Thursday, December 27, 2012

Internet overdose may leave kids brain-dead

The Google generation, that relies on the internet for everything are in danger of becoming brain-dead, one of Britain’s leading inventors has warned. Trevor Baylis, who invented the wind-up radio, said children are losing creativity and practical skills because they spend too much time

in front of screens, the Daily Mail reported. The 75-year-old noted that children nowadays are dependent on Google searches.

He warned that a lot of kids would become fairly brain-dead if they become so dependent on the internet, because they will not be able to do things the old-fashioned way.

Baylis said he fears that the next generation of inventors is being lost, with young people often unable to make anything with their hands. But he believes that simple challenges in schools using tools such as Meccano model kits would give children invaluable skills

Baylis suggested that children should be taught to be practical, and not to become mobile phone or computer dependent.

Brain scan 'can sort dementia by type'

Frontotemporal dementia on MRI scan Tell-tale shrinkage of the frontal and temporal lobes on an MRI scan
Scientists say they have found a way to distinguish between different types of dementia without the need for invasive tests, like a lumbar puncture.

US experts could accurately identify Alzheimer's disease and another type of dementia from structural brain patterns on medical scans, Neurology reports.

Currently, doctors can struggle to diagnose dementia, meaning the most appropriate treatment may be delayed.

More invasive tests can help, but are unpleasant for the patient.

Distinguishing features
Despite being two distinct diseases, Alzheimer's and frontotemporal dementia, share similar clinical features and symptoms and can be hard to tell apart without medical tests

Both cause the person to be confused and forgetful and can affect their personality, emotions and behaviour.

Alzheimer's tends to attack the cerebral cortex - the layer of grey matter covering the brain - where as frontotemporal dementia, as the name suggests, tends to affect the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain, which can show up on brain scans, but these are not always diagnostic.

A lumbar puncture - a needle in the spine - may also be used to check protein levels in the brain, which tend to be higher in Alzheimer's than with frontotemporal dementia.

A team at the University of Pennsylvania set out to see if they could ultimately dispense of the lumbar puncture test altogether and instead predict brain protein levels using MRI brain scans alone.

They recruited 185 patients who had already been diagnosed with either Alzheimer's disease or frontotemporal dementia and had undergone a lumbar puncture test and MRI scanning.

The researchers scrutinised the brain scans to see if they could find any patterns that tallied with the protein level results from the lumbar puncture tests

They found the density of gray matter on the MRI scans correlated with the protein results.
The MRI prediction method was 75% accurate at identifying the correct diagnosis.

Although this figure is some way off an ideal 100%, it could still be a useful screening tool, say the researchers.

Lead researcher Dr Corey McMillan said: "This could be used as a screening method and any borderline cases could follow up with the lumbar puncture or PET scan."

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "This small study suggests a potential new method for researchers to distinguish between two different types of dementia, and a next step will be to investigate its accuracy in much larger studies involving people without dementia.

"While this method is not currently intended for use in the doctor's surgery, it may prove to be a useful tool for scientists developing new treatments. The ability to accurately detect a disease is vital for recruiting the right people to clinical trials and for measuring how well a drug may be working.

"Ultimately, different causes of dementia will need different treatment approaches, so the ability to accurately distinguish these diseases from one another will be crucial."

The only drug currently licensed in England and Wales for treating frontotemporal dementia is rivastigmine.
There are four licensed treatments for Alzheimer's - donepezil, galantamine, rivastigmine and memantine.

  • There are many causes of dementia, with Alzheimer's the most common
  • More than half a million people in the UK have Alzheimer's disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia tends to affects people who are younger - under 65 - and can affect a personality and behaviour
  • Other types of dementia include vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies

Big bets on the brain

Expect rapid advances as science learns to control—and be controlled by—the organ that does not accept stasis The biggest advances in neuroscience came in only the 1990s. As 2013 rolls in, prepare to change and be changed. Photo: iStockphoto
The biggest advances in neuroscience came in only the 1990s. As 2013 rolls in, prepare to change and be changed
Change does not roll in on wheels of inevitability, said the great American civil rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr. King’s inspiration, Mahatma Gandhi, said we must be the change we want to see. The man who never agreed with Gandhi, Winston Churchill, concurred: To improve is to change, Churchill said, to be perfect is to change often.
Humans are defined by their ability to change things. They change their environment, themselves and the course of history. This is because at the core of their being is an organ that does not accept stasis.
The human brain is changing all the time, learning, adapting, reprogramming and rewiring itself. When it experiences something new, it changes. Indeed, reading this article is changing your brain, which means, of course, that we can guide or shape these changes.
If you asked me which scientific frontier excited me the most this year, I would say brain research, specifically the brain-machine interface and neural engineering. These areas are likely to see great advances next year—converting, as it were, science fiction into fact sooner than we imagine.
My year began at the University of Berkeley, California, where Brian Pasley and Jack Gallant offered me varied journeys into the human brain. Pasley, a post-doctoral researcher at the neuroscience programme, was part of a team that decoded brain waves and replayed them as—somewhat slurry—words. Gallant, a neuroscience professor, headed a team that used computers to record neural activity and playback—hazy and grainy—movie clips that volunteers had previously seen.
These are small but significant advances in the great search to unlock the secrets of memory and consciousness, critical elements in understanding how to rewire the brain and guide its neural networks towards new frontiers: coaxing speech from a paralysed person; accessing the mind of a patient in coma; building artificial limbs that respond directly to the brain’s commands; growing neurons artificially and connecting them to the body’s natural, neural pathways.
The convergence of advances in a variety of fields—from engineering to neuroscience—is helping us tinker with the brain. For instance, consider the two challenges in creating a prosthetic directly controlled by the brain. One, human nerves and electronic wires use radically different modes of communication. Two, the body’s immune response to foreign objects, such as wires and other electronics, scars and impairs tissue needed to keep prosthetics in good order.
“Advances in nanotechnology and tissue engineering...are addressing both challenges,” write D. Kacy Cullen and Douglas H. Smith of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair in the January 2013 issue of the Scientific American. “Rather than trying to force nerves to communicate directly with the standard electronics in modern prostheses, we and others are building new kinds of bridges between nerves and artificial limbs—linkages that take advantage of the nervous system system’s inborn ability to adapt itself to new situations.”
Today’s techniques are cumbersome, but advances will come hard and fast, as they always have in science. For instance, it is generally known that Alexander Graham Bell made the world’s first telephone call in 1876. What isn’t as well known is that he demonstrated the first wireless telephone message only four years later. So, Pasley’s and his colleagues implanted electrodes in the brain, while Gallant’s subjects lay prone for up to three hours in an MRI machine that recorded their neural activity. But as computing power and other techniques develop, it should not be long—perhaps in this decade—before “thinking caps” record and replay what you see and think.
“Once we know what the brain is telling us through patterns of brain activity, we can work backwards and start to get at the fundamental language of the brain—how simple digital outputs from massive populations of neurons code for complex sensations, emotions, thoughts and actions,” Charan Ranganath, a neuroscientist who runs the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California-Davis, told me earlier this year.
These patterns have clinical implications, of the kind I referred to earlier—developing prosthetic implants and brain-computer interfaces for people with motor, sensory or cognitive problems.
As always, there are dark sides to these advances. Could discerning patterns from brainwaves lead to the involuntary extraction of information by security agencies and terrorists? The short answer is yes. Brain development has led humans to greater conflict and simultaneously pushed them to new achievements, one often leading to the other. As Cullen and Smith note, “much of the progress in prosthetic design has occurred as a result of armed conflict—most recently the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Elements of the sciences that probe the brain are not new. Social cognitive theory, which explains how people change by watching others, dates to the 1940s. But the biggest advances in neuroscience came in only the 1990s. As 2013 rolls in, prepare to change and be changed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brain implants let paralyzed woman move robot arm

