opposite) has to do with "faulty" functioning of the frontal lobes in the brain.
"Seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty can be a positive thing –- it can lower stress and anxiety and be good for our health and well-being," study researcher Dr. Tali Sharot said in a statement. "But it can also mean that we are less likely to take precautionary action, such as practising safe sex or saving for retirement. So why don't we learn from cautionary information?"
Researchers presented negative scenarios -- such as a car being stolen or someone developing Parkinson's disease -- to 19 volunteers, who were lying in a machine that measures brain activity. The participates rated the likelihood of each event happening to them, and then they were told the actual probability that it would happen to them.
Then, the study participants were asked again how likely they thought the scenarios were to happen to them. Their optimism levels were gauged with a questionnaire.
Researchers found that optimists were more likely to "pick and choose" what information they pay attention to, especially when the information is negative.
For example -- if someone thought that their risk of cancer was 40 percent, but was then told that their actual risk was 30 percent, the person lowered their own self-decided risk to 31 percent, BBC News reported.
But if the person thought his or her cancer risk was only 10 percent to begin with and then was told the actual risk was 10 percent, they only increased their risk by a little bit, according to BBC News.
The brain imaging also revealed that in light of negative information, optimists' brains didn't code the information as efficiently as they did the positive information. The work was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Other research shows that optimistic thinking among teens can help to lessen depression and other health risks like substance abuse and emotional problems, MedPageToday reported.
Monkey Brain Control: The Future of Robotic Prostheses?
Monkey Brain Control: The Future of Robotic Prostheses?
Katie Zhuang / Duke University / AFP / Getty Images
File this under "the future is now:" in a series of experiments at Duke University Medical Center, researchers fitted two monkeys with electrodes in their brains and trained them to move a virtual arm across a computer screen to grab virtual objects and "feel" their different textures -- all using only their brains. It's the first demonstration of what the researchers call a brain-machine-brain interface (BMBI). The potential is obviously enormous. The technology could help people with paralysis control prosthetic limbs just by thinking about it and even experience intuitive, tactile sensations.
"Someday in the near future, quadriplegic patients will take advantage of this technology not only to move their arms and hands and to walk again, but also to sense the texture of objects placed in their hands, or experience the nuances of the terrain on which they stroll with the help of a wearable robotic exoskeleton," said the study's lead researcher, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center and co-director of the Duke Center for Neuroengineering.
Over the past few years, Nicolelis has been working on perfecting brain-machine interfaces, devices that allow individuals to, say, move a robotic arm by controlling it with their brain. The problem with these devices, however, is that the flow of information goes in only one direction, from the brain to the machine. Brain-machine interfaces don't deliver feedback from machine to brain -- which is what's necessary for that all-important sense of touch.
Enter the BMBI. For the new study, reported in Nature, Nicolelis' team implanted two sets of electrodes in monkeys' brains: one in the motor cortex, which controls movement, and another in the somatosensory cortex, which processes the sense of touch.
The electrodes simultaneously stimulated and received neural activity: in the motor cortex, they translated the activity of nearby motor neurons to figure out how the monkey wanted to move the virtual arm; in the somatosensory cortex, the electrodes stimulated neurons to deliver a sensation of texture about the virtual objects the animal was "touching."
This allowed communication from the brain to the computer and back to the brain again, mimicking the natural brain-body feedback loop. The researchers tested the BMBI by presenting the electrode-fitted monkeys with three objects that looked identical on the screen, but "felt" different when they were touched by the virtual limb. The goal was to get the monkeys to touch the object that they sensed was different by moving the virtual arm to it -- again, using only their brains.
When they virtually touched the right object, they were rewarded with juice. After a few exploratory attempts, the animals began consistently selecting the target object. Their ability to distinguish texture was proven not to be random -- the monkeys got it right even when the position of the identical objects was switched.
Reported ScienceNow:
"It's definitely a milestone in brain-computer interfaces," says neuroscientist Sliman Bensmaia of the University of Chicago, who is developing touch-feedback systems for human prosthetics. Too many of the robotic arms now being developed, even very advanced ones, he says, ignore the importance of touch. "Sensory feedback is critical to doing anything," he says. Even mundane tasks like picking up a cup require a great deal of concentration so the wearer does not drop or crush it.
Nicolelis' next goal is to create a prototype for a brain-controlled robotic exoskeleton in time to debut at the 2014 World Cup in the researcher's native Brazil. A huge soccer fan, Nicolelis' fantasy is to allow a Brazilian paralysis patient to walk onto the field to deliver the opening kick. Stay tuned to see if Nicolelis and his international consortium of research centers can turn science fiction into fact.