Jan Scheuermann can't use her limbs to feed herself, but she's pretty good at grabbing a chocolate bar with her robot arm

She's become the first to demonstrate that people with a long history of quadriplegia can successfully manipulate a mind-controlled robot arm with seven axes of movement. Earlier experiments had shown that robot arms work with brain implants.

Scheuerman was struck by spinocerebellar degeneration in 1996. A study on the brain-computer interface (BCI) linking Scheuermann to her prosthetic was published online in this month's issue of medical journal The Lancet.

Training on the BCI allowed her to move an arm and manipulate objects for the first time in nine years, surprising researchers.

It took her less than a year to be able to seize a chocolate bar with the arm, after which she declared, "One small nibble for a woman, one giant bite for BCI." Check it out in the video below.

"This is a spectacular leap toward greater function and independence for people who are unable to move their own arms," senior investigator Andrew Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh's Pitt School of Medicine said in a release.

"This technology, which interprets brain signals to guide a robot arm, has enormous potential that we are continuing to explore. Our study has shown us that it is technically feasible to restore ability; the participants have told us that BCI gives them hope for the future."

Scheuermann's brain was implanted with two quarter-inch square electrode grids. They have 96 tiny contact points for brain areas that control right arm and hand movement.

The electrodes pick up neurons firing to activate arm movement. Within a week of surgery, she could reach in and out, left and right, and up and down with her robot arm.

Her rapid progress has led researchers to estimate that similar robot arms could be available to far more patients in 5 to 10 years. The next step for the work will be to include feedback potential in the electrodes, so the brain can interpret sensations like grip strength from the arm.

Scheuermann will continue to test the device over the next two months.

"This is the ride of my life," she was quoted as saying. "This is the roller coaster. This is skydiving. It's just fabulous, and I'm enjoying every second of it."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Studying Ethical Questions as the Brain’s Black Box Is Unlocked

CAUTION S. Matthew Liao urges advance thinking about new technologies. 

In a world of proliferating professions, S. Matthew Liao has a singular title: neuroethicist. Dr. Liao, 40, the director of the bioethics program at New York University, deploys the tools of philosophy, history, psychology, religion and ethics to understand the impact of neuroscientific breakthroughs.  

We spoke over four hours in two sessions. A condensed and edited version of the conversations follows. 

You’re a philosopher by training. How did philosophy lead to neuroethics?
Mine’s the typical immigrant’s story. My family moved to Cincinnati from Taiwan in the early 1980s. Once here, my siblings gravitated towards the sciences. I was the black sheep. I was in love with the humanities

So I didn’t go to M.I.T. — I went to Princeton, where I got a degree in philosophy. This, of course, worried my parents. They’d never met a philosopher with a job

Do you have any insight on why scientific careers are so attractive to new Americans?
You don’t need to speak perfect English to do science. And there are job opportunities. 

Define neuroethics.
It’s a kind of subspecialty of bioethics. Until very recently, the human mind was a black box. But here we are in the 21st century, and now we have all these new technologies with opportunities to look inside that black box — a little. 

With functional magnetic imaging, f.M.R.I., you can get pictures of what the brain is doing during cognition. You see which parts light up during brain activity. Scientists are trying to match those lights with specific behaviors

At the same time this is moving forward, there are all kinds of drugs being developed and tested to modify behavior and the mind. So the question is: Are these new technologies ethical

A neuroethicist can look at the downstream implications of these new possibilities. We help map the conflicting arguments, which will, hopefully, lead to more informed decisions. What we want is for citizens and policy makers to be thinking in advance about how new technologies will affect them. As a society, we don’t do enough of that. 

Give us an example of a technology that entered our lives without forethought.
The Internet. It has made us more connected to the world’s knowledge. But it’s also reduced our actual human contacts with one another. 

So what would be an issue you might look at through a neuroethics lens?
New drugs to alter memory. Right now, the government is quite interested in propranolol. They are testing it on soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. The good part is that the drug helps traumatized veterans by removing the bad memories causing them such distress. A neuroethicist must ask, “Is this good for society, to have warriors have their memories wiped out chemically? Will we start getting conscienceless soldiers?” 

What do you think?
It is a serious business removing memories, because memories can affect your personal identity. They can impact who you think you are. I’d differentiate between offering such a drug to every distressed soldier and giving it only to certain individuals with a specific need. 

Let’s say you have a situation like that in “Sophie’s Choice,” where the memories are so bad that the person is suicidal. Even if the drug causes them to live in falsehood, that would have been preferable to suicide

But should we give it to every soldier who goes into battle? No! You need memory for a conscience. Doing this routinely might create super-immoral soldiers. As humans we have natural moral reactions to the beings around us — sympathy for other people and animals. When you start to tinker with those neurosystems, we’re not going to react to our fellow humans in the right way anymore. One wonders about the wrong people giving propranolol routinely to genocidal gangs in places like Rwanda or Syria

Some researchers claim to be near to using f.M.R.I.’s to read thoughts. Is this really happening?
The technology, though still crude, appears to be getting closer. For instance, there’s one research group that asks subjects to watch movies. When they look at the subject’s visual cortex while the subject is watching, they can sort of recreate what they are seeing — or a semblance of it. 

Similarly, there’s another experiment where they can tell in advance whether you’re going to push the right or the left button. On the basis of these experiments some people claim they’ll soon be able to read minds. Before we go further with this, I’d like to think more about what it could mean. The technology has the potential to destroy any concept of inner privacy

What about using f.M.R.I. to replace lie detectors?
The fact is we don’t really know if f.M.R.I.’s will be any more reliable or predictive. Nonetheless, in India, a woman was convicted of poisoning her boyfriend on the basis of f.M.R.I. evidence. The authorities said that based on the pictures of blood flow in her brain, she was lying to them. 

In American courts, there’s another issue, too. Defendants cannot be forced to testify against themselves — the Fifth Amendment. So the legal and ethical question here is: If the police put you into a machine that’s reading your mind, are you being forced to testify against yourself? At present, a person can be forced to surrender DNA. Is an f.M.R.I. scan the same thing? 

On the other hand, criminal defendants are beginning to use brain scans to bolster their claims. Recently there was this case where this guy was charged with tossing his wife out of a window. In court, he produced a brain scan showing a frontal-lobe tumor. On the basis of that, his crime was reduced from murder to manslaughter. It was a smart defense move, though the technology’s predictive accuracy remains questionable. I like it better when judges say, “We can’t admit this stuff; we just don’t know what this technology can do yet.” 

Lately, you’ve been writing about this question: Do people own their memories? Most of us think, “Of course we do.” Why are you bringing this up?
Because there are some new technologies coming where we may be able to enhance cognition and memory with implanted chips. Right now, if you work for a company, when you quit, your boss can take away your computer, your phone, but not your memory. Now, when we come to a point when an employee gets computer chip enhancements of their memory, who will own it? Will the chip manufacturer own it as Facebook owns the data you upload on their products at present? 

Even today, some people claim that our iPhones are really just extensions of our minds. If that’s true, we already lack ownership of that data. Will a corporate employer own the chip and everything on it? Can employers selectively take those memories away? Could they force you to take propranolol as a condition of employment so that you don’t give away what they define as corporate secrets

Someone needs to ask these questions, don’t you think? 

Do you have a favorite movie?
I have several. The one I most often return to is, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” where Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey, at the end of an affair, employ a technology that’s supposed to erase their memories of each other. But it doesn’t quite work out, and therein is the story

And this may well be how things will go when we get technology that can do that. In many ways, writers and film directors have been acting as unofficial neuroethicists by anticipating the problems of our new capabilities.

Naughty or nice? Brain chemical may tell

christmas relax
Chemicals in your body can influence how generous or selfish you are, and, in recent years, experiments have explored the role of one called oxytocin — which one researcher calls the "moral molecule."

In an experiment known as the ultimatum game, one of two people is given a sum of money, say $100, and told he must decide how to split it with person No. 2. If person No. 2 is dissatisfied with the split, then she can reject it, but then the money vanishes, and neither person gets any.

Neuroeconomist Paul Zak and colleagues have performed many variations on this experiment. In one, they gave some participants a squirt of oxytocin to the nose beforehand, and found that the share of money they offered the other side increasedby 80 percent. (It's important to note that the increase occurred when person No. 1 had to consider person No. 2's reaction to the offer.)

Zak's work indicates oxytocin — once best known as a hormone released during birth and breast-feeding — also plays a fundamental role in promoting social behavior, he told an audience at the New York Academy of Sciences on Tuesday (Dec. 11). Oxytocin also acts as a neurotransmitter, or messenger between brain cells. [11 Interesting Effects of Oxytocin]

His presentation was one of a series on the science behind the seven deadly sins, in this case, greed.
"The seven deadly sins are still deadly, because they separate us from other people," Zak said. "They are all about putting 'me' first and that is maladaptive for social creatures like us.'

Oxytocin, in particular, promotes empathy, and when the chemical is inhibited in someone, they become more prone to sinful, orselfish, behavior, he said.

But this system doesn't work for everyone.

Zak illustrated this using the example of a young Canadian woman, Stephanie Castagnier, who was a contestant on real-estate mogul Donald Trump's reality TV show "The Apprentice." Castagnier presented herself as "the goddess of greed," he writes in his book, "The Moral Molecule" (Dutton Adult, 2012). Zak showed Castagnier a video depicting a 2-year-old boy who is dying of cancer. Not surprisingly, this video typically prompted a strong reaction. Zak found it prompted oxytocin levels to increase by an average of 47 percent in the blood of viewers. However, Castagnier's oxytocin increased only 9 percent.

"She doesn't have the physiology of empathy," Zak told the audience, adding that this allowed her to be more aggressive.

The hormone testosterone inhibits oxytocin, but Zak found that, while Castagnier had unusually low levels of testosterone, she had incredibly high levels of dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, a "high octane" version of testosterone, he said. The DHT was blocking the oxytocin, he concluded.

Zak and colleagues found that men given testosterone became 27 percent less generous toward others when playing the ultimatum game.

But in spite of this anti-social influence, testosterone does help maintain social order. In fact, people with high levels of testosterone are prone to want to punish those seen as uncooperative and greedy, even spending their own resources to do so, Zak has found.

Castagnier's personal history also offered a clue. Oxytocin is released as part of what Zak calls the "human oxytocin mediated empathy" circuit. Research on women who endured repeated sexual abuse as children indicates this circuit does not function properly for them, said Zak. The abuse they experienced seems to prevent this circuit from developing properly, he said.

In Castagnier's case, her father, who was a high-rolling drug dealer, became a homeless junkie when she was young. Before she had finished high school, both of her parents had died of AIDS, Zak writes in his book.

Based on his observations during a three-on-three paintball game, Zak surmised her greed was focused on money; she was capable of behaving cooperatively in other situations.

Other research is also exploring the complex effects of this chemical messenger, oxytocin, which has also been dubbed a "love drug."

Illuminating Brain Tumors With Scorpion Toxins Could Save Lives

Up until now, removing brain tumors has been a fairly imprecise—and thus highly dangerous—art. Cancerous tissue in the brain looks almost exactly like healthy tissue, and being just one millimeter off is enough to permanently affect a patient's quality of life. Plus, it's almost impossible to tell if any post-surgery neurological damage is from the tumor or the surgery itself. Jim Olson, a pediatric neuro-oncologist, looked to an unlikely source to solve the problem: scorpion toxins.

For reasons still not fully understood, injected toxins from a scorpion's sting will only bind to cancerous tissue and, as an added bonus, have the relatively rare ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. By creating a synthetic version of this toxin and binding it to molecules that glow in near-infrared light, tumors can be set aglow and, hopefully, save a lot of healthy brain tissue in the process. With a glowing tumor, surgeons would finally be able to identify cancerous cells with relative ease, making it far easier to avoid healthy tissue.