Roche drug shows promise in early Alzheimer's

An experimental drug being developed by Roche Holding AG removed amyloid plaques from the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients in a small early-stage study, according to data published in the Archives of Neurology, the Swiss drugmaker said on Monday.

Many researchers suspect the build-up of such plaques may be a cause of the memory robbing disease, although that theory has yet to be definitively proved.
The next step will be to investigate whether removal of brain amyloid translates into clinical benefit for patients at doses of the experimental drug, gantenerumab, that are well tolerated and safe, Roche said.
Gantenerumab, a biotech drug designed to bind to amyloid plaques in the brain and remove them, is being targeted at the early stages of Alzheimer's with the hope it can slow progression of the disease while patients are still able to function.
The Phase I study of 16 Alzheimer's patients tested gantenerumab at two doses against a placebo over six months of treatment.
The Roche drug led to a dose-dependent reduction of brain amyloid, while amyloid load increased in patients receiving a placebo, the company said.
Much larger trials and further study will be needed to fully understand just how gantenerumab works and whether it can stave off Alzheimer's disease.
"These results and especially the rapidity of the effects observed on amyloid removal are very encouraging and pave the way for the development of a novel treatment for Alzheimer's disease," Luca Santarelli, head of Roche's global neuroscience disease division, said in a statement.
Most companies working to develop Alzheimer's treatments are focused on the disease in its later, more debilitating stages. Roche is approaching the disease far earlier.
"We know amyloid accumulates for 15 years before dementia, so why should you wait to remove it," Santarelli told Reuters in an interview earlier this year.
Early, or prodromal, Alzheimer's disease is a condition in which a person's memory loss is worse than can be expected by the normal aging process, while their ability to engage in daily activities is not affected to the extent that dementia would be diagnosed.
Alzheimer's disease is estimated to affect 25 million people around the world, with the number of diagnosed cases expected to rise dramatically with the aging of the enormous baby boom generation.
It is expected that the illness, which robs memory and ability to function, will affect about 63 million people by 2030, and 114 million by 2050 worldwide, according to forecasts cited by Roche.

How ageing affects brain?

How ageing affects brain?
Scientists have discovered new information about the way the brain is affected by age.

Biologists at the University of York and Hull York Medical School working with scientists at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in Plymouth, studied responses to stress in synapses - neuronal connections.

They discovered that under stressful conditions, such as neuro-degeneration, resulting high-energy forms of damaging oxygen cause synapses to grow excessively, potentially contributing to dysfunction.

Such stresses occur during neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

"Neuronal contacts in the brain are constantly changing. These changes in the brain enable us to form short term memories such as where we parked the car, or longer term memories, such as what is our pin number for the cash point machine," said co-author Dr Iain Robinson, of the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry.

"Our work sheds light on how our brain becomes less able to make these changes in neuronal contacts as we age and helps explain the loss of neuronal contacts seen in several neurodegenerative diseases," he added.
The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mental illness: Brain disease, not unlike other medical diseases