Successful tests have already been run in which a mouse playing host to a human tumor had the "tumorcancerous tumor paint" injected into its tail. Within 20 minutes, the began to glow, setting it apart from the rest of the mouse's body. Even though it originated as a venom, researchers say the toxin "seems to be safe." While not exactly a winning endorsement, the life-saving potential is overwhelming, and human trials should be starting sometime in late 2013.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Brain Scans Don't Catch The Brain In Action

A visitor to the Wellcome Collection's 2012 exhibition "Brains: The mind as matter" looks at a functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI) showing a human brain as it listens to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and Kant's third Critique.
A visitor to the Wellcome Collection's 2012 exhibition "Brains: The mind as matter" looks at a functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI) showing a human brain as it listens to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and Kant's third Critique.
The backlash has begun! After years of overselling neuroscience and its results in the popular media, we are now finally beginning to hear public voices of dissent. Alissa Quart, writing in The New York Times, warmly sings the song of the backlash, while Gary Marcus, over at, explains that the proliferation of "brain porn" — colorful brain scan images fatuously illustrating articles about you name it — shouldn't obscure the fact that understanding the brain is a worthwhile goal and one that is necessary if we our to understand ourselves.

It would be hard to overstate the extent to which the fervor about the brain-basis of human experience is stoked by the development in the last few years of new technologies for brain imaging.

Until very recently, post-mortem autopsy has been just about the only way to study a person's brain. The brain has remained, for science, a black box. At best we have been able to draw conclusions about its design and functionality by looking at what possessors of brains can say and do. Things are different now, or so it is widely believed. The development of PET, and more recently fMRI, enable us now finally to penetrate the black box.

Not so fast. A functional brain image such as those produced by PET and fMRI no more captures the brain in action than a graph illustrating the percentage of the population who go to church on Sunday captures the people in the act of worship. Brain scan images are graphical renderings of what we hypothesize is going on in the head. There's nothing wrong with such images. In fact, they are valuable tools for carrying on scientific study. But they are not pictures of our brains in action, and so they are positively not images of our minds at work.

To appreciate this, consider that we face a problem from the very beginning about how to decide what neural activity is relevant to a mental phenomenon that we want to understand. Scientists start from the assumption that to a mental task — say the judgment that two given words rhyme — there corresponds a neural process. But how do we decide which neural activity going on inside you when you make a rhyming judgment is the neural activity in which the mental act consists? To do that, we need to have an idea how things would have been in the brain if you hadn't performed the rhyming judgment; that is, we need a baseline against which to judge that the deviation from the baseline corresponds to the mental act. One way to do this is by comparing the image of the brain at rest with the image of the brain making a rhyming judgment. The rhyming judgment presumably depends on the neural activity in virtue of which these two images differ.

But the brain is never at rest! There are stages of sleep when your brain is working harder than it does at most times during the day.

The standard way forward is the method of comparison. For example, suppose you have a bunch of PET images of people listening to recordings of spoken words and then making judgments about whether given pairs of words rhyme. To isolate the area of activation responsible for the rhyming judgment, as distinct from the auditory perception of the spoken words, a standard procedure would be to compare these images with a second set of images of people listening to recordings of spoken words but not making rhyming judgments. Whatever areas are active in the first set of images, but not the second, would be plausible candidates for the place in the brain where the rhyming judgment happens.

But notice: the upshot of all this is not a picture of rhyming perception happening in the brain. It is an argument, and one that could turn to be mistaken.

To give an example of just one assumption at work in the reasoning: the comparison method assumes that there is no feedback between the neural activity that the brain is doing when we make a rhyming judgment and what the brain is doing when we perceive the words. If there were feedback, then it would follow that overlapping regions in the images do not necessarily correspond to a common neural factor that can be factored out. Now, as a matter of fact, it is highly like that there is feedback. There are neural pathways heading back into the brain from the eyes; but there are even more neural pathways heading back out again. And this should not be surprising. Consider how much easier it is to hear a sound that you are expecting than one that you are not expecting. This assumption that there is no feedback in the neural circuitry is the flip side of a different assumption that we can factor the cognitive act itself into (in this example) distinct, modular acts of perceiving the words (on the one hand), and judgments about whether they rhyme (on the other).

That's a substantive empirical claim about the character and composition of cognitive acts themselves and certainly not one that can be simply taken for granted. (I rely here on an excellent older discussion of assumptions in brain imaging: Guy C Van Orden and Kenneth R. Pap's "Functional neuroimages fail to find pieces of the mind in parts of the brain in Philosophy of Science 64, 1997: 85-94.)

I am using the rhyming case as an illustrative example. My aim is not to show that there is anything in the least misguided about the method of comparison. What I do want to bring out is that brain scanners don't simply show us what is going on when we listen and judge.

In a way, these considerations about feedback in the brain and cognitive models are only the tip of the iceberg. PET and fMRI have very low spatial and temporal resolution. When you localize events in the brain, using these techniques, you localize them to cubic regions of between 2 and 5 mm, that is, to regions in which there are hundreds of thousands of cells. If there is specialization or differentiation among these cells, that won't show up in the illustration. Nor, for that matter, can we be sure exactly when neural events are happening. Cellular events unfold at the scale of thousandths of a second, but it can take much longer time scales (large portions of a minute) to detect and process signals for making images. For these reasons, scientists have developed techniques of normalizing data.

Typically, data from different subjects is averaged. The averaging process involves the loss of considerable information. After all, brains differ from one another no less than faces do. Just as the average American tax payer has no height and weight, so averaged neural activity has no location in any particular brain. For this reason, scientists project their findings onto an idealized, stock brain. The pictures we see in Nature are not snapshots of a particular person's brain in action.

Finally, putting all this to one side, it is important to be clear that there is no sense in which PET or fMRI illustrations deliver direct information about consciousness or cognition. They do not even deliver direct representations of neural activity. Functional brain imaging systems such as PET and fMRI build images based on the detection of physical magnitudes (such as radio or light waves) that are are believed to be reliably correlated with metabolic activity.

For example, in PET, one injects a positron emitting isotrope into the blood stream; PET detects the emission of gamma rays caused by the collision of positrons and electrons. In this way, the PET image carries indirect information about metabolic activity (based on the direct measurement of a physical magnitude) which is in turn supposed to carry information about neural activity. The latter supposition is not unreasonable. Neural events require oxygen, and so they require blood. The neural activity, in its turn, is supposed to correlate to significant mental activity. Brain scans thus represent the mind at three steps of remove: they represent physical magnitudes correlated to blood flow; the blood flow in turn is correlated to neural activity; the neural activity in turn is supposed to correlate to mental activity.

If all the assumptions are accurate, a brain scan image may contain important information about neural activity related to a cognitive process. But we need to take care not to be misled by the visual, pictorial character of these images. Brain scans are not pictures of cognitive processes in the brain in action.

How to Inspire Your Brain (Part 2)

By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-authors of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

 Evidence is gathering by the day that the brain isn't really an object but a continuous and active process. Thoughts and experiences create new pathways in the brain. They even affect the output of genes. What this means for the individual is extremely important. The control center for the brain's constant shaping and reshaping is you, the person who is using the brain. Although there are many brain processes that run on automatic, they too are highly influenced by experiences - that's why, for instance, the automatic rise and fall of blood pressure during the day is highly responsive to all the things that happened to you during the day.
Brain health comes down to a simple-seeming formula: maximize the positive input and minimize the negative input. The result will be positive rather than negative output. To some extent the difference between positive and negative input isn't hard to define:

It's positive to maintain balanced diet, negative to eat an imbalanced one.
It's positive to take regular exercise; it's negative to be sedentary.
It's positive to have good relationships, negative to have stressful ones.

Anyone who has kept pace with the public campaign in prevention can make the list longer; the risk factors for a healthy lifestyle are well known. But this is where the difference between positive and negative get trickier. Information isn't the same as compliance. That Americans are getting more obese and sedentary while consuming massive quantities of sugar and fatty junk food isn't due to lack of information. Non-compliance is about inspiring your brain to function in a better way. This is a role assigned to the mind; the brain can't inspire itself.

In our book Super Brain we focus on how to you can best relate to your brain on the basis of more positive thinking, emotions, attitudes, and beliefs. In that regard we are running counter to the prevailing trend, which sees the brain as an organ that needs to be maintained the way one would maintain the heart of stomach. Of course the brain is an organ, but far more importantly, it serves the mind. Therefore, everything you think, say, and do depends on aligning the brain with your desires, intentions, and the vision you have of your life. The brain keeps a constant feedback loop going with the mind and body; if you were to fall into a coma, it can sustain life.

But only you can sustain meaning and purpose. For all of its brilliant discoveries, neuroscience can't give your brain meaning, and if you feel that you lack purpose, there is no drug or surgery that will bring it back. At present the main breakthroughs in neuroscience are medical. Curing organic disorders like Alzheimer's and depression are urgent goals since they undermine anyone's chance to find meaning and purpose.
But our emphasis is to raise the everyday functioning of the brain to a higher level. The baseline brain, as we call it, passively handles everyone's life given the input that is provided. Super brain, on the other hand, goes beyond the baseline brain to actively optimize what the brain can do - it brings to life hidden potential that exists in everyone's brain. To give a sense of what we mean, here's a quiz to test how much of your brain's potential you are presently using.

Quiz: Baseline Brain versus Super Brain

Look at the following list and place a check beside each sentence that describes your behavior at least some of the time. Don’t be judgmental or hard on yourself. Simply mark the items that honestly seem to apply to you.

I don’t ask myself to behave very differently today than I did yesterday.
I am a creature of habit.
I don’t stimulate my mind with new challenges very often.
I like familiarity. It’s the most comfortable way to live.
I’m not that excited with the work I do.
My relationships follow pretty set patterns.
I should pay more attention to my weight.
I don’t exercise regularly.
I can be impulsive and then regret it later.
I have certain habits I just can’t seem to break.
I look at my past and see major regrets.
I know that I have missed some major opportunities.
I’m only fair at making decisions.
I’m aware of having inner conflicts.
I worry about aging, particularly memory loss.
I’ve had much better times in my life than now.
The future fills me with uncertainty.
I need to be in better control of my life.
I wonder what my purpose in life is.
I wish that my emotions were more valued.
I rarely read inspirational stories, poetry, or scriptures.
I feel that I deserve more appreciation.
I don’t see my life really getting better.
I have a hard time getting a good nights’ sleep every night.
I don’t feel that great about my body.
Total Score __________

Analyzing your score: Every item on the list describes the baseline brain. Its attitudes, beliefs, and habits are self-limiting. They aren’t bad or wrong – this quiz isn’t about judging yourself. It’s about the habitual way that you relate to your brain. The point is to assess where you stand in relation to your hidden potential.
18 – 25 points. You are not sufficiently proactive as you relate to your brain. Much of the time you allow inertia to creep into your daily life. You let old habits and beliefs hold power over you. When something goes wrong, you tend to let it slide. You don’t believe that you can change your life at every moment, significantly. It’s good that you see yourself realistically, because each item that you checked off can be improved, as you will discover reading Super Brain.

11 – 17 points. You know that your life could be better and have a good appreciation of your limitations. You have spent some time trying to change, either through therapy, self-help, or spiritual pursuits. You may consider yourself a seeker. Even if you don’t, you would welcome positive change. Looking back at your past, you know that you had more potential than you have fulfilled so far. It’s good that you are so ready to change. Every page of Super Brain will speak to you personally and help you to get on the path to fulfillment.

5 – 10 points. You are a self-aware person who has been interested in fulfilling your potential for a long time. It’s likely that you are very familiar with therapy or the spiritual path. You value yourself and don’t easily accept limitations. You are ready to turn the rest of your life into a rising arc. You are already so proactive that Super Brain offers fulfillment at an unusually high level. The possibility of reaching higher consciousness and calling on the higher brain to get you there is very real.

0 – 4 points. Either you are astonishingly self-aware or you didn’t take the quiz seriously. Please take it again without fearing that you will make yourself look bad. The quiz is about an objective assessment, not about judging against yourself.

In the next post we'll discuss the implications of turning baseline functioning into higher functioning.

How to Inspire Your Brain

By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-authors of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony)

We've entered a golden age for brain research, but all these new findings haven't trickled down to the individual. Yet there are broad discoveries that make it possible to everyone to improve their brains. Let me state these succinctly:

• Your brain is constantly renewing itself.
• Your brain can heal its wounds form the past.
• Experience changes the brain every day.
• The input you give your brain causes it to form new neural pathways.
• The more positive the input, the better your brain will function.

In a new book, Super Brain, I and my co-author, Prof. Rudolf Tanzi of Harvard Medical School, expand upon the neuroscience behind these broad findings. The old view of the brain as fixed for life, constantly losing neurons and declining in function, has been all but abolished. The new brain is a process, not a thing, and the process heads in the direction you point it in. A Buddhist monk meditating on compassion develops the brain circuitry that brings compassion into reality. Depending on the input it receives, you can create a compassionate brain, an artistic brain, a wise brain, or any other kind.

However, as Prof. Tanzi and I see it, the agent that makes these possibilities become real is the mind. The brain doesn't create its own destiny. Genetics delivers the brain in a functioning state so that the nervous system can regulate itself and the whole body. It doesn't take your intervention to balance hormone levels, regulate heartbeat, or do a thousand other autonomic functions. But the newest part of the brain, the neocortex, is where the field of possibilities actually lies. Here is where decisions are made, where we discriminate, worship, assess, control, and evolve.

If you think of everyday experience as input for your brain, and your actions and thoughts as output, a feedback loop is formed. The old cliché about computer software -- garbage in, garbage out - applies to all feedback loops. Toxic experiences shape the brain quite differently from healthy ones. This seems like common sense, but neuroscience has joined forces with genetics to reveal that right down to the level of DNA, the feedback loop that embraces mind and body is profoundly changed by the input processed by the brain.