Mental illness is an actual brain disease and as such everyone with a brain can develop the problem. As the World Mental Health Day is commemorated, experts say that at least one in four people would require a mental health care at some point in their lives and four
out of five know someone with a mental illness, thus the need for better funding of mental health, reports Sade Oguntola. Mental health issues are the most sensitive, but the least talked about. Paradoxically, one in four people will experience such difficulties at some point in their lives and four out of five people would know someone with a mental illness. It’s touching everybody, basically.
Unfortunately, since many persons with mental illness may display odd behaviours, the public’s lack of accurate understanding of this disorder, often results in fear, ignorance and stigmatisation.
Instead of recognising certain behaviours as symptoms of mental illnesses, the society often considers people who have them as criminals or violent people. But mental illness is an actual brain disease, not unlike other medical diseases. So, anybody that has a brain can develop a mental disorder.
Despite mental disorder contributing 13 per cent of the global disease burden, awareness and understanding of mental health and how it can affect different aspects of a person’s life, the community, nation’s development is limited in Nigeria.
“The seriousness of mental health problems in the country is beyond rhetorics and the age-old thinking of many people that mental health problems are due to a curse placed on an individual, a punishment from the gods or due to demons has prevented many with mental problems seeking medical treatment,” said Dr Adeoye Oyewole, the National coordinator, Stakeholders’ Forum on Mental Health Advocacy in Nigeria.
Good mental health is more than simply an absence of a mental illness.  In fact more people than can be imagined experience one form of mental problem and its attendant consequences. According to Dr Oyewole, “mental illness is not synonymous with a mad man on the street. Anybody can have a mental illness and it cuts across all age groups, gender and socio-economic classes. Poor mental health can affect people’s quality of life and the country’s economic development, so further pushing down African countries’ GMP. “
Paradoxically “an environment that does not allow people to maximally express themselves or to be gainfully employed after graduation leads to frustration. Many young graduates out of frustration have taken to the use of hard drugs like hemp, some to sophisticated armed robbers and yahoo-yahoo boys. Aside all these that are indications of poor mental health, even corruption in leadership is a mental illness.
“For instance, a contractor who was paid to repair a road and because of his negligence in doing this, his brother later died in a ghastly motor accident on that road would forever experience a mental anguish,” Dr Adeoye said. “Some women develop mental illnesses such as depression after child birth because of socio-economic problems, which make it hard for them to adequately care for their babies. Unfortunately, such babies would end up with poor cognitive development and also later in life more at risk of using hard drugs, abusing their own children as well and so on.”
Ironically, average global spending on mental health is still less than US$ 3 per capita per year. In low income countries, expenditure can be as little as US$0.25 per person per year, according to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Mental Health Atlas 2011 released on World Mental Health Day.
Unfortunately, “proper funding of mental health needs to be taken by policy makers in Nigeria as an emergency. Mental health is central to attainment of the millennium development goals, but still no provision was made for mental health in its implementation. Even the nation’s National Health Insurance Scheme did not accommodate mental health, despite the definition of what constitutes good health. This was actually what made the WHO to call for inclusion of mental health in all programmes of governments.”
What more, Dr Olayinka Majekodunmi, a consultant psychiatrist, Nueropsychiatry Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta, Ogun State, stated that there was a large mental health service gap in Nigeria. Many people have no access to mental health services at all. Across the low-and middle-income group of countries, more than three quarters of people needing mental health care do not even receive the most basic mental health services.
“In Nigeria, about 21 per cent of people with serious cases of mental disorders receive any treatment in a year. For instance, in many countries, between five and 10 per cent of cases receive any treatment for epilepsy.  Across Africa for example, nine out of 10 people suffering from epilepsy go untreated, unable to access simple and inexpensive anticonvulsant drugs which cost less than US$5 a year per person,” declared Dr Majekodunmi.
“Often when care is sought for mental problem, detection is often poor and treatment is often inadequate even though effective treatments are available for most mental health problems,” he said. Unfortunately, “there is a big gap in budgetary allocations and policy attention on mental health as well as manpower for mental health. For instance, 70 per cent of countries in Africa spend less than one per cent of their health budget on mental health. In many, there is actually no “mental health” heading, only guesstimates! This is unlike majority of European countries which spend more than five per cent of their health budget on mental health care.”
“While South Africa with a population of 45 million people had 320 psychiatrists, Nigeria with its population of 140 million only has 130 psychiatrists, with over two-thirds of them practising outside of Nigeria. Access to treatment is not just limited because of paucity of human resources, but also because of their mal-distribution, poor knowledge of people on mental illnesses and dearth of policy on mental health issues. Most specialist facilities are located in a few cities even though greater than 60 per cent of the population lives in rural areas.”
In ensuring adequate mental health, “a functional primary health care is crucial to any attempt to bridge the gap. Evidence abound that treatment for mental health problems, work – depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders all have effective treatments.”
“With proper care, psycho-social assistance and medication, tens of millions could be treated for depression, schizophrenia, and epilepsy, prevented from suicide and begin to lead normal lives– even where resources are scarce,” concluded Dr Majekodunmi.