Our aim was to cut to the chase. If input is everything, then happiness and well-being are created by giving the brain positive input. Without realizing it, you are here to inspire your brain to be the best it can be. This is much more than positive thinking, which is often too superficial and masks underlying negativity. The input that inspires the brain includes a wide array of things. Everyone wants to experience positive feelings (love, hope, optimism, appreciation, approval) without knowing how to get them. For all the theories that proliferate about happiness, from the brain's perspective, the formula is to maximize the positive messages being received by the cortex and minimize the negative ones.

What this implies isn't a brave new world of thought control or pretending that life is rosy. Life will always present challenges, setbacks, and crises. The point is to create a matrix that will allow you to best adapt to both sides, the light and the dark, of experience. In our book, we were particularly focused on a setup that would take people into old age with a brain that remains dynamic and resilient.

Here is our recommendation, having considered the most up-to-date neuroscience.

Matrix for a Positive Lifestyle
• Have good friends.
• Don't isolate yourself.
• Sustain a lifelong companionship with a spouse or partner.
• Engage socially in worthwhile projects.
• Be close with people who have a good lifestyle - habits are contagious.
• Follow a purpose in life.
• Leave time for play and relaxation.
• Keep up satisfying sexual activity.
Address issues around anger.
Practice stress management.
• Deal with the reactive mind's harmful effects: When you have a negative reaction, stop, stand back, take a few deep breaths, and observe how you're feeling.

Your brain will thrive in such a matrix, even as life brings its ups and downs. But by the same token, the brain can't arrive at any of these things on its own. You are the leader of your brain. I'll expand on this theme in the next post, since the whole issue of feedback loops turns out to be vital for all kinds of brain functions, including memory and the prevention of feared disorders like Alzheimer's.

'Chemo Brain' May Start Before Breast Cancer Tx

SAN ANTONIO -- "Chemo brain" is a real phenomenon among breast cancer patients, but it appears to start long before women undergo adjuvant chemotherapy, a researcher said here.

A study using functional MRI (fMRI) suggested that a month before chemotherapy was slated to start, women already experienced deficits in working memory, according to Bernadine Cimprich, PhD, RN, of the University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Women diagnosed with breast cancer, but who were slated just for radiation therapy, did better on memory tests performed during fMRI scanning while women without cancer did even better, Cimprich told reporters at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

And across all the groups in the study, greater fatigue was associated with poorer test performance and more self-reported cognitive problems over time, Cimprich said.

The findings suggest that "chemo brain" is not the best way of thinking about what Cimprich called "cancer-related cognitive dysfunction."

Instead, the effect is probably due at least partly to the stress and fatigue associated with a cancer diagnosis and could be alleviated by interventions aimed at reducing fatigue, she suggested.

For this prospective study, the researchers enrolled 65 women with stages 0 through IIIa breast cancer, as well as 32 healthy, age-matched controls. Among the patients, 28 women were scheduled for adjuvant chemotherapy and 37 were to have radiotherapy alone for localized breast cancer.

Participants in the chemotherapy group performed a verbal working memory task with varying levels of difficulty during functional MRI scanning after surgery, a month before chemotherapy, and second time a month after chemotherapy.

The radiation patients had their testing after surgery, about a month before starting radiation, and again 5 months later, corresponding roughly to the length of the chemotherapy in the other group.

The healthy controls had their fMRI scans done after a negative mammogram and again 5 months later.
All the participants provided self-reports of cognitive function and fatigue at the same time points.

The chemotherapy group, she said, reported significantly greater severity of fatigue (P<0 .05=".05" and="and" b="b" less="less" on="on" performed="performed" the="the" verbal="verbal" well="well">memory
task at the first test.
Indeed, "the patient groups, as a whole, showed less activation [in the target region] than controls," she said, but the radiotherapy group was intermediate between controls and chemotherapy patients.

Greater fatigue was correlated with poorer performance on the memory task, regardless of group, she noted.

On the other hand, there were few differences in the brain scans taken at the second time point, largely because the chemotherapy patients had recovered much of their ability, Cimprich said.

Kent Osborne, MD, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, called the findings "very interesting," adding that, in his own practice, he has "often wondered if [chemo brain is] "as much related to the worry, anxiety, and stress at to the treatment itself." Osborne moderated the SABCS press conference.

Brain Abnormalities Linked to Comorbid ADHD in Bipolar Disorder

Brain Abnormalities Linked to Comorbid ADHD in Bipolar DisorderBrain structure abnormalities discovered through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in bipolar patients may have been wrongly attributed to the disorder.

They may actually be linked to the patient with bipolar disorder also having an attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to new research.

Because of the similarities and frequent coexistence of these two conditions, the ability to separate their symptoms and obtain an accurate diagnosis between the two has been a persistent challenge.

ADHD is a frequent diagnosis in individuals with bipolar disorder, with a comorbidity — co-existing together — prevalence of 5-20 percent.  This is often overlooked, though, when looking at brain imaging data.
For the study, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles set out to unravel how ADHD and bipolar disorder individually contributed to brain abnormalities found during MRI.

They recruited 85 participants, of whom 17 had bipolar disorder only, 19 had ADHD only, 18 had both bipolar disorder and ADHD, and 31 had no mental disorder. All patients with bipolar disorder were in a non-depressed state at the time of imaging and were not taking lithium.

Researchers used MRI to measure participants’ cortical thickness. Analysis of the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex showed that overall cortical thickness was lessened in patients with bipolar disorder both with and without comorbid ADHD.

However, the effect of bipolar disorder on cortical thickness was different in patients with and without ADHD in the right orbitofrontal cortex and the left subgenual cingulate.

In the right orbitofrontal cortex, bipolar disorder was associated with significant cortical thinning only when there was no ADHD diagnosis; furthermore, in the left subgenual cingulate, the presence of ADHD eliminated the cortical thinning associated with bipolar disorder compared to controls.

The effects of bipolar disorder and ADHD in these regions were found to be connected, “resulting in a unique phenotypic signature for the comorbid diagnostic group,” write the researchers in the journal Bipolar Disorders.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Are brain tumours on the rise?

The causes of brain tumours benign or malignant  are mostly unknown, and despite singer Sheryl Crow's belief that her benign brain tumour was caused by excessive use of her cellphone, there is no scientific evidence to support this.
sheryl crow reuters Johannesburg - Tumours in the brain and nervous system are increasing, show the cancer registries of many Western countries. 

Some specialists say rising statistics could be due to better diagnosis of conditions previously attributed to, say, strokes or dementia

Others say that patients with cancer in other parts of the body are surviving longer due to better treatment, and that cancer cells are spreading to the brain or nervous system

No one is saying there is an epidemic, and the prevalence of brain tumours in the general population is still low. 

But, even taking into account better diagnosis and survivability of cancer patients, the extent of the rise is worrying, even for the experts, published reports say. 

The prevalence of brain tumours in South Africa is not known, because in the National Cancer Registry of 2004 (the last one available), brain cancers are combined with cancers of the central nervous system

At that time, it was estimated that the lifetime risk of developing a central nervous system tumour was one in 849 for men, and one in 1 611 for women

However, according to oncologist Dr Andre Dreyer of the GVI Oncology group, “95 percent of nervous system tumours are in the brain”. 

Brain cancers are quite common, and they affect all communities, in all age groups all over the world,” he says. 

In children, he adds, although the incidence of brain tumours is low, they are the second most common cancer after leukaemia

More adults have brain tumours, and are more prone to it the older they get. 

“In the young, the most common brain cancer is embryonal (it begins in foetal tissue), and in the adults, it is the glioblastoma (aggressively malignant tumours arising from the cells that make up the supportive tissue of the brain),” says Dreyer. 

Brain tumours are graded from one to four, with grade one and two being benign or slow developing, and grades three and four more rapidly progressing, with grade four being the most aggressive. 

The specialists who remove brain tumours are neurosurgeons, and over many years of clinical practice, Tshwane neurosurgeon Dr Edward Gurnell has seen an increase in malignant brain tumours in the patients referred to him. 

“This applies to both primary brain tumours, those that originate within the brain, and secondary or metastatic tumours, which are tumours that have spread to the brain from elsewhere, such as the lung or breast,” he says. 

“It’s important to note in the case of secondary brain tumours, however, that cancer patients are surviving longer with modern day chemotherapy treatment, and therefore a greater number of patients develop secondary brain deposits (of cancerous cells),” he adds. 

The causes of brain tumours – benign or malignant – are mostly unknown, and despite a contentious Roman court finding recently that there is a “causal link” between cellphone use and brain tumours, and singer Sheryl Crow’s belief that her benign brain tumour was caused by excessive use of her cellphone, there is no scientific evidence to support this. 

The symptoms of these tumours are also myriad, depending on where the tumour is located, and can mimic another malaise like a stroke

The most common symptoms are headache, nausea, vomiting, epileptic seizures or neurological deficits, like partial paralysis of the face, says Gurnell. 

Loss of hearing in one ear, or sight in one eye, is common if the tumour is located in or near the cranial nerves, or weakness in a limb might occur if it is in or near the primary motor cortex. 

Cape Town neurosurgeon Dr Roger Melvill says the “insidious nature” of brain tumour symptoms means the correct diagnoses is often delayed, and a slow growing tumour like a meningeoma (forms on the brain’s surface membrane and not in the brain itself), can go undetected for years. 

But whatever the nature of the tumour, once it is found the neurosurgeon has to weigh up whether it can be safely removed and what the risks are of causing more harm. 

“The tumour may be in an area where the risk of loss of sight or speech ability, say, is too high. So the surgeon’s call might be to leave it,” he explains. Ideally, however, as much of the tumour as possible is removed. 

Surgical removal is also the mainstay treatment of benign tumours, as they may be causing pressure inside the brain, disturbance of brain function (loss of vision, hearing or movement) or abnormal brain activity like epilepsy

Dave Chambers, a Cape-based editor who was diagnosed with a table tennis ball-sized meningeoma in 2003, says his first symptom was an “seizure in my sleep”. 

“I was having convulsions and biting my tongue,” he recalls. 

His wife called an ambulance and a tumour was soon found in an MRI scan

After it was successfully removed, Chambers went on epilepsy treatment for a year and must undergo an MRI scan every five years to check that the tumour hasn’t grown back. 

In the case of tumours affecting brain function, neurosurgeons sometimes rely on a technique called “awake cortical mapping”, which allows the surgeon to “wake” the patient during the surgery to test, say, language function using delicate electrical stimulation. 

“The brain doesn’t feel pain, so this is a very useful technique,” says Melvill. 

For malignant tumours, radiotherapy – sometimes combined with chemotherapy – is the standard follow-up treatment after surgery, but the recovery rate depends entirely on the unique nature of the tumour and how rapidly it grows back. 

“For malignant tumours, there is no cure, only control of tumour growth and delaying a recurrence of the tumour,” points out Gurnell. 

The tumours with the poorest prognosis for survival are the glioblastomas, adds Melvill. 

That said, many people survive and live a long life after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, thanks to advancements in medical science.

Many people who had benign tumours have been cured, their only reminder being the need for an MRI scan every few years. 

Andrew Lanham, who had resigned himself to an early death more than once during the trauma he experienced, says: “It’s not necessarily a death sentence. In fact, surviving one makes you appreciate your life more.” 

The first sign that something was wrong with Sandi Slabber, 46, a lighting consultant and married mother-of-two in Cape Town, was the onset of “small epileptic-like fits”. 

“They felt like panic attacks, and my left eye would veer off to the right,” she recalls. The fit wouldn’t last long and her eye would soon return to its normal position. 

“I’d just had my baby girl, so I thought it might be a symptom of hormonal imbalance,” she says. 

That was in March 2006. Three months later, after the fits kept recurring, Slabber was referred for an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, then booked immediately for surgery

She had oligodendroglioma, a brain tumour that develops from the cells that produce the fatty covering of nerve cells in the cerebrum

It was located on the right motor cortex, the area of the brain which controls muscle movement. 

It was a low grade tumour (not aggressively malignant), but it was causing pressure on the brain and had to be removed so Slabber could reclaim her life

By then, Slabber was unable to drive in case of a fit, and when she felt her eye twitching to the side, she’d cover her face with her hands until it had passed. “It was very distressing and disabling,” she says. 

That August, Slabber underwent surgery, but a crescent-shaped sliver of the tumour was left behind, as to attempt to remove it all would probably have left her blind. 

Unfortunately, in 2010, the tumour had grown back, and was more malignant this time. Again Slabber was operated on, and had a follow-up programme of radiation, which she says has stunted its growth. 

For now that is. A six-monthly MRI scan has to ensure this remains the case, as if not, she’ll have to go back on radiation or chemotherapy treatment

The fallout on Slabber’s family life was much more devastating than the procedures, however. 

“After the first op I looked like conehead with all the bandages. I couldn’t hold my baby for the first six months of her life. My mother paid for a carer,” says Slabber. 

Her marriage has since deteriorated to the point that she is filing for divorce. 

But typical of many other cancer survivors, she is surprisingly upbeat. “I feel lucky, and I’m just grateful the tumour wasn’t highly cancerous,” she says. 

The first symptom felt by Andrew Lanham, 65, a Midrand mining writer, was his right cheek going numb and getting steadily worse over a year. 

In his case, a tumour ran along his trigeminal nerve, the cranial nerve responsible for facial sensations.
After 14-hour surgery to attempt to remove the tumour, Lanham returned to consciousness to discover his face was not only numb on the right side, but he’d lost hearing in the right ear, a side effect his surgeon had warned him about. 

“For the first three days afterwards I wasn’t sure if I was going to live or die,” he says. “I couldn’t move, and I had tubes coming out of the top of my head. It was painful and very frightening.” 

So two years later, when Lanham learned that the tumour had grown back as a more malignant one, he was terrified. 

By then the tumour had “eaten away a golfball-sized hole in my forehead and gone off in strands into the orbits of the eyes”. 

Lanham found a new neurosurgeon for the second operation, who he says did a much finer job of removing the tumour, and also had a prosthetic forehead made for him. 

Five months of chemotherapy followed and today, two years later, Lanham is still married and working, living an almost normal life

“My face on the right is paralysed and I have to remember to blink my right eye otherwise it gets dry and red. And I have no hearing in the right ear. 

“But I’m still functioning well. I just have to be careful to maintain a healthy diet and get enough sleep and, above all, avoid flu because I have no sinuses left, so my head just swells up,” he says. 

A diagnosis of a brain tumour can be devastating, not only for the sufferer, but also for their friends and relatives, says oncology social worker Linda Greeff, who co-founded the support group People Living with Cancer

This is regardless of whether or not the financial cost of treating someone is borne by a medical aid, which ideally should be coupled with dread disease insurance cover. 

“It is heartbreaking especially for parents of children with brain tumours, as sometimes the surgery leaves them without mobility, or they lose sight or hearing,” she says. 

State patients and their families are especially vulnerable, as they don’t have the resources to undergo proper rehabilitation including counselling for family members. 

“It can be very traumatic if a loved one is seriously affected, say, in their physical, personality or psycho-social behaviour,” says Greeff. “Professional counselling is important in these cases.” 

Greeff advises people living with cancer, or those affected by it, to contact Cancer Buddies for free counselling and assistance. 

Cancer Buddies carefully matches a newly diagnosed person with someone who has fought and survived the same type of cancer

Cancer caregivers – spouses, parents, siblings, children and other family and friends – also receive one-on-one connections with other caregivers and survivors, says Greeff, as it’s crucial families get support..

Sleep Apnea May Cause More Brain Damage in Women

Women suffering from sleep apnea have more severe brain damage than men with the disorder, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles looked at patients diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and compared the nerve fibers, or white matter, in the patients' brains to fibers of individuals without sleep disorders.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, diabetes, depression, and other serious health problems. Sleep apnea may cause more brain damage in women.

 Researchers also focused on understanding the difference in brain damage between men and women with sleep apnea, according to the study published in the journal Sleep.

Chief investigator Paul Macey, an assistant professor and associate dean of information technology and innovations at the UCLA School of Nursing, said that while researchers have known that obstructive sleep apnea affects women "very differently" than men, previous brain studies done on sleep apnea and the impact on an individual's health have mostly focused on men or combined groups of men and women.

"This study revealed that, in fact, women are more affected by sleep apnea than are men and that women with obstructive sleep apnea have more severe brain damage than men suffering from a similar condition," Macey said in a statement.

Researchers found that the sleep disorder particularly affects the cingulum bundle and the anterior cingulate cortex, frontal regions responsible for decision-making and mood regulation, in women with the condition. Women with sleep apnea also showed significantly higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms compared to men with the disorder.

"This tells us that doctors should consider that the sleep disorder may be more problematic and therefore need earlier treatment in women than men," Macey said.

Researchers said that the latest findings serve as a foundation for future research on untangling the timing of brain changes as well as revealing whether treating sleep apnea can help the brain.

"What we don't yet know is, did sleep apnea cause the brain damage, did the brain damage lead to the sleep disorders, or do the common comorbidities, such as depression, dementia or cardiovascular issues, cause the brain damage, which in turn leads to sleep apnea," he concluded.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder than occurs when a person's breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. Every time breathing is interrupted, the oxygen level in the blood drops, which could eventually lead to damage to many cells in the body.

Experts say if the condition is left untreated, it can lead to a host of serious health problems including high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure and diabetes.

Woman's running nose revealed to be leaking brain fluid

For four months, doctors believed one Arizona woman's running nose was allergies.  The truth turned out to be a much more horrifying scenario – brain fluid was leaking out of her nose.
According to the University of Arizona department of surgery, whenever Aundrea Aragon bent over, clear liquid would run out of her nose.

"I was scared to death and desperate,'' Aragon said. "I knew it could not be allergies. The fluid would come out like a puddle.''

After she visited several doctors', UA surgeons finally discovered two small cracks in the back of Aragon's sphenoid sinus, which were caused by cerebral pressure.  The crack ultimately allowed cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) to stream through her nose.

Although the human brain replaces brain fluid, the leak put Aragon at risk of developing meningitis, in which bacteria crawls through the brain, causing either a coma or death.

While the typical surgery to fix this condition is invasive and often results in a painful recovery process and other dangerous side effects, UA surgeons were able to fix Aragon's condition without using any incisions.  They performed an endoscopic procedure through her nose, using image-guided neuronavigation and fluorescein dye to locate the cracks.  Then, using tissue from her nose and a small portion of belly fat, the surgeons were able to repair the cracks, stopping the leak.

The process liberated Aragon from a long, painful recovery.  She is now recovering well at home with her husband and two children.  She recently posted about her ordeal on her Facebook page.

"I am so grateful to [the UA surgeons] for everything they have done for us,'' said Aragon. "I had great care from a great staff.  I'm here, and I am grateful I can take care of my kids."

Brain’s Stress Response Differs Among Epilepsy Patients

Differences in brain activation for those believing stress is an important factor in seizure control
There is a significant difference in the brain's response to stress among patients with epilepsy who believe stress is an important factor in seizure control compared to those who do not, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 in San Diego.

There is a significant difference in the brain's response to stress among patients with epilepsy who believe stress is an important factor in seizure control compared to those who do not, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 in San Diego.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, Jane B. Allendorfer, Ph.D., from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and colleagues assessed the neural response to psychosocial stress in 23 patients with left temporal lobe epilepsy. Participants included 16 patients who believed that stress impacts their seizure control (+S) and seven who did not (−S). The Montreal Imaging Stress Task was used as the stress paradigm, whereby participants performed a simple (control) and difficult (stress) task, with positive and negative feedback provided in the simple and difficult tasks, respectively.

The researchers found that, in the +S group, there was increased activation bilaterally in the superior temporal gyrus (STG) in response to the difficult versus simple math problems. In response to negative versus positive feedback, in the +S group, there was increased activation in the left insula and bilaterally in the STG, Brodmann area 39, and posterior cingulate. Increased activation was not seen in stressful conditions in the −S group.

"We also hypothesize that the difference in brain activation patterns may be related to why some epilepsy patients have seizures more frequently than do other patients," Allendorfer said in a statement